Monday, March 31, 2008

Catching up on Some Reviews!

I don't call myself "Chain Reader" for nothing! As soon as one book is done, I'm grabbing for another. That's one of the reasons I started this blog--it makes me at least stop and think about the book I have just finished so they don't all just blur into one another. But I don't always have the self-discipline to keep myself from opening that perpetual "next" book until I've done a review. Anyways, this is just my discursive way of saying that I'm behind on reviewing the books I've read. So I will try to do a few nutshell reviews to catch up:

Cleaning: Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin (2006, 290 pgs.): I am convinced that this is some sign of reading sickness that I even read books about housework. I think I just get bored so easily, and if I can find some new method for doing laundry every few months, or learn some new homemade concoction for scrubbing the cabinets, cleaning could actually be a little bit fun! This one is actually one of the best I've read. It has some general advice, and then is divided up by room, and goes beyond the basics, including some natural cleaning options. There a many quotes scattered throughout the book, and I loved this one by Erma Bombeck: "My theory on housework is, if the item doesn't multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?" Amen to that!
Rating: 4.5/5

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (2008, 384 pgs.): Hanna Heath accepts the assignment to restore the mysterious Sarajevo Haggadah, an ancient Jewish manuscript with stunning and unlikely "illuminations." She discovers a few clues to its history: an insect wing, a wine stain, salt crystals, and a white hair. The book alternates between her scientific discoveries about the clues and the stories of the past keepers of the Haggadah. I enjoyed reading it and had a hard time putting it down, although the fact that some parts are told in reverse-chronological order gave me a bit of mental vertigo.
Rating: 4/5

The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003, 14 hrs. 13 min.): This was the Pulitzer Prize winner for 2004, and I've got to be honest, that's the only thing that kept me listening to the end. **CHEATER WARNING** Review from Amazon:
Set in Manchester County, Virginia, 20 years before the Civil War began, Edward P. Jones's debut novel, The Known World, is a masterpiece of overlapping plot lines, time shifts, and heartbreaking details of life under slavery. Caldonia Townsend is an educated black slaveowner, the widow of a well-loved young farmer named Henry, whose parents had bought their own freedom, and then freed their son, only to watch him buy himself a slave as soon as he had saved enough money. Although a fair and gentle master by the standards of the day, Henry Townsend had learned from former master about the proper distance to keep from one's property. After his death, his slaves wonder if Caldonia will free them. When she fails to do so, but instead breaches the code that keeps them separate from her, a little piece of Manchester County begins to unravel. Impossible to rush through, The Known World is a complex, beautifully written novel with a large cast of characters, rewarding the patient reader with unexpected connections, some reaching into the present day. --Regina Marler
The last sentence cracks me up. It's code for "boring and complicated, with too many characters to keep track of." I was patient, but didn't feel rewarded.
Rating: 3/5

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1798, 179 pgs.): This is the only Austen book I hadn't read, and the saying "save the best for last" does not apply here. Another expression that keeps popping into my head is "you can't win them all." Jane Austen is truly a genius, and in most of her works, her wit jumps out from every page, every sentence and every word. In Northanger Abbey, it just emerges every once in a while. I didn't hate it though--it is Jane Austen for heaven's sake! (Kind of like The Avengers is one of the lamest movies ever made, but Ralph Fiennes is in it, so I'll enjoy it anyway). Also, Catherine Morland reminded me so much of myself that it was scary--reads too much, bends her will to please others, and cries a lot.
I've watched about a third of the movie so far, and have learned that I have been pronouncing the title all wrong. It should be North-Anger--anger as in mad. But everyone likely knew that except for me.
Rating: 3.5/5

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005, 448 pgs.): Here I can truly say that I have saved the best for last, (of my reviews, that is). I loved this one, showing that I will forever be a teenager at heart. Tally Youngblood lives in a world 300 or more years in the future, in which everyone is turned "pretty" at the age of 16 through a very thorough cosmetic operation. Tally learns of a small group of rebels who choose to live another way of life, rejecting the idea that everyone should be perfect. Fans of The Giver by Lois Lowry should love this one. My 13-year-old daughter loved it too and has read it twice, along with the rest in the series. (I should note that she was mortified that I wanted to read the same book as her. She couldn't find it for a couple of months, and I'm still not convinced that she didn't hide it on purpose.)
Rating: 5/5

Thank goodness I've gotten all of this off my chest and into the blogosphere. I can sleep without having nightmares about review-evasion agents coming to get me.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (1989, 246 pgs.)

I was captivated by every single page of this novel about "the secrets of love and life as revealed by the kitchen." Set in Mexico during the revolution, fifteen-year-old Tita's mother refuses to allow her to marry because as the youngest in the family, she must take care of her mother until she dies. When Pedro, who she knows she is in love with when she "knows how dough feels when it is plunged into boiling oil," asks for her hand in marriage, Tita's selfish mother offers her sister instead. Pedro agrees, seeing it as the only way to be near Tita. Tita deals with injustices and heartbreak as she cooks amazing meals for the family that seem to convey her emotions. The book is filled with supernatural elements contrasted with stark realism--like the process of castrating chickens. (I looked up this book on Wikipedia, and, lo and behold, this quality of the book has a name--"magical realism." Who knew? Well, all of the English majors and librarians probably. It only sounded vaguely familiar to me.)
I found this book very entertaining with its culinary metaphors and the way the author conveyed the emotions of the characters. It has it's "steamy" parts, some romantic, some humorous, some rather mystical. But I guess the steam goes with the title; "like water for chocolate" is a Spanish expression referring to the process of making hot chocolate in which the chunks of chocolate are dropped into boiling water. It usually describes a state of passion or anger, both of which are well represented in the novel. (Thanks again, Wikipedia! When I was done with the book, I still couldn't figure out what the heck the title meant.)

I have never created a "half" stars graphic, and it is so appropriate for some books! So for this one I will type the rating:

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday Fill-ins (#65)

1. Some relationships are meant to be strained, but maintained.
2. Leahy is the last concert I saw; it was supercharged with talent. Here's a sample:

3. Spring should be not ruined by cleaning.
4. Oh no! I forgot to eat! (Yeah, right!)
5. I've recently started jogging.
6. The OK Go treadmill video never fails to make me smile. Here it is:

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to camping, tomorrow my plans include still camping, and hopefully hiking and Sunday, I want to come home and take a shower!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Video Review: Gossamer by Lois Lowry (2006, 3 hrs., 30 min.)

My children decided to do a talk-show format review of this one, having listened to it in the car. My plan was to edit out anything too goofy, but then it would have only been about 10 seconds long. So anyways, here it is--very unscripted, very silly, and hopefully somewhat informative:

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Fill-ins

1. Dodge ball is so exciting!
2. Strawberry fields make me think of the book Snow Falling on Cedars. (If that's the right one I'm thinking of???)
3. The food I'm reading about in Like Water For Chocolate sounds like it would taste delicious! (Except for the ox-tail stew)
4. Why does checking things off a list make me feel so good?!
5. Stonehenge is something I've always wanted to see.
6. It's sad when I can't think of anything that's sad right now, and I know there's a lot of sad things to think of.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to not having any plans, tomorrow my plans include working on the house and Sunday, I want to go to church and have my family over for Easter!

Last week my weekend included redoing our pantry, and here are before and after pictures. I'm so happy about it--maybe that's why I couldn't think of anything sad!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Fill-ins

1. Contact may cause illness.
2. The parties hereto do mutually agree to cease all tomfoolery (My kids hate it when I use this word, so of course I say it often).
3. Disney parks are great places to read while you're waiting in line. (I read half of Stardust at Disneyland the other day.)
4. A nap sounds really good right about now!
5. I positively hate being the center of attention.
6. Steve Carell always makes me smile :-)
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to redoing our pantry and preparing to paint the kitchen, tomorrow my plans include painting the kitchen and Sunday, I want to be done with the kitchen!

Click on the flower button to play along!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Meme - Negativity

I was tagged by Dog Ear Diary, a site I love because of the variety of reading selections--I enjoy even just looking at the titles: Horse People, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for His a Hat, and An Anthropologist on Mars are some of the latest. Anyways, here's the meme:

1. When you dislike a book, do you say so in your blog? Why or why not?

If I don't like a book (which doesn't happen very often--I'll read just about anything!), I will say so in my blog. I don't know what the point of a review would be otherwise.

2. Do you temper your feelings about books you didn’t like, so as not to completely slam them? Why or why not?

I don't think I ever completely slam any books--almost everything I read has some good and bad qualities--even some of my very favorites have their weaknesses.

3. What do you think is the best way to respond when you see a negative review about a book you enjoyed?

I usually just write a comment saying how I feel about the book, and I would hope others would do the same for me. I like to read different opinions and perspectives. Variety is the spice of life! Just like food, everyone has different taste in books. I wouldn't get upset if someone hated banana cream pie (which I could live on), so I won't get upset if someone hated David Copperfield.

4. What is your own most common reaction when you see a negative review of a book you loved or a positive review of a book you hated?

I think sometimes a book can bring you so much joy or pleasure that you want to share that with someone else, and when they don't have those same feelings, it can be a bit of a disappointment.

5. What is your own most common reaction when you get a comment that disagrees with your opinion of a book?

Bring it on . . . just don't get personal!

6. What if you don’t like a book that was a free review copy? What then?

This is something I've never done, but I guess I would try to be honest.

7. What do you do if you don’t finish a book? Do you review it or not? If you review it, do you mention that you didn’t finish it?

Since I'm still pretty new to blogging, I don't think there is a book I have not finished since I started, although there have been a couple I was tempted to quit! I think I would review it, either to warn others who think their taste is similar to mine, or to find out from someone that I should really read the whole thing--that in the end it's worth it.

I'm so bad at picking people to tag--I'm a horrible decision maker! I'll have to give it more thought. How about if I just invite anyone who reads this to join in?

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (1925, 246 pgs.)

I was inspired to read this book after watching the movie, which I loved, so I thought I would post the movie trailer instead of making a my usual feeble attempt at summarizing the plot:

The book and movie were very similar except for the endings. The movie had a more hopeful, moving conclusion, while the book was probably a little more realistic. Either way, I love the story as well as the setting. It is also very readable and not too long. There were several passages that I loved, but I was reading this at Disneyland, and I didn't have a pencil to underline them. Oh, well. They're a part of me now, stored somewhere in my brain.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (2003, 383 pgs.)

I was tempted to do this four-word review for The Goose Girl:

Loved it. Read it.

But unfortunately that doesn't say anything about the content of the book. For those who need more to go by, here's what the inside if the front cover says:

She was born with her eyes closed and a word on her tongue, a word she could not taste. Here name was Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she spent the first years of her life listening to her aunt's stories and learning the language of the birds, especially the swans. When she was older, she watched as a colt was born, and she heard the first word on his tongue, his name, Falada.
From the Grimm's fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she would become queen, Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original, and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can lead the people she has made her own.

Of course if fairy tales aren't your thing, you probably wouldn't love or want to read it. But for those who enjoy a wholesome, beautifully written tale of fantasy every once in a while, this is one of the most enjoyable I've read.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Friday Fill-ins

1. Ahhhh, it's so nice to go to bed at night.
2. One of my favorite things on my desk or bureau is the computer?
3. Japanese Cherry Blossom is a scent I would probably like in a body wash.
4. The couch is my favorite place to sit and read. (Although, if I had a nice backyard and some outdoor furniture, that's where I would want to read.)
5. Ben and Jerry's "Dave Matthews Band" (Raspberry and Sweet Cream Ice-Cream with brownie chunks) and "Banana Split" flavors are delicious!
6. I love to watch great dialogue in movies.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to being at Disneyland, tomorrow my plans include a huge Dodge Ball game and Sunday, I want to go to church and spend time with my family.

Here's the link if you want to join in.

The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum (1986, 646 pgs.)

I almost wanted to dub this "The Bourne Disappointment," but that made it sound like I didn't like it. I liked it, just not nearly as much as The Bourne Identity. In this one, David Webb (aka-Jason Bourne) is tricked by the government into going to Hong Kong after an assassin who has taken on his name and is working for a Chinese leader who is secretly planning to take over in China. The back cover says, "The real Jason Bourne must maneuver through the dangerous labyrinth of international espionage--an exotic world filled with CIA plots, turncoat agents, and ever-shifting alliances." I found all of these elements terribly confusing. I can't blame the author though--CIA terminology is like a foreign language to me (blind, off the wire, sterile, etc.), as well as some of the political and economic aspects of the plot. I do feel like if I read another book with similar terminology, it will be a little easier. (I'm hoping I added a few brain cells.) This one also had more language and mildly disturbing violent scenes. Apparently in Hong Kong and China, people tend to repeat cuss words, so you get to read the "F" word not once, but twice each time it is said--kind of like saying "What the heck-heck are you doing?" This was new for me. This part (with an American speaking, no repeats) cracked me up: "Who the f*** do you think you are? And if my language offends you sir, look up the derivation of the offending word. It comes from a term in the Middle Ages meaning to plant a seed in the ground." (I guess the late Ludlum wouldn't appreciate my complaint about the bad language.)
Whenever I read a work of fiction about a place I don't know much about, I like to read a non-fiction book about that place so I can learn about it and picture the setting. Being the scholarly person that I am, I head right for . . . the children's section of the library. This one being mostly in Hong Kong, I checked out this one:

I learned a lot the related to the book, and a lot that didn't. It may sound silly, but I have learned a lot from these quarter-inch-thick children's books, and they're right at my level of comprehension. I guess it's my way of learning all the things that I feel like everyone else already knows! Someday, maybe, I'll catch up to all of you smart people!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (1995, 10 hrs. 41 mi.)

Don't you just feel weird when you don't love a book that is raved about? After looking at the ratings on Amazon (1,078 people gave it five stars) and seeing it on a few top ten and top one-hundred lists, I just keep asking "Huh?" It is a very imaginative and original story about a girl named Lyra who is accompanied by her "daemon" Pantalaimon, a sort of separate manifestation of her soul that changes to different animals based on her emotions. She is a strong and courageous young girl, as well as rebellious and often dishonest, who is trying to rescue her friend Roger from "The Gobblers", a mysterious group of people who steal children. (That's just skimming the surface--the story is much more complex, with many unique characters and a beautiful setting.)
Despite the great writing and originality, I just didn't make any kind of connection with the story or the characters. There are definitely many layers to this novel, some of which have caused controversy for some religious groups due to the fact that the author is an atheist and is accused of trying to undermine Christian beliefs. All I can say is I read it, and I'm still going to church. Reading Harry Potter didn't get me into witchcraft either. But I do understand that literature can have a great impact on our beliefs and philosophies, and although this particular book in the series didn't seem too offensive to me, I probably wouldn't want my kids to read it without some discussion. And I definitely prefer the British title--Northern Lights. Doesn't that sound more intriguing than The Golden Compass?