Monday, December 13, 2010

A fond see-you-soon

Yes, the lights have gotten a little dim here at the Reader's Well blog.  I am not going very far, so don't think I'm abandoning my post.  Things are just a little busy right now, so I won't be posting reviews *as often* as I have been (aka once a week or so, which I do realize has dwindled to about once a month).  Sorry, guys, I do expect to have more time next year (barely a month away!), and I am totally looking forward to reading what books I will undoubtedly accumulate in the meantime (and the ones on the shelves I still haven't gotten to after how many years/months...).

On the other hand, I have just received my very first free book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers!  It's called Original Sins: A Novel of Slavery and Freedom, written by Peg Kingman, who also wrote Not Yet Drown'd.  Original Sins is about Scottish woman Grace McDonald in 19th-century America who paints portraits to earn some money while her husband is away at sea.  Grace's good friend Anibaddh, a former slave, has just returned to America from the East Indies to push her successful silk business.  Right you are - a now-freed slave who has returned to the states from her comfortable life abroad in the Indies, and will now venture down south to make a few extra bucks?  Nah, Anibaddh is really looking for something else down in the slave states, and she draws her friend Grace into the intrigue - who, unbeknownst at the time, will have a great deal of history (hers, Anibaddh's, and America's) to reckon with.

It sounds like the good, the bad and the ugly in America's past will rear all their heads in this one, and I am really excited to get going!  Of course, I have also picked up another book (let it be a secret for now) to read simultaneously, and let me warn you if I haven't before, that never goes quite as planned.  So without further adieu, I change my Currently Reading widget thingy and bid you a fond see-you-soon, while I deal with some before- and aftershocks of moving, holiday shopping, marriage, and work madness.  You feel me, right?

Take care till then, folks, and have a fantastic holiday!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Flowers in the Attic

The Dollanganger children are quite content, living in 1950's American suburbia.  They're part of a fully functioning family, as narrated by the second-oldest child Cathy, with bright futures ahead -- until their perfect dream lives quickly become one solid nightmare when their father is suddenly killed in a car accident, leaving the 4 kids and their mother.  And thank goodness for Mother - she has arranged for Grandma and Grandpa, who the children have mysteriously never met, to have the devastated family all stay at their beautiful, luxurious mansion in Virginia.  What luck!  The family arrives in Virginia in the dead of night, 3am, to the welcome, open arms of ... no one.  The kids are quickly shuffled up to one of many upstairs rooms, and the door is locked behind them...
Flowers in the Attic
All of a sudden thrown into a dark world of terror and incredible suffering, the four - Chris, Cathy, and the two little twins Carrie and Cory are on their own.  Surely Mother will rescue them from their hellish lives in the attic once dear Grandpa dies, leaving his daughter and grandkids the inheritance money!  Little do the children know how much their perfect, wonderful mother is hiding, and how this could ruin all of their lives forever.  And although the children are not yet aware, the horror has already begun...

Flowers in the Attic is a great book.  I've been wanting to read this forever, and I finally just grabbed it off the library shelf, even though the copy was all tattered and faded.  But I raced right through it (which for me takes like a week) and hated to put it down every time.  Just the way the book is paced - so thoughtfully, as things go from great, to weird, to pretty bad to extremely terrible and finally horror-movie unimaginable.  Small moments of hope and suspenseful periods, when you think their suffering will all be over, interrupt an otherwise bleak look at the "perfect" world of American suburbia.  Mostly, I felt physically ill, as if I were going through some of the terrible things the kids were forced into.  This book is also an exposition of the power of children's love for their parents.  Unfailing, unconditional and everlasting, in the face of extreme tests and surrounded by adult hatred and betrayal.  Eventually, you will question who the children are and who the tyrants are - let's just say the apple does not fall far from the tree.

This is the first of a series of Dollangager books.  I hope to eventually pick up the next three, but I doubt any sequel in this genre could be as good as this first installment, Flowers in the Attic.  I've also heard the movie is crap, as most awesome books turn out to be.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Wise Woman

I no longer have any excuse to go to the library and pass by the G-H shelves empty-handed.  And if you're also a his-fic fan, or plan on becoming one, the same rule applies because I am now a one-book fanatic of Philippa Gregory.  I don't mind if the next one I read is not half as good as Gregory's The Wise Woman.  But I'm secretly sure it will be at least that!

The Wise Woman: A NovelThe Wise Woman is Alys, a refugee nun straight from the sack of her peaceful, wealthy abbey in 16th-century England.  Alys had joined the abbey to rid herself of her mean but wise mentor, Morach who raised her just barely to a life in abject poverty.  And as the abbey burns, no thanks to Hugo, son of Lord Hugh, Alys has no place else to go but back to Morach and her devilish ways where she fully, though reluctantly, takes on the persona of a wise woman herself... all until she is summoned by Lord Hugh for her magical healing powers.  Now, not only will Alys have to bring Lord Hugh to full recovery to avoid a charge of witchcraft, which is magic inspired by the devil, but she may also have to avoid his son Hugo who destroyed the life of comfort, love and happiness she will never know again.  As Alys weaves her way through her trials from this point on, she becomes pretty darn wicked - you might even want to call her evil.  After being ripped from her former convent life, she has taken a complete turn to the darkside - since she can no longer be surrounded by good in the fullest sense of the word, what is left but to fall from grace, and finally, to become what is most feared?

I loved Alys' decent and all the terrible decisions she makes - her plotting and scheming to drive everyone else to misery and death.  Even still, and I know plenty of Amazon reviewers disagree with this, I still saw the human in her.  She became unstoppable, cold, calculating and cruel.  To a point.  And I can't complain about the pacing of the book either - just as unstoppable as Alys!  Ms. Gregory really knows her suspense, and this was a read that I really looked forward to every morning and evening.  Intermixed in the threads of foreboding terror and grotesque images, the magical realism (for lack of better term) that brings wax dolls to life and turns babies into mush was as unexpected as the surprise ending, and it was all I could do to put the book down every day.  Although I had a crazy, crazy week so that had to happen pretty often.  So, in this case, judge a book by its totally-gorgeous cover, and don't pass the G-H shelves without this one.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gates of Fire

What is the opposite of fear?
How do I live? What is worth dying for?

I'm sure you've all at least heard of the movie "300" before, if not actually seen it - well, don't bother anyway, I couldn't get past the first 20 minutes without nodding off.  I would have been real pissed if I had seen those 20 minutes after reading Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire.  Why is that?  Because unlike that sorry excuse for a movie, this book was frickin' awesome!  Know that I never read "war books" either - I picked this one up from the lunchtable only because I do find the concept fascinating - three hundred Spartans (and some other Greeks thrown in for good measure, it turns out) defending their country against thousands of wealthy, well-trained Persians, culminating in the epic Battle of Thermopylae.
Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
As the back-story goes, Xeones happens to be the last man standing among three hundred Spartans (and a few hundred other Greeks), and is finally captured by the Persians when the Greeks succumb to defeat at the famous Battle of Thermopylae.  "His Majesty" Xerxes is so blown away by the ability of such a tiny amount of Greeks to hold their own against his vast Persian armies, that in hopes of discovering the Greeks' secret to success, he orders Xeo to recount the events leading up to and including the dread battle.  And the whole tale is truly a gift to the hearer, or reader in our case.  Do not go into this thinking it's a "war book" you're reading because yeah, it's about wars between the Greeks and Persians, but it's about more than that - the nature of fear, love of one's country, the role of men and women in wartime and the true meaning of valor.  So, what is the opposite of fear? I can't tell you that, but mind that there is no better example of it than this tale of the legendary three hundred Spartans. From the first page, the characters and story come right to vibrant life.  As Xeo's story unfolds, the battle scenes become more and more dramatic, and the relationships among the Greeks as individuals and as a single force to be reckoned with are moving and powerful, glorious and romantic as Greek tragedy should be.  I can't imagine any classic getting better than this, but I have yet to find that out for sure.  If anything, this kind of excitement will force you to look at what you've been reading lately and wonder when was the last time you read something that good.

So I'll leave you guys to it, while I mosey on over to the lunchroom and return Gates of Fire to its hot spot on the table.  I bet you when I return at five o'clock, it will be gone...


Monday, November 15, 2010

Words from the Well, 8

This installment, as always, brought to you by me, with inspiration from The Story Siren's In My Mailbox meme.

Good morning all, yes it's Monday, but Thanksgiving is on the horizon and that's all I'm thinking about.  That and my new batch of library books, which tells you right away that I caved again.  But I was feeling pretty sick so I was technically out of my mind at the time.  I don't think that reflects on my decision-making skills specifically but you can be the judge ...

Poison: A Novel of the RenaissanceFlowers in the AtticThe Wise Woman: A NovelSnow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel The Darkest Part of the WoodsBorrowed from the library:

Flowers in the Attic - V.C. Andrews
The Wise Woman: A Novel - Philippa Gregory
Shakespeare Undead - Lori HandelandShakespeare Undead

My current read, Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire is half-done and clipping along just fine, so stay tuned for one of these picks in the next week-ish!  And before I go I'll actually give you a run-down of WHY I chose the books I did - I would love to see this on more people's blogs, to help give me an idea of what they like to read and how that influences their reviews and book-buying/accepting decisions.  I have been wanting to read Flowers in the Attic for years and years, it's just one of those books.  The second should be a collection of stories by horror novelist Ramsey Campbell, and this was calling my name from the New Arrivals shelf (although whether it is in fact new, I have no idea).  Poison had an awesome cover and tagline: A Novel of the Renaissance just drew me in - gotta have my Renaissance.  Philippa Gregory - well I say I review hisfic and yes I do, so it's due time I added her to my TBR pile.  Lisa See's modern bestseller takes place in Asia which gives it points in my book alone.  And of course those monsterized-classics - again, it's due time, and frankly, so up my alley.
Don't go too far, folks.    *~EH 

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Shunning

For this post, I was going to pick up an earlier swap called Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert but I decided to spare you guys the witches for a while.  Really, though, it is in fact the season of the witch and no better time to fill your quiet time with thoughts of enchantment and castles in the sky!  So let's see if we can fit that one in soon.  In the meantime, it's onward with my very first Christian fiction pick The Shunning: The Heritage of Lancaster County, #1 from a trilogy by Beverly Lewis.

The Shunning (The Heritage of Lancaster County #1)Amish teenager Katie is one of the more headstrong, passionate women of her family.  She lives a normal female Amish life with her loving, close-knit parents and brothers in Hickory Hollow, taking care of her people, the house and preparing for the next great step in her life - marrying Bishop John, a 40-year-old widower with ready-made children of his own to be cared for.  Katie knows she should be grateful.  But she can't help but dream of her first love and loss, Dan Fisher, who taught her to play the guitar and sing songs she would never hear in church (gasp!).  Katie struggles with the constant longing for something else in life - and that something else includes music, guitars, boys ... and a family secret she discovers in the attic one day, in search of her mother's wedding dress.  What is this secret, and will it bring Katie closer to the life she has always dreamed of?  Will it tear her family apart and destoy every semblance of peace in the community of Hickory Hollow?

This book was alright.  I really kept reading because of the author's firsthand knowledge of Amish life.  Lewis describes the daily lives of typical "Plain" families, except not all Plain families can be described as "typical' - and this is where my problem comes in.  Katie has been depressed ever since she lost her boyfriend who drowned, on a fishing trip I believe, and she still longs for the English ways he taught her to appreciate - catchy music, bible discussion (as if the bible were up for discussion on the Plain!) and the fancy things that she will never get to experience herself.  How Dan Fisher ever came to these realizations himself is never explained.  So I wonder how Katie can yearn so deeply for something that neither she nor Dan as Plain people should be familiar with.  That and the fact that Dan's past was never really discussed in detail took away from the novel, in my opinion.  He is such a part of Katie's life, although absent, that I wish we had at least an inkling of who he was in order to understand his impact on Katie's life - and also to understand how the Plain people dealt with Dan and his bible-questioning ways.  Unfortunately, this becomes the whole novel and I'm sorry to say I won't be reading further in this series, although I hear Lewis' Abraham's daughters series is very good so I may pick the first one up at some point.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Spiral Dance

Surprise!  Didn't think I'd be coming at you with yet another witch book, didya?  I actually have a couple of books on the shelf on feminine spirituality, and several more on religion in various time periods and parts of the world.  Now you know a bit of what you can look forward to as surprise posts.  Yay nonfic!

The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess: 20th Anniversary Edition The Spiral Dance by Starhawk was actually loaned from a friend who made all kinds of helpful notes and tick marks in it, so I wasn't completely alone and helpless.  After all I am no expert in the subject, but somehow I like reading about the ills of the world and how to fix them.  And Starhawk's books are as good a place to start as any, detailing the gradual (or sudden, depending on how you look at it) rise of feminist spirituality in America during the last 40 years.  Starhawk describes herself as a witch, although if you go into this thinking you'll be reading about babykilling and evil hags, you will be sorely disappointed.  Sorry about that.  This eco-priestess type of witchcraft practiced by more and more women (and men) these days the world over, Starhawk explains, not only supports various eco-centric or earth-centered movements occuring today - rather in many ways it is these movements.

This wise woman's arguments are delivered in poetry and expression so heartfelt and passionate, even the naysayer can't help but shake their heads, whether it's in amazement at the deeds of these terrible Christians or in shame for the current state of the earth.  Starhawk is clearly a political activist, although not much of an extremist by today's standards.  If you're familiar with the work of Daniel Quinn or other counterculture authors, this is a pretty tame perspective which you can easily argue is driven purely by love.

I recommend this for women of course, and for men who are not so conditioned that they can't walk around with a book on Goddess Spirituality.  It has its flaws, such as the history which relies on some oudated anthropology, and a little of the author's self-righteousness shows through from time to time.  But this is a great starting point for the countercultural, anti-paradigm, modern feminist novice.  The version I read is the10th anniversary edition including separate sections with many new notes and comments from the author on the subsequent editions and the reasons for them.  All of it is very readable, moving, interesting and worthwhile - even for us Christianfolk.  A good book to lend to your womanfriends.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Witch Way to Murder

Way to lighten the mood a little with the first in a series of witchy detective-type novels by Shirley Damsgaard, Witch Way to Murder.  This cute little quick read was the very thing I needed after a heart-warming novel of pain like the Dogs of Babel, reviewed last time on Reader's Well.  Although!  I doubt I will pick up the next books in the series or more of Damsgaard's books in general.  And I'll tell  you why...

Witch Way to Murder (Ophelia & Abby Mysteries, No. 1)From the beginning, Ophelia - and this name bothers me for some reason - is a witch-in-the-making who doesn't want to be, with a dark past involving someone she loved and lost.  So this girl's got issues.  Add to that her inherent witchiness, coming from her Appalachian grandmother, and there's a pretty interesting life there.  As the story goes, a stranger "Rick Davis" comes to town, bringing with him not only plenty of gossip and irritation in Ophelia's already-convoluted life, but also mysterious death and other kinds of trouble.  Will this guy get the best of Ophelia?  Will she solve the mysterious crimes that are plaguing her small, sleepy Iowa town?  Is Rick someone she can trust to help her?  Or should she be guarding her heart yet again, against betrayal and even death threats?  And of course, there's that lingering problem of Ophelia's witchiness - will she reject her powers and her heritage, hurting her grandmother in the process?  Or will she accept them and open up a whole new world of spells, herbs, chance and danger?

Pardon me here but that paragraph I just wrote makes it sound a little more interesting than it was.  The story I didn't find believable at all - and I realize what kind of book I'm reading, but I expect at least a little believability, not in regards to witch-powers of course but in the story and characters.  This took away from any sympathy you'd have with the characters and a few times it just made me want to put the book down - sad, yes.  And by the time it was over, I was ready for the good stuff again.

Now, don't get me wrong, I really love Charlaine Harris' style in the Sookie Stackhouse books and I am even more in love with Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series.  But those are seriously fun reads - I never really second-guess either author's ability to write great characters, or their fantastic sense of humor.  And in the current Damsgaard book, I did. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Dogs of Babel

I said it would be a surprise, didn't I?  Check that out - no "Currently Reading" widget for it or anything.  And in case you're not excited about this element of surprise, hopefully you'll still be anxious to pick up The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst.

The Dogs of Babel : A NovelSo first off, I love the cover of this book, including the fact that a ridgeback really does look like the dog in the picture.  And the title itself implies some sort of base in mythology, so technically I'm not going completely off-track in reading this, which might really be classified (if it has to be at all) as Modern Lit.  But I tend to make exceptions for dogs anyway.

I really liked this book.  I won't say I really "enjoyed" this book, however, because it is such a convincing, harrowing portrait of grief and the insanity someone can easily be driven to in such a time.  I read some reviews on Amazon that warn against reading this if you have recenty experienced loss, and lucky for me I have not - but the engrossing story of Paul, his beloved but flawed wife Lexy, and their dog who witnesses her death, was still very sad.

Paul narrates his own story, which makes the book what it is.  He describes the evolution of his relationship with his wife before her death, right up to it and then afterward, when he can't decide if he remembers his wife who lived or an image he has created from grief.  The dog Lorelei plays the role of witness - witness to Lexy's mysterious death-fall from the apple tree in their backyard - and the point is that Paul tries to somehow coax answers out of his mute dog.  Soon enough, Paul develops an insane faith in the ability of dogs to learn to speak, in any hopes of obtaining the answers he needs for closure.

Now, this is the type of peeling-away-the-layers book that I was looking for when I got myself into Brunonia Barry's novels.  Unfortunately other things about her books did not work for me, but I have only good things to say about Carolyn Parkhurst's first book.  The pacing is fast, making this the saddest page-turner I can remember reading.  The characters are full and real, the story is involving and although you might turn away from depressing books, know that by the time the book begins, the worst part is already over.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Words from the Well, 7

Before I forget, this post is brought to you by me, with inspiration from The Story Siren's In My Mailbox meme.

Yes, I agree- it's out of control.  But I was technically on vacation this past weekend, and this is how I treated myself...

The Odyssey The Lady and the Unicorn: A Novel The Dogs of Babel : A Novel The Bean Trees: A Novel (P.S.) Witch Way to Murder (Ophelia & Abby Mysteries, No. 1)

Via Paperbackswap:

Witch Way to Murder (Ophelia & Abby Mysteries, No. 1)

Via the SUNY Binghamton campus bookstore and library:

The Dogs of Babel - Carolyn Parkhurst
The Odyssey - Homer
The Lady and the Unicorn - Tracy Chevalier
The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver

I will be starting one of these tonight, as a matter of fact.  I think this will be the very first time I can begin a book within a week of buying it, so that's cause for some celebration, no?  Lucky for me, I get to go straight home after work, so you should hear back from me on that first book pretty soon.  Now which book is it I will be reading, you ask?  You'll just have to wait and see!  So exciting!  Are you excited?!

In other news ...
As you probably guessed, I'm giving up on The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I picked it out as my Ultimate Fall Book of the Totally Fall-ish Month of November.  I love fall.  But you know that already.  Anyway, I was hoping this book would be IT and might even get me into the New England literature scene, but I was so wrong.  I did enjoy a lot of the language, and the all-pervasive doom and gloom of Puritan America wrapped up in one House of Seven Gables:  But ancient superstitions, after being steeped in human hearts and embodied in human breath, and passing from lip to ear in manifold repetition, through a series of generations, become imbued with an effect of homely truth.  They do, indeed.  However, I dug through chapter after chapter of character descriptions with absolutely no action, and decided this was not the right literature for me.  Hence my buying Homer's Odyssey, which should go wonderfully with the modern rendering of Penelope's Daughter I bought recently and mentioned in WFTW 6.

Don't go away, folks, we are on a roll!