Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Sixteen Pleasures

The Sixteen Pleasures by  Robert Hellenga was a little beat-up find with scuffed corners and yellowed pages, looking just yummy enough to add to my armful.  And once I saw that it was about Italy and saving famous art pieces from the last hundreds of years of Italian civilization after a flood in 1960's Florence...

The Sixteen Pleasures: A NovelSo!  There's a movement in Florence to rescue Italian national treasures from permanent flood damage, calling folks from all over the world to arms, although instead of using guns and ammo, they bring with them love of Italy, hope and a sense of adventure.  One of these "mud angels" is Margot Harrington, in love with Italy, not so in love with her life in humdrum America.  She recalls her younger days in Italy, cliff-diving, falling in lust, living dangerously in complete abandon, the whole world before her - and since then has become a book conservator for Newberry, dreaming of what once was and most of all, could have been before her mother died, catapulting her into a totally different life of normal schools, normal jobs and that lingering want of something more.  So she hears about the flood, is off to Italy in no time flat to offer her conservator-skills to a good cause and fun time, and ... well, does she find what she's looking for?  What exactly is that?  You gotta read to find out!

I didn't fall completely in love with this book, in the same way that I had hoped to fall in love with it (and Italy) on reading it.  There just wasn't enough magic and romance for me.  Strange, considering it is technically a romance of this young woman's life in Florence, the men she meets, the experiences saving Italy's artwork, all the while dropping some Italian for us monolingual (and German bilingual) folks to spice up the narrative.  But I did not fall in love.  The book was good, however, and I really do recommend it for some relatively light reading, an almost coming-of-age novel for the 20-35ish young woman (I consider that an in-between age -- she's not a Carrie, she's not the cast of Friends, she's not Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love).  And this is also an in-between kind of book - it's not erotica, that's for sure, it's not just a romance, it's more about this woman's affair with Italy, hoping for something she doesn't quite understand, wanting a life she is still not sure she wants.  In this way, we can all relate, right?  Margot is a believable, if not terribly interesting narrator - we believe and enjoy whatever's going on with her, and root for her to get over that dude and start her real Italian romance.

All in all, pretty good.  So I'm glad I picked it up, it kept me reading and I loved the Italian culture bits.  Let me tell you, I also saw Under the Tuscan Sun on the shelf where I picked this up and was very tempted.  But at the last second I decided to impose some restrictions on myself, so maybe another time for that one!

In the meantime, I'm up and running again with Voyager!  I accept your congratulations, thank you.  It's just as good as I remember the books being, and I think after this I'll just continue with Drums.  Why not, right?  In other news, I am also beginning the star-system!  So look forward to starred reviews in future and also retroactively - I just need a couple minutes to rate the books I've reviewed here in the past, it shouldn't take long.  I think this would give you guys a better idea of the review and also encourage me to formulate my own thoughts on why I liked/disliked a book.  Hope it's useful!

Peace out.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Words from the Well, 6

Welcome back, everyone, with a brand new post by your prodigal hostess who suffered two weeks with no internet - and who is now very, very pleased to present you with the following in recent purchases from the lovely Strand bookstore of New York City:

The Sixteen Pleasures: A NovelHex Hall (Book 1)Midnight Never ComePenelope's DaughterDark Moon of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan & Isolde (Twilight of Avalon Trilogy)

The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga
Hex Hall (Book 1) by Rachel Hawkins
Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan
Penelope's Daughter by Laurel Corona
Dark Moon of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan & Isolde (Twilight of Avalon Trilogy, Part 1) by Anna Elliott

Whew!  I have finished The Sixteen Pleasures and will put up a review of that one very soon (really).  I'm totally excited about reading those others as well, and you shouldn't wait too long for their reviews either.  It's been crazy, folks, but it's always crazy, isn't it?  All that time and what did I do?  I quit reading Brunonia Barry's second novel The Map of True Places - I just couldn't go on, I've decided I just don't like her style, and that's the end of it.  After that I went through a lull period where I didn't read anything but... well, I actually didn't read anything at all.  Terrible.  And yes, you are correct, I'm still somewhere in the middle of Diana Gabaldon's Voyager - so that's up next.  It'll be a relatively quick read because Diana Gabaldon is awesome, so don't worry.  I already own Drums of Autumn and The Fiery Cross, so I should be in tip-top shape by the time the Outlander film comes to theaters in 2011.

That's it for this very moment, so stay tuned but don't even bother trying to hold your breath for the next review post.  I promise, it will be out within two days.  Pinky-swear.  & (two pinkies swearing)


Monday, September 13, 2010

Words from the Well, 5

The Secret GardenI hope it's the fifth one!  I'm just going to buzz through this now, but I'll be back later in the week with a fresh review of... something.

Once again, it's no relaxing Sunday evening on the couch, rather a late-afternoon at the desk, but here's what I got this past week:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (the real one this time!)

The Wind in the Willows (Signet Classics)Pretty soon I will grace you with the completed review of The Wind in the Willows before the former, just because I promised.  Not that I mind re-reading it (or any good book, for that matter), so stay tuned, as it shouldn't take me very long provided there's no Olde English.

So, The Secret Garden - let me say that I just loved this movie as a kid.  I loved the nasty little girl, the gorgeous English house she's moved to, the magical key she finds to the even magical-er secret garden she finds.  It resonates with my secret-otherworld fascination, which I think came originally from Alice in Wonderland.  Well, it's all looking very English, too, so it's almost like I've got a real theme going - let's call this the Erstwhile English theme, why don't we?  We'll have it appear sporadically throughout the blog's life, so now I have to plan plenty of English-related reads.  Taking requests, as always, so pretend this is a relaxing Sunday evening, get yourself a cup of hot tea since it is pretty much fall now in the northern hemisphere, and stay in touch with a comment/two if you will!  It's 5 o'clock and I am out!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and TeethYA is a genre of books largely based on story.  The characters can often be well-drawn and inspired, but the stories are what always keep me coming back.  In The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, zombies have taken over the world.  The zombies have forced all remaining humans to cluster together in little isolated villages as they live out their claustrophobic lives in ever-present fear of being eaten by these Unconsecrated beings.  In the middle of this is Mary, a passionate, impulsive girl whose life is falling apart - her father, dead, and mother recently taken also by the Unconsecrated surrounding their tiny village in the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Now Mary has to reckon with her relationship to Harry, who she's known since childhood but cannot bring herself to love as much as she loves his brother Travis.  Travis is her night and day, if only he would allow himself to love Mary, and let go of his betrothed - who happens to be her best friend Cass.  What will Mary do for love?  Will it be enough for her in the end?  Or will her lost mother's memories of a different life, pre-zombie-invasion, lead her on a different path?

Trust me, once you start reading this book, you will want to learn the answers to these questions asap.  Read the day (night) away with this one, folks, and enjoy some scares along the way.  The zombies here are pretty creepy, the horror element is horrific and the romance is as painful as teen romance gets.  Mary's world becomes your own as she pounds her fists against the walls of her small world, fighting the undead and the life she ended up with in the terrible Forest of Hands and Teeth.  This is one of my favorite reads of the year.  I can't remember the last time I read a teen horror story, and this definitely qualifies, so be prepared for some blood.  Mary's character is lovable but not cute, real but not boring.  And the circumstances are dire, making for a real page-turner to keep you guessing.  The only issue I had is that we never find out how the world got to be a zombie hell, how it all began.  I assume that's covered more in the later book(s) - the second in the series is called The Dead-Tossed Waves (Forest of Hands and Teeth, Book 2) - which I'll be picking up as soon as my library hiatus ends.

Have fun guys, and stay tuned this weekend for another Words from the Well.
Sweet dreams!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows (Townsend Library Edition)I bet you're thinking, wow, two posts in one day when I've barely posted at all the past couple weeks.  And you're right it is weird, so thank goodness for bed bugs!  We're having an infestation at my job so I've got the entire weekend off + Labor Day!  Amazing.  And I'm going to take advantage of the time by reading, of course, and to do the more painful extracurriculars I've taken up over the past two months such as jewelry-making and crochet (mhm).  But mostly reading, partly because I've acquired a new book - from my job! Yes I snatched it right off the kitchenette table where people throw stuff they don't want - which will be posted in this lovely weekend's Words from the Well.  But to begin, I promised you a review of The Wind in the Willows, and that is what you will get:

In my first draft of the last post, I linked to the Townsend version of this because that's what I read.  And it was only after checking it out on Amazon afterward that I realized it is actually a "dumbed-down" (to quote the only reviewer) version of Kenneth Graham's classic.  So much to my dismay, I cheated and fixed the link to send you to a "real" version of the book, so that you may be more fortunate than I and read the actual classic.  I'm pretty embarrassed about this, and as I write this I'm searching Paperbackswap for a different copy of The Wind in the Willows so I can read it and edit this review.  But for now, let me say that I did like this little book, although it didn't quite live up to my expectations of magic and wonder like some children's books do. (I hope to do a whole sequence or theme on children's books here at some point, and maybe it will begin with the real WITW.)

The story goes, there is a mole.  Mole lives quite comfortably in his hole until one day he decides there is more to life than that, so he goes walking and meets the adventurous Water Rat.  Mole and Rat begin a great adventure together, becoming adorable friends, eventually introducing us to the pompous Mr. Toad and sage Badger, all of whom make up a terrific team that you'll be sad to miss once you finish the book.  The various trips the four take, over Rat's river, through Badger's dark woods, back to Mole's little hearth and home, are the perfect recipe for a funny, endearing couple of days if you happen to have off from work due to bedbug infestations and other such surprises.  Naturally I loved the famous chapter The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and I really can't wait to read this in the original for that part alone, so I won't give anything away until I've got the real thing.  Consider this a preliminary review, soon to be updated.  Now which version should I order...

Never mind that last one...

Prophecy of the SistersOkay, this is a first for me, people.  I started reading The Prophecy of the Sisters - passed the first chapter, okay.  Passed 75 pages, not so okay.  I just wasn't into it.  And that rule of mine, about reading on if there is any reason at all to continue ... well, it still applies!  I found no reason to continue reading this book.  I loved the atmosphere starting out - dark, gothic, melancholy.  But there just wasn't enough description of the period, virtually no historical detail, and when I pick up such a promising book about a 19th-century New York family's dark and deadly secrets, I really want some flourish.  I like the word "rich" to describe the language I love to read, so that when you're reading about the red wine they drink, you taste it in your mouth, and when the character is afraid, you are also afraid.  That's another issue with this one - the characters were neither very interesting nor very believable, which is due in part to the dialog that just didn't seem at all authentic.  Maybe I need to pick up one of those Jane Austen re-workings like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or something, for the better of both worlds?  Let me know on that, I haven't tried 'em yet.

Anyway, sorry about the false alarm, but that's the way I feel about my 75-page venture into historical YA.  I'm sure there will be more to come sometime, I'm totally willing to check out that "genre" if you can supply me with some recommendations.  Since I value you guys' opinions, I promise to read the entire book in that case!  So without (much) further ado, next up is a little review of an awesome little book called The Wind in the Willows, which I just finished this afternoon.