Friday, January 31, 2014

The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel (audio)

"In a world so empty of human life, there was a comfort in the thought that an invisible realm of spirits was aware of their existence, cared about their actions, and perhaps directed their steps.  Even a stern or inimical spirit who cared enough to demand certain actions of appeasement was better than the heartless disregard of a harsh and indifferent world, in which their lives were entirely in their own hands, with no one else to turn to in the time of need, not even in their thoughts."

 Earth's Children #1 - The Clan of the Cave Bear
Earth's Children #2 - The Valley of the Horses
Earth's Children #3 - The Mammoth Hunters

So begins book #4 in the Earth's Children series.  This one not only includes your "daily dose of caveman porn," but there's mammoth porn as well.  And Ayla and Jondalar give Anastasia and Christian a run for their money!

The Plains of Passage starts as Ayla and Jondalar leave the Mamutoi to begin the long-awaited journey home to Jondalar's people.  They travel with wolf and their two horses through present-day Europe where they meet many different groups of people.  Although they encounter some difficulties, they are generally well-liked by the people they meet.  As they leave each group behind and head west, Ayla wonders if Jondalar's people will be as excepting of her.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

"Children don't require of their parents a past and they find something faintly unbelievable, almost embarrassing, in parental claims to a prior existence."

I have been a huge fan of Kate Morton - and this one ranks right up there with my favorite, The Forgotten Garden.  I was so excited to hear a new book was coming out, especially one about World War II, that I couldn't wait to read it when I got it for Christmas this year.  Once I started, I couldn't put it down.  

The novel begins in England in the 1960s where 16-year-old Laurel is celebrating her younger brother's birthday with her family.  When she sneaks away for some much needed peace and quiet, she witnesses a scene that will change the way she sees her mother forever.  Daydreaming in her tree house, she is brought back to reality when she notices a strange man walking to her parents house.  She watches with horror as her mother violently stabs the man with a cake knife.  After the incident, her parents never mention it again and the family continues living there happy life.

Fast-forward to 2011 and Laurel returns to London with her brother and sisters to visit her elderly mother.  When Laurel sees that her mother doesn't have much time left, she is determined to figure out her mother's story and why her "perfect" mother would murder a stranger in their kitchen.  

In true Kate Morton fashion, the novel alternates between Laurel's search and her mother's past in war-torn London in the 1940s.  The book was very engaging, the characters were wonderfully developed, and I just loved the description of Laurel's mother and the people of her past.  I thought I had this book figure out so many times, but was pleasantly surprised by the ending.  Everything fit together so well and I was left in awe by the outcome.  I can't wait to get my hands on Morton's next novel!

This book was #2 on my top ten list of 2014.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

#365 Shakespeare - King Henry VI, Part 2

The main focus of the second part of King Henry VI is Henry's inability to rule England.  He has numerous conflicts with his wife, Queen Margaret that reveal his lack of power and authority.  The play includes many battle scenes, including the First Battle of St. Albans in the opening act.  Other major events include the marriage of King Henry VI and Queen Margaret, Margaret's affair with the Earl of Suffolk, the death of Henry's trusted advisor, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Jack Cage the the rebellion of the common people, and the rise of the Duke of York.

Even though there were a lot more character to keep straight, I found the second part a little easier to read.  I guess there's something to be said about "learning the language" of Shakespeare. I'm right on track to start Part 3 tomorrow.  We'll see how the schedule goes once grad school starts up again this week!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

House Rules by Rachel Sontag

" some point we'll have to become what we want.  We'll have to be that mom for someone else., hope we marry a man who becomes that dad.  We can't just go on wishing for some concept of family that doesn't exist."

I have a lot of trouble with non-fiction.  I try to read at least one non-fiction book a year, but I always end up reading it while I'm reading something else and it usually takes me months to finish.  I have even more trouble with memoirs...I don't relate well to people talking about their emotions.  It's really challenging for me to get through and entire book where someone is reflecting on their experiences and how it effects them emotionally.  I probably wouldn't have picked up this book if it wasn't for book club, but I ended up finishing it in a little over a week...mostly during my lunch breaks at work.  With no classes until next week, I had a lot of free time.

This book is Rachel's memoir of her childhood and early adulthood.  If focuses mainly her complex relationships, especially with her over protective and obsessive father.  I've been waiting to write this review all day, but I'm still not sure how I feel about the book.  It was a quick read and the author has a very simple and entertaining style of writing.  I feel like Rachel's dad originally had good intentions, but went about it the wrong way.  Through his obsession with control over his family, I could see the underlining of a parents trying to raise his children the only way he knew how.  Yes, it was extreme and shouldn't have happened the way it did...but I can't help keeping in mind that Rachel was a teenager during a lot of the memoir.  No family is perfect and parenting is a very hard thing to "get exactly right."  Maybe that's just me trying to see the best in everything.  I think for me, the book brought up a larger question of the complexity of family relationships, parenting, and growing up.

While I was reading the book, I kept thinking how anyone could possibly remember not only details, but specific conversations of their childhood.  I also wondered what her family, specifically her dad, thought about the book.  I found an interview online that talked a little bit about this. What was even more interesting was a website developed by her dad in response to the memoir.  At the very least, I'm glad that Rachel was able to have a closer relationship with her mom and sister after the events took place.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

#365 Shakespeare - King Henry VI, Part 1

Finished the King Henry the Sixth, part one in my 365 days of Shakespeare challenge.  I always had a really, really hard time with Shakespeare in high school, so this has been much easier than I thought.  The language is the hardest part for me, but I'm getting use to it. One play down and thirty-six more to go...thank you sparknotes and Wikipedia!

King Henry VI, part was written around 1592 during the reign of Elizabeth I.  It is a history play and focuses on the time period shortly after the death of Henry V in 1422.  Part one covers the origins of the War of the Roses, describing England's lose of territories to France, Joan of Arc, and Henry VI's marriage to Margaret of Anjou.  My first introduction to the War of the Roses was reading Philippa Gregory's Cousin's War Series that tells the story of the women behind the conflict of the house of Lancaster and the house of York for the crown of English.  One of the novels, Lady of the Rivers includes the Duke of Bedford's wife, Jacquetta, Joan of Arc, young King Henry VI, among others.  It was really interesting to see a different perspective on this time period.    Major themes include the death of chivalry, multiple conflicts, and the role of untraditional women.  Of even more interest was that even though the play was written over 170 years after the event took place, the politics of the time period were still very influential.  A number of years later, but not nearly as long as writing about this era today.  The three plays of King Henry VI are thought to be the first plays based on recent essence, the first historical fiction written recent English history.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel (audio)

"They stared at each other, wanting each other, drawn to each other, but their silent shout of love went unheard in the roar of misunderstanding, and the clatter of culturally ingrained beliefs."

Earth's Children #1 - The Clan of the Cave Bear
Earth's Children #2 - The Valley of the Horses 

This is the third book in Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children series.  After leaving the valley, Jondalar and Ayla travel with their horses and meet the Mamutoi people.  No longer along, they must learn to interact with other people and learn their new customs.  The people are very impressed with Ayla, and she is eventually adopted as one of them.  Ayla finds a connection with these people that she was not able to feel with the Clan She continues to develop her skills as a healer adopts a pet wolf.  Ayla catches the attention of a young man named Ranec and her relationship with Jondalar is questioned.

I wasn't sure how I felt about this book.  I love the writing and description, but I was often very frustrated with the main characters.  Through the last two books in this series, I came to love Ayla and Jondalar, but they just seemed to not think at all in this one!! I get that they come from different cultures, but I thought after being alone together for over a year, that they would know enough about each others past to not make so many assumptions.  Their whole problem could have been solved in less than a chapter, but they refuse to discuss the situation until the very end of the book.  I guess it made the book interesting, but it was very, very frustrating!!

I probably would have given this one a lower rating based on characters and plot, but the world that Auel continues to create continues to astound me.  I loved learning about the Mamuoi people and seeing how Ayla interacted with the people she was born to.  After living with the Clan, there are still so many different things for her to learn.  The Mamuoi were also very excepting and had adopted a young boy that was both Clan and Momuoi.  Ayla saw her son in this child and was able to teach him to communicate.  In the end, Ayla is forced to make a hard decision that will change the course of her path.

On to book 4...



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

"After that the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind.  But I hope you will remember this: A man walking fast down a dark lonely street.  Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need.  A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes.  A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time."

"What do you seek in these shelves?" 

 This book was brilliant.  I read a lot of books, and it's rare that I find a novel so wonderful and unique as this one.  An idea that just...simply hasn't been done before.  To my knowledge anyways.  At least not done as well as this.  Its cute and quirkey - the main character is a total 21st century geek - yet surprisingly insight full.  

When Clay Jannon loses his job as a web designer, he stumbles into Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and takes up the late-night shift.  With very strange and random customers, Jannon begins to realize that there might be more to the bookstore than he thought.  Enter a world of card cataloging meets the internet, the book has everything: bookstores, libraries, Google, audio books, data visualization, secret societies, history of print, typography, children's fantasy novels, databases, remote storage facilities, digital vs. print, coding, cataloging, ebooks, the internet, information overload, Wikipedia - and of course, books.  When Penumbra mysteriously dissapears, Jannon and his friends soon find themselves on the quest for immortality amongst the shelves.  

This is the ultimate book for book lovers and I couldn't put it down!  It's about finding "the right book, at exactly the right time" and creating a world where print and technology can exist side by side.  Not only was it fascinating, but super fun to read.  I just loved it.  Robin Sloan got this one right.  

Oh, and did I mention that the cover glows in the dark?  Yep, it does...way cool :)

This book was #5 on my top ten list of 2014.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

"I wish I could freeze this moment, right here, right now and live in it forever."

Just re-read this one again before the movie came out.  A few years later, this remains one of my favorite YA dystopia series.  When they first came out, I read all three books in about a week.  After the first book, I wasn't sure how the next two were going to turn out.  I was expecting something big for the Quarter Quell, but the ending took me by surprise!!!  I really enjoyed reading about all of the secondary characters in this book - all of the past winners of the Hunger Games.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

365 Days of Shakespeare

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is one of my all time favorite books.  I first read it when I was about ten and have read it at least four or five times.  It's about a young girl named Francie Nolan growing up in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century.  I feel in love with the character right away - she loves books - and two things in the book have stuck with me every since.  The first is that she goes to the library every day and has the goal of reading every book there - reading about this was one of the first time that I remember being completely fascinated with books and libraries.  The thought of being able to read every single book amazed me to no end, even if it was a really small library!

The second thing in the book is that every night before Francie and her brother go to bed, their mom reads them a page of Shakespeare and a page of the bible.  Here's the quote:

"Before they went to bed, Francie and Neeley had to read a page of the Bible and a page from Shakespeare.  That was a rule.  Mama used to read the two pages to them each night until they were old enough to read for themselves.  To save time, Neeley read the Bible page and Francie read from Shakespeare."

Anyways, I've always wanted to do this - going on almost 15 years now.  But i figured it out and it would take me four years...way too long.  Then I thought I could read both in a year.  But that seemed a little unrealistic.  So I decided to focus on Shakespeare this year - and hopefully tackle the Bible next year.  Shakespeare has always been a struggle for me and I thought I'd be good to get it out of the ways first.

My plan is to read a couple pages each day.  I'm reading the Barnes & Noble Collectable Edition.  There are 1263 pages...minus the glossary is a total of 1252 pages.  That's 3.43 pages a day.  Should be doable, right?  I'm then going to right a blog post after I finish each play with the label 365 days of shakespeare.  

Wish me luck :)

When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt

★ 1/2

"We would never return to Kos or Opi, for they held no  more place for us, and yet they were home, woven deep in our flesh."

Born and raised in a remote mountain village, 20-year-old Irma struggles with the lose of her mother and her life at home.  Too plain and poor to marry, she is left with no other option that to immigrate to America and work as a dress-maker.  Through Irma's journey, she meets people just like her struggling to make it in their new home.  By chance, she learns that her gift with needlework will lead her on another path - volunteering at a free-clinic and eventually traveling to San Francisco to pursue training as a nurse.

This was a typical "immigrant" novel.  I enjoyed Irma's unique story and her path to find herself in a world where she knows no one.  Her struggles are a testimony of the millions of people worked to make new lives for themselves.  One of the main themes throughout the book was having to leave everything behind and start a new life.  I liked learning about the medicine practices at the time, but I was a little frustrated with the ending - it fit ok with the novel, but seemed to come out of nowhere and I'm not sure how well it first with Irma's character.  All in all a decent book and I enjoyed reading about 19th century practices in America.