Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I had half of a review written. It was eloquent and everything. And then *POOF!* it was gone. This version is likely to be less than stellar.

Jane Eyre is an orphan. She is raised in a family devoid of love before being sent to a charitable school. There she spends eight years - two as a teacher. Upon leaving the school she becomes a governess for a private residence. And there the "real" story begins.

I don't know what it is about these books written by women in the 1800s. I find it very difficult to review and summarize them. The stories are twisting and convoluted. But at the same time they are linear and terribly predictable. Is it me? Is it them? Once upon a time in high school I wrote a many-paged paper extrapolating that Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby were essentially parallels of each other. Was I more fluent then? Or was it only so much crap written for a grade?

I enjoyed this book. Jane was fairly fascinating, though at times I wanted to smack her for her weaknesses. The way she would just give in or instinctively follow orders set my teeth on edge. Her temper and quick tongue did help to make up for it, though. Mr Rochester was a veritable Heathcliff to me (is it unfair to compare the characters of one sister to that of another?) - his moods and tempers were erratic at best. I often wondered if *he* were not the lunatic of the house.

Speaking of lunatics. Is in the Bronte sisters in particular or the time period in general that leads morbidity to be mixed with romance so freely? It is jarring and natural all at the same time and certainly adds... something.. to the work itself.

I'm glad I read this book. I almost passed it by yet again and left it collecting dust on my to-be-read shelf. I'd say that I'd recommend it to people, but I seem to be the last person on the planet (of a certain age) to have read it!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

The Lost City of Z is incredibly popular right now. I think it just came out in paperback. I remember hearing about this book and having a passing interest in it. And then I saw the National Geographic articles about the new satellite images that show roads and geometric patterns in the Amazon. I've always been interested in ancient cultures and have even visited Mayan ruins. I will admit to always having had a romantic Indiana Jones-esque daydreaming tendency.

The author, David Grann, learns of the famous lost explorer "Colonel" Percy Fawcett and is completely intrigued. Throughout the course of the book, Grann extrapolates the life and adventures of Fawcett using previously unreleased documentation from his descendants. Fawcett is an astounding character - arrogant and sure, determined, innovative. The story of his life and how he came to be an explorer was fascinating. It almost read like fiction - which makes it all the more amazing, because it's all true! Grann brings to life a man that few ever realized existed. In addition to research, Grann also undertakes his own trek into the Amazon to discover the fate of Fawcett and his party. His experiences are amazing to consider an average person embarking on. The conclusions that he comes to are those of an extremely educated and logical mind.

Overall, this book was fantastic. The history mixed with adventure is sure to excite even the most jaded readers. Grann did a remarkable job of showing the cultural and environmental importance of the Amazon while not straying from his main topic. I didn't think this book would grip me the way that it did, but honestly I found myself unable to put it down. It is definitely something I'd recommend to others.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Guest post: The Elf reviews Vampirates.

The Elf's (my seven-year-old home-schooled son) first book review. Dictated by him, translated by me (for coherency and grammar).

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper

After the death of their father, Grace and Connor Tempest steal their father's ship. During a big storm the twins get separated. Two different pirate ships rescue each of the children. Connor ends up with pirates while Grace is taken aboard the Vampirate ship. Each is striving to find the other.

I really enjoyed the fighting scenes with Connor and the pirates. My favorite character was the Vampirate captain. I particularly liked the description of his mask and cape. Overall, I think that the book was excellently paced and would definitely recommend the book to others. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kitty's House of Horrors by Carrie Vaughn

I've always found it difficult to review books when they're fairly far along in a series. With each installment, my reviews seem to get shorter and simpler. Oh well.

This is the seventh book in the Kitty Norville series. The premise is that Kitty is joining a cast of supernatural celebrities (plus a skeptic) at a remote hunting lodge to film a reality show. Things, as usual, go from bad to worse to happy-ish ending.

I found Kitty's "I'm a talk show host, so I'll act like I'm forever on air" attitude at the lodge kind of annoying and a little forced. Gradually, though, it wears off and she acts more like a person and less like a cliche. I especially loved the way she sort of channeled Cormac during the crisis. Cormac has always been my favorite support character in these books. It was nice to have him back, even in that limited capacity.

The suspense was amazing. I actually caught myself daydreaming all of these horrible "there are people outside of my house waiting to ambush and kill me" thoughts. I admit that part of that is due to my overactive imagination (especially while pregnant - like I needed the encouragement to be paranoid!). The end of the crisis - the big save - was way too convenient for me. I won't ruin it by telling you why I think this, suffice it to say that it just seemed phony to me.

All in all, if you've read the first six books of the series, you're going to read this one too. You know you will. And odds are, you'll enjoy it - otherwise you wouldn't have read all the previous books, right?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Beast by Donna Jo Napoli

I've always loved the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, so when I found this retelling I was excited. It is shelved in my local library as Young Adult, and I couldn't agree more with that designation.

The story itself is interestingly set in Persia. I found the religious references and the folk lore fun to read. The majority of the story is set in both Persia and India. These were my favorite parts. I was hoping the Beauty part of the story would vary more than it did. But again, we had to travel to France and meet an oh-so-sweet girl who is destined to free the Beast from his curse.

I was honestly disappointed with the lack of originality in the end. This did not stop me from enjoying the book for what it was - a retelling of a classic aimed at a younger audience than myself. I will definitely be recommending it to my niece and my own children when they're a bit older.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The First Crusade: A New History by Thomas Asbridge

I have to admit that this book took me a while to get through. My fascination with the Crusades is deep, but not boundless. The section of the book explaining probable causes of the crusade, the politics, the preparations, etc. was very dry to me. Asbridge expounds upon the history of history - which I give you has merit. Each detail he gives adds a dimension to the overall picture and it is all relevant. I just found it a bit hard to get through. After that, though.. wow! Just wow! The descriptions are amazing, the facts fascinating, the pace quick. I love that he admits where only speculation is possible rather than trying to pass it all as fact. The moment the crusading armies set out I found it hard to put the book down.

If you like history, amazingly balanced history, then this book is for you. I even managed to get my homeschooled seven-year-old interested in the Crusades with this book!