Friday, December 18, 2009


The books have been purchased. Mission accomplished! I didn't pay a penny, either, since I used old gift cards that have been sitting in my wallet for years. Woohoo!

I'm also done with finals, which is a big yay (YAY!) and I'm heading home tomorrow morning with my parental units. I think it'll be good to get away from school for a while. I'm rather in need of a good break, and this semester has been murderously abusive.

Sir Winston Churchill (pictured at right) says that I deserve victory (he IS pointing at me, isn't he?), but I guess that remains to be seen until my grades get posted. In the meantime, I intend on doing little besides relaaaaaxing. Mm.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Wishlist

I have literally hundreds of dollars in Borders and Barnes & Noble gift cards sitting in my wallet, and I think it's high time I use them. I have every intention of going on a crazy book binge as soon as my finals are over, and while I'm taking a break from the difficult fifteen minutes of studying I just did, I figure I might as well list some of the books I want to include in my mass purchase. Let's see...

-Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. She wrote what is possible my favorite novel of all time (namely, The Time Traveler's Wife).

-Lucky by Alice Sebold. By the author of the nationally-acclaimed novel The Lovely Bones. Girl's got talent. And it's been a while since I've read a good memoir.

-The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. One of my best buds here at college is a Dawkins lover, so I figure I should give his stuff a try.

-Better by Atul Gawande. I read his book Complications a few years ago and loved it. Though I was pretty burned out in terms of medically-related books after my introductory seminar last Fall, I think it might be time to reopen that sector of literature.

-Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. She writes absolutely amazing short stories. I'm curious what this new anthology looks like in comparison with Interpreter of Maladies, which has to be one of my most favorite short story collections.

-Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Haven't seen the movie yet, and I usually like to read the books before I see the film adaptation. I've been poked and prodded by tons of people to watch the movie, so I should probably get cracking on the book first.

-Book of A Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. I've read some of her other work (see: Austenland, among others), and am curious about this new addition to the litany of books she's written.

I think that's enough for now. My "To Be Read" pile at home is already prodigiously large, and adding to it is probably a really bad idea. OH WELL.
Something I've been wondering about books: What is it with authors these days and book titles like "The _____'s Wife/Sister/Daughter"? When did this title form become so daggone popular? I saw it with The Time Traveler's Wife, and before I knew it it was everywhere! Curious...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Life Update 4

Fully in spite of the general hopeless that is my life right now (finals week starting Monday. Need I go on?), I can safely say that today was one of the best days of the entire semester. I saw something awesome happen today. Sometimes I forget how amazing the people around me are, and then it all comes back to me in a sudden rush that makes it absolutely impossible for me to feel sorry for myself and my pitiful knowledge of chemistry.
To life. L'Chaim!
Watching and waiting is for squares. I hope we've all learned a valuable lesson today.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book 11: The Realm Of The Gods by Tamora Pierce

This will be the end of my Tamora Pierce kick, or it will be for now. The Realm Of The Gods is the satisfying finish to Tamora Pierce's IMMORTALS series, and the conclusion to Daine's story.

Daine and Numair are facing what is certainly their doom when they are pulled into The Divine Realms by none other than Daine's parents, whose are both lesser gods. Though it is a very tearful reunion for Daine and her mother (who, when still mortal, was murdered by bandits) Daine and Numair must return to the Mortal Realms to help Tortall in her fight against Ozorne, who is back--this time as a conniving Stormwing instead of a conniving emperor, and with plenty of mortal and Immortal allies.
Since the war in the Mortal Realms is going on at the same time as a war between The Greater Gods and the Queen of Chaos (Ozorne+ Chaos=cohorts? Yes.), none of the Gods can be bothered to help Numair and Daine get back home, so the two are forced to make the perilous trip across the Divine Realms to request help from the Dragons. They also discover that they love each other--a wonderfully tender note in an otherwise plot-driven novel.
Once transported back to the Mortal Realms (courtesy of the Dragons), Daine takes on Ozorne in a bloody, decisive battle that ends the fighting in both the Mortal and Divine Realms.

The Realm Of The Gods provides a very fitting end to the series, and quite a satisfying one as well. Though quite fast-paced, the story is still imbued with detail and with enough character development that it doesn't rely completely upon plot. Though the trek through the Divine Realms got a tad monotonous at times, Pierce navigates the story well and does a good job of bringing the series to a fulfilling conclusion.

Grade: A-
Rating: 13+ (violence, mild cursing, romance)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Book 10: Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce

This is easily the most intense of Immortals Series novels. In Emperor Mage, the friction between Tortall and Carthak passive-aggressively comes to a head. Tortall sends a delegation of some of its most important, most powerful personalities to Carthak to negotiate a peace with the southern empire and its government. Included in the delegation are the King's Champion, the king's powerful uncle, Numair--once a resident of Carthak and a former friend of the emperor--, and others. And then there's Daine, who was asked by the Emperor Mage himself to come along with the delegation and heal his prized but suddenly sickly pet birds.
In spite of past evidence of his ill intentions towards Tortall, Emperor Ozorne of Carthak proclaims innocence and seems to be the very picture of a benevolent host, which somewhat reassures the very antsy delegation party and confuses Daine, for whom the image of the Emperor's concern for his birds and the devastation visited upon Tortall in his name are at extreme odds. The dynamic between the delegates and the Emperor is complicated by the presence of Numair, who fled Carthak and the Emperor years before the beginning of the series and had been admitted back into the Empire on a tenuous pardon from Ozorne.
Though Ozorne works hard to uphold the image of his "perfect" empire, it becomes increasingly clear that there is something amiss in Carthak. Through the action of the patron goddess of Carthak, the Graveyard Hag, Daine becomes unwillingly involved in both the political and religious struggles of the empire.
All of a sudden, things begin to go wrong. The gods, it is clear, are displeased with Emperor Ozorne, and pressure increases on Daine to act as their chosen vessel.
When everything begins to go wrong and Ozorne commits the most base treachery, Daine uses her powers--both her wild magic and a new power bestowed upon her--to bring Carthak to her knees and destroy the rule of the Emperor Mage.
Clearly, Daine is a total bad-ass.

Emperor Mage is my favorite in the series for a lot of reasons, but especially because of the new landscape we get to explore through Daine's eyes. There is also a great deal of movement in both the emotional and the physical plots, as relationships between the characters deepen and the series begins to realize its final trajectory. It's a pretty rich, evocative read, especially for a book of its sort (let's be honest, now--Tamora Pierce isn't a Tolkien or anything, but she is very good at what she does), and it's quick as well. I flew through this one in four days without sacrificing any work or sleep (though I did spend a lot of time at the gym...I get all of my fun reading done at the gym these days).
For fans of Wild Magic and Wolf-Speaker, this next book in the series will really knock your socks off. It's a fabulously fun read, and it benefits from the fact that it is a later book in the series. It seems to me that Pierce is more comfortable of her characters in this volume than she was in the previous books of the series, and that comfort translates into much more effective writing.
All in all, a job very well done.

Grade: A
Rating: 12+ (advisory: themes of doom, treachery, violence, "canoodling" [though this is only ever made vague mention of])

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Book 9: Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce

As you can probably guess, this is the second book in Tamora Pierce's Immortals series. As the sequel to Wild Magic, Wolf-Speaker follows Daine's adventures in Tortall with her teacher, Numair Salmalin. In this novel, Daine receives a summons from the Long Lake wolf pack--wolves who once served as her surrogate family following the murder of her mother and grandfather--requesting her help with the human lords of the Dunlath Valley who are systematically destroying the area. However, once there, Daine and Numair find that not only is the environment surrounding the Fief of Dunlath being damaged, but there is also something else awry--and it stinks of high treason on the parts of the lord and lady of Dunlath who are, along with mages and Immortals from the southern empire of Carthak, attempting to overthrow the King and Queen of Tortall.
Daine and Numair become separated from one another and have to work alone to try and stop Yolane and Belden's treacherous plan before they destroy the valley--or worse, succeed at their plot.

This novel further develops the theme of animosity towards Tortall from the Emperor of Carthak, which becomes the primary theme in the last two books of the series. In this novel, Daine's powers also expand from simple communication with animals to the ability to heal them and enter their minds, and later transform completely.

Unlike the first book in the series, Wolf-Speaker is more of a straight-up adventure story and doesn't have nearly as much emotional and relationship development as Wild Magic did. While it was still a pleasant read, it was significantly less engaging than Wild Magic is and in my opinion almost expendable in the grand scheme of the series. Even so, Wolf-Speaker is not lost on the reader; anyone who enjoyed Wild Magic will like Wolf-Speaker as well.

Grade: B+
Rating: 10+ (advisory: mild violence)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book 8: Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

This is a ridiculously long post (I have a long history with this book, so be prepared for storytime if you decide to read the whole dratted thing). If you're just here for the review, scroll until you see the big purple letters.


I picked this book up for the first time when I was in sixth grade, not knowing that it would be responsible for shaping my reading habits for the next three to four years. I devoured it and its sequels before moving on to the author's other books, and then obsessively re-read them again and again. The spine on my copy of this one is absolutely destroyed, which could be credited to the fact that it's a used book, but I choose to peg it on the fact that, once upon a time, it was the most-oft-read book on my shelf.

I generally expect books to lose their charm after a few years, and most of the time they do. There are a few exceptions I've found--Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, for example, or the first of J.K Rowling's Harry Potter Series. No matter how many times I read them, these books never get old. They are just as beloved to me now at nineteen as they were when I first read them as a fourth grader. Personally, I think that is a great feat of writing, and something that authors should be heartily congratulated on. It's easy to go from adoring a book one day to thinking that it isn't anything special the next, especially given the extreme power that public opinion has these days (hello, Twilight? I read it when it was a cool, cult-indie book. Now I wouldn't be caught dead carrying that one around in public; my apologies to Stephenie Meyer).

As I steadily read my way through Tamora Pierce's books, and as I got older, a litany of complaints with her writing sprung up in my head and stayed there, so that long after I stopped reading her books and moved on to more of the "serious literature" that my parents implored me to read instead, I still harbored a strange disdain for her and her work.

Of course, all of my criticisms of her work were completely justified. I still maintain that her later work is not nearly as good as her first couple series, and that her characters tend to become anti-stereotypes (ex: the bad-ass queen who bags bandits on horseback in taffeta ball gowns) and the kingdoms she "creates" are eventually very easy to identify as direct copies from real, existing countries. BUT, in my haste to "move on" and cover my tracks as one of the formerly Tamora Pierce-obsessed, I think I might have gone a little too far.

It had been years since I'd even paid a real thought to Tamora Pierce when I desperately grabbed Wild Magic off of my bookshelf as I left home on my way to the airport during a recent holiday from college. Last year, I came to school laden with books that I intended to read over the course of the school year. But at the end of the term, I hadn't properly finished even a single one. So this time when I packed to head back to school all the books I brought were academic, sparing two, and even those two aren't all that compelling as far as novels go. I read enough of the heavy stuff for my classes, so when I'm looking for some bedtime reading, I definitely don't turn to Feynman's Six Easy Pieces or Nehru's biography for a literary lullaby (unless I wanted to either bore myself to sleep or be lulled by words that are too big for a sleepy 2AM brain). When I look for a book to keep myself happy and entertained, especially nowadays, I find that I'm more likely to turn to the old faithfuls.

I started reading Wild Magic on the plane flight back to school, and was pretty surprised to find that it was more or less as good now as it was when I first read it. I suppose it was unexpected because of all the mental bashing I'd done of Tamora Pierce's work, but the characters still sprang out of the page and the plot still gripped like it used to. Granted, I'm now painfully aware of all the weird, unnecessary, annoying things that Pierce does with her writing, but I'm also willing to overlook all of that for the sheer enjoyment I got out of readingWild Magic. As my friend Eldridge so aptly described it, reading an easy, fun novel like that is like a brain massage--and goodness knows I need as many of those as I can get this year! I finished the book feeling rejuvenated and, for the first time in a while, excited about reading. It's been too long since I've wanted to find an excuse to pick up a book (I went so far as to go to the gym and work out for a good hour just so I could read while doing so).

Anyway, on to the review. God, this has been a long-winded post.

Alright. So, Wild Magic and its three sequels follow the adventures of Veralidaine "Daine" Sarrasri (Ridonkulous name? Yes, I think so) as she attempts to find her way in the kingdom of Tortall after her escape from her village in the country of Galla. She is young--about thirteen--, pretty, and a skilled archer. Her best friend is a ornery pony named Cloud. We quickly learn that she is an orphan (her family was killed by bandits) and that she has what she calls a "knack with animals". She meets Onua, the woman responsible for choosing horses and ponies for the Tortallan Royal Stables, and gets hired on to be her assistant. Together, the two lead the new herd of ponies south towards Tortall, getting into their share of trouble along the way.
With the help and tutelage of Tortallan mage Numair Salmalin, Daine discovers that she possesses wild magic, a rare type of magic that gives her a connection to animals (among other things). She learns to tap into it, and tackles her difficult past along the way. As her magic becomes stronger, Daine realizes that she can sense the presence of and communicate with Immortals--mythical and often dangerous creatures that were banished to the Divine Realms hundreds of years ago by mortal mages. This skill proves very useful when it comes to light that meddling sorcerers have begun releasing the immortals into the Mortal Realms. The story comes to a head when she and her new friends are attacked by raiders intent on the destruction of the Tortallan royal family. With the help of her magic, Daine helps save the day and discovers herself at home in a new country.

Wild Magic was and still is a fantastically satisfying read. I recommend it to anyone above the age of 10, and especially to those fantasy-inclined (but reluctant) readers. Tamora Pierce's work is both fun and easy to read.

Grade: A
Rating: 10+ (advisory: violence)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Life Update 3

It's been raining around here for the last few days.  Of course, "raining" is a relative term in Southern California.  In the past 48 hours, we had approximately 3 minutes of torrential downpour.  Other than that, the sky was gloomily but innocuously cloudy.  We barely even got drizzled on.  
And, of course, I woke up this morning to perfectly blue skies.  It's supposed to hit 95 degrees tomorrow.  Claremont weather is so completely on drugs.  I hear it's supposed to be an El Nino year.  Maybe that means we'll get more than, um, half the national average rainfall this year (National average = 38 inches per year.  Claremont average = 18 inches per year.  Awesome.  That's what we get for living in a desert).  
I have to admit, I miss rain.  Even though we don't get a terrible lot of it in NorCal either, it's better there than it is here.  I love ferocious rainstorms.  We saw a grand total of ONE of those last year in Claremont.  Good times.  
I've been considering getting some of those ridiculous rainboots that all SoCal girls seem to be rocking around this time of year.  They're so adorable, but I'm pretty sure I'd only get about 3 uses out of them in the year, so it would be a pretty impractical purchase.  -sigh- 
I'll be putting my life in OChem's hands once more tomorrow, since our third midterm starts bright and early at 8AM.  Having only 9AM classes last year made it easy to forget the horror of having to get to class at 8:00.  Now that I have to do it again, I can't for the life of me remember how I managed it in high school.  I am convinced that high school students (and, indeed, any students who wake up at 6:30 on the daily) are superheroes.  

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Book 7: Austenland by Shannon Hale

I'm not sure if I've made this adequately clear in the past, but I am not a huge fan of Jane Austen's.  While her stuff is, yes, entertaining to a degree, I can't help but feel like every story is the same and every character is just a reconstituted Mr. Darcy or Ms. Bennett.  And, yeah, her characters sometimes have rather witty, snarkastic (sarcastic + snarky; I think it's clever) things to say, but nothing from a Jane Austen novel has ever inspired me to love, admire, or even loathe her characters.  
In light of this, I find it highly amusing that Shannon Hale's Austenland, a novel entirely concerned with Jane Austen and the women who love her work, is one of my favorite frivolous reads of all time.  I say "frivolous" simply because, having read a few of Hale's other novels, I can safely call Austenland one of her more playful endeavors (it's meant to be funny and ridiculous, unlike Goose Girl which is much more literary in nature, for lack of a better description).  
The plot of Austenland is as follows:  Jane Hayes is a successful working woman living in New York.  She has, it seems, everything a girl wants--beauty, youth, a good job.  Everything, that is, except a healthy love life.  Jane is a Pride and Prejudice addict of the highest order and a lover of everything Jane Austen.  And she is obsessed--OBSESSED--with Mr. Darcy.  No real boyfriend could possibly compare in her eyes to the perfection that is Fitzwilliam Darcy.  It's a guilty habit--one she's aware of and knows, on some level, that she has to get rid of if she wants to move on with her life.  So when a recently-deceased relative wills her an all-expenses-paid trip to an English resort built specifically with her type in mind--that is, a three-week immersion in a re-creation of Regency England that caters to the Austen-obsessed--Jane decides to go on the eccentric vacation for one last hurrah before dumping the Darcy habit for good. 
For three weeks she dresses in ball gowns, learns the talk and the manners, dances, and interacts with Martin the Gardener and the broody Mr. Nobly (or is it the actors they're played by?) and the other vacationers, and she eventually finds herself in her element, thriving in the synthetic setting and loving it.  The true question by the end of the vacation is this:  will she bid Pembroke Park adieu having left the obsession in the past or will she, perhaps, end up with a flesh-and-blood Mr. Darcy of her own? 
It's a seriously delightful novel, and a very quick read.  It's chick-lit, to be sure, but even the most straight-laced readers will have to laugh and sigh with the believable and relatable character that Hale creates in Jane Hayes.  The narrative reads with an ease and a wit that I really can't get enough of.  
Yeah, maybe it does have a happy ending, but it's so much better than that.

Grade:  A+
Rating:  14+ for (ew omgsh) making out, etc.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book 6: "Covering: The Hidden Assault On Our Civil Rights" by Kenji Yoshino

Since I'm part of the housing staff at my college, I'm supposed to read the summer reading book that the college assigns to incoming freshmen so that I can discuss the book with the freshies when they get on campus.  

I picked the book up before school let out, and started reading it during the train ride to the beach on my last day in Southern California.  While the material was relatively interesting, I only got through the first few pages before falling asleep (credit for the doze-off goes to the groovy motion of the train, though, not the book).  

I was recently reminded of the task I had been charged with, and since I didn't have anything to read, I picked this one back up.  

Covering:  The Hidden Assault On Our Civil Rights is a memoir/essay by Kenji Yoshino on the broad subjects of identity and society.  More specifically, it's about society's demands for conformity through an act which Yoshino calls "covering".  Covering is defined as the process by which people "tone down" or de-emphasize stereotypes or stigmas associated with their racial, gender, sexual, religious, or other identities.  According to Yoshino, one can cover along the four axes of appearance (by making sure we don't look stereotypically ___), affiliation (by not associating with ____ culture), activism (by not engaging in ____ causes), and association (by keeping a distance from other ____ people).  

  Aside from addressing a very interesting and current topic, Yoshino does a great job of building  the book into a delightful cross between an expository essay and a memoir.  By using his own experiences as fodder for the discussion of covering, Yoshino builds context and provides resonant parallels between his life and the sociopolitical precedent that legitimizes covering in American society.  I found the format in which Covering was written to be very effective in not only giving readers a reason to care about the subject, but also in forcing readers to think about how they themselves capitulate to and impose covering demands.  Yoshino's style is also very appealing to me, in that he neatly balances the flourish of more formal, lyrical writing with a very frank, honest discussion of the issue and its effects.  He is also very even-handed, and seems to never make the mistake of taking himself too seriously--a quality that I respect very much in a writer.  

Professor Yoshino actually came and spoke at my college on the subject of covering, and I was pleased to find that he is as well-spoken in the flesh as on the page.  (He also dresses excellently, but that's quite besides the point)

I think Covering is one of those books that everyone should read, both for the purpose of better understanding society and to, more importantly, gain better understanding of the self.  Covering is an issue that touches everyone, and understanding it helps us know how it relates to us and influences our place in the world.  

Grade:  A
Rating:  15+; it would probably bore anyone younger
Considerations:  None.  It's appropriate for just about everyone

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Life Update 2

Things have been pretty crazy of late.  I'm back at school now, and it's only just hit me how crazy this semester is going to be.  Still, things are good.  I like my classes (or, rather, I like them as much as I am able, given that Organic Chemistry has officially put its devil mark upon my brain as of today), I love my room (it's GIGANTIC and all mine), and I adore my freshmen.  I hope they like me as much as I like them.  
It's been insanely hot here in Claremont, though right now it's pleasant and cool in my room (the breeze blows in through the balcony door once in a while and it really is the most exquisite thing).  The local fires are burning themselves out slowly, so the air quality is gross.  I find ash on the balcony in the morning sometimes, and smoke clouds rise out of the North and make me think of Mordor every time I turn towards the mountains.  
According to my freshmen, a "blonde guy" keeps showing up at my door when I'm not around.  I have no idea who this person is, since he's never left me a note to indicate his identity despite the fact that a good portion of my door is taken up by whiteboard.  Hopefully he'll come by while I'm here and solve the mystery.  That would be good.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Book 5: La Cucina by Lily Prior

I feel bad for hating on this novel, since it is technically the sort of book I should like.  It's about Italy, it contains stellar recipes, it's got a neat front cover (sold!).  But, if I had a five-star rating scale, this book would get a whopping two.  I found La Cucina by Lily Prior lacking significantly in the uniqueness and stylistic grace that makes other books of its kind so much fun to read.  

This book is the sexed-up, slightly demented lovechild of Under The Tuscan Sun and Like Water for Chocolate (both are excellent books, so it's a pity that they have such an odd pseudo-offspring).  While the other two books handle the topics of family, hardship, and love in a classy and novel manner, La Cucina feels like it's been done before and, moreover, is just plain awkward to read.  Within the first couple of pages, the narrator is talking about lying naked on a table and going into discourse on the subject of the virility of the locals' loins.  


Don't get me wrong--I'm not a prude by any standards and, to be fair, the back cover of the book did prepare me adequately for the general content.  Food and sex are deeply intertwined in this book; the two are explored together in all varieties of visual media (see photography byGeorgia O'Keefe, or the Japanese film "Tampopo"), so it isn't at all an unnatural pairing.  What weirded me out was the style, the manner in which these themes were discussed.  There is a lot of what I have termed "sexytime" in this book (I'm sure you can figure out what that means).  I generally  have no problem with literary sexytime.  The problem with this novel is that the sexytime isn'  Or sensual.  It's the kind of sexytime that makes your (or, at least, my) skin crawl.  

But, hey, maybe the problem is with me.  As a member of the younger generation, I don't have any relish for expostulation upon the mating rituals of the elderly (which, of course, is the nature of sexytime in La Cucina).  Perhaps I just have some growing up to do before this will be a relevant/appealing read for me.  In that case, I suppose your enjoyment depends on who you are and where you are in life.  I'm just not there yet.  Despite the richness and flavor of certain sections of the novel, I couldn't ignore the painful awkwardness long enough to properly enjoy what I was reading. 

Anyway, on to the plot!  

La Cucina follows and is narrated by Rosa Fiore, a farmer's daughter from the Italian countryside.  Rosa is a talented and passionate cook, and her knack for the culinary arts introduces and sustains food throughout the novel as a medium for her self-expression and emotional catharsis (hence the similarity to Like Water For Chocolate).  As a teenager, she falls in love with Bartolemeo, the son of a Mafioso who has already been promised to another by his father.  Though Bartolomeo loves Rosa in kind, their romance comes to a tragic end, which results in a grief-stricken Rosa exiling herself first to her kitchen and later to the city of Palermo where she lives and works as a librarian.  It is only years later in her life, after she has resigned herself to a loveless existence and grown fat on the richness of her cooking, that she meets an Englishman (who is referred to only as "L'inglese"--literally "the Englishman"--throughout the novel) who makes her discover not only the full extent of the pleasures of food, but also the pleasures of the body.  
But, of course, love can't last.  More disaster strikes and, in the wake of yet another loss, Rosa returns to her hometown where family drama (including a who's-the-daddy twist) awaits her.  Despite this, though, the novel ends on an optimistic note, leaving Rosa's future happiness up for the reader to imagine.  

The awkward handling of sex as a theme in La Cucina wasn't exactly my only problem with the novel.  The characters feel more like caricatures, lacking depth and originality.  Though the story was decent, the narrative was sadly lacking.  I generally wouldn't recommend it, but if you're determined to read it, be aware that there is a good deal of strong language used, as well as a few relatively explicit sex scenes.  

The tagline of the title is "A Novel of Rapture".  Sorry, Lily Prior.  I really wasn't feeling it with this one.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Book 4: The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

No matter what people say about judging books by their covers and all of that, I will be the first to admit that books with attractive covers are the first to catch my eye and, more often than not, the ones I end up buying.  I like bright colors and creative color schemes and evocative imagery; those are the principle characteristics of the covers of best-sellers like The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger), The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho), and--yes, I'll admit it--Stephenie Meyer's Twilight that I have noticed, purchased, and enjoyed.  As a result, it's actually become general (though mostly un-acknowledged) policy for me to literally judge books by their covers.  True, it's a pretty prejudiced habit, but it's one that's actually proven trusty over the years so I generally follow it.

So when my librarian-friend, Sarah, stuck a copy of The Nonesuch in my hands, I was a bit apprehensive.  "Funny-looking regency dude in front of shrubbery" isn't exactly my idea of awesome cover material.  Still, Sarah has dependable literary taste, and she seemed so enthusiastic that I just had to read it.  

This ended up being one of those reading experiences that make me perhaps maybe sort of consider changing my position on books with fugly covers.  "Perhaps," I begin to think to myself, "maybe I should stop going only for the pretty books, because if I'd stuck hard and fast to the rule, I would have never read this piece!"  

The Nonesuch is one of those books that you (or, well, I) enjoy not because of any depth or profundity of subject matter, but because it has fabulous wit and style.  And because it was written by Georgette Heyer (an extremely prolific writer from the 1900s who is known both for her creation of the Regency England Romance genre and for her extremely well-researched books).  If you've run out of Jane Austen books and are feeling the pinch of Regency Withdrawal Syndrome, nothing could possibly serve as a better fix than Heyer's 50+ novels (except, perhaps, Austenland by Shannon Hale for it is in fact a CURE for Regency Addiction).  I digress.  Basically, the woman was a total beast (and I mean that, of course, in a good way).  

Back to the novel, plot first.  The Nonesuch takes place in the Yorkshire countryside during (as you might have guessed) the British Regency Era.  The plotline receives it's first push from a dead relative's bequeathment of his country property, Broom Hall, upon the already well-landed Sir Waldo Hawkridge, who is in fact the Nonesuch himself (for there is none such as him!  Oh-ho!  Clever!).  Sir Waldo is "of the Corinthian set", a "top o' the trees" sort of gent, and a bona-fide "pink of the Ton"--basically a bunch of crazy Regency terms used to describe his good breeding and general social admirability.  

At any rate, Sir Waldo and his cousin Lord Julian Lindeth set off to the countryside to investigate this property that Waldo has been given.  The news of Waldo's intended visit to Yorkshire precedes him and causes a considerable stir among the locals, and his arrival at Broom Hall kicks off a flurry of social activity in the area--a series of balls and dinners and parties all put together for the purpose of impressing and perhaps ensnaring the ever-sought-after Nonesuch.  

Aside from Lindeth and Waldo, the other principle characters are two lovely ladies:  Miss Theophania (Tiffany) Weild, heiress, and her governess-companion, Miss Ancilla Trent [Ancilla is such a cool name].  In short, Tiffany is the underaged heir to a considerable fortune who lives with her paternal Aunt Underhill at Staples Manor.  She is also very beautiful, headstrong, hideously selfish, and manipulative, and the only one who can keep her under a semblance of control is the cool, collected Miss Trent.  

Over the course of Sir Waldo's tenure at Broom Hall, he and his cousin meet Tiffany and Ancilla on many occasions, and due to Lindeth's infatuation with the lovely Tiffany, Waldo and Ancilla end up spending a great deal of time together.  This and that happen and, as one can guess, love can indeed bloom as late in life as at the absolutely decrepit age of twenty-six (ha ha ha).    

The Nonesuch was fabulously entertaining.  Because of her wealth of knowledge on the Regency Era, Georgette Heyer's writing rings very true in terms of grammar, style, and vocabulary.  Her use of ye olde school cant/language doesn't feel forced or fake like it tends to in a lot of other novels of the same type.  And, above and beyond that, she just really knows how to use said language to create bitingly sarcastic characters (and, oh, but don't I love tongue-in-cheek humor!).  Such fun!

I wouldn't call Georgette Heyer's works "classics"--they're not about to be taught in an English class or anything--but in terms of style and authenticity I'd say they're on par with a lot of the well-known Era stuff.  And they're fun, to boot!  

Positively anyone can read The Nonesuch, and if you are at all into BritLit and romance and witty banter, you most definitely should!  

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Life Update

It's incredibly hot in my house, and the only thing that's saving me from boiling alive is the fact that my fan is running on full blast and both my windows are open.  It's midnight, and even though it's cooled down substantially outside, the walls of the house retain heat like no other.
I shouldn't complain, though, because I prefer this heat to the wussy, luke-warm weather we've been experiencing lately.  If there is any local evidence for global warming, I'd think it would be the ridiculous winds and rain that we had as recently as last week.  Honestly, do I live in California or don't I?  Sunshine, please, any day!
I went for a run this morning with my dad and basically got my butt handed to me by my old man (who is turning fifty and can still literally outstrip me with minimal effort).  I have a long way to go.  To be fair, though, it was hot as hell outside and the hills we were running were ridiculous.
Yummmm.  Pie is delicious, especially when it comes from Marie Calendar's.  Pie digests happily as I sit in bed and update and consider reading or sleeping.  The computer is too hot to keep on my lap.  Too hot, I say!

[Carol, you demanding thing, I wrote this because of YOU.]

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Book 3: The Homecoming By Shashi Warrier

The Homecoming sat on my bookshelf at college for six months collecting dust along with the other 15+ books I foolishly took with me to school thinking I would actually have time to read.  I felt bad for not reading many (any) of them, but I felt extra-contrite about not reading this one for two reasons:  1)  Because my dad gave me this book, and 2) Because the author is a good family friend of ours.  

When I was a kid, Shashi Warrier (Shashi Uncle in our home) used to bring me drafts of his latest work in progress, the most memorable of which was a children's book by the name ofSuzy's Gift.  With this and the several other novels he has written since, however, it is clear that Warrier has moved out of the whimsical (though greatly entertaining) sphere of kid's lit and into more grave and thought-provoking subject matter.  

The Homecoming revolves around Javed Sharif, a rug-merchant, returning home to Srinagar, Kashmir for his elderly father's birthday.  After a lifetime of working to support his family, Javed looks forward to retiring soon in his beloved hometown in spite of the violent wartime that has begun to make itself known in Kashmir.  He is, at the onset of the novel, quite satisfied with his lot in life; he is fairly successful as a businessman, his three children (sons Irfan and Fawzi, and daughter Razia) are grown, and his relationship with his family is satisfactory.  Javed surveys his life's work and perceives a job well done.  

His peace, however, is disturbed when he and his younger son Irfan are arrested under suspected involvement with and sympathies for a brutal terrorist organization.  This event, which occurs some twenty or thirty pages into the novel, kick-starts the action and drives the story to a desperate, wrenching ending.  After a night in the local lock-up, Javed is released and cleared of all suspicion while his son is kept in detention.  Though he knows it will cost him his retirement, Javed resolves to spend as much time and money as is needed to get Irfan out of prison.  In a tale of pain, sacrifice, betrayal, and loss, Javed watches what he thought was a sturdy, healthy family life fall apart and, in a manner reminiscent of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, suddenly finds himself without anything.  

To me, this book epitomizes the sentiment of having the rug yanked out from under your feet.  We begin with a settled, happy protagonist and end with a wholly different picture.  Warrier does an excellent job of painting both portraits, and of illustrating the series of events that brings the characters from one to the other.  He handles the matter of Irfan's guilt beautifully  and, while never giving the answer outright, puts out enough choice pieces of information to provide the reader with a clear verdict by the end of the novel.  He presents the reader with not just the story of a family, but also the story of a country at odds with itself and its people.  

The Homecoming spares no details, no matter how harrowing they might be, and leaves the reader with a startlingly honest picture of not only the Kashmir conflict, but also of the brutal potential, the irony, and the unyielding force of human nature.

It was a slow read almost until the end, so don't go for this one expecting an action thrill of any kind.  Because it was measured in pace, the plot allowed for a great deal of contemplation and speculation on the part of the reader.  This is one I definitely recommend for older audiences, perhaps 16+, simply due to the heavy/dense subject matter.  However, if you are a particularly precocious reader, nothing should stop you from reading this wonderfully moving, evocative novel.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Book 2: Q&A by Vikas Swarup

Q&A by Vikas Swarup is the novel that served as the inspiration for Slumdog Millionaire, and after being thoroughly impressed by the film I decided that I had to read the book for myself.  
I generally find myself unimpressed by the book-to-movie conversion; one or the other almost always disappoints, depending on which medium I was exposed to first.  However I found the novel just as impressive as the movie, and whileI can't say that I liked the novel more (though, usually, I do prefer novels to their film incarnations) I can say that I really enjoyed them quite equally.  The Q&A-to-Slumdog translation put out a product that, while retaining the fundamental and important elements of the story, deviated enough from the plot and feel of Q&A that it could be considered a different animal entirely--a relative, but not necessarily offspring of the founding novel.
But this isn't a review of Slumdog.
So I'll go back to focusing on Q&A.  
Q&A is about impoverished waiter Ram Mohammad Thomas (known as Jamal Malik in Slumdog Millionaire) and his life in the slums and chawls of Mumbai and Delhi.  When we first meet him, Ram Mohammad Thomas (RMT for short from here on out) is in prison on suspicion of cheating while competing on the TV game show "Who Will Win A Billion?" (a fictitious offshoot of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?").  It is my personal opinion that the reader learns most of what there is to know about RMT in those first few pages that take place in the
prison.  Like in the movie, the questions on the game show serve as the mechanisms for the flashbacks that tell RMT's life story.  Through each chronologically displaced episode we get one more piece to the puzzle and learn, in time, what has driven RMT to be on the game show in the first place. 
There is no one clear genre for this novel.  It is a thriller in some senses, a romance in others, and certainly a tragedy and an epic.  Unlike the film, Q&A focuses much less on the love story and much more on...everything else.  We get a much clearer picture of RMT's early years and the events that shaped him and his ideals.  The novel is at once satisfying to the desire for a happy ending and at the same time brutally, unsettlingly honest.    
Reading the novel restores protagonist Ram Mohammad Thomas/Jamal to his place as a first-person narrator and, in doing so, added on all kinds of hilarious wit and snark to the narrative that hadn't been there in the film.  I love nothing btter than a snarky protagonist, and Ram Mohammad Thomas's voice is especially well-written.  It forced a wide range of emotional reactions; I laughed a lot, got angry frequently.  If I were the type to cry during books, I might've cried.  The story comes in wide, sweeping arcs that make the book easy to devour in just one sitting and impossible to tear yourself away from.  
As an Indian-American woman, I love Q&A for its honesty and its frank portrayal of India, complete with all of her strengths and weaknesses.  There is so much that is wrong with India.  But, at the same time, there is so much that is right.

I recommend this as a 12+ book, with a warning for language, violence, and mild sexual content. (But I still think everyone should read it!)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book 1: Towing Jehovah by James Morrow

Allow me to first put it out there that James Morrow is a freaking genius.  I mean, really.  A genius.  
Now that you know that, allow me to explain the premise of this phenomenal novel:
God--that is, the bearded white male of the Bible--has died, and His body has fallen into the Atlantic Ocean.  Supertanker captain Anthony Van Horne is called in by none other than the agents of the Vatican to tow the Corpus Dei (the Vatican's name for God's body) to His grave in the Arctic.  Along the way, Van Horne has a host of difficult (and oft hilarious) obstacles to overcome, including a mutinous crew of sexually liberated pagans, off-site saboteurs, and his own personal baggage.
I don't know where he pulls this stuff from, but James Morrow has it going on.  His work is irreverent and hysterically sacrilegious.  I was hooked just by reading the back cover.  
The action in this book comes in peaks and lulls, which affords the characters time to develop outside of emergency/panic situation (which, believe me, there are a lot of).  It's well-paced, and written in this great tongue-in-cheek manner that I can't help but adore.  
I think what really got my attention with this novel was the manner in which Morrow manages to address a whole range of views on religion.  His characters include an ordained Catholic priest, a spiritually lost Jew, and a (literally) militant atheist.  Morrow toys with religion, and manipulates it in ways that force us to look at it (and its agendas) from unique angles.  His writing neatly side-steps irritating religion-bashing nonsense and skips right to the good stuff--the satire that, as it thumbs its nose at the religious establishment, provides an analysis of that establishment.  This is something we rarely see, in literature or otherwise.

I would happily recommend this book to everyone I know.  It's explicit, though, in a lot of ways (sexually liberated pagans.  'nuff said), so I'll put it out there as a 14+ novel instead.

A Statement of Purpose

I have been inspired by The Julie/Julia Project.  This lovely bit of blogging has been turned into a film starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, which promises to be adorable (see the pictures).  In brief, Julie of The Julie/Julia Project did the brilliant thing of taking a goal and turning it into a fun, humorous blog.  I'll admit it--the only reason I know about the blog is because, yes, I saw a commercial for the movie (cop-out, I know).  I wish I'd even been conscious of the scope of the Blogger Universe when this particular blog was up and running, but alas I was an Internet toddler at the time (I may as well have still been wearing Pull-Ups and velcro-belt shoes). 

But I digress.  
Coming home this summer from college, I realized that the number of books I'd read over the course of the school year just for fun totaled up to a grand ZERO.  And there were still so many books on my bookshelf that I had yet to read.  More than half of the books I own, in fact, are still waiting to be read.  And that, my friends, is a crying shame.  

There are nine weeks of summer left.  I'm going to get through as many of these puppies as I can.  

I tried desperately to come up with a cool name for my project--something catchy, interesting, representative.  But I've got nothing at the moment.  So, for the time-being, we'll leave it nameless.  Never fear, though.  I'll come up with something soon.