Monday, May 17, 2010

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant

I got this as an ARC from goodreads firstreads. It'll come out for purchase in August.
I think I have to give it four stars. It was a little bit morbid in theme, but I got completely sucked in after the first few chapters.
Set in recent Germany, the story is told by 11 year old Pia. As she deals with her own personal difficulties, her small town suddenly experiences a string of mysterious disappearances. In an effort to overcome her social struggles, Pia commits herself to solving the mystery. With the help of her sole friend, Stefan, and an unexpected ally, the truth is uncovered. But as so often happens in life, the perfect ending Pia envisions is not to be.
This was a quick, enjoyable read. I do recommend it.
Be advised, there is some use of profane language, but it is nearly all in German.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

On Becoming Baby Wise... by Gary Ezzo

On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep (On Becoming. . .)On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep by Gary Ezzo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this one. I'm not a huge fan of most parenting books, though I'll read them occationally when I feel like I could use a different perspective to help solve a parenting problem.

The thing I LOVE about this method is that it is centered around the idea that the marriage relationship is the heart of the family and should be given priority over all other relationships in the household. Too often, baby makes three and suddenly the original two are unnaturally distanced from each other. This is not good for anyone in the family.

The eat/wake/sleep routine and Parent Directed Feeding this book encourages has worked really well for our family in the past and though we're still in the first couple of weeks of our youngest's life, it has already made adjusting to having a new person in the family much easier. Our days are buisier, yes, but predictably so. Our nights are wakeful, yes, but predictably- and therefore, managably- so.

I would recommend EVERY new or expectant parent read this and at least consider the ideas presented here. They are presented in a friendly, unobtrusive way that lets a person off the hook if they don't happen to agree with the ideas. Definately a GoodRead.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

As I read this book again, I feel it still stands as one of my favorites in the classics. To me, it's very compelling that I love this book so much when it talks about something that could be so dark and menacing with the theme of the French Revolution. Each time I read this, I am not only merely entertained but I learn a little something more about this story and its view into the vague window of humanity. So, for this book review I thought I would answer some of those questions that could be discussed in a book group which I hope will give you a sense of the book and what it is about. Even more than that I hope that you'll want to read it at least once and even if you don't like it as much as me, I hope you'll gain a new perspective for that is what so much of great literature does for me. Also, I must warn you that there are spoilers below if you haven't ever read this book before.

1. What is the author's opinion of the old ways of the French nobility? Is the narrator impartial or ally him/herself with a class, a country, a cause?
Right away, even in the very first paragraph of this novel, it grips my attention and I get a feel for the environment of the French Revolution. It is not overly gory but provides a depth of description so that you understand what is going on. I feel the conflict of the Nobility(noblesse) vs. the citizen(citoyen). The author shares her resentment of the ignorance and brutality of the lower classes which made me ponder about the nobility, who held not only held the money but the education of France. If they kill them off then where does that leave the country. Simply put it is a double-edged sword.
Here's an example:
It was to be seen every day, for those aristos were such fools! They were traitors to the people of course, all of them...Their ancestors had oppressed the people, had crushed them under the scarlet heels of their dainty buckled shoes, and now the people had become the rulers of France and crushed their former masters...

I also perceive England through the eyes of a group of Englishman and reasonably wonder if they would have dared interfere with their diplomatic relationship with French Republican government.

2. Let's talk about Sir Percy. How is point of view a crucial device in the rendering of Percy?

Cleverly, an old hag is our first introduction of the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel and then there is Sir Percy who seems to be the perfect aristocrat. He is stunning, has impecable timing, and is absolute fun to be around. For example:

A long, jovial, inane laugh broke the sudden silence which had fallen over

'And we poor husbands, ' came in slow, affected accents from
gorgeous Sir Percy, 'we have to stand by...while they worship a demmed shadow.'

Everyone laughed-the Prince more loudly than anyone.

I do not forget him, his laughter or poems about the Scarlet Pimpernel in high society and so I am constantly reminded of this mysterious character too. It is a classic unfolding of a character transformed into the birth of a hero so differently than had been presented beforehand. This impact of using p.o.v. for the hero of this story where it leaves one wondering and questioning then becoming amazed at the reality in the end which was foreshadowed beforehand. I enjoy how the characters and the story unfolds itself. I enjoy reading about Percy with his bouyancy and all his flaws yet he is heroic in his own epic way. As mentioned in the Introduction in my copy of the book, this creative dual heroism can still be found today in the likes of Batman, Zorro, Superman to even elements as seen in the movie, The Princess Bride. Brilliantly charming, this ideal is definately part of the heroes of our dreams today.

3. At what point does Lady Blakeney become a sympathetic character? Would you consider her an unlikable character at first?

The first introduction to Lady Blakeney leaves an impression of a cavalier attitude but I feel that this is fleeting. In no time at all, her layers begin to unravel. I felt this sense at the very beginning of Chapter 12, as in this paragraph:

Marguerite suffered intensely. Though she laughed and chatted, though she was more admired, more surrounded, more f^eted than any woman there, she felt like one condemned to death, living her last day upon this earth.
I enjoy what Marguerite brings into the story, her sense of propriety and fashion, her teasing, the way she intimidates and the way the narrator wonders how Percy was able to catch her. I love the way it is described about how Percy looks at her. I love the complexity of their relationship and mystery of her thoughts. It's enveloping as their world shared together seems different from the world they are living with others around them. I felt I must continue reading in order to find out their secrets and if their relationship will survive or destruct. She is definately intriguing and complex.

4. How is the Scarlet Pimpernel flower a larger motif for the themes of the novel? Does it fit Percy as a character?

I have realized now that I seem to love books that have motif's of birds or flowers. I love when they are truly encapsuled in the story. I love how and what this simple red flower foreshadows in the story. From the first notice of this flower, it becomes a symbol for the hero throughout the book.

The Scarlet Pimpernel... is the name of a humble English wayside flower; but it is also the name chosen to hide the identity of the best and bravest man in all the world, so that he may better succeed in accomplishing the noble task he has set himself to do.

Scarlet Pimpernel is a low-growing kind of plant that is wild and flowering. Since it is bright red, it suggests that it comes from the Prime rose family. It is a constant growing flower in spite of rain or overcast conditions. This flower evokes a powerful emotional imagery and it succeeds in being a memorable emblem for the hero. It is pleasant to look at and be around yet eccentric and definately leaves a lasting impression. I do think this flower fits Percy as a character right as it sounds, don't you think?

5. Would the novel have been more satisfying with a different resolution, or does the resolution as Orczy presents it fit the tenor of the book as a whole?

It really seemed as if some potent Fate watched over that daring Scarlet Pimpernel, and his astute enemy almost felt a superstitious shudder pass through him, as he looked round at the towering cliffs, and the loneliness of this
outlying coast.

Although, I do imagine other ways this novel could have ended, overall, I enjoyed the resolution of the novel. I felt there are still unanswered questions yet a satisfactory closure. I love the romanticism and feeling of a fairy-tale like discovery between Marguerite and Percy that seem to exhibit a conciliation for them against all of the odds.

265 pages, Signet Classics 100th Anniversary Edition, My rating: 5 stars
If you're interested in art during the French Revolution look at:

1789: French Art During the Revolution, catalogue of an exhibition in New York held at Colnaghi from October 10 through November 22, 1989. Exhibition organized and catalogue edited by Alan Wintermute. Published by Colnaghi, 1989.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I waited until the hype died down to read Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. I usually do this with a popular series of books at times but as I have sometimes discovered, as with this book, that's not always a smart choice.

I think if you start reading The Hunger Games than you should go out immediately and continue reading through Catching Fire so it will seem like one big book. I honestly think that is the best way to read it, in this case, since it is a middle book. As with a lot of middle books from a trilogy, I find there is a lot of set up, explanation, and discovery of motives, characters and symbolism. I didn't mind it but I think if The Hunger Games were fresher in my memory than that excitement from reading it originally would have spilled over and carried me through this one. For me, this book didn't compare with the excitement I sustained through reading the first book which I devoured and didn't expect I would at all.

I still liked Catching Fire but in a different way which was more thoughtful and forseeable. I do love its cast of characters, Peeta, Gale, Katniss, Cinna, Haymitch, Effie and it did not dissapoint me there. Although, I didn't read it as fast as The Hunger Games it was engaging and I did want to continue reading it consistently. Also, I liked the conclusion better which felt more complete yet there is still enough uncertainty that is left for me to ponder about how it will unfold in the next part of this saga.

So in the end, I am looking forward to the third installment, Mockingjay(Aug. 24th), in this series. Perhaps, I won't wait this time but I may read it as soon as I can!
My favorite quote from the book without giving too much away:
"Four days in, the picturesque mountain erupts in a volcano..."

See, you've got to read this book now - it has a volcano in it!
Just fyi, I'm Team Peeta. :)

400 pages, Scholastic Press; 1st edition (September 1, 2009), My rating: 4 stars
Other juicy reviews:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

I'm not sure why I liked this book. Maybe it was the half naked man on the cover. Maybe it was the religious foreshadowing, the looming Gothic art and the mysterious passageways into long lost secrets, that moved my brain to crave it like a big bowl of the banana cream cake I just had after dinner.

I became slightly involved with this book. It haunted me a little. It haunts me still, and that surprises me, because there is very little romance, very few people die (but when they do die, they die spectacularly), the praise on the back cover catalogs words like: alluring, delicious, gorgeous, beguiling and holy, and I usually try to avoid books with so high of appearance adjective praise...they frighten me into disliking them.

So what was it then? The atmosphere. I became quite lost in this world she's created. A world that's deeply religious, mythological, and historical at the same time. A world where angels and humans are at war with each other. A world where if you really want to know what happens read Misfit Salon's excellent review of this book here. The plot is complicated and diverse, very descriptive and bordering on verbose, but still, I liked it.

But who knows, maybe it really was the naked man on the cover.
And now I really must get back to more cake...
4 stars.