Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: The Assassin's Curse

The Assassin's Curse
The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to this book as an audiobook, and some of my fondness for it likely has to do with the narrator's voice. She did an excellent job of creating Ananna's personality through her tone and accent. Naji was not as well performed, but he didn't speak often, so it was forgivable.

This was a good, fun, book about a girl that makes decisions and has adventures. It was not perfect. I don't think we understand enough about why Ananna makes the choices she does. For instance, her decision to run from the marriage seems sudden and poorly thought out at the moment of its execution. And her adventures are frustrating in that she does too much following--the decisions about where she needs to go and why are made by others. But it was a fun read nonetheless, and I'm likely to reread it.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

10 Books

I posted this list to Facebook a while back, but it bears repeating here.
In no particular order, here are the 10 books that most influenced me before I was 20.

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
Montgomery inspired me with the idea of a wartime romance and the struggle to keep oneself true in a world that wants you jaded.

Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey
Lackey taught me that same sex romance was really just romance.

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
McKinley shaped my voice.

Life Without Friends by Ellen Emerson White
White probably taught me the most about writing and about healing. Her books shaped my sense of humor and showed me what was possible in fiction. Really, this book should be at the top of my list because it influenced me as a person and a writer.

A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L'Engle
L'Engle got me to think about faith and science, shaping my thoughts on both.

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
Jordan tested my willingness to invest in long narratives.

Don't Care High by Gordon Korman
Korman taught me that a twelve year old could write a book and launch a career. This book was also really really funny.

The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith
Smith taught me that it was possible to create your own vampire mythos.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin was simply awesome.

Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper
Tepper showed me that fiction could engage with Big Ideas. I found most of her ideas repellent as I got older, but this book taught me to ask questions.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It has been many years since I first read Mansfield Park.

As before, I find that I don't really like Fanny Price all that much. She's so good, so patient, so quiet . . . such a paragon of virtue that I have a hard time rooting for her. Long ago, I read a critic's response to the book that stated (sorry, it's a spoiler, so I'll hide it) that Fanny and Edmund's home must have been incredibly boring and that their neighbors likely dreaded an invitation to dinner at their house.

I can't help but root for the underdog in this book: Henry Crawford. While he proves himself to be be morally challenged, I do believe that he loved Fanny and would have brought more emotion to her life than Edmund. In marrying Edmund, Fanny found happiness, contentment, and satisfaction. In a marriage to Henry, I can't help but think she would have found some emotional upset (after all, he wasn't always good) but I think that the emotional highs would have balanced that account. He, at least, was passionate. Sadly, both Jane Austen and the period in which she wrote were suspicious of passion, so Edmund had to win. Darn it.

I realize this book is over 200 years old, but as it's a lesser known Austen, I've chosen to hide some of my comments. Feel free to read and comment--and don't hold back in the comments. Anyone that reads that far deserves to be spoiled. :)

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Contests . . . and cake

Hi All:

I don't normally use my blog as a space to enter contests, but this book sounds really fun, so I'm going to go ahead and do it. :)

If you follow the link below, you'll see why.  Wendy Darling gave a glowing review to Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins.  The cake looks good, too (although I'm probably going to make the "normal" recipe--as someone that does not have a gluten intolerance, I have no reason to avoid it).

 Check it out!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

In Which I am a Watering Pot

Yesterday, we said farewell to a good friend, Sharon.


Sharon was a classmate of mine while we pursued our Ph.D.s.  Sadly, neither of us completed our degrees.

She was always a delightful classmate.  She had a tendency to doubt herself, to question everything she said.  This insecurity led her to be a fantastic teacher.  Instead of thinking “I’ve got this now, I know how to teach this class,” she always looked for ways to do better, to teach better, to be the best that she could be.  This constant search for excellence made her one of the most inspiring people I know. 

She was a mother.  Her daughter turned 13 on Saturday, the day of Sharon’s memorial.  Sharon was devoted to her child; she constantly talked of the amazing experience of raising a child and her efforts to be the best mother and role model that she could be. 

She would rock backwards slightly when she laughed, as if she were surprised to be laughing, but she didn’t stop laughing.

Sharon was a mentor to those that entered the program after her.  Other new teachers looked to her for support and encouragement.  I looked to her as well.  When I taught a new class, one that she was a specialist in, I sought her counsel when designing my syllabus.  That created a tradition among us—we always talked at the start of the semester as we planned our classes.  Throughout the semester, we’d continue to touch base and provide each other with moral support for the daily stresses of teaching.

I wish that I knew Sharon better.  We did not see each other often outside of work.  I consider her my friend, but I know that I was only a very small part of her rich life.

Last spring, the announcement came through that she had been diagnosed with cancer.  I spoke with a mutual friend and learned the type of cancer—clear cell ovarian.  The diagnosis was a bad one—clear cell cancer is terribly difficult to treat.  After her diagnosis, I was only able to speak with her once.  We traded teaching stories, as that was the primary thing we shared.  I am glad that we talked, and I want to remember that conversation.

I did not see her in person after her diagnosis.  I am ashamed of this.

Sharon passed away in mid-December, less than a year after her diagnosis.  She was a Catholic, and her memorial was held at a beautiful Catholic church where her daughter had received her first communion.

I cried throughout the memorial.  Tears dripped down my face.  I could not stop them.  It was not a noisy cry—the tears just leaked out.

I am incredibly sad that I will not have more time with Sharon.  We will not talk about teaching again.  I am more sad that we didn’t have a chance to grow our friendship further outside of our shared work.  I regret losing a future of friendship with her.  As someone that also lost her mother when I was a teenager, I have an incredible sense of sympathy for her daughter.  I never imagined what it would be like to be on the sideline of this sort of situation—to find myself in the position once held by my own mother’s friends.  Sadly, since I am not close to Sharon’s daughter, I don’t know how to reach out to her and help her.

Sharon was a wonderful person, and I hope that her memory will live long after she has passed.  I will do what I can to keep that memory alive.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Review: The Companions

The Companions
The Companions by R.A. Salvatore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this title for review from Netgalley.

This is the first book by R.A. Salvatore that I've ever read, and I can understand this popularity better now. My husband has long been a fan of his, but I've found Salvatore intimidating because there are simply so many titles in his series. Thankfully, The Companions was a good entry point into the series.

As the novel opens, several characters meet again for the first time. They have all apparently died at one time or another, and they are in what seems to be a resting place before their final destination. They are offered a choice: they can go to the reward promised to them by their god, or they can choose to be reborn. Their friend Drizzt needs them, and if they choose rebirth, they will be able to be there for him.

The four friends--the Companions of the Hall--debate whether they want to return to life or seek out that final reward. What will it mean to turn their backs on the reward? What will their new lives be like?

Without getting too spoilery, I can't share much more detail. The novel follows the new lives these characters lead. They are reborn as infants, but with full memory and personality. While they may still see themselves as their past lives, their new lives and relationships will shape this new incarnation of themselves. How much can they hold onto the past? How can they live this new life, knowing that they're simply waiting to resume the old life that had died long ago?

Parts of this book did confuse me. The novel was quite clear about when the events were occurring; Salvatore provided both year names and numbers. However, since I'm unfamiliar with the Forgotten Realms calendar, neither of them mean much to me. I'm certain that I missed allusions to places and events that would have been quite meaningful for a fan of the series.

Salvatore's writing did irritate me a little. He's overly fond of exclamation marks, but I did adapt to that eventually.

Overall, I liked this book and found it to be a surprisingly deep and entertaining story.

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Sunday, September 08, 2013

Review: All These Things I've Done

All These Things I've Done
All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable book, but I hesitate to say much more than that about it. While it was a fun read, I found it a little too uneven for my taste. The writing style is relatively easy to read, which would indicate a younger audience, but the content (mafioso style executions, lust) was perhaps a bit much for that audience. Further, I wasn't certain I could buy into the concept of the story.

Anya lives in a future New York--about 60 years into the future. Her grandmother would have been one of today's teens. She, her older brother, her little sister, and her dying grandmother live together in an old penthouse. Anya's father was a leader of a crime family that dealt in illegal chocolate, and he was murdered by unknown persons. Her mother was also killed in a hit--a hit which damaged Anya's older brother, Leo, leaving him mentally unable to achieve adulthood. The city is unstable, and so is Anya's family. While she wants nothing to do with the business, she gradually finds herself caught by the mere connection of sharing a name.

The New York City of this novel is driven by scarcity. Water has been drying up, to the point where many lakes are dry, and it is expensive. Paper is taxed, although there seems to be enough to print all sorts of vouchers needed to buy luxury items like ice cream. Alcohol consumption is legal for all ages, but chocolate is banned. Dealing in chocolate is a serious crime. Speakeasies serve coffee at all hours.

The problem of this book lies in its concept. For a futuristic society like this to work well, there needs to be a reason for the unreasonable. The ban on chocolate is both bizarre and unexplained. Anya explains that chocolate is addictive, but that's not a good reason to ban it. The idea that the government would suddenly ban chocolate, and that otherwise ordinary confectioners would become gangsters as a result, simply doesn't work well. Zevin's picture of high school classrooms doesn't function well, either. While I would agree that it's a mistake to measure the high school of this book against ours today, I had a very difficult time suspending my disbelief in order to accept that it was common for a school to offer three years of Forensic Science classes.

While I did like the book, and I might look into borrowing the sequel, I did not like this book well enough to wholeheartedly recommend it to others.

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