Friday, August 30, 2013

Divergent


Divergent
Veronica Roth
4/5

First Sentence
"There is one mirror in my house."
Publisher's Description:
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Dear Reader,

Here we go again, another dystopian young adult adventure novel. I'm pretty selective about which young adult books I pick to read since it's become a genre itself. Divergent has been out for awhile now and I've heard good things from by brother and friends. I decided this was one I would commit to (commit meaning read the entire series). The movie will be coming out soon and the 3rd book is in the works, so I thought this would be the perfect time, giving me just the right amount of time to read both the 1st and 2nd books before the movie and then finishing the 3rd after the movie comes out. From the hype I've heard from my loved ones, most enjoyed it just as much and if not more than The Hunger Games. I will try not to go straight to that comparison though since the books are different enough and it wouldn't be fair to Veronica Roth who has come up with her own very imaginative world and story.

The story follows Beatrice (nicknamed Tris) during her vastly important year of testing and training in a faction that she selects. This dystopian world is divided into factions, each one relying on a certain virtue. Candor is honesty, Abnegation is selfless (this is the faction Tris was brought up under), Dauntless is brave (this is the faction Tris picks to become), Amity is peaceful and Erudite is intelligence. Every sixteen year old goes through a test that determines which faction they would be good in (kind of like the sorting hat in Harry Potter) but this does not determine the faction they'll be in... No, they get to choose whichever one they want! After they choose, they might not even become part of that faction. They have to go through a series of tests and training to determine if they'll be a member, if they don't pass they become factionless (which is not an ideal outcome). What if the test is inconclusive and can't place someone in just ONE faction, they are called divergent (wink, wink... book title!). 

My thoughts on all of this? I like the ideas of factions even though I think most people would be considered divergent, but maybe in this dystopia people are more linear? I know for a fact that most people in OUR world wouldn't be placed in just one virtue, but can I see this happening if forced upon us? What if we were brought up in a certain faction and this now brings up the nurture vs nature argument. Are we born with those virtues or is it something we learn through our experiences growing up. I really enjoyed the idea of this world but didn't quite fall in love with the aligning yourself with any one faction, it's too linear and simple for me. Also, looking at the age someone is forced to select a faction, this seems way too young for me. Almost like how we have to choose a major WAY to early to know what we want to do with our entire life! Teens are head-strung and rebellious by nature and I feel more of them would switch factions just to be get away and do something more adventurous. Why wouldn't Dauntless be more compelling than Abnegation?! Maybe that's just me though.

My biggest problem with this book had to do with Tris, the main character. She was infuriating throughout the entire freakin thing! She has all these people who seem to care about her (mother, friend, and potential boyfriend) who keep telling her to be careful and not tell anyone about her test results and how dangerous it could be. Does she listen to them? NOT AT ALL! She goes around like a dummy, extremely careless and you just know she'll be getting herself into deep doo doo at some point. I know this makes for good drama but I absolutely hate it when the Author does it at the main characters expense. We're suppose to like her, not hate every move she makes. Overall the book is exciting, action packed, suspenseful, and really original (even though everyone is comparing it to other dystopian books). I look forward to reading the next one and can only hope Tris has smartened up a bit and won't keep making dumb mistakes.  

Happy Reading
AmberBug

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates


Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using philosophy (and jokes!) to explore life, death, the afterlife, and everything in between
Thomas W. Cathcart and Daniel M. Klein
1.5/5

First Sentence
"Uh, Daryl, we're still waiting for an answer here. Do you really think you're going to die?"
Publisher's Description:
The new book by the bestselling authors of Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar is a hilarious take on the philosophy, theology, and psychology of mortality and immortality. That is, Death. The authors pry open the coffin lid on this one, looking at the Big D and also its prequel, Life, and its sequel, the Hereafter. Philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Camus, and Sartre have been wrestling with the meaning of death for as long as they have been wrestling with the meaning of life. Fortunately, humorists have been keeping pace with the major thinkers by creating gags about dying. Death’s funny that way—it gets everybody’s attention.

Death has gotten a bad rap. It’s time to take a closer look at what the Deep Thinkers have to say on the subject, and there are no better guides than Cathcart and Klein.

Dear Reader,

This book made me roll my eyes so much they almost fell out of my eye sockets. What do you get when you mix really dumb jokes with basic philosophy? You'd think something interesting and fun, this was the opposite of that. Maybe it wasn't just for me... maybe it was meant for someone with a different sense of humor. The jokes just didn't get me going AT ALL. I laughed maybe once, if even that. However, I do believe there is an audience out there that could be intrigued by a book like this, pre-teen or maybe teens just starting out with philosophy. I could also see this being strongly suited to people who like a light listen in audio book format. I really think this format is the only way to experience the book. I wish I could give this more praise but this just wasn't for me.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Boy Who Could See Demons


The Boy Who Could See Demons
Carolyn Jess-Cooke
3.5/5


First Sentence
"ALEX

People look at me funny when I tell them I have a demon."

Publisher's Description:

Alex Broccoli is ten years old, likes onions on toast, and can balance on the back legs of his chair for fourteen minutes. His best friend is a 9000-year-old demon called Ruen. When his depressive mother attempts suicide yet again, Alex meets child psychiatrist Anya. Still bearing the scars of her own daughter's battle with schizophrenia, Anya fears for Alex's mental health and attempts to convince him that Ruen doesn't exist. But as she runs out of medical proof for many of Alex's claims, she is faced with a question: does Alex suffer from schizophrenia, or can he really see demons?

Dear Reader,

The Boy Who Could See Demons is a book I couldn't put down. I wanted to know what was going to happen, so the Author was spot on with the compelling story. She was smart and created a fictional story with controversial ideas that made things interesting. I started thinking about child psychology and how some psychologists just feed kids drugs versus natural therapy. I'm getting ahead of myself though, I should probably give you a good idea of what this book is all about. 

The story involved a child who is struggling with his hold on reality after dealing with his mothers multiple attempted suicides. The larger part of the picture is really about the psychologist assigned to his case. She has had trauma in the past when her daughter committed suicide and she relates quite a bit of this past on the case with this boy. The title of the story gives us a glimpse into the disturbing psyche of the child, he can see demons but one in particular that tends to steer him in the wrong direction, getting him into all sorts of trouble. 

A good book needs more than just an original and compelling story, and this is where she fell short. The main character was detestable, which made me question if the Author wrote her to be that way. Her demeanor was such an annoyance that it was difficult to build an emotional connection, after awhile I didn't care what happened to her. She took too much of her personal life with her into this boys life, making it worse. That annoyed me BUT the worst part of the book was the ending. I wish I could talk about it but saying anything would ruin it... and the ending at least IS an ENDING. Should you read this? You might like it, and the story flies by enough to warrant the read... AND I would love a person to discuss the book with. Let me know what you think if you pick this one up.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Interestings


The Interestings
Meg Wolitzer
4/5

First Sentence
"On a warm night in early July of that long-evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time."
Publisher's Description:
From bestselling author Meg Wolitzer a dazzling, panoramic novel about what becomes of every talent, and the roles that art, money, and even envy can play in close friendships.

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable.  Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed.  In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence.  Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle.  Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer.  But Ethan and Ash, Jules's now-married best friends, become shockingly successful--true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding.  The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken. 

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.  (Published 2013)

Dear Reader,

There were parts of this book that I loved, and parts that were very good.  Ultimately, it didn't earn itself status in my Favorite Books Ever category, but I really enjoyed the read.  (Well, actually, the listen - the narrator was great at creating and maintaining distinguishing voices for everyone!)  It's interesting how identifiable I found it, despite that the characters were graduating from high school in the early 70s, not the late 90s.

This book recalled to me the sweeping, multi-generational epics of a John Irving novel, complete with the way smaller stories were told in amongst the larger ones.  All of the characters were enjoyable to read about, and it was fascinating to watch as their lives collided, moved apart, and then wove back together, again and again.  I suppose "The Interestings" was an apt title, since the characters' lives were certainly interesting - I didn't want to put the book down, because it was very well-written.  However, naming the entire book after a group that called itself that only once or twice over decades, that was a little odd.  I suppose it really was the one thing that tied them all together - and pretty loosely, at that.  I recall at one point the author having Jules ponder whether they would have all been friends in their adult lives, not having met when they were teenagers.  That's always an interesting thought to ponder, as our friendships progress through years.

That reminds me: I have to say, part of what I loved about this story was the nostalgia factor!  I too attended a summer arts camp when I was a teenager, and forged some extremely strong friendships of my own, there.  The memories Jules has of her last days at camp, with everyone upset to be leaving this place that was so theirs - I remember that feeling vividly.  While we'd only spent 5 weeks together, it was an experience that had changed our young lives, and one which we didn't want to end.  So, part of what I loved about this book was the common feelings I could share with Jules, in her long-lasting nostalgia for a place and time which she could not ever truly return to.

The characters themselves were quite distinct and strongly written.  Their stories became the reader's stories, and you truly cared about what happened.  Did Goodman truly rape their now-former cohort?  Did his connection with Ash really help Ethan skyrocket to success, while Jules and Dennis struggled to make ends meet?  And Jonah, poor, sad Jonah - what could his life have been without the marring influence of a has-been folk singer?

I think this book is a great study in characters and friendships as they grow and change from adolescence through adulthood.  The push and pull of relationships, of envy, of conditional and unconditional love.  I think it will ring true to anyone who has reached adulthood, but feels like maybe they never really did.

Yours,
Arianna

P.S. Reading the Publisher's Description of the book over again reminded me that I kept thinking throughout the book of another book I read this year, called Generation Me. It was a non-fiction work about how children these days are encouraged to pursue their dreams, even if they don't necessarily have the talent or the luck for it.  This seemed to kind of be the case with this group of people; some had "it" and others did not.  And their lives worked out quite differently than they had thought they might when they were young.  Granted, this often happens whether a person is told they are "gifted" or not, but this book strongly reminded me of the arguments Jean M. Twenge makes in her book.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The World's Strongest Librarian


The World's Strongest Librarian
Josh Hanagarne
4/5

First Sentence
"Today the library was hot, humid, and smelly."
Publisher's Description:

An inspiring story of how a Mormon kid with Tourette s found salvation in books and weight-lifting 

Josh Hanagarne couldn t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6 7 when while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints his Tourette s tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison taught Josh how to throttle his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette s.

The World s Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability and navigate his wavering Mormon faith to find love and create a life worth living.

Dear Reader,

I was extremely lucky to attend a Q&A and signing by Josh Hanagarne at the Hartford Public Library. The book itself had been on my to read list for awhile and when I saw the chance, I grabbed it. Josh is extremely tall, which normally would have people intimidated but his presence was inviting and his lovable sense of humor had me sold. I wanted to dive into the book after seeing him. He spoke of his love of Stephen King, who by chance was doing his own Q&A at the Mark Twain House the next day (Josh was able to grab a position as his bodyguard for that event and arm wrestled Stephen King which you can read about by clicking here or you can read about his Hartford trip by clicking here). The picture I've attached below is one I took from the event:


Getting back to the book, I loved it right from the beginning. If you're at all like me, you'll like this book. It has fond childhood memories of the library, youthful adoration of Stephen King, struggling with the pressure of religious beliefs, finding our what you want to do with your life, and so much more. His experience with King mirrored my own, reading his books at TOO young an age to be appropriate. I'll leave all the hilarious stories about doing so for when you read it, but they're great. I related so much to his childhood memories of the library that it brought me right back. My Aunt used to take me to the library and create fun treasure hunts for me and a friend, magical times I will never forget. Reading his library experiences brought me right back to those moments.

So why did I give this 4 stars? Maybe this book does deserve 5, it probably does BUT a major part of this book didn't really speak to me. He goes into quite a bit of detail on his strength training with kettle balls, something that had little interest to me but I now have a clearer understanding because of it. I'm sure there is someone out there that will love these parts of his book, but it wasn't for me. I also understand why they're in there... it IS his life after all. I don't think you should be weary to read this because you're not interested in this, the parts of the book that go into it are still very interesting. The Tourette's played a large part of the book and will speak to many with the same problems. The book is very inspiring, one part will stay with me forever; "Learning was a reward. And when I came home from school, instead of asking, 'How was school today?' they'd ask, 'What did you ask today?' " I can only hope to someday use this with my own children, it really is the perfect question.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Element


The Element
Ken Robinson, Lou Aronica
3/5




First Sentence
"Gillian was only eight years old, but her future was already at risk."
Publisher's Description:


The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves, most inspired, and achieve at their highest levels. The Element draws on the stories of a wide range of people: Paul McCartney, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Meg Ryan, Gillian Lynne, who choreographed the Broadway productions of Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, journalist Arianna Huffington, renowned physicist Richard Feynman, and many others, including business leaders and athletes. It explores the components of this new paradigm: the diversity of intelligence, the power of imagination and creativity, and the importance of commitment to our own capabilities.

With a wry sense of humor, Ken Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the Element and those that stifle that possibility. He shows that age and occupation are no barrier and that once we have found our path, we can help others do so as well. The Element shows the vital need to enhance creativity and innovation by thinking differently about human resources and imagination. It is an essential strategy for transforming education, business, and communities to meet the challenges of living and succeeding in the twenty-first century.
 

Dear Reader,

The Element made for an interesting listen, since I audio-booked this. The Audio version had many pros and cons. I'm not a huge fan of self-help books but when I do read one, I prefer to listen to the audio book. This particular book had an excellent narrator and was really easy to follow along (without getting lost if you miss a sentence or two).

Robinson starts off the book using bullet points of everything he was planning on getting to (which I found slightly college term paper-esque). Each section has vignettes of personal experiences (many from famous/successful people). Each chapter ends with questions and exercises to help you work out your Element. This was what didn't really work for me since I listen to my audio books in the car. I tried to participate in my mind while driving home from work but I found myself needing the physical pen and paper to complete the exercises successfully. When I got home, I had every intention of picking up the pen and paper but it never really happened. Not sure if this is a failure on my part or the inconvenience of having the subject brought up to me during an inopportune time.

Even though I didn't complete the work the way the book was intended, I still felt I started recognizing my strengths. I've always known I'm a bookaholic, and I know that I would be extremely happy to have a job surrounding books. Now that I recognize my element... I'm suppose to work towards utilizing it. Many of the successful stories happened because of luck, money and accessibility... which is all well and good for someone who comes across this but not everyone has this chance. My circumstances have me up against the wall when it comes to education and as far as money goes, fat chance. I'm left with pure luck and hard work and I only control one of those aspects. I believe what he tells us in the book is very helpful to most people, I just might not be one of them.  I respect all that Robinson shows us through The Element but haven't been convinced that it'll save your life.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Hunter S. Thompson
4/5


First Sentence
"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."
Publisher's Description:
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page.  It is also the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken.

Dear Reader,

I almost didn't want to admit I had just read this book - partly because it's taken me so long to get around to it, but more because I don't even know how to write a review of this book!  It's so very difficult.  But...I'll give it a go:

I really enjoyed the book.  Almost couldn't put it down, and I did fly through it.  The reading of this story went much more easily than I thought it would.  The movie was a very, very close depiction, if that helps at all.  There are actually quotes in the book that I remembered from the movie, even having seen it so long ago!  "Duke" and "Dr. Gonzo" tripped their way from adventure to adventure, going nuts on mescaline and handles of rum and all sorts of other lethal-sounding drug combinations.  The action was pretty much non-stop, and Thompson's characters really jumped right off the page, they were so vivid. His caricatures of everyone from hotel staff to policemen to the odd stranger here and there really did a great job of showing off America in the early 1970s.

Ralph Steadman's illustrations of the craziness of the story were spot-on appropriate, and really brought things to life as you read.  (My boyfriend thinks more books should be illustrated.)

I'm not sure I agree that Duke truly did find the American Dream, or if it was more that he found that there isn't really one...or, that it actually is just being out of your mind on drugs for days on end, and getting away with pretty much anything and everything.  Is that what America was, or is?  Very interesting thought....

Well, that's all I can get out for now.  I feel like right now I should either go get really trashed, or move into a convent and live a life away from the insanity that is Thompson's depicted drug culture.  Those two extremes felt like the only real options after finishing such a nutty ride  of a book.

Yours,
Arianna

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Swann's Way


Swann's Way
Marcel Proust
Translation by C.K. Scott Moncrieff
5/5

First Sentences
"For a long time I used to go to bed early.  Sometimes, when I had put out my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say 'I'm going to sleep.'  And half an hour later the thought that it was time to go to sleep would awaken me; I would try to put away the book which, I imagined, was still in my hands, and to blow out the light; I had been thinking all the time, while I was asleep, of what I had just been reading, but my thoughts had run into a channel of their own, until I myself seemed actually to have become the subject of my book: a church, a quartet, the rivalry between Fran├žois I and Charles V."
Publisher's Description:
In this first part, Proust paints an unforgettable, scathing and, at times, comic portrait of French society at the close of the 19th century, and reveals a profound vision of obsessive love.  (First published 1913)

Dear Reader,

I always feel very daunted by the task of reviewing a classic; often, I will entirely skip writing anything about it, because I want to let the book sink in over days and months.  Then, I will simply let myself not ever write anything, because my life has been changed so profoundly by the book and I don't know how to put that into words.  This review might, then, not be exactly what I want to say - and, perhaps, I'll come back and add more later - but I wanted to get some words down, for now.

Proust is an amazing writer.  That should come as no surprise; he is certainly a member of the elite authors circle, and has been for centuries.  However, I didn't realize how accessible he would be, either.  Swann's Way is long and dense and took me quite a while to get through, yes, but I was thrilled by what he put down on the page once I had finally opened the book.  Proust writes so very true to life.  He seems to just get human nature.  His study of Swann's obsessive love, swinging wildly from one extreme to the other, was so apt.

I loved the layering of the book: how it went from the idyllic life in Combray to the story of Swann's pursuit of Odette, and then back to the narrator's (in academic discourse, he is often referred to as "Marcel", since most assume this is Proust's portrayal of himself) own yearning for the young Gilberte.  The book has this wonderful, cozy sandwiching feel, where the two stories ultimately intertwine to create a complex layering of people and time and places.  This seems quite appropriate, as Proust was writing a book which, at its core, examines the nature of time itself.  He questions whether time is truly linear or whether we simply feel that it is, when in fact it often folds back upon itself in our lives, in our memories, in our experiences.

Certain gorgeous writing still stands out in my mind after having closed the book: of course, the famous madeleine scene where a small taste of cookies dipped in tea recalls the Narrator to a previous time, and also a quite amusing bit where Swann attempts to catch Odette in infidelity, only to discover he has been lurking underneath the wrong window.  Proust's descriptions recall paintings, appropriate because art is again something for which the author felt passion. Combray was vividly illustrated in my mind, and I know I will recall certain pieces of this story - descriptions of places and events - for years to come.  Exactly as Proust intended, I believe.

I can still almost smell the cattleyas, taste the madeleines, and hear the Vinteuil.

I'd like to think more on this book, of course - it still needs a lot of time to settle into whatever place it will inhabit in my mind from now on.  For now, though, I am glad I was able to get some words down to express my emotions after reading this wonderful book.

Yours,
Arianna

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Locke & Key, Volume 1


Locke & Key, Vol.1: Welcome to Lovecraft
Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
4/5


First Sentence
"Mendocino Valley - Before"



Publisher's Description:

Acclaimed suspense novelist and New York Times best-selling author Joe Hill(Heart-Shaped Box) creates an all-new story of dark fantasy and wonder: Locke & Key.

Written by Hill and featuring astounding artwork from Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse
Locke & Key creatorHill has received the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection, the British Fantasy Award for Best Collection and Best Short Story, and the Sydney J. Bounds Best Newcomer Award-2007, among his growing collection of critical accolades. This collection of Locke & Key, in development as a major motion picture by Dimension Films, features an introduction by Robert Crais, author of the best-selling Elvis Cole novels.

Dear Reader,

I'm not an avid comic book reader, only ocasionally and I'm usually late to the game if I decide to pick one up. This caught my attention because the creator is Joe Hill and I've become a fan after reading "NOS4A2", which I loved. The apple hasn't fallen far from the tree, Stephen King birthed his legacy and Joe Hill has taken the cup. The imagination he has is fantastic, the story is very compelling and I can't wait to read what happens next.

The comic starts tragically and the story starts to unfold backward. Each comic will reveal a little bit more of the secrets and it's really very creepy. The comic isn't for the weak of heart, it definitely has some disturbing scenes and might make an unseasoned horror reader queasy. But, for those of us who can handle the grotesque, this will be quite entertaining. I haven't been this enamored with a comic in a long time. Stay tuned for my review on volume 2...

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Mrs. Poe - Review by AmberBug


Mrs. Poe
Lynn Cullen
4.5/5




First Sentence

"When given bad news, most women of my station can afford to slump into their divans, their china cups slipping from their fingers to the carpet, their hair falling prettily from its pins, their fourteen starched petticoats compacting with a plush crunch."


Publisher's Description:
A vivid and compelling novel about a woman who becomes entangled in an affair with Edgar Allan Poe—at the same time she becomes the unwilling confidante of his much-younger wife. 

 It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York; not an easy task for a woman—especially one with two children and a philandering portrait painter as her husband. As Frances tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, “The Raven” has struck a public nerve. 

 She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman whom Edgar married. 

As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory. And Mrs. Poe, who acts like an innocent child, is actually more manipulative and threatening than she appears. As Frances and Edgar’s passionate affair escalates, Frances must decide whether she can walk away before it’s too late... 

Set amidst the fascinating world of New York’s literati, this smart and sexy novel offers a unique view into the life of one of history’s most unforgettable literary figures. (Published 2013)

Dear Reader,

I absolutely loved everything about this book, starting with the literary references right down to the forbidden romance. Cullen took all the pieces, fact and rumors, about Edgar Allen Poe and the characters around him and wrote a beautiful story that delves into feminism, technological progress, NYC literary society, and so much more. Right away Cullen gives us the setting perfectly, telling us of the NYC smells as horse manure, garbage and urine. This gives us a picture of what NYC was, pushing us into the past. I love when historical fiction adds quaint and factual details such as this.

The characters, based on real life, are strong, opinionated and made me want to jump into a time machine to attend one of their conversaziones. Frances Osgood, the struggling poet that has chosen the wrong man to marry and struggles with this throughout the book. Samuel Osgood, the husband of Frances, who is the master charmer portrait artist, one we would call a player in our time. Virginia Poe, the wife of Edgar Poe, sick and fragile but has a dark side. Edgar Allen Poe, the famous poet/writer, creepy yet extremely intelligent and charming (in his own way).

Cullen wrote Edgar with finesse, he comes across with dry humor which he even admits, "I do not joke... I never joke". That spoke to me because I'm a believer that the truth is what makes something so funny. As Dane Cook (I believe it was him) says, "It's funny because it's so true". Poe's personality is so dark with macabre retorts that had me enamored, I think I fell in love with him right along with Frances.

One of my other favorite characters was Mrs. Fuller, even if she was only a minor part. She loves stirring the pot, has definitive views on feminism and is fantastic at defending her fellow females. Feminism plays a large part in this book, the idea of "free love" is brought up a few times and the conversations that play out around that theme are really interesting. One of the central ideas to "free love" is how "marital relations without the consent of the wife amount to rape." How complicated things were back then, suffocating in a marriage that wasn't right. The inequality of it all, something that is really hard to fathom in present times. The Author actually uses the doomed love of Edgar and Frances to show the injustice of the way things used to be. Shouldn't we be able to be with the one you love? Even now, with such changes in marriage, we suffer with the ideas of adultery and bad relationships. Should you stay with someone out of loyalty even if it means we'd be miserable? Doesn't that just make the person we're with suffer just as much if not more? A great quote from the book sums this up beautifully, "Why must women always deny their desires? Why must most men always deny theirs? It is completely unnatural to do so."

This book might seem like a romance, but to me it was so much more. I'd normally run for the hills at the first mushy paragraph... However, this book spoke to my geeky side. Mrs. Poe is chock full of technological progress, like having a fun history lesson; how roads started, NYC indoor plumbing bringing the rats, daguerreotypes, the first x-mas trees, etc. I really loved the argument brought up around daguerreotypes(develops a portrait by exposing chemicals to light.. Ahem, photography anyone?) this brought up the argument of Fine Art vs. Photography, which interested me quite a bit, being an artist myself. Samuel Osgood, the artist, believed that daguerreotypes were a fad that would pass with time. Poe, on the other hand, felt it was a fantastic technology that was truest to the subject. How I would have likes to be a part of these discussions.

I really would recommend this book to anyone who loves literature combined with history. Cullen gives us so many literary figures (mentioned or cameo); Walt Whitman, Mr. Audobon, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, even Charles Dickens. It left me star struck and wanting more. I can't wait to pick up another of her books, it left me wanting more.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

P.S. - Check out Arianna's review of this book... Lynn Cullen commented on her post commending her for understanding where she was coming from, you have to read it!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mrs. Poe


Mrs. Poe
Lynn Cullen
4/5


First Sentence
"When given bad news, most women of my station can afford to slump into their divans, their china cups slipping from their fingers to the carpet, their hair falling prettily from its pins, their fourteen starched petticoats compacting with a plush crunch."
Publisher's Description:
A vivid and compelling novel about a woman who becomes entangled in an affair with Edgar Allan Poe—at the same time she becomes the unwilling confidante of his much-younger wife. 

 It is 1845, and Frances Osgood is desperately trying to make a living as a writer in New York; not an easy task for a woman—especially one with two children and a philandering portrait painter as her husband. As Frances tries to sell her work, she finds that editors are only interested in writing similar to that of the new renegade literary sensation Edgar Allan Poe, whose poem, “The Raven” has struck a public nerve. 

 She meets the handsome and mysterious Poe at a literary party, and the two have an immediate connection. Poe wants Frances to meet with his wife since she claims to be an admirer of her poems, and Frances is curious to see the woman whom Edgar married. 

As Frances spends more and more time with the intriguing couple, her intense attraction for Edgar brings her into dangerous territory. And Mrs. Poe, who acts like an innocent child, is actually more manipulative and threatening than she appears. As Frances and Edgar’s passionate affair escalates, Frances must decide whether she can walk away before it’s too late... 

Set amidst the fascinating world of New York’s literati, this smart and sexy novel offers a unique view into the life of one of history’s most unforgettable literary figures. (Published 2013)

Dear Reader,

I find I love books which start off as if they are going to be romance novels, but then go so much further than that.  Probably that is because I'm not much of a he-swept-her-off-her-feet romance kind of girl.  I prefer the more realistic version of life, I think.

That being said, that is exactly what Mrs. Poe was.  I know the story Cullen wove wasn't 100% true-to-life, but she did quite a bit of research for the background of her story, and it showed.  The book she wrote was a very plausible (at least, to me) version of how (now virtually unknown) poet Frances Osgood and Edgar Allen Poe's lives might have once intertwined.  A truly tragic story all around, and despite Mrs. Poe's bearing at times, you couldn't help but feel sorry for every single person in the novel - well, almost every one.  Certainly the main players.  Osgood led a very disappointing life, and the outlet she found in Poe was a beautiful, but heartbreaking one.  This wasn't a tale of forbidden love as much as it was a portrait of life, though.  The struggles and limitations that we all face.

I was particularly enthralled by the caricatures that Cullen drew of New York's literati at the time - that was probably the most fun part of the book!  I enjoyed her sprinkling in of people (P.T. Barnum, Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, Astor!) and events of the time (the "flattening" of NYC, the all-destroying fires, daguerreotypes, the treatment of writers as superstars) which really brought the time period alive for me.  Her connecting the story to the true history of New York, or at least a very close rendering of the city at that time, was fascinating.

I was intrigued by the small mysteries which Cullen threw in, as well, certainly making this far less of a romance - although there were certainly the moments of passion! - and much more engaging.  While the story circled like a single-shot camera around Osgood in Poe's embrace, it also allowed for cut scenes into so many other smaller, related, and very engaging subplots.

The title of the book particularly interests me - does it refer to the cousin who legally married Poe when she was just a girl?  Or does it allude to the role Osgood often played as "Mrs. Poe" when she and Edgar were together, playing parts?  It straddles that line so well, as did the story: you didn't always want to root for the woman who seemed to be tearing apart a marriage, but at the same time, her story and her character were so compelling.  It was difficult not to wish Frances Osgood all the best, in the end.  Whatever her true story was, I am glad this side was told.

Yours,
Arianna

P.S. Be sure you read the Author's Note at the end of the story - Cullen discusses her inspiration, her process, and most importantly, the rest of the tragic history.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Knit Two


Knit Two: A Friday Night Knitting Club Novel
Kate Jacobs
2.5/5

First Sentence
"It was after hours at Walker and Daughter: Knitters, and Dakota stood in the center of the Manhattan yarn shop and wrestled with the cellophane tape."
Publisher's Description:
Five years after the death of the knitting store's owner, Georgia Walker, Georgia's daughter, eighteen-year-old Dakota, is running the knitting store part-time, but only with the help of the members of the Friday Night Knitting Club. (Published 2008)

Dear Reader,

I am not sure that I would have read this book had it not been available as a free audiobook through my library's Overdrive subscription. I often stumble across books there and will pick up ones that I might not otherwise read, which is sometimes a great thing. I chose this one only because I had read the first book in the series, years ago - right around when it first came out, because someone (my sister?) gave it to me as a gift. I thought it was all right, but pretty indistinguishable from all of the "knitting circle" books that came out around that time: chick lit, about women who bond over knitting. I thought this was an interesting series, though, because not all of the women actually knit - there was more to the story than that. In fact, it was much more about the women's lives than their knitting. So I figured this sequel would be all right for a light summer read. And, it was! I enjoyed the easy prose and relatively simple story line.

I am still kind of recovering from the final part of the audiobook--a knitting pattern and two recipes which followed the actual novel.  I couldn't believe that the narrator was reading "knit two, purl five, knit two, purl five, knit two, purl five, knit two, purl five," ad nauseam!  Who in the world is going to sit there pausing their audiobook every few seconds to knit or purl, then pressing "play" again?!  So, that kind of threw me off when I was just beginning to consider this review.

I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I remembered the story and characters better from the first novel; I feel like there were a lot of references to the prequel which I have long since forgotten.  However, I think the book stands well enough on its own, as I was still able to understand what was going on.  I did like that the main characters are a range of ages, from eighteen to seventy-eight, all struggling to figure out who they are.  It gave a sense of trueness to the book.  However, it wouldn't have hurt to have added a male knitter into the story!  I certainly know of several; they're not mythical, haha.

Some - well, one - of the stories seemed a bit implausible, but at least the author gives a nod to its unbelievability (is that a word?).  And she explains it away as being a part of the magic that is the strong, female friendship that is formed over a knitting group.  This is something I've sort of experienced; I still keep in contact with my lovely girls from my former Boston knitting group, and so I do feel that sometimes knitting can bring people together.  This book lent a bit too much saccharine dreaminess to the idea, but hey - it's a knitting group novel, what do you expect?

Overall, this was a fun summer novel.  Great to take up some time while I sat around and knit up a pair of wedding gloves for a friend, and a sweater for myself.

Happy reading (and knitting!),
Arianna

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Invisible


Invisible
Paul Auster
3.5/5


First Sentence (and a bit more)
"I shook his hand for the first time in the spring of 1967. I was a second-year student at Columbia then, a know-nothing boy with an appetite for books and a belief (or delusion) that one day I would become good enough to call myself a poet, and because I read poetry, I had already met his namesake in Dante's hell, a dead man shuffling through the final verses of the twenty-eighth canto of the Inferno."
Publisher's Description:

“One of America’s greatest novelists” dazzlingly reinvents the coming-of-age story in his most passionate and surprising book to date."

Sinuously constructed in four interlocking parts, Paul Auster’s fifteenth novel opens in New York City in the spring of 1967, when twenty-year-old Adam Walker, an aspiring poet and student at Columbia University, meets the enigmatic Frenchman Rudolf Born and his silent and seductive girfriend, Margot. Before long, Walker finds himself caught in a perverse triangle that leads to a sudden, shocking act of violence that will alter the course of his life.

Three different narrators tell the story of Invisible, a novel that travels in time from 1967 to 2007 and moves from Morningside Heights, to the Left Bank of Paris, to a remote island in the Caribbean. It is a book of youthful rage, unbridled sexual hunger, and a relentless quest for justice. With uncompromising insight, Auster takes us into the shadowy borderland between truth and memory, between authorship and identity, to produce a work of unforgettable power that confirms his reputation as “one of America’s most spectacularly inventive writers.”

Dear Reader,

I selected to read this in Audio book format. Paul Auster reads his books beautifully (in my opinion) and I can never resist the chance to listen to his hypnotizing voice. I was under the impression that everyone would enjoy his narration just as much, however, I found out that not everyone feels the same as me. I listen to my audio books in my car and every now and then, my boyfriend gets to listen too (when we decide to take my car.) He was blessed one day to ride with me while I was just starting Invisible, I was actually quite excited thinking that he'd find Auster as wonderful as me. No, he did not. I didn't even have to ask him what he thought of Auster's glorious voice, he told me right away, "How can you STAND it? His voice is so monotone!" That's when I realized what he said was true! I still didn't care, monotone or not, I loved every syllable. I wanted to tell this story because I think it taught me a lesson and really needs to be said for readers asking if they should Audio this book or just read it. I would jump up and down and say you'd be crazy not to want to hear Auster sex up his own writing... but on the other hand, maybe you would be like my boyfriend and wonder why he doesn't use any inflection or change his voice for each character. To each their own!

With that said, on to the book itself. This book is chock full of crazy stuff. If you know Auster, you'll know to expect this. If this is a first time Auster read? I would suggest picking up one of his earlier books first (or audio booking Winter Journal - my favorite). The story is told in seasons, each one a chapter of the book the main character has written of his life. I always love books about books, this one lacked a little of that charm though. The charm the story held was within the development of Adam and the whimsical characters he interacted with. Whimsical may be the wrong word for that if you start thinking of Disney characters but that was the first word that came to mind. You see Adam throughout his life; traveling, getting into trouble, struggling writer, wanting to know the meaning of everything. Auster always does this so well (again, in my opinion). The shocking moments of the book really took me for surprise, they come at times you don't expect them. I would recommend this book to anyone who has already experienced Auster and enjoyed his work.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing


The Last Winter of 
Dani Lancing
Phil Viner
3/5

First Sentence
Saturday 18 December 2010
"There's no such thing as monsters," he tells her.
Publisher's Description:

A riveting psychological thriller in the tradition of Before I Go to Sleep and Memento that introduces P. D. Viner as a master of suspense.
P.D. Viner bursts on to the scene with a gritty and powerful crime thriller that explores the dark, dangerous line that separates grief, violence, loss, and revenge.Twenty years ago, college student Dani Lancing was kidnapped and brutally murdered. The killer was never found; the case has long-gone cold. Her parents, Patty and Jim, were utterly devastated, their marriage destroyed. Patty threw away her successful journalism career and developed a violent obsession with the unsolved crime.  She is utterly consumed with every lead and possible suspect no matter how far-fetched.  Jim, however, is now a shell of his former self, broken down and haunted—sometimes literally—by the loss of his daughter.  Tom Bevans, Dani’s childhood sweetheart, has become a detective intent on solving murders of other young women.  He was so scarred by Dani’s death that his colleagues have nicknamed him “The Sad Man.” After twenty years of grief, all of three of them are burnt-out and hopeless.But when Tom finds an opening on the case, everything changes.  Patty’s obsessions are lit up once again and she will do anything for revenge—even if it means dragging her whole family back into the nightmare, as lies and secrets are unearthed and the truth finally revealed.Told in fractured time, with a breathless pace and masterful plotting, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is a superb thriller: swift, edgy, gripping, and unforgettable.


Dear Reader,

This particular psychological thriller caught my eye from the "Before I Go to Sleep" reference in the blurb, a book which I really enjoyed. I find this genre can be very redundant and predictable which is why you don't find me running out to grab the "latest". I do however, LOVE a really good thriller and sometimes will take chances on them. This one was a bit of a letdown, the story itself was original but the ending left much to be desired. The main characters (Dani, Jim Lancing, Patty Lancing & Detective Tom Bevans) all had serious faults, which really elevated this book for me. The characters alone have saved this book from a lower rating.

The story follows these characters backward and forward through time. This is slightly hard to follow but the Author helps us by giving dates with every chapter. I noticed that some chapters moved through time as well, and this was where things started getting harder to follow. Once you got into the feel of things though, it was smooth sailing. I could see someone giving up on this book much too early because of that. Luckily, I'm used to time jumping stories and this didn't bother me enough to put the book down. As the story unravels, we see the characters start to fall apart, giving us multiple layers of personality. This made it hard to predict what was going to happen and even predict what had happened.

The ending, without giving it away... all I'll say is that it had the twists you'd expect a psychological thriller to have but it seemed rushed. I'm not a huge fan of mysteries and thrillers that give this HUGE reveal at the end (this always seems so rushed to me). I like when you get clues along the way and when the reveal happens, it'll bring up all those points along the way. This gives you the right as a reader to predict the ending, one of the most satisfying or shocking feelings to an excellent thriller. However, this was one story that wasn't predictable... and not in the good way. The ending was enough to keep you satiated but the Author went in a direction that took the fun out of reading this genre. I'll look forward to read something else by this Author in the future to see if this has changed. Phil Viner can write, and he can develop superb characters but the story falls a little short here.

So, reader... are you looking for a unique mystery/thriller? This is certainly unique.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Death in the Small Hours


A Death in the Small Hours
Charles Finch
3/5

First Sentence:
"Charles Lenox sat in the study of his town house in Hampden Lane--that small, shop-lined street just off Grosvenor Place where he had passed most of his adult life--and sifted through the papers that had accumulated upon his desk, as they would, inevitably, when one became a member of Parliament..."
Publisher's Description:
From Charles Finch, the critically acclaimed author of A Beautiful Blue Death and A Burial at Sea, comes Death in the Small Hours, an intriguing new mystery in what The New York Times calls "a beguiling series"  Charles Lenox is at the pinnacle of his political career and is a delighted new father. His days of regularly investigating the crimes of Victorian London now some years behind him, he plans a trip to his uncle's estate, Somerset, in the expectation of a few calm weeks to write an important speech. When he arrives in the quiet village of Plumley, however, what greets him is a series of strange vandalisms upon the local shops: broken windows, minor thefts, threatening scrawls.
Only when a far more serious crime is committed does he begin to understand the great stakes of those events, and the complex and sinister mind that is wreaking fear and suspicion in Plumley.  Now, with his protege, John Dallington, at his side, the race is on for Lenox to find the culprit before he strikes again.  And this time his victim may be someone that Lenox loves.

Dear Reader,

I was thoroughly charmed by this quintessentially English book. I don’t often read books which are part of a series, particularly not books which are several into a series, but this mystery novel stood quite well on its own. Apart from a few allusions which I believe were inserted for the series’ loyal followers, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything by starting on book six of the Charles Lenox mysteries.

Perhaps that had to do with the setting of the book, which took place largely away from Lenox’s London home. I enjoyed the English countryside mystery novel; the whole thing recalled to me the feeling I had when reading The Hound of the Baskervilles. I enjoyed the small town characters which Finch painted in vivid colors. Everyone had a strikingly unique personality, while also being quite immersed in village life.

One of my favorite aspects of the book was, oddly, the relationship which Lenox had with Sadie. Who was Sadie, you ask? Why, his cousin’s horse, of course! Seriously, though, you could tell Finch had a fondness for Sadie as he wrote quite at length about her. And she was, in many ways, one of the heroes of the story!

Learning the true identity of the murderer in the middle of the book really threw me for a loop; I am so used to detective stories which present the Big Reveal, and thus the denouement. And yet this story felt like it should have been finished halfway through! However, Finch wasn’t nearly done yet. And I thought that wonderful, because there WAS so much more to reveal - many small mysteries played themselves out during the rest of the book (and some big ones, as well!).

All in all, a very enjoyable diversion of a book. Highly recommended for those who are Sherlock Holmes fans. Oh, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, scary about this book. Not in the least. (For those who might shy from spooky murder mysteries.) It’s all quite pleasant!

Yours,
Arianna

First Post

Dear Reader,

Here we go...!

Yours,
Amber & Arianna
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