Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Pillars of the EarthThis is a story of building of a cathedral in 12th century England. It spans a generation and tells of all the people whose lives were irrevocably altered by this project.

Although I'm only now getting around to posting a review for it this was the first book I finished this year. It gripped me from the very first line and I think it will always stay with me in a way. It's not only because of the masterful storytelling or the compelling plot but also because of the characters who make it impossible to be indifferent. I cannot tell you how many times I frowned at William's despicable actions and cheered for Prior Philip. The latter is firmly on my list of favorite characters, by the way.
Do not be intimidated by this book being one of Oprah's Book Club titles (I know those are often not something we'd pick ourselves) or its size. It is an enjoyable and a very accessible read, beautifully plotted and beautifully written. I highly recommend it and will be purchasing it in hardcover to keep.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro

EleganceLouise is a 32 year old living in London with a closet full of shapeless brown garments, romance-free marriage and a job where nobody even notices she exists. One day at a second-hand book store she finds a volume entitled Elegance and decides to regain control of her life.

I don't keep books. In fact, I've decided to read everything in my book case and not buy anything new unless the library doesn't have what I want. And on the rare occasion that I do decide to keep a book it's because I've absolutely fallen in love with it. Guess what, about 3/4 of the way through I knew that this one is a keeper.
It hit all the right notes with its combination of humor and sadness, realism, insightfulness and beautiful writing. The language fit with the story, the characters were alive and relatable, Louise's best friends felt like your own best friends, when she succeeded to cheer and in the end it left me with a smile on my face. What can be better?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (Pink Carnation, #1)Eloise is a history student from Harvard spending a year in England doing research on English spies in France in the 19th century. She has a quest - to find information on the mysterious Pink Carnation, whose true identity was never revealed. Her last desperate effort to find something, anything, produces surprising and fascinating results as well as may be a possibility of a romance.

If you are anything like me you'll enjoy this book. Ms. Willig blends historical romance and chick lit to create a page-turner of a story with fun characters and a mystery. I laughed out loud too many times to count and while the leads were an absolute delight the secondary characters kept stealing the spotlight. I did have trouble getting into the story but the pace picked up in the second third so I'm not complaining too much. Another thing that didn't always work for me is the language - it didn't really fit the Napoleonic era. I kept being distracted by modern turns of phrase and American spelling although the characters were all English.
All in all this is a delightful read that did a wonderful job of distracting me from the tedium of the never-ending dishes-laundry-work rotation and put me in a good mood. I look forward to reading the next volume in the series!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Agatha Christie Challenge

There's plenty of challenges out there and although I've always been wary of them because of the time limitation (so many books in so many weeks) and because I didn't want to commit to something that might turn out totally not my thing today I've decided to start my own challenge. No time limit, just a list. Cross off every title and you're done. I've always been fond of Agatha Christie and her sleuths so my challenge is to read all of her novels and all her short stories for bonus points. The list is here and I've already been able to cross off some of the titles. Wanna join me?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Review: Ursula Le Guin's Hainish Cycle

Ursula K Le Guin: 5 Complete NovelsUrsula Le Guin is considered one of the best authors in science fiction and her Hainish series clearly shows why she is celebrated. Every story in this volume is a chapter in the history of different worlds in the galaxy where Earth is just one of the planets and space ships can make journeys to planets light-years away with passengers not aging in the process. It is not immediately obvious that they are connected because every story takes place on a different planet with generations worth of time in between the "chapters" but once I figured it out the series took on a more wholesome feel and became more satisfying.
It was interesting to see different themes dominate every story underneath the general theme of being an alien in a strange world and finding a place in it. For example for Planet of Exile it was belonging, for The Left Hand of Darkness - patriotism and friendship and for The Word for World is Forest - acceptance, tolerance and respect for what is different as well as preserving the environment.
The Left Hand of Darkness was my favorite in the series, so I'll tell you about it and leave the rest for you to discover on your own. At first I didn't enjoy it very much, it read as a report without much insight into the people of Winter, which in retrospect is what it was meant to be, but as the story progressed and protagonist changed from the Terran Genly Ai to the Karhidish Therem Harth and the format changed from report to  diary I became increasingly invested in the story. With protagonists alternating it became something of a dialogue and then the real adventures started and I was hooked. A very nice addition was the lore of the land with legends interspersed between chapters, it helped create an impression of a culture, a history of this planet and gave it a more human aspect. Don't want to give anything away, but I almost cried towards the end and even now, a week and two books later, I'm still thinking about it, the characters and the societies that shaped them. I have a feeling I'll always remember it and will re-read it many times.

Review: Interred With Their Bones

Interred with Their BonesInterred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fans of Dan Brown, rejoice! Here’s a fast-paced mystery that’ll hold your attention. The scholar is a Harvard-educated authority on Shakespeare, the goal is to find the long-lost manuscript and may be even find out the true identity of the legendary poet. There’s murder, a handsome stranger, cryptic letters serving as breadcrumbs showing the way and friends who may be enemies and vice versa.
It is a satisfying read that keeps you turning the pages despite all the many Williams of Shakespeare’s time that are so hard to keep track of. I enjoyed the fact that it was written in the format of a play with acts and interludes and that the villain wasn’t who I thought it was (oh, I believed myself so clever!). I think I would have enjoyed it more if the author gave us glimpses of the villain along the way, the way Dan Brown does. This device serves to speed up the pace and with the entire story done from the perspective of the scholar it got bogged down in the academic explanations a couple of times.
All in all it is a very good debut novel and I can only hope that the author will write another soon.