Thursday, October 15, 2009

Surprisingly wonderful

Title: Austenland
Author: Shannon Hale
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 208
Genre: Chick Lit/Romance
Date Started: October 13, 2009
Date Finished: October 14, 2009

Rating: A+

Description from Barnes & Noble: Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man—perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Predjudice. When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I have to admit, I was a little nervous when I ordered this book. Considering my past experience with chick lit, and taking into account that Jane Austen is one of my all-time favorite authors, this book was a risk. Don't you just love it when risks pay off?

Austenland was such a breath of fresh air. Finally, a chick lit/romance with a main character who didn't whine constantly, several secondary characters with depth, and an awesome ending. And no smut! Perfect for me. Jane is a very likable character whose great aunt (hilarious scene-stealer) gives her a vacation to an estate in England where you go to live and breathe Austen. There she runs into several very interesting guests, as well as some pretty awesome "Regency" men. Most of the book deals with her struggle to balance both the world of pretend with the real world, and try to find love before the tension between the two causes her to break down completely.

The book also did justice to Austen and her world. References to all of her books are made, and Jane Hayes and her fellow guests each get to live a part of them. I loved Hale's descriptions of Jane's inner battle to immerse herself into this "Regency" vacation. It might have been easier for her if they actually removed all modern amenities. Hale's character notes how cell-phones, modern clothes, and American slang aren't allowed, but make-up, electricity, and indoor plumbing are.

If this book is a typical example of Hale's work, I can't wait to read more of her books. Especially since it left me yearning not only for more, but it also made me want to pick up the closest Austen novel and reread it. A+

A new medium - Netflix

At the end of last month, I signed up for Netflix, so now I will have lots of movies to review. I'm still trying to decide if I want to review every movie I watch, or just the ones I'm seeing for the first time. So far I've seen (on my own account; my parents have their own):
  • Pride and Prejudice (2005 Kiera Knightley version)
  • Tron
  • Under the Tuscan Sun
  • Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theater (Episodes 1-4)
  • Once Upon a Mattress
  • The Mirror Has Two Faces
The newest group of movies coming in today are:
  • As You Like It
  • Kiss Me Goodbye
  • Confessions of a Shopaholic
I'm thinking I'll just review the ones that are brand new to me. I'm worried I might get mixed up and double-up on movies that I've seen before. Which means that of all the movies I listed above, only Under the Tuscan Sun will NOT get a review. That means I better get back on track with these reviews, or I'm going to fall so far behind.

October Library Run

Ordering books from the library is both fun and annoying. But it must be done, in order to save some money.
  • Austenland by Shannon Hale (picked up on Tuesday, finished on Wednesday)
  • Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter
  • The Sea King's Daughter by Barbara Michaels
  • Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella
I also wanted to order some books by Georgette Heyer, but none of the libraries within my county have one of the books (April Lady), and the system won't let me place a hold on the other (Friday's Child). Frustrating!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My first "Incomplete"

Title: Under the Tuscan Sun
Author: Frances Mayes
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Genre: Memoir/Travelogue
Date Started: August 28, 2009
Date Finished: DIDN'T!

Rating: Incomplete

Description from Barnes & Noble: In the spirit of Peter Mayle's bestselling memoir A Year in Provence, gourmet and poet Frances Mayes chronicles her experience of buying, restoring, and residing in an abandoned villa in the Tuscan countryside. In rich, golden prose, Mayes details the long summer days spent working in the garden, excursions to the nearby towns and markets, and joyful interactions with the local people. Mayes lets armchair travelers share the joy of living in Italy through her wonderful memoir.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I love reading memoirs, especially memoirs involving travel (Ruth Reichl's memoirs are amazing), but I'm sorry; I just couldn't finish this. And I've been reading it since August! I grabbed this book thinking it would be a good read while I was waiting for my plane to Florida. Worst choice ever. The book was so boring, I couldn't keep my eyes open. Just writing about this book and remembering it, is making me tired.

One of the most disappointing aspects of this book is that it's nothing like the movie. I know that sounds awful, but sometimes the stuff Hollywood adds to movie-versions of a book actually improve the story. In this case, Hollywood took the basic idea: woman buys house in Tuscany (although in the book, it was both Frances and her second husband who buy and renovate it together), keeps a few details from the book that were interesting, and made a whole new story around those. Frances bought the house with her second husband Ed; the Polish workers who make up a big part of the comedic element in the movie are only in the book for one chapter; there is no romantic anything in the book. Not with Frances or her neighbors or the Polish workers. Nothing. And since I didn't finish the book, I have no idea if the gay best friend even exists or if she's entirely a Hollywood fabrication.

Most of the book was made up of renovating details, and some side trips to the neighboring cities and towns. One chapter in particular was maddening. I think if I had to read that they found another hidden well one more time, I was going to chuck the book down one. If you're into books about home renovations and endless details about the roads in Italy, then this is the book for you. If you're expecting something close to the movie, don't even bother trying to read this. Incomplete

Good, but not the best

Title: House of Many Ways
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 416
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Series #: 3 of 3
Date Started: September 22, 2009
Date Finished: September 24, 2009

Rating: B+

Description (from Barnes & Noble): Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle William's tiny cottage while he's ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few.

By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizard, and a box of the king's most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift—so desperate that they've even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind?

Of course, with that magical family involved, there's bound to be chaos—and unexpected revelations.

No one will be more surprised than Charmain by what Howl and Sophie discover.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lucky for me, the description from Barnes & Noble pretty much says it all. The only problem with the last book in the Howl series is Charmain. I really had a hard time liking her. Spoiled, selfish, and ignorant, Charmain is a royal pain. She does improve as the story continues, learning lessons in humility and selflessness, but it takes a while, which makes it hard to get through the beginning of the book. Once she does start learning not to be so self-centered, the book's pace picks up, and it's a much easier read from then on.

It was a good book overall, but it didn't live up to the other two Howl books. B+

Another win for Wynne Jones

Title: Castle in the Air
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Series #: 2 of 3
Date Started: September 19, 2009
Date Finished: September 20, 2009

Rating: A+

Description (from Barnes & Noble): Abdullah was a young and not very prosperous carpet dealer. His father, who had been disappointed in him, had left him only enough money to open a modest booth in the Bazaar. When he was not selling carpets, Abdullah spent his time daydreaming. In his dreams he was not the son of his father, but the long-lost son of a prince. There was also a princess who had been betrothed to him at birth. He was content with his life and his daydreams until, one day, a stranger sold him a magic carpet.

In this stunning sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones has again created a large-scale, fast-paced fantasy in which people and things are never quite what they seem. There are good and bad djinns, a genie in a bottle, wizards, witches, cats and dogs (but are they cats and dogs?), and a mysterious floating castle filled with kidnapped princesses, as well as two puzzling prophecies. The story speeds along with tantalizing twists and turns until the prophecies are fulfilled, true identities are revealed, and all is resolved in a totally satisfying, breathtaking, surprise-filled ending.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Howl's Moving Castle has found a place amongst my top 10 favorite books, and Diana Wynne Jones is now one of my favorite authors. When I finally got the sequels from the library, I was confident that Jones would make the next two books just as exciting and fun and ridiculous as the first. And this book definitely lived up to my expectations.

Abdullah is a great character that you can't help rooting for, and Sophie is just as headstrong as ever... even when she's not human. I liked that Jones introduced new characters without losing her old ones. Just as good as the first. A

Bees... lots and lots of bees

Title: Chalice
Author: Robin McKinley
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Date Started: September 17, 2009
Date Finished: September 18, 2009

Rating: A-

Description (from Barnes & Noble): Beekeeper Marisol has been chosen as the new Chalice, destined to stand beside the Master and mix the ceremonial brews that hold the Willowlands together. But the relationship between Chalice and Master has always been tumultuous, and the new Master is unlike any before him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Okay, that synopsis really doesn't explain anything. And I don't think I could do a very good job either. This book was like The Dark Lord of Derkholm, where they throw into the middle of a story and you have to learn what's going on as you read. Which made it very confusing when I started reading it, but I stuck with it, and it kind-of-sort-of made sense in the end.

The book was enjoyable, and the characters were refreshing. I noticed that the author never gives any detailed description of Marisol. So she can look however you want her too. Also, the plot's original, which is a huge plus. A- (Sorry for the crappy review).

A Different Perspective

Title: Beastly
Author: Alex Flinn
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 320
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Date Started: September 14, 2009
Date Finished: September 16, 2009

Rating: A-

Description (from Barnes & Noble): I am a beast.

A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright—a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.

You think I'm talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It's no deformity, no disease. And I'll stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I'll tell you. I'll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I'll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So how excited was I when I heard they were making this book (which was awesome) into a movie?! And then I learned who would be playing the main love interest, and my excitement plummeted to rock bottom. Vanessa-freaking-Hudgens! From High School Musical! She can't act, and she looks nothing like the character. Did the casting directors lose their minds?! I am now assured that the movie is going to suck, and all it took was seeing her name.

Luckily, you can always read the book, which was awesome. It did have some subject matter that I would only allow more mature young adults to read (even though they've probably seen everything on TV). It was a fresh perspective on a classic story. A-

Note: The reviews for the September books are all going to be short, since I waited so long to write them *sheepish grin*.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It's getting hot in here

Title: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Format: Paperback
Pages: 179
Genre: Alternate reality/Sci-Fi
Date Started: September 10, 2009
Date Finished: September 11, 2009

Rating: A

Description (from Barnes & Noble Review): Fahrenheit 451 is set in a grim alternate-future setting ruled by a tyrannical government in which firemen as we understand them no longer exist: Here, firemen don't douse fires, they ignite them. And they do this specifically in homes that house the most evil of evils: books. Books are illegal in Bradbury's world, but books are not what his fictional -- yet extremely plausible -- government fears: They fear the knowledge one pulls from books. Through the government's incessant preaching, the inhabitants of this place have come to loathe books and fear those who keep and attempt to read them. They see such people as eccentric, dangerous, and threatening to the tranquility of their state. But one day a fireman named Montag meets a young girl who demonstrates to him the beauty of books, of knowledge, of conceiving and sharing ideas; she wakes him up, changing his life forever. When Montag's previously held ideology comes crashing down around him, he is forced to reconsider the meaning of his existence and the part he plays. After Montag discovers that "all isn't well with the world," he sets out to make things right.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

While reading through several different websites' lists of the Top 100 Books of All Time, Fahrenheit 451 showed up on all of them. So I decided to give it a go, and I'm so glad I did. This book was inspiring and thought-provoking. And extremely relevant to me. I work for a media company that specializes in newspapers and magazines, and the number of readers continually drops. Plus, people just don't read books anymore. They'd rather watch movies that do all the work of imagining for them, rather than putting their own imaginations to use.

I'd recommend this to everyone. In this age of technology-- computers, blackberry's, and kindles-- Fahrenheit 451 is a necessary read. A