Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A New Look!

Welcome to my renovated and redecorated blog!

I was starting to get bored with the old look, and decided it was time for a change.  I feel that this background expresses the purpose of my blog, as well as who I am.  Of course, those shelves are much too neat, but I don't think they have a picture of messy, disorganized, overflowing shelves.  I think the new look also makes my blog look more.... I don't really want to say professional.... I guess it looks less bland, more exciting.  It looks like I actually care more about it, instead of just leaving it with that original blah layout.  I'm really a lot happier with this new layout.  Let's see how long it lasts.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Title: A Hat Full of Sky
Author: Terry Pratchett
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 278
Genre: Fantasy/Weird/Discworld
Date Started: May 9, 2010
Date Finished: May 10, 2010

Rating: B

Description (from Barnes & Noble): Tiffany Aching - the boldest heroine ever to swing a frying pan against the forces of evil - is beginning her apprenticeship in magic. She expects to work hard, learn spells, and become a witch. She doesn't expect to find herself doing chores, caring for the careless, and trying to outthink an ill-tempered nanny goat. There must be more to witchcraft than this!
But as Tiffany pursues her calling, an insidious, disembodied creature pursues Tiffany. When it strikes, neither Mistress Weatherwax (the greatest witch in the world) nor the six-inch-high Wee Free Men (the greatest thieves in the world) can save her...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Another really weird book from Pratchett. It might even be weirder than the first. I think that may be my opinion of all his books, if they're anything like this one. Several parts in the plot seemed to just come up out of nowhere, and there were random paragraphs of nonsensical prose just thrown in here and there. I understood the basic plot and even some of the twists, but other parts were either too rushed or too rambling to make any sense.

I did really like the romance that is starting up between Tiffany and Roland. I'm hoping that it continues to develop in the next two books. And the new characters were great too; some were annoying of course, but most of them were good. There were also the awesomely funny and satirical parts that just kept this book from being too... too... just too.

Favorite quotes:

Nevertheless, an entire village of hermit elephants moving across the plains is one of the finest sights on the continent.

The problem wasn't that he smelled of ferrets. Well, that was a problem, but compared to the big problem, it wasn't much of one. He talked to himself. That is, bits of him talked to other bits of him. All the time.

He had mastered the first two rules of writing as he understood them. 1. Steal some paper. 2. Steal a pencil. Unfortunately there was more to it than that.

So obviously the book had some redeeming qualities. B
Title: The Wee Free Men
Author: Terry Pratchett
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 263
Genre: Fantasy/Weird
Date Started: May 6, 2010
Date Finished: May 7, 2010

Rating: B

Description (from Barnes & Noble): Up on the chalk downs known as The Wold, witches are banned — ever since the Baron’s son vanished in the woods. Anyway, as all witches know, chalk is no good for magic.

Nine-year-old Tiffany Aching thinks her Granny Aching — a wise shepherd — might have been a witch, but now Granny Aching is dead and it’s up to Tiffany to work it all out when strange things begin happening. There’s a fairy-tale monster in the stream, a headless horseman and, strangest of all, the tiny blue men in kilts, the Wee Free Men, who have come looking for the new “hag”. These are the Nac Mac Feegles, the pictsies, who like nothing better than thievin’, fightin’ and drinkin’. When Tiffany’s young brother goes missing, Tiffany and the Wee Free Men must join forces to save him from the Queen of the Fairies.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My first impression about this book was "This is a weird story." It was good, just very strange. And it made you think, which is a good thing. But it's still strange. It's supposed to be made into a movie, and I really don't know how they're going to pull that off.

My favorite characters were absolutely the Nac Mac Feegle (the wee free men). They were funny and entertaining, and their matter-of-fact reactions to crazy, magical things helped set them apart from everything else, helped make them more magical (as if being tiny, blue creatures wasn't enough). They are the anti-Smurf. While the Smurfs liked to sing and dance and play games, the Nac Mac Feegle swear and drink and steal. Their dialogue was great too, because Pratchett wrote in brogue for them, rather than merely saying "They had a Scottish brogue."

The main character, Tiffany, annoyed me a little, especially in the beginning. I was having such a hard time connecting with her, but by the end of the book, she had redeemed herself. Speaking of the end of the book, I'm going to have to reread that part, because it still doesn't make sense to me.

Pratchett's writing style helped make this book fun and exciting. It reminded me of the Princess Bride, where the author keeps breaking in to the story to point something out in parentheses. Pratchett did something similar in this book, either through Tiffany or as the narrator. I love it when writers do that. B
Title: The Reluctant Widow
Author: Georgette Heyer
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 279
Genre: Regency romance/Gothic/Clean romance
Date Started: May 4, 2010
Date Finished: May 5, 2010

Rating: A+

Description (from Barnes & Noble): Penniless Elinor is rather surprised at the carriage that meets her from the stage, and more so at the decayed grandeur of the house to which she's transported. Realising that there has been a case of mistaken identity she agrees to an audacious plan.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I loved this book! So much comedy, sarcasm, and excitement! This was so different from any other Heyer book I've read. The heroine gets thrown into a situation, practically against her will, and her way of coping through sarcasm was so much fun. I love sarcasm, especially when it's done well. The hero is of course equally sarcastic to her, and the dialogue between these two was so good, I didn't even need the plot or secondary characters to enjoy the story. The two of them sending stinging barbs at each other was enough.

Of course, the plot and the secondary characters did add a lot of excitement and comedy to the story. Lord Carlyon's younger brother Nicky and his dog Bouncer were probably my favorite characters in the whole book. They were both constantly getting into trouble and "under" people's feet, but you couldn't help but love them. Elinor had her patience worn thin by both of them, but she still loved having them around. I always love the comic relief, and these two never disappointed.

The plot of this story was great too, because it was Gothic mystery novel. Riddles and secrets that needed to be solved. Secret passageways. Political intrigues. French spies. This is one of my favorite Heyer books. Actually, it's one of my favorite books... period. A+
Title: Friday's Child
Author: Georgette Heyer
Format: Paperback
Pages: 423
Genre: Regency romance/Clean romance
Date Started: May 2, 2010
Date Finished: May 2, 2010

Rating: A+

Description (from Barnes & Noble): Young Lord Sheringham, rejected by the woman he deeply loved, could not gain his inheritance until he married. On a passionate impulse, he vowed to marry the next woman he saw. Enter Hero Wantage, the adorable life-long friend who has secretly loved Sheringham her entire life.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This book was so wonderful. I loved the atypical hero (as in male lead, not the character Hero... confusing). Most of Heyer's men seem to always fit the same description. They're all tall, in their thirties, somewhat domineering and overbearing in their attitude, a little aloof, very elegant but manly, usually an Earl/Lord. They're usually the strong, silent type. Sherry (a.k.a. Lord Sherringham) has very few of these qualities. Sure, he's tall and a Lord, but that's about as far as it goes. Sherry is in his twenties, very open and amiable, hot-headed, not aloof at all. He's just so different from Heyer's other male leads; he's more like the willful, younger brother of the other heroes.

Hero, as in Sherry's wife, wasn't Heyer's typical female lead either. Yes, she was young and inexperienced with the ways of society, but she was also very timid, very quiet, with very little self-confidence and no "cheekiness." She gains more self-esteem and self-assurance throughout the book, but by the end, she's still very much a very sweet, very obedient girl.

Sherry's friends provided great comic relief, as well as moral support for the main characters. They're always there when Sherry and/or Hero need them, and they know when to step in and what to do. The one friend's fear of the dowager Sherringham is hilarious. The pains he goes through in order to keep out of her way were so funny. This whole book had me laughing out loud. Sudden elopements, a fake duel, two simultaneous kidnapping schemes gone wrong, the final piece of dialogue. This book was just amazing. A+
Title: April Lady
Author: Georgette Heyer
Format: Paperback
Pages: 268
Genre: Regency romance/Clean romance
Date Started: May 2, 2010
Date Finished: May 2, 2010

Rating: B+

Description (from Barnes & Noble): It was the most brilliant match of the season--the marriage of wealthy Lord Cardross to the enchanting Lady Nell. But Nell harbors one secret in her heart, she is deeply in debt. Unable to reveal the truth to her husband, Nell tries to settle her muddled financial affairs, but finds herself caught up in a terrible deception.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This book would have seemed so much better if I hadn't read it right after rereading The Convenient Marriage. Their storylines are so similar that I thought that Heyer might have run out of ideas. Both books feature a marriage between an older man and a younger woman. Both brides believe their husbands are in love with their old flames. Both husbands are in love with their brides, but believe their wives only want their money. Both brides get themselves tangled up in a crazy scheme. Both go to their brothers for help. Both brothers attempt highway robbery to help their sisters. Both brothers have problems with gambling and gambling debts. Very, very similar.

That doesn't mean the book wasn't good. There were enough differences to keep the book from seeming like a pale copy. The characters are very well-developed and believable, and their dialogue is amazing. The drunk brother and his friend provide lots of comic relief. The dramatic sighings and cryings and temper tantrums of the spoiled sister-in-law were also written well, because instead of being annoying, her "fits" were written in such a way that sometimes you sympathized with her, sometimes you laughed at her, and most of the time you rolled your eyes.

Overall, it was a very well-written book with great characters and dialogue, but lacked some originality. B+

A new Challenge!

This year I will be participating in the Everything Austen challenge!  I love Jane Austen, love her books, love the movies based on her books... I just love Austen.  So when I heard about this challenge I decided to join in.  It's a 6-month challenge, and you have to complete six Austen-related things (movies, books, spin-offs, etc.)  I have decided that since I have yet to read Northanger Abbey, and I never got further than a few chapters in Emma, reading both of those books will be part of my challenge.  I'm also going to watch 4 movie adaptations that I've never seen before, which includes most of the new BBC productions.  Starting July 1st, it's Everything Austen, and it's going to be fun!

Monday, June 14, 2010

June Library Run

My library and I became best friends last month.  Sure, they didn't have 90% of the books I wanted, but thanks to inter-library loans, I was there practically every other day.  Saturday, I was returning some of the many books I'd borrowed and picked up some new ones.
  • The Lady in the Palazzo by Marlena de Blasi
  • That Summer in Sicily by Marlena de Blasi
  • Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
  • Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
  • Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
And I also bought a new book from Barnes & Noble, one which I am so excited about!  The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville, the fourth and final book of The Unicorn Chronicles.  My mom read the first book from this series to my brother and I when we were 8 and 9 years old.  Now, almost 16 years later, the final book is here, and I'll be rereading the series aloud to my brother and our two younger sisters who have become devoted fans as well.  I'm just so excited to see how this series is going to end after all these years of waiting!

Challenge 3, Day 14

So my challenge is failing miserably.  Normally, by day 14, I would have had so many books read.  Unfortunately, the month is almost halfway done, and I've only read three books.  That's terrible!  And of course, my reason for falling so far behind.... dun dun dun duuuunnnn... TV, DVDs, computer games, Netflix.  All of the things I separated myself from last month-- I have succumbed to them once again.  Yesterday is an amazing example of this.  I had hours free to read the books I just got out of the library, and instead spent several of those free hours watching Say Yes to the Dress.  (Love that show!)  And then there's all the shows currently on right now.  Yes, Castle and Glee are over until next season (**sniff**), but now Lie to Me has returned, and Leverage is coming back, and there are some really interesting new shows starting up (Covert Affairs, Rubicon).  And we can't forget the Jane Austen/Shakespeare/fairy-tale adaptations that my sister and I are watching.  On Saturday, we watched Mansfield Park (the 1999 version) and the newest BBC miniseries, Emma (which I completely forgot to review so that will be coming up soon too).  Now we're both in a Jane Austen mood, and my Netflix queue is packed with Austen adaptations all begging to be watched.

This is going to be a very interesting month.  If I can't find a way to budget my time, so that I can read, watch TV, and update this blog, then this challenge will be a failure before it's even over.  I feel like I should have waited to start this challenge, rather than rush into it right after I finished the second challenge.  Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Title: A Thousand Days in Tuscany: A Bittersweet Adventure
Author: Marlena de Blasi
Format: Paperback
Pages: 325
Genre: Memoir/Travelogue/Cookbook
Date Started: ???
Date Finished: May 1, 2010

Rating: A-

Description (from Barnes & Noble): They had met and married on perilously short acquaintance, she an American chef and food writer, he a Venetian banker. Now they were taking another audacious leap, unstitching their ties with exquisite Venice to live in a roughly renovated stable in Tuscany.

Once again, it was love at first sight. Love for the timeless countryside and the ancient village of San Casciano dei Bagni, for the local vintage and the magnificent cooking, for the Tuscan sky and the friendly church bells. Love especially for old Barlozzo, the village mago, who escorts the newcomers to Tuscany’s seasonal festivals; gives them roasted country bread drizzled with just-pressed olive oil; invites them to gather chestnuts, harvest grapes, hunt truffles; and teaches them to caress the simple pleasures of each precious day. It’s Barlozzo who guides them across the minefields of village history and into the warm and fiercely beating heart of love itself.

A Thousand Days in Tuscany is set in one of the most beautiful places on earth–and tucked into its fragrant corners are luscious recipes (including one for the only true bruschetta) directly from the author’s private collection.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thank you, thank you, thank you to my sister for getting me this book!! It was fun, romantic, interesting, with recipes and descriptions of food that made you want to jump on the first plane to Tuscany just to eat there.

This book is what Under the Tuscan Sun should have been. If you read my review on that book, you know that I think the movie is a thousand times better than the book. I didn't even bother to finish reading it, it was so long-winded and boring. A Thousand Days in Tuscany has almost the same premise, but it's written a zillion times better. In both books, the main character is a remarried woman moving to a pretty run-down home in a small Tuscan village with her husband. She struggles to make the place livable and to become a part of the community. But Under the Tuscan Sun failed at making its story interesting because of drawn-out descriptions of construction and a whole chapter on the location of wells on the property. There was no personal, emotional connection with the people in the story because they came second to the story of the house's reconstruction. The reason I think A Thousand Days in Tuscany is such a success is because it switched the focus to the people and their lives and emotions. It was so easy to relate to de Blasi because she allowed you into her thoughts. She wrote about the people she met, her husband, herself. They made Tuscany seem much more alive and real.

I love the way de Blasi writes too. Since everyone around her is speaking Italian, she writes their dialogue in their native tongue, followed by the English translation. Some might find that annoying, but I liked it. I think it was her way of showing that the Italians said it better. It also helped me learn a new language. I didn't learn a lot of course, but at least now I know certain words and phrases.

I guess my only problem with the book was one chapter that just seemed unnecessary. That chapter also includes some content which I'm hesitant to let my sister read. It was just a very awkward, somewhat inappropriate, and completely pointless part of an awesome story. The rest of the book was great, and as soon as I found out my library had de Blasi's first memoir, I ordered it right away. A-

Unplugged Book List

Here's a list of all the books I read during Unplugged, most of which I will be reviewing.  The books marked with an asterisk (*) are ones that I had read before and decided to reread, and if they're marked with two asterisks (**), they're books I've already reviewed on this blog.  I think there are only two books on the list that were rereads; the rest were all new to me.

Unplugged Reading List
  1. April Lady by Georgette Heyer
  2. Arabella by Georgette Heyer
  3. The Convenient Marriage** by Georgette Heyer
  4. The Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
  5. The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer
  6. Charity Girl by Georgette Heyer
  7. Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer
  8. A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
  9. Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer
  10. The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
  11. Spindle's End* by Robin McKinley
  12. The Sword and the Flame by Stephen R. Lawhead
  13. A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena de Blasi
  14. A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi
  15. The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
If I could read fifteen books in May, when I wasn't rushing to meet a deadline, I think there's a good chance I could read thirty books this month.  The statistics for last month are also very interesting.
  • 9 of the 15 were Georgette Heyer books; therefore 9 were Regency romance.
  • Only 4 were fantasy novels, and fantasy is my favorite.
  • 2 were memoirs/travelogues by the same author.
  • 5 were from a series: 2 from Pratchett's YA series, 2 from de Blasi's memoir series, 1 from Lawhead's Dragon King trilogy.
  • Only 2 were young adult novels, which is unusual because most of my TBR list is made up of YA books.
And now it is time to review all of them.  So I will be writing fifteen reviews in the next day or two (panic!).  I am so extremely happy that I kept a book journal; otherwise, all my book reviews would have to be 50-word reviews.  Two thumbs-up to Barnes & Noble for selling an awesome Moleskine book journal! (I like the movie & recipe journals too!)

Challenge 3, Day 2

My original plan for the first book of Thirty Books in 30 Days was a Georgette Heyer novel, but since my library doesn't have any, and my interlibrary loan was sent back before I could pick it up, I will be attacking my TBR list.  My starting book is Here, There Be Dragons by James Owens.  It's the first book of The Chronicles of Imaginarium Geographica, and it looks awesome, so I'm looking forward to reading it.  But first I must review my May books, which I hope to finish either tonight or tomorrow.

Now that Unplugged is over, and I'm free to watch TV and movies, I realize that I'm not really craving Glee or Castle or Lie to Me (new episode next Monday!!) or even Leverage (obsessed!).  What I truly miss and must watch are my Jane Austen/Shakespeare/fairy-tale adaptations.  I am craving Mansfield Park, Twelfth Night, and Ever After!  I mean, I definitely want to catch up on all my TV shows, but I'm probably going to put those off until I've watched a couple period-piece dramas.  I blame it on the many Georgette Heyer novels I read last month.  You just can't read that many Regency romances without it affecting you.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Challenge 3, The Rules

Now that Unplugged is over, it is on to the third and final (as of now) challenge- Thirty Books in 30 Days. I have the month of June to read thirty books, which might not seem too hard since there are lots of easy books out there. Hence why I have come up with the following rules:
  • The books will all be new, as in I've never read them before. It's way too easy while rereading to skip or skim through parts you don't care for or find boring.
  • The books must be at least 200 pages. And the font can't be huge. And there can't be a thousand pictures. I want this challenge to be... a challenge.
  • The books must be age-appropriate. No children's books, picture books, books marked ages 8-12. Some young adult books are allowed, as long as they're talking about young ADULT (as in mature topics/writing, not mature content), not ages 13-17.
  • I can't lose sleep over this. At 11:30 pm every night (except Fridays), it doesn't matter where I am in the book or how agonizing the cliffhanger is, I will put it down and go to sleep. Since I don't have anything on Saturdays, I can stay up a little later the night before.
  • I will update my blog regularly. Not only will I review all the books I read in May, I will also stay up-to-date with the books I'm reading in June. So I'm thinking that at least once a week, as soon as I've finished my May reviews, I will post concise reviews of the June books.
  • I will read at least 6 books from my already long TBR list. There's no sense in getting all new books when I already have so many at home that need to be read.
And that's about it. I'm very interested to see if I can accomplish this. I've always been a fast reader, but now I'll actually get to test my speed. There will also be some other obstacles to overcome. For example, today is day one, and instead of starting on my reviews or my reading, I will be going to a friend's house to scrapbook. And this weekend, I will be camping. So there are already some hurdles to get over, but I'm confident that I will be able to succeed. I think I will start with a Georgette Heyer novel. :)

I'm back!

The 2nd challenge is over, and I am very proud to say that I only cheated a very little.  I did go see Shrek 4 with my friends, because I knew that if I didn't go with them, I'd end up having to see it alone.  And seriously, who likes going to the movies alone?

The best part of removing myself from the internet and TV was how many books I read.  I got back into my reading groove and rediscovered my love of Georgette Heyer's novels.  It was just awesome!  I did,of course, miss Castle and Glee, but thanks to Hulu, I will be able to catch up quickly.

The goals I reached this challenge:
  • Reading one book a week.  (I actually read several a week.)
  • 6 new pages in my scrapbook.
  • Cooking dinner and trying new recipes.  (I will be posting one for zucchini Parmesan crisps. Yummy!)
  • Getting a guest blogger.  (I only got one, but that's better than none.  And he did a great job.  Go, Sean!)
So the challenge worked out great, and I have no intention of falling back to my old habits.  I will read!!