Saturday, January 30, 2010

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Betrayed

Fledgling vampyre Zoey Redbird has managed to settle in at the House of Night.  She’s come to terms with the vast powers the vampyre goddess, Nyx, has given her, and is getting a handle on being the new Leader of the Dark Daughters. Best of all, Zoey finally feels like she belongs--like she really fits in. She actually has a boyfriend…or two. Then the unthinkable happens: Human teenagers are being killed, and all the evidence points to the House of Night. While danger stalks the humans from Zoey’s old life, she begins to realize that the very powers that make her so unique might also threaten those she loves. Then, when she needs her new friends the most, death strikes the House of Night, and Zoey must find the courage to face a betrayal that could break her heart, her soul, and jeopardize the very fabric of her world.
[from Goodreads]



Rating: 2 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Teen girls, vampire aficionados
High point:  Slightly different take on the classic vampire tale
Low point:  Immature writing style and predictable relationships
Reader maturity:  17+

Zoey Redbird finds out that she is Marked to undergo the Change into a vampyre. Dealing with crazy parents and the loss of her former friends, this powerful fledgling immediately faces conflict from the reigning clique at her new school, the House of Night. Using the courage and wisdom instilled in her by her Cherokee grandmother, she discovers her place--and new powers--at the House of Night.

Betrayed is a small step up from Marked. The writing style is still immature (in reference to certain character descriptions), but they have toned down a little and are less vicious than before, making this a much more pleasant read. I fail to understand Zoey's reasoning behind continuing her relationship with an old flame and risking a new one, but her courage and honesty regarding the situation keep her from coming across as unintelligent. Zoey's outlook is still too simple and straightforward to be believable, but she remedies this towards the end of the book, showing her flaws and her ability to fight back, rather than being a mostly passive character even in her active moments.

I easily guessed at the explanation behind the mysterious figures Zoey sees in Marked and was pleased with the exposition of their existence in Betrayed. Though I think Zoey showed her cards too freely at the end of the novel and can guess at some of the next book, I am still interested in finding out what happens in Chosen.

Title:  Betrayed
Author:  P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast
Genre:  Young Adult Horror and Suspense
Year:  2007
Book Source:  Received as gift

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Friday 56: A Great and Terrible Beauty

Closest Book:  A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author:  Libba Bray
Page 56, sentence 5:  "Only one wing remains completely dark. I figure it to be the East Wing, the one destroyed by the fire. It sits, curled and quiet as the gargoyles on the roof, as if waiting."








Rules:
* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like) along with these instructions on your blog or (if you do not have your own blog) in the comments section of Storytime with Tonya and Friends.
*Post a link along with your post back to Storytime with Tonya and Friends.
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Awards! For Bookish in a Box!

Wow! I feel honored. I'm a brand new book blogger but one of my fellow bloggers, The Ultimate Dumpees, thought of me when giving out awards. *big smile* That added a little sunshine to my (literally) rainy day. I like it rainy though so now I've got sunshine on top of a beautiful thunderstorm. It just doesn't get much better!

Happy 101
The rules are to list 10 things that make me happy...

Only 10? Okay, here goes:
  1. My family. I love hanging out with them; it's like being in a the middle of an extremely loud concert, pure craziness and energy and love. They rock!
  2. My dog. He's always so loving and warm and comforting, and he always seems to know how I'm feeling and reacts appropriately.
  3. Chocolate milk. There have only been 1 or 2 days in my entire life that chocolate milk couldn't improve.
  4. Baking. I love baking! I don't even have to eat what I bake. The act of baking is so methodical and rhythmic that it becomes cathartic.
  5. Rainy days. I live in a place where it's sunny almost all year round so I cherish rainy days for the cooler temperatures and the neat change in the air before a storm hits that we don't get to feel very often around here.
  6. Music. When I hear an old piece of music that I used to listen to, it brings back memories of the time and place in my life when I listened to it. Music cheers me up, gets me pumped to work out and keeps me calm during rush hour traffic.
  7. Books. And reading. This is a book blog so obviously I love to read, but I don't think that even begins to cover it. I have so many books, I've run out of room, and that doesn't even count the ones in storage. It's crazy. Spending an afternoon with a book on a rainy day is one of my favorite pastimes. Books have taught me so much about the world and allowed my imagination to run free, a short, blissful escape from the real world.
  8. Writing. I used to write a lot, but I wasn't happy with anything I wrote so I threw it all out. Recently, I started writing again (just finished a 1st draft); I've found that, this time, I'm happy with my work and I'm happy when I'm writing. Sometimes I can't wait for the day to draw to a close so I can spend some time with my characters and their adventures.
  9. Bargain-hunting. Yes, saving money makes me happy! I love walking up to a cashier with a stack of coupons and watching the look on their face as the miniscule final total pops up. Ah, satisfaction for a savvy shopper.
  10. Doing nothing. Sometimes it's nice to do, well, nothing.
The Humane Award









The Splashy Award
According to my presenter, this is given to alluring, amusing, bewitching, impressive and inspiring blogs. Wow. I hope I can live up to all of that!

Rules are:
Put the logo on your blog/post.
Nominate/link up to 9 blogs that you pick for this award.
Let them know that they have been splashed.
Remember to link the person that nominated and awarded you.

Since my blog is fledgling, I thought I'd pass these on solely to other small(er) blogs to spread the love. I enjoy discovering little blogs and supporting them while they grow so if you know of any more that deserve some attention, let me know!

~ *Loves to Read*~
The Depths of Words
Edifying & Edgy

Amaranthine Review: Daddy Long Legs

The oldest at a dreary home for foundlings, Judy Abbott finds her life completely changed when, with the help of a mysterious benefactor, she is granted her wish to be able to go to college. A meeting with the rich, handsome uncle of her snobbish roommate sets Judy on the road to discovering her secret friend.
 [from Goodreads]

First published in 1912, this is a modern version of "Cinderella", told in the form of letters. It is the love-story of an orphan and her unknown benefactor...
[from Goodreads]

Rating: 5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Pre-teen girls, any woman who has ever wished to be swept off her feet by a mysterious Prince Charming
High point:  The main character's charming ignorance of her benefactor
Low point:  None
Reader maturity:  10+
Favorite quotes:  "It isn't the big troubles in life that require character. Anybody can rise to a crisis and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh - I really think that requires spirit."
"I went to bed last night utterly dejected; I thought I was never going to amount to anything, and that you had thrown away your money for nothing. But what do you think? I woke up this morning with a beautiful new plot in my head, and I've been going about all day planning my characters, just as happy as I could be."

This is one of those rare books that I come back to, time and time again, for years after the first reading. I first read Daddy Long Legs at age 8 or 9 and failed to understand some of what was going on but enjoyed the book anyway. Upon later readings, I realized the romance aspect of the novel and so now I come back to it when I want a sweet, simple romance.

The main character Judy, an orphan, is bestowed a generous allowance for schooling provided that she follow certain requests. The novel progresses through letters to the benefactor and shows the character's growth from a frightened ward to a capable young woman. The humor in the novel lies in that the reader discovers the benefactor before the female protagonist, and one can sympathize with her actions and those of the benefactor. The excitement of Judy for her new opportunities bubbles off the page as she makes a better place for herself in the world.

This is not a classic in the sense of novels such as Pride and Prejudice, but it speaks to every generation of girls wistful for a mysterious romance, as well as catering to the orphan stories that surely play out in the imaginations of young girls even today. Older girls (and young women and older women) will enjoy the story too for its subtle sweetness, innocence and youthful energy.

Title:  Daddy Long Legs
Author:  Jean Webster
Genre:  Young Adult Fiction and Literature
Year:  1912
Book Source:  Purchased

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Want to Read Wednesday: The Explosionist


The Explosionist (formerly known as Dynamite No. 1) is the story of a 15-year-old girl growing up in an alternate version of 1930s Edinburgh. There, the legacy of Napoleon's victory a century earlier at Waterloo is a standoff between a totalitarian Federation of European States and a group of independent northern countries called the New Hanseatic League. This world is preoccupied with technology (everything from electric cookers to high explosives) but also with spiritualism, a movement our world largely abandoned in the early 20th Century; Sigmund Freud is a radio talk-show crank, cars run on hydrogen and the most prominent scientists experiment with new ways of contacting the dead.
[from Goodreads]

This meme is hosted by Boy with Books. I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sing Me to Sleep Book Trailer

Check out the Sing Me to Sleep trailer!

Review of The Book of God and Physics: A Novel of the Voynich Mystery

Hector is a young Jesuit who teaches science at a Catholic prep school. He is also part of a group that, for years, has been trying to decipher the secrets of a book known as the "Voynich Manuscript". With a cult following of amateur and professional cryptographers the world over, including the most famous British and American code-breakers of World War II, the "Voynich" manuscript is now housed in the Rare Books Collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Written in an unknown language and illustrated with enigmatic drawings which no one has been able to translate or otherwise decipher for over 400 years, the work first surfaced in the court of the mentally unstable Rudolph II of Bohemia, cousin of Felipe II of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. This same Bohemian court also gave refuge to two of the greatest scientific minds of all time: the famed Danish Tycho Brahe and the German Johannes Kepler. These two astronomers - together with their contemporaries Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei - were engaged in the most formidable scientific dialogue in the history of science, and laid the groundwork for nearly all that followed. Is there a connection between Voynich and the brilliant scientists who frequented the court, as many believe? When a key to unlocking Voynich is discovered in the church where the young Jesuit teaches, powerful forces conspire to keep the contents of the manuscript from being decoded. And it is up to our young Jesuit to unlock the secrets which have been hidden in plain sight for centuries.
[from Goodreads]

Rating: 2 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: History buffs and Voynich enthusiasts,
High point:  Thoroughly researched and explained
Low point:  Very dry at times
Reader maturity:  13+

Hector, a young Jesuit priest, is interested in deciphering the pages of the Voynich manuscript. Finally meeting face to face with some online friends, they pursue their quest in Spain and Italy, unlocking some of the unknown and discovering opposing forces of men along the way.

This book took me a while to get through. I'm a fast, avid reader, often finishing a novel in an afternoon if the mood strikes me. The Book of God and Physics took me weeks, not because it is so long, but because it did not hold my interest for more than half an hour at a time. I really had to work to finish it.

The history and mysteries surrounding the Voynich manuscript are admirably well-researched and laid out in a comprehensible format, but the actions of the protagonist are slow and somewhat choppy. Hector, from the book description, is young, but I pictured him as more of a late middle-aged man based on his thoughts and words. Infrequently, he is angered by surprising, small things but frequently lets go of the things worth spending energy on. His laissez faire attitude is bewilderingly inconsistent.

I appreciate that in every religious argument, both (or three) sides are shown, and learning more about the Jesuits, the Voynich manuscript and astronomy was interesting. However, the book dragged. Part of the issue may be that The Book of God and Physics was originally written in Spanish and translated to English; perhaps some of the flow of the book was, literally, lost in translation. The author also tended to explain every joke and modern culture reference, drying out the text even further.

While I did not particularly care for this book, I would recommend it to someone interested in scientific historical mysteries or the Voynich manuscript.

Title:  The Book of God and Physics:  A Novel of the Voynich Mystery
Author:  Enrique Joven
Genre:  Thriller
Year:  2009
Book Source:  Won a copy of this book from The Lateiner Gang

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Marked

The House of Night series is set in a world very much like our own, except in 16-year-old Zoey Redbird's world, vampyres have always existed.  In this first book in the series, Zoey enters the House of Night, a school where, after having undergone the Change, she will train to become an adult vampire--that is, if she makes it through the Change.  Not all of those who are chosen do.  It’s tough to begin a new life, away from her parents and friends, and on top of that, Zoey finds she is no average fledgling.  She has been Marked as special by the vampyre Goddess, Nyx.  But she is not the only fledgling at the House of Night with special powers.  When she discovers that the leader of the Dark Daughters, the school's most elite club, is misusing her Goddess-given gifts, Zoey must look deep within herself for the courage to embrace her destiny--with a little help from her new vampyre friends.
[from Goodreads]

Rating: 3 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Teen girls, vampire aficionados
High point:  Slightly different take on the classic vampire tale
Low point:  Immature writing style and predictable relationships
Reader maturity:  17+

Zoey Redbird finds out that she is Marked to undergo the Change into a vampyre. Dealing with crazy parents and the loss of her former friends, this powerful fledgling immediately faces conflict from the reigning clique at her new school, the House of Night. Using the courage and wisdom instilled in her by her Cherokee grandmother, she discovers her place--and new powers--at the House of Night.

I received the first four House of Night books as a Christmas gift; if I hadn't already owned all four, I might not have continued reading after Marked. The vampyre lore (it's vampyre in this series, not vampire) is unique from many other vampire/vampyre backstories on the market, but Marked just didn't quite make the cut.

The writing style is inexperienced, and the descriptions of other characters are like climbing inside the mind of a 13 or 14 year old girl, an unpleasant experience for those of us who have been there already. That in itself would not be so problematic except that this is obviously a book aimed for older teen readers in mature content and the protagonist herself is almost 17. I feel that there are more appropriate ways to describe unsavory characters than resorting to unsavory slang. I also have issue with the mature content; not only do I prefer my books clean, but it feels a little out-of-place and forced, as if written in only as a marketing effect.

Back to the story, I liked that vampyres are created through the process of being Marked and that they are known to humans, though a fear of them still exists. Zoey's fear of a new place is real (though her acceptance of the Mark and relationship with her mother and stepfather are abrupt), and her friends sound like the kind of people that one would actually meet at a high school. The mean girl is sufficiently mean, if unrealistically over-the-top...but then she is a fledgling vampyre. Zoey's extraordinary powers and her reaction to them (after the initial Mark) also sound credible.

My feelings on this book are mixed. On the one hand, the writing was simplistic and the content unnecessarily mature, but on the other, the premise of the story is good. Though tempted to only give it an "okay," I bumped it to a "liked it" rating because the story itself was a good draw and left me wondering what happens to Zoey.

Title:  Marked
Author:  P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast
Genre:  Young Adult Horror and Suspense
Year:  2007
Book Source:  Received as gift

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Friday 56: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Closest Book:  The Tales of Beedle the Bard
Author:  J. K. Rowling
Page 56, sentence 5:  "Nevertheless, we wizards seem particularly prone to the idea that we can bend the nature of existence to our will."





Rules:
* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like) along with these instructions on your blog or (if you do not have your own blog) in the comments section of Storytime with Tonya and Friends.
*Post a link along with your post back to Storytime with Tonya and Friends.
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Amaranthine Review: Anne of Green Gables

When Marilla Cuthbert's brother, Matthew, returns home to Green Gables with a chatty redheaded orphan girl, Marilla exclaims, "But we asked for a boy. We have no use for a girl." It's not long, though, before the Cuthberts can't imagine how they could ever do without young Anne of Green Gables--but not for the original reasons they sought an orphan. Somewhere between the time Anne "confesses" to losing Marilla's amethyst pin (which she never took) in hopes of being allowed to go to a picnic, and when Anne accidentally dyes her hated carrot-red hair green, Marilla says to Matthew, "One thing's for certain, no house that Anne's in will ever be dull." And no book that she's in will be, either.  --Emilie Coulter (review of an abridged version)
 [from Goodreads]
 
Rating: 5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: The young at heart, the imaginative, anyone who feels different or out of place
High point:  Anne and her well-described world
Low point:  None
Reader maturity:  7+
Favorite quotes:  "Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world."
"My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes."

I can hardly begin to describe this book so I'll just start where I can. Simply put, this is a coming-of-age tale of an orphaned, red-headed girl with an imagination far larger than the small town to which she is sent. After being taken in by two unmarried siblings, she struggles to find her place in the world and reign her imagination in to more productive outlets with many humorous events and mild misfortunes along the way. Of course, being Anne-with-an-E, she manages to make the reader, the elderly inhabitants of Green Gables and the uptight citizens of Avonlea love her dearly in the process.

This is a wonderful book. Almost every avid female reader that I have ever known, read and loved these books as a girl. Even after years apart from them, I can read them again and fall in love with the tales all over again. Anne is an engaging main character, quirky and different and oh-so-sincere. When I was a little girl, I related to her troubles fitting in and trying hard to impress...and I still so.

Anne's outlook on life is admirable. With a tendency towards melodrama in her earliest Avonlea encounters, she tries to accept things as they come, using her imagination to make them bearable. When given the chance to thrive, she thrives, striving to beat Gilbert Blythe in everything and encouraging her friend Diana to go beyond what is expected as well. Her intentions are misunderstood by almost everyone, but because her nature is true and good, everything turns out well in the end. This might seem like it has the potential to become too sticky-sweet and Pollyanna for the modern reader, but Ms. Montgomery maintains realism and likability and just enough mischief to keep the reader involved and interested.

This is a great book for women of any background, young or old, and perhaps even a man or two willing to be caught with the title. We could all use a little more earnestness and a whole lot of imagination in our lives.

Title:  Anne of Green Gables
Author:  L. M. Montgomery
Genre:  Children's Fiction and Literature
Year:  1908
Book Source:  Purchased

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review of Day of the Assassins

Jack Christie and his best friend, Angus, find themselves at the center of a momentous event that will shape history for decades to come. Their dilemma: Should they intervene? Their problem: Can they survive? Join Jack on a dangerous chase from the dockyards of England to the rain-sodden trenches of the First World War. Will he escape the evil authorities who believe in the mysterious Vigil Imperative?
[from Goodreads]

Rating: 3 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: History lovers, pre-teen boys
High point:  Thoroughly researched, historically accurate
Low point:  Didn't keep my interest
Reader maturity:  12+ 

This is one of those books that I recognize as a good book but that I just could not get into. Because I recognize it as such, I would still recommend to a certain group of people, likely pre-teen or teenage boys.

The main character, Jack, is very likable, with a good head on his shoulders and a positive sense of self. His best friend Angust rubbed me the wrong way for the first half of the book but started to win me over as his maturity progressed throughout the novel.

The conspiracy/secrecy aspect is well explained and makes the impossible sound quite reasonable. For the most part, the conflict is smoothly introduced, but the storyline becomes somewhat trite during the heart of the VIGIL/Jack/Jack's father scenes. I wish that the character of Jack's father had been explored in greater depth, as I believe this would have rounded out the plot.

Johnny O'Brien explains in great detail the types of weapons used during World War I and effectively integrates the historical aspects of the war and the plot of the story without coming off like a textbook.

Overall, the story was enjoyable, and though it is not one of my favorites, I would recommend it for YA males and anyone interested in historical action/adventure science fiction.


Title:  Day of the Assassins
Author:  Johnny O'Brien
Genre:  Science Fiction
Year:  2009
Book Source:  Won an ARC from The Lateiner Gang

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Body Finder Book Trailer

Book trailers take some getting used to, at least as far as I'm concerned. I'm one of those people that likes to read a book jacket and flip through the pages, getting a feel for the book by touch and sight, as it were. This, however, is the 21st century, and I need to get with it. What better way to start than with a trailer for The Body Finder, a book that I already can't wait to read, even without tactile input?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Amaranthine Review: Jane Eyre

Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead and subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield Hall, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a richer life than that traditionally allowed women in Victorian society. 
[from Goodreads]








Rating: 3 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Classics fans, anyone looking for clean romance with a touch of the paranormal
High point:  Well planned and eloquently written
Low point:  The romance
Reader maturity:  10+
Favorite quotes:  "If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends."
"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will."

I have a modest appreciation for the classics, and after my first reading, I had fond memories of Jane Eyre and a residual enjoyment of the book. Upon a recent second reading--many, many years after the first--I found my opinion quite changed.

Initially, I admire the character of Jane. She is resilient and modest with a sense of propriety. She rejects the advances of her employer because she feels that would be an inappropriate action. Eventually she falls for the employer and learns some of the secrets of the house. Here is where I begin to dislike the book.

I prefer my main characters to have common sense and self-respect. Jane does not reject Mr. Rochester because he lied to her but rather because he is married. This leads Jane, after a supernatural incident, to return and reunite with Mr. Rochester after his situation is changed and the lie, to her, no longer matters. Suddenly, because she has returned, Mr. Rochester casts off his former ways and vows reformation. The relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester ends the book in an unsatisfactory manner.

The book still earns an average rating because it is the kind of novel that stands the test of time and can be related to by successive generations. Though I dislike the plot resolution, I can appreciate the style of writing and the effect this novel had on my younger self.

Title:  Jane Eyre
Author:  Charlotte Bronte
Genre:  Gothic Horror
Year:  1847
Book Source:  Purchased

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review of Truly, Madly: A Novel

Meet Lucy Valentine; sassy, fabulously original…and psychic.

Lucy hails from a long line of matchmakers known as Valentine INC. According to family legend, the Valentines have been blessed by Cupid with the ability to help couples find true love. Trouble is Lucy’s powers were zapped away by an electrical surge and now all she can find are lost objects.

But what good is that in the matchmaking world?

Lucy is about to find out when she tries to solve a murder and winds up falling into a romance of her own.  

[from Goodreads]

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Paranormal chick-lit lovers
High point:  Relatability of main character
Low point:  The romance/love interest
Reader maturity:  17+

Expecting a light, fluffy, nonsense romantic novel, I was exceptionally pleased and surprised after I began reading. While not so riveting as to be read cover to cover, I nonetheless could hardly wait to pick it up again after I had set it down.

The psychic part of the plot is well-handled, with straightforward explanations that cover all the basics and leave a few gaps to be filled in by the imagination. The drawbacks of Lucy's powers are presented early on without being cumbersome.

As far as plot progression is concerned, I appreciated Lucy's character development and behavior within the story. She is a relatable and level-headed heroine. Her mistakes are not far-fetched or unbelievable, and her familial relationships can be empathized with and laughed over.

The only sticking point for me with this novel is the romance. It progresses naturally in the first few chapters, if a bit swiftly, but after that, the relationship seems to time travel. The couple will be in the car about to kiss, and the next moment they are discussing the male's current fiancee. This occurs several times over the course of the novel, ending with {SPOILER} my expectation that the two would formally become a couple--especially after joking about it as a ruse for so long--only to have the two end up wondering where they stand with each other...again. My copy of the novel is an ARC, and it is possible that the relationship roller coaster was smoothed out into something more understandable and coherent for the final copy.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it for light adventure/romance reading if the relationship storyline became more comprehensible. The author's writing is captivating and an easy read without coming across as boring or simplistic. Though I found flaws with the novel's romance aspect, nonetheless, I anticipate Ms. Webber's sequel.

Title:  Truly, Madly:  A Novel
Author:  Heather Webber
Genre:  Detective Fiction
Year:  2010
Book Source:  Won an ARC from Goodreads.com

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Amaranthine Review: Pride and Prejudice


"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Next to the exhortation at the beginning of Moby-Dick, "Call me Ishmael," the first sentence of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice must yep be among the most quoted in literature. And certainly what Melville did for whaling Austen does for marriage--tracing the intricacies (not to mention the economics) of 19th-century British mating rituals with a sure hand and an unblinking eye. As usual, Austen trains her sights on a country village and a few families--in this case, the Bennets, the Philips, and the Lucases. Into their midst comes Mr. Bingley, a single man of good fortune, and his friend, Mr. Darcy, who is even richer. Mrs. Bennet, who married above her station, sees their arrival as an opportunity to marry off at least one of her five daughters. Bingley is complaisant and easily charmed by the eldest Bennet girl, Jane; Darcy, however, is harder to please. Put off by Mrs. Bennet's vulgarity and the untoward behavior of the three younger daughters, he is unable to see the true worth of the older girls, Jane and Elizabeth. His excessive pride offends Lizzy, who is more than willing to believe the worst that other people have to say of him; when George Wickham, a soldier stationed in the village, does indeed have a discreditable tale to tell, his words fall on fertile ground.
Having set up the central misunderstanding of the novel, Austen then brings in her cast of fascinating secondary characters: Mr. Collins, the sycophantic clergyman who aspires to Lizzy's hand but settles for her best friend, Charlotte, instead; Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy's insufferably snobbish aunt; and the Gardiners, Jane and Elizabeth's low-born but noble-hearted aunt and uncle. Some of Austen's best comedy comes from mixing and matching these representatives of different classes and economic strata, demonstrating the hypocrisy at the heart of so many social interactions. And though the novel is rife with romantic misunderstandings, rejected proposals, disastrous elopements, and a requisite happy ending for those who deserve one, Austen never gets so carried away with the romance that she loses sight of the hard economic realities of 19th-century matrimonial maneuvering. Good marriages for penniless girls such as the Bennets are hard to come by, and even Lizzy, who comes to sincerely value Mr. Darcy, remarks when asked when she first began to love him: "It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley." She may be joking, but there's more than a little truth to her sentiment, as well. Jane Austen considered Elizabeth Bennet "as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print". Readers of Pride and Prejudice would be hard-pressed to disagree. --Alix Wilber
[from Goodreads.com] 

Rating: 5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Classics fans, anyone looking for clean romance and a sensible heroine
High point:  The growth of the Darcy/Lizzie relationship
Low point:  None
Reader maturity:  10+
Favorite quotes:  "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
"My affections and wishes have not changed, but one word from you will silence me forever. If, however, your feelings have changed, I will have to tell you: you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on."

This is one of my favorite books of all time. If I were to be stranded on an uninhabited island and could only have one book of my choice with me, this would be it. I can hardly describe the splendor of this book, an unmatchable aggregate of comedy, drama and romance.

The relationship between Darcy and Lizzy, from the very beginning, is relatable. Lizzy Bennet is the everywoman of literary heroines. She is always true to herself and loyal to her family, while still maintaining the appropriate appearance for someone of her class and while showing better manners than many of her nominal betters. She comes by her mistakes honestly, and in the end, admits them just as honestly. Though unfailingly above reproach in her actions, her character is certainly a force to be reckoned with, as shown by certain conversations between herself and Darcy, Collins and Lady Catherine.

Jane Austen does a fine job walking the line between comedy and irritation with the characters of Lydia and Mrs. Bennet. Their immaturity is frustrating but is shown just enough to be comical and make us sympathetic towards Lizzy without erring towards being an annoying and pointless addition. Jane, the eldest, is a saint, and yet also manages to be a lovable character and avoids coming across as insufferable, as almost perfect characters often do. Mr. Bingley is a goofy romantic interest, and his sister exhibits the most classic feminine wiles in her dealings with Mr. Darcy and, to an extent, her brother. Mr. Darcy, of course, is the epitome of the perfect male romantic interest. He professes love and then, when rebuffed, continues his pursuit patiently, waiting for Elizabeth to realize that they both made mistakes.

This is the novel to which I compare all other romances. Though it cannot be topped, it is still the story to which others aspire.

Title:  Pride and Prejudice
Author:  Jane Austen
Genre:  Novel of Manners
Year:  1813
Book Source:  Purchased at Borders

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Review of The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples...

The riveting history of a beautiful queen, a shocking murder, a papal trial—and a reign as triumphant as any in the Middle Ages. On March 15, 1348, Joanna I , Queen of Naples, stood trial for her life before the Pope and his court in Avignon. She was twenty-two years old. Her cousin and husband, Prince Andrew of Hungary, had recently been murdered, and Joanna was the chief suspect. Determined to defend herself—Joanna won her acquittal against enormous odds. Returning to Naples, she ruled over one of Europe’s most prestigious courts for more than thirty years—until she was herself murdered.
As courageous as Eleanor of Aquitaine, as astute and determined as Elizabeth I of England, Joanna was the only female monarch in her time to rule in her own name. She was notorious: The taint of her husband’s death never quite left her. But she was also widely admired: Dedicated to the welfare of her subjects and realm, she reduced crime, built hospitals and churches, and encouraged the licensing of women physicians. While a procession of the most important artists and writers of her day found patronage at her glittering court, the turmoil of her times swirled around her: war, plague, intrigue, and the treachery that would, ultimately, bring her down. As she did in her acclaimed Four Queens, Nancy Goldstone takes us back to the turbulent and colorful Middle Ages, and with skill and passion brings fully to life one of history’s most remarkable women. Her research is impeccable, her eye for detail unerring, and in The Lady Queen she paints a captivating portrait of medieval royalty in all its incandescent complexity.
 [from Goodreads]

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: History lovers
High point:  Thoroughly researched
Low point:  Slightly dry at times
Reader maturity:  13+

Though not usually a fan of biographies, I enjoyed this look into the life of Joanna I. I expected more of a biographical novel than a straight biography, but the reading was pleasant just the same.

I consider the book well-written and informative as it incorporates translated text from letters and documents of the time to add substance. At times, The Lady Queen reads like a textbook, mostly facts and dates gleaned from ancient documents, but on occasion, Ms. Goldstone paints a more engaging picture when she ruminates on Joanna's thoughts and the influence of her strict Catholic upbringing.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and the knowledge of a little-studied section of history and will likely read it again someday.

Title:  The Lady Queen:  The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily
Author:  Nancy Goldstone
Genre:  Biography, European History
Year:  2009
Book Source:  Won a copy of this book from Goodreads.com

Monday, January 4, 2010

Welcome!

It all started with a couple of wins. You see, I never intended to review books. I consider myself squarely in the science category. Books are just a diversion, a pastime, an imaginary vacation from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. However, I won a few books, and to be courteous, I reviewed them to promote the author and then I won some more books that I felt it would be polite to review and...well, I need somewhere to put them all in one place.

At least in the beginning, I will focus mainly on reviewing books that I win. As a paperback fan, I wait for months, sometimes years (I'm referring to you, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!), for books to be produced with that particular binding because they take up less space, they're cheaper and I don't have to worry about messing up the dust cover. On the flip side, it also means that I am unable to read them for a long, long time after most other enthusiasts. I feel that reviewing older books would be less helpful, although I may as I read them.

To wrap things up, welcome to Bookish in a Box! Have a look around, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions or just want to talk books.