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Friday, February 29, 2008

Summary: February

Ok, here's a summary of my February books ... I was a little light on my reading this month ...


Books - 2 (496 pages)

  • Ciao America! (256 pages)
  • House of Splendid Isolation (240 pages)

Audio Books - 4 (41 hrs, 54 min)

  • Freakonomics (6 hrs, 30 min)
  • Stonehenge (16 hrs, 24 min)
  • The Blood of Flowers (13 hrs, 22 min)
  • The Hounds of the Baskervilles (5 hrs, 38 min)

Unfinished Books - 0

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Feb. 08)

It seems that I've been on a Sherlock Holmes kick lately ... My latest audio book was The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You gotta love this one! Dr. Watson gets to do most of the investigating for once (or so he thinks) so that's pretty cool. Plus there are the weird characters, the creepy moor, and the idea of a ghost dog - what could be better?! Can you tell I enjoyed this?!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Freakonomics (Feb. 08)

I finally listened to Freakonomics by Stephen Levitt this month. This book has been on my “to be read” list since May of 2005. What a fascinating book! The author has an amazing ability to look at long established “facts” in a completely new way, overthrowing commonly accepted wisdom, and finding the real causes behind changes in our society. I highly recommend this to everyone. It is short, to the point, and - regardless of whether you agree with his conclusions or not - it will make you think.

Links to other reviews:
Bibliolatry also reviewed this book, as did Things Mean A Lot

The Blood of Flowers (Feb. 08)

Ooh, this was a good one! The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani has been on my reading list since June of '07 when I read about it in an online newsletter. Needless to say I was thrilled to find it on the library's download page.

First off, the narrator was EXCELLENT. As you know from my comments on other books, the narrator can make or break an audio book. This one was perfect for the part. Second, the plot was very engaging. I cared about the main character (even though she remained nameless - I didn't pick up on that until it was pointed out to me!) and genuinely wanted something good to happen for her.

I loved the story sequences. At times the regular story line would be interrupted while one of the characters told a story to the others. These included legends and fables, all of which were unfamiliar to me. I loved hearing them, trying to decipher the cultural values conveyed in each other them.

This may have been hard to read due to the Iranian names being unfamiliar to me, and also to the story sequences. I don't know for sure about that. What I do know is that is was an excellent story and I highly recommend it.

Here's another review of this book to check out:
Historical Tapestry
Historical Fiction Challenge (Amanda)

House of Splendid Isolation (Feb. 08)

I chose to read Edna O’Brien’s The House of Splendid Isolation because I read somewhere that it had to do with the political climate in Ireland and the longstanding struggle between the people there. I have a passion for Irish history, in part because my grandmother is from Belfast, and in part because of the good friends I have in Northern Ireland and the time I’ve spent there. Having read the book, I’m not really sure what to say about it …

First off, it was very difficult to get into. After a few chapters I got used to the author’s unusual language so that helped a bit. Second, the story jumped around a lot. This also took some getting used to, and I wasn’t always able to keep up. Finally, the very end is confusing – and I really hate that about any book. The last chapter is told from the point of view of a child, supposedly Josie’s child, but she has no children. Is this meant to be a spiritual child, the one she aborted early in her marriage? Or is this some sort of symbol of Ireland again? I just don’t get it, and that is very frustrating to me.

The NY Times also had issues with the overblown prose and wandering nature of the novel, but I think the reviewer summarized it much better than I could. Here’s an excerpt from his review:

[The book] leaves us with a vivid image of Ireland today. Here is a study of the nature of war: the sorry operations of love and hate that unite husband and wife, the police and protester, the civilian and the I.R.A. And behind the story, in the lives of minor characters, we glimpse the Republic's ambivalent attitude to Ulster, the south's memory of its own bloody revolution, the unremitting horror and injustice of British occupation. Ms. O'Brien has gone behind the newspaper headlines of bombings, atrocities and midnight murders and finds there only good intentions, blind devotion, stalemate and ruin. All of it unnecessary, all of it sadly human.

This is a brave book, and if it does not altogether succeed, the attempt nonetheless merits praise. Edna O'Brien has shown that all wars begin at home.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stonehenge (Feb. 08)

Ugh! I hated this! Both the story itself and the narrator's voice (I did the audio book of this) were just plain bad. And I was really looking forward to this ... I've even been on the waiting list for a month or so to get it! The book I'm talking about is Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell. And that makes it even more disappointing! I've loved the other books I've read by this author, and his audio books have had excellent narrators up until this point. Here's what I didn't like:

About the narrator (namely Frederick Davidson) ...
  • his inflection was always off - characters seemed to whine or be very timid or hurried at moments when their words implied they should sound differently
  • his different voices all sounded similar, and they were all raspy and harsh, like you'd expect a shriveled old man to sound when he's on his deathbed - it was actually painful to listen to!
About the book ...
  • too much killing of children, especially babies, for my taste - I understand the idea of human sacrifice, but other books I've read had handled it better
  • not enough connection with the characters - I really didn't care what happened to them, as I didn't really like most of them
All in all, I pretty much tortured myself to get through all 20+ hours of this book. I just kept thinking "this is going to get better, really, it is, just a few more chapters and I'll be really into it." Alas that never happened. What a waste of 20+ hours.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Ciao America! (Feb. '08)

This is a laugh-out-loud funny book and I loved it! Beppe Severgnini's book Ciao America: An Italian Discovers the U.S. is a humorous look at an Italian correspondent's year-long stay in Georgetown in DC ... and I really mean humorous. He is writing for a European audience, explaining things that to us Americans are common knowledge. Perhaps I found this so funny because I have traveled in Europe and am familiar with some of the customs he mentions ... or perhaps it would be funny to anyone, I'm not sure.

This book was written in 1995 with an additional chapter added in 2000. It's obvious that the author has a genuine love for America. It was great to get that feeling throughout the book, especially in the current international atmosphere where the US seems almost to be Public Enemy No. 1. However I would like to know how this book would have turned out if Severgnini had written it post-9/11.

Regardless, it was a quick read, full of laughs, and will be passed on to someone else to enjoy shortly. I may even give it to my mom ... she's not a big reader, but the chapters are short and the humor is excellent so she may like it!

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl (Jan '08)

To further feed my fascination with the Tudor period I just completed The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory. What a great book! I was familiar with Gregory from listening to the audio version of The Constant Princess. In that book she introduces Queen Katharine of Aragon and shows how her upbringing in the Spanish courts prepared her to be a strong, capable leader. In this book we meet Mary and Anne Boleyn, sisters who vie for the favor of their King. I was familiar with this story but not all the details. Did you know that King Henry had two sons with his mistresses? One was born to Mary Boleyn, and later adopted by her sister Anne when she became queen. All that fuss by the King over the lack of a legitimate son ... he could have just acknowledged one of his bastard sons and that would have been the end of it!

As with all historical novels, I read this with a critical eye. I always want to see where history ends and imagination begins. Gregory did an excellent job of explaining the historical basis of the novel in the interview at the back of the book. [There were also discussion questions in case you read this in a book club.] I also saw a webcast interview with her in which she explained how she weaves together history and creativity in her novels.

There are aspects of the book that bother me a bit, just as there were in The Constant Princess. I'm leery of conjecture; I never want to guess what a person's motives might have been, or whether or not something is really true. But at the same time I love historical fiction for the alternative view it gives of actual events. On the whole I enjoyed this book very much.

Here's a link to Trish's Reading Nook's review of this book. And here's one from A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore.
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