Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague Year by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
2001 Penguin Books

I have been watching a lot of reality TV lately; some good, a lot bad. I have found myself drawn to the tales of everyday heroism. Mothers who, in times of crisis, find themselves able to lift trucks off their trapped child or people who perform at-home surgery on family members when the doctor is unavailable. I have found myself wondering could I be such a hero? Its nice to think that if my child was trapped in a burning building I would find the power to kick down the door and rescue him. But would I do the same for my next door neighbor, who is like a second mother to me? What about the neighbor down the street that I am on waving status with?
The YEAR OF WONDERS is the story of a true heroine, who put aside her personal reticence to comfort her neighbors during an outbreak of the plague. Based on a true account of a town that secluded itself from its neighbors when the plague arrives YEAR OF WONDERS details the activities of said town over the course of a year as it deals with the consequences of its voluntary seclusion and the plague.There is more death than I expected, some graphic, most not. There is a surprising amount of romance and 20th century ideals.
I enjoyed this book immensely. In fact, I put it on the "Do NOT Lend" shelf of my personal library. The main character/ narrator Anna Frith is a refreshing heroine. She is not too brash or too subservient. She adapts, as we all do, to the circumstances she is in. Anna develops throughout the story and in the end, is quite a different creature than at the beginning of the book. I appreciated how all of the characters are flawed but within reason. Too many times over the course of the past year I have read bad characters how are bad for no reason or syrupy sweet characters who continue to be naive and trusting though the world shows them different. The characters in YEAR OF WONDERS are real people. Their emotions and reactions change with the situation and the environments and within reason. There was plenty of room in this novel for the author to let the characters become caricatures of real people but she manages to stay within the boundary of real life.
I recommend this book wholeheartedly.

This gripping historical novel is based on the true story of Eyam, the "Plague Village," tucked in the rugged mountain spine of England. In 1666, when an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to the isolated settlement of shepherds and lead miners, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna’s eyes the reader follows the story of the plague year, as her fellow villagers make an extraordinary choice: convinced by a visionary young minister they elect to quarantine themselves within the village boundaries to arrest the spread of the disease. As the death toll rises and people turn from prayers and herbal cures to sorcery and murderous witch-hunting, Anna must confront the deaths of family, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of illicit love.

Other Reviews:

From Publishers Weekly
Discriminating readers who view the term historical novel with disdain will find that this debut by praised journalist Brooks (Foreign Correspondence) is to conventional work in the genre as a diamond is to a rhinestone. With an intensely observant eye, a rigorous regard for period detail, and assured, elegant prose, Brooks re-creates a year in the life of a remote British village decimated by the bubonic plague. Inspired by the actual town commemorated as Plague Village because of the events that transpired there in 1665-1666, Brooks tells her harrowing story from the perspective of 18-year-old Anna Frith, a widow with two young sons. Anna works as a maid for vicar Michael Mompellion and his gentle, selfless wife, Elinor, who has taught her to read. When bubonic plague arrives in the community, the vicar announces it as a scourge sent by God; obeying his command, the villagers voluntarily seal themselves off from the rest of the world. The vicar behaves nobly as he succors his dwindling flock, and his wife, aided by Anna, uses herbs to alleviate their pain. As deaths mount, however, grief and superstition evoke mob violence against "witches," and cults of self-flagellation and devil worship. With the facility of a prose artist, Brooks unflinchingly describes barbaric 17th-century customs and depicts the fabric of life in a poor rural area. If Anna's existential questions about the role of religion and ethical behavior in a world governed by nature seem a bit too sophisticated for her time, Brooks keeps readers glued through starkly dramatic episodes and a haunting story of flawed, despairing human beings. This poignant and powerful account carries the pulsing beat of a sensitive imagination and the challenge of moral complexity. (Aug. 6)Forecast: Brooks should be a natural on talk shows as she tells of discovering the town of Eyam, in Derbyshire, in 1990, and her research to unearth its remarkable history. With astute marketing, Viking will have a winner here. BOMC, Literary Guild and QPB featured alternates; 8-city author tour; rights sold in England, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Grace Hammer by Sara Stockbridge

Grace Hammer by Sara Stockbridge

2009 W.W. Norton & Company

Usually I know in the first thirty pages if a book is worth reading. I always finish a book that I have started even if it physically pains me. That said, GRACE HAMMER and I got off to a rough start. The prose is more lyrical than readable, the story goes in circles and throws in background information at the most distracting times. However, the characters are interesting, the pace is fast and the final resolutions are not easy to figure out. In the end I liked this book when I dreaded having to finish what I had started.

GRACE HAMMER is the story of Grace Hammer, her four children and their lives in the underbelly of London. Grace is a professional thief and is training her three sons to be thieves as well. However, the victim of a theft she committed long before she had a family has shown up in her part of London bent on revenge.
One of the things that grew on me as the book progressed is the authors style. She has a way of talking in circles and describing things so that they are not easily recognizable. Her writing is riddle-like and in the first chapters, discouraging. I had to read the first three chapters twice to make sure that I was keeping the characters and the burgeoning plot straight. There were far too many minor characters that popped in and out of the story at will. This book would have been better served by keeping the minor characters low (just a suggestion).
The best thing about the book is how true the characters stayed to themselves. There was no bogus change of heart moment where all the prostitutes found nice housemaid jobs or Grace gave up hers. The bad guys were the bad guys, most of the rest of the characters were just trying to live their lives. Also, I really appreciated that this is not a 'feel good' book. The situations are what they were. Life is bleak and hardscrabble, with people self-medicating just to make it to the next day. There are prostitutes, drug addicts, loan sharks and murderers but there are also good-hearted people, caring foster parents and kind neighbors.
I would recommend this book with reservations. It is not the type of book to read if you want your characters to live fairytale lives, that just isn't going to happen. Also, this book does have a slow start so there will be moments of perseverance. Otherwise, GRACE HAMMER was an enjoyable read.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Secret Society by Tom Dolby

Secret Society by Tom Dolby

At least this one has vocals.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austin Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austin Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

I found this trailer after I read the book and in its own way this trailer was the perfect finishing touch.

You may have guessed by now that I am completely over the rework Jane Austen books that are flooding the stacks lately. I do not want to read anymore about some crazy modern girl who wants to live the easy life of a 19th century manor woman only to find out it is as intriguing as the modern world. As of this date I have read, short listed for your convenience, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues, An Assembly Such as This: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman (Fitzwilliam Darcy Gentleman) , Mr. Darcy's Daughters : A Novel , North by Northanger, Pemberly Manor, etc., etc. I am sick and tired of these Regency themes where the men are silent but passionate and the women half crazed. So, to be honest I began reading RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT with a great deal of prejudice.
I feel bad.
RUDE AWAKENINGS was a pleasure to read once I got pas the first 40 pages, and ignored the scenes with the fortune teller. The plot goes something like this; Jane Austen wakes up in modern day L.A. with no recollection of the person she is now, no memory of her job, apartment, ex-fiance or current beau. She has to learn to forgive the men in her life and create the meaningful life she always wanted in Regency England. Did you get it? Forty pages of that nonsense in the beginning was 39 pages too much but after Jane gets her bearings and stops marveling over modern technology she is fun to be around. Modern Jane puts up with no BS.
I will be honest. There were several times that I skipped a few pages in the book. The ramblings of the fortune teller were annoying and unnecessary and too philosophical. The ex-boyfriend was disturbing. Other than that I enjoyed RUDE AWAKENINGS.
Jane is the perfect embodiment of a woman of her time but none of the skills she learned in her time serve her in the modern world. She is appalled by all the things that we modern women take for granted; blind dates, public displays of affections, bare arms and legs. But the fundamental things that all women want (a family and career) do not change no matter the era. Jane wants a man that is faithful and loves only her, as well as money of her own. Sounds familiar. The delightful part of the book is watching Jane shed her Regency beliefs and embrace the modern ones that suit her more.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Another vampire series...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Last Word by Kathy Herman

The Last Word by Kathy Herman

As far as trailers go this one could be better. The music is great but there is no conversation. To be honest the trailer for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters was fantastic and maybe my tastes have evolved. This trailer gets the basic information across but it doesnt excite. Hopefully, the book will be better.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus

Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus
2008 Penguin Young Readers Group
Brief Synopsis:
Rory Hennessey and his sister Bridget discover that Rory is the last Light in New York City. That is, Rory is the last person able to help save Mannahatta, the spirit city that co-exists with Manhattan, from civil war. Of course it wont be easy. But Rory has help. A paper mache boy, Indian Sachems, warrior cockroaches and the children of the immortal gods of New York all help Rory in his quest to help right a wrong.
GODS OF MANHATTAN was a quick read. It was an enjoyable read. However, it did have one drawback. This is another serial! I am so sick of serial books. I understand that writers have to make sure that they have money coming in on a regular basis and work continuously to build their fan base. I get it. But I'm over it. That said I am this one for the long haul. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was fast and action packed, with enough gross things to engage the 13 year old boy in me. (Talking cockroaches, anyone?) There was a great deal of history without being preachy. There was a lot of history that I didn't know and I love history. I would recommend this book to any reader over the age of 10.

Other Review:
An inventive fantasy-adventure by a first-time author. Rory, 13, and his sister Bridget, 9, live in present-day New York City unaware of the spirits from Manhattan’s or “Mannahatta’s” past that coexist alongside them. Rory has a gift for seeing this other world but has repressed this ability until the day he notices a cockroach riding a rat, an ancient Indian warrior, a papier-mâché boy, and other oddities. He’s able to see such historical figures as Peter Stuyvesant, Walt Whitman, John Jacob Astor, Alexander Hamilton, and Babe Ruth–all immortal gods in this parallel world–and he learns that it’s up to him to thwart an evil assassin who has been killing the gods, and free the Munsee Indians who are imprisoned in Central Park. He’s joined by other immortal teens, including Nicholas Stuyvesant, Peter’s son, and Lincoln Douglass, Frederick’s son. The use of real historical figures and events lends authenticity to this compulsively readable and fast-paced fantasy. Rory may be the one destined to save Mannahatta, but Bridget, spunky and determined, also does her part. This book will appeal to fans of Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series.-School Library Journal
No sooner does 13-year-old Rory become aware of “Mannahatta,” the world of ghosts, monsters and spirits that twines through the familiar streets of New York City, than he is swept up in a tide of deadly intrigue in this uncommonly entertaining crossover debut. Though someone has found a way to kill the supposedly immortal gods of the title—all figures from New York’s past—that subplot takes a back seat to the machinations of Hex, a magician who enlists Rory in the seemingly worthy effort to break the magical barrier that has imprisoned the spirits of the island’s native Munsees in Central Park. Largely clueless but brave and subject to occasional fits of canniness, Rory gets help along the way from a rousing supporting cast led by his kick-ass little sister Bridget, who has an alternate persona she dubs “Malibu Death Barbie,” and a diminutive but intrepid Battle Roach named Fritz. Along with plenty of action, Mebus stuffs his pages with references to New York’s history, draws most of the threads together in a suspenseful climax and provides a satisfying sense of resolution at the end while leaving plenty of issues for future episodes.-Kirkus Reviews

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Busy People's Fast and Frugal Cookbook by Dawn Hall

2009 Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Most of my friends are used to my hectic lifestyle. I have to cram 48 hours of labor into a 16 day. I have two jobs, a foster child, a small business, an active writing career and more activities than I can shake a stick at plus the normal home duties. I barely get enough time to sleep never mind spend quality time with my family. Thus I am a big fan of anything that can give me more time with my kid. Personally I love the 30 minute or less cookbooks. There are always really great recipes that are healthy (trying to get a waistline back) and easy.

This cookbook was not so much a book designed to save working people time in the kitchen but a newlywed cookbook. Most of the edible recipes in this book are common sense recipes among my friends. This book would be a great gift for a newlywed who has never been in the kitchen before but needs to feed her husband, not for a mom trying to find new ways to feed her family in less than an hour. And some of these recipes are downright ridiculous. But there are some gems in this book, recipes that my family loved and devoured and some really helpful features.
I tried a total of 15 recipes from this book, some of them successful, some of them not. Among the unsuccessful was the "Ham and Onion Cheese Rollups". No one would touch them. They tasted okay, nothing special, but the idea of eating ham and cream cheese was not delectable to either of the two vacuums living in my house. The really easy chicken soup fared much better. The "Creamy Chicken and Noodle Soup" took only 30 minutes as promised, used ingredients from my kitchen (always a plus) and was delicious. Another favorite were the crepes. I had never made crepes before but they are surprisingly easy.
This book was not much help to me. Aside from the nutritional information (check out page 2 to find out how many calories in a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich) the book is a list of recipes that most moms can cook without even thinking about . This book is not for experienced cooks.
Here is the best recipe in the book *and it only takes 15 minutes*.
1/2 cup Heart Smart Bisquick reduced - fat baking mix
3/4 cup fat free skim milk
2 egg whites
  • Preheat a 6- or 8- inch nonstick skillet over high heat.
  • Ina 4-cup measuring cup or mixing bowl, whisk together the baking mix, milk and egg whites.
  • When the skillet is hot, spray with nonstick cooking spray. Add the crepe batter to the skillet. Lift and tilt the skillet to spread the batter. Brown on one side. The top of the crepe will be full of bubbles. Lift the crepe from the pan with a fork and place on a plate with paper towel. Watch closely, because it only takes about a minute for the crepes to cook. Place a paper towel between crepes to keep them from sticking together.
Really simple, but when paired with the filling recipes in the book, this is a really decadent and quick dessert.

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner
2006 Ballantine Books

After reading all the Philippa Gregory books I was burned out on the whole "poor, mistreated queen with a side of crazy" genre. Honestly, every queen or almost queen or thought about being queen in history must have had a misogynistic twist in their DNA. On the whole I wasn't really excited to read THE LAST QUEEN but I had posted its book trailer so I was obligated. Long story short this was a really good book.

THE LAST QUEEN is a fictionalized biography about Juana of Castile, the last Spanish queen of Spain. She is a true individual, and for a brief time, romantic that knows what she wants and plays the right political games to obtain them. However, she has a tendency to be too trusting and allows herself to be tricked by the one person she thought she could trust; her father. To summarize: Juana marries a man , Philip of Flanders, she falls in love with and who has more political aspirations than he is entitled to. Juana becomes heir to the Spanish throne due to a series of tragedies and finds herself and her children embroiled in her husbands schemes. Now disillusioned to her husband's machinations Juana fights to preserve her throne for herself. She keeps her throne briefly and shares it with her father who decides that he wants it for himself. You can imagine the end.

I was on vacation when I started this book and surprisingly I finished it in one day. I even skipped dinner with my friend to finis the last 30 pages. This book was captivating and tragic. I knew how it was going to end and I couldn't force myself to look away from Juana's train wreck of a life. Told in the first person the reader quickly feels for Juana, wanting her to find a way to be independent in a world where that is not encouraged. I recommend this book with a caution: This is NOT the book to read if you are depressed or about to be. This book has very few feel good moments. It WILL make you cry. You have been warned.

Other Reviews:
Amazon.com Product Description:

One of history's most enigmatic women tells the haunting, passionate story of her tumultuous life. Juana of Castile is just thirteen when she witnesses the fall of Moorish Granada and uniting of the fractured kingdoms of Spain under her warrior parents, Isabel and Fernando. Intelligent and beautiful, proud of her heritage, Juana rebels against her fate when she is chosen as a bride for the Hapsburg heir - until she arrives in Flanders and comes face-to-face with the prince known as Philip the Fair, a man who will bring her the greatest of passions, and the darkest despair. One by one, tragedy decimates Juana's family in Spain. Suddenly, she finds herself heiress to Castile - a realm on the verge of chaos, prey to avaracious nobles and scheming lords bent on thwarting her rule. Juana vows to win her throne, until the betrayal of those she loves plunges her into a ruthless battle of wills - a struggle of corruption, perfidy, and heart-shattering deceit that could cost her the crown, her freedom, and her very life. From the somber majesty of Renaissance Spain to the glittering courts of Flanders, France and Tudor England, Juana of Castile reveals her life and secrets in this captivating historical novel of romance, grandeur, power and treachery by the acclaimed author of "The Secret Lion." "An exquisite evocation of a dangerous era, and of a forgotten queen." - Holly Payne, author of THE VIRGIN'S KNOT