Monday, August 24, 2009

This is Kristin. She hates wearing a watch and loves lighting candles.

I did a search on my blog but could not find an answer... who recommended the movie, Amelie? I watched it tonight and absolutely adored it. She is my new girl-crush. Such beautiful dark eyes and swingy hair with a dimple in her cheek. The screenplay is tight with pitch-perfect dialogue. I remembered the "follow the blue arrow" scene, but I do not remember where I saw it.

Someone gets a cocktail on me...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

49. THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER - Eugenia Kim


Writing this review makes me heartsick because it is not often that I read a novel where I can see how it could have been a masterpiece. Perhaps I've been dipping into my Ciroq stores a bit more, or perhaps this book was marketed to the wrong audience. Either way, this coulda-shoulda been an amazing novel about Korean history that turned, instead, into a novel about Christ and the love of Jesus.

Stop. Right. There.

First, we have a novel/book and it is the Bible. There are also several other novels about God, Christianity, and the Ten Commandments. There is an entire romance line for Christian women. I have read the Bible, the Koran, and other religious texts, including numerous novels that attempt to recreate moments from Biblical history. I am not going to suffer through a ton of hate-posts. Period.

But, if a book is marketed and released as a historical novel spanning the time when Japan occupied Korea in a series of battles and spars, then I would like to read about it. A portion of the book shows the young heroine, Najin (based on the author's mother) in the palace with one of the princesses before the last emperor of Korea is murdered. That is historical fiction.

However, there are few pages without a link to Christianity. While I understand that Korea was one of the few Eastern countries open to the idea of a new religion, during this time it was still considered new and strange, and households often used a mixture of Christianity and Confucian proverbs, casting "devils" out using both religions. If this had been relayed more true to history, the religious aspect would not have been an issue for me.

With advanced reviews, I seem to be in the minority, but after page 286, I winced while reading. She coulda been a contendah. Amen.

1.0 out of 5.0 Godfathers.

Friday, August 21, 2009

48. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE - Stieg Larsson


~ English translation by Reg Keeland who was kind enough to post to this blog with the first review.

By now, you have probably heard of Stieg Larsson, a Swedish businessman/journalist who dropped off three manuscripts with his publisher. He died of a massive coronary before seeing the first novel, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" was published. This is the second book of a three (four?) part series, and it is my personal belief that you must start from the beginning with the first book to follow along.

Part of the reason why I loved the first book was its "murderer in one room" or "Clue" aspect. It also introduced fascinating characters. The second book continues with Salander, but she and Blomkvist are no longer together. In fact, she does not want to have anything to do with him. However, she soon needs his assistance when she is declared the only suspect in a triple-murder.

What a relief to finally learn about Salander's background, which was only toyed with in the first novel. Now, we understand her reasoning, though it is often based on her own moral code. However, this book had such a plethora of new characters that it became frustrating for me to keep track. After much flipping back and forth, I would hope to rely on written clues, but I was disappointed several times.

Perhaps most frustrating of all is the obvious plug for the next book. The ending is jumbled, needing the quick, clean proficiency of Salander and Blomkvist - together - to fix everything.

Reg... I think this book's translation is much more efficient and precise... well done!

2.75 out of 5.0 Snowballs.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week


Thank you to whomever nominated me for this - we shall have to wait and decide what to wear to the party. I will bring the Ciroq. No, really, I promise this time.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

47. THE NAMESAKE - Jhumpa Lahiri


Ashoke and Ashima are Indian immigrants in America, trying to balance the life that they left with the life they now lead (with Christmas decorations and trips to the school). The main character is Gogol, their son, who had to be named before being allowed out of the hospital after his birth. Their custom is to have a family name and a "good" name. Gogol's name becomes both, which begins the novel with the tension of something never being completed or perfect - simply in between.

Eventually, Gogol changes his name to Nikolai, believing it easier to live as an American, yet never truly feeling as if he fits in. Later, his father tells him the reason he was named Gogol, which only increases the feeling of alienation and solitude.

As the reader follows Gogol throughout his life - a paragraph that covers a year, twenty pages to cover a date - it is apparent that this story is not really about Gogol at all. It is about finding a way to bring two lives together, two cultures closer, and/or two understandings amended. It is about finding the medium that makes one, if not happy, at least content.

With such depth in the first half of the book, I expected the same from the rest, but the author leaves it to the reader's imagination. I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this novel, but I did appreciate the extensive depth of detail.

3.5 out of 5.0 Russian Bears.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

46. POPE JOAN - Donna Woolfolk Cross


Ah, the legends and "what ifs" of a female pope was exactly what I needed to clear my head of work (both teaching and writing).

Many have heard of Pope Joan, also known as Pope John Anglicus, whose two-year reign in the ninth century has virtually disappeared from modern history. In this account, Joan, a wicked-smahrt lass is discouraged from studies. When her brother is killed during a Viking attack, she chops off her hair, dons the clothes, and becomes "John."

Her quick wit and mastery of logic bring her notice, as does her ability to heal others with herbal remedies. After Pope Gregory is healed by John/Joan, the path to greater power is revealed.

The author combined some of the legends to create her own ending, but in the afterword she discusses her meticulous research. Even for doubters, this is an interesting historical read. Of course, the essence of romance is thrown in to stir the pot a bit more, but I think the rest of the stew is tasty enough without it.

3.75 out of 5.0 Sneaky Cassies.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

45. WELL DESERVED - Michael Loyd Gray


Argus, a small town in Illinois, is the home of four substantial characters whose lives are intertwined in this driven novel. I often find myself putting books into one group or another: character-driven or plot-driven. This book is an intriguing mix of both.

Jesse, the small-time pot dealer, meets Raul, the just-off-the-docks Vietnam vet, both of whom are being watched by the new chief of police, Art, and the cashier at the market, Nicole. Yet this is not a novel as simplistic as that sentence. Each character is lovingly shaped through dialogue, other character's thoughts, and internal drives. With the strokes of immaculate detail, it is difficult to resist being pulled into their lives.

Personally, I liked this section: "But California really wasn't a place for Midwesterners. Not for very long, at least. Californians expected things to always be easy. Midwesterners knew what it meant to struggle and work for something. [...] One had all the weather and no sense, and the other was more grounded in reality and understood the changing weather to be just part of life's challenges." I am a product of both California and the Midwest, so this tickled me.

Gray's use of specific symbols and imagery create a postcard of small town America, one that pulls the reader through the pages with both smiles and a bitten lip.

4.3 out of 5.0 Sex on the Grasses.

44. OUTLANDER - Diana Gabaldon


I had the pleasure of meeting Diana Gabaldon twice during intimate lunches with other writers, and she is so passionate about her characters. In particular, she adores her hero, Jamie Fraser, and said (on both occasions) that she could never imagine any actor to portray him.

Recently, a screenwriter friend said that OUTLANDER, the first of an enormously popular series involving time travel, Scottish and American history, and a love comparable to the adult version of Bella and Edward (of TWILIGHT fame), was (finally) going to be made into a film. I remembered Diana's statements, so I re-read the book while vacationing to try to imagine who on earth could play Jamie Fraser.

If you are a romance reader, I need not review this novel. You read it more than a decade ago. You know that the latest addition is coming out next month. But for the rest of you, imagine a WWII nurse named Claire who is reunited with her husband, Frank, a historian/professor who has meticulously traced his heritage through the Scottish highlands. A chance visit to a rock circle during Beltane and she is transported a bit over 200 years into the past, where she gets to meet these famous relations who are rather more dark than "black sheep." Enter Jamie Fraser, dreamy red-headed romantic Scot, and you have a historical novel with a heap of good lovin'.

The next book is the "end" of the saga, so for those of you who have followed the series as I have, who do you think is the Scot that Frank meets on the street in this first book? I am interested in seeing how she wraps this up.

4.25 out of 5.0 Scotch Coolers.