Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Columbus: The Four Voyages

Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504 by Laurence Bergreen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a solid biography about Columbus and I learned a lot. I didn't know he went on four voyages, nor did I understand how skilled he was in navigation and survival skills, but not particularly a leader. Bergreen hammers home the idea that Columbus never fully understood where he was but always thought China was just around the corner. It is sad to read about the violence that the Spanish inflicted on the native Americans and the greed that drove them. But it was interesting to read about this flawed but gifted man and his struggles with the Indians, with his men, and with himself.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (George Smiley #3)The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is Le Carre's third book and the one where he hits his stride as the one of the best spy novelists. He said it this book came to him in three weeks and it shows: it is tight, full of suspense, and inspired. Loved it.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Murder of Quality

A Murder of Quality (George Smiley, #2)A Murder of Quality by John le Carré
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one Le Carre novel that is a straight up mystery and not a spy novel. It has lots of twists and turns and no one seems to be who you think...very well written. But I have to admit I missed the mystic of the spy genre.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Call for the Dead

Call for the Dead (George Smiley, #1)Call for the Dead by John le Carré
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is Le Carre's first book, where we are introduced to George Smiley and Peter Guillium. Smiley is called to investigate a murder, and it is a decent murder mystery. It feels like Agatha Christie wrote a spy novel, but it is a good place to start with George. Unlike some of his later novels, Carre spells out the evidence and conclusions (almost painfully) so that the reader doesn't miss a thing. It was an enjoyable read and a good beginning for things to come.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bossypants

BossypantsBossypants by Tina Fey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is always hard for me to critique a memoir because it is the world according to.... And so you end up not judging the book but the person. I bought this at the airport in the used section for $5. My kids kept asking me why she had man hands on the front. I still don't really know.
I gave this 3 stars mainly because I laughed about every other page or so. But this is also why I think it was more like 2.5 stars. Fey tries to tell about her life, but just when she gets to something revealing or heartfelt, she throws in a zinger. It makes you laugh, but you never really get to know her. And though she starts out with her childhood, once she gets past college, it is pretty much all about work. There are some good stories of SNL, but not enough about her relationships--with her co-workers, her husband, or even her kid. It is kind of interesting to read about how she ended up doing Sarah Palin, but the bits I liked best were her simultaneously planning a birthday party for her kid, or the part about her husband and her on a cruise. The 30 pages or so of how to do a photo shoot? Snoozeville.
Toward the end of the book, I got kind of annoyed with her. Maybe I shouldn't have read it straight through on a flight because her humor seemed to go from "ha ha ha, that Tina, she's so funny" to eye-rolling at her snarky comments. She seemed almost angry-mad in a lot of her "jokes" about being taken seriously as a director/writer/impressionist/mother. I know from watching her on-air personna that most of these quips are meant to be said in an off-hand, almost silly way, but in cold hard print they kind of make her seem like a defensive witch. I think her mistake is trying to make something funny out of something she feels about strongly. Either that or I should have gotten it on audio book.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Siblings without Rivalry

Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live TooSiblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yes, I resorted to a psychological book to help my kids get along. It is an easy read with some good examples. Still, I feel like I have to read it every day to refresh my memory on how I am "supposed" to respond to situations. Lately I've just been resorting to asking them "What Would Jesus Do?" and that seems to help better than anything.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Insurgent

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)Insurgent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was fine as a YA book. It is the middle of a trilogy and so therefore has the problem of being quite dark. In the first book, we went from a naive girl battling others and herself to prove she is corageous only to confront evil in a final showdown. In this book, Tris is depressed about the loss of her family and friends in the conclusion of the first book, and carries the weight of secrets and guilt through most of this book. As she works through her own demons, she discovers new baffling secrets and betrayals. So I guess you have to wait for the third book to finally get some relief. It will really depend on the third book as to whether all this angst, secrecy, and hinted conspiracies will make the whole trilogy worth the ride.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Super Sad True Love Story

Super Sad True Love StorySuper Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up in the bargain bin at the supermarket. Which I think is apt for the crazy farce of our very near future it ended up being. Lenny returns from Italy after a less than successful business stay trying to sell the uber-rich eternal life. He returns to an America deep in debt to the Chinese (hmmm...), his friends self-absorbed in their apparati (suspiciously sounding like apple...), and political protestors camped out in Central Park. A much younger girl he met in Italy, Eunice, comes and joins him and they slowly become a couple. Or do they? Can Eunice really love anyone outside of herself? Is Lenny just using Eunice as a younger version of his best friend's wife, whom he has always been in love with?
I thought the satire was dead-on. The scary part was that it is not too far from the truth. It is true that it could be crude, but in a world where we think bridesmaids crapping in the street is the ultimate in high comedy these days, aren't we just sinking further in the pit ourselves?
I was hoping more from the love story. I suppose they learned that true love comes from familial love and service to others. It would have been nice to have the main characters have reached a state of well-being or peace but then again, it was supposed to be a super-sad love story.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

State of Wonder

State of WonderState of Wonder by Ann Patchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I cried at the end of this book. Not because it was sad (though it was) and not because it was happy (though it was) but because I felt fully and completely satisfied with the world Patchett created and was sad it had to end. Talking this over with my sister later we would comment, "didn't you think it was wierd that..." and the other would say "yeah, but..." and that was the whole book--full of wonderful, wierd surprises that you completely believed and moved the story along. Like Bel Canto, State of Wonder makes the fantastic seem plausible and makes you care about the characters and their world.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First of all, my kids loved this whole series and are vying for the prequel. So sometimes I feel bad ragging on a book that is not written for my age group, because the age group it WAS written for clearly likes it.
I have read a couple of Dashner's novels in the 13th Reality series and clearly his strength is in original storytelling. He is probably the most novel YA novelist I've read. Too bad his writing style gets in the way. He has no sense of pacing, and his descriptions can be as confusing as they are revealing. I was more patient with him in the 13th Reality series, but in this one I went past the suspense of what the maze is and how it is solved, to almost not caring, to be completely dissappointed in the grand reveal. I felt little to nothing about the characters--I was not scared for their survival, nor saddened when any of them died, nor even shocked when they turned out to be something different from what they seemed.
However, I am curious about what Dashner can dream up next. I'll just have my kids read it and tell me about it...it might be less painful that way.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Smiley's People

Smiley's PeopleSmiley's People by John le Carré
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was so nice to get back to Smiley again...le Carre finished his Karla trilogy with an ode to Smiley. Here Smiley is at his best with his small, quiet thoughts and long walks, but gets thrown in the action, too as he tries to uncover the motive behind the murder of a former agent. Everyone gets their cameos, too, from Toby Esterhouse to dear old Connie. I could have used more Guilliam, though, who played a prominent part in The Honourable Schoolboy and who I kind of crushed on a bit (couldn't you see an English Peter Krause playing him?). The ending is strangely anti-climatic, but seemed entirely fitting: sometimes the ending is not nearly as much fun as the chase.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Major Pettigrew's Last StandMajor Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read this for book club. I loved the beginning, rather enjoyed the way the novel puttered along, put up with the country club scene that seemed to be lifted somewhat from The Help, actually teared up at the thought Major Pettigrew could be a knight in shining armor and then it was ruined with a knitting needle of all things. A knitting needle?? Really?!?? I almost couldn't bear to read it from that point forth.
At the end, I felt like Simonson said to herself, I am going to explore how rules shape our customs, mores, courtesies of our community. When should those rules be kept? When should they be set aside for a greater good? Then she brainstormed all these ideas and fit them together in a novel. Perhaps if she hadn't used every idea she came up with it might have turned out to be a cute, droll and touching novel of finding love when and where you least expect it. As it is, you can almost hear her "you shouldn't follow the rules of class and race because those shouldn't exist"; "you should follow the rules of courtesy because otherwise that's rude"; "you shouldn't follow the rules of business if requires duplicity and underhandedness"; "you shouldn't follow the rules if someone's life is at stake", etc. etc.(We get it, we get it) And then to set these premises up her plot turns to the absurd--KNITTING NEEDLES???? Can you tell how much I hate the plot line of the KNITTING NEEDLES!!!
Otherwise, it was an okay book.

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Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading my kids' YA novels again. Another dystopian love story. This one has more action than love story, which is good. It is also an interesting premise--there are 5 factions that emphasize certain personality traits: Erudite, smart; Candor, truth; Abengnation, selflessness; Amity, friendship; and Dauntless, bravery. All good traits, it is true, but there is a hazard in taking each exclusively and to its extremes. Tris chooses Dauntless as her faction, and it was a little unsettling as a mother to see toughness, tattoos, and lack of feminity so celebrated, until Tris discovers that being Dauntless may not be all it's cracked up to be. It does have good character development and the plot is pretty tight.

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Honourable Schoolboy

The Honourable Schoolboy (Smiley Versus Karla, #2)The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked that le Carre writes an introduction to these editions of the Karla trilogy, because it helps me forgive the some of the distractions and ramblings in what is the most exciting but also weakest of the three. First of all, le Carre explains that he went on location to gather sights, sounds and experiences for this book, which explains the vividness and a lot of the action. It also explains why there are scenes in the book that, while interesting, don't move the plot forward. It's like he wanted to include an experience he had but didn't know where to put it.
Also, in the forward of Smiley's People, le Carre writes that he had anticipated doing a whole series of Smiley novels, which explains why neither Smiley nor Karla appear very prominently in this book. That being said, this was a great thrill ride with lots of mysterious persons, great loves, bombs, murders, thugs, and horse racing. Of the three, it is the most cinematic, yet it is the only one that didn't get made into a dramatization (yet).

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A George Smiley NovelTinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A George Smiley Novel by John le Carré
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book. I liked the cadance of the words le Carre uses, I liked the pondorous deliberateness with which the riddle unravels, I liked the humanity of the characters which blinded them to the answers when it was staring right at them. The villian Karla became that much more unlikeable as he twists the knife that he stuck in. I liked the secret language of the spies, (apparently this book introduces the word "mole" as a traitor into the vernacular)even though I sometimes didn't quite understand what was going on. In fact, I think it is a compliment to le Carre that I liked this book even though at the end, I was like, I think this is what happened.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

A Moveable Feast

A Moveable FeastA Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When we booked our trip to Europe, I started reading books that were known to capture the essence of places we were visiting. This book is touted as Hemingway's lovesong to Paris. I have to say it didn't really take me there (nor was I reminded of it while I was in Paris). But I did love the vivid snippets from his life. It made me want to get to know more about Hemingway, and the artists and authors he associated with there. Watching Midnight in Paris before reading this helped me visualize the characters more. It is interesting how time and life plays with memory and it would be interesting to see if he felt so romantic about his first wife if he had written this in the present tense, rather than at the end of his life in Idaho. He also described his writing process, which was very interesting.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A timeless story about the dual natures of man, about how hard it can be to deny ourselves pleasure, even when we are sure it will ruin us. Dr. Jekyll seems to have found the perfect way to enjoy his debauchery without the problem of recognition, blame, or even guilt. Yet in the end, the consequences catch up to him, and the desperation of not being able to control himself or his fate becomes a horror story.
It is a succinct, well-told story, much shorter than I thought. I bought the Barnes and Nobles classic and they had quite an elaborate critical study at the beginning (which I would save and read after the story, since it gives everything away)and several more stories by Stevenson which I enjoyed just as much. I found it interesting that he wrote so much about people pretending to be someone they're not. Sometimes it leads to ruin, or near-ruin, and other times, they use their double personalities to bring justice and order.

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The Great Divorce

The Great DivorceThe Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This allegory about what hevean might be like was thought-provoking. I especially like the thought that it is us and our own refusal to give up our sins that keeps us from the love of God--that God would love for us all to be with him, but we are unwilling to give up grudges, vanities, or habits to be with him. I also liked the idea that as we give up those things, things that we thought made us who we are, we actually become bigger and more substantial. But I actually felt a little hopeless at the end of it...if those people can't make it in to hevean for such small transgressions, it feels hopeless for me. Thank goodness it's not C.S. Lewis making the final judgement! The foreward by Lewis was actually my favorite part of the book--I underlined most of it.

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The Hiding Place

The Hiding PlaceThe Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I did not want to read this book. An inspirational book about a concentration camp? And quite frankly the cover does nothing for the book. But it didn't take long before I was fully vested into the life of Corrie Ten Boom, her sister, and her father. I realize memory can gloss over the details, but I found their lives of charity and love for God and others incredibly inspiring. The miracles that occured because of their faith and devotion were amazing. I would recommend this book to everyone. It will change the way you look at your life.

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