Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Blatherings: Lots of Les Miserables

I've been a bit absent this week.  Third term ended on Friday and our grades had to be in, so I had spent night and day grading.  Sadly, most of it was due to students trying to "death bed repent" as I call it.  My frustration was at an all time high, so I felt like following that old adage, "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all" where posting was concerned!  Honestly, I didn't even read this last week, and I've been laying low this weekend.  I was so run down that I didn't leave my house, not once.  It was nice, but I'm already bracing myself for work in the morning.

One of the great, shining lights is what I'm teaching right now.  Grading, I could throw out the window, but the teaching still drives me.  In World Lit. we've been reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  I don't know if it's the stress that's gotten to me at the end of this past term, but I've been a bit obsessed with both the novel and play and can't get them out of my head!  The timing couldn't be better with PBS showing Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Concert.  Between teaching it in class, watching clips from the movie, and then watching the PBS special, I've had Les Mis on the brain so much that I'm constantly humming the tunes! In fact, as I locked myself inside this weekend, I watched the PBS special again--twice.

I think that I'll be back to myself soon, relatively speaking!  Until then, I'll keep reveling in Les Mis.  :)  Here are my favorite clips from the encore.  If you haven't seen it, I can't recommend it enough!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Film Review: Agora (2009)

It feels like it's been awhile since I've posted about a film, mainly because I haven't watched anything new!  Seriously, I've been watching TV on DVD and rewatching period dramas I love.  I did check out the film Agora several weeks ago, mainly because I was curious about the subject matter and love anything that has captured this time period well.

Synopsis:  The film is set in Ancient Egypt under Roman rule at the time of great religious upheaval with Christianity taking a stronger hold in these ancient kingdoms.  As part of this tension, Christianity questioned any old ways of thinking and learning.  Seeing the earth as the center of the universe, they came in direct conflict with the teachings of philosophy professor and atheist Hypatia of Alexandria, who labored to understand the universe and the way it worked, not from religious perspective, but from reasoning and science.

With the conflict in Egypt, Hypatia's life and learning is put in danger except from the love of a Christian student who seems to feel torn between his new religion and the powerful learning experiences he has had with his teacher.  Regardless, Hypatia's passion for knowledge seems to clash with all that has been introduced into their world with religion.

Review:  Before picking up the film, I actually knew a little about Hypatia from history.  She was considered one of the first female mathematicians and scholars, who was an inventor, mathematician, philosopher, and teacher.  From what we know of her, she even refused to dress as the women of her day, preferring to dress in the standards for teachers and other scholars. Her behavior often put her up for criticism and historians believe that she was dragged from her own chariot and dismembered for her beliefs and disregard for social politics.  Sounds like a brave woman, doesn't she?  (You can read a bit more about  her at Encyclopedia Britanica, along with many other great sources on the net.)

Having said that, I think that the film did capture a lot of the passion that this early scholar must have had.  The conflict in the city was gruesome, and really built up the tension that must have existed between the "pagans" of Egypt and the ancient world, and the changing face of Christianity.  I loved some of the open, panoramic scenes of the city, and many of the scenes where Hypatia was teaching her pupils.  From there, it was a bit scattered and lost me a time or two.  The fighting felt a bit much, maybe trying to draw on the crowds who like Gladiator-type film violence?  Yes, it showed the conflict between the Christians and the other religions and philosophers, but it really played out for quite awhile, and I wasn't sure where it was headed.  On the flip side, I loved the scenes that depicted Hypatia singlemindedly searching for an understanding of the universe.  The process that was shown for her reasoning and philosophy were really amazing and inspiring at times.

On the whole, I can't say this was a great film.  Interesting, yes.  For the sake of catching a snippet of history, and considering what it might have been like to be this early female scholar, it was a nice historical drama.

If you're interested, see the trailer below:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Blatherings

This has been a crazy, but good week.  I'm heading into the end of term madness, to coincide with all the March Madness that's ongoing.  I brought home a stack of papers to grade that is nearly 1 ft. tall!  It's horrifying, and it all has to be in this week.

As mentioned, it's also March Madness and my brackets are doing fantastic right now!  As a huge KU fan, I'm a little nervous and excited today, knowing they'll be playing later this evening.  The games have been really good this year and I can't pull myself away from the television.  Also, Utah rarely has teams that make it past the first round, so it's pretty exciting to see BYU getting so much recognition and moving on to the Sweet Sixteen.  It's been a great college basketball season, and I'm a very happy fan!  By the way, I'm not sure why everyone is always so surprised that I like college ball?  Do I really come across as such an anti-sport fan???

Yesterday I had my cousin and his wife over for dinner and to watch the games last night.  I cooked up a crock pot of pulled pork for sandwiches, which turned out amazing and were SO easy that I'll definitely be trying them again!  I also cooked up Trisha Yearwood's recipe for Hot Corn Dip from her most recent cookbook, Home Cooking with Trisha Yearwood that I checked out from the library.  Talk about addicting!  The ingredients kind of grossed me out, but once it all came together it was so good.  I think that I might add olives and chopped onions, and maybe cut one of the can of green chilies, but overall it was an amazing dip!  It was a great dip to dive into while we watched the game.  Not the healthiest, but I don't plan on eating it every day.

Well, that's my week and a look ahead at what is going to be a pretty tough week ahead.  I don't know how much reading I'll squeeze in, or even how much blogging I'll get around to this week, so I'm looking forward to next weekend already.  Actually, I'm looking forward to Spring Break even more, but that's still three weeks away.  For this week, at least I have some leftovers to carry me into a busy week!

How was your week and what are you looking forward to in the coming weeks?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow."

Review:   Although I'm not a dystopian fiction fan, I enjoyed Ally Condie's Matched.  There is a delicacy and precision in the writing that makes the read feel careful in its storytelling.  Strangely, the story itself is not careful, which then lends it an eerie tone that warns of looming danger. 

Cassia is a likable character, and although I will admit that I rolled my eyes a bit at the beginning theme that unfolded of people being: matched (designated a partner), singleton (sad lonely folks), and aberrations (who would want these folks anyway).  The basic premise here is that to be happy, one must fit in and be "matched" up with someone else.  (This seems to reiterate and play on people's fears of being alone.  Valid, yes.  Necessary, I don't think so.)  Even getting someone you don't know or yet love is better than having no one or being an aberration like Ky, which is where the tension in Cassia's curiosity about him after seeing him flash on her screen comes from.

Crossed comes out November 1st
The social repression of this dystopian society almost feels subtle if you don't think about it too much.  For the common good of all, they arrange your marriages, determine your calorie intake, provide you pills to alleviate all stresses, and even designate your death date.  Strangely, however, no one is taught to write, so they are dependent on computers and machines.

Ky is a rule breaker.  He silently resists their society by learning to write, and by determining his own path.  Part of that path involves Cassia, and the two become drawn to one another.  The problem here is that choice is not part of the plan.  This I found intriguing, along with the society Condie created.  Honestly, I can see where teens would love to see played out this all-important idea of choosing who you love and what you want to do with your life.  The storytelling was well done, the writing style clear and precise, and the creativity of the plot intriguing.  Overall, I really did enjoy Matched, and with a cliffhanger like this book had, I'm ready to read Crossed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The W's of Reading: Best "Seller" Lists--An Argument for Good Reviews

As with many ebook fans, I often go through various book sellers to look for their "free" or discounted books.  If you've ever sorted through those lists before, you start to realize that the same ones pop up over and over again.  Why is that?  Are they really the best, and what does that even mean? 

For the purpose of this conversation, I want to focus on in particular, because I noticed something else that made me reconsider what these lists represent.  If you go from the "Top 100 Free" to the "Top 100 Paid," you'll start to notice that some of the books that were on the free list a week ago or more, are now on the paid list.  Do they garner some attention on the free list for a week or two (or sometimes months), then switch over to paid and rank higher than they would had they not started out free?  Could some of these sellers be bumped up because they were once free?

Now I'm not knocking the value or credibility of a Best Seller list that is really just based on "traffic" so to say, but I am curious about what the list really tells us.  I will admit to being one of those people who likes to take a look at the hot new sellers, but maybe that list is not as much a reflection of the books that people are talking about, passing along, and recommending to friends.  Yes, sometimes it might be best to just get books into the hands of people so they will at least read and review the book, thus creating a buzz so it will sell?   I wonder though if maybe some of these online lists are reflecting "opportunity" more than content?

Honestly, I don't know the real answer here, but I've found myself being a bit more skeptical of ebook Best Seller Lists now.  This doesn't seem to be an issue with hardback and paperback books, although I do know that companies and schools often buy large batches of books from online sellers.  How much does that influence the lists they create? 

If Best "Seller" Lists are mainly influenced by economic theories, it stands to reason that recommendations are more invaluable than ever!  How can you wholly trust a recommendation that is based on numbers, which is based around too many variables to list? I'm now realizing that the value of recommendations through thoughtful reviews and comments is more important than ever.  Maybe it stands to argue that book bloggers really do fill an invaluable place in the market for readers who want more than end price?

Listen, I've picked up many free ebooks or bought a book on sale because of the end price, and that doesn't necessarily mean it will end up being a bad reading experience.  It just seems to me that what we see reflected on Best Seller Lists might not be what it once represented--people passing along a book because they loved it.  I will continue to buy books, as well as sort through those free offerings, but I now value great reviews more than ever.  So, thank you to all those bloggers and writers who have given honest and timely reviews of books they've read!

How influenced are you by Best Seller Lists?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

The Fever series by Karen Marie Moning caught my attention after all the Twitter conversations I caught about the newest release, Shadowfever.  Everyone was so excited about its release and talking about it for weeks, that I went back to check out a few reviews of previous installments.  In short, I decided I'd give them a try!

Synopsis:   McKayla Lane has lived a happy, carefree life until she learned that her sister had been murdered in Ireland, where she was attending school.  Grief stricken, and led by a frightening last phone message left by her sister, McKayla left for Ireland to solve her sister's mysterious death.  Once there, she quickly found that she and her sister had strange powers that allowed her to see beyond her human world into the world of the Fae.  From there her adventure took on a whole new direction, leading her into terrifying discoveries about the magical world and a strange camaraderie with a Fae man named Jericho Barrons, who just might be as likely to kill her as to help her find her sister's killer.

Review:  This first book in the Fever series is a bit action-intense, with a lot of basic information the reader needs to really grasp the world created by Moning.  Rather than really try to sort it out, I just kept reading, hoping that sooner or later I'd get the main idea behind the "Fae" world and who was good and bad.  That might have been too simple of an approach, seeing as most of the characters could have been good and bad for all we knew.  It's that limbo as readers that left me nervous for McKayla throughout much of the book.  Jericho Barrons, the guy who takes her in, is described as some type of massive male Adonis, built to protect and defend, brooding and sulking in a very manly fashion.  The thing is, in this first installment, there is little you feel you know about him, and therefore never feel certain whether he is there to help McKayla or not. 

McKayla is a quick character to get a grasp on, but I often felt like she was in so much danger from the start, that I didn't really have a chance to like her or not.  Okay, so she's our main character and I don't want to see her die at the hands of some shadow-like creature or crazy demon, but other than that, I don't know that I get her yet.   Jericho is just the brooding male figure in the story so far, and the other peripheral characters all blend in the background of what is a fast-moving story.

My thought is that this first book must be meant to give the reader a good understanding of the Fae world that Moning has set up.  This isn't a book I'd skip to move on to later installments, as I'm already part way into the second book and can see how lost you'd be without the first.  The action is crazy at times, scary at times, and even a little sad at times, but really all intriguing.  I'm one to usually get annoyed or bored with drawn out fight scenes or Paranormals galore, but these books have me intrigued and I'm going to keep reading them.  They definitely have their own unique premise on the Paranormal world!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Blatherings: Aloha & Madness

This has been a strange month so far!  Although there are many great things going on, I'm also feeling like time is slipping by and I don't know where it's going!  My school has a three-day weekend because of a planned "snow day" that we didn't ever take, which is now a quick breather.  Thank goodness!  I can always use a three-day weekend that is a non-holiday to get things done around town.  Besides, it's March Madness time again, and a three-day weekend is the perfect opportunity to gear up for this week!

Let me just give a brief overview of what's going on my world and what I'm thinking about today, otherwise I'll ramble!
  • Of course I'm thinking about Japan today.  My heart goes out to the people there.  It all feels very surreal.
  • Thanks to everyone who texted me early Friday morning to check on my mom, who has lived in Hawaii.  Sadly, she moved home about two weeks ago.  Yes, I've been pretty quiet about it because I was really, really sad.  Maybe I'll explain sometime soon.
  • If I could remember my password, I honestly think I'd delete Facebook.  This past week there was a horrible debate about unions that left me flabbergasted by the insensitive things that supposed "Friends" I allowed into my life would post.  I'm not saying how I feel about unions, one way or the other, but to make random statements like, "Teachers are lazy and are the reason this country's educational system is going down the toilet.  They don't need more money; they need to work harder," really threw me for a loop.  Once I restrained myself from verbally throttling him, I had to take a step back and evaluate how much vitriol I allow into my world.  I think Facebook should be the first to go.  Sorry, but it's true.  I appreciate conversations and respectful debates, but I'm wondering if they exist anymore?
  • I really like my job.  Yes, after that last bullet point you'd think I wouldn't, but I still do.  Outside of all the debates going on about education, my students really seem to be getting it this year, so I'm excited!
  • We're heading into the last 8 weeks before the AP Exam.  It has started to invade my dreams/nightmares.  Enough said.
  • I'm still reading fourteen books right now.  What's wrong with  me?  I need to learn how to enjoy one at a time, but I doubt that will ever happen.
  • Spring feels like it's here, but I know it's not quite yet.  Nearly 60 degree weather doesn't help me restrain my glee much though, so  for today, I'm loving this gorgeous weather and have every window and blind open to the beautiful sunshine today!
  • Last, but not least--I'm SO excited that it's Selection Sunday for NCAA Basketball!  Here is a nice bracket (...although I'd check back to see if they plug in the teams and time for the printable version.  I wasn't thrilled with the CBS version, so I think they are just updating these for now.)  I might go a little Jayhawk crazy over the next several weeks, so my apologies ahead of time.
 I wanted to end my Sunday Blatherings today with a funny video I took a couple of summer ago in Hawaii when we were watching the turtles out in the ocean.  The video speaks for itself, but what I thought was a couple of turtles ended up not being the case!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Celebrate "Read an eBook Week" with Free Downloads

"Read an eBook Week" actually started on the 6th and runs through tomorrow, the 12th.  For this week, Sourcebooks is offering four titles for free at most locations.  (You can check Sourcebooks eBook Promotions for all the retailers.)  Check out the titles available:

The Highest Stakes by Emery Lee

From Goodreads, "WHAT WOULD YOU WAGER FOR LOVE???   In the high stakes gentleman's world of 18th century horse racing, when the blood of the "desert kings" ruled the English turf, a hero returns from war to claim the girl he has loved since he first spied her riding hell-for-leather over the Doncaster heath. Determined to have her at any cost, he will risk everything.

A story of star-crossed lovers and horse racing, THE HIGHEST STAKES transports the reader to 18th century England, an era infamous for corruption, arranged marriages, and high stakes gambling; when racing and breeding became the obsession of the uppermost elite, and a match race might replace a duel in settling a point of honor.

Through the fictional love story of Robert Devington and Charlottte Wallace, a tale of drama, danger, thwarted love, and retribution unfurls..."

The Immigrants by Howard Fast

From Goodreads, "A love story of tremendous beauty...a tale of passion, adventure, and ambition set against the streets of San Francisco, America's most romantic city.
Dan Lavette, the son of an Italian fisherman, battles from the rubble of the San Francisco earthquake to build a fortune in the shipping industry. Rising to success through hard work and a loveless marriage to the daughter of the city's wealthiest family, he risks it all for the exotic beauty of a woman who shares his secret and scandalous passion.

 From Nob Hill to the harbor, San Francisco comes alive through three immigrant families -- Italian, Irish, and Chinese -- whose intertwining dreams are propelled by the emotional events of America's coming of age..."

The Wild Sight by Loucinda McGary

From Goodreads, "Cursed with the Irish clairvoyance known as "The Sight," Donovan O'Shea fled to America to escape his "gift." Fifteen years later, his father's illness has forced him to return to the family homestead where years earlier, Donovan's mother disappeared into the fens and was never seen again. Now the same fens are offering up secrets, both ancient and recent, and restoring a terrible legacy that just may drive him mad. And if this were not trouble enough, a beautiful woman walks into his life, claiming to be his half-sister.

Rylie Powell never knew her real father. Her mother would only say he was a charming Irishman who seduced her, married her, and then abandoned her and his baby daughter. But after her mother's death, Rylie finds tantalizing clues about her father that send her off to Northern Ireland and an archaeological site on Dermot O'Shea's property, the man listed on her birth certificate as her father.

Did Dermot O'Shea father both Donovan and Rylie?
What is Donovan's connection to the Celtic High King Niall of the Nine Hostages?
And what secrets do the fens hold that invites murder?"

The Best Little Stories from the Civil War by C. Kelly

From Goodreads, "The Civil WAR You Never Knew...
Behind the bloody battles, strategic marches, and decorated generals lie more than 100 intensely personal, true stories you haven't heard before. In Best Little Stories from the Civil War, soldiers describe their first experiences in battle, women observe the advances and retreats of armies, spies recount their methods, and leaders reveal the reasoning behind many of their public actions..."

I hope you can take advantage of one or all of these great offers!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review: Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

What do you do when a book starts off  light-hearted and fun, yet ends dark and dramatic?  What if you weren't expecting it to happen?  In some ways, that is how I felt about Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Marrying a vampire definitely doesn’t fit into Jessica Packwood’s senior year “get-a-life” plan. But then a bizarre (and incredibly hot) new exchange student named Lucius Vladescu shows up, claiming that Jessica is a Romanian vampire princess by birth—and he’s her long-lost fiancĂ©. Armed with newfound confidence and a copy of Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions, Jessica makes a dramatic transition from average American teenager to glam European vampire princess. But when a devious cheerleader sets her sights on Lucius, Jess finds herself fighting to win back her wayward prince, stop a global vampire war—and save Lucius’s soul from eternal destruction."

Review:  I'm not sure what I expected exactly, but the turn in the novel from light and flirty to dark and dramatic threw me.  Although the vampire theme warranted some danger, I didn't expect the vampire/fiance to go from determined suitor to the evil, unconcerned vampire he eventually became.  If this were a mood swing, then it was some mood swing, brought on by what exactly?  Was Jessica's determination not to become a vampire just a bit much?  I'm not giving anything away here in saying this, as a teen romance usually always has a conflict that leads you to want the two characters together even more.  In this case, I wasn't sure why the character's emotions changed so suddenly, when they had so thoroughly convinced me they originally felt just the opposite?

While my biggest concern with the novel was the dramatic shift from light to dark, I will say that this might be my own issue as an adult reader.  As a high school teacher always on the look out for books to recommend to my students, I know that teen readers would not be as critical of the drama in the book and probably enjoy the tension that was spelled out in the second half of the novel.  For me, it was disconcerting.  I liked the fun tone of Jessica finding out she was promised to a vampire prince and wish that the story would have continued in that vein (yes...pun), and allowed a more "campy" play on the vampire theme.  The light part of the book I enjoyed and found fun to read; the darker side threw me a little and made me wish for a different conclusion.  I'm going to share this one with my students, however, since they are still on the look out for more teen vampire stories!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Review: The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan

Let's get something straight right from the start.  Yes, I've always thought how cool it would be to live in Jane Austen's time.  Haven't we all?  There is that little piece of me that thinks it would be fun to be able to get up in the morning, read my "mail" (stack of letters), go for a walk or visit, read a book, do some needlepoint, or travel to nearby family and friends.  I say this, then reality sets in.  Honestly?  I think I'd get bored.  Why?  Because I'm a product of my generation, filled with gadgets and gizmos aplenty, and an ever-growing list of things that always need to be accomplished.  (Have I mentioned that I still haven't taken my taxes in to be filed?)

Although a little down time in Jane Austen's time sounds glorious, romantic, and even glamorous, I know enough about that time period to know that it would be grating on this 2011 gal.  If wealthy or at least of means, a woman had serious restrictions on what she could or couldn't do, and who she could or couldn't see.  Much of this information is highlighted, but in a very fun, proper sort of way in The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan.

For any serious Janeite, I would highly recommend having a copy of this cute little handbook.  The information and details are a nice reference point to the period, and to Jane Austen's novels in particular.  As set up, it is separated into four sections:
  1. Jane Austen's World and Welcome to It
  2. A Quick Succession of Busy Nothings; or, Everyday Activities
  3. Making Love
  4. The Best Company; or, Social Gatherings
Each section outlines things as they were in Jane Austen's time, but also chronicle the possible living situations of her most famous characters.  For instance, have you ever wondered what Mr. Darcy's 10,000 pounds a year translated into?
"Some experts suggest simply multiplying the amount by fifty; thus, Mr. Darcy's ten thousand a year becomes a half million pounds, or close to a million dollars...Economist J. Bradford DeLong suggests that straight multiplication does not give the whole story...Dr. DeLong's calculations place the modern equivalent of Mr. Darcy's income at $6 million per year."  (27)
Regardless of the sum, that's a whole lot of money!  It's easy to see how setting Mr. Wickham back on the straight and narrow with Lydia might have been a big wad of cash, but nothing in the overall picture of his income and worth.

Regency Letter (via Jane Austen's World)
The book also contains information about how to be a lady, how to spend one's day, and what to wear.  Some of the information was pretty interesting, such as how they wrote letters.  I realized that they tried to utilize every spare space on a piece of paper, but I don't know that I understood how intricately they wrote over top of every line, in just about every direction.  The picture I'm including only shows about 1/3 of what they could cover in one letter, sometimes criss-crossing the original in a diagonal as well as horizontal, vertical, etc. 

There are lots of other details shared in this cute handbook that made it an easy read.  I highly recommend this as a fun gift for any Jane Austen fan on your gift list.  It is well organized, with a nice Table of Contents, Index, and list of terms defined in the back. The language is informative, without being stuffy and boring.  And the pictures included in the book are well done and fit with the information of the book. On my edition the hardback cover is well made, and the size is smaller than even a paperback book.  Honestly, I really would recommend this Regency England guidebook for anyone who reads and loves Jane Austen's time period. 

The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England comes out today!  Thank you to Quirk Books for the opportunity to read and review this great little handbook.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Blatherings: Another Great Get Together

Yesterday we held another great Utah Author Book Blogger Social.  It was fun to see the group continue to grow, and this time was no different.  We had about 60+ great bloggers, authors, aspiring authors, etc. all meet up for dinner and a book swap.  I'm always a little nervous showing up to a book blogger get together (which is BIZARRE, because I teach teenagers every day), but it was really great and so easy to chat with other folks who know and understand book blogging, book reviewing, and other social medias.  When you share a love of reading, how can you not have plenty to talk about?  Book folks are so  nice and fun to chat with!

I'm sorry that I'm not better at taking pictures though.  For pictures, you'll have to visit one of the other 80 bloggers; I'm horrible toting a camera around!  (I will mention that Heather of Fire and Ice had the cutest little guy who snapped some pictures of me while I was talking to someone.  It was pretty funny, and I'm sure the pictures were pretty hilarious as well, since I didn't really know he was taking them!  Too cute.)

To check out our growing list of bloggers here in Utah, you can see the list at the Books Blog Ning.  Thanks to everyone who came, chatted, and had a great time with us.  As always, thanks to Natasha at Maw Books Blog for being our book blog community glue!  Yes, I called her glue, but all in a good way.  Also, Suey from It's all About Books, who always gets things rolling.  You both are great!   I hope that other folks can make it for our get together in August as well.  They are always such a fun time!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Harry Potter Quandaries: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince #6

Since this is my first time reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince again, I thought I'd have a long list of things that stood out to me.  Unlike my good friend over at Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books with her awesome literary analysis and quandaries about the book (see the end of her post for additional comments), I felt somewhat stymied!  Actually, I think it was laziness on my part, because I just didn't have my reading cap on when I read book six.

Some of my lackluster reading of this particular book might be because I was much too influenced by the film this time around.  I'm not a huge fan of Ginny Weasley in the movie versions, and although she's sweet and cute, she also seems like an awfully flat character to me.  Where is the spunk that I see in her character in the books?  Where is the quick-witted girl from the books who practically has to beat the boys off with a stick?  What happened to the articulate, sparkling (in a non-vampire sort of way) character I grew to love in the books?  In the films, I'm actually not sure why Harry would pick her.  In fact, I cringe a little when Harry and Ginny have lovey-dovey scenes together!  Several of the things I like about Ginny from the books is that not only is she familiar to Harry in the sense that he has known and loved her family for years, but also that she, herself, is her own person who always feels able to propel the story forward on her own.  Both seem perfect for Harry, who we've seen as this lonely, yet talented kid.  In short, I like the Ginny in the books, and not so much in the films.  What's up with that?  Is it just an expected gap between my own imagination and what is portrayed on screen?

One last point that stood out to me in this book was the demise of Dumbledore and Snape's role in it all.  First off, the books do an excellent job of weighing out the tension that Harry feels towards Snape and the constant validation Dumbledore, Hagrid, and others at Hogwarts keep giving Snape as their ally.  If I heard one more character defend Snape I was going to scream!  Listen, I like Snape a lot.  In fact, he's been one of my favorites since about book three, but even I was ready to scream, "[you all] do protest too much!"  It seemed like a total overkill to constantly be telling Harry that he could trust Snape; it just played with my head and made me remember why I was grasping for book seven as soon as it came out.  In book six, it become painfully obvious that it's J.K. Rowling's intentions versus the reader's opinion!  Once you read this installment, you have to find out, for sure, what side everyone was playing.

Now that I've finally read book six again, I'm sure I'll have more to consider down the line.  This time around though, I just enjoyed that lovely escape factor once again.  Like a cherished memory, it took me back to those days when we all anxiously waited for each installment to come out!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Review: Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

I have really enjoyed reading the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella, so I was curious what happened to Rebecca (Becky) Brandon after she and Luke had their first baby.  Did she lose her need to shop so compulsively?  Did she drive Luke crazy with her need to purchase designer duds for their baby?  Or, did she drive everyone over the edge with her zany ways? (You can tell, she would drive me crazy if I were friends with her!)

Synopsis:  In this fifth installment, Luke and Becky have had a darling little girl.  Said little girl though, is not an angel.  In fact, she is rowdy, high-spirited, willful, and downright naughty.  Not only is she hard to handle, but has developed a strange penchant for Starbucks and "pretty" things at the stores--like her mommy!  Is it any wonder that Luke is hesitant to add a second baby to the family?  To this hardship of raising a toddler is Luke's growing career, desire to get into their first home (and move out from Becky's parent's home), and a secret birthday party Becky is throwing for Luke.  All these stresses only add to the chaos that is Becky Brandon--yet again, always out to be as stylish and hip as she can in the process!

Review:  I can't say that I loved or hated this installment of the Shopaholic series.  Honestly, I found myself so completely stressed out over the obvious lack of parenting skills displayed by Becky--well meaning or not--and her uncontrollable spending habits.  Over and over again, Becky somehow tells herself that it's all okay, validating whatever bad behavior her daughter exhibits or extra dollar she spends on designer duds.  As a reader, it often left me exhausted and unable to escape and enjoy the story!

One thing that I can say for Kinsella's series is that there is never a dull moment.  I found myself laughing aloud at many scenes in the book, and can thank her for creating such memorable moments on insanity for me (such as having her toddler grasp onto a mannequin in a store and refuse to let go, to the point where the manager asks her to take mannequin and all, just to get her out of the store).  I also still really like Luke.  Honestly, I'm not sure how such a sensible, well put together, hottie like Luke could continue to put up with his wife's nonsense.  By the end, I once again could see the love and connection between the couple, but there for awhile, I wondered if she wouldn't drive him away with her zany ways!

As one final point, I have to say that there is an obvious "cliff hanger" of sorts to this book.  I'm not sure why Kinsella would end with so many things up in the air, other than the opportunity to come back with a sixth book.  Really, I'll have to pick up whatever follows Mini Shopaholic just so I know what happened after the big birthday bash!  To put it simply, be prepared for not much of a tidy wrap up.  I'm sure there has to be more to come.

Overall, a fun book, but super frustrating if you take Becky too seriously!  (Why can't she just get a grip and stop spending so much money?!? Seriously, the woman needs therapy.  I'm not a huge spender, but will say that she makes me feel like a saving saint in comparison!)