Sunday, May 31, 2009

Official New Moon trailer!

Okay, so it's not a book, but since I recently blogged about the book it is based on I thought I'd share the New Moon trailer that was just released this weekend. They've been holding out on us for a while — whether to heighten the anticipation or just because it wasn't ready yet I don't know, but it looks awesome! I can't wait!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult

iconiconPlease note: This review contains spoilers! I don't usually write about what happens in the end, but this time my review of the book isn't complete without spoiler commentary, so read at your own risk!

It's been a while since I've read a Jodi Picoult novel. You may remember from My Sister's Keeper and a couple others that I tend to lose sleep over these books (kind of like I did lately with the Twilight saga).

I didn't pull any all-nighters with Harvesting the Heart, but I did read it in just a few days. I've been back up to my old reading speed lately, and it's been kind of nice. I'd forgotten how good I feel when I read a lot — it seems to recharge my batteries, so to speak.

Harvesting the Heart confronted several controversial issues, as Picoult's books usually did. Abortion was sort of a sideline issue in this book, though the story didn't actually deal as much with the moral issues of abortion as much as the issue of a woman's and mother's responsibilities versus a man's and father's.

It was a good book, but I have to say I wasn't as thrilled with the way it ended. I personally couldn't understand the main character's decision to go back to a husband who had marginalized her as much as he had. Going back to her child, yes, of course — but her husband? Perhaps he would have been different, after three months of doing all the childcare himself — now that he knows what it was like for her — and I think that's suggested, in a way... But I still can't understand it.

Regardless of how it ended, though, this book was quite captivating. It's definitely more of a woman's story, but it's a well-written look at what it costs a woman to give everything up for a husband and a family.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

iconiconI bought Maggie O'Farrell's The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox ages ago — so long ago I don't remember getting it, though I most likely got it from the bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble. My mom even read it before I did, and she loved it so much that she has been bugging me to read it ever since.

The book is fairly short, just under 250 pages, and is written in a style that is fairly fast and easy to read. It's extremely well written, so that the writing style changes depending on which character the story is focusing on. There are no chapters, only section breaks, usually dividing the changes in perspective.

The story is a mystery of sorts — who this woman really is — and the answers are given slowly, through each change in perspective. It's also a very sad story, of how just being different can set into motion things that change one's life. It's also a story of how the repression of women that used to be commonplace has the power to affect us even today.

I know I'm not doing this book justice in how I'm describing it. All I can say is that it is a sad, powerful story about the skeletons in one family's closet, and how those skeletons changed the lives of three separate generations.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

iconiconAs I expected, it didn't take me long to read Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final book in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga. I actually stayed up pretty much all night to read it Friday night, slept a little bit Saturday morning, and then finished it Saturday evening while I was babysitting.

I mentioned in my post about Twilight that my NaNoWriMo companions had had a lot of negative things to say about the saga. They particularly criticized Breaking Dawn, claiming it was a train wreck of a plot. I have to say I disagree. I thought it was fabulous. Meyer had been building up to something big for three books — there's no way she could have ended it with anything less... astonishing, in my opinion.

Anyway, I am not going to say too much, because I don't want to give it all away, but let me just say that certain plot developments that seem kind of weird at first actually work quite well. Everything falls into place at the end, which is pretty impressive considering how complex the plot is throughout the three books. It is a fantastic conclusion for a fantastic series of books!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

iconiconWell, for a couple of days at any rate, this really has been a "book of the day" blog. I wish I had the time to read like this all the time and read (and blog about) a new book every day, but to tell the truth I've been shirking work a bit to get through the Twilight Saga so rapidly. I haven't genuinely had the time for this amount of reading since I was on my summer vacations in high school.

I guess that ought to say something about how compelling these books are, though — that they can get me to ignore my other responsibilities, something very few books manage to do anymore.

I mentioned in my last post that I wasn't as keen on New Moon as I had been Twilight. I still did love New Moon, but I felt something was missing without Edward around. The suspense in these books does depend quite a bit on the chemistry between Edward and Bella.

Eclipse, luckily, kept Edward around the entire time — and it was excellent. I'm actually not sure which I liked better, Twilight or Eclipse. I definitely love the way Meyer paces the new relationship and new discoveries in Twilight, but I like the new developments in the plot line in New Moon and Eclipse. And since Eclipse has Edward and new developments... Well, you get my drift.

Anyway, I am very excited about reading Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final book in the saga. I started it yesterday afternoon, and I expect to finish it quite soon.

My husband commented Thursday evening, when I was almost finished with New Moon, that I was going through the books really quickly. I responded, "Good — that way I can go back to my life sooner!" That's pretty much the way I feel — if they are going to be this addictive to me, I might as well just give in and read them nonstop, so that I can go back to my work and my hobbies that much sooner, without the desire to read distracting me from everything all the time!

Friday, May 22, 2009

New Moon by Stephanie Meyer

iconiconI'm almost reading these books too fast to keep up with them on my blog. I finished Twilight late Wednesday night (or should I say early Thursday morning?), New Moon early Thursday evening, and Eclipse early this afternoon.

The bad thing is that they are all running together, and it's making it difficult for me to write reviews of each book individually. The good thing is that they are all such a continuous story so as to run together like that, and keep me hooked the entire time.

I do know that I didn't enjoy New Moon quite as much as the first book. I think it was partly the budding romance in Twilight that made it so compelling. It was so well written, it made me remember exactly what it was like to be a teenager and be infatuated with a new boyfriend.

New Moon, on the other hand, reminded me of what it was like to go through a really bad breakup. Maybe that's why I didn't like it as much, but I could totally empathize with the depression and the rebound relationship that Bella went through.

I also have to admit, I really like Edward's character and the sexual tension that Meyer maintains between them. It has to be one of the most compelling things about the books. And because Edward wasn't in most of this book, it felt very different from Twilight. Still compelling... but different.

I liked Eclipse much better... But I'll save that for my next post!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

iconiconIt wasn't until recently that I even considered reading Stephenie Meyer's popular Twilight Saga. The people in NaNoWriMo with me last year made fun of it a lot, and unfortunately I listened.

What changed was that my husband rented Twilighticon (the movie) from Netflix. His brother had really liked it, so I grudgingly agreed to watch it.

And you know what? I loved it! So much, in fact, that I insisted on watching the movie a second time before we sent it back — something I don't often do.

I then decided that I needed to read the books. We went to our favorite Barnes & Noble, but a helpful girl behind the cafë counter told us to order the set from the website, because they were much cheaper that way — about $13 per book for all four hardbacks. (The first two are $11 a book for the paperback, but the last two are only available in hardback right now.) So then I had to wait for them to arrive... and, once they arrived, I made myself wait until I'd finished The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, even though I've read it before, simply because I don't like not finishing books.

So I finally started Twilight a few nights ago, just after finishing Tenant. I read only a few pages the first night, and about 40 or 50 more the next night. And then I read all the rest yesterday!

My friends in NaNoWriMo are so, so wrong about this book. I loved it, every minute of it. I couldn't put it down. I read it while babysitting, and stayed up for nearly five hours last night to finish the remaining 450 pages.

The book is a lot like the movie — or I guess I should say the movie is a lot like the book. It's incredibly intense and sensual. Wow, just wow. I don't know that I can put much more than that into words — you'll just have to read it for yourself.

Needless to say, I'm already reading the next book, New Moon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

iconiconNote: The image links to Barnes & Noble's paperback and ebook editions of this book.  To get a free ebook, I recommend, as their ebooks tend to be well-formatted.

This is actually the third time I've read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The last time was just over two years ago, and the first time was in the spring of 2004, for a class I took my senior year.

If you know me or read my blogs frequently, you probably know that I have a strong interest in the Brontë sisters. In fact, my husband and I spent four nights in Haworth on our recent trip to England — see pictures from our trip here and here. In fact, I bought a 1920s edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in Paris at Shakespeare and Company, and started reading it on train ride back to London.

I suppose I got only about 30 or 40 pages into the book on our trip, since I had a bunch of other books I was reading at the same time. So when I finally picked it up again after finishing Bad Men, I decided I'd better start over.

The introduction in this particular edition really annoyed me. Granted, it was printed in the 1920s, before Brontë had come to realize how good Anne's work really was — but still, why would anyone write an introduction for a book they so obviously hated?

Here's what I mean:

Anne's novel is not gruesome. It is only dull, unspeakably and lamentably dull. It bores to tears. It bored her to write it. Surely it bored her. Charlotte (in her Preface to the posthumous edition) tells us how all Anne's being rose up in loating of her self-appointed task; how her sisters implored her to drop it; and how in her inflexible rectitude she persisted.

The introduction is short, less than a handful of pages, and at the end the writer concludes that although it is a terrible book, it must be respected for being an early feminist novel. But apparently even that doesn't earn it that much respect.

As for what she said about Charlotte and Emily — well, it's no secret that Charlotte didn't think much of this particular book. In fact, in one of her letters she told a good friend that the book was a mistake from beginning to end, and that was why she wasn't going to issue a second edition. (She didn't, so I don't know what "posthumous edition" the writer is referring to — that of Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights, perhaps, which Charlotte did republish and write a preface to?)

Finally, I'm sure it was a difficult and painful novel for Anne to write — after all, her alcoholic brother had just died — but neither that fact or the novel's moral message make it boring, in my opinion. In fact, I think that although there's no crazy wife in the attic or revenge against future generations, the love story is quite compelling even if you ignore the merits of the fabulous social commentary.

Honestly, I think it's a shame that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are so often studied without including the third sister's masterpiece. In fact, it was a long time before I even realized that there was a third sister. It's just such a shame that such a talented writer is so often ignored by scholars!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Bad Men by Clive Stafford Smith

I actually started Bad Men by Clive Stafford Smith on our trip, but only read about 50 pages. I didn't get back to it until I finished The Lord of the Rings recently.

It was when we were having tea in one of the little shops in Haworth that I saw this book. The shop had a lot of used books for sale, and this was one of them. I picked it up and started thumbing through it while we ate, and by the time we were finished with our afternoon tea, I was hooked.

The book is written by Clive Stafford Smith, one of the lawyers defending some of the Guantánamo "detainees" (a nice word for prisoner). In the book, he talks about the horrific experiences of many of his clients. He also talks a lot about the politics behind Guantánamo, but it was the prisoners' experiences that made the biggest impression on me. Smith maintains that the majority of the prisoners who were in Guantánamo actually had nothing to do with terrorism — they were normal people who were implicated by confessions made under torture, who would then be tortured themselves until they implicated other innocent people.

Although I didn't know it until I was telling Michael about the book and he recognized the name, one of Smith's clients, Binyam Mohamed, was released from Guantánamo just before our trip to England. Apparently the torture Mohamed endured was big news while we were in Haworth, around the time that I bought the book, though I didn't know it because I was too excited about being in Brontë country to watch the news.

Interestingly, the book isn't available from Barnes & Noble. I wonder if that has anything to do with the subject matter? Eventually I'll take a picture of the cover, so that you can see it. My copy — the UK edition — shows a picture of a pocket on an orange prison jumpsuit. It says "BAD MEN" in white stenciled writing, like what you would see on a real prison jumpsuit, and looking out over the pocket are the images of Osama bin Laden, Bush, and Rumsfeld. I love the implication — that the real "bad men" here are the ones taking away people's basic human rights, regardless of which side they are on.

Too bad that cover wasn't released in the United States, too. I think it really adds to the impact of the book!