Friday, April 30, 2010

Announcing: Venice Challenge!

venice challenge button 1

venice challenge button 2

While doing some research for my Listed: Venice post the other day, I ran across a TON of books set in and about Venice at my library.  Even exercising some control over myself, I still wound up checking out about a dozen Venice-themed books I just couldn't pass up, plus buying two on (aka Amazon--what can I say, there was a sale). 

With all the books about Venice out there, I started thinking it would be great to have a reading challenge about it!  Here are the deets:

Where: Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books (

When:  May 1st, 2010-May 1st, 2011

What:  Read 6 books set in the city of Venice, or about Venice.  I don't care if it's fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, YA, or whatever.

How:  Sign up in Mr. Linky below and update it every time you do a post for the challenge.

pile of books

What am I planning on reading for the challenge?  There are so many choices!  Here's what I'm thinking of so far (and yes, I know it looks like considerably more than six books):

  • Faces Under Water by Tanith Lee
  • Lord of the Night by Susan Wiggs
  • City of the Falling Angels by John Berendt
  • BIANCA: A Novel of Venice by Robert Elegant
  • The Glassblower of Murano and The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato
  • The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark
  • Hidden Voices by Pat Lowery Collins
  • The Bellini Card by Jason Goodwin
  • The World Before Her by Deborah Weisgall

If you need any suggestions, there are some great ones in the comments section of my Listed: Venice post.  ETA: CupK8 also found this amazing and enormous list of books set in Venice at Fictional Cities that you definitely need to check out!

I hope you can join me in reading about Venice this year and traveling to this romantic, fabulous city through stories in books!

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Clint: A Retrospective by Richard Schickel

Undoubtedly one of the greatest actors and directors of the twentieth century is Clint Eastwood.  Clint:  A Retrospective offers an overview of his sixty-year career, plus a short documentary on DVD.

The text to the book can best be described as restrained fanboi--there's not really a lot of critical investigation of Eastwood's films (especially the newer ones, which is kind of annoying, seeing as they're arguably his best), and the most interesting stuff of course comes from Eastwood himself.  But as I mentioned with Zola: Photographer, no one reads these kind of books for the words, anyway--the real appeal is the ton of pictures--movie stills, photographs, and movie posters in full color are what really make the book worth checking out.  Here are a few samples:

clint eastwood

This early publicity photo was taken in the 50's when Eastwood was just starting out.  As MacKayla Lane would say, he's definitely a leftie.

the outlaw josey wales

This is my favorite shot in the whole book.  Eastwood relaxes on the set of The Outlaw Josey Wales, next to co-star Sondra Locke.  It was on the set of the movie that Eastwood and Locke fell in love.  The picture reminds me of Manet's paintings, with two people who apparently have some sort of relationship but don't look at or interact with one another.

There's also a DVD with the book that has a mini-documentary (about twenty minutes).  It basically repeats all the highlights of the book, for those who don't like to read, and doesn't offer much in the way of information. 

Overall this book was just okay.  I definitely think Eastwood deserves his own retrospective, and as a treat for the eyes this one is great.  However, the book could have used some actual criticism and investigation of Eastwood's films.  Yes, broken families is a huge theme with the stories Eastwood picks--but why?  Considering they're like the bestest friends ever, one might think Schickel would have asked.  He might have, but if he found the answer it's not in this book.

That being said, I think this would be an awesome coffee table book to have out for people who don't usually like to read.  And who doesn't like Clint Eastwood?  Seriously.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Zola: Photographer, by Francois Emile Zola and Massin

zola photographer

ETA:  Emile Zola was a famous French writer in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  Although I'd heard of Zola (it's impossible not to when you study the time period, especially since he hung out with famous artists like Cezanne and Manet), I'd always avoided reading his books because they intimidated me.  But after picking up Nana earlier this month, I found myself fascinated by all things Zola, and checked out several books from library both by and about him.

This book, which is out of print, was a disappointment for me.  Considering the famous people Zola knew, I was expecting pictures of them (especially my boyfriend, Manet).  But most of the book is filled with photographs of Zola, his wife, and their children.  While these portraits were very candid and sweet, I'm not sure they're of much interest to the average person--i.e., myself.

There were a few interesting sections, however, especially photographs Zola took of the Crystal Palace and London (it's startling how different London looks from Paris in the photos), and scenes from the 1899 World's Fair in Paris, when the Eiffel Tower was erected. 

As for the text, there's not that much of it, and what is there isn't exactly gripping or illuminating.  Not that one reads these types of books for the text, mind, but more quotes by Zola himself and context for the photographs wouldn't have been remiss.

One of the weirdest photographs is of Manet's portrait of Zola.  Pictures of pictures always leave me with a sense of irony, but the fact that Zola would do it for some reason just strikes me as bizarre and a little wrong.  It feels oddly funereal to look at:

zola portrait

The death of painting?

And that is what I learned from this book.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Listed: Venice

view of venice

When I wrote my list of favorite settings, Ann Marie Gamble asked that I come up with a reading list for them.  I thought that was great idea, and decided to start with the first on my list, and my favorite, Venice.  But there are SO many books about Venice out there that doing a comprehensive list is impossible.  So here is a very select list of some books and movies set in Venice that I've either enjoyed, or that are on my TBR shelf.  They're not all set in the 18th century, but they do all capture the spirit of Venice in some way.

The Titian Committee by Iain Pears--Pears writes art history mysteries (which I naturally read), and this one involves a murder related to Titian.  There's also a scene on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, which is famous for its cathedral and the painting by Tintoretto inside.  Unfortunately I haven't managed to see this painting yet, but I have taken pictures of the cathedral from across the lagoon.

Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase--A great romance that involves a courtesan and is set in Venice.  (The link is to an essay on the book I wrote for Romancing the Blog.)

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke--I actually hated this novel.  But one of the parts I did like took place in Venice, where Jonathan Strange lives for quite a while, harassed by Lord Byron and trapped inside the city by a wizard.

The Story of My Life by Giacomo Casanova--Yes, I've read this book.  That's how obsessed I am with Casanova.  It's really not that bad, but I suggest you get the abridged version.  The unabridged version is like 13 volumes and a gazillion pages.

Faces Under Water by Tanith Lee--This one of those books that I've been meaning to read forever.  It doesn't take place in Venice per se, but in an alternate world that very closely resembles Venice, with canals and people who wear masks.

Sargent's Venice by Richard Ormond and Warren Adelson--One of the great things about Venice is the artists who have lived there over the years.  Unlike most painters, John Singer Sargent is famous for creating scenes of everyday life in Venice--not just pretty landscapes.  I love Sargent and I love Venice, so naturally I love this book!

Treasures of Venice by Lucinda McGary
--This is a fun escapist novel set in Venice.  It's ridiculous, of course, but as I said in the review, you can't beat the setting.

Casanova--This is one of my favorite movies evar!  It's a romp--a romp, I tell you!!!  And have I mentioned I'm obsessed with Casanova?

Dangerous Beauty--This very romantic movie is based on a true story and all about the famous courtesans of Venice.  Great film.

Lord of the Night by Susan Wiggs--Set in sixteenth-century Venice, this book about a lord who suspects the woman he loves of stealing jewels sounds pretty good.

City of the Falling Angels by John Berendt--One of my coworkers gave this to me after hearing me go on and on about how I wished I had the money to go back to Venice.  It sounds like a really good book, and I'm excited to read it even though it is non-fiction.

These are just the books that are actually on my shelves right now, not the ones on my wish list--which is huge.  I've also been looking at Bianca: A Novel of Venice by Robert Elegant after Lusty Reader recommended it; and The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato.

What books would you recommend that are set in Venice?

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Monday, April 26, 2010

The Latest Batch of DNF's

Sometimes I just cannot finish a book.  As you know, I don't review books that I don't finish.  I can't live without whining about them just little, though.

The Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb

I tried to read this during the Readthon, but it was just soooo slow to get going.  In fact, I don't think it ever did get going!  There didn't seem to be a clear direction that the novel was moving in, not to mention that it seemed very predictable.  By the time I hit the fifty page mark (which took like four hours), I just did not care.  Since fifty pages was about 1/4th of the way through the book, this wasn't good.

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

This has been described by at least two book bloggers that I greatly respect (and usually agree with) as one of the best books of the year, and I'm really sorry I can't echo that sentiment.  But for me this is the type of book that would actually make me hate reading.  Yes, I honestly disliked it that much.  The beginning was INSANELY slow, and the writing style makes me think of that line from Bloodfever where Mac asks Barrons, "What, is English your third language?"  Totally unnecessary big words.  And no chapters.  While I liked that the art historian was poor, I couldn't connect to any of the characters because of the constant head-jumping.

the man who loved p&P

The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice by Abigail Reynolds

This book just didn't do it for me.  It was super-derivative, even going so far as to begin with a dance where Calder (the Darcy substitute--which would be a great title for an Austen adaptation, now that I think of it) refuses to dance with Cassie, the lame Lizzie fill-in; and Cassie's pretty and kind friend hooks up with the good-natured rich guy who's Calder's bestie.  This wouldn't have bothered me too much if it was the high school prom, but apparently it was some country dance populated with scientists?  Like... wtf?  Anyway, the science part was either insanely boring or preachy, and the Austen take was simply unimaginative--and with very creative Austen adaptations like Beth Pattillo's Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart out there, I simply don't think this book can compete.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Leanna Renee Hieber Interview

Darkly Luminous cover

This week (Tuesday), The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker is finally being released.  I loved the book (you can read my review here); and immediately after I finished, I asked Leanna Renee Hieber if she would mind doing an interview to answer some of my burning questions.

hieber as percy

Heidenkind:  Who built Athens Academy?
Leanna Renee Heiber:  Here’s where I mix real history with fancy. Athens Academy never existed, but Quakers did and still do.

My fictional Athens was built in the mid 1800’s by Quakers in a style more lavish than they would have been comfortable with: a Romanesque style with rich sandstone detailing. They did so to blend in with central London and hide the fact they were a Quaker institution, Quakers being known for their more modest, Spartan structures. A Christian religious group formed in 17th Century England as the Religious Society of Friends, the term “Quaker” comes from the idea of trembling before the Lord. Quakers were known for their progressive values such as their vehement abolitionist, anti-slavery stance and adamant equality for women both in religious practices and in education. They were ardent supporters of education of all kinds, suffrage movements and public services. They were also an often shunned and persecuted minority.

Making the school in a Quaker model is the only remotely historically realistic way for me to posit a co-ed school model that might include young women and educate them in all disciplines (including math, a rare subject for a woman to study). Athens was originally titled RFS Academy (Religious Society of Friends) but the school was closed after only a few years of operation due to religious intolerance and disdain for educating women. However in the 1860’s when Beatrice Tipton, former leader of the former Guard is instructed by the Goddess Persephone to ease the school into the future hands of Rebecca and Alexi, she has the name changed in honour of her legacy and the school reopened to pave the way for Prophecy and transfers some of the power of her beloved Phoenix unto the bricks. Many Quakers were also involved in the Spiritualist movement tied to ghosts and spirit-matters, which ties in nicely with the themes of my series.

Heidenkind:  Do the students and faculty of Athens Academy share a common trait that draws them there?
LRH:  Many Quaker and other progressive families quietly send their children there as well as families who have exceedingly shy or gifted children of both genders who didn’t do well in other school settings; similar motivation draws many parents to seek private education today. However even in a unique setting, Percy is still the ‘freak’ outsider and that was a dynamic I needed to maintain for her growth and context.

Heidenkind:  Does Persephone (the goddess) still exist?
LRH:  The Goddess as she once was is no more. The pure energy of her essence is eternal, however her form and specificity as an entity is now diluted. Her power (and one or two scattered memories) lives on in the body of Miss Persephone Parker, her legacy of choice and sacrifice. This power may yet pass on, it remains to be seen and I’m not about to say.

Heidenkind:  What will happen to the Whisper-World when Persephone doesn't come back?

LRH:  The end of Darkly Luminous sees a shift in the power balance. In the great liberty I take with this canonical story, I posit that she was never meant to be stolen away, that Darkness had no right, thusly the balance was always skewed. The Whisper-world as such will remain a restless purgatory, a bit in stasis. But as the world changes at the turn of the 20th century, so does the Whisper-world. A world at war effects everyone and everything across all spiritual planes.

Heidenkind:  Darkness mentions that he and Persephone are just pawns.  Are we going to get a chance to see the major players at some point?

LRH:  At this point I can’t imagine dealing with the wider canon of Greek Gods, or tackling any sort of monotheistic notions as characters. I didn’t want to create any of my characters as omnipotent, so I relegate all of them to a bit of the ‘divine mystery’ that I don’t feel I can show at its highest levels. I do want the Strangely Beautiful saga to remain at its heart an ongoing tale of mortals dealing with choices, fate, free-will and phenomena as best they can.

Heidenkind:  If you only have sex with a god/goddess, does that make you a virgin?
LRH:  *grin* Beatrice Tipton, when she tells Percy about the Goddess “making Alexi a man” at age 16, Beatrice doesn’t exactly understand the dynamic that was established between the Goddess and Alexi as a youth – a dynamic he himself doesn’t remember beyond a vague sense. You’ll just have to decide for yourself what you think in Strangely Beautiful #3, the prequel. *tease, tease*

Heidenkind:  Will your next book be the start of a new series?
LRH:  My next release is “A Christmas Carroll” (Strangely Beautiful #2.5), a novella starring Headmistress Thompson and Vicar Michael Carroll, to be included in Dorchester’s Fantasy holiday anthology A MIDWINTER FANTASY (October 2010). And after that, it’s Strangely Beautiful #3 – a prequel that will likely release sometime around March 2011, then Strangely Beautiful #4 continues on with the Rychman familial legacy, with all our familiar cast of characters, to the broach of World War I. Separately from the Strangely Beautiful saga I have written the first in a YA Historical Dark Fantasy / Paranormal series that my agent is currently shopping around.

Heidenkind:  What is your ultimate goal when you're writing a novel?

LRH:  Having readers care enough about the characters and the world I’ve built to ask questions like these. So thank you for doing me that honour. There is no greater thrill for me than when readers champion and care for my characters.

Heidenkind:  What's your favorite thing about the Victorian era?

LRH:  The stoic struggle. The repression that makes a mere kiss on the hand cataclysmically sensual becomes a delicious writing tool. But to answer this question truthfully, my Victorian fascination is infinitely more complex than mere romanticism.

It was a charged time of beauty and sophistication coupled with desolation, hypocrisy and poverty.  The world was changing and remade before their eyes – everything was in question, God, science, morality, world domination, gender roles, the industrial revolution, the stirrings of social justice and awakening sensibilities. So much of the society was on some level at war with itself and yet doing so with grace, beauty, and veiled terror. I’m fascinated by this Jekyll and Hyde society; preened exterior, seething underbelly. This rich, aching struggle comes out startlingly clear in the literature of the time, which I credit for making me fall in love with the era in my pre-teen years.

The Victorians were also ardent spiritualists and neo-classicists, and so Strangely Beautiful’s fantastical threads of ghosts and Greek Mythology come plucked directly from the Victorian psyche itself.

Heidenkind:  Do you have a favorite work of art?

LRH:  Oh, do I! My love-affair with the 19th century is also a love-affair with its art, and so I’m thrilled by this topic because it’s inextricably tied to my work.

Pardon the list but I absolutely cannot pick just one! (Dad’s an art teacher, my fondest childhood memories are of poring over art books with him and discussing the contents) I geek-out rhapsodic over art, and this blog seems quite the place to do so, seeing I am in the presence of an Art Historian. Huzzah!

Favourite artistic movement: The Pre-Raphaelites and those who circled near their orbit. I’m particularly obsessed with Rosetti, Waterhouse, Millais and Moreau.

2nd Favourite artistic movement: The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) Group of German expressionists, particularly Franz Marc.

Favourite ‘stand alone’ artists: Edvard Munch, George Seurat (love your header, Tasha) and John Singer Sargent.

Favourite piece to be in a room with: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte – when visiting this piece in Chicago I just move closer then step back, repeating numerous times until satiated. I never cease to be amazed by Seurat’s patient talent and visionary mind as the pointillist abstraction becomes a lushly realized scene replete with bustles and parasols *sigh* (I also love the musical Sunday in the Park with George).

Favourite sculptor: Camille Claudel, Rodin’s lover and collaborator. Her “Waltz” / “La Valse” is a piece Percy (and I) want on our mantel.

Heidenkind:  If you were going to rewrite a "zombified" version of a classic novel, which one would it be?

LRH:  The Castle of Otronto (regarded as one of the first Gothic novels). Also I suppose a Les Miserables de Zombie might have its intrigue. *shudder*

Thank you so much for the great interview, Leanna!  And congratulations on turning Strangely Beautiful into a musical!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

hex hall cover

Side note:  I know I should have reviewed this book before I posted Colette's and my discussion about it, but I was tired. So there you have it.

Hex Hall is a fun, funny YA novel about witches with all the tropes of a high school movie--including the popular hot guy, the bitchy popular girls, a big dance (LOVE big dances, by the way!), and untrustworthy adults.

Sophie has never fit in at school, mainly because she's a witch.  When an attempted spell goes awry, The Council--an organization dedicated to regulating supernaturals--decides to send Sophie to Hecate, or Hex, Hall, which is basically a reform school for witches, fairies, shifters, etc., who abuse their powers.  This is the first time Sophie has socialized with people like her, and she quickly realizes she has a lot to learn--especially about her own heritage.

The novel is a very quick read, full of laugh-out-loud moments and one-liners.  It's not exactly original, but it rehashes familiar tropes in a pleasantly comfortable way.  Although I didn't fall in love with this novel, I do think it has potential as the start of a series.  Most of the plot lines in the book didn't feel fleshed out or weren't explored in-depth; as a result, the book felt a little draggy even if it was short.  However, I'm definitely looking forward to learning more about the characters and the other supernaturals in the next books.

The main reason why I picked this book up is because Pam from told everyone on twitter that they HAD to buy it.  While I don't think it's a run-out-right-now-and-get-it book, it's worth checking out if you want a light read that will make you laugh and give you a little magic and romance.

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3 Favorite Settings

book list button

My blogging buddy, Rebecca from Lost In Books, has a meme called The Book List, which I have been very remiss in participating in.  But this week she has a question that I actually kind of know the answer to!  Rebecca wants to know what are my three favorite eras to read about.  Except I changed it to settings because I fail at memes.  Anyway, here are my favorite eras/settings:

Venice, 18th Century--Love books set in Venice!  And what better era to read about this ultimate Baroque city but the Baroque, when Casanova roamed the streets and people went to parties in Venetian masks?

19th Century, Anywhere--As I've mentioned before, I'm a total 19th-century geek.  So 19th-century anything is pretty much up my alley.

New Orleans, Modern-day--New Orleans is another city that I love reading about.  Personally, I think it's even more fascinating now than it was in the past.

So those are my favorite settings and eras!  What are yours?

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Hex Hall Discussion

rra button

Since Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads and I were both planning on reading Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, we decided to discuss it for our book club, Romance Readers Anonymous.  Here is part one; to read part two, go to Colette's blog!

Time:  Very late Thursday night.
Place:  Google Wave.


Hex Hall--Most brilliant YA book ever or... not?


I'd say not the most brilliant YA book ever-it reminded me a little of HP for some reason. Not sure why, but I think this has a beginning of a great series. I think this will be a word of mouth kind of series.

Do you think this book was a little over the top on the cheesy line factor? My favorite was the witches of clinique. 


There were a lot of good one-liners. My fave was when she said she always wanted to know what it was like to live in a mouth.

I agree--this book was just okay, but I can see it developing really well. It reminded me of a younger version of the Chicagoland Vampires Series, actually.

So let's start with the important questions--what do you think of Archer?


I liked him, but had a hard time with believing in the romance between the two, I thought that the story could have almost done without him, except for the twist at the end. I just didn't want to believe it.

I thought the same thing with Elodie-I was sure it had to be a love spell, but it wasn't really ever explained. I think if I were in the age group this book was meant for I would have loved that love triangle.


You didn't want to believe the twists or that they were in lurv?

I had a hard time believing that Archer and Sophie were so hot for each other, too, but not as difficult a time as I had believing him and Elodie together. I just assumed he was under a love spell or something.

What about Cam? I think he has potential.


Was he the groundskeeper? Def potential.

The problem with reading with this during the Readathon was that I read it a little too fast.


Yup, Cam was the groundskeeper. I think he's Sophie's betrothed.


I got that feeling as well with him. I liked him much better than Archer. I wanted to see more of him :)


Too fast? Is there such a thing? I felt like it dragged even though it was a quick read. There still wasn't enough to justify the length, and it felt kind of predictable even though I didn't see some things coming.


It did drag a little, maybe because it was predictable. There were a few surprises, but for the most part you knew what was going to happen way before the end of the book. I think the main problem I had with it was while it was cute, it was too similar to other books in the genre.


I definitely agree. Another thing I didn't like is that Sophie is supposed to be all smart, but she doesn't figure anything out and makes a lot of dumb moves. That's probably what bothered me the most and made it drag for me.

I don't know, I like Archer--especially now that he's a baddie. :) But Cam seemed super-sweet and I'd like to see more of him, too.


Another thing that bothered me was that she is a pretty strong character, (which I think is good for YA readers) and that's why the whole thing with Archer bothered me. Why did she care so much if he liked her? But then that is the adult in me speaking.


Silly adult! ;) She cared because she liked him!


One of the things that I loved about the book was that there weren't just witches at Hex Hall-it'll be interesting to see how some of the shifters and other supernatural beings factor into the next two books. (if they do)

Who were your favorite characters?


I expected the other supernatural creatures to play a much bigger role than they did in the book, to be honest. The shifters don't seem entirely trustworthy.

Hmm, probably Archer and Mrs. Casnoff.

To see how this conversation degenerates into near incomprehensibility due to lack of sleep, and why we end up talking about how much we love The Librarian, read part two at A Buckeye Girl Reads!

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

3:10 To Yuma

Proposed alternate title: Everybody Loves Wade

movie poster

As usual with movies (among other things), I'm late to the party.  3:10 To Yuma came out, like, YEARS ago, and I only saw it last night on TV.  But I enjoyed it so much I just had to write a review of it.

I typically don't read and watch the same types of things.  For example, I only very rarely read Westerns; but I do really enjoy watching them.  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Thunderheart are two of my most favorite movies; and 3:10 To Yuma is definitely right up there with them. 

In my opinion, for a Western to be great, it has to have three things: at least one completely awesome character, landscape, and mythology.  3:10 To Yuma combines all three in a way that feels original, yet satisfies all the requirements of the genre.

Russell Crowe is Ben Wade, an outlaw who robs trains with his gang.  When he's run down by the Pinkerton detective agency and the Southern-Pacific, circumstances conspire to have struggling rancher Dan Evans (played by Christian Bale, who looks way too good, even if he is scruffed up) accompanying the party escorting Wade to trial in Yuma.

charlie prince Ben Foster as Charlie Prince

Everything in the movie centers around Wade, even though he doesn't do much other than observe and talk during the course of the movie (oh, and he kills a bunch of people).  Crowe is incredibly charismatic, and you definitely understand the obsession both his friends and enemies seem to hold for him.  Speaking of--Wade's second in command, Charlie Prince, is FREAKING AWESOME!!!  Not only is his jacket gorgeous, but he is insane.  When he's on screen, you can't take your eyes off him.  He is intelligent and fiercely loyal to Wade, which is something I couldn't help but admire.

The movie definitely has a mythic quality to the story.  For most of it I kept trying to figure out what Wade represented--is he nature, an unstoppable force that every man has to negotiate with?  Or the Devil, tempting the party escorting him to the train to give in to the worst of themselves, and claiming their souls when they do?  His gang definitely has the mindless tenacity of the Hounds of Hell.  For a while I was convinced he was Death, but that is obviously the train to Yuma--and the majority of the people in this movie get on it.

As for the landscape, I'm of two minds with it.  On one hand, nearly every single scene in the film looks like it takes place either in or on the edge of a national park.  Seriously!  That is one of my big pet peeves.  But the cinematography is so beautiful I found it difficult to be too annoyed by it.  The final scene where the train pulls away, and sunlight spills like melted butter over Dan Evans and his son, is classic cinematography, and an absolutely unforgettable shot. 

dan evans with gun

Basically, I really, really liked this movie.  It's not just a typical Western--it's a character study with eye candy (and I'm not just talking about Christian Bale, although I did spend a good portion of the movie completely distracted by the fact that he looks yummy and gross at the same time).  The climax of the film is a totally ridiculous shoot-out that's incredibly enjoyable to watch, and it ends on a mythic note.  Definitely a movie I would recommend!

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Musical Notes: Nana and The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

You may have noticed last week that there was no edition of Musical Notes, due to the Readathon.  This actually worked out pretty well, since I haven't been in much of a listening mood and don't have any songs relating to books from this week.  But here they are from week the last:


What could be more perfect for Nana than one of the creepiest sexy songs ever?

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

This song kept running through my head because if there's one thing the Alcott women could use, it's a vacation:

And with Abba mentioning being a beast of burden, how could not think of this song?  This video with Bette Midler and Mick Jagger is TOO FUNNY:

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart Cover

This is a charming, if not groundbreaking, chick-lit novel that uses Pride & Prejudice as its inspiration.  It's more creative than your average Austen adaptation, and overall a very enjoyable read; but I found the ending annoying.

Claire, a member of the recently unemployed, travels to Oxford for a Jane Austen conference in her pregnant sister's stead.  One would expect an Austen conference to be packed, but this one is very small; and Claire is immediately impressed by the handsome visage and rude manners of James Beaufort, who is clearly the Mr. Darcy in this scenario.  Despite the fact that Claire has a boyfriend--although it's nothing serious, as she assures another conference attendee--she and James start dating.

Claire also starts making friends, including the dotty Harriet, who claims to have Austen's undiscovered original draft of First Impressions tucked away in her cottage.  As Claire reads the manuscript and becomes more involved with Harriet, she discovers secret societies, liars and con-men, and that she has more in common with Austen than she thought she did.

This book, as I mentioned, is charming, mainly because it's simply so fantastical.  It feels a little old-fashioned, like one of those Mary Stewart novels where the unsuspecting heroine gets into lots of trouble, but that only added to my enjoyment of it.  The questions in the story are what keep me reading:  What will Claire discover in the First Impressions manuscript?  What is James up to?  Will she return to her boyfriend, Neil?

Unfortunately, the answers to those questions weren't satisfying at all for me, and I hated the ending.  I would have preferred it if Claire had struck out on her own instead of returning to Kansas City with one of the two men who were vying for her heart.  Neither of them were winners--James was a cad, and Neil's only attractions as far as I could tell were muscly arms and his willingness to tile a bathroom.  I mean, really!  Let's have some standards here, Claire.  Furthermore, I felt like the author was deliberately manipulating that situation to defy the readers' expectations (read: wants), which is something that has always annoyed me.

So although the majority of the book was very good, the conclusion really brought it down for me and settled it at just an okay.  I would still recommend it, though.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Isis by Douglas Clegg

isis cover

Iris Villiers lives in gloomy Belerion Hall with her mother, crazy grandfather, and twin brothers.  The house is surrounded by legends, standing stones, and ancient tombs that the family still uses to bury their dead.  Growing up and listening to all the old legends, Iris comes to believe in the Cornwall superstitions, much to her brother's consternation.

Then tragedy strikes the family, and Iris becomes unhinged, using the old legends to commit a horrifying act.

This is a very short book, but it packs quite a punch.  It's seriously spooky in that deliciously Victorian, subtle manner, and ended in a way that I did not expect and found deeply disturbing.  It reminded a lot of The Mummy by Anne Rice (click here for my review), both atmospherically and story-wise.

Plus the book is absolutely gorgeously illustrated by Glenn Chadbourne--the reproduction of the cover here really does not do justice to the detail of the illustrations.

This book is a little too short to be a thoroughly engrossing read, but it is a quick bite of spooky narrative that is well-worth picking it up, especially if you're a fan of the Edwardians.

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A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

a conspiracy of kings cover

This is the fourth installment in Megan Whalen Turner's series that focuses on the fortunes of Eddis, Attolia, and Sounis--three countries that exist in an alternate-universe version of Ancient Greece and the Near-East.  The Queen of Attolia, the second book in the series, is one of my favorite books, evar, and A Conspiracy of Kings is another great installment (although not really as good as Queen).

Eugenides is the major character in all the books (he's taking over the world--seriously), but this book is told from the perspective of Sophos, the recent King of Sounis.  You might remember Sophos from The Thief (if you don't, don't worry--I don't remember him from that book, either).  The majority of it is told from his point of view--how his family was betrayed by the Barons of Sounis, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery, and how he managed to escape and become king--not just in name but in actuality.

This is one of those "journey" books, and although I found it a little unbelievable someone as shy as retiring as Sophos would suddenly whip it out--so to speak--I loved how Sophos evolved, and the story was well-told.  I was involved in his story and invested in the outcome of his journey.  No, he's not as charismatic and clever as Eugenides; but he is intelligent and sensitive, and actually very courageous.  Overall, Sophos is a very worthy hero material.

What I didn't like so much was the political yammering.  If you think real life political alliances are boring, just imagine how much fun it is with imaginary ones.  There's also a romance subplot, if one can call it that, that's very much kept in the background.  I had absolutely no problem with it until the end, which was borderline nonsensical.  I'm also all tense and on tenterhooks now about what will happen in the next book.  Arrrgh!  The combination of incomplete and cliffhanger ending made me want to throw A Conspiracy of Kings against the wall--especially since I have a feeling Eugenide's and Sophos' conspiracy is only just beginning.

Overall, though, this book was pretty good.  I of course wish Eugenides had been the main character again, but I think Turner was right in designating this portion of the tale as Sophos' story.  And I don't want to wait three to five years for the next book to come out--but I will.  Seeing as I don't have much of a choice.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees

Proposed alternate title: She's Just Not That Into You

lost summer cover

Find this book at an independent bookseller near you (via IndieBound).

This is a wonderful, engrossing read that I gobbled up in two days.  It has the Americana charm of Water for Elephants, the romantic angst of a YA novel, characters that you'll fall in love with (or at least be invested in), and it's researched out the wazoo.  Basically a perfect bite of historical fiction, as far as I'm concerned.

It's the summer of 1855, and Louisa May Alcott is moving--unwillingly--to Walpole, New Hampshire, with her family.  Louisa has only one thing on her mind--getting to Boston and getting published--but circumstances collude to keep her in Walpole, where the temptingly muscled Joseph Singer keeps lifting heavy things and being all nice and charming.  Damn him!  Doesn't he know a girl has to focus?

So that's basically the plot.  But the book isn't really about that.  It's about the intellectual and artistic scene that the Alcotts were a part of, and the fringe elements of society that influence the mainstream, and how America is constantly torn between idealism and commerce.  Practically every major character in the book faces this question at some point, but the best example is of course the Alcott family itself--Bronson Alcott, the most compelling character in the novel, is pure idealism.  He would rather starve or be killed than compromise his ideals in any way.  This is quite admirable; but more troubling is his willingness to let his children suffer in service to his idealism, as well.

In many ways, Louisa is just like Bronson--she doesn't strive for idealism, but for publication, financial security, and independence.  Just like her father, however, she's completely unwilling to compromise in order to get those things, and I think causes a similar wake of human misery as a result of her actions.

Surprisingly, the one aspect of this book that didn't really work for me was the romance.  I'm passingly familiar with LMA's biography, so I knew how it would end--but even if I didn't, it's pretty clear from the start Louisa has zero interest in a long-term relationship.  As for what Joseph sees in her, I have no idea, and I remained unconvinced that they were in love (especially Louisa) through the whole book.  But then, knowing how their relationship would turn out, I might have also stopped myself from getting too invested in it.

As for McNees' writing, I think it's simply brilliant.  I was a little worried at first because I think she has a tendency toward TMI descriptions, but that was actually kept under control for most of the book.  Otherwise, she just sucked me right into the story and the world of 1850's New Hampshire, and I now officially love that world.  I cannot wait for her next book! 

If you have any love for historical fiction at all, I think you can't help but enjoy this novel.  I'm so glad I signed up for the reading series of TLSoLMA on Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? and want to thank Trish and Riverhead Books for providing me with a review copy for the read along.  Be sure to stop by Trish's blog on April 14th to read or participate in our group discussion--I'll be sharing more thoughts about the characters and the book then.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

eyes like stars cover

Find this book at an independent bookseller near you (via IndieBound).

This book is a wonderful, creative story and an absolutely enthralling read.

Beatrice Shakespeare Smith lives in the Théâtre Illuminata, a magical theater powered by a mysterious book that contains every play ever written (but no Death of a Salesman, as far as I could tell), and every character ever penned for the stage.  But Bertie isn't a player--she's a human girl who was abandoned by her parents for reasons unknown and allowed to grow up in the Théâtre.  Now that Bertie's a teenager, the Theater Manager has decided what most people conclude in regard to teenagers--that she's more trouble than she's worth.  He threatens to throw her out into the dreaded Real World, but Bertie convinces him to give her one chance to prove she's invaluable to the Théâtre and claim a permanent place inside it.

You know that feeling when you get completely sucked into the world of a novel?  For me that happened around page two.  I fell in love with the magic of the Théâtre and could completely picture everything in my mind.  It's not that it's realistic--it's better than realistic.  It's like a painting come to life and layered with story, and it feels at once totally familiar and charming and original. 

The characters are also fantastic.  Bertie's sweet but admirably tough, and I loved the four fairies who were her besties.  Then there's the various love interests--Ariel, who Bertie is constantly warned is dangerous (no explanation given as to why), and with whom she has a history; and Nate, a pirate from The Little Mermaid with only one line.  His piratespeak is a little jarring, but he's very sweet and actually not that piratical.  I'm not sure which team I'm rooting for with these two yet--Ariel is definitely the most intriguing of the pair, but I don't feel like his and Bertie's relationship is really equal at this point.

But despite all these good points, what really keeps you reading are the questions--what is Ariel up to?  Will Bertie find a way to stay in the Théâtre?  Will she find out who her parents are?  The answers to the questions are just as satisfying as the characters and setting.

I'm so glad Pam from convinced me to read this book--to be honest, I didn't think it was a book for me.  I know nothing about the theater, and I'm hardly the type of person to quote Shakespeare.  But, I was totally wrong--the book is very theater-heavy, and I did have to look a up few unfamiliar terms, but I like learning things while I'm reading.  And the novel was just so good, it didn't matter--the story's enjoyable whether you're up on your soliloquies and monologues or not. 

Seriously, you NEED to go out and read this book.  It's a great fantasy and so much fun.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Readathon: Denoumet


I completed the Readathon!  Here is the end of event meme:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?  Probably around the twenty hour mark when things started quieting down.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?  Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart was a great book for the Readathon--I should have started with that one instead of The Pendragon Legend.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Maybe space the prizes out more so the people who win something later in the Readathon feel like have as good as a selection as the people who win early on?
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?  The Twitter end of things was probably the best part.
  5. How many books did you read? Five
  6. What were the names of the books you read? A Conspiracy of Kings, The Pendragon Legend, Isis, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (audiobook), Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?  Mr. Darcy
  8. Which did you enjoy least? The Pendragon Legend.  Not a bad book, but a terrible choice for the Readathon.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?  I would love to participate in the next Readathon, although I'm thinking I might be a Cheerleader next time.

Next Readathon I think I'm going to get up early to start with everyone else.  I had the same thought during the last Readathon, but I just couldn't do it this time around--to tired!  But maybe the planets will align next time.

Overall, I had fun with the Readathon, but I felt seriously out of sorts during it for some reason.  I also didn't get very much read, in all honesty--I'm not sure I read significantly more than I do on an average day!  This is kind of why I've decided to focus on Cheerleading next time.  I've also been thinking of hosting a mini-challenge, if I don't forget what my idea is.

Overall it was a great 24 hours.  Thank you to everyone for reading with me and cheering me on!

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