Wednesday, November 30, 2005

November Reads

Because I only started blogging half way through this month, I thought I would publish my list of reads for November. Shouldn't need to do this in future though!!

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters 4.5/5
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis 4.5/5
One Little Sin by Liz Carlyle 3.5/5
To Ruin a Queen by Fiona Buckley 3.5/5
The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith 3.5/5
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant 5/5
The Husband Test by Betina Krahn 3/5
Sugar Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke 2.5/5
Prince Caspian by CS Lewis 3.5/5
Dreamland by Kevin Baker 3.5/5
The Dragon and the Jewel by Virginia Henley 3/5
Bread and Chocolate by Philippa Gregory 4/5
Bubbles Unbound by Sarah Strohmeyer 4/5
Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes 4.5/5
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis 4/5

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Edmund and Lucy return to Narnia, this time accompanied by their annoying cousin Eustace. They are drawn into the Narnian world through a painting of a boat on the wall of the bedroom where they are staying with Eustace's parents because their own parents have gone off to America with Susan.

Once they are rescued from the water, they find that on the boat is none other than Prince Caspian who is going off to find out what happened to seven Lords who went off on an adventure many years ago and never returned.

Along the way, Caspian and the children discover new and magical lands. Eustace is turned into a dragon, they find a magical stream where everything that touches the water turns to gold, and several other exciting lands.

This was a very exciting adventure, and I look forward to continuing my journey into Narnia in the next book.

Rating 4/5

You can see my previous posts in relation to the Chronicles of Narnia here.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes

This is the third Marian Keyes book I have read this year and I think it is my favourite. For the record the others were Sushi for Beginners and The Other Side of the Story.

Three thirtyish friends who grew up in rural Ireland are now living in London. All seem to be successful and yet they aren't all happy. Tara is a computer programmer who lives with an emotionally stunted Yorkshireman, Katherine is an accountant in an advertising agency who doesn't seem to know how to be intimate with anyone. Fintan works in fashion and seems to be the only one who is happy. He has a job he loves and lives with his boyfriend Sandro.

The book opens when they are meeting up for a boozy lunch to celebrate Tara's 31st birthday, and then proceeds to follow their lives for an eventful year. Not long after the lunch Fintan finds out that he has cancer, and at one of his worst points he asks the girls to do things for themselves that will make them happy. For Tara, this means leaving her emotionally abusive boyfriend Thomas and for Katherine, who is called Ice Queen by her colleagues at work, this means letting down some barriers and allowing herself to get close to someone, to let a man into her life! For both of them though, they couldn't think of anything worse to be asked to do. Tara is terrified of being left alone, and Katherine is terrified of not being left alone!

Also threading through the story, are the exploits of Lorcan Larkin, fading actor who was famous in Ireland and set off to conquer the world, but then ended up being a has been in both the US and the UK..well, more precisely a never was! Lorcan's tale almost intersects with the girls at various points in the story. At first I didn't get why Lorcan's story was even there but all was revealed by the end of the book.

One of the things that I like about Marian Keyes books is that whilst they are laugh out loud funny, they do deal with serious issues, and deal with them well. She is also not afraid to not have a happy ending for all of her characters.

I am becoming a fan of Marian Keyes work, and will definitely be reading more from her in the future.

Rating 4.5/5

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

Puss Reboots

Friday, November 25, 2005

Audio Books

I really enjoy listening to audio books. I drive to work for just over an hour each way each day and so listening to books while I am driving makes the time go much faster.

There are only a couple of drawbacks to listening to a book. The worst part is if you are really getting into a book, you can't flick to the back to see how it ends up...and sometimes you just really want to know.

Another drawback is if the book is abridged...really don't like abridged books. It's like having a sandwich without any filling!! I listened to A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley earlier this year and there was nothing at all to indicate that it was an abridgement anywhere on the box or the tapes. As I was listening to it, I kept on thinking that the story seemed really choppy but didn't really think much more of it. I finally got to the end of the tapes and then they mentioned that it was an abridged version. Whilst I enjoyed what I heard I suspect that I missed out on the whole experience and I will therefore probably have to read the book eventually anyway!

The narrator also makes a huge difference to the enjoyment experience. The narrator on Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant and a couple of other books have been really, really excellent but there are others that really didn't do anything for me!!

The weird thing about listening to books is that I can do it in the car...but I really struggle when I try to listen to them at any other time. At the moment I am trying to listen to The Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes because I REALLY want to know what is going to happen and yet I can't really concentrate on it as I cruise the net, and yet if I was driving there would be no issue whatsoever. Weird!!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Bubbles Unbound by Sarah Strohmeyer

Take one less than successful hairdresser who has been trying for years to find another career until she decided that journalism was the way to go, add a bit of murder, a bit a mayhem, some crazy supporting characters, a sexy man and what have you got....Bubbles Yablonsky in Bubbles Unbound!

You could have been forgiven for thinking that I may have been talking about Stephanie Plum. It would have been understandable, especially seeing as the character of Bubbles was apparently thought up at Janet Evanovich's kitchen table and on the front cover of the version I had from the library was a blurb "in the fabulous tradition of Janet Evanovich". However, having now finished this book, I would say that Bubbles is a strong enough character to stand up on her own and hold her head high.

Bubbles has had quite an exciting day...she has just helped talk a former teacher out of jumping of the top of a bridge and is on her way to bail her mother out after she has been arrested for walking too far away from a shop wearing a $3000 dress. Accompanied by gorgeous hunk cameraman Steve Stilletto, they are taking a short cut across the park when they come across a body. Not far away, one of the most influential women in Lehigh is sitting in the drivers seat of a Range Rover. What is the woman's connection to the body, and what is her connection to a 10 year old murder that was called a suicide by the town police? Bubbles faces all sorts of danger as she tries to uncover the facts surrounding one of the most influential families in town, making enemies of them along the way.

Some of the other colourful characters include Bubbles daughter Jane who changes her hair colour every day, her ex husband Dan...I mean Chip, her mother LuLu and her friend Genevieve who team up to provide Bubbles with security, her offsider Doris and lots of others.

There are also several little beauty tips that Bubbles shares with us along the way!

There are currently four more books in this series and I will definitely be reading through them in due course!

Rating 4/5

Monday, November 21, 2005

Bread and Chocolate by Philippa Gregory

I have previously read and enjoyed several books by Philippa Gregory, so when I saw this collection of short stories at the library on audio book, I just had to pick it up and listen to it.

The collection of stories were varied, with only one historical setting. Some were whimsical, some heart rending, some surprising. All in all a good mix!!

The short stories were:

Bread and Chocolate - a brother from a monastery is discovered by the producers of a TV food show. He is brought on to make bread, and one of his co presenters is a wildly sensuous TV cook who makes a wicked chocolate cake.

Coo-ee - A guest lecturer on a cruise through the Aegean meets a larger than life Yorkshire lady who leaves quite an impression.

The Favour - The only one of the short stories set in historical times, a young girl rejects her suitor on the day of a jousting tournament, and then has to deal with the consequences when he is fatally injured.

Theories about Men - Having been the perfect wife for many years, Stephanie finds that her husband has been having an affair and gets to put her theories about men to the test. You can read this story on Philippa Gregory's website Click here

Lady Emily's Swim - What goes through the mind of spritely Lady Emily as she completes her regular 20 lap swim. You might be surprised!! I was!

The If Game - A married newsreader plays the if game with a colleague - If you were my mistress, we would be incredibly happy, if I got a job in London we could live together during the week. Problem is, he can't seem to stop playing the If game.

The Conjuring Trick

The Wave Machine - One of the highlights for me. A young girl is sent to stay with her artist uncle for the summer. They spend most of the summer looking for the Wave Machine that powers the ocean waves.

The Magic Box - A pregnant photographer whose husband has previously been unfaithful has given up much of her former life. Then, she comes to own a very special old camera, housed in a beautiful box.

The Garden - A repressed housewife gets revenge over her overly controlling husband.

The Last Swan - A young girl joins a sychronised swimming team and goes off to the national championships.

The Bimbo - A bimbo comes to work in a London office...but could she be smarter than she looks.

The Playmate - A plain young woman, who has always been overshadowed by her glamorous mother is reunited with the one person she has always valued for loving her for herself.

Going Down River - a scientist has spent nearly a year with a formerly undocumented tribe. As he nears the time to return home he shares his thoughts in a diary form for us.

The Other Woman - A wronged wife takes step to find out about the other woman, and ends up getting closer than she intended.

The Visitor - A yuppy couple who live in a minimalistic apartment in London recieve an unexpected visitor for the holiday season, who causes mayhem in their lives.

Catching the Bus - A young girl's mother has been saving for years to send one of her children to the local comprehensive school to give them a chance to get a better life.

Overall this was a really enjoyable read, and it was great to read stories from Philippa Gregory that weren't so focussed on the past - particularly on Tudor times!

Rating 4/5

The Dragon and The Jewel by Virginia Henley

This book is a romance novelist's take on the love story between Simon de Montford, Earl of Leicester, and Eleanor Plantagenet, beloved sister of Henry II. These are the same characters from Sharon Penman's Falls the Shadow which I read and loved last year. (Falls the Shadow is the second book in the Welsh Trilogy that starts with Here Be Dragons and concludes with The Reckoning).

The main reason why I wanted to read this book is to see how the two different types of authors treated the same story. Bearing in mind that I read the Penman last year and may have forgotten some of the details, I have to say that the two authors agreed on most of the historical facts, but in Henley's book, I'm surprised that there was any time to go off to war with all the frolicking and debauchery that was going on between the knights and the maidens, and Simon and Eleanor.

Eleanor was married off at a very young age (i.e 9 years old) to one of the most influential men in England (William Marshall). Before she was 17 years old she was a widow, and she had made a vow of celibacy and was considering becoming a nun. Then she meets the handsome, virile Simon de Montford and things change!! Before too long, Eleanor and Simon were married in secret and the first of their children arrived. Simon then fell out of favour with the King and was exiled to Europe, and Eleanor accompanied him. Then, he was back in favour with King Henry, returning to England in triumph after having been involved in crusade type trips to The Holy Land. Henry's court was however not a terribly happy place to be, with lots of favouritism being shown to the Queen's family, and lots of disgruntled English nobles agitating for reform and control over the King's spending habits. Simon finds himself as one of the leaders of the opposition about to go off into battle against the King (his brother in law)...and this is where The Dragon and The Jewel finishes.

It is a shame that this is where The Dragon and The Jewel leaves off, because a lot of what happened after the Battle of Lewes was extremely interesting. Simon effectively became ruler of England for a couple of years, until eventually Henry's son Edward wrested control back. In the meantime, Simon set in place several reforms which could be seen to have links with out modern systems of Parliament.

In both accounts, Simon is portrayed as being extremely chivalrous, honest, fair, respected and loved - a man of great integrity. Simon and Eleanor are depicted as having a passionate and lifelong love for each other, and story is considered as one of the most romantic stories of their time.

As an aside, I had heard a lot of things about how hot Virginia Henley's books were but a lot of the sexy scenes didn't really do a lot for me.

Overall, I preferred Sharon Penman's book for both the historical story and the relationship developments, but Virginia Henley's book was a fun read of a story that I was already familiar with. There were also some things described in Henley's book that I am not sure could ever have happened. Might be time for a reread of Penman's book to refresh myself!

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Dreamland by Kevin Baker

Set in a time of great social change, New York around 1910, this book should have been fantastic. The setting was interesting, the time was interesting, the characters were varied, and the book was, well to be blunt...hard work. If I hadn't been reading this with a group I would have put this book down with every intention of picking it up again, but then never quite getting around to it!!

It's not that I didn't like this book. I really love it when a book drags you in so far that real life is a distraction, and there were several times with this story that I felt as though that was just about to happen, but then the author would reintroduce a previous character and change the storyline to one of the many subplots, and I would be left waiting for that moment to come.

The main settings for this book were in the amusement parks of Coney Island, a collection of rides, freak shows, animal shows that we wouldn't even think of putting on today. As an example, one of the "shows" was an everchanging display of premature babies in their humidicribs, put on display as they fought for their very life. The other main setting was the tenements of New York where the mobsters and gangs ran everything, including the politicians.

Among the main characters are Esther, a machinist in the factories who is slowly getting immersed in the union, fighting for reasonable working conditions, Gyp the Blood, a man who breaks the backs of others for $2 bets, Kid Twist who starts off the book as one of Gyp's henchmen, along the way getting on his bad side, and therefore having to hide out in Coney Island with Trick the Dwarf after having saved Trick from being one of Gyp's victims. When we first meet Trick he is living in the Elephant Hotel, based on a real hotel that was built in the shape of an elephant in Coney Island. During the course of the book Trick has become a self styled mayor of a built to scale town for dwarfs, living there with his queen, Mad Carlotta. Tim Sullivan who is a Tammany Hall politicians with plenty of demons of his own. We even have a subplot featuring the famous psychiatrists Jung and Freud, although I am still not entirely sure why they needed to be there (just another subplot by chance?).

The major plots revolve around the strikes of the early 1900's that eventually gave the people in the textile industries of New York the right to work only 56 hours a week, the major fire that occurred at the Triangle Shirtwaist company, killing 156 women, children and men in less than an hour, the murder Beanie Rosenthal and the following police corruption enquiries, along with the fire that destroyed Dreamland. All of these events really happened, although the author has taken some literary licence with the dates that these events occurred.

All in all, I was left unsatisfied, and feeling as though I had worked so hard to get through this book that I needed to go and have a rest afterward! Now, off to read something a little lighter!

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Reading series

As mentioned previously in my Chronicles of Narnia post, I tend to be a bit pedantic about reading series in order. That's why it is incredibly frustrating for me when I find my libraries have bits and pieces of series! I am a member of three libraries and I still have troubles getting books!

For example, not too long ago I read Something's Cooking by Joanne Pence, the first book in her Angie Amalfi series. The book wasn't a bad read so I thought that I would follow through on reading the series. Umm...maybe not. The library had the first book in the series and then all the others except the second, fifth and tenth books, and neither of the other two libraries any of the books in the series at all! So far I haven't gone onto read more of this series because I just can't without reading book number two, and I am not all that keen on ordering it in from the US!

Example number two - I really enjoy the Ursula Blanchard mysteries by Fiona Buckley. The same library as above had books 2,5, 6, 7 and 8. Another library has books 2 and 8, and the other has 1, 2, 3,5 and 6. No one has book 4. I ended up ordering that in from America, and then donating it once I read it to the first library! They better darn well keep it is all that I can say!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I can't watch...

But then again I can't not watch either!!

Australia is playing Uruguay tonight for a place in next year's World Cup. It is 1 all in the tie, second period of extra time, looking like it is going to penalties. If we win it will be only the second time we have made the World Cup, with the first time being in 1974.

Too hard to watch!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I did a link!!!!

And it works!!!!!


Edit: Suppose I should say where. In the sidebar, links to some of my favourite places to hang out on the net.

When the waiting is too much

So far this year there have been four or five books that I have been waiting for with so much anticipation that I have been pestering people at every single bookstore I walk past to see if they had the book yet. I think though that I got myself worked up into such a state that my eagerness has meant that when I actually read the book, I couldn't help but be disappointed.

The first of those was Jasper Fforde's The Big Over Easy. I had so loved the Thursday Next stories, and was so excited when this was due to be out. I made the person in the bookstore go and get it from out the back before it had even been shelved, but then when I read it a couple of weeks later, it was good, but it wasn't great.

Next up...A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon. Oh, the anticipation, the longing, the outright excitement - a new Jamie and Claire book. I bought it the first day I saw it, at full price, even though if I could have waited a couple of more days I would have saved around $12. I have struggled through the first hundred pages and haven't picked it up in weeks. When I read the original Outlander books I devoured them, taking me only a couple of days to finish each one. I have just got the CD's of ABOSAA, so I will listen to them on the commute to and from work..once I have finished the ones I got from the library that is!

Example number 3 - The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons. Another case of me nagging every single bookshop employee about when was this book going to be in the shops. I bought it two weeks ago, lovingly put it in pride of place on the bookshelf......and haven't picked it up since. I know I will love it when I do get to it, but I don't know when that is going to be. I need to finish Dreamland first, then read My Enemy the Queen because I can't extend it from the library again, read more Chronicles of Narnia for the BNU course I am doing, and then maybe, just maybe I will have time. Then again, I am meant to be rereading the first book in this trilogy, The Bronze Horseman again in December or January...maybe I should wait until after that?

The next book I am eagerly waiting for is The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory. Should be out here in Australia in early December. I am just hoping that I won't hyperventilate with excitement when that one comes out as well, and then put myself off of it!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Chronicles of Narnia

Not too long ago I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, and today I finished reading Prince Caspian. What great stories!

LWW will, I guess, always be the most popular of these books but I really quite enjoyed Prince Caspian as well, and will be reading the next book in the series soon. I have also started rereading LWW with my son, and we will definitely be going to see the movie when it comes out here. Everything I have seen from the movie looks absolutely fantastic.

My one problem with the whole Chronicles of Narnia thing is the reading order question. There are some that believe that the books that should be read in chronological order of the events as they happen in Narnia - with the order therefore being:
  • The Magician's Nephew
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • The Horse and His Boy
  • Prince Caspian
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • The Silver Chair
  • The Last Battle

Others believe that the reading order should be the order the books were written in:

  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Prince Caspian
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • The Silver Chair
  • The Horse and His Boy
  • The Magician's Nephew
  • The Last Battle

There are plenty of people in both camps, but the problem for me is...I just want to know which way is RIGHT! Reading a series out of order just about drives me crazy (call me pedantic if you like) but when there is no right order...Argh!!!! At least everyone agrees on what the last book in the series should be!!

As for me, I am going with published order, simply because that's the way it was written.

Rating for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 4.5/5

Rating for Prince Caspian 3.5/5

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Hannah Swensen Mysteries by Joanne Fluke

I just finished reading Sugar Cookie Murder which is the sixth book in the Hannah Swensen mysteries. The books in the series are Chocolate Cookie Murder, Strawberry Shortcake Murder, Blueberry Muffin Murder, Lemon Meringue Pie Murder, Fudge Cupcake Murder and then Sugar Cookie Murder. The latest book in the series is Peach Cobbler Murder which I hope to get to soon.

Sugar Cookie Murder is the first time that I have been disappointed by one of these books. I knew going into it that really it was a holiday novella, padded out with about 50 recipes, but I still expected that the mystery itself would be tight. It wasn't, and a lot of the time it felt to me that the author was just trying to get the names of all the recipes that were included in the back of the book mentioned in the story.

I will go and get Peach Cobbler Murder from the library, and will no doubt enjoy it as I have enjoyed all the others. One thing though...I really hope that the author does something to resolve the boyfriend situation for Hannah. There are solid, dependable Norman the dentist and sexy policeman Mike. It feels to me as though Hannah has been dithering about which of them to choose for over a year now...too long. Choose one and get on with it!! Just my opinion of course!

Rating 2.5/5

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

I just finished listening to this on audio book yesterday and I have to say that it is one of the best books I have read (or should I say listened to) this year!!

The Red Tent is the story of Jacob's daughter Dinah. She is mentioned in Genesis in the Bible and in Chapter 34 we are told the story of what happened to her. What Anita Diamant has done is filled in the outlines as provided in the Old Testament, telling stories of what it was like growing up as the only daughter of Jacob, of her life with her mothers, what it was like to practice as a midwife in those times. In the Bible, once we here of the events as they occurred at Shechem we hear no more, and here Diamant takes Dinah on an adventure that leads Dinah to live in Egypt.

The story as written by Diamant is touching, and surprising, and gives plenty of thought provoking suggestions of how life was lived in ancient times. The use of the household gods throughout the story surprised me a lot, but I can see how Diamant builds on what we have been told in the Bible and taken her story to this point from those references. I was so interested in this story I did find myself referring back to the Old Testament to try and work out which parts of the story were directly from there, and which parts were enhancements.

Rating 5/5

Edit: My full review can be found
  • here

  • Other Blogger's Thoughts:


    Books by the Bed

    I don't know about everyone else but I always have books everywhere that I have either started to read, or really want to read.

    In answer to someone else I was surprised to find that there are numerous books by the side of the bed that I intend to read next. The fact that there are about seven of them may prove somewhat difficult to achieve this task!! That also doesn't count the books in piles in other places around the house!!

    The books I currently have by the side of the bed are Sugar Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke, Prince Caspian by CS Lewis, Mr Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll, A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon, My Enemy the Queen by Victoria Holt, Dreamland by Kevin Baker and Lady of the Knight by Jackie Ivie.

    Maybe I should just get on and read instead of messing around on here!!

    First post!!

    Just starting out on this blogging thing! My aim is that I will record some thoughts about the books that I am reading, or have recently read, really for my own benefit as much as anything else. I previously wrote a little bit down in a notepad, but I am going to try this for a while instead. This is after all the age of technological advances!!