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My reactions, reflections and deep thoughts on my readings
 I have decided to move my book journal to Blogger.  I will keep this one here, of course, as I don't want to lose my previous posts.  But all new posts will be posted to my blog at:


Thank you all for reading this here, and I hope you will continue to do so over at Blogspot :-)
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So it seems that everyone and their mom in book blogdom is taking part in some sort of challenge for 2007.  I felt left out- mostly because these challenges all seem to be centering around blogspot blogs, as opposed to over here on livejournal.  But I decided to take part in one, anyway :-)  The 2007 TBR Challenge.  I am attempting to post the picture here, but I don't know if it will work:

The 2007 TBR Challenge

Ah, I did it!  Anyway, the challenge is to choose 12 books that have been gathering dust on your to-be-read pile and read them in 2007.  That averages out to one a month, which shouldn't be too overwhelming, right?  Right.

The problem for me being, of course, that I am super-moody in my reading, so of course if I list books out so long ahead of time, my mind will rebel against me and decide not to be interested in any of the twelve books I've given myself to read next year.  So I also gave myself four back-up options.  But really, these are ALL books I need to scratch off the TBR list, so it will be good if I succeed here!

My booklist is:

1.  Passion, by Jude Morgan
2. Path Between the Seas, by David McCullough
3. The White Mare, by Jules Watson
4. In a Dark Wood Wandering, by Hella Hesse
5. All Things are Lights, by Robert Shea
6. White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in 18th Century India, by William Dalrymple
7. Ursula, Under, by Ingrid Hill
8. A to-be-determined mystery by Georgette Heyer
9. The Skystone, by Jack Whyte
10. To Dance With Kings, by Rosalind Laker
11. Bridge of Birds, by Barry Hughart
12. Firebrand, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Back-up Possibilities:

Shadows and Strongholds, by Elizabeth Chadwick
Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III, by Flora Fraser
Hawk of May, by Gillian Bradshaw
The Devil in Music, by Kate Ross

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Title:  Gardens of the Moon
Author:  Steven Erikson
Publisher:  Tor Books
# of Pages:  489

Book One of the Malazan Book of the Fallen

Amazon review available here.

Rating:  8/10

Favorite Line:  "Every god falls at a mortal's hands.  Such is the only end to immortality."

From Booklist
In the first of a projected 10 volumes of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, the Malazan Empire is up to its eyebrows in the intrigues of mage Anomander Rake and his sorcerous minions, the Tiste Andii. The empress Laseen pursues her grisly ambitions with the aid of the Ninja-like Claw assassins, but Erikson focuses on the grunt-level fighting of military engineers Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his Bridgeburners and the field-grade mage Tattersall, who are more than ready to go home, when the empress commands a battle in and around the Free City of Darujhistan. Erikson portrays this hurly-burly--something very like the Lord of the Rings' Battle of the Pellenor Fields--from the perspective of those who had to get out of the way of the charges and exchanges of spells and sometimes died anyway. It remains to be seen whether Erikson's excellent writing will carry through nine more volumes of this gritty, realistic fantasy in the manner of Glen Cook's Dark Company series. Wager on fantasy readers' robust appetites, however.

Well, if you like epic fantasy full of magic, war, violence, action and political intrigue, then Erikson is your guy.  I have heard a lot about this series on a fantasy board I frequent, and I decided to take the plunge and buy the first three books (of a projected 10) on bookcloseouts.com.

The first half of the book was slow-going.  I had absolutely no idea what was going on.  In fact, even in the second half, I had absolutely no idea what was going on.  You are dropped in the middle of the action in a massive war, surrounded by mages using some sort of "warren" of magic that you don't understand, and then you meet about 25 major characters.  It's thoroughly overwhelming and I really was ready to give up the book.

However, people say that the book gets better, and even if you don't like the first one completely, the series gets better and better as you continue.  So ... I perservered.  Around page 250, things began to click.  And then I read about 200 pages in one day, after taking well over a week to get to the half-way point of the book.  When this book picks up, it really picks up.  Finally, I realized what the plot of this PARTICULAR book was, rather than trying to figure out the plot of the entire series.  And I realized which the "important" characters were.  And I began to really care about what was going on.  So that when I finished Gardens of the Moon, I immediately picked up the second book in the series, Deadhouse Gates, and am currently reading that one.  (Yes, it's good, too.)

Comparative to George R. R. Martin?  I can see where that idea comes from.  Epic fantasy with massive political intrigue.  At any rate, I think people who enjoy GRRM would also really like Erikson, if they were to give him a try.  He's difficult at the start.  For me, GRRM wasn't difficult to get into at all.  Right from the start of A Game of Thrones, I was sucked in.  So Erikson perhaps requires more commitment and effort- but I think he's worth it.  And I think I now have another series to get sucked into and awed by.

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Title:  The Mayor of Casterbridge
Author:  Thomas Hardy
Publisher:  Many editions in print
# of Pages:  About 325

Rating:  7.5/10

Favorite Line:  "...don't let my sins, when you know them all, cause 'ee to quite forget that though I loved 'ee late I loved 'ee well."

Michael Henchard, in a drunken fit, sells his wife and daughter at an auction.  Years later, we see him again as a successful businessman and mayor of the town of Casterbridge- sober since the day he woke up to find his wife and child gone.  18 years after the sale, his wife and daughter find him, and then once again his life begins to crumble, even as a Scotsman, Mr. Farfrae, gets his turn in the spotlight of Casterbridge success.  Add in a newly-rich woman with whom Henchard had an affair, and you have a plot teeming with possibility.

This book was selected as a read for my British Classics group on Yahoo.  It's the first Hardy novel I have ever read, and it makes it clear why Hardy is now a classic.  The book has a bit more narrative (as opposed to dialogue) than I would have preferred, which slows down the reading pace somewhat.  But Hardy so perfectly describes rural England being made more cosmopolitan by means of the Industrial Revolution.  And his characters, while difficult to like, are easy to sympathize with.

The book is fairly short, and there is always something happening, so it is just as plot-driven as it is character-driven.  Coincidences abound- a bit too many for my liking- but that is Victorian literature.  The writing is deft, the author knows his setting and his themes well, and the plot is interesting.  This one is a classic for a reason.

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Title:  The Grail and the Ring
Author:  Teresa Edgerton
Publisher:  Ace Books
# of Pages:  About 450

Rating:  6.5/10

From Booklist
This sequel to
The Castle of the Silver Wheel has the vice of not being terribly intelligible if you don't know the first book; indeed, it practically demands a genealogical chart. Otherwise, it's a fine exploration of the situation that arises when a kingdom comes under a curse and an heir must be found to do penance for his father's sin--but nobody knows what the sin was or where the heir is! Gwenlliant and Tryffin, wed at the end of the first book, are now exploring the full range of their powers and becoming deeply involved in the search for the heir. A well-told tale that captures the Celtic faerie atmosphere in all its beauty and confusion.

This is the second book in the Chronicles of Celydonn trilogy.  It was a little bit harder for me to get into than the first book in the series was, though I can't really say why.  Again, the hero and heroine spend most of the book apart from each other.  Based on this, I don't find the romance between them as easy to understand as that between the hero and heroine in most of Edgerton's other novels.  The book has, as always, excellent world-building and plot development, and Edgerton really does (as stated above by Booklist) seem to have a great grasp on Celtic atmosphere.  The story had many faeries and fey characters, but I don't think the character development was particularly great.

And maybe that's why this trilogy doesn't hit me the way that Edgerton's other books do.  It is epic fantasy, so the characters perhaps can't be as fun as those in Goblin Moon or The Queen's Necklace.  But I thoroughly enjoyed Ceilyn and Teleri in the first Celydonn series, and they were in an epic fantasy setting as well.  Only those two clearly grew through the series, and one could see the influence of the one side on the other.  In this series, that isn't so apparent.

However, a Teresa Edgerton book is always a nice companion for an evening, and the book was interesting and plot-driven, though not so exciting as to make me want to jump up and get the last book in the series off the shelf.  Though this might also be because after that one, I'll have no more Edgerton books to read until her next book is published ...

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Title:  The Thirteenth Tale
Author:  Diane Setterfield
Publisher:  Atria
# of Pages:  416

Rating:  9/10

Amazon review available here.

Favorite Quote: 
"There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic."

From Publishers Weekly
Former academic Setterfield pays tribute in her debut to Brontë and du Maurier heroines: a plain girl gets wrapped up in a dark, haunted ruin of a house, which guards family secrets that are not hers and that she must discover at her peril. Margaret Lea, a London bookseller's daughter, has written an obscure biography that suggests deep understanding of siblings. She is contacted by renowned aging author Vida Winter, who finally wishes to tell her own, long-hidden, life story. Margaret travels to Yorkshire, where she interviews the dying writer, walks the remains of her estate at Angelfield and tries to verify the old woman's tale of a governess, a ghost and more than one abandoned baby. With the aid of colorful Aurelius Love, Margaret puzzles out generations of Angelfield: destructive Uncle Charlie; his elusive sister, Isabelle; their unhappy parents; Isabelle's twin daughters, Adeline and Emmeline; and the children's caretakers. Contending with ghosts and with a (mostly) scary bunch of living people, Setterfield's sensible heroine is, like Jane Eyre, full of repressed feeling—and is unprepared for both heartache and romance. And like Jane, she's a real reader and makes a terrific narrator. That's where the comparisons end, but Setterfield, who lives in Yorkshire, offers graceful storytelling that has its own pleasures.

This book has received SO much hype in the book world that I sometimes can't believe I waited so long to read it!  But it came with me on my ill-fated trip to St. Louis and comforted me on a much delayed flight and then on a cold night at home.  I stayed up much later than I should have to finish it.  Like most books that receive so much advance hype, The Thirteenth Tale seems to have polarized its readers.

I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it.  The writing is beautiful, and the author (and both narrators) so clearly and unabashedly adore reading that there are many "A-ha!" moments one gets while reading the book that make you think, "Yes, I know that feeling!  I'm a reader, too!"  The plot itself is as complicated as any true Gothic novel from the Regency or Victorian periods.  It certainly does pay tribute to Jane Eyre and to Henry James and to Wilkie Collins.  Here is a book written for booklovers and wordlovers and I was wrapped up in the world so completely that I didn't want to leave it.  Other readers have pointed out (with justification) that there were some loose ends, some deus ex machina, some inconsistencies.  Maybe there were- I didn't care.  I was too wrapped up in the story, the characters, the language.  It was wonderful fun to read, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes books that center around books.

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Title:  The Castle of the Silver Wheel
Author:  Teresa Edgerton
Publisher:  Ace Books
# of Pages:  About 300

Rating:  7/10

The first in Edgerton's Chronicles of Celydonn trilogy, this book picks up very soon after the Green Lion Trilogy ends.  It also includes several of the same characters- mainly, Tryffin and Gwenlliant.  Sadly, no summary is available on Amazon.com!  The story centers around a young married couple, Tryffin (21 at the start) and Gwenlliant (12 at the start), and the start to their life together in Mochdreff.  Mochdreff is a principality that is currently without a ruler, and Tryffin is sent there to act as guardian until one of the heirs is old enough and strong enough to take power.  Once there, however, he and his friends are pitted against a magician who clearly wants Tryffin dead, and power in Mochdreff for himself.

Unfortunately, for much of this book, the two protagonists (Tryffin and Gwenlliant) seemed to spend much of their time apart!  This isn't such a big quibble when one considers that Gwenlliant was only twelve at the time of her marriage and therefore, a "romance" developing might have been more disturbing than sweet.  We do see both characters- and a great many secondary characters- become much more well-rounded individuals than we might have had they been always together.  The plot itself is pretty straightforward- there is no real mystery or suspense, as we know for most of the story exactly who the villain is.  However, this book also gives a lot more information and background for some of the plot threads that were involved in the Green Lion trilogy, especially that involving Tryffin's family history.

Edgerton's main skill, in my opinion, lays mostly in her amazing ability to build a fantasy world.  Again, the chapters are prefaced with enticing and delicious fragments from Celydonn history and folklore- all of which help populate the world further.  I read this book while waiting for yet another delayed flight to take off from O'Hare, and the time passed much more swiftly because of it.  Enjoyable and fun to read, I look forward to reading the next two books in the series.

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Titles: To Lie With Lions, Caprice & Rondo, Gemini
Author: Dorothy Dunnett
# of Pages: Over 1500, combined
Publisher: Vintage

Rating: 10/10

Favorite lines:

To Lie With Lions - Nicholas said, "If you faint like a cowardly turd, I will forbid you my house."

Caprice & Rondo
- "But it is not a bad thing to face life with a flower at the ear, as a dancer does, and this is my flourish for you... We shall never know how our own lives, yours and mine, might have touched.  But now my love has looked on your face, and in meeting her, you have met me, or part of the core of me that does not seem to alter.  The rest is a bruised thing which passes from person to person, and which never seems whole.  But perhaps time will cure that."

Gemini - He was watching the sledges jump and slew at the heels of the horses, their creels roused to a silvery rattle, their spillings dancing from timber to timber and sprinkling the unwinding roadway like rose-leaves. Or like the living creatures they were, male and female at once; lust and tenderness embraced in one heart; each now shut and alone in its shell, because the singing had stopped.

Whew!  Three Dunnett books in a row!  Talk about trying to sprint through a marathon.  I am FINALLY done with Dorothy Dunnett's House of Niccolo series!  When did I start it?  I finished the first book on Dec. 5, 2005.  So, just a little less than a year.  Which, really, for an eight book series of staggering proportions is pretty impressive, I think.  I'm quite proud of myself!

I have put these three books together in one entry because I never know how to review Dunnett's books.  I don't think plot summaries work well if you haven't read the other books in the series, and her plots (to me) are so complicated that if I were to make the effort, I'd probably screw up.  Basically, the end of To Lie With Lions is the climax of the series and then Caprice & Rondo and Gemini are the falling action in which things finally become resolved.

I loved all three of these books, but I think I liked Caprice & Rondo the best because it was the happiest.  However, all three are excellent, and I think I may be one of those few readers who read Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles before reading her House of Niccolo, but enjoyed Niccolo more.  I think the characters in Niccolo are so complex and so interesting and really just very difficult not to like- whereas there were several in the Lymond books that I found very easy to dislike!

For anyone who enjoys epic historical fantasy or sweeping historical fiction, with an amazing breadth of politics, locations and characters, Dunnett is for you.  I would highly recommend her books.  And if, like me, you have the feeling that you don't really know what's going on with the plot ... don't worry ;-)  You can enjoy the books, anyway!

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Title:  Swords for Hire
Author:  Will Allen
Publisher:  Centerpunch Press
# of Pages:  168

Rating:  9/10
Amazon review available here.

Favorite line:  "Sam, where on earth did you find this uncouth, unpredictable man?" said Melinda.  After a brief pause, Sam said, "Uh, right here."

From Centerpunch Press:

A new national award-winning book, Swords for Hire is a funny, exciting story about the adventures of a young farm boy named Sam Hatcher, who lives in the ancient Kingdom of Parmall. Sam has lived a simple life on the farm with his parents, but all that changes the day he turns sixteen. He meets Rigby Skeet, a wisecracking guard, and the two uncover a plot that has captured the true king in a dungeon, where he is guarded by the very scary "Boneman."

They embark on an exciting search for King Olive, who was betrayed by his evil—and very strange—brother. Along the way they encounter evil guards, a magical sorcerer, and a beautiful girl being held captive. The story is somewhat similar in style to William Goldman’s The Princess Bride.

Aimed towards children (and probably great to read out loud), the novel was written by Will Allen in 1979, just months before dying of cancer.  The book was published posthumously twenty-two years later by Allen's brother and has been keeping people entertained ever since.

This book was a lot of fun!  It's short, witty, and so entertaining to read!  A satirical take on the epic fantasy novel, the two bumbling heroes meet charlatan sorcerers, skeletal villains, power-hungry lords, lovely maidens and deposed kings- all in less than 200 pages.  The book's humor is easy for children to understand, but also universal enough for adults to chuckle along.  A great book to read with kids, or to read on your own if you have a few spare hours.


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Title:  One Thousand White Women
Author:  Jim Fergus
Publisher:  St. Martin's Griffin
# of Pages:  320

Rating:  DNF

From Booklist
An American western with a most unusual twist, this is an imaginative fictional account of the participation of May Dodd and others in the controversial "Brides for Indians" program, a clandestine U.S. government^-sponsored program intended to instruct "savages" in the ways of civilization and to assimilate the Indians into white culture through the offspring of these unions. May's personal journals, loaded with humor and intelligent reflection, describe the adventures of some very colorful white brides (including one black one), their marriages to Cheyenne warriors, and the natural abundance of life on the prairie before the final press of the white man's civilization. Fergus is gifted in his ability to portray the perceptions and emotions of women. He writes with tremendous insight and sensitivity about the individual community and the political and religious issues of the time, many of which are still relevant today. This book is artistically rendered with meticulous attention to small details that bring to life the daily concerns of a group of hardy souls at a pivotal time in U.S. history. Grace Fill

I did not like this book.  I don't know why I have this tendency to dislike books that everyone else seems to like!  I thought that May Dodd was a "Mary Sue" character- one who apparently had no flaws, so that every guy fell in love with her and every woman wanted to be her (how annoying.  I don't want to be her.)  I also found the rest of the characters to be stereotypical and dull.

And the many, many racist comments made were very hard for me to swallow.  I'm all about historical accuracy in a novel.  I understand that it is important.  However, it is one thing to have horrible words come out of people's mouths, and another entirely to consistently portray groups of people in keeping with these horrible words.  It just seemed that Fergus created people to get across a somewhat vague premise, and I don't think it worked well at all.  After 150 pages of hearing Native Americans referred to repeatedly as savages and in even more derogatory ways, with no discernible impact on the plot or the people, I just couldn't handle it any more and just had to put the book down.

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