Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

1997 National Book Award

Set during the Civil War, Cold Mountain tells the story of Inman, Ada and Ruby. Inman is a soldier. After being severly wounded in battle, he practically has to heal himself. No one thinks he'll live so they din't waste their time on him. While at the hospital, he decides he's had enough and packs up and walks home. Meanwhile Ada has lost her father and is trying to live on the farm, but she has no clue about how to survive on her own. She's been raised and educated to be a city lady and cannot fend for herself. So along comes Ruby, a backwoods girl whose father left her to raise herself mostly.

The book tells the story of the journeys the three make, either physically or emotional. It's a calm, slow story about people and survival.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Angle of Repose

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

1972 Pulitzer Prize

Lyman Ward is suffering from a bone disease. He has recently separated from his wife and has moved into his grandparents old house. Lyman acquires old letters his grandmother, Susan, had written to her friend. These letters lead him to write a biography about his grandmother.

Susan Ward had been a writer and artist but marriage to Oliver had led her to the old west. Oliver was an engineer. But problems on jobs usually forced them to move on to other jobs. Sometimes Susan had to return east while Oliver took particularly difficult jobs.

Angle of Repose simultaneously tells the story of Susan and Lyman. Susan has difficulty adapting to the west where her desire for culture is in short supply. And Lyman is trying to come to terms with the drastic changes in his life that have come on so suddenly.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Les Misérables

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables is the story of Jean Valjean. He lost his parents very young and his older sister raised him. But when he was 25 years old his brother-in-law died. His sister was left a widow with seven children. Jean helped provide for them, but during one period of unemployment he steals some bread. This act gets him 5 years in prison. Various attempted prison breaks eventually lead to a total of 19 years before he is free.

But times in France in the early 19th century are hard and soon after his release, Jean robs a bishop of his silver. He's caught by the police, but the bishop covers for him. He makes Jean Valjean promise to use the silver to become an honest man. But before he commits to this, he steals a coin from a young boy and is identified as a repeat offender.

Years later, after changing his name, he becomes a rich factory owner. One of his employees dies, and Valjean sets out to find her child. But he has raised the suspicion of a policeman named Javert. Once Valjean finds the child, Cosette, He takes her to Paris to raise as his own.

Hugo uses Jean Valjeans life to expound on politics religion and society in general during the turbulent years following the execution of Louis XVI. He adds chapters on history as the book progresses to help set up the events to come. So, educational as well as entertaining. All in all, one of the best books I've ever read.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Booking Through Thursday-Vocabulary

Booking Through Thursday

I’ve always wondered what other people do when they come across a word/phrase that they’ve never heard before. I mean, do they jot it down on paper so they can look it up later, or do they stop reading to look it up on the dictionary/google it or do they just continue reading and forget about the word?

I usually try to figure it out on my own. But I do alot of my reading at work between trucks. So if I'm sitting in front of the computer I'll go ahead and look it up. I use Word Reference alot. It's been very handy for Spanish and French.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Ugly Duckling

The Ugly Duckling by Iris Johansen

Nell Caulder is married to businessman Richard. They have a four year old daughter named Jill. At a party in Greece filled with movers and shakers, an attack leaves Richard and Jill dead. Extensive facial damage leaves Nell in need of reconstructive surgery. A bit on the plain side, she is now made beautiful. And ready to go find whoever was responsible for the death of her family.

Nicholas Tanek knows who arranged the attack. Now he has to figure out how to catch him. And Nell is forcing him to let her help.

I read this about a month ago. It kept me entertained at the time, but with the passage of time I've forgotten alot of it. You're told right away who did it so there's not much mystery. But I will read more of Johansen's books.

Monday, April 14, 2008

So Big

So Big By Edna Ferber

1925 Pulitzer Prize

Selina Peake had been living with her father in Chicago. He was a gambler. When he won, they lived high off the hog. When he lost...well, Selina learned to roll with the tide. But Simon gets shot in a bar by a woman aiming at someone else. So, at the age of 19, Selina has to earn her own living or return to two maiden aunts, a destiny she refuses to contemplate. She's accepted as teacher for the Dutch school at High Prairie. She boards with the Poole family.

Selina eventually marries farmer Purvis DeJong and the have a son, Dirk, to whom she gives the nickname So Big. But 8 years later Purvis dies and Selina is left alone to raise the boy and work the farm. Selina is determined that So Big will grow up to appreciate beauty.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher at the Marcia Blaine school for girls. Six 10-year-olds girls are assigned to her. But Miss Jean Brodie is no ordinary teacher. She's a progressive teacher in a conservative school. She admires Franco, Mussolini and Hitler. She's in love with a married man but moves in with someone else. And she is willing to discuss her love life with "her girls".

Miss Brodie has decided to mold her girls into the "crème de la crème". And they soon do turn out to be distinctive. Miss Brodie is just as likely to talk about her love life as she is about art. She is less likely to talk about math or science. The headmistress, Miss Mackay, disparately wants a reason to dismiss her.

"The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" is a novella. It's a small book that tells of the lasting impression Miss Brodie has on her girls. The story is told out of sequence, giving hints about what is to come. In the first few ages you learn one of the girls will betray her. But it's not until the end of the book that you find out who or why.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Bennets live on Longbourn estate. It is entailed to a male heir. But the Bennets have 5 daughters who must all marry rich to live comfortably after Mr. Bennet dies.

As the book opens, neighboring estate Netherfield is soon to be occupied by rich, young unmarried Charles Bingley. He brings along sisters, a brother-in-law and his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Bingley is attracted to the eldest sister, Jane. Mr. Darcy, when asked to dance with Elizabeth at a ball, states she is not attractive enough. Overhearing this, Elizabeth decides Mr. Darcy is too prideful.

"Pride and Prejudice" was almost named First Impressions. Both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy size each other up and immediately let their first impressions color their judgement of the other. It takes a lot of work and time for them to see each others true character.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Booking Through Thursday-Lit-Ra-Chur

Booking Through Thursday

When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?

The first thing I think of is the Classics. Which leads to another question--What qualifies as "classic"? The line between book and classic book is just as hazy as the line between fiction and literature. I've developed a recent appreciation for the classics. But trying to categorize between literature and fiction gives me a bellyache. It's a real problem when I try to add books to Librarything. But fiction, literature or unadulterated crap, I'll read it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver was born in a workhouse orphanage. His mother died at childbirth without revealing her identity. At age 9, after being transferred to the workhouse proper, Oliver draws the short straw and has to ask for more gruel. ("Please, sir, I want some more.") This gets him branded a troublemaker. He's put in solitary and notice is placed offering 5 pounds to anyone who will take him.

Oliver is soon placed as an apprentice to an undertaker. But after several months of abuse from his coworkers and the undertakers wife he runs away. On the outskirts of London he meets the Artful Dodger who takes him to Fagin, who trains boys to be thieves and pickpockets.

But Oliver hasn't got the heart to be a criminal. He finds a benefactor but is kidnapped and returned to Fagin. Eventually assigned to help with a burglary, he is wounded and left for dead when he cries out and warns the occupants of the house. He winds up living in the house with a new benefactor.

"Oliver Twist" is a sentimental novel. Dickens paints a harsh, but accurate picture of living conditions for the poor. Oliver is just a poor little boy trying to get by but it seems the entire English system is against him.

This is my third Dickens novel and I have to say they all exceed "great." And for some reason I really liked the photograph on the cover of the B&N edition I have.