Book Reviews: The Pillars of the Earth

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Pillars of the Earth
by Ken Follett

This sprawling story, told over 1,000 pages, is set during the twelfth century. It spans more than 50 years, (1123-1174), three countries (England, Spain and France) and the building of a cathedral. It focuses on a monk, driven to revitalize a town and build a cathedral, and the family that provides the master builders capable of the job.

I loved learning about monastic life and what it takes to build a cathedral. I’ve seen dozens of them throughout Europe, but reading about the process of building one gave me a new appreciation for the work that goes into their creation. We watch a cathedral rise out of the sweat and blood of a single village and all of this unfolds while royals vie for the throne and control of the country.

The reason the big book was such an addictive read was the characters. This kind of epic tale is appealing to me when I want to lose myself in a story, but it only works if you care about the people that make up that story. I loved both Ellen and Aliena, two unconventional women whose strength inspired the men around them.

Follett created some delicious villains in his story. William Hamleigh is vicious and evil, but in the way of a selfish, petulant child. Bishop Waleran Bigod on the other hand is manipulative and always self-serving, but in an underhanded and subtle way. Both men are evil, but in completely different ways.

Even though it's long, it was a fast read. I've never read Follett before, but I would assume that writing his other thrillers gave him the perfect practice to create this compulsive read. The writing isn't perfect or lyrical, but it just right for a book. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or just a good absorbing read.

Have any of you read the sequel "World Without End?" Any good?

What about the new miniseries? I'm curious to see if it stayed close to the novel at all.

Top Ten Picks: Favorite Book Quotes

Monday, August 30, 2010

Random Ramblings asked the question, what are your top 10 favorite quotes from books, authors, and writers. I love this one, but it's hard to narrow it down. Here's what I came up with...

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." - Douglas Adams

"I ordered a coffee and a little something to eat and savoured the warmth and dryness. I watched the rain beat down on the road outside and told myself that one day this would be twenty years ago." - Bill Bryson (Notes From a Small Island)

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.” - Roald Dahl

"Humans are divided between those who can still look through the eyes of youth and those who cannot." - Dave Eggers

"What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?" - E. M. Forster

"Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” - Jack Kerouac

"Her kiss was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering." - Nicole Krauss (The History of Love)

"Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination." - Jhumpa Lahiri

"They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." - Edgar Allan Poe

"After all, what was the whole wide world but a place for people to yearn for their heart's impossible desires, for those desires to become entrenched in defiance of logic, plausibility, and even the passage of time, as eternal as polished marble." - Richard Russo

Do you guys have any favorite author quotes?

Friday Favorites: Shel Silverstein

Friday, August 27, 2010


Rockabye baby, in the treetop.
Don't you know a treetop
Is no safe place to rock?
And who put you up there,

And your cradle too?

Baby, I think someone down here's

Got it in for you.

Whimsical and strange, Silverstein's poetry has fascinated me since I was a kid. Most of the poems are quirky and funny, like the above, but there are others that can wrench your heart.
Silverstein had a bit of Salinger in him. He was odd and a bit reclusive, but brilliant in his own way. When I was in eighth grade I performed some of his poems for a speech competition. The most difficult part was narrowing it down to only two poems.

The Missing Piece is another of Silverstein's books, but it's not a poetry collection. The story is about a little circle creature on a mission to find his missing piece. He tries many different shapes, but none of them fit. Finally he finds the perfect piece, it fits into the empty pie sliver in the circle. Hurray, now he is complete! But wait, it's a Silverstein story, so that's not really the ending. Instead, the circle now realizes that with his perfect piece he can no longer talk. It doesn't make his life perfect at all. He lets go of the piece and rolls on, happy again.

It's Silverstein's ability to bring elements of real life into children's stories that made me love his work. That's a tricky thing to do and he always managed to do it without making it too dark.

Here's one of my favorites...

The Little Boy and The Old Man
Said the little boy, "Sometimes I drop my spoon."
Said the little old man, "I do that too."
The little boy whispered, "I wet my pants."
"I do that too," laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, "I often cry." The old man nodded, "So do I."
"But worst of all," said the boy, "it seems

Grown-ups don't pay attention to me." And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand. "I know what you mean," said the little old man.

Book Reviews: Books

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Books: A Memoir
by Larry McMurtry
McMurtry has been both an author and a bookseller for decades. This book is about his lifelong love affair with books. It starts with the 19 books his cousin gave him, which were the first he ever read, and then it meanders through his years of writing, reading and selling books.

I enjoyed the sections where he talks about his love of reading much more than those that specific details of buying and selling. His thoughts about book auctions, vintage erotica, comics and buying personal libraries quickly became tiresome. Unless you deal with those things in your own life, it wasn't very interesting to read about. McMurtry excels in writing fiction much more than memoirs.

Wordless Wednesday: Oxford

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The grounds of Oxford's colleges
make me dream of going to school there.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

The Chunkster Challenge

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I completed the Chunkster Challenge. Woo hoo! To complete the top channge (Mor-book-ly Obese) I needed to read 6 books that were at least 450 pages, no e-books or audio books allowed. You can find the details and other participants here.

The Girl Who Played with Fire: 512 pages

The Angel's Game : 544 pages

The Lost Symbol: 528 pages

Holly's Inbox: 672 pages

The Little Stranger: 528 pages

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest: 576 pages

Les Miserables: 1,488 pages

The Pillars of the Earth: 973 pages

Book Reviews: The Weed... and H is for Homicide

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag
by Alan Bradley

In this second offering from the Flavia de Luce series (here's my review of the first) a puppet master, Rupert Porson, is murdered and 11-year-old Flavia is on the case. She begins to look into the man's death and the more questions she asks the more connections she finds to an accidental death of a young boy from some years earlier. The series is set in England during the 1950s, which means Flavia must be a bit more resourceful than just searching for something on the internet.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the introduction of the character Dieter, a German POW who loves British literature. Bradley has a wonderful way of painting the town of Bishop's Lacey
I loved learning a bit more about Flavia's mother in this book. Even if we only see it in glimpses, there's something mesmerizing about Flavia's dysfunctional home life. Aunt Felicity is a great addition to the family dynamic.

H is for Homicide
by Sue Grafton

After Kinsey's most recent case comes to a close, she heads back home and finds out that a friend has been murdered. A short time later she begins investigating an insurance scam and finds out that the two cases are connected. Soon she finds herself working undercover in the home of Raymond Maldonado, after befriending his ex-girlfriend Bibianna Diaz.

As with all of Grafton's mysteries, the strength is in the details and in Kinsey's cleverness. In H Grafton introduces us to a man with Tourette syndrome, a bi-polar pit bull and a grade school chum of Kinsey's, among others. It’s a fun addition to the series, though her situation never seemed as dire as it does in some of the other books.

I did think it was funny that Grafton used her H is Homicide letter on a novel that had very little to do with homicide. I is for Insurance Fraud maybe?

"Violence is a form of theater that only the disenfranchised can afford."

Proof: Book vs. Movie

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sometimes (ok, most of the time) it's incredibly disappointing to watch a movie after reading the book. I recently read the play Proof and then watched the movie and the differences between the two were so frustrating.
I might spoil some things from the play Proof here, so fair warning.
The beauty of the play lies in its moments of ambiguity. You have to work out for yourself whether you think the main character wrote a brilliant mathematical proof or if it was her mathematician father, who's mentally unstable.
The movie, on the other hand, adds scenes that make everything obvious. It lays everything out so there's no need to work for it. The play makes the viewer question the characters' sanity and who we can trust. The film asks nothing from the viewer. You're left asking no questions and you need no faith, it gives you all the "proof" you need.
If I saw the movie without seeing the play or reading the book first (or both in my case) I probably would have liked it. It's wonderfully acted and still retains the excellent dialogue from David Auburn's Pulitzer-Prize winning play, but it pales in comparison with the original.
Have you guys had any similar experiences?

Wordless Wednesday: Hampstead Heath

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hampstead Heath in London, near Keats' house, is so peaceful.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: My Cousin Rachel

Monday, August 16, 2010

My Cousin Rachel

by Daphne du Maurier

Our narrator, Philip is a young man of 24 who was raised by his bachelor cousin Ambrose. While traveling in Italy Ambrose meets, falls for and marries a woman named Rachel. Philip begins to receive strange letters from his cousin suggesting that his new wife might be up to something, but dies before we know one way or another. Rachel then moves to England and while visiting Philip he falls for her.

Suspicion still abounds, but now the stakes are raised as Philip nears the age where he will have access to his entire fortune. As the readers, we are swept along on Philip's adventure, wondering if Rachel is planning something devious or simply a victim of circumstances.

It's difficult to maintain a heightened level of suspense for an entire book, but Daphne du Maurier is the master of this genre. She has you guessing and then second-guessing your assumptions. You question the narrator, distrust other characters' motivations, it's a delight! Her book Rebecca still remains my favorite, but I'll be reading more of her delicious books!

Step away from the computer

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I love this picture (from here). Since I started blogging I've found myself getting hooked on more and more blogs. It's not really my fault, you guys write about fascinating stuff! Sometimes I need to just put the laptop down and pick up a real book.

I Write Like...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I know these have been everywhere and they aren't particularly accurate, but I can't help being a little pleased that they think I write like Oscar Wilde.

According to them, who do you write like?

Wordless Wednesday: Interlaken

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gorgeous Interlaken, Switzerland.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Biblio Travel

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

While getting ready for my latest trip, I found a new website that helps me pick books related to the area. I love reading both fiction and nonfiction books set in the place I'm traveling to and this site is a great one. Before heading out to San Fran and Portland, I read the following books and
I might take Isabel Allende's Daughter of Fortune along to read while I'm there.

-Tales of the City by: Armistead Maupin
-Blue Moon Over Thurman Street by: Ursula Le Guin
-A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by: Simon Winchester

Book Reviews: Ender in Exile

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ender in Exile
by Orson Scott Card

Picking up just where Ender's Game leaves off, this new book in the series fills in the gap between Game and Speaker for the Dead. The book deals a lot with Ender's struggle to come to terms his guilt from unknowingly killing the buggers. It also introduces some new interesting characters and provides additional info about Ender's fellow battle school mates.

I loved the parts that gave us Ender's parents' point-of-view. Their three children underestimate their intelligence and I enjoy hearing their perspective. All of the Wiggins have a tendency to spend every waking moment strategizing and planning their next move. Even when they are well-intentioned, the Wiggins are master manipulators, which is half the fun of their characters.

I've loved these characters for years and have gotten to know them in eight other books in the series, so it was wonderful to return to that world. I would recommend this for those who have loved the Wiggins, but not to anyone new to the books. You should definitely start with Ender's Game.

Wanderlust 2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

(Golden Gate Bridge)

This week I will be exploring San Francisco, Napa Valley, the Redwood Forest, Crater Lake National Park and Portland for the first time with my Huz. It's a much needed trip and should satisfy my wanderlust for a bit. I can't wait to see City Light Books in San Fran and Powell's in Portland. I'm hoping this trip will be lots of eating sourdough bread, riding on cable cars, drinking wine and wandering beneath big trees.

(Oregon Waterfall)

I have posts scheduled to go up while I'm gone, but probably won't get a chance to respond to comments until I'm back. Talk to you all soon!

Photos from travel sites.

Friday Favorites: Watchmen

Friday, August 6, 2010

"But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget ... I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another's vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away." - Watchmen

Before I read one, I always thought graphic novels were called that because of graphic violence within the novel. I realize that logically that doesn't make sense, but some part of my brain assumed that was the case. Obviously it's not. A graphic novel is called that because it is drawn like a comic book, pairing an in depth story (like a novel) with drawings.

That plot can deal with anything, not just superheroes like Batman. In the case of Maus (which won a Pulitzer Prize) it's the Holocaust; with Persepolis it's the autobiography of an Iranian woman. There is no limit to what can be used as subject matter in a graphic novel.

I've never been a big comic book person (though I'm starting to think that might be because I haven't given them a chance), so even once I figured out what they really were, graphic novels didn't appeal to me. Then a friend recommended Watchmen. Then he recommended it again and again and finally I read it. It was my very first graphic novel and I was completely blown away.

Here's the basic plot, the Watchmen are a group of crime fighters, including Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, Rorschach and others. Someone is trying to kill them off and discredit their work and the surviving members are desperately trying to find out who's behind it. The story dedicates a chapter to each of the characters, giving the reader a chance to get to know each of their history and current struggles.

I was expecting a basic good guys vs. bad guys story, predictable, but fun. This wasn't that by any stretch of the imagination. In Watchmen Alan Moore blurs the line between good and bad. He questions the characters' actions and motivations. He creates a world where you have to ask, "Who is watching the Watchmen?"

Watchmen has such a rich story full of complex characters, literary references and complicated back-stories. The writing is excellent, the illustrations are intense and the story is epic. Watchmen opened my eyes to an entire genre. I have since read quite a few graphic novels and I can't believe it took me so long to try them. I would encourage any of you who have never read one to find one that looks interesting to you and check it out.

Here are a few that are on my TBR list...

French Milk
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
V for Vendetta
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

Book Reviews: The Road to Oz and War

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Road to Oz
by L. Frank Baum

A shaggy man asks Dorothy for directions and soon they find themselves (and Toto too) on an adventure. Along the way they meet a dense boy named Button-Bright and Polychrome, the daughter of the rainbow king. They travel to the land of foxes, where Button-Bright's head is replaced by fox's head. Then the same thing happens to the shaggy man in the land of donkeys. The shaggy man's love magnet gets them out of a few scraps, but not all of them. Their misadventures eventually lead them to the Land of Oz, where Ozma is celebrating her birthday.

I love how Baum tends to find a way to let us revisit all of the characters we met in previous books. I'm slowly making my way through all of the Oz books (this is book 5 of 15), and this one is a sweet story.

"Why didn't you want to go to Butterfield?" she asked.

"Because a man lives there who owes me fifteen cents, and if I went to Butterfield and he saw me he'd want to pay me the money. I don't want money, my dear."

"Why not?" she inquired.

"Money," declared the shaggy man, "makes people proud and haughty. I don't want to be proud and haughty. All I want is to have people love me."

by Sebastian Junger

Junger has made a name for himself with nonfiction books like The Perfect Storm and A Death in Belmont (both great books). His intimate writing style sucks his readers into the worlds he writes about and his latest book, War, is no exception. Junger spent 15-months following a single platoon during their time in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. He chronicles his time there, including the soldiers he meets, the obstacles they face and the even greater problems they have once the battle in over.

The book is good, but as Junger himself notes, you can't be objective about something like this. I felt that sometimes his personal experiences and struggles distracted from those of the soldiers themselves. It was clearly an incredibly personal experience for him and I don't fault him for it, but it didn't add to the book for me.

The most fascinating bits for me were Junger's discussion of the men's loyalty to each other. He talks about the bonds between them that supersede everything else. He also talks about the "good" aspects of war and the reasons why soldiers often have a hard time adjusting to civilian life. Junger's observations are keen and he cites many studies and historical examples to support his conclusions. It's a hard book to read, but a powerful one.

A similar book to this one, which I enjoyed even more, is Ernie Pyle's Brave Men. If you liked War, I'd highly recommend it.

For more, read Amy's great review here.

Wordless Wednesday: Schönbrunn Palace

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

There's a hill behind the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna
that gives a gorgeous view of the city.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Luggage

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Years ago I found a NY Times article of the most unique piece of luggage I've ever seen. Author Tom Stoppard owns this special book toting case, which ensures he always has a reliable way to tote his library on his travels. I've wanted one ever since.

Isn't that brilliant? Do you guys have any special suitcases or bags that go everywhere with you? My Victorinox has been to a dozen countries with me and every time I get home I sew on a patch of the country's flag.

Stoppard photo from here.

Bag photo by moi.

Book Reviews: The Longest Journey

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Longest Journey
by E.M. Forster

Rickie Elliott is a Cambridge student and a struggling writer. After becoming infatuated with an engaged young woman, Agnes Pembroke, his quiet life is changed forever. The two end up married and Rickie takes a position as a schoolmaster. Soon Rickie learns Agnes' true nature, which is drastically different from his own.

The Longest Journey feels like an author's early work, full of idealistic young men and good concepts, but characters that sometimes fall flat. It was the second book Forster published and though his talent is still plainly obvious, it certainly improved with time. The characters feel more like ideas of people than individuals with complex interests and flaws. Forster also has a tendency to kill characters with little fanfare. If someone is going to die in one of his books there is never much warning or fuss about it.

I love the writing style, but I wouldn't recommend it for those new to Forster. If you're already a fan, pick it up, but Howard's End and A Room With a View are both better introductions to the author.