31 December 2012

Bye-bye, 2012 (and where I reveal how many pages I read)!

2012 was an odd-ball year for me. 

I simply could not read to task.  I couldn't make plans to read certain books - they either had to hit my fancy or not.  This year, my fancy leaned toward...

...romance novels.  Almost to the exclusion of everything else.  I read my way through Eloisa James (nearly everything she wrote), Mary Balogh's Bedwyns, Julia Quinn's Bridgertons, Smythe-Smiths, and Bevelstokes, and discovered Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Caroline Linden, Miranda Neville, Sophia Nash, and Elizabeth Hoyt.  I even tried out the grand-dame of historicals Georgette Heyer (and if you can get Richard Armitage to read it to you so much the better).

I think this had to do with the fact that all I could do was worry about my mom.  I couldn't guarantee that her chemo and radiation would do the trick (so far, so good - the MRIs are clear, cross my fingers and toes) and I couldn't fix it so all I could do was read.  I used to read romance novels in junior high and high school because Mom usually had a few laying around the house.  While we don't read to the same taste (she usually read contemporaries while I prefer Regency historicals followed by other historicals) I found that being able to read a 250-300 page romance novel with an almost gold-plated, guaranteed Happy Ending in the two hours between coming home from work and falling asleep not only helped me relax but delivered a weird sense of accomplishment.

So much so that I read 191 books this year when I only meant to read 110:

That is 63,496 pages.  HOLY CRAP ON A CRAP CRACKER!!!  Almost twice as much as last year when I read 102 books.

I guess having an ereader really does make me read faster.  As far as the breakdown of books goes I did like almost everything I read this year (5 stars being "amazing", 3 being "it was OK/readable", and 1 star being "sucked hardcore"):

Likely the best book I read this year is either The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (which just tore my heart out) or One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean (and since it's not pubbing until the end of January 2013 that's sort of cheating).  The worst book I read this year was The Husband Hunt by Lynsay Sands - if I hadn't pre-ordered the ebook I would have lit the damn thing on fire (see reasons why here).  One book is unrated (The Duke Diaries) because I haven't decided where my opinion lies yet - it's for a review in March 2013 so I have time for a re-read.  Nothing was officially DNF'd this year, so that was good.

Speaking of reviews, I started reviewing romance at Brazen Reads this year!  The brainchild of Pam, Brazen Reads is a collaborative blog where romance of all types is reviewed.  I concentrate on Regency and historical so drop on by if you're interested.

I also tried on graphic novels for size this year.  DC Comics had a buy-2-get-1-free sale from late August to mid-November so I decided to rectify a "blind side" in my reading life.  I started with Watchmen, Fables #1: Legends in Exile, and Sandman #1: Preludes and Nocturnes.  I had read Watchmen back in high school in a hopeless attempt to impress the boys in drumline (snare players are uber-cool) and didn't really like it.  This time around I was much more able to appreciate the art and storytelling.  Fables was a great intro to an alternative fairy tale world but Sandman just about blew my mind.  I'm halfway through the series now.  Neil Gaiman is a national treasure (since he lives stateside but is still a Brit I guess we'll have to share him).

The downside of all the reading I did is that I am hopelessly behind in reviews.  Almost shamefully.  I'll catch up don't worry.

Have a safe and happy New Year, everyone!

The Seduction of Elliot McBride (Mackenzie/McBride #5)

Summary from Goodreads:


Juliana St. John was raised to be very proper. After a long engagement, her wedding day dawns—only for Juliana to find herself jilted at the altar.

Fleeing the mocking crowd, she stumbles upon Elliot McBride, the tall, passionate Scot who was her first love. His teasing manner gives her an idea, and she asks Elliot to save her from an uncertain future—by marrying her…

After escaping brutal imprisonment, Elliot has returned to Scotland a vastly wealthy yet tormented man. Now Juliana has her hands full restoring his half-ruined manor in the Scottish Highlands and trying to repair the broken heart of the man some call irredeemably mad. Though beautiful and spirited, Juliana wonders if that will be enough to win a second chance at love.

We've jumped tangentially with Elliot's book - skipping Inspector Fellowes (temporarily, I think, but he does put in an appearance) we jump across to Ainsley's brother (the one who was tortured in India) and a young lady we haven't met yet, Ainsley's school friend Juliana. Compared to the last book The Duke's Perfect Wife this installment has a much tighter plot and the backstories don't take odd twists (i.e. I didn't have to read sections multiple times to understand why Eleanor would have broken off with Hart the first time). There's a lot of simplicity to the story of a man who has gone through hell and back and gets extremely lucky in the fact that the woman he always loved gets dumped at the altar.  I loved the secondary characters (Hamish, Uncle MacGregor) and Elloit's Indian servants are sometimes given their own POV which was nice.

As for timeline, this takes place the summer before the novella A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift so there are a few teeny spoilers in that novella (but the novella, while taking a good deal of time to go over each family and the children, completely skips over Priti and I find it odd that Elliot would leave her at Castle MacGregor while he and Juliana went to Kilmorgan for Christmas).

Apparently Daniel is up next (according to the teaser chapter) - while I find the prospect of goofy teenager Daniel taking center stage as one of the virile Mackenzies odd (there's a little icky factor at work) at least this one will jump six years in the future.

29 December 2012

Searching For Pemberley

I started reading Searching for Pemberley last January since I got it as part of the Austen birthday ebook sale at Sourcebooks.  It took almost a whole year to finish - not good.

It is long and overstuffed. Too many asides, too much extra history. It isn't fun to read. Maggie comes off as an absurd little busybody who is treated with indulgence. I had only read to Chapter 16 by December because it took so much work to get through each chapter. So I skimmed the rest to see what happened.  I didn't much care for the worries about religion or if Suitor #1 really loves her vs. Suitor #2.

Eh. I'll go read Austenland or A Weekend with Mr. Darcy again.

28 December 2012

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

I read a review that said Wild made them want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail...riiiight. I definitely do NOT want to hike ANYWHERE EVER after descriptions of being smelly, dirty, hungry, thirsty, injured, and sleeping outdoors (my idea of camping is six people in one motel room) and especially not after the many descriptions of her feet (as a dancer I have had my share of gross feet stories and these are way, way worse).  No way in hell do I want to go anywhere hiking ever now.

By now, courtesy of Oprah, everyone knows Strayed's story - someone spiralling out of control, grieving for her mother, a crumbling marriage, with a drug addiction who seizes the opportunity to hike the PCT both for something to do and just to see if she could do it.  She definitely needed to do something drastic and not within her comfort zone because she was reaching the point of no return.  If hiking the PCT with no hiking experience whatsoever did that for her, then more power to her. 

Although I sometimes wanted to slap the Cheryl depicted in this book for sounding so damned whiney at times, it was interesting to see how she unpacked the mess of her life (spooling is a metaphor she used) and came to grips with her issues over the course of her hike. This is also a biography of-sorts about Strayed's mother and those sections of the book are the most moving. I should check out the Adrienne Rich poetry book Strayed read throughout.

I didn't buy the Oprah version - it cost 3$ more than the regular ebook. F' that. This book was fine without Oprah's notes.

27 December 2012

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love From Dear Sugar

I was interested in Wild, but not sure if I would like Strayed's writing style enough. So I decided to start with Tiny Beautiful Things since I'd never read any of her Rumpus columns (she didn't originate the column, but took it over from the original writer and kept the pseudonym).

Some of the letters sent to Dear Sugar are soul-shattering, gut-wrenching confessions and Sugar/Strayed reveals a lot about her own past in trying to help those authors. The response to Stuck ("How You Get Unstuck") was beautiful, telling a mother who miscarried a pregnancy and is now lost in depression and eating disorders that its OK to be sad, and what happened was awful, and that to get unstuck she will have to take all that pain and use it to transcend.  Some of the letters are rather whiny and Strayed lets those authors know that, too, in trying to help them clear a path out of their predicament (see: "Write Like a Motherfucker").  Another letter/response (M/"No Mystery About Sperm") hit too close to home for me - about a woman looking at her remaining years of fertility and whether she should go for it and have a child alone or suck it up and wait, on the off chance she'll find a non-loser partner who will stay with her/have children.

This is the first time I've ever read an "advice column" and actually wanted to know how the people who wrote in were doing after. Definitely going to pick up Wild now (although, not the Oprah 2.0 edition - it's 3$ more than the regular edition).

25 December 2012

A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift

Summary from Goodreads:

The Mackenzies gather for a clan Christmas and New Year's in Scotland. In the chaos of preparations for the celebration--the first of Hart and Eleanor's married life--one of Ian's Ming bowls gets broken, and the family scrambles to save the day. Daniel busily runs a betting ring for everything from the time Eleanor's baby will arrive to whether Mac's former-pugilist valet can win a boxing match to who will be the first of the many guests to be caught under the mistletoe. Ian begins a new obsession, and Beth fears the loss of one of his precious bowls has made him withdraw once more into his private world.

Very sweet and a great companion to the previous books in the Mackenzie/Highland Pleasures series. It takes place in the weeks leading up to the birth of Eleanor and Hart's baby spanning Christmas and Hogmanay (a big deal in Scotland) so the entire extended family is there including Inspector Fellowes and David Fleming (could have done without David and his I-sill-love-Eleanor drivel but he was needed for a plot point). It's a mite choppy since Ashley gets around to each of the four brothers/wives and their children as well as catching up with Daniel, Fellowes, and Sinclair McBride (I'm assuming he has a book in the works, too).

A bit of warning though: the fifth book in the series, The Seduction of Elliot McBride, does not arrive until December 31 and there may be a little spoiler for that book in this novella.

24 December 2012

More Baths, Less Talking

I love readingNick Hornby's "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns - particularly the contrast between the "Books Bought" and the "Books Read" columns.  They never match up and some books that were bought never seem to get read.  Just like me!  When he stopped his column in 2008 I was so disappointed (he was really the only reason I eyeballed The Believer magazine (sorry)) but he started up again in May 2010 - yay!

I really liked his comments on David Kynaston's Austerity Britain 1945-51.  It's not a book I would have normally thought about (and apparently this is a series that will run through Thatcher's election in 1979) so its nice to read Hornby's very extensive thoughts about the social culture of Britain during a time of stress.

He liked Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist far more than I did - I found the protagonist impossible to like or care about so never finished the book,Hornby apparently developed a liking for Elizabeth Bishop.  He also reminded my that I'm woefully behind on my Sarah Vowell reading.

(June 2010 cracks me up because Hornby has to open by mentioning he went to the Oscars as a nominee - he wrote the screenplay for An Education - this was the month he finished Austerity Britain so he didn't have much to say about The Possessed by Elif Batuman, which is a book I also read a while back.)

19 December 2012

'Tis the Season: The "Things You Want But Can't Have" Edition

So, amongst all the gift requests for "I need a book about wolves for my fourth grade son" and "Where's the Oprah book?" we get requests to order books that are existentially challenged.  They are either in process, planned, or completely non-existent, but completely unavailable to me as a bookseller.

Welcome to a list of "Things you want but can't have":
  • Entwined With You (available in May, sorry)
  • The fourth Fifty Shades of Gray book (announced but likely unwritten as yet)
  • A Dance With Dragons in paperback (maybe May, since the last release date got pushed back)
  • The sixth A Song of Ice and Fire book (in progress, not finished yet - GRRM has a blog where he occasionally posts tidbits and updates)
  • The new Robert Jordan book (A Memory of Light is not available until January 8 - save your gift cards)
  • The new Patrick Rothfuss book (I'm not sure when The Doors of Stone will be available; I have heard May but the date hasn't been officially announced)
  • The new Rick Riordan book (well, since your kid already read The Mark of Athena I don't have any newer than that)
  • A new book by Christopher Paolini (sorry, no dice)
  • Catching Fire and Mockingjay in paperback (unfortunately that format is not available for retail sale, blame Scholastic)
  • Any Wimpy Kid books in paperback (again, blame Scholastic)
  • The Twilight-from-Edward's-perspective book (likely never to be published since it got "leaked" years ago)
  • The new Harry Potter (which was really a request for The Casual Vacancy, which the customer didn't want after learning it wasn't a Harry Potter book)
And in the line of regular, random, crazy-pants requests/incidents:
  • A non-fiction novel (eh? And what he actually wanted was a local-yokel author's book of history)
  • A book about Ohio State football (which we don't have on hand since we're in Iowa and the University of Iowa is down the road making OSU football anathema)
  • Gabby Gifford's gymnastics book (er, do you mean Gabrielle Douglas?)
  • A customer told me how much more he gets laid now that the Fifty Shades & Co. books are out.  (TMI, dude, beyond TMI.  Also, please bathe.  Ack.)
  • Books on panning for gold (which have to be ordered since we don't really have a market for those here in a breadbasket state)
  • I tried to hand-sell Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks to a woman who told me it sounded "weird" then turned around and bought Gaiman's Coraline (which is also a "weird" book, but whatever)
Only five more bookselling days until Christmas!

16 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

So Peter Jackson has made a triolgy of movies about hobbitses and dwarves.  First up, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

I'm down for that.  Eh, yeah, it is nine hours of film, broken into three movies, which makes me a bit apprehensive since the book isn't even remotely that long, but I'll watch it.

And I liked it.  There were a few things I could have done without:  having obvious "jokes" simply because Martin Freeman is very funny and can do funny things when a troll farts in his face, Radagst the Brown was unnecessary, and the foreshadowing about a rise in evil things during a coucil between Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman, and Gandalf was way too heavy handed.  I don't know if this was due to the 48fps the film was shot in (I saw it in 2D, not 3D or I-MAX) but there was a glaring difference between practical and digial SFX work.  The Great Goblin and the Pale Orc were so obviously digitally created that it looked terribly next to the actors wearing SFX make-up.  The only time this wasn't obvious was in the Gollum scenes which makes me wonder why more care wasn't taken with the rest of the film.

But I have two words for you:  Richard.  Armitage.  Oh, my God.  That is the hottest dwarf king/prince/mercenary around.  It is a huge departure from the book, creating a conflicted hero in Aragorn's likeness (who is an even more conflicted character than he is in Tolkien's original), but it works if only because Armitage is such a great actor.

1. After Earth - didn't Will Smith already make a movie like this?
2. The Host - which totally does not seem like the book, but whatever; I'll only watch it Jackie or Jessica want to, I'm not going to watch it of my own volition
3. Warm Bodies - this looks pretty funny and I have a soft spot for Nicholas Hoult
4. Beautiful Creatures - possibly awful, but I might watch this just for the cast (Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons)
5. Pacific Rim - Guillermo del Toro + Idris Elba + Real Steel + alien invasion...this might be pretty watchable

14 December 2012

Anna Karenina (on screen)

I practically stalked all the local movie theatre listings until one (the one across town, of course) started showing Anna Karenina.  There was no way I was going to not see this - Joe Wright direction, Tom Stoppard adaptation, Dario Marienelli score...I am so in.  I even turned down an extra shift at the store because I essentially had one shot to see this.

I loved it.  The idea to set the story in a proscenium theatre and use the backstage, the floor, the seats, the loge, everything was genius.  It served to heighten the distinction between the false world of rules inhabited by Anna/Vronsky/Karenin and the natural world that Levin adores - when the camera finally breaks through the back-wall of the stage and move out into the fields was amazing.  Also amazing were the trademark Joe Wright tracking shots - one single take with a spiraling camera to follow Levin from Oblonsky's office to the restaurant was just mind-boggling to think of all the set-up involved.

The casting - with one glaring exception - was excellent.  Although not my favorite actress, Kiera Knightly did well as Anna.  Jude Law played against type as the older, very staid, very Orthodox Karenin.  Alicia Vikander (who I didn't realize was both Swedish and about twenty-five) was perfect as the young, starry-eyed Princess Kitty.  Even the small roles were perfect - Kelly MacDonald as Dolly, Matthew MacFadyen as Oblonsky, Olivia Williams as Countess Vronksy, and Ruth Wilson (who I absolutely did not recognize as a blonde) was the insipid yet dangerous Princess Betsy.  Loved the cameos - Michelle Dockery and Emily Watson as ancillary Russian aristocracy - with Shirley Henderson and her wonderful cutting voice as a disapproving matron at the Opera.

Which brings me to my glaring exception - Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky.  What an annoying, unconvincing little brat.  He isn't that attractive, he doesn't even look seductive.  Just a poseur with a wimpy little moustache.  He had big shoes to fill (Kevin McKidd, Sean Bean, Christopher Reeve, and Fredric March) and just didn't pull it off.  I didn't believe that Anna forsakes her husband and the child she can't hardly bear to leave behind for him.  Ugh.  There must be a thousand and one other young, talented, smoldering actors they could have cast instead.

To end on a happier note, I have to mention the music.  The music.  Dario Marianelli (who previously won an Oscar for his work on Atonement, was nominated for Pride and Prejudice, and also wrote the music for Jane Eyre, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, and V for Vendetta) is like a chameleon.  Every score sounds different from the previous one because he fits the type of music to the film.  For Atonement the music is very longing, but stoic.  Pride and Prejudice is very late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century in feeling with a lot of solo piano mixed with reels and period-sounding pieces.  Jane Eyre is free-spirited and lonely, like the moor Jane wanders across.  For Anna Karenina, Marianelli has created a score reminiscent of classic Russian ballet (the great walzes of Tchaikowsky and Prokofiev) mixed with the simplicity of Russian folksong.  It is so, so wonderful to listen to, especially "Dance With Me" which makes me want to twirl around the room (caveat: this is a choreographed ballroom scene which Aaron Taylor-Johnson makes a mockery of by not adequately performing the choreography, making it yet another thing I don't like).

Sorry, no previews.  The new Blogger app for iPhone apparently ate my original draft post so I can't remember the previews aside from Promised Land (eh....) and the one where Ewan MacGregor and family are in the tsunami. Oh, Great Gatsby, too (which looks both crazy and amazing).

09 December 2012

A Rogue by Any Other Name (The Rules of Scoundrels #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

What a scoundrel wants, a scoundrel gets...

A decade ago, the Marquess of Bourne was cast from society with nothing but his title. Now a partner in London’s most exclusive gaming hell, the cold, ruthless Bourne will do whatever it takes to regain his inheritance—including marrying perfect, proper Lady Penelope Marbury.

A broken engagement and years of disappointing courtships have left Penelope with little interest in a quiet, comfortable marriage, and a longing for something more. How lucky that her new husband has access to such unexplored pleasures.

Bourne may be a prince of London’s underworld, but he vows to keep Penelope untouched by its wickedness—a challenge indeed as the lady discovers her own desires, and her willingness to wager anything for them... even her heart.

I haven't read the last two "Love by Numbers" books by MacLean - the heroine of this book is apparently the jilted fiancee of the hero in Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart so I'd like to read that just to see a different character's perspective of Penelope.

Because I like her - she wants more out of her life than just the proper, polite existence as the wife of an aristocrat who married her because of her father's title/her dowry and when she let Leighton go in Eleven everyone assumed there was something wrong with her because she couldn't hold his interest. Bourne (Michael) basically kidnaps her (because her father appends the estate land that Bourne lost/got cheated out of by his guardian - and subsequently won by Penny's father in a card game...the "evil guardian" plot of the novel got a bit convoluted and unclear, imo) she manages to negotiate some good behavior out of him to help her sisters. And then she decides to stop being quite to meek and proper - she doesn't go nuts, she just decides not to be a doormat for men.

Michael, on the other hand, is truly an awful piece of crap at the beginning of the book. He has some bad history. He isn't very nice to Penny even though he can seduce her right out of her socks when she's mad at him (which makes him doubly not nice for that reason). What really made this book for me is that the "falling in love" trope is laid in the characters' backstories - they were best friends as children, and loved each other, so once the revenge plot/forced to marry plot is worked out before the love plot just happens. It's nice.  And when Michael gets his head out of his arse it's lovely.

Also: "Sixpence" is the greatest nickname ever. Read the book to find out why. (Sarah MacLean does great nicknames.)

01 December 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

I've been struggling with how to review this book.  I mean no disrespect to John Green, but...

Dear John Green,
Fuck you.  Fuck you for creating two characters who just wormed themselves into my heart and then broke it wide open.  I bawled like a baby.
And I'll read everything you ever write.

I mean, damn!  Teenagers aren't supposed to be this erudite and witty and funny and, and, waaaaahhh - that actually makes the end of the book even harder to read!  On the other hand, having known cancer kids from all walks of life (I volunteered with the first Dance Marathons at the University of Iowa), I don't find it so odd that Hazel and Gus are this sharp.  A kid who is largely isolated from his/her peers and given a great deal of alone time due to illness, as Hazel demonstrates on her shopping trip with a friend, is actually pretty likely to develop a crack wit and an advanced education.  There really isn't much to do in the hospital at times except homework and sharpening your wit on the medical staff.

And because I laughed as well as cried, here are two great quotes:

Osteosarcoma sometimes takes a limb to check you out.  Then, if it likes you, it takes the rest. (p18)

(Off topic, but: What a slut time is.  She screws everybody.) (p112)

Okay?  Okay.