Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is the tale of one of history's most misunderstood women. Told in her own unique voice, Catherine slowly weaves the tapestry of her life, telling the story of how a young Italian girl, a commoner despite her family's vast wealth, eventually goes on to become the Queen of France.

This book read like many of Philippa Gregory's books do, and I really loved the first person telling. CW Gortner gives such character and life to Catherine via her thoughts, and you can tell his research was thorough because so many lovely details that are historically factual show up throughout the narrative.

Something else I really enjoyed about this book was just the setting itself. Through Philippa Gregory and a few other authors, I have read books about the time period and have gotten a feel for some of the politics of the age. However, this was my first book set in France around the same time, and I found it fascinating to see the world of the 1500's from a different setting than what I am used to. So many books are set in Tudor England, which is understandable considering the complete and utter turmoil that Henry VIII and his heirs threw the country into, so I have to admit it was refreshing to see all that and more from France's perspective. A few familiar historical characters also made their way into Catherine's world, such as Mary, Queen of Scots. It's always fun to recognize someone you've seen in another book or even heard about during a history class.

I just started CW Gortner's first book, The Last Queen. This one is about Juana la Loca [Juana the Crazy] from Spain, a sister to Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon. So far I'm loving it, just like Catherine's tale. So no doubt you'll see a blog entry about that too!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

Tessa Russo recently gave up her career as a professor to become a stay-at-home mom, leaving her husband Nick, a highly-regarded pediatric surgeon, as the sole breadwinner for the family. They lead a so-called perfect life with a perfect marriage and children in a perfect house. Meanwhile, Valerie Anderson is a single mother to her son Charlie. She worked hard to graduate from Harvard Law, and she continues to work hard to give her son the life he deserves, despite his lack of a father figure in his life.

While Tessa and Valerie have little in common aside from living in the same town, all it takes is one accident to throw both their lives in turmoil, facing things neither woman ever thought possible.

This book was okay. I certainly liked it better than Baby Proof and Love the One You're With, but it wasn't as good as SoBo/SoBlue. I found myself really liking the character Tessa, but I just couldn't understand or relate to Valerie. I think the reason I liked Tessa though was that I found myself being able to relate to her incredibly well: She was uptight about things I often find myself uptight about, and often I found myself cringing at the way she handled certain situations, knowing full-well that I would handle them in the exact same way. It's always awkward to see yourself in a flawed character, and this was no exception. Valerie was equally flawed, if not more so. However, her choices were so off-base with anything I would ever consider normal, or even moral in some instances, that I had a hard time connecting with her.

I really think Giffin is a very gifted writer, so it bothers me that I don't love her books the way I should. I would love to see something completely different from her next time around--something a bit more shocking and fun. The constant rehashing of crappy relationships just isn't keeping my interest anymore.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer

Okay, for those three people in the USA who haven't read the Twilight series, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is a novella based on a short-lived, yet significant character in Eclipse. Bree Tanner is a newborn vampire, and I don't think I'm giving much away when I say that her life as a vampire is a short one. No way, right? Anyway, this novella is Bree's tale during the several days leading up to her untimely demise.

First, for those of you who care to read this for FREE, it's available until July 5th at www.breetanner.com. This is how I read it, because let's face it: I never would have purchased this on my own. I liked Twilight, but the rest of the series was a steady downward crawl for me. And I hate to say it, but this isn't an exception. It's an easy read, and it's entertaining enough like the series is, but unfortunately it lacks all meat and depth that makes stories truly unforgettable and awesome. But like I said, it's entertaining, and if you like the Twilight series at all this is definitely worth a read! It won't take you more than a few hours of your time, and it is definitely interesting to get a different perspective on the world Stephenie Meyer created.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

Isn't this cover just gorgeous? I really loved it! Kudos to the cover designer!

When Thea, a Jewish slave girl, is sold to the beautiful and rich Lepida Pollia, so begins her life as a slave in first century Rome. Life is hard, and her mistress is jealous and spiteful, so when Thea wins the heart of a gladiator that Lepida had wanted for herself, the lovers are cruelly torn apart.

But Thea has a gift of song, and before long she is performing for many of Rome's aristocrats. She soon catches the eye of Emperor Domitian, who quickly takes her as his mistress. Despite being charismatic and seemingly capable, Domitian has a dark streak, and Thea often finds herself the target of the emperor's evil games as she fights to keep her sanity.

Oy. There are so many various plot lines and twists in this novel that my description of it could go on for ages! It's such a complex story, so I'll just leave it at the above. But I couldn't decide whether I liked this book or really liked this book. I seem to flip flop on this issue with various books a lot, so it took me a while to consider it. The end result? I really like it. It was similar in many ways to Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran, which I incidentally felt was a bit stronger, but this book definitely kept my interest and made me excited for the next installments that Kate Quiin is supposedly writing. However, as I will explain, it was certainly not perfect.

Here is my biggest problem with the book: A character says the phrase, "Bitch on wheels." If that phrase was around in Ancient Rome, well then knock me over with a feather. I even went as far as to look up the phrase the other day, and I couldn't find any conclusive origins about it other than it seemed to be a phrase coined sometime in the last hundred years or so, if not even more recent. A lot of the language in this book felt awfully modern as well, and that did bother me a little bit. Obviously, I get that there is going to be some of this as it's hard to tell how people spoke two thousand years ago, and I understand there's the difference in language as well. But blatantly modern phrases are so jarring in a historical fiction book such as this that it really forces me out of the world of Ancient Rome, and it becomes difficult for me to get back in.

My other problem was that I had a hard time liking a lot of the main characters. Even Thea, who started off as a very sympathetic character, became much less so as the book went on. I never fully disliked her, but I would have liked to have cared about her a bit more. The same thing goes for Vix. He sounded like an utterly obnoxious little brat from the start, and this never changed. There were only several "main" characters that I truly liked for the entirety of the book: Julia, Marcus, and Sabina.

But with all that bad stuff out of the way, here is the good stuff: This book is utterly compelling, and I just had to keep reading to see where things would go. Even though I didn't necessarily care for all the characters, I couldn't wait to find out how things would unfold and how this book would end.

Aside from the language issue and some liberties the author took (a few of which I wonder exactly why), the book seemed very well-researched, a trait I can definitely appreciate in historical fiction novels. So that, combined with the fact that I was so anxious to keep reading, makes it an overall win for me.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Father-Daughter Trip to New York City

I have a few book posts to write, but I'm not in the mood right now. So instead I'm going to tell you this: My dad rocks. Seriously, he's the best dad ever, and he even took me on a weekend trip to New York City this weekend! It was excellent. I took a bunch of pictures on my phone, but unfortunately my phone and I don't get along when I'm trying to pull photos off it. So for now, this post will be photo-less. If I feel like waging an epic battle, then they will appear at a later date.

My weekend started off Friday morning when I went to the airport and ran into OKC's Most Epic Jerk in the security line. I won't go into details because it was NOT good, but if you know me feel free to ask and I'll tell you the story! Let's just say it wasn't a pretty scene. After a short flight, I arrived in Dallas, and my mom met me at the airport and took me to breakfast since I had a three hour layover. We headed back to the airport, where I met up with my dad, and together he and I flew to LaGuardia.

Our hotel was just south of Times Square and about a block away from Bryant Park. It was really a wonderful location. So after getting a cab to the hotel and dropping off our stuff, we then hopped on the subway and headed up to the Bronx for a Yankees game. Neither of us are Yankees fans, but we were really excited to see the new ballpark. And it is HUGE! It was really impressive.

The next morning Dad and I headed over to Times Square to grab some bagels for breakfast. Now I know it's sooooo touristy, but we ended up eating our breakfast in one of the little sitting areas in the middle of Times Square. Once we finished we walked around the area and just tried to absorb some of it. That place is pretty much sensory overload!

After we decided our presence was no longer necessary in Times Square, we took the subway down to Ground Zero. I saw it about three years ago, but Dad had not been there. We ended up walking around the perimeter of it before finding a pizza place a few blocks away. The pizza was decent, but nothing spectacular. However, I did appreciate the garlic salt they placed in shakers on the table. That was pretty cool! :)

Full from pizza, we then headed back to the hotel, and from there we walked (mistake) to the Intrepid, a former aircraft carrier-turned-museum. It was pretty impressive, but man was it hot! We had expected to get away from some of the heat and humidity from back home. Uhh, wrong. We ended up not spending too much time on the Intrepid because we decided some showers were definitely in order before dinner!

So dinner was at this little Italian place called Ralph's. It was fabulous, and I was so glad we were recommended it! After dinner was the highlight of the trip though: Wicked! Our seats were pretty far to the left of the stage, but we were super close (row B), so that was cool! And it was excellent! I only wish I could've seen it when the stars were Idina Menzel, Kristen Chenoweth, and Rue McClanahan. I can't imagine how incredible it was back then! At any rate, I can't wait to see it again someday.

Sunday morning Dad and I had breakfast before heading up to Central Park. We stopped briefly at the Dakota (where John Lennon was shot), and then we wandered a bit around Central Park. After that we headed back to the hotel, stopped off at Bryant Park, and went to the library. Unfortunately, despite saying it was open, the library's doors were all locked. Lame. So we went back to Bryant Park and had lunch at a nice outdoor cafe. And then it was time to go to the hotel and for me to pack up and get ready to go home. :( Dad stayed since he had a business meeting the following morning.

Unfortunately, getting home was pretty much a giant hassle. My flight out of LaGuardia was delayed by over an hour due to heavy rains there, and they said I was going to miss my connecting flight home out of Dallas. However, when we got on the plane they said they'd be taking a shorter flight path that would get us in about 25 minutes before my flight home! I had a chance! ...Oh, wait, no I didn't. Because American Airlines decided to cancel my ticket and rebook me on the 9:05 AM flight to OKC that left the following morning. And they didn't even tell me! I found out because my mom had called to check my flight status and discovered this. Annoying! Because had they not done this, I could have made my flight. How do I know this? Because my BAG made my flight!

At any rate, Mom came and picked me up so I could spend 5 hours crashed on her couch. On Monday morning I was back at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, and at 9:05 I was on my plane waiting to take off. And at about 9:15 the pilot got on the intercom and told us to get out: the flight was canceled due to heavy rain in Oklahoma City. Argh!

American ended up putting me on standby for the next flight that left at 12:55, but naturally there were well over 100 other people all on standby, so needless to say my chances of getting on that flight were zero. And the next, and the one after that, and so on. I was officially booked for the 10:30 flight that evening (the one I was supposed to be on the night before!), but who wants to sit around an airport for over twelve hours?

Lucky for me, my mom decided she would drive me back home instead of leaving me to sit in an uncomfortable airport chair all day. So she picked me up, and we drove up to OKC. She spent the night with me and headed back home to Dallas Tuesday morning. It was an ordeal, but on the plus side it was cool getting to not only hang with my dad all weekend, but also getting to hang with my mom for a while too.

So that's about it. Sorry there aren't photos, and sorry this isn't exactly the best-written blog in the world! I was just word vomiting my trip. :)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My new shoes!

I had to show off my new shoes! I bought these yesterday, and somehow (miraculously) they arrived today, even though I had free shipping, which is usually slow as heck! How cool is that? (And this awesome shipping was from endless.com, in case you're interested) Anyway, I have been eyeballing these shoes for months, and I can't help it: I LOVE THEM. Which means I had to own them. It was meant to be.

So I have now officially fallen in love with Seychelles shoes. They are ridiculously cute. I'm an old soul, so anything retro in appearance is automatically awesome in my book. These shoes definitely fit the bill, and I could easily find another ten pairs to love and absolutely must have or else my life would cease to matter. Unfortunately, if I spent that much on shoes, the hubs would probably bite my head off. Literally.

So for now, I'll stick with my one pair and look at them strapped to my feet gleefully.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

The Southern Vampire Mysteries, a.k.a. the Sookie Stackhouse series, is not exceptionally well-written. Like, at all. And yet somehow this series keeps chugging along, Charlaine Harris is under contract for at least two to three more books, there's a hugely popular HBO show based on it, and most importantly... I read them. And I am a self-admitted sorta-book snob.

Dead in the Family is like the 53rd book in this series (okay, okay... it's the tenth. Eleventh if you include the collection of craptacular short stories). As it is a series, it's a continuation of what happened in the last few books: The Vampire territory of Louisiana is in turmoil, Sookie is still recovering from the torture inflicted on her by a few really screwed up fairies, and Eric is... well... still hot. Oh, and someone is pissed at Sookie and wants to kill her. Because each book features a new someone out to kill the Sookster.

Anyway, ever since its release about two weeks ago, I've been hearing snippets about this book, and they have all been bad things. That made me sad because even though the series is borderline ridiculous, it's still highly entertaining and full of awesomesauce such as sexy vampires, insanely hot male fairy strippers who pose for romance novel covers, and even Undead Elvis. Who doesn't love Undead Elvis?!?

So point being, I started reading this book with the knowledge that while it would be entertaining for me, it would probably suck all-in-all. But I am happy to report that it did NOT totally suck! I liked it better than Dead and Gone (Sookie book #9), so that was its first thumbs up. The book also introduced another famous undead person, which is thumbs up #2, because let's face it: I love going to Wikipedia and looking up photos of said person and trying to imagine him or her as a vampire. It's pretty awesome entertainment for me. I also like that there was a nice all-around focus on the supes in general. No focusing just on the vampires or just on the weres or just on the fairies. We got some diversity in this one, and that was fun.

There were a few downsides to the book, unfortunately. The first was that there was a lot of filler. I don't need to hear about every meal Sookie eats. I was also not a fan of one particular storyline, though obviously that is personal preference. I also felt that this did not follow a good novel format. What I mean by this is that the book started with one storyline, but then that one was left rather loose as two new ones took over. In other words, the book was all over the place it seemed. It almost felt as though someone asked Charlaine Harris to produce a book with a set number of words, but when she finished her first draft said, "Oh, crap! I'm about 50,000 words too short. I better add a few snippets of a storyline over here, and no one will notice if I totally neglect it and disregard it until the next novel. And I also better describe Sookie's meals in a little more detail to add a couple thousand over there. Uh oh, I'm still short though! Well, I guess I can throw a couple scenes in with this character. And that ought to do it!"

All in all, if you dig the series, read this one. But don't read them out of order or you will be so incredibly lost.