Boo. (And not like a ghost, either)

Tomorrow is going to be one hell of a day. Taking the GRE in the morning and then reporting to the dreaded video rental shop an hour later for a four hour shift. I haven’t felt this nervous-sick since…I don’t even remember!

All i have to keep in mind is that by this time tomorrow, it’ll all be over and I’ll be back home. At least until the next shift at the dread video rental shop of dooooooom! 😦

Non-fiction: Music

Rip It Up And Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds

I picked up this book after it got a glowing review in Q Magazine, which essentially serves as my music bible. I was in the middle of a book about the punk years and thought I’d skip ahead and learn a bit about postpunk. And am I glad I did! Rip It Up And Start Again is an amazingly in-depth history of the backgrounds and formation of different bands, their influences, and their ideas, covering the years 1978 to 1984 and bands on both sides of the pond.

This book will make you long for a time when indie, actual indie, labels had the power to change and mold the music industry, when music had a philosophy. It also emphasizes the romance of the time – disillusioned creative types with a passion to make themselves heard coming to New York or London and squatting in buildings until they got a gig. Quite a contrast to the privileged backgrounds of many of today’s artists (Strokes, I’m looking at you!).

I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of popular music, but be forewarned, it will probably make you run out to your nearest record store (preferably independantly-owned) and spend all your money filling in the holes in your record collection.

My rating: A

ETA: I just found out that there is at least one chapter missing from the American version – like on purpose, edited out – so now I’m going to have to track down the British version so I can see what I missed… Lame!

Romance

The Corinthian/The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer

I decided to read a Georgette Heyer book after Maya recommended Cotillion as her favorite romance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find Cotillion at the used bookshop, so I chose The Corinthian instead as it featured my aforementioned favorite romance novel plot device: a heroine dressed as a young man. When I was halfway through it and realized I was enjoying it, I went back to see what else they had and discovered The Masqueraders in which not only is the heroine disguised as a young man, her brother is disguised as her sister! Cross-dressing for everyone! So how could I go wrong?!

The answer is: I couldn’t. Both books were thoroughly enjoyable, with wholly satisfying plots, charming characters, and happy endings all around. Heyer’s style, though categorized as romance, really is closer to the tone of Jane Austen. Both of the heroine’s love interests see through their disguises quite quickly, which I found a little disappointing, but the chemistry between them more than makes up for that shortcoming. Very good and a pleasant contrast to the current regency romances.

My rating:

The Corinthian: B+

The Masqueraders: A-

Romance

On The Way To The Wedding by Julia Quinn

Well, it’s finally here. The final book in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series. And it’s every bit as charming as the previous seven books. Frankly, I’m not sure what to say about it. It has likable characters, a plot that’s neither boring nor tacked-on feeling, and a happy ending. I’m a little bit sad to say goodbye to the Bridgerton’s because a more delightful romance novel dynasty, there has never been. Which is not to say that I don’t look forward to her next book, despite its lack of Bridgertons!

My rating: A-

Lady Whistledown Strikes Back/The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown by Julia Quinn, Suzanne Enoch, Karen Hawkins, and Mia Ryan

More romance anthologies from the good authors at Avon Books. As usual, Julia Quinn’s novellas, for me at least, are the highlight of these books. Her characters are their usual witty selves and Quinn somehow manages to pack her novellas as full of plot and characterization as is present in her full-length novels.

Suzanne Enoch, like Christina Dodd, is an author that I think benefits from the shorter formats of these anthologies. The better of her two novellas is the one found in Lady Whistledown Strikes Back as the heroine is a rather average girl that suddenly becomes the heartfelt focus of ‘London’s most notorious rogue,’ to quote the back of the book. I’m always a sucker for these kinds of stories because, unlike most of the heroines found in the pages of romance novels, I am an average girl, so it gives me heart to read about a plain heroine (who is beautiful in the eyes of her sweetheart, of course) who becomes swept up in a romance. Her other novella is perfectly enjoyable, too, I just wanted to point out this one in particular.

I liked Karen Hawkins’ contribution to The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown, but found her other novella a bit tiresome. The story I liked is a sweet one about a rogue who realises he’s in love with the eccentric lady with whom he has been lifelong friends. I’m a sucker for those kinds of stories!

Both of Mia Hamm’s novellas I found to be extremely charming. One features a lord who has come back from the war with a head injury that makes it difficult for him to voice his thoughts while the other focuses on, again, a rather eccentric but entirely likable heroine who is a ‘free-spirited’ servant. I’ve tried to find full-length books by Ryan, but as far as I can tell, the only one available is the first book of the Duchess Diaries series that was published quite a few years ago with no follow-ups since and even that one I’ve not found anywhere!

My rating:

Lady Whistledown Strikes Back: A-

The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown: A

Fantasy

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

Well, first of all, if you didn’t hear about this book when it came out, you must be under a rock. Secondly, if you didn’t read it then, I hereby command you to read it now! His Majesty’s Dragon is a fascinating alternate universe idea that follows through with infinite precision. Although Novik’s version of the Napoleonic Wars involves dragons, her historical research is impressive and the surrounding world could not be better detailed.

The idea behind the book is that dragons are used in the military just as airplanes are nowadays, working in squadrons built to utilize each dragon species’ unique natural weaponry. Will Laurence, a captain in the British navy, is unexpectedly chosen by the hatchling of a captured egg and, despite his reluctance to leave his ship behind, does his duty and joins the dragon corps. What follows is an interesting and exciting story which does an extraordinary job at balancing Laurence’s changing view on his situation and trying to find his place in this new, odd society with good, old-fashioned battle scenes.

I was instantly smitten by Temeraire and quickly found myself harboring a cross-species crush on Temeraire. And Laurence isn’t so bad himself! The dragons, despite serving as basically a vessel for the army, are all distinct and interesting characters, as well, and the relationships between them and their captains are very nicely drawn. All in all, a wonderful debut novel!

My rating: A

Throne of Jade and Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

His Majesty’s Dragon was followed almost immediately by Throne of Jade and Black Powder War, but never fear, Novik insists that it is a series, not a trilogy.

These next two, but the second one in particular, turns more to the political side of the conflict. The second book covers Laurence, Temeraire and their crew’s journey to China – Temeraire had been intended as a gift from China to Napoleon but was intercepted by the British in the first book – to try and appease China’s insistance that Temeraire, who is a Celestial dragon (an extremely rare breed), should only be captained by royalty. The third book covers their return to Britain and ends with a very suspenseful, and rather upsetting, cliffhanger.

Their missions, of course, provide much opportunity for plotting and intrigue, but while this was a chance to see Laurence’s authority come through with his crew, I did find myself wishing there was more of the internal, emotional focus that had been present in His Majesty’s Dragon. I have to say, though, that Lien rocks my socks as a villainess, particularly in the third book, Black Powder War!

As I mentioned briefly above, Black Powder War has a very worrying ending and the excerpt from Book Four (still to be released at present) does not assuage any of that tension. I can only hope that Novik is furiously writing because I want to know what happens next! Aso, on a side note, Throne of Jade contains my favorite line, one which is enormous amounts of fun when spoken in a posh British accent around the house and that is ‘Temrer! Cow?’ Hilarious, for some reason.

My rating:

Throne of Jade: B+

Black Powder War: A-

Romance

The Liar’s Club series by Celeste Bradley

All right. I’ll admit it. I occasionally read a romance novel or two. Every girl goes through their romance novel phase – I had mine while I was in high school, but I outgrew it eventually and now only read Julia Quinn’s books because they really are quite good. But one day I was bored and went to her website and she recommended Celeste Bradley’s books. I thought to myself ‘If it’s good enough for Julia, it’s good enough for me!’ and picked one up from the local used bookshop.

And was pleasantly surprised! The Liar’s Club is an elite group of spies based in London during the Napoleonic Wars (i.e. Regency, in romance novel terms). Throughout the series, various members of said elite group find romance, love, and adventure. Of course. But the characters are all very likable, although the men do display that romance cliche of believing themselves not worthy of love or whatever, the women are intelligent, and the spy storyline is really quite exciting! Ordinarily, the ‘plot’ seems tacked on just to link the love scenes, but here I found myself getting to the love scenes and thinking ‘Yeah, yeah, they have sex, blah, blah, blah, get back to the spying!’

It’s not necessary to read these in order (I think I read them as out of order as it is possible to be), but it would help as there is a story arc that connects all five books and characters in the series. I think my favorite was The Spy as it features one of my favorite plot devices: woman disguised as young man. Tres bon!

My rating: B+

The Royal Four series by Celeste Bradley

Once I started reading Bradley’s books, I couldn’t stop. The Royal Four is an ancient group of men (it’s an ancient group, not a group of ancient men…) who basically run the country, advising the prime minister and the crown and, surprisingly enough, Bradley’s Royal Four series follows their adventures in love and, once again, plotting! These books are still enjoyable and feature many of the positive aspects of Bradley’s Liar’s Club series, i.e. heroic heroes, strong heroines, and engaging suspense plots. However, I felt that the heroes all suffered from extreme cases of ‘I don’t deserve a wife, I;m too dangerous to love,’ etc. While understandable, given their political situations, it did start to get on my nerves after a while.

Again, I don’t think it’s necessary to read them in order as there is again a story arc that not only spans the Royal Four series but continues on where the last Liar’s Club book leaves off, but it probably helps. My favorites are the first one, To Wed A Scandalous Spy, whose heroine is entirely charming and whose hero has the most justification for his reluctance to take a wife, and the third one, One Night With A Spy which features probably one of the strongest heroines in a romance and the most relaxed of the heroes. Entirely worth the few hours it takes to zip through these stories!

My rating: B

My Scandalous Bride by Christina Dodd, Stephanie Laurens, Celeste Bradley, and Leslie LaFoy

Bought to round out my Celeste Bradley collection, My Scandalous Bride is an anthology of St. Martin’s Press authors and all of them, but especially the Celeste Bradley novella, are exceedingly enjoyable. Christina Dodd, I’ve found, is best dealt with in short doses – while I like reading her novellas, I can’t seem to settle into her full-length books. Stephanie Laurens turns in a story rather similar to her contribution to Scottish Brides another anthology, this time for Avon, but I’m not complaining – she writes notoriously scorching love scenes and this one doesn’t disappoint! Leslie LaFoy, an author I had never heard of prior to this book, turns in a charming story with a likable heroine and a stellar rogue.

Bradley’s story, I thought, was the best. It features Kitty Trapp, who with her twin sister Bitty have made appearances in Bradley’s other series. Kitty is clever and feisty without feeling like a contrived character. In response to her staid new husband, who through a complicated series of events intended to marry her twin but instead wed Kitty in Bitty’s place, Kitty pulls some pranks which made me chuckle out loud. Utterly charming and I must say I was glad to read happy endings for both of the Trapp sisters.

Worth it for the three other stories as well as for the satisfaction of completing my Celeste Bradley collection. Yes, I know, except for Fallen which is on its way as we speak.

My rating: B+

Yuck.

Well, I’m back. Needless to say, it wasn’t what I’d expected. I thought I’d get to be like Comic Book Guy, but it’s stressful! I’m hoping it’s just the whole learning-new-things syndrome, but I feel like there’s a lot they didn’t tell me (and I forgot to ask). Like how much I’m making an hour…

Literature

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

This will most likely be a fairly short review because, even though I remember enjoying this book and finishing it quite quickly, I don’t really know what to say about it. Basically, a changeling takes the place of young Henry Day, who becomes Aniday and joins the band of changelings who live in the forest bordering his old home. Donohue’s book follows the story of both boys as the new Henry Day grows up, feeling not-quite-normal despite appearances to the contrary while Aniday struggles to retain memories of his other life as a normal boy while adjusting to his new life as a timeless pseudo-child.

The parallel stories are interesting, perhaps prompting a discussion of nature vs. nurture, and the writing is lovely, lyrical and flowing. There does seem to be something unsettling about the stories, as neither character quite becomes assimilated to their new lives – they still retain a sort of otherness about them despite the passage of time. Overall a very thoughtful book, although I might have preferred waiting for it to come out in paperback.

My rating: B+

Young Adult

The Death Collector by Justin Richards

When I first bought this book, I was rather worried that this was the book I should have written. Let’s see: Victorian London, a pickpocket, the British Museum, walking dead, and dinosaurs. What could go wrong? But fortunately, for my peace of mind at least, it was yet another case of fascinating premise let down by the writing and, well, the plot. I think the main problem with this book was that with such an exciting idea at its core, it had a lot to live up to. It wasn’t that it was bad, really, it’s just that it wasn’t as good as it should have been.

My rating: C

Startled By His Furry Shorts by Louise Rennison

This is the seventh in Louise Rennison’s series featuring Georgia Nicholson and I don’t care that it’s basically more of the same, it’s good enough for me! Really, I just can’t get enough of Georgia’s hilarious voice. I’m glad she’s back in England after her trip to Hamburger-a-Go-Go Land in the previous book, but other than that, there’s not much to say about this one, really, other than the fact that Georgia’s family is still the most eccentric family on the block and her relationships become even more complicated than ever! This is definitely one series that needs to be read from the beginning and if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it – it’s sort of in the vein of Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series (which I love, too), but with exponentially more…something!

My only complaint is that they changed not only the size of the book, but the cover as well, so it doesn’t match the other six books in the series! Alas.

My rating:B+

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

First off, I’d like to say that this is the first date that I’m waiting for.

That said, this is a fantastic book. If you haven’t read David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, go do so immediately. I’ll wait.

Amazing, wasn’t it? So this one shouldn’t be hard sell, then, since half of it was written by him. The other half was written by Rachel Cohn of Gingerbread fame. They would have had to work hard to make this book go wrong. It’s a wonderful mix of romantic and gritty and makes me long to be a teenager again, but living in New York this time around. Nick and Norah have so much to explore, including themselves and each other, and they do it with a mix of prickly uncertainty and infinite courage that is inspiring.

I will warn readers that there is a bit of language and the teensiest bit of sex present, but I tell you this not to put you off the book. Not by any means. I imagine most of you are past the point of worrying about parental censorship, but if you buy it for or recommend it to anyone who isn’t yet, just warn them to be sure that no one is reading over their shoulder.

My rating: A

Non-fiction: Travel/Humor

You Can Get Arrested For That: 2 Guys, 25 Dumb Laws, 1 Absurd American Crime Spree by Rich Smith

This book suffers much the same problem as The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke: great premise, disappointing follow-through. However, this one didn't inspire hatred so much as apathy.

The premise of this book is, well, the title says it all, really – 2 Guys, 25 Dumb Laws, 1 Absurd (or not, in my opinion) American Crime Spree. Rich Smith found 25 obviously antiquated laws, such as it’s illegal to kiss for longer than 5 minutes in Iowa or it’s illegal to fall asleep in a cheese factory in South Dakota, and decided to drive across the country breaking them. In the hands of Bill Bryson, this would have been a tour de force! Alas, Rich Smith is no Bill Bryson.

Out of the 25 laws, he only succeeds in breaking, well, I can’t find the exact number in the book, but I’m pretty sure that, while it was over half, it wasn’t all of them. And the ones that he “broke,” he often asked permission to break which sort of voids the definition of breaking the law, don’t you think? If someone in a position of authority says you can do it, it’s not really breaking the law.

His writing is clever enough and he does make some interesting and valid observations about travel in general, the absurdity of authority, and America’s foibles, but all in all, it’s a pretty disappointing trip. If he writes anything else, I’ll probably skim through it a bit more thoroughly before purchasing it, but I’ll definitely give him a chance.

My rating: C

Literature

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke

First, let me type up the description on the book for you:

What if you found a 200-year-old love letter written from a fictional character to the writer who created him? And what if, next to that letter, was another addressed to this character…from the author herself? Truth may be stranger than fiction, but one woman is about to find out what happens when fiction becomes truth…New York artist Eliza Knight certainly did not realize it at the time, but her life changed when she bought the old, beat-up vanity table one lazy Sunday afternoon. Tucked away behind the mirror, she found two letters, one sealed, but one already opened:‘May 12th, 1810. Dearest Jane, the Captain has found me out. I am being forced to go into hiding immediately. But if I am able, I shall still be waiting at the same spot tonight. Then you will know everything you wish to know. F. Darcy.’

F. Darcy? Fitzwilliam Darcy, the fictional hero of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice ? Even more mysterious was the other letter, sealed and never read — from Jane to Darcy. Could this man, possibly the most romantic character ever written and the hero of Eliza’s favorite novel, have been a real person? Eliza’s initial guarded curiosity turns to astonishment as scientific testing confirms the sealed letter was indeed addressed by Jane Austen. But she is completely baffled by the revelation that the other letter, though proven to be from the same time period — was written by an American.Caught between the routine of her present life and the intrigue of these incredible discoveries from the past, Eliza decides to look deeper. Her research leads to a majestic, 200-year-old estate in Virginia’s breathtaking Shenandoah Valley where she meets the one man who may hold the answer. But he also has a secret, one he has kept hidden for years. Now, as the real story of Fitzwilliam Darcy unfolds, Eliza finds her life has become a modern-day romance, one that perhaps only Jane Austen herself could have so eloquently written”

Sounds intriguing, right? I love books that are about books a la Jasper Fforde or Ex-Libris, I love Pride and Prejudice, I just knew I would love this book. I mean, who doesn’t read Jane Austen and wish she had fallen in love with a real Mr. Darcy? For that matter, who doesn’t wish that Mr. Darcy would fall in love with them?! So how could this book fail?! Wait. I mean, How could this book fail?

I’ll tell you. By quoting the dedication page:

For Jane Austen, Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth

Creepy, no? Except that’s not all. This reads like something off of ff.net. A poorly written something off of ff.net. All the characters are one dimensional. Eliza is neither intelligent, nor likable. Her “research” of which the synopsis speaks consists of going to an exhibit at the New York public library where she scoffs at the dresses on display, sure that Jane would never wear such frivolous clothes. Be that as it may, it’s still a lame thing to waste time writing in a book. There she runs into a modern, American Mr. Darcy who does nothing but check her out. As in her figure, not a book she borrows from the library. Lame, lame, lame.

Jane reads like a heroine in a romance novel, something she would never sound like especially if she’s not going to at least have the courtesy to don the frivolous clothing that goes along with her behavior. Eliza only tosses her hair and is feisty at select moments. Darcy is sufficiently brooding and heroic. There is a modern day rival whose name I can’t remember, nor can I be bothered to pick up the book to find out and it’s sitting right next to me on the desk. We’ll just call her lame. The plot manages to be convoluted and predictable all at the same time. I honestly can’t find anything good to say about this book. I think I wouldn’t be so rabidly anti-The Man Who Loved Jane Austen if the premise hadn’t been so intriguing and had so much promise.

In conclusion: This book was LAME.

My rating: F+ (and only “+” because of the promising premise)

Literature

The Fourth Bear: A Nursery Crime by Jasper Fforde

With his newer Nursery Crime series, Jasper Fforde had a lot of expectations to live up to. The first book in the series, The Big Over Easy, didn’t quite meet them. Of course, that could just have been the inherent disappointment in finding that it was not a Thursday Next book. I suspect that, without the Thursday Next series, The Big Over Easy would have seemed a lot better – it had the same clever meta-literary theme i.e. characters from nursery rhymes interacting with and living in the real world, a likable protagonist and supporting characters, and a good mystery. The only thing it didn’t have was Thursday Next.

In The Fourth Bear, Fforde finally succeeds in making the reader forget all about the lack of Thursday Next. He has hit his stride with these characters – Jack Spratt (of ‘could eat no fat’ fame) gains a dimension or two as does Mary Mary (as in quite contrary). His other officer in the Nursery Crime department, an alien named Ashley who came to Earth to find out why there were only three series of Fawlty Towers, emerges as an exceptionally charming character. I only wish we would have seen more of Jack’s eccentric family (his first wife, who could eat no lean, passed away years ago and Jack has since remarried) – they are quite charming and likable, especially Jack’s wife, Madeleine.

Many of Fforde’s characteristic authorial devices are present here, as well. It has a knowing quality to it, as though the characters are aware that they are fictional, and there are a few vague references to the author himself. In fact, Punch and Judy, who move in next door to Jack, seem to serve only as a plot device, but Fforde is probably aware of that. More to the point, they probably are, too. His literary jokes are laugh-outloud funny. As an example, let me only say that Dorian Gray makes an appearance as a used car salesman. Just think about it for a moment. The mystery is also believable and has enough twists to keep you guessing. I have to admit, though, that I am not an avid mystery reader, so perhaps my deductive skills are a tad more rusty than those of you who read mystery novels on a regular basis. I certainly didn’t see it coming!

In the back of the book was a note, saying to expect the next Thursday Next book in the summer of 2007. There was also one reassuring the reader that Jack, Ashley, and Mary would all return in another story of their own at some point in the future. I can honestly say that I am looking forward to both of them.

My rating = B+

Progress!

I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think I may have gotten a job and an apartment all in the same day! Huzzah! The apartment is a studio, so it’s small, but it’s in an old building, so it’s got lots of character – it’s really cute! And the job is working in a video rental shop on-campus – not very glamorous, but the pay’s got to be better than nothing!

Literature

Sloppy Firsts/Second Helpings/Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty

I picked up McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts following the whole Opal Mehta kerfuffle. They were books I’d seen around Borders, but, because I kept mainly to the kids’ section, I had never taken the time to really examine. And I was blown away.

Sloppy Firsts picks up just after Jessica’s best friend, Hope, has moved away, leaving her to deal with clueless, superficial friends; the dreamy badboy; and all the drama and angst of any high school career. Second Helpings continues her story, this time with the added stress of college applications and even more complicated relationships, while Charmed Thirds rounds out this trilogy with the story of Jessica’s college experiences.

I am going to go out on a limb here and make a rather bold statement: Along with Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, I really, honestly do believe that Megan McCafferty’s books, especially Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, should be required reading material for every single person in high school. In this era of the Gossip Girl books, where eating disorders are glamorous, must-have accessories, Megan McCafferty’s narrator, the candid, witty, intelligent, seemingly-confident-to-everyone-but-herself Jessica, is a refreshing depiction of teenage girls. And her voice is eminently spot-on! Reading McCafferty’s books are like reading the diary I never kept during high school and university, albeit with a tad more running and sex.

Really all I can say is go! Read this book! I’ll bet you anything you’ll find yourself wishing you’d been able to read these books while you were in high school.

My rating:

Sloppy Firsts: A+

Second Helpings: A+

Charmed Thirds: A