August 10, 2010

Meridon

Posted in 4 stars tagged , , , , at 8:58 AM by meghanmuses

Meridon (Wideacre, #3)Meridon by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Out of the entire “Wideacre” trilogy, this book was definitely my favorite. Gregory did a nice job of wrapping up all the loose ends of the story, but what I liked best about this book is that you actually grow to like the main character, Meridon/Sarah. Granted, there are times you just want to throttle her, but she needs to go through the worst in order to learn and grow; just like the rest of us. I was glad to see the lack of rape and incest in this novel, and though there was still murder in this story, I felt it was more appropriate and better executed than in previous novels where the murders were unnecessarily abundant and brutal.

I don’t think I’ll be reading any of the “Wideacre” books again any time soon; the story haunted me even after I put the book down. But I was glad I made it through the end of the trilogy simply because of the way Gregory ended this novel.

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July 27, 2010

The Favored Child

Posted in 3 stars tagged , , , , at 8:59 AM by meghanmuses

The Favored Child (Wideacre, #2)The Favored Child by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading “Wideacre”, I was slightly more prepared for the more risqué parts of the story when I started reading “The Favored Child”; however, I still managed to be taken by surprise by certain points in the novel. I expected the lying, the betrayals, the secrets and the dashed dreams. I did not expect more incest, more incestuous babies, more murder and the whole rape scene. Goodness, Ms. Gregory, you pulled out all the stops in this one.

I will say I liked the second novel in the trilogy better than the first; simply because I liked the main character more. Poor Julia, such a tragic tale. Her love of Wideacre was overshadowed by the love she found in Bath, but it was all taken away from her in one cruel moment that left her with a broken wrist and a shattered dignity. It’s bad enough to be raped (and by the man you think is your cousin!) but then to find out you are pregnant because of it? How much worse can it get for you? Oh wait. You marry the man because you feel the need to save your reputation, only to find out no one would have judged you if you told them the truth about what happened. Oh, AND, you’re trapped in a violent and loveless marriage to the man who is actually your brother. No wonder you hated your life so much.

Thankfully, Gregory wraps up Julia’s situation in a nice neat package: dispose of the hateful brother/husband, send the incestuous baby off to live with the gypsies and have Julia die of a fever. And don’t forget to kill off all the other main characters. Alls well that ends well, right? But what about little Sarah, the child born from incestuous rape? I was curious too, so I picked up the last installment of the trilogy to find out.

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July 26, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Posted in 5 stars tagged , , , , at 9:19 AM by meghanmuses

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and IndonesiaEat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really wavered between giving this book four or five stars, but in the end, I had to admit it was fabulous, so five stars it is. The only reason I was even considering the four-star rating is because Gilbert irritates me a bit: she whines, she’s self-pitying and her overwhelming sense of depression (at points) creeps up on you and drains you of all happy feelings until you put the book down for a minute (or turn the next page). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the reasons why Gilbert irritated me initially are the same reasons which make it easy for me to relate to her and root for her happiness during her journey of self-discovery. So by the end of the book, I realized I actually liked Gilbert and I particularly like her style of writing, so I’m giving this book five stars.

I’d also like to point out that I avoided this book for the longest time because of all the hype. Everybody was talking about this book – “oh, it’s life-changing”, “so funny and poignant”, “one of my favorites”, etc. etc. – and I didn’t want to buy into the fan frenzy. I didn’t want to read it because it was the fad at the time, and I didn’t think I was missing out on too much if I waited to pick it up when I was ready. Well, I was ready just before I left for vacation and I was browsing the “buy 1 get 1 50% off” section at my local Borders. It seemed like a great beach read and I was looking forward to some light reading after the deluge of dense non-fiction I had been subjecting myself to lately.

I ended up not getting around to reading the book on the beach; instead, I started reading it the night before we left to go home and finished it on my couch. I think I preferred it this way; yes, the book was an easy read and probably would have been fine to read on the beach. But I found myself thinking about it a lot more than I anticipated. I re-read sections, I put it down to ponder a statement and I found myself enjoying it more in the total silence of my house instead of the hustle and bustle of a vacation with a group of friends.

The book is composed of three sections, each section focusing on one of the countries Gilbert spends time in. I enjoyed each section for different reasons, but I have to admit I preferred the section about her time in Italy. Mainly because she ate a lot of good food. I love food. I love Italian food. I love it when someone describes food so well, I can almost taste it. That’s how I felt about the section on Italy – I could smell the pizza, taste the pasta; I was savoring right along with Gilbert. And, to me, Italy is where Gilbert learned to be happy; this self-discovery was my favorite part of the book.

Her time in India is a close second for me because Gilbert learned to be at peace here. I’m jealous she could take the time away from her life and her loved ones to spend time at place dedicated solely to achieving inner peace. The entire section on India convinced me I need to learn some form of meditation and incorporate it into my life.

Indonesia was my least favorite section, mainly because it was about Gilbert falling in love. Now, I’m not a cynic. I believe in love and I’m happy for anyone who is lucky enough to find someone to love them. But since the rest of the book was so centered on her relationship with herself, I wasn’t prepared for another person to enter the picture quite so soon. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy reading this section; it’s more that I would have preferred it covered in another book and her section on Indonesia focus more on her experience with the village medicine man.

All in all, a very enjoyable book and one I look forward to re-reading. I hope the movie will live up to it.

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Wideacre

Posted in 2 stars tagged , , , , at 9:18 AM by meghanmuses

Wideacre (Wideacre, #1)Wideacre by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Oh, Ms. Gregory, you never cease to surprise me! Let’s all keep in mind that my introduction to Philippa Gregory’s work was her series on the Tudors: tinged with sexual innuendo and a little bit of raunchy activity here and there, but nothing too shocking. Then I read “The Wise Woman” and was astounded by the more explicit sex scenes. (NOTE – I am not anything close to a prude; my shock was purely due to my expectations of Gregory’s writing.) But in all of her books I’ve read, the sex scenes, including the amount of description, were pretty essential to the story, so I didn’t hold it against her.

Then I read “Wideacre”. Wow. Murder. Incest. Incestuous babies. Lies. Bad marriages. Adultery. S&M. Just…wow.

Again, Gregory makes all of the shocking material completely relevant to the story. I wasn’t quite sure how she would sneak incestuous S&M (which, by the way, leads to the aforementioned incestuous babies) into a piece of historical fiction centered on a country estate; but she somehow manages it.

Yet, even though Gregory intertwined all of these pieces relatively seamlessly into the story, I still didn’t like the story very much. Gregory has a knack of making you hate characters, and she certainly succeeded with me regarding the main character, Beatrice. I wanted to like Beatrice; I really did. And I may have liked her, in the beginning. But her scheming and lies and hurting the people who loved her (not to mention her immoral views on adultery, incest and pretending children aren’t hers) rubbed me the wrong way. Since I didn’t like her, and the book was focused on her, I had a hard time enjoying the book. It was well-written, as I feel all of Gregory’s works are, but that alone can’t make me love a story. I will give Gregory credit in that I did finish the book – I needed to know how it ended. And Gregory had one last brilliant trick up her sleeve: she made it clear this book was part of a series and the only way I would really know how it all ended was to continue on to the next book. So as soon as I put down “Wideacre”, I picked up “The Favored Child”.

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July 18, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo

Posted in 4 stars tagged , , at 3:06 PM by meghanmuses

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into this book for a number of reasons: multiple people were reading the same copy of the book at the same time, the novel contains two stories wrapped up into one piece and the character names were especially confusing (particularly because they were Swedish. The first reason was my own doing – I picked up a friend’s copy of the book while on vacation just to casually glance at it, but ended up getting sucked in. Since I didn’t own a copy of the book, I couldn’t read it whenever I wanted, but my friend was kind enough to lend it to me for periods of a time. The second reason was Larsson’s doing, but I understand his reasoning for it, and having two stories in one made the book all the more intriguing. The third and final reason was cleared up rather early in the book; although there were many different characters named in the first few chapters, the rest of the book focused on a select few, making it much easier to understand who was who.

The two basic stories in the book couldn’t be more different: financial fabrications leading to a journalist’s downfall is one story and the other is a murder mystery. I’ll be honest; I wasn’t all that interested in the financial aspect of the book, specifically because I didn’t understand it. I sort of glossed over the whole section on economics which explained what exactly was done which led to the financial gain of one person and eventually led to the ruin of a financial journalist. After finishing the book, I understand the basics of this part of the story: a man decides to make his fortune by gaming the system and finding loopholes in the country’s economy, another man tries to expose him but ends up losing his reputation when the published article turns out to include false information (note – this is no fault of the journalist; he was fed bad information by the rich man’s minions). However, this piece of the story is an “all’s well that ends well” bit – the journalist receives proper information which can be verified, publishes a new article and the rich, powerful man is exposed, ruined and ultimately killed.

While that could have made for an interesting book on its own (provided you enjoy reading about economics), I was much more intrigued by the murder mystery which becomes the focus of the book. In fact, the most intriguing part is that you are never quite sure if it’s a true murder mystery at all; there is no body and there is no evidence of murder except in an old man’s mind. Larsson does a fantastic job of keeping the reader guessing and presenting enough plausible theories to make you think you have the right answer, only to be proven wrong in the next chapter.

The pace of the book was good and I enjoyed Larsson’s writing style. At first I wasn’t a fan of all the extraneous characters he presented in the earlier chapters (reason 3 for my taking so long to get into the story), but I now understand his need to set the scene. There were a lot of players in the murder mystery and the reader needed to be as confused as the main character. Thankfully, the later chapters focus on less people and make it much easier to grasp who was doing what. The only detriment for me was my total lack of preparation for the explicit sexual violence; I had absolutely no idea it was coming and the vivid description of the rape scene caught me completely off guard. I know the importance of shock value, but I thought this was a little over-the-top, especially since it didn’t seem to play a part in either of the stories within the novel. However, I will now say it plays an important role once I realized this book is part of a series and the character involved in the rape scene is central to the other books in the series (as is the sexual violence). At the time, though, it was a little odd to me.

I don’t know if I would have ever picked up the book on my own, but I’m glad I came across it. I’m interested to read the rest of the series.

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July 13, 2010

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously

Posted in 3 stars tagged , , , at 2:50 PM by meghanmuses

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking DangerouslyJulie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ll be honest: I had low expectations for this book. I didn’t particularly like the character of Julie in the movie, nor did I care for her after reading excerpts from her blog and interviews. Since I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like the main character, it’s hard to remember why exactly I picked up the book in the first place; but it was a buy-one-get-half-off-another sale at the store and I grabbed this on a whim.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed reading this book. I will say I’m still no fan of Julie – I think she’s annoyingly neurotic and she treats her husband like crap sometimes – but my dislike of her didn’t ruin the reading experience for me. I thought she did an excellent job of adding Julia Child’s recipes into her work without detracting from the story and I felt the story flowed well. Her writing style in the book is light-years better than her blog; something, I’m sure, we can attribute to the input of her editor.

I had no idea how the book was structured before I saw the movie, so I was disappointed by the lack of story surrouding Julia, which the movie flushed out so well. But I guess that’s part of the problem with seeing the movie first: you expected the book to be exactly like the movie and it never is (thank YOU Hollywood).

All in all, it was a quick and easy read; perfect for a day at the beach.

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July 12, 2010

What to Expect When You’re Expecting: 4th Edition

Posted in 5 stars tagged , at 1:26 PM by meghanmuses

What to Expect When You're Expecting: 4th EditionWhat to Expect When You’re Expecting: 4th Edition by Heidi Murkoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the first book I bought myself when I found out I was pregnant and realized I knew absolutely nothing about it. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is the pregnancy BIBLE. Yes, it’s huge. Yes, it’s intimidating. Yes, there will be sections that don’t necessarily apply to you. And yes, there are parts that terrified me to the point that I put the book down for several days before I could pick it up again.

But this book has the answers. When it comes to pregnancy, there are no stupid questions; especially if it’s your first. This book embraces that idea. There is a TON of information and it’s written in easy-to-understand language. It was such a comfort to know I wasn’t alone when I was experiencing crappy symptoms or I had a question about something random or when I realized I had no clue what was going on with my body. Even though I’ve already read the book, I find myself still referencing it when I have a question or just want reassurance of something.

A must-read for first-time Mommys (and Daddys, too).

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The Healing of America

Posted in 3 stars tagged , at 10:40 AM by meghanmuses

The Healing of  AmericaThe Healing of America by Marianne Williamson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get through this book due, in large part, to the semi-pessimistic tone of the book. To her credit, Williamson does provide a warning about this in the introduction to the book, but the warning was not enough to prepare for the underlying feeling of hopelessness I had while reading her musings on the downfall of America.

That said, I was able to plough through the book and was happily rewarded with reading many of Williamson’s thought-provoking ideas on how Americans can make a difference and help to improve our country.

Again, I enjoy Williamson’s style of writing and the flow of this book was easy to follow. I don’t think I was in the right mindset to really absorb the content (somehow I feel trying to read a heavily-political non-fiction book while sitting on a beach isn’t the best idea; especially if you’re not particularly political to begin with) and would eventually like to re-read it. I plan to revisit this later.

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July 9, 2010

Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success

Posted in 3 stars tagged , at 2:58 PM by meghanmuses

Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for SuccessBrazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success by Penelope Trunk

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I ordered this book from my library simply because I am a member of the web site Penelope Trunk founded (also named “Brazen Careerist”) and my daily updates from the site sometimes contain posts from Trunk’s blog. I think she is a great writer and her ideas are definitely interesting, so I thought I might enjoy her book.

I guess I enjoyed the book. I mean, I like Trunk’s writing style. I liked the way the book was laid out. I thought the advice was well thought-out and communicated concisely. Hell, some of the advice may actually be useful to me! But there are two main issues which prevent me from giving this book a higher rating: first, there is a single piece of advice which bothered me so much, I can’t let it go; second, I am not Trunk’s target audience.

Let me reiterate that I think most of Trunk’s advice is well thought-out and usually something I can find helpful. However, there was one particular piece of “advice” Trunk offers that really bothered me and left me with just a bad feeling overall. She advises you (particularly women, though she does mention men could benefit from this advice as well) to use sexual harassment to get ahead. No, she is not encouraging you to harass someone; she is saying that being a victim of sexual harassment can actually be beneficial to your career. Seriously.

I understand shock value. I understand that controversy generates discussion. I understand Trunk’s optimism and believing that even the worst situation can have a silver lining. But encouraging people to not report sexual harassment? Telling people that being sexually harassed can help advance your career? I don’t understand that. If I were just confused by her remarks, that would be okay. But it’s not just confusion I feel. It’s resentment. It’s sadness. It’s dejectedness. As someone who has been a victim of sexual harassment and sexual assault, it really hits home when I feel someone trivialize the issue or try to make it something it’s not. Yes, there is always an option to glean something good out of a seriously bad situation; but to actively tell someone that the bad situation is actually helpful to them…it’s wrong. “Dealing with” sexual harassment, “making light” of it, not reporting it – all of these things make it seem like standing up for yourself is a bad thing (which it NEVER is). Too many people follow Trunk’s advice regarding their careers. It scares me to think how many people took that little nugget to heart, or worse, tried to create a situation where they could apply this advice in their professional lives.

I think this is the real reason why I can’t give the book more than 3 stars. Yes, I liked it and I did enjoy most of it. But the more I think about it, the more this section of the book bothers me and that ruins my experience of reading it.

However, it is important to note that I am definitely not the intended audience for this book. While I am part of the generation Trunk is targeting with her advice, the majority of her work seems tailored to the person who wants to be their own boss and start their own business. I am not one of those people, so I felt a lot of the advice was not relevant to me; however, I still read the information and it was well-written and interesting. Just not relevant to me.

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July 8, 2010

Enchanted Love: The Mystical Power of Intimate Relationships

Posted in 2 stars tagged , , at 8:36 AM by meghanmuses

Enchanted Love: The Mystical Power Of Intimate RelationshipsEnchanted Love: The Mystical Power Of Intimate Relationships by Marianne Williamson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Normally I like Marianne Williamson’s style of writing, but I was a little put-off by the setup of the book. She prefaces each chapter with an interesting quote/mini story about love (which I did enjoy) but then starts each chapter with this weird conversation with a fictious man about how she’s a mermaid, she’s been waiting for him and he needs to feel love like she feels love (or something along those lines). The whole “conversation” piece of each chapter (note – not only was there bits of a conversation at the beginning of each chapter, there was also bits sprinkled throughout the chapters as well) just didn’t click with me. I’m all for metaphors but I think she took this one a bit too far. Not just with the mermaids, but with the angel/aliens in the spaceship. Seriously. A spaceship. In a book about love.

However, the one redeeming quality of this book was the actual content of the chapters (excluding, of course, the random conversations with the mystery man). I enjoyed her explanations of the different kinds of love there are in this world and the idea that the type of love you need for a lasting and fulfilling relationship isn’t always the romantic love you read about in books or see in movies; it’s hard, it can hurt and it’s a lot of work. I think too many people confuse lust with love and forget that in order for a relationship to survive, you need to work to sustain an intimate love between one another. All interesting points and Williamson expressed them wonderfully; I just couldn’t get past her odd metaphors in this book.

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