Mini Shopaholic: A Novel, by Sophie Kinsella.
I was first introduced to Sophie Kinsella's writting when I read The Undomestic Goddess, about a successful London attorney who flees the city for the country and accidentally takes a job as a housekeeper. I read and loved the novel (film version coming in 2011) because I identified with the main character. I enjoyed the first several books of the Shopaholic series for the opposite reason. Fashion-conscious, single, overspending - Becky Bloomwood is everything I am not. So as we move through the series and Becky becomes more like me - gets married, has a baby, and parents a two-year-old - I find her antics less and less charming and more annoying. Will this woman never learn?
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith.
I guess it's vampire week here at The Book Blawg.
Wow, I really enjoyed this book! That's saying a bit, because I generally avoid biographies and history. I know I should like them and they are good for me to read, but I prefer historical fiction if I want to learn about history.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, as the title suggests, re-imagines Lincolns life with vampires. As a young man, Lincoln learns that his mother and his grandfather were murdered by vampires. He then writes in his journal:
I hereby resolve to kill every vampire in America.Soon after, he meets a "good" vampire named Henry who teaches Lincoln about the undead and trains him to fight. Lincoln continues his secret vampire-fighting career until a "Union" of bloodsuckers persuades him to concentrate on politics. There is, we learn, a war coming - a war essentially between two groups of vampires: those that choose to coexist with humans; and those who enjoy terrorizing and victimizing them. (If this setup doesn't sound vaguely familiar, you haven't read any vampire fiction in the last 35 years.) The United States, particularly the South, has become a haven for vampires because of their ability to feed on slaves with impunity, and for that purpose have allied themselves with the southern plantation owners and slave traders. This fact makes the institution of slavery even darker, if that is possible; and their plans are to enslave the whole population and therefore they must be stopped, at all costs.
The bulk of the novel is not about vampires, but is a pretty well-written and engaging biography of Lincoln. It's not hard to discern fact from fiction. This book was great up until the very end, which didn't seem consistent with what we had learned about Lincoln. But I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot of history at the same time. The photos are clever, as well.
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella by Stephenie Meyer.
So, if you've read the Twilight series, you know that Bree is the newborn vampire who "surrenders" to the Cullens at the end of Eclipse and then is destroyed by the Volturi. This short novel is her story - sort of a "day-in-the-life" of the vampire army that Victoria creates. As Ms. Meyer writes in the introduction, "you know this: it doesn't end well for her. But at least you will know the whole story." And I'll tell you, not only do you learn about Bree, but there is a major new piece of information that is revealed in this book that was not in the book Eclipse, but I suspect will be included in Eclipse the movie which premiers next week, and it affects events in Breaking Dawn as well.
I found Meyer's writing in Bree Tanner to be a lot more like The Host than the other Twilight novels. Now I liked The Host, but not every Twilight fan does. Also, I've read criticisms that the book doesn't have chapters, and indeed that feature can be annoying unless you plan to read it all in one sitting. But it's short, so deal with it.
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is available to read for free until July 5 at breetanner.com.
Android Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters.
Scroll down to find out how you can win one of 25 prize packages from Quirk Classics.
I'm sure I qualify as a hard-core Tolstoy geek. I've read War and Peace - twice - for fun (both times). Back in college, I took a Russian literature course on Tolstoy and wrote what were, I'm sure, pretentious essays on Sevastapol Stories and Anna Karenina. I translated one of Tolstoy's short stories from Russian to English. I have three copies of AK on my shelf; a cheap paperback, a Norton critical edition, and a two-volume set in Russian that I picked up at some Dom Knigi or other. I even acquired the nickname "Mrs. Tolstoy" for a while, based on the phonetic similarities between my first name and Tolsoty's initials and, of course, my love of 19th century Russian literature.
So when Quirk Classics announced a blog explosion for their latest offering, Android Karenina, I knew I had to be on board.
This book has got androids, aliens, and enough action to please any mash-up fan. The thing about mash-ups is you either love them or you hate them. If you are a purist, you don't want anyone messing with your Tolstoy or your Austen. So if that's you, just stay away from the genre altogether or you will get all upset, and that makes things unpleasant for the rest of us.
[Isn't this a cool photo of Tolstoy? It was taken in 1908, the only color photograph of the author.]
One thing that has always struck me as I have been reading so much Jane Austen lately (both the mashed and the un-mashed) is the social class distinctions of that time. The separation of the population into nobility, commoners, and clergy is a foreign concept to our modern egalitarian minds. We understand that one person may have more money than another, or a more powerful or prestigious job, but not that a person is somehow better merely by birth. In Tolstoy's day, the distinction was even more pronounced due to the existence of serfdom, which persisted in Russian for hundreds of years after it was abolished in Western Europe. Tolstoy made efforts, with limited success, to improve the lives of the peasants living on his estate, and it becomes an important theme in his writing. So the substitution of robots for servants in Android Karenina seems quite fitting, and represents the ultimate dehumanization of the serving class.
Like the previous Quirk Classics books (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters), this one contains discussion questions, such as:
7. In a crucial moment, Levin chooses his wife over Socrates, his beloved-companion robot. Are there any technological devices in your life that you love more than your spouse?It seems that readers are going to find many of the themes in Android Karenina relevant to modern life. There's a reason they call it a CrackBerry, folks.
And now on to the give-away. To enter, visit Quirk Classics' Android Karenina contest page and leave a comment mentioning this blog (The Book Blawg). Quirk will be giving away 25 prize packages worth around $100 each, including 5 books, an Android Karenina poster, and more.
Thanks for joining me!
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary review copy of this book.
Ray Comfort, author (and friend of Kirk Cameron) has a new book out, and it's available free, either on request, by .pdf, or as an .mp3 audiobook: God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message.
Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, by Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald.
This is sort of the anti-feminist manifesto. I found the book inspiring, but didn't really give me anything new. The back of the book says, "Do you wrestle with cultural messages that demean the homemaker's calling and exalt instead the emotionally androgynous power-woman?" Um, no, not really. I'm pretty secure in my role as a lawyer-turned-stay-at-home-mom.
The Autism Answer Book: More Than 300 of the Top Questions Parents Ask, by William Stillman.
The ADD & ADHD Answer Book: Professional Answers to 275 of the Top Questions Parents Ask, by Susan Ashley, Ph.D.
I found both these books to be too general to be of much use. In addition, they are written from a very mainstream perspective, and ignore or only briefly mention alternative therapies and even dietary changes which have been helpful to so many people.
Disclaimer: I received complimentary review copies of these books.
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters.
Jessie Kunhardt at Huffington Post summarizes the monster mash-up craze (" 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' Spin-Offs are Out of Control!").
I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but not as much as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or its prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls. I just couldn't get past the fact that no rational society, when faced with giant malevolent sea creatures, would willingly choose to live near the ocean, on islands, or in a giant undersea city. What, there's no place to live inland? Also, I love, love, love, the movie version of Sense and Sensibility - the one with Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant. It's a rare instance of my liking a movie more than the book, and I don't like where the book deviates from the plot of the movie. You know, Alan Rickman is pretty hunky and I don't like him made ugly, whether by Austen's writing or by squid-like tentacles.
The Milk-Free Kitchen: Living Well Without Dairy Products, by Beth Kidder.
I have been trying to eat dairy-free lately, due to my son's eczema, and I thought this book would help. However I was a bit disappointed when I looked for a dessert recipe - most involve substituting margarine for butter. First, I don't want to eat margarine, either. And second, if I did I wouldn't need a recipe book to make those substitutions.
The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl, by Ree Drummond.
After reading quite a bit of buzz about The Pioneer Woman on my friends' blogs, I decided to check it out for myself. This book is beautiful to look at, fun to read, and full of meat-and-potatoes recipes (and a few others, too). A winner all around.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.
Wuthering Heights is supposed to be one of the classics of English literature, but after reading it, I can't see what all the fuss is about. All of the characters are immoral if not downright evil. In tragic fiction one often finds a hero/heroine with a fatal flaw, or a sympathetic villain. Heathcliff has been wronged, but he takes revenge on the guilty and the innocent alike. Cathy has few qualities that would make Heathcliff or Edgar Linton love her. It will be interesting to watch a movie version of the book, and see how these characters are portrayed.
Says a New York federal appeals court (AP via law.com). Jessica Seinfeld was sued for trademark and copyright violations after her book, Deceptively Delicious (reviewed here) was published about the same time as Missy Chase Lapine's The Sneaky Chef. Both cookbooks involve sneaking vegetable purees into kid's foods. Lapine also sued Jessica's husband, commedian Jerry Seinfeld, for defamation based on comments he made on The Late Show with David Letterman.
I have a stack of books on my desk. Some need to go back to the library; all are taking up space. Several of them deserve a whole review to themselves - but I don't have time to write them. So I'll just give you a summary. If you are interested in what I'm reading, leave a comment and maybe I'll give it a more in-depth treatment.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith. I think I liked this prequel even better than the original PPZ (which I reviewed here). While adding zombies to Austen's prose was, though delightful, unwieldy at best, this book is an entirely original piece of writing.
The It Factor: Be the One People Like, Listen to, and Remember by Mark Wiskup. Not what I was expecting, this book deals mainly with tweaking the way you talk and ask questions. Didn't do much for me.
The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton; completed By Marion Mainwaring. It's interesting reading this Regency-era book (published posthumously in unfinished form in 1938) alongside other Regency-era novels written over a century before, such as Pride and Prejudice.
The Telling (Seasons of Grace, Book 3) by Beverly Lewis - a satisfactory end to Lewis' latest three-book series.
Now I don't Tweet, or follow people on Twitter - I'm on information overload as it is - but I came across this list of the 50 Best Book People to Follow on Twitter. Looks good.
Since I last blogged about Jane Austen, I've read Emma (and watched the movie); watched Sense & Sensibility for about the tenth time; and read Austen's Northanger Abbey and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. I also watched Becoming Jane, the fictional biography staring Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen.
Next up: Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. I did consider reading Austen's books Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility, but I plan to read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
and Mansfield Park and Mummies. After my recent Pride, Prejudice and Zombies experience, I learned that reading an original and its monster mash-up back-to-back can be a bit repetitive.
Not everyone likes the Austen monster mash.
Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys, by Lucinda Scala Quinn.
As the mom of four boys, I was of course highly interested in the subject matter of this book. On a daily basis, sometimes right after dinner, I hear cries of "mom, I'm still hungry!". And they're not even teenagers yet. I found the first part of this book, with discussion and ideas and cooking tips, quite interesting. However, the recipes aren't always kid-friendly. There are some basics here, like fried chicken and beef stew. But others would work great for a family that's a bit more "into" food than ours. Still worth checking out, though.
Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, by by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein.
This is a fun book, short, easy to read. It gives a basic overview of philosophy, illustrated with a lot of really funny jokes.
Being the type of person who likes to thoroughly exhaust a genre or author before moving on, I decided not to stop at just one cinematic interpretation of the novel, but four. Bride and Prejudice is the Bollywood version staring, among others, Lost's Naveen Andrews (who knew he could dance?). It was a fun movie. Then Bridget Jones's Diary which borrows a plotline from Pride and Prejudice. I thought it was just ok; my husband didn't like it at all. Bridget Jones stars Colin Firth, who also played Mr. Darcy in the workmanlike 1996 BBC production of Austen's classic, which I watched as well.
I also started reading Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. When I picked up the book at the library, I was not at all surprised to learn that it was published by Quirk Classics, a division of Quirk Books. Quirk Classics is specializing in the literary mash-up, which aims to "enhance classic novels with pop culture phenomena." The tongue-in-cheek Reader's Discussion Guide at the end of the book explains:
10. Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last-minute addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a shameless attempt to boost sales....Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?
What to read next? There are so many options. I could read (or in some cases, re-read) the rest of Austen's novels - I've already finished Persuasion and started in on Emma. I could read one of the many Pride and Prejudice sequels and prequels on the market, but I'm still recovering from the disappointing Scarlett, the sequel to Gone With the Wind. Or I could wait for Dawn of the Dreadfuls, the prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, being released later this month. Perhaps Mansfield Park and Mummies? or Emma and the Werewolves? So many books, so little time...
ETA: Quirk Classics is giving away 50 Dawn of the Dreadfuls prize packs here.
Like it? My last one (besides being a standard dull blogger template) was, I thought, hard to read. This one is simple and clean.
There is another book in the series, Have a New Husband by Friday, which I plan to read, though I'm wary of the application of child-raising techniques to the marital relationship. Is there going to be a book How to Have a New Wife by Friday? I'm not sure that one would go over so well.