Blast from the Past–Bridget Jones’ Diary

Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
4/19/2007-4/27/2007–271 pages–fiction (England, relationships, being single)
Bought April 7, 2007 from Half-Price Books
★★★★★

I have, today, accomplished a great feat. I bought this book just 20 days ago and have already finished. This would be a feat no matter what book it’d been to have bought the book and then actually read it within months of that day. So, having read this book within 20 days of purchase is a great feat. But, why did I like this book.

Obviously I like Jane Austen, and this is a witty modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. That is reason #1 why I like it. It is also very funny, hilarious, amusing, etc. (reason #2). It has a great movie adaptation to go along with it, even if it’s missing the Wickham/Julio fiasco there should be (#3) and in that movie is Colin Firth (#4). I did find it amusing how both Hugh Grant and Colin Firth were mentioned in the book and then were cast in the film 🙂 And I also found it interesting how Bridget discussed the, at that time, new BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries because she hinted at the similarities between Messrs Fitzwilliam and Mark Darcy (subtle, I think not). This book is amazing and is on my list of favourites 🙂

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Length: 313 pages
Published in: 2012
Genre: fiction/young-adult fiction (relationships, cancer, literature)
ISBN: 9780142424179
Source: personal collection
Reason for Reading: I got it off the shelf at the store while I waited for a prescription to get filled at the pharmacy and read only a chapter. But it was so good, I bought the book and finished it 🙂
Rating: 4/5

Summary (from book cover):

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I honestly hadn’t meant to read it, since I sort of wanted to see the movie. (I can’t read a book and watch its movie counterpart too close together because the movie makes me mad when it differs, even slightly and in inconsequential ways.) Anyways, after I read just the first chapter, I was hooked. After the last book I finished, with all of its mystery, it was nice to have more of a straightforward story. Everything was simple in the way the story was told–so much more real than fiction at times–even if there were a bunch of emotions running wild throughout. I sort of foresaw what would happen with Hazel and Augustus, but “knowing” it ahead of time didn’t affect how I absorbed the story. I would say this book would be good for any reader, young-adult or older.

Quotes I Liked:

“‘That’s the thing about pain,’ Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. ‘It demands to be felt.'” (p63)

“What a slut time is. She screws everybody.” (p112, Peter Van Houten)

“‘Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.'” (p286, Peter Van Houten)

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

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Title: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
Author: Christopher McDougall
Length: 282 pages
Published in: 2009
Genre: non-fiction (sports, running)
ISBN: 9780307279187
Source: personal collection
Reason for Reading: This book was my local library’s community reads book. And as I’m a newer runner, it sounded interesting.
Rating: 5/5

Summary (from Amazon.com):

Isolated by Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons, the blissful Tarahumara Indians have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury. In a riveting narrative, award-winning journalist and often-injured runner Christopher McDougall sets out to discover their secrets. In the process, he takes his readers from science labs at Harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across North America, where ever-growing numbers of ultra-runners are pushing their bodies to the limit, and, finally, to a climactic race in the Copper Canyons that pits America’s best ultra-runners against the tribe. McDougall’s incredible story will not only engage your mind but inspire your body when you realize that you, indeed all of us, were born to run.

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My Thoughts: Even though it took me probably 4-5 months to read this, it was really superb. My interest in reading dropped for the last half of the year, but when I did read, it was hard to put it down. I found the chapters about “persistence hunting” where men chased animals to exhaustion and about the birth of modern running shoes to be the most interesting. Nick doesn’t believe me that men can chase antelope to death or outrun a horse in a long distance run. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t believe it either if I didn’t know what runners could do. I’d recommend this to runners or hide interested in superathletes/endurance, for sure.

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Title: Dreams of Joy
Author: Lisa See
Length: 353 pages
Published in: 2011
Genre: historical fiction (communist China)
ISBN: 9781400067121
Source: 
personal collection
Reason for Reading: 
I love Lisa See, especially Shanghai Girls, which was a prequel to this book.
Rating: 5/5

Summary (from Goodreads):

Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime.

Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

My Thoughts: I found this a little slow-moving towards the beginning, like I did with Peony in Love, but it turned around and got quite interesting. I’ve never read much about what life was like in communist China, and while this is fiction, I know See is pretty good at her historical fiction 🙂 As usual with her writing, I was easily able to picture life in Shanghai and in the countryside. And the characters’ emotions were so well described that I was excited, anxious, happy, mad, and disheartened throughout the story.

Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

Title: Castle Rackrent
Author: Maria Edgeworth
Length: 85 pages
Published in: 1800
Genre: fiction (satire)
ISBN: 9780486440927
Source: 
personal collection
Reason for Reading:
Years of Books Goal, to fill the year 1800
Rating: 1/5

Summary (from back of book):

An Irish writer who lived most of her life on her father’s estate, Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) brought humor, realism, and a freshness of style to her works. Castle Rackrent, published anonymously in 1800, was the first of her popular novels on country life. A delightful satire on Anglo-Irish landlords, the work is purportedly the Rackrent family’s memoirs, written by Thady Quirk, a long-time family servant.
“Honest” Thady’s vivd–but questionably accurate–narrative of life on the decaying Rackrent estate details the lives of family members whom he has long served. The result is a stylishly entertaining exploration of relations between England and Ireland in a time of historical crisis.
My Thoughts: I didn’t have much to think about this book because it is a satire about a time and place that I don’t have much background with. I’m sure more of the satirical nature would have meant more to me had I learned about tensions between England and Ireland at the turn of the 19th century. But my history education, having grown up in the US, focuses more on the Revolutionary War than England and Ireland at that particular time of history. Regardless of the satire, I didn’t think much of the story. The characters weren’t to my liking. The most interesting thing I found about this book were some of the character’s names. Never would I have thought that Judy and Jason were names from over 200 years ago–they sound much more contemporary (Jason, especially).

Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Title: Count of Monte Cristo
Author: Alexandre Dumas
Length: 1462 pages (about 400 read in 2013)
Published in: 1844
Genre: fiction, classic
ISBN: 9780679601999
Source: 
personal collection
Reason for Reading: A
bout 8 years ago, I read this book for a project at schools. It was an abridged edition and I didn’t read as I should’ve–I actually skipped the middle third and used Cliff’s Notes. But when I actually read the end, I decided it was my favorite book. So I reread it about a year later. To this day, I claim this is my favorite book of all time. But I thought I should read the unabridged version, just so I can say definitively that the abridged edition of COMC is my favorite book of all time (this is twice as long and clearly boring in parts).
Rating: N/A (as I’ve already said, the abridged version I’ve read is a 5/5, but this lengthy tome would be 0/5–I don’t think it’s fair to rate it, since, without it, I wouldn’t have my favorite book)

Summary (from Signet Classic):

For nineteen-year-old Edmond Dantes, life is sweet. Soon to be captain of his own ship, he is also about to be married to his true love, Mercedes. But suddenly everything turns sour. On the joyous day of his wedding he is arrested and–without a fair trial–condemned to solitary confinement in the miserable Chateau d’If! The charges? Faked! Edmond has been framed by a handful of powerful enemies. But why? While locked away, Edmond learns from another prisoner of a secret treasure hidden on the island of Monte Cristo. Edmond concocts a daring and audacious plan: escape and find the treasure! But it is years later–long after Edmond has transformed himself into the Count of Monte Cristo–that his plan for revenge begins to unfold. Disguised as the wealthy count, Edmond returns to his native land to find his enemies–and make them pay!

My Thoughts: I don’t want to sound like a broken record. But this was way too much! I prefer the watered-down Signet Classic edition I have. Although I did just realize something. In The Princess Bride (the movie, at least, can’t remember if it’s said in the book), the grandpa tells young Fred Savage’s character , “Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” when he describes the book. Now, aside from the giants and monsters, this perfectly describes COMC!! When I started reading this book last January (that’s 2012!), I was sort of breaking the book into chunks to discuss it. I wrote up two posts on here, to which I’ll give you the links. But that plan soon fell through, so it really is only for the beginning of the book. (I guess when I stopped was when it started getting boring!) So here’s: The Count of Monte Cristo {Section 1} and The Count of Monte Cristo {Section 2}. I think that’s pretty much where I’ll draw the line of the discussion.

March by Geraldine Brooks

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Title: March
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Length: 273 pages
Published in: 2005
Genre: fiction; spoof, though more spin-off
ISBN: 9780670033359
Source: personal collection
Reason(s) for Reading: 1) I have loved all of Geraldine Brooks’ other books; 2) Personal Collection Resolution 2012

Summary (from Goodreads):

As the North reels under a series of unexpected defeats during the dark first year of the war, one man leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause. His experiences will utterly change his marriage and challenge his most ardently held beliefs. Riveting and elegant as it is meticulously researched, March is an extraordinary novel woven out of the lore of American history.

From Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has taken the character of the absent father, March, who has gone off to war, leaving his wife and daughters to make do in mean times. To evoke him, Brooks turned to the journals and letters of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father,a friend and confidant of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In her telling, March emerges as an idealistic chaplain in the little known backwaters of a war that will test his faith in himself and in the Union cause as he learns that his side, too, is capable of acts of barbarism and racism. As he recovers from a near mortal illness, he must reassemble his shattered mind and body and find a way to reconnect with a wife and daughters who have no idea of the ordeals he has been through.

Spanning the vibrant intellectual world of Concord and the sensuous antebellum South, March adds adult resonance to Alcott’s optimistic children’s tale to portray the moral complexity of war, and a marriage tested by the demands of extreme idealism, and by a dangerous and illicit attraction

My Thoughts: I was pleasantly surprised with this story. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I’d like a book that was so much more geared towards adults than children. But, as was probably the true case for many a family, the men at war had a much harsher story to tell than what they might want their wives and children to know.

As the summary said, this story looks at Mr. March’s life during his time in the army, while his daughters lives out Little Women at home. In that sense, this is a spin-off, not really a spoof, of that American classic. With some flashbacks, we read of March before he met Marmee and their early life together. I was a little surprised by some of the choices Brooks made for the characters–for instance, how the Marches were once quite wealthy, or the entire family being vegan. Later in the book, Marmee OS the narrator, when she goes to D.C. to tend to March in the hospital. I was more interested in the portion from March’s perspective, because it was more telling of parts of the US during the Civil War. All in all, I think Brooks did a great job telling the story of a very minor character in a beloved American novel.

“If a man is to lose his fortune, it is a good thing if he were poor before he acquired it, for poverty requires aptitude.” (p113)

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“‘We do not have ideas. The idea has us…and drives us into the arena to fight for it like gladiators, who combat whether they will or no.'” (p124)

Around the World in 12 Books, #5 Cuba

TitleFinding Manana: A Memoir of a Cuban Exodus
Author: Mirta Ojito
Length: 278 pages
ISBN: 9781594200410
Published in: 2005
Genre: non-fiction (memoir)
Rating: 3/5
Challenges/ResolutionsAround the World in 12 Books; Personal Collection Resolution

Summary: Mirta Ojito grew up in Castro’s Cuba, taught by her parents that this wasn’t the best life for her. Ever since she could remember, it had been the plan to get out of Cuba. But as the time to leave for the United States draws near, the country is in even more turmoil than ever, and Mirta is torn between what she’s always been told by the government and what she’s always been told by her parents.

My Thoughts: I did enjoy how this story was told. As non-fiction, there was a lot of information presented in the book. Hardly a third of the book could have been devoted to Ojito’s own experiences–she supplemented her story with various other accounts of experiences during 1960s-1970s Cuba. While I do write in a diary daily, I highly doubt it would ever make a good memoir because it typically includes nothing about anything outside my immediate small world. So I’m glad that Ojito took more into account when writing her memoir.

What did you learn about the country’s culture, history etc. from reading this book? Any new insights, any shifts in your perception, or did it align with what you knew/understood already?

I learned a lot about Castro’s Cuba. I haven’t ever studied Cuba, and I have to admit that I didn’t even know that Cuba is still a communist country. I knew Fidel Castro was no longer the leader of the country. But I hadn’t realized that, despite the end of the Cold War and the fall of many former communist governments, there was still communism. Especially so close to the US. Not that it’s any of our business to butt in to other country’s politics, but it surprised me that the US hasn’t butted-in where it wasn’t welcome and reestablished a free republic, as it likes to do 😕

There was one thing in particular about which I had no clue:

In January 1966, he [Ojito’s uncle] and Tere married and moved to a neighborhood to the east of Havana. Two months later they applied for visas to the United States. When my uncle told his supervisors at work of his intention to leave the country, he was fired…Two years later…my uncle received a telegram from the local police precinct ordering him to show up at the station with his bags packed. He was sent to a camp, one of dozens that dotted the island, to work on a collective farm as punishment for wanting to leave Cuba. (p166)

I guess I should have realized that camps like that existed–I knew that the Soviet Union had collective farms for similar punishments. But that’s just like me, I just didn’t think twice about other communist countries being similar to the Soviet Union in that respect.

How did land, geography, flora and fauna feature in the book? Did it have a distinct feel that helped you visualise and made you feel like you were there, or was the story more focused on plot?

I honestly don’t think that a great picture was painted of the story. There wasn’t a whole lot of description about the land, nor of the people. Many people were talked about, but not much was said of how they looked. The story wasn’t focused so much on plot, because it wasn’t that sort of story–but it definitely was focused on peoples’ anecdotes. Facts and figures weren’t included much, which I am very grateful for.

One description I did like, though, was this:

…after two decades most Cubans had become adept at hiding their true feelings and motivations. We lived submerged in a world of shadows. Everyone wore a mask in public, sometimes even at home, and you never really knew who your friends were. You had to listen and say little, go with the flow, lest the friend turn out to be the enemy who could ruin your life. The smallest of disagreements, the most trivial of conversations, the slightest wavering of thought could be fodder for anyone intent on advancing his career by destroying someone else’s. (p124)

I think that is an excellent summary of how Ojito described life in Cuba.

Did the story make you want to visit/revisit the country, or explore it in a new way if you live there already; did it make you want to read more stories set in the country?

There is no reason in the past that I had thought against visiting Cuba. I hadn’t ever been too drawn to it, unless I could time travel as well and go there before all the political turmoil in the mid-1900s. I think Cuba somewhat freshly free of Spain would be really interesting. If anything, this book made me less inclined to visit Cuba–that’s not to say I wouldn’t ever go, but it doesn’t seem like, from the book, there’s much reason to go.

On another note, I loved the way Ojito ended the book. I have a feeling that I will never be an exile, so it was really interesting to get that sort of perspective.

Exile, like longing, is a way of life, much like a chronic, by not terminal, disease with capricious symptoms: an avowed preference for a certain shade of blue–the color of my old house, I realized once I stood in front of it again–and a formerly inexplicable, almost childish delight at the way the light filters through the fiery blossoms of some South Florida poinciana trees–just as it does in the trees that still shade my old neighborhood, even if I’m no longer there to see them.(p278)

Timeless by Gail Carriger

Title: Timeless
Author: Gail Carriger
Length: 386 pages
ISBN: 9780316127189
Published in: 2012
Genre: fiction (alternate history, vampires/werewolves)
Rating: 5/5
Challenges/Resolutions: Copyright 2012 Resolution

Summary (from Goodreads):

Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire’s second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell’s acting troupe’s latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a damper on Alexia’s enjoyment of her new London lifestyle.

Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?

My Thoughts: Going into this book, I admit I was a little sad. It’s the final installment of the Parasol Protectorate quintet I’ve been enjoying the last few years. This was by no means a level of sadness such as those brought on by Deathly Hallows or Mockingjay, but it’s always a little sad when a book series, however short, ends.

Timeless takes place a couple of years after the previous book, Heartless. Alexia and Conall’s daughter, Prudence, is now a tot and worries worldwide supernaturals. She is what Carriger calls a “metanatural”, meaning she can steal supernatural powers from a person, turning them mortal and herself supernatural through contact. (This is unlike Alexia, who can simply neutralize a supernatural, but only while she maintains contact, and she herself doesn’t become supernatural at all.) Prudence is summoned to Egypt of all places. I quite enjoyed the trek to Victorian-era Alexandria and Luxor. If nothing else, it was a nice change of pace from London. There was definitely an exotic feel to the story, like with the hot-air balloons.

I will say that I was a little unimpressed by some of Carriger’s choice of words in this book. One sentence in particular I found very…crass.

There was something about connubial relations that appealed, sticky as they might be. (p80)

I found that uncalled for and a bit disgusting. However true some statements might be, some are just better left unsaid.

But that won’t keep me from trying out Carriger’s spin-off series, Parasol Protectorate Abroad, featuring Prudence (presumably a bit mire grown-up haha) that is due out fall 2013. I hope it just doesn’t turn out to be one of those types of sequels that goes on when it should’ve just ended on a high note.

Ivy and Intrigue–A Very Selwick Christmas by Lauren Willig

TitleIvy and Intrigue–A Very Selwick Christmas
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: fiction, chick lit
ISBN: 9781466213098
Length: 106 pages
Published: 2011
Source: personal collection
Rating: 4/5
Challenges/Resolutions: Personal Collection Resolution 2012

Reason for Reading: Willig self-published this novella, which supposedly takes place after the first book of the Pink Carnation series. But, because of character marriages–there is basically a marriage per book–I can tell you that it actually happens after the second book, The Masque of the Black Tulip. I read it because it is part of a series I love, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Summary (I’m writing this myself and I’ve never been good at summarizing without spoiling, so I apologize in advance):
It’s Christmas at Uppington Hall, historic seat of the Marquess of Uppington, aka Richard Selwick’s mother. Amy and Richard are newlyweds and still learning about one another. Richard feels Amy wishes she’d had more than a few months of espionage experience in France prior to their marriage–and he’s right. But as soon as he offers to let Amy go across the Channel by herself to live the life of a spy, she changes her mind. She’d rather be with him, not spying, than to be away from him, spying. On the side, Richard’s first love, Dierdre, is at Uppington with her mother for the Christmas festivities. Both Amy and Richard are uncomfortable with Dierdre there, but it just so happens they would not have found out she was in league with French spies.

My Thoughts: I liked this book, which was essentially a shorter version of a regular Pink Carnation novel. The quality of the book was not the best, as it was self-published–there were probably ten missing words throughout the book. But I don’t think that detracted from the quality of the story. There was less excitement in the historic parts of the book because it was so short and there wasn’t really a whole lot of gallivanting around, hunting down foreign spies. Similarly, there was less depth to the story because of its quick pace. These two things are the reason I gave it a 4/5 instead of a 5/5–probably a little harsh, since I compared it to a full length novel. But, on the other hand, I don’t think I would’ve found it all that interesting if I’d not read any of the Pink Carnation books.