Friday, July 30, 2010

Hippity Hoppity

I really love the Book Blog Hop from Crazy for Books! It really opens me up to a wealth of great book blogs. Thank you for visiting my blog-I'm so glad you've come. Stay a while, pull up a chair-I hope you enjoy your stay.

The question of the week is:
Who is your favorite new-to-you author so far this year?

This is a tricky one, so I needed to go back to my Shelfari shelf and look at all the books I've read so far this year. I've been focusing on mega long books, so there aren't as many to choose from.

I think I would have to say Sarah Addison Allen as my favorite new-to-me author this year so far. Garden Spells was an amazing read, full of magic and warmth and down home southern goodness. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't yet read it (click here for my review!)

Who is your favorite newly discovered author?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephanie Meyer

A long awaited extra glimpse into the world of Twilight has finally come in the form of Bree Tanner's story, a newbie vampire bred for a single purpose: to beef up Victoria's army to be sent to kill Bella, vampire Edward's love. But Bree doesn't know about any of that at the beginning of the novella. She is 3 months old and still trying to get the hang of being undead. Their 'boss' is Riley, and he looks out for the group of newborns, but Bree knows there is something that just isn't right about what Riley is telling them. She meets Diego, an older newborn, who shares the same reservations, and they become fast friends. But can that friendship last as the vampire army edges closer to their ultimate purpose: a full-out vampire war?

This was a good short story-I enjoyed going back into the Twilight world and seeing the battle in Eclipse from a different angle. Bree is a compelling character, and you wish that her second life wasn't quite so short at the end. Do I believe that Meyer only wrote it to milk some extra cash from the Twilight series? Maybe. But it's her right to do so. People want more Twilight and she has delivered one more morsel. Nothing wrong with that in my opinion. I would love a full set of more Twilight books outlining Bella and Edward's second life together, I would like to see Nessie grow up and would definitely like more Jacob. But we don't always get what we want. This little snack of a book was enough for now.

If you like this book, and the Twilight series, check out: Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. I believe that this series of books is where the vampire craze of the 20th century began. Start with Interview with the Vampire, a compulsively romantic, beautifully descriptive glimpse into the life of Louis, a centuries old vampire who has lived much and loved and lost. You will be drawn into his world and never want to leave. Fortunately, there are several other books after the first. The Vampire Lestat is next, and will make you love Lestat by the time you're done. Yes, he's flawed, but he is so real and feeling. The other books in the series primarily follow him, but none of them are boring!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hop Hop Hop

Welcome back hoppers for another fun filled week! This week's question is:


I'm currently reading The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George, all 900+ pages of it. I'm about 400 pages in, and although I have a long way to go, this book is keeping my interest. I can't wait to be done so that I can check it off my list!

The Raphael Affair by Iain Pears

I don't usually venture into the realm of mystery, but this book really appealed to my love of historical fiction and art. A mysterious painting is unearthed in Italy that was hidden underneath a mediocre painting for hundreds of years. It wasn't until after the painting was bought by a British art dealer that the discovery was realized. It turns out that a long lost Raphael has resurfaced! Now the Italian government scrambles to get back their lost treasure and eventually recovers it, and will stop at nothing to keep it safe. But there is one British graduate student, Jonathan Argyll, who has been nosing around Italy, and he believes that the painting may not be genuine. So when one evening the newest Italian treasure gets torched, it is up to Jonathan and Italian investigator Flavia to find out whether his theory is indeed reality, or whether it was the genuine article that just went up in flames.

This was a good book, and a very quick read. I hear that this is actually the first part of a series focusing on Argyll, so I may have to look into the next installment.

Making this post educational-About Raphael:
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino(April 6 or March 28, 1483 – April 6, 1520), better known simply as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance, celebrated for the perfection and grace of his paintings and drawings. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, he forms the traditional trinity of great masters of that period.

Raphael was enormously productive, running an unusually large workshop, and despite his death at thirty-seven, a large body of his work remains. Many of his works are found in the Apostolic Palace of The Vatican, where the frescoed Raphael Rooms were the central, and the largest, work of his career. The best known work is the The School of Athens in the Vatican Stanza della Segnatura. After his early years in Rome, much of his work was designed by him and executed largely by the workshop from his drawings, with considerable loss of quality.

He was extremely influential in his lifetime, though outside Rome his work was mostly known from his collaborative printmaking. After his death, the influence of his great rival Michelangelo was more widespread until the 18th and 19th centuries, when Raphael's more serene and harmonious qualities were again regarded as the highest models.

Raphael's work can be found all over Italy, due to rather nomadic style of living. He was much admired during his lifetime, even though it was cut tragically short at the age of 37.

About the Author:
Iain Pears (born in 1955) is an English art historian, novelist and journalist. He was educated at Warwick School, Warwick, Wadham College and Wolfson College, Oxford. Before writing, he worked as a reporter for the BBC, Channel 4 (UK) and ZDF (Germany) and correspondent for Reuters from 1982 to 1990 in Italy, France, UK and US. In 1987 he became a Getty Fellow in the Arts and Humanities at Yale University. His well-known novel series features Jonathan Argyll, art historian, though international fame first arrived with his best selling book An Instance of the Fingerpost (1998), which was translated into several languages. Pears currently lives with his wife and children in Oxford. He has written 12 books, 7 of which are part of the Argyll series.

Other books to consider:
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber, and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Monday, July 19, 2010

Giveaway Winner!

Let's Celebrate!

The winner of my blog's very first ever giveaway is...(drumroll please)


Mystee will be receiving a lovely copy of Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.

Thanks so much to all who played. This was fun! It certainly won't be the last giveaway so keep your eyes peeled for the next one.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Blog Hoppin'

So the question this week for book blog hop is:


For me, the same book has been the answer to this question for eons now. I would like so much for A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin to get finished and published already! A Song of Ice and Fire has got to be the best fantasy series I've ever read. It has everything: magic, knights, kings and queens, swordplay, strong female characters, and list goes on. I can't wait to find out what happens to my favorite characters, and who will live to see the end of the series. I certainly hope Martin lives to write the end of the series. I'm getting a bit worried here!

So what's yours?

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

This book took me a long time to read, and for a lot of it, it just didn't grab me. The story follows two women, Alais in Carcossone in the 1200s and Alice, an English professor visiting France in 2005. Both stories move consecutively through alternating chapters and both have to do with protection of the Cathar's greatest secret: the Grail.

So everyone wants these books that tell one how to use the grail and gain its rewards. Alais devoted her life to protecting this secret, and Alice gets a lot of 800 year old baggage dumped on her head and people trying to kill her and whatnot because of these actions that happened in her past life-Alais' life. She seems to stumble blindly through almost the entire book, finally getting a clue in the last 50 pages or so.

While the story of Alais during the time of turmoil and the crusade against the Cathars is more interesting, it drags on forever with very little forward motion. And the fringe characters in both stories aren't very developed-they serve one specific purpose then drop off the page-leaving them very two dimensional and utterly forgettable. For example, the closest thing to a love interest in the modern-day part of the story is a completely hollow character who appears with a couple of aside chapters and one meeting with the main character. Then it's right back to the background. And I'm supposed to believe that this tiny bit of interaction should amount to happily ever after? Who is this person anyway?

All in all, not a bad book, but it could have used a bit more tightening to make the middle part less dry and history book-ish. I did gain a decent bit of information about the Albigensian Crusade and life in France in the early 1200's. But this was not enough to completely redeem it in my eyes.

History time: The Cathars:
Catharism was a name given to a Christian religious sect with dualistic and gnostic elements that appeared in the Languedoc region of France and other parts of Europe in the 11th century and flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Cathars did not believe in one all-encompassing god, but in two, both equal and comparable in status. They held that the physical world was evil and created by Rex Mundi (translated from Latin as "king of the world"), who encompassed all that was corporeal, chaotic and powerful; the second god, the one whom they worshipped, was entirely disincarnate: a being or principle of pure spirit and completely unsullied by the taint of matter. He was the god of love, order and peace.

According to some Cathars, the purpose of man's life on Earth was to transcend matter, perpetually renouncing anything connected with the principle of power and thereby attained union with the principle of love. According to others, man's purpose was to reclaim or redeem matter, spiritualising and transforming it.

This placed them at odds with the Catholic Church in regarding material creation, on behalf of which Jesus had died, as intrinsically evil and implying that God, whose word had created the world in the beginning, was a usurper. Furthermore, as the Cathars saw matter as intrinsically evil, they denied that Jesus could become incarnate and still be the son of God. Cathars vehemently repudiated the significance of the crucifixion and the cross. In fact, to the Cathars, Rome's opulent and luxurious Church seemed a palpable embodiment and manifestation on Earth of Rex Mundi's sovereignty.

The Catholic Church regarded the sect as dangerously heretical. Faced with the rapid spread of the movement across the Languedoc region, the Church first sought peaceful attempts at conversion, undertaken by Dominicans. These were not very successful, and after the murder on 15 January 1208 of the papal legate Pierre de Castelnau by a knight in the employ of Count Raymond of Toulouse (a staunch Cathar at the time who then later changed sides and fought with the Catholics), the Church called for a crusade, which was carried out by knights from northern France and Germany and was known as the Albigensian Crusade.

The papal legate had involved himself in a dispute between the rivals Count of Baux and Count Raymond of Toulouse, and it is possible that his assassination had little to do with Catharism. The anti-Cathar Albigensian Crusade, and the inquisition which followed it, entirely eradicated the Cathars. The Albigensian Crusade had the effect of greatly weakening the semi-independent southern Principalities such as Toulouse, and ultimately bringing them under direct control of the King of France. Many thousands of Languedoc citizens were massacred under the flag of religious persecution. Arnaud, the Cistercian abbot-commander, is supposed to have been asked how to tell Cathars from Catholics. His reply was "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius."—"Kill them all, the Lord will recognize His own."

Catharism all but disappeared by the 1260s, under pressure from the Inquisition that followed the crusade.

About the author:
Kate Mosse (born 20 October 1961) is an English author and broadcaster.Kate was born in West Sussex. She was educated at Chichester High School and New College, Oxford. After graduating, she spent seven years in publishing. Her bestselling books have sold millions in over 40 countries[1].

Kate married old school friend Greg Mosse, after meeting him again twenty years later on a train by chance. Mosse lives with her husband and children, Martha and Felix, in West Sussex and Carcassonne. She has written five books, and Labyrinth is her third.

Other Books to Consider:
Queen Isabella by Alison Weir, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, and Katherine by Anya Seton.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

This book was a wonderful easy read, full of love and magic. It follows Claire Waverly, a very down-to-earth woman who has some real issues with letting people in because of her tumultuous childhood and not so great mother. Then her younger sister Sydney blows back into her life after 10 years away and following the nomad lifestyle of their mother. She has a daughter, Bay, to whom she is fiercely devoted to and committed to never abandoning her like Sydney's mother did to her and Claire. She is fleeing some really bad decisions in her life, and decides to return home to start again and provide a safe home for Bay for the first time.

Meanwhile, Claire's life is turned upside-down with learning to be a sister again and slowly learning to let love in-something she has never done in her sheltered life. And then there is her next door neighbor, Tyler, who is way more interested in Claire than she finds comfortable. He may be the one to help Claire with that little issue of hers. But don't eat the apples in the magical garden, you may see things you wish you hadn't.

I found this to be an enchanting novel, and a really fast read. I felt pulled into this little North Carolina town, and wished I knew the characters personally. I look forward to reading more by this fabulous author.

About the author:
Sarah Addison Allen is an American author who was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, a place Rolling Stone magazine once called "America’s New Freak Capital." Garden Spells is her first novel, and she didn't intend it to be magical, but it ended up that way. She can't turn away stray cats and she wanted to be a garbage truck driver when she was little.

Other books to consider:
Jewels of the Sun by Nora Roberts, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hopping around!

It's book blog hopping time! This week has a question:

Tell us about some of your favorite authors and why they are your favorites!

I have many favorite authors for many different reasons, so I'll just pick one: Haruki Murakami. I love Murakami's ability to paint a world that you can get completely lost in-one that at first glimpse resembles normal life but the further you delve into the book the more surreal it becomes. The prose is so engaging that you find yourself longing to listen to that Shubert piano concerto the characters were listening to, or to eat pasta right along with the characters-it really makes me want to fully immerse myself in Murakami's world.

Here is the link to Crazy for Books to keep on a'hopping!

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Loving Frank follows the story and love affair between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. When they were both living in Oak Park, IL (a suburb of Chicago) Wright met Mamah while building a house for her and her family (which included a husband and two children). They fell in love and set the stage for one of the most scandalous love affairs of the turn of the century. Mamah left her family to follow Wright to Germany, and Wright left his wife and six kids to have a relationship with Mamah as well. The press were all over their affair, likening Mamah to the Whore of Babylon and Mrs. Wright the angelic victim who never lost faith in her husband.

This book tells the story from Mamah's point of view, and paints a strong woman in search of herself and her place in the world. While both of their actions were incredibly selfish in respect to their families, the book goes to lengths to describe what they meant to each other, spouting Ellen Key's philosophies of the importance of not sacrificing yourself to a loveless marriage. Mamah is a very intelligent woman, who set herself up as a translator of the same Ellen Key's works for America and went through the world with her eyes wide open. The character portrayed by Horan acknowledges the fact that Mamah knew what she was doing to her kids, and Wright's kids, but that she really believed she was doing the right thing for them all long term. Reading this book I was able to understand the point of view of the 'other woman', even though I don't necessarily agree with her actions.

This book is a wonderful glimpse into Chicago in the early 1900s and a good characterization of Frank Lloyd Wright. It also sheds light on Mamah, who in the passage of time has become more of a caricature than a real person. I highly recommend it to all historical fiction fans and lovers of Wright's amazing architecture.

Chicago in Wright's Time:
Frank Lloyd Wright spent the first 20 years of his 70-year career in Oak Park,IL building numerous homes in the community, including his own. He lived and worked in the area between 1889 and 1909. One can find Wright's earliest work there, like the Winslow House in neighboring River Forest, Illinois. There are also examples of the first prairie-style houses in Oak Park. He also designed Unity Temple, a Unitarian church, which was built between 1905 and 1908. Oak Park had just become its own city in 1902, and was vastly underdeveloped at the time of Wright's residence, surrounded by a prairie, which probably served as the inspiration for Wright's Prairie School of architecture. All of Wright's houses that he built in Oak Park still stand, and most of them are still lived in. If you ever take a trip to Chicago, go a little further west to Oak Park to see these houses, and Wright's home and studio, which has been modified into a museum. A must see for any lover of architecture.

About the Author:

Nancy Horan is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications. Loving Frank is her first novel. She lived most of her life in Oak Park, IL, until her recent move to an island in Puget Sound. She was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction in 2009.

Similar books to consider:
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, Dragonwyck by Anya Seton