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Book Review: “Justine”

I’m a little late with this review, having spent the weekend on a little mini-vacation in Maryland. This week, we finished up our February “Month of Romance” themed reading with Lawrence Durrell’s novel Justine.

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I’m not exactly sure what to say about this novel. It was… breathtaking. Durrell’s grasp on storytelling – on his characters and on the reader – make Justine a truly beautiful story, and a pleasure to read.

Justine follows a young writer living in Alexandria, Egypt in the 1930s. Though he is poor, he catches the attention, and love, of infamous socialite, Justine. His experiences with her, her husband, and his other (former? current?) lover Melissa tell such a mesmerizing story. More than the plot line, however, it is the way the story is told that makes it so captivating.

I have never read any author quite like Durrell. His words are beyond poetic – lyric and fluid, making me feel like I was floating through this novel, rather than reading it. Durrell’s writing brings to mind the feeling of sweltering in the hazy heat of summer, really setting the scene of Alexandria. You can hear the people on the street, and feel the heat wafting in the windows, and seem to sink into the sheets of the narrator’s bed. My memory of the book is almost like that of a vacation – lazy, fuzzy around the corners, like a lucid dream where you need to remind yourself that you are reading, not reminiscing.

This is a novel that I wish I had taken more time with. Because of my goal to read a book a week, I felt like I was rushing through the story, not giving myself enough time to truly absorb all the sights, smells, sounds, and sentiments of Durrell’s Alexandria. Had I more time, I would have read only a few pages in each sitting, then given myself time to process it, to steep in the incense that is Justine. Rushing through made me unable to give this book the justice I wanted to, and left me feeling like I owed the novel more than a quick read. When the time is afforded to me, I will work my way through the rest of The Alexandria Quartet. It is hard to describe what this book is about – it’s more about experiencing the emotions and sensations that go along with with Durrell’s words.

If you’re confused by this review, and think it leaves you lacking for a description, that is probably because this book needs to be felt, rather than told. I would urge anyone with need of a vacation to simply sink into Justine, and float along on Durrell’s story. Simply put: I loved this novel, and can’t wait to escape reality with Durrell again.

Well, how about you? Did you read along? Have you read any of Durrell’s novels before? What were your thoughts (or “feelings” might be a better word)?

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March Reading List

I can’t believe it’s time to release the March reading list!! 2014 seems to be flying by!

March’s theme is “Month of Women,” so we will be tackling books by women, for women, about women. I chose this theme in honor of the National Women’s History Month which takes place each year in March. I think we have a good selection, and I hope you’ll pick at least one (and hopefully more) to read along with me!

March 2 – 8: The Thirteenth Tale – Dianne Sutterfield

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The Thirteenth Tale came as a recommendation from my great friend Alyssa! The book is our fiction selection for the month, and the book description suggests that there is a mysterious story-within-a-story. The story follows two women authors, and will prove to be an excellent selection for our “Month of Women” theme. I bought this book at the used book store a few months, and have been anxiously waiting to crack it open!

 

March 9 – 15: The Paper Woman – Suzanne Adair

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The Paper Woman is a book I am very excited to read! I was given an ebook copy of the novel personally by the award winning author – Suzanne Adair (hi Suzanne!) – who is a very kind and interesting woman. The novel takes place during the American Revolution, and is the first in a series called the “Mysteries of the American Revolution Trilogy.” Historical fiction is my favorite reading genre, and a good mystery is great way to make history even more interesting! You may have a hard time finding this book, but you can easily get your hands on an ebook copy at Smashwords.

 

March 16 – 22: One for the Money – Janet Evanovich

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This book was given to me years ago by a good friend (who actually shares one character’s name: Joe Morelli). One for the Money is the first of a series about a female bounty hunter – Stephanie Plum – and is written by a bestselling female author – Janet Evanovich. It’s about time I read this novel, which has been sitting pretty on my shelf for over four years!

 

March 23-29: The Red Queen – Philipa Gregory

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The Red Queen is the second of the “Cousin’s Wars” series, the first of which we read in January (see: The White Woman). This is the first time we have read a book that is the second in a series, and I have to admit, I loved Gregory’s writing and story enough to want to pick up the second book! Another bestselling female author, writing historical fiction about a strong female character!

 

March 30 – April 5: Bossypants – Tina Fey

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Bossypants meets the themes for both March and April – it is a book by a woman (Tina Fey), and a comedy novel by a very funny woman (April’s theme is “Month of Humor”). I am a big fan of Tina Fey, and am very much looking forward to being entertained by her again through her book. I would watch anything Fey touches, and will certainly read her book!!

So there you have it, our “Month of Women” reading list! I hope you’ll choose one – or more – of the selections, and join in every week to not only read my reviews, but discuss your opinions and thoughts about the reading!

Happy reading!

 

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Week 26 Reading: “Justine”

This year is a bit of a milestone for My Year in Book Reviews! This week we are reading our last book for February’s “Month of Romance” theme, but it also brings about our 26th book – bringing us to the halfway point to tackling our goal of 52 books in 52 weeks!!

Congrats to everyone reading along!! We’ve had some great reads so far, and I’ve really enjoyed discussing the books with you! I look forward to 26 more excellent reads (well… 27 including this week’s book)! Thank you for reading along, and for visiting my blog and inspiring me to keep up with my goal!

ANYWAY….

This week we are tackling our final “Month of Romance” book, Justine by Lawrence Durrell.

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This book came as a recommendation from my mom, who gifted be with this entire series (the Alexandria Quartet) of lovely books about three years ago! This book is the perfect example of why I needed this book challenge – they sat on my shelves, untouched, for three years, while I focused on schoolwork and fueling my Netflix addiction (don’t judge me – I’m in recovery).

Justine is the first in the Alexandria Quartet, which are historical fiction novels. Here is the write up on the back of the book:

The time is the eve of the World War II. The place is Alexandria, an Egyptian city that once housed the world’s greatest library and whose inhabitants are dedicated to knowledge. But for the obsessed characters in this mesmerizing novel, their pursuits lead only to bedrooms in which each seeks to know—and possess—the other. Since its publication in 1957, Justine has inspired an almost religious devotion among readers and critics alike.

Sounds absolutely excellent! Great libraries, historical fiction, Egypt, WWII, possessing each other in bedrooms?? Seems like Justine will make a great closure to our “Month of Romance” and lead seamlessly into our “Month of Women” theme for March!

I hope you are reading along with me!

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Book Review: “Anne of Green Gables”

Well, I missed our “introduction” post (where I introduce what book we’re reading this week…) but this week, for our second “Month of Romance” book for February, we tackled L.M. Montgomery’s children’s classic, Anne of Green Gables.

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Anne of Green Gables tells the story about a young orphan girl who is mistakenly adopted by a couple who wanted a boy to work on their farm. Anne overcomes her many problems – feeling unwanted her whole life, having a bit of a culture barrier due to not having a steady home – by using her vast imagination and great love for learning. In Anne of Green Gables, we see Anne grow, mature, learn, and love. The freckly, skinny, redheaded girl grows into a lovely young woman through the book, as we watch her personal relationships develop due to her spunk.

This book was recommended to me by a good friend (hi Alyssa!), and I have generally agreed with her along the lines of literature. Sorry, Alyssa, but this time, I’m not such a fan. Hear me out…

I did not like Anne. I’m sure there is a collective GASP across the Internet when I insult everyone’s favorite orphan (I’m a fan of Little Orphan Annie myself), but I just had a really hard time trying to like Anne. Am I sympathetic to her trials and tribulations? Of course. It breaks my heart to think of any child feeling unwanted (which was a major theme throughout this book, and a huge problem Anne faced). I couldn’t get past Anne’s superficial notions (her desperation for material possessions like puffed sleeves), as well as her overwhelmingly annoying (sorry, but it’s true) attitude toward – well – just about everything. I just couldn’t feel very loving toward the book’s main character (at least in her youth), and that just put too bad a taste in my mouth to overcome.

That being said – L.M. Montgomery was a fabulous writer. Her portrayal of physical things (scenes, clothing, people) were stunning, and poetic in many ways. Her novel was beautiful to read, even if I had a very hard time getting into the actual story. While I just spent a paragraph bashing Anne, I do appreciate Anne’s ability to adapt and overcome – her ability to imagine better for herself than what she had in reality. I think that is a wonderful and beautiful lesson to impart on children. Anne’s growth (by learning through her mistakes) is also a great lesson for young readers, specifically little girls.

This month’s theme is “romance,” and I did appreciate the budding romance between Gilbert and Anne. I can see why this book was a great launching point to read more about Gilbert and Anne’s romance. More than romance, however, the real love story seems to be Anne’s opening up the hearts of Marilla and Matthew, Marilla specifically. While Anne’s imagination and flightiness drove them crazy at times, they were able to see a little girl who needed their love, and open their home – and their hearts – to her. I think Anne was a great influence on the couple. Matthew’s character was my favorite by far, but it was rewarding to see Marilla open up to Anne’s love throughout the novel.

So, what do you think? Did I totally miss the mark? Do you hate me for not really liking young Anne? Are you going to try to encourage me to pick up the next novel in the series in hopes my mind will change? What are your thoughts?

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Book Review: “I Love You, Ronnie”

Well – my friend Haley (who recommended this week’s book) takes the trophy for best recommendation so far in this book challenge! This week, to kick off the “Month of Romance” theme for February, we picked up I Love You, Ronnie, by Nancy Reagan.

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This book was nothing short of breathtaking.

I Love You, Ronnie is a collection of letters from Ronald Reagan (yes, the former US president) to his wife, sewn together with lovely commentary from his wife Nancy, which gives readers a more in depth look at the famous man, behind the scenes. She takes letters her husband had written to her – from various movie sets, from the road campaigning, from the White House, and beyond – and uses them to tell the story of their love, and their life together.

Who knew Ronald Reagan was such a romantic?! His words were absolutely beautiful, and give a great insight into how Ronald Reagan was away from the camera. This book was the perfect way to start the “Month of Romance” reading, because it tells a true, honest, inspiring love story! The more I read, the more I fell in love with “Ronnie and Nancy Poo Pants.” Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these two.

Here’s a little snippet of one of my favorite letters (to be honest, it was REALLY HARD to choose one), so you can better understand what I mean by “romantic:”

However there is one golden glow warming my soul in this first sunset – I’m twenty-four hours closer to you. Last night was another one of those nights – just too beautiful to stand. So tonight I’ll probably be looking at the Moon which means I’ll be looking at you – literally and figuratively because it lays far to the South of the mountain top and that’s where you are. That takes care of the “literal” part – the “figurative” part requires no direction, I just see you in all the beauty there is because in you I’ve found all the beauty in my life.

Seriously… who wouldn’t want to get a letter like that?

The most amazing part of this story was realizing that I wasn’t reading a work of fiction. Unlike other great romances dreamed up in the mind of one author, this one was real, and the copies of handwritten letters are there to prove it. Ronald Reagan is like a knight in shining armor, or perhaps a bard singing about an epic love – yet the epic love is his own. I mean, these two were really, head-over-heals in love for their entire marriage! It’s inspiring to see a relationship be so successful for so long, despite the multiple hardships they faced. I felt a connect with Nancy talking about how hard it was to spend so much time away from her husband while he was off filming movies or campaigning – as a military wife, I spend months away from my husband (he is actually two states away as we speak, and will be there until March 31, close enough to come home on the weekends). I loved being able to see that, despite their multiple and frequent separations, they were able to make their love last. I have to say, I cried a bit at the end, when Nancy discusses facing Ronald’s Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis, and her realizing that “Alzheimer’s is a truly long, long good-bye.” It crushed my heart to think of that goodbye – not taken by death or old age or even an accident, but for their lives to slowly dissolve… it’s too much to bear!

In the Prologue to this lovely piece of biographical literature, Nancy suggests that current generations of lovers need to get back to the basics of writing letters and expressing our love for one another through words that will last beyond our lifetimes. In the age of phones, email, social media, and texting, we are more connected than ever, but we are also missing out on the joys of seeing our lover’s handwriting, of the excitement that goes with receiving a letter in the mail, of the elation of seeing “I love you” in print, and being able to read it over and over and over again. I am making a point of following her advice and following in her dear Ronnie’s footsteps by writing out handwritten letters for Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays, and major holidays. I hope you can be inspired to do the same.

This one is a must read. I am not normally a fan of biographical literature, and I generally steer clear of anything that can have anything to do with politics, but with a recommendation calling the book’s main character “the most romantic man ever,” how could I resist?! I am so happy I picked this one up (thank you, again, Haley!!)! It was such a refreshing story, and left me filled with such wonderful feelings. I will happily pass this one on to whoever is interested in a good – TRUE – love story! I can honestly say that Ronald Reagan is my favorite “leading man” in any book we’ve read this year (and that’s saying a lot, because most of them have been imagined by romantic minds).

Well, how about you? Did you read I Love You, Ronnie? What were your thoughts and reactions? Are you head-over-heals for Ronald Reagan? Were you surprised to learn how romantic he was? Share your feelings about this book with me!

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Week 23 Reading: “I Love You, Ronnie”

Well folks, we are entering February, and starting off our “Month of Romance” theme for our book club-like reading atmosphere. For those of you who have joined us recently, the idea behind this blog is to pick a theme for each month, and for each week within that month, a different book associated with that theme. I try to mix it up by picking different genres, to keep everyone interested, and to expose myself (and you!) to books we wouldn’t normally pick up. Within any month, we can read a biography, a sci-fi, a trashy romance, and a historical fiction… or anything else on the broad spectrum of literary themes!

Check out This Month’s Books, pick one (or more), and read along! At the end of each week, I post my review, and ask you to join in with your own review/commentary/questions. I enjoy having opposing opinions, learning something about the book I missed, or just discussing a novel with friends!

I’m very excited to pick up this week’s book, I Love You, Ronnie by Nancy Reagan.

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This book came as a very enthusiastic recommendation from my friend Haley (hey Haley, and Thing 1 and Thing 2!!). The book is a collection of letters from the late Ronald Reagan to his wife, Nancy Reagan. The letters encompass the bulk of their relationship, from the acting days, to the White House, and beyond. These love letters were lovingly assembled, and explained, by Nancy Reagan. When recommending this book, my friend Haley said that Ronald Reagan is possibly “the most romantic man ever.”

This should be an interesting selection. It is a collection of letters, and falls under the title “biographical literature,” which isn’t usually my genre of choice. But again – expanding my literary horizons and embracing something I usually wouldn’t pick up on my own. With a recommendation like “most romantic man ever” from Haley (who I trust with book recommendations), this should be a great one to start off our “Month of Romance,” and get us into the mood for love.

 

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Book Review: “Celtic Moon”

Rounding out our “New” theme for January reading, we tackled a book I found in the “New Sci-Fi” section of the book store – Celtic Moon by Jan DeLima. Not only is the book “new” (with an October 2013 publication date), it is DeLima’s first publication, making her a “new author,” and is also the first in a projected series (no other publications so far), the Celtic Wolves series.

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Okay, I’ve got a mixed review going on here. This book had a lot of really good things going for it… but it also had a lot of things that made me roll my eyes in frustration and exasperation.

Celtic Moon is a story about a woman in her 30s (yay! No teenage angst!) who’s 15 year old son is experiencing…. supernatural… problems (okay, minimal teenage angst). Sophie has spent the last 15 years in hiding from her husband, the father of his baby, after a shocking experience watching him change into a wolf! Desperate to keep her child away from that world, a pregnant Sophie leaves, but when her son Joshua starts showing some family traits, Sophie makes the hard decision to return to Dylan, her husband. On his territory, Dylan is the alpha wolf and leader of an ancient group of wolves. Sophie’s reappearance causes Dylan to experience everything from overwhelming joy to deadly fear, as his tribe is on the brink of a long-anticipated war with other ancient shape shifters.

Are you following?

Okay. Good points first. Celtic Moon was a very exciting book. There is non-stop action that would appeal to audiences of all ages and sexes. I could absolutely see a teenage girl, her grandmother, and her preteen brother, enjoying the action in this book. There’s a little bit of something for everyone – enough “teenage problems” for the teenagers, enough fantasy for the fantasy fans, and a good chunk of romance thrown in. DeLima has a wonderful voice, and her characters truly speak for themselves. Each character is well developed, and you feel like you know these people instantly, despite learning their internal struggles throughout the book. They continue to grow as the story develops, making you sympathize with their actions, and want to know more about them. DeLima has a wonderful way with setting the scene – I really felt like I could see and hear everything the characters were seeing and hearing. She also had a lot of history and Celtic mythology in her novel, which was exceptionally interesting! In short, this book was fun, exciting, and descriptive.

Now the bad points. Maybe I should have done my research before hand, but I was NOT expecting all the SEX. I had assumed (by the cover… yes, literally “judging a book by its cover” over here) that it was bordering on Young Adult classification, but if this is young adult, my kids are reading children’s books until they are 20. Yes, yes – I said this book could be enjoyed by audiences of all ages – but I meant the action sequences… not the action sequences. There was a surprisingly heavy romance story, and it was fueled by a lot of sex scenes which were more graphic than that trashy romance novel I read in December (‘Twas the Night After Christmas). I’m no prude, I enjoy a good sex scene… but they were kind of out of place in this novel. Perhaps I desperately wanted it to be a fun action story rather than a sappy romance, and maybe my anticipation for a good fantasy got in the way, but the sex scenes just kind of… irked me. I feel like DeLima is limiting readership by throwing that in. This was a book I would have gladly passed on to my teenage cousins, and instead I feel a little ashamed for recommending it to my mother.

Sex scenes aside, there were a few minor things that got under my skin while reading this book. Joshua, the transforming teenager, seems to accept his fate without question or surprise. As if a 15 year old who realizes they are shockingly different than their peers would just accept it as totally normal… let alone them having to accept they are a WOLF. I also had a hard time separating this book from the dreaded Twilight in my head. While this book was MUCH better written, and the characters were MUCH less abusive, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between the loves stories (they are truly star crossed lovers, and the fact that she now will age just as slowly as him seems a little… sappy), and the underlying plot (a sect of evil shapeshifters are out to stop the rebels… hello, Volturi vs. Cullens). It just felt a little unoriginal at points, and almost like it was sapping off the glory that was Twilight. That being said, this book was MUCH better than Twilight and deserves the cult following much more than that series.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give this book a solid 3. The flaws I saw in it were minor, and were really based off of my personal preferences. Anyone who is a fan of the contemporary fantasy genre will LOVE this book. I will most certainly be picking up the second book in the series when it is published, and that alone speaks of its success.

How about you? Have you read Celtic Moon? If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, are you interested in picking it up?

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