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Archive for August, 2011

This is a really weird way to start this review, but I’ll go ahead and do it: Pretty much the entire time I was reading The Informationist, I thought that the author was a male. Not that it mattered – that is just the impression I had in my head. About 3/4 of the way through the book, I looked up the author to see if “he” had written more books because I was *in love* and I was so surprised to see that “he” was a “she”!!! I love this book even more (athough that’s highly impossible since I love it so much already), somehow, because of that fact.

The Informationist (*****LOVED) is my FAVORITE book that I have read so far this year. Full stop. That is saying a lot, because I recently reviewed Caleb’s Crossing and State of Wonder – and said that they were 2 of the best so far this year.

The Informationist follows a woman who works for herself. She is an information gatherer and people hire her for large amounts of money to give them information – the information usually relates to countries, companies, deal information, and secrets. The job that she takes on that is the center of this book, however, is to locate a girl who was last seen in Africa. The missing girl’s adopted father is extremely wealthy and ready to pay whatever is necessary to find her, so Vanessa Michael Monroe takes on the case. Vanessa grew up in Africa, and she is extremely comfortable and knowledgeable with the way that the continent works, and she is also somewhat of a savant – she knows about 20 languages and can easily pick them up and speak them with the slightest practice. Vanessa is also well-trained in fighting techniques and is especially familiar with knives.  While I am hesitant to compare her to anyone, Vanessa reminds me the most of Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

This book is a thriller, mystery and Africa travel guide (to the places you do not want to visit) all rolled into one.  It is amazing, and I could not stop reading it.  Imagine my happiness when I found out that a second Vanessa Michael Monroe book is coming out in December!!! READ THIS BOOK!

The other Vanessa Michael Monroe books that have been released are as fun and quick to read as the first!! I have read the first three and look forward to the release date of the 4th!

  1. The Informationist
  2. The Innocent
  3. The Doll
  4. The Catch (release date in July 2014)

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Caleb’s Crossing is easily one of, if not THE best book that I have read this year.  I could not put it down and finished it in about a day and a half.  The story is told so perfectly that I cannot find one fault with it.  I love the writing style that Geraldine Brooks chose to write this book.  She tells the story from the perspective of Bethia, a girl whose family is living on an island off the coast of Massachusetts.  The island is cohabited by Native Americans – and will later become known as Martha’s Vineyard. 

The book starts in the 1660’s and Bethia is the daughter of a minister and lives with her father, mother and brother.  She badly wants to learn what her brother is learning – Latin, Greek and Hebrew – but her father will not let her.  She manages to pick up a lot of learning just by being in the same room, and we see that she is easily smarter than her older brother.  Because she is a girl, Bethia is sent out to gather clams and other food from the island, when she meets a young Native American boy – the Christian name she gives to him is Caleb.  Soon the two are meeting almost daily, and she can speak his native language, while he wants to learn her English language.  The book follows the trials and tribulations of poor Caleb and Bethia and it is amazing that they are able to survive everything that is thrown their way.  Caleb is ultimately accepted to Harvard College and becomes the first Indian to receive a degree from that institution. 

Caleb’s Crossing is split into three parts: 1660 at Great Harbor; 1661 at Cambridge; and 1715 at Great Harbor.  In each of these sections, Bethia recounts her story.  In the first section, she tells of growing up on the island, and her first meetings with Caleb.  In the second section, she continues her story, and it then follows on to how she and Caleb ended up in Cambridge.  In the third section, we know that she somehow makes it back to Great Harbor, and she recounts the years that passed in between the second and the last section.  Because of these sections, there is a great deal of foreshadowing, which makes it even harder to put the book down because I wanted to find out how, for instance, both she and Caleb ended up in Cambridge.   

The story is an amazing one, and as Geraldine Brooks notes in the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book: the book is a work of imagination, and is inspired by the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wopanaak tribe of Noepe (Martha’s Vineyard), born around 1646, and the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.  I recommend this book to absolutely everyone.

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Once again, I have to ‘admit’ something. I love the TV series BONES. I also love to read murder-mystery books. My favorite time to read murder-mystery books is when I am on the elliptical machine or the stairmaster at the gym, because the time literally flies by when I am reading murder-mysteries. I swear that reading an engaging page-turner is the best way to get your workout in! That being said, when I heard that BONES was based off of a book series, I went out and bought some books. Here again is where my e-Reader comes in handy. It makes it much easier to read books while I’m working out, and it makes it much easier to buy books that I read so quickly.

To put it succintly – I’m a fan. I’ve read 12 of the 13 that have been published. I knew that I would give these books a ***** star rating when I became upset that I was finishing 206 Bones and only have one more book to read in the series.  The books are about Temperance Brennan – a forensic anthropologist – who is a professor, but also helps consult with the legal authorities when the dead bodies they find are mainly bones.  They’re not literary masterpieces, and at times they’re pretty unbelievable (she has quite a few coincidences in her books – like the time she found some bones belonging to a young girl in Canada, who she believed deep down would turn out to be the bones of a girl she played with one summer in North Carolina). But Temperance Brennan (yes – the TV show kept the name) remains true to herself throughout the books, and that’s why I love them.  She definitely has her own unique character about her. The best part is, of course, when she is helping with the detective work, and when she is studying the bones to find clues.

The fact that Tempe works 1/2 the year in North Carolina and 1/2 the year in Canada helps keep the books fun and interesting because the locale is always changing.  When in Canada, she is in Montreal, so it is great that she adds in some French from time-to-time.  She does, of course, have various romantic interests, which sometimes are a bit cheesy, and sometimes she acts like a 15-year old not knowing how to act with a boyfriend. But the good stuff definitely outweighs the ‘eye-roll’ stuff, for sure, and I love her cat – Birdie.

If you are a fan of murder-mysteries, I highly recommend the Temperance Brennan novels, by Kathy Reichs!

Update: A few days after this post, USAToday posted a story on Kathy Reichs, with a video interview where they show her in her lab! Click here for the link!

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My YA Obsession

OK, I’ll admit it. Every once in a while, I enjoy reading the popular YA novels that are all the rage. I am not going to write full reviews of these books (because that would be a bit too embarrassing), but I will rank them in order of preference. My favorite YA books are the following:

  • Hunger Games Trilogy – LOVE
  • Flavia de Luce Mysteries – LOVE
  • Sookie Stackhouse books – LOVE
  • Twilight series – LOVE
  • Harry Potter books – LOVE

Hmmmm, OK – so maybe I LOVE them all, and I have a hard time putting one series higher than the other!! I really loved the Hunger Games trilogy, but that was the most recent YA series that I read, so it might just still be stuck in my mind. I also really liked The Host, by Stephanie Meyer (Twilight author). I picked that one up because I wasn’t ready to start reading ‘real’ books after finishing Twilight and it was a good way to continue with the YA books a bit longer.  The Flavia de Luce mysteries are absolutely adorable and laugh-out-loud funny.  Flavia and her sisters are such characters and the books are written so perfectly that I am always sad to think that there are only two books out currently (at least the third will be released in November!).

I always prefer to read the books before the movies come out so that I can picture them in my own way in my mind – I am so interested to see how The Hunger Games translates to the movies! So that’s my YA obsession … until the next big series is released!

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Cleopatra: A Life

It must be so hard to write a nonfiction book and make it feel like fiction.  Stacy Schiff completely managed to do this with Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), and she definitely managed to do this with Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra: A Life not only sheds light on Cleopatra’s reign, but it focuses on what must have been the true story behind her relationships with Julius Caesar and later with Marc Anthony.  The true story of her death and of Marc Anthony’s death really astounded me, and the way that Stacy Schiff effectively dismissed any and all rumors about those deaths made it even better.  The fact that Stacy Schiff’s writing in this book is so based on, well – facts – is what makes the book (in my mind, at least), such a success.  It is obvious that Stacy Schiff is not making up any stories, and whenever she puts forth a story or a myth, she also puts forward additional facts to either support that myth or to debunk it.  Some of the best myths related to Cleopatra’s death (of course), and the manner of her relationship with Marc Anthony. 

Her descriptions of Cleopatra were some of the best parts of the book as well – Cleopatra’s ability to engage in discourse with anyone, regardless of whether that person was a man, was royalty, or was threatening to kill her; Cleopatra’s ability to speak so many languages; Cleopatra’s ability to successfully make Alexandria one of the greatest cities that existed in her time.  When I finished the book, I was tempted to think that it was such a shame that most of the stories that we know about Cleopatra are such myths.  I later realized that it is because she was so powerful and successful at what she did – these are the reasons that we know her and the reasons why all of these stories were made up about her.  I highly recommend this book to nonfiction readers!

Cleopatra’s Daughter: A Novel

I started reading Cleopatra’s Daughter immediately after reading Cleopatra: A Novel.  As any of my blog readers will know, I have a habit of reading multiple books about the same topic, so when I discovered these two books, I thought they would go well together.  And it was a perfect match! Cleopatra: A Novel, essentially finishes with Cleopatra’s death.  Cleopatra’s Daughter essentially begins with Cleopatra’s death. 

Cleopatra’s Daughter is an entirely fictional account of the lives of Cleopatra’s twin children with Marc Anthony – a son and daughter.  The daughter, Kleopatra Selene, is the focus of the book, although she is with her twin brother for most of the book as well.  As Cleopatra: A Novel taught me – Cleopatra’s children were truly taken from Alexandria by Caesar Augustus once Cleopatra killed herself, and they were raised by his sister in Rome.  Cleopatra’s Daughter is the story of their lives in Rome.  It is amusing because the author is obviously a modern author, but sometimes she tried to throw in some “ancient” language when she wrote out conversations.  The one that made me laugh out loud was when she would start out a sentence with “Gods,…”  – in the same way that we would start a sentence today with, for example, “My God,…” or “For God’s sake,…” 

Regardless, the book is a very quick read and is engaging.  As I was reading it, I was glad that I had read Cleopatra: A Life prior to taking up the fictional follow-up so that I was easily able to identify the more ‘mythological’ aspects of the book.  Overall, I enjoyed this book, and it was a nice and easy treat to read after reading an extremely fact-based nonfiction book.  I recommend Cleopatra’s Daughter, and I highly recommend reading both Cleopatra: A Life and Cleopatra’s Daughter: A Novel, in succession.

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