The Aviary Gate, The Last Queen, and Schooled

September 29, 2008 at 10:19 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

The Aviary Gate, The Last Queen, Schooled.

The Aviary Gate, by Katie Beckman, is a nice story about an English woman, Celia Lamprey, that is captured and brought into a Sultan’s harem in Constantinople. It’s also about her modern day counterpart, and her search to uncover what happens to Celia. I’ll admit, I picked this one up about 2-3 weeks earlier, then put it down for whatever reason, and when I picked it back up, I was momentarily confused as to who was who.

It was pretty interesting, but again, I have to admit I was confused. One day the modern girl (I’m sorry, I just can’t remember her name at the moment,) was at home, working on the Celia mystery, and lamenting her love woes to her friend. The next time the story focused in on her, she’s in present day Constantinople! That threw me in for a loop honestly. Even if it was rushed, you can’t just up and “oh, I’ll just hop on my plane now and hope things fall in place for me.” She has a bit of an obsession over her former love, Marius. Heck, if I was in an entirely new country, I don’t think I’d have as much time as she did, lamenting my woes. At least in the end, she has a happy ending.

Too bad that Celia didn’t get a happy ending as well. I guess you can call hers bittersweet. She never leaves the harem, but she manages to meet with her love one last time (sorry, that was a small spoiler.) She always stressed that if she could see him one last time, her live would be more bearable, she can be happier, so long as he knew she was still alive and not drowned at sea.
Celia was the more interesting of the two stories, and righteously so since she IS the main focus of the book. She gets entangled in a court plot, and she learns she has to navigate its treacherous waters by itself. Nobody is exactly as they proclaim they are, so there’s really no one she can trust 100% I just wish she had the happier ending, but court politics prevented that.

All in all, if I were to rate, I’d say about 3 1/2 out of 5. It’s good, except for the small things that threw me off.

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The Last Queen, by C.W. Gortner was more enjoyable. Set in the 1490’s, it’s about one of Queen Isabel and King Fernando’s daughter, Juana. Up until this book, I knew absolutely nothing about this woman, and even then, it’s not completely accurate, as Mr Gortner explains. Even though he did some fairly extensive research, she’s a woman (duh) and it looked like a pretty tumultuous time, so whatever records there was, isn’t anymore. Even so, I’d say he did a good job weaving a story out of the facts, and injecting it with what he thought may have happened.

Juana is the most spirited of the Queen and King’s children, but even she is not immune to an arranged marriage, to Prince Phillip of Habsburg. Though reluctant about the marriage, she falls in love with him soon after. I felt terrible for her after she realizes how terrible his true nature is. Power hungry and subtlety manipulated by his spiritual adviser, Besancon. She finds unwavering trust and faith in two of her women, and I think having their loyalty was one of the few things that kept her sane.

After a series of tragedies in her family, she quickly finds herself the Queen of Spain. Her husband however, plots and schemes against her, in a bid to become the actual King of Spain, and not Juana’s consort. He secretly arranges marriages for their children, among some of Spain’s enemies. He sows seeds of uncertainty about Juana’s sanity in the minds of Spain’s courts and nobles, creating unrest. Through it all, even her heart was probably breaking, and she’s angry enough to spit nails, she does what she can to get back at him. She attacks a mistress, retrieving her stolen jewels. She uses clever wordplay against the English rulers, humiliating her husband in the process. Through it all, she endures physical abuse and rape, with Phillip’s promise to beget her with child after child until she dies from its physical stresses. She gets locked up and treated horribly. It’s no wonder if she really did go insane after a while, with all she is forced to endure.

She endured a miserable adult life, and by the end, I felt so sad. No woman should ever have to endure that, but in those days, all the backstabbing and lies and deceit were the norm. It’s well written and researched. Good book to pick up.

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Schooled, by Anisha Lakhani. I usually had good luck getting books pretty quickly from the Early Reviewers program, but this one took 2 months to get, due to some oddball shipping mishap. I had a feeling, based on the books description, it would be a quick read, and I was right. It then promptly disappeared thanks to my husband going on a cleaning binge, so I have to dig it back up and get it to my bookshelf.

It’s a story of a woman, newly graduated from Columbia University, to be a teacher of all things. After a disagreement with her parents, she moves into the apartment of a sorority sister that’s in the financial field. Soon after, she nails a position as a 7th grade English teacher in one of Manhatten’s private schools. She’s filled with hopes and dreams that her fellow faculty will become friends, her students attentive and bright. It didn’t take long to find out it just wasn’t happening, lol. Presented with files on the kids, the things she learn isn’t good for her as a teacher. One girl gives a boy a blow job at his Bar Mitzvah. The mother of another is practically a stalker. Along with tidbits like this, she also learns which families she has to suck up to practically, based on their donations to the school.

The faculty basically snubbed the new girl. The students complain their new teacher isn’t giving them an easy ride, making the mom’s call and complain, and quickly try to get rid of her. She changes tact, the kids and moms enjoy it, but the other teachers don’t. It’s a no-win situation for her.

Soon enough, she learns of the secret world of tutoring students from other schools, and she gets quickly sucked in. Can practically see the $ signs in her eyes (like a cartoon’s.) A few hours of tutoring per week would allow her to get a nicer apartment, nicer clothes, nicer everything. She just has to sacrifice her morals for a little while. But at least with this newfound income, the students are taking notice and liking her more. She’s now the “cool” teacher.

In the end, her morals win out, and she up and quits all her tutoring jobs, and changes tact with her students again, after hearing what one teacher does while tutoring one of the kids. What she finds out about her students (reading and writing wise) shocks her, for bad and for good.

It reminded me of The Devil Wears Prada a bit, which I really got a kick out of. Meet nice girl. Nice girl scores job making good money, all she has to do is give up her friends, family, morals. Nice girl has an epiphany, sees the light, and all is well again. Even though the theme is the same (I’ve heard it compared to The Nanny Diaries as well,) I do enjoy them, so long as the writing isn’t shoddy.

It was finished in a few hours, so I’d recommend getting it from the library. It’s a nice light read, especially if you’ve just finished a meatier book.

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I Won!

September 23, 2008 at 5:17 pm (Uncategorized)

Hehe, I’m just excited today =)

I snagged one of two SORMAG goody bags from My Friend Amy’s blog. From what I understand, I’m getting a bunch of books. Thanks Amy, and great job on BBAW!

The second is from the On My Bookshelf… blog, which I found during BBAW. I scored a copy of America, America, by Ethan Canin, tea, and homemade scones and jam, which sounds VERY yummy! Can’t wait to try it!
The contest itself was pretty fun too – it was like a scavanger hunt.. few questions, and you check out her blog for the answers. I thought it was a great way to get people to actually check out the blog, but I felt so bad when she revealed how many people entered! Lazy bums! 😉

Lastly, found out I was getting my first First Look book from Barnes & Noble, The Mighty Queens of Freeville. Hope it’s good!

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A few memoirs (and a mystery!)

September 22, 2008 at 11:48 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I always try to give myself a few days before writing a review.. and somehow, instead of doing one review today, I have.. 5 books! I honestly don’t know how I do this to myself sometimes. *makes note to update at LEAST once a book*

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Bone By Bone by Carol O’Connell

This one is a mystery set in a small town, where everyone knows your name, and everyone has a secret.

I really enjoyed this one. Yeah, everyone has a secret, but they’re not easy secrets for you, the reader, to guess at. It’s nice because it’s not that predictable, where by the middle of the book you want to slap someone and tell them it’s suspect x that did it!

It’s got a half ass sheriff, a sharp government agent, seances, a housekeeper that seems to know everything, and heck, even the birds have secrets. It’s very enjoyable, and I like how they finally extracted the confession they needed at the end (although it was unconventional.) I was a bit sad when some characters didn’t get their happy endings, but I guess sometimes in life, you’re so far gone that a happy ending isn’t possible.

Good read!

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Something Like Beautiful by asha bandele

A single black mother talks of her raising her little girl. Only problem was, she didn’t exactly expect to be a single mother raising a little girl. She meets a man in prison, falls in love, and gets married to him. He’s been a model prisoner, and that combined with a marriage, and eventually the arrival of a baby, convinces them both he can get out on parole, and they can be a happy family. Unfortunately, things don’t work out that way, and she finds herself alone.

It’s a short memoir. Asha is typical in her mom worries (2 bottles and 3 diapers for a prison visit? Those guards better hope the baby’s stomach isn’t having an off day!) After losing her husband, she tries out the dating scene, and falls victim to another problem – domestic violence. She eventually ditches the guy, and moves on. She worries how society will see her – if, since she’s a single black mom, they think she’s one of those “statistics.” Jump in bed, have a good time, get knocked up, and *cloud of dust* there goes the father.

Asha tries hard. She tries to pay her rent and bills and grocery shopping with her meager paychecks. She tries to find quality daycare, and a good school for her daughter. She fights her depression, and remembers how much love and joy her daughter brings to her.

It’s a short book, but it’s not too bad. She really does try to make a good life for them, and I give her credit and wish her luck in the future.

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I Had To Row Across The Ocean by Tori Murden McClure

Another memoir, but it was pretty cool. As the title indicates, she (Tori, the author,) rowed across the ocean. She doesn’t do it for any cause or charity, or the fame. She does it to prove that she can. She chronicles everything. She sees dolphins, whales, schools of fish, sharks, and a mysterious tentacle floating along. She tells of the rough weather, how she gets banged up, capsizes a few times, and her struggles to row against opposing winds.

She tells of growing up, and what brought her to challenging herself like this. I don’t really want to say TOO much, without spoiling it, but I’ll say that she learned a lot about herself, found a husband, and she makes the journey. Way to go Tori! Hopefully this will inspire others to take up great challenges, even if they don’t succeed.

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Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway

Very well worth the read. As soon as I got it, I dug in right away. Kris signs on with the Peace Corp for two years, and she gets sent to a small village in west Africa. Her host, and mentor, was the village midwife Monique. During her two years, Kris tries to help the village as much as she could. She helps Monique care for the pregnant women and their children, helps out in the fields, and, her main project, helps them fix and renovate the birthing house.

She learns the language, the culture, samples the new foods, and makes new friends. Wild dogs and scorpions freak her out. She meets another volunteer, and he eventually moves to her village to be with her, and help out. In my eyes, Kris has the experience of a lifetime, something I wish I could have done, and be able to share with my own kids.

Her book helps raise awareness to one of Africa’s problems, besides AIDS. Without training, pre-natal care, and education to keep the babies alive and healthy, the mortality rate is high among birthing mothers and infants.

One thing I’d definitely like to point out, is with every sale of the book, a portion of the proceeds “..will help expand the capabilities of this clinic, as well as provide school tuition assistance and health care for Monique’s children.” They’re also partnered up with WomensTrust Inc, “a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women in West Africa at the grassroots level.”

Part of her website is dedicated to collecting donations, and can be found here : Monique and the Mango Rains – How to Help.

It’s a great and worthwhile cause. Pick up the book, and help out!

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And last one for today.. The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan

Yet another memoir! This one I found pretty amusing. John is the youngest of 4, and his parents are VERY devout catholics. They try to raise him in the faith – no smoking, no drinking, no pre-marital relations, etc, yet he pretty much defies all of this, and so much more. He has some hilarious misadventures, like undressing his pretty nun teacher, then being called on to stand and read, only to realize he has a bit of a “problem” that he tries to hide. Or once, during lunch, one of his buddies puts a punk record on, cranks it up, and blasts it, swearing and all, much to the fury of the sister.

He grows up, and still gets into trouble – like dating a very well endowed girl, publishing an independent school newspaper with some very liberal views, and moving in with his future wife. Through it all though, I think he regrets not being more honest and upfront with his parents, especially when they drift apart after he confesses some things them. He tries to reach a balance to keep his parents, and his wife happy, without pissing one off too much.

It was funny, and it was touching, and it cut the core a bit too. Who hasn’t at some in their lives, been dishonest with their parents, and later regretted it? I originally thought it would be a bit “meh” but it’s well written, and it kept me going to see what happens next. I found out he had written another book, “Marley and Me,” and I think I’ll be trying to pick it up as well.

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I might have to edit a little bit later, musing it all over.

Currently reading :

My Father’s Paradise, by Ariel Sabar (still! sorry! it’s good though!)

The Aviary Gate, by Katie Hickman. I regret not finishing this sooner. It started off a bit slow, but it’s definitely gotten more interesting.

Next to be read (in no specific order:)

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner (another one I regret not getting to earlier! probably the next to be picked up in a day or two)

Shadow of Colossus by T.L. Higley

The Last Days of Krypton by Kevin J. Anderson (very soon, I swear!)

Just when I knock a few off my pile, more appear! Just donated a few books, but I feel like I hardly made a dent in freeing up space, unfortunately.

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Two Reviews!

September 10, 2008 at 10:15 pm (Uncategorized)

Like the title implies, I have two reviews today, Guernica, by Davine Boling, and Last Night I Dreamed of Peace, by Dang Thuy Tram.

Peace is a relatively small book, about 256 pages. It is the very real (translated) diary of a Vietnamese doctor during the Vietnam War. After reading her experiences.. even though I wasn’t alive during that time, I feel pretty ashamed about the War. Thuy was professionally trained, she was smart, compassionate, and most of all, courageous. To be caring for the wounded and avoiding detection by enemy troops, courage is a necessity. Throughout her diary, she tells of her trials, of some of the patients that she helped to save. She talks of being a member of the Party, which I’m guessing is similar to a society of professionals that try to better the conditions of Vietnam, and work towards a better future for the country. She gives herself advice daily on how to be a better person, a better friend, sister, on how to get into the Party. She has her doubts, and she has her hopes.

I originally was on the fence about whether I was liking it or not, though the entire time I had a lot of respect for her. In the end though, I felt beyond sad when, after being left alone with a few patients, still waiting for help, she was found, and killed. I guess back then, the soldiers either had no choice, or just didn’t care, about respect for a woman, even if she was the enemy, and simply made her a p.o.w. instead.
The one thing that I did not agree with, was part of the introduction, where they tell you of her death. Honestly, I didn’t need to know that until the after word. I spent the entire time counting down to her death. If they saved that information until the end, then I think it would’ve hit me a little more. I could have been more hopeful to her survival, hoping she has a bright career, reunites with M and her family.. Phooey!

12 January 1970

“… I don’t want to think far ahead. I only want to talk about things before our eyes. That is, each minute of our lives must be a proud minute. There are innumerable hardships in front of us.” So very true!”

27 February 1970

‘life is indeed a painting, with thousands of colors and textures. I am like a painter fresh out of school, stepping into a complex reality. Before me lies a long range of high, dark blue mountains with strands of white clouds spreading lightly on their slopes. The mountains are raked and scarred by bombs, the raw red earth like open wounds. Since I stepped onto this steep road full of perils, lined with trees withered by poison, parched beneath a burning sun, I have encountered cool streams with flowers and fragrant blossoms… And the faces I met on the road have been kindly. There are shiny eyes looking at me with affection. There are inquiring eyes, trying to understand me. And there are also crafty eyes here, trying to cheat me with jealous looks and fake smiles.
Oh, Thuy! Choose wisely, be wise and calm. You are not young. I wish you knew how to act. Don’t squander your trust. Don’t be stingy. You must know how to place your personal interests below those of the Party cooperative. …”
I like how she desribes the what she sees, and the things that those with the crafty eyes don’t think she notices. Then she goes on to give herself a bit of advice to overcome those will ill thoughts towards her, and how to better serve the Party.. Ah, poor Thuy, such a life wasted.

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Guernica, as painted by Pablo Picasso.
And here is some information about the tragic bombing of the town..

Obviously, this is a work of historical fiction, but Mr. Boling stuck with the facts as closely as he could. The story jumps around a bit from character to character in the beginning, but it’s not something to be put off by! Before you realize, the connections start to be made between them, and it starts making more sense.

All of the characters have so much life to them! I found myself looking forward to diving more into their lives and routines, their interactions with others, friend, family, or foe. I also found myself worrying about the fate of Guernica, since this during the time of the Spanish Civil War.

As we started seeing into the eyes of Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen (ugh, that bastard!) I felt nothing but dread. You just know something was going to happen to this town filled with these wonderful characters. Unfortunately, as history tells us.. Guernica gets bombed, killing a grievous many citizens, and wounding more. I wanted to cry as some of my favorite characters, like Mariangeles, Miren, Justo, etc. were caught in the middle of it all.

It’s a powerful story that’s going to stay with me for sure. After I finished it, I went and looked up Guernica on Wikipedia, and I’m even more disgusted with the whole situation. I’m proud of Picasso though, for memorializing the tragedy in a huge painting. With that painting, and his fame, he brought the situation to center stage, garnering more attention to the event.

If anyone was just “thinking” about getting this one, don’t. Just go and get it! You won’t regret it. And definately check out Picasso’s painting and read up about it, at least on wiki.

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Currently reading : Something Like Beautiful, and My Father’s Paradise. Two at once.. so bad..

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