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I must say, I am looking forward to the year 2013. 2012 was not a spectacular year for me overall, and I figure 2013 is bound to be better by default. However, some amazing things happened last year.

  • My oldest and dearest friend got married! I’m so happy for these two and I was honored to be involved in their wedding.
  • I learned a lot professionally from my current position. Granted, most of it was what-not-to-do and how to handle less-than-great situations; but now I’m more prepared.
  • I did pretty well on my 2012 resolutions. I resolved to exercise regularly and widdle down my credit card debt. I can honestly say that I never went a full week without exercising at least once. I admit, however, that I need to work on a better schedule. While I am not credit-card-debt free, I did make a sizable dent, and hopefully I can take care of that this year. (Although I probably need a better paying position first.)
  • I read well over 9,502 pages! I only counted the completed and reviewed books for this blog, not including professional material and books started. I’m going to track my pages read this year as well. It’s fun to see the progress.

I only have two official resolutions for next year:

  1. Learn to knit socks. It seems like all good knitters know how to do this, but I failed at my attempt. Fortunately, I got good instruction books for Christmas, and I got some lovely yarn on a year-end sale. I’m going to make this happen.
  2. Break the 10,000 pages read of completed works. I’m a slow reader, but I got awfully close last year.

I have some things I want to work on/tweak in the coming twelve months.

  1. Come up with a manageable, consistent exercise schedule.
  2. Obtain another job. I do love my profession, and have a fondness for my current position (as mentioned.) Unfortunately, I’m not terribly fond of the locale, nor am I fond of the pay and general lack of respect and support from the community. It’s starting to wear me thin.
  3. Keep working on that debt. It will be slow but hopefully steady.
  4. Work on corresponding with far-flung friends. I do love all of my friends, but it’s hard to stay connected since we are all scattered to the wind.
  5. I’ll be attempting knitted items for the holidays next year. Like reading, I’m a slow knitter, so we’ll see how this goes.

So there you have it, folks! Do you have any new year’s resolutions, or things to tweak in twelve months time?

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Fall of Giants by Ken Follet; page count 985.

Triumphant dog sitting atop a gun surrounded by gunners, France, during World War I

Couldn’t resist a puppy picture. This fellow was a regimental mascot in France, from the National Library of Scotland.

This book was fantastic! I cannot say enough good things about this. Ken Follet has certainly earned his widespread acclaim.

This first book of the Century Trilogy follows five very different families from 1911 through 1924. The Welsh coal mining family: Williams, the English aristocrats: Fitzherberts, the German aristocrats: von Ulrichs, the Russian factory workers: Peshkovs, and the old-monied American family: the Dewars. These families struggle through the heart-wrenching events of everyday life and truly horrific historic events.

I particularly enjoyed all the different vantage points. It’s far too easy to be ethnocentric about historical events. All too often we are only presented with one side of events, even in history books. However, Follet shows the views of nearly every facet leading up to World War I and after. He delves into the reasons it began and the honest, albeit misguided, opinions of those in charge who lead their countries to the brink of destruction (or past depending on one’s point of view.) I was especially pleased that he didn’t just show the upper crust or just the down-trodden workers, but both and how they interact.

I highly recommend this book. I’m going to take a bit of a break before reading the next edition of the trilogy, Winter of the World, but I’m already intrigued by how these families will react to the next phase in history.

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E is for Emily Hudson: A Novel by Melissa Jones

Another day, another letter polished off of the list. For the fifth letter of the A to Z Reading Challenge, I read Melissa Jones’s Emily Hudson: A Novel. Set in Civil War era America and Europe, Jones’s novel is about a woman finding herself and her independence in a time when women were expected to show proper, sedate decorum and marry well.

Emily Hudson: A NovelWhat I like most about this book is that Jones manages to tell a story with romance without that subject being the focus of her character’s development. Emily is a woman ahead of her time in her independence of thought, joy for life, and depth of emotion. Jones takes her from her strong-willed childhood, where she is dismissed from boarding school for having too enthusiastic a friendship with a fellow schoolmate, to the society of England, where she is an exotic eccentric, to the picturesque landscape of Italy, where Emily finally asserts her independence and uses her skills as an artist to build a life away from the bonds of her family and their rule. Emily becomes the object of affection, sincere, passionate, and obsessive, of three different men, and eventually discovers that she needs to live life for herself before she can live it with another.

While I was inspired by Emily’s transformation, I did feel that there was a certain detachment in the writing of the story. Maybe this stems from the format of the book, written half in letters to and from Emily, with less direct dialogue and thought from the character and more of formal responses with a veneer of the projection of how Emily wished things to appear. Whether this was intentional or not, I would have liked to see a little more depth from Jones in her portrayal of Emily. While Jones wrote a very complex and human protagonist, there was a certain symbolic quality to Emily that made her feel more of a placeholder for female readers than a character of her own. Yes, Emily has her own insecurities, fears over her ill-health, and conflicting emotions about those she loves in her life, but somehow, there was always a little niggling feeling in the back of my mind that made me feel that Emily was more of a figurehead for personal growth and introspection than an actual person. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, viewing Emily as an allegorical inspiration for women to know their own personality and come to terms with their temperament and capabilities. Yet, the slight detachment made the book slightly less moving for me.

I’d give this book a half and half review. I wouldn’t call it the best book I’ve ever read, but the sentiment behind Emily’s journey is inspiring. If I take anything away from this book, it is that we are all individuals with a spirit can not and should not be stifled, and that we need to know and love ourselves before we can love anyone else. That made the book worth reading by itself.

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Divine Words

I’ve been really bad about keeping up with my reviews for the A to Z Reading Challenge, so I apologize. I’d tell you all about my busy schedule lately and my fatale computer issues, but after settling down and buying a new MacBook Pro, with which I am having a passionate love affair, I have no more excuses. So, in the spirit of resuming my contributions to this blog and forgetting about all the things in life pulling me every which way, demanding attention, I’ll jump right in with my review. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

D is for The Divine Husband by Francisco Goldman

This book is very different from the historical fiction I usually read. I’m not usually intrigued about Latin American history, but for some reason, the synopsis of this book caught my attention. The Divine Husband is the account of one woman’s journey from childhood to adulthood in an unnamed, slightly fictional Latin American country, from the confines of a convent, where she lives the ascetic, devotional life of a novice nun, through a revolution that abolishes the religious lifestyle she has become accustomed to, and finally to the United States, where her life ends in the wake of the American Dream.
The Divine Husband

With the legacy of Magical Surrealism and a mixture of traditional historical fiction and a tone of fatalistic premonitions of destiny, Goldman is able to convey a feeling of Latin American prose that matches the setting of this novel. The adjective liminal comes to mind when I think of this book. Maria de las Nieves, the protagonist of this novel, is a liminal character, in her parentage (Native and European), her straddling of the religious and secular worlds, and her economic status as both childhood friend of the wife of a wealthy and powerful dictator and lowly secretary and working mother. Maria lives in a liminal world, at the turn of a century, placing her life in both the romantic past and recognizable recent decades, in a changing environment of revolution, and in the midsts of discovering a new world in America. I think this is why this book held my attention, despite both its length and my relative ignorance of the culture and history of the part of the world in which this tale takes place.

Goldman writes as if time is not linear, shifting back and forth in time, and keeps some mysteries of Maria’s life shrouded. If you are looking for clearly wrapped details and answers at the end of this book, then you will be disappointed. While I still had some questions by the time I closed the cover, I think that my reaction is what Goldman was aiming for. His portrait of a woman is impressive, and while he lays bear most of the details of her life, we are never really in Maria’s head. We women are complex and mysterious creatures, and Goldman captures the aura of these qualities in Maria’s secrets. I appreciated Goldman’s adept portrayal of one of my own sex and found it invigorating to read something so very different. Reading this book made me want to branch out more with the type of literature I read, and isn’t variety a good thing?

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The Terror by Dan Simmons; page count 784

Wow! What an excellent and terrifying book. This is the first time I’ve read a book penned by Dan Simmons, and it will not be the last.

Skongen, Expedition's Ship

This photo is from a much later expedition, but you get the idea. It’s basically my version of hell.

The book revolves around the lives of the 100-odd men traveling in two ships the HMS Terror and Erebus. They have come to the frozen artic in an attempt to find the North-West Passage. The men face not only the horrors which come from nineteenth century artic travel: frostbite, trouble with provisions and the cringe-inducing scurvy; they also encounter a terrible beasty from the north.

One thing I particularly liked was how Simmons changed up the viewpoints throughout the book. He wrote from the perspectives of various crewmen, a different voice taking each different chapter. I enjoyed peeping into the private musings of the sailors, as well as different opinions about what they are enduring on the ice. I was terrified and yet appreciated how Simmons described the thing hunting them on the ice. It’s described in glimpses and fearful panic. Perfect!

Simmons also did an excellent job of capturing period details, and tiny things about life on the sea which makes the book even more believable. I’ve been lucky enough to visit several nautical museums, so I can say with a fair amount of confidence that Simmons did his due diligence in regards to research.

I would not recommend this book to the faint of heart. It is beyond creepy, and even gory. Plus it’s 784 pages long! That’s over 700 pages of freezing cold terrified men. However, if you can stomach reading about the symptoms of scurvy (bleeding, swollen gums, teeth falling out, blood oozing out of orifice & definitely more horrifying than any fictitious monster) than you definitely should take the time to read this one.

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I’m doing another double-whammy of reviews for a few reasons: 1) These two books flew by.  2)It’s been fairly hectic at work lately and I don’t really have the time to write two full-on reviews. Yes, I still have time to read, but something’s gotta give, yes? 3)I don’t have a whole lot to add about either of these, so combining them just made sense.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins; page count 391

The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy was pretty much what you would expect from a second book. It develops characters a bit more, starts building toward a spectacular finale, but does not quite live up to its predecessor.

Yes, I enjoyed the book. Yes, I can barely wait to get the final installment, Mockingjay. But did I like it as much as I liked the hunger games? No. that being said, I did like the new characters and the developments in the second book. I also enjoyed the depth that was added to somewhat secondary characters. (I like reading about backstories. It’s odd; I know. Just imagine how much I enjoyed the appendixes in Lord of the Rings.)

Anywho, I’ll try and write a bit more when I obtain and finish the last book. Something  slightly more worthy of the whole shebang. Once again, I would recommend this to just about anyone.


Scarecrow Returns by Matthew Reilly; page count 350

This was my first Matthew Reilly book. He seems to be getting more popular as an author. Although I think that has more to do with military/action books being on an upswing right now, and less to do with his writing style.

Scarecrow Returns follows Captain Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield, USMC, as he leads a small, unlikely group against an anarchist military from destroying the Northern hemisphere. Schofield, three other Marines, and four civilians are temporarily in the Artic testing out potential weapons/tools for the military. As fate would have it, an anarchist military/terrorist group (can one really call anarchists a military?) has taken over a top-secret Russian base several miles south of Schofield’s camp. When the Russians and Americans discover the plot afoot on top of the world, they are faced with a ticking clock and little hope beyond Schofield’s ragtag team.
[Smeerenburg at Danskerne, Spitzbergen, Norway] (LOC)
You may be asking yourself, Why did Cornflower even bother reading it? Honestly, I was looking for an action movie, and didn’t find one that I hadn’t seen before. I decided instead to try out an action book. The book did succeed in satisfying my action craving, so that’s a point in its favor. That’s about it, though. The writing was less than stellar. If Reilly had not included pictorial diagrams of the setting, I don’t think I would have really had a sufficient mental image. That’s not good. Even with that, I am more disappointed in how unbelievable some of it was than anything else. If the general scenario isn’t bad enough, you should read some of the stunts. Wow!

All that being said, I might recommend this books to someone who wants to test out a military action novel wihtout devoting a lot og time or energy to the genre. As long as their expectations are not too high, I doubt they’d be very disappointed.

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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; page count 197
Once again, I’m probably the last person who has read this book. But I’ll sum it up anyway, since it was really popular a couple of years ago. The story is a simple fable about a Shepherd who has a dream of treasure, and sets off on a quest to obtain it.
There was something lovely about the sheer simplicity of this book. Like reading a fairy tale.
However, I just cannot understand how this became a national phenomenon. I mean, sure it was nice and all, but the writing wasn’t worth writing home about (admittedly, this could be a translation issue.) The plot and most of the characters were not complex. The moral or message of the book is nice, if a little naive.
Egypt: Gizeh

from the Brooklyn Museum, Egypt 1900.

That being said, I have discovered the best to utilize this book. This novel would ideal to read aloud to your 9 or 10-year-old child. The message and the characters would be great for them. I say, read to your child, not have them read it because this is one of those books that is almost better to talk about than to actually read.
Recommendation: Listen to the audio version read by Jeremy Irons. He was an excellent narrator. I just loved listening to his voice!

 


Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre and Israel’s Deadly Response by Aaron J. Klein; page count 288

If you didn’t get it from the title, this is a non-fiction book about the 1972 terrorist attack in Munich and a country’s reaction.

Honestly, I don’t want to go into detail about the attack, or Israel (very understandable) retaliation to it. Because this isn’t really the place for that kind of politicized talk. If anyone is really interested in my opinion on that, we can comment about it if you really want to.

It seemed very well written to me. Klein created a sketch of events and emotions of people involved without making it too dramatized. even knowing the outcome of events, I wanted to hear what happened next. What I believe encompassed the last couple of chapters (it was the last CD in any case) dragged a bit, but then that could have been me projecting my long road trip onto the book. So don’t take my word for that.

Audiobook specifics: Generally, the story was well-read. However, I would have preferred slightly heavier accents for some of the characters. Just to get me more in the mindset, really.

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