Wednesday, September 28, 2011

52 Books in 52 Weeks - #5

I ran into my first reading snag of the year today. I am currently reading Julie & Julia and was reading steadily along on my Nook just ended. Not the book, but apparently my electronic transfer. Bummer. Not only that, but I managed to run into this obstacle while in the hospital waiting for Collin to get an ultrasound. Turns out he has a mess of gallstones and will be needing surgery sortly. Not the best way to spend our day, but I'm glad it's not something more serious.

I was already on edge from spending my morning waiting for all the tests and labs to come back, wondering what in the world was going on with him. Hitting this snag with my book did not help the situation. I think I got a little overwhelmed by the day at that point.

But...all is not lost. Fortunately, for my birthday, my brother and his wife hooked me up with a Barnes & Noble gift card. Additionally, I had already decided that it is a book I would like to have in the paper form. I will be purchasing it in a day or two and get right back on track.

So if you've been keeping track...we now have 3 semifinalists: House Rules by Jodi Picoult, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I have taken the liberty of drawing up the bracket. I will be filling it in as we go along. This is what we look like so far...

Now...if you're paying attention, you'll notice that this will allow for sixteen entries. Since the goal is 52 books in 52 weeks and I am reviewing five at a time, this only allows for eleven brackets to be filled in (at best). There's a reason for this. First of all, making a bracket for eleven slots is a mess. Second, I figure it's possible that I may finish more than 52 books. Third (and probably my personal favorite reason) this allows for the addition of wild cards. I have mentioned a few times that there are books that have been difficult to eliminate. This allows me to be a bit of a waffler. I like that. So assuming that I only fill eleven brackets, there will be five wild card slots. Ten percent isn't bad.

So the way this is working is that I'm filling the top left brackets first, followed by the top right brackets. After that I'll go back and do the bottom brackets in turn. I decided that this way I wouldn't be pitting the first half of the books against the second half of the books. It should make it a bit more random...just like me.

Now...let's get back to it.

This week's challengers are :

1. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

2. The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

3. Dune Road by Jane Green

4. The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

5. The Beach House by Jane Green

It's an interesting situation this week. I have not one, but two authors who are represented twice in this group. It does make things a little more tricky.

1. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Finished : April 30.     Rating : 4 out of 5 stars.     Award : Most Dramatically Beautiful.

Memoirs of a Geisha follows the life of Chiyo, a young Japanese girl. After the death of her mother, Chiyo's father, a poor fisherman, sends his two young daughters with a virtual stranger. The two sisters are separated when Chiyo is sent to a geisha house for training. She is considered an attractive prospect due primarily to her rare and striking gray eyes. Her sister is not so lucky and is forced into a life of prostitution.

Chiyo is considered a threat by the house's geisha, Matsumomo. In fear that Chiyo may replace her, Matsumomo begins to treat her harshly, frequently abusing her and bringing on the animosity of the head of the geisha house. Matsumomo's lies nearly destroy Chiyo's chance at becoming a successful geisha. She is saved from a life of servitude when she is taken on as a "younger sister" by Matsumomo's rival, Mameha.

Given the new geisha name of Sayuri, Chiyo is a fast learner and quickly progresses toward training to be a successful geisha in the years leading up to World War II.

I am learning through this project that I am becoming a big fan of historical fiction. This book definitely satisfied my desire for historical accuracy woven into a captivating plot. Although the author takes some liberties with the details of Japanese and geisha culture, this is to be expected in a historical fiction novel. It is not a true account of someone's life, but a glamorized narrative. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the fact that the author of the book is a middle-aged American men. Many believe that the book continues to reinforce inaccurate Japanese stereotypes. I think this is just being dramatic. It's fiction. Get over it.

I found myself very involved in this book and experienced quite a range of emotions. I identified with the primary character and ached for her at many turns in the plot. I initially read this book just so that I could watch the movie. having read it, I would recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction, with or without seeing the movie.

2. The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

Finished : May 5.     Rating : 5 out of 5 stars.     Award : Best Insidious Character

This is the second book in the Cousins' War series. I had read The White Queen earlier in the year. In this novel the same story is told, but this time from the point of view of Margaret Beaufort, the Tudor (red) queen.

Margaret Beaufort is married to Edmund Tutor as a child. Though her husband dies, she is relentless in her quest of power for the Tudor family and her own child, Henry Tudor who is destined to become King Henry VII.

Margaret is scheming and devious, using any methods available to ensure that her rival, Queen Elizabeth (the white queen) does not secure the throne for her own brood. She feigns friend to the queen in order to gain access to the house of York, inserting herself a one of the queen's court. Margaret is a force to be reckoned with and she is continuously reinventing herself and acting as a wolf in sheep's clothing in order to get what she desires.

I absolutely loved this book. I recommend reading The White Queen first, as it made this one a lot easier to dive into. By reading both books you get a clear view of the War of the Roses from both sides. Unlike The White Queen, I found that it was easier to keep track of the characters in this book. I didn't get as lost in the repeating family names. Whether this was due to my familiarity with the story from the other side or just a difference in the writing, I cannot say.

These books are wonderful for anyone with a love of either historical fiction or just fascination with the royal lineage of England. i would read any of Philippa Gregory's books over and over again.

3. Dune Road by Jane Green

Finished : May 6.     Rating : 3 out of 5 stars.     Award : Most Fluffy Plot

Dune Road follows newly-divorced mother, Kit who leaves New York City for a new life in a small Connecticut beach town. She begins working for a local author who is notoriously reclusive. Kit is learning how to live a new life on her own, struggling with meeting new people and with letting go of her past. There's not much else I can say without completely ruining the book for anyone who wants to read it in the future.

I'll be honest. I generally like Jane Green, but this was not my favorite of her novels. The plot lines were overly fantastical with far too many things going on at once. Though she does manage to develop the characters well and keeps each separate plot line moving, the story becomes far too unrealistic and just gets overwhelmed with activity and unfortunate events and circumstances.

I found this novel to be more juvenile than her other books due to plot and story development, though the writing style seems more progressive than her other novels. It was a very fast read, which I think saved it somewhat in the ratings. Had the plot line slowed at all I think this may have been a book I put down. In fact, the quick moving plot and attention to detail are the only things that saved this book for me and bumped it from two stars to three.

If I didn't have a history of reading Jane Green's novels and didn't know what she is capable of, I don't know that I would have read another one after this.

4. The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

Finished : May 7.     Rating : 4 out of 5 stars.     Award : Most Egotistical King

Katherine of Aragon is born as the Spanish Infanta, Catalina.  She is daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. In a political maneuver, she is placed into an arranged marriage with Prince Arthur at age three.  The plot centers on this treaty arrangement between Spain and England, a promise to stand together against France in exchange for the marriage of their children. Prince Arthur is the eldest son of Henry VII of England.

When she is sent to England to meet her husband she is disappointed to find him immature and weak in nature. She has difficulty adjusting to the new culture and is terribly homesick. As time goes by, Katherine's love for Arthur increases. They come to understand and care deeply for one another. But just as this love story begins, it ends with Arthur's untimely death to consumption.

Determined to remain an heir to the throne of both Spain and England, Katherine works to achieve marriage to Arthur's younger brother, Henry.

I read this book following both The White Queen & The Red Queen. This worked out perfectly. Though written prior to the Cousins' War books, chronologically the story falls just fifteen years after the end of the story told in both of those books. Philippa Gregory takes some license with the historical details, but mainly remains true to the historical facts that have been gathered. Without spoiling any of the plot, it is easiest to say that she hypothesizes on things that were not wholly understood. 

This book was a great read and I read it fairly quickly. The only thing that I did not like was the way the book ended rather abruptly. The saving grace is that, having read her other books, I know that Philippa Gregory picks up the plot with The Other Boleyn Girl. I don't think I will ever be bored with her books.

5. The Beach House by Jane Green

Finished : May 9.     Rating : 4 out of 5 stars.     Award : Fastest Read

Nan owns a beautiful beach house at the top of the bluff in Nantucket. She is a sixty-five year old widow living the way she wants without worrying about the opinions of others. She finds herself in economic trouble and wants to avoid having to sell her beloved beach house in order to prevent financial ruin.

She decides to rent the empty rooms in her home for the summer. She finds herself revived by the new visitors and enjoys the warmth that develops in a house that has been lonely for so many years. But life does not remain idyllic for long and a few extra visitors introduce new challenges.

Jane Green made a come back for me in this book. After the disappointment of Dune Road I was reticent to try her novels again. However, this book is more of the Jane Green I've come to know and love.

The multi-story plot line ties together well, with only one piece of the plot irritating me as over the top...and I won't spoil that for any prospective readers.

As with all of her books, I found this book easy to read and a fast and fun read as well. I read this book in less than a day, unable to put it down as the story moved quite quickly. The writing is more grown up than some of her previous works and is nicely detailed. She does tend to use some of the same references as in other books (stores and other locations), but I was able to overlook these as simply quirks to her writing.

This book renewed my faith in Jane Green's novels and I will continue to look forward to reading more.

The Verdict

Well...this one is pretty obvious. The Red Queen wins hands down. It was a great read, but I do have to admit that I think having the background of reading The White Queen did help it move up in the ratings. I will add it to the bracket and find myself a new book to read until I can make it into town to retrieve a copy of Julie and Julia. I'm looking forward to finishing that one. I hate nothing more than being stalled out in the middle of a book I'm enjoying.


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