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The First Confessor: The Legend of Magda Searus

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I loved The Sword of Truth novels. I eagerly awaited each massive volume and was disappointed when the story ended. This wasn't because of how the series concluded but because I was going to miss reading about Richard and Kahlan.Now, Terry Goodkind has set the stage for an entirely new series with The First Confessor. The events in this novel predate those in The Sword of Truth by thousands of years. The reader is given insight to the origination of items integral to the original series including the Stone of Tears, Towers of Perdition, dream walkers, Lord Rahl's Devotion and, of course, confessors and The Sword of Truth. The link between confessors and the Sword of Truth becomes obvious and explains the dynamic between Richard and Kahlan.This book neatly ties up loose threads from the original series but I'd strongly recommend you NOT read this book before completing The Sword of Truth series. There is a ruse involving the Boxes of Orden and The Book of Counted Shadows that is essential to the entire story. The First Confessor explains why this was done but knowing this ahead of time will spoil some of the plot twists and the ending of the Sword of Truth series.I enjoyed the new characters of Magda and Merritt, the wizard that made the first confessor and the Sword of Truth. I'm not sure if it was intentional on Goodkind's part, but these characters seem slightly softer and more realistic. I'm looking forward to hearing more about them in another 10 or so volumes in this new series!
The Sun Also Rises

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I love this book. It's one of my all-time favorites and I've read it every few years since I was in junior high school.The narrator, Jake Barnes, is an American reporter living in Paris in the 1920's. The book has a very loose plot that centers around his friends' lives as expatriates and their travel to Pamplona, Spain to watch the bullfighting matches during the Fiesta. Woven throughout the story is Jake's romantic interest in Lady Brett Ashley. He sits by and watches as she becomes involved with most of his friends but he knows they can never have a relationship. This is because Jake suffered a certain injury during the war and Brett is never satisfied and quickly discards men anyway. The book sums up the entire relationship in the last few lines when Brett states "We could have had such a damned good time together." and Jakes replies "Isn't it pretty to think so?"What I enjoy most about this book is the extreme detail that Hemingway provides in his description of settings and scenery. You have a sense of reading someone's travel journal. This is in direct contrast to his approach with dialogue, however. Here, he is very precise and minimalistic. Character interactions become almost stilted and robotic. However, the characters are "tight" most of the time and the writing mimics a stuporous dialect. This leads me to the one element that always takes me by surprise; the vast quantity of alcohol consumed by the characters. As they travel between cafes, restaurants and bars in the course of an evening, it's not uncommon for each to have drunk 3 or more bottles of wine and numerous cocktails; mainly whiskey and absinthe.If you've ever dreamed of dropping everything and leisurely traveling the world or are interested in fishing, boxing or bullfighting, then you'll enjoy this book.
The Sultan of Monte Cristo: First Sequel to The Count of Monte Cristo

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I'm not one to start a book and not finish. I simply couldn't finish this one. I made it to page 30, holding back bile the entire time.Here is just a sample of what you can expect from this book. Keep in mind this is just in the first 30 pages:The author can't seem to decide what to call Edmond and he switches between names within chapters.Haydee seduces the Count and forces him to marry her.The Count converts to Islam and becomes Sinbad the Sultan (or Sultan of Monte Cristo.)We find out the Count is a descendent of Mary Magdalene.Mercedes goes into the hemp trade. This is good because the use of its "products" are prevalent.There are numerous anachronistic word choices. For example, Haydee, "took a hit, inhaling the smoke." Alexandre Dumas is referred to as an "investigative reporter." The count leaves a "hickey mark" on a woman.The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books. To even remotely associate this trashy piece of "fan fiction" to that great work is an affront against literature. It's no wonder the "writer" used a pseudonym.------I noticed that the ratings on this book appear bogus. Looking at reviews, I see a number of half and one star ratings. However, the rating chart shows nothing below a 4 which is resulting in an average rating of 4.8?
The Idiot

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While it was still a bit of a challenge, I enjoyed The Idiot far more than Crime and Punishment. My second try at Dostoevsky confirms, however, that I'm not a huge fan.This novel centers around Prince Myshkin who was given up as a child to a sanatorium for treatment for a condition. The story begins with him leaving the institution as an adult. He has no immediate family or friends and he desperately seeks to make a connection with distant relatives and their acquaintances.In character, the Prince is simply a kind, quiet and forgiving person. He does posses some symptoms of a malady that include seizures, difficulty speaking, agitation, difficulty focusing attention, emotional instability and a preoccupation with human faces. Because of his late language development, clumsiness and extreme reactions to the environment, he may have been suffering from something within the autism spectrum, though high functioning.The story is composed of numerous psychologically deep insights into Myshkin and the other characters; some of which are bipolar, schizophrenic and suicidal. These often come to light during various social gatherings that are required of people of their stature. Throughout most of the book, the Prince is treated horribly. The other characters show a complete disregard for his feelings and have no sense of empathy. In fact, many take "malignant pleasure" in the tragedies of others. They often refer to the Prince as "The Idiot" in his presence. Even those that care for him sometimes chide him or try to hide him so they are not embarrassed by his behavior.Lightly stringing these events together is the underlying plot of Prince Myshkin's pursuit of two love interests in trying to find a sense of acceptance and belonging. In the end, he gives up the woman he truly loves because he feels he isn't good enough for her and instead decides to marry her rival, a woman he pities. The marriage is never completed however because his wife-to-be leaves him at the altar and runs off with another lover. The story ends with her murder and the Prince completely regressing into a catatonic state in the sanatorium. He never finds the sense of belonging or normalcy he wanted.
Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

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Who the heck is Snorri Sturluson? I had no idea until reading this book but I was amazed to find the impact that this writer of 13th Century Icelandic sagas has had on literature. The book provides a very detailed narrative of Snorri's life while making references to the effect that events were having on his work. There are also some similarities drawn between real people and the mythic characters that Snorri brought to life. There are a few short snippets of his sagas and some Nordic mythology is reviewed but this is a book about Snorri, not his work. There are numerous references to the Prose Edda and other works so it might be helpful to the reader if they have actually read one or more of Snorri's sagas prior to reading this book.Modern authors have drawn heavily from Snorri. What I found most interesting is the constant tension between fire and ice in Snorri's writing and this appears in George R.R. Martin's works. Neil Gaiman's American Gods is also based on Snorri's Nordic mythology. Snorri even influenced design motifs popularized during the American Arts and Crafts movement in the work of William Morris. However, the greatest borrower was J.R.R. Tolkien. Characters from his popular works were lifted directly from Snorri. Even the concept of "one ring" comes from a story of Odin and Loki in the Volsunga Saga. The structure of Skaldic poetry was shown to be intricate and complex; the formation of which was like building a puzzle. Puzzles and riddles appear often in Tolkien's work. Those of us that enjoy modern epic fantasies owe some thanks to Snorri.After reading Song of the Vikings, I have a new appreciation for Nordic contributions to our language, literature and culture.
The Time Machine

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The story is the account of an unidentified narrator relaying what was told to him by The Time Traveller. After having created a machine to travel forward in time, the Traveller returns to tell his friends of the society he encountered.Man has evolved into two species. The Eloi, described as beautiful, playful, small people, live above ground in what appears to be a utopian society. The Morlocks are an albino, half-man, half-ape species that lives underground. Over his time with the Eloi, the Traveller develops the theory that the Eloi are the noble, ruling class. All goods are made by the Morlocks and the Eloi simply fill their days with play and eating. The Traveller later learns the ugly truth that the Eloi are actually the bred food source for the Morlocks.This was a super-quick read. However, Wells managed to pack in a lot of detail into a small space. He was very descriptive with an economy of words. The relationship of the two races makes an interesting social commentary about the working class and elites. I'm not familiar with politics of the late 1800s, but it's definitely something for consideration today.
Crime and Punishment

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This book is an in-depth look at the psychology that drives someone towards committing a brutal crime and the subsequent impact. Rodion Raskolnikov is a law student that can no longer afford his education. He's living in abject poverty and devises a method to continue his education by murdering and robbing a pawnbroker. During the crime, it goes awry and he unintentionally murders the old woman's sister too.The first part of the book leads up to the murder as Rodion plans and practices for the crime. The act will obviously be premeditated. He wrestles with the guilt of his intended actions but his feelings of hopelessness combined with a sense of megalomania (exposed later in the book) drive him forward.The murder is described in detail to express the brutality and to provide the reader with facts needed to understand the "cat and mouse" that will follow. Once completed, Rodion is immediately disgusted with his actions. He hides all of the items he stole and sinks into a deep depression manifesting as illness. A great portion of the book describes his contemplation of his actions and attempts to justify them to remove his deep sense of guilt (but interestingly, not remorse.)Rodion is a complex character. While a sociopath, he exhibits incredible empathy and caring for others. This is demonstrated in his actions towards an injured man and later this man’s family. He is also protective of his mother and sister and this all provides material for several side stories. As the book progresses, Rodion's guilt (possibly combined with his confidence in being able to evade prosecution) builds to a point where he confesses to the murder to close friends. They do not believe him. A police inspector also takes interest and begins pursuing Rodion. We learn that Rodion wrote a paper as a student where he analyzed the criminal mind (setting the premise for the murder he committed) and came to the conclusion that some people he calls "extraordinary men" are not subject to laws. These men are free to commit crimes because their intellect supersedes that of law makers and they can sufficiently justify the crime. The reader is left wondering if this crime was committed merely to test his hypothesis. We also learn that Rodion believes he is one of these extraordinaries and therefore will never be remorseful of his crime because he feels he had an innate right and even duty to rid the world of the pawnbroker.The inspector continues to investigate Rodion even after another man falsely admits to the crime. There are a number of instances when we think Rodion has convinced him of his innocence but he is eventually arrested. While titled Crime AND Punishment, only the last few pages, the Epilogue, detail the events surrounding the trial and imprisonment. We're left feeling that he may still have redeeming values because his love interest, Sonia, follows him to Siberia and awaits his eventual release.This book took me four times longer to read than it should. I had a horrible time with sentence structure and the publisher tried to save some printing costs by using a small font causing eye strain. This wasn't an introduction to Russian literature for me but it was my first taste of Dostoevsky. I'll definitely try another of Dostoevsky’s works but I'll look for something that allows for a shorter commitment and I’ll use my eReader.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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I first read this book in elementary school. Reading it again as an adult has allowed me to appreciate it on a new level.As Twain states at the start of the book, "persons attempting to find a plot in [this book] will be shot." It's simply a compilation of a number of adventures that Finn has with his friend Jim, who happens to be an escaped slave, as they travel down the Mississippi River. Jim is seeking his freedom and Huck is along for the ride.Each vignette presents us with a sample of Twain's sense of satire and the outlandish. He portrays caricature stereotypes of his time, for example, the feuding families of the Appalachian regions, pervasive racism and a constant clash between religion and superstition. The tales also become increasingly extravagant and show Huck's skill in twisting truth to manipulate others.What strikes the modern reader most is the conflicted morality of the narrative. While Huck doesn't think twice about outright lying, cheating and defrauding others, he believes he'll go to hell because he's helping a slave escape to freedom. He acknowledges that Jim is a good and caring man, yet he still treats him as something less than fully human. Parts of the dialogue were, frankly, very difficult to read.This novel needs to be read with the historical framework within which it was written in mind. Also, this particular volume is uncensored so it makes liberal use of "the N word" with the deepest of derogatory intent. While thought provoking, this book should be discussed with young readers so they understand the racist context.
Pride & Prejudice

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The overall plot of the novel was a bit soft with most of the activity occurring in the last third of the book. However, it's an interesting look into the politics and economics of marriage in the upper social classes of Georgian England. There is quite a bit of scheming and posturing required to arrange the most beneficial "circumstance" for each young female family member.Characters' opinions and views of each other are completely driven by social standing and the benefit they can provide. Through most of the book, Elizabeth Bennet finds Darcy to be egotistical and unworthy of her attention. Even upon professing his love (albeit awkwardly) she shuns Darcy. Towards the end of the novel, Elizabeth learns that Darcy has shown a great kindness to her sister (using his wealth, of course) and this softens her opinion of him. It's her visit to his estate that "seals the deal" for her though when she realizes the riches she could have by accepting his proposal. Darcy makes one last try (a bit more adept this time) and Elizabeth accepts the proposal. Suddenly, everyone in the Bennett family that thought Darcy was a useless human being accepts him with open arms. Isn't (rich) love grand?!I understand the draw of the novel. The writing is beautiful and the language is quaint; bringing to mind a period we believe to be more genteel and romantic. However, I found the overemphasis of the need for wealth to be happy a bit of a turn-off.
Jane Eyre: Featuring an introduction by Margot Livesey

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The Brontë sisters seem to have shared a fascination with the theme of abused and unwanted wards. In Jane Eyre, it’s the title character that receives the poor treatment at the hands of her aunt and cousins. However, unlike Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Jane uses her internal strength, intellect and personal integrity to persevere.I found Charlotte’s writing to be smoother and less rigid than Emily’s so I enjoyed Jane Eyre more than Wuthering Heights. The story details Jane’s coming of age, freeing herself from the grasp of her family, and beginning a new life. She falls in love, rejects that love, is offered a comfortable but unloving marriage but rejects that proposal. Ultimately, her decisions prove to have been well thought as she ultimately marries the man she loves. The course of the book is best summarized by a passage towards the end of the novel: “To have yielded [then] would have been an error of principle; to have yielded now would have been an error in judgement.” Through the book, Jane’s adherence to her principles and application of good judgement lead to her happiness.There were some subtle elements of gothic literature employed in Jane Eyre. Jane is a dark, brooding and introspective character. There’s an insane captive locked in the attic, several murder attempts, multiple references to physical ugliness and deformity and burned remains of a mansion. However, this novel is first-and-foremost about relationships. It forces the reader to examine what’s really important in deciding the best “match” for each of us and encourages standing by our principles in not settling for anything other than the best.
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