Thursday, February 23, 2006

Title Enigma
Author Robert Harris
Published 1995, Random House
Category General Fiction
Rating 7/10

Enigma was the machine used by the Germans in WWII for encoding all their communications. It turned language into gobbledy-gook code (the title of this post is an example) which was believed to be unbreakable. The main character of this book is Tom Jericho, a brilliant mathematician who is one of the cryptanalysts who race to break the code before German U-boats have a chance to attack an Allied convoy. Meanwhile, Tom's girlfriend Claire turns up missing--could she be a spy?? Tom teams up with Harriet, Claire's roommate, to figure out what happened to her and to clear her and Tom's names of suspicion.

War thrillers are a genre I usually wouldn't touch with a hundred-foot pole, but this one is so well-written and exciting and well-researched that I'm glad I made the exception. The plot is clever and it just twists, and twists again, and then twists some more. Long after I finished it, I was still trying to figure it all out. A couple years ago it was made into a movie with Kate Winslet, which is pretty good and does a good job of taking the enormously complicated plot and streamlining it into two hours of action.

I've read one other book by Harris, Pompeii, which I liked even more, though that might be partly due my fascination with all things Roman. I've heard that he is currently writing another novel set in Roman times, which I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Title Mr. Impossible
Author Loretta Chase
Published 2005, Berkley
Category Historical Romance
Rating 8/10

This is the first Loretta Chase I've ever read, and I thought it was a really fun romance. The title is completely stupid, so non-descript it could be the title for almost any book in this category. But one of the things that save this from being just another regency romance is its setting, which is Egypt.

The heroine, Daphne Pembroke, a wealthy English widow, is an accomplished scholar of hieroglyphics. However, as intellectual pursuits were not considered "appropriate" for women back then, she has been allowing her brother Miles to take the credit for her work. The action begins when Miles is kidnapped by a loot-hungry Frenchman who wants him to translate a papyrus reported to include the directions to an undisturbed crypt. Daphne enlists the help of Mr. Impossible, the dashing and reckless Rupert Carsington, to provide the brawn to help bring down the scoundrel. The plot goes along at a nice clip and the cast of characters (surprisingly large) is entertaining.

There is a prequel in which Mr. Impossible's brother finds a Miss Wonderful (groan) and a sequel out in March about another brother, Lord Perfect. The Carsingtons are apparently a superlative family.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Title Flowers from the Storm
Author Laura Kinsale
Published 1992, Avon
Category Historical Romance
Rating 5/10

I picked up this book because Sara Donati recommended it on her blog. (Great blogger! She's on my list of links.) I'd also read several reviews that said that this was a classic of the romance genre. And I have to say I was disappointed.
Christian, Duke of Jervaulx, a terrible rake, has some kind of stroke and ends up with, I think, aphasia (brain damage that affects language and motor skills). His family thinks he's gone loco, so they send him off to an asylum. The heroine, Maddy Timms, a Quaker, stays with him there and helps him start to recover. Christian's efforts to overcome his handicap are admirable, but after a while his "you, jane, me, tarzan" type speech started to get on my nerves. And Maddy was too sanctimonious to be at all likable--like all religious fanatics, she gave me the heejie-beejies. I guess it's a story of opposites attracting, and love helping to mellow two extreme characters, but I found it a little unrealistic that two characters so unalike could fall in love.
Please note the very tasteful cover for the 2003 reissue. Sadly I got my copy from the library, which was the hardcover with this horrible jacket. Is that Fabio, showing all his man-titty? Ugh! This is the kind of book you're slightly ashamed to be seen reading on the subway.

What's with the icons?

My sister made all these oh-so-fabulous icons for me to use for my reviews (isn't she talented?) So here's what they all mean:

The brain indicates a book that made my little head work hard. A classic, a winner of some snobby literary award, or just a book that contained some allusions that I was proud to understand, and lots of others that went completely over my head. Sadly, I fear appearances of this icon may be few and far between.

The donut and muffin are for my two kinds of dessert books. I got the idea for these particular icons from one of my favorite books, Faking It by Jennifer Crusie. They use it in reference to men, but the analogy holds for books too, I think.
[Character Nadine says,] "According to Grandma, there are two kinds of men in the world, doughnuts and muffins. . . . Doughnuts are the guys that make you drool. They're gorgeous and crispy and covered with chocolate icing . . . Whereas muffins just sort of sit there all lumpy, looking alike, no chocolate icing at all."
"So doughnuts are good," Davy says.
"Well, yeah, for one night," Nadine says. "But then the next morning, they're not crisp anymore, and the icing is all stuck to the bag, . . . and they're icky and awful. You can't keep a doughnut overnight. . . . But a muffin is actually better the next day. Muffins are for the long haul and always taste good."

So, while I might enjoy a donut, I'm never going to read it again. Muffins are keepers.

The lips mean, yes, this book has sex. Some people have a problem with this. Me, not so much.

The dagger is for, you guessed it, violence. I for one, do not like a gory book. If someone gets murdered or injured, I really don't need the details. So here's warning if you're like me and want to avoid the blood.

The teacup graces reviews for books that are cozy reads. Lovely books that you want to curl up with on an icky day.

For tear-jerkers. I don't usually read sad books (I don't do depressing), but occasionally it happens.

I'm calling this the "Jennie approved" icon. See, it's a little me doing a thumbs-up. I'm going to use this for books that I really, really loved and hated getting to the end of. Books that I will definitely own and reread later.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Title: The Blue Castle
Author: L. M. Montgomery
Published: 1926, Bantam
Category: General Fiction
Rating: 10!

I thought I'd kick off my blog with this one because it is my all-time favorite book. I've read it countless times. It's the coziest of cozy books--the kind you want to crawl into and live in forever. Of course, I always start to wonder how good my most favorite books are--I've read them so many times, they've become such friends that it's impossible to be in any way objective. In any case, if you're a stranger to me and have somehow wandered onto this blog, if you don't like this book, then you probably won't give a poo poo for my opinion on books.
The author is Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame. This is one of her stand-alone novels, her only one set entirely off PEI. Valancy Stirling, who at 29 has a drab little existence and appears to be on the shelf permanently, finds out that she has a serious heart condition which will likely kill her within the year. So she throws caution to the wind, and sets out to have a real life. It's funny and sweet and just makes me happy.


Look at my new blog. oooh. Does it work? It does! It does!