Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

The girlfriend and I are doing the family thing today and then our thing tomorrow. And then a post-Thanksgiving tea party featuring pie next weekend. That's all great, but the really important part is the annual Addams Family movies marathon! Here's a (bad quality) sneak peak:

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Heretic's Daughter

Kent, Kathleen. The Heretic's Daughter. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

"You're in here because you're low and ugly. I'm here because I'm my mother's daughter."

Sarah Carrier was arrested for witchcraft, along with her mother and brothers and plenty of other people, during the Salem witch trials. She was arrested because her mother was thought to be the "head witch" in their town. Having a husband that everyone's afraid of, a mentally challenged son who managed to survive small pox, and a successful farm all being signs of serious dealings with the devil, of course.

On the one hand, this book has a lot going for it.
  • Kent does a wonderful job at drawing out the connection between the mass hysteria around these trials and other things going on at the time such as small pox, Indian raids, slim harvests, etc.
  • Kent is an actual descendent of Martha Carrier, Sarah's mother and one of the first women hanged during these trials. I don't know if this changed the way she wrote this book (how could it not), but it's pretty cool to think about while reading.
  • If you have a lot of background knowledge about the Salem witch trials, this presentation should hold something new for you. At the same time, prior knowledge is not a requirement for enjoyment.
On the other hand, there are also some issues.
  • The opening premise of the book is that Sarah Carrier Chapman, now an old lady, is writing her account of her mother's trial and the year leading up to it, for her granddaughter. The book opens with a letter explaining this. I kept waiting for this to be important or to meet the granddaughter (or even Sarah as an old lady), but it never happened. Just telling the story would have been a lot less complicated and the only change needed would be to leave that letter off in the beginning, that's how much disconnect there was between the letter and the story.
  • Throughout the book Sarah's father's past is shrouded in mystery, but it is extremely important. His past is what keeps him from being among the accused. Her mother has a book detailing his past that Sarah isn't allowed to read until she comes of age. When she's finally an adult, she reads her mother's book then puts it in a trunk. It would have been nice if she had let us in on a little bit of what was in that book, especially if this is supposed to be an account for Sarah's granddaughter so that she can know her family's history.
  • This is clearly a book about the Salem witch trials, but the whole first 100 pages or so are the build-up to the trials and a kind of explanation of Puritan life at that time. This build-up helped put the trials into historical context and definitely made it easier to see how things like small pox and fear of the locals left the Puritans desperate for someone to blame for their misfortunes, like witches, but I spent about half of the book feeling like I was waiting for the story to start.
Suffice it to say, I had mixed feelings on this one. It was a good read, but not a particularly satisfying one. The most interesting part, to me, was the changing relationship between Sarah and her mother. Unfortunately this is not the driving force of the novel, though it is an important part. I think if Kent had made this book either entirely about their relationship in the face of the trials or entirely about the circumstances that made the trials possible, The Heretic's Daughter would have been a great read. Trying to make it about both just didn't do it for me.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

For something completely unrelated...

Check out my guest post over at Skivvies & Chives! It's the girlfriend's food blog. She makes super fancy stuff with all natural, in-season, local ingredients. The recipe I posted uses Kraft bbq sauce and a can of Coke. Boy, do I feel classy. It's tasty though.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book Memories

I don't usually do memes or questionnaires, but this one is really sweet and book-ish. Besides, I've spent the last week+ wrapped up in a book that I'm probably not going to review, so this is all I've got.

I saw this at Geranium Cat's Bookshelf last week.

The book that’s been on your shelves the longest
I have a copy of There's a Nightmare in My Closet that has definitely been around a long time. It was one of my favorite books when I was little and one of the first I read all by myself, although there is some debate as to whether I was reading or reciting. I left it in my mother's capable hands when I went away to college, and when I asked for it back, it magically had my little sister's name written in the inside. Little sisters are like that, especially when they're a lot younger, so I can't be upset. At least not too much.

A book that reminds you of something specific in your life (a person, a place, a time)
I took a class on Toni Morrison in college. It was taught by a GENIOUS Toni Morrison scholar who also happened to be a pretty bad-ass nun. This class, and another that I took with Sister Linda-Susan, challenged me so much as a scholar of literature rather than a reader of it. Though I've chosen to go more down the reading path than the picking apart path, I still think of those classes whenever I'm confronted with a Toni Morrison title or any other piece of literature that one may mistake for "just a story" that can be broken down into a million different complex meanings when placed in various literary traditions.

A book you acquired in some interesting way
I recently snagged a copy of With Love... by Rod McKuen from a cart of rejected gift books at work. Not a really interesting way to get it, I know, but it's the Stanyan Street publishers edition which is hard to find and all kinds of awesome.

The book that’s been with you to the most places
I've read The Juniper Game roughly a million times since I was in junior high. For a while I took it with me on planes as I could fall into the story really easily and not worry so much about the actually flying (I hate flying). I don't know that it would be the most satisfying read now, but having it in my carry-on always makes me feel a little better.

Your current read, your last read and the book you’ll read next

I just finished reading The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson, which was awesome. It's supposedly the first steam-punk novel written, so I thought I'd give it a try. It is most definitely not a young adult book, hence the lack of review. Now I'm reading The Heretic's Daughter for the Fall Into Reading Challenge, and then I'll be reading The Ask and the Answer. My library still doesn't have a copy, so I caved and bought it. It'll make a nice early Christmas present to the library system when I'm done with it.

So, what books have made a lasting impact on you?

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Godbersen, Anna. Splendor. New York: Alloy Entertainment-HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. Print. A Luxe Novel 4.

Once again, it is impossible to talk about this book without talking about the books that came before it. If you have yet to finish Envy, don't read my review of Splendor. Just look at the pretty picture on the cover (it's Lina this time).

  • Carolina is actually an heiress now and uses her money to get a house within view of Leland's. Coincidence? Of course not.
  • Elizabeth is settling into her new life with Mr. Cairns away from the public eye. Women who are "in the family way" are better not seen.
  • Penelope is recovering. Polite people won't say that she's recovering from a miscarriage, but really impolite people don't mind letting it slip that she wasn't ever actually pregnant.
  • Henry and Teddy are off to war, but only one of them gets there.
  • And Diana. Diana is in "Paris." At least that's where the Gamesome Gallant would have you believe she is.

In the last installment in The Luxe series, things never go as you would expect. There is a death, a new-found love, an uncovered plot, a steamy affair, a wedding. Someone is thrown from her high horse as someone else decides to share in her bounty. And someone decides to run away and start life over somewhere else. Again. There are no neat little bows in this ending, except for those on Penelope's dresses, but did you really expect everyone to get to live happily ever after?

These books have never really been heavy on the historical details, and neither is this one. If you worried after Envy that Godbersen would let her pretties be set aside so the boys could go off to war (honestly, I'm still unclear as to which war they went off to), breathe a little easier. Henry lives the good life in the army just as does anywhere else he goes, and Teddy, who really does see combat, is back in the States by the time we see him. Both of the guys, and a few others, have important roles, starring you might say in the case of Henry, but this book is still about fancy rich girls in pretty dresses and their intrigues.

There were a lot of ends to tie up in order for Splendor to be the final book in the series. Some storylines had miles to go before they could make it to the last page. Godbersen took all the room she needed to tell Diana and Henry's stories, they are everyone's favorites after all, but that left little room for other storylines that also needed endings. Penelope and Carolina seemed to get a fair share of the page space, but their stories weren't as fleshed out as they had been in previous books. Elizabeth's story was downright anemic. She had one or two big scenes where important things happen, but the story was slim on the build-up and then managed to wrap up so very nicely a page later. After all she's been through, maybe Godbersen felt that Elizabeth deserved to be calm for most of Splendor and then have a happy ending dropped in her lap. Lord knows hers was the only traditionally happy ending provided.

I could have lived with all of the focus being on Diana and Henry (who couldn't) at the expense of Carolina and Penelope and even Elizabeth. I do wish that the stories overlapped more. Yes, Diana visits her pregnant sister. Yes, Penelope and Carolina attend a couple of the same parties. Of course Penelope's husband is still snubbing her in favor of Diana. Their stories aren't really connected by much else. There's a whole lot less gossip, plotting and backstabbing going on than in the other books. But what I really missed in this book were some of the minor characters that were so multidimensional and so alive in previous books. Aunt Edith only got one really good appearance, Buck is practically a prop, and the elder Mr. Schoonmaker hardly even gets to yell at anybody! He does get to change the course of EVERYTHING though, so he shouldn't be too upset. And Mrs. Holland? Who's she?

But even with all of this, I still loved Splendor. It wasn't until after I was done reading (a whole 4 hours after purchase) that I felt a bit let down in places. What Godbersen gives us is really good and really enthralling. I just wish she'd given us more. Le sigh. I'm so sad it's over!

About the ending (spoiler-free)
I wasn't going to talk about the ending, but after reading reviews on amazon, goodreads and librarything, I feel like I have to. I really liked the ending. This series does not end with the good people all happy and in love and the bad people publicly paying for their sins. How would you figure out who falls into which category anyway (except for Elizabeth and Penelope who embody good and evil so distinctively)? Disney did not write this, and I'm glad Anna Godbersen did not compromise her characters to make it seem like he did.

Book 1: The Luxe (on amazon)
Book 2: Rumors (on amazon)
Book 3: Envy (my review)

Book Source: I bought it.