Sunday, April 20, 2008

Something Borrowed

Before I start my review, I just wanted to welcome our brand-spanking new reviewers, Amber, Lauren, and Elisabeth. Thanks for taking an interest ladies! Your reviews have been awesome!

Okay ... about the book.

This book was written by Emily Giffin and I believe this is her first novel. I read this book a couple of years ago and I found it was something I could relate to, not because I was sleeping with my best friend's fiancé (like that would ever happen), but because of the age-group of the ladies this book focused on. These women are turning thirty, in the prime of their lives, have great careers and great friends and are living life the way it is meant to be lived: to the fullest.

Of course with every friendship you have the under dog (Rachel) and the alpha dog (Darcy). Darcy is the "look at me!" girl while Rachel is the girl who stands in Darcy's shadow. She is the type of girl who will bite her tongue when it comes to Darcy's antics, because, well that's what best friends do, right?

Darcy is pretty dependent on Rachel. Rachel is ambitious. She's a NYC lawyer and Darcy isn't anything really. Darcy followed Rachel to NY and, considering she didn't really have any work background, managed to snag a glamorous job which paid amazing dollars. But then again, Darcy is the kind of girl that doesn't really have to work to get what she wants. Yes ... she's THAT pretty.

Long story short, Rachel hooks up Darcy with this guy she went to law school with named Dex. At first Dex didn't really show an interest in Darcy (much to her shock) because he kinda sorta liked Rachel. Since Rachel wasn't really confident, she dismissed his feelings because he couldn't possibly want someone like her. Dex and Darcy began to date and wound up getting engaged, with Rachel appointed to maid-of-honour status. On the night of Darcy's surprise 30th birthday party, Darcy goes home pissed drunk and Dex and Rachel end up sleeping together.

This is where it gets interesting. They vow to keep that as a one night thing but the problem is that they can't stop thinking about each other and it continues on to be something ... more. And it's a weird dynamic because Darcy is important to the both of them. This affair comes to a head when Rachel can't stand the lies and being the other woman when she feels she should be THE woman. She tells Dex that he either needs to call off the wedding or they can't continue what they're doing (duh). Strangely enough? I was totally rooting for Dexter and Rachel. Even though they were having an affair. Trust me if you read this book, you would be too.

I loved this book. It was so well written and not hard to read at all. I loved how Emily wrote the story ... her style was awesome. Read this book. It's such a fun read (and it has a sequel!) and it took me about a day to finish it. And I re-read this book. That's how much I liked it (but truth be told, I only re-read the steamy parts).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mistress of the Elgin Marbles

Two hundred years ago a young woman from a wealthy Scottish family married newly appointed British ambassador Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin. Shortly after their wedding the two set off to the heart of the Ottoman Empire. The journey, which would take them from Istanbul to Athens to France, would eventually bring countless treasures from ancient Greece to London. The young bride was Mary Nisbet, the subject of Susan Nagel’s biography Mistress of the Elgin Marbles: A Biography of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin. This book is a rich and fascinating biography of a powerful woman with an infamous tie to nineteenth century art history. The name Elgin is the eponym for a collection of marbles in the British Museum and in this book Nagel recounts the events of the taking of 2,000 year old Greek sculptures from the perspective and letters of Lady Elgin.

Nagel’s book fleshes out the life of this extraordinary ambassadress who could be an intellectual peer of Dolley Madison and Abigail Adams. Many of the storied events in Lady Elgin’s life are described in Nagel’s well executed writing. When Mary was twenty-two years old she oversaw the delivery of vials of the smallpox vaccine to the Persian Gulf, Baghdad and India. She became a celebrity in both Europe and Asia and was credited for saving many lives through her unofficial medical diplomacy. She broke cultural barriers by disguising herself as a man to enter into ceremonies at the Turkish court.

Nagel successfully integrates the life of this complex woman with the well known accounts of how treasures of ancient Athens made their way into the British Museum. After returning to England Lord Elgin began pursuing a divorce from Lady Elgin, not because she had been having an affair, but because she refused to have more children. Nagel praises this as just one of her progressive stances in the early history of women’s rights. When the two divorced the loss of his wife’s wealth forced Lord Elgin to sell his collection to the trustees to the British Museum. Mistress of the Elgin Marbles presents the story of a notable woman, and enriches the history of one of the most controversial collections of art in world history.

The Shadow of the Wind

Whenever I decide that I want to become a writer, I read a book that's so amazing, so wonderfully done, that it quickly diminishes that thought. My writings can never be comparable to the greats, and I believe this Carlos Ruiz Zafon just fell into that category. The Shadow of the Wind immediately lures you in due to its unique and engrossing plot. A bookseller takes his eleven year old son to a building hidden among the debris in post war Barcelona called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There, in the literary mausoleum, Daniel, the boy, is allowed to choose one book to make his own--one book to give life to again. Following the maze of shelves and dusty books, he chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. Little does he know how much Carax's novel will change is life. How it will lead him to uncover the truth and solve a mystery that has been hidden for thirty years throughout the streets of Barcelona.

Zafon tells the tale through Daniel's eyes. You learn with him, through his investigations and prying. The story takes bold turns and gives shocking revelations that lead up to the "eyes open wide, holding my breath, don't disturb me" finale. You care for Daniel, for his friends, and for Carax. And you learn that everyone is connected in one way or another--for better or for worse.

The book, originally written in Spanish, is a true masterpiece and deserves its renowned recognition. Although the 485 pages may seem daunting, the prose is so beautiful, you don't seem to notice. The plot progresses slowly, but every description and every detour is completely worth it and almost always important. Just keep track of the characters. Admittedly, I had a hard time doing that at some points.

I highly recommend the book for anyone who is interested in tale that weaves mystery, danger, love, and life together brilliantly in a cobweb of disguise. Or, as Daniel puts it towards the middle, "It's a story of love, of hatred, and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Post-Birthday World

I've found that as my life has begun to get crammed full with work and weddings, friends and family, I've gotten more choosy with my book selections. I'm a huge book whore, but I just don't have time to waste on books that aren't really doing it for me.

Which makes me glad I picked up "The Post-Birthday World" by Lionel Shriver.

Anyone who's watched the movie "Sliding Doors" and saw how tricky it can be to follow two stories being played out simultaneously will appreciate this book. It's far more detailed and funny than the movie it shares much in common with.

It's the tale of an American artist, Irina McGovern who lives in London with her long-time boyfriend. They are friends with a famous snooker player named Ramsey Acton, and celebrate Ramsey's birthday together every year. One year Irina's boyfriend Lawrence cannot make the birthday dinner- and Irina and Ramsey meet for dinner alone. They get drunk and kiss. Or, they get drunk and Irina goes home without kissing Ramsey.

Each chapter continues on- one story follows Irina as she lives a life of guilt for having cheated on Lawrence and deals with the eventual break up and her new romance with Ramsey. The other follows Irina and Lawrence as they deal with their relationship, one filled with surprises and heartbreak.

I promise it's not as complicated as I'm making it sound. My favourite part of the story is how the author ensures that many of the same events happen, the same lines are said by a character but depending on which path Irina chose (to kiss or not to kiss..) the context is completely different.

It's a choose your own adventure for the adult world- a well written, richly worded account of what happens when you follow down both the path you chose and the road not taken.