Category Archives: Books

Review: The Pillars of the Earth

Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth is a sweeping saga of 12th century history, love, church rivalries, and war. Everything you’d expect to find in a medieval intrigue. The book spans an entire generation, telling the story of the political upheaval of Queen Maud and King Steven but without court drama and  war being the centerpiece. Instead, it focuses on the fictional town of Kingsbridge and the monks who run the priory and the builders who build the new cathedral.

Books like these always seem to focus on too many characters, leaving me confused about who’s who and which side someone is one. (Then again, when earls switched sides as often as they did in the 12th century, it’s probably natural to be confused.) Follett did a really good job of focusing on a very small group of characters and really developing every single one into someone I understood and knew.

I love love love historical fiction, and while this is a good book, there was a little bit too much fiction for my taste and not enough history. While the true story of of Maud and Steven was told, it was only the background of a completely made up story. Which is fine if that’s what you like but I prefer more history in my historical fiction.

Yay for crossing off #15 in my Unread Library!



Review: Lou Whittaker: Memoirs of a Mountain Guide

Lou Whittaker: Memoirs of a Mountaineer

I can’t exactly figure out why, but I have a strange fascination with mountain climbing.  It’s strange because I have no desire to climb a mountain.  A hike with a 1000 foot elevation gain is more than good enough for me, thank you very much.

Isaac and I recently watched both seasons of The Discovery Channel’s Everest: Beyond the Limit.  (Fourteen episodes in like four days.  Overkill?  Maybe.)  It’s about amateur climbers who pay $40,000 to put themselves through hell and risk frostbite and death and losing brain cells (literally) to stand on top of the world.  Crazy.

When we were camping at Mt Rainier last weekend, I found the book Lou Whittaker: Memoirs of a Mountain Guide at the Sunrise Visitor Center.  Lou led expeditions on several of the world’s highest mountains, but his main contribution to mountaineering is his business Rainier Mountaineering, Inc, a guide service that teaches mountain climbing and leads climbs all over the world, primarily on Mt Rainier.

Ignoring the fact that I broke my pledge to read every book in my Unread Library before buying another book…this was a good book. I read it out loud to Isaac in less than a week.  It’s told in the first person and it’s just a story of Lou’s really interesting life.  There are parts that I didn’t need to know (like about how mountain guides apparently like to be naked when they’re not on the mountain – what?) but it was an interesting and easy read.

Lou ends the book with a poem from Robert Service that I really like.

They have created you in custom,
they have primed you with their preaching.
They have soaked you in convention through and through.
They have put you in a showcase; you’re a credit to their teaching-
But can’t you hear the Wild? – It’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling … let us go.

From The Call of the Wild, by Robert Service.

Even though I don’t climb mountains, the Wild definitely calls to me.  There’s something about being outdoors that is freeing and rejuvenating.  Does the Wild call to you?

Review: East of Eden

Have you ever read one of those books that you couldn’t put down but also couldn’t figure out where it was going?  Atonement was one of those books.  Even though it was slow and roundabout, I loved it.

East of Eden is very similar.  It’s a long, winding, saga of the Hamilton and Trask families.  It has all the ingredients of a thrilling drama – romance, crime, prostitution, and more than one dysfunctional family – but it’s written in such a matter-of-fact, logical way that even a teenage girl burning down her house and killing her parents didn’t phase or shock me at all.

This is the first John Steinbeck book I’ve read and it makes me want more.  Lucky for me, I picked up like four other Steinbeck books at the Crook County Library’s fill-a-paper-bag-for-two-bucks sale.

On to something a little less dark.  Maybe A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?

I guess what it comes down to is, I’ll definitely have to go back and read East of Eden again and make a decision later.  I have this problem where I speed through books to find out what’s going to happen but I do a lot of skimming and miss a lot in the process.  I get so much more out of it the second time.  Does anyone else do that?  And have you read East of Eden?  What did you think?

Review: The Glass Castle

I asked Isaac what he thought I should write about this book.

Verbatim: “Horrible, horrible, horrible book and people should never have to live like that.”

I agree with the people-should-never-have-to-live-like-that part, but it wasn’t a horrible book.

It was a heartbreaking, funny, inspiring, thought-provoking book.  It made me smile even as my heart broke for the kids and what they were put through.

In short: Jeanette’s mom spends all her time painting and trying to feel good about herself.  Her dad is one of those charming, lovable drunks who can’t take care of his family.  As the kids grow up, they find food in trash cans at school, use a bucket for a bathroom because their house doesn’t have plumbing, and endure the bullying of kids at school who don’t understand their poor hygiene, worn clothes, and dirty house isn’t their choice.

It was a quick read – it took me a weekend and I even read the last half out loud to Isaac.  I didn’t plan on reading it aloud…I kept reading funny parts aloud.  About half way through, he said, “I wouldn’t mind listening if you wanted to keep reading out loud.”

How’s that for subtle?

In case you were wondering what Isaac thought about the mom:”a lazy, horrible parent.  A mom that no child deserves, no matter how bad they are.”  And his opinion of the dad: “a good-for-nothing drunk who is undeserving of the children he would sell out.”

Well then.

Update: After reading the draft of this post, Isaac wanted to clarify.  For the record, he doesn’t think it was a horrible, horrible book, but the things the kids went through were horrible.  I think that about sums it up.

Have you read The Glass Castle?  What did you think?

Unread Library

Julie at Pancakes and French Fries is doing something that is very logical.  And also very awful.  She’s going to read every book she owns – but has never read – before buying any new books.

What a good idea. I hate her.

Now I have to read all the books I’ve collected but haven’t ever read.

What if I find a book that I absolutely HAVE TO HAVE and what if it’s on a REALLY GOOD SALE?  I’m not even talking Borders’ 40% sale, I mean a really really good sale.  Like Book Bin Used Book store sales rack sale.  How am I supposed to not pick it up?  I mean, I’ll never find it for such a good price again.

Ugh.  Fine.

Here’s my list.  I’ll probly write a little review when I finish each one.

David Copperfield | Charles Dickens
The English Patient | Michael Ondaatje
O Pioneers | Willa Cather
The Last of the Mohicans | James Cooper
1984 | George Orwell
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Betty Smith
Mansfield Park | Jane Austen
Suite Francaise | Irene Nemirovs
The Alchemist | Paul Coelho
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much | Allison Hoover Bartlett
All the President’s Men | Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward
Fire at Eden’s Gate | Brent Walth
Inside the Third Reich | Albert T Speer
The Widow of the South | Robert Hicks
The Pillars of the Earth | Ken Follett
Caribbean | James Michener
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle | David Wroblewski
The Glass Castle | Jeannette Walls
Pope Joan| Donna Woolfolk Cross
Cannery Row | John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men | John Steinbeck
The Devil’s Brood | Sharon Kay Penman
Game Change |John Heilemann & Mark Halperin
The Shack | William P. Young
The Fountainhead |Ayn Rand

It appears that there’s no rhyme or reason to what I like to read.  A little English medieval royalty.  A tiny bit of politics.  Some history.  And a lot of random.

A lot of the “random” category came from the super awesome annual Friends of the Crook County Library sale.  I mean, when I can spend my 4th of July at the library, packing as many books as possible into a brown paper bag and all of it only costs $2…what else is there to do except get two full bags?

And no, it’s not in order.  David Copperfield doesn’t qualify as “summer reading.”