Friday, February 24, 2012

My desk

I just have to post this because I want to brag.  The desk I had been using was way too small for me -- but it was free.  So my husband who is new at woodworking found a desk design on This Old House and offered to make me a desk.

I got to pick the color - my favorite color, red, and we poured a few coats of epoxy on the top.


Please disregard Rocket who was rolling around on the floor at the time.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Technologists - Matthew Pearl

Title: The Technologists
Author: Matthew Pearl
Hardcover: 496 pages
(I read the ARC version)
Publisher: Random House
Published date: February 21, 2012
FTC: free ARC from TLC Book Tours

I had read Matthew Pearl's novel The Last Dickens a few years ago (my review) and really enjoyed Pearl's writing.  I've been meaning to read more of his books because he writes about such interesting topics: Edgar Allan Poe (The Poe Shadow), Dante's Inferno (The Dante Club), and of course Charles Dickens in The Last Dickens.  So when I heard he was coming out with another historical fiction, I knew it would be interesting.  Set in 1868 in Boston, horrible catastrophes are happening around the city and it may be up to MIT's first graduating class to figure out what's going on.  Awesome, right?

The Synopsis:

Boston, 1868. The Civil War may be over but a new war has begun, one between the past and the present, tradition and technology. On a former marshy wasteland, the daring Massachusetts Institute of Technology is rising, its mission to harness science for the benefit of all and to open the doors of opportunity to everyone of merit. But in Boston Harbor a fiery cataclysm throws commerce into chaos, as ships’ instruments spin inexplicably out of control. Soon after, another mysterious catastrophe devastates the heart of the city. Is it sabotage by scientific means or Nature revolting against man’s attempt to control it?
The shocking disasters cast a pall over M.I.T. and provoke assaults from all sides—rival Harvard, labor unions, and a sensationalistic press. With their first graduation and the very survival of their groundbreaking college now in doubt, a band of the Institute’s best and brightest students secretly come together to save innocent lives and track down the truth, armed with ingenuity and their unique scientific training.
Led by “charity scholar” Marcus Mansfield, a quiet Civil War veteran and one-time machinist struggling to find his footing in rarefied Boston society, the group is rounded out by irrepressible Robert Richards, the bluest of Beacon Hill bluebloods; Edwin Hoyt, class genius; and brilliant freshman Ellen Swallow, the Institute’s lone, ostracized female student. Working against their small secret society, from within and without, are the arrayed forces of a stratified culture determined to resist change at all costs and a dark mastermind bent on the utter destruction of the city.
Studded with suspense and soaked in the rich historical atmosphere for which its author is renowned, The Technologists is a dazzling journey into a dangerous world not so very far from our own, as the America we know today begins to shimmer into being.

My thoughts:

I absolutely enjoyed this book.  After reading The Last Dickens, I wanted to read more of Matthew Pearl's novels. I even bought The Poe Shadow.  But after reading The Technologists, I am a full-fledged Pearl fan.  You must check this one out.

The main reason I adore this book is that I fell head over heels in love with the characters: Marcus Mansfield, Bob Richards, Edwin Hoyt and Ellen Swallow --- even Hammie, Professor Rogers, and Frank Brewer.  This book made me root along for Professor Roger's dream of MIT, for the first graduating class of 1868, for the boys and the one brilliant woman.  I was so excited to read the Afterward where Matthew Pearl says which characters were based on actual people and which were amalgamations of real people.  I want to know more about Professor Rogers, Bob Richards and Ellen Swallow who were all actual MIT people.

Then there's the fictional mayhem that is happening in Boston.  The book starts out with a huge shipping catastrophe that reminded me of the recent cruise liner disaster.  When more equally disturbing attacks occur in Boston, the MIT students have to secretly investigate who is behind the disasters and how to stop him.  They have to work in secret because to involve Institute of Technology would be to link the Institute with the disasters.

I had no idea that MIT was that old and how forward thinking Professor Rogers was in setting up an Institute for Technology.  I can see how MIT and Harvard would be huge rivals.  I loved Pearl's inclusion of student rivalry between the two and the danger of Harvard having MIT closed or incorporated into Harvard.  This book definitely makes me a fan of MIT.

Ok, enough gushing.  I am now listening to The Poe Shadow as an audio book and am loving it so far as well.

Head over to Matthew Pearl's Facebook page because he's got the The Great Leap Week Giveaway going on right now.  If you have The Technologists, snap a picture and post -- even better if you have ALL his novels.  No purchase necessary -- go to the library if you need to!

Here's mine:

Also check out Matthew Pearl's website.  He's got pictures of some of the real characters like Bob Richards and Ellen Swallow.  I also NEED to download the prequel The Professor's Assassin.  You can do that there too.

Matthew Pearl’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, February 13th:  Book Chatter
Monday, February 20th:  Book Club Classics
Wednesday, February 22nd:  A Library of My Own
Thursday, February 23rd:  Unabridged Chick
Friday, February 24th:  Jenn’s Bookshelves
Tuesday, February 28th:  Jen’s Book Thoughts
Wednesday, February 29th:  Man of La Book
Thursday, March 1st:  Book Addict Katie
Monday, March 5th:  Calico Critic
Wednesday, March 7th:  Annette’s Book Spot
Monday, March 12th:  S. Krishna’s Books
Wednesday, March 14th:  Wordsmithonia

Friday, February 3, 2012

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
ebook: iBooks app for iPhone
FTC: free on iPhone

I am going to attempt to be better at writing up reviews of some of the classic books I've read -- mainly because I love love classic books.  Charles Dickens has become one of my favorite authors.  A couple of Decembers ago I read, and loved, A Christmas Carol.  I then tried out The Mystery of Edwin Drood - his last book and unfinished.  Not my favorite, but then again it was unfinished.  I also saw this great mini-series Bleak House which I loved so I thought I'd try another Dickens novel.  For some reason Dickens is just a winter author.  I also love reading classic books on my iPhone because it's always there, it's free, sometimes rocking Rocket it's easier to read one handed, and iBooks lets me bookmark pages.

The plot in my words:

Pip (Philip Pirrip) is an orphan living with his aunt (who slaps him around) and his gentle uncle Joe.  At the beginning of the book, Pip is being interrogated by an escaped convict.  He scares him into bringing him some food, drink, and something to take off his shackles.

Later, Pip is hired to periodically visit an eccentric old lady, Miss Havisham, and her adopted daughter Estella.  Miss Havisham was jilted at the alter eons ago and was never able to let that go.  So she sits in her crumbling mansion, wearing her disintegrating wedding dress, and is raising Estella to despise men.  Even though Estella is cruel to Pip, he falls in love with her anyway and spends his youth pinning for her.

**Let me interject here that the only movie adaptation I've seen of this is the 1998 version with Ethan Hawke and Gwenyth Paltrow.  It was a long time ago but I still see these characters in their roles, even though the adaptation was changed a lot for the more modern movie.

Anyway.  While working for his uncle, Pip is told that he has a mysterious benefactor who is giving him tons of money for his "great expectations."  So young Pip moves to London to become great, become educated, and basically just blows his money on nothing.

Then through various stuff, Pip grows as a young man, discovers who his benefactor is, and basically grows up.

My thoughts:

So the plot might be a tad odd but I adore Dickens' writing, his characters, and his humor.

One of my favorite characters is Pip's lawyer's clerk Wemmick.  He has this whole other life outside of the office that he never talks about.  He invites Pip to visit his home where he takes care of his aging father (who he calls "The Aged Parent" or "The Aged P." which absolutely cracks me up).  He's always urging Pip to get "portable property" which is exactly what it sounds like.

I always think Dickens has to have such humor in his stories to break up the actually depressing subject matter sometimes.  Orphans, child abuse, the death penalty, a depressing tour of Newgate prison -- I mean this book could be really depressing. BUT, Dickens is just so funny and he definitely has a way with words.  So here's some of my bookmarked passages:

On Pip's love for Estella:

But, though she had taken such strong possession of me, though my fancy and my hope were so set upon her, though her influence on  my boyish life and character had been all-powerful, I did not, even that romantic morning, invest her with any attributes save those she possessed.

I loved her simply because I found her irresistible. Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always, that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.

On Wemmick's "portable property" advice - talking about a prisoner of Newgate who took care of pigeons:

"A Coiner, a very good workman. The Recorder's report is made today, and he is sure to be executed on Monday. Still you see, as far as it goes, a pair of pigeons are portable property all the same."

Wemmick's advice in lending money to a friend:

"Choose your bridge, Mr. Pip," returned Wemmick, "and take a walk upon your bridge, and pitch your money into the Thames over the centre arch of your bridge, and you know the end of it. Serve a friend with it, and you may know the end of it too, --but it's a less pleasant and profitable end."

On Pip trying to pay bills:

Dinner over, we produced a bundle of pens, a copious supply of ink, and a goodly show of writing and blotting paper. For there was something very comfortable in having plenty of stationery.

Each of us would then refer to a confused heap of papers at his side, which had been thrown into drawers, worn into holes in pockets, half burnt in lighting candles, stuck for weeks into the looking-glass, and otherwise damaged.

(This scene always reminds me of Bernard doing his taxes and trying to write a children's book in Black Books - which if you've never seen that show you MUST. NOW. WATCH. IT.)

My love of Dickens' descriptions of people:

...but I was looked after by an inflammatory old female, assisted by an animated rag-bag whom she called her niece...

Anyway, Great Expectations is Dickens at his best and I will definitely be checking out more of his books.  Have you read any Dickens and what do you think?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy - Margot Livesey

Title: The Flight of Gemma Hardy
Author: Margot Livesey
Paperback: 443 pages (ARE version)
Publisher: HarperLuxe/HarperCollins
Published date: January 24, 2012
FTC: Received from TLC Book Tours to review

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is already going down as one of my favorite books of this year -- or any year.  It's just a beautiful book and is a prime example of why I love reading. You know the feeling when you were young and you got swept away by the stories of say Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking, or Cinderella?  This is exactly the feeling I had even more recently when a few years ago I first read Jane Eyre.  And you wish you could go back and read those books for the first time?  Well sit down, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and cuddle up with this book.

Back of the book:

When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she’s found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, at Claypoole she finds herself treated as an unpaid servant.

To Gemma’s delight, the school goes bankrupt, and she takes a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. The remote Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Sinclair, a London businessman; his eight-year-old niece is Gemma’s charge. Even before their first meeting, Gemma is, like everyone on the island, intrigued by Mr. Sinclair. Rich (by Gemma’s standards), single, flying in from London when he pleases, Hugh Sinclair fills the house with life. An unlikely couple, the two are drawn to each other, but Gemma’s biggest trial is about to begin: a journey of passion and betrayal, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life of which she’s never dreamed.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy—a captivating homage to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—is a sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own.

In the Author's Words: 

"I made my heroine a little older than myself because I wanted her to come of age just slightly before the rising tide of feminism—the pill, equal pay, discrimination—broke over both Britain and the States. The Flight of Gemma Hardy is, in my mind, neither my autobiography nor a retelling of Jane Eyre. Rather I am writing back to Charlotte Brontë, recasting Jane's journey to fit my own courageous heroine and the possibilities of her time and place. And like Brontë I am, of course, stealing from my own life."

My thoughts: 

Margot Livesey wrote a beautiful letter to the reader at the front of the copy I have.  I found the above excerpt again on her website.  I thought that was a beautiful tribute for this homage to Jane Eyre.

I straight up loved this book.  Gemma Hardy's spans the late 1950's to the mid 1960's which I thought was such a perfect time period to set her more modern story.  Her upbringing in Scotland, her au pair position in the Orkneys and her background in Iceland -- talk about armchair traveling.   I now just want to pack up and head out and visit all the places from Gemma's story.

Gemma, like Jane Eyre, is such a compelling character.  As a girl who loves reading and who's biggest dream is to go to college, I just fell for her plight and her loneliness.  The title of the book is perfect.  Do you remember when Jane Eyre flees from Rochester?  Just like I wanted to reach into the book and slap Jane Eyre and tell her to talk to Rochester - I wanted to reach in and slap Gemma.  But at the same time I understand.  They both were characters who had to go into their positions with Rochester and for Gemma, Mr. Sinclair, as equals.

It's hard to gush any more about The Flight of Gemma Hardy without big spoilers so I'm having a Jane Eyre/Margot Livesey marathon.  HarperCollins was awesome to send this absolutely beautiful paperback edition of Jane Eyre for me to read and review.  I've already loved The Flight of Gemma Hardy more as I'm reading Brontë's beautiful story.

I was also beyond excited to realize that I recognized Margot Livesey's name because I have another one of her books on my shelf - The House on Fortune Street.  So I'm going to gobble that one up as well.

Margo’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 30th: Just Joanna *
Wednesday, February 1st: Book Reviews by Molly *
Thursday, February 2nd: A Library of My Own
Tuesday, February 14th: Much Madness is Divine Sense
Wednesday, February 15th: Into the Hall of Books
Thursday, February 16th: Chaotic Compendiums *
Monday, February 20th: Luxury Reading
Tuesday, February 21st: Coffee and A Book Chick
Tuesday, February 21st: The Whimsical Cottage
Wednesday, February 22nd: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, February 23rd: Book Nook Club
Tuesday, February 28th: It’s a Crazy, Beautiful Life
Wednesday, February 29th: ooldes of books
Thursday, March 1st: Book Clutter
Monday, March 5th: Book Journey
Tuesday, March 6th: Drey’s Library
Wednesday, March 7th: Book-a-rama
Thursday, March 8th: Unabridged Chick *
* also reading Jane Eyre