Monday, April 30, 2007

The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips

The Rossetti Letter was another new book found on the Kewaunee Library new book shelf that looked quite intriguing. I finished it on Friday when we were driving up to Ashland for Heather's wedding. Luckily Ben doesn't like to be a passenger so I get to spend my trips reading books/magazines and keeping Kile entertained.

I liked this book. It told two intersecting stories. One story is set in present day American, where Claire Donovan struggles to finish her dissertation on the Spanish plot to overthrow the Venetian Republic in 1618. Her main angle is about Alessandra Rossetti, a courtesan, who wrote a letter to the Venetian Council of Ten that uncovered the plot. Rossetti is a mysterious figure and it is hard to find out information about her. To make matters worse, Claire discovered that another researcher at Cambridge is about to publish findings on the same subject and is giving a talk about it in Venice. This will destroy Claire's chances to finish her dissertation and get a good job. Claire is able to find funding to attend the conference in Venice and finish her research by being a chaperone to a young teenage girl named Gwen. Once Claire gets to Venice, she races to uncover the mystery of Alessandra and meets a hot Italian man along the way. And of course Gwen makes her travels much more interesting.

The second story is about Alessandra herself and gives the reader the background of her life, descision to be a courtesan, life as a courtesan, and the events leading up to her letter. It was intriguing, sad, and a passionate love story.

I liked the book a lot, I thought it was a good read combining mystery, romance, bonding of two women, etc. The only problem I had with it was the ending. Maybe I'm too picky (and reasoning like an engineer), but the clues she put together at the end made a "theory" and was not hard fact like the book seemed to imply. She had a theory, which was correct because we read the back story, but there was really no difinitive way to prove it. I kind of wish that would have been wrapped up better.

This book kind of reminded me of two books I've read in the last year or so. It was kind of like Possession by A.S. Byatt, but easier to read. It was also like The Painter by Will Davenport. If you liked either of those novels, you will like this one. And if you didn't like Possession because it got kind of drawn out and boring, this book gets more to the chase faster and is shorter! :-)

It sounds like there will be another book after this and I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

I had great plans to start working on the pile of my own books on my nightstand, but I went to the library last week to pick up a CD and there were NEW BOOKS on the one new book shelf at the Kewaunee library. I don't happen by too often when this happens. Three of the books were historical fiction and looked quite interesting so I checked them out and foiled my own reading plans:-)

I finished one of the books, Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier, yesterday. I enjoyed the book. Tracy Chevalier also wrote The Girl with the Pearl Earring, which I have yet to read.

Burning Bright tells the story of the Kellaway family as they move from Dorsetshire to London in 1792. Thomas Kellaway is a chair maker and has moved his family after he was invited to Lodon by Astley of Astley's Circus. He hoped that a change of scenary would help the family come to terms with the accidental death of one of his sons. Young Jem Kellaway helps his father make chairs, and befriends streetwise Maggie Butterfield. Next door to the Kellaway's lives poet, printer, and artist, William Blake. This book tells the adventures of the Kellaways as they learn to live in London during an explosive period (French revolution is occurring).

The book also intersects their lives with that of their neighbor, the famous William Blake. I don't know anything about William Blake and he seemed a rather periphial figure in the narrative. If you are looking for a book about him, this book does not go in to much detail.

I enjoyed the story of Maggie and Jem, the Kellaways and the Butterfields. The book had vivid description of life in London at that time. I especially loved the descriptions of the circus. The ending wasn't as good as it could have been, it left things rather vague and open to interpretation.

I enjoyed the book - I would give it a middle rating. It wasn't great, but also wasn't bad. It was a good read, especially for the description.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bleak House Alert!!

Bleak House is coming back to Masterpiece Theatre on PBS this weekend! I watched the mini-series last year after I had Kile. It was fantastic. It was a riveting story and beautifully shot. It's part mystery, part love story, part commentary on the legal system (very relevant today in the world of Anna Nicole Smith's inheritance trials that last for more than a decade). Gillian Anderson (X-Files and House of Mirth) is fantastic as Lady Dedlock, but all other actors/actresses were fantastic in their parts as well.

I love Dickens. I especially love his characters. He always writes such fascinating portraits of people.

If you are looking for a great show - check out Bleak House this weekend!

Below is a snippit from the Bleak House Website.

Bleak House TV PG (
Airing in four parts:Sundays, April 22 through May 13, 2007 on PBS(Check local listings; dates and times may vary)
Aired previously, in six parts, January/February 2006

"Perhaps the most glorious Masterpiece Theatre of all time..." -- The Wall Street Journal"

"Grandly entertaining . . . the only bleak aspect to this miniseries is that it doesn't last forever." -- TV Guide

Acclaimed writer Andrew Davies turns his talents to one of Charles Dickens' most brilliant novels, arguably the greatest ever depiction of Victorian London -- from its splendid heights to its most wretched depths.

Honored with a Peabody award and ten Emmy nominations, Bleak House features some of the most famous plot twists in literary history, including a case of human spontaneous combustion and an infamous inheritance dispute that is tied up for generations in the dysfunctional English courts.

An epic feast of characters and storylines, Bleak House is Dickens' passionate indictment of the convoluted legal system that is as searingly relevant today as it was in the mid-19th century. The court of Chancery becomes the center of a tangle of relationships at all levels of society and a metaphor for the decay and corruption at the heart of Victorian England.

Starring Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Alun Armstrong, Ian Richardson, Nathaniel Parker, Richard Griffiths, Phil Davis, Joanna David and Carey Mulligan.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I just finished The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Oprah's latest picks. I like Oprah's book club. She picks out books that I probably would have never found to read on my own, including this book. I keep reading tons of people saying bad things about the club and the people who read Oprah's books. Why say negative things about someone who gets people reading? And why say negative things about the people who read her books? I don't consider myself or most of the people I know to read her books to be uneducated and unable to comprehend them. Rather, quite the contrary.

The Road was a good, but disturbing book. It tells the story of a nameless man and his son as they head "south" in a postapocalyptic world. We don't know why the world ended, nuclear warfare, natural disaster like an asteroid? It seems to lean more toward nuclear warfare, but it's quite vague. There is no sun anymore, ashes are everywhere, and everything is dead except for a few survivors. The man and his son spend each day scavaging and trying to get to a warmer place as they won't survive another winter in the cold. Along the road, they meet some horrific sights. The "bad" people eat other people to survive, and no one would hesitate to kill another for a can of scavanged food. The story was stark, but yet there was a glimmer of hope at the end.

The prose of this novel was starkly beautiful. Some passages I had to read outloud because of the shear beauty of the words. It was a haunting, sad tale, but somehow, I couldn't put it down. It's a story that will be with me for awhile, and something it would be good to talk to other people about. It is definitely a good book club pick!

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

I know, Ben and I are probably the last people in the world to watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. We actually watched about half of the movie back in February, but had to retun it before we had time to finish it.

I didn't really like this movie that much. The first Pirates of the Caribbean was a pretty good movie, and Johnny Depp was hilarious as Captain Jack. This movie is just trying to cash in (and successfully it did) on the success of the first one. It has a hard to follow plot, and ludicrous scenes that drag on forever. Maybe if an hour would have been edited out of it, it would have been a better movie . . . and maybe not. There were some funny moments with Johnny Depp, but not enough for me to think the movie was that good. I give it 1 out of 4 stars. Maybe Number 3 will make this movie worth while. . . only time will tell.

Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer

I needed some light reading so I picked up another Georgette Heyer novel while I was at the library last week. I'll admit to selecting Powder and Patch because it was the smallest of the Georgette Heyer novels and I wanted a quick read:-)

Powder and Patch is one of Georgette Heyer's first novels. You can tell this when reading the book when compared to other novels. It's not as well developed as Arabella or Sylvestor (the only other two Georgette Heyer novels that I've read), but it's still a good book.

The interesting part of this novel is that it's a Cinderella type story in reverse. Most movies and books have a dowdy female that is made to look beautiful and win the day (Princess Diaries, Miss Congeniality, Sabrina, My Fair Lady, etc. etc.). In this book, Philip Jettan is a simple squire with no polish. His childhood sweetheart, Cleone Charteris, does not want to marry a man with no dress style and rough manners, she wants a man who is refined, well dressed, well spoken, etc. Philip's father also wants him to be more refined. Philip leaves for Paris, learns how to dress (in lace, tights, makeup, polished nails, and jewels - no less!), flirt with the ladies, dual, or in short, how to be a dandy. When he returns, Cleone is not sure that this new Philip is what she wanted.

I enjoyed the book, but the constant french phrases annoyed me - probably because I don't know french so I had no idea what Philip was saying. Also I can't imagine a world with dandified men who wear tights, nail polish, etc. I'm glad I don't live in that era as I don't think I would find Ben so attractive if he was dancing around in tights and speaking french:-)

A Walk to Remember

I'm feeling stressed out so I thought I'd catch up with some reviews before I return my items to the library. I watched A Walk to Remember for the first time on Friday. I know it's been out for five years or so, but even though it's been on my 'to watch' list, I've somehow missed it until now.

It's a good weepy chick flick that I feel the need to watch sometimes. It's based on the Nicholas Sparks noval of the same name that I also have not read yet so I can't comment on a faithful book to screen adaptation.

This movie tells the story of Jamie, a preacher's daughter, and Landon, a high school trouble maker. While Jamie gets picked on, Landon is part of the "cool group." At the beginning of the movie, Landon gets in trouble for a stupid prank that his friends played that paralyzed a fellow student. As a result of this, he has to do volunteer work around school and join the drama club. Through these activities, he meets Jamie and gets to know her. He discovers that Jamie is who she is, has a great deal of faith, and isn't going to pretend to be someone she's not. She's a confident and nice woman. The story then twists, but I'll ruin it for those that haven't seen it so I can't say more.

It was a good movie. I especially liked that Jamie had faith in God and they didn't down play that or get rid of it. Most movies today seem to want to ignore faith. It was a good, clean movie that would be good to watch with your family . . . except have a few tissues ready for the end!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lunch with Sara Gruen in Milwaukee on May 4th!

The Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library will host the 2007 Spring Literary Luncheon on May 4th at the beautiful Wisconsin Club. The Friends are pleased to have award-winning author Sara Gruen as the featured speaker. Gruen made her fiction debut in 2004 with Riding Lessons, followed by Flying Changes. Her third novel, Water for Elephants is a New York Times best seller. The ticket price for the luncheon includes an autographed soft cover copy of Water for Elephants (or a $15 Schwartz gift card). The author will be available for guests who wish to have their book personalized. Ticket prices are $50 for Friends members and $60 for individual. Patron seats and corporate tables are available. Please call 414-286-8720 for ticket information.

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith is my Kewaunee book club selection for April. I had never heard of it before, but when I was at my doctor's office, she said it was a "classic" mystery and was a good movie in the 80's with William Hurt in it. I didn't know!

I must admit, I had a really hard time getting into this book. I liked the first line "All nights should be so dark, all winters so warm, all headlights so dazzling," but I found myself bored amd somewhat depressed for the first 100 pages or so. It took me over a week to get that far - which is a long time in Laura reading time! After that, the story picked up for me and it became a page turner until the very end. If you chose to read this book - don't give up! The slow beginning eventually turns into a book that is really interesting and worth a good read.

The book was published in 1980 and is different from a book published during that time period in that the main character, Arkady Renko, is a Russian, and one of the villians is American. It still does not paint a very good picture of Russian society under communism during this time period. It was all corruption. People were not living equally. As Ben says, all communism changed was who was on the top!

This novel starts off with the murder of three people in Moscow's Gorky Park. The two men and one women are found with their ice skates on, but there faces and fingers missing in order to not be identified. As Cheif Investigator of the Homocide Department, Arkady Renko takes on the case. Arkady is having a rough patch in his life with marital woes and the realization that he can not advance further in his career without being more involved with "the party." The investigation becomes an obsession and he discovers corruption in both the Russian and American governments. I can't really go more into the plot without ruining it.

It's a good book so if you are looking for a good mystery, I heartily recommend it!

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Departed

Ben and I just watched The Departed last night with his parents. It was a pretty good movie. My first initial reaction though was that there seemed to be an EXCESSIVE amount of swearing in the movie. The F-bomb seemed to be every other word. Do people really talk like that? Kile doesn't watch TV, but he was running around in the beginning and I was disturbed that he was hearing such language.

My prudishness aside, it was a good movie. The movie is based on the Hong Kong thriller, Infernal Affairs, which I've always wanted to watch, but never got around too. This remake by Martin Scorsese is set in Boston and stars tons of big name people including Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin. Matt Damon plays a cop (Colin Sullivan) who is really a rat for the Irish Mob Boss played by Jack Nicholson (Frank Costello). Leonardo DiCaprio is a cop (Billy Costigan) who has infiltrated Costello's crime ring. Both rats are trying to find out who the other is, while trying to maintain their undercover identities. Both are also in love with the same woman, Madalyn.

Spoilers Ahead

The one thing I didn't like about the movie (well I guess besides the excessive swearing) was the rushed feeling I had with the ending. Everything happened fast and several loose ends are not tied up. Why did Dignam (Mark Walhberg) kill Sullivan at the very end? How did he know? What was in the envelope Costigan gave Madalyn in case he died? Was it info she passed on to Dignam? Why didn't Costigan try to get a hold of Dignam when Queenan was killed? Who's baby was Madalyn carrying? I want to know! Does anyone have answers?

I liked the conflicted characters and really liked Costigan and was rooting for him. I didn't like Sullivan and wanted him taken down. I didn't like the rat running by the window at the end. It made Gert and I laugh, which I don't think was probably Scorsese's intended response.

It was definitely not a happy movie, but it was an interesting movie - one that I'm still puzzling over the next day, which is always a sign of a good movie for me.


I watched this movie last week, but haven't had a chance to write about it yet! I enjoyed the movie. It is set in 1950's Hollywood and tells the story of the suicide (or was it murder?) of George Reeves, who played Superman on TV. Adrian Brody played a private detective who was investigating the murder.

I really liked the setting in 1950's Hollywood. I loved the costumes and scenery. I especially liked when they went out to the nightclubs.

I liked the mystery, but enjoyed the flashbacks more than seeing what the private detective was up to. I did have the problem of always thinking of Ben Affleck as Ben Affleck rather than as George Reeves. He did a good job in the part though. I thought the private detecitve parts were good though to set up the movie and try to figure out what did happen to George.

If you like movies about the old Hollywood era, or enjoy a good mystery, Hollywoodland is for you!

Monday, April 2, 2007

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Mrs. Smith recommended this book to me. It is an excellent book - and a real page-turner. I stayed up late Saturday night to finish it to its shocking conclusion. I was crying by the end, which made Ben wake up sleepily and think there was something wrong with me:-)

This novel has an intriguing concept. It's about two sisters, one named Kate who is 16 and has leaukemia and the other named Anna who is 13. Anna was a "designer baby" who was created in a lab and placed her mother's womb so that she would be a genetic match for Kate and be a doner. The donations started with cord blood at birth and have gone on from there. Now at age 13, Anna wants the donations to stop and has gone to a lawyer to be medically emacipated from her parents so that she won't have to donate one of her kidneys to Kate.

Besides this main plot, the book also tells the story of how Kate's sickness has affected the family as a whole. Jesse, the older brother, is a raging juvenile delinquent who has been ignored most of his life to meet Kate's pressing needs. Brian, the father, is a fire chief and loves his family. He has seen his marriage fall apart as he watches his wife, Sara, obsess over saving Kate no matter what the cost. Sara has her obsession and her marriage and other two children seem to fall apart to meet Kate's needs.

Another interesting side plot is about Campbell Alexander, Anna's attorney, and Julia, Anna's case worker. They were high school sweethearts who broke up under no very nice circumstances. They are reunited to work on this case and must work through their issues. I could have read a book just about these two!

The book was told through the view points of each of these main characters. They each had their own font too, which I thought was a cool point. The characters were very ingrossing and the plot moves along quickly. I recommend it to anyone and I plan on reading some more books by Jodi Picoult!

The Illusionist

The Illusionist was a pretty good movie - I'd give it three starts out of four. Although it is another movie about a magacian around 1900, it is not anything like The Prestige.

This movie stars Edward Norton as the famous illusinist Eisenhiem who is in love with the Duchess Sophie (Jessica Biel). Sophie was Eisenhiem's childhood love although they are from very different social classes. After an abscense of ten or so years, Eisenheim returns to Vienna to perform his illusions. He mets back up with Sophie at one of his shows who is now the fiancee of the Crown Prince Leopole (Rufus Sewell). Vienna's chief inspector (Paul Giamatti) is a fan of Eisenheim, but finds himself constantly investigating him under orders from the jealous Prince. There is a love story, a crime, and some suspense.

But probably not enough suspense for me. I had figured out the movie probably half way through so the ending wasn't so shocking to me. I might have enjoyed it more if I would have been shocked. Was it a surprise for others? Am I just becoming and old and jaded movie goer?

I liked the scenary in Vienna. It looked beautiful. I wish they made more movies in other European countries besides England. I liked the love story too.

If I had to pick this movie or the Prestige though, I would probably pick The Prestige as being the better magacian film!