Wednesday, April 9, 2008

#22 - Brilliance of the Moon

Book No: 22
Title: Brilliance of the Moon
Author: Lian Hearn
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2004
Obtained: 2007/
Completed: 4/07/08
No. of Pages: 344
Rating: 3/5*****

The third book in the Tales of the Otori series.

I loved Across the Nightingale Floor and Grass for His Pillow, but was very disappointed in this 'final' book in the trilogy (although there is a new one out, plus a secondary series of books related to this series). None of the fantasy elements that I enjoyed in the first two books came into much play in this book.

Takeo and Kaede have married and are trying to claim Kaede's inheritance and at that same time ward off their enemies. Separated once again by circumstances beyond their control, they struggle to find a way back to each other. The book is filled with rather boring battles, and the love story of Takeo and Kaede seems very pedestrian this time around. Takeo seems to be the main focus of the book, while Kaede becomes a washed out, very docile shadow of her former self.

Although the ending is somewhat satisfying the book itself was less so.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

#21 - The Birth of Venus

Book No: 21
Title: The Birth of Venus
Author: Sarah Dunant
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2004
Obtained: 2004/
Completed: 3/03/08
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 3.5/5*****

The Birth of Venus begins with the death of an older nun, whose manuscript of her life is found after her death. We know who she is, what we don’t know is how she came to this convent. So begins the tale of Alessandra Checci, daughter of a wealthy Florentine merchant.

Alessandra is a bright, inquisitive and impetuous fifteen year old girl who’s dream of becoming a painter is impossible, considering the mores of 15th century Florence, and the role of women at that time – to marry and bear children, period. When Alessandra’s father hires an artist, referred to throughout the book as the painter, to create frescos for their family chapel, Alessandra finds herself repeatedly drawn to him, despite knowing that they can never be more than painter and subject. As the city of Florence is thrown into turmoil by the rise in power of the fanatical monk Savonarola, so too does Alessandra’s life take many surprising twists and turns.

I loved this book and the story, which was often very surprising. Just when you believe the story is heading in one way, a clever twist takes it in another. I loved the characters of the women in this book, Alessandra; reckless and brave, Erila; the wise and compassionate slave and Alessandra’s mother, a strong and beautiful woman trying to tame her impetuous daughter. I learned quite a bit of Italian history that I had no prior knowledge of in this enchanting and very entertaining tale.

#20 - The House of the Spirits

Book No: 20
Title: The House of the Spirits
Author: Isabel Allende
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1985
Obtained: 2007/
Completed: 3/31/08
No. of Pages: 433
Rating: 3.5/5*****

Although this book is set in Latin America, in an unnamed country, it is clearly supposed to be Chile, home of the author Isabel Allende. One of the main portions of the book deals with the military overthrow of the government, Ms. Allende’s uncle was Salvadore Allende, who was murdered in such a coup. The story focuses on the family of Esteban Trueba, who is engaged to the beautiful Rosa, who dies before their marriage. Esteban then courts and marries Rosa’s sister Clara, a clairvoyant and telekinetic, who talks to the sprits that roam through their home. Esteban is the patron of Tres Marias, the family plantation, that he rebuilds into a wealthy estate. We follow the lives of this family through about seventy years of hard times and prosperity, viewing the lives of the children and grandchildren of Esteban, that become intertwined with the politics of the country.
Although the writing in this book was beautiful, at times the story was very uninvolving. Part of that stems from the fact that Esteban Tureba is a bullying autocrat, a character so unsympathetic that at times it was difficult to read many of the scenes he was involved in. The women alternated between spineless and strong, and although their paranormal abilities are taken for granted, there doesn’t seem to be any purpose to them throughout the book, except for foretelling future events, a practice that becomes a bit tiresome over the course of the book.
For me the story finally comes alive in the last third, when Esteban’s granddaughter is born, and the political upheavals begin to take center stage. At this point in the book I was very involved in the tale and in knowing the outcome. For that reason, and the writing this book garners a bit higher grade than I originally planned on.