Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Readalong: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky Post 4

I am participating in the readalong for The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, hosted by A Literary Odyssey. This is the fourth post of 4 total posts, it covers Part 4 in The Idiot. My previous posts can be found here: First Post Second Post Third Post

I stayed up late last night to finish The Idiot. The end of The Idiot certainly reaches a climax where all of the characters seem to run around like chickens with their heads cut off. They accuse each other of being scandalous or attention-seeking and refuse to listen to each other, preferring to live with their own views of the events around them.

Prince Myshkin is caught between two women, Nastasya Filippovna and Aglaia Epanchin. They both want him and make claims on him, which he tries to please. The Prince is far too good-hearted and/or simple to realize that he needs to make his own decision for his life and stick with it. Instead, at the critical moment in this love triangle, he falls short and stays to take care of Nastasya instead of rushing after Aglaia, whom he actually cares for. This split-moment decision really decides the fate for these three unhappy characters, as well as the surrounding characters.

Dostoevsky gives an unhappy ending to each of these characters, which I'll leave for you to read yourself, but I'm not really sure what the point is that he's trying to make with their fates. Is it their modern society/focus on money that leads them to destruction? Is it the prince's goodness that destroys them- perhaps connecting their fates to that of Jesus' in Holbein's painting that Dostoevsky mentions several times. And what is the point of Rogozhin's character and actions? He plays the pivotal action in Nastaya's fate but I'm still a little unclear as to why this was necessary? I just don't understand Rogozhin at all- is he (and everyone else) just crazy?!

I liked this story by Dostoevsky for the analysis of the characters and the story, which is actually pretty simply, that it told. The characters are definitely Dostoevsky's strong point. As I pointed out in post 3, I believe that Dostoevsky is amazing at portraying madness and despair. However, there were a few things that I did not like; for example, characters often went off in tangents during their conversations that, I assume, were Dostoevsky's own thoughts but that did not often lend anything to the story. I enjoyed some of these views in the beginning of the story that were about execution and exile of prisoners because I knew that it directly related to Dostoevsky's own life, but later on the views got to be tedious and I didn't know why I was reading them.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

  • Title: Madame Tussaud

  • By: Michelle Moran

  • Pub. Date: February 2011

  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

  • Format: Hardcover , 464pp  

  • ISBN-13: 9780307588654

  • ISBN: 0307588653

  • Source: library loan


    In this deft historical novel, Madame Tussaud (1761-1850) escapes the pages of trivia quizzes to become a real person far more arresting than even her waxwork sculptures. Who among us knew, for instance, that she moved freely through the royal court of Louis XVI, only to become a prisoner of the Reign of Terror? Her head was shaven for guillotining, but she escaped execution, though she was forced to make death masks for prominent victims. Novelist Michelle Moran covers this breathtaking period without losing the thread of its subject's singular story.

    My Review:

    I loved this book! Right from the beginning, I felt like I was watching a movie- a great movie that completely immerses you in the scenery and the story. The writing was descriptive enough to allow me to picture and feel everything without giving too much so that it detracts from the story. Once I started, it was very hard to stop reading and thinking about Marie Grosholtz (Marie Tussaud's maiden name, as she is know for at least four fifths of the book).

    Marie experienced the French Revolution from a unique, and precarious, position. As her and her Uncle's wax museum fame spreads through Paris, Marie is asked to tutor the King of France's sister in wax modeling. This gives Marie some personal access to the royal family while her salon at home hosts many of the revolution's leaders. Marie and her Uncle, Curtius, have a wax museum that features the political and scandalous figures of the day. As political tensions increase with the rise of the French Revolution and more figures rise to prominence, Marie continually changes out the models for the new leaders to keep in the good graces of the changing fortunes of political leaders.

    This is the only way for Marie and her family to survive the revolution. As the revolution progresses, she is forced to make gruesome wax molds for the revolutionary mobs, which she eventually refuses to do and ends up as a prisoner herself.

    Marie Grosholtz's life is incredible and her position in history is makes both her personal and global story fascinating. I learned a lot about the rise of the French Revolution throuhg this book. Although some facts were altered for the sake of the story, most of the major events were true.

    There were a few things that I didn't like about this book. First, there is a prologue that is set in the future which gives away some of the ending that I would have prefered not to know until the end. Secondly, the book is called Madame Tussaud, but Marie doesn't become a Tussaud until very near the end of the book. I suppose Madame Tussaud is just more recognizable than Grosholtz but it is still a little misleading.

    However, in spite of my minor complaints, I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a great story and some historical context.

    My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Book Tour and Giveaway: You Are Not Your Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding

    Welcome to one of the stops on TLC Book Tours for You Are Not Your Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. and Rebecca Gladding, M.D.!

    You Are Not Your Brain is a wonderfully written self-help book by two prominent neuroscience researchers. Many years of research have culminated in their theory to help people stop listening to the deceptive messages produced by their own brains and become the person they want to be instead.

    Do you have any bad habits that you wish you could just stop doing? These include excessive worrying or anxiety, eating or drinking to cope with stress, caring too much about what other people think, and more. Schwartz and Gladding have developed a method to overcome these bad habits through four easy steps- Relabel, Reframe, Refocus, and Revalue.

    Before beginning the steps, though, Gladding and Schwartz clearly explain the background to their theory so that you know why the recommend their steps. One of the main points is to make the distinction between the brain and the mind. In their view:
    the brain receives inputs and generates the passive side of experience, whereas the mind is active, focusing attention, and making decisions. (page 21)
    Therefore, by saying that you are not your brain, they mean that your mind can make the conscious decisions to act or not act on what your brain is saying since your brain is passive input and output system. This is an important concept in their theory since you have to recognize the difference in order to change your actions and stop listening to your brain's deceptive messages that tell you to worry, eat, drink, etc.

    After going through the basis of the theory, they then go through the steps of the program to help you. Each step has multiple exercises to practice small bits of the step until you're able to recognize and achieve the step. These exercises, if taken seriously, will really help you achieve your goals. You Are Not Your Brain is very easy to understand and has the potential to help you with your struggles to be the person you want to be.

    My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Want to win a copy of You Are Not Your Brain? I am giving away one copy of this book from the publisher. Just leave a comment on the post with your email address and, if you want, one struggle you with and want change. This giveaway ends June 30, 2011 at 11:59pm. I will choose one winner randomly and contact them via email for their address. The book will be mailed by the publisher.

    I received one copy of You Are Not Your Brain for free to review. This did not affect my review in any way and I did not receive any compensation for my review.

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Readalong: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

    I am participating in the readalong of Vanity Fair by William Thackeray, hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey. This is the first post of two for Vanity Fair.

    I am halfway through the novel now, the first 34 chapters are behind me. This is my first time reading Vanity Fair  and so far it reminds me of the characters from Gone with the Wind and the scope of War and Peace. The subtitle of the novel is 'A Novel without a Hero,' which hints at the fact that most of the characters are not good people, similar to Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. Notably, Becky Sharp, in Vanity Fair, is a selfish girl who knows how to connive and beguile people to get her way.

    Becky can be very sweet and gentle when it suits her, which is how she behaves through most of the beginning of the novel, but then she shows her true colors more and more as moves through the ranks of people. Many of the other characters also use each other for their own gain, either money or social connections. The superficial and selfish connections between the characters really drive home the point that this is a novel without a hero and Thackeray's criticism of wealth.
    There are a few good characters, namely Amelia, who befriended Becky when she was poor and lonely, and Dobbins, who is in love with Amelia but still helps his friend to marry her. Although Thackeray includes these inherently good characters, so far at least, nothing good has happened to them. They suffer needlessly because of the selfishness of those around them. Therefore, they are not heroes but victims to society.

    Although there really doesn't appear to be a hero in Vanity Fair, I'm still drawn into the story. I love that it covers the lives of many different characters so that we get a feel for the whole society rather than just one or a few characters. I also appreciate Thackeray's/the narrators interjections into the story. At first I was annoyed that he interrupted the story but then I began to find them humorous, my favorite times are when the narrator says that he is not privy to certain information, like what a character is thinking at that moment.... but come on, we get the feeling that this is an omniscient narrator, so why do they not know what the character is thinking?!

    I'm looking forward to finishing Vanity Fair  because I want to see how it ends for a lot of the characters, especially Becky and Amelia. Will Becky get her comeuppance and Amelia be rewarded or is that not how it works in Vanity Fair?


    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Readalong: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky Post 3

    I am participating in the readalong for The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, hosted by A Literary Odyssey. This is the third post of 4 total posts, it covers Part 3 in The Idiot. My previous posts can be found here: First Post Second Post
    In this third post on The Idiot, I want to focus on madness and border between sane and insane. I think Dostoevsky is a master at depicting characters who often precariously tread this border, my opinion coming from reading The Idiot, Crime and Punishment (my all-time favorite book!), and Notes from Underground.
    There are several characters who display at least some periods of madness throughout The Idiot, including many in Part 3.
    First, there is Lizaveta Prokofyevna, who even describes herself as a "'foolish, ill-mannered little kook' and suffered from suspcion, continually lost her bearings, could see no way out of the most ordinary contingencies, and constantly magnified every misfortune." Several times throughout the story, Lizaveta Prokofyevna greatly overreacts to the situation at hand and may even fall in a swoon. While her brand of 'madness' doesn't really separate her from society, she definitely does have some tendencies towards madness.
    Both Nastasya and Aglaia also display some madness. Nastasya leans towards a self-destructive and self-blame madness while Aglaia, I think, may be showing more of just a harder time growing up and dealing with the realities of life that are different from her imaginations. Natasya refuses to go with Myshkin, or any other better man, and instead chooses Rogozhin, a man whom she believes will eventually kill her. Nastasya has extremely low self-esteem and works herself up to make decisions that she knows will ruin her. Her letters to Aglaia are also proof that she lives in a fevered state. Nastasya writes to Aglaia stating she looks up to Aglaia as a model of perfection and wishes only she (Aglaia) would marry Prince Myshkin since they both perfect people, whom Nastasya loves but is not good enough to be loved back by either of them. Nastasya's actions so far through the first three parts of The Idiot show that she is insane and unwell.
    Another strong instance of insanity is during Prince Myshkin's 'birthday party' when Ippolit begins to read his notes. The beginning of his speech reminded me of Crime and Punsihment, when Ippolit speaks of his 'Ultimate Convinction,' just as Raskolnikov focuses solely on his own theory of superior men, like Napoleon, who are supposedly justified in all of the actions because they are superior. Ippolit describes that his 'Ultimate Conviction' consumed him, just as Raskolnikov's theory ate at him until he had to act on it. Ippolit is determined to kill himself as the sun rises after he reads his explanation to the party. This determination comes from wanting to have one more act of free will before consumption takes him. However, as the moment comes for the histerical Ippolit, since no one believes that he will actually shoot himself, it turns out that Ippolit, accidentally or not, forgot to load the pistol before shooting himself. Clearly this is a moment of insanity for Ippolit since he did try to shoot himself and even detailed the madness of his decision leading up to that moment.
    Dostoevsky's works include a lot of madness, which often makes compelling characters. I think a lot of his personal experiences contributed to being able to describe these moments for the characters, he was part of the Petrashevsky Circle, his mock execution and subsequent exile to Siberia, and then his gambling and money problems later in life which probably showed him the underbelly of Russian society.

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Book Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson


    "The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide - for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul." A beautiful and compelling, put clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of Marianne Engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly injured mercenary and she was a nun and scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal who nursed him back to health. As she spins their tale in Scheherazade fashion and relates equally mesmerizing stories of deathless love in Japan, Iceland, Italy, and England, he finds himself drawn back to life - and, finally, in love. He is released into Marianne's care and takes up residence in her huge stone house. But all is not well. For one thing, the pull of his past sins becomes ever more powerful as the morphine he is prescribed becomes ever more addictive. For another, Marianne receives word from God that she has only twenty-seven sculptures left to complete - and her time on earth will be finished

    My Review:

    The Gargoyle is a strangely compelling novel that I found hard to put down. Although I thought some of the details in some scenes were a little  too graphic, especially in the beginning, I really enjoyed reading it.

    The Gargoyle starts with an unnamed narrator being horribly burned in a car crash. From there, we meet the other characters along the way who help the narrator heal physically and spiritually. The most important help comes from Marianne, a women with possibly schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder, who befreinds the severely depressed narrator  in the hospital. Marianne claims that they were lovers in the 1300s, a claim which instantly hooked me. I wanted to know more!

    Marianne tells the narrators stories, both of herself and their life earlier and the stories of other lovers in history. I loved the stories of the different lovers and where they were in history. Their own story was nice but a little lackluster compared to the other stories.

    Marianne also reads the narrator Dante' The Inferno and the narrator relates to Dante's version of Hell throughout his recovery, especially when he is weaned off of his morphine. The relation to The Inferno added an extra layer of depth to the two lovers story which I really liked.

    The story was well written and the love stories were beautiful. I may be a gushing little girl when I say this, but the love stories were by far my favorite part. The sections that took part in the modern day were good but not as fascinating as the historical sections. However, the narrators progress through his burn recovery was obviously well researched and described. Overall I highly recommend this book as an enjoyable and fairly quick read as long as you're not offended by drug use or some explicit details.

    My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    Book Review: The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

    Traveling abroad with her mother at the turn of the twentieth century to seek a titled husband, beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash, whose family mansion in Newport dwarfs the Vanderbilts’, suddenly finds herself Duchess of Wareham, married to Ivo, the most eligible bachelor in England. Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals. Money, Cora soon learns, cannot buy everything, as she must decide what is truly worth the price in her life and her marriage.

    My Review:

    The American Heiress is a cross between Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind and some of Edith Wharton and Jane Austen's works. Cora Cash (not sure if I like or dislike her name... it seems too easy but also perfectly fitting) is the heiress to a large fortune made in the flour industry in America. Her mother knows that Cora is pretty and rich, meaning all that she needs to have the perfect life is a title.

    Cora's mother envisions her daughter in the English aristocracy, regardless of Cora's desires. Therefore, they set off to England. Along the way Cora meets a secretive and, dare I say it, sexy English Duke, which sets off their romance.

    I include Gone with the Wind as an inspiration to this novel because I found a lot of similarities between Cora Cash and Scarlett O'Hara, they are both from well to-do families but still need to confront the realities of life as they grow up. They are both spoiled but also determined so that no matter what life hands them, they persevere. I found both characters annoying, especially in the beginning, and I enjoyed their maturation over time.

    Cora's English Duke, Ivo, is an interesting characters. He tends to drop out and fall back into the story so that the reader, like Cora, has trouble figuring him out. We don't know what he may be hiding or what he is feeling. This was very frustrating for me to read.

    There were some slow points in the novel and some extra, very small, subplots that weren't at all necessary to the story. However, I did like the overall flow of the novel and the growth, or lack thereof, of the characters.

    My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

    I recieved a free copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads. This did not influence my review of The American Heiress.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Readalong: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky Post 2

    I am participating in the readalong for The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, hosted by A Literary Odyssey. This is the second post of 4 total posts, it covers Part 2 in The Idiot. My first post can be found here.

    I am really enjoying The Idiot, as I do most 19th century Russian literature. I love the characters most of all. Each character has a personality and back story and they all respond to situations differently.

    My two favorite characters are Prince Myshkin and Lizaveta Prokofyevna.

    I love Prince Myshkin's innocence and belief in people. Many people assume that he is an idiot, or at least very simple, but he does have an acute understanding of most people and situations. He often remains fairly calm during stressful situations, although they can make him go into an epileptic seizure. He also blushes a lot when people directly accuse him of anything, which I find endearing.

    I also like Lizaveta, who is Myshkin's remaining relative. Lizaveta overreacts to situations and can talk her mouth off when she's upset. She is also very impulsive. For example, she is offended by the Prince at his house towards the end of Part 2 when the common people show up, but she comes back only 3 days later to make sure that they are alright and to invite him to her house.

    Part 2 of The Idiot is based less on action and more on intrigue and gossip. In the beginning, the reader doesn't follow Prince Myshkin around personally, we only get hints of what he's been up to through the gossip of people in St. Petersburg. Later when the Prince comes back, a lot of characters show up at his apartment and plenty of people get offended and overworked. I love the gossip and scandals that form their society. An especially good example of this is when they are leaving Myshkin's and Nastasya shows up and tells Yevgeny that she has promissory notes of his and she uses the familiar form of 'you' instead of the formal form! OMG! How could she do that?! Now the Epanchin family doesn't want to talk to him since Nastasya used the familiar form and there's a slight possibility that she wasn't lying about the IOU's.

    I am highly enjoying re-reading this great classic. Thank you Allie for hosting this readalong! The next post for The Idiot is on June 15.