Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had heard of A Game of Thrones through the reputation of the HBO series. I don't have an HBO subscription, so I don't plan to watch it. But I thought it might be fun to read the book. The novel isn't quite as focused on sex as the series is supposed to be. It has its share of both sex and violence, but all of the titillating aspects of the plot are justified in the written version. This is not a medieval Shades of Gray.

The plot is a massive story with more characters than I could keep track of. There is a listing of names in an appendix at the back. If I had known it was there, I would have taken advantage of it and that might have helped. But the main characters were well defined and whatever confusion I had with the minor ones didn't affect my appreciation of the work.

The story takes place during medieval times, in a world populated with lords, ladies, knights, and peasants. The fictional environment created by George R. R. Martin is realistically portrayed, but it branches off into mystical moments that are critical to the story. The shift from realism to mysticism is handled smoothly and fits well in the context of the story.

The majority of the plot concerns the relationship of Eddard (Ned) Stark with King Robert Baratheon and the conflict between Ned's family, the house of Stark and the family of the King's wife Cersei, the house of Lannister. There is intrigue, deception, jousting, battles, and everything else expected from a story about a struggle for power in that period. I loved the excitement as the various plots progressed.

The one thing I did not like about A Game of Thrones is that it doesn't stand on its own. Multiple subplots were left hanging when the book ended. I understand that it is part of a series, but it should still conclude the majority of the story lines. I want to know what happens to Arya and how Jon will fit in. Leaving something up in the air makes sense to me, but this book leaves too much unresolved. I plan to read the other books in the series, but I don't know how soon I'll get to them.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Shakespeare and Company - Paris, France

I don't have a book to review this week because I spent the last couple of weeks in France. It was my first trip to Europe, so my wife and I were too caught up in exploring to spend much time reading.  Instead this entry is about one afternoon when Toni and I decided to look for Shakespeare and Company, a fairly famous bookstore for anglophiles in Paris – all the books are in English.

It was a cloudy day, cool enough to wear jackets, which was good for walking and also meant I had pockets. I had a compact umbrella in one of those pockets and Toni had one in her purse.

We had just toured Notre Dame and had crossed the Seine on a bridge (Pont de l'Archeveche) that was east of the famous cathedral. That was a mistake because walking along that road brought us to the south of the street we were looking for. We turned left instead of right and moved further away from the bookstore.

That's when the rain came (our only rain during our vacation). It poured. The umbrellas helped, but we still had to find shelter. We ducked into a parking lot and waited until the rain lightened up. During that break we went over the map we had and determined that we were going the wrong way. When we got out to the street we asked for directions. Toni speaks enough French to get by and we found that the French people were always happy to help us when they could. Unfortunately, a bookstore that carries only English books was a landmark that the French speaking people we stopped didn't know. We finally found Rue de la Bucherie, the street where Shakespeare and Company was supposed to be. We walked it end to end and couldn't find the store. We were about to head back to the metro, but I decided to try one more time. Toni told me how to say “Where is?” and I already knew how to say “Please” and “Thank you,” so I stepped into a restaurant and asked again. A waiter there knew the store and explained to Toni that a park (Square Rene Viviani) broke the street in two. When we went to the other part of Rue de la Bucherie the bookstore was there.

Shakespeare and Company is a two story, narrow store jammed with books. The aisles and the staircase are tiny. There's a reading room upstairs and some seats out front. It has great atmosphere and a very interesting collection of customers. It was worth searching for. We didn't take any pictures, but here are a couple I found on the web.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary (Bridget Jones, #1)Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed both the Bridget Jones movies and now that there's a third one on the way, I decided it is about time to read the original “diary.” I liked the other chick lit books I've read (Sophie Kinsella's Remember Me, Can You Keep a Secret?, and Shopaholic & Baby) with their pseudo airhead main characters who are actually quite intelligent and competent. Since I hadn't read Helen Fielding's work prior to this, I was expecting something similar. The tone of Bridget Jones's Diary is light and the humor is fabulous. Bridget Jones, however, is not a brilliant woman trying to escape from an airhead facade. There isn't a competent bone in her body. When she succeeds she does so through luck and the good will of those around her. But somehow her self absorbed, scatterbrained personality works. I liked her.

The novel is dated, of course. For example, when Bridget thinks about a fairy tale wedding she talks about Princess Diana rather than the Duchess of Cambridge. But the core of the book is the immersion into the mind of a woman who is desperate to impress others by losing weight, drinking less, and gaining a boyfriend. There are still plenty of people like that. And what's even more significant is the fact that we all have a little of Bridget's personality in us. That's why the book is so funny.

There are books that need to be read slowly, so the reader can dwell on the concepts behind the story. Then there are books that are a fun read and need to be read quickly. Bridget Jones's Diary is one of the latter.

Steve Lindahl - author of Motherless Soul

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