Review: Northanger Abbey

Posted 17 June, 2007 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

Northanger Abbey
By: Jane Austen

Continuing my Jane Austen craze, I decided to read Northanger Abbey after seeing the 2007 ITV adaptation of the book (definitely worth checking out, it was quite enjoyable). I know the general sentiment is that this book is not up to par with the other Jane Austen books, and considering that this was actually the first book she completed, that was understandable. But I decided to read this before Mansfield Park because it was a surprisingly slender volume. I was surprised to learn was a quick read it was as well; the first part deals primarily with the social situation that Catherine Norland, the main character, is in and the second part deals more with the Gothic parody. I’ve never read Gothic novels, so this was a rather interesting introduction to the genre, but you can’t help but relate to Catherine; I know my imagination has a tendency to run when I read novels. But the plot is straightforward, amusing, interesting…but I don’t think it’s like those typical triangles you see in other Austen books (i.e. Mr. Darcy is attached to Elizabeth but she’s interested in Mr. Wickham or Emma is fascinated by Mr. Churchill and doesn’t realize Mr. Knightley’s affections): here it seems right of the bat that Catherine and Mr. Tilney are interested in one another and that there was no way that Mr. Thorpe would be able to compete for Catherine’s affections. It’s a cute story overall, very lighthearted in comparison to the other Jane Austen books and I don’t think it should be overlooked.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Review: Emma

Posted 17 June, 2007 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

By: Jane Austen

I admit, I’ve been in a bit of a Jane Austen craze as of late, watching all the adaptations I could find. And so I finally got around to finishing this book. I admit, it was pretty dense, like reading Pride and Prejudice for the very first time back in high school and at times I needed to refer to just to make sure I understood what was going on. But it is an amusing read, reading as Emma attempts to match Harriet Smith to a number of men while at the same time figuring that she herself would never settle down and marry. At times it can be tedious, wondering when Emma would ever truly give up matching Harriet up with someone or wondering if Emma would ever get off some of the embarrassing situations she managed to get herself into. My favourite parts of the book definitely has to be whenever Mr. Knightley and Emma would talk (Chapter 48/49 is probably my favourite from the entire book). The issues of marriage and social standing are very prominent in this book, much as in many other Jane Austen books, but you do get a sense of the comedic effect going through the book. It’s not my favourite Austen book, but it was quite amusing nonetheless.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Review: The Russia Hand

Posted 17 June, 2007 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy
By: Strobe Talbott

Okay, I normally do not read memoirs or autobiographies unless they are really really interesting (prior to picking this book up, I had a grand total of maybe three books that are considered memoirs/biographies). In fact, I initially did not bother picking up this book despite my interest in Russian history and politics but after reading the reviews for this book and the fact that my bookstore was recommending it, I decided to check it out. Strobe Talbott is a very impressive man; his academic credentials, his experience prior to becoming deputy-Secretary of State…very interesting indeed. And he wrote a very concise and clear memoir about his time as deputy-Secretary of State and his hand in Russian-American diplomacy during the Clinton Administration (perhaps another reason why I didn’t want to pick this book up originally). He does give a very interesting look at not only Clinton’s way of handling foreign leaders and relationships and about Yeltsin’s political tactics but he also showed a very interesting and rather detailed glimpse as to how foreign policy is conducted through these summits and visits. He also gives an interesting take on how American-Russian relations were during this period and how important it was especially since they had entered a “post-Cold War” period. The only issue I had about the book was the narrative in Chapter 15; Mr. Talbott had written the narrative chronologically but in Chapter 15, there was a bit of a fling back to the late Cold War period and then the dealings with the nuclear program problems and failed treaties in the 1990s. It’s a bit jarring since the rest of the book proceeded in a relatively well pace and chronologically. Otherwise, a great read, very fascinating and useful if you’re into Russian history, Russian politics and international relations.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: The Blood Knight

Posted 17 June, 2007 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

The Blood Knight
By: Greg Keyes

The Blood Knight is the third book in Greg Keyes’s Kingdom of Thorns and Bone fantasy series (there are four books in this series). If you have never heard of this fantasy series, I definitely recommend it—it’s a unique series, the detail of the world in which this story takes place is just astonishing and the scope is amazing…Keyes has a knack for weaving all these intricate storylines and colourful characters together for this epic. It’s hard to summarize what this story is about…needless to say, it’s a real mix of politics, love, betrayal, mystery, suspense, war and shinecraft…the world of humans is changing with the reawakening of old forces and at the center of this story is the youngest daughter of the Royal family, Anne Dare. It’s a fairly dark fantasy in my opinion; the terror that these characters face are pretty dark and freaky in a way that I don’t think I’ve really come across in other fantasy series I’ve read, at least not at this level, which makes it even more engulfing. Book Three, The Blood Knight is action-packed from start to finish and the continuity is very much there (though I do hope that there will be some sort of appendix at the end of all this because I’ve been losing track of some of the lesser characters). There is a sense of the hefty risks attached to what’s going on getting even larger. I think this book wraps up much of the political problems that were laid down in book one, I guess to make way for the showdown with the more earth-shattering problems in this world. We do get some revelations, such as about the Sefry and we get to see more development in all of our characters, particularly Anne’s rise to becoming a truly queen-ly figure. The last few chapters were especially a kicker, which means the last book, The Born Queen (coming out in January 2008) will start right off the bat. All in all, a very enjoyable read to a very interesting fantasy series.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Review: Blink — The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Posted 25 May, 2007 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
By: Malcolm Gladwell

I never read books at the time when it gets real popular and everyone’s reading it. I always wait until the initial craze has died down (I did this with Harry Potter). When this book hit paperback like a month ago, I decided to check it out at long last, see what the craze was all about. The intial concept sounded interesting, th idea that our minds make snap judgements without even completely processing it consciously and in a rational manner. The author goes on to explain that there needs to be a balance, that sometimes this technique doesn’t work in our favour. But it does happen and the author explains it through various examples.

I was really intrigued by the concept (the fact that another writer wrote a book, Think, to rebuke this book shows just how profound Gladwell’s argument is). However, after the first two chapters, the enthusiasm weared off; as interesting as the examples were, it seemed like the concepts Gladwell are trying to support through these examples had become repetitive and that some of the concepts used to explain his overarching argument are just too simple to even need 10 pages worth of examples to back it up. I guess my expectations for this book was too high; I was expecting some profound revelation from all these smaller concepts, but in the end, it was just way too simple (I’m not a psychology major and I managed to pick it up 1/4 into the book). The book is interesting in that it does discuss about studies that have been conducted and about specialists who are capable of making such quick decisions. Otherwise, the structure and the argument is simple and straightforward with nothing ultra-unique to add to the idea.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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