Bloggiesta II

Bloggiesta is once again upon us! Founded by Maw Books Blog, this is a three day marathon of blog prep and catch-up work. This year it’s being run by It’s All About Books and There’s a Book.

Bloggiesta is running this weekend, March 30, 31, and April 1. At the beginning of the weekend, you make a list of what you’ll be working on, then hop around to mini-challenges, check in and offer advice for other bloggers, and join discussions on Twitter. (Be sure to follow @Bloggiesta.)

f you’d like to join up, follow the linked image and you can sign up right away.

Here’s my to-do list thus far:

  • Update review and other templates
  • Create new feature/meme buttons
  • Update review and challenge pages
  • Update Goodreads
  • Add name attribution jumps to review pages
  • Catch up on outstanding reviews
  • Do WordPress switch research
  • Practice/learn CSS/HTML coding
  • Participate in mini-challenges
  • Update policies
  • Prep event posts already scheduled
  • Update cheat sheet
  • Write guest posts

It’s a big list, but it desperately needs doing!

Vacation Recap – French Edition

My vacation is officially over. Today marks my first day back in the office in over two weeks. Though I’m sad to no longer be in my beloved France, it does feel good to be getting back to normal. There’s only so much laissez-faire one can take, after all.

We took over 5,000 pictures during our 12 day trip. I promise to never share all of them – that would be cruel and unusual. Instead, I picked a few gems from among our many stops to share with you all. Click on the pictures to view larger versions.

Our first stop was Nice, one of many cities littering the French Riviera along the Mediterranean. We lunched on the beach, ate fresh pasta and gelato, and watched the end of the Paris-Nice cycling race.

View from the Nice boardwalk:

Though my favorite cyclist, Andy Schleck, had to bow out of the race early due to illness (yes, I watch enough cycling to have a favorite – we’re huge fans), I happily cheered on his equally awesome brother and teammate, Frank Schleck. Check out the steepness of this hill, which they flew up with ease:

We also took a day trip to neighboring Monaco, and stopped in the famous Monte Carlo Casino (we even won 4 Euros on the slot machines):

After Nice, we picked up a rental car and spent the next few days driving through the French Alps. We visited the Grand canyon du Verdon, the largest canyon in Europe, as well as Mont Ventoux. It was a harrowing drive with many twists and turns looking out over sheer drops. Needless to say, it was breathtakingly gorgeous. This is a pic from lunch at the top of the famous cycling mountain, Alpe d’Huez:

We made a pit stop in Grenoble to ride the cable cars up to La Bastille, which gave a gorgeous panoramic view of the Alps:

Then it was on to Lyon, where we splurged on a hotel with a phenomenal view:

One of my favorite sites we visited of the whole trip was the jaw-dropping St. Jean Cathedral. Built from the 12th through the 15th centuries, it is astonishing in its size and beauty, especially considering its age. I dare anyone to visit this breathtaking church and not feel the hand of God:

From Lyon it was on to my favorite city in the world, Paris. One of our first stops was the Opera Garnier:

The Opera Garnier is known for its opulence, which as you can see, could put Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors to shame:

I have a special place in my heart for stained glass, so we made sure to visit the famous Sainte-Chapelle:

No trip to Paris can be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower:

Last year, my sister and her fiance visited Paris and attached a love padlock to the Passerelle Solferino, and I promised to look for it during our trip. I was beyond excited when I managed to find it (theirs is “F & M 2011” in the middle):

I also insisted on a visit to the famed English-language bookstore, Shakespeare & Company:

Though I didn’t buy anything, Mike snapped this awesome shot of Notre Dame reflected in the shop’s window, with a young worker stocking books in the background:

We managed to see and do much more than this, but these were some of the highlights. I’m very happy to be back and filled with memories from the trip of a lifetime. I haven’t read a single book in over three weeks and I’m itching to get back into the swing of real life, as well as catch up with all of you!

Review: Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould

Book: Cross My Heart
Author: Sasha Gould
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release date: March 13, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley

Summary from Goodreads: Venice, 1585.

When 16-year-old Laura della Scala learns that her older sister, Beatrice, has drowned, she is given no time to grieve. Instead, Laura’s father removes her from the convent where he forcibly sent her years earlier and orders her to marry Beatrice’s fiancé, a repulsive old merchant named Vincenzo. Panicked, Laura betrays a powerful man to earn her way into the Segreta, a shadowy society of women who deal in only one currencyâ??secrets. The Segreta seems like the answer to Laura’s prayers. The day after she joins their ranks, Vincenzo is publicly humiliated and conveniently exiled. Soon, however, Laura begins to suspect that her sister’s death was not a tragic accident but a cold-blooded murderâ??one that might involve the Segreta and the women she has come to trust.

First impressions: Man, I am such a sucker for historical settings. The rich details and ominous beginning had me hooked.

Lasting impressions: A fun historical mystery that’s recommended for fans of both genres.

Conflicting impressions: The romance didn’t feel real for me, and I felt the story could have done without it.

Overall impressions: If there’s one thing I love more than historical fiction, it’s secret societies. This book offered me both, and for the most part I was not disappointed.

Laura is a pleasant protagonist, who is stuck in the most unfortunate situations for much of the book. I really rooted for her, because nobody likes to see nice people in sucky circumstances. Forced to live in a convent while her father uses all the available dowry money to try and marry off her older sister, Laura’s life is bleak. When her sister dies suddenly in a mysterious drowning, her father pulls her from the convent to use as a back-up bride.

Say it with me: ICK.

Laura goes along with this plan while out enjoying society for the first time, but soon learns that her new husband-to-be is a decrepit, dirty old man who promises nothing but a lifetime of misery. He’s skeezy in every sense of the world and I shuddered at the thought of poor Laura forced to spend the rest of her life with him.

Say it with me: DOUBLE ICK.

This is where the Segreta comes in. They are a secret society of powerful women that help make things happen in Venice. They pull strings, using the power and influence of secrets to bribe and undermine the men that rule over their lives. It’s an intriguing concept, and one that I wish had been developed a little more. We are given only the face value of this group, with no explanation into their surely rich history and inner workings. As written, it felt a little like a device used to propel Laura’s story forward instead of a vital, integrated thread of the plot.

Similarly, Laura develops a romance that was very ho-hum for me. I didn’t sense much chemistry or connection between them, and it jumped from friendly to ohmigodpleasemarryme in 4 seconds flat. Though the character provides an interesting subplot to the book, I personally would have found the book more satisfying with more emphasis on the Segreta and less on the romance.

The mystery of Laura’s sister’s death at times gets shuffled to the backburner as the story progresses, but the reveal at the end was interesting and I enjoyed the mystery component. I think fans of Renaissance Italy and mystery books will like this one as much as I did, despite its few small flaws.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Off to France!

I’m off to France for the next 12 days for a whirlwind of a vacation. We’re hitting Nice, Grenoble, Lyon, Paris and anything in between that strikes our fancy. We’ll be on planes, trains, and automobiles. (Well, technically we’ll be in the automobile. Or at least I hope we will be.) We’ll be watching some cycling, walking along the beaches of the Mediterranean, and sipping coffee in Parisian cafés.

You can be jealous. It’s allowed.

I meant to have a bunch of posts set to go up while I’m out, but that soooooo didn’t happen. I had way too much going on, so it’s going to be very quiet around here. Watch for giveaways when I get back, however. I will not hesitate to buy your forgiveness with bookish goodies. 🙂

So…au revoir, mes amis. I’ll be back in a few weeks.

Review: Various Positions by Martha Schabas

Book: Various Positions
Author: Martha Schabas
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Release date: February 14, 2012
Source: ARC received from Debut Author Challenge ARC Tours

Summary from Goodreads: Trapped between the hormone-driven world of her friends and the discontent of her dysfunctional family, fourteen-year-old Georgia is only completely at ease when she’s dancing. When she is accepted into Canada’s preeminent ballet school, Georgia thinks it is the perfect escape. Artistic Director Roderick Allen singles her out as a star, subjecting her to increasingly intensive training, and Georgia obsesses about becoming the perfect, disciplined student. But as she spends more and more time with Roderick, it’s not so clear exactly what their relationship means. Is he her teacher and mentor, or is there something more? These blurred lines will threaten both Roderick’s future at the academy and Georgia’s ambitions as a ballerina.

First impressions: The prologue in this book is incredibly necessary. I know some people hate them, but here it is absolutely vital to our understanding of what is to come. This is not just a ballet book. This is going to get dark, and sexual. If anything about the prologue bothers you – STOP READING.

Lasting impressions: I considered not rating this book at all, because I had such ambivalent feelings about it. Parts of it were interesting in a Black Swan kind of way, but the story meandered without much purpose for large chunks of the book.

Conflicting impressions: What was Georgia’s goal? That’s a huge question to have dangling over the entire book. I never got an answer.

Overall impressions: I am a former ballerina. I love books and movies and TV shows about ballet. I was really excited to read this book, but I very quickly realized that it had nothing to do with ballet. The ballet school serves as a setting only, and as perhaps an extension of Georgia’s slightly obsessive-compulsive personality. She is a ballet dancer because she is, and that’s supposed to be good enough for us.

Once I got past that initial disappointment, I found the teaser from the prologue to be an interesting dangling carrot. We know sweet and innocent Georgia is going to meet someone at ballet school and seduce them. What I found strange by the end of the book, and I still can’t figure it out, is that the prologue scene never reappears in the book, nor does it fit with the actual sequence of events. Was it a dream? A fantasy? Did any of it really happen? I was looking for the payoff from the prologue, and wound up with a drastically different ending than I expected.

Georgia is only 14 years old, and I found her voice inconsistent. At times she felt much, much older and at other times she seemed naive and juvenile (as I would expect from a sheltered 14 year old). Her actions snowballed rather quickly, and over the course of only a few months she experiences a kind of sexual awakening that seemed suspiciously quick. Teenagers experience a whole host of emotions and thoughts about sex that are all over the map, but Georgia goes from zero to 60 and shows no signs of stopping. I’m not sure that’s going to resonate well with teen readers.

I didn’t find Georgia’s actions to be as disturbing as some other reviewers did, but the one aspect of the book that made me uncomfortable was that the reader had to essentially root for Georgia to act on her feelings for her teacher. To my mind, that’s the only goal Georgia was trying to achieve throughout the book, and it was weird to be dragged along on this escapade.

She expresses no thoughts on becoming a grand ballerina, doesn’t focus on the future in the slightest, and makes no effort to do anything besides passively fall in with a group of outgoing classmates and find time to be alone with her teacher. I desperately wanted Georgia to DO something or WANT something, but instead she simply reports on things as they happened. I didn’t understand how her family dynamic impacted the plot, and they gave us very little additional insight into her character.

At the end of the day, I must admit that I simply didn’t get the point of the book. It was an interesting, bizarre, dark little story that is recommended only for older readers.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system