The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The Lost Symbol falls between Angels & Demons and the The Da Vinci Code for me. I really enjoyed A&D, didn’t like Vinci at all and this book merits an okay “meh” from me. But up until about the last fourth of the book or so, I really liked it! So why?

I loved the descriptions of Washington, D.C. I loved the explanations of symbolism and a few of the lore sections about things such as the finger pointing up explanation that athletes do. There was no resting either, the book just flies along stringing action between explanation until I felt like my head was going to burst with so much information. And I was pleased he wasn’t delving too deeply into the religious aspect of it all – until the end.

Unlike some other reviews I’ve read, I did enjoy the shoutouts to various social networks. It made the characters come alive for me. There were a few shock moments for me as well and I fell hook, line and sinker for a few moments in the book that turned out to be different than they appeared. Again, a lot of fun until the end.

In the end I felt as if I was being preached at. I don’t care if it’s a secular or a religious book, I hate being preached at. Inside this 500 page novel it appears as if Mr. Brown has decided to let us all know that those who are “worthy” will achieve status as “Gods”. I don’t want to hear that, I want to read a good story. My advice to those who want to read this book is to take it with a grain of salt. What I’ve pulled out of it is some interesting facts about Washington D.C. that I intend to research on my own and I’ve discarded a lot of nonsense that seems to be thrown out there just to cause controversy and get the book to sell.


Books I read last week:

Books I plan to read this week:

The idea for this weekly post was taken from J. Kaye’s Book Blog!

When I was home over Thanksgiving my dad suggested to me that I read a book titled The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne.  I hadn’t heard of this particular novel, but was familiar with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea so had a general idea of what the book might be like.

So I began to research The Mysterious Island.  In researching I discovered that it was, in fact, part of a sort of trilogy written by Verne.  The first book in the trilogy was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and written as sort of a companion book to Leagues was a book titled In Search of the Castaways (or, as the author originally titled it, The Children of Captain Grant).  So, in November I began a journey through 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, followed by Castaways and just yesterday finished up the trio with The Mysterious Island.  Following are my reviews for each novel.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)

As an adventure story, there are few that can touch this classic. I remember reading through this book around 10 years old and how much I loved reading about all of the various life forms beneath the sea. I also credit this book for my fascination with all things aquatic.

There’s a lot of criticism on all of the technical jargon included in this book and I don’t really understand that. If this doesn’t interest the reader it’s simple to just skim over the information and or skip it altogether. It’s not vital to the story, it just enriches it. But enrichment aside, the story does well standing on its own.

Jules Verne’s interest in science is so incredibly apparent. He really was a man before his time. Everything had a plausible explanation (although I admit to not having much knowledge in the areas he was writing on).

His characters were rich and full of life. Nemo was deliciously mysterious throughout the entire length of the book. The Dr., his man servant and Ned all had their own distinct personalities.

My father recommended I read this book again (he actually wanted me to read the third in the trilogy – In Search of the Castaways being the second, and The Mysterious Island being the third) and I’m glad I did. So often people talk about the classics and if you haven’t read one in a while it seems like the stories are remembered as dull and hard to read, but once again, as I dove back into this classic book, I was reminded of why I read so many of them as a young teenager.

In Search of the Castaways, Or The Children of Captain Grant (Rating 4 out of 5 stars)

Another romping adventure by Jules Verne. This was a new book to me and I love it with a book immediately starts out with a great people, objects and an incredible mission. Not just a note in a bottle, the bottle is found in a shark! Immediately I was sucked in.

There was fantastic adventures through Patagonia and Australia and New Zealand. Brushes with bandits, cannibals and the tribal people. In all of his writing, Verne comes off as respectful and full of admiration for the natives of the lands he’s writing about. He’s full of information (as much as was available at that time) and does not hesitate to make fun of his own country, in the form of the French geographer, Paganel.

A very satisfying, fun, educational read. I enjoyed it even more than 20,000 Leagues just because the descriptions of places were much more entertaining to me.

The Mysterious Island (Rating 5 out of 5 stars)

I loved and hated this book. In The Mysterious Island Jules Verne creates a story similar to The Swiss Family Robinson story that I grew up loving. But this book is much more in depth and provides an intriguing mystery to spice things up.

Five men escape from America during the Civil War in a balloon. They are blown far south and are wrecked upon an island with no supplies.

Verne goes in depth in how the men manage to make a colony out of nothing. In their party are an engineer, a newspaper man, a freed slave, a boy and a sailor. With their combined knowledge (and the superb knowledge of the engineer) they manage to make an island life worthy of making even a modern person wishing to visit.

Throughout the book Verne drops “mysterious occurances”. These keep the reader highly interested despite pages and pages of descriptions that Verne is notorious for. Despite the slow movement throughout 75% of the book this is, by far, my favorite of his novels. If you are interested in survival (and the men in this book are what a “real” survivor is) and science this book is certain to satisfy you

In Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country by Rosalind Miles we about the old Author legend from the viewpoint of Princess (Queen) Guenevere. More depth is given in this story then normal in stories about Arthur to Guenevere and her mother’s kingdom.

There were a few things I did enjoy about this book. When viewed at as a fantasy novel there were all the ingredients that make a good one. Light magic and dark magic. Twists and turns, betrayals and true love. It was all there and the writing was good enough so that it flowed together easily.

Now, what I didn’t enjoy about the book. Instead of being a fascinating novel, the author felt the need to delve into harlequin-type descriptions in order to convey the depth of the love Lancelot and Guenevere had for one another. It made me take this book and the story held within it quite a bit less seriously. Miles description of Merlin and the relationship he had with Arthur was a believable one. I never have bought into the myth that he was a good man and only looking out for Arthur’s best interests and the story told here is a good counterpoint to the other stories of Merlin.

Overall, a solid three stars for this book. It wasn’t horrible, it didn’t make me want to put it down – it just wasn’t what I was hoping for.

Michelle Moran has yet to disappoint me. Cleopatra’s Daughter covers the life of Kleopatra Selene and her twin brother, Alexander from the ages of 12-15. The death of Marc Antony and Cleopatra are included in this tale as well as “what happened to them” section at the end of it.

As she did in Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen, Michelle Moran makes her characters come to life. I found myself laughing and crying my way through the book and fascinated with the characters who seemed to thrive on the page. My only complaint is that the book was too short (at 422 pages no less!). I’ve known the story of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, so learning about her daughter was quite the treat. Moran is historically accurate (with a few exceptions she details out) and manages to tell the story without making it dry.

If you are a fan of Philippa Gregory and interested in reading some other historical fiction I highly recommend Michelle Moran.

Neil Gaiman Booksigning

A week ago Monday I woke up and experienced one of those nagging feelings in the back of my mind.  I couldn’t quite figure out what it was I was needing to do and it wasn’t until about 10:30am that I figured it out.

In Decatur, GA there is a locally owned bookstore named Little Shop of Stories.  Little Shop of Stories held a “Graveyard Book” Halloween party this year for a competition and, along with a story in Winnipeg, they won!  The reward?  A Neil Gaiman book signing.  And last Monday they opened up their phone lines to give away 100 tickets – 1 per each phone call.

1 1/2 hours later (and one phone death just as I’d finally gotten through), I had myself a pair of tickets. Tina and I were going to see Neil Gaiman at Agnes Scott College.  I was thrilled!

So off I went, armed with my copy of The Graveyard Book. Now, I don’t know what made me think that there would only be about 200 people there (The shop had given out 100 tickets in person as well), but what  a silly thing to think.  The final count was 1050 (according to Gaiman).  And there were children, lots of them as well!

Neil started the evening off by reading from Odd and the Frost Giants.  He told us how this book came about.  Apparently, in Europe, there is a National Reading Month (I couldn’t hear very well, but I think this is right).  And for this celebration, the authors write a short novel, for free.  The publishers publish it, for free (it must be short because that’s how much “free paper” they said they have, quipped Gaiman).  The bookstores give the books out in exchange for tokens, which children get, for free.  What an incredible and awesome idea.

So Gaiman began to read and everyone went silent.  In his dry, “British-y” voice, the story came to life.  We all giggled and were enraptured by the story.

Gaiman then answered some questions.  We learned how the story of Coraline came about, and we learned of the background to The Graveyard Book.  We also learned that people in the movie business are.. not all that bright (Does the Graveyard Book movie need to be set in a Graveyard?).  He gave us his opinion of T.S. Eliot, he spoke on the meaning of life.  He entertained us greatly for about 30 minutes.

And then he read from The Graveyard Book.  And the experience was.. incredible.

Afterward, Tina and I waited with some new friends until midnight to get our books signed.  He personalized each signing with a drawn graphic or a word suited to just that book.  Tina’s copy of Coraline got a picture of a mouse creeping across her title page.  Odd and the Frost Giants received the word “Dream”.  And my copy of The Graveyard Book … well…

Some other photos from the event.  Our new friend, Venessa, took these (www.venessagiunta.com) and graciously shared them with us!

I love a good historic novel. Susan King delivered a solid story in Lady Macbeth. This is the story of Gruath, her journey toward becoming the wife of Macbeth and information through his battle to become the King of Scotland.

If you are wanting a Philippa Gregory-type historic novel, this is going to disappoint you. There are lots of names (many of them very difficult to pronounce), lots of facts and the characters are more dry than Gregory’s. However, if you are like me, and enjoy Sharon Kay Penman’s writing, then you will probably enjoy this book.

King had less to work with, from what I understand, then Penman did however. There is very little recorded about the wife of Macbeth, but King’s story was based around the academic research done on her and King Macbeth. I read this book having little to no knowledge of that time period and place and was fascinated by what I learned. This was not your typical highland romance stuff. There was actual substance here!

Gruath was an educated, intelligent, strong woman. To those who complain that she was protected by the men too much to lay claim to those adjectives, I’d simply like to remind them that this was a book written about a woman living around 1025. For her to be educated, to be trained in combat and to live through what she did – in fact, just to live, proves how strong this woman was. Two husbands, numerous miscarriages, the deaths of at least two sons and countless battles witnessed (including some that killed her own family before her eyes). If that’s not a strong woman, I’m not sure what is.

One of the most interesting things I took from this book was the tradition of the sticks. Before battle, King describes a scenario where Macbeth hands Lady Macbeth a stick and instructs her to use her knife to carve a symbol twice on it, once at the top and once at the bottom. The stick is then broken in half and one half placed in the field near them, bottom down. The other part of the stick is hidden somewhere on their person. After the battle has been completed, you are to go to the field of sticks, find your own and remove it. Those sticks remaining will tell, on their own accord, of who died in battle that day. Such a simple and effective method. I had no idea.

Anyway, a fascinating book about a time period not widely written or talked about (at least that I’ve heard). If you are needing a break from the Tudors or whatever portion of British history you are reading about, I’d recommend this book.