Saturday, December 31, 2011

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24, Dodge House.   Beautifully educated, born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday is given an awful choice at the age of twenty-two: die within months in Atlanta or leave everyone and everything he loves in the hope that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Young, scared, lonely, and sick, he arrives on the rawest edge of the Texas frontier just as an economic crash wrecks the dreams of a nation. Soon, with few alternatives open to him, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally; he is also living with Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung Hungarian whore with dazzling turquoise eyes, who can quote Latin classics right back at him. Kate makes it her business to find Doc the high-stakes poker games that will support them both in high style. It is Kate who insists that the couple travel to Dodge City, because “that’s where the money is.” And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp really begins—before Wyatt Earp is the prototype of the square-jawed, fearless lawman; before Doc Holliday is the quintessential frontier gambler; before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology—when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety. Authentic, moving, and witty, Mary Doria Russell’s fifth novel redefines these two towering figures of the American West and brings to life an extraordinary cast of historical characters, including Holliday’s unforgettable companion, Kate. First and last, however, Doc is John Henry Holliday’s story, written with compassion, humor, and respect by one of our greatest contemporary storytellers.

My take: 3 looks
It seems that I give many books 3 looks. Does that mean there are a lot of "average" books out there. Perhaps I am a little stingy with 4 looks...Perhaps it depends on my mood when I finish the book. I am, after all, human.

This one, however, I can explain. Doc was a very entertaining book. The subject matter (since these were real people) seemed to be researched, it was interesting and I was engaged with the characters. However, there were a few things that bothered me.

First of all, it was easy to put down. It was a very easy book to read, but I could also become distracted easily and lay it down for a while without giving it a second thought.  Secondly, it promised to be the story of Doc Holliday. While Doc Holliday was a main character, it would be incorrect to say that the entire book was his story. For it to be Doc's story alone, his dealings with the other characters would have to be felt and presented from his perspective. As this book was written, it was told from everyone's point of view. That proved to be a bit distracting as characters changed often with little to no segue.

Also, there were facts that I felt would have been pivotal to the story, but were not presented at all. For example, Kate's betrayal of Doc causing him to be arrested for murder. Doc's alleged final words, and how he died barefoot. That would have been a nice way to wrap up his death, since so much of the book deals with his illness and impending death. If this was truly a story about Doc, where was his involvement in the OK Corral? Where was the OK Corral at all? Not in this story.

Lastly, the book wrapped a little too quickly. It could have easily gone for at least fifty additional pages, ending everyone's story. At this point, the reader wants to know what happened to Belle, Kate, Mattie and the other Earp brothers.

While this was a good book overall, it did not meet the expectation that it created in the title: that this would be a story about Doc Holliday. It was more the story of Dodge, during the days of its settlement and how it grew from a rough town full of drovers to a more settled city of families, farmers and businessmen.

Good book, wrong title.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rememberance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

Reading broadens so much more than simply vocabulary. It opens worlds that a reader would never experience, provides travel back and forward in time, and greatly challenges a reader's imagination.

It has a definite educational focus, too. I was reading that, on this day in 1912, a French publication rejected printing an excerpt from Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust. Why would this be notable, I wondered.

Turns out that this series of seven volumes had an unquestionable impact on the modern novel. Proust began this tome in 1909, ending only when his long illness caused his death in 1922. at 1.5 million words, it is one of the longest novels in world literature. Involuntary memory plays a major role in this work, with the most famous being the "episode of the madeleine":

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. ... Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ... And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.

It was quite ground breaking that this book was not driven by a central plot, but more by the character's perceptions and growth in maturity because of their experiences. Memory and inner contemplation replaced action and external influences.

While we take this kind of writing for granted today, we owe our own wealth of literature choices to authors such as Marcel Proust.

On this day in literary history: Van Gogh's Ear

On this day in 1888, Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, suffering from severe depression, cuts off the lower part of his left ear with a razor while staying in Arles, France. He later documented the event in a painting titled Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. Today, Van Gogh is regarded as an artistic genius and his masterpieces sell for record-breaking prices; however, during his lifetime, he was a poster boy for tortured starving artists and sold only one painting.

In 1888, Van Gogh rented a house in Arles in the south of France, where he hoped to found an artists' colony and be less of a burden to his brother. In Arles, Van Gogh painted vivid scenes from the countryside as well as still-lifes, including his famous sunflower series.

Gauguin came to stay with him in Arles and the two men worked together for almost two months. However, tensions developed and on December 23, in a fit of dementia, Van Gogh threatened his friend with a knife before turning it on himself and mutilating his ear lobe. Afterward, he allegedly wrapped up the ear and gave it to a prostitute at a nearby brothel. Following that incident, Van Gogh was hospitalized in Arles and then checked himself into a mental institution in Saint-Remy for a year. During his stay in Saint-Remy, he fluctuated between periods of madness and intense creativity, in which he produced some of his best and most well-known works, including Starry Night and Irises.

In May 1890, Van Gogh moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, where he continued to be plagued by despair and loneliness. On July 27, 1890, he shot himself and died two days later at age 37.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Writer's Almanac

I was in the car the other day around 9ish in the morning and heard a bit on NPR that I had never heard before: The Writer's Almanac. It was excellent! I missed the name of the program, and tried to search for it on the computer later that day, to no avail. I happened to be in the car at the same time yesterday and heard it again, this time from the beginning.

It's hosted by Garrison Keillor, which makes it a little heavy-handed to me (he takes himself quite seriously), but the content alone urges me to overlook his dour delivery. The first day I heard it, there was a segment on the short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. I was so intrigued by the story of the story that I am now looking to read it.

He seems to focus on poetry, which is not an interest of mine; but, perhaps this will broaden my horizons. I am going to make this program a "must listen" from now on!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

One of the first questions people ask about The Things They Carried is this: Is it a novel, or a collection of short stories? The title page refers to the book simply as "a work of fiction," defying the conscientious reader's need to categorize this masterpiece. It is both: a collection of interrelated short pieces which ultimately reads with the dramatic force and tension of a novel. Yet each one of the twenty-two short pieces is written with such care, emotional content, and prosaic precision that it could stand on its own. The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O'Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage, and their fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have. We hear the voices of the men and build images upon their dialogue. The way they tell stories about others, we hear them telling stories about themselves. With the creative verve of the greatest fiction and the intimacy of a searing autobiography, The Things They Carried is a testament to the men who risked their lives in America's most controversial war. It is also a mirror held up to the frailty of humanity. Ultimately The Things They Carried and its myriad protagonists call to order the courage, determination, and luck we all need to survive.

My take: 4 looks
"The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 12 and 18 pounds, depending upon a man's habits or rate of metabolism."

I found myself breathing a sigh of relief when the book started in this very literal, practical way. I imagined that the subject would be more mental than physical. I was glad that I was wrong. Reading a book that hard fact is so much easier than reading a book that is ... well, that is written like this one turned out to be.

This was an edgy book. It was real, troubled and unapologetic. The cover states that it is a work of fiction, but I think otherwise. Only a soldier who served in Vietnam could write this. It is full of emotion and stoic at the same time. It is sympathetic and yet I felt complete disdain at some of the descriptions. These men were strong, brave, fragile. It was a study in contrasts from beginning to end. It was difficult and heavy to read, but portrays war in a very real sense. Less "Sergeant York" and more "Apocalypse Now". Everyone should read this, especially generations who have grown up not really knowing what war is all about. It's a beautiful piece about the horrors of war.

A line on page 16 sums it up perfectly: "They all carried ghosts."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

In this delightful, funny, and moving first novel, a librarian and a young boy obsessed with reading take to the road.

Lucy Hull, a young children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both a kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, ten- year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy's help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes with celebrity Pastor Bob.

Lucy stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a knapsack of provisions and an escape plan. Desperate to save him from Pastor Bob and the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian. The odd pair embarks on a crazy road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets, an inconvenient boyfriend, and upsetting family history thrown in their path.

But is it just Ian who is running away? Who is the man who seems to be on their tail? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?

My take: 2 looks
I thought this an odd little book. About a librarian who takes a 10-year-old boy (Ian) on a road trip, mostly because she doesn't agree with how his parents are raising him. It seems that Ian may be gay, so his very religious parents have him in a Christian "reprogramming" class. This flies against everything the liberal librarian believes and she takes it upon herself to share with him that he is fine the way he is.
There are many layers in this story, like her lying Russian immigrant father with questionable means of income; the man in the wheelchair who may or may not love the librarian, but who certainly has trouble keeping his mouth shut; the alcoholic head librarian; the gay couple who own a theater, above which the librarian lives.

On the surface, this is a war between Christian and not, conservative and liberal, strict belief and tolerance. Obviously, the author is the latter of the three. A twist, though, comes when the reader realizes that the librarian is just as intolerant as the parents. After all, they are not trying to imprint their beliefs on the rest of the world; they are simply raising their only son as best they know how. The librarian is the real threat here, as she strives to make sure the child believes as she does. Whether or not you agree with the gay issue, her behavior is what we stand against.

Another issue is the fact that the librarian is really not imprinted in the life of anyone else. She realizes this slowly as her friends don't miss her when she disappears, her landlord doesn't even realize she is gone, the man she thinks loves her has an entire life of which the boys knows, but she doesn't. She slowly realizes that she is but a ghost of a person.

Ian is eccentric and irritating. The librarian is neurotic (the fact that I can't even remember her name says it all). The parents are like cartoons characters in their stereotypical Russian roles. The best part of the book is the last three pages.

I would not recommend this one.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s barely any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one . . . until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.

My take: 3 looks
This was an entertaining read. I liked it more than some of the other Young Adult distopian books that I have read. I found it to be very subversive in its socialist ideals. The characters embraced the ideals and rules completely at the beginning, and the metamorphosis from "society" to "individual" was very well done. I may read the next in the series.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Birthday to The Phantom Tollbooth

File:Phantomtollbooth.PNGA new favorite of mine is celebrating it's 50th year in print!

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is such a delight to read that I purchased it and plan to read it again and again. For anyone who loves the English language, this book will be a winner for you. It's clever, tongue-in-cheek method of making its point is linguistic absurdity at its best. And I didn't make that up, NPR offered a piece on this milestone.

Listen to the show here, and pick up this book!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff

Every dress has a history, and so does Phoebe...
Phoebe Swift always dreamt of opening her own vintage dress shop. She imagined every detail, from the Vivienne Westwood skirts hanging next to satin gowns, to sequinned prom dresses adorning the walls.

At the launch of Village Vintage, Phoebe feels the tingle of excitement as customers snap up the fairytale dresses. Her dream has come true, but a secret from her past is casting a shadow over her new venture.

Then one day she meets Therese, an elderly Frenchwoman with a collection to sell, apart from one piece that she won't part with...

As Therese tells the story of the little blue coat, Phoebe becomes aware of a profound connection with her own life, one that will help her heal the pain of her past and allow her to love again.

My take: 4 looks
When I read The Secret Lives of Dresses, a member of my online reading group suggested this book. She was right!

Not only does this book make you like the characters (I really want to hang out with Annie and slap the face of Roxy), it makes you want to scour the local boutiques for some vintage pieces to mix and match with your everyday wear. So many designers were named that I was sure Wolff made them up. I felt compelled to Google them, and was pleasantly surprised that they were all real! This was a winner for me, and highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

A thrilling epic about an ancient clash reignited in our time, between a hidden society and heaven's darkest creatures. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Genesis 6:5 Sister Evangeline was just a girl when her father entrusted her to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in upstate New York. Now, at twenty-three, her discovery of a 1943 letter from the famous philanthropist Abigail Rockefeller to the late mother superior of Saint Rose Convent plunges Evangeline into a secret history that stretches back a thousand years: an ancient conflict between the Society of Angelologists and the monstrously beautiful descendants of angels and humans, the Nephilim. For the secrets these letters guard are desperately coveted by the once-powerful Nephilim, who aim to perpetuate war, subvert the good in humanity, and dominate mankind. Generations of angelologists have devoted their lives to stopping them, and their shared mission, which Evangeline has long been destined to join, reaches from her bucolic abbey on the Hudson to the apex of insular wealth in New York, to the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris and the mountains of Bulgaria. Rich in history, full of mesmerizing characters, and wondrously conceived, Angelology blends biblical lore, the myth of Orpheus and the Miltonic visions of Paradise Lost into a riveting tale of ordinary people engaged in a battle that will determine the fate of the world.

My take: 4 looks
I liked this book quite a bit. It felt like a first-time novel, which it is for author Trussoni. The characters were nicely developed, to the point that I felt sympathy for the lead "bad guy". There were a few things theologically that crossed with my doctrinal beliefs, but because of the good writing, I was able to put those aside easily.

Perhaps I am jaded by other mysteries that I have read, but I was waiting, perhaps hoping, for a little more intrigue. One of the nuns was a spy, one of the Angelologist was a traitor, something like that. I trusted no one, but perhaps that was the point of the author.

The ending was rather abrupt. Like driving off a cliff when you can see the destination. I checked this one out of the library for my Nook, and had to look at the physical book at the book store to make sure that I had downloaded the entire thing. It is obvious that there will be a sequel, but the ending was a complete turnoff for me, and may cause me to not read the next one.

All-in-all, I would recommend this book, reading with a theological grain of salt and knowing that you will be left with more than a few questions.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons

Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye GibbonsSummary:
A family without men, the Birches live gloriously offbeat lives in the lush, green backwoods of North Carolina. Radiant, headstrong Sophia and her shy, brilliant daughter, Margaret, possess powerful charms to ward off loneliness, despair, and the human misery that often beats a path to their door. And they are protected by the eccentric wisdom and muscular love of the remarkable matriarch Charlie Kate, a solid, uncompromising, self-taught healer who treats everything from boils to broken bones to broken hearts. Sophia, Margaret, and Charlie Kate find strength in a time when women almost always depended on men, and their bond deepens as each one experiences love and loss during World War II. Charms for the Easy Life is a passionate, luminous, and exhilarating story about embracing what life has to offer ... even if it means finding it in unconventional ways. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

My Take: 5 looks
Even though this is a novel I will most likely not read again, I liked it so much that I will add all of this author's books to my TBR list. I enjoyed this book very much. The strong female characters spoke to me. They were strong, loving, sensitive, flawed and very believable.

The writing style was just my style. It was smart, funny, poignant and became a real voice as I read. The characters shared similarities, but were very different. They were each sympathetic, frustrating and full-bodied. I loved each one.

The book ended in a very nice and realistic way: it just ended. Much like life goes from one chapter to the next. Readers have become so used to every mystery being solved, every identity being revealed and every rock being overturned. In "Charms" there were unanswered questions, loose threads and every bit of realism that day-to-day life holds. I closed this book feeling very satisfied, and that is the best review a book can receive.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Great House by Nicole Krauss

A powerful, soaring novel about a stolen desk that contains the secrets, and becomes the obsession, of the lives it passes through. For 25 years, a solitary American novelist has been writing at the desk she inherited from a young poet who disappeared at the hands of Pinochet's secret police; one day a girl claiming to be his daughter arrives to take it away, sending her life reeling. Across the ocean in London, a man discovers a terrifying secret about his wife of almost 50 years. In Jerusalem, an antiques dealer is slowly reassembling his father's Budapest study, plundered by the Nazis in 1944. These worlds are anchored by a desk of enormous dimension and many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away. In the minds of those it has belonged to, the desk comes to stand for all that has disappeared in the chaos of the world — children, parents, whole peoples and civilizations. Nicole Krauss has written a hauntingly powerful novel about memory struggling to create a meaningful permanence in the face of inevitable loss.

My take: 1 look
I agree with another reviewer in her surprise that this book won an award. While there is supposed to be a common thread running through the book, the desk, I found the writing to be disjointed, unrelated and completely boring. All of the characters were one-dimensional, unsympathetic and easy to leave.

I have another book on my list by Krauss, and will read it, but if I have the same impression, it will be the last book by this author that I read.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Negrophilia by Erik Rush


Negrophilia studies the undue and inordinate affinity for blacks (as opposed to antipathy toward them) that has been promoted by activists, politicians and the establishment press for the past 40 years and which has fostered an erroneous perception of blacks, particularly in America. The book dissects the dynamic of race relations and race politics with an emphasis on same since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, how these are likely to develop given a Barack Obama presidency, and how conscientious Americans may discern the deeper truths of these matters and thus develop healthier perceptions.

My take: 4 looks
I am giving this one four stars because of the author's true voice in the midst of scoff and scorn. Mr. Rush has it nicely summarized: the only thing keeping blacks down is other blacks. He sees it for what it is, and calls it perfectly. Written at a higher reading level than most non-fiction I've read, sort of like a sociology thesis. I'm glad to find someone in the black community who believes like I do.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Myth of You & Me by Leah Stewart

When Cameron was fifteen, she and Sonia were best friends—so close it seemed nothing would ever come between them. Now Cameron is a twenty-nine-year-old research assistant with no meaningful ties to anyone except her aging boss, noted historian Oliver Doucet. Nearly a decade after the incident that ended their friendship, Cameron receives an unexpected letter from her old friend. Despite Oliver’s urging, she doesn’t reply. But when he passes away, Cameron discovers that he has left her with one final task: to track down Sonia and hand-deliver a mysterious package to her. The Myth of You and Me captures the intensity of a friendship as well as the real sense of loss that lingers after the end of one. Searingly honest and beautiful, it is a celebration and portrait of a friendship that will appeal to anyone who still feels the absence of that first true friend.

My Take: 3 looks
Cameron is a woman used to being on her own. Or is she? Sonia was her tried and true best friend. So why was it so easy to leave Sonia at a gas station on the interstate?
Interesting book, interesting characters, and a premise that happens to us all: the loss of a friendship. I liked the book, found it very easy to read, but it didn't engage me enough to give it 4 stars

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding new work circles Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, but the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other people whose paths intersect with theirs in the San Francisco 1970s music scene, the demimonde of Naples, New York at many points along the way from the pre-Internet nineties to a postwar future, and on a catastrophic safari into the heart of Africa. We meet Lou, Bennie’s charismatic, careless mentor; Scotty, the young musician who slipped off the grid; the uncle facing a failed marriage who goes in search of seventeen-year-old Sasha when she disappears into Italy; and the therapist on whose couch she dissects darker compulsions. A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about time, survival, and the electrifying sparks ignited at the seams of our lives by colliding destinies. Sly, surprising, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.

My review: 1 look
This book won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction?! This is what the Pulitzer Prize Board said: "inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed." Allow me to translate this for you: rockers getting old, hating it and fighting it every step of the way.

HBO is making a series out of it?! Well, they made a movie out of one of my most-hated books, White Oleander, so I can't say this surprises me. This book could read like a bunch of related short stories, so a series is probably not a bad idea. Especially when you consider the garbage on television now.

My take on this book is that it's sophomoric, pandering and whiney. Think "Housewives of New Jersey" with record contracts. You may want to read this one because of the hype, but I wouldn't recommend it unless every other book at the library is gone.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Victorian language of flowers was used to express emotions: honeysuckle for devotion, azaleas for passion, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it has been more useful in communicating feelings like grief, mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen, Victoria has nowhere to go, and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. When her talent is discovered by a local florist, she discovers her gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But it takes meeting a mysterious vendor at the flower market for her to realise what's been missing in her own life, and as she starts to fall for him, she's forced to confront a painful secret from her past, and decide whether it's worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. "The Language of Flowers" is a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about the meaning of flowers, the meaning of family, and the meaning of love.

My View: 3 looks (WARNING: Spoilers!!)
I really struggled with this review because I liked the book quite a lot; however, there were a few things that kept me from giving it four looks. First of all, I felt that the story of the fostering system was (unfortunately) on track. I grew up in a stable, loving home and cannot fathom the displacement, solitude and loneliness that must come from being a ward of the state. Couple that with people who should never be foster parents and you have a hard story to tell. the story of Victoria's childhood was handled with compassion and I understood why she escalated in bad behavior. that was excellent character development.

However, Elizabeth's breakdown was completely out of the blue and I didn't buy it at all. Her apparent love for Victoria and her desire to become a family, which falls apart the day of the adoption? Contrived, forced and theatrical. This alone cost a look from my review.

The relationship with Grant and Victoria was completely lovely, as well as her trepidation over Hazel. It was handled truthfully with raw emotion and was a very probable scenario.

I will read more by this author because I enjoyed the book. There was much, much more good than bad. Much more to relish than to forget. I wonder what kind of flower that would be...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

A very different kind of fantasy from New York Times bestselling author Shannon Hale. What if you were to meet the number-one person on your laminated list—you know, that list you joke about with your significant other about which five celebrities you’d be allowed to run off with if ever given the chance? And of course since it’ll never happen it doesn’t matter… Mormon housewife Becky Jack is seven months pregnant with her fourth child when she meets celebrity hearththrob Felix Callahan. Twelve hours, one elevator ride, and one alcohol-free dinner later, something has happened…though nothing has happened. It isn’t sexual. It isn’t even quite love. But a month later Felix shows up in Salt Lake City to visit and before they know what’s hit them, Felix and Becky are best friends. Really. Becky’s husband is pretty cool about it. H er children roll their eyes. Her neighbors gossip endlessly. But Felix and Becky have something special…something unusual, something completely impossible to sustain. Or is it? A magical story, The Actor and the Housewife explores what could happen when your not-so-secret celebrity crush walks right into real life and changes everything.

My review: 2 looks
I know, I know. Only 2 looks? I almost put this one down, but it was so easy to read that I decided to skim through some parts and finish it. *spoiler alert*

If you can get past the fantastical meeting of these two, the "witty banter" between the Felix and Becky was cute and believable about 1/3 of the way into the book. Then it just became rote and sophomoric. Their relationship never seemed to grow or develop in the 15 or so years they were friends. They talked every day, then they didn't talk for months. Becky felt secure in their friendship, then she suspects he'll never call again. Mike is alive and well, gets cancer and goes into remission all in the same chapter. Does Felix love Becky platonically or romantically? Is Becky "cheating" on her husband because her best friend is a man?

It gets cumbersome, boring and completely predictable, right down to the "we love each other, but not that way" ending. At 339 pages, it's about 100 pages too long. Maybe 150 pages. Maybe it should have been a short story...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus
Waging a fierce competition for which they have trained since childhood, circus magicians Celia and Marco unexpectedly fall in love with each other and share a fantastical romance that manifests in fateful ways.

My Opinion: 5 looks
The summary provided above (copied from the Shelfari site) is grossly inadequate to describe this book. I read the other reviews (again, on Shelfari) and although I am tempted to respond to them here, will refrain from doing so.

This book was magical. It was transporting. It was fantastical. I hated ... hated to see it end. I read pages over again because I was so enamored by the situation, response, action or pure dialogue.

The writing is superb; quite a feat for a debut novel. This is an author born to write. I was in the circus, knew the characters and felt their emotions. I was tricked, surprised, delighted and finally, completely satisfied. This is a book I will purchase to read again, and that is the highest compliment I can give.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

A bit on the elderly side (he turns 201 in March), but otherwise in the pink of health. The nonstop sex and exercise he’s still getting probably contribute to that, as does his diet: unusual amounts of flesh and blood (at least some from friends and relatives). Jake, of course, is a werewolf, and with the death of his colleague he has now become the only one of his kind. This depresses Jake to the point that he’s been contemplating suicide. Yet there are powerful forces who for very different reasons want—and have the power—to keep Jake alive. 

Here is a powerful new version of the werewolf legend—mesmerizing and undeniably sexy, and with moments of violence so elegantly wrought they dazzle rather than repel. But perhaps its most remarkable achievement is to make the reader feel sympathy for a man who can only be described as a monster—and in doing so, remind us what it means to be human. One of the most original, audacious, and terrifying novels in years.

My review:
1 look
I am no prude, but when I got to yet another description of anal sex, I put this one down. I mean, good grief, we get it already: werewolves like sex. Putting this stinker on my "do not bother" list. Because I hated it so much, I'm pretty sure Hollywood will turn it into a movie.

Reading same author

My friend Debbie (actually, she is the wife of my pastor, my Sunday School teacher, fellow book-lover, and becoming a friend) and I love the author Charles Martin. He writes Christian fiction, which I usually do not read because I find it heavy-handed, preachy and a little haughty. His writing style, however, is so real, honest and personal that I find that, not only do I enjoy his books, I think of them long after I turn the last page. Christianity is sprinkled throughout the book as a normal part of a character's life, along with the ups, downs, struggles and victories that accompany faith in Jesus for all believers.

With that said, Debbie and I stoked in one another lately a renewed desire to read Martin. She had a few and I had a few, so we compared and swapped. Last night when we met, we both agreed that to read one author's books back-to-back is not always a good thing. Debbie likened it to eating your favorite meal three times a day for ten days. While it's as deliciously prepared on the tenth day, it's not as tasty as it was that first day.

With that said, I put down the book I was reading (Where the River Ends) and will go on to another author. Authors are to be sprinkled, not poured.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Anne Rice's continued struggle with faith

I heard a story on NPR earlier this week about Anne Rice's decision to "quit Christianity." From her web site:

For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten ...years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

07/28/10 As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of ...Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

07/28/10 My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.

07/29/10 I quit Christianity in the name of Christ on this page so that I could tell my readers I was not complicit in the things that organized religion does. I never dreamed others would be so interested, or that they would feel the need to talk about their own religious struggles. But they do. And the public conversation on... this is huge, and I think important.

I must say that I agree with about 99.9% of the things she says. I would say that most thinking Christians realize that organized religion will naturally contain the same faults that mankind shoulders. If you expect the organization to be perfect, you are sure to be disappointed. However, the gist is to follow Christ while in the midst of other believers.

Rice is correct that too many people tend to put a spokesperson or leader on the pedestal, and it's clear that God knew this would happen. That's why He makes it clear that the leaders and teachers will be held to a higher standard.

To publicly eschew organized religion is a bit haughty and a sure sign of spiritual immaturity. To be so disillusioned with it is to mean that you put too much faith in it to begin with. Keep your sights on the Son and you will not be disappointed.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The 5 Best Banned Books Turned Films

Censorship Causes Blindness: The 5 Best Banned Books Turned Films

From the Random House Publishing web site, these are "The 5 Best Banned Books Turned Films":

American Psycho by

Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. He also likes little girls. And none more so than Lolita, who he'll do anything to possess. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? Or is he all of these?

It is no surprise that Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita has become one of the most challenged books of all time. By the time Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film adaptation hit theaters, five countries had already banned the book, citing obscenity. Due to the lingering sensitivities around the theme of pedophilia, Kubrick changed Lolita’s age from twelve to fourteen and cleaned up other suggestive scenes from the book. This resulted in Kubrick ultimately using only a small portion of Nabokov’s original work in the film. Almost thirty-five years after the original film, “Lolita” received a re-adaptation featuring Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain. Though many are loyal to Kubrick’s classic, we think that the modern film adaptation succeeded in being more faithful to Nabokov’s original story.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A vicious fifteen-year-old "droog" is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick's magnificent film of the same title. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to "redeem" him—the novel asks, "At what cost?" This edition includes the controversial last chapter not published in the first edition and Burgess's introduction "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."

Soon after Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation of “A Clockwork Orange” was released, protestors started targeting Kubrick and his family with death threats, prompting him to request that Warner Brothers withdraw the British distribution. The graphic violence and rapes featured in the film did not sit well with British authorities, who banned the film after a string of copycat incidents that were inspired by the film rocked the country.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Since its publication in 1954, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, about a group of English schoolboys stranded on a deserted island following a plane crash, has been both lauded and challenged. Though Golding won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1983, many continued to challenge The Lord of the Flies for reasons ranging from profanity to violence. Parents have often been the most vocal group to oppose The Lord of the Flies, given the subject matter of civilized schoolchildren descending into savagery being taught to their children. Lord of the Flies has received two film adaptations: The first in 1963 and most recently in 1990. We are of the opinion that the original film trumps the modern adaptation, as it follows Golding’s story better by featuring a British cast, in addition to keeping with the ambiguity of the characters, making it not immediately apparent which are “good” versus “bad".

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining reproduction, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin

They have one summer to find what was lost long ago. "Never settle for less than the truth," she told him. But when you don't even know your real name, the truth gets a little complicated. It can nestle so close to home it's hard to see. It can even flourish inside a lie. And as Chase Walker discovered, learning the truth about who you are can be as elusive--and as magical--as chasing fireflies on a summer night. A haunting story about fishing, baseball, home cooking, and other matters of life and death.

My Review:
5 Looks
Yes! Five looks! I looked, I liked, I looked again, and liked even more. This is a new favorite author of mine. I read When Crickets Cry by Martin a few years ago, and find myself thinking about it every now and then. That is the mark of a favorite, in my opinion. A book you think of, dwell on, and eventually want to read again.

When you read the summary, how can you go wrong with a description like that? The characters are interesting, flawed, sympathetic. The story is compelling, intriguing, satisfying. But mostly, I love the writing. It's clear, clever, descriptive. Martin doesn't waste words and doesn't scrimp on them, either. He is everything I want in an author and I am very glad he has numerous books for me to enjoy.

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Cure by Athol Dickson

National attention gradually settles on a small town in Maine, where damaged and wounded sufferers mysteriously find healing. Rumors about the town pass from ear to ear among those who most need a miracle. Destitute and nearly hopeless, Riley Keep hears of the phenomenon and journeys north to find out for himself, only to realize along the way that he is heading back to a place and people he abandoned long ago. A hope beyond his wildest expectations waits for Riley Keep, but will his past destroy this second chance at life?

My review:
2 looks
I didn't like this one very much at all. As a matter of fact, I was very disapponited and almost put it down. This is the reason I don't read Christian fiction: it's too over-the-top and a bit holier-than-thou. I found the character Riley to be too flawed to be believable, had no sympathy for him, and thought him overly simple, naive and weak. Since he was the main character, that pretty much ruined the book for me.

I do not recommend this book and will not read more by this author.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bibliophile's October Books of the Month

October's BOTMs
1. The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan (10/7)
2. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (10/14)
3. The Widower’s Tale by Julie Glass (10/21)
4. Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (10/28)

I have read The Hundred Secret Senses and The Widower's Tale, so that leaves just two for me, if I want to read them all. Although, it has been many years since I read anything by Amy Tan, I may reread it.

I am very intrigued by The Language of Flowers and have recently added it to my list. It is a new book, though, so I may have trouble getting it. I have placed a hold on one of the three copies that are returned to the library in Huntsville.

I think I will pass on Bastard out of Carolina. I remember seeing this movie on television, tuning in just at the part where the stepfather rapes his stepdaughter on the kitchen floor. Since that was several years ago and I still remember it, I don't want to read about it. There are so many books out there without dredging up the underbelly of the world.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass

In a historic farmhouse outside Boston, seventy-year-old Percy Darling is settling happily into retirement: reading novels, watching old movies, and swimming naked in his pond. His routines are disrupted, however, when he is persuaded to let a locally beloved preschool take over his barn. As Percy sees his rural refuge overrun by children, parents, and teachers, he must reexamine the solitary life he has made in the three decades since the sudden death of his wife. No longer can he remain aloof from his community, his two grown daughters, or, to his shock, the precarious joy of falling in love. One relationship Percy treasures is the bond with his oldest grandchild, Robert, a premed student at Harvard. Robert has long assumed he will follow in the footsteps of his mother, a prominent physician, but he begins to question his ambitions when confronted by a charismatic roommate who preaches --- and begins to practice --- an extreme form of ecological activism, targeting Boston's most affluent suburbs. Meanwhile, two other men become fatefully involved with Percy and Robert: Ira, a gay teacher at the preschool, and Celestino, a Guatemalan gardener who works for Percy's neighbor, each one striving to overcome a sense of personal exile.

My review: 4 looks
I am giving this one 4 looks and not a full 5 because I had such high hopes for this book when I started it, only to feel a little flat from the middle to the end. I loved the witty sarcasm of Percy, the full robustly different personalities of Trudy and Clover, and the clever writing of author Glass. However, once the characters started to take off, full of personality and flaws, I just didn't buy some of the scenarios.

For example, Percy so taken with Sarah after all this time after Poppy's death of not even a date with any one else? Then when Sarah was a bit in the background, a slight attraction to Daphne? I just didn't buy that part of the story. I also didn't quite buy the story of Robert. Were those homoerotic undertones for Turo? They were just on the surface, but never really acknowledged, much less explored. And the shock of the ecoterrorism's last exploits were a little hard to swallow. For them to go from passive-aggressive displays to a suddenly violent and destructive protest ... again, I may be naive, but I didn't see the sudden change in their modus operandi as plausible.

On the other hand, I loved the ongoing pain and coming to terms with the death of Poppy. I loved the complex and deep relationship of Ira and Anthony. I loved the conflicts, hopes, dreams and yearnings for family of Celestino.  I liked the struggle of Robert with his dreams versus everyone's expectations. I liked the background of how Ira came to Matlock.

The very rich and real characters made me enjoy this book, but the hard-to-take scenarios keep me from giving it a "favorite" rating.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Maurice Sendak's New Book

Beloved children's book author, Maurice Sendak, (Where the Wild Things Are) was the guest on NPR's Fresh Air yesterday. The interview made me uncomfortable. I had to try very hard not to turn the station.

Why? He was so sad. Very sad and reminiscent, somewhat rambling and, at times, I think he was crying. He commented that he was in a very "soft mood" because he had just experienced the deaths of two of his very close friends.

He talked a bit about his partner (Sendak is gay) of 50 years, Eugene Glynn, and his death in 2007. Sendak is an atheist, so there is no afterlife, no opportunity to see anyone again that he loses in this life. I can see how this would make him sad. He is 83 years old, so he has seen many of his contemporaries pass away.

Sendak's first words in the interview are, "It's been a rough time. I've gotten quite old..."

An excerpt from the interview:

"I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more. ... What I dread is the isolation. ... There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready."

About his new book, Bumble-ardy:
"When I did Bumble-ardy, I was so intensely aware of death," he says. "Eugene, my friend and partner, was dying here in the house when I did Bumble-ardy. I did Bumble-ardy to save myself. I did not want to die with him. I wanted to live as any human being does. But there's no question that the book was affected by what was going on here in the house. ... Bumble-ardy was a combination of the deepest pain and the wondrous feeling of coming into my own. And it took a long time. It took a very long time."

I was so sad when the interview was over.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Books to be released in October 2011

Second installment from the Book Beast section of The Daily Beast site, here are a few books set for release in October.

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
The Man Booker award-winning novelist has an almost scary affinity for language, a skill she marries to an unblinking shrewdness about the way people behave. Here she dissects a love affair barreling toward disaster. The result is a stunning study of a woman turned inside out. [Oct. 3]

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Pulitzer Prize-winner (Middlesex) Eugenides returns with a knowingly old-fashioned love story: Madeleine Hanna, an out-of-step English major in the ’80s who tilts toward Thackeray and Dickens when everyone else tilts toward Derrida, is wooed by not just one but two suitors, both wildly romantic in their respective ways, and maybe a little mad. [Oct. 11]

Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest
by Wade Davis
The notions of heroism and idealism died out almost entirely in the trenches of World War I. Six years after the Great War’s end, on the slopes of Mt. Everest, George Mallory and a group of climbers almost singlehandedly brought those noble ideas back to life. In this rigorously researched book, Davis shows how Mallory’s fatal climb reignited the idea of the hero for an entire culture. [Oct. 18]

Zone One by Colson Whitehead
A satirist so playful that you often don’t even feel his scalpel, Whitehead toys with the shards of contemporary culture with an infectious glee. Here he upends the tropes of the zombie story in the canyons of lower Manhattan. Horror has rarely been so unsettling, and never so grimly funny. [Oct. 18]

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
As with most Murakami novels, things begin in ordinary ways—a woman sits in a taxi in a traffic jam—and then quickly warp out of control: the woman winds up in an alternate universe before the cars begin to move. Add a novelist rewriting the work of a 13-year-old girl, a militant religious cult, a reclusive dowager who runs a battered-women’s shelter, and a very ugly detective, and the result is top-drawer Murakami. [Oct. 25]

Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History by Robert Hughes
Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag-Montefiore
These eternally twinned cities of Western Civ get the star treatment this season with blockbuster histories from master art critic Robert Hughes (Rome) and British historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore (Jerusalem). Between these two books it’s all there: religious violence, Renaissance icons, Mussolini, family history, the birth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and more. [Nov. 1; Oct. 25]

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
For anyone interested in economics, cognitive science, psychology, and, in short, human behavior, this is the book of the year. Before Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics there was Daniel Kahneman who invented the field of behavioral economics, won a Nobel (for his work with Amos Tversky), and now explains how we think and make choices. Here’s an easy choice: read this. [Oct. 25]

Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin
He was probably the most beloved author of all time. But the image projected through his fiction—that of a man who serenely and implacably saw into every character’s heart, who knew what there was to be known of life—was, while not a lie, certainly not the whole story. As Tomalin portrays him, with her usual uncommon skill, he was, for starters, hell at home, not at all nice to the children and beastly to his wife, on whom he famously cheated. He was, in other words, utterly fascinating, and so he remains. [Oct. 27]

I am thinking I will add Zone One and 1Q84. Both look pretty interesting. I may throw in the bio on Charles Dickens, too.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Operation Bonnet by Kimberly Stuart

Twenty-year-old Nellie Monroe has a restless brilliance that makes her a bit of an odd duck. She wants to be a private investigator, even though her tiny hometown offers no hope of clients. Until she meets Amos Shetler, an Amish dropout carrying a torch for the girl he left behind. So Nellie straps on her bonnet and goes undercover to get the dish.   But though she’s brainy, Nellie is clueless when it comes to real life and real relationships. Soon she’s alienated her best friend, angered her college professor, and botched her case. Operation Bonnet is a comedy of errors, a surprising take on love, and a story of grace.

Review: 4 Looks
I am not a fan of Christian fiction, even though I am a HUGE fan of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have read my fair share of this genre, and don't like the heavy-handed way (almost 100% of) the authors verily beat the reader over the head with their brand of Christianity.  The only book I can think of that I have ready this century that does not fall into that gross generalization is When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin, which I highly recommend.

Back to Operation Bonnet. I was very pleasantly surprised by the witty writing and real-life thoughts and feelings. There was not a holier-than-thou feel to the writing, story or message. The thread of Christianity was subtle though out the book as a standard way of life, and not some overpowering Mother Teresa-type of lifestyle. Being a Christian is a mind-set that is day-by-day, sometimes minute-by-minute for me. It's neither easy nor innate, as some would have you believe. This book made it real-life while providing a fun and entertaining story.

I will read more by this author.

Visit Kimberly Stuart's blog here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Books for Fall - September 2011 Release

Fall Books Preview
From the Book Beast section of The Daily Beast site, here are a few books set for release in September.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The hoopla surrounding this first novel’s publication—a high six-figure advance, movie rights sold, foreign rights sold in 27 countries—might distract our attention from a less powerful book. But a few pages into this story of a mysterious circus and its two stars, a young man and woman who are both capable of real magic, and you know you are in the presence of an extraordinary storyteller. [Sept. 13]

Confidence Men by Ron Suskind
Three years after the financial meltdown, the American economy is still limping along. How the recovery went awry is the subject of Ron Suskind’s reported account of the Obama White House’s struggle to fix the economy—and the response of the financial titans in New York. Still under wraps, Suskind’s book is likely to deliver fascinating revelations and a hard look at Obama’s leadership. [Sept. 20]

Last Man In Tower by Aravind Adiga
The Booker Prize-winning author of The White Tiger delivers a masterful portrait of booming Mumbai told through the struggle over an apartment building between an ambitious property developer and a humble, defiant schoolteacher. With this gripping, amusing glimpse into the contradictions and perils of modern India, Adiga cements his reputation as the preeminent chronicler of his country’s messy present. [Sept. 20]

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
Can a poem change the world? Harvard professor and bestselling Shakespeare biographer Greenblatt ably shows in this mesmerizing intellectual history that it can. A richly entertaining read about a radical ancient Roman text that shook Renaissance Europe and inspired shockingly modern ideas (like the atom) that still reverberate today. [Sept. 26]

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
Frazier once again spins a story of two people falling in love in the North Carolina mountains. It’s even the '60s again, but this time it’s the 1960s, and things move a lot more swiftly than they did in Cold Mountain—think Thunder Road meets Night of the Hunter meets old murder ballads. This is a suspenseful noir nightmare, complete with bootleggers and switchblades. [Sept. 27]

I am going to add The Night Circus, but will pass on the others. Stay tuned for books scheduled to release in October.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

Her new novel, The Story Sisters , charts the lives of three sisters–Elv, Claire, and Meg. Each has a fate she must meet alone: one on a country road, one in the streets of Paris, and one in the corridors of her own imagination. Inhabiting their world are a charismatic man who cannot tell the truth, a neighbor who is not who he appears to be, a clumsy boy in Paris who falls in love and stays there, a detective who finds his heart’s desire, and a demon who will not let go. What does a mother do when one of her children goes astray? How does she save one daughter without sacrificing the others? How deep can love go, and how far can it take you?

My rating: 4 looks
When I checked this book out of the library, the librarian said to me, "This is an author that you either love or hate." I wondered at this comment, reflecting on my prior readings of Alice Hoffman. You know, she is probably not quite as polarizing as the librarian thought, but she was definitely on the right track.

This book caught me quite by surprise. The themes and situations of the book were agonizing and heart wrenching. Sister against sister, rebellion against loving parents, lost loves, suicide, drug use, child rape. This book had it all. On the other hand, it also had love, compassion, honestly, loyalty, love found late in life, redemption, nurturing. There was, at the end, far more good than bad.

After all, isn't this what like itself is? You have much bad and you have much good. In the end, you just want the good to outweigh the bad. In this case, I was quite taken with the book. It was real life with no whitewash. The novel was honest, brutal, straightforward and beautiful.

I recommend this one.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday School Book Club?

This was my second week in a new Sunday School class. They used the first 20 or 30 minutes of the first class talking about books. The favorite series, not surprisingly, is the Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Our teacher, Debbie, has read all of the books in the series several times, it is obvious. I love how Debbie innately applies a spiritual aspect to life. All of life. In her mind, there is a spiritual application to each and every life situation.

I'll give you an example. When Debbie and I were walking from the classroom to the sanctuary, I could hear my Dad talking. Turns out he was handing out bulletins at the side door. "I can hear my dad," I said. Debbie looked at me and said, "You can hear him from this far away? There is a spiritual application here! You can hear The Father's voice from far away."

That's John 10:27
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Isn't that cool? I know I combined a couple of different ideas in this one, but the idea is that Debbie was trying to tell us that there is a spiritual application to everything, whether you are reading a book or walking down the hallway.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay


Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours. Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life. Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.

Sometimes I think the summaries give too much information. But I suppose you also can't simply judge a book by its cover. This book has been made into a movie (poster above) for French cinema and is being converted to English this year.

My review: 4 Looks
The parallel stories of a family caught up in the 1942 roundup of French Jews and a present-day journalist who finds her life intertwines with that of one of the victims. The story goes back and forth between the two stories until they eventually converge at the apartment where it first began. Written with honesty and sensitivity, I think this will make a great movie.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A better way to rate books?

Since I am reviewing quite a few books this year, I have noticed that my rating scare is not quite what it should be. I mean, I think I rate highly on one book one day that I may give a lower ranking the next day. I know that rating books is based on their ease of read, entertainment value, blah, blah, blah. However, I feel the need to get more subjective in my ratings.

With this in mind, I found the scale to the left on an initial Google search for "rating scale". I thought it was funny and I like the little pictures, and even though I don't agree with the disparaging remark about Ms. Palin (which I find a bit mean-spirited), I though enough of it to copy and post here.

So, after hardly any thought or deliberation at all, here is my new and improved book rating scale:

1 Look  I wish I hadn't looked.
This book is so bad that the irises in my eyes have constricted to such an extent that I can't read another word on this page. If I finished the book, it's because I had a bet with someone or it's so incredibly short that even I would feel badly if I put it down. More likely, though, I put this stinker down.

2 Looks  I looked and didn't like what I saw.
This book barely passes for literature and probably should never have been published, but it didn't make me want to burn it. I may, however, use it to line a bird cage or put it to use in the outhouse. I will forever be disturbed that I will never get this time back again. Probably not going to read any other titles by this author.

3 Looks  I looked and I liked it. As a matter of fact, I probably looked again.
This is a pretty good book. Maybe a little too long or maybe not quite descriptive enough. It is definitely lacking, though. I may try another one by this author, but only one more, if it is not written better than this one.

4 Looks  This is more like an ogle. I looked and turned my head to see it from the back.
This is a good book. Well written, fully-developed characters, satisfying story and makes me want more.

5 Looks  What's your name and number, baby?
This is fine, fine book. It's beautifully written and I find myself thinking about it when I am not reading it, wishing I had it in my hand. When it is finished, I miss it and wish I had read it more slowly, to savor the story and characters longer. I must own this book and will read it again and again.

So, there you have it. That is my new reading scale. What do you think?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian


A talented midwife is arrested for murder when she saves a baby by performing a Caesarean section once she believes the mother has died--only to have her assistant insist later that the woman was still very much alive. Told in the mesmerizing voice of the midwife's daughter, Midwives depicts the aftermath of the tragedy.

My review: 3 stars
This contemporary story of a home-birth gone very wrong is compelling. The characters are richly drawn and much detail is given. Maybe a little too much detail. Around page 235ish, I started skimming much of it. I would have it enjoyed it so much more if it had been about 100 pages shorter.

I am not opposed to a long book, as long as the story supports the page number, and I think this one could have been edited. I will probably read more by this author, depending on the page length.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy made into movie

Perhaps if I went to the movies more, I would have seen the trailer for this one, but here is another book being made into a movie.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a 1974 British spy novel by John le Carré.

Stop right there. There is enough in that one sentence to keep me from reading it. First of all, the title is as dry as dust. I don't have any idea what a "tinker" is. When I Google it, I find that it's an English nursery rhyme:

Tinker, Tailor,
Soldier, Sailor,
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief.

It's a clever play on words for the novel's title, I'll give the author that.

Next, the fact that it's a British spy novel completely loses my interest. I use The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley as an example. It was lauded and a best-seller. However, I am not British and therefore don't understand their customs, habits or humour (note the spelling in deference to my Engligh readers). I finished the book, but can't say that I enjoyed it and do not intend to read more of the series.

Lastly, it's already been made into a TV movie (circa 1979) starring Sir Alec Guinness. I doubt very seriously that a Hollywood production will beat it. The fact that a Swedish film director is at the helm is less impressive when you read his filmography (Bert: The Last Virgin, Office Hours, Four Shades of Brown, and Let the Right One In). Makes you want to jump right onto the Netflix website and add them all to your queue, doesn't it? No, me either.

This is probably both a book and a film that I will skip.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean

Dora has always taken the path of least resistance. She went to the college that offered her a scholarship, is majoring in "vagueness studies," and wears whatever shows the least dirt. She falls into a job at the college coffee shop, and a crush on her flirty boss, Gary. Just when she's about to test Gary's feelings, Mimi, the grandmother who raised her, suffers a stroke. Dora rushes back home to Forsyth, NC, and finds herself running her grandmother's vintage clothing store. The store has always been a fixture in Dora's life; though she grew up more of a jeans-and-sweatshirt kind of girl, before she even knew how to write, Mimi taught her that a vintage 1920s dress could lift a woman's spirit. While working there, Dora befriends Mimi's adorable contractor, Conrad. Is he after Dora, or is working from a different blueprint? And why did Mimi start writing down--and giving away--stories of the dresses in her shop? When Mimi dies, Dora can't get out of town fast enough and cedes control of the store to her money-hungry aunt who wants to turn it into a t-shirt shop for tourists. But ultimately, she returns to Forsyth, willing to battle whatever may stand in the way of her staying there. Dora can trade her boring clothes for vintage glamour, but can she trade her boring life for one she actually wants?

My verdict: 4 stars
A granddaughter rushes to the side of her dying grandmother and subsequently finds her passion in life: vintage. A little love story, a little coming-of-age, a little family conflict and a whole lot of wonderful vintage clothing. Highly recommended!

Now that I've posted my review, let me say that I have looked online at vintage clothing already. I have priced crinoline slips. I am planning a trip to my local thrift shops (first stop here because I think they will be less expensive) and then to my local vintage shops (second stop here because there aren't that many of them and they will be pricier).

Also, shoes are important! I think I probably have what I need in this category, but I will (of course) reevaluate.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman

Artfully imagined, intricately detailed, eerily poignant: these are the outstanding features of Carol Goodman’s literary thrillers. She is part novelist, part craftsman—and The Drowning Tree is her newest masterpiece. Juno McKay intended to avoid the nearby campus of her alma mater during her fifteenth reunion weekend, but she just can’t turn down the chance to see her longtime friend, Christine Webb, speak at the Penrose College library. Though Juno cringes at the inevitable talk of the pregnancy that kept her from graduating, and of her husband, Neil Buchwald, who ended up in a mental hospital only two years after their wedding, Juno endures the gossip for her friend’s sake. Christine’s lecture sends shockwaves through the rapt crowd when she reveals little-known details about the lives of two sisters, Eugenie and Clare—members of the powerful and influential family whose name the college bears. Christine’s revelation throws shadows of betrayal, lust, and insanity onto the family’s distinguished facade. But after the lecture, Christine seems distant, uneasy, and sad. The next day, she disappears. Juno immediately suspects a connection to her friend’s shocking speech. Although painfully reminded of her own experience with Neil’s mental illness, Juno nevertheless peels away the layers of secrets and madness that surround the Penrose dynasty. She fears that Christine discovered something damning about them, perhaps even something worth killing for. And Juno is determined to find it—for herself, for her friend, and for her long-lost husband. From the Hardcover edition.

My review: 2 stars
About a woman whose husband tries to kill her and their young daughter, causing him to eventually becoming a long-term patient at the local insane asylum. Her best friend ends up dead in a weird underground garden. The cop is nice, but I wonder why he owns a tuxedo. The nearby and the president of the college is hiding something. The doctor of the insane asylum seems ... well, not quite on the up-and-up.

Sounds like a pretty good basis, yes? Yes, and that's the reason I bought it. However, the author kept me just enough engaged to not put this one down, invoking the 100-page rule. Perhaps there were too many stories going here and they all kind of fizzled. You know, you can't do too many things at one time well. I guess that applies to writing, too.

The most tiring aspect of this novel was the prolific use of stained glass-making techniques, art-inspiration and mythological romances. I supposed that, since the book is titled from one of these works of art, it should be used, but I found it very cumbersome, confusing and distracting. It was almost like i was trying to read in quicksand. Not recommended unless you are (or were) a college art major.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bibliophile Challenge is Over!

So, the end of the summer reading challenge for my Bibliophile group is over, and the winner of the Amazon $50 gift card was announced.

Not me. <sigh> However, I am STILL a winner because I read over 20 books in that three-month period. I can't remember a time when I have ever been as motivated to read as I was for that challenge. As you saw in an earlier post, I am already excited about the winter reading challenge!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My next three

Here are my next three reads, put in order by my eldest son, Strat.

The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman
I can't remember why I chose this one, other than the fact that I own it, so I assume that I saw it at the Friends of the Library store for extremely cheap (the most I ever pay for a book there is $2 and I really have to want it to pay that steep a price - ha). Strat thought enough of the summary on the back cover to place it first on the list, though. I am about 100 pages in, and so far, so good.

The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean
I saw this one online and was immediately intrigued. When I saw it at the Friends store, I was shocked and excited! Grandmother-granddaughter relationship, vintage clothing store and histories of the clothing that passes though them all. Can't wait to read this one!

Midwifes by Chris Bohjalian
I am really no fan of Oprah's Book Club because I get the feeling that all of her books should come with a razor blade. This one, however, caught my eye despite this dubious distinction. About a delivery-gone-bad and the subsequent legal actions. Midwives are not commonplace in the south, where belles like to have their babies in a sterile environment, then be served three meals by someone in scrubs while wearing a fashionable Tyvek bracelet. This will be good reading.

And what do all three of these books have in common? They are from my library shelf, all trade paperbacks, and will eventually end up on I am so glad to get rid of my physical books. Not so I can be free of them, but so I will have room for more, of course!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuscaloosa by W. Glasgow Phillips

Cover of: Tuscaloosa by W. Glasgow Phillips
On the verge of entering whatever "high society" Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has to offer a young man in 1972, Bill Mitchell falls in love with an inmate at his father's mental institution. Now Bill must either muster the courage to elope with his love or accept a prescribed--but unwelcome--role within the Southern patriarchy.

This book was not a stinker, but it was just a few notches above it. Like a well-dressed, but still white trash, woman. It was clear to me that the author grew in his prose as the book was being written. It went from fairly straight-forward dialogue to the main character developing an idiosyncratic conversational style. See my Shelfari review below for the comparison.

My review: 2 stars
A young man works for his father at a mental institution in Tuscaloosa, AL, taking care of the grounds. He falls in love with one of the patients, his mother runs off with another woman in town to form a biracial-lesbian-Thelma-and-Louise pair, there is a woman in town whom everyone assumes he will marry, and his best friend blows up building and sets police cars on fire.

Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Well, I have summarized the entire book in the above paragraph. It's a weird little book, short read, with semi-clever dialogue. Speaking of dialogue, it morphs as the story progresses to sound like the narration from an episode of "My Name is Earl".

I probably won't read more by this author. While reading about him, I found that he made a film, short, or some such other media, in which he fought off ninjas with his genitals. Enough said.