Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

I have to give Wally Lamb some credit - the man certainly has an almost athletic sense of endurance to constantly keep churning out 600+ page novels. It's hard to keep a reader's attention for that long. Lamb almost managed to keep mine for the entire novel - I started skimming on certain sections because I knew that they weren't *really* that relevant to the direct plot line. However, that being said, I really enjoyed this one, so much so that I managed to finish it in the course of a weekend, which is pretty good for me.
Anyway, the novel centers on Caelum Quirk, an English teacher, and his wife Maureen, who unfortunately happens to work at Columbine High School on the day when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris commit the atrocious mass-shooting. Maureen survives, but becomes a shell of her old self. In an effort to help Maureen recover psychologically, the two move back to Caelum's old family farm in Connecticut. A lot of stuff happens at this point - Caelum rediscovers that his family tree is a lot more gnarled than he ever imagined, Maureen is the cause of another awful tragedy, and their marriage must undergo many many hardships.
Lamb's books are always kind of depressing - he always manages to really pile on a lot of terrible things onto his (male) protagonists. At some points, I was like "oh come on, give the guy a friggin' break, already," but it really makes more some compelling reading. The one good thing about his works though, is that each characters always finds some kind of redemption at the conclusion, which is definitely satisfying.
Something that I found to be quite "fun" about this novel was that characters from Lamb's other mega epic I Know This Much is True reappear (albeit as very very minor characters, but still). It's a neat idea and kind of adds another dimension to Lamb's literary universe.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

In what is an obvious homage to Dickens, a young orphan by the name of Ren is adopted by a mysterious and charming man named Benjamin Nab. The two make their way around New England where lots of (illegal) hijinx ensue and eventually Ren discovers that he and Benjamin have more in common than he previously thought.

This debut novel by Tinti has been making the rounds in literary circuits by racking up tons of praise, but for some reason, I just didn't really enjoy this one. Maybe my problem with the novel was that I've gotten so used to serious fiction that I couldn't just lighten up. Though there are lots of Gothic images and sequences, Tinti does use a light tone when describing scenes and dialogue. But, I don't know, maybe I just don't find 12 year olds grave robbers or the thought of criminals prying teeth out of skeletons all that charming and lighthearted....Whatever, just an opinion.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Seeing as to how this novel nearly parallel's the life and times of Laura Bush, it seems appropriate that I chose to read this at a time when President Bush's term is coming to a close. Sittenfeld never states outright that she is fictionalizing Laura Bush, but the comparisons are pretty damn close - small town Alice Lindgren, a smart and sensitive (and kind of uptight) school librarian, unexpectedly falls in love with Charlie Blackwell, a rowdy, goodnatured but slightly dim-witted guy who happens to be part of the very prominent Blackwell family. The two marry and Charlie goes on to make political history as President, bringing Alice along for the ride.
I found the book to be a very quick read and mostly enjoyable, and it was nice to see the evolution of Charlie and Alice's relationship as he becomes more and more famous, however, I couldn't get past the frequent sex scenes between the two. It's obvious the book is about Laura and George W. Bush and, no offense, I really have no desire to imagine them copulating. Other than that small issue, it was still a positive reading experience.
It's being reported that Laura's memoirs will be a hot commodity in the publishing realm after Bush's term is over. It'll be interesting to compare her narrative voice with Sittenfeld's.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Bodies Left Behind By Jeffrey Deaver

I usually like Deaver's books, but............ ok, I'll just say it,,,the book kinda bored me. I mean, how much drama can there be with a bunch of people running around in the dark? And the twists, well, there were a few confusing ones. Any time I have to flip back to earlier pages to see what the heck is going on, I can't be bothered. Now, I'm not saying it was bad just that it could have been better.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

So apparently I was the only member of the library staff that hadn't read this book. Despite my tendency to shy away from historical romances, after hearing everyone in the lunchroom discuss which actor would play which character, I decided to give this novel a shot. This is the 1st in a series.

It's 1945 and World War II had ended. While on a 2nd honeymoon, Claire accidentally stumbles onto an ancient ceremonial ground and gets sucked back in time to 18th century Scotland. While there, she crosses paths with a group of Scottish clansmen and is immediately whisked into their group. One of the members of this group includes Jamie, a big beefy outlaw with a price on his head. To save her life, Jamie must marry Claire and the rest, as they say, is history. What starts out as a mutual friendship evolves into a very passionate love affair. Will Claire make it back to 1945? Will she want to?

There's a lot of sex in this book, though it's never portrayed in a gross or graphic manner. But still, after awhile, I just wanted to throw a bucket of water on the two of them. Other than that, it was a pretty fast read, though the endless dialogue in Scottish brogue kind of wore on me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Serena by Ron Rash

I think if I were to re-title this book, I'd call it "Serena: the baddest bitch of the woods" (although that probably would offend a whole lot of people, but whatever). At any rate, this novel is about a young couple who run a timber business in North Carolina during the Great Depression. At first, no one really takes beautiful Serena or her ideas about business all that seriously. That swiftly changes as even her poor husband, George, becomes a pawn in her game. Before marrying Serena, George unintentionally impregnates a local girl, Rachel. After Serena cannot bear children, Rachel and her child are her next targets.

Overall, a very dark and menacing book. If you liked MacBeth, you'd probably like Serena. I think this book had the highest body count out of any book I've read in a long time, although most of the deaths are widely attributed to tree accidents.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron

Yeah yeah yeah, I know the joke probably writes itself - a librarian reviewing a book about a library cat on a library blog. However, I'm a sucker for a decent animal memoir, even though 9 times out of 10, the animal in question usually dies at the end. And so, because I really enjoyed Marley and Me, I decided to give Dewey a shot.
On a cold night in Iowa, some jerk dumps a poor kitten into a library book drop. The kitten survives the night and becomes adopted by the Spencer Public Library. Christened "Dewey Readmore Books," the cat goes on to attain celebrity status, all the while warming the hearts of patrons and staff. Yeah, it sounds hokey, but damn, was it a cute story. Though I wasn't a fan of Myron's writing style (about as bland as it gets - there's a reason why a lot librarians aren't professional writers)), her stories about Dewey climbing the shelves and begging food off of staff members were entertaining. And I feel stupid for saying this, but I was sobbing at the end of the book (you already know how it ends, don't you?)
So I guess I perpetuate the stereotype after all. Shut up.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Back when I was a snotty teenager, my mother loaned me her copy of Gone with the Wind, declaring that it was one of her favorite books of all time. I, of course being a brat, pushed the recommendation aside and forgot all about it. Fast forward to about 3 weeks ago when I decided to give Mitchell's novel a chance after all. All I can say is what a difference a few years makes!
Set in Georgia before, during, and after the Civil War, Gone with the Wind is an epic of mammoth proportions depicting the evolution of its heroine (or villian, depending on how you look at it), Scarlett O'Hara. As the Southern Confederates bravely fight the Civil War, Scarlett and a cast of dear characters (including Melanie Wilkes, the wife of the man Scarlett is desparetely in love with and Mammy, the black nanny that raised both Scarlett and her mother from infancy) must cope with a complete change in lifestyle, battling hunger, violence, fear and even the threat of death.
Talk about a multi-dimensional character - Scarlett is fascinating - you simultaneously want to slap her for being such a bitch or commend her for her shrewdness. Though the bulk of the novel deals with Scarlett's longing for Ashley Wilkes, it's the scenes with her and Rhett Butler that are the most interesting and dynamic.
Despite the obvious racism and pro-Confederacy leanings, some say that GWTW is, in fact, the Greatest Novel ever written. After selling something like 25 million copies, I'd say that's a fair judgment. I guess Mom was right after all.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Set in any city at any time, Blindness is a story about what happens when everyone loses their vision together. Well, everyone but one brave and courageous woman. As the government struggles to deal with this massive impairment, all hell breaks loose - think Lord of the Flies meets The Road. Through all of this nightmare, the woman (none of the characters have names because what good is a name when you can't see the individual?) must bear the brunt of watching society decay into something far worse than anyone imagined.
The one time in my life where I didn't follow my cardinal rule (always read the book BEFORE you see the movie) and man, did that screw me up! This book is an extremely dark allegory for all the awful things that mankind is capable of. While you're reading the book, all of this washes over you and hits home. The film was far too literal for my taste and mildly exploitative. There are many graphic scenes of violence, rape and death that work better in the imagination then seeing it splashed for gruesome effect on the big screen.
Overall, a powerful and deeply moving book. You will be disturbed by the end.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

An entertaining novel that's full of melodrama, sex, intrigue, lifestyles of the rich and famous set in post WWII New York and California, Valley of the Dolls has been a classic soap opera read for the past thirty-plus years. The novel follows three heroines as they try to "make it" - Anne, the classic and sensible one, Neely, the young ingenue with a big voice, and Jennifer, the actress with a fantastic body. Set over the course of 15 years, readers unfortunately see the demands of fame, lost loves and struggles with drugs (the titular "Dolls")that plague each woman. I really enjoyed this one, though the end was a little depressing. The library has the movie adaptation of this, so it'll be fun to compare the two.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

2 books in one! - A Graphic Novel Extravaganza!!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Vol.2 - Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney

This graphic novel is the continuation of the life and times of young smart ass Greg Heffley. Summer has ended and there's a secret that Greg is desperately trying to keep hidden from the rest of his classmates, but his older brother Rodrick might not be so forgiving. Again, a funny and fast read. Kinney also features more of Greg's younger brother Manny, who I think is awesome.

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

This slight follow-up to the fabulous Persepolis series explores the lives of the Iranian women in Satrapi's family. The book begins with an afternoon tea at her grandmother's house. There, her mother, aunt and their group of friends tell stories about their lives as women, and, more specifically, the men they've had to deal with. Though not nearly as entertaining as Persepolis, still a good read (though the sexual content may be a little too much for some).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Set in the not-so-distant future where the government runs everything, a group of 24 teenagers from 12 different "Districts" (some as young as 12) are picked to participate to the death in the annual "Hunger Games." Told from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen, a teen who volunteers to participate to save her sister, this is a brutal but compelling tale. Who will win and at what cost?
I know some people may think this book is a total rip off of the Japanese work Battle Royale, and while the two do share a lot of similarities, I'd say there are enough differences to merit reading Collins' work. What's nice too is that Hunger Games is Book 1 of the series, so it'll be interesting to see where it goes.
At any rate, if you liked reading this, you might want to also check out the old Stephen King (Richard Bachman) novel The Running Man, which is set in the future and shares the same kind of "survive while the government tries to kill you" vibe.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bombay Time by Thrity Umrigar

Bombay Time is Umrigar's debut novel and details the lives, loves and losses of a groupof people within a neighborhood/apartment complex in Bombay. All of the characters are middle aged and the book spends a lot of time in flashback mode (maybe a little too much, in my opinion). There's Rusi and his wife Coomi, who are dealing with a deteriorating marriage, Tehmi, a widow with a lifelong curse of bad breath (after breathing in the ashes of her dead husband), Soli, the joker with a broken heart, and a cast of others.
Overall, it was a quick book..depressing at times, but when you're talking about slums, depression and the near deplorable conditions of Bombay, it's kind of hard not to feel for these people. But still, a good read.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

I'll admit that I'm not a big fan of mysteries (I'm not one for surprises). However, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I really enjoyed this "literary mystery." Amy is a washed up ex-writer who's stuck teaching about writing at adult continuing education workshops. When a classmate is murdered, Amy and the rest of the class must work together and figure out which one of them is the killer. I think the thing that I liked the most about this book is that there's a lot of time spent on what makes good fiction writing, which is something rarely seen in a murder mystery. One of the ways that Amy uncovers the killer is through the class writing samples, which is a refreshing break from all that CSI and forensics stuff that we're so used to seeing on TV and in books. All in all, a good whodunnit.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

After working my way through Murakami's Wind Up Bird Chronicle, I needed a break in the form of Kinney's charming and refreshing take on adolescence. Greg Heffley is a kid just trying to make his way in the world (and middle school). Joined by his trusty friend Rowley, Greg deals with bullies, annoying parents and school.

Told through cartoon and text, Wimpy Kid is as funny as it is honest. I mean, come on, how could you not laugh at this:

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Whoa, what a long and strange trip this book was. In a nutshell, the novel is about Toru Okada's (an "Everyman" kind of character) journey to find his wife who left him suddenly and mysteriously. But really, this book is way more than that - along the way, Okada encounters a bunch of very eccentric and weird characters. What results is an intensely surreal, bizarre and disturbing story. I like how Amazon puts it - Haruki Murakami is a master of subtly disturbing prose. Mundane events throb with menace, while the bizarre is accepted without comment.
Murakami is very popular in Japan, but for some reason, never made it into the American mainstream, which is a shame.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

There's a reason why this book has been on the top of the New York Times bestsellers list for several weeks now - it's fabulous. The novel offers a unique"take" on Hamlet set in rural Wisconsin and centers on Edgar Sawtelle and his family of dog-breeders. Edgar is mute, but this disability doesn't stop him from helping to train the famous "Sawtelle" dogs - dogs that can make their own cognitive decisions. When Edgar's father dies suddenly, his life is turned upside down as his uncle Claude tries to worm his way into the family. Despite the potential for being an obnoxious and/or arrogant rip off of Shakespeare, the story is compelling and absolutely heartbreaking.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death: Reflections on Revenge, Germophobia, and Laser Hair Removal by Laurie Notaro

When I was in library school, a friend of mine introduced me to the wonderful world of Laurie Notaro. I cannot even begin to tell you how hysterical she is - picture an older, fatter and not as sexed up Chelsea Handler. Notaro is big on doing slice-of-life essays that involve her husband, pets, friends and family and is never afraid to admit her flaws. On the contrary, it's almost as if she knows that her chin hair and belly fat are her money makers. This time around, Notaro fights with sick people on airplanes, training her new puppy and adjusting to the hippie lifestyle in Oregon. I rarely laugh out loud when I read, but there were many times when I chuckled with this one. That ought to tell you something.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Custom Van by Michael Ian Black

Fans of the TV shows, The State, Stella, and Ed (not to mention all 293849 versions of VH1's "I love the..." series) will probably be very happy upon reading Black's debut work, which contains close to 50 mini essays on a variety of topics. Such essays range from the absurd, like his fascination with scented candle shops and partying to , to quite candid, like his admitted jealousy of David Sedaris. Overall, these essays are actually really funny, mainly because Black never really takes himself seriously. If you've ever seen him doing commentary on any of the VH1 shows , this whole book has that exact same kind of irreverent tone to it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey

What a sad little novel this was. Set in current day England, the novel is split into 4 different perspectives - best friends Dara and Abigail, Abigail's boyfriend Sean, and Dara's father Cameron. The narrative deftly weaves together all four characters, though each individual has to deal with their respective personal triumphs and tragedies (e.g. Sean's struggle to abandon his years-long dissertation on Keats, Abigail's infidelity, etc). The prose is tight, but incredibly moving and emotional.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman

As a major fan of the film, I decided to give the novel a whirl. Goldman's book is designed to appear as an abridged version of a much larger satiric work by S. Morgenstern, a Florinese (fictitious) writer. I'm not going to lie - I actually believed all of this at first, so color me naive. The story is about murder, magic, torture, friendship, fencing, monsters and above all else, true love. Through various twists and turns, Princess Buttercup is about to marry the evil Prince Humperdinck, though her heart belongs to Westley. Add a bunch of wacky and wonderful characters to the mix and you have a fabulous story for the ages.

Goldman also was in charge of writing the screenplay to the film, so the bulk of the book made the leap onto the big screen, including choice bits of dialogue, which is awesome.

"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer

The story of a man growing younger rather than older, Greer's novel is both heartbreaking and kind of boring. The novel centers on Max as he struggles to accept his strange aging situation when, all the while, he longs for the love and desire of Alice. As he ages, Max has 3 chances to be in Alice's life, though each opportunity is brief and rife with roadblocks. It was an ok read...or maybe I'm just having an off week. Plus, I'm pretty sure there's some movie with Brad Pitt coming out that's basically a rip off of the book.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

At the risk of sounding vapid, whoa, this book is a total downer... Winner of, like, a zillion awards (including the Pulitzer!), The Road is a post-apocalyptic tale about a man and his son as they wander around the United States trying to survive from cannibals and the elements fueled by canned goods and their fierce love for each other. The themes of love, God, morality and mortality all tie in together into one seamless piece. McCarthy's work is dark and his imagery is brutal at times (lots of dead bodies everywhere), but it's still an oddly beautiful book. Depressing as all hell, but a powerfully moving read.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

When you are engulfed in flames by David Sedaris

(Before I give my schpiel with this book, let me just say that if you ever get a chance to go see David Sedaris read, you should definitely jump at the opportunity. I've seen him about 4 times now and every time is absolutely hysterical. His voice is what really sells his materials and makes his material go from amusing to laugh out loud. As a side note, the 2 times I've met him afterwards during his book-signing, I totally made a jack ass out of myself and I also think he might have hit on my boyfriend too.)

Anyway, this is Sedaris' 6th book and contains the same witty vignettes and wily anecdotes about his life in France, his family, and ever-so-patient boyfriend Hugh. The title refers to the longest story in the book in which Sedaris travels to Tokyo in an effort to quit smoking. The great thing about all of David Sedaris' stuff is that it's all so relatable and quirky in a "yeah, you know you're right!" kind of way. Whether it's trying to keep spiders as housepets or fighting with people on an airplane, it's all good stuff.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Are you there vodka, it's me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler

Fans of the E! show "Chelsea Lately" will undoubtedly love Handler's newest book for its bitter sarcasm, witty dialogue and humorous anecdotes. Handler spends the bulk of her book insulting and offending people, though I personally like that kind of thing. The book is more of a memoir (though in this day and age, who knows how to separate fact from mostly-fact) but a lot of the stories are more compelling than you would think. Handler is also kind of sweet when it comes to depicting her family. Sweet in a smart-ass kind of way. Overall, a pretty fast and amusing read.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Boy, this was a meaty read - full of violence, sex, mystery, love, murder, betrayal, war...the list goes on. Spanning 3 decades, Pillars explores life in the middle ages in England as the small town of Kingsbridge struggles to build a grand cathedral. For a book this size, there are a few main characters - Prior Philip, who must navigate corrupt waters to get his cathedral built, Tom Builder and his stepson Jack, who are master masons, and Aliena, a steely and independent woman. Does the cathedral get built? You'll have to read to find out...

The book is close to 1,000 pages long, but it's worth the time. You can see why Oprah selected it for her book club.Follett, who usually writers thrillers, does a pretty good job with this one. My only complaint is the fact that his characters live to be like 60 or 70. I'm pretty sure in 1142 AD, you were lucky if you made it to 40.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Meeting Famous Authors!

Peggy, a Library Assistant, was lucky enough to meet both Harlan Coben (who was promoting his book Hold Tight) and Andrew Gross (ditto for The Dark Tide). Here are some cool photos from her:

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

Ah, good ole Chuck. You can always rely on him for a zany, "out there" kind of read. This one is no exception. Porn star Cassie Wright is seeking to set the world record for the most men to sleep with on camera - a whopping 600. The novel centers on three particular individuals who are waiting turn with Cassie. There are twists and turns and lots of...weird...stuff happens. I don't want to ruin anything - lets just say that if you consider yourself to be prudish, you might want to avoid this one.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

If there's one thing I love, it's Indian authors - Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Rohinton Mistry, and now, Thrity Umrigar. Indian authors, as a rule, tend to write really depressing literature with such a light and humorous tone that it makes reading about poverty and slums much more palatable (and I don't feel like slitting my wrists afterwards).

The Space between us is a tale of 2 women of opposing social classes. Bhima (an uneducated grandmother who lives in the slums) works endless hours as a servant to Sera (a upper-middle class housewife), though the two have more of a friend-friend relationship than boss-underling one. Over the course of the novel, Umrigar details the personal histories of both women (who have helped each other equally over the years) and ultimately, the two share more than one would think. The climax of the novel is shocking, but ends on an unexpectedly cheerful note.

Scream For Me By Karen Rose

I love all of Karen Rose's books, I think she's a wonderful writer. I liked this book very much. Who doesn't like a book that has murder, love and family secrets. The main characters Alex Fallon and Special Agent Daniel Vartanian come from backgrounds that would make ours look like tiptoeing through the tulips.
When killings of women start in their old hometown and a connection is found to both, they are drawn back to there.
Alex's step sister, Bailey, goes missing and Alex thinks she might be a victim also. With all the secrets and killings going on in Dutton, Georgia, I'd stay away from that town if I were you.
Now I have to admit there alot of names and sub plots to keep track of , but hang in there it's still a good read.
And I'd recommend you read all her books.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization by W. Hodding Carter

Yup, I voluntarily chose to read a book about toilets and plumbing. This microhistory details the history behind sewage systems, aqueducts and the public's access to water, along with the discussing the growing problem with the world's overpopulation and pollution of our oceans, rivers, and lakes. Overall, the book takes an informative, yet humorous tone, though all the engineering lingo definitely went over my head. However, this book made me take the time to consider what we all take for granted - free access to running, clean water.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall

As a rule, I have a tendency to love dystopian novels - 1984, Brave New World, Children of Men, and so on. Daughters of the North is another work that slides quite nicely into that genre, albeit with a considerably feminist agenda. Cumbria (read: England) has deteriorated into a colony filled with disease and anarchy. Women are fitted with metal coils to keep from reproducing and there is no sense of personal freedom. The protagonist, Sister, escapes from her home and sets out to join Carhullan, an all female commune located far outside city limits. Once there, she becomes indoctrinated into the organization, only to find that its agenda has changed to more terrorist matters.

Overall, a good read, though the ending occurs rather abruptly. As a heroine, Sister is kind of annoying, simply because she rambles on a lot over things that probably could be stated in a few words. Oh well.

In the Clear by Steve Lopez.

I had the good fortune to see Steve Lopez speaking at the Philadelphia Free Public Library a couple of weeks ago. He is promoting his book "The Soloist", written awhile ago but about to be released at the end of the year as a movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jaime Fox. Anyway, I was so taken with Lopez I decided to read anything I could find in the library written by him. "In the Clear" was my first choice and I wasn't disappointed. A great mystery with engaging characters, the added attraction being, it's set locally with many mentions of Wildwood, Atlantic City, Somers Point and Ocean City. Steve Lopez was a columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer
for many years so he is familiar with the South Jersey resorts. The time frame of the story is when Atlantic City was expanding the casino business, and it deals with the ensuing changes that surrounding communities experienced. Add to that some citizen activists with their own personal axes to grind and you have a page turner. Give it a try, you'll like it.

--Reviewed by Pauline Brady

The English American by Alison Larkin.

The title caught my eye and the book jacket helped. This book is somewhat autobiographical as the author is, in fact an English American. She was born in America and adopted by an English couple who brought her up in England and Africa. She comes to America in search of her biological parents which turns out to be a mixed blessing, once she connects with them. Pippa(can't get much more English than that!) discovers some hidden talents, learns to be more American than her English upbringing had allowed and learns about true love along the way. Well worth reading if you're looking for something light, the ending was a bit trite, but hey, what's wrong with a happy ending now and then?

--Reviewed by Pauline Brady

Monday, May 5, 2008

Compulsion by Jonathan Kellerman

Another good book by Kellerman with Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis in good form. Murder mysteries are my favorite genre and Kellerman doesn't usually disappoint, particularly when it involves the aforementioned Delaware and Sturgis.

This book begins with what is seemingly a couple of unrelated murders, but Kellerman connects the dots nicely at the end. A bit hard to keep straight in places but well worth the time.

Get on the reserve list, people!

--Reviewed by Pauline Brady

Bound by Sally Gunning

This was an interesting book and a quick read. The main character, Alice Cole arrives in Boston in 1756 having survived a harrowing journey from London, during which most of her family became ill and died. Her father, incurring debts on board ship that he could not repay was forced to indenture Alice to a merchant in Boston at the tender age of seven.

The book records Alice's travails as she grows up, some not so bad and some terrifying. How she deals with all the bumps in the road is pretty much the whole of the book but what I found of particular interest was the recording of daily life in Pre Revolutionary times in America. Even people who were not on the bottom rung of the economic ladder had a very hard life, filled with back breaking work. And they still had time to follow current events and stir up a Revolution.

The book peters out towards the end, almost as if the author didn't know how to bring things to a conclusion, but it's worth your while.

--Reviewed by Pauline Brady

Bonk : the curious coupling of science and sex by Mary Roach.

As the author of Stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers and Spook : science tackles the afterlife, Roach is really good at delving into the details behind interesting (if not weird) subjects. Despite the racy subject, this book was no different - it was no more erotic than reading a biology textbook. Roach spends a lot of time discussing the physiological aspects of human sexuality, desire and anatomy, as well as the history behind leading sex researchers Masters & Johnson and Kinsey.

What makes the book quite humorous is when she frequently volunteers herself (and her poor husband) for sex studies, all in the name of investigative journalism. Indeed, though the book is mostly focused on scientific minutiae (which I'll admit gets a little tedious after awhile - who knew reading about erections could get a tad boring), Roach manages to keep the tone light and funny.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Hold Tight by Harlan Coben

I'm a Coben fan so I'll read anything he puts out. This one was rather more complicated than his past efforts but still a page turner. It was very confusing at the outset, and I think I helped myself by reading it almost at one sitting....that way I didn't have time to forget the characters and plot twists.

Dysfunctional families all around, a murder or two (naturally, we're talking about Coben here!) seemingly unrelated story lines that eventually(trust me on this!) come together. Coben ties it up neatly, so keep reading, it makes sense in the end.

--Reviewed by Pauline Brady

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

Another standard book club pick, this non fiction expose describes life of a fairly well off book seller and his family in post 9/11 Afghanistan. Sultan has struggled all his life (and even gone to jail) to maintain the written word in his country despite the Taliban and/or government pressures to eradicate all forms of modern culture and ancient literature. Norweigan journalist Seierstad spent several months shadowing him and his family and paints a really depressing picture for modern Afghani women. Sultan's youngest sister Leila has a particularly suffocating and bleak life.

Honestly, the book was written well and has a lot of information about the political history of the country, but MAN is it a downer.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Quicksand By Iris Johansen

In keeping with my interest in murder (reading about it, not committing it) I always enjoy reading Johansen's books. The main character in this series is Eve Duncan a forensic sculptor who's continuously looking to find her missing daughter. In this book she's being taunted by a scumbag claiming to have killed her daughter and luring her to him in order to hurt her. By Eve's side is her steady guy Joe Quinn an Atlanta detective ( but he never seems to work much) helping along the way is Luis Montalvo who, if your a fan of this series knows, wants to jump Eve's bones. Along for the grim but exciting ride is Megan Blair a psychic, kind of.
I loved the book, was a little slow near the beginning, but stick with it . It picks up quite a bit and by the end you'll be staying up all night reading.
I won't give the ending away , but even I was a little surprised. My only regret was that the book was done. Now I'll have to wait for another Eve Duncan book.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Long Walk Home by Will North

Just look at the cover on this alone makes you want to crack it open and settle in. It's a quick, pleasant read, a romance for us middle aged people. Will North is an accomplished writer and with his first novel has scored a hit. The main characters are essentially good people, who fall in love and end up doing the "right thing" even though it's not easy. I suspect that this could be one of the "great beach reads" for this year.

--Reviewed by Pauline Brady

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tomorrow by Graham Swift

Swift won the Booker Prize for Last Orders back in 2004(?)...but I don't think he'll go 2 for 2 with Tomorrow, a quick read about a family with a dark secret. Paula Hook lies awake on the eve before her and her husband Mike divulge a long kept secret to their twin teenagers. The story centers around the history behind this secret and the rationale behind it.

Truthfully, I was kind of annoyed for most of the book. The build up goes on and on for many pages with, like, no pay off whatsoever. The ideas in my mind were juicier than the real "truth" that was going to be told to her children. Though the prose is extremely well-written, I still kept saying to myself, "jesus, get to the point already"

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

Loved this book. It was a page turner, terrific characters, people you care about and lots of twists and turns. It follows another Donnelly book, The Tea Rose, equally compelling. If you're fond of family sagas either of these books will fit the bill.

India Selwyn Jones is the main character in Winter Rose, a woman born into some privilege but bent on making her way in the world as a physician. In London in the early 1900's that was a daunting task. What happens to her, people around her, including some characters from Donnelly's earlier book, makes for engrossing reading.

If you like Barbara Taylor Bradford, Penny Vincenzi you're going to love Jennifer Donnelly.

--Reviewed by Pauline Brady

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hold Tight By Harlan Coben

I'm a fan of Coben but, I did not like this book. Not even a little bit. There were way too many plots and characters to keep track of. The story was all over the place jumping back and forth from one to the other.
OK maybe it's just me, I like a book with defined characters and plot. I might just be so simple that my mind won't wrap around the chaos of this book,,,,,,,,NOT.
I find it hard to even give a description of the book. It starts out with a muder, jumps to a family with a troubled teen who they spy on via spyware, jumps to yet again a troubled family( I'd move from this neighborhood) who's son killed himself. Yadda Yadda Yadda...........
I'm taking a deep breath to calm down,,,,,, In the end you'll just have to read the book and try to stay focused and awake.........

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dear Irene By Jan Burke

I will admit as much as I love reading, I have never been able to sit and read books that are considered classics or "real" literature. In my opinion those books are for required reading in school.
I started reading this book because, honestly I had nothing else to read. This is the time I wait for the summer books from my favorite authors. But I was pleasantly surprised when I read this book. " Dear Irene" is the third installment of a series about Irene Kelly, an investigating reporter on a newspaper.
When Ms. Kelly starts receiving threatening letters and phone calls from someone calling themselves " Thanatos" she's only a little concerned, after all reporters are always getting this from weirdos. The name means " death" in ancient Greek. As the murders start happening she sees this is no ordinary nut and the letters and calls are connected to them.
Irene is now determined to find this killer before she or anyone else is hurt. Helping her is her fiance homicide detective Frank Harriman. Which is a problem because, cops and reporters don't usually get along.
Irene Kelly is the kind of person I'd like in real life brave, stubborn, honest and smart.
I liked the book but, I admit usually I like a more blood and guts book, but still a good read.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Though I'm not a fan of short stories, I enjoyed Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake as well. There was a blurb on the back of this book saying that Lahiri has a gift of using simple language to create heartbreaking characters and quite honestly, that's the reason why I've really liked all of her works. Unaccustomed Earth is no different - a series of short stories/novellas about Indians living in America and their problems/experiences combining their Americanized culture with that of their ancestry.

The second part of the book has a series of related stories linking two characters (Hema and Kaushik) and their lives together and apart. The only problem I had with this book was that I could predict the manipulative ending about 10 pages away. Usually I'm not good at that.

This book is fabulous and awesome and amazing and depressing (but in a good way). Everyone should read everything by Lahiri. Case Closed.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Erased By Marilee Strong

Because I have an unnatural fascination with the psychology of murderers and nutcases, when I saw this book I had to read it.
It's about narcissistic, psychopathic men who believe they can ( and all too often do ) murder their wife or girlfriend then make them literally disappear.
Ms. Strong uses as her reference the Scott Peterson case, but includes many other cases to show how the minds of these men work. These murders show the increase in this type of crime, so much so that it is becoming known as " eraser killings " and their culprits as " eraser murderers".
This is a good read if you are curious about how these minds work .

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Ruins by Scott Smith

I'll be honest and say that the only reasons why I decided to read this were because: a) the movie just came out and if there's one thing I love, it's a good horror movie and b) Stephen King recommended it (not to me personally, but you knew that). However, even I was pleasantly surprised at how tense this book made me. Like, really tense.

The novel centers on 4 American tourists (2 couples) plus their German friend as they make their way to visit a Mayan archeological ruin. What starts out as a fun day trip while on vacation in Cancun eventually turns into a psychological (and botannical) nightmare. I'm not one to give away plot or endings, so lets just say that the group is left stranded at the ruins with a surprising villian that is eager to destroy them.

And because I'm a sucker for blood and gore, I went to see the movie. And as always, the book was far better.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This book falls into the category where you just WISH they'd make a movie out of it even though it probably would be lousy because the scenes wouldn't match up exactly with what's in your head.

At any rate, Secret History is a lengthy thriller about a group of friends who attend a small college in Vermont and wind up murdering someone within their circle (I promise I'm not ruining anything, you find out who dies on the very first page). All of them are incredibly intelligent and highly interested in Classics. One night, they partake in a crazy Dionysian ritual and things just go downhill from there...Let's just say that people with big mouths are silenced in more ways than one.

Though there was an awful lot of "academic" talk spread throughout the novel (think classics and ancient Greek philosophy), Tartt still manages to create a taut and suspenseful read. Some readers might object to the rampant drug and alcohol use, but it actually helps to capture the paranoid and chaotic mood.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mortified: Love is a Battlefield collected by David Nadelberg

Fans of the first Mortified book will undoubtedly be amused at Nadelberg's second collection of angsty adolescent essays, centered on the idea of teenage love. The anthology features bad poetry, abysmal song lyrics, journal entries and cartoons all from the submitters' teenage archives. What makes the Mortified series so funny is the awful truthfulness in every submission - who hasn't lusted after the unattainable popular person in high school or obsessed over one of their high school teachers? Adolescence is a time of confusion, self reflection and hormonal's nice to see that we are not alone in our painfully awkward experiences.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Despite the fact that I like to think of Jodi Picoult's books as "Lifetime TV movie" fodder, every time she has a new one out, I always try to snag it (working in a Library definitely has its perks). At any rate, with Change of Heart, we have the usual suspects - the devoted and emotionally torn mother, the lawyer/public defender/judge with a heart of gold and a controversial theme with an emotionally charged ending. This time, it's concerning organ transplants, the death penalty and the potential reincarnation of Jesus. Shay Bourne is a convicted murderer on death row when he declares that he wants to donate his heart to the girl whose family he killed eleven years earlier. Now that he's made this decision, strange "miracles" have been occuring throughout the prison. Pretty hefty stuff. If you're in a book club, this one will be sure to spark many debates.

Despite the soap opera feel that Picoult's novels ALWAYS seem to have, I can't put her damn books down. This one is no exception.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

This epic 800+ page novel deals with the dual plights of twin brothers - one with schizophrenia and one without. Domenick has spent the majority of his life protecting and simultaneously hating his brother Thomas because of his disease, to the point where his own life is nearly destroyed. The narrative is told through flashbacks and also features segments of the twins' grandfather's memoirs (and though he died before their birth he, predictably enough, has foreshadowed a lot of the novel's present). The themes of love, loss, familial obligation and personal responsibility are boundless here. Throughout the book, you're not really sure which brother you pity more and though Lamb probably could have cut out about 100 pages or so, it was still a compelling read.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Duma Key by Stephen King

Stephen King is BACK!!!! with his latest "Duma Key". I used to be a big fan but his most recent efforts(before the accident) were disappointing after his early books ....see "The Stand, IT, Dead Zone"....great reads! I wasn't a big fan of the Tower series, although many were, so I opened "Duma Key" with some reservations, especially viewing the sheer weight of the thing.

Anyway, once I got stuck in I couldn't put it down....right back to his early "good stuff". It combines the usual creepiness, way out there special effects with a very warm humanity. No doubt King's own travails had much to do with casting his main character as a man who survives a shattering accident, long painful rehabilitation and the finding of a second life painting strange and disturbing pictures, very far removed from his first career as a builder and developer. The story is set on the West Coast of Florida, an area that I'm somewhat familiar with so it was easy to picture, although King, as always, does a good job of setting the scene. There's the usual cast of characters, some lovable and some, not so much. A creepy house, strange goings on at the beach, people getting sucked into "they know not what!" etc. etc. all the wonderful stuff we loved about King's early work.

Read it and see.
--Review by Pauline Brady

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Julie and Julia:365 days,524 recipes,1 tiny apartment kitchen by Julie Powell

Again, another work where the title pretty much explains the book's purpose. In 2003, Julie Powell was on the brink of turning 30 and about to enter a midlife crisis when she decided to cook all of the recipes from Julia Child's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the span of one year. During that time, she blogged about each recipe and quickly gained notoriety with a large following on the 'Net. What's nice about this book is that Powell doesn't spend a lot of time rehashing her old blog entries; rather, she gives a behind-the-scene look about what went on during her year in the kitchen (i.e. her family struggling to accept that what she was doing was actually worthwhile, problems in her marriage, her growing waistline, etc) . Powell is a very funny writer, so readers can expect some laughs along with a great deal of "food talk" Most of the recipes sounded fabulous, with some exceptions. Calves brains, anyone?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Let me start off by saying that it takes a lot for me to cry (or laugh) over a book. As in, it rarely happens and I don't even know if I can remember the last book that elicited that emotion. However last night when I finished Die, I was actually sobbing like a fool (seriously, it was kind of embarassing). The novel follows Tessa, a 15 year old girl with a terminal illness as she attempts to get the most out of life before the cancer gets her. She constructs a list of 10 things she must get done and the beauty of this is that they're things that anyone would want to do - fall in love, be famous, have sex, etc. What makes this novel so heartbreaking is not Tessa's deterioration, but seeing how her illness has affected her family and friends. Even though you know how the book ends, it's still a shock.

Downham's novel is targeted and marketed to the Young Adult demographic, but honestly, I think anyone would enjoy it. Just be prepared - Terms of Endearment and Beaches have nothing on this book.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Though I'm not one for historical fiction, after catching the steamy preview for the movie adaptation, I decided to give Boleyn Girl a shot (see for yourself at Sony's website). Gregory's novel was originally published back in 2001 and has since risen to be a ubiquitous "book club" pick throughout the country. It's definitely easy to see why, considering that the book is chockfull of meaty discussion material ranging from sex, feminist issues, political themes of the time, familial relationships and the age old search for love (and baby making).

Readers follow the plight of Mary Carey (the oft-forgotten sister of Anne Boleyn and the title's figure head) as she is used as a romantic pawn by her family in their greedy quest for riches and recognition from King Henry VIII. Eventually the tables turn and Anne becomes the proverbial apple of King Henry's eye and crown jewel of the Boleyn family. Then things start to get ugly...

Gregory's novel is a hefty one, spanning over 600 pages. It will definitely be interesting to see how the film adapts to the book's many twists and turns. Personally, I kind of loathe Natalie Portman so in a strange way, it's nice to see her play a particularly nasty character that I'll probably hate too.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Life on the refrigerator door : notes between a mother and daughter : a novel in notes by Alice Kuipers

Sometimes the simplest ideas can be so clever that it makes you go, "now why didn't I think of that???!?!" Kuiper's novel is exactly what its title suggests - literal notes that pass between a mother and daughter on their shared refrigerator. It's amazing to see how just a few scant lines here and there (one note simply reads: "Yes") can create such a compelling and surprisingly emotional narrative. It's also amazing to watch the communication between mother and daughter evolve from a simple relationship to a highly mature one.

And of course, it makes sense that Kuipers would precede her book with the famous William Carlos Williams poem "This is to Say":

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

Fans of David Sedaris and Dave Eggers will undoubtedly appreciate this memoir by Kimmel, nicknamed "Zippy" because of her boundless energy as a child. Growing up in Mooreland, Indiana (population: 300), Kimmel regales readers with stories of her youth, family and eccentric neighbors with a quirkyhumor and surprising sense of sarcasm. The fight between her father, their next door neighbor, and a few dozen hounds is definitely entertaining.
Overall, Kimmel's vignettes come together for a charming narrative and the book concludes on an especially nice note.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

I'm a pretty fast reader for the most part, but even I was surprised that I was able to get through Dictionary in 2 days. Honestly though, it was because it was that good. The book follows Z, a young Chinese woman who is granted the opportunity to learn English in the UK. Along the way, she meets a mysterious man and they become lovers. As can be expected, the relationship soon becomes turbulent with clashes over culture, the language barrier, and standard "love" issues. The interesting thing about this book is that Z's narrative starts off with horrible grammar, spelling and punctuation, but improves as she becomes acclimated to Western life.

Overall, a funny yet bittersweet read.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mozart's Sister by Rita Charbonnier

Who could forget Tom Hulse's hooting laugh and antics when he played Mozart in the film Amadeus? Who could forget the vision of his tiny hands producing melody after melody on the harsichord at the age of four? Mozart and his musical genius have fascinated us for over two hundred years. But Mozart was not the only prodigy in his famous family--Nannerl Mozart performed for all the crowned heads of Europe along with her younger brother Wolfgang until she became a teenager.
Rita Charbonnier's novel Mozart's Sister tells another tale--of a musical genius forced because of her sex to always be in the background of his fame. In this book Nannerl comes alive with a wicked temper, amazing imagination, and always a passion for music. Nannerl is forced by her tyrant father Leopold to stop performing and begin teaching piano to a succession of untalented students while her parents and brother travel through Europe on an endless concert tour. She is so furious with them that she destroys all her precious compositions and retreats into an angry silence. Only the right man can free this enchanted "princess" of music, and he does but at the cost of the delicate balance of the Mozart family.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Widow for One Year by John Irving

John Irving is one of those writers that people are always like "OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO READ HIM!!!" which is strange, considering I have tried to read The World According to Garp about 3 different times and could never get into it. Thankfully though, I was able to get through Widow in about a week (I'm a fast reader when I want to be...thanks to the WGA strike!) A hefty 500+ pages, this is a story about a very dysfunctional and sexually charged family of writers who live on the East End of Long Island. Overall, this was a pretty good read, although for some reason, Irving had this weird compulsion to keep bringing up how spectacular Ruth Cole's breasts were. At any rate, the story had a nice pace to it, some international travel, gratuitous sex scenes, and a happy ending. Sometimes, you can't go wrong with that.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

Far and away, my favorite book for 2007 (Entertainment Weekly also thought so as well). Shriver's novel delves deeply into the psychological realm of that nagging "what if" scenario. In chapter 1, Irina reaches a critical junction on the night of her friend Ramsey's birthday- should she continue to stay with her always-safe-but-boring husband Lawrence or run away with the sexy snooker (think billiards) player Ramsey. Shriver does what we all wish we could do and splits her novel into Irina's two scenarios. What's especially interesting is seeing how the consequences of each decision intermingle with each other as they play out. Is there ever just one "right" decision? Is predictability and comfort a proper substitute for passion?

This book is so fabulous and if you can just get through the excessive snooker jargon, you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The dive from Clausen's pier by Ann Packer

This debut from Ann Packer certainly packs an emotional punch with readers. The novel centers around Carrie, a young woman who is struggling to deal with the relationship with her fiance Mike after he suffers a tragic accident that leaves him a quadriplegic. Carrie has been with Mike for a major portion of her life and she's only in her early 20s! You can definitely sympathize with Carrie throughout the book as she tries to carve out a life of her own while always taking Mike into consideration.

This novel heavily focuses on the notion of obligation, personal responsibility and what are the true definitions of love. Expect to shed a few tears while you're at it.

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