Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Falling Behind...

I am behind on several book reviews:

Mistress Shakespeare
The King's Rose
Land of Marvels
and a few others that are scattered on my shelves and not in the little pile next to my computer right now

I had wanted to end the year all caught up, but somehow the last couple of weeks just got away from me. Given that my husband is visiting, it is unlikely I'll be writing several book reviews in the next several hours!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Last Stand of Fox Company by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

This remarkable book tells the unbelievable story of a small company of Marines fighting to hold open a mountain pass in Korea. Out-numbered and out-gunned, these 246 Marines hold off 10,000 Chinese soldiers determined to overtake the Toktong Pass near the Choisin Resevoir. The story of their eight day battle is a moving account of bravery and of sacrifice.

Drury and Clavin have given the reader a riveting day-by-day picture of the efforts of this extraordinary group of soliders. The narrative is enriched by what are obviously first-hand accounts from the soldiers themselves. The horrors of the days, where the Marines must battle both the elements and the enemy, are meticulously detailed, as are the ever-mounting casualties.

This book is not an easy read by any means, but even knowing the staggering losses that would be presented, I found it hard to put down. Both the writing and the story itself draw the reader in, and make finishing this book an imperative. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in U.S. military history.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Irish Americans: A History by Jay P. Dolan

If you are looking for a fairly comprehensive look at the contributions of the Irish to American politics and public life, then this is the book for you. A detailed study of the history of prominant Irish Americans, this book is a must-read for any Irish American.

The book does read a lot like a college textbook, and I can easily see it being used as such. Despite my high level of interest in the topic, the book was hard to sink into, and certainly required breaks to cleanse the palette. There is a certain amount of repetition which detracted from the reading experience, and I would have appreciated a less dry tone throughout much of the text. Regardless, the book was an excellent effort to record the historical contributions of a powerful minority population in the US, and I would recommend this book to others interested in this history.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Santa Responds by Santa Claus

I knew I would love this book from the subtitle alone: "He's had enough and he's writing back!" Basically, this book is a set letters from kids and the snarky reponses from a grouchy, overworked Santa tired of dealing with striking elves, ungrateful children, and oatmeal raisin cookies. If you are looking for something to cut the sweetness of the holiday hype, then this is the book for you. It is certainly a must-read for anyone who has ever been one of Santa's helpers- if I was convulsed with laughter, I can only imagine how those who have dealt with such requests would respond.

This book would make a great stocking stuffer; though you are unlikely to read the whole thing in one sitting, you can certainly count on a laugh anytime you open it up to read a letter or two. I'm giving it four stars because there are a few places where the humor of the kids' letters felt a bit forced, but if these letters are actual letters written by real children, then the rating goes up to a definite five stars!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

From the very moment I picked up this book, I knew I was in for a treat; the cover art so perfectly captures the mood of the book that I was pulled in instantly. Young Evie is delighted when her stepfather returns home from WWII, but it becomes clear that the Joe who returned has changed in some fundamental ways. When he unexpected takes the family on vacation to Florida, Evie meets Peter (an old war buddy of Joe's) and falls in love. When a sudden storm leads to an unexpected death, Evie has to grow up fast as she learns more and more about her family and the lies that have been told in the past. In the end, Evie herself must decide whether to lie for the sake of her family or to tell the truth despite the consequences.

The book is a wonderful example of young adult noir, and the author does an excellent job of capturing Evie's naiveté, and that awkward time of transition into adulthood. As Evie explores her feeling for Peter, she tests the boundaries of her family and begins to see some of the cracks in its foundation. When tragedy strikes, Evie finally loses her blinders and sees her family and her life for what they are before making a choice with everlasting effects.

The period language is accurate and helps set the mood of the book. It is certainly possible to see how this story would play out on the silver screen of the 1940s, and I believe young adult readers especially will relate to Evie’s plight throughout the book. This would have been a five star book had it not been for my ambivalence about the ending (no further discussion of that point is possible without risking a spoiler). All in all, an excellent YA book that many adult readers will also enjoy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain by Kirsten Menger-Anderson

I just finished this book and have to say I'm charmed. Essentially a series of vignettes that center around several generations of one family, each story is perfectly capable of standing alone. Each generation of the Steenwycks family contains at least one doctor- always on the cutting edge of medicine, often a little bit insane. I liked that some of the stories didn't actually focus on the doctors as much as on the people they treated, and loved that the city of New York itself was such an important character throughout the book.

I can understand how the structure could be off-putting to some readers, but I found that it worked well, and allowed for a more nuanced presentation of the Steenwycks family than I think would have been possible using the more typical novel construction.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Moon Shines Down by Margaret Wise Brown

Developed from a manuscript lost for decades, the story behind the story of this book is almost better than the book itself. Margaret Wise Brown, author of such beloved children's classics as Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, left behind this manuscript (and others) in a cedar trunk. Now 56 years after her death, The Moon Shines Down was finished by children's book publisher Laura Minchew.

Though there are rough patches in some of the verses, children are unlikely to notice the problems with the rhythm. The illustrations are sure to please children and adults alike, and helped me overlook the issues with the text. One note- the illustrations bear no resemblance to those of Wise Brown’s classic books, so readers hoping to recapture that era may be disappointed.

Because of the frequent mention of God, this book would not be appropriate for many settings; teachers looking for classroom books may want to check this book out of the library for review before making a final decision on purchase.

All in all, this is a wonderful addition to the Wise Brown canon. The charming rhymes and glimpses of children around the world make for a lovely global message of a bedtime story.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dogfish by Gillian Shields & Dan Taylor

As a lifetime apartment dweller, I loved the storyline about a boy on the 44th floor who has a fish yet wants a dog. I was delighted that at the end, the little boy worked to creatively turn his fish into the type of pet he really wanted (rather than simply replacing the fish with a dog). It is the beautiful illustrations that make this book a real standout; I will definitely keep my eye out for other books by this author/illustrator combination. Highly recommended!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson

I received a copy of The Mighty Queens of Freeville in the mail today, and already finished it! Though I only intended to read a few pages to get a feel for the writing, I simply couldn't put it down. This book is a memoir, the story of "a mother, a daughter, and the people who raised them"; the Mighty Queens of Freeville are the women of Dickinson's extended family who live and thrive in tiny Freeville NY.

Author Amy Dickinson writes "Ask Amy", the syndicated advice column that replaced that of the late Ann Landers (though I didn't know that when I requested the book). This book though is not about Dickinson's career; it is about the women who ultimately gave her the skills she needed to make a success of her job.

This memoir follows Dickinson from her divorce in England (when daughter Emily is a toddler) to Emily's freshman year of college. Dickinson's writing is no-nonsense and engaging. The women in her life are simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary- her mother rises above her father's abandonment and the loss of the family farm to eventually find her niche as a college professor. Dickinson is by turns funny and touching, and the book is a wonderful tribute to her family and its resilience.

I highly recommend this wonderful book. Definitely five stars, and would make a great gift for the important women in your life.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

I have to confess from the start that paranormal romance is not my favorite genre, mostly because it is so often poorly conceived and executed. Though the pacing and tone of this book started out unevenly for me, I was surprised to find myself mildly enjoying it for a few chapters.

The entire book headed downhill in my opinion once the main character discovered her unique talent- the author seemed to take entirely too much pleasure from extremely non-consensual sex for my comfort level. (I can't say more without seriously spoiling the plot.) The quality of writing dramatically sloped off as well in the second half of the book, making it extremely difficult to finish.

The book is obviously the start of a new series, but I for one won't be waiting for the next installment.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Freakin' Fabulous by Clinton Kelly

I've always enjoyed Clinton Kelly on What Not to Wear, but his wit and edgy humor really shine through in this book that basically teaches you how to be better than everyone else! I love that he devotes equal time to both fabulous shoes and his pet grammar peeves. The tone is arch but Kelly pokes enough fun at himself to make it clear is all in good fun. This well written book would be worth the purchase price for the party recipes alone- add in all the rest and you have the perfect gift for almost anyone on your holiday list. I know at least 4 friends who will be happily laughing over this offering come Christmas morning...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Twins of Tribeca by Rachel Pine

Like The Devil Wears Prada and Because She Can, The Twins of Tribeca tells the story of a young, optimistic and naive young woman taking a job in a notoriously difficult environment because she is certain (a) the stories are exaggerated, and (b) the experience will be worth it. This light book obviously tracks working for the Weinstein brothers at Miramax, and is an enjoyable enough read especially anyone interested in or involved with the movie industry.

For me, the narrative never reached the levels of The Devil Wears Prada, and the drama was much less dramatic (which is a positive for the poor narrator if not for the reader). Still, this book was nowhere near as satisfyingly evil as other offerings in the genre, and left me feeling a little flat. A decent plane or beach read, The Twins of Tribeca doesn't live up to its hype, but is well-written enough to rate three stars.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Die, Decorator, Die by Franklin H. Levy

I really wanted to like this book. I love mysteries, I love home decor- the combination seemed like a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, I could not warm to the narrator Buzz Levin, an aging lawyer who sees himself as a modern day Nick Charles. Buzz tries so very hard to make everyone else see this connection that his supposed wit falls flat, and the entire tone of his narration often seems forced.

This could have been a fun, light summer read, a mystery wrapped up in the cut-throat world of decorating, but it just wasn't. The decorating tips were silly, the story was cluttered with secondary characters that had little if any impact on the plot, and the mystery itself was never fully fleshed out until the solution was presented out of absolutely nowhere.

This book was obviously written as the first of a series, but I for one will not be on the lookout for future volumes. A little more focus on this first book could have launched a successful and enjoyable franchise, but this offering tried too hard to be too much, and ultimately fell flat.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron (with Bret Witter)

I don't read a lot of non-fiction, and I definitely don't read about cats, but I do love libraries so I bit the bullet and requested a copy of this book for review- boy am I glad I did! This book is a must-read for anyone who loves cats, libraries, Iowa, or just a feel-good story about normal people working through the hard times.

Found half frozen in the book return slot after the coldest night of the year, Dewey becomes the official cat for the local library in Spencer, Iowa and helps keep people entertained for the next 19 years. As the town reeled from the economic and social impact of the farm crisis of the 1980s, Dewey served as a touchstone, dedicating his energies to those who really needed the love and attention only he could provide.

Author Vicki Myron's love for Spencer and for Dewey shines through every page of this story, and her own inspiring story of overcome a troubled early marriage and finishing her education mirror the story of the town itself. Vicki's tireless dedication to making the Spencer library a vibrant and valuable member of the community speaks volumes; every small town librarian should take heart and find inspiration in her successful efforts.

I loved the anecdotes about Dewey's spreading fame (a Japanese documentary? really?) and his love for rubber bands, but it was the stories of people whose lives were touched by Dewey that really powered the narrative for me. I confess to tearing up at the very end, even though it was clear Vicki made the choice that was best for Dewey. When Dewey died in 2006, his obituary appeared in over 250 newspapers- after reading this book, I understand why...

All in all, I highly recommend this book!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar

Though Ariel Sabar may regret that his relationship with his father was so contentious, readers have cause to rejoice because that fractured relationship led Sabar to pen this elegant tale of his father's life and language.

Yona Sabar, a Jewish Kurd, grew up speaking Aramaic, an ancient language now all but lost. He is also a celebrated linguist who has worked tirelessly to document his language before it dies. This book traces that effort, weaving a colorful tapestry of Jewish life in Iraq, Kurdish life in Israel, and immigrant life in America.

Though the portions of the book dealing with Ariel himself were less compelling, the tales of Yona's early life in Kurdistan are hypnotic- I had a difficult time putting this book down. The writing is excellent and the character of Yona breathes throughout the book. The book is never technical about linguistics; the story of Yona's work is presented as I believe he experienced it- a treasure hunt generating excitement with each new clue.

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Where Is Home Little Pip? by Karma Wilson

Little Pip is a small baby penguin, one who always listens to her parents when they tell her to stick close and then sing about home. One day though, she chases after a black feather, so lovely against the white snow, and soon finds herself lost and alone. Trying to find her home, she asks a whale and a gull and some huskies how to find home, but none of them can help. Eventually, cold and sad, she sings her song about home to try to feel better and her parents, following the sound of her song, find her and reunite the family.

This book is well written and beautifully illustrated. The penguins are all extremely expressive and the landscape sets the stage perfectly for the story. The rhymes about home capture the attention of younger children and will help older children read along. I lent this book to my mom to read to her kindergarden class and it was extremely popular.

A wonderful book that stresses the importance of home and family and leaves readers with a smile. I hope we see more books about Little Pip in the future.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sarah's Key by Tatiana Rosnay

Before reading this novel, I knew little about the efforts of the French government to round up and deport Jews from Paris; reading this fictional account was a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. As modern-day protagonist Julia unravels the sad tale of Sarah, a ten year old Jewish girl taken from Paris during the Vel' d'Div', she also unravels the story of her French husband and his family. Working through unexpected life changes (including her husband's infidelity) and struggling still for acceptance as an American living in Paris, it is Julia's work to discover Sarah's story that gives her focus and meaning.

This is a beautifully written account of a tragic and horrifying incident in French history. Sarah's story is heart-wrenching and though it is always harder to drum up sympathy for Julia in light of that backdrop, both characters are richly drawn. The story unwinds in a logically messy fashion, but the end of the book seemed contrived which is why I didn't give it five stars. All in all, a wonderful read!

Monday, October 20, 2008

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Apart from the similarities to the current White House, I found this book to be an interesting look at the complexities of a marriage. The majority of the book focuses on the non-political portion of Alice's life, laying a solid foundation early on for the decisions she makes later in life. I believe the last section dealing with her time as First Lady was the weakest, and the very end was quite disappointing to me (can't say more without being a spoiler). In the end, I couldn't give five stars because no matter how well-imagined her character and motivations, I just could not bring myself to like Alice. Definitely worth a read regardless of your political opinions.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banned Books Week

Every year I am astonished by the books that are challenged for inclusion in libraries and schools across the country. I'm always reminded of a book I read as a child- Maudie and Me and the Dirty Book. Love them or hate them, not every book is a good fit for every person, but no one has the right to tell me what I can or cannot read. Banning books is wrong and I am disheartened that the list of books grows every year.

Here is the top ten list for 2007- read as many as you can! For the record, I LOVED the top book on the list And Tango Makes Three. It is heartwarming, it is about love and family, it is beautifully illustrated and sensitively handled, it is a TRUE story, it is about penguins, and yet it was the most challenged book last year for the following reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, and Unsuited to Age Group. One reviewer on Amazon said the book "went against everything the Word of God speaks of" which just made me sad- sad, and glad that my view of the Word of God stresses the "Love thy neighbor as thyself" message. It also makes me want to scream "but they are penguins" at the top of my lungs to people complaining about the book endorsing homosexuality, but that is a post for a different day...

Great Contest for Free Books

In honor of her 100th book review, Jane over at Devourer Of Books has posted a fun contest/book giveaway. I love the look of so many of the books on her list- go check it out...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Between Here and April by Deborah Copaken Kogan

When Elizabeth starts fainting for no discernable physical reason, she finds herself thinking of April, her best friend from first grade who just never came to school one day. As Elizabeth researches the case, she learns that April and her sister Lily were killed by their mother Adele in a car in the woods. The more she delves into Adele's life leading up to the tragedy, the more parallels she finds with her own unravelling life.

The book did get a bit heavy-handed at times, especially as relates to Elizabeth's relationship with her husband. On the other hand, the author did a masterful job of painting a picture of a woman slowly edging toward the brink with no one and nothing to stop her from plunging. The book was sad and a litle scary, and dealt with a very difficult subject with sensitivity and empathy. Highly recommended.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Songs for the Butcher's Daughter by Peter Manseau

This wonderful book is tells the tale of a young Catholic graduate with a love of language who finds himself the custodian of a library of Yiddish texts. He finds himself drawn into the story of Itsik Malpesh, the self-proclaimed greatest Yiddish poet in America. The book unfolds along two timelines, gradually merging together at the end into one seamless story. Itsik's love for Sasha, the butcher's daughter he believes is his bashert provides the main thread to both the narrative and his entire life.

I was drawn completely into this novel that traces the often dark experiences of an Eastern European Jew who ultimately immigrates to the US. The story was compelling, the characters engaging, and the denouement exciting. Manseau's use of Yiddish was masterful and the language of the novel overall was lyrical. I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Because She Can by Bridie Clark

I read this book on a recommendation, and enjoyed it (though not as much as I had hoped to before reading). Readers familiar with The Nanny Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada will recognize the basic plot: crazy boss gradually turns down to earth employee a little insane before employee remembers she is a good person and makes a break to follow her heart.

Claire Truman lands a fabulous job working for a famous publisher Vivian Grant (a thinly disguised Judith Regan) only to discover that her new boss is certifiable. Assistants rarely last a month, editors are subject to profanity-laden tirades, and books are almost a sideline at the publishing house. Add in a troubled relationship with her fiance, and you have all the makings of a bestseller.

The book is well written, and I enjoyed the inside dirt on the world of publishing (though I recommend Olivia Goldsmith's The Bestseller if you want more focus on the publishing end). All in all, this was an enjoyable book club read, and worth a 3.5 star rating.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner

Covering the years around the revolution in Cuba filtered mostly through the eyes of children, Telex from Cuba tells the story of the American community living in Cuba managing the United Fruit sugarcane factory and the U.S. government-owned nickel mine.

This book was mesmerizing- beautifully written and truly evocative of the time and place of the story. Kushner paints an indelible picture of life in the United Fruit company's outpost in Cuba, her words creating a vivid portrait of a way of life in collapse. The characters, including Cuba itself, are wonderfully drawn- true to type in many ways but just eccentric enough to stay interesting as different layers of their lives and personalities are revealed.

Knowing that Kushner's mother lived through this tumultuous time in Cuba lends even greater reality to the narrative. I picked this book up and could barely stand to put it down. The book highlights the inequalities that helped lead to the revolution, and the sadness of people on both sides when it didn't all work out as planned. I highly recommend this book.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica

Though I had never heard of the blog before receiving this book, I can only imagine how popular it must be given the subject matter. For anyone who has ever waited tables, this book will cover familiar ground- the insanity of the kitchen staff, the abusiveness of the owner, the obnoxiousness of the customers, and the mind-numbing aggravation of it all are covered in great detail. Tempering this of course are the rare moments of joy- the couple deciding to have a baby, the couple who truly enjoy their budget-busting night out thanks to the waiter's guidance.

I thought the book was a bit rough around the edges, and the underlying narrative structure was a bit weak, but the stories rang true enough to counter these negatives. Waiter Rant was an enjoyable read, one that exposes the ugly underbelly of the restaurant business. Definitely a must read for anyone who works in or patronizes a restaurant!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Tall Pine Polka by Lorna Landvik

I liked this book, but not as much as I really wanted to, and nowhere near as much as I enjoyed some of Landvik's other offerings. Though the cast of characters was initially interesting, they all seemed a little too eccentric as the novel progressed. The movie in a small town element was done better in the movie State and Main, and I for one thought there were too many subplots running throughout the novel which overcomplicated it all.

I did think that Fenny, Bill and Lee were well-drawn, developed characters, but found the entire ex-husband/abuse story line deserved more inital attention especially given its sudden importance halfway though the story. The Hollywood people all seemed fairly shallowly drawn, and poor Boyd never really got the development he deserved.

Truthfully, even a mediocre Landvik novel is better than a lot of other books out there, but I was disappointed that this novel didn't live up to her usual high standards.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

I picked up The Good Thief intending to read a few pages before bed but was unable to put it down before I finished. A 12-year old orphan at a Catholic orphanage, Ren has spend his whole life trying to unravel the mystery of his missing hand and missing family. Considered unadoptable because of his deformity, Ren had nothing to look forward to but conscription into the Army when he got too old for St. Anthony's- nothing that is until the day Benjamin Nab showed up claiming to be Ren's long-lost brother. Unfortunately, Ren soon learns that Nab's story is just a story; he in fact excels at telling people just what they want to hear.

One on level, this book is an enjoyable adventure story populated with colorful characters and some light humor. Much more compelling are Ren's attempts to unravel the mystery of his past while developing a moral code that is much less flexible than that of his savior. Enough hints of the truth are peppered throughout the story to prevent the reader from crying foul at the denouement (no spoilers here though!) and the action is well paced if sometimes a little over the top.

Both the plot and the writing style are strong; the Good Thief is an enjoyable read I will certainly recommend to friends.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Three days before her 10th birthday, Alice was taken by Ray. Now she is 15 and waiting for Ray to kill her. Unfortunately, Ray has a different plan- he wants Alice to find a new little girl to complete their family, a perfect little girl for him to love. Hollow inside from years of horrifying physical and sexual abuse, Alice can think only of being set free of Ray's incessant demands and twisted desires.

This book is deeply disturbing and only for mature readers. Alice is masterfully painted, her spare unemotional tone the legacy of years of physical and emotional torment. Her unflinching acceptance that death is likely her only escape provides a terrifying view into the mindset of an abuse victim.

I would have given the book five stars if the ending had been different. I don't want this review to be a spoiler so I cannot elaborate, but I think a different ending could have been simultaneously more satisfying to the reader and more challenging to the author. Regardless, Living Dead Girl is an unforgettable read.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

Barely out of the hospital in CA, recovering from life-saving surgery, Towner Whitney is called home to Salem MA because her great-aunt Eva is missing. Towner reluctantly returns to the town she abandoned after the death of her twin sister, only to discover her great-aunt is dead. As Tonwer and others grapple with their belief that her uncle Cal is to blame, events in town escalate toward further violence. Towner herself starts to unravel as the secret of her past are brought to light in a journey toward self-discovery and redemption.

I made the mistake of starting this book in the evening and was unable to put it down. The power of Barry's writing is undeniable; her haunting narrative pulls you into Towner's reality, and it it only gradually that you realize just how skewed that reality is. This book is a sensitive and moving narrative of one woman's attempt to recover her past in order to ensure her future.

I highly recommend this book, which is one of the best I've read this year. Five strong stars.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

This is an excellent addition to Holocaust literature for young adults. When nine-year old Bruno and his family move to "Off with" because of the "Fury", he is confused and angry- throughout the book, Bruno never really learns what is happening next door. Showing the camps through the eyes of a child on the outside of the fence was a novel technique and allowed for spare descriptions that underlined the looming horror. Once Bruno befriends a young Jewish boy, the reader knows the story isn't going to end well. Despite that knowledge, and the fact that the actual friendship is so unrealistic, Boyne's writing is so powerful that I still found myself tearing up at the end. I highly recommend this book for adults and teens alike.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Diplomat's Wife by Pam Jenoff

I read this one because the title caught my eye, and was seriously disappointed. The beginning of the story tracing Marta's ordeal with the Gestapo and her subsequent time in a refugee hospital was by far the best part of the story, but once Paul's plane crashed, both the story and the book headed downhill. Thought it opened strongly, the book never really took off for me- neither of the two big shockers were at all surprising to me because they were so telegraphed ahead of time (though knowing they were coming didn't make them any more realistic or believable...) The book had potential, but I feel like it just glossed over the issues it raised, and I never really connected with any of the characters. I certainly won't be rushing out to pick up the Kommandant's Girl because I fear it will be an equally shallow treatment of a potentially interesting story.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

in which I confess to being a terrible blogger

man this is hard. I mean, I read a lot of books, but I'm not having a lot of success writing about a lot of books. I've got a lot going on in real life these days, but I do want to get back into the swing of writing about books again. I'm going to work on it. I promise.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I have to say I am truly surprised. This is the third time I've read Jane Eyre, and yet the first time I've found anything positive about the experience. I read it once as an 11/12 year old because my mother bought me a lovely red leather-bound edition (apparently she loved the book and thought I would too). I hated it- too hard to read, too much philosophical rambling, no action, annoying heroine, etc. I read it for the second time as a freshman in high school because it was required. I no longer found it hard to read, but I still found Jane annoying and unsympathetic, and I still hated the book.

Fast forward to this year and my decision to revisit the classics, including giving Jane Eyre one last try before forever consigning it to the "I just don't understand how people can like this book" pile. All I can say is thank goodness I gave it that one last try because the book is a masterpiece. All the philosophical rambling that bored me before is now a central element to the text, superior in many way to the storyline itself. I see now that there is a lot of action for a book of its time, and Jane is certainly not annoying so much as she is inspirational. I mean, she is still a bit pious for my taste, but even so she rebels strongly against the conventions of her time to try to live a life that she finds both emotionally and spiritually satisfying.

All of the things that annoyed me when I read this book as a child are the elements that resonate most strongly with me as an adult. I read this book too early, and was too dismissive of it at the time. Like with Anna Karenina, I saw everything in black and white with the merciless clarity of a teenager; I now understand how wonderfully shaded with grey life (and good literature) often is. If you haven't read Jane Eyre since high school, I highly recommend giving it another try- definitely a 5 star!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Weekly Geeks #2

Weekly Geeks has posted a new challenge to get book bloggers to link their reviews to other blog reviews of the same book. I really like this idea because it is always interesting to see what other people took away away from a book that either I enjoyed or couldn't stand, whether the experience was shared or not.

In order to make this easier, here's a list of books I've reviewed so far on the blog (not many I know)- if you have also reviewed one of these books, leave me a comment on this post and I'll add you link to my review. Eventually I hope to set up an email for this purpose, but for the immediate future, I'll just go with this comment thread to collect the information.

I look forward to reading your reviews of the following books:
The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay
The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
A Singular Hostage by Thalassa Ali
The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa
Accidental Mother by Rowan Coleman
Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers
The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Friday, May 2, 2008

5 New Blogs (new to me at least!)

I signed up for the Weekly Geeks challenge, and found these new fun book blogs:

1) Reading Derby Darcie posted to my blog so I checked hers out as well. Great reviews and an interesting mix of books- definitely worth checking out.

2) This Redhead Reads She's a redhead. She read at recess (or tried to at least). 'Nuff said- we could be twins (except that my school let me read at recess- thanks Sister Marietta!)

3) Educating Petunia I chose this one because I call my little sister Petunia. Petunia talks about feeling bogged down by the books she should be reading and the desire to sometimes just pull some fluff off the shelf. Since I regularly reread Agatha Christie or Jane Austen just to clear my palette, I feel her pain. Interesting reviews of a nice selection of books.

4) Adventures in Reading This blog title sucked me right in, and the blog itself is a gem. In-depth reviews, lots of books I've never read, and a great voice- well worth a visit!

5) Book Addiction Heather reviews Harriet the Spy. That alone says it all!

The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

After losing her mother on her 18th birthday, Rosemary Savage arrives in 1970s New York with nothing more than $300 and a burning need to find something to fill the void. She winds up at the Arcade, a spralling used bookstore characterized by piles of books, acquisitive customers, and eccentric employees. As Rosemary tries to adjust to life away from her native Tasmania, she finds herself drawn into an intrigue surrounding a lost novel by Herman Melville.

The mystery element of this story was the weakest part in my opinion- the storyline was neither compelling nor convincing, and too many unanswered questions remained unanswered at the end of the book. Regardless, the beautiful prose was enough to carry this weak story from start to finish. The portraits of the characters were deftly drawn, and I truly felt the pain of Rosemary's extreme naiveté and her awkward relationships with Oscar and Mr. Geist. The writing is lyrical and dense, a festival for the eyes and brain that called to mind another novel of literary discovery- The Thirteenth Tale. Though I wish the details of the mystery had been more fully fleshed, I highly recommend this book for the power of the writing alone.

Other Reviews:
Passion for the Page

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

The story of a precocious 8 year-old girl seemingly unable to cope with the pressures of skipping a grade, The Icarus Girl opened strong and certainly captured my interest.

Told from the perspective of the main character Jess, the story unfolds in an appropriately disjointed fashion as she moves between England and Nigeria. Her internalization of Nigerian folk-tales as she attempts to process emerging family secrets is well-drawn, and I certainly felt her pain as her world fractures around her.

Ultimately though, I was disappointed with the deus-ex-machina ending and the total lack of resolution of any of the questions raised in the novel. The story was haunting, and Oyeyemi skillfully built tension with her talented prose, but those skills seemed to evaporate in the final 25-page section of the book. Regardless, the book was a good read, and probably rates 3.5 stars.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Singular Hostage by Thalassa Ali

In the beginning, I was totally drawn into Mariana's story and had high hopes about this novel. The hints of tragedy in her past, her love of India and her sense of adventure make Mariana a very sympathetic heroine; I for one hoped that she was going to find happiness with Harry Fitzgerald, the one suitor who seemed to understand her.

The desciption of life in India, the glimpses into the walled compounds of women, and the mystical undercurrent to Indian life added immeasurably to the narrative, until about two-thirds of the way through when the book suddenly took a turn into the absurd. Mariana's inexplicable decision to thrust herself into an untenable situation coupled with her subsequent inability to explain her way out struck me as ridiculous.

From the scene in the Maharajah's Citadel to the very end of the book, I was exasperated with Mariana and with the novel itself. The ending was rushed and left everything unresolved, a decision that makes slightly more sense now that I see there are two more installments to the story, but still weakens the quality of the book. I'm just happy to be finished with Mariana and will certainly not be picking up volumes 2 and 3 of this epic.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa

Ramchand is a quiet, slightly withdrawn clerk at the Sevak Sari House, the most elite sari shop in the small city of Amritsar. Slowly sinking into apathy because of the drudgery of his day to day existence, Ramchand is startled back into life when he is chosen to deliver saris to the soon-to-be-married daughter of the most powerful family in town. Drawn to the elegance of Rina Kapoor's life, he vows to better himself to improve his lot in life. Using his valuable savings to purchase used books, Ramchand teaches himself to read English.

In the midst of his self-improvement project, Ramchand is sent on another errand, a journey which takes him to the depths of Amritsar society. Dispatched to find an absent coworker, Ramchand learns more than he ever wanted about the tragedy of his colleague's home life. The more he learns about the crazy drunken wife of his coworker, the more disaffected Ramchand becomes with his life and the inequalities of Indian society.

This book is a well-drawn picture of the extremes of Indian society. A quick read, The Sari Shop nevertheless provokes deeper reflection on the ties that bind us all to the life we know. In an interview at the end of the book, the author talks about writing it to express her frustration with Indian society and the vast inequalities facing women and the poor. I enjoy fiction about India, and believe this is one of the better treatments I've read on the subject. This debut novel certainly points to better things to come from Rupa Bajwa.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Accidental Mother by Rowan Coleman

Though I found the beginning of this book a little clunky, the author soon hits her stride, and despite the unlikely premise, the book does work. After Sophie's friend Carrie dies in a car crash, Sophie learns she is now the guardian of Carrie's two young daughters. Surprised to learn that Carrie's husband has been gone for years, Sophie agrees to temporary custody, naively believing the children will have little impact on her swinging single lifestyle.

Bella and Izzy (the children) and their issues are well drawn, and offer some of the most poignant portions of the novel. Watching Sophie's development into a true adult as she works through issues of love and loss makes for a very enjoyable read. I also like the way Louis' character is gradually revealed through the novel. Life for these characters is like real life- messy and complicated but ultimately satisfying.

It isn't that I haven't been reading...

It's that I've been rereading. I've been sick for a couple of weeks now, and for me that means lots of time spent curled up with old favorites feeling sorry for myself. I've engaged in a veritable orgy of Agatha Christie reading, plus a dose of Austen with Pride and Prejudice. I'm behind on my book club reading (Water for Elephants is being discussed on Thursday), I haven't been able to make selections for my Decades list, and I've been terrible about blogging.

That said, I'm feeling much better and hope to get a healthy start on my book club selection tomorrow before the Oscars distract me. I'm scanning shelves again with an eye toward donating books to my library- I'm hoping have more space available will inspire me to reorganize my books and perhaps unearth some forgotten treasures. I'm determined to make some selections for Decades, and may follow SCB's example of including some books I read years ago in the mix. I just rediscovered my shelves of high school reading, and realized I would like to reread a few of those I'm sure I didn't fully appreciate the first time around. I'm also determined to give Jane Eyre another shot- I read it twice when younger (once around age 11 because my mom recommended it, once as a HS freshman for Honors English) and didn't like it at all, but I'm willing to give the Brontes another shot now that I'm an adult with a better understanding of complicated lives. Has anyone else out there reread a book they once disliked and changed opinions?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers


I confess that trying to choose books for the decades list has been overwhelming, so I've had to take a step back to mentally regroup. As usual, that mental regrouping has led to rereading some old favorites to cleanse my palate so to speak. Let me go on the record as a lover of mysteries, especially British mysteries of a certain era. With odd exceptions (P.D. James, Deborah Crombie, Elizabeth George), I dislike modern mysteries- too much blood, too much violence, too much cursing, too little plotting- but the old standbys are always worth a reread, even when I know all too well whodunit.

I've been reading Agatha Christie since elementary school, and have an admittedly troubling affection for Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. When I had worked my way through everything Christie had to offer, a helpful librarian recommended Dorothy Sayers as another writer along the same lines. I read one of Sayers' Wimsey novels (can't remember which one) and found it almost incomprehensible, it was certainly nothing at all like those Christie books I loved. With all the smug wisdom of a 13 year old, I wrote off "that Sayers woman", and happily embraced another recommendation (Ngaio Marsh who thankfully wrote another long series of Christie-like mysteries).

Flash forward some 10 or 15 years, and I picked up a Sayers novel at my local library sale- for $0.50 a book, I'll grab almost anything that looks vaguely readable to give it a try. I sped through Strong Poison and was hooked- it turns out "that Sayers woman" is a genius. I set to work acquiring the whole set, and was truly crushed that there weren't more available. I remain convinced that there were many more Peter Wimsey stories that could have been told.

Many people criticize Sayers for making Wimsey too eccentric and simultaneously too perfect, but I've never been bothered by his affectations when reading. Harriet Vane has a story that closely mimics that of Sayers herself (minus the murder charge of course) but I only learned that by reading Wikipedia, and Harriet remains a favorite character for me. The romance between Peter and Harriet spans four books (Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon) and I have to admit these are my top four of the Wimsey novels. Gaudy Night is especially notable for its detailed picture of Oxford life, and its focus on Harriet and women at Oxford rather than on Peter or on a murder (the more usual fare).

I find Sayers' writing exceptional, her references to classics educational, and her character explorations inspirational. If you like mysteries, or maybe even just a good love story with a few bodies thrown in, I highly recommend any of the four novels highlighted up above (but start with Strong Poison if you're a person who wants the story to unfold in order). The passages in Busman's Honeymoon about marriage and expectations are some of the most interesting relationship assessments I've ever read, and certainly make me stop and think even more now that I'm married and working through some of the same questions.

Other reviews (per Weekly Geeks):
A Girl Walks into a Bookstore

Monday, January 21, 2008

Decades '08


Inspired by MellaDP, I've decided to participate in the Decades '08 challenge. I'm working on a booklist- stay tuned for more details...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Watch out for those Scots!

Scottish? English? Library Thinks Twice
By Mike Wade
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 15, 2008; Page C05


The stroke of a pen at the Library of Congress -- which rebranded 700 years of Scottish literary tradition as "English literature" -- has in recent weeks generated a spluttering uproar here. And last week, faced with Celtic fury, the American institution made an undignified U-turn.

Full article can be found here.

My sister who spent a year studying creative writing and poety at the University of St. Andrews is no doubt celebrating this reversal as well. Knowing how fiercely proud the Scots are, I can't imagine how the LoC thought it would get away with rebranding all Scottish literature as English. I don't know the reasons behind the original decision to change, but do believe the change was wrong, that it confused rather than clarified as I hope the LoC intended. The rich history of Scottish writing does stand apart in style and tone and language, and should not simply be blended into the larger body of English literature to make cataloging easier. Kudos to the Scots for fighting and winning this battle!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Runaway Jury by John Grisham

The Runaway Jury is one of those old favorites that I do actually reread periodically. I find it hard to review a book like this because I do know the plot and the characters so well that it is impossible to recapture the sense of suspense and mystery that I know I experienced the first time I read it. Nevertheless, the fact that I still enjoy reading this book even without the mystery is a testament to the quality of this Grisham novel. I like the plot and the characters, and still appreciate the dry humor that permeates the novel.

Tracking the course of a civil trial against Big Tobacco, and detailing the lengths both sides will go to to secure a victory, The Runaway Jury is one of Grisham's fast-paced legal dramas. This book is probably the last Grisham book that I bought and enjoyed, and I've read it more than any of the others (except A Time to Kill). After scheming for years to make it onto the jury of a tobacco trail, Nicholas and his partner Marlee finally succeed in placing themselves squarely in the middle of a pitched battle about tobacco and product liability. As Nicholas works to gain control of the jury, Marlee works on both plaintiff and defendent, offering victory to both sides (for a high price). The twist at the end is enjoyable, and despite the fact that Nicholas and Marlee are working to undermine our entire legal system, you can't help but like them and support them in their efforts.

I picked up The Runaway Jury a few days ago when reshelving books, and decided to give it another whirl. It is an enjoyable light read that helps to cleanse the palette after more serious or depressing fare. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend The Runaway Jury.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I read Eat, Pray, Love several months ago for book club, and I have to say I was horribly disappointed. I know this is a terribly unpopular opinion, but I could not stand this book. Obviously this book spoke to a lot of people, but it truly is beyond my comprehension. Despite a great title and a decent premise, I found the the book both disappointing and aggravating from beginning to end. To me, the author came across as self-absorbed and irritating, and her 'insights' into the people she met and the places she went were shallow and annoying. The endless reflection on the horror of a marriage that didn't seem that horrible to me, and the quest for spirituality that had Gilbert chatting with God in India made finishing this book a torment.

Finding out that Gilbert got the book advance before heading out on her journey made total sense to me; I definitely felt the trip fit into the book proposal rather than the other way around. The fact that Gilbert's giant spiritual journey to learn how to be alone ends with her pairing up with a Brazilian expat was the final straw; I certainly don't believe she grew or learned anything at all about herself on this quest. On Amazon, I recommended getting this book from the library because I was seriously annoyed that I helped fund this venture by spending money on this drivel.

We read Eat, Pray, Love in book club because one of our members had just returned from her honeymoon where she read and fell in love with this book. I suppose that the honeymoon glow might have impacted her decision- goodness knows I love the movie Dodgeball because I saw it on my honeymoon. Nevertheless, no one else in my group liked this book (though no one else was as virulent in their hatred as was I). It is clear to me that I'm in the minority, that most readers love this book and the message it sends, but for the life of me I can't figure out why. If you read this one, and loved it, can you please share your reasons? Can you help me try to understand this phenomenon?

Other reviews (per Weekly Geeks):
The 3 R's

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

I picked up this book in the English language section of the bookstore in the Athens airport back in November on my whirlwind tour through Eastern Europe. I'm a sucker for airport bookstores- I always stock up on the off chance that I'm stranded for some long period of time and run out of things to read. I never do run out of English books because I stock up before I leave, but that never seems to stop me from shelling out a ridiculous number of Euros to be sure...

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is the haunting tale of a stolen life. Locked up decades ago for such outlandish behavior as dancing, Esme Lennox is finally released when the asylum in which she has been living is shut down. Esme is thrust into the care of her grand-niece Iris, a modern young women whose struggle to overcome her "unnatural" love for her step-brother gives her more in common with Esme than either could imagine. As Iris tries to unravel the mystery of Esme's existence, she learns more (though ultimately not enough) about her hidden family history, information she never obtained from her Alzheimers-suffering grandmother Kitty. The shocking ending packs a powerful punch, and leaves an indelible mark on the reader.

This remarkable novel tells the sad tale of the fate that awaited women who didn't fit society's mold not all that many years ago. Marked, and then punished, by events beyond her control, Esme was locked up at 16 and lived in a virtual prison for her entire life. Iris is also living a life constrained by society's expectations, denying her love of her stepbrother yet unable to form a strong connection with anyone else. The parallel stories highlight the similarities between these two women, but offer hope that Iris will be able to break free in a way Esme never could.

From beginning to end this book made me both sad and angry, and maintaining that level of intense negative feeling was draining to say the least. Though the ending was like a punch in the gut, I applaud the author's ability to stay true to the tone of the novel (though I might have wished for a happier ending). I also wouldn't have minded another chapter to fill in at the end, but suspect that would have diluted the power of the narrative. I highly recommend reading this book, but not if you're already having a bad day!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I thoroughly enjoyed this month's book club selection, The Book Thief, a novel I'm afraid a lot of people are missing because it was marketed as a Young Adult book here in the U.S.

Set near Munich during WWII, this novel tells the story of a young German girl living with a foster family and trying to cope with the daily realities of the war. She exerts a measure of control over her life by stealing books even though she is illiterate when her story begins. Though marketed as a teen book, I think The Book Thief far transcends that limited label. The message, the sensitivity of the subject matter, and the stunning prose mark this as a powerful novel of the Holocaust. This book is by turns gritty and ugly and redemptive, but is it always real and always gripping.

Populated with strange and wonderful characters, the story itself is narrated by Death, whose reflections lend even greater poignancy to the sad tale that slowly and artfully unfolds through the novel. Death often offers commentary on both the life of the Book Thief and on the war itself in a voice that sent chills down my spine:

An abridged roll call for 1942:
1. The desperate Jews- their spirits on my lap as we sat on the roof, next to the steaming chimneys.
2. The Russian soldiers- taking only small amounts of ammunition, relying on the fallen for the rest of it.
3. The soaked bodies of a French coast- beached on the shingle and sand.

Death views war as a harsh taskmaster, and marvels that humans have so perfected the means for mass killing. While Liesel's story focuses on the realities of the war from a personal perspective, Death's commentary keeps the big picture in focus, and reminds the reader of the context of the tale. I would highly recommend this book to any adult reader, and would love to know if any of you have read it?

Other Reviews (per Weekly Geeks):
A Striped Armchair
Historical Tapestry
Clare Swindlehurst
Passion for the Page
Dewey at Weekly Geeks

Book Reviews 2010

June 2010 (2)
Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

May 2010 (7)
The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
Breaking the Bank by Yona Zeldis McDonough
A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff

April 2010 (6)
The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran
Greyhound by Steffan Piper
Perfect Reader by Maggie Pouncey
How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler
Half Life by Roopa Farooki
The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield

March 2010 (6)
The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
Waking Up in the Land of Glitter by Kathy Cano-Murillo
And Then Came the Evening by Brian Hart
For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose
The California Roll by John Vorhaus
The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker

February 2010 (5)
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman
Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian
Never Tell Our Business to Strangers by Jennifer Mascia
Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School: We the Children by Andrew Clements
Weekends at Bellevue by Julie Holland

January 2010 (7)
Knit, Purl, Die by Anne Canadeo
Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers
Petropolis by Anya Ulinich
When Skateboards Will Be Free by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
Saving Cicadas by Nicole Seitz

Book Reviews 2009

97 books reviewed in 2009

December 2009 (12)
The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
True Colors by Kristin Hannah
What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman
The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh
One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill Alexander
The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah
Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

November 2009 (4)
After You by Julie Buxbaum
The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathie Marie Buchanan
The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson
The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell

October 2009 (6)
Everyone She Loved by Sheila Curran
William S and the Great Escape by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
The Promised World by Lisa Tucker
Secrets She Left Behind by Diane Chamberlain

September 2009 (7)
This One is Mine by Maria Semple
A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve
The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson
The Tory Widow by Christine Blevins
Unholy Business by Nina Burleigh
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen

August 2009 (5)
The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel by Maureen Lindley
Summer of Two Wishes by Julia London
Trouble by Kate Christensen
Damas, Drama and Ana Ruiz by Belinda Acosta
Idea of Love by Louise Dean

July 2009 (7)
Ravens by George Dawes Green
I Can See You by Karen Rose
The Chocolate Lover's Club by Carole Matthews
The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand
Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles
Lucky Girl by Mei-Ling Hopgood
Knight of Desire by Margaret Mallory

June 2009 (7)
Gifts of War by Mackenzie Ford
Hollywood is Like High School with Money by Zoey Dean
The Lost Chalice by Vernon Silver
Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem
Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn
Mercury in Retrograde by Paula Froelich
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

May 2009 (14)
East of the Sun by Julia Gregson
Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton
Mrs. Perfect by Jane Porter
Bella by Anne & Edward Syfret
A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Perfection by Julie Metz
Palace Circle by Rebecca Dean
Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino
Soft Spots by Clint Van Winkle
The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato
The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
One Deadly Sin by Annie Solomon

April 2009 (10)
The Devlin Diary by Christi Phillips
Flirting with Forty by Jane Porter
Darling Jim by Christian Moerk
The Believers by Zoe Heller
The Sweetness as the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide
Harlot's Sauce by Patricia Volonakis Davis
Someday My Prince Will Come by Jerramy Fine
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Deadlock by Iris Johansen

March 2009 (5)
How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson
The Mischief Maker's Manual by Sir John Hargraves
The Towering World of Jimmy Choo by Laura Golstein Crowe and Sagra Maceira DeRosen
Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling
King of the Screwups by K.L. Going

February 2009 (9)
All That I Have by Castle Freeman Jr.
A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith-Rakoff
The Error World: An Affair with Stamps by Simon Garfield
Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross
Rock Bottom by Michael Shilling
Age Before Beauty by Virginia Smith
The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano

January 2009 (11)
The Leisure Seeker Michael Zadoorian
Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer
Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Laments by George Hagen
A Thousand Veils by D.J. Murphy
Going to See the Elephant by Rodes Fishburne
Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron
Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth
The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby

Book Reviews 2008

December 2008
The Last Stand of Fox Company by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
The Irish Americans: A History by Jay P. Dolan
Santa Responds by Santa Claus
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain by Kirsten Menger-Anderson
Moon Shines Down Margaret Wise Brown

November 2008
Dogfish by Gillian Shields
Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson
Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland
Freakin' Fabulous by Clinton Kelly
The Twins of Tribeca by Rachel Pine
Die, Decorator, Die by Franklin H. Levy

October 2008
Dewey: The Small-Town Cat Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar
Where Is Home, Little Pip? by Karma Wilson
Sarah's Key by Tatiana Rosnay
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

September 2008
Between Here and April by Deborah Copaken Kogan
Songs for the Butcher's Daughter by Peter Manseau
Because She Can by Bridie Clark

August 2008
Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner
Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica
Tall Pines Polka by Lorna Landvik

July 2008
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
The Diplomat's Wife by Pam Jenoff

May 2008
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

April 2008
The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
A Singular Hostage by Thalassa Ali

March 2008
The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa

February 2008
Accidental Mother by Rowan Coleman

January 2008
Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers
The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Suddenly I've got TWO blogs?!?!?!

I've been thinking about Creativity Resolutions, and about my desire to write more, especially about what I read, and so this new blog was born. No matter where I travel, no matter where I live, books have always been a central unifying theme. My last packout from Bosnia included an ungodly number of book boxes- I probably shipped back around 1300 books! I've never been a person who gave away books; I jealously guard them and generally hate to lend them out as I fear I'll never get them back. Though I spent many happy hours in the library as a child, I've fallen out of the habit as an adult because I hate to give the books back. I've even spent time tracking down old favorites from those childhood trips that are now out of print so that I can have them in my collection- thank goodness for ebay and!

That said, I did clear out about 200 books last year as part of my Apartment Therapy cure and the process was cathartic. Recently I've been looking at my shelves again and thinking it is about time for another donation to my local library's used book sale because I'm running out of shelf space again. For me, letting go became easier when I discovered software that allows me to maintain a complete record of the donated books just in case I ever need to reread them in the future.

In honor of my books, and in appreciation of the countless hours of pleasure they have given me, I've decided to blog about them- the ones I loved, the ones I hated, the ones that made me think or laugh or scream or cry. I'll be reviewing new additions as well as old favorites, and I welcome your thoughts/opinions/comments/refutations as you see fit.