Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Knew You'd Be Lovely: Stories by Alethea Black

I Knew You'd Be Lovely is a collection of thirteen uplifting and poignant stories that one can easily identify with. Again this was a great book to keep in the car for those short trips when you are a passenger. The stories in the collections are real, touching on subjects that will make you grin, stir up past memories or tug at your heart. Because of this I was actually able to put the book down and relish each one as an individual work. This collection has made my favorites list and I bought a copy just to loan out.

5 Stars

Stiltsville: A Novel by Susanna Daniel

Stiltsville is a great book for a summer read. I love in Florida and I try to spend as much time there as I can (even though I live in PA Florida holds my heart).When reading this book I could feel the serenity and hushed sounds of the waves lapping soothingly against the pilings and feel the warmth of the sun comforting me. The story is set up not in chapters but instead in sequences of time, representing important events in the main characters, Frances, life. If you need a book where there is a lot of drama you may be disappointed, but if you love to be absorbed in a place, Stiltsville is charming.

5 Stars

The Summer of the Bear: A Novel by Bella Pollen

The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen is a fascinating story about a family dealing with the loss their patriarch. The novel takes place in Scotland, in the summer of 1979.This story is told in alternating chapters by the members of the family and by the character in the title that happens to be a circus bear. The circus bear escapes from his trainer while swimming in the ocean. This book is a tense, gripping, delightful story and a very pleasurable read.

3 Stars

Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter

I have become a fan of short stories. They are great for a car ride where I am the passenger and I can keep my mind and my obsession (reading) busy. This short story is of a returning veteran from WW1. Henry Bright has lived to tell the tale of the war with the help of a guardian angel. After the death of his wife Bright is guided by the very same angel who has followed him from the war. He needs all the help he can get with his infant son. While trying to come to terms with his life he us harassed by his father in law and his two masochistic sons.

My only problem with the book is it seemed to start in the middle of the story, but the following chapters would flashback to Bright's childhood and then also to his role in the war. Then the next chapter would return to the present day and his PTSD. All in all a good book.

4 Stars

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Good Hard Look: A Novel by Ann Napolitano

A Good Hard Look is set in Milledgeville, Georgia in the 1960’s. The story starts the night before the wedding of the town’s most beautiful Southern Bell, Cookie Himmel and her affluent fiancĂ© Melvin Whiteson. Cookie has her whole life planned out and Melvin thinks he is ready to begin life in Cookies debutante world that is until Melvin meets Flannery O’Connor, whose frank and informative descriptions of the people around her, has always offended Cookie. At the time of the wedding, Flannery, who suffered from lupus, is recovering on her family farm, Andalusia. She is in the care of her mother, Regina, and surrounded by her favorite peacocks. That night before the wedding the peacock’s cries start a riot upsetting the town and the wedding guests. The peacocks cries are an important aspect of this tale, their voices are not only disturbing but they also set up the primary emotional current that leads to disaster.

The tragic lives of Ann Napolitano's characters touched me so much and with the tragedy there came comes moments of comedy that had me laughing and crying.

5 Stars

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal

Clark Rockefeller who is also known as Christian Karl Gerhartsreier made the headlines when he kidnapped his own daughter and vanished. After years of trying the case was considered cold, they could not be found and all of the leads ended up as dead ends. When the complete account was finally put together it was discovered that Mr. Gerhartsreier had nearly pulled off the faultless crime, by impersonating numerous people during the commission of said crime. He was only caught when he left his DNA on a water glass. The book covers his marriage and divorce and shows that anyone can become anyone they want if they are sharp enough. Arrested for kidnapping of a minor and assault and battery with an armed weapon and found guilty, he will be released in 2013 It will be interesting to see how this criminally minded foreigner will fit into society as himself rather than living a lie. It is the Criminal Justice in me that makes me want to get in people’s heads.

4 Stars

Untold Story by Monica Ali

Monica Ali begins with a interesting foundation. Diana, The Princess of Wales, planned her own death and then disappeared. After undergoing plastic surgery in Brazil she then took the identity of a crib death victim, and continued to live a life of anonymity in the United States, supporting herself by working in an animal rescue facility. Of course a wrench gets thrown in the plan when an overzealous and obsessed photographer comes to town. For those still entranced by Diana and her sad story they will enjoy the what if of this book.

4 Stars

Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago

Conquistadora is a grueling journey that follows numerous generations through the adversities of running a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico. The chief character, Ana Cubillas, is cold and occasionally nasty, but the willpower she shows is extraordinary and commendable. I imagine the homestead, Hacienda los Gemelos, as being magnificent and brilliant but also disappointedly, built on slavery. Freedom is a notion that evades all the characters in this tale. Despite their sex, rank, history and wealth, each character is confined and bound by sense of duty, history and nation. Conquistadora is profound, and immersed in the conventional structure of story-telling commonly attached to historical fiction.

5 Stars

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester

Having visited San Francisco I picked this book up on a whim because I like to read stories about familiar places. Simon Winchester begins by musing about a small town in Ohio, the birthplace of astronaut Neil Armstrong and the change to geology that resulted from his walk on the moon and the progress of the hypothesis of plate tectonics. He then goes on to give a lively version of the history of geology and California, all the while changing directions and going off into captivating and entertaining side stories about people and places, as he winds his way towards April 18, 1906 and the destructive earthquake that devastated San Francisco.

5 Stars

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

I am a Steinbeck fan and I always have been. In Cannery Row as always, Steinbeck's use of speech and expressions are just stunning.

John Steinbeck follows the diverse characters of the small town of Cannery Row. The characters are well thought out and varied. Hazel is one of my favorites in how she asks questions just to hear a person speak. This has always been one of my favorite read agains and probably always will be.

5 Stars

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

Oedipa Maas has just been notified that she has been chosen to be the executor of her ex-boyfriend’s will. She is shocked and lost about how to go about this task of sorting out the affairs of Pierce (her ex). What follows is a bit of a wild ride leaving you to believe that the whole thing as a intricate, well-planned hoax aimed at Oedipa. There were some very amusing moments in this warped and enthralling plot. I was completely enthralled.

4 Stars

Paint It Black: A Novel by Janet Fitch

Paint it Black is set in Los Angeles during the punk rock scene of the 80s, this tale features Josie Tyrell, a runaway who lives by working as a model and infrequent actress in student films. She begins dating and living with Michael, an artist who is the son of renowned concert pianist Meredith Loewy and writer Calvin Faraday. When Michael commits suicide, Josie and Meredith are drawn together in spite of their clear abhorrence of each other and their different views, each attempting to hold onto their version of Michael and to understand why he took his own life. I find Janet Fitch’s as very dark and dramatic and complicated from an emotional perspective.

4 Stars

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

White Oleander is a tear-jerking account of what happens to a teenage girl forced into foster-care system because her irresponsible mother kills her boyfriend. Astrid is sent from one foster home to another with disastrous consequences. Finch takes her readers into the sinister world of the foster-care system. It's skillfully written and hurtful to read. Finch nails the despondency and anguish of what happens to children who are uprooted from an established home atmosphere and thrust into being a ward if the state where some families see foster children as disposable income.

4 Stars

Friday, July 8, 2011

Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn

Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn is a great intermediate read. Ali has been invited to spend the summer with her 4 year cousin Emma and her Aunt Dulcie at the family cottage on the coast of Maine. Ali’s mother Claire, a depressed woman who is prone to migraines is unenthusiastic about her going. Ali’s more positive father decides finally that Ali, at thirteen, needs to get out and get some new experiences. What begins as a enjoyable journey for the three, swiftly alters when a young girl named Sissy appears and gains control over four year old, friendless, Emma. As amusing and thrilling as she is to be with, Sissy turns nasty and malicious. Ali tries her best to protect Emma, but no one will listen. As the story unfurls we learn that the strange Sissy is the key to a past tragedy at the Maine cottage.

4 Stars

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Kim is the story of an Irish orphan who grows up in Colonial India as a shrewd imp (I think an Irish Aladdin). He is found by his dead father's army troop, and becomes a valuable spy. Even though it was written over a hundred years ago, provided you appreciate the necessity of weaving a spy story with a detailed study of the setting it is still easily reached for a high school student. Kipling loves India and he writes with a clear love for the land and culture. He writes from the historical point of view of a white man in Colonial India. It's a fantastic story, and any uneasiness as a result of author's beliefs and opinions should not dissuade a open-minded reader.

4 Stars

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan encompasses the women of the Kelleher family as they learn about not only themselves and develop an understanding, or at least an acceptance, for each other’s lives as they spend several weeks sharing the family's Maine beachside cottage. Chick Lit but a little sturdier than normal.

3 Stars

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is an remarkably cute and amusing book. Anna is sent to boarding school her senior year by her father. This would have been alright with her if he hadn't sent her to Paris and she doesn't even speak French. Here she makes new friends and discovers that sometimes being friends can lead to more. This book was a quick and funny read, and with the exception of being sent to Paris depicted teenage relationships both as friends and significant others that even teens can find relevant.

4 Stars

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

This historical work of fiction is based on a little know fact from history. In 1854 a Cheyenne chief suggested that the US government provide the tribe with 1000 white women who would become their brides, in trade for 1000 horses. It was the chief’s belief that this would solve the problem of the combination of the two cultures and prevent more war. Of course, the request was denied and nothing of the sort happened but this book answers the question what if it had? This book is the fictional journal of one of the women who might have been picked to become a Cheyenne wife. The reading is charming and fascinating, incorporating fragments of historical fact surrounding the lives of pioneers, settlers, troops and tribal people of the time period.

5 Stars

Anthropology of an American Girl by Hillary Thayer Hamann

Anthropology of an American Girl by Hillary Thayer Hamann is a brilliantly written novel accounting for several years in the life of a young woman named Eveline. Set in the early 1980s (which could be considered my formative years) it scrutinizes the subjects of prosperity, influence, sex, and drugs. Eveline surrounds herself with a vibrant cast of characters, who are mostly men, and infrequently loses her individuality in the process. In the end she seems to find herself and happiness.

I had a rough time with this book until around the middle. The beginning was so slow, but after awhile I was able to get into this book and what an amazing book it was. A book this size normally takes me no longer than 3 hours. This one took me three days. This could be a great book for those who are going through the switch from childhood to adulthood. However, being 40 years old and having grown up in the time period, it is great way to reminisce.

3 Stars

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Fuck Up by Arthur Nersesian

I really enjoyed reading about the New York I always imagined, sordid but wonderful. The central character was like an old friend, who was a bit aimless after going through a rough patch.

An immature lazybones in New York loses his girlfriend and his employment all in a twelve hour time period. Homeless and with nothing but the clothes he was wearing, he spends the next few nights couch surfing, trying to figure out what he needs to do to carry on. This novel narrates his descent through the darker side of New York and his ultimate flight back into normalcy. The ending was definitely unexpected and I honestly expected more from the characters.

3 Stars

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

If you are deciding if you want to donate your organs or become an anatomy class cadaver or maybe be a crash test dummy or why not get a post-mortem face lift, be sure to read this book first! Stiff is morose, but it's also side-splitting at the same time. It's everything you want to know about what can happen to dead bodies. Roach covers all aspects of "donation for science," including, surgery practice, gross anatomy lab, decomposition studies, and crash and ballistic testing. Also detailed are the standard burial topics, embalming, cremation, and coffin decomposition. The author's humor is cheeky, but she is never disrespectful toward her subjects.

5 Stars

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

I found Of Human Bondage to be a superb book that gives a friendly look at human nature, wonderfully written and appealing.

We follow Philip Clarey from his handicapped, emotionally grave boyhood, through his young adulthood. Clarey is blemished yet likeable in his humanity and he is not obstinately imperfect, but at core good-hearted. The best part of the book is that we get to watch the character grow and learn as he makes his way up through many different echelons of English society of the early 20th century. This book is approximately 100 years old and being so it still can hold up in society today.

4 Stars

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

I have always enjoyed C.S. Lewis and The Screwtape Letters is a very fascinating read and a somewhat distinctive idea. The set up is: what would a series of letters look like if they were written by one of the superior servants of the devil to a freshman or new demon who needs advice on how to trip up his human assignment and cause that human to deal with the devil.

The result is humorously sardonic, thoughtful, and witty. I'm sure the expectation of the author is that once you've realize what the devil’s traps are you can elude them in the future.

5 Stars

The Human Stain by Philip Roth

This novel was substandard and I expected a lot more from it. The story details the life of an African American college professor who has been passing as Caucasian since he was in his late teens. He hid this fact from everyone he knew, including his wife and children. His secret begins to unravel when he refers to two absent African American students with what is perceived as a racist name. Calling the students “spooks” is deemed racist, when he had actually intended the word to mean "ghosts." The writing is particularly boring and long-winded and the writing style is too intense for me. The commentary is blurred, shifting between a narrator and events. The subject matter, however, is maddening and stimulates debate. All in all a good non-fiction book.

3 Stars

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Bag of Bones follows a novelist four years after his wife has died, as he tries to overcome his writer’s block by living in the vacation home that he shared with his wife. In the process he finds that his wife may have been killed by mystical forces and he becomes caught up with a widow and her child, who are being harassed by the widow's father-in-law, who wants her daughter.

This book, simply put, was classic Stephen King as it has many elements from his other works. It also had a character's death that I was sadly unprepared for. I completely appreciated this book.

5 Stars

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley's Lover is one of those legendary books which I had never actually read. Well the wait over and I have to say it is a good book.

Constance, trapped in a rushed marriage with a disabled man, finds lust and then love with Mellors, the gamekeeper; she basically grows out of the character that culture forces upon her and heads for what is virtually a happy ending.

It seems a bit bizarre from the perspective of 2011 to think that this book was once considered too obscene to publish and in fact was considered pornography in its heyday. If you read between the sex scenes you find a very patronizing cast of characters.

4 Stars

Dragon Bones: Two Years Beneath the Skin of a Himalayan Kingdom by Murray Gunn

I really took pleasure in reading this book. I think that it was a very sincere depiction of what it was like for the author to live in a culture poles apart than how he was raised. My only complaint with the book was the lack of connection between the chapters. By the end of the book, I felt contented that everything had eventually been covered. A great book for someone who is going to be traveling somewhere new.

4 Stars

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This book sucks you in from the first page and, with its surreal superiority; it will not let you put the book down until the last page is turned.

A circus called Le Cirque des Reves, comes to town. One day the countryside sits bare, the then it is filled with many tents in a variety of size. A sign hangs at the opening, below an incredible clock; "Opens at Nightfall, Closes at Dawn." Once it opens you meander through pathways and tents all the way through the circus, finding performances and expositions that Barnum and Bailey wouldn’t dream of attempting. There are two magicians pitted one against the other to see who can outshine and outlast the other. The winner will well, win while the other will lose their life, and the lives of any inside the circus.

A brilliantly woven tale of supernatural practicality, The Night Circus has immediately become one of my preferred novels.

5 Stars