Monday, August 29, 2011

Light in August by William Faulkner

While I believe that the Sound and the Fury is still Faulkner's paramount novel, Light in August is a close second and it is definitely an easier read. The tale of Joe Christmas, a half black and white man, who is outside of any society, accepted by no one, and treated as an pariah, is compared and contrasted with the tale of Lena Grove, a pregnant woman who is acknowledged and assisted by everyone and lastly the first two are compiled with the story of Reverend Hightower whose tale presents a kind of powerless southern morals, unable in the face of racism and lack of knowledge to change anything. The ebb and flow of the intertwining stories is classic Faulkner.

4 Stars

A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard

Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped from her bus stop at 11 years old and held captive for 18 years during which time she was physically abused, raped, and controlled by the pedophile Phillip Garrido and his wife Nancy. Here in her memoir, Jaycee describes how she lives to tell the tale and who she has become after her epic struggle. Most of the chapters are set up starting with telling of a horrendous incident from the perspective of her captivity when she was younger and then ends the chapter with a section where she talks about what happened from an adult, no longer captive perspective. This perspective removed the focal point from the horrors and placed it on her survivor's mindset. This book really is not a book about the abuse but instead how she grew into a strong, selfless woman despite her captivity. I congratulate Ms Dugard’s courageousness and dedication to not letting hatred and animosity take over her life.

5 Stars

One Day by David Nicholls

One Day documents the tale of two friends, Emma and Dexter, on July 15th of each year that they have known each other. This itself was an innovative way of story telling. Emily and Dexter take us along the path of adulthood as two friends they toil through sorrow, love, dependence, excellent jobs, dreadful jobs, travels, and break ups. At first, I was doubtful about this book. I found it odd at first to only read about their lives on July 15 of each year but the more I read the more I realized that David Nicholls does such a good job at depicting a portrait of the lives of these two people that all you need is that one day a year. At times I had no concept where the book was going and I grew drained with all the drama that surrounded Dexter but I stuck with it. All in all a good book.

3 Stars

I’ll Mature When I’m Dead by Dave Barry

Dave Barry materializes like a ghost out of retirement with a new anthology of works about such diverse topics as parenthood, and colonoscopies, with parodies of 24 and Twilight (one of my favorites) thrown in for good measure.
Even though I love Dave Barry, and he's hilarious to the highest degree there were times during the book that he's too clichéd for me. This book is a ideal balance of what Barry does best. Barry is retired from newspaper column writing, so he has freedom to make these essays without editorial constraints. He's older, wiser, and in a introspective mood but he’s also amusing, silly and downright juvenile at times. But then he balances the goofiness with an essay about his brother's cancer and the need to get a colonoscopy. Or he gets emotional about his son's wedding. This book is a perfect blend.

5 Stars

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

Girl in Hyacinth Blue paints portraits in the psyche capturing a sequence of reverse sequential relationships with a captivating work of art. Each owner's life is skillfully detailed and radiantly captured. I really enjoyed this book and the way it ignited many thoughts about the role of art in individual lives. It was easy for me to connect with each of the characters even though they made diminutive appearances in each narrative. Vreeland made the art come to life by showing the impact that the painting had on so many diverse people.

5 Stars

Here is another great review for Another Bad Dog by Joni B Cole

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Another Bad-Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior by Joni B Cole

In Joni B Cole's new book "For Every Bad Dog, There's A Very Good Story" the Pushcart Prize Nominee adopts a dog in her quest for youth. Her stories aren't just about her dog, E Pie Pie, but also the author's acceptance of her age. Through quirky humor and keen observations she learns that age is simply a number and life's experiences and expectancies are different for everyone. Her stories of botched home spray on tans and doubtful thoughts concethnic her marriage to her husband will be sure to hit a nerve for every woman that reads this collection.

5 stars!!!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

Amber St. Clare uses womanly trickery, intelligence and allure to climb her way out of the slums of 17th century London to the superior place as King Charles II preferred mistress. Amber’s individual drama takes place in the middle of the political stratagem of Restoration England. Detail is not spared in this 976 page novel. Kathleen Winsor’s panicked depiction of the Great Fire of London creates such a realistic representation the reader can swear they smell smoke. In contrast, the fashion and customs of 17th century London are dramatic and prolific. Character development is not lost in all the period detail. Winsor’s main character, Amber St. Clare, has been described as a latter-day Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind and Amber’s desire and drive to improve their station in life is definitely similar.

Forever Amber was written in 1944 and its publication caused much controversy. Fourteen states and the Catholic Church actually banned the book. Nonetheless, it sold over 100,000 copies in its first week of release and became the best selling U.S. novel of the 1940’s. By today’s standards, Forever Amber could be described as romantically sensual but certainly not sexually explicit.

5 Stars.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way by Jon Krakauer

I had read Three Cups of Tea and then in the midst of a conversation with a friend I was told about Three Cups of Deceipt. Now, You could say that I spend much of my time in LaLa Land as my head is always in a book and I rarely watch TV so I totally missed the boat on this controversy. I believed that the all these schools were being built, that they were being staffed, that students lives were being changed but now I agree with Krakauer's conclusion from his painstaking research. Krakauer did his homework and wrote a well-written analysis of the entire Central Asia Institute with Mortenson at its head.

As other reviewers here have said, the story is still playing out in real time, but the evidence looks damning. I agree with Krakauer's conclusion from his painstaking research and do not see how Greg Mortenson can stay at the helm of the Central Asia Institute. Mortenson has been reaping a multitude of financial benefits from the CAI and assuming that CAI is even able to survive this crisis I have lost faith and so will many others after they read this book.

5 Stars

The Braid by Helen Frost

The Braid is a story about two Scottish sisters, living on the western island of Barra in the 1850s. They alternate points of view through connected narrative poems and recount their experiences after their family is effectively evicted and separated with one sister accompanying their parents and younger siblings to Cape Breton, Canada, and the other staying behind with relatives on the small island of Mingulay. Each sister carries a length of the other's hair braided with her own. The braid connects them to each other when they are worlds away from each other and reminds them of who they used to be before the family was cast out and separated.

4 Stars

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

Blood, Bones & Butter is a blend of a memoir and a food book, the author who is also the chef/owner of Prune in New York City, illustrates assorted phases of her life with stories about particular meals, starting with the annual lamb roast her parents had when she was a child. She is taught by her French mother an admiration for fresh, local ingredients and contempt for misuse. From her father she gets the pleasure of sharing food with friends and family. Her parent’s busy life and subsequent desertion leads to her first job working with food. As the story unfolds her autonomous diligent personality becomes more apparent. Gabrielle Hamilton is a study in incongruity. She's a lesbian married to a man who in her thirties hates her mother with the immaturity of a teenager, a female chef who has no tolerance for women who bellyache about being female in a man's world, and a woman who breastfeeds her two boys for a year each while working grueling hours at her restaurant.

I loved the author's flippant approach, her openness, and sincerity about herself, the cooking business, and Italy. At times it seemed shallow but it merely reflected the author's cautious, strong nature.

5 Stars

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier

We All Fall Down is a frequently challenged book about a group of teenagers who break into a house, vandalize it, and physically attack the young teenage girl walks in on the criminal activity. The violence is horrible, vicious and very real. The book courageously depicts the violent behavior and then moves beyond it to tackle the consequences of this brutality for everyone concerned. The author deals with dark subjects in a multifaceted and adult way without going to far into the adult realm. So many books for young adults idealize violence in one way or another but We All Fall Down shows it in all its malicious, powerful glory. The scenes are distressing but they also make you think. This book is upsetting enough to give you nightmares, but persuasive and straightforward at the same time. Given the amount of violence our young adults experience in their daily lives whether it be in person or on the news more books need to help them explain it for themselves.

5 Stars

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Fallen Angels takes an in depth look at the life a teenager named Perry and his hopes of living out the American Dream. With a cheerful attitude and the intelligence of someone aged and experienced Perry decides at a young age that he would like to go to college. However due to the political and social climate of the United States Perry decides to enlist in the military instead to reach his dreams. What he finds in the Army is racial and social prejudice during the Vietnam War. This book takes us on Perry’s journey to overcoming his obstacles and finding his own dreams.

3 Stars

Dope Sick by Walter Dean Myers

A swift, pleasant read; Dope Sick is the story of how one boy in the gets a second chance to take a close up look at his life and find a way out the “hood”. After a drug deal gone wrong, Lil J is on the run and ends up hiding out in an abandoned building with a male squatter known only as Kelly. Kelly may not have much, but he does have one thing, a magical television which has the capability to help Lil J run back through his memories and his life so that he can really make out just where his life had gone wrong. Lil J is on a cliff, teetering between the life he leads now, a good life, or immediate death. And he must respond to the one question every person has thought about at one point or another "If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?" This is a great “what if” tale.

5 Stars

A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck

A Day No Pigs Would Die is about an adolescent Shaker boy, Robert Peck, growing up in the Shaker culture. Early in the novel Rob receives a piglet as a reward for saving the life of a neighbor's cow. Robert names the pig Pinky and she becomes his cherished pet. Pinky is infertile however which means that the only existing alternative for the monetarily struggling Peck family is to butcher the pig. These incidents, combined with the passing away of his father deeply change Rob and force him to grow up and become a man. The book is filled with facts about the way Shaker's live their lives and approach the world around them and being an Anthropologist at heart I found this part of the book fascinating.

4 Stars

Monday, August 15, 2011

Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman

Heather Has Two Mommies has an excellent message about diversity in families. The book has an optimistic feel that is also passed into the illustrations. The illustrations, as noted, are cheerful and positive. It's a great addition to a child’s library with an affirmative message and I will be reading this to my granddaughter as part of my collection to show her differences without prejudices.

5 Stars

My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier

Tim Meeker is just 12 years old in 1775 when his 16-year-old brother Sam leaves Yale to enlist in the Rebel army. When the war comes to Tim’s quiet town of Redding, Connecticut Tim cannot decide which side is right the Rebels, also called Patriots, who Sam is willing to die with, or the Tories, who believe the King is the lawful leader of the American colonies. As both the Patriots and the Tories take his loved ones and friends away from him, Tim mourns the pain that comes with growing up.

My Brother Sam is Dead is written in fascinating, animated modern English that drew me into the story and conversations. As each event occurred, I felt I was a part of the action and I enthusiastically awaited the resolution.

5 Stars

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

The Chocolate War is the story of a student that refuses to participate in a fundraiser at a Catholic Boys' high school in the 70s. Although this may seem like an innocent event, it is enough to send the school into uproar. It begins as an obligation given by a secret school society that practically runs the students as well as the teachers. Jerry Renault is assigned to decline involvement in the chocolate sale. This causes uncertainty and insecurity among everyone as Jerry won’t give a reason for his refusal to participate. The refusal takes a completely different course when Jerry's assignment is up and he still refuses to sell the chocolates. Jerry finds himself violently bullied and shunned and it all comes out in a dramatic fight in front of the whole school against the most sadistic student. The ending was amazing!!

5 Stars

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This first in Maya Angelou's series of autobiographies has achieved an iconic status. This nook has been sitting on my shelf for a while and in my preparation for banned book week and in light of my anger at books being banned I picked it up to read. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a book about growing up with poverty, racism, child abuse, and disadvantage in pre-civil rights America. But it is also about striving for splendor and happiness even in when faced with overwhelming tribulations. The book proves that oppression isn't the sum of a person’s existence, but something that affects each and every experience.

5 Stars and so glad to have read it again.

Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite

I'm not sure that the books position that being gay is a unusual kind of love might be too basic than necessary and while I welcome the humor in the use of the word roommate to mean spouse/significant other the use here could be confusing to the reader when it comes to people living as genuine roommates without being spouse/significant others. I absolutely adore the books depiction of the couple in this story as they have on the same daily routines as other committed families. It shows that this is just as normal a way to live and be as any other family dynamic. I think Daddy's Roommate has a wonderful family friendly message and I will definitely read it to my granddaughter (she is only four months right now so I am sticking to basic shapes, colors, counting, ect board books).

5 Stars

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Since I found out that A Study in Scarlet has been banned for being derogatory towards Mormon’s I decided to read and review the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classic. It is my belief that books should not be banned due to the fact that they could be considered derogatory; actually, it is my belief that books should never be banned. I understand a need for age appropriate reading material but it is my belief that it is a parent’s choice to what their child can read and understand and it is a person’s right to make an informed decision concerning a belief or opinion religious or otherwise. With that said on to the review.

A Study in Scarlet introduces Holmes and Watson in a classis who done it but I was very surprised at the author's ability to make me side with the criminal. The first half of the story is all about Holmes's tracking down of the man who committed a murder. It unexpectedly ends with his capturing the unsuspected man. The next part of the story then starts in a description about the Latter-day Saints arriving in Utah, saving the life of a man and young girl on the verge of death. The man joins the Saints in order to endure the severity of the desert, but refuses to become polygamous which causes problems.

While it is true that the Mormon leadership is made out to be a secretive society bent on incorporating as many young girls as possible into their polygamous harems you have to remember that this is a work of fiction. If you look at it that way the story does an excellent job of describing the difficulties of having nonconformist opinions in a culture where being a true believer is highly valued. This ended up being the most interesting part of the novel for me due to the reason the book was banned. Instead of writing the straightforward mystery novel that I anticipated, he made me understand the motivations of the criminal even though I wanted to see justice done.

The book was greatly pleasing and I highly recommend it. The Mormon section seem to paint Mormons in a negative light but the section contains some of the best narrative description.

Definitely does not belong on the banned book list.

5 Stars

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jane by April Lindner

This is an updated retelling of the classic, Jane Eyre and Lindner did a wonderful reworking. I loved it. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down until I finished Jane's story even though I knew the basic plot and how it was going to end.

Jane Moore, impoverished and alienated from her siblings, has to drop out of college a few months after her parents die in a horrific car accident. She joins a nanny agency and accepts a position as nanny to rockstar, Nico Rathburn's daughter. Jane remembers the stories she's read in the tabloids about the wild womanizer, and wonders what living with him will be like. She takes the position and soon she discovers that the man in the magazines is nothing like the man she comes to love.

I thought it was very smart how Lindner tailored Bronte's original story to work in a current time frame. Jane wasn't an orphan growing up, but she did feel very distant from her family. Her brother was cruel instead of her cousin. Nico's wild past was as a rock star. And though Jane doesn't forget her past when she meets the River family, her desire to keep it secret made sense. All in all a great book.

5 Stars

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I can't believe this book has an average rating of four stars. While I feel bad for the author on the loss of her husband and the illness of her daughter, I found the book and the author ostentatious. Some of the book dealt with her anguish, but most of it was just a rundown of a way of life few have the opportunity to experience. I have lost loved ones and had traumatic events in my life and I don’t want to believe that anyone could be this conceited and self centered. I even had a problem finishing it which is very unlike me.

1 Star

The Frog Prince by Jane Porter

I loved this book much more than I expected to. I'd never heard of the book but wanted a chick lit paperback that I could easily read on the beach so I picked it up for 1.99 at an Independent Bookstore. It took me a few chapters to get into it. At first, it seemed like it could be another book where everyone in the big city, especially at work, is nasty and uncaring but I actually teared up toward the end. I was so moved by Holly's difficulties in maintaining a comfortable relationship with her mom and the cattiness of the women that she works with because I could relate.

4 Stars

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka

This is an optimistic and slightly entertaining book which examines the mistreatment of illegal workers in the UK. Two Caravans was an easy read however, I have to say that I found the middle of the book about how atrocious conditions are in factories to contrast badly with the funny and jovial depiction of the other issues in the book.

2 Stars

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English: A Novel by Natasha Solomons

I expected this book to be an enjoyable story of a couple under pressure to fit in to a foreign culture, and thought there would be lots of little faux pas that would be humorous and cute to read. Instead the book is all about Jack Rosenblum trying to achieve the final entry on his bucket list, which is to be a member of a golf club. When he is turned down for membership of every club he applied to he decides to build his own course in Dorset.
I was very disappointed in this book and feel that the description is very misleading and not what I was hoping and expecting it to be unfortunately.

2 Stars

I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl: A Memoir by Kelle Groom

I love memoirs and this memoir was written by a poet. I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl was not a simple read. The tale surges from different time frames with reliability. The book tells the story of an alcoholic, through her treatment and relapse. However, most the narrative involves the son she gave up for adoption who son dies very young from leukemia and how this affects her alcoholism. Although I found the subject matter hard to read, the words themselves were stunning. It's easy to see the poet coming through and it is definitely worth reading.

5 Stars

Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves

To be honest, it is my opinion that travel memoirs by women are usually not very good. Female travel writers tend to be reserved but I would rather experience the bizarre in all kinds of ways when you travel for adventure. It's nice to see someone writing candidly about their life and their experiences without feeling the need to make an apology for them. Some people find this kind of honesty unsettling, but I find it energizing. A nice memoir.

3 Stars

Kamtsjatka by Marcelo Figueras

Kamchatka is a pragmatic imagining of a child’s understanding of a country in political turmoil. The potential dangers come from eavesdropping on vague conversations. The narrator spends most of his time describing his amusing adventures with his younger brother, his efforts to imitate Harry Houdini and his obsession with Superman. The overall effect is that of a happy childhood occasionally marred by darker overtones. The narrator’s voice is enchantingly youthful and buoyant. The novel thrives to prove the toughness of children and the power of family.

3 Stars

Friday, August 5, 2011

Domina: Society's Ilk By Edmund Sims

I received this book as a Librarything Early Review Copy.

From the beginning I didn’t get the story and it really wasn’t what I expected so please keep that in mind. From the beginning I was confused. The first page, a news alert, was fine but then there four random comments before the first chapter. Then there was a page that said “for those who get it”. Well, that wasn’t me but I continued reading anyway. The chapter started out with a five page fight sequence which I had a lot of trouble following. Perhaps it was because I don’t know a lot about fighting styles so I didn’t understand a lot of the moves and positions. The next few pages discusses her super suit which is apparently painted on. The funniest thing about the costume knee-high heeled boots of speed, after reading the description all I thought of was a bad porn character costume. The story itself is pretty good but I think that there are definitely too many details to sort through to get to the story. All in all an OK book and I don’t think that I would buy another one in the series but that because it is not my style of writing.

3 Stars

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I, Lucifer: Finally, the Other Side of the Story by Glen Duncan

God offers Lucifer a second chance if he can live one month as a human. Lucifer accepts the offer so God takes Declan Gunn who is depressed London novelist contemplating suicide puts his soul on hold for a month and let’s Lucifer take power. This is a side-splittingly entertaining novel as Lucifer throws himself into the sex. The imagery of Lucifer's reactions to the different smells as he walks through London is dramatic. I will say that Duncan’s writing is very intense and I had really think on the events that happen in the story.

4 Stars

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

Many books have been written about Americans in Paris in the 20th century, but David McCullough turns his analytical eye on previous generations of Americans who traveled to and lived in Paris in the 19th Century. Starting in the 1830's and ending in 1901, The Greater Journey covers diverse compilation of Americans who called Paris home. The first group includes Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., James Fennimore Cooper, Charles Sumner, Samuel Morse and Elizabeth Blackwell and the later group contained Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthrone, John Singer Sargent, the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and as well as US Ambassador Elihu Washburne.

The reader also gets a history of 19th century France from King Louis-Philippe to Napoleon III and from the impressive designs of Baron Haussmann to the construction of the Eiffel Tower. Through time Americans in Paris seem remarkably like they are today as they continue to fall under the city's spell.

5 Stars

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst

This skillfully written novel is a family history that starts in 1913 with 16 year old Daphne Sawle lying in a hammock eagerly waiting for her brother George and his friend Cecil to come home for the weekend. Home is "Two Acres" near London, where Daphne lives with her widowed mother Freda, her older brother Hubert, and George. The book spans a century and we get to follow the family members and their relationships to one another in great detail. There is also a bit of how family myths get started and how being gay in England has changed. I will definitely be reading more by Alan Hollinghurst.

5 Stars

The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst

The Swimming-Pool Library is a wonderful novel about a self-indulgent, gay young member of the aristocracy in London whose life is altered forever when he saves the life of Lord Nantwich. His new friend asks him to write his memoirs he cannot find a good enough excuse to say no and from the moment Will starts reading the journals of Lord Nantwich, new facts and viewpoints are opened up to him. The people he thought he knew he now sees in a different light as histories are revealed.

The intertwining of Will's London and Charles's experiences as a young man, at university, as a soldier abroad, and into middle age, works beautifully and doesn't confuse the reader and at the same time the novel covers the issues around class, sexuality and race over the decades. I loved it and I picked up another book by the author.

5 Stars

A Dance with Dragons by George R R Martin

Finally I received the fifth volume in Martin's epic Song of Ice and Fire series and I've never read a book in a series before and come away as disappointed as I am right now. There were deaths in A Dance with Dragons, resurrections, criminals punished and traitors yet the outcome will not be known for quite some time. So, rather than getting answers after several years of wait, we're just left with more questions.

3 Stars

A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin

This is my second time reading this book seeing as I had to wait so long for A Dance with Dragons I needed to refresh. Well I have to say it was just as good the second time around.

A Feast for Crows is very diverse story and it seems as the epic becomes more extensive I found myself questioning whether telling the tidings of the ironborn in detail was necessary for the main storyline. On the other hand, the parts happening in the Vale and Braavos brought exciting new twists, and the fates of many long-standing characters were found out. The book is not a waste of time by any standard, but its role in the series feels like simply building up for the next installment, which has been a long time in the waiting. In a few days I will know if it is worth it.

4 Stars