Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

This book is the first in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I really enjoyed this youth novel a lot. It's the story of 12 year old Percy Jackson who discovers he is not who he thinks he is--a normal human. He is in fact a demigod, born to a mortal mother and a Greek god father. Percy has dyslexia and ADHD which is explained by being part-god. Dyslexia is caused because Ancient Greek is his native language, so as a result he has a hard time reading standard English. And where his ADHD makes him a little distracted and unfocused in the classroom, it makes him great in battle because he is hyper-aware of what is going on.

I don't want to say too much about the storyline to give anything away. Basically, according to the book, the Greek gods still exist today, ruling over the world. Mt. Olympus simply changes locations to accommodate changes in the world/culture. They are in the Age of Western Civilization now and Mt. Olympus is currently located on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building in New York. The Underworld is currently located in West Hollywood, CA. The gods take on less classic appearances. In one of my favorite chapters ("I Settle My Tab") toward the end of the book, Riordan describes Poseidon and Zeus' current looks, all very amusing.

Through a series of events, Percy finds himself at Camp Half-Blood and is sent on an important quest to save the world from an impending World War III.

Overall, a great book, story and characters. I loved the theme of Greek Mythology. I always loved learning about mythology in school and this was a fun refresher of the various myths and who was related to each other, but with an updated twist. My only gripe about the book is how MUCH it is similar to Harry Potter. First let me say, I had no idea what this book was really about other than the description on Amazon. I was not searching to fill my Potter void or anything like that. Potter was not on my mind at all. However, as I was reading, things in the book kept striking me as very Potter-esque. So much, that it was very distracting to me and I began to keep a list of these comparisons in my head.

First, we have a boy who thinks he's normal until the pre-teen years when he discovers he is far from normal. Then, he is taken to a place that will both teach him and keep him safe from outside evils. He befriends both a boy and girl, with eerily similar personalities to Ron and especially to Hermione. The three set off on a quest in which they discover a power the gods thought to be extinguished fighting its way back to power. Then the gods ignore the fact that the power has a plan and is getting stronger (ie: Voldermort). Hmm.....I could be talking about Potter or Percy, they are so similar. Oh yes, there are also prophecies, swords, invisibility items, hearing voices in dreams, rivalry between cabins or god families (aka like the houses at Hogwarts). I know Rowling used mythology as part of a basis for her Potter world. Maybe, I didn't realize just how much was based in mythology or how much of Potter was a magical retelling of myths.

I don't mean to steer anyone away from The Lightning Thief. It really is a great book and I would recommend people read it. I was just so distracted the first half of the book by the Potterisms. The second half of the book was much easier to get into and stay focused on the Percy story. If you are a Potter fan and can forgive the similarities, I think you will really like this as a new series to read in the wake of Potter's end. There are three books published so far with the fourth due out next year. The Lightning Thief is also being produced as a movie with Chris Columbus directing (he also directed Harry Potter 1 & 2).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Second half of Bridge of Sighs

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. Character development is really good overall. The story sort of ebbs and flows. I tended to be very interested throughout sections and very bored through others. My husband asked me if I was reading a boring book. When I asked him why, he said, "Because you have fallen asleep to this book every night for a week." And that's the truth. :-)

The book is about small town American and a commentary on the American Dream and social classes. I can't say the book is totally without merit, but there are much better books out there. I definitely recommend Empire Falls over this one any day. Maybe Richard Russo will do better next time around.

I also finished The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. This is a very fun and quick holiday read. I first read it in elementary school and liked it then. I remember my mom taking me to a children's theater production of the book and enjoying that. So I thought it would be fun to reread it. And I will be sharing it with my daughters when they get a little older as well.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Okay, finished holiday book #2 for today. This collection of essays is autobiographical in nature (found in the nonfiction section) and again a very quick read. Some of the stories are fiction. The best essay by far is "SantaLand Diaries" about Sedaris' experience as an Elf at Macy's in New York. I almost wish the whole book were like this. I enjoyed this first story the most, the rest of the book was a little bit too sarcastic for me. While the stories are entertaining, cynical and sarcastic, they almost go a bit too far for me. I find the idea of making fun of the annual Christmas newsletter amusing, but by the end of "Seasons Greetings" I wasn't so amused. And I found that to be the case with most of the stories. I started out interested and amused, then just sort of ended up skimming through them toward the end.

On the Barnes and Noble website there's an editor comment that Sedaris could be a 90's version of Jean Shepherd (the author whose stories were the basis for the film, A Christmas Story). I'm not sure I agree with this sentiment. I found Dave Barry's story to be much more Jean Shepherd-ish than Sedaris' volume.

If you are extremely sarcastic and cynical of the holidays you will really enjoy Sedaris' collection. If you are just looking for fun, humorous holiday fare, I'd go more with The Shepherd, the Angel and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog.

PS. While browsing book blogs I came across the Christmas Theme Book Challenge 2007. You can learn more here.

The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Miracle Dog

This book by Dave Barry is a delightful, easy and quick read. It takes place in 1960 in New York during Christmas. The narrator is a junior high boy telling about his family's Christmas, their dog, and the church's Christmas pageant. The story's style is very reminiscent of A Christmas Story. Throughout the book there are old photos, advertisements and illustrations that accompany the text. These make the book especially fun. Two of the pictures show Christmas trees circa 1960, and they look exactly like my Grandma Mazie's tree still does every year! This book is so short everyone should read it for a fun holiday treat!

First Half of Bridge of Sighs

I've been reading Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. I LOVED Empire Falls. I really liked his style of writing and the depth of the characters. He had a great story as well. But here, I'm a little disappointed so far. I'm about half way through the over 500 pages (Allison, probably why I'm not excited to consider another 500 page book yet! :-). I was interested in the beginning and through the first 200 pages, but now it's sort of slowing down and I'm starting to lose interest. Again, he's pretty heavy in the character development but where Empire Falls had a great story, Bridge of Sighs lacks that (at least so far).

Again, Russo takes us to a small town in northeastern America. And again, the town is full of characters struggling to deal with everyday life. The timeline jumps around between the main character's childhood and present day. Russo does a good job of keeping what time we're in clearly defined, so its not hard to keep up. This book also reminds me a bit of I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. Not in the story elements at all, but in my reaction to the book. I read Charlotte Simmons fairly quickly for the length of it and found it only mediocre. It was great in character development again, but I felt the story was a tad boring. Bridge of Sighs is shaping up to be a similar reading experience for me. But I guess you can't always have great characters, great story, and keep it exciting too, huh?

I do want to finish it and I hope it picks up a little in the second half, but I think I will take a break for a bit. I have two holiday books on hold at the library that I might try in the meantime. The first, Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris, sounds like an amusing collection of short memoirs about Christmas. For example, some of the stories are about Sedaris' experience working as an elf at Santaland at Macy's. I'm chuckling just thinking about the things he must have witnessed. The second book was a high recommendation from my mom and others, The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry. Maybe I'll read those and come back to Bridge of Sighs. :-)

Oh, and I finished Murder is a Girl's Best Friend, the 2nd book in the Paige Turner Mystery series. I enjoyed this one even more than the first. Paige's best friend didn't annoy me quite so much and the ending didn't fizzle out as much as the first did. I'll continue to read the others in this series.

We're getting 8-10 inches of snow today so it seems it will be a nice cozy reading day in Minnesota! Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

I just finished this ambitious debut novel, which goes to show how behind I am in literary pursuits--it was published last year. It's been sitting on my nightstand for a while because, at over 500 pages, the book was a bit daunting. Well. I think it's clearly a love-it-or-hate-it book (the average 3 1/2 star rating on librarything would seem to corroborate this assumption) and I LOVED it. Comparisons with Safran Foer and Zadie Smith abound. The Zadie Smith part I agree with, but I (ahem) didn't really care for Safran Foer much, though I can see a passing resemblance. Like Zadie Smith and my beloved Kate Atkinson, Pessl pulls together disparate elements adeptly to keep control of her complicated plot. Part coming-of-age tale, part high school realism, part mystery, part History of Western Thought, this novel is packed with more similes, metaphors, and literary references (some real, others invented) than any high school English class. Yet this doesn't detract from astute characterization and masterful plotting. Pessl is an incredibly gifted writer and Blue is so well-drawn that it's easy to forgot this is not a real autobiography of a real girl. Blue's descriptions, wry asides, and painstaking references somehow make her more likeable instead of insufferably show-offy and pedantic. She shimmers on the page, on every page, a luminous force-to-be-reckoned with. (See, all that description and simile is contagious.)

The other characters (even Blue's dad) are drawn with less depth, because they're shown only through Blue's eyes, but they are still fascinating. They propel the labyrinthine plot through increasing twists and turns, many wildly improbable, but I never stopped to ask, "Are you kidding me?" as another twist revealed itself. I think the pacing can be credited here. As some have complained, the first 300 pages move slowly, almost laboriously, and the last 200 really fly, snagging you as they pass, dragging you along through the satisfying conclusion and, better yet, a beautiful ending. I didn't mind the pacing of the first 300. Rather, I thought those pages set the reader up for the conclusion by gently unfolding events, coincidences, character oddities, in a leisurely fashion to make him/her invested in the outcome. A more perfunctory set-up would have meant a less satisfying pay-off, in my opinion.

Okay, I've gone on long enough. I hope Marisha Pessl is hard at work on her next novel, because I can't wait. I'll pass the time by re-reading this one.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Holiday Book Drive

Stepping back on my this thing on? *tap* *tap* :-)

Barnes and Noble is doing their annual book drive again this year. If you have the opportunity and inclination, please visit your local store and buy a book for a child. This program usually teams up with a women's shelter or other organizations who work with children who are in a situation where their parents may not have extra money to buy them books. The Barnes and Noble near us is doing a great thing this year where you can buy a children's book or an adult book (or both); the organization they are giving all the books to will let the children pick a book for their mom and the mom gets to pick a book for their child. I think that's pretty cool!

I'll be taking the girls again this holiday to pick out a book for another child their age and explain to them that some mommys and daddys aren't as fortunate to be able to buy their children books. This way we can help those kids have some of the books we love so much!

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon

By Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

This is the conclusion to the trilogy that began with Peter and the Starcatchers, documenting the events that preceded (and led to) those in Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. This is an excellent conclusion to an excellent series. Truly enjoyable. The rollicking, swashbuckling adventures are just plain fun. The characters are engaging and well-developed, and the plot moves along at breakneck speed, one scene leading to the next. It's hard to put these books down. The dual imaginitive power of Barry and Pearson is amazing. They seamlessly weave in elements that will appear in Peter Pan without distracting from their own story. Without giving too much away, it's difficult to summarize the third book. I was hooked with the first book, and I can't recommend this riveting series too highly.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

For A Good Time, Call Cece Caruso

As you know, I read a lot of mystery series. I have my favorites, but I always hope for a new series that I'll love. I've tried several lately, with mixed results. I finally have a new favorite, the Cece Caruso series by Susan Kandel. They are smart, funny, well-written, and well-plotted. The West Hollywood setting is fun and well-realized, and Cece's career (biographer of mystery authors) adds a fun, fresh element to this series. I read Not A Girl Detective first (about Carolyn Keene, the pseudonymous author of the Nancy Drew books) because I loved Nancy Drew, though it's the second in the series. It was great fun, and I zipped through the first, I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason, as well, and though I'm less of a Perry Mason fan than a Nancy Drew fan, I still loved it. I'm nearly finished with Shamus in the Green Room, the third (which, interestingly enough, is called Sam Spade in the Green Room in the preview printed at the end of Not A Girl Detective--this makes more sense, as I have no idea who Shamus is and I only have about 60 pages left). Christietown is the fourth, and then I'll be going into withdrawal.

I am now on LibraryThing! I'll be going back and adding 2007's books as I have time. My library is at this address!

All Through The Night by Suzanne Brockmann

If you're not familiar, Suzanne Brockmann writes suspense novels that are also romance novels (I phrase it this way because I think the suspense is more central than in most romantic suspense novels). This, the 12th in her Troubleshooters series, is a short holiday novel about a wedding. Here's the biggie: Jules and Robin, two guys, are getting married. Brockmann includes a letter at the end of the book explaining that her son is gay, and the thought of his not being permitted to marry really upsets her. She's donating all proceeds from this book to Mass Equality. The book isn't perfect. Brockmann sort of drops at least one outside subplot, and every two pages, the guys are looking at each other and either thinking or saying how much they want to have sex. The straight couples do this a bit, but not to the sex-crazed extent to which Jules and Robin do. This seemed a slightly overcompensatory way of not shying away from gay sex, but it plays on the perception many people have that gay relationships are only about sex (which, in turn, leads to stereotypes like all gay men are promiscuous). Brockmann is careful to state over and over that Robin and Jules love each other and want to be together, and she shows this admirably, but it's a bit obscured by all the sex, sex, sex that gets a smidge tiresome (and I believe I would have felt that way if it had been a hetero couple as well). But I just skimmed past those bits when they got annoying, and I still recommend this book for two reasons: 1. It may be the first gay romance novel written by a mainstream author and 2. Brockmann does suspense very well, and I stayed up WAY too late reading this one, even though I was jet lagged and exhausted. You don't have to have read the previous books in the Troubleshooters series to follow this one.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Reading Marathon

I've actually finished three books in two weeks! Quite a record for me lately, I've had a hard time even deciding what book to pick up. A while back Allison sent me a box full of fun cozy mysteries, so I decided to take a look at those and try one out. I chose Murderers Prefer Blondes by Amanda Matetsky, the first in her Paige Turner Mystery Series. The book's heroine, Paige Turner, works for a detective magazine in New York City when she stumbles across what she hopes to be the perfect story to jump-start her writing career. The story takes place in the mid-1950's in New York City. As I was reading, it seemed like my mind was watching an old black and white detective film. I could picture all the characters. I got a little annoyed by Paige's best friend and her tone in conversations. I'm sure the slang was accurate to the time period, but it felt a little forced in that character for some reason. Although, I enjoyed the novel, the ending was very anticlimactic and predictable. But if you take it for what it is, a cozy mystery, this was an entertaining read.

I spent last week visiting my mom with the kids and spent the better part of any free time I had reading. It was great to be away from the house so I didn't have the guilt of "I should be doing this, oh, I'll just read a few more pages...." I could read to my heart's content and it was fantastic. I brought My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult with me. Whenever I mention Picoult to anyone, this seems to be the common book that people have read. I read it in about 2 days. For those unfamiliar, the story is about Anna, a 13 year old girl who was conceived to be a perfect genetic match for her older sister sick with leukemia. Throughout her life Anna undergoes various procedures that help prolong her sister's life. Finally, she decides she will no longer be a guinea pig for her sister and seeks medical emancipation from her parents. The book is told from the different viewpoints of all the characters and flows really well. It's a pretty heavy book because of its topic and you spend the whole book waiting for the inevitable. Picoult surprises with quite a twist at the end that shocked me. I wasn't very thrilled with it actually. I think because I had spent the majority of the book expecting a completely different outcome. Picoult covers the medical ethics topic well and from many angles. And I plan on continuing to read her other books. This was the second Picoult book I have read and both were told alternating the characters viewpoints. I'm curious, does she do this with all her books? Is this her signature writing style?

The last book, I just finished this morning: Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man who Dared to See by Robert Kurson. This is our November book club pick. I have to say, the topic did not intrigue me much and I toyed with the idea of not even looking at the book. I just figured I'd be bored to tears. But part of the reason I like being in a book club is because it makes me consider books I would not normally read on my own. So I thought I should at least look at the book. I got it from the library and figured I'd just sort of skim through it enough to make a comment or two at the meeting. Well I was very wrong, the book really pulled me in. It's the story of a man, Mike May, who lost his sight at age 3 and spent the next 43 years of his life blind. One day, he was with his wife at her eye exam and the doctor just looked at his eye on a whim. Then his colleague took a look. They told May he would be an excellent candidate for a new stem cell surgery and he might be able to see again. I was curious about how May lost his sight, how he gained it back, and whether or not he would keep it. And continued reading to find out. There were some very technical sections that read like an Intro to Biology textbook. I tended to skim or skip these sections all together. But everything else was very interesting and flowed very easily. May's tenacity and attitude are amazing. It was fun to read about his journey and see how it ended. If anyone is interested in nonfiction books, this was a quick and enjoyable read.

Sidenote: I'm also on Library Thing now. You can find my library here. I started one for my daughter as well, to keep track of what books she really likes. I also added books I think might be good for her in the future too. You can find her library here. I updated the Links in the blog sidebar, added a few new book blog links, and added book covers from my library. I thought it was time to spice up the blog a bit. :-)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


When I picked Ella up from preschool today, I noticed a pamphlet on a table entitled, "Raising Readers". I thought it might be interesting so I picked it up. It is produced by the Mpls St. Paul Magazine. There were several things in it that I thought I would pass along. There was an article about boys and reading. The main point stated many boys lose interest in reading by middle school because its usually their mothers who read or they have female librarians and teachers picking out books for them. So generally, the books are not adventurous enough to entertain boys. The article also pointed out that girls/women are more hardwired to be readers based on neurological and biological differences. Somewhat interesting, but mostly common sense, nothing too earth shattering.

The other main article talked about children's book series and discussed the history of them and 5 classic series that have endured (Nancy Drew, Adventures of Tintin, Cherry Ames, Tom Swift, and Anne of Green Gables). Of course it talked about the blockbuster success of Harry Potter and revealed that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park is slated to open at Universal Orlando Resort in 2010!! I think that sounds like a great place to take the kids! :-) I'm sure it will be sooo overwhelmed with visitors when it opens that it will be a pain in the butt to visit. Maybe by the time Ella and Lily are old enough to read the Potter books on their own, the novelty of the park will have died down.

The last thing I thought was interesting: the digital mark-my-time bookmark ( It either counts down or logs your child's reading time. Might be a handy gadget for school-age readers who have to read a certain amount of time each day for class.

Other links listed in the pamphlet: (E-mag Literary Child has puzzles, games, and other activities related to the month's featured kids' book). Also, seemed an interesting website. Log what you're reading and find others who are interested in the same books as yourself.

Just thought I would pass along the info! Enjoy the cooler weather by curling up with a book, blanket and a warm drink!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Time Traveler's Wife for TV?

I know this is a book blog and not a television blog. But has anyone been watching the new show on NBC, Journeyman? And have you read The Time Traveler's Wife?

I keep seeing some similiarities to the book and the show when I watch it. I'd really like to know if they were using that book as part of the basis for the show? That is one of my all time favorite books in recent years. And I'm really enjoying the show too.

Just thought I would share. :-)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This book received RAVE reviews on both Barnes and Noble and Amazon as well as in my Bookmarks Magazine. It falls into juvenile literature but adults young and old seemed to like it as well. This was our book club pick for October. And only one person finished it. I got to about page 75, others got to page 100, half way and a little beyond that. And no one liked it much. I was extremely disappointed. It was a slow read and lacked flow. I think we all expected it to read much quicker because it was a youth book. One person said it read much better if she could dedicate a longer chunk of time each time she picked it up. This is not one to read in ten minute increments (which is how I tend to read things these days).

The book is narrated by the character of Death set in Germany during World War II. Death encounters a little girl (the Book Thief) several times throughout her life and we hear about her life experience with a foster family and the people who live on her street, including a Jewish man they hide in their basement. We all agreed Death as narrator was a very unique and good idea. But it just didn't captivate us like we had hoped. Perhaps this is a case of having too high expectations going into the book.

Back to deciding what to read next....

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Lots of reading!

Death at Bishop's Keep by Robin Paige: The first in the Victorian mysteries by Susan Wittig Albert and her husband. This was really fun. American Kate Ardleigh moves to England to live with an aunt. Secret societies devoted to the occult, an archaeological dig, and strangely attractive amateur detective Sir Charles Sheridan make this a fun, engaging read. Kate is a plucky heroine, and I'll be reading more of these.

The Tale of Holly How by Susan Wittig Albert: The second Beatrix Potter mystery. Cozy and charming. I will be reading more of these.

The Boggart and The Boggart and the Monster by Susan Cooper: Fun children's books set in Scotland, where a Canadian brother and sister encounter the Boggart, a troublemaking spirit.

Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange: This was surprisingly enjoyable. Quite fluffy, but fun. It's really superfluous, since you can tell in Pride and Prejudice what Darcy was thinking most of the time, but if you're a P&P fan, this might be worth picking up. I zipped through it pretty quickly, and really liked it. There are some conversations with Bingley and comments on Caroline that are entertaining, and we see a bit more of his relationship with Georgiana. And of course, we find out what happened when Darcy went after the eloping couple. Grange has also written Mr. Knightley's Diary, which I will have to pick up!

Molly Moon, Micky Minus, and the Mind Machine by Georgia Byng: This is the fourth in the series about a plucky heroine who discovers she has amazing powers. These are very cute, over-the-top adventures, beginning with Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism.

Key to the Treasure, Pirate Island Adventure, Clues in the Woods, and The Haunted House by Peggy Parish: Four of the six Liza, Bill & Jed mysteries. I've gotten nostalgic about childhood books, and sometimes I have only a dim memory of a book I loved as a kid, without remembering the author, the plot, or the character names. This makes it hard to search for a book! For this one, all I remembered was that there was a "treasure key" or "key to treasure" or something in the title and it had codes in it. Pretty quickly found Key to the Treasure, and I had completely forgotten it was the first in a series. These are good natured adventure-mysteries that are neither too adventurous nor very mysterious. These are really cute, wholesome mysteries. There are no video games or television shows, and the kids play outside and volunteer to do the dinner dishes without being asked, but they're not disgustingly sweet. They carp at each other like real siblings. I wasn't sure if they would still appeal to kids, or if they would be too dated, but they were recently re-released, maybe because people like me who loved them as kids are now having children themselves.

Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg by Gail Carson Levine: This was a fun fairy tale set in Never Land. Prilla, a new fairy, hasn't yet found her talent. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing for the Never fairies. There's not much suspense that Prilla's yet-unknown talent will play a key role in solving the trouble in Never Land, but the story is cute and the illustrations lovely.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Halloween Nostalgia

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the whole month of October with the culmination of Halloween. The (supposedly) crisp Midwestern air, leaves changing colors and falling to the ground, but still nice enough to play outside, apples and pumpkins. LOVE it!

I've started getting Halloween books from the library to read to my daughter at night. And one, Harriet's Halloween Candy by Nancy Carlson, made me think of a book from my childhood that I just loved. I don't think I had a copy of it (I'll have to ask my mom), but I remember the librarian reading it to us at school and I think I probably checked it out a few times too. It was about a bear, a halloween party and popcorn. The whole house fills with popcorn and they have to clean it up. I searhed "halloween popcorn" on the Barnes and Noble website. Turns out it was called Popcorn: A Frank Asch Bear Story by Frank Asch, originally published in 1979, I think, but reprinted several times. Sadly, this wonderful book is out of print, but there are several copies available on ebay. I may need to purchase one for me (and my two girls too, of course). ;-) I even checked with the library and they do not have one copy of it in circulation, at any of the branches. I can't believe that!

If you ever come across this little gem of a book, you should definitely take a look!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Survivor--Real Life

I just finished Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett. A nonfiction book that describes the experiences of castaways on the Auckland Islands circa 1864. The book mostly focuses on the five survivors of the ship Grafton. They were on the island for almost 2 years. As far as I can tell the author pieced the story together through survivor journals, articles and books written by two of the castaways, as well as newspaper accounts.

The book was slightly dry but the story interesting enough to keep me intrigued. I kept wondering how they would finally make it off the island. I was also amazed at the ingenious ways these men devised tools and learned trades such as shoe making to come up with everything they needed to stay alive and stay meagerly comfortable. The Frenchman, by the name of Raynal, was utterly amazing to me in engineering things they needed such as soap, shoes, tools, the chimney of their house, a boat, and killing and hunting seals. It seemed whatever they needed he could come up with. Definitely the right person to get shipwrecked on an island with.

There was also a parallel storyline about another group of sailors of the Invercauld ship where only 3 of 19 survived to be rescued. Basically, the book concludes that the Grafton survivors were able to eventually get off the island because they worked together and lived very democratically with each of them treating the others as equals. The Invercauld crew lived exactly the opposite of the Grafton crew. They remained in their hierarchy of officers vs. crew, did not stick together, didn't bother to work hard, laid around. And miraculously, the three remaining survivors were rescued long before the Grafton survivors.

There were long sections of the book dedicated to the intricacies of seal/sea lion hunting and mating. These were somewhat boring and too in-depth for my tastes. But perhaps someone will find them interesting. I suspect the author used it as filler to make her book longer. While reading this book, and particularly the part describing the differences between the two groups of castaways, I thought of the book Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I haven't read this book since middle school and I believe the movie came out about the same time as I read the book (1990). I decided I was going to get it from the library again and reread/skim it to see what I thought about it now as an adult.

The other thing that kept coming up in my head while reading Island of the Lost, was the reality television show Survivor. Okay, although parts of Survivor are completely contrived and edited to make certain things seem like a bigger deal or more intriguing, you learn that the tribes that work together as a team and stay together or align together get the furthest in the game. If I'm ever stuck on a deserted island, I guess I've learned that I will for sure be a team player. :-)

I think this book might be an interesting book club choice if it seems to be a topic your particular book club would be interested in.

PS. Yay! This is the 100th post to On My Bookshelf!

Friday, September 21, 2007


Okay so I finally settled on a book. :-) I think because it was a short one, I knew I wouldn't have to invest too much time in it. A silly little ditty entitled The Pirates! In an adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe. I'm not entirely sure how to describe this book. It is short at 131 pages. The story is about a bunch of pirates who come across Charles Darwin and together they try to save Darwin's brother, Erasmus from an undesirable fate. The Pirates pose as scientists to "fit in" with Darwin's crowd. The whole thing is quite a yarn. The pirates are all incredibly stupid while thinking they are incredibly smart. And everything is very tongue in cheek. I enjoyed it for a short read. It was a bit too silly I think. But if you're looking for something light-hearted about pirates this would be your book.

And in sticking with the ship theme, my shipwreck book is available at the library and waiting for me to pick it up so I'll hopefully be reporting on that one soon.

Happy first day of Fall today!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Same Old, Same Old

With the end of summer, reruns should be over, too, but I have just finished books in two of my favorite mystery series. I say "same old, same old" even thought they're new books because I've posted about these series before.

The Penguin Who Knew Too Much by Donna Andrews: The latest in the Meg Langslow series, and a very fun read. The first in the series is Murder With Peacocks. I usually just say how fun this series is, which I'll do again, but maybe I'll try to add something new this time! Meg is a blacksmith with a huge extended family. Her parents are a hoot. Her mother is very proper, while her father, a doctor, loves murder mystery novels and relishes the chance to be involved in a real investigation. Her brother, Rob, is a law student without much interest in practicing law (boy, can I identify!). The family lives in a small Virginia town. The mysteries are fun, but the characters are what make this series stand out from the crowd of cozy mysteries. Meg's dry wit and exasperated tolerance of her crazy family manages to make her appealing rather than unsympathetic and complaining. There's obviously a lot of love behind her good-natured comments about her family. In Murder With Peacocks, she meets university theater professor Michael, and it doesn't take a sleuth to see he'll be an important character in later books. Murder With Peacocks introduces Meg and the Langslow clan. The much put-upon Meg is involved in three weddings--her brother, her friend Eileen, and her mother's. Each bride is more demanding and exacting than the last, and poor single Meg runs errands and puts out fires all over the place.

Puss N Cahoots by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown: Sneaky Pie co-writes this series with her human companion, the fabulous Rita Mae Brown. The first in the series is Wish You Were Here, which introduces Crozet, Virginia postmistress Harry and her small brood of intelligent animals. Mrs. Murphy, a tiger cat, and Tucker, a Corgi, along with numerous other Crozet animals (wild and domestic), really solve the crimes here, trying to steer the humans to the root of the mystery. Yes, the animals talk to one another, and that could be really cloying and irritating, but it's not, at least to me. They add a fun dimension to Crozet life and the usual whodunit cozy. There's a companion cookbook, Sneaky Pie's Cookbook for Mystery Lovers, that includes Mrs. Hoggendobber's Orange Cinnamon Buns, thank goodness. They're amazing :) The latest book wasn't necessarily the best, but having followed the human and animal antics for many years, I enjoyed it anyway.

Sweet Revenge by Diane Mott Davidson: I can't really summarize this one too much without giving away things that happen in earlier books, so I'll talk about the series instead. The first is Catering To Nobody, which introduces Goldy, a caterer who recently escaped from an abusive marriage to John Richard Korman (the Jerk) with her son Arch (poor kid--naming him Arch? No wonder he's such a brat). Goldy caters the wake for Arch's former teacher and special friend. Her former father-in-law keels over dead, and Detective Tom Schulz shuts her business down until the investigation is complete. This gives Goldy the incentive to nose around on her own. Each book includes recipes (from Sweet Revenge, I just made the Pina Colada Muffins, which were YUMMY), and several are all-time favorites of mine. I like Goldy, and despite some annoyances in the books, I enjoy the series. The cooking talk is fun, Aspen Meadow is fun, and Goldy's nosing around is entertaining (even as you sometimes roll your eyes at her extreme nosiness). Edited to add: Something Davidson said in Sweet Revenge sort of changed my perspective on this series a bit. While reading these (and re-reading), I've been guilty of muttering, "Oh, just get OVER it already" in regard to Goldy's whining about her ex-husband. In Sweet Revenge, she says something about how it's easy to SAY "get over it" but it's not easy to DO. And that really resonated with me. She was married to an abusive philanderer for seven years, in constant fear for her safety and her son's, and she found the courage to get a divorce. Of course it's not so simple that she can just get over it as soon as the papers are signed. Davidson went to a lot of trouble to develop a complex heroine in a conventional genre, and I think Goldy's words are a smack at the critics who want Goldy to just get over it. Anyway, I have sort of a new appreciation for these now.

I'm now reading The Tale of Holly How, #2 in Susan Wittig Albert's Beatrix Potter series.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Land of Indecision

Okay, I'm not sure if I'm just not in a reading mood lately, just can't find the right book for my mood, or what my problem is. I just can't settle on anything. As I've mentioned, I've enjoyed the No. 1 Ladies Detective series by Alexander McCall Smith. He's written quite a few other books as well so I thought I might try out his newer Isabel Dalhousie series. The first book is The Sunday Philosophy Club. I forced myself to read about half of it and just could not continue to waste my time. I was bored to tears. I guess the characters weren't likable enough to me to want to see how it turned out.

Then I moved on to The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits. It was reviewed in my Bookmarks magazine awhile back and I thought it sounded interesting. Again, I'm about 75 pages into it and I'm debating whether to keep going. The characters again are not that appealing to me (at least not yet) and the tone of voices switches between characters in a way I find annoying. I usually must finish a book once I've started it. But lately, I feel like there are too many good books out there to waste my time with something I don't really want to read.

So what to read then? Hmm.....maybe another Jodi Picoult? I'm also waiting for a book I requested from the library, Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett. It's historical nonfiction about two different shipwrecks on Auckland Island south of New Zealand. One crew fights with each other and only 3 survive, the other crew manages to all survive for more than two years. It sounded sort of interesting to me. I'll give a full report if and when I read it. ;-)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

more summer reading

Inkspell: I have a big complaint about this, the second Inkworld book by Cornelia Funke: I have to wait a year for the third! This book was excellent, but not a quick read. Apparently, it wasn't a planned sequel, which makes sense. Inkheart had kind of wrapped everything up, but there was plenty left to explore and Inkspell explores it well, and ends on a huge cliffhanger. If you enjoyed the first (which I certainly recommend reading if you haven't), you'll probably enjoy this one as well. But wait until next summer or so to read it, because Inkdeath comes out in September 2008. I believe these are being made into films. I sort of wonder if that's what made her decide to write sequels. The love of books, the sense of adventure, and the well-imagined world that made the first book so enjoyable are all present here.

Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton: The editing is atrocious (numerous typos include "doe" instead of "does"), and the author is fond of more exciting dialogue tags (people are always "declaring," "enthusing," and (I have no idea what this even means) "tweaking" their lines, which is really annoying, and worse, often used incorrectly. The same weird tag is often used multiple times, including "tweaked" twice within a page.) The heroine takes an instant and somewhat bizarre dislike to a guy in the story, telegraphing that he's destined to be a love interest in future books, and the reasoning is thin (he has the same height and hair color as her ex-boyfriend). All that said, there was something likeable about the heroine and the book in general. Kelly learns to knit as she and the knitting circle work through the clues to the real killer, and that's sort of fun (although who on earth ties knots in their knitting? Deliberately?). There's a recipe for cinnamon rolls at the end, but I already have two excellent ones and I'm not sure I buy lemon cream cheese frosting on cinnamon rolls. The two knitting patterns are on huge needles, as befits Kelly's extreme beginner status (although, I never liked those and started on 8s), so I won't be doing those any time soon. Does anyone look good in a tank top knit on size 15 needles? Maybe a total twig who needs to look a little more plump. Despite the annoying things about this book, I sort of liked the town and the knitting shop, and I think I might pick up the next one to see if the series gets better.

In Deep Voodoo by Stephanie Bond: This is mystery/romance and a fun, quick summer read. The heroine is really dumb. I don't think she's meant to be portrayed that way, but I found myself muttering, "What are you thinking, Penny?" about 97 times during the book. Penny's ex-husband, who lives in her painstakingly restored Victorian house with his new bimbo (who paints Penny's pride and joy pink, of all things), dies, stabbed through the heart, shortly after Penny stabs a voodoo doll at her divorce party. Penny's stupidity is annoying, and her love interest implausible, but something about this book was fun, so I'll probably pick up the next one. I think the fun is in the town of Mojo, Louisiana and its colorful inhabitants.

I have a ton of books to read right now. I have new mysteries from Rita Mae Brown, Diane Mott Davidson, and Donna Andrews. I want to read the Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper before they ruin it with the movie. On the juvenile fiction front, I also have several Eva Ibbotsen books (I've loved all of hers I've read), Dragonrider by Cornelia Funke, and a few Harry Potter knockoffs I thought I'd try. What's everybody else reading?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Kids' Fun

I posted this on my personal blog, and thought I'd put it up here in case it's interesting to anyone around here:

I thought I'd mention some of our favorite books for Lilah, since I mostly talk about *my* reading. Unless otherwise noted, they're all board books. Obviously, we're big book people, as the list below just addresses some of her (and our) favorites. I've recently been doing what Matt calls "a dramatic reading" of Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury that, despite the story's length, keeps Lilah riveted. It takes a lot of energy, though.

Charles Fuge - Sometimes I Like To Curl Up In A Ball introduces Little Wombat and his animal friends. Charming rhymes, gorgeous pictures of animals. Unfortunately, the follow-up Little Wombat books just aren't as good. The illustrations are still wonderful, but the stories are less compelling. I Know A Rhino is absolutely darling. It's imaginative, beautifully drawn, and nicely rhymed. It's about a little girl who makes up stories about her stuffed animals. My Dad is a rarity--a book about a dad instead of a mom. I got this for Matt for his first Father's Day. It's fairly simple, a story about a bear bragging about his dad, but it's sweet and his drawings can't be beat.

Annie Kubler - Her illustrated versions of songs are just adorable, and some of Lilah's favorites are Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (which uses animals and people from all the continents and can prompt fun discussions about cultures and where different animals live with older toddlers), The Wheels on the Bus (the bus takes children, a magician, a clown, and others to a birthday party in the illustrations for an extra dimension), and Row, Row, Row Your Boat (which adds a couple of really cute verses to round out the short song and features babies in the illustrations, which Lilah loves).

Eric Hill - Lilah loves the lift-the-flap spot books, Spot Goes To The Farm, Where's Spot?, Spot Bakes a Cake. These are classics for a reason.

Barney Saltzberg - Peekaboo Kisses and Noisy Kisses are lots of fun for Lilah. She loves lift-the-flaps and feeling the different textures.

Karen Katz - Peek-a-Baby, Where Is Baby's Belly Button?, What Does Baby Say - more lift-the-flaps. Lilah likes the baby faces and she loves peek-a-boo.

Jane Yolen and Mark Teague - How Do Dinosaurs...? books. We discovered these through Kohl's Cares for Kids, the charitable organization of the department store. They periodically offer very inexpensive hardback books with accompanying stuffed animals, with proceeds going to health and education programs for kids. My mom (an elementary school principal) knew about these and ordered them for us. There are several board books available, too. Dinosaurs are much more pleasant and well-mannered than you probably thought! Cute rhymes, amazing dinosaur drawings that include the names of each type of dinosaur, and positive messages make these really fun. We have the three hardbacks, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon, and How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? We also have two of the board books, How Do Dinosaurs Learn Their Colors and How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends? We like them all, and plan to get the others.

Sandra Boynton - We have pretty much all the Boynton books. They are fantastic. Cute rhymes, wonderful animal drawings, plus many with accompanying songs. A cost-effective way to get several is with two Boyton's Greatest Hits boxed sets through amazon (new for under $15 for 4 books, and another (Big Box of Boynton) with 3 books for under $13. Lilah loves music, so these are a big hit. Boynton has three musicals with books, and a fourth musical, Blue Moo, coming out this fall. We got them from my mom through Kohl's Cares for Kids. Rhinoceros Tap is the first. The songs with board books available are Horns To Toes and Barnyard Dance. We have lots of giggly fun with Tickle Time. All the songs are performed by the very talented Adam Bryant, so this one lacks the "Wow, that's Meryl Streep!" sort of fun on the later, star-studded musicals, but the songs are all enjoyable, and it doesn't really matter. Then comes Philadelphia Chickens. Songs with available board books are Snuggle Puppy, Pajama Time, and Belly Button (Round). Other highlights are Scott Bakula singing Pig Island and Laura Linney's very funny Please Can I Keep It?, but the whole CD is fun. The most recent is Dog Train. Our favorite songs on this one are the Kate Winslet-Weird Al Yankovic duet I Need A Nap, Penguin Lament sung by Five for Fighting's John Ondrasik (even my cool, 23-year-old brother brother loved these two), and Billy J. Kramer's three-episode Cow Planet saga, but again, we like the whole CD. Very non-annoying kids music. We put these on when Lilah's fussy and dance with her, or sing along with her board books. She loves music (as soon as we start playing music, she starts bopping in time with the beat, very cute), so it usually stops her fussing and often puts her to sleep if she's tired. Lilah's favorite Boynton board books are Your Personal Penguin (with a free download of the song performed by Davy Jones of the Monkees), Belly Button Book (a sister song is on Philadelphia Chickens), Pajama Time (song on Philadelphia Chickens), The Going To Bed Book, and Snuggle Puppy (song on Philadelphia Chickens). We were excited to see that Boynton has a bath book coming out soon.

If I Did It

Are you going to read it? AP is reporting that Barnes and Noble is not going to stock it and Borders is not going to promote it. I have to confess that I want to read it. At least my money will be going to the Goldman family rather than OJ.

Food for Thought

Here's a CNN article discussing people's reading habits based on a survey they conducted. Just sort of interesting to see where the world of reading is going. None of the statistics really surprised me. :-)

Random Reading

Harry Potter was our book club pick for August so it will be fun to discuss it with everyone next week. It really was a great ending to the series. And I can't wait to let a little time pass and then reread the whole series back to back. And Allison, I'm glad Matt has finally agreed to read #7. Did Rowling redeem herself for how she ended #6? Or did #7 not live up for Matt?

Since I actually read HP7 in July, I decided to read our September book club pick because I couldn't decide on any of my 900 books I have here. The book was The Guy Not Taken by Jennifer Weiner. While the author seems to generally write novels, this book was a collection of short stories. I admit, I sort of groaned when this was revealed as the September book because I am not a big fan of short story collections. I hate that I'm just getting into the characters and wondering about where the story goes and then it just ends. I always seem to be left with wanting more from a short story. HOWEVER, this one was slightly different. I enjoyed most of the stories in this book. There was one I pretty much skipped because I just couldn't get into it or the characters. Something about a group of guys dognapping a yippy yap dog on their bachelor party night (Hmm...whatever). I think Weiner set the book up well for people like me that shy away from short stories. The first three stories in the book actually have the same characters in them just at three different points in their lives, so even though they were completely different stories, you could see where they were going. The other thing I noticed about the short stories is that they progressed well and flowed one into the next. There was a general theme involving water/swimming, another was writing. It seems that although the characters and their lives were all different, there were threads though each story that connected with the next making it flow well. Again, I think there are much more intriguing books out there but I didn't feel this was a total waste of my time. Not one I would have read if it weren't for book club though.

I just finished Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult last night. I have not read any of her books before. I always see them at the bookstore and think about it, but never got on the bandwagon. I have several friends who love her books and have told me how good they are, so I borrowed some and have them sitting on my shelf. I really liked this book and will probably read some of her other novels now. The novel is set in New Hampshire and is a modern day retelling of the Crucible. But this time the witches are the ones doing the condemning. The main character Jack was wrongfully accused of having sex with one of his teenage students, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, did his time and now struggles to make a new life for himself. He shows up in the town of Salem Falls hoping to blend in and not make any trouble, but instead finds himself "outed" to the town as a sexual offender and endures what comes with that label. One of the town's teenagers again accuses him of rape and a trial proceeds. Underlying all of the main story is information on the Wiccan religion. Several of the town's girls including the teenage accuser practice Wicca. I found the book very engaging and the characters well developed. I thought the whole premise of the book was interesting and I enjoyed reading about the Wiccan religion. I would recommend this one. And I know people who would recommend any Jodi Picoult book.

Lastly, I have been reading a few parenting books of late, and while I don't want to turn this blog into a Mommy site, there is one particular book I want to recommend: Raising a Sensory Smart Child by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske. While the book focuses on kids with larger sensory processing issues, I think any parent could glean some very helpful information from this book about how children perceive the environment around them and react to it. It has great information on the senses, processing your environment, and how to deal with behavior and discipline in a positive productive way.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Summer Reading

I finished a couple of books that I thought I'd review:

Putting on the Dog by Cynthia Baxter: It really wasn't that good, and I don't feel I'm overly picky when it comes to cozy mysteries. The sleuth was nosy and wishy-washy. Her annoying boyfriend whined through the whole book. Jessica kept saying how great he was, but I never saw it. Although, she was really no prize either, insisting that she wanted to make it work with the boyfriend in one paragraph, and getting drunk and slow-dancing with a movie star alone in his mansion in the next. Then she'd get mad that the boyfriend was jealous. Um, hello? The solution was really telegraphed quite a bit, too, and I didn't care that much by the end. If I weren't so compulsive, I would have stopped halfway through. Also, this woman is a vet, and she keeps leaving her dogs in her van while she runs errands. And it's summer! Duh! She says she cracks the windows and leaves water, but seriously, that's not gonna help. All in all, I really wanted to like these (Mystery? Animals? Crazy famous people? Yay!) but this one was just not great. I might check reviews of the others in the series to see if they get better, but I'm not too hopeful (this was #2).

I also read Halfway to Half Way by Suzann Ledbetter. The first in this series (mystery/romance) is South of Sanity, and these are cute. Hannah Garvey manages a retirement community that serves as home to some elderly busybodies who love to solve crimes. She's kind of their den mother. They're good-natured, funny, light reading, and I enjoyed this newest installment. You don't have to read them in order (although if you read this one first, it gives away something that happens in early books), and they're all funny.

I'm now reading The Science of Harry Potter and Hurricane Hannah by Sue Civil-Brown.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

So far behind... posting book reviews!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: I won't spoil it for anyone else, but I loved it! I think it was a great end to the series (*sniff*, so sad it's the end!) and her best yet.

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde: Excellent! I look forward to more. The first in the series is The Eyre Affair.

Crime Brulee by Nancy Fairbanks: Meh. Not great. The protagonist is annoying and not sympathetic. And she was the most engaging character. There is a recipe for Banana Bread Pudding With Banana-Rum Sauce I will be trying, though :)

Sugar Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke: Cute. Half the book is recipes, which is wild. Most aren't my thing, but there are some great sounding baked goods and desserts.

I have to re-read HP next!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter has arrived!!

I picked up my copy of Deathly Hallows this morning. I really hope to not hear/read any spoilers before I get a chance to read the book, however, actually having it in my hands, I had to fight the urge to look in the back of the book! I want to savor the story, yet I'm dying to know what happens.

And good news, Harry Potter is going green! Check out this link to learn how!

Happy Potter reading!

More Summer Reading

I'm waiting for UPS to bring my Harry Potter book, so I thought I'd write up a few quick reviews.

No Nest for the Wicket by Donna Andrews - This is the latest in her Meg Langslow mysteries. I really enjoy these, and Wicket was no exception. Meg and her family are lots of fun, there's an evil developer (always fun in a mystery), Duck plays an important role, and the mystery takes place around an eXtreme croquet tournament played by the cream of Caerphilly society. I would recommend starting with the first, Murder With Peacocks just to get acclimated to the Langslow clan, but you can really start anywhere in the series.

Antiques Roadkill by Barbara Allan - This is the first in a new cozy mystery series (Trash 'N' Treasure), and there was a lot to like. I guess I'm interested in reading the follow-up, Antiques Maul, to see if "she" (the author is actually a pseudonym for a husband and wife team) settles down a bit. The constant asides and parenthetical comments were disruptive, and the heroine isn't all that sympathetic. Well, the story is written in first person, and you learn quickly that she had an affair with a married man, this ended her marriage, and her husband has custody of their son. But you don't learn how she feels about any of that, which is weird, because she vents pretty much any other thought that enters her head, including rants about fashion, architecture, and more. She also turns the narration over to her bipolar mother for ten pages, which is unnecessary and tedious. The mystery was pretty well-done, though I did figure it out, at least partly, which I usually don't do. Some of the humor was very well-done, too, and it was enjoyable to read at times. I guess, pick this up if you're desperate for a new cozy mystery.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin - This is an extraordinary book. It's a YA novel that opens with Liz, an almost-sixteen year old waking up on a boat, with no memory of how she got there. She realizes quickly that she's dead, and the boat is taking her to Elsewhere. (This isn't a spoiler--you can find that out by reading the back of the book.) Read this with a box of tissues handy. It's funny and poignant and beautiful. I don't want to give away any more of the plot, but if the premise sounds at all interesting to you, pick it up. Liz and the supporting cast are wonderfully drawn, and the writing is a delight.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Coziest Mystery

I have been re-reading Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books, which I know is lame, but I also read Lean Mean Thirteen, which was really funny. More laugh-out-loud than the last couple, I think. But the new book I've just finished is The Tale of Hilltop Farm by Susan Wittig Albert, the first in her Beatrix Potter mysteries. She's the author of the China Bayles herb shop mysteries (Thyme of Death, et al), which I always liked but haven't read recently. Not sure why. At any rate, Hilltop Farm takes place in 1905, when Beatrix Potter visits the town of Near Sawrey, where she has purchased a farm. Wittig Albert clearly did a lot of research on Potter's life, the time period, and Sawrey, cramming in many, many facts and trivia, which spill over into a Historical Note at the end of the book. This series appears to have everything the coziest mystery needs: talking animals (to each other, not to people), villagers with almost unreadable dialects, small-town intrigue, Victorian details like the woman who (gasp) shows her ankles. I found it utterly charming. If you like your mysteries with exciting twists and turns or pulse-pounding suspense or a focus on the mystery at hand rather than the village gossip, well, this is SO not the series for you. But if you find charming tales of village life with historical background and talking animals to be just the thing for a summer read, pick this one up. It was cuter than cute and so fun I didn't care how thin the mystery was.

I have quite a stack of YA, mystery, and romance novels for the summer, so hopefully I'll be posting more frequently now the Evanovich re-reading is over. Not to mention Harry Potter and Thursday Next reviews coming up in the next week or so!

Carol's Summer reading

I tend to read fluff in the summer. However, I decided to read the top two books that Holly mentioned in her blog that was the Tournament of Books - The Road and Absurdistan. The two books were completely different from each other. The Road was a dark depressing post-apocalypse book. Absurdistan was a satirical novel that definitely had its funny parts, but was absurd in the extreme. The Road was well written - each word in each sentence setting the mood. Although it was a depressing book, I actually enjoyed reading it.

I've also read several other books recommended by the bloggers here - Peter and the Starcatchers, which lead me to Peter and the Shadow Thieves and then Dave Barry's novel, Risky Business. I've also read several of the Thursday series by Jasper Fforde. Of course, to satisfy my summer urge for fluff, I just finished Smitten and Hot Stuff by Janet Evanovich. I'm now reading a couple of mysteries - one that is a part of the Dead End Job series, called Murder with Reservations by Elaine Viets.

I also read How to be Good by Nick Hornby - another book recommended by AllisonMarieCat. I have to admit I didn't find it that entertaining. I thought it was just too sad and depressing - too many people trying to find something worthwhile in life and not really getting anywhere. Maybe it was just too realistic in a bizarre sort of way.

One book I would highly recommend if you want to laugh is Lamb: The Bible according to Biff, Christ's Childhood Friend by Christopher Moore. I've read all of Moore's books starting with The Stupidest Angel which was a Christmas gift from Holly. Moore is a bit out there with his werewolves and walking dead and lust lizards, but he is entertaining.

I also read all of the Harry Potter books in the last few months. I hadn't read them before, although I've enjoyed the movies. So, I decided to read them in preparation for book 7 this weekend. I'm on the waitlist at the library - 115 out of 341. I'm hoping it will go fast!

For the Love of Pets

Now, I'm not much of a pet person. We currently are not responsible for any living beings other than our kids. I had a cat growing up, and my dad had a dog. I am much more of cat person. In fact, maybe someday if I can ever convince myself I will actually like cleaning up cat hair from everywhere, we will get a cat. I am not a dog person. At ALL. I never have been. Okay, are you wondering why I'm going on about pets?

Our book club pick for July is Marley and Me by John Grogan. I am little more than halfway through it and I am enjoying it! When it was announced this would be our book, I was not particularly excited and thought I would not be able to relate being the dog non-lover that I am. However, I am really enjoying. Perhaps its that I am amused by the dog's antics and thankful that I am not a dog owner. Obviously, its safe to say this memoir will be enjoyed by everyone, dog lovers and non-lovers alike!

On the same note, just to give cats an equal opportunity on this blog. Several years ago, I read My Cat Spit McGee by Willie Morris. I really loved this book as well. It's a sweet tale of how a dog lover turned into a cat lover. The author also wrote My Dog Skip. For anyone who is a pet lover or enjoys animal memoirs, I recommend these two books as well.

Summer Reading

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I have been reading, just no time to post. Until now! Let's see. I started Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. "Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living can "read" fictional characters to life when one of those character abducts them and tries to force him into service." This kind of reminds me of a Jasper Fforde for kids, but I only got about 50 pages into the the book before I returned it to the library. Not for a lack of interest. It's a fairly long book and I think I was overwhelmed with too many fun books to read this summer. I think this book will be more of a winter book for me. I see it as more of a curl up with a blanket and a nice cup of cocoa type book. Funke has planned a trilogy with the second one, Inkspell, already out. Both books have received excellent reviews. Inkheart: The Movie is in production now, and it seems the third book in the trilogy, Inkdeath will be out January 2008. She also has a number of other juvenile fiction books out that all sound very good. So to those mourning the end of the Harry Potter books, perhaps you might be mildly satisfied with Funke.

I enjoyed another Alexander McCall Smith No. 1 Ladies Detective Series book, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies. I believe its number 6 in the series. I seem to like reading these books in the summer. In fact, I think I've read all of them in the summer. Perhaps its the African setting. It's hot there, its hot here. Who knows. I enjoyed this installment and am looking forward to getting to Blue Shoes and Happiness before the summer is over.

Although I was unable to attend, our book club pick for June was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Allison reviewed this book earlier in the year and loved it. I was a little more reserved with my feelings. For the first half of the book, all I could think about was Flowers in the Attic. I'm not sure why. It just felt that way to me. Not that that's a bad thing. I loved Flowers in the Attic as a teenager. I did enjoy it a bit more in the second half once I started figuring out where the story was going. This one was just a little difficult for me to get into. I was told the book club all loved it though. So perhaps I was just a bit to hard on this book. It was well written and the characters very developed.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Best novels you've never read...

While perusing Girl Detective during my morning coffee today, I came across a link to an article from New York Magazine. Sixty-one critics list their favorite underrated books of the last ten years.

The Munch Mancini Mystery Series by Barbara Seranella stood out to me as one Allison may be interested in. :-)

It was an interesting list. I recognized about 10 of the books and the rest were foreign to me. The Accidental was on the list, which you may remember I did not particularly like, but it seems the rest of the world did.

There was a link at the end of the article to another listing "Which novels from the past several years will be taught in 50 years?" I have Atonement sitting on my bookshelf. Hope to get to it someday.

Just rambling this morning. Happy Summer Reading!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Friday Night Knitting Club

Anyone who knits or enjoyed the book Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, this is the book for you! Kate Jacobs has created a well-written book about a group of women who become friends and bond through knitting together. The book takes place in New York City and features different types of female personalities in a wide range of ages. Most of the activity in the book centers around a knitting boutique called Walker and Daugther, started by a single mom who needed a way to make ends meet so she could raise her daughter. Each character in the book represents a different life viewpoint and they all come together.

I feel like this book will appeal to almost any woman reading it. I was not annoyed by any of the characters and enjoyed the book from beginning until end. It didn't quite end the way I may have liked, but it wasn't a bad ending. And like I said before, it sort of gave me a feeling of Angry Housewives in that its a book about female bonding and having a strong group of female friends to lean on. But as much as it may have reminded me of Angry Housewives, it was completely different as well. Also, the overall knitting metaphor is interesting and not at all cheesy. (At least I didn't think so.)

This was our book club pick for May. We have the meeting tonight. I'll add the group's impression of the book tomorrow. :-) Hope you all had a nice long Memorial Day Weekend.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

More Jane, Again

Because I am apparently very boring, all I have to post about is finishing two more of Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries, Jane and the Ghosts of Netley and Jane and His Lordship's Legacy, both of which were excellent. I love this series, and they're not losing their appeal as the series goes on. Fantastic stuff.

Um, I also re-read the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, as he has a new one coming out in July. I loved reading them again.

And I'm currently reading Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which is lots of fun so far. One of my guesses I made during the first book came true, so I was pleased about that.

Other than that, I'm boxing up books for MOVING DAY in three weeks. Ack! I should put together a list of my "give-away" pile to see if anyone here wants any of my books, but I may not have time. They may just be donated to the library.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

I really enjoyed Donohue's The Stolen Child from beginning to end. The concept of the book made it a fun read. Sort of a fairy tale for adults.

Changelings or hobgoblins live in the woods for decades until they can find a human child to change places with. They wait for the most opportune moment to kidnap the desired child and then switch places with them. The stolen child becomes a changeling and lives in the woods awaiting his eventual turn to become human again decades later with another child. The changeling who replaces the stolen child in the human world experiences "normal" life but can remember being a changeling and perhaps even recall things from his former human life before he was originally stolen. Confused yet? It is very difficult to describe this book without going on and on. The book is very well written and the character development is excellent. It alternates chapters between the changeling and the stolen child, sometimes having events intersect. Nothing incredibly earthshattering happens so don't except a huge reveal or a big bang at the end of the book. But it is worth reading and a nice break from my normal book choices.

I saw my aunt Carol this weekend and she said she has mostly been reading books that we have recommended on this blog, including The Road. She said it was very well written, but very sad and depressing. Just thought I would pass that along in case anyone is thinking of reading it. :-)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I've been a fan of Jodi Picoult's for several years now after first reading The Pact.

I found this latest book of hers to be particularly disturbing, primarily due to the timing of its release and my own timing in reading it. In the book, 17-year old Peter Houghton takes several guns to his high school and kills ten people, injuring many others. As the story unfolds, we learn that Peter was a favorite target of school bullies, dating back to his first day of kindergarten. His attorney takes a novel approach to his defense, describing him as having acted in self-defense due to post traumatic stress and suffering from school bullying syndrome. He likens Peter to the battered woman who kills her husband.

The school violence in this book supposedly happened on March 6, 2007. Obviously, Ms. Picoult could not have known that the Virginia Tech massacre was about to occur, but the commonalities between her fictional account and real-life events left me wondering whether Seung-Hui Cho had read her book and used it as a "how-to" guide. I realize that is unlikely, but it still rattled me. I'm left asking myself whether an actual victim of school bullying would find some sort of rationalization for retaliation imbedded in these pages.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Grayson by Lynne Cox

This was our book club pick for April. A very short read, I finished it in about two hours I think. The book is a memoir of a woman's experience swimming along side a baby whale off the coast of Orange County, CA when she was fifteen. Part of the book is spent guessing about what exactly is swimming next to her. And the rest of it is spent trying to return the lost baby whale to its mother. This one was not really for me. It was short enough that I didn't hate it. But it was really sappy for me. I guess if I'm going to read a memoir, I prefer it to be funny, or very harrowing (like a book about a trip to Everest or Apollo 13 or something). While the story in Grayson is nice, I think it means more to the author than it does for the reader, at least this reader.

I also finished Death du Jour, the second book in the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs. I don't think it was nearly as good as the first in the series. The second half of the book went much quicker than the first half. There was a lot of information about cults which I found interesting but getting to that part was a bit difficult. The story seemed all over the place at first. I'm sure I'll get around to reading the others in this series though. Hopefully, the next one will be a little better.

I'm looking forward to reading The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield for our next two book club books. I think I might delve into a little science fiction (or is it fantasy) with my next book, The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue.

Monday, April 16, 2007

More on The Road

The Road also won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. See article here....

Maybe with all the hype I need to see what this book is all about. Dare I say it was also chosen for an Oprah Book Club pick. That is slightly off-putting to me, but well the Pulitzer probably trumps that. :-)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Slightly New Look

I upgraded the template to the book blog today. I added labels to the posts classifying the books. That way if you remember reading a review of a book but can't exactly remember when, who wrote it, or the title, hopefully the labels will help narrow it down. Or you could use them if you're in the mood for a certain type of book and want to see what has been reviewed in the past.

To add labels to your posts, just add the appropriate label in the space at the bottom of the "Posting" window. Or I can always go back and categorize them later.

I used "General Fiction" for anything that didn't fall into the other categories. If anyone wants to break those down a bit, or suggest labels to help me break them down, that would be great.

Also, sidenote. I found another book "rental" website for you to check out. Kirsten suggested and the one I found was This site is also like Netflix but for books. You can subscribe to paperback books or to audiobooks. I would assume you could get the audiobooks and download them to your computer for later listening. For audiobooks, Allison has also recommended

As always, Happy Reading!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Go read this book!

Okay, I suppose I should say more than that. This is such a fun read, a prequel to Peter Pan full of swashbuckling adventure. Recognizing characters who will appear in Peter Pan is neat, and the plot is engaging and fun. It doesn't try to imitate the writing style of Peter Pan at all, but it's Dave Barry, so you know it's funny. I'm not familiar with Pearson, but the two of them did a great job setting out the plot that will lead to Peter Pan.

Nick Hornby

Well, I've read How To Be Good and High Fidelity, and I'm now on About A Boy, so I thought I'd post about the two I've read.

High Fidelity - A very nice read. If you've seen the film, you've read the book--it's amazingly faithful, lifting most of the dialogue intact. It's fun to read, anyway, to see how it was translated from London to Chicago.

How To Be Good - This was a funny, funny book about a marriage in trouble, first through infidelity, then through religious conversion. Amazon's review is better than anything I can say about it:

In Nick Hornby's How to Be Good, Katie Carr is certainly trying to be. That's why she became a GP. That's why she cares about Third World debt and homelessness, and struggles to raise her children with a conscience. It's also why she puts up with her husband David, the self-styled Angriest Man in Holloway. But one fateful day, she finds herself in a Leeds parking lot, having just slept with another man. What Katie doesn't yet realize is that her fall from grace is just the first step on a spiritual journey more torturous than the interstate at rush hour. Because, prompted by his wife's actions, David is about to stop being angry. He's about to become good--not politically correct, organic-food-eating good, but good in the fashion of the Gospels. And that's no easier in modern-day Holloway than it was in ancient Israel.

Hornby means us to take his title literally: How can we be good, and what does that mean? However, quite apart from demanding that his readers scrub their souls with the nearest available Brillo pad, he also mesmerizes us with that cocktail of wit and compassion that has become his trademark. The result is a multifaceted jewel of a book: a hilarious romp, a painstaking dissection of middle-class mores, and a powerfully sympathetic portrait of a marriage in its death throes. It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry as we watch David forcing his kids to give away their computers, drawing up schemes for the mass redistribution of wealth, and inviting his wife's most desolate patients round for a Sunday roast. But that's because How to Be Good manages to be both brutally truthful and full of hope. It won't outsell the Bible, but it's a lot funnier.

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

Wow, I'm behind on my book postings!

I finished this book a month ago and haven't gotten around to posting about it. It was a surprisingly gripping read, considering it's billed as a political/social satire of Thatcherite London, which doesn't sound all that involving. The protagonist (but certainly not a hero!) is Nick Guest, a Henry James scholar at loose ends after graduating university. He stays with the family of a university friend, headed by Gerald, a Tory MP, helping out with their disturbed daughter and dabbling in his newfound homosexuality. The backdrop is London in 1983, 1986, and 1987, so the specter of AIDS hangs inevitably over Nick's life. Nick never really "does" anything, in a career sort of way, and seems to drift through life. You might think this would make him an unsympathetic character, but strangely, it illuminates the life of a gay man in a conservative society. Hollinghurst is an extraordinary writer, with rich, precise prose, and this was a pleasure to read. I will be looking for his other novels as well.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tournament of Books Champion

Cormac McCarthy's book The Road won!

Here's a link to an article on the final judging.

Has anyone read this? It seems to be everywhere these days.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle

The book club pick this month was Tortilla Curtain. I've had this one on my shelf for probably at least three years. My stepmom gave it to me thinking I might enjoy it because it take place in Los Angeles. Sorry if anyone out there is a fan of T. C. Boyle, but I think he is a bit arrogant and writes like he thinks he's writing the "Great American novel". I don't know I think he felt he was writing a social commentary on Mexican immigration to the United States and juxtaposed (Mr. Boyle would like that word) it with yuppyville in L.A.

The book is about two different couples. The first is a Mexican couple who crossed the border and are living extremely poor lives camping in Topanga Canyon and begging for work just to survive. The other couple: Mr. and Mrs. Yuppy (my names). They live in a swanky community that abhors anything/anyone who is deemed beneath them. They put up a gate and a stucco wall in the name of security even though, its to keep the riff raff (aka the Mexicans) out.

I did enjoy that the book was set in Los Angeles and was familiar with most of the areas described. I was also familiar to some extent with both sides of the characters. However, I was annoyed at the exaggeration of the characters. I felt like the author thought he needed to make the two couples so extreme in order to get his point across to the reader about the two different worlds they live in. I think the idea of the novel is a good one, but the execution was no good. Unfortunate events happen to both couples throughout the book and escalate toward the end. It is very difficult to read about people when "the hits just keep coming".

I guess it seems like I haven't enjoyed my books lately. I did read the second Cliff Janeway novel (The Bookman's Wake by John Dunning) between Lost and Found and Tortilla Curtain. I liked the second one but the first half of the book was a little slow. It definitely picked up at the end. I found the third one on the bargain table at Barnes and Noble so I'll be reading that soon. Right now I'm about to start the second Temperance Brennen book, Death Du Jour by Kathy Reichs.

Tourament of Books Finalists

The Road




Saturday, March 03, 2007

It all makes sense now!

I have been having the hardest time deciding on a new book to read the last few days. Then I was perusing book blogs (my alternative when I can't decide on a book) and read this on Girl Detective:

Re-reading Reminder

February 22nd, 2007

The planet Mercury has turned retrograde. According to astrologers, this is not a good time to start new projects or books. If you’re found new books slow going, give old favorites a try until March 8, when Mercury turns direct again.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In a list kind of mood

I guess I feel like making lists today. I spent the girls' naptime looking through my last three issues of Bookmarks Magazine and made a list of the books that sounded interesting to me.

Fun story: From the time I learned to write, I made lists. Lists of EVERYTHING. Completely random things, I don't even know what were on my lists. My mom had a friend, she always said I was going to be a writer because I loved making lists. Not sure blogging counts as writing, but I have always enjoyed it. And I still make lists today. I have a little notebook that I have around all the time to jot things down when they come to me (groceries, household tasks, errands, books to read, etc.). And I'm constantly losing it and and asking my husband if he's seen my notebook. He makes fun of me, when I'm just walking around the house looking for something, he says, "Are you looking for your notebook?" That's how much I lose it. Anyway, here's to making lists...

The Pirates! in an adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe
The Torment of Others (part of the Tony Hill mystery series) by Val McDermid
The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole by Stephanie Doyon (this was on the Tournament of Books list last year)
The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde (Allison has reviewed this series before)
It's Superman by Tom DeHaven
The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow
My Latest Grievance by Elinor Lipman
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley
The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits
The Mephisto Club (Jane Rizzoli/Maura Iles mystery series) by Tess Gerritsen
Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh
Philosopy Made Simple by Robert Hellenga

Sidenote: Robert Hellenga is an English professor at Knox College (my alma mater). He also wrote The Sixteen Pleasures which was a well-received book. I never had a class with him but always heard wonderful things about him. I also haven't read his books yet, but hope to.

PS. I added a couple new blogs to the blog list in the side bar. If there are any other book blogs you love to read, please let me know and I'll add them to the list.

Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst

We read this book for my book club this month. I would categorize it as fluff. It was mildly entertaining. The book is about an Amazing Race type reality show and focuses on the different pairs of people. The chapters flip-flop from the different characters' points of view. The story follows them through the show and how each of them deals with the situation of being on a reality show. The book stays on the surface and is not deep at all. I felt sort of weird about reading about a reality show. I felt like I should be watching it on television. Almost like the book itself was a reality show about a reality show because you got to see behind the scenes, the host, and the producers viewpoints as well as the main characters. Overall, I just thought the book was okay, even for fluff. Not sure I could say it was a complete waste of time, but I don't think I would recommend it. There are many other books out there worth reading before this one.

The book club was mixed about it. Most felt the way I did, some liked it just because it was an easy read. Apparently they have read some difficult books in the past, so it was a nice change of pace to read something more light-hearted.

Next month's book is Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle, which I'm really looking forward to reading. I've had it on my bookshelf for a couple years and now I finally have the opportunity to sit down and read it.

Tournament of Books 2007

Since it's almost March Madness, I thought I would check and see if this year's books were listed for the Tournament of Books yet. And they were.

Here's the list for 2007:
Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson
Arthur and George, Julian Barnes
Brookland, Emily Barton
English, August
, Upamanyu Chatterjee
The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford
Pride of Baghdad, Niko Henrichon, Brian K. Vaughan
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
The Emperor’s Children, Claire Messud
The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, Peter Orner
The Echo Maker
, Richard Powers
Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon
, Sam Savage
Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart
Alentejo Blue, Monica Ali
Apex Hides the Hurt, Colson Whitehead

I won't be providing commentary this year, but may throw in an update every now and then. I haven't read any of the books on the list. Not sure any of them are really my kind of books, I'll have to look them up and see. Please post a comment if you've read any of these and what you thought of it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

I could go on and on about how amazing Kate Atkinson is, but I'll spare you :) She may be my favorite living writer. Her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, won the Whitbread Book of the Year, and is fantastic. Her first three novels all deal with family dysfunction in various ways, but Atkinson is a masterful storyteller with a gift for creating believable, rich characters, so these are not insubstantial, derivative Oprah books. Atkinson is also wickedly funny. Her short story collection, Not the End of the World, is disturbing and gripping, and despite the title, is about the end of the world. Her fourth novel, Case Histories, introduced private investigator and ex-cop Jackson Brodie, who is involved in three separate cases that aren't exactly connected, but touch each other. This was her first "hit" novel, and I wasn't sure how I felt about my favorite literary novelist turning to the detective genre. However, this isn't your grandmother's detective novel. Atkinson takes her keen insight into the human condition and applies it to the genre, rather than allowing the genre to constrict her storytelling. The relationships between the characters are satisfying and well-developed. Her latest novel, One Good Turn, brings Jackson back as one of several witnesses to a road rage incident. Atkinson takes the events of a few days and shows them from the points of view of the different characters, who are all connected in some way. I had trouble putting it down. You don't need to have read Case Histories to enjoy One Good Turn, but I highly recommend both.

Monday, February 12, 2007


I read about half of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. I couldn't finish it, at least not right now. Not because it was poorly written or anything. I just got bored and had other books I'd rather be reading right now. The book is a memoir of his childhood growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950's. It's a nice look at the 50's and I might assume the 1960's but I didn't get that far. And it's fun to read about what life was like then. But I think this book might appeal more to the previous generation of Baby Boomers who actually did grow up during that time. I did enjoy the tidbits from various newspaper clippings that he put at the beginning of each chapter. They were very entertaining.

I just finished Booked to Die, the first in the Cliff Janeway series by John Dunning. I already posted that my mom thought these were good mysteries, but I wanted to elaborate. I really enjoyed this book a lot. Janeway starts out as a cop who is interested in the book business as a hobby. A bookscout gets murdered and he is on the case. However, before he can solve it, he gets himself into a bit of hot water by beating up a suspect. He decides maybe its time to leave the police force and he opens up a bookshop. There are a couple more murders that he knows are somehow connected to the first one. Even though he's no longer a cop, he investigates and goes on to solve the crime. This book flows very well and I didn't figure out who did it until the reveal. I actually got hooked on the book in the introduction. Dunning talks about how he got the book published and how surprised/humbled he was by its great success. He also gives his impression of the current bookselling world. I found it all very interesting. I look forward to the next one when I get a chance to read it.

Now onto Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst for my book club this month. :-)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Holly did a great review on this book earlier, and I finally pulled it out of my to-read pile, dusted it off, and breezed through it.

This is part coming-of-age story, part mystery, part magical realism. It starts with Daniel, age 10, who discovers the book The Shadow of the Wind by a mysterious author, Julian Carax, and loves the novel. When he looks for other Carax books, he learns that someone has been collecting all the copies and burning them. He becomes obsessed with finding out everything about Carax. The story is as much about Carax as Daniel, whose lives have odd parallels, and the characters are well-drawn and the suspense masterful. This is a flawed but beautiful book. I'm not sure how much is the author and how much is the translator, but you could easily remove a third of the similes and a quarter of the adjectives with no ill effect, and probably shorten the book by 100 pages. There's also a part near the end of the book that changes points of view for nearly 100 pages (a sort of book-within-a-book), which is jarring. Those pages are compelling, to be sure, and I'm certain that's why the author couldn't part with them, but they took me out of the story that was already in process. I think a more brutal editor would have served this book well. That said, I enjoyed this book. The mystery was satisfying and involving and the characters intriguing. It managed to be witty in places and sometimes bitterly sad. A lovely book, and a fairly quick read for 500 pages.

This is Zafon's first adult novel (his previous novels are young adult, and I don't believe are available in English), and I would certainly read his second.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz, and more....

I haven't posted lately, but I've been reading lots: There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz; The Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans; Julie & Julia by Julie Powell; and We, the Jury: Deciding the Scott Peterson Case by Jury Members, Frank Swertlow, and Lyndon Stambler--just to name a few. I seem to be on a bit of a non-fiction kick, as I look back.

There Are No Children Here should be required high school, if not junior high, reading. I grew up not too far from Chicago, and my father once drove us into one of the projects on accident. I can't remember wanting to get out of any other place more than I did that one! This book gives true insight into what it is like to actually live in one of those projects and to try to eke a childhood and/or family life out of that bleak existence. My biggest surprise was that, in all the poverty of the Henry Horner Homes, the mother of the children featured in this book continued to have hopes of a better life for her children. Her younger boys Pharoah and Lafayette are wise beyond their years, but the essence of their childhood lives on.

I was fascinated by Timothy Treadwell's death a couple of years ago and saw the movie pieced together from the footage he shot in Alaska. The Grizzly Maze is a nonjudgmental look at Treadwell's life based upon interviews with his supporters and his detractors alike. I still don't know what to make of him, but I know a lot more about bears now! I hope never to encounter any of the black bears that live in the mountains near my home. I must say I'm a lot less inclined to explore those mountains now.

Julie & Julia came out of a year long cooking/blogging experiment by Julie Powell. Approaching 30 years old, she looks for a project to focus upon and decides to work her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year's time. I can't say it was a great book and certainly didn't capture great food in the manner of Ruth Reichl, but it was a decent way to pass the time on the train to and from work.

Like many people, I avidly followed the Laci Peterson story and her husband's trial. I hoped this book would reveal greater detail about the evidence and the thought processes of the jurors. I was disappointed that it seemed mostly to focus upon the personal dynamics of the jury and the opinions of individual jury members. I'm sorry to say that We, the Jury may also be the worst written book I've ever read. Better books about the trial are A Deadly Game: The Untold Story of the Scott Peterson Investigation by Catherine Crier, and Blood Brother: 33 Reasons My Brother Scott Peterson Is Guilty by Anne Bird.