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.

Harry Potter Release Date!!!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be released July 21. Let the pre-ordering begin!