Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blue Highways
by William Least Heat-Moon

I'm a sucker for travel memoirs. I just love hearing about the author's trip and the people they meet along the way. But a travel memoir is only as good as the author's writing and this one is wonderful. It reminded me a lot of Steinbeck's Travels With Charley.

Heat-Moon loses his job as a professor and separates from his wife. These two events motivate him to take a van and drive around the entire country. He tries to stick to the back roads instead of the interstates. He is truly gifted at describing people. This is just one example,

"Alice was one of those octogenarians who make old age look like something you don't want to miss."

I love that! On his journey he visits towns where racism sits just below the surface, kindness spills out onto the sidewalks, mosquito swarm, fisherman swear and there's no shortage of delicious food.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the amazing Frank Muller, but had a hard copy I flipped through while listening because it included maps and photos of the people he met. I would recommend doing the same if you listen to it.

Fourth Comings
by Megan McCafferty

This is the fourth book in the Jessica Darling series. I felt like a lot of the book simply rehashes plot points from the first three books in the series. At the beginning of this installment Jessica's longtime boyfriend Marcus proposes just as she's trying to break up with him. The rest of the book follows Jessica as she soul searches to figure out her answer. I was definitely satisfied with the ending, but the book itself wasn't as good as some of the earlier ones. There's too many over the top characters that fit cliché
--> moulds. I wonder if I outgrew the series or if it was just this book in particular that didn't work for me.

The Jungle Book
by Rudyard Kipling

This classic story of a boy raised by a pack of wolves has lost none of its power over the years, but the Disney movie certainly doesn't do it justice. Mowgli's journey to manhood is so much more complicated than that depiction shows. He learns the jungle law from the vivid characters Baloo the bear and the panther Bagheera and he must fight the tiger Shere Khan, but the true story lies in his life as a misfit. Though he's raised in the jungle, most animals never accept him. Then when he returns to the human village he finds the same is true there. He has no real home and the pain of that breaks his heart.

Over Sea, Under Stone
by Susan Cooper

This is the first book in the Dark is Rising series. Three siblings, Simon, Barney and Jane Drew, visit their Uncle Merry in Cornwall and find a treasure map. A lot of the book is clearly setting the scene for the rest of the series, but it's still a fun adventure.

I wish we got to know Uncle Merry a bit better, but his frequent absence just adds to his mysteriousness. It definitely got me interested enough to read the next book in the series, which I've heard is great. It's an easy to read story that I enjoyed.

by David Auburn

Catherine is the 25-year-old daughter of Robert, a brilliant mathematician who had a mental break down. She's struggling with her father's death and her fear that she could have the same mental instability. Robert's former student Hal believes that despite Robert's disease he might have come up with another mathematical break through before his death.

One of the reasons I've really enjoyed reading plays this year is the deep glimpse it gives readers into the author's intentions. For example, one stage direction in the play is...

(Beat. Morning-after awkwardness.)

Though the actors can demonstrate this, reading it tells you exactly what the playwright intended. This play is so well written and paced. It's one of my favorites I've read this year. It doesn't tell the reader everything upfront and you have to make your own assumptions with the info you're given.

Still Alice
by Lisa Genova

Alice, a Harvard professor, begins to notice some memory loss and is soon diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. The book chronicles her struggle with literally losing her mind. Her story is particularly moving because she is such an intelligent woman and it's heartbreaking to see her begin to regress into a child-like state. The story, though from Alice's point-of-view, also shows how her disease affects her husband and children.

Watching Alice become paranoid and confused is heartbreaking. She loses pieces of herself as time progresses and her fear and embarrassment is palpable. Genova does a wonderful job showing the emotions experienced on both sides of the disease (victim and family). It was hard to read, because it is so tragic, but at the same time I really loved it. I hated losing Alice. It's hard to explain the impact this book has, especially if you've lost someone to this disease like I have, but I would absolutely recommend it.

Photo by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Spring

This is our first spring in our new home and so we have no idea what's going to bloom when things pop up in the yard. These beautiful daffodils appeared near our mailbox. It's such a wonderful surprise everyday to see what flowers have appeared.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book List: 3 Favorite Book Covers

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

For this week's list I decided to only count covers of books I actually own, because there are far too many gorgeous covers out there otherwise.

1) Wuthering Heights: I fell in love with this cover when I found it in an old bookstore. The thin gold lines of the interweaving branches, I just love it.

2) The Angel's Game: What's better than a cover filled with old books? That's right, nothing.

3) Bridge of Sighs: In shades of blue, this cover shows the Bridge of Sighs in Venice and another small bridge, both of which are focuses in the book.

This meme is from Lost in Books.

Photos by moi.

New Bookshelf

Monday, March 29, 2010

There's something wonderful about a new empty bookshelf, just waiting to be filled. So much possibility. I found this gem at Goodwill this weekend and couldn't believe how well it fit into the only remaining open spot in my library. It was clearly meant to be. So for only $15 and some Pledge action, this bookshelf found the perfect new home.

I love the side detail at the top. It's so simple, but just enough to be unique. It reminds me of the Brooklyn Bridge and reminded my shopping buddy of a cathedral.

The bookcase, already filled, with my Brooklyn Bridge bookends on top. They match the detail on the top perfectly!

Do you guys remember where you've gotten your bookcases (or other pieces of furniture)? I remember each one. I found one of them at a yard sale on my 23rd birthday and it will forever be my birthday bookcase. I've never walked into a store and bought one (because they're expensive!). They've all been thrifty finds or gifts and a couple used to be my mom's, which I love. Everyone has it's own history and has held dozens of books before.

Photos by moi.

Friday Favorites: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Friday, March 26, 2010

Last week's Friday Favorite was The History of Love, so it seems only fitting to have this week's be Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I read the two books in the same year and was struck by the similar styles and plot points. Both follow a young child in New York City in search of something. Both deal with an old man and his troubling memories from WWII. I found out later that the two authors wrote their books and were later introduced by their shared publisher. They're now married, but had never met when they wrote the books. There's something beautiful in that.; two souls with such similar messages that bring them together in the end.

Anyway, back to the book. Foer's story follows Oskar, a young boy whose father died in the 9/11 attacked on the World Trade Centers. Oskar finds a key that belonged to his father and spends the rest of the book searching for the lock that it fits. It's more than a lock though that he's searching for, he needs closure, a way to say goodbye. While searching for the lock, Oskar's path crosses with many unique people. Each has a story of their own which helps Oskar in his struggle to come to terms with his tragedy.

Foer's writing could easily become gimmicky in the wrong hands, but somehow he manages to give the reader just enough to make it perfect. There are photos, numbers, notes, etc. in the book that enhance the story, not distract from it. I read his earlier book, Everything is Illuminated, and really liked it, but was even more moved by this second piece. The book left me reeling. I thought about the characters and their poignant losses long after I put it down.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

(My current book review journal)

So I'm curious, do any of you still keep an actual journal of the books you read or are all of your reviews online? Even though I use Library Thing and blog now, I can't seem to let go of my book journal. There's something about being able to flip through past years and see my own writing that makes it seem more personal. Also, I wonder if I'm more honest with myself about my thoughts on the book when I know I'm the only one who reads them.

Some part of me is convinced (even though logic says I'm silly) that the internet will shut down and lose everything I've entrusted to it. So I still keep track of the books I read each year in a journal. I usually write down the title, author, a rating (1 to 10) and a brief summary of the book and a few thoughts. I also jot down quotes I love from my reads so I can flip back to them later.

Anyone else out there still clinging to something tangible to chronicle your reading in?

Photo by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Shakespeare and Co.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

One of my favorite bookstores in the world, nestled on the left bank in Paris.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Floating Shelves

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A friend sent me a link to floating bookshelves as a joke... and I bought them. They are awesome! They are tiny little L-shaped pieces of metal that you can't even see once they're up. You put the back cover of the bottom book under the bottom of the shelf and it clips into a tiny lip on the shelf. Voila floating books!

(The corner before the shelves)

(The corner after the shelves)

They hold up to 15 lbs. of books and I actually have a tiny bit of space on my bedside table again!

Photos by moi.

Book Reviews

Monday, March 22, 2010

How Starbucks Saved My Life
by Michael Gates Gill

A former advertising big shot loses his job, his wife and finds out he has a brain tumor. In a moment of desperation he accepts a job at Starbucks and finds the work surprisingly satisfying. He writes about getting to know his new job, while flashing back to his fascinating life of privilege, which included run ins with Hemingway, Sinatra and Jackie O.

I enjoyed Gill's account of his time at Starbucks, but mainly because I worked at coffee shops for 7 years (through high school and college). So many of the details he talked about were things I remembered well. As a barista you really become a bartender of sorts for your customers. You get to know their drinks and names by heart and they tell you all about their lives.

I was glad that Gill took some responsibility for the fact that his choices had got him to the point he was at. He didn't play the victim. It's a light, uplifting book. It won't stick with me, but it wasn't too sappy. Reading about my former profession was definitely my favorite part.

Little Children
by Tom Perrotta

An educated stay-at-home mom, Sarah, and stay-at-home dad, Todd, meet on a playground. After an impulsive kiss, the two married parents begin an affair. At the same time a convicted sex offender, Ronnie, tries to adjust to life after prison.

My description of the book doesn't do it justice. It's an interesting plot, with very adult themes, but it's Perrotta's ability to draw such vivid characters, not the action itself, that makes this book so captivating. I found myself constantly wishing I could return to the book when I wasn't reading it.

Sarah's husband Richard has a strange subplot that only distracted from the real plot. I wish Perrotta had left it out or taken it another direction. Other than that I really enjoyed the book. All of the characters are selfish and deeply flawed, yet somehow I was still entranced. Each of them is so childlike in their desire to have a perfect life, though the "perfect lives" they picture are all very different. I finished the book feeling sorry for them, but also identifying with some of the feelings of desperation they expressed. I also felt Perrotta did an excellent job wrapping up the book. There's no easy way to end it, but he provides a completely satisfying and believable conclusion.

Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston

Janie, a young black woman in the south, has had a rough love life. One failed relationship after another eventually leads her into the arms of a younger man, Tea Cake. Janie is a strong woman, but she puts up with a surprisingly high amount of grief from the men in her life.

I noticed that in several reviews people said they struggled with the way the dialect was written. I read this via an audiobook and so that wasn't a problem. I really enjoyed the book and the descriptions of the south, but I didn't love the characters. I felt like Janie could have avoided some of her heartache by making better choices. At the same time I loved the message of following your heart even if it doesn't conform to society's ideals. I also liked seeing how Janie transformed over the course of the novel. All in all a good read, but one I wouldn't pick up again.

Waiting for Godot
by Samuel Beckett

Maybe it's because I've heard about this play for so many years. Maybe it's because I was expecting another Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Maybe I just didn't get it. Either way, Godot didn't resonate with me. The dialogue is quick and the characters are dull. It didn't have the same electric feel that some of my favorite plays do. That feeling that just draws you in and makes you want to participate in their conversation. I never really clicked with these two friends who spent their time waiting for a man who never came.

I understand that people say the undercurrent of their conversations is ripe with philosophical questions and ideas, but they weren't for me. They didn't make me think, they made me want the men to go do something productive so they wouldn't consider suicide out of boredom. The writing was good, I will give it that, but it just wasn't for me. I'm seeing the play in October, maybe it will make me change my mind.

What Was Lost
by Catherine O'Flynn

Kate, a curious 10-year-old, goes missing and causes the lives of others to spiral into strange directions. I loved Kate's voice in this book and wished we gotten more of it. Here relationship with her father was one of the highlights of the story for me. I felt the book lagged a bit once we got to know Kurt and List, which isn't surprising since their lives are intentionally at a standstill.

It's an excellent debut novel. It has an interesting plot and likable characters. Like most debut novels, this one contains many elements from the author's own life, including her frustrating experience in retail. Those elements get old fast, but it's forgivable, because the rest of the book makes up for it. O'Flynn does a wonderful job wrapping up the story and bringing it all together in the end and I found it very satisfying.

Photo by moi.

Friday Favorites: The History of Love

Thursday, March 18, 2010

When I first read The History of Love I was completely blown away. There's a lyrical quality about the novel that I love. It is a strange story, told from four different points of view. There's an old lonely man named Leo Gursky, a young girl named Alma Singer, her brother Bird Singer and Zvi Litvinoff, an old man living in Chile. There's lives are all intertwined and we hear from all of them as the story unfolds.

The story made my heart ache, in a really great way. The characters stayed with me and the book rolled around in my brain for weeks. It's all about grief and the deep fissure that it causes in our lives. It's also about the importance of human connection and the impact that we can have on the world around us, sometimes without even realizing it.

I recently suggested this for my book club and when we met to discuss it I was shocked to find out that none of the other women liked it. They all admitted they found it confusing and they didn't understand the plot. I explained a few things, which seemed to help, but I still couldn't believe that none of them enjoyed it.

It's amazing to me that a book can touch one person so deeply and leave others cold. I think it's wonderful that it happens that way. It shows that we're all different and there isn't one standard for a "good" book.


I recently bought the iPhone app Eucalyptus. I usually don't buy any apps, but I had an iTunes gift card and this one looked great. There are 20,000 classic books available for free (once you buy the app for $9.99). It automatically bookmarks your spot when you're done reading and more.

I tend to shy away from e-books, because I hate staring at a computer screen to read. I'd so much rather have a real book in my hands, which is why I carry one with me everywhere I go. But I think this might be helpful for those occasional times when I'm caught without a book. Or when I'm waiting for someone to get to a meeting and I need to look like I'm busy reviewing an e-mail instead of reading a paperback.

Have any of you tried this app? What do you all think about e-books?

Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

by Michelle Huneven

Patsy wakes up in a jail cell to find out she's killed two people while driving drunk. After serving time in jail, Patsy must adjust to life after such a horrible experience and the guilt she feels.

One of my biggest problems with this book is the fact that it tells you there's a "huge twist" on the dust jacket. Once you start reading it you are just waiting for the twist, which is obvious from the start, but doesn't happen until almost the end of the book. I was incredibly disappointed that the publishers had decided to market the book this way.

Other than that it was good. To me it really wasn't the book I was expecting though, because it deals with so many issues at once. Alcoholism, AIDS, adultery, prison, homosexuality, psychiatry, blended families, treatment of prisoners and their reintegration into society and more. It's a lot to take in, but it's a quick read and there are some great characters. I particularly loved Patsy's friend Gilles. There aren't any "good" or "bad" characters, instead there are flawed people who have all made mistakes. I liked this book, and it definitely made me think, but I had too many problems with it to rate it any higher.

Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
by Barbara Ehrenreich

Ehrenreich's painful battle with breast cancer leads her to take a harsh look at America's optimism in this nonfiction book. It was sad to read anecdotes about people with cancer believing that their negative thoughts were making their cancer get worse. I absolutely identified with her cynicism. People thinking good thoughts to heal themselves has never been in my believable category.

Ehrenreich's point is that choosing positive thinking over realism can have a negative impact on everything from personal health to the economy. People can delude themselves into thinking anything they want, but that doesn't make it real. For example, a woman can say she "manifested" an expensive purse for herself, but in the end she still has to pay the huge credit card bill.

I think some people just use "positive thinking" to justify materialism or laziness or a myriad of other things. The cynic in me liked her sarcastic look at these "suckers," but another, sappier side of me wanted her to leave people and their happy thoughts alone. In the end the book felt more like a rant than a logical argument.

Eloise in Paris
by Kay Thompson
The mischievous Eloise is back in action, this time in Paris. Knight's wonderful illustrations are filled with a lovely shade of blue in this book. The original worked with a palette of red, white, black and pink, so I love that Paris received it's own color. I liked this one just as much as the first and I can't wait to read it to my own mischievous niece.

by Jonathan Larson

Larson's Pulitzer-Prize-winning musical remake of the opera La Boheme has long been one of my favorites, but I'd never read the book until now. I loved seeing the dialogue and lyrics all written. The show moves fast and there are frequently multiple conversations going on at the same time, so it's easy to miss things. It was especially fun to read the lyric-heavy La Vie Boheme. There are so many clever references that I had to read it through multiple times just to appreciate it all.

This version also has some photos of the original stage production and some extra info about the author (who died before the show became a success). I loved having a chance to learn more about the real life events that inspired Larson to write the show.

What I really love about this story is the fact that it stresses accepting people as they are. It encourages us to dive in and live our lives, even though you might get hurt. One of the best lines comes from Mark, "The opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation!"

Photo by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Ireland Cemetery

Happy St. Patrick's Day! This picture, from a cemetery in Ireland, seemed appropriate.
Have a great day!

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book List: 3 Books That You Loved as a Child

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

There are so many, the hardest part is just picking three.

1) Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM: I reread this book so many times. I loved it. I also read all the sequels, though none were as good as the first.

2) The Westing Game: Turtle, America the Beautiful, Westing himself, this book had everything!

3) The Bunnicula Series: How great is the premise of this book? A cat and dog believe their family's new pet, a bunny, is a vampire. I read all of the books in this series (Howliday Inn, The Celery Stalks at Midnight) so many times.

A few bonus books because I can't seem to narrow it down: The Phantom Tollbooth, Tuck Everlasting ,The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic and The Secret Language. They are all wonderful.

Traveler's Library

Monday, March 15, 2010

I've been subscribing to National Geographic's Traveler magazine for years. A friend gave me a subscription as a gift once and I've been hooked ever since. One of my favorite things the magazine offers is an online list of books set in or dealing with different locations.

The web site is split up by continent and country. If you're traveling to Western Europe you can finds books like Vienna Blood by Frank Tallis to read during a trip to Vienna. Planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Pick up
Michael Ondaatje's book, Running in the Family.

The site suggests books for dozens of countries. It has a great mix of fiction and nonfiction and a huge range of time periods. You can find a book about the earthquake in San Francisco before visiting or you can find a modern day fiction book set in the same city.

I love reading books connected with the places I'm traveling to before or during my trips. It makes me feel even more connected to the place if I know a little bit of the history or can recognize an architectural description. If you've got any upcoming trips, (or just need to get away via a book) make sure you stop by their site and find a book that's connected to your destination.

Friday Favorites: Water for Elephants

Friday, March 12, 2010

I read Water for Elephants a few years ago. At the time I hadn't heard anything about the book or author and went into it with no expectations. The story takes place in two time periods, present day and 1931 depression-era. It's told from Jacob Jankowski's point-of-view, as a 20-something and then as a 90-something.

The premise is, Jacob joins the circus (back when people still did that) and meets the beautiful Marlena, her husband August, a cruel animal trainer, and the gentle Rosie, an elephant.

The author, Sara Gruen did an excellent job researching circuses for the book. She even includes real pictures from circuses. The story flows back and forth between the two time periods without ever losing it's pace.

The story is simply captivating. I was completely carried away by the circus stories, while at the same time the book was grounded by Jacob's experiences as an elderly person. He lives in a retirement home and he feels like he has lost everything he loved. It made me think about how our culture treats our elderly and the lack of dignity we leave them with.

It's not a perfect book, but it's a story that has stayed with me. I just found out that they are in the midst of casting the film version. It will star Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and recent Oscar winner, Chistoph Waltz (who is so good in Inglorious Bastards.) I'm not thrilled with the casting, (Pattinson, really?) so I want to tell anyone who hasn't read this book to pick it up before the film comes out. I promise it will be much better in your imagination than on the big screen.

Library Thing

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Long before I started blogging I discovered Library Thing. This brilliant site allows you to catalogue your books, join groups like, What are you reading?, request Advanced copies of books, and so much more. I swear I'm not getting anything to plug them, I just love the site and am always surprised when fellow readers haven't heard of it.

It creates a great community for discussing books. I love the tagging feature, which allows you to catalogue your books however you want, by a challenge your doing, the month in which you read them, the genre or all of the above. If you haven't been there, go immediately.

Here's my Library Thing profile. Do you guys use Library Thing at all?

Wordless Wednesday: Ireland Cliffs

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Today the weather is a bit like it was on this rainy day in Ireland.
I love a good thunderstorm.
I wish I was on my way to a pub for Irish stew.
More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

What Was Lost

Woo hoo! I won a copy of What Was Lost from the always excellent Find Your Next Book Here. I can't wait to get it and dive in. I've been hearing such good things about this book.

While I wait I will continue to labor towards the end of Les Miserable. I'm 950 pages into the 1,300 page beast. The story is so wonderful, I just wish Hugo hadn't felt the need to include ALL of the France's history (still worth it, just had to keep up the momentum.)

Book List: 3 Books That Take You Down Memory Lane to High School

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

This weeks list, from Lost in Books, takes me back to high school. Here's mine...

1) Sloppy Firsts - The book's main character, Jessica Darling, is snarky and sarcastic. This book came out while I was a senior in high school and it felt so much closer to the real feeling I had than most sappy novels.

2) The Christy Miller series - I loved this series in junior high and early high school. It was certainly an idealized version of high school, but it was a series I read when I was young so it'll always remind me of that time.

3) The Picture of Dorian Gray - I read this for the first time in high school and I've loved Oscar Wilde ever since. This book will always remind me of the moment when I realized the books assigned in English class can be awesome.


Monday, March 8, 2010

You're not in the wrong place, this is still a blog about books, but can we just have a minute to talk about the Oscars.

I don't know what it is about them, but I just love them. I know the jokes are often bad, the bits are too long, the speeches are boring and there is an air of smugness that hangs over the proceedings, but I still love them.

I love seeing what everybody wears. I love guessing who's going to win, even if there is no surprise. I love the rambling drunken speeches and the weepy "I had no idea" speeches. It's all so fun.

I have found that the best way to watch them is with good snacks, a few movie buff fans and with an extra hour of recorded material so you can fast forward over the commercials and boring parts.

I have to admit I was really thrilled when Bigelow and won for director and The Hurt Locker took Best Picture. I am just so tired of Avatar hype and Cameron is so cocky! I was glad Up picked up a few wins, it was such a sweet story. And the dresses, Helen Mirren looked amazing! There were so many great movies and performances this year. It's always fun when there's no front-runner that's going to sweep every category. Ok, that's the end of my Oscar ramblings.

Did any of you watch the Oscars? Did your favorites win?

Photo from

Friday Favorites: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Friday, March 5, 2010

I may be out on a limb with this one, but I'm ok with that. This is a strange book to list as a "favorite" because it's not one I'd pick up to re-read out of love for the characters. In fact the characters are decidedly hard to love.

It's something more than that. There's something about this book and the intimate way it was written that just cuts all the way to my bones. It is brutally honest. It says those things you're not supposed to say. It holds nothing back, makes no excuses and leaves the reader to form their own opinions.

The book is written in the form of letters from a woman to her husband. Here's a brief summary from Booklist...

"In a series of brutally introspective missives to her husband, Franklin, from whom she is separated, Eva tries to come to grips with the fact that their 17-year-old son, Kevin, has killed seven students and two adults... Guiltily she recalls how, as a successful writer, she was terrified of having a child. In crisply crafted sentences that cut to the bone of her feelings about motherhood, career, family, and what it is about American culture that produces child killers, Shriver yanks the reader back and forth between blame and empathy, retribution and forgiveness. Never letting up on the tension, Shriver ensures that, like Eva, the reader grapples with unhealed wounds."

I think it would be incredibly difficult to write a book that you know will cause some horrible responses, but she did an amazing job. It's a book that spurs discussion and isn't that what a great book is suppose to do? I highly recommend it, but that doesn't mean you're going to like it.

Have any of you read it? What did you think?

Mac Book... literally

Thursday, March 4, 2010

How fantastic is this laptop cover! I'm completely enamored and would love to slide my mac into one of these. I do think it's funny that they didn't even come up with a fake book name for the spine, it just says Book.

Photos from Twelve South

Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A few great books over the past couple weeks. What have you been reading?

The Absolutely Essential Eloise
by Kay Thompson

I'd heard of Eloise, but had somehow missed the book until now. It's delightful! The little, sassy kiddo runs wild in the Plaza Hotel, where she lives, causing mischief out of boredom. My favorite part, other than the hilarious illustrations, is Eloise's descriptions of the people she's closest to, her nanny, the maid and the hotel manager. She describes their quirks and flaws with the innocence as only a 6-year-old can do. This copy also includes fun extra bits about the author and the creation of the character, which adds to the enjoyment of the book.

The Big Sleep
by Raymond Chandler

A classic hard-boiled detective, Marlowe, is hired by a military man to deal with a blackmailer. The General's two daughters, Carmen and Vivian, drive the story. One is a lost soul, constantly getting into trouble; the other is a master manipulator. There's a twisted plot that becomes more complicated as the dead bodies pile up.

I preferred The Maltese Falcon (Humphrey Bogart plays the detective in the film versions of both books) to The Big Sleep. It came out about a decade earlier and I felt more connected to the story and to the detective, Sam Spade. The Big Sleep was an enjoyable read, but it won't stick with me. There were too many jumbled characters, but I do love the noir atmosphere. I recently heard that The Big Lebowski is loosely based on The Big Sleep. I never would have made that connection, but it does have a similar structure.

A Doll's House
by Henrik Ibsen

A woman, Nora, borrows money to save her husband's life without his knowledge. Later, the man she borrowed from blackmails her and she is terrified that her husband will discover what she's done.

Nora is a fascinating character. She is clever and resourceful and at the same time she seems desperate to please her husband, no matter what it takes. She hides her unhappiness from everyone, even herself. She likes to encourage his believe that's she's a frivolous creature.

Her husband, Helmer, is condescending and pious. He has fury-inducing lines like,

"I should not be a man if this womanly helplessness did not just give you a double attractiveness in my eyes."

There marriage is more a playful charade than a partnership. When circumstances push her to step out of her comfort one she finds a strength she didn't realize she had.

Holly's Inbox
by Holly Denham

The book is written in the form of e-mails so it's a very quick read. The plot is very similar to Bridget Jones Diary, which is itself a modern take on Pride and Prejudice. So there's no original plot and the ending is predictable. But the characters are all entertaining, especially Holly's grandma and best friends. It's a fun, light read, exactly what I expected, but definitely forgettable.

by Dave Eggers

This is Egger's first completely nonfiction book since his breakout "Heartbreaking." (What is the What is technically fiction, even though it's a true story). Zeitoun tells the story of a Syrian-American family that lives in New Orleans and their experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Their story is a disturbing, but fascinating one.

Egger's poetic way with words makes the simplest story beautiful and this one is no exception. The details he includes as he introduces you to the Zeitoun family make you quickly connect with them. My only fault with the book is that it became a bit repetitive in the second half, but that's more the fault of the frustrating situation the Zeitouns faced than the writing. I would highly recommend this (along with most of Egger's work). It was an intimate look at both Katrina and the experience of an immigrant in America.

Photo by moi.

Book List: 3 Best/Worst Sidekicks to a Hero in a Book

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

This weeks list, from Lost in Books, is 3 Best/Worst Sidekicks to a Hero in a Book. I love this one! Here's mine...

1) Attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta (aka Dr. Gonzo) plays the sidekick to Hunter S. Thompson on their wild journey in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The book is spiraling acid trip, which is a bit disturbing. But I think it ranks Gonzo up there as one of the worst sidekicks ever. Whether it's encouraging Thompson to pick up a hitchhiker, do more drugs or a myriad of other things, he is always a horrible influence.

2) Jeeves - in all of the Jeeves books by P.G. Wodehouse Bertie Wooster would be lost without his right hand man. Jeeves gets Bertie out of dozens of scraps by coming up with brilliant plans at the last second. He's the best sidekick ever.

3) Miss Havisham in the Thursday Next series. I'm not sure if she's the sidekick or if Thursday is her sidekick, but it's a great pairing. Havisham teaches Next the ropes while also doling out life advice and a bit of recklessness.

February Monthly Summary

Monday, March 1, 2010

Another month has gone by and I managed to fit 20 books into February. Here's my summary of how I did in my 3 challenges. I read 19 books, including plays. I'm allowing overlap between the 3 challenges because the 101010 Challenge is monster, but no overlap within that challenge.

Color Challenge (3/9)
-"Black Water"

Audio Book Challenge (11/20)
-"Paper Towns"
-"The Bean Trees"
-"Juliet, Naked"

101010 Challenge (2/10)
(10 books in 10 categories in 2010)

-Favorite authors (6/10)
-"The Angel's Game" by: Carlos Ruiz Zafon - ★★★★☆
-"Paper Towns" by: John Green - ★★★★
-"The Sandman Vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes" by: Neil Gaiman - ★★★☆
-"Juliet, Naked" by: Nick Hornby- ★★★★
-"Fantastic Mr. Fox" by: Roald Dahl- ★★★★
-"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by: Edgar Allan Poe- ★★★☆

-Nonfiction / Travel Memoirs (2/10)
-"Zeitoun" by: Dave Eggers -★★★★☆

Recommended (4/10)
-"The Bean Trees" by: Barbara Kingsolver- ★★★
-"The Mezzanine" by: Nicholson Baker - ★★★★
-"Holly's Inbox" by: Holly Denham - ★★★

Plays (esp. Pulitzer Prize Winners) (6/10)
-"August: Osage County" by: Tracy Letts - ★★★★
-"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" by: Edward Albee - ★★★
-"A Doll's House" by: Henrik Ibsen- ★★★★☆

Short Stories / Poetry Collections (3/10)
-"Keats: Selected Poems" by: John Keats- ★★★★
-"Revolting Rhymes" by: Roald Dahl- ★★★★

1,000 Books / Gilmore Girls List (6/10)
-"Who Moved My Cheese?" by: Spencer Johnson- ★★☆
-"Black Water" by: Joyce Carol Oates- ★★★☆
-"The Big Sleep" by: Raymond Chandler- ★★★
-"The Absolutely Essential Eloise" by: Kay Thompson- ★★★★☆

Sequels (4/10)

Book Awards (Pulitzer, Booker, Orange)
-"The Remains of the Day" by: Kazuo Ishiguro- ★★★★☆

-One Book One Town / Book Club (0/10)

Random Book Challenge (1/10)

Photo by moi.