Saturday, May 31, 2008

Putting On the Dog

I read this book, by Cynthia Baxter, simply because I finished the only book I had with me on my recent Oklahoma trip and I was ravenously searching for a new read. It turned out to be part of a mystery series about a mobile vet who likes to play detective. It was...decent. My major criticism is that the author explained all the reasons the different suspects are suspicious, but then just sort of said....So this one did it, the end. She never tied up the other characters' stories in a satisfactory way. But it's not like I expected it to be Shakespeare, so I didn't really mind too much.

And I do feel compelled to tell you that I went ahead and picked up another of her books at the library today. It's not that the first was particularly sensational, it's just that it was a very easy fluffy read and that's sort of what I'm in the mood for. Still, if it was perfectly awful, I would've steered clear of her in the future, so at least I can honestly say I'd recommend this series, as long as you're not looking for something exceptional.

A fast ultimately forgettable read but decent nonetheless.

The Thirteenth Tale

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of books I've read recently but never got the chance to post due to bad and/or no internet connection. No, I did not read them all on the same day!

I’m not sure how to go about reviewing this book. First, let me tell you that I read it because I have seen several rave reviews. Second, I will add that I would like to give this book a rave review. But, thirdly, I am a little leery of just singing its praises because, well, it’s complicated.


I love love LOVED the way this book was written. It is just a beautiful love song, an ode to books and stories and reading. The language and description the author (Diane Setterfield) uses are exquisite. There were many passages that just made my heart happy. If you are a book lover, you HAVE TO read this book, simply for the astronomical aesthetic value. The way the author effortlessly weaves together the disparate pieces of her different characters’ stories is also brilliant and simply MUST reflect her love of reading as it does my own.

But. My only reservation in recommending this book is that the actual details of the story are…well…sad and scary and such. It is no doubt an EXCELLENT read. I do HIGHLY recommend it. I just wanted you to know that you’re in for some incest and violence and death and such. It is wonderfully wrought but it is still ultimately a disturbing story as well. But it is so worth it.

So consider yourself warned and RUN out to get this book right now! ;)

Oh, and for those of you who are interested in what this book is actually about (besides the wonder of storytelling), here is a quick synopsis: The main character is a woman who has grown up surrounded by the books in her father's bookstore, who has a great love for books. She is asked to write a very special biography—for an author who is famous for never letting anyone know the true story of her life. Along the way, both characters’ secrets are revealed, and you become immersed in the stories of the other characters you meet along the way as well.

Read it!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Writing Down the Bones


I was reviewing the books I've read this year, and saw the posts I wrote about the books I'd picked up at the library, and noticed that I started several of them and didn't finish them (like, for example, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife and Last Child in the Woods), but then I also noticed that I DID finish this one, but never reviewed it.

So, here are my leftover impressions from reading Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, back in January:

It was pretty good. However, I had just finished Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and that is an AMAZING book, so this one seemed a little dry and boring comparatively. They're both how-to books for aspiring writers, and both are quite good at helping you with your writing, but Ms. Lamott's was infinitely more passionate and inspiring. But again, it's not that Ms. Goldberg's wasn't--it just suffered from the close comparison of the two.

If you're looking for a book to read that will help you get started on a writing project, or for that matter, that will help you through the middle of it or help you finish it or just help you feel like writing, you should probably read both. Both were helpful. Just read this one first so you're not so wowed by the other that you spend all your time mourning the fact that this is not that.

Got it? Good.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Watch Me Grow: I'm Two

This is part of a series of books on kids, written by Maureen O'Brien with Sherill Tippins. I think they are just great. They're full of common sense and reassurances and just plain fun tips on what your kid is likely to be up to at this age. For example, I remember a passage about how your 24-month old is likely to narrate his every action: "Up, up, up," as he walks up the stairs, for example. Yep, we're there! And it is darn cute.

When discussing sleep and the average two-year-old, the authors say this about routines after suggesting some possible ways to help your child get to bed more smoothly:

"It is much more effective to observe the results of these experiments and change the routine in positive ways to suit your child than to adhere to the cookie-cutter bedtime rules laid out in many parenting articles and books (p. 181)."

This is parenting gold and exactly what I believe: YOU know what's best for your child, so try different things (but only things that you're comfortable trying) and figure out what works best for your individual situation...don't just follow someone else's advice (even if he or she is a so-called "expert").

The book also includes examples of how to handle specific situations that are likely to arise with your two-year-old. For example, "...Simple, concrete instructions and explanations ('Don't take that cookie away from Henry. It will make him sad.') work much better than confusing general comments ('Frank, remember to share!'), which he isn't yet equipped to comprehend (p. 168)."

Add the concrete advice to the philosophical reminders and you end up with a great parenting book, one that's fun to read as you see where your child will be headed, one that makes you feel good and happy about going there. I would definitely recommend this book.

Edited to add: Although I don't necessarily agree with all the "heap on praises" advice that comes at the very end of the book. I forgot about that part. For more on that subject, see Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. But that's a very small criticism for a generally very helpful book.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth

If you are ever thinking of having a child, or having another child, or you're going to be with someone who is going to have a child, or any other similar situation, you should read this book by Henci Goer. READ IT!!!!

It is especially good for sciency-minded people who like lots of research and evidence and a straightforward, logical format. If you want a touchy-feely birth book you should read Birthing From Within, which is also very good. But even if you do that? Read this book! It is hands-down the clearest and most well-informed book on all the major important decisions about birth. I forgot how much I like it until I decided to review it, 2 years after my own child's birth. Fantastic!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Jane Austen Book Club

I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book by Karen Joy Fowler, but I recently heard that it is going to be made into a movie. The place where I read this (which I have by now completely forgotten) expressed surprise at the idea, because without the actual writing it would just be a bunch of people hooking up and breaking up and all that jazz.

Well...I was pleasantly surprised that there just wasn't a lot of random unnecessary romance-ish stuff. But I agree that the way this book was written is definitely its best quality. I wasn't exactly taken by all the characters, but I did LOVE the discussions of Jane Austen books and the writing style. I'd recommend it only for those who love Ms. Austen, because for the rest of you, it won't have any sense of purpose or meaning. At least, that's the impression I get. Good luck with that! ;)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Keeping Faith

Jodi Picoult, for me, is hit-or-miss. When I read one of her books, I either really love it, or I think it's too boring and lame for words.

Luckily, this one was excellent--at least this time around. I read My Sister's Keeper several years ago and remember thinking it was just amazing--but now that I've read a few more Picoult books, I wonder if I'd feel the same way after a second reading. Sometimes she is just SOOOOOOOOO predictable.

But this book, Keeping Faith, was good for me because it didn't feel like the author was trying too hard to shock me, especially not with a "surprise ending" that I could see coming from a mile away (Salem Falls, anyone?). I felt like I connected with the characters and was actually interested in what happened to them. I could go on but I'm tired and my internet has been spotty so I have 3 more reviews to get through!

For those who are curious, the book is about a little girl whose parents are going through a divorce. "God" comes to her, and when you add in religious zealots, feminists, hoax-finders, and a court case, you have lots of opportunities for good drama. I liked it. The End.

Oh, and again, for those who are interested, here's a list of the J. P. books I've read, separated into those I liked and those I didn't.

My Sister's Keeper
Keeping Faith
Second Glance

Picture Perfect
Songs of the Humpback Whale (didn't even finish this one, so maybe it got more interesting?)
The Pact

Really couldn't stand:
The Tenth Circle
Salem Falls

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Year Of Magical Thinking

When I saw a review of this book in some book-ish magazine, I had never read anything by Joan Didion. I had never even heard of her before, but the book sounded like something I really wanted to read. 

Now, at least a year later, I am so glad I finally got to it. This was an excellent book in many ways. The author writes with beautiful and heart-wrenching honesty about the year following her husband's sudden death. It is moving, it is lyrical, and I finished it very quickly because it was one of those books that I wanted to be reading every single spare second I had.

I would recommend this book to people who are mourning someone, especially someone close. Also to those who want to understand a little tiny fraction of what life must be like for those who lose one of their "nears and dears." To those who want to look death and grief in the face and learn from it and live with it. And to those who just want to read something lovely, sad, and stunning. 

Actually, now that I think of it, I might change my recommendation a little bit. It might be too hard for someone who has recently gone through a monumental loss to hear about someone else's experience. But then again, I don't know. Like everything else, that probably depends on the person and the individual circumstances. I certainly don't pretend to have an intimate understanding of this deep and personal and in-your-face kind of loss, and I thank God every day that I haven't been there yet. Maybe reading this book has helped prepare me for the fact that everyone will be there someday.

I really hope you like it as much as I did. It was great. 

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Angela and Diabola

This is another book I "found" in the kids' section of the library...and by "found" I mean James handed it to me and insisted we get it. And I was interested, because the author, Lynne Reid Banks, is one I know well, but I had never heard of this particular book. I loved her Indian in the Cupboard series, and One More River was one of my favorite books when I was a pre-teen.

But this one was disappointing. I hesitate to actually call it "trash," but I certainly wouldn't recommend it. It was about twins, one who is everything good and one who is all it was sort of a boring idea for me to wrap my mind around anyway, and then the events of the story and the conclusion were not even worth the 30 minutes it took me to read them. So predictable, so uninteresting, so completely unenriching and unfulfilling. Uck.

I seriously expected better. But then again, maybe I should have paid attention to the fact that this is a book by one of my old favorite authors and I had never heard of it. Consider yourselves warned.