Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Breath of Snow and Ashes

Diana Gabaldon. One of my favorite authors, ever. This is the last published in my favorite series of all time, known as the Outlander series, about a woman named Claire who accidentally time-travels from her life in World War II England to the Scottish Highlands in the 1740s.

I won’t say more about the characters because I don’t want to give anything away, but also because it’s incredibly complex. However, this particular book is about some characters who’ve ended up in North Carolina in the 1770s. So much fun! So engrossing! So dramatic! So emotionally involving!

I’ve read this book before, obviously, but I wanted to read it again because the next in the series is coming out this fall, I believe. Let me just finish by saying READ IT! Unless you don’t want anything bad to ever happen to your favorite characters, because lots of bad things happen to Claire et al. But I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Also, it’s a 900+ page book and I read it in three days. And it wasn’t the first time I read it. IT’S THAT GOOD.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Poisonwood Bible

This is yet another Barbara Kingsolver, yet another of hers that I just love love love. Prodigal Summer is the book of hers that most fits my life and personal manifesto, so to speak, but this is probably her most powerful book to date.

This book is about the wife and four daughters of a Baptist missionary who takes his family to the Congo in 1959, supposedly for a year of service, and what happens to them all, how it changes them forever. It is just so strong. I can’t even think of how to describe it fully.

It is definitely educational, in the sense that a large part of Ms. Kingsolver’s work here is to teach you about how egocentric people can be, and how different cultures can be, and some of the very good reasons that might happen, and how dangerous it can be to think you know it all, in any situation. But the part I love best about it is the stunning writing, the very distinct voices of the women, the way each character has her own flow and mindset and it’s so perfectly conveyed to the reader. It just amazes me.

Also, as a complete side note and not really very related to the storyline, I have to mention that within the pages of this book is the most eloquent phraseology I can find that explains how I feel about eating meat, and why, while I certain hope I respect others’ choices about what to eat and what not to eat, for me the best answer is to eat things that have been treated well and that have allowed the earth to be treated well, and to not make the mistake of thinking that if I don’t eat a cow, I don’t take something’s life, or thinking that I know for sure what is and is not precious, what life is worth saving and what is not. Here it is:

“On the day of the hunt I came to know in the slick center of my bones this one thing: all animals kill to survive, and we are animals. The lion kills the baboon; the baboon kills fat grasshoppers. The elephant tears up living trees, dragging their precious roots from the dirt they love. The hungry antelope’s shadow passes over the startled grass. And we, even if we had no meat or even grass to gnaw, still boil our water to kill the invisible creatures that would like to kill us first. And swallow quinine pills. The death of something living is the price of our own survival, and we pay it again and again. We have no choice. It is the one solemn promise every life on earth is born and bound to keep." (p. 347)

I forgot how much I loved this book.

Also, a less-serious side note: when I bought this book, approximately 13 years ago, I remember the guy at the checkout counter at the bookstore asking me what the heck it was about. When I explained it, he seemed relieved, and then said that he thought it was some kind of weird voodoo book. Ha! The title refers to the fact that the Kikongo words for “beloved” and “poisonwood” were easily confused by the missionary, leading to some confusing preaching on his part…Father Jesus is poisonwood?

Oh, and apparently poisonwood is a kind of branch that makes you itch and burn. Another example of how the missionary should have given more respect to the native language, among other things.

Why Girls are Weird

This book, by Pamela Ribon, is one of those grab-as-I-run-by-the-shelf finds. It’s about a twentysomething woman living in Austin who decides to start a blog before most people really know what the heck a blog is. She chronicles her life but forgets to mention that the boyfriend she’s writing about is actually an ex-boyfriend, and she fudges a lot of the minor details of her life, for creative as well as privacy purposes. Then she meets people, gets involved in the blog world, has a family crisis, has run-ins with the ex, etc.

It was a fairly decent book. The storyline wasn’t my favorite, but it was written with “blog posts” inserted into the narrative flow, and I really liked some of the blog posts. I am, obviously, a big fan of blog-writing, and I think it’s a special kind of beautiful if you can write an eloquent, moving statement on existence one day and an exegesis on cat poo another. But that’s just me. (And just for reference? The post I really looooved was the one about being the new girl. Shocking, I know.)

The problem I had with the story, I think, is that one of the love interests came out sounding a little creepy at first, so when you figure out he’s a serious love interest, it just made me feel a little weird. Some of the story is laid out in emails these people send to each other, and I feel like maybe more emails that weren’t quite as stalker-ish would have been appropriate to make me feel comfortable with this guy.

But I thought the format worked really well—it was different but very functional and pretty fun to read. I’m not really into the whole “twentysomething Austin scene,” but it was still decent.

Oh, and I was surprised to discover, upon finishing the book, that the author is a famous blogger, and that the book is quote—mostly fictional—unquote. That was news to me! Apparently at least some of those blog posts I liked so much were taken straight from her blog. Thus, I’ll have to go check it out now! (

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Building Moral Intelligence: the seven essential virtues that teach kids to do the right thing

This parenting book is by Michele Borba. It's a part of the La Leche League library, so I thought I'd check it out. But sadly, it's one of those dumb Scare Tactics books! Ugh.

It was like...

"Kids need to have more (fill in the blank virtue).

>horrific story about some kids who died because some other kids didn't have (virtue).<

Teach your kids (virtue) by telling stories about (virtue) around the dinner table every night!"

It just did NOT work for me. I don't agree with their general advice about how to teach your kids empathy, or whatever, a lot of the time either, but the clincher for me was those stupid fear-mongering death stories.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Garden of Fertility; Your Fertility Signals

The gold standard book for Fertility Awareness is Toni Weschler's Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I think a class on this should be taught to girls instead of that dumb "Welcome to adolescence, here's some deodorant" speech we got in my school. FA (fertility awareness) is all about knowing your body, knowing what's normal for you, and understanding what your body does, understanding how to get pregnant and how not to get pregnant, when you're healthy and when you're not. Doesn't that sound like vital information for girls? Yet I didn't hear about this, really, until after my first child was born. Thus: if you are a girl/woman, you should look into this! It's very empowering to not have your body be such a mystery anymore.

Anyway. So I read two more FA books recently; one was good, the other, not very helpful at all. The Garden of Fertility, by Katie Singer, was an excellent addition to TCOYF, with lots more about how you can use your FA to gauge your own health, and about how things like diet can affect your fertility, and what you can do about it. I loved it. Your Fertility Signals, by Merryl Winstein, struck me as more of a "fertility for dummies" book, but the problem was, it tried to be short'n'sweet and just ended up being too vague, and slightly confusing. At least to me.

So if you're going to read just one fertility awareness book, and you're daunted by the immensity of TCOYF, definitely go for The Garden of Fertility. If you just need a quick refresher or just want the absolute bare bones, you could try the other one, but it seemed much less helpful to me.

Either way, if you haven't read a book about FA, then please do!

Adventures in Tandem Nursing

I read this book, by Hilary Flower, for professional interest reasons, mostly, and I thought it was very good. In case you aren't familiar, Tandem Nursing refers to nursing more than one child at once, generally, nursing your first baby through your second pregnancy and beyond. It's not something well-known in general in America, but that's because people who are nursing outside the norm tend to stay outside the public eye, since even someone nursing well inside the norm can be highly criticized in public.

This was a great resource book for someone who wants to help support nursing moms. If I were tandem nursing, I'd probably also just want to leave it lying around for naysayers to see and pick up, so they might just stop the criticism and realize that every family is just trying to do what's best for itself, and whatever ideas we have about nursing are just opinions and are very rarely scientifically based.

For example/Here's my disclaimer, obviously I have an opinion about these things:

1. When James was 6 weeks old, I was nursing him (discreetly, though that shouldn't really matter), in a rest stop and was given the evil eye by a woman eating with her teenage daughter. Then the manager came and very nicely (?) told me I couldn't do that here, even though I wasn't even doing it anymore. They don't know the law! And she didn't even care that I nursed, she just didn't want to scare off potential customers...and those customers "tattled" on me as they were leaving! UGH!!! Just awful.

2. One of my DOCTORS once told me that I couldn't possibly get pregnant again as long as I was still nursing. This is some of the worst advice EVER. Luckily I wasn't trying to AVOID pregnancy with this advice, because I can definitely tell you some stories about women getting pregnant while nursing, but most importantly, it is WELL-KNOWN that nursing does NOT prevent pregnancy, although it may impede it somewhat, up to some extent. Oh, ignorance. I fired that doctor for his many other incompetencies as well as that one.

Getting Lucky

This boo was featured in the "Oklahoma Writers" section of my library. It's by Marilyn Pappano, who is apparently from Sapulpa.

However, I feel that the author took her Southern roots and made them more acceptable by making the male protagonist from Georgia rather than Oklahoma. It's not that I think the characters have to be from the area you're from--not at all, there's this wonderful thing called imagination--but I was expecting an "Oklahoma read" and I got that whole Georgia-is-the-REAL-South experience instead. Kinda disappointing.

Also, this is a romance which takes place in Bethlehem, New York, and there are angels involved, and I realized about 2/3 of the way through this book that I had read a review for it somewhere before, but I don't remember where, so if you read this, let me know, so I can read your review again now that I've actually read the book.

It was not horrible. That's about the best I've got. The flow of words, the phraseology wasn't too bad; it was the stereotyping and overly predictable storyline that I disliked, really. But then again, I did keep reading! I also didn't like the fact that there was no hint of this being part of a series until I ended the book and most of the storylines were not finished. I hate that!

So. Another meh. Not terribly surprising.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Last Battle

This is the final installation of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. For me it was probably my least favorite. Almost all of the rest was good reading, good stories, good action, good imagination, but I felt, sadly, that this one turned into more of a dogmatic preachy book and less of a good story. I was sad. I was hoping he could hang on to the wonderful imagination and storytelling skills most of the other books have, but I just didn't feel like he did. I feel a little let down, actually, like he dropped the ball of the story on his way to writing out his religious beliefs.

Then again, many people love this whole series and probably love this book too. I enjoyed specific books in the series much more than others, and this was one I didn't particularly enjoy. Too bad.

If You Could See Me Now

This book is by Cecelia Ahern, also the author of the book-turned-sappy-movie P.S. I Love You. It was recommended by a friend after I read the debacle known as Sundays at Tiffany's. This book is also a romance novel about an imaginary friend, and it also, in my opinion, falls flat on its face.

This one was MUCH better than You-Know-Which. There was not a lot of dumb smarmy stereotyping going on. I didn't have to read all about the girl worrying about her weight, or the guy who loves to watch Oprah. (Can you tell that story still gags me?) The plot of this book was actually sensible--it just was NOT developed to its full potential. I felt like the story needed a LOT more fleshing out than it got. There were some characters that could have been part of the story, but instead it felt like they were just thrown in as a device to take the story in a certain direction. The connection between the protagonist and the imaginary friend felt too hurried, unreal in more than an "I'm an imaginary friend" sense. None of the threads the novel presented were eventually tied off or even really taken anywhere. It's sad, too, because it felt like it could've been pretty good. But it wasn't, really. It felt like a first draft and it should have been much more heavily revised.

The Wife

Meg Wolitzer is a brilliant author. She can string a few words together and lo and behold, the most beautiful sparkly shiny sentence appears. (For the record, I'm sure she would say the process is a little more complicated.) But anyway, I love to read her books and I don't really care what they're about. The prose is just delicious. So of course I enjoyed reading this book.

However--I have to say the plotline here was sadly unsurprising. It's about a 1950s couple, a smart young lady at college and the professor-turned-author she falls in love with, and the woman is looking back over her life, and she is fairly bitter. Not entirely bitter, but bitter in that she knows exactly what she's missed out on by being a woman, the ways she was restricted by being born when she was, etc. She paints you a picture of her life and most of the women in it are stifled, unfulfilled in some way, and she is bitter about it. Also, I had heard it had a "surprise" ending, but I don't see how THAT could be considered much of a surprise. I saw it coming from the beginning. But I guess it might help if you were warned there was a surprise? I don't know but I was unimpressed with that part of it.

Loved the prose. The plot was not my favorite. But the things she has to say about 1950s housewives ring true. Sad but true.

Now I'm off to find more Meg Wolitzer to read.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What I Did For Love

Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Sometimes she is good, sometimes, not so much. This one was meh. Not her best but not her worst. I read it a couple weeks ago and at this point I can barely remember what it's about. Two TV stars who hated each others' guts when they worked on a famous TV series together are thrown back together and of course they fall in love. Oh, yeah. That's it!

I really liked SEP's series of footballer romances, which is weird to say out loud, but some of the rest of her stuff was too tragic and then BAM happy ending and that didn't ring true to me. This one is right in the middle....not as interesting and fun as the ones I liked, but it didn't leave a sour taste in my mouth either. As I said, meh.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Think Like a Pancreas

This is a book that I somehow thought came highly recommended. It's by Gary Scheiner, and it seems to me like it's been on all the lists of Books Diabetics Should Read, but eh, it's kind of vague to me now where exactly I got that advice.

Not that this is a bad book or anything. It seems eminently useful. It's just that it's sort of cheesy and the beginning is, well, for...beginners....and, to sum it up, I only got to about p. 100.

I will probably regret this, and check it out again later. But first I do have to work through my diabetic-hangups, the biggest of which is that I feel like I've already got the sum total of information I can handle when faced with making 80 billion decisions a day and I don't really want to have to factor more stuff in. But I will get through that, because the payoff should be well worth it. I have been feeling horribly terribly awfully run over by my D lately and I am ready for a change.

So I'll suffer through the cheesy man-jokes and milk this book for all the great things I'm sure it can give me. Some other day.

If on a winter's night a traveler

Wow. Just wow.

This is apparently a famous book by Italo Calvino, written circa 1979, but why the heck hadn't I heard of it before this year? It is an amazing ode to writing and reading. The experience of reading this book is like no other, and I loved it. It's very complex, very clever, intensely engaging. The structure of the book is just brilliant.

That being said, some of the short stories inside the novel were somewhat odd, perhaps slightly disturbing, but really no big deal compared to the wow factor. This is a great book if you love to read. It is like a love song written to readers everywhere. Be prepared to sit back and get taken for a very entertaining and lyrical ride. Excellent!

The Sugar Queen

I love Sarah Addison Allen. I picked up her first book, Garden Spells, about a year ago, because I heard about her locally (she's from Asheville, NC), and my mom said she thought her books sounded interesting. Well, they did not disappoint! That one and this, The Sugar Queen, are both just magical, and I mean that in a literal as well as figurative sense. The writing just draws you in and the world the characters live in is just a little more full of magic than the one you and I might think of. The author's style is "magical realism" so the story is not focused on the magic, but is a well-written story in which you get so caught up in the characters you love and the writing is so good that the extra little bits of magic that happen to be present just enhance the story perfectly, instead of being cheesy or taking the whole thing over. I liked GS better than TSQ but really, they're both great. I can't wait to read another by this author.

Friday, May 1, 2009


This book is by Gail Carson Levine, the author of Ella Enchanted. I really enjoyed both that book and the movie adaptation (although of course the movie is very different from the book), so I picked up Fairest on my way through the YA section. Seems like I've been going there a lot lately. Something about books that are easy to read but still fun and interesting and not over quite as fast as, say, a Bruce Coville, although of course I do love him too.

Anyway. Fairest. It was good but I didn't enjoy it as much as Ella Enchanted. I definitely enjoy this author's take on feminist issues and being your own person, being true to yourself and loving the skin you're in and so on and so forth. I think these are great books for a teenager's bookshelf...and pretty good for mine too!

Dairy Queen

This is a book I picked up as I was passing through the young adult section (looking for the rest of The Luxe series, actually). It's about a high school girl who works on a farm and knows a lot about football. It was a VERY easy read, and I liked it. The voice of the narrator, the girl, is very adolescent and...somewhat simplistic compared to a lot of YA books I've read, but I actually thought that added to it...these were not the thoughts of an adult writing a book for teens, these were the thoughts of the teen!

The story did not really end up being anything like what my 5-second impression of it at the library made me think it was going to be, but I liked it anyway. Wholesome, simple, quick, YA fun.

Blushing Pink

Jill Winters romance. I never read her before and I probably won't again. It was cheesy, it was badly edited (she sees her love interest sitting in a booth, has to scoot in next to him, and then...wait a minute! Now she's about to cross the room to go sit by him. What?), and it was pretty boring and cliche. It just didn't have a lot to recommend it.

On the other hand, I didn't hate it. I just didn't have much use for it either. Eh.

Getting Rid of Bradley; Bet Me

Jennifer Crusie. Gotta love her. I don't think I ever read a book of hers I just outright disliked. I'd already read Bet Me, and it's probably my second-favorite of hers (after Welcome to Temptation); Getting Rid of Bradley was new to me, but actually one of her older ones, and it was still good Crusie fun but not anywhere close to being MY favorite of hers. They're just romances that are well-written, have GREAT dialogue and actually have interesting fun plots and I just completely love Crusie's writing style. Highly recommended, although like I said, Bet Me is way up at the top of my favorites list and Bradley was fairly low. But low for Crusie is still far better than your average "good romance." Seriously.

Song of the Wanderer; Dark Whispers

These are young adult novels by Bruce Coville, the second and third books of the Into the Land of the Unicorns series.

I read them about a month ago and still haven't reviewed them...crap! I just realized the other day that it's been almost a month since I reviewed ANY books at all...and of course I've read 10 or something, so I have a major backlog. Thus, short reviews! Sorry. What can I say, buying a house is crazy-making!

Anyway. Unicorns. The middle book (Wanderer) was actually better than the third. It just seemed more like a complete book on its own, whereas Whispers was this big huge book where not much really happened. Plus, I'm worried because that one just came out in 2008, I think, which is TEN YEARS after Wanderer was published....Thus, I hope I don't have to wait ten more years to get to finish the story!

They're good fun, though. I bet in a couple more years we'll be reading them with James. I love Bruce Coville. When I was a kid he was one of my idols. And he's still darn good! =)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Luxe

This book (first in a series) by Anna Godberson is apparently the Gossip Girl of 1899. It's the story of two young sisters in New York at the turn of the century, and all the gossip and scandal that goes on behind the social facade everyone puts on. It's a young adult novel, but it was still fun for me to read as a slightly-less-young adult. =) It wasn't the best thing ever, absolutely NO comparison to, say, A Great and Terrible Beauty, but it was fun to get caught up in that world, even though the author's writing style wasn't terribly arresting.

A mediocre review, but I'm tired and I'm sooooo far behind. I liked this one okay--well enough to continue reading the rest of the series. It just wasn't as good as several other books I've read from that era...but, on the other hand, it was very clever in transposing the modern-day high-school girl drama onto the turn-of-the-century issues.

Two Women

This book by Marianne Fredriksson was sitting at the top of a display at my library the contents of which were apparently books on....women? I dunno. There was one about knitting, one about gardening, a couple with chick-lit pinky-purply covers, all fiction. However strange and dubious of a display that might be, I'm glad I picked this book up. I'm always interested in reading books from other countries of origin, in this case, Sweden: sometimes it turns out well, and sometimes I have no idea what the heck they're talking about. Luckily, this book was pretty easy for me to wrap my head around, but it was still...exotic...enough to give me that taste of different writing that I was looking for. (Can I call Sweden exotic? It doesn't really seem to compute.)

Anyway. The book is about two middle-aged women who meet and bond over gardening and their children, but it's much deeper than that might sound. One is a native Swede who has been through some tough times with her ex-husband, and the other is a Chilean immigrant who has been through some tough times, period. It explored some interesting political territory for me. I'm glad I read it. The only criticism I have at the moment is that I'm not sure the ending was very satisfying, but that's okay with me. The book didn't blow my mind, but it still fed my need for learning more about the world from different perspectives.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; Plum Spooky; Talk Nerdy to Me

The last couple of weeks have been such a blur. I'm working on getting an insulin pump and we just pretty much bought a house! (You know, the part where we're "under contract" now has happened, but not closing.) And then there was the Easter traveling to Ben's dad's house that made me feel like I lost about a WEEK...yeesh. So I really have no idea what books I've skipped reviewing. I have been reading a lot, but luckily I've read halfway through a lot of books and not yet finished them so hopefully I can still find time to review them someday. In the meantime, here are four books that I know I didn't get around to reviewing but which really, honestly, don't need their own reviews.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair (C.S. Lewis). Decent. Part of the famous and fun Chronicles of Narnia series.

Plum Spooky (Janet Evanovich) Very fluffy. I'm not a big fan of the "offshoots" of the Stephanie Plum series. The normal series books are numbered (One for the Money, Two for the Dough...) and then the "offshoots" or whatever you might call them all have "Plum" in the title. But they don't talk about the regular characters that much or at least they're very unsatisfying to me. It's not horrible writing or anything, just not very interesting, too tangential for my tastes. Also, I think the series might have come up against a tough place for her to move on with it. But eh.

Talk Nerdy to Me (Vicky Lewis Thompson) This was absolutely godawful. The writing was pretty much the cheesiest thing I'd ever seen, and just wow. But luckily, it was just a fluffy romance so it wasn't scarring or anything. I wouldn't recommend it but I couldn't resist picking it up because it had a great title. And it's not a book that made me feel violated either. It was just superDUPER cheesy and scripted and...yeah.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cold Comfort Farm

This book, by Stella Gibbons, reminded me a little of I Capture the Castle, in that it was written/is set in England in the 1930s and has some wonderfully witty writing fun. And apparently this one is considered a "classic" even though I had never heard of it before. I actually picked it up at the library because the cover was so much had pictures of "a few of the people you'll meet" such as "Aunt Ada Doom: saw something nasty in the woodshed," "Adam: washes dishes with a twig," and "Seth: a prime specimen of manhood," as well as the famous cows, Feckless, Graceless, Aimless, and Pointless. My favorite was an illustration of a "Scrantlet...Probably something to plow with?!?" And James made me read him the cover of the book every night before bed, because he thought it was so funny....although that might have to do with the special voice I have to use to read a line like "Amos Starkadder: THERE'LL BE NO BUTTER IN HELL!!!" ;)

So the book was fun to read. I didn't connect with it in the same way as I Capture the Castle, but that was sort of the point. This book is all about not letting people wallow in their silly misery, and using your common sense to quit the ridiculous. I loved the writerly jokes. Great fun. And BONUS! The introduction was written by Lynne Truss, who I am finding everywhere these days. I loved her article about how fiction writers don't need to travel to all the places they write about because *gasp* they might be able to use their imaginations!

All in all, recommended, but only if you like writers poking fun at themselves and at language use and one of my old favorites, P.G. Wodehouse. Get my drift? If not, I'll keep snowing.*

*A line from his Uncle Dynamite...also highly recommended!

Savannah Blues and Little Bitty Lies

These are both by Mary Kay Andrews. I enjoyed her books Deep Dish (a light romance about two southern chefs) and Savannah Breeze (a romance with a mystery edge). But these two are earlier writings and I just didn't like them as much. Actually, I quit Lies before I finished it. And Blues is sort of a precursor to Breeze, but from reading Breeze I had expected a lot more details about why exactly Daniel (the main male character of Blues....sort of) was so great and why he had such a great connection with the lead female, but they were just not there. So eh. But her later books were much more enjoyable for me.

And sorry I've been lagging behind in the book reviews. This cold I had was bad that I ALMOST DIDN'T FEEL LIKE READING. Yeah. Crazy bad cold. So. Hopefully I'm out from under it...mostly. Let the reviews begin! =)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Lady and the Unicorn

This is a book by Tracy Chevalier, the author of Girl With a Pearl Earring. I have never before been brave enough to pick up a Chevalier after watching the movie version of GWPE. I just hated it, so even though I got the impression that the book was quite different from the movie, I couldn't bring myself to try it and be scarred, again.

However, I am SO glad I got over my phobia. I devoured The Lady and the Unicorn, read it in one sitting yesterday afternoon, so I think I might give her other books a try. I'm not sure if they all follow this pattern, but the above two take as their starting point a famous work of art. This one is about a set of tapestries made somewhere around 1500. It is the author's imagining of the circumstances and lives surrounding the creation of these tapestries, and it is compelling writing.

To be fair, I must admit that it was hard to get started on this book. Not only was I fearful, but I disliked the first narrator enough to be worried that I would dislike the book. I skimmed forward and was relieved to find that he was not the only narrator, and the story turned out to be quite enjoyable. Thank heavens, because if it was as bad as the movie version of Girl With a Pearl Earring, I think I would've had to shoot myself in the foot just to take my mind off the misery. ;)

Good Harbor

I was hesitant to pick up this book, by Anita Diamant. I'd read her other work of fiction The Red Tent...gosh, many years ago, and mostly enjoyed it, but for some reason, I thought Good Harbor was going to be some sort of tragedy, and also that it was set in the 1920s. Don't ask; I just don't know.

Anyway, it's actually about a friendship that develops between two middle-aged women in the present day. It's about some things that happen to them, but mostly it's about the nature of friendships, of women's friendships, and of the ties that hold people together. I liked it a lot. The only part I didn't like was some of the Patrick stuff, but that's mostly because I feared that was going to turn into a great tragedy, and I was quite relieved with where the author took that storyline. A Good Read.

Prince Caspian; The Magician's Nephew

Obviously, I've been reading more of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.

So, I read Prince Caspian, and I was kind of sad, because I didn't remember a bit of it. And because I ultimately didn't connect with it. Maybe I read it too fast; maybe I should have read it aloud to James for a bedtime story or something. But the way things went, it just seemed like the characters didn't have enough time to develop, and I didn't feel like it was a FULL story, whatever that may mean. There was too much going on, the reader was taken in too many directions, so that by the end when the Pevensies are, I think the quote was something like "saying goodbye to their old friends," I sort of thought, wait a minute, what old friends? Oh, I guess the people they've met this time around, but they haven't known them very long or really formed a good friendship. So. Eh. Still a fun story, probably, but at the bottom of the Narnia stories for me so far.

The Magician's Nephew, which I for some reason thought was going to be boring, turned out to be the one that was my favorite as a child. It's about the beginning of Narnia, Narnia's Creation story, as it were, and it was such a pleasure for me to rediscover it. There is such a joy in reading a book that you read as a child, and LOVED, and forgot, in re-awakening to its joys and remembering the things you loved about it. I'm not sure how good the book really is, though; only that I loved it as a child and love it again now. There is something wonderful about the Wood Between the Worlds and in watching the creation of a world and that whole thing that really captured my imagination. I'm so glad I finally cracked this one open.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Agnes and the Hitman

This book, the second collaboration between Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, is quite a departure from the last I read. This was sort of a fluffy romance-action combo, if that makes any sense. I liked the first they did okay, but really I love the Crusie parts of them. I feel like I should probably read a Bob Mayer book to get a better sense of what part of the collaboration is his, because it seems to me like a Crusie book, only the leading male character has to be some sort of Armed Forces hero type, and there has to be a little more shooting (but not much). So hm.

Anyway, back to the story. It's about a woman (unsurprisingly named Agnes) who gets a series of dognappers and then hitmen coming at her. Along the way, her Mob-connected friend Joey brings in his (secret federal agency-employed sexy and tank-truck-like) nephew to protect her. There are a whole host of kooky characters and interesting twists, like you'd expect from Crusie, and there's early, unsentimental...relations between characters, which I'm guessing might come from the guy's input, although the scene's writing style is definitely Crusie.

I liked the book but I'd probably be careful who I recommended it to, especially because of the one part I didn't like much, which is that a lot of people died. And I'm not a big fan of the way people die in action books/movies, where it's completely peripheral and No Big Deal and the story doesn't even pause for breath as someone fairly important is mown down. But if you can ignore that kind of thing, it's a fun read. I always like Crusie's writing style, and Mayer doesn't slow her down much. Or maybe he adds to it, with the G. I. Joe characters. I'm curious to see what his writing's actually like so I can figure out how the heck these two got together to write books in the first place.

Monday, March 9, 2009


This is another Anna Quindlen. And I have to say I'm disappointed. I loved One True Thing, although I have to say I read it several years ago so I don't know what I'd think of it now, after so much of my life has changed...but the other books of hers I've read I just haven't connected with in the same way, they just haven't moved me the same way.

This book is about a baby who's dropped off at a large estate inhabited by an old lady, her housekeeper, and her groundskeeper. The groundskeeper takes it upon himself to raise the baby, and thus creates some changes for the old estate and for everyone involved in it. But the story was frustrating. I didn't like where it went or how it ended. I didn't understand the point of some of the storyline, and I didn't care at all about some of the supposed "mysteries" that were, in fact, not surprising at all. Just eh. I dunno.

I still like Quindlen's writing style. This was just not the book I wanted to read at this point. But then again, maybe in a few more years I'll feel differently about it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I Capture the Castle

This book, by Dodie Smith, is one of my new all-time favorites. It was GREAT!

It's a book about a 17-year-old girl in England in the 1930s, about her family's poverty and then changing circumstances, and about her growing up emotionally. Cassandra, the main character, has got to be one of my favorite protagonists ever. Although our circumstances are wildly different, I could relate to her--she seemed like a real person. The only thing that ever seemed a little false was her naivete--and of course another character discusses her character flaw of being "consciously naive," so that was appropriate. The characters were all just so real to me. Great writing. And framing the book as Cassandra's journal worked wonderfully.

I loved the secondary characters as well, especially the stepmom. Charley at Bending Bookshelf said the same thing in her review. What a hoot! I definitely didn't expect to laugh out loud at this book, but I did. Here's one quote from the feeling-nostalgic stepmom I particularly enjoyed, from p. 111:

"Look, Mortmain, look! Oh, don't you long to be an old, old man in a lamp-lit inn?"
"Yes, particularly one with rheumatism," said father. "My dear, you're an ass."

Another passage (from p. 258-9) that I enjoyed had to do with Cassandra riding on the train with her dog:

"She behaved beautifully on the journey, except that after we changed into the London trian she took a little boy's cake away from him. I quickly thanked him for giving it to her and he took my word for it that he had meant to."

Yet another thing I loved about this book, that made it seem all the more real, is how Cassandra often mentioned famous female characters in other novels and thought about them in her day-to-day life...sound familiar? Because I think quite a few book-lovers I know could relate to that part! =) Here's one of the best "she's-so-literary" quotes, from p. 233:

"I never had madeira before and it was lovely--the idea almost more than the taste, because it made me feel I was paying a morning call in an old novel. For a moment I drew away from myself and thought: 'Poor Cassandra! No, it never comes right for her. She goes into a decline."

The author had a great sense of humor. So much fun! And the story itself just seems so timeless. As it must be, since this book was published in 1948. Highly recommended!

The $64 Tomato; Enslaved By Ducks; Marley and Me

These three books are all different--one on gardening, one on unusual pets, one on a particularly quirky dog--but they have an underlying theme, a very similar voice, if you will, so I decided to review them all together.

Well, that and I'm pressed for time. =)

Anyway. I got The $64 Tomato, by William Alexander, is ostensibly a memoir about a man's gardening experiences, which sounded like just what i need. But. It turned out to begin with a litany of complaints about the landscapers and the ditch-diggers and the lawn care guys and blah blah blah he's got a bunch of money and he pays people to do a bunch of crap I don't care about, NOT GARDENING. Then he turns to trying to grow pesticide-free apple trees, the conclusion of which was extremely frustrating to me. Let me sum up: "Theoretically I'm against pesticides, but I'm too lazy to research more that can be done, so I'll use them for myself so I can get apples. Ha ha ha, I was so naive to think I didn't need them." Gag me. So I stopped reading it. This one was obviously not my favorite.

Enslaved by Ducks, by Bob Tarte, has been on my reading list for a long long time, since I first saw it in a Chinaberry magazine. This guy somehow (mysteriously, according to him) got himself involved with a menagerie including 5 or 6 house birds, two cats, maybe 7 ducks, 3 bunnies (although not at once) and maybe a few others. They're all neurotic and demanding and do silly things. The book, however, didn't keep my interest as I hoped it would. It was mildly funny. It was interesting in that I learned some things about ducks that I didn't know, and about being cautious and prepared when choosing what breed of animal you would like. But yeah. Just not nearly as great and heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny as I had heard, and hoped.

But Marley and Me (by John Grogan)? It was everything I just mentioned Ducks wasn't. I laughed out loud a million times. I cried at least twice. I just loved it. I think that's because it has so much more about the man's family and real life in it than the other two, where family plays a more peripheral role. I obviously care a lot more about family and babies and puppies than about budgies and parrots and malathion*, thus the progression of favor these books found with me. Tomato bad, Ducks okay, Marley good. And there you have it.

As for the similarities, I honestly thought the same guy could have written all three books, so similar was the flow of the narrative and the vocabulary and expressions used. Books by middle-aged guys in which they reflect back on their naivete and complain a lot and try to be funny are apparently popular right now. Just be aware that some of them are faaaaaaaaaaar superior to others. And, to be fair, that that might depend on where you are in your own life journey, and what things you value. Duh.

*Okay, maybe I do care about malathion. But in a very different way than the author did. Yuck.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and The Horse and His Boy

These, of course, are two of C.S. Lewis' famous Chronicles of Narnia. I picked them up after recently watching the first movie, which was decent enough. My father read me these books when I was a child, and I never read them myself, so decided it was time. I think they're lovely, dashing adventure books, although I wonder a little how I'll feel about the violence and death when my own child reads them.

And of course, as others have pointed out, the second book has some very racist themes in it--all about how the North is so much better than the South, which, in description, sounds suspiciously like the Middle East, and I've heard it was meant to represent Turkey. But the girls in the books tend to be somewhat smarter than the boys, and especially Aravis from the second book is a great lead character.

Generally quite good. Great fantasy and adventure.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet

I loved this book, by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. It is their personal memoir of what their life was like over a year of eating only foods they could get within a 100-mile radius of their home (which is normally in Vancouver, although they did stay elsewhere a few times).

I love their reasons for eating locally. I loved hearing about how delicious the food was, and how satisfying it was to grow your own, or to buy from a familiar face, or to experiment in the kitchen with whatever was at hand. I loved hearing about the sense of community they grew out of this experiment, how much more connected it made them feel not only with their food but with their food providers, with their world.

Inspirational AND fun--two words that aren't often combined in one book. I would recommend this to anyone, and especially to foodies. It was great.

Here is their great website, too. If you want to try local for a week or a month, or for one meal a week, or whatever makes sense for you, or even if you just want to buy more local available products, it is a great resource. Look at all the Oklahoma farmers! Yay!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Everything Potty Training Book

I was happily surprised to find that this book, by Linda Sonna, included an entire section devoted to EC, or "early potty training," and letting children naturally learn about going to the potty throughout their lives.

I thought the book was thorough and well-written, easy to navigate, but sadly, it did not have any special potty magic for us. My son is a great potty pee-er but like many kids does not like doing Number Two in the potty. So I got the book to see if it had any suggestions we hadn't thought of yet. And I think the most helpful one was simply Don't Worry About It!

So. A good book. Recommended. But really a manual, obviously, so only recommended for those who want to learn about different ways of approaching potties with children. =)

Into the Land of the Unicorns

Bruce Coville was one of my favorite authors circa 1992. And when I was pregnant and going through all my old boxes of stuff, which were mostly books, I re-read pretty much everything of his that I had, and still loved it. So I got this book on a lark at the library because I hadn't ever heard of it. And it didn't disappoint--I would've loved it as a young girl, although it doesn't pack very much of a punch now since it took me maybe 20 minutes to read. Good times. I will definitely read the others in the series. I *heart* Bruce Coville.

Good in Bed

It's been a while since I re-read this book by Jennifer Weiner. I didn't review it when I first read it, because I wanted to say a lot about it. But by now, I'm just too tired and it's faded and I just want to say this: it was still good. After all the changes I've been through in my life since I first read it, I still enjoyed it. I found a few things quite strange (going to a late-night Hollywood party while hugely pregnant? Ugh.) and I was surprised to find that the movie star friend wasn't really very involved like I had thought she was. But generally, it just connects with the way a lot of women REALLY feel about our bodies and REALLY think about some things, instead of a cheesy man-book with awful stereotypes (aka Sundays at Tiffany's).

However. Do NOT read the follow-up novel, the one that takes place 12 years after this book ends. Or, not if you like happy endings. It was well-written....just NOT something that I wanted to know. I should've left Cannie and her crew alone at the end of this book with their happily-ever-afters. Oh well.


Barbara Kingsolver, short stories, I totally forgot I read this. Good enough, but probably my least favorite of hers. Still, makes you think. Eh.

The Wordy Shipmates

I saw Sarah Vowell on The Daily Show a few months ago, when this book came out, and immediately added it to my to-read list. She was just fun! So I was happy to find that this was a fun, easy read...AND I learned something!

It's what you might call an "armchair history" of some of the early European settlers of North America. Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, for example, is described as someone hard to like but easy to love. (I think that's a quote but I don't have the book in front of me. Sorry.)

I also enjoyed learning that Sarah Vowell grew up in Oklahoma, although of course she's gone now, and will never look back. Sigh. I get it, I certainly do, but you know, it's still sad that no one comes back.

Anyway. Fun book, good book, historically accurate and interesting. Full of the author's personal moral judgments and politics, though, so be ready for that because it's not your typical history.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

This book, by Lisa See, has been on my to-read list for a long time, so I picked it up when I saw it at the library the other day. I had heard it was really good.

Unfortunately for me, it's just not the kind of book I can bring myself to read right now. I had heard it was about the Chinese secret women's language, which sounded interesting, but I didn't know it was really about a betrayal of a friendship and heartbreak. I also had a feeling I would have to read about foot-binding and such, but didn't realize it would be so depressing to me that I would just have to quit, to get up and walk away from it all, because I couldn't stand so much sadness with only sadness to look forward to in the future.

I bet it's a really good book. It seemed well-written. I just didn't have the heart to finish that, to take that story into my heart. It's too sad.

The Position

This is another Meg Wolitzer I picked up, because I loved The Ten-Year Nap so much.

But this one is about a much more provocative subject--namely, The Beast With Two Backs(read the second paragraph, not the first, if you don't know what I'm talking about). It follows a couple in the 1970s who writes a book about their own experiences with marital intimacy, and the fallout from that on their four children.

So the story was not really what I was looking for. But the writing made it worth it. Consider this, from pages 36-37:

"Michael thought back to himself as a teenager, as a child, and it was like thinking about a death, for that person with the waves of black hair...had certainly disappeared. An abduction had taken place in the night, seemingly noiseless.

The truth was that if you paid attention to it, the sound of childhood ending was a terrible thing. If you were one of those supernaturally gifted people and could actually hear it, you would know that it was similar to glass shattering, or a body falling and hitting a surface, expecting that surface to be the accommodating body of a mother or father who would break the fall, but finding, instead, only the hard, hot sidewalk of the rest of life. These sounds were right now being made everywhere, Michael knew--children disappearing, as if through violence, and a troop of awkward but somehow authoritative adults replacing them. The world was packed with these new people who were granted permission to drink, and vote, and drive, and argue, and matter, and sometimes, if they were particularly unlucky or perhaps lucky, to grieve for things that had happened a very long time ago."

So, worth reading all the weird stuff for the beautiful passages in between. But be forewarned that it is indeed risque. (Darn, don't remember how to put the accent mark on that word. And can you tell I'm trying really hard NOT to make this blog show up on certain Google searches on certain topics? If not, yes, that's why I'm being so oblique.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Savannah Breeze

This is a Mary Kay Andrews book, and I picked it up because I liked her book Deep Dish and wanted a similar easy but not horrible read. The two turned out to be different, in an interesting way. It gets old reading one author writing the same basic story over and over with just a few changes to the characters and plot, so I was really happy this was not that.

On the other hand, even though Deep Dish was more typical romance than Savannah Breeze, and that can make it a little more boring, I did feel like this one didn't show the connection between the two main characters as much as it could have. Sometimes I feel like, why is it these two are in love again?

Then again, it was kind of nice that it wasn't all romance-y and widdle cuddlekins and such. But then again, the actual plot was a little more shaky. I didn't like that the ending suggested that it was going to be dangerous but then just left that hanging and boom, it's over.

It was a decent, very Lazy Saturday kind of a read.

I am the Messenger

Since I love love loved The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, I thought I'd try this earlier book of his. It was pretty good, but not nearly as good as TBT. There was too much, I don't know, weirdness in it for me. Some stuff that seemed like it was there just for weird shock value, almost? And it was very much more full of Aussie stuff, which is no problem, but makes it harder for me to get IN the story because I keep getting distracted by it, which is obviously just my own fault for not being Australian. ;)

Anyway. This was much more definitely a "Young Adult" story than TBT, less universal but still good. Still had a great message, still more fun to read than a LOT of other authors.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Rise and Shine

This is an Anna Quindlen that I read a few years ago and forgot I read. It was okay. Not great but not bad. Just eh. It's about two sisters, one famous and one average, and how their relationship grows and changes, especially at a certain crisis point. But it didn't feel very well organized to sort of meandered. That can be okay. But it was just eh.

The Blessing Stone

By Barbara Wood. Most horrible book ever. Doesn't even deserve full sentences. I couldn't even read it head-on. I had to page through different areas at different times.

Some examples of problems I had with this book:

At the beginning, it's about humans 100,000 years ago...about how animal-like and therefore low-down and degraded we were. WHAT? We are animals, people. Deal with it. We are still animals. Living in houses does not change that. And back then? We were also still humans. Therefore, we would have, for example, mourned the death of a child. GAH!

Also, these down-and-dirty animal-humans? They don't know anything about the future. They have no concept of a future. WHAT? How do you think they went freaking hunting then? AAAAHHHH. They were people, people. Humans. They might not have thought like you and me but they certainly THOUGHT with the same BRAINS that we have.

And...the main character in that part of the writing feels a "danger" coming....but can't figure it out since she can't conceive of "the future." Grr enough, but it turns out to be a volcano that's about to erupt. Because this woman senses danger, apparently because the blessing stone helped her, she gets everyone to safety or something. Um...wait a minute....I thought they were animals. Show me animals who don't realize something funky's gonna happen and get the heck out of Dodge when a natural disaster like that happens. Remember the tsunami in December 2004? Remember how animals took off for higher ground? Yep, they knew to get away from there. Since she goes on and on about how they were animals, she should have remembered that they would have trusted their instincts and not need some stupid outer-space stone to save them. It's just so full of stupidity and contradictions that I can't even write down all that I want to criticize of it. I hope I'm making it clear anyway.

Another point I disliked that's a completely different issue. So this stone is supposed to help the people it comes to. One of them is an early Christian woman. The stone "helps" her to "have the courage" to choke herself to death on it. WTF? This is not exactly helpful in my opinion. And the situation wasn't even remotely like the regular Christian martyrs anyway. And then how the heck does this lady end up a saint if no one knows she choked herself on the stone? Just full of crap. Seriously.

So obviously I didn't like this one. You may disagree. God help you.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Story of B

I read this book a couple of weeks ago, but I never got around to reviewing it because I wanted the review to be something special. See, the book itself, by Daniel Quinn, is not really very different from Ishmael. Much of the story is the same, which is to say, it's actually a series of lectures about how we look at the world and what we might ought to rethink. (You like my Oklahoma-ism there? Might ought? Such a great way to express that. Wait. Is that an Oklahomaism? Or would that be might should? Hm. Food for thought.)

But the effect it had on me this time, for my personal life and living everyday, was much greater. I liked Ishmael's point but I thought it didn't apply to me as much in that I was already heading in that direction, it didn't give me a lot to think about that I'd never ever ever thought of before, it just sort of highlighted it for me. Still important, but this time I feel even more spurred into action, and I've realized what it is that I can and should be doing to help.

Anyway...this story is about a priest who is asked to investigate the teachings of a person who is called B, with the intent of finding out if he might be the Antichrist. I have to say I liked the actual STORY part of this book better than Ishmael, but it's still obviously not the point of the book, I think. I think the point of the book is to get the message across, and in that way, I loved the ending. But also, this book reminded me of something very important. You see, I tend to be of the "live and let live" school of thought. I often just sit there and stay quiet, stay under cover really, when people say things that I think are outrageous, or misguided, or whatever. For an example, when a certain person I know was discussing alligators and crocodiles and how she doesn't see any point to their existence and we don't need them and let's get rid of them all and blah blah blah...I was thinking Good Lord, how self-centered can humankind be, that if we don't personally recognize a need we have for them we think they shouldn't exist? It's not like they're a threat to her, it's not like she's ever going to see one face to face, but we humans seem to have a lot of trouble letting other creatures be...we seem to think we need to control it all, a right to control it all, and I think that is oh-so-wrong. But I didn't say anything. I just sat there.

Not anymore. This book reminded me that it's important to spread your message. Especially when that message might help some people stop thinking in ways that are potentially going to be very detrimental to life on this planet. Of course, the croc example is just a very minor, minute kind of example of more broad ways of thinking, but if I want my children and my children's children and so on to have a real chance at living sustainably on this earth instead of destroying it, it starts with me. And, I want my children to know how I feel about things, what my values are. I can't do that without putting them out there!

Therefore, read The Story of B. Everyone should at least be exposed to its ideas, whether or not you agree. And for the record, I don't necessarily agree with every single piece of the lectures. But for the most part, I think these are things people need to be considering and sharing with others. And now that's what I'm going to try to do more of.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Ten-Year Nap

I added this book by Meg Wolitzer to my to-read list when I read this review on Ask Moxie. I couldn't resist reading a book about mothers thinking about where they've ended up compared to where they thought they'd be, among other topics. And I have to say, I am so glad I picked this one up. The writing is golden, beautiful and spot-on. So many things the mothers were thinking were real and true and spelled out things I had certainly felt but hadn't quite ever understood so clearly. Amazing.

Also, the way the book is written is lovely, because you the reader go back and forth between several 40-year-old women in New York City today, their mothers when they were 40, and a couple of passages about the husbands that are simply breathtaking. I can't say enough how wonderful the writing is, and how well I think the author addressed the topic at hand, which is to say, a very complex social issue that more often than not provokes strong feelings and arguments. Instead, this book is true and thoughtful and I loved it.

That being said, I'm not sure exactly what I thought about the ending yet. But that truly wasn't terribly important to me. It was the day-to-day, real-life feel of the writing that I loved the best, that and the connection I could feel and the....relief that other women feel this way too, that it's hard to find balance in your life, it's hard to feel devalued because you don't have a passionate career, etc.

Oh, also, the blurb in the book jacket? Total crap. It said something like "Four women friends...blahblahblah...midlife blah...shocking event changes everything...yadayada." Not the point of the book at all. No shocking event, although there was one thing that happened that I think they were talking about, but it didn't affect the friendships in the group in some catastrophic way. Just fyi. Don't read the book for the blurb, in other words. Luckily, it's much better than that.

A terrific find.

Monday, February 2, 2009

In Defense of Food

This is Michael Pollan's latest. A couple of years ago he published The Omnivore's Dilemma, which has been quite popular, and was quite good, and I happen to like this one even more. In both books, he examines American eating habits and the impact and morality behind different sources of our food and ways of eating--but this book is much more about what we can do about it, how we can, as he says, "escape" from The American Way of eating, which is so bad for us and for the world.

The book's advice can really be summed up quite easily, as is proclaimed on the front cover: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. But the author really delves into how we can navigate this somewhat obscure directive, as well as why it's so difficult for us to do that in the prevalent food climate.

Here's most of his advice points, taken from the last third of the book. My additions are in parentheses and are not in italics.

Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

Don't eat anything incapable of rotting.

Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high fructose corn syrup.

Avoid food products that make health claims. For a food product to make health claims on its package it must first have a package, so right off the bat it's more likely to be a processed than a whole food.

Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. (He goes on to suggest farmers' markets, CSAs, and growing your own.)

You are what what you eat eats too. (Thus feedlot cattle are not nearly as healthy for you to consume as 100% grass-fed.)

Eat like an omnivore. (Biodiversity is a good thing, for quite a few reasons.)

If you have the space, buy a freezer. (You can get a lot of good quality meat at once for cheaper...You can buy in season at the farmer's market and freeze for year-round local produce...)

Eat well-grown food from healthy soils. (How we treat the earth can affect the nutritional quality of our food. Thus, organic practices ARE important for our health in ways we might not have noticed or thought of before.)

Eat wild foods when you can.

Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism. (Sure, maybe someone might come along with one that might be good for you or at least not bad for you. But history is not behind that claim.)

Don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet. (Don't try to isolate the omega-3 from the fish, for example.)

Pay more, eat less. (Your food dollar can work for you and for the world in this way.)

Do all your eating at a table.

Try not to eat alone.

Lucky You

I read this Carl Hiaasen book yesterday. It's about a black woman and two racist white men who have to split the Florida lottery, and how the newspaperman sent to write up the story gets involved, and all kinds of other things.

I generally really like Hiaasen books, and this was no exception. I just love his bad guys. They're so slimy and dirty and crazy, or good-looking and vain and selfish, and always just too too much. They always get what's coming to them but you also can always almost feel sorry for them.

Of course I also enjoy how the author manages to have some sort of environmental, save-Florida's-green-spaces type of theme. And I love how he manages so many separate storylines, keeps you interested in each one, and brings them all together.

My only complaint about this particular book is that there were almost too many different characters to keep track of. But only almost. A good quick read.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sundays at Tiffany's

This is the book for our February book club. I don't really know what to say about that except I'm worried that this book club thing is not working out for me. I really enjoy getting a night off, out of the house, and going and talking with these fun women...but the book part is eh. So far we've read four books: the first two I liked (Julia's Chocolates and The Last Time I Was Me), but they were by the same author and I felt maybe we should branch out a little more for our first two. The third (Off Season) was pretty awful. The fourth was the book I picked (Prodigal Summer), and no one else really liked it much. So I feel like maybe I'm book-incompatible with these people, which is very sad, because they're nice.

But this book, by James Patterson, was pretty worthless too. The girls said they wanted something "happy," and this is a sappy romance, basically, so it was picked. (And yes, I'm cringing already because I hate to criticize someone else's pick. Please don't take it personally. You are not the book you picked, even if you like it. I like you. I don't like the book.)

First on my list of complaints: girlie romance written by an old man. Creepy! The picture on the back of the book kept giving me the willies. And then of course it was just completely unrealistic to MY world of being a woman, although I think it used just about every stereotype possible. The main man character, for example, learns lessons about life from Oprah and then pontificates on them, or at least he brings up the fact that he learned a lot from Oprah, or she really spoke to his heart, or something. Gag.

So. Fakey. Weirdly enough, written by a dude specializing in thrillers (Kiss The Girls, for example). Also, the plot was shaky. (Ooh, fakey-shaky. Nice.) All these little things happen that are supposed to make you think one thing, and then of course another thing magically appears as the answer (aka Deus ex Machina), and you're supposed to forget about all the things that happened in the first place.

This book is not something I would recommend to anyone. It might be enjoyed by any number of women, but I hope not. I hope women these days are wiser than that, more aware of ourselves as people and not as objects. I hope women want to read a LOT less about female characters obsessed with their weights, as women learn to forget about what we look like and focus instead on our health and happiness and on making the world a better place for all living things.

Okay. I was interrupted in the middle of that so I'll get off my soapbox and just say this: I'm in a bad mood today because my health insurance is CRAP and because I feel kinda crappy and am tired of being judged if I look crappy. I want to look out on the world and not worry about it looking in on me. So this was NOT a good book to read in the mood I'm in. And it is NOT quality reading any time, if you ask me. But it might be one of those books that sometimes people just need to escape regular life and not tax the brain. Still, you won't get that recommendation from me, although I'll try to be nicer at the book club meeting since I certainly don't want to inflict judgment on my friends, with whom I enjoy discussing life, as I said. Sorry if this is incoherent. Seriously bad day that started about halfway through the post. =)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Vivaldi's Virgins

This book by Barbara Quick is another grab-n-go for me. Never heard of it before. Sadly, it was not a fortuitous find.

It wasn't badly written. It didn't make me cringe (often). It was just BO-RING. Predictable and pointless, in a way. It just seems like there are a million books out there like this--historical fiction about some famous figure (here, obviously, Vivaldi) and including some sort of shocking sexually-related thing, and some sort of mystery that's completely obvious to people who have the good fortune to be born with brains. Ugh.

Then again, I didn't hate it. It was actually interesting to hear that Vivaldi and Handel and some other historical figures actually knew each other, and that sort of thing. But generally, it felt like a wasted day of reading. Oh well, better luck next time for me in my grab-n-gos, I hope.

Blue Shoe

I've been meaning to read Anne Lamott's fiction ever since I read Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life and LOVED it last year. But this is the first time I've actually remembered to get one of her books while I was AT the library!

It was a quick, easy read. I didn't like it nearly as much as the writing manual, but it was still pretty good. I think my favorite part was seeing the author's personality and life experience shine through the story....I am really into that these days, finding authors that I like personally (well, I don't know them personally, but I imagine I would, and I like their personal tales, if that makes sense), and then seeing their lives come through their fiction writing. I think it's just fascinating.

Anyway. This book, Blue Shoe, was not what I was expecting it to be from the blurb, but it is the kind of thing I had in mind that Ms. Lamott would write. It's just about everyday life and all its beauty and ugliness and mystery and simplicity. Not bad at all, although certainly different.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Bean Trees

Another Barbara Kingsolver--her first, I think, copyright 1988, I believe. (Can you tell I don't have it sitting in front of me? Ha ha.)

It had been a long time since I read this book, about a young Kentucky woman who sets out on the road to make her way in life, and picks up a family along the way. It was good fun, but I was surprised at the difference in quality between this and Prodigal Summer. Not that this isn't's just that I think Ms. Kingsolver has become truly phenomenal in her writing skills, and this book was just very good. =)

I also have to say it makes me sad every time to hear the protagonist talk about how Oklahoma makes her feel dead inside. Every place is different and every place has its goods and bads and I hate to always be the state that everyone else can agree they hate...Although I know at the end she discovers a part of Oklahoma that she does like. I just don't like the disparaging comments. I know it's fiction but I also know the author well from her personal writings and I know a lot of her own life ends up in her fiction, so....yeah. Makes me sad.

Good book. Not as good as some of her others. But still fun. Very fast and easy. Great if you're interested in issues surrounding immigration and sanctuary and such. It breaks my heart that all the things wrong in this area 20 years ago are STILL wrong, and probably even MORE wrong, and that we are often so ignorant of these issues in our comfortable, protected lives.

Prodigal Summer

I am a huge fan of Barbara Kingsolver, and it seems like I might just read all her books in the period of a couple of months--although for most of them it's a re-read. This one is my hands-down favorite of all her fiction. It is dear to my heart. It's about the connection of all living things and how fragile it is, how easy to upset. It's about challenging the human mistake of thinking that we are more important than other living things. It's about human relationships with other humans and with nature. It's about respecting nature. And it's also about some real, true people, people you care about, people you could meet on the street or at your local library.

This is the book I chose for my book club this month, and I have to say, no one else LOVED it the way I do. But I feel like much of this is due to the strong ties I have to the ideas in the book, the relevance it has to my life, and the affinity I have for this author, and the fact that, for example, one of the girls who didn't like it is just in a completely different place in her life than I am in mine. It was great to get to discuss this book with others, though, because I have a hard time figuring out how "outsiders" might view this book. To me, it's so lively and brilliant, and I love how it combines the author's passion for the topics with the truth of a really great novel. So it was good to hear that others picked up on the little details the author drops in your lap and then ties together later, and that the dialogue is for the most part very real-feeling. And interesting and fabulous to get to discuss the ideas of the book more in-depth. We had a great discussion on predators and why humans fear them and want to eradicate them and how damaging that practice is to the whole world, humans included.

One of my all-time favorites, still. LOVE IT!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Calcutta Chromosome

I thought I'd try something a little different from my usual book fare, so I picked up this book by Amitav Ghosh recently. It seemed promising: he's an anthropologist and the book is about malaria--all stuff I'm definitely interested in, having studied medical anthropology and loved it as an undergrad.

Unfortunately...this book did not move me. I found it somewhat impenetrable. I think the fact that an older Indian man wrote it meant that there were many, many references that this young American woman did not understand. It also seemed like it was going to be good, but I kept getting closer and closer to the end without any clearer understanding of the story--and then the ending was just one huge black hole to me.

Well, that's not really true. I sort of get it. And I sort of think the author was trying to make it a mysterious, open-ended ending...but it was not enjoyable for me. Too bad.

Also, I disliked where the author went with the premise of the story. There are so many fascinating things to write about when discussing chromosomes and diseases...but I just did not like this twist on things. Too bad.

Maybe someone who understood where this book was coming from would like it. It didn't seem *bad* exactly. I just really didn't like it. Ah well. Such is book life.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince...and the Deathly Hallows

Yes, I just (re-)read these two books in the last two days.

No, I did not do very much laundry or housecleaning during these days.

Yes, I still like them a lot.

Yes, I still wish there was more information in the epilogue about some of the OTHER people in the series...

Wait a minute, what exactly happened to Griphook? Did I miss something? How did the Thing get into the Place where it ends up and Neville...well, nevermind, just in case you don't know what I'm talking about.

And hey, is it just me or are Harry and Voldemort related? Their families each have a Peverell descendancy...or at least that's what it sounds like in the book. Just sayin'.

And now I can go read The Tales of Beedle the Bard! Yay!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Band Never Dances

This young adult book, by J.D. Landis, was one of my very favorites as a pre-teen. It's about a 16-year-old girl who is the drummer in a band that becomes hugely famous, so it made me feel cool and hip and in the know about all these fashionable things like being in a band and being on the radio and yada yada. Plus, the writing is just great. There are a couple of great zingers that I love that really get me.

And I say this having read this book for the first time in maybe 10 years, probably more like 15. Well...that's probably not true...I probably did pick it up in college at some point. But you get the point--this was the first time I've read this book in my "adult" life, and I still love it.

Although of course now the whole thing seems very, very unreal and fantastical in a way that it didn't when I wasn't so grown-up and know-it-all-ish. Ha ha ha. The thing that was most unreal to me was that a 16-year-old would be so self-aware and mature. It could happen. But seems unlikely when said 16-year-old also becomes the most famous person on the planet. Oh well.

Here's one of my favorite quotes, with names changed to protect the innocent who have yet to read the book and don't want the ending spoiled:

"Forrest...sent us an invitation asking if we would play at their wedding....Elvis was the best man...Elvis made a speech at the reception and wished Forrest and Bambi a happy and fruitful life. Little did he know that nine months later there would be a beautiful piece of fruit, boy fruit, and that he would be named Elvis."

..."boy fruit," that gets me every time! =)

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman's latest. I love him. It was a fun book, but of course not my favorite, because it's a young adult book and one of my favorite things about his adult books is the...intelligence level...? I guess the way the novel engages with your intelligence, a way that most adult books completely miss.

I liked this one, though. Fun, intriguing, and just brilliantly original. Hooray for more Neil Gaiman!

P.S. I forgot to mention that the only problem I had with this book was that it seemed more like a series of short stories....But that's not really necessarily a problem as long as you know not to expect one big plot and nothing else, if that makes sense. And maybe that means more stories about Bod in the future...which is a good thing, I think!

How Children Fail

This is the second John Holt book I've read--all about education and education systems in America and how we've accidentally gotten it all wrong and how easy it can be to see how real learning works and how kids don't really need any of our posturing to learn things, and in fact it's almost impossible to teach them things that they're not interested in or that are not tied to daily life in a meaningful way.

However, I don't like this nearly as much as How Children Learn, in part because it has fewer helpful examples of how to let children learn, and more examples of what was happening in his math class (zzzzzzzzzzz). But mostly it's because he was born in 1927 and when he talks about handicapped children and the terror and horror, that really puts me off. He was trying to make a valid point about how we constantly constrict these people and it's very painful for them and how in a way we do the same to "normal" kids in school, but his language was not something I could handle. So there's my warning for this one.

Still, the man has some amazing and amazingly obvious insights into how schools get it wrong that I wish everyone could hear and heed. Amen, brother!

Welcome to Temptation

This is another Jennifer Crusie romance, my very favorite of hers. It has such great, funny dialogue, and seems so real even though the plot is completely impossible, and I'm still not sure exactly what makes me love it so much but I do.

But WARNING. Because the plot includes quite a lot of risky business, for example, whether or not it's legal to make movies with explicit scenes in them in the Temptation city limits. Not for those who want a book with unquestionable morals, ha ha.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Strange Bedpersons

This is a very typical Jennifer Crusie--a funny romance, with great dialogue and without the typical cheesiness of a lot of romance novels out there. I liked it, but I always like Jennifer Crusie books, and this one wasn't anywhere close to my favorite. It's about an unconventional girl and a conventional guy who can't seem to agree on anything but still really like each other, and in Crusie style, it's also about their best friends getting involved in a relationship, and it also has a mystery component and some other fun stuff going on. Warning: it is a romance and therefore does include, for example, a scene reminiscent of the Pretty Woman piano scenario (but, in my opinion, a thousand times better, because there's a lot of humor in the book). And for what it's worth, Crusie's love scenes are a thousand times better than most other authors in the genre, since there's no 'capturing of mouths' or 'heaving bodices' or what-have-you, just normal people.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Sherrilyn Kenyon is a writer I have trouble with. Her writing is not really wonderful, but her imagination certainly is. And she has a sense of humor that I can appreciate. And she always mentions anthropology-related things in her books. But she does not have an innate sense of punctuation. And the "romance" part of her novels is very Harlequin--which is to say, incredibly cheesy and unreal.

So, this book is sort of the culmination of her Dark-Hunter series, because it's about the mysterious leader of the group, which, by the way, is a group of people who were betrayed and killed in some manner, asked for revenge, and then in return for revenge had to become vampire hunters with special powers, thanks to the Greek goddess Artemis. Needless to say, the series is very involved, and I'm impressed with the author's imagination and the details she includes and the things she things of and the ways she incorporates all these different things together.

But this book made me a little sad. It seems to me like Acheron's book should have been different, maybe even somewhat of an ending for the series, but of course, that can't happen, because she's created this whole world and is taking it in all these different directions, etc. So while I really thought she did a good job with the first half of the book, which is Acheron's history in ancient Greece and Atlantis, the second half, his modern-day romance, was not even remotely was just the same as all the others...which was really disappointing. It irks me when people in novels suddenly decide they're in love with someone and can't live without that person because....why? Because the author said so! There's no development of characters or insight into why these two people were meant for each other. So it's boring and again, cheesy and unreal. Sad.

Then again, the first half was pretty amazing in how effortlessly the author ties all the loose ends of history together to make sense out of the present. Warning: obviously this book has love scenes, but the first half also has a lot of sad ancient stuff, people dying and being tortured and so on. Not for everyone, certainly, and the book was not nearly as good as it could have been. Sigh.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jane Eyre

I read a classic! Hooray!

I tend to be very wary of books that are identified as "classics" because in my experience they tend to just be tragic. Or, at the very least, not terribly interesting. Luckily, there are a few that do not fit this generalization, and Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, is one of the good ones.

I had never picked it up before because I erroneously concluded that it would be tragic and generally a waste of my time like Wuthering Heights, since the authors were sisters. It was not tragic. It was more like a novel of suspense. I ripped through it in two days because I wanted to know what would happen. And, to my delight, the ending was satisfactory and not full of doom and gloom.

One of my favorite parts about reading this book is the underlying feeling of feminine power, that is, that women are in fact not subservient to men, that comes through even though this book was written in the 1800s. Fascinating!

That being said, I thought the ending was a little too quick for me. It seemed like you spent all this time on one thread of the story, then suddenly switched to another, then suddenly they were all tied up and it was over. Also, although I generally liked the ending except for the rushed-ness...the part about St. John was a little creepy to a modern reader. To a contemporary of the author it probably didn't come off in this way, but to me it was just a little...vindictive-feeling. But I really don't think it was meant to be. But maybe so. Maybe Ms. Bronte was clever like that. I dunno.

What I do know is that I have found a classic that was absorbing and well-written and kept me on the edge of my seat and that I can now actually recommend as one I liked. Saints be praised!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Whale Season

I picked up this book by N. M. Kelby the other day. It had a quote from Carl Hiassen on the front, and that was my sole reason for this choice. So...

It did remind me somewhat of Hiassen's books, which I tend to really enjoy, but I didn't enjoy this one quite as much. For one, it had a deranged killer in it, which is not likely to get star reviews here. Secondly, it didn't have as much of a mission as a Hiassen book, which happens to be one of the things I really. Thirdly, the ending was eh.

However. The writing was pretty decent and the story definitely kept me interested in what the heck was going to happen. Not overall a bad read, but not my favorite either. Too much violence and creepiness.

The Summerhouse

A total fluff book by Jude Devereaux. Still, although it was incredibly predictable and all, I did care about the characters, and what happened to them, however far-fetched and weird that might have been.

A good fluff read, then. Just don't expect poetry or deep meaning. =)

That Old Ace in the Hole

It's official. I love Annie Proulx.

This was the first book I read this year, and what a way to start off. I read Ms. Proulx's The Shipping News last year and really liked it, but this one was even better for me because the subject matter was closer to home. This book is about the characters of the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, and a little bit of the history of the area, and the problems it faces. There are a million fun, quirky, and lovable-if-slightly-damaged inhabitants of the small towns the protagonist travels through. And my very favorite part was having my brain repopulated with the cadences of that area--I didn't always agree with the author's rendition of certain words, but she did a great job getting that talk into my head, and it was comforting to me like a happy childhood memory.

Just wonderful.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Just FYI

Today I went through the list of all my old posts on this blog, all the books I've read this past year. And lo and behold, I forgot to post a review for three of them: Getting Near to Baby, Unconditional Parenting, and How Children Learn.

Since those last two are a couple of my very favorite parenting books, I think I was hoping to write really long, comprehensive reviews of why I love them so much. But, as they say, the best laid plans...get interrupted by life and especially by the rest of the books I have read.

You might also notice that Fast Food Nation is out of place on my list of books for 2008. Same issue--forgot to review it before I moved on to some others. Ah, well. That record's pretty good, I think.

And I've already got a couple of books to review for this year--here's to good reading in 2009!