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!