Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book 5- Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love is a memoir written by journalist and author Elizabeth Gilbert in which she chronicles a year of her life where she lived in Italy, Indonesia, and India.

This is a memoir so it's a true story, a part of a person's life and for awhile I struggled about what I wanted to say. Is if fair to criticize the way person chooses to live his or her life? Can I just critique the writing and presentation itself without judging the person? I think the answer I came to is a resounding "no" because I think Gilbert is a whiner. I am not a fan.

She was PAID to travel the world to eat, to pray and to fall in love. Okay, she wasn't paid to fall in love, but it still happened and all she did through this entire diatribe was whine about her past life. Okay, you want to go on a spiritual journey to get closer to God or find peace in life, then by all mean go. And Gilbert went.

I also understand that she ended a marriage in a painful fashion and had an unhealthy romance with a guy and those things do hurt. Yes, I understand that all too well. BUT, here is the big BUT in all of this.

Gilbert left her entire life for a chance to get away and start over, to get a fresh perspective, a new outlook, and this is GREAT, except she whines her way across the world. The title should've been Eat Pray Love A Woman Whines her Way through Three Counties. She seems miserable and when the misery starts to shut down, she seems ungrateful at the good fortune that befell her. The rest of us do not get to flee our lives when things go wrong and she was so lucky to have this chance.

While in the first part of the book, Italy, she was eating her way through the country. And whining. This is where the back story was laid for us about her marriage ending and about her terrible relationship with David. But she was rather pathetic. And she chose to be celibate in Italy. okay, personal choice but I wanted her to stop complaining about it since it was her choice! Italy sounded wonderful in certain parts, where she was talking about food and the country, but I wanted more of the "travelogue" than to listen to any more of her pity party. I will certainly give props to her description of her trip to Venice. It sounds beautiful and haunting, simply perfect.

The second part of her book was about her visit to India to pray and meditate with her guru and live an Ashram with others. More whining. I'm sure it was supposed to be funny, the ongoing argument she had with god over meditation that she couldn't seem to accomplish but... get real. It was just another way to add something new to complain about. She was about over her bad relationships and finding some peace and digging the whole India things so now she whined about her inability to mediate. Until the life lesson came along (oh we readers never saw that coming, oh no!) and smacked her around and she could suddenly mediate. And her buddy Richard from Texas... once he arrived on the scene she seemed to quote him all the time, and do what he suggested. What happened to her guru?

In the final section of the book, which couldn't arrive fast enough, she stayed in Bali to just... relax i guess. To re-charge before she was going to return to the States. I knew nothing about Bali so the historical information is interesting and I was impressed with her analysis, I guess, of the Balinese people and customs. However, I about said "screw this stupid book" when she went out on the town with new friends, wore a dress and make up for the first time since leaving the States, flirted with men who flirted back and got drunk. Doesn't sound like a bad way to have an evening, does it? But nooooooooooooooo Gilbert suddenly finds herself seized with thoughts of her ex -husband and about her ex- boyfriend David and questioning everything. To me, if one night of drinking, dancing and flirting, was enough to undo all she had worked on for months, then she is weak. Seriously, she thought she had put her past where it belonged (behind her!) but one night flipped her out? And instead of using all that she had allegedly learned in her meditations and from her travels, she channels Richard, the guy from Texas friend she met in India who dispensed life advise and spiritual wisdom like a first graders dispensing Pez on the playground. I had had enough at that point. One evening out with guys and her life falls apart? Sad, pathetic and weak.

Her self depreciating humor left much to be desired. I felt a little of that went a long way. It just got to the point where it was annoying.

And after her rants and raves about the ills of marriage, her newly released sequel is all about how she got married. I think not. The word that screams in my head is "HYPOCRITE". I will NOT be reading about more Gilbert. The subtitle of her book is One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. She wasn't sure what she was looking for, but I feel like after reading this tome, I knew exactly what she was searching for: a new husband, and she found him.

I wanted to like this book so much and I know my displeasure puts me in the minority. This was a NYT best seller, she was on every talk show in the land and it's been translated into a million languages, or something like that. I should like it: a woman my age gets to travel the world and write about it. Right up my alley, right? Should be my sort of thing! The last 30 days were a a trial for me, slogging through these pages. But Gilbert's constant whining and begging for sympathy made this a distasteful read for me. I'm glad it's done.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Book 4- Secret Keepers

This southern family, the Hanley's, has many secrets, some well buried, and some not so well hidden in the small town of Palmetto, South Carolina, the setting of this second novel by Mindy Friddle.

Dora, a reformed hippie wild child, is married to Donnie, a control freak hidden behind the mask of right wing religious fundamentalism and attendees of an upstart church located in... a mall. They have to children, the eldest Kyle, age 14. Dora's mother, Emma, has longed to travel the world and is just on the cusp of the Big Trip, Emma's husband Henry dies, leaving her feeling trapped in their old house, in the small town.

Emma's oldest son, Will, was killed in Vietnam, and her youngest son Bobby is mentally handicapped and hears voices and will always live at home with her, trapping her further. Emma and Dora are not close because Dora is religious and Emma is most certainly not. Donnie doesn't want his wife and children around a "non-believer" and Dora kowtows to his demand.

After the death of Henry, Emma still yearns for her Trip, and she also reflects on her own childhood, when her family used to own a fancy house across town that is now the local flop house. It's ironic that this is her focus because Jake, an old beau of Dora's, starts a landscaping business called the Blooming Idiots and most of his staff lives there.

When Jake and his crew start planting special flowers all over town, the whole city comes alive and is buzzing and brimming with newness and curiosity. And secrets start spilling.

This book meandered around it's plot, weaving in so many ideas and concepts that the idea of the flowers, called Secret Keepers, seemed to get lost even though it was supposed to be a pivotal part of the story. It's another story of a dysfunctional southern family saga but there's certainly no "fun" in this dysfunction.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

One of my favorite book shoppes

I'm so excited! I get to do one of my favorite things tomorrow... well, actually several of my favorite things!

A friend and I are going to eat at our favorite Italian place and paint pottery AND then... visit one of my favorite all time used book stores!!!!! Recently a Half Price books opened up in a neighboring town and I just LOVE to go there. The staff is wonderful and friendly. (And one clerk is a cutie!) I love how clean and organized the whole place is. I like that the music are albums-- actual vinyl LPs- playing in the store! I love the free coffee and the rows and rows and rows of books! Paperbacks! Hardbacks! Cooking, gardening, mysteries, music, humor, memoirs, art! Love, love, love it!!!

I'm hoping for a few good finds. And I'm sure I'll find them- I always do!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book blues cure

So I made a trip to the library today and one of my all time favorite people was working and she and I talked books for HOURS. We finally decided to just get coffee one night next week since she was supposed to be doing her job and I was just running in to grab a quick book or two.

I don't know who I'm trying to fool because a trip to the library for me is never a quick one. I love to check out my favorite authors, read the titles in the new section, skim the specials, and see what stands out as I do a quick check of the non-fiction.

My other favorite library employee was working tonight at well. She gives wonderful recommendations which are thoughtful and sincere. She'll give a great description of WHY she enjoyed the book, plus a little summary. She also doesn't recommend books often so when she actually DOES, I can't help but read what she suggests. And she had been right every single time. She put The Help in my hands; I only read it because she said I should and I respect her- and it was one of the best books I read last year, making it into my top 10 books of 2009. She also recommended The Part Time Indian for my teenage son who is in an "I hate to read" phase and he finished it in a week- another success. She spoke so highly of Pat Conroy's South of Broad that I bought it. I have it TO read but need to dwindle my library pile before I start on one I own. She said Poisonwood Bible and I own it, and like with South of Broad, will read if when the library pickings are scarce. I love anything this woman suggests!

Today I found a few gems. I actually ran across a Jodi Picoult novel I've missed reading called Keeping Faith. I also a found a new book that's a piece of fiction, but the premise is that a prostitute named Rachel is having her portrait painted by a "john" she is visited by often and with whom she is falling in loved- and his name is Vincent VanGogh. I hope the book is as good as the premise. The title? Sunflowers.

Celia Ahern has a new one called The Gift and last year I read three books by her so I thought I would give this one a shot. I also finally have Half Broke Horses- yahoo! I've been excited about this one since I read the review three months ago.

Since I've been complaining that I have nothing to read, or nothing that appeals to me, I think a GREAT trip to the library was just what the doctor ordered. And it worked.

Sometimes going to the library can really be a simple pleasure that makes me happy. Today was one of those times!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Book 3- Life Without Summer

This first novel, Life without summer, by author Lynne Griffin was pretty good. It was written journal style, the narrator's switching between two women: Tessa, the young woman whose 4 year old daughter Abby was just killed in a hit and run accident, and Celia, a therapist with secrets of her own.

Through this novel, over the course of a year, we follow the lives of these two women and their families. We have Tessa who is so mired in grief she can barely function, and when she does she starts an investigation of her own into the death of her daughter since she feels the police are doing an inadequate job. She pushes away her sister Rosemary and her husband Ethan while she struggles with each passing day until details about the accident are uncovered, and there are changes in her life that she can't control nor does she want.

Celia is newly remarried to Alden, a cold and unfeeling man, and the mother to 15 year old Ian and divorced from recovering alcoholic Harry. She is trying to blend this new family together while struggling with her own past demons. Through the story, as her new marriage starts to unravel and her son starts to fall apart, she questions everything she thought she knew.

And of course, there's the twist at the end.

Now, I'm going to say I saw ending twist coming about 80-100 pages into the story, but I don't know if it's because it's predictable, or if I was just lucky and perceptive in my intuition. (Once in awhile I get lucky and solve the 'whodunnits').

It was well written and certainly a vivid look into the lives of these women; so sad and tragic with a good mystery embedded into the narrative. I like that both of the central women characters weren't always likable but I still cheered for them. Tessa's grief was often palpable. It was a strong, likable piece of fiction.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why can't I like them, too?

Do you ever read a review or many reviews of the same book, then can't wait to get your own hands on a copy and then.... it happens?!? You hate the book.

Everyone you personally know loves it. It's been on all sorts of best seller lists. It's a huge seller and the everyone from Leno to Oprah to your neighbor loved this book but no matter how hard you try, you hate it.

I've had that happen. Actually, it's happening to me right now with a book I'm reading but I'll come back to that. I'm supposed to write a review of something I'm reading so I'll save it for later.

But I find that I'm often a person who just desperately wants to like a book, just like everyone else and I just can't get into it. I was that way with The DaVinci Code. I didn't even finish it, but I really wanted to LIKE it. Everyone, even people who don't read, liked it. And I, who am a complete bibliophile, just couldn't get into it. The same thing with The Shipping News. I wanted to read it and I tried to pick it up several times, to no avail. And now a blogger friend of mine that I really admire, and who's book reading tastes are FANTASTIC, loved it. I want to LOVE it too, but it just isn't working for me. I can also add Angela's Ashes to the list. Don't even get me started on books that are considered "classics." I was an English lit. minor in college and taught English for 10 years and the list of "classics" I've read is terribly small. They just don't interest me. I've bought them in hopes they would at some point speak to me but to no avail.

So here I am, in a little club all my own, a person who just doesn't like the IT books. Grrrr!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book 2- The Girl She Used to Be

Melody Grace McCartney and her family saw a horrible accident when she was 6 years old and was put in the Witness Relocation Program- for the rest of her life. Now, at age 26, and 8 identifies later, she has no idea who she is.

She does know she never lets anyone get close to her because who know when she'll be relocated, or killed by the mobsters who are still hunting her. She knows her parents are dead. She knows she loves math. She knows she is completely alone in this world. Otherwise, she has no idea who she is.

Until one day her fear comes to life and she is snatched my a member of the Bovaro family, the mobsters who are chasing her. And he life begins...

This is a great story! I was anxious to see how it ended, and, to me anyway, it was a "surprise" ending! I appreciate the storyline- what a cool idea to follow someone in the Witness Relocation program, fictional or not. I also like this author's easy writing style. David Cristofano gives a solid voice to a dynamic female character. I like her innocence and her brain.

This is a good "beach" read.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More on my 'to read' list!!!

I was playing around on my Amazon and Goodreads lists today and found more books I want to read in 2010! I can't believe how many are coming out that I'm just really excited about!

  • Fang by James Patterson
  • House Rules by Jodi Picoult
  • The 9th Judgment by Jodi Picoult
  • The Motion of the Ocean by Janna Cawrse Esarey
  • Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving
My list is growing! Now, if I only had more time! Why can't I get paid to read books?!?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One of my favorite books

As a teacher I find that kids are always asking me "what's your favorite book, Ms. O'Sullivan?" They think because I taught English I would have 1 favorite... which would be impossible.

I have some of my all time favorites, which are books I don't mind reading over and over again. I have my favorite books "I've read in a long time", or "My favorite book recently" or my favorite book of 2009, etc... I just can't seem to pick ONE all time greatest book ever. That would be like trying to pick my favorite flavor of ice cream- and we know that's just not going to happen!

There is one book that's on my "All time favorites" list that is pretty common, very commercial, and was considered "popular": The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans. This is a wonderful novel that tells the story of a friendship of three young people over several years.

Ed and Connor are best friends, despite being complete opposites. Ed loves music, is a talented piano player who dreams of making it famous, who loves the theater, and was raised in by wealthy New England parents. Connor, raise by his single mother, loves all things outdoors and is a rugged photographer. These two men become best friends and meet every summer in Montana, shouting cries of "hearts of fire" as they jump from planes together to put out raging forest fires.

One summer Ed brings Julia, the love of his life, along on the trip so she can be a counselor at a camp for troubled teens, and to finally meet his best friend Connor. When they meet, they instantly become fast friends, though Connor falls in love with Julia, and she with him. But that summer, tragedy strikes, and after a devastating accident, these three are bound together for life.

Connor stays in touch with Ed and Julia, but out his love for her and his frustration at not being able to have her, he travels the world, especially to war zones, taking photographs, becoming an award winning photojournalist.

Connor is a charismatic character, charming and full of integrity- he would never do anything to dishonor his beast friend's relationship. The story is beautifully told, complicated, simple language, a love story between people, between places, between events in life that shape a person's character. This is a wonderful book and I just love to read it again and again. Julia is a strong woman, honor bound, and still hold her head up, and doesn't whine about her life choices- because they are HER choices. Ed is painted colorfully in both his worlds, powerful and profound as the novel wears on, showing his transformation in a way that seem like he could be a real person in his given situation.

The setting is described with fabulous words, from Montana to Boston to third world countries, more than a cursory glance is given to all these destinations.

So, when someone asks me what my favorite book of all time is, and though I don't have "just one" I would certainly say The Smoke Jumper ranks right up near the top of my list, and comes mighty close to being "the best."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Maybe this can beat the book blues?

Right now I'm reading Eat, Pray Love for a book club I'm in, and I am not enjoying it. I don't want to say too much about that now, because I'll be writing a review, if and when I finish it.

BUT, today, while at school, several of my students are reading a novel for an 8th grade English class (that I'm not in as an aide) called Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I have all these kids in Resource Room (Think a study hall that provides detailed assistance to kids with mild learning disabilities) who are reading it for their English class and need help on the homework assignments.

I went to the classroom teacher to see if she had an extra copy, and she did, so I took it home to read so I could actually help my special ed. kids with their work. And it's pretty good! I do realize it's a middle school novel but I am enjoying the story. And the kids thought it was "cool" that I would choose to read a book on my own time that would help them.

I've also been able to ask them questions about the story to "help" me (haha!) understand it, which just makes them better understand it, obviously. And it's cool to see them get all excited about a book- all because they want to see where I'm at and if I caught up with them.

So, I'm going to tandem read my book club choice and this kids novel and see if I can "get my read on" again.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Reading Blahs

I just can't into the reading groove right now. I have no idea if it's because I can't find a book that will hold my interest or if I just need a break from reading, which I couldn't believe.

Last year I read 117 books and I've already been a reader. Never in my life have I not been reading at least 2-3 books (or more) at a time, but right now I just can't seem to sit still and think. I either want to watch tv or see movies or do "folk art", like quilt or knit or sew.

I'm reading Half Broke Horses, which was a book I was really looking forward to but it's not holding my attention like I thought it would. And according to the blurb as well as all the reviews, it's just the sort of book I would LOVE any other time. The other book I'm reading is Eat, Pray, Love and I am completely NOT enjoy this at all, which makes no sense because it also seems like a book I should love- am I jealous of the author? Could be...

This time last year I had finished 2 novels and had started a third... I feel like such a failure. I really wasn't going to set a book reading goal this year but secretly, in my mind, set in my subconscious, I thought I would average 10 books a month, so the total should be 120. I thought that last year as well and I was shy three from my goal. At this rate I won't make 10 books for the year! OMG!

Maybe my reading timing is off??????

I have a pretty long list of what I want to read but right now--- nada! If anyone wants to give me a reading suggestion I'd be happy to read it- something light and fun please!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book 1- Nanny Returns

Nan Hutchinson, NYC nanny extraordinaire, is back 12 years after leaving the employ of the X family.

Since her first appearance in The Nanny Diaries (which was made into a film of the same name starring Scarlett Johansson as the title character), Nan been globe trotting for twelve years with her husband Ryan, aka HH, and now they have returned to NYC. They bought a "fixer upper" house in Harlem, she's opened her own HR consulting firm, and they're thinking of starting a family.

But being back in New York isn't as great as Nan thought it would be. And after a drunken evening visit from her former charge Grayer X, she needs to assuage some of the guilt. She let's Grayer con her into helping his younger brother, Stilton, get into a boarding school since the entire X family is falling apart: money trouble, the X's are finally divorcing, Mr. X moved out, mom is sick, a starlet as a potential step-mother... all this leaves Nan wanting to "fix" Grayer's life, and that of Stilton, because of how it was all left, those many years ago.

And Nan is on her own when her house collapses in pieces since Ryan is off in Africa saving the world. Nan's best friend is busy so she renews a friendship with Citrine, a formerly snotty high school friend- who might haven't changed into a possible good person/ good friend.

Everything unravels between Nan's house, the X's, a crazy consulting job she took for a private school staffed by psychotic board members, and her personal life. Can she cope?

I've waffled between liking this novel and not liking this novel. I appreciate having Nanny back and I like reading McLaughlin and Kraus, who I like as writers and consider the originators of 'chick lit.' What I find unbelievable is that Nan can be so dumb. Why does she let herself get sucked into these situations? I could see what was coming; why couldn't she? And she's a likable character, and a fairly smart character, so I hate it when she's portrayed as stupid, and when she make stupid mistakes.

I also am not a person who had money, I wasn't raised with money, and don't know people with the sort of money as characters in this book are portrayed so it blows my mind when the "rich" people do these horrid things, just thinking about the way the parents reacted to a school situation in the book- and Nan let it go on, even though it was her job to advocate for the teachers. Being a teacher myself, made this section of the book rather hard to take and was certainly not believable; but like I said I don't have money so I don't know how the rich and famous behave. (and yes I know this is fiction, but the co-authors are former nannies so you know some of this has to be fact based...!)

As a reader I also admire the timeliness of the content. Many of the characters, not the rich ones who operated in the X's social circles, had to face financial difficulties and challenges, just like in real life. Some of Nan's friends were working extra jobs or even selling their home and moving in with parents, just like in real life. But of course, the overbearing wealthy are fairly represented here, too.

I'd call this a good beach read, or a snow day read. A few laughs, but often just shaking my head in mock horror and disbelief.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Preview of my 2010 reading list

I have some books picked out to read this year: Dirty Job, The Book Thief, Eat Pray Love, U is for Undertow, Cleaving, Drink Play F@#K, The Nanny Returns, True Blue, Knit the Season, The Life of Flannery O'Connor, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Half Broke Horses, Columbine, A Modern Jewish Girls Guide to Guilt, The Girl She Used to Be, The Poisonwood Bible, Holly Blues, The Cereal Murders, Bite Me, Sizzling 16, and South of Broad, to just name a few!

There will be more, of course!