Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book 72- Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen is hilarious and fun, yet offers a good think as well.

I truly enjoyed this memoir of a woman returning home to her parents after her ugly divorce, an illness and accident.

Rhoda's voice- a full of a blend of self depreciating humor, family memories, and nursing her new wounds- was refreshing and fun.

And I want to say this, loudly and clearly: she has a good relationship with her mother. Yes, her mother most certainly drove her absolutely insane, but she has a good relationship with her despite of crazy. She loves her mom and doesn't blame the ills and wrongs in her life on her mother. Thank you for writing a memoir that's funny and honest yet still endearing of family. It was refreshing.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Book 71- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I picked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows as a book club's choice for last July for the virtual book club I chair. Anyway, I didn't get it finished. I swore I was going to read it before the year was out because 1) I wanted to, 2) I picked it and felt obligated to read it; and 3) and I've started it twice and liked it but get bogged down by my ILL books so I have to put it aside.

This was a great story, a feel good book, sweet and fun. That's not to say it was without substance, because it will full of ripe characters and an interesting plot!

Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger who lives on Guernsey Island, which was occupied by the Germans during World War II. This is in 1946. The stranger has come across something Juliet wrote and wanted questions answered. Thus begins an amazing correspondence between Juliet and the members of the Guernsey Literary Society.

This entire story is told in nothing but letters and telegrams written by members of the society, Juliet, Juliet's publisher and friend Sidney, her best friend Sophie, her "maybe" boyfriend Mark, and a few other fun characters tossed in for good measure.

I enjoyed this story immensely. It's an extraordinary novel with memorable characters. I like that Juliet didn't dither. I love the matter-of-fact-ness of the voice of all the characters. I also like the blending of fiction with history. I did some reading about the time period (post WWII, the setting, etc) and it seems to be right on. How sad for those who lived through the war; it seems to be brought to even brighter light in this novel, but without lingering on the tragedy that is war, if that makes sense. I'm also a lover of letters, and collect books, fiction and non, of letters. One of my favorites are letters written between people (especially lovers) during WWII, so this book was even more interesting to me.

I love this book and it's certainly one of my favorite reads of 2010!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book 70- The Last Will of Moira Leahy

The Last Will of Moira Leahy (by Therese Walsh) took me forever to read because... well, I have no idea. I think the fact that I read this over a period of 6 weeks, putting it down and reading something else then picking it back up, was probably a disservice to the book, and for that I apologize. it probably influenced the fact that I wasn't really a fan of this novel.

The premise is a bit odd. The story is told now and mingled with flashbacks. Moira and Maeve are twins, separated by a tragic incident in their teens. Maeve is telling the story, about her lonely life as a university professor, with a small limited world. The story unfolds and we find that she's purchased a Japanese dagger in a sheath called a keris. The keris seems to, at first, remind her of her twin Moira, and then it seems to have some sort of magical, mystical powers, that cause Maeve to abandon her quiet and orderly life and traipse off to Rome to find answers that she's been looking for for her adult life.

There, encounters a man who wants to do her harm because of the keris, and a man who wants to help her understand the dagger's power. The man she's secretly in love with, who is in Europe on his own journey of self discovery, meets up with Maeve to help her solve the mystery of the keris. She follows the clues left her by a strange Indian man and tries to find all that is lost to her: her live, her sister, love, her music, her own sense of self.

I like the idea of ghosts and magic in a novel. I like the mysticism that can surround a modern day type of ghost story and I think I had a different perspective of what this story was GOING to be about rather than what it IS about. I just struggled getting into the characters. I often was confused at what was going on with the twins in the flashback sequences. They have strong twin powers ( activate! ) which I think was part of Walsh's tie to the magic of the dagger but it just felt overdone and overworked. And of course, since the girls were twins, they often pretended to be each other and sometimes I was confused about who was doing what, and to whom. Add to this that the "love" story between Maeve and Noel sometimes meandered into just flat out "romance novel" writing that I wanted to puke. There's a line between lyrical writing and harlequin romance style writing, and this drifted in both camps.

While I appreciate the settings of Maine and Rome, but not even these locales could save this book for me. I just didn't enjoy the read, which could be why it took me many weeks to complete this often tedious and wordy novel.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book 69- The Murder of King Tut

The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. Patterson's storytelling style spilled into this story and made it interesting to read.

I was never really was one who was enthralled with Egyptians and Tut, but this was an interesting story- was he murdered or not? Patterson does a great job of jumping from her personal thoughts and research to that of the time of Tut, to the early 1900s when Tut's tomb was finally uncovered.

Not a bad way to introduce some non-fiction into my life and learn about something I never knew.

And props to Patterson for keeping with his traditions in writing: large font, little words, the book was broken into sections, and mini- cliff hangers at the end of each short chapter. This made learning fun!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book 68- Little Bee

Insurmountable frustration is how I felt over Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. And I've checked this out from the library about 4 times since June and I swore this time I was going to read it; and now I wish I hadn't. But it came recommended from a friend with brilliant taste in books, who's never steered me wrong, until now, that is.

Little Bee, the name she gave herself when she found herself detained in a British detention center for refugees for over 2 years, has seen nothing but tragic events and heart ache. As I read this book, with one tragedy heaped up on another, all on this young girl, one after the other, I knew there would be a happy ending, some sort of goodness, some sort of retribution or redemption. There had to be.

Even when she got out of the detention center and found the only character in the book that had a heart, the only person who could save her, the only person who loved her... circumstances were manipulated, so bad stuff continued to happen.

I was frustrated and I tremendously disliked this book. It's not written in some Orwellian era of Britain and her lands, but now, modern times. I also found it difficult to read in the dialect of the detention center detainees. I also found it irritating that within the plot Cleave kept making reference to something that happened "on the beach" and the reference to a missing finger. That was supposed to be a mystery but it just was so overplayed that by the time Cleave got to the reveal, I was ready to chuck the book out the nearest window.

I did not enjoy my Little Bee reading experience. This was so sad and depressing that I planned how to kill myself with this book as I was reading. If you read this novel, you'll get the irony of the statement. Otherwise, as a fellow blogger said, it's books like these- so overwhelmingly, all encompassingly depressing with no happiness in sight- that it should come with a razor blade for the reader.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Readers, suggestions please! Classics needed!

I've been thinking about books for next year. Sort of my own advanced planning. I just finished reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and I really enjoyed it so it propelled my brain into thinking and planning.

I used to always read the exact same genre of books. I was a fan of female contemporary sleuths and usually they were part of a series. For example:

  • Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich
  • Sharon McCone by Marcia Muller
  • Kinsey Millhone by Sue Grafton
  • Goldie Bear by Diane Mott Davidson
  • China Bayles by Susan Wittig Albert
  • Cat Marsala by Barbara D'Amato
  • Carlotta Carlyle by Linda Barnes
  • VI Warshawski by Sara Paretsky
And the list could go on and on and on. Then I would read just mysteries or hunt for more women detectives by women authors.

Over the last 10 years I've started expanding my reading and I still read a few of those authors, a very few, but I have certainly diversified my reading materials. I love books with a comedic twist and dark humor (Chris Moore or Jonathan Tropper come to mind). I also like something with a bit more intellectual challenge. Daddy-O says I like smart books, or something like that. I want my brain to be stimulated. I find that fun. I read plenty of crap (like James Patterson) because too many 'meat and potato' books needs a balance with 'cotton candy' for the brain.

I am NOT a fan of chick lit, though I do find myself reading one on a very, very, rare occasion- usually I get suckered in and I find out about half way through it's chick lit. I don't usually ready anything that's going to terrify me, like Stephen King, though I completely respect the man as a writer and his talent. (On Writing is one of the best books I've ever read.) I used to avoid Oprah recommendations like the plague because they were usually so tragic with no redemption. I don't mind something heavy and serious but I need to have something redeeming happen to characters at the end. And redemption doesn't always mean a happy ending, either. I also hate romance novels and historical romance.

Last year I decided I wanted to read more non- fiction. Fiction as always been my "thing." I read some memoirs last year and decided I wanted to bring more non-fiction into my reading life. I decided in 2010 I would read a minimum of 12 non-fiction books. So far, I've read 11 and 1/2. The half comes from the book War. (It was so emotionally hard for me to read, I just couldn't get all the way through it, though Lord knows I did really try.) I have to read one more to make the goal and I have several that I'm looking at (a few memoirs and Me, Katherine Hepburn's autobiography that I'm chipping away at.) I'm going to try and surpass that goal and read at least 15 non fiction books in 2011.

Now, here's the other thing. You would think as an English teacher I would've read more classics over the years but I really haven't. I've read my fair share, of course, but there always seems to be something that is missing from my "literature" education. SO!!! In addition to my non-fiction goal, I decided I wanted to read 10 classics. But I have no idea where to start. I was hoping that you, my wonderfully well read reader, would be willing to give me lists and lists or suggestions of what you think are "classics" that I should read because ... well, you decide the because. Please, either in my comments or shoot me an email, what do you think I should read next year? titles please (authors would be good, too) and if you want to give a brief "why I should read these (this) book(s)" I would really appreciate it. I'm trying to get a good list, so your suggestions are necessary!

I appreciate your help in expanding my literary horizons!


(By the way: I have book reviews with a virtual book club here at Read Any Good Books Lately?, and the same reviews appear here, too.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book 67- Substitute Me

I enjoyed the novel Substitute Me by Lori L. Tharps. I like stories about nannies. And this is the story of a Black woman who is young and single who had no life direction so she's a nanny. I like the narrative's struggle with the idea of a Black woman being a domestic for a White couple when she was raise in an affluent, upper middle class life.

Zora isn't sure what she wants to do in life but she does like kids and she does love to cook and she does want to live in NYC. So what to do? Well, making good money can be done by being a nanny so that's the position she takes while she tries to figure it all out. But her family would hate that she's become a "mammy" so she keeps it a secret. She has a boyfriend who pressures her to be more. And her friend Angel says she should do what she wants to be happy.

Good story as we follow the story of Zora. Now, the chapters alternate narrators between Zora and Kate, the woman for whom Zora works. I think the Zora story is better and I felt Kate was just whiny and I didn't find her all that likable. But she's necessary to the story. I didn't like the trite ending, but overall I thought it was a well written novel and an engaging story.

Book 66- Frankenstein

I enjoyed reading the famous Mary Shelly science fiction- horror novel Frankenstein. I can't believe that in all the years I was teaching and going to school I never read this classic. Boy, was I mislead.

Frankenstein is NOT the name of the monster, nor is the monster stupid. See, there's a young man named Victor Frankenstein who is obsessed with death so he collects dead body parts and brings to life a monster. When he sees what he's done, he freaks out and the monster flees and goes into hiding. Then people die and Victor knows the monster he made did it but he never comes forward.

Then the monster finally comes to Victor and demands that he build him a wife because he knows he so hideous that everyone runs from him and he doesn't want to spend his life alone. Victor thinks about it but doesn't do it. The monster vows revenge and then Victor vows revenge right back.

People, this is a cool book. It's told from the perspective of the monster, WHO NEVER GETS A NAME, from Victor and from Victor's cousin Walton. This is a very smart monster. It's also chocked full of science that well advanced and beyond the years of the time it was written, the early 1800s. Galvanism then? Really? And to think Mary Shelly was just a teenager when she wrote this tome.

It's a dark story and pretty gruesome. I honestly think a great debate could be had between who the real monster is: Victor or the monster he created. I love the parallel of this story to the Creation story of Adam and Eve. Yahoo to Mary Shelley for providing me some much needed intellectually stimulating reading material. I learned stuff, too!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Book 65- How to Talk to a Widower

How to Talk to a Widower was equal parts funny and poignant. Author Jonathan Tropper does it again with his serious topics and dark humor to create one funny read that will leave you laughing and crying, sometimes simultaneously.

Doug is a 29 year old widower, wallowing in a his grief, a year after he lost his wife. He's on the verge of becoming a famous writer because he writes a magazine column called "How to talk to a widower." But since the year has passed, his life is forcing him to move on. His step son- is he still his stepson since his mother is dead, Doug ponders- is becoming a criminal and he wonders what he should be do about, and his twin sister Clare is pregnant and decides to leave her husband and move in with Doug- and force him to date. Throw in an over dramatic Jewish mother and a father with dementia, a type A personality sister marrying a man she had sex with in Doug's house while he was sitting shiva for his dead wife, and all sorts of married and single women throwing themselves at Doug, and you have the perfect setting for a Tropper novel.

I love his dark twisted stories and his character perspectives. Tropper makes me laugh and he makes me think Love his novels! Some compare him to Nick Hornby; they should compare Hornby to him!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Book 64- The Postcard Killers

The Postcard Killers by James Patterson is another typical thriller, beach read style of novels cranked out by Patterson and company.

In this one, young couples all over Europe are being murdered and local journalists are sent postcards as clues. The police and Interpol work with each country and the journalists to try and capture the killers. Then a murder happens in Sweden and newspaper reporter Desiree is sent a postcard. Her former lover is a cop so they hatch a plan to run an article offering the killers money in exchange for an interview. It backfires.

In the midst of all of this is Jacob, an American NYPD cop who is tracking the killers all over Europe because his daughter and her husband were of the first victims killed on this spree. He works with the local cops, offering help and insight and chasing the killers.

Then there's something about art thrown in and some romance with Desiree and Jacob.

As I said, typical Patterson. A really quick read and a decent story.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Book 63- The Nobodies Album

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst is... interesting. Octavia Frost is an author and a mother, a widow and lonely. She's estranged from her so, Milo, a famous rock star, after he reads one of her books.

A tragedy in their lives cause them to have a strained and tenuous relationship as Milo grows up, leaving this estrangement in his adulthood. Until he's accused of murdering his girlfriend. Then Octavia flies to California to see if she can help him, in some way.

During the course of the novel we hear Octavia and Milo's story as they weave through the murder accusations, as well as flashbacks of Milo's childhood. Intermingled with these stories are summaries and chapters of Octavia's books.

She feels she wants to make the world right for all her book character she's wronged, all the tragedy she bestowed upon these characters. So in her new book that she delievers to the publisher and it's ironically called The Nobodies Album, she has the original chapter of each book and then she's re-written them and that's presented as well. As the reader, we get to read these chapters of Octavia's as well as her re-writes. This is an interesting part of the book.

It was an interesting story but nothing that was really exciting. I think the thing I liked the best, or the thing I'm most curious about, are these "fake" books. As I read these "experts" of these pretend novels I really wanted to read several of them. As for the real Nobodies Album, I wasn't really thrilled and could leave it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book 62- Don't Blink

I always have high hopes for a James Patterson novel and I did with Don't Blink. But it's just another typical thriller, with poorly written dialogue. No one talks like that!

A reporter is chased by the mob and blah, blah, blah... He's in love with a girl who's his best friend and blah blah blah.

I liked that there was a reference to someone asking the main character is he ever read Alex Cross books. That gave me a giggle, since Patterson is the author of that series.

Beach read. Large font, small vocabulary, short chapters and big margins. It could be read in about 2 hours.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Book 61- The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a 40 year friendship

This non-fiction story, The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty Year Friendship is about just that: 11 women who lived in Ames, Iowa who became friends in elementary school and remain friends to this day.

This story chronicles their lives, and their memories, of their friendships. It looks into the ins and outs of the group itself, how others perceived them, what they were like as teens and how they've evolved as a group and as individuals.

Not only did author Jeffery Zaslow interview the "girls"- which is what they call themselves and think of themselves,- their friends, their families, etc., but he also shares stats and research about women/ girls and friendships that studies have shown.

It was an interesting story, and I wonder what's happened to these women individually since the publication of the book. I say 'individually' because there is not a doubt in my mind that as a group they are still friends.