Monday, December 29, 2008

While I Was Gone

While trapped in my house during the great snow storm of ’08, I had lots of time to read. AND NO GOOD BOOKS! On a warm, sunny day I enjoy the walk to Half Price Books from my house. But in snowy, wet, windy weather I was totally disinterested in marching the 2 miles on packed, icy snow covered sidewalks. Let alone the uphill 2 mile walk back home. Therefore, I was stuck reading the scraps of literature I already had around the house when the snowfall began. One such scrap was While I Was Gone by Sue Miller. I had started it a few weeks earlier but lost interest. But after 3 days of being snowed in with terrible TV options, I decided I couldn’t afford to be fussy any longer. And I didn’t actually hate it. I didn’t even really dislike it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I loved it, but I did like it.

While I Was Gone is about a woman named Joey. She’s in her early fifties with three grown children and a great husband. When an old roommate from college reappears, it gets her all rattled and distracted because, when they lived together in the 1960’s (with a bunch of other hippies), some horrible thing happened. Joey doesn’t feel like she has resolution on this horrible happening and thinks that the reappearance of Eli might be the answer. She makes a bunch of shitty decisions as a result of her semi-obsession with Eli's reappearance and eventually, things get creeeeepy.

Sue’s writing is very sophisticated, but I couldn’t help but think that I would have enjoyed the book more if I was my Mom. Or at least over the age of 50. The story is obviously well crafted, but I had a hard time getting past the fact that I didn’t really like the narrator. I didn’t hate Joey, but she wasn’t particularly likable either. The relationships are realistically complex and the descriptions of her marriage were really painful and yet beautifully truthful. I just had a hard time really investing in her as a character. I’d be interested in hearing from any of you who may have read Sue Miller – does she have any other books you’d recommend above While I Was Gone? And also? Why is it called While I Was Gone? I never really figured that out, which bugged. Part of my lack of enthusiasm about this book may be a result of my recent affliction with Reading ADD, but I’m not sure. Or maybe it was because it had an Oprah's book club sticker on it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gilead

A coworker loaned this to me in order to help me finish the New Classics Challenge. Considering the NEVER ENDING snow storm Seattle is currently experiencing, you'd think I'd have finished it sooner. But the truth is that Gilead is a slow moving book and it took some time to read. So despite the pajama-clad lifestyle I've been leading the last 4 days, I just finally finished it this morning.

Gilead is narrated by a 77 year old pastor in Gilead, Iowa in the 1950s. The entire book is a letter written to his 7 year old son before the old man dies from a recently diagnosed heart condition. The story meanders a bit to tell the story of his upbringing, but for me the real focus was on his love for his wife and son. You learn that his first wife died in childbirth (along with the child) and after living alone for many years he falls in love with Lilla, who is roughly 40 years his junior and they get married and have a child late in his life.

The pace is verrrrrry slow, but the writing is really beautiful. I will confess to moments of boredom, but not because it isn't a good book. It's a book full of good quotes about love and pondering the meaning and purpose of life. Knowing that he'll die soon, the way he describes his young son and their interactions is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking.

So while I respected this book, I can't say that I found it particularly enjoyable. The simple but eloquent prose bore occasional resemblance to Plainsong, which is still one of my favorite books read this year (reviewed here) but I enjoyed the reading of Plainsong ten times as much as Gilead. Sorry, Gilead.

Now that I've completed The NCC, I'd like to read a book or two that might be classified by my friend Maggie as a GP. This stands for Guilty Pleasure. The problem? I'm effing snowed in! For reals! I guess I could walk somewhere to get a book, but my options are limited by 1. how lazy I am and 2. by how cold it is and 3. by the fact that the nearest bookstore is about a 4 mile round trip walk and lastly, 4. going outside would involve changing out of the pajamas I've had on all day. I'm considering walking the 1/2 mile to the nearest grocery store to see if they have any interesting trashy books in the card aisle. Although considering my grocery shopping experience yesterday, which was something akin to the Y2K panic of 1999, I'm not sure I'm up for it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

ADD

In the last 3 days (since finishing Eat Pray Love) I've tried starting no less than 5 books.

Drowning Ruth – Seemed good but I put it down to try and focus on finishing The New Classics Challenge.

The Road – Tried in a fit of commitment to the NCC, but wasn't in the right mood.

Out Stealing Horses – Started it after forgetting Drowning Ruth at the office. Seems interesting, but not something I'll love so I put it down.

While I was Gone by Sue Miller – The back description makes me stressed out and the first 15 pages were a little so-so.

Some Jodi Piccoult book – I can't remember the name, but it's about an Amish woman who has a sister with Leukemia and lives next door to an Indian burial ground where a murder is committed by a ghost with stigmata. Kidding! But I think I just successfully combined the plots of like 5 other Jodi Piccoult books in that description.

Finally, a coworker loaned me Gilead today and I'm thinking this book might save me from me reading-ADD.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Eat Pray Love

I don’t know. I just can’t jump on board the popularity train for this book. In fact, about midway through the book, I almost put it down and actually started to draft a review that I titled, “Eat Pray Barf” which pretty accurately reflected my initial feelings on the book. That said, after reading the last 100-150 pages or so, I decided to take the ‘barf’ part back. But only just.

I really like the book’s concept – recently divorced woman in her 30’s takes a year off to travel through Italy, India and Indonesia to figure some shit out. But the execution was filled with so many clich├ęs it was a little painful for me.

At one point she remembers going to a party hosted by her friend who recently had a baby. The sight of the tired mother taking care of a baby and doing the dishes leaves her literally shaking and so terrified that she locks herself in the bathroom. All she can say when a friend finds her cowering in the bathroom is, “I don’t know what to do.” Then her friend who has no background information on what's bothering Liz says, “Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.” Really? I hope this is an exaggeration to illustrate a point and not true because if so, then Elizabeth Gilbert is a grade A drama queen (and so is her friend). Same with the story used to illustrate her new found mental health in Italy when she wakes herself up by laughing out loud in the middle of the night. Annoying.

Also, the whole concept of taking off, leaving everything behind and travelling to “find yourself” isn’t really a novel concept. And having a spiritual “guru”? It just smacks of bougie celebs wearing red bracelets because it’s cool to be spiritual and “self aware”. Ditto on yoga retreats.

But my biggest bone to pick is that I didn’t really like Elizabeth Gilbert. Her writing is … fine. But her? Pretty annoying and kind of boring. I know, I know. I’m a heartless bitch. She was just a nice girl going through a rough time. I’m not saying that I actively disliked her, I just didn’t find her particularly unique, or engaging, or interesting. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely moments when reading the Italy chapters that I was swept away with an aching desire to take a year off and pig out on pizza and pasta. But then she’d go back to brooding over her tempestuous relationship with David (the man she shacked up with immediately after leaving her husband) and I’d feel the annoyance creep back. It bothered me how much more hung up on David she was than her ex husband. This is mostly because from what she told us of David, he bugged the shit out of me. I could totally picture her relationship with David before they broke up and I wanted to barf all over it. I liked that she was at least willing to own up to her desperate, neediness in relationships, but I’m not sure that being honest about something annoying makes it less annoying.

Anyways, I’m feeling like a total Negative Nancy so I’ll tell you what I did like. Everyone told me the best parts were in Italy (and I did enjoy the makeshift Thanksgiving chapter), but my favorite parts were actually in Indonesia. I loved Ketut the ancient medicine man and found the Wayan character entertaining (particularly when Wayan was “fucking with her” about buying a house). I think I also liked it because in general, Liz became less annoying towards the end. She wasn’t crying about not liking to chant, or moaning about David, or having dramatic convos with herself in her creepy journal. Basically, I think maybe the problem is that I’m sort of a hater of books about “finding yourself”. At which point you are perfectly entitled to ask me why the hell I decided to read this book. The truth is I didn’t really want to read it. But I needed to read two more books for the New Classics Challenge and when I sent a plea out to my coworkers, this was the first book that someone brought in for me to borrow.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I've seen this series all over the place and for some reason assumed it was all Janet Evanovich style. Which is when I guess I have to confess to having read one of the Stephanie Plum books. But I swear I didn't like it! Actually, now that I think of it, I think maybe I listened to it as a book on tape. More shameful? Not sure. Mostly I just remember a sassy, red-head type who solves mysteries that involve a handsome, surly man who ends up in the sack with her. After having read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency it's pretty hilarious that I put it in the same category as the Plum series because they are totally unalike.

This book features Precious (Mma) Ramotswe, an enormous lady from Botswana. Her much adored father dies after working in the diamond mines for his entire life and leaves his fortune to his only child. She spends it all on starting her own detective agency. She has no qualifications other than being wise and observant, in a folksy, tea drinking sort of way. She is the only "lady detective" in all of the country and she solves an assortment of quirky cases in this book. None of them are particularly challenging and each is resolved in about 24 hours. I don't know. It was sort of uneventful. Some woman's long lost father reappears only to mooch off her for weeks. Detective Ramotswe tricks the father into admitting he's an imposter and tells him to go away. So he does. Then she follows a high school girl around because her father thinks she has a boyfriend and doesn't approve. She finds out the girl doesn't really have a boyfriend and tells the father to give his daughter space. He does. All mysteries are solved faster than an episode of Law & Order.

Then you get to the case of the missing 11 year old boy. This case is referenced on the back of the book as being "the big mystery" so I was looking forward to this part of the book. The boy is abducted on his way home. Then Mma Ramotswe hears from her mechanic friend about a bag of witchcraft medicine (ie; bones and skin) that was found in a car at his shop. The "medicine" is the finger bone of a young boy recently---

Woah! I have to take this review on a detour for a minute because some seriously questionable music just started playing on Jeff's computer. I swear a minute ago we were listening to something normal, but this song appears to be Mexican gangster rap interspersed with mariachi music. Um, wha? Jeff was at the computer before I sat down and I left his playlist undisturbed. Strangely, when I look at the iTunes window it says I'm listening to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I wish Mma Ramotswe was here to solve the mystery of why Jeff is listening to this terrible music. But she's not, so I will continue with my review.

Back to the finger bone. So she tracks down the medicine man who sold the finger bone to the car owner. He must be the killer, yes? But after a 5 minute chat with the medicine man's wife, she finds that, surprise! The boy isn't dead. It wasn't even his finger! They bought those bones at some other village. They're just keeping the boy as a forced laborer at a cattle ranch a few hours away. Mma Ramotswe drives to the cattle ranch and takes the boy home. Except what? If it wasn't his finger, than how does the solving of the mystery even make sense? The only reason she found the medicine man is because of the finger bone! Is anyone else smelling something not quite right? Maybe I'm the one missing something, but it seems like this book could have used a continuity director.

Here's the thing, the main character is pretty badass. She's enormously fat and all the men love her. At one point, she's looking at some blouses and when the saleswoman asks her to buy one, she proudly responds that they don't have a blouse big enough for her, like if I were to say to the Clinique woman, "I'm sorry, but I can't buy any of your foundation because it doesn't come in a shade as flawless as my natural skin tone." She's smart and sassy and the descriptions of Africa and her father are really endearing. I guess it's a sweet book. I was just so distracted by the simplicity of it all, I couldn't really enjoy it. I think if you're looking for an entertaining series starring a lady detective, I'd recommend The Bee Keeper's Apprentice over this series any day. But if you're thinking of picking up the Stephanie Plum series by Evanovich, put that thought out of your head right now. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency ranks higher.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I finished this book on Friday but have been having such a holidayrific weekend that I haven't had time to post. In fact, I have company coming in 45 minutes for a dinner party, so I'm going to make this snappy. And yes, I just said snappy.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a the second book by Jonathan Safran Foer (see my post below for his first book). ELaIC follows 10 year old Oskar Schell around New York as he tries to find the lock that fits a key he found in his dad's closet. His father died in the World Trade Center on September 11th and looking for the lock seems to be the only thing that lightens his "heavy boots". On his search he encounters all sorts of people, who are each going through their own trials. Also interwoven throughout the book is the story of his grandparent's survival of WWII up through present day.

This book is very much a story of grieving. It's beautifully written and sad as hell. There are many poignant moments and passages where you find yourself thinking that Jonathan Safran Foer is a genius for writing out loud things you've thought before as well as things that you would never even think to think about. The narration of Oskar was always fantastic, I loved everything about him and when he finally tells his whole story (I'm being intentionally vague to avoid spoilers) I was balling like a baby. I had a slightly more rocky relationship with the story of his Grandparents. I think reading this book when in the right mood might be crucial to the enjoyment of it. I loved the writing and how beautifully he captures what love is, but at times, the Grandparent story line was a just a little too melancholy for me. I think Jonathan has an amazing voice, but it would be interesting to see him try something a little different. His first two books are a little samsey for me, but I'd definitely read whatever he has up his sleeve next.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Something to Tide you Over

"... she wants to know if I love her, that's all anyone wants from anyone else, not love itself but the knowledge that love is there, like new batteries in the flashlight in the emergency kit in the hall closet..."

Quote from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which I still haven't finished.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Everything is Illuminated

Most people don't know this about me, but I have a pattern of behavior associated with finishing a book. I'm rarely conscious of it at the time, but immediately after I finish a book (and before I start a new one), I become incredibly annoying. My husband pointed this out to me a year or two ago and since then it's become a bit of a running joke in our house. Any time I'm annoying, Jeff will ask, "Did you by chance just finish a book?" At first, I was terribly offended by the question, but now I find it's almost a relief to know why I'm being so annoying. I've deduced that after reading a book, I go through some sort of weird withdrawal that results in needy behavior.

A few minutes ago, I finished brushing my teeth and got into bed where Jeff was already tucked in with a giant binder in his lap called Win Without Pitching. Though I love my husband deeply and dearly, he is, at his core, a massive dork and loves reading things called Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable (for serious, I just leaned over to look at a stack of books on his office floor and that was the one on top). Anyways, after brushing my teeth I ran, leaped into the air and dove head first into the bed, causing Jeff to highlight the wrong line in his reading material and the cat to make a pissed noise and leave the room. I then said something incredibly annoying like, "Do you love me?" And the second before he tore himself away from his stimulating reading to answer me I realized he was about to ask me if I'd just finished a book. And the thing is, I had! I just finished Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Jeff then suggested that maybe it would be helpful for me to post about it before going to bed (read: Please leave me alone with my nerd-alert binder and inflict your annoying on blogger instead of me). So this is what I'm doing.

I actually intended to buy Jonathan Safran Foer's other book - Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud (or is it Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?) but Half Price Books didn't have it. They did, however have this book (his first) and it sounded good, so I bought it. And I must say it was pretty amazing. From the back of the book, here is the description:

With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man - also named Jonathan Safran Foer - sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.
Sooo sad, smart, and also really quite funny at times (as Dolly Parton said in Steel Magnolias - laughter through tears is my favorite emotion). Jonathan has such a strong voice as a writer. Sometimes when I read books I think to myself, "Self, maybe you could write a book." But when I read this book, I thought, "Dude, you might be able to write a book, but in comparison to this book, yours' will be one that sits on the back of people's toilets as bathroom reading." There might have been a moment or two where things seem just a teensy bit pretentious, and I will confess to feeling very frustrated by the fact that we never get the answers to the questions Jonathan travelled to the Ukraine to answer, but then I would get to a chapter written by Alexander and all would be forgiven. The way he used bad English to say beautiful things was relentlessly awe inspiring. And I loved the passages from the Book of Recurrent Dreams, it was like reading the best kind of poetry.

It's late and I need to get to bed. I'm not sure this was the most informative review, but at least it kept me from annoying my husband, right?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Quick Update

This is just a quick update to let you know that I really appreciated your book recommendations last week. I brought them all to Half Priced Books yesterday afternoon and they only had 2 or 3 of them in stock. I ended up buying Everything is Illuminated by the same author as Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud, which Raych recommended. A coworker was already planning to loan me ECaIL next week, so I will read it soon, but Everything is Illuminated sounded good too so I picked it up.

On a side note, it recently dawned on me that I still have 2 books to read for the New Classics Challenge. I'm running out of time, so I better get my shit together and pick them out. I think a friend was going to loan me On Beauty by Zadie Smith, and I believe my plan was to also read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I need to get my hands on a copy of that soon. That said, I did hear a pretty persuasive argument over dinner last night to read The Road by McCarthy which is also on the challenge list. Thoughts?

World Without End

World Without End is the sequel to Pillars of the Earth, which I read last June and reviewed here. Pillars of the Earth followed the townspeople of Kingsbridge, England in the 1100's. World Without End picks up in the same town with a new cast of characters in the 1300's. In every way possible, this book is the same as the first one. It has medieval romance, royal scandal, cathedral building and gothic architecture, and it is very, very long. I believe in my review of Pillars of the Earth I awarded it the title of longest-book-ever. Well, it will now have to release that title and hand it over to its sequel because this book is 1014 pages long.

I finished this book yesterday afternoon while wearing my cloak and sipping a goblet of Meade. It's rare that I let my medieval side win out, but this book was worth it. It's not the best book ever, but it's very entertaining in a mildly educational way. The book appears to be well researched, and I found the story line following the nuns and monks in the town to be highly entertaining. In general I think Ken Follet paints a very thorough and seemingly accurate picture of life in the 1300s. The book explores the difficulties of being a woman during these times, the struggles the Catholic church faced, war and the politics surrounding battle, and the plague that ravaged Europe in the mid 1300s.

Probably because the book is so long, Ken Follet is able to really take a story lower than you think possible. By page 500 or so, you're thinking, "Dude, this book is a DOWNER, is it ever going to get better for these people?" But then you realize that the book isn't even half over yet, and he still has plenty of time for things to improve. At times, the simplicity of the "bad guys" and the goodness of the "good guys" gets tiresome, but after my second goblet of Meade, I forgave this.

Basically, if you liked Pillars of Earth, I can pretty much guarantee that you'll like World Without End.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wish me luck

Well, the night isn't over yet, but it certainly doesn't look like I'll be finishing World Without End tonight. But not because I'm not enjoying it! The book is great, but since I'm only at page 620 and there are over 1000 pages total (and because maybe I'm watching Center Stage for the second time this weekend on the Oxygen Channel) I'm gonna say it's not happening.

I have to get up painfully early tomorrow for the conference I'm running for work this week. It only happens twice a year, but I'll be working an average of 15 hours a day tomorrow through Thursday. Wish me luck that everything goes well (and maybe that I'll be so busy running around that I lose the 5 pounds I've gained in the last month stuffing my face with Halloween candy and chocolate chip cookies out of the freezer). I'll be back to post on the 21st!

PS: After I finish this book, I'm officially out of reading material. Can you leave recommendations of what I should read next in the comments?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Update

If you are observant, you may have noticed the more infrequent posting I’ve been doing recently. In the real, non-blogging world, work is CRAZY while I get ready for a giant conference I’ll be running next week. I normally get a good 20 pages in during my lunch break every day but lunch breaks are soooo three weeks ago and as a result, my reading has been making tortoise-like progress of late.

The situation probably isn’t being helped by the fact that I am slowly chugging my way through World Without End, which is the sequel to Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet that I reviewed here and this hefty tome is over 1000 pages long! Unless a miracle happens and I breeze through World Without End in the next two days, a review is going to have to wait until after my conference is over on the 20th. Starting Sunday I’ll be sleeping just 4 miles from my house at the Grand Hyatt so as to be on call and will likely be reading nothing more interesting than the conference agenda and hotel rooming list. In better news, it will all be over just in time for me to wait in line with a hoard of gothy 15 year olds wearing cloaks to see Twilight.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Belong to Me

I actually finished this book Friday night, but have been struggling with reviewing it all weekend. I really liked this book, but the words to review it just aren't coming. Maybe I'll start with a plot summary and it will get me rolling?

This book is a follow up to Love Walked In, which I read ages ago and also really liked, but don't remember much of. The good thing is that that was okay. The story of Belong to Me didn't require me to remember anything except the most basic of facts from the first book and really, they could each stand alone if you didn't want to read them in order (although they're both good books, so why not read both?!).

The book follows Cornelia and her husband Teo as they move to the suburbs. Her stepford-wife-style-neighbor, Piper also has her own story and there's a third story line that follows a 13 year old boy genius, Dev and his single mother as they move from California to the same suburb where Teo, Cornelia and Piper live (run on sentence much?). Eventually the story lines weave together and everyone in the story ends up connecting with everyone else and while it's maybe a tiny bit convenient, it's not too contrived.

The plot is interesting and I liked the twists it took, but for me, this book is more about the writing. I loved the author's writing. The story can get a little syrupy every once in a while, particularly when it focuses on the main character of Cornelia, but the writing was so beautiful that I forgave it.

I particularly loved Piper's story line, which initially seemed like it was going to be my least favorite. Piper is a perfect suburban house wife with two perfect children and basically a perfect life, until her best friend is diagnosed with cancer. I loved the way she describes Piper's grief and even though I finished the book on Friday, I'm still thinking about how eloquent certain passages from Piper's chapters were.

If you're looking for a book that bares a vague resemblance to chick lit, but that's a few shades more serious and many shades more articulate, I highly recommend Belong to Me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mystery Book

So I finished the unpublished novel for a friend of a friend that I mentioned in my last post. It was quite lengthy and it feels wrong to not be able to review it here, but I’ll just have to wait in the hopes that it gets published and I can tell you about it then.

I started Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos last night, so I’ll let you know once that’s done. I liked her other book, Love Walked In, but remember very little of it now. This appears to be a quasi-sequel, so hopefully it doesn’t require me to remember tooo much.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Janissary Tree

The Janissary Tree is a Turkish mystery novel; the first in what appears to be a new series that stars the character of Investigator Yashim. A coworker loaned it to me and I loved the descriptions of Istanbul in the 1800’s, the culinary detours it took describing Turkish food, and I really enjoyed the character of Investigator Yashim, who is a eunuch (crucial to the plot, not just a middle school fixation on a minor detail).

That said, I was sort of over-stimulated by all the different characters and their titles. Sometimes it seemed like each chapter was its own little story, introducing a whole bevy of new characters with confusing titles that you may or may not see reappear later in the book. By the time one character would reappear in the story, I couldn’t remember if they were new or if maybe we’d met them 10 chapters ago for like a second – and then I’d wonder, “Am I supposed to remember something important about this dude that is crucial to the solving of the mystery!?”

The story follows corruption and murder within the Ottoman Empire of 1836. Yashim is summoned by the city’s military leader to solve the mystery of 4 soldiers who recently disappeared and are feared murdered. One by one, the corpses of the soldiers appear in public ala Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. While Yashim fights the clock to solve the mystery before all 4 soldiers are killed, one of the sultan's harem girls is murdered and the jewels she was wearing stolen. Yashim is left to wonder if the murders are connected, or if he has two separate mysteries on his hands.

This book has murder, a sexy Russian princess, coups, sparkly jewels, lots of eunuchs (no jewels), and clashes between traditional Istanbul and western modernization. But even with all of this, The Janissary Tree fell just a few steps short of being awesome for me. I’m pretty sure the author Jason Goodwin isn’t reading my blog to see what I thought and he’s probably already finished his next book starring Yashim, The Snake Stone but my advice would be to eliminate all the extraneous characters and further develop only the best ones. I hope the future books have more of Preen, Stanislaw Palewski, and Murad Eslek, these were my favorite supporting characters.

For my next read, I have a top secret assignment. Well, not totally top secret, but kind of! A friend of a friend (or really, a daughter of a friend of the family who I've never met) wrote a novel and I've volunteered to read it and make suggestions to help trim it down. The secret part comes in because I was told for now not to mention the book title. I was a little nervous when the weighty envelope arrived on Saturday because I really had no idea what the book was about and maybe I would hate it! But imagine my relief after reading 60 pages tonight and discovering that it is GOOD! Whew. Bullet dodged.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pssst

Come here.

No, a little closer. I have to tell you a secret.

I’m a little worried about posting this for fear of all the exclamation points that might appear in the comments, but I’m just going to squeeze my eyes tight and hit the “Publish Post” button quickly. Here's the thing:

I’ve never read a Jane Austen book. Ever.

I’m not exactly sure how I’ve managed to be such an avid reader for so long and avoid these books, but I have. I suppose it started to feel like it was too late to jump on the Jane Austen love train, but maybe not? Also, as long as I’m doing the whole full-disclosure thing, I will admit to my fear that I won’t really like them. I have this weird reaction whenever I hear or read something about Jane Austen where I metaphorically stick my fingers in my ears and sing an annoying song to myself. I sort of put them in the same category as other things that "aren't my thing". You know, like babies breath (the flower, not the real breath of real babies), horses, magic shows, and displays of glass trinkets in the home. Apologies to all the horse and glass-trinket-loving-peoples out there. No apologies if you like babies breath, because there is no excuse.

Tell me the truth -- would I hate Jane Austen? Or would it be the second best thing that ever happened to me (slipper duvets are the best)? If I were to try and read one Jane Austen book, which would you recommend starting with? Is there an order to them? I honestly have no idea…

Friday, October 24, 2008

Google Search

I just thought you should know that someone actually found this blog on Google by searching for "blogspot horny wife lover".

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany is about the character of Owen Meany. It's hard to describe the plot of this book without numerous spoilers, but since every single person I mentioned I was reading it to either immediately put their hand over their hearts and said something like "Aaaaw, Owen Meany..." in a wistful manner OR muttered something about having only read half of it, I'm guessing I'm not really "spoiling" it for anyone. In fact, I feel like I'm the last person on earth to have read this book.

Owen Meany is an unnaturally tiny boy with a super weird and loud voice and Johnny Wheelright, who tells the story is his best friend. They grow up together in a small New Hampshire town in the 40s and 50s. Much of this book is standard coming of age stuff, but what gives it an edge is the how uniquely self assured the tiny Owen Meany is from an early age. There's a lot of religious context that was largely lost on me, but basically you come to learn that for various reasons, Owen Meany believes he is a messenger, or instrument of God. You follow his story from the age of about 10 to his death in his early 20s. Since the book is about a million pages long, this is a grossly oversimplified version of the plot, but it's the best I can do.

This book took me forever to read. I'm still not exactly sure why that is. There's the obvious reason of the book being a million pages long, but I will also admit to being kind of bored at times. Even as I type that though, I feel guilt. I wasn't bored because it was a bad book, but Mr. Irving tended to wander off subject for long periods of time and the sections of the book that focused on John's current life were Bor to the ing. I think maybe my most fundamental "issue" with this book was that I really didn't care for the narrator, Johnny Wheelright. He was such a lump! And even in adulthood, he was tedious and disappointing and I started to wonder if Judd Apatow based Steve Carell's character from The 40 Year Old Virgin off of him (only NOT funny). But I digress.

Despite my confessing to being bored on occasion, I was also entranced by Owen. Growing up, I was more than a little on the runty side myself and I most certainly had a loud and unique voice that I gradually (mostly) grew into. But I never thought I was a messenger of God. And through the telling of the story, you do start to wonder - was he? And the story of his death (which is sort of overly alluded to for like 900 pages) is soo sad. I loved the story of the armadillo and I really liked the latter half of the book, when Vietnam and the events of the 60s play a major role in the development of the characters. It was sad, but poignant and many of Owen's opinions during this part of the book felt more than a little relevant to the current social and political climate in the US (the idiocy of some politicians, the excitement of JFK's election, the embarrassment over Vietnam and the bitterness and sarcasm needed to cope).

I was thankful that I hadn't seen the movie and couldn't even remember a preview for it, so I didn't have any weird preconceived ideas of the story. I must confess that I'm just the tiniest bit curious to see it now, despite everyone having told me that it is a terrible adaptation.

This was my 4th book read for the New Classics Challenge. For a monster of a book, I feel like I should have something more to say. But I think I've spent so long reading this book, my thoughts on the issue are sort of exhausted. Sorry to disappoint.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I MUST win this book!

Okay, here's the deal. You all know how much I loved In The Woods by Tana French, right? If you haven't been keeping up, then go back and read my review here.

Well, Trish over at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? is hosting a giveaway for Tana French's other book, The Likeness. Dudes! I need to win this contest! If you want to enter and then send me the book if you win, cool. But if you plan to be greedy and keep it all to yourself if you win, then I recommend not entering. Kidding! Kind of. Don't pay attention to me, I'm just overly excited at the chance of winning. The thing is, I've never won anything before. And also, my husband is about to get laid off from Wamu and I can't spend as much money on books anymore since we might be living in the streets soon and.... what else? Oh! I have a zit on my forehead the size of Mount Vesuvius, and in general, my life is just very, very hard and the only thing that could ease my suffering is winning this book.




Unless you are my Mom, do not read further!
PS: Mom, I'm not really going to live in the streets. That was just a joke. Don't worry. Except about the zit on my forehead, that was not a joke and you are welcome to worry about that.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Winner - Hello, I Must be Going

And the winner is...... drumroll please...... Nicole from Book Escape! I'm particularly pleased that Nicole won because she left a comment that included a funny story about her Mom that I enjoyed. Nicole, feel free to email me at jillculver at gmail with your mailing address and I'll get this in the mail shortly (that sentence used the word mail 4 times). Thanks to the others who left comments and I hope you all have a great weekend. I'm off for a romantic date with my husband at Home Depot to pick out a paint color for the living room. Jealous?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Housekeeping

1. Friendly reminder to enter the give-away for Hello, I Must be Going. To enter, just leave a comment on my post below for the book. Tomorrow is the deadline. I'll send the book wherever, even if you're in Canada or abroad.

2. Apologies for the less frequent posting of late. We are mid-construction with our living room right now, which means that all living room furniture is currently in the dining room. So is all the dining room furniture. You can only open our front door wide enough to slip through a tiny crack. Then you must duck under Harold, our old, overgrown and lopsided ficus, who is currently residing directly in front of the main entrance. After you shimmy past the dining room table, you will enter our overcrowded kitchen (island is currently covered with 3ft tall stacks of coffee table books from our living room). There is a shop vac and some furniture on our front porch. We’ve been eating dinner standing up in our kitchen. Basically, my life is a little hectic at the moment and my favorite reading place (the couch) is currently wrapped in a painting tarp and covered in plaster dust. The good news is that painting (the final stage) has commenced and will hopefully be finished this weekend.

3. I’m in the middle of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving right now, so I hope to have a review ready next week.

4. If you’re dying for some daily words of wisdom from me while I finish A Prayer for Owen Meany, feel free to visit my new blog where I will post a daily note unrelated to reading: http://jillsdailynote.blogspot.com/

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hello, I Must be Going

This is the book I bought at Housing Works, the fantastic book store that Amanda recommended when I was visiting New York City earlier this month. After purchasing it, I mistakenly decided that the Bob Dylan biography I also bought in NYC would be more stimulating and therefore started it instead. How wrong I was! This book was WAY better than Like A Rolling Stone.

Hello, I Must be Going by Christie Hodgen is about Frankie and her family. Frankie narrates the story of her father’s suicide and how her family copes with the aftermath. The book takes place primarily in the 80s when Frankie is in middle school. Her father is a Vietnam vet who lost his leg in the war and is now terribly depressed but still an amazing father. There isn’t a heavy plot, it's more of a coming of age book and a fair amount of the book is spent remembering the past and narrating the day-to-day, but the language is so fresh and smart that I didn’t mind.

I laughed out loud a few times at the dialogue between Frankie and her younger brother Teddy. While I felt disappointed every now and then that Frankie never really moved on, I wasn't ever bored. The characters are fantastically complex and the family dynamics felt very real. Anyone who has ever had a slightly dysfunctional mother or a weird, rebellious brother would probably appreciate reading this book. Except now I feel the need to clarify that I did not have a dysfunctional mother, in fact I had one of the most highly functioning mothers ever. The weird, rebellious brother part did resonate a little for me though. Pretty sure you didn’t ask me about my family. Anyways.

This book felt like the literary equivalent of a good indie film. I’m not saying that this book would make a good movie (although maybe it would), I’m just saying it gave me the same feeling, that I enjoyed it in the same way as I enjoyed say, The Savages or The Ice Storm. If this book was a movie, Frankie would be played by Christina Ricci (circa 2000, before she started looking like a hungry lizard) and her mom would be played by Laura Linney (circa now). I’m not sure if that description will help or further confuse you but it makes perfect sense to me.

So there you have it. This was a good book. Would anyone like it? If yes, I’d be happy to send this to someone. If you’re interested in having this book sent to you, leave a comment and I’ll randomly pick a winner from the bunch on Friday, October 17th. For an extra entry to win, tell me a funny story in your comment about your mother or brother. And if you were raised by your Father and have only sisters, you can tell me a funny story about someone else's mother or brother. Or whatever! Just tell me a funny story and I'll put your name in the hat twice. You get the idea.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

This Charming Man

Oh Marian Keyes. Are you okay? I ask because, first you put out Anybody Out There?, which threw me for a loop because what is someone so funny and charming doing writing an entire book about death and grieving? But I went along with it. I didn't really enjoy it, but I went along with it. But now you come out with This Charming Man and I don't know... it left me unfulfilled. And kind of confused.

This Charming Man is about domestic abuse. It follows four different women and slowly unravels their connections to one man, Paddy deCourcy. Here are all the reasons why this book confused me:

1. Why are all the characters in this book named things like Paddy, and Bid, and Treese, Leechy and Bridie? Why? Granted I know only two real Irish people, but their names are Eddie and Gillian so I know for a fact that it's possible to be born in Ireland and have a normal name.

2. This book is about a serious issue, right? Then what is up with all the side stories about trannies and fashion? While entertaining every now and then, I found them mostly confusing. It was like she couldn't make up her mind whether to write a funny chick lit book or to confront a serious social ill. So she did both.

3. Why was Lola's story told in a weird pronoun-free language? Example: "Was plunged into wretched despair, almost as bad as desperation had experienced during cheerless Christmas dinner with Dad and Uncle Francis. Had come to Knockavoy to escape shambles of life, to hide out until restored to mental health, but unexpectedly had become happy here." What is Marian's problem with the letter "I"?

4. If you're going to contrive a happy ending, I think that it should involve the imprisonment of the woman beater. I feel that this is only fair of me to ask. Instead, we're supposed to be satisfied with the fact that his career is ruined? This is not enough I say!

I don't know. I realize I'm probably being unduly harsh on Marian. The thing is, I love her. Perhaps this is why I'm disappointed by what is actually a decent enough book. It's just that I hold her to a higher standard than that. I wanted to laugh out loud and surround myself in words like bum and knickers and wobbly bits. Not wallow in a sea of domestic abuse, depression and alcoholism. Maybe Marian is evolving and I'm not. I've been left behind in the dust, wishing for the good old days when all she wrote were light and fluffy books.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads

This book was kind of lame. Not so lame that I had to rent a digiplayer on my flight home from New York, but that’s primarily because I slept almost the entire 5 and a half hours. And also because the only movie showing was "What Happens in Vegas" starring Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. Barf.

For years, Jeff’s family has been raving about a Bob Dylan biography they all read and for some reason I thought this was it. Why it didn’t dawn on me that Bob Dylan probably has like a bazillion biographies I’m not sure. In my defense, I bought the book after a lovely dinner in New York with friends (read – wine was consumed) and hardly read the back cover before purchasing. I have a long standing obsession with documentaries about Bobby D. and the cover photo on this book lured me in. Also, I will confess to feeling a little New-Yorky and like reading a book about Bob Dylan while hanging out in his old hood would somehow make me cooler. In fact, I think it might have had the opposite effect of making me look like a poser, but oh well. Hindsight is 20/20.

To be fair, after reading the first 60 pages or so, I mostly just skimmed the rest. But in my defense, I feel that you would have done the same. I wanted details about Bob’s childhood, love life, his friendship with Joan Baez and his misadventures in the 60s. Instead I got aimless ramblings about music in general and lots of quotes from random songs in particular.

Moral of the story – if you want to read a biography about Bob Dylan that doesn’t suck, check with Jeff’s parents first to find out the actual title of the book.

A Self Congratulatory Post

I've been knocked out this week with a cold, but am finally feeling better and wanted to extend a quick thank you to Maree at Just Add Books for giving me an I Heart your Blog award. A belated thanks also to Amanda at Life and Times of a "New" New Yorker for mentioning me here. I regularly visit both their sites and am glad that the feeling's mutual. I still consider myself new to the world of book blogging, so it's nice to know that someone other than my Mom is reading my posts. Actually, I'm not even sure my Mom reads my posts, but whatevs.

Anyways, the rules of the I Heart your Blog thingamajig say that I'm supposed to list 7 sites that I like reading and then post comments on each of their sites telling them. The problem with this is that I think all my favs have already received this honor. Another problem with this is that I am fundamentally lazy. So, apologies to everyone, but please know that I heart you all.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Goodbye New York

I'm currently sitting in Newark airport waiting to board my plane home. What is it about flying that makes me hate all humanity? Why is everyone so much more annoying when I know I'm going to have to spend the next 5 hours with them? And why do I ALWAYS forget my iPod?

In the way of reading, New York was a bit of a debacle. I say this only because I started Eventide by Kent Haruf on the plane and was loving it. But then I took it with me on the subway to Brooklyn to visit friends and accidentally left it at their apartment. Genius.

Thanks to Amanda's great advice I did visit Housing Works bookstore yesterday and had a great time. It's this really great non-profit bookstore in an old library like building (balconies, high ceilings, and ladders to reach the high shelves) and all their proceeds go to non profit orgs. I bought a book there but then never felt inspired to start it and can't even remember the name of it right now. I think American hotel beds have magnets inside them that attract my butt, because I can watch hours of HBO and pay-per-view movies when staying in a hotel. For this reason, I never read as much as I think I'm going to when travelling in the US. International travel is different mostly because their beds tend to be less comfortable and then there's the whole I-can't-understand-foreign-TV thing. So anyways, instead of reading my new book, I watched like 3 hours of what is now my new favorite show on the BBC channel called Skins, have you seen it?

THEN, last night I went to dinner in the West Village with some friends who live in New York and they walked me around the neighborhood. We went to Magnolia Bakery and right across the street is this great book store that was still open at 10:30 last night. It was here that I picked up Like a Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan at the Crossroads by Griel Marcus. For some reason it called to me and I hope it doesn't suck because it's my only reading material for my upcoming flight and I don't want to have to rent a digiplayer.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

New York!

Totally unoriginal post title, but still, it gives you the general idea, right? I'm in New York! I'm a busy worker bee tonight and tomorrow, but after that, Jeff is supposed to join me for a quick frolic through the city this weekend. Any suggestions? Where should I book shop? Is there a cool bar I can go to tomorrow night to watch the debate?

PS: I cried like my Grandpa died on the plane today because I just started Eventide by Kent Haruf and hayzoose, it is sad!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In The Woods

I loved this book like I haven't loved a book in a long time. I stayed up way past my bedtime because I literally could not put it down. I finished it around 11:40 last night and was left satisfied, confused, a little creeped out, but mostly really impressed.

In The Woods was recommended to me first by a family friend, Cheryl in August. I promptly forgot about it until it was mentioned again by my friend Heidi a few weeks ago. Then last week, I was leaving my friend Jessie's house when she ran back inside to grab two loaner books for me (she is a human reading machine and always loans me winners) - one of these books was In The Woods by Tana French. I was dubious at first, having just finished a creepy book about a dead kid I wasn't sure that I needed to start another one right away. But I was sucked in by the book's description -

Three children leave their small Dublin neighborhood to play in the surrounding woods. Hours later, their mothers' calls go unanswered. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children, gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, Detective Rob Ryan - the found boy, who has kept his past a secret - and his partner Cassie Maddox investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the same woods. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him, and that of his own shadowy past.

Creepy, right? Except it's so much more than just creepy! It's smart, funny, and craftily written. Plus, it's almost Halloween and a murder mystery is the perfect read for this time of year. I don't want to give too much away because I really want you to go read this book and I don't want to spoil it for you. But I will tell you that the mystery is not one of those lame ones where you know what's going to happen all along, in fact even after I finished the book, there were things I was still dying to know. There are so many plot twists and red herrings, but also, there is character development. So often, thrillers and mysteries rely too heavily on plot and you never get to know anyone in the story, but this is not so in this book!

I guess Tana has a new book out (is it out yet?) called The Likeness and it also looks creepy and fantastic. I read the first few pages because they were printed in the back of In The Woods and from what I can gather, the new book is told by Cassie Maddox - Rob Ryan's partner from In The Woods, presumably about another case. Now, this may leave you wondering - Sell out? Series? But it leaves me wondering - do I know anyone who will loan me this book?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Lovely Bones

I have passed this book up many times over the last 5 years or so. To be honest, one of the only reasons I read it this time around is because it was on The New Classics Challenge list. This is my third book read for the challenge. I never picked it up before because it sounded DEPRESSING.

14 year old Susie Salmon is brutally raped and murdered. She tells her story from heaven as she watches her family, friends and her killer on earth. Don't get me wrong, I can get down with a good cry, but this sounded a little too close to an all out sob fest.

I was right and wrong about this book. I loved it, but also a little bit hated it.

It felt almost entirely dependent on the concept (dead girl, narrating from heaven), and it didn't come off like the most skillfully crafted book. The writing seemed inconsistent for a 14 year old narrator, it started strong - very youthful but smart. But then there were times when it seemed like someone with much more experience, insight, and plain old vocabulary than a 14 year old girl was narrating the story. I suppose with death comes clarity and maturity, but it wasn't done consistently and for that, it bothered me.

I also didn't like heaven. It felt kind of half-assed to me. Supposedly, heaven is what you make of it - if you can envision something for yourself, it will appear. If I flash back to myself at 14, my heaven would have been pretty awesome. Instead, for Susie Salmon, heaven is high school, where she has a roommate who plays a saxophone/flute duet with their old lady neighbor while a bunch of dogs dance around? Ummm... what? If I'm honest, maybe part of the reason for my disappointment with heaven was that I badly wanted it to be awesome for Susie. I was so depressed and horrified when she told the story of her own murder that I needed to know her heaven was at least some sort of reward for her. Instead, her heaven bummed me out further.

Lastly, and I know I'm kind of ragging on Alice Sebold here, but this book gave me nightmares! For reals. For you to understand why my nightmare was Alice's fault, I must first give you a small spoiler - Susie Salmon's murderer is a serial killer that lives just down the street from her family and goes unsuspected for an entire year after the murder. He is also officially the creepiest character I've ever read about in a book (even more than Cathy in East of Eden) - end spoiler. So a few nights ago, I had the scariest dream ever that there was a killer lurking in my neighborhood and that when he came for me I couldn't yell for help and ran like I was running through a big pile of molasses. After that, I stopped reading this book before bed.

Okay, end of rag session. Complaints aside, I really did fall in love with the Salmon family. I really felt for every one of the characters, particularly her father who was my favorite but made me cry almost constantly. I was always dying to know what was happening with Ruth and Ray. I appreciated that finally, towards the end of the book, some justice was dealt and that some semblance of healing and peace came to the characters left on earth. Like it or not, the book definitely left me with some clear imagery that will not fade quickly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Real Book

For my foray back into the world of real books (or as Amanda says, book books), I just started The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. You know, the one where the 14 year old girl is brutally murdered and she watches her family and friends from heaven? I feel like the only one in the whole world who hasn't read this book, plus it's on my list for the New Classics Challenge. Two birds. One stone. Many tears.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Perfect Lover

OH yeah! You read that title right, I just totally read a book called The Perfect Lover.

After finishing the Twilight series this weekend I felt a deep sense of loss knowing that I would perhaps never again read something so hopelessly terrible yet totally fulfilling. But then! I read Nicole's post at Book Escape reviewing this hilariously trashy book and remembered that there is an entire world of books meant just for this purpose! Romance novels! As if the world was trying to send me a message, I also happened upon a post at Books I Done Read that applauded the blog Rip My Bodice - a blog solely devoted to reviewing romance novels. All of these signs could only point me in one direction - the romance aisle of Half Price Books, where all naughty book are only $3.95! Plus whatever value you place on your pride. Because ladies, buying a book called The Perfect Lover (in hardcover no less) without telling the indie-hipster cashier a made up story about how I'm buying it for a friend as a joke? It takes balls. Which luckily, I have.

I'm sure you are dying to know just what exactly this book could be about, no? I will tell you. Simon Cynster is looking for a wife. Which is sooo weird, because COINCIDENTALLY, at the exact same moment that Simon decides to go wife-hunting, the beautiful Portia Ashford happens to have just decided that she's the marrying kind. Before you barf all over these terrible names, remember that it's the 1800s. Author Stephanie Laurens throws in a bit of Clue-type murder mystery towards the end, but mostly this book is about Portia and Simon learning the perfect ways to lurve each other. And lurve they do.

This book successfully shocked me out of my need to read horrible literature. I think I may have finally gotten it out of my system. At least until I start wondering about the other NINE books by Stephanie in what is called the "Cynster Series". Because DUDES, this book is apparently number 10 in a series that follows the horny Cynster family around!

Anywhoo. For now, I think I may try my hand at a legit book. The kind the Buddy-Holly-glasses-wearing-hipster at Half Priced Books would approve of. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Breaking Dawn

Shame washes over me as I type this. Why after I totally hated Eclipse did I still borrow Breaking Dawn from my coworker? And why did I read this mammoth book in less than 48 hours? What is wrong with me?! Stephanie Meyer is sprinkling crack on her books. That's the only explanation.

Lindsey asked me in the comments of my Eclipse review last week if I was going to read the last book in the series and I have to say that I agree with her comments. Even though I was totally over Edward and Bella and all the spirit stories, I just felt that I needed to know how it was all going to wrap up. Was she ever going to just become a vampire? Would they really get married? Would Jacob ever just give up? And most importantly, were Edward and Bella ever going to stop teasing me with tame make out sessions and just DO IT already? And by "it" I totally mean the same thing I meant in the 3rd grade when I used the phrase. Without spoiling too much, let me just tell you that all of these questions are FINALLY answered in Breaking Dawn. And thank God, because I was getting crank-ee.

I will admit (as long as I'm in full confessional mode) that I found many of the answers to my questions above answered in a very satisfying manner. This book brought me much more satisfaction than I expected. But now I am going to spoil something (SPOILER ALERT) because I can't not do it. I just have one word to say, or rather, ask. Renesmee? RENESMEE??!! I have never in my life heard a more horrible name and this whole plot line, while completely addictive, was kind of weird and gross and instead of feeling all entranced by Renesmee, I felt totally creeped out by her. But maybe I felt kind of weird and grossed out in a Flowers in the Attic sort of way? Or like Flowers in the Attic meets Rosemary's Baby. And by this I mean that I couldn't tear my eyes away. (END OF SPOILER)

One last complaint and then I'll stop pretending that this is a legit book and that it deserves an actual critique. This book was filled with so many typos that I honestly started to wonder if they employed an editor at all before they just sent it along to the press.

Finally, I would just like to say to anyone in the Pacific Northwest that they are all officially invited to join me on November 21st to see the premier of what will simultaneously be the best and worst movie ever - Twilight. Call me.

Run

I find it hard to describe the plot of Run, by Ann Patchett without just copying the jacket description, but I'll try. The book follows the story of the Doyle family over a period of 24 hours on a winter night in Boston. The story started a little slow for me, as we learn about Bernard Doyle's two adopted sons - Tip and Teddy. But about one chapter in, a startling car accident sort of woke me up and suddenly I couldn't put the book down. The story weaves in the characters of Sullivan, Bernard Doyle's older, biological son as well as the mysterious Tennessee Moser and her daughter Kenya. Bernard's wife died when the children were young so he's raised them primarily alone. The plot is extremely captivating and I became very invested in all the characters by the end.

I really love Ann Patchett and wish there were more authors as consistently great as she is. Does anyone know of any that they would recommend? This book is beautifully written like all her others, but doesn't have quite the melodrama quality of Bel Canto. That said, it also didn't leave me at the end wondering if she'd let someone else guest write the last chapter like I did with Bel Canto. Am I the only one who thinks that Bel Canto was one ending shy of being one of the best books ever? Anyways. If you've ever liked any of Ann Patchett's books (or if you haven't ever read her books), I definitely recommend Run. I also highly recommend one of her other books, Truth and Beauty, which I reviewed here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Upside Down Inside Out

I've read most of Monica McInerney's other books (Faraday Girls, Family Baggage and The Alphabet Sisters). Her books are always an easy and enjoyable read, but usually with some legitimate content. Her books typically walk just one foot shy of crossing the line into chick lit. This book however, boldly crossed the line and could not be described as anything other than straight up chick lit. Quick description from the back of the book:

Ever been tempted to pretend you were someone exotic, someone adventurous … someone different?

Set in Ireland, England and Australia, this is the funny and heartwarming story of two people whose lives are about to turn upside down and inside out.

Eva is off to Australia on a break from her job in a Dublin delicatessen, hoping to forget a fizzled romance and find inspiration for a new career. Joseph is taking a holiday from his stressful London job. Each is on a search for some answers about life. Then something quite unexpected happens. They meet each other.

Upside Down Inside Out is a novel about love, adventure, honesty and discovering that the person you’ve always wanted to be might just be the person you already are.

It was my least favorite of her books so far, but at the same time, it was perfect for my vacation. I read it while lounging in hammocks and laying by the pool, between my lunch pina colada and my dinner banango daiquiri. Basically, it was just what the doctor ordered – light, easy and entertaining. That said, if you’re looking at reading one of her books, I would definitely recommend Family Baggage or The Alphabet Sisters first.

Eclipse

I started this book as a bonafide fan, but by around page 500 I kind of wanted to barf all over it. Why I am so bothered by the implausibility of certain parts of this book, when the entire premise is that one of the main characters is a vampire?! I don’t think I get to be annoyed by Bella thinking that a real conversation is a dream when it SO CLEARLY IS NOT A DREAM, but then fully accept that there are werewolves and vampires running rampant 100 miles from my home. But I am and I do. And also? If I had to hear one more Native American story about spirit warriors I was going to stab myself with a wooden stake, or beat myself over the head with a big cross, drown myself in holy water, or suck my own blood. Something. Anything other than keep reading.

I was in Belize when the story line was ramping up for the “big battle” and I just couldn’t bring myself to care. I almost used the book to kill a giant scorpion that made its way into our bedroom. Instead, Jeff trapped it under a huge margarita glass and carried it outside while I cowered on the bed.

Unwilling to completely abandon the book, I decided to skip the next 100 pages or so and just read the last chapter. Imagine my surprise when it appeared that NOTHING had changed in the 100 pages that I’d skipped! Bella still wants to be a vampire and Edward still worries about her immortal soul.

But here’s the thing. Now that it’s been a week or two since I left the book behind in my Belize hotel…. I kind of want to know what I missed. What is wrong with me??!!

New Moon

Before I review this, I have to confess that I read New Moon over a period of 24 hours, right before leaving for my 2 week vacation. This is basically a disclaimer for why I remember very little and have not much to say in my “review”.

Bella still wants to become a vampire, Edward still worries about her immortal soul, there’s still a lot of moody eye contact, only now werewolves are doing it too. The only major change is the addition of the character Jacob Black - now there are two men to carry Bella like a princess while running from the bad guys!

I kind of loved it, but a little less than Twilight. Of course after finishing New Moon, I immediately drove to B&N at 9:59pm the night before we left for Guatemala so that I could buy Eclipse for vacation reading, so I don’t know why I’m acting like I’m all too-cool-for-school for Stephanie Meyer.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Unbelizable

I'm baaack! Did you miss me? I missed you. Kind of. Only it was so hard to miss you when I was so busy! This blog is normally devoted to the topics of books and reading, but I can't help but give you a quick summary, a top ten perhaps, of my trip to Guatemala and Belize. Ready? Here goes:

10. Our hotel in Antigua, Guatemala. If you go here, you MUST stay at Quinta de las Flores. It is hands down one of the nicest hotels ever and not expensive! Plus, the hotel grounds are filled to the brim with weird Guatemalan props perfect for funny photo shoots.

9. Kayaking on Lake Atitlan (even if Jeff forgot to put sunscreen on his knees and and ankles and got the funniest sunburn ever).
8. Banango daiquiris at the Palapa bar. Mmmmmmm.

7. Riding the Island Ferry in the pitch black under millions of stars to our hotel on Ambergris Caye in Belize. They go so fast it's just a tiny bit scary, and the air is so hot that the winds aren't even a little bit cold. It's like Pirates of the Caribbean, but for reals. And no pirates. I have no picture of this nightly ritual since it was super dark and our flash died while on vacation. You'll just have to trust me that it was cool.

6. Seeing monkeys. In the jungle. Up close. Except at first it wasn't exciting, it was terrifying. When they named them "howler monkeys" I feel that this was a gross understatement because dude, those monkeys are not simply howling, they are roaring like a lion! Erin and I were convinced a Tyrannosaurus Rex had been let loose in the jungle and made Todd ask one of the grounds keepers que animal could possibly be making that terrifying noise before we agreed to continue our foray into the ruin site. Here is a photo Jeff kindly took of me FREAKING OUT when I first heard the monkeys from afar.
And here is a picture of a monkey mooning us.

5. Climbing to the top of Temple Four at the Mayan ruin site of Tikal for sunset provided what was quite possibly the most amazing view ever. Ever. For serious. This photo doesn't begin to capture it, but it's the best we've got.

4. Laying in a hammock and reading.

Sometimes, I did some of my reading with my eyes closed.


3. The craziest thunder and lightening storm on Lake Atitlan. There was no rain, but one bolt of lightening literally hit the lake like 50 feet from where we were standing. I think we all hit the deck (and by deck I mean dock). The thunder came simultaneously with the lightening and it felt like we were sitting inside a giant firework as it was going off. The storm continued all night and would light up the giant volcanoes from behind.

2. Snorkeling in Belize. We saw giant turtles! And barracuda! And stingrays! And huge schools of the tinniest fish ever! Never mind that "Scuba Steve" (as we dubbed our snorkeling guide employed by the hotel - his name really was Steve) had a large chunk of his calf missing in the exact shape of a shark's mouth. Don't ask, don't tell, right? Anyways, he kept us safe that day so don't freak out Mom.
Apologies for the gratuitous swimsuit shot. I hate when people post swimsuit shots online, but I can't figure out how to crop this one on Jeff's mac and I like how obviously pumped I am to wear my snorkel gear.

1. Swimming with a manatee!!! When I wrote that I really wanted to swim with a manatee, I never actually thought I'd get to do it. But Scuba Steve made it happen and for that I will always be indebted to him. Since we don't own an underwater camera, this event was not documented but it was AWESOME.

On the flip side, here are the worst 5 things that happened on the trip:
5. Taca airlines made us wait around until 5 minutes before departure before telling us they could fit us on the domestic flight we'd booked 2 months prior. This caused me to run at least 1 mile through the airport, which is officially further than I've run in about 3 years. Thanks for nothing Taca.
4. Speed bumps. Guatemala redefines the term.
3. The 4 inch long scorpion we found in our hotel room in Belize.
2. The grossest hamburger ever that I'm not sure was even made out of meat and Todd dubbed "hambourgesa mysterioso" at our hotel in Tikal.
1. The unfortunate night I spent attached to the toilet after said Hambourgesa Mysterioso.
(Jeff wanted me to add his sunburn to this list, but seeing as I actually found his sunburn highly amusing, I'm not sure I can justify adding it)

Anyways, I'm back and I hope to post reviews for the books I read on the trip really soon - New Moon and Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer, Upside Down Inside Out by Monica McInerney, and Run by Ann Patchett.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

I'm Leaving, on a Jet Plane

This manatee is waiting for me with open arms in Belize. We should be swimming together like Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah in Splash on September 6th. We leave tomorrow morning and packing madness has commenced. Before greeting my manatee friend, we will first be here:

and here:

and here:


I'm so excited!!!! I'm bringing the second Twilight book, New Moon with me (which I've already read half of) and Upside Down Inside Out by Monica McInerney. Wish me luck and lots of adventures, I'll be back September 15th!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Twilight

SERIOUSLY PEOPLE. How can something so wrong feel so right? I read this book in 2 days, and I'm ashamed to say I think I might not be able to wait until tomorrow to start the next one (and it's after 11pm already as I write this). Which makes me annoyed, because it is now obvious that I'm going to have to cough up the exorbitant cost of the third and fourth books in hard back, as B&N doesn't carry them in the more affordable paper back yet.

I'm not even going to critique this book like I normally would. Why bother? This book is horrible on many levels, but WHO CARES because I loved it anyways. Never before has the term guilty pleasure been so accurately illustrated as in this book. It's basically vampire chick lit. Granted the characters are a little younger than your average chick lit book, but not really, because Edward is actually like 300 years old. Which maybe makes it a little less shameful that I have a mini crush on him? Maybe? Probably not. Sigh.

I’m so embarrassed by my love for this book. I think it maybe all boils down to the romance factor? It’s so ridiculously romantic and I am a total sucker for romance. There’s a lot of moody staring at each other and the sexual tension is thicker than the fog in Forks with him all, “I love you so much but I’m a vampire and can’t get too close for fear that I’ll suck your blood!” And maybe most importantly, he carries her like a princess on more than one occasion. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had a huge crush on the idea of a guy carrying me “like a princess”. Photo illustration of said technique:


I ask Jeff to do it all the time and he relents maybe once a year but then totally wrecks it by moaning and groaning about how I’m breaking his back. Oh Real Life, how I hate thee.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Things I love and hate at the same time

1. Million Dollar Listing
Explanation: I haven't watched real TV in months. Sure, during the Olympics I became temporarily addicted to watching things that I would never watch normally, like volleyball and dirt biking, but during that time, I never strayed from channels 5 and 99. And before that it had been weeks since I'd spent 4 hours after work on the couch watching whatever, in my elastic waist pants. Which is weird because I used to do that all the time. But something about reading more frequently coupled with nice weather helped me to break this habit. But then yesterday a number of things happened at the same time- it rained, it was cold, it got dark at like 5:00, I was tired, Jeff had to work late, and I had just finished my book. These circumstances led me to turn the TV on at 7:30pm or so, and I did not turn it off until 11:00pm. During this time I discovered what is simultaneously the most hideous and most fantastic show ever- Million Dollar Listing. I love it and I hate it so much! Those guys are such tools! But I couldn't tear my eyes away. Something you might not know about me is that I do the BEST impressions of people. I think I was a parrot in my former life. For real. I wish I could record a sound bite of me doing an impression of Chad because it would be SPOT ON. And awesome. I'd like it even better if it could be a video and I could wear my hair like him and dress like a total douche like he does.

2. Exiled
Explanation: This was another TV Land discovery last night. This show is on MTV and features spoiled youngsters who are uprooted and exiled to remote parts of the world to learn from a new culture. HAHAHAHAHA. This show is so terrible. I was PISSED that I only caught the last 10 minutes of Amanda trying to make it in Africa, carrying water on her head, making huts out of cow dung and getting bit by bugs. Then she calls her Dad using this satellite phone to say (again an audio byte would be very helpful here because I could do a gooood impression of this), "Daaad, this sucks, I like totally hate it here. They tried to make me touch POOO! I just wanna (hiccup, sob) come home." Oh Amanda, how I love to watch you suffer. I hate myself for loving this show.

3. Let's Keep this Funky
Explanation: While flipping channels last night during the commercials, I saw a confrontation between Puff P Diddy Daddy (whatever) and a woman on some TV show. They were rehashing an old business argument and when the woman started to get pissed, Diddy Daddy said, "Hey. Hey! Let's keep this funky okay, let's keep this funky". At which point the woman gets more pissed and says something like, "Oh I'm keeping it funky, YOU better keep it funky." This was all said in a very serious manner, like the way someone else would say, "Okay guys, let's keep this civil". Next time Jeff and I get in a debate about something, I'm going to ask him to keep it funky. He will hate it but I will love it.

4. Twilight
Explanation: Yesterday on my way home from work I swung by B&N and picked up the first two books in the Twilight series for my upcoming vacation. Then at 11:00pm after finally turning off the TV, I cracked the first book open. And oh how I hate myself for loving this book already.