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


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


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:

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!!