Friday, December 18, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog


Barf. This book sucked. I'm not even going to bother summarizing it, just suffice it to say that I warned you - the cool cover is a mean trick! The book is super boring and pretentious. Or at least the first half of it is, because that's as much as I read before chucking it on the floor. New York Times Bestseller? More like New York Times Barfseller.

PS: My husband read this post and suggested it would have been funnier had I said New York Times Bestsmeller. Thoughts?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

American Wife

LOVED IT. One of the top 3 books for me this year. It's loosely based on Laura Bush and I don't really care how much is founded in fact and how much is made up, I couldn't put it down. It starts with her as a girl in the 50's and 60's and continues all the way up to 2004 or so.

I loved Sittenfeld's first book, Prep, but was less than in love with her second book, but this one? Best of the three in my opinion. It's so articulate. And thought provoking. It makes you consider another side of George Bush; albeit not necessarily a more flattering one - just a more human one. It has such wonderful thoughts and insight on wealth and privilege, fame, politics, and what it means to be married. Please go read it. I don't care how hyped this book was - sometimes the hype is TRUE.

I enjoyed this book so much I'm worried about what to read next. Any suggestions of something that won't let me down?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Henry's Sisters

My mother always said that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Girl Who Played With Fire

Turns out that reading with a baby isn't as hard as I'd originally thought. If I use my boppy while nursing Edie then I have my hands free to read while she eats! In this manner I polished off The Girl Who Played with Fire, sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo which I read while pregnant. I found this book equally addictive, but was consistently distracted by the terrible translation from Swedish to English. The plot sucked me in really quickly and I kept hoping that Edie would get hungry so that I could read. But then while reading I would find myself thinking, "That's totally implausible!" or, "People don't really use those types of words in casual conversation!". Nevertheless, I kept reading and am looking forward to the third and final novel in the series. I'm kind of a sucker for a good mystery slash thriller.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Art of Racing in The Rain

I know, right? It's been a LONG time. But dudes, I had a BABY so you have to cut me some slack. And despite all the howling the wee one seems to be doing lately, I managed to consume a book! Sadly, because of all the howling I have very little time to summarize my thoughts on this book, so this will be a short review.

Basically, I really liked it. My first thought was, "Its' written from a dog's perspective?? Meh." But really I ended up loving that about it! The dog was so sweet, exactly like I imagine a dog thinking. I loved imagining that dogs really do like that you leave the tv on for them when you go to work. I loved that it took place in Seattle where I live. I have many more things to say but the babe is grumped up and needing attention. Basically, go read this book - it's real good. Thanks Mom for loaning it to me.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

In Case You Were Wondering

I had my baby. And she's pretty cute. Please welcome miss Edie Bee Culver.

Edie as in Ee-dee and Bee as in bumble bee, which also happens to be my Grandmother's middle name. She was born August 30th at 7:18pm and weighed in at 8lbs and 2oz. The birth was relatively uneventful as far as births go and we are all home and doing well, but sleeping little. Reading even less. To keep updated on our happenings (and for a ridiculous number of baby pics), feel free to visit my personal site - link is in the side bar.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Sugar Queen

My brain is turning to mush like in those Hulu commercials because I read this book last week and totally forgot to post about it. To further confirm my brain-->mush theory, I actually remember very little about the book, despite having finished it only like 6 days ago.

Here’s what I can tell you –

The Sugar Queen is about Josie, who I think was in her twenties and lives in a small town and cares for her bitchy elderly mother. Then a crazy lady appears in her closet one day and it changes her life. Suddenly she’s not this lonely future-spinster, because the crazy closet lady has forced her to go out into the world and meet people and DO STUFF.

It’s mostly a sweet romance (with a touch of magic) and I rather enjoyed it for what it was. Perfect vacation or bathtub reading.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Loved it. I know there’s a lot of hype, and I caught on a little late, but when I was at Barnes and Noble buying a gift recently, there was a big table covered in this book right next to where I was waiting in line. I’d heard so many good things about it. And all I had to do was reach my hand out and… well, the rest is obvious. I bought it. And read it in like 3 days, despite it being a chunky monkey. It’s sort of an international thriller meets murder mystery - like Bourne Identity meets The Likeness, in Sweden.

I think some of the hype surrounding this book is based on the fact that the author died shortly after submitting the manuscripts for this book (and thankfully - its two sequels). Mystery surrounding mystery!

Anyways. The book is about so many things that I’m not really sure where to start. There’s the financial journalist Mikael who’s just been sentenced to 3 months in prison for libel after being tricked by a crooked financial leader about a story, and there’s Lisbeth - the tiny, spiky private investigator with man-issues. You follow their separate stories and then watch as the book brings them together to investigate the disappearance of a 16 year old girl who vanished in 1966. Somehow it (mostly) all comes together and while there were a few times where I was all, “What just happened?”, like a lot of thrillers, it either doesn’t matter that much, or things start to make sense a little bit further in.

For me, this was the type of book where I brought it to work to read during lunch, but really wanted to just shut my office door and read it all day. I didn’t necessarily feel totally satisfied at the end of the book, but they’re clearly winding you up to go right out and buy the next book in the series – The Girl that Plays with Fire, which they ensured by publishing the first chapter of it in the back of this book. So now of course I’ve read the first 10 pages of the next book and must have it. Meanwhile, I’m supposed to have a baby in like, oh ANY DAY NOW and have about a bajillion other things I should be doing, but I think instead I will buy The Girl that Plays with Fire and start it immediately.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale

I'm currently sequestered upstairs, breathing in the clean fresh air that our top floor has to offer. Jeff is downstairs, painting an elaborate system of built-in drawers and bookcases in our living room, inhaling enough toxic fumes for the two (almost three) of us. We don' t have a tv upstairs and this whole sequestering thing has become a common affair lately while Jeff completes layer after layer of primer and cream paint. This means much book reading. My most recent conquest was The Thirteenth Tale and I loved it.

When I was at Half Price Books last week I almost walked right by the bargain table. The truth is - I judge the bargain table. Part of me assumes that any book that's selling for that cheap must be lame and I usually walk on by. But this time, a stack of The Thirteenth Tale books caught my eye and sparked a memory of reading a good review for this book somewhere - was it Mari's site? Anyways, it was only a dollar! This seemed like a low risk decision, so I bought it. And let's just say that I was pleased with my ROI. This book is creepy and addictive and I a little bit loved it.

The story is about Vida Winter, an aging but very famous fiction writer in England. She's notorious for the mystery that surrounds her personal life - no reporter has ever been able to get the truth out of her. She tells every interviewer a different story about her life, none are true. But now she's old and sick and for one reason or another has chosen Margaret Lea to tell her story to. Margaret is the lonely adult daughter of an antique book seller, an avid reader and author of a few informal biographies. And PS - she also has a bit of secret past herself. Anyways, Margaret goes to stay with the crusty author and Vida tells her real story. And her story is creeepy and mysterious (and there are twins!) and I couldn't put it down. It's not Tana-French-style-creepy-genius, and there was a second where I sniffed a bit of Phillipa-Gregory-style-incest, but it was short lived and the book is still worthy. If you've read and enjoyed Nicholas Christopher (A Trip To the Stars is still one of my favs), I'd say you'd probably appreciate this book as well. No romance (sigh) but give it a try.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Piano Tuner

This book was the right book at the wrong time. It was beautifully written, with descriptions of Burma and music, but it was a bit too slow for my pregnancy and heat addled brain. Have I mentioned that it’s been HOT in Seattle? Like ridiculously hot? Well it has. In fact, last week we reached the hottest temperature ever to be recorded in Seattle. Like, ever. And this city is not like others that are equipped to deal with heat, no one here has air conditioning. So it has been an awesome time to be 8+ months pregnant. My primary defense against the heat was to draw a cold bath and sit in it with this book. For hours. And no, I didn’t turn pruny – that only happens in hot water silly! My point is, I finished this book, but it was hard.

The Piano Tuner follows Edward Drake from England during the late 1800’s to Burma. Long story short – Edward is a professional piano tuner and is commissioned on an odd mission by the military to travel to the British colonies in Burma and tune a piano in the jungle. This is the story of his travels and his experience in Burma.

The book was beautifully descriptive, sort of romantic, but in the end, pretty damn depressing. Not really my cup of tea at the moment.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Smart One

I think there need to be categories of chick lit, because just plopping this book into that category without any qualifiers isn’t quite fair. Granted it has cupcakes on the cover, but it’s not actually a very “fluffy” book as far as content goes. Maybe I should invent something called the Sophie Kinsella Scale and rate all chick lit books on this. A book that scores a 10 on the SKS would meet the following standards:

- Useless but entertaining content focused primarily on dating and romance, with shopping and fashion as supporting roles
- Main character is a single female between the ages of 21 and 35
- Super girly book jacket, often involving cartoon pictures of women wearing cute outfits and very high heels, cupcakes, and/or whimsical little swirls and stars
- Takes less than 2 days to read
- Induces small amounts of shame when caught reading at the office and coworker asks, “What are you reading?”
- Completely predictable ending

The Shopaholic series would rank a 10 on the SK Scale. Here is a description of The Smart One from the back of the book:

Bev Bloomrosen thinks her sisters see her as a loser. Not that she minds being the Smart One, but she can't imagine she'll ever live up to her family's expectations ... especially since she left behind her artistic ambitions-along with her humor-impaired ex-husband-to pursue a career as a "mere" schoolteacher.

But her sisters have their own image problems. Clare, the Pretty One, married well and seems to have the perfect suburban life, yet worries that the paper thin fabric of her beautiful designer world is ripping apart. And Joey, the Wild One who had 15 minutes of fame as a one-hit-wonder rock star, struggles with sobriety and keeping the secret of her weirdest ambition yet.

They love each other but mix like oil, water, and hundred-proof gin . . . a combination that threatens to combust over family tensions, suspected infidelities, a devastating accident, a stunning confession, and the sudden reappearance of their handsome, now all-grown-up former neighbor, Kenny Waxman, who's back in town making his mark as a TV comedy writer.

It seems they'll never understand where their differences begin and their own destructive tendencies end. Then it happens: the sisters discover a decades-old body stuffed inside an industrial drum and begin a bold, heartbreaking, and sometimes hilarious journey that will either bring them together . . . or tear them apart for good.

I would put The Smart One somewhere in the 4-6 range on the SKS. It took me only 3 days to read, and the cover is close to being super girly, but the focus is not entirely on dating and romance and the main character borders on too old for a chick lit book. The ending was also not entirely predictable and actually, the writing was pretty good. I’d recommend it for a lighter read.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Last Chinese Chef

I almost a little bit want to say I loved this book, but something is holding me back from using the word love.

It's not a book I would normally pick out myself, but a coworker loaned it to me and I've been trying not to purchase so many books lately, so I finally decided to give it a try. I've never been someone super fascinated by Chinese culture, but I did work for 2 and a half years in the offices for Wild Ginger, a fancy, well established Asian restaurant in Seattle that serves mostly upscale Chinese food. And tell you what, reading this book made me need to go back there real bad and eat black pepper scallops, tomato and tofu stir fry, shu mai, sea bass in fresh herbs, seven flavor beef and even some fragrant duck. But if we're being honest, it doesn't take much to induce a craving now that I'm 8 months pregnant and starving for just about anything that I hear mentioned in passing.

What finally got me to pick this book up and start it is when I noticed that Nicole Mones (the author) also wrote Lost in Translation. That movie was good, right? So I decided this book probably wouldn't suck either. And it didn't. It's about a woman named Maggie, a food magazine writer who was recently widowed. She receives notice that her late husband has a claim that has been filed against his estate in China, where he often did business. She travels to China to investigate the claim and also takes an assignment for the magazine while she's there to write about an up and coming Chinese chef, Sam Liang. Sam is half Chinese, half American. He was raised in the US and recently moved to China to continue his grandfather's legacy as the "last Chinese chef". I feel cheap stealing a quote from the back of the book, but Ruth Reichl (former NY Times food critic, Gourmet editor in chief, and author) says it so well:

"I don't think there's ever been anything quite like this. It's a love story, it's a mystery, and it's also the most thorough explanation of Chinese food that I've ever read in the English language."

The descriptions of the food are amazing, the characters are believable and likable, and the story is interesting. Something kept me from getting that I-can't-put-this-book-down feeling, but it's sill a really solid read; particularly good for a book club with foodies in it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Virgin of Small Plains

A quick, engrossing read of questionable quality. The story is great - very captivating - but the quality of the writing is just okay.

Description I stole from the author’s website:

Seventeen years ago, the brutalized body of an unidentified young woman was discovered in the snow during a blizzard in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Deeply disturbed by this senseless death, the town rallied to give her a decent burial in the local cemetery. Since then, strange miracles have visited those who faithfully tend to her grave -- some even believe that her spirit can cure deadly illnesses. Slowly, the legend of the ill-fated girl -- the so-called Virgin of Small Plains --has spread.

But with the reappearance of prodigal son Mitch Newquist, troubling questions arise. Why did Mich abandon his beloved girlfriend, Abby, and flee on the night of the murder? Can Abby unravel a tangled seventeen-year-old skein of lies? And why do the town's leading citizens, including Mitch and Abby's own families, seem determined to keep the truth buried?

The style reminds me a bit of Jodi Piccoult, kind of addictive, but a little ridiculous every once in a while. Anyways, I still liked it and tore through it in like 2 days, so I guess I shouldn’t bash it. Also like Piccoult, it sounds like Pickard has written a bajillion books. In a pinch, I’d probably pick another one of hers up without batting an eye.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Zazoo

I think this is technically a young adult book, but I thought it was a bit more sophisticated than the usual YA fare. I actually think this could make a good (and easy) book club pick.

The book is about Zazoo, a 14 year old Vietnamese girl who was adopted when she was 2 by an old French man who raises her as his granddaughter in central France. Together, they run their tiny village's locks on the canal. Zazoo meets a young French boy on a bike near her canal one morning and over the course of their budding relationship, you get to watch her relationship with her aging Grandfather develop as well. Her Grandfather's stories of WWII come out of the woodwork and other characters in the village get involved in the story and it turned out to be a really beautiful, touching and sad book.

I think because of the YA factor, it stops short of being a major cry fest, and perhaps things are tied up a little neatly at the end, but I still thought it was a seriously enjoyable book.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Miranda's Big Mistake

Total chick lit. Decent, but don't rush out and buy it. Basically, Miranda has all sorts of romantic mishaps and per usual, takes just about the whole book to realize what has been glaringly obvious to the reader from about page 50 - she's in love with the OTHER guy! Shocking, I know. Still, I enjoyed it. It takes place in London, has entertaining supporting characters with their own story lines, and the author has a decent sense of humor.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wideacre

I loved The Other Boleyn Girl and The Queen’s Fool, but Philippa, you totally let me down on this one. Sure, there was all sorts of historical sauciness going on, but incestuous sauciness is NOT cool. It is gross. And the main character of this entire book is totally hate-worthy. I only read the whole thing because I kept waiting for her to die. But I guess when the narration is first person it’s sort of hard to kill them off mid-book, despite how much you may want to. Because then who would tell the story? Anyways, I felt like this book took like 400 pages to basically say “She sucked and then she died.” Pretty sure I won’t be picking up the sequel to this one, particularly because it seems to feature a new brother-sister combo and I’m not in the mood to read about more raunchy, incestuous sex. Ew, Philippa. Just, ew.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Likeness

This book is truly awesome. Not that I’m surprised. Tana French’s first book, In The Woods was also awesome. That said, I’m still impressed. Loved every bit of this book.

Description from the back of the book:

Six months after a particularly nasty case, Detective Cassie Maddox has transferred out of Dublin’s Murder squad and has no plans to go back. That is, until an urgent telephone call summons her to a grisly crime scene.

It’s only when she sees the body that Casssie understands the hurry. The victim, a young woman, is Cassie’s double and carries ID identifying herself as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie once used on an undercover job. Suddenly, Cassie must discover not only who killed this girl but, more importantly, who is this girl? And as reality and fantasy become desperately tangled, Cassie moves dangerously closer to losing herself forever.

There are great characters that suck you in, the mystery is creepy and fascinating and unlike In The Woods, she does not leave you hanging with unsolved crimes. I'd put it in my top 5 for 2009.

My friend Maggie loaned me this book and told me that it was excellent. Maggie – I hope my love for this book makes up for the fact that I also liked Water for Elephants.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Friendship Test

Meh. Entertaining but not worthy of much praise. I think this author also wrote Alphabet Weekends, which I liked more. Like I said, this book was definitely entertaining, but the characters were a little one dimensional and the main character bugged me. The story is about 4 best friends who meet in college in the 80s. Then the story flashes forward 15 years to when the girls are in their mid-30s. One of the girls, Freddie is facing a bit of a life crisis and her friends rally to support her. This is a grossly oversimplified plot summary, but it’s really all you need to know. I’m sure it’s more to do with the quality (or lack) of my recent reading material, but I seem to be ramping back up to my old reading pace of 2-3 books per week.

I feel that you should know that when I Googled for the book title on Google Images to find the jacket cover picture, the window auto filled for me "The Friendship Turd". Um, what?

Next up: I had dinner with my friend Maggie tonight and she loaned me The Likeness by Tana French and I'm already hooked.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Three Wishes

Loved it. Don’t get me wrong, this is not the most awesome book you’ll ever read, but it was exactly what I was in the mood for. Three Wishes is by the same author as The Last Anniversary, which I read last month and reviewed here. I thought this book was actually better than The Last Anniversary.

Liane is an Australian author and this book is about Cat, Gemma and Lynn – triplets living in Sydney who are turning 34. The three are very different, and the book follows each of their stories through entertaining times as well as divorce, depression, dating and other issues that don’t start with D. It reminded me a lot of my other favorite Aussie author – Monica McInerney, who wrote Family Baggage, The Faraday Girls and The Alphabet Sisters. It’s definitely a book for women, but despite its semi-lame title and really bad jacket cover, it’s not total fluff so I hesitate to categorize it as plain old chick lit. I thought her descriptions of the emotions and self doubt that come with divorce were particularly poignant and articulate. I also thought she captured the tone of close female friendships pretty well. I don’t have sisters myself, but the loyalty and frustrations the triplets experienced with eachother didn’t seem too far from the way I've felt about my closest girlfriends. So if you’re in the mood for something easy and enjoyable, I recommend Three Wishes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer at Tiffany

Description from Amazon –

At the age of 82, Marjorie Hart, a professional cellist, recalls 1945, when she and her best friend, Marty, students at the University of Iowa, spent the summer in Manhattan, in this pleasant but slight memoir. Failing to obtain work at Lord & Taylor, the pair, self-described as long-limbed, blue-eyed blondes, were hired at Tiffany's—the first female floor sales pages, delivering packages to the repair and shipping department, for $20 a week.

I was mostly sucked in by the Tiffany blue book jacket and the mention on the back of celebrity encounters with the likes of Judy Garland. In the end the book was cute, but not stimulating. The celebrity sightings were just that, it wasn’t like she hung out with Judy Garland, she just saw her shopping for jewelry once. It was a bit like having your Grandma tell you an hour long story about her youth. Interesting, but maybe not as book-worthy as she’d like to hope.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The School of Essential Ingredients

The School of Essential Ingredients is about a cooking school in the Northwest. Lillian owns a small restaurant that once a month on Mondays hosts a cooking class. Each chapter simultaneously tells the story of one of the weekly classes and follows a different student in the class. I loved all the beautiful food descriptions and almost cried with envy while reading about the crab with butter sauce (note to self – must go crabbing this summer), but at the same time the whole book felt a little simplistic to me. It was a little corny and contrived. Or maybe I’m just a bitter Betty?

Here’s the deal – this book describes cooking classes exactly as I’ve always wanted them to be: You go to a quaint restaurant and are taught by a quirky, motherly character as you make fantastic food and new best friends with the other students. Last year Jeff did a great thing for my birthday and enrolled us in a Greek cooking lesson at a fancy local cooking school (in fact, the school is actually thanked in the notes of this book I might add). Greek food is my favorite and I was pumped. But the truth is, pretty much all the other attendees were with some corporate group doing a team building exercise and were obviously NOT pumped. A few of the younger ones even slipped out the back door a few minutes in. The people who stayed were annoying and weird and then we just sort of ate as we went instead of all sitting down to pig out and bond together. Don’t get me wrong, the food was really good and Jeff and I still had fun together, but my point is that this book seemed a little too perfect-perfect. Plus, every single person in the class is profoundly impacted by the cooking class and food and I don’t know, I guess I found it a little rashy. Like the woman that seems to be struggling with mild post-partum depression who is magically repaired by her first taste of crab? Not really buying it.

That said, it only took a day or two to read and if you like reading food blogs (which I do) you’ll probably still enjoy it (which I did) purely for all the beautiful descriptions of food.

PS: Blogger feels that “rashy” is not a real word. I disagree. When something is annoying (like a rash), it’s only right for that thing to be described as rashy.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Fall of Light

This book turned out (disappointingly) to be a little less trashy than I originally anticipated. It was more mystical and less saucy. Still, it’s good if you’re in the mood for an Irish tale full of famine, family and love. The book follows the Foley family in old timey Ireland after their mother disappears into the mist one morning. The father takes his 4 sons on a journey across the country to the ocean and in the process they’re all separated and spend the rest of the book finding and losing each other over the course of their lives. The book travels briefly to Africa, France, Nova Scotia and the US but always returns to Ireland. I keep trying to think of the best word to describe the writing style because I think it’s central to liking or not liking the book. Meandering? Romantic? Old fashioned? Fable-rific? I’m not sure these are right, but maybe close.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married

Well, I decided to stop talking about it and just do it. I reread Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married. I found it on the free bookshelf at work and it seemed that fate was speaking to me. It was definitely enjoyable – why am I such a sucker for romantic endings where men profess their love in a way that real men never do? I don’t know. But I am. The rest of the book sucked a little more than I remembered, but I still enjoyed my reunion with Marian Keyes.

Last night I started Fall of Light by Niall Williams. So far it appears to be an Irish-Pillars-of-the-Earth-meets-Diana-Gabaldon type of book. In other words, historical fiction meets trashy mythical romance. Also known as my cup of tea right now.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Amateur Marriage

Hmmm… I really don’t have much to say about this book. I read it out of desperation. I came back from my big annual trip to DC and had nothing to read and a massive cold that kept me in bed for 5 days. This book was laying around so I read it. It was good I guess. Well written, but not terribly enjoyable.

It’s about a young couple that meet at the start of World War II and fall in love and get married upon his return from service. Their marriage kind of sucks from early on (hence the title), but not in an entertaining, bickery way, more in a depressing, we need a divorce kind of way. Not exactly a bucket of laughs. The book follows their marriage over the years, eventually ending in the present day. I did get pretty engaged midway through when their 17 year old daughter runs away during the 1970s, but when it became clear that she probably wasn’t ever coming back, I got bored with that plot line. I’m adding this to the pile of books that I think would probably be more enjoyable to an older generation, kind of how I feel about most of Anne Tyler’s books really.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Last Anniversary

Finally! A chick lit author that I’d never heard of. I thought I’d heard of (and read) all the guilty pleasure authors there were to read. But now I know this is not true and it has restored my faith. I found this book on the free shelf at work and could tell from the cover design that it was perfect for the long weekend. We headed to Orcas Island on Friday afternoon and enjoyed the warm (!) and sunny (!) weather for three solid days. I’m finally not nauseous, and given that I'm standing on the precipice of being hugely pregnant, I’m in the perfect state to pick up reading again for a short while (although it does take me an extra 10 minutes and 4 pillows to get comfortable first).

In a slight departure from the usual chick lit plot line, this book takes place in Australia instead of London or New York. Luckily they still say funny things there like “light globes” instead of light bulbs and “hoovering” instead of vacuuming.

The Last Anniversary stars Sophie, a 39 year old single woman who kind of randomly inherits a house on the teeny-tiny, Scribbly Gum Island. The island is famous for The Munro Baby Mystery, in which a small baby was mysteriously abandoned by her parents, found, and then raised by two young sisters who also live on the island. The “baby” is now a grandmother and still lives on the island along with an assortment of random and entertaining relatives. Sophie moves to the island and hijinks ensue. Eventually, secrets are revealed and the “mystery” is solved. It’s witty, has a good story with entertaining characters and a touch of romance. Perfect long weekend reading in the sunshine.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

This book hit the spot for airplane reading. The story and style were better suited for a trip to the Oregon Coast or something similar, but I made do with the airplane ride to DC.

I’d heard good things about it from a fair number of people, and it delivered. It’s not epic or anything, but it’s sweet, sad and slightly romantic. The whole book is made up of letters written to and from the main character, Juliet and the various members of the GL&PPPS. The Society started during World War II on Guernsey Island, located amongst the Channel Islands between England and France. Through the letters they share their love of reading and their war stories. The society members are eclectic and their stories are told with such personality, that it’s easy to stay engaged despite the letter format of the book.

It’s a short little book and didn’t take me long to read, so I don’t have much insight to provide. Plus, I’m pretty sure everyone’s already read this book as I got more than two, “You haven’t read that yet??” responses from people who saw me reading it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Watermelon

I used to love Marian Keyes so much. When all else was letting me down in the book world two weeks ago, I did something I never do - re-read a book. Most avid readers love to reread their favs, but I NEVER do this. I can't explain why, I just can't maintain interest when I already know what's going to happen. But Watermelon was different. It wasn't nearly as awesome as I remembered but it still delivered what I needed - entertainment. If I'd had Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married in my possession, I would have preferred to reread that, but I didn't. So I didn't.

Watermelon is pure chick-lit - the story of a 29 year old Irish woman living in London who's husband leaves her the day she gives birth to their first child. She goes back to Ireland to recover with her parents and family. Her family is entertaining, they call vacuuming "hoovering", the main character is self-deprecating, and there is romance (and vengeance). Plus, it only took me a day to reread so I didn't have to feel bad about reading fluff.

Monday, May 4, 2009

On Beauty

This book bored me. I read Smith's first book, White Teeth when it came out and thought it was boring. When On Beauty came out, everyone assured me that this book was much better than White Teeth. I disagree. Both books are well written but both of them had boring stories with boring, fairly unlikeable characters.

Basically there's this previously happy, but now seriously unhappily married couple. The husband is a pretentious and boring white professor and his wife is a sassy but kind of boring African American woman. He cheats on her. Their unlikeable adult children have semi-interesting plot lines that don't really get resolved by the end and .... Bored! I'm too bored to finish.

Also - do you like how short my reviews have become since getting pregnant? I don't have time to mess around peoples. I've got cribs to buy, naps to take, and panic attacks to have about the fact that very soon another life will depend on me. I don't have time for books that take 200 pages to suck me in; I need books to be interesting immediately.

Any recommendations for my next read? I've been chugging through A Widow for One Year by John Irving during my lunch breaks at work, but I'm really needing something lighter. Maybe something in the chick lit category? Something with a GOOD STORY.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Water for Elephants

My friend Maggie trashed this book to me once so I put off reading it. But then I found it a few weeks ago in my box of books given to me by my sister in law at Christmas. And burn on you Maggie because I'm totally jumping aboard the I-Love-Water-For-Elephants-Train. This book was good. I’m not saying it was Shakespeare, but the woman tells a good story. About elephants! And monkeys! And there are circus freaks, and romance and well, I fell for it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Before I Wake

I finished Before I Wake a few weeks ago, so I don’t remember any of the clever things I was going to say about it. Basically I liked this book, but I don’t really know why. It was weird. Here are some random facts about this book:

1. It takes place in Victoria, BC, which is close to where I live, so I liked that.

2. I almost put it down at the beginning because it’s all about a 3 year old girl getting hit by a truck and being put into a coma. Being pregnant, I seem to be more susceptible than usual to the sadness of such story lines. Particularly because I’m a total fatalist and feel that by reading about it, it makes it more likely to happen to me.

3. I almost put it down later because it took this weird turn from sad story about child getting hit by a car and her parents dealing with the tragedy to all of a sudden being about miracles and the Catholic church and ghosts. Then I kind of got into it, but not in a way that I was proud of. It had sort of a normal-book-meets-that-weird-movie-starring-Nicholas Cage-and-Meg Ryan-where-he’s-a-ghost-that-roams-the-library type of thing.

This is not a helpful review and for this I am sorry.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Echo Maker

The Echo Maker was loaned to me by a coworker. I read it at a snail’s pace because, despite being in my 17th week of pregnancy, I’m still pretty queasy most of the time. My attention span is also closer to a gnat’s than a human’s these days, which doesn’t help.

The Echo Maker is about a woman in her early 30’s, whose younger brother is in a terrible car accident. She goes home to help him with his recovery (they have no other relatives) but when he wakes up from his coma, finds that while he acknowledges that she looks just like his sister, he thinks she is an imposter. The brain damage incurred in the car accident has caused a rare condition called Capgras Syndrome where victims think that their loved ones have been doubled or replaced by robots. They recognize the person, but lose the emotional connection associated with them. Because they can’t attach any emotional bond to this person, they are convinced that the person is a “double”. This is the story of their relationship, what his condition does to it, his favorite nurse, and the famous brain doctor that comes from New York to observe and maybe help him.

The premise of the story is really interesting and the writing is very sophisticated, but I still struggled with the book at times. I finished the book a day or two ago, but I’ve been stuck on how to summarize my “issues” with it.

Firstly - I felt he didn’t do the best job with character development. Or maybe it was just that I didn’t like any of the characters very much so I had a hard time connecting to them? In particular, I thought he had a really loose grasp on how to write from a female’s perspective. His women didn’t really feel like women to me. Which is odd because he chose to write the first 200 pages or so with the sister as the main character. I just couldn’t get into her. The only character I had a pretty easy time sympathizing with was the brother with the brain damage. He wasn’t described as particularly likable, but later I wondered if he was made more relatable or “real” for a reason. I say this because later in the book, the author leads you to question humanity and maybe he was trying to make the point that the only really “true” character was the one who thought everything in his life was a lie. Pretentious, yes. But that was kind of the feel of the book for me at the end.

Secondly - I didn’t like the marriage between Weber (the famous brain doctor) and his wife. I think it was meant to seem really intimate, but the fact that their pet names for each other were “Man” and “Woman” felt incredibly unnatural to me. No matter how many times I tried to hear someone routinely (like even while fighting with each other) calling their wife “woman”, or a wife calling her husband “man” without sounding stupid (or like a 20 year old stoner in the 70’s), I couldn’t. There were other aspects to the description of their marriage that made me wonder if the author had maybe never been in a long term relationship and was just describing what he thought a 30 year marriage would look like.

Thirdly - I felt like midway through the book, the story became less of the focus and it became more about the science of brain damage and the philosophical questions that brain disorders pose. It got a little “deep” for me at times, but this may have just been because I wasn’t in the mood to wonder if the person with the brain damage actually sees the world more clearly than those of us without. I’m more of a story/plot driven type reader, so this lost my interest a bit.

In the book’s defense, the prose is beautifully written and very sophisticated. I haven’t looked, but I would imagine he also writes poetry. There's a slight mystery twist to the story in which you are left wondering about the mysterious circumstances of the car accident, and I liked this part of the book quite a bit. I just got hung up on some of the details. Truthfully, I should probably just stick to chick lit while I’m pregnant. Then maybe I could finish more than one book per month.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Road

Despite my 8:30pm bedtime of late and what I am now referring to as my constant companion – Barfy, I managed to finish a book this week! I started reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy during my lunch breaks at work (which PS Cormac – there are too many C’s in your name). I pretty much always eat lunch alone at the cafĂ©/bakery downstairs from my office. I like the break from work and I always bring a book so no one bothers me while I eat. In the beginning, The Road was just a necessary lunch prop. But after a week of reading a few pages here and there while shoveling in sandwiches, I found myself hooked. It took almost half the book, but all of a sudden, I needed to read the rest – immediately.

Don’t get me wrong- this book is Depressing (and that capital D is there for a reason). In fact, it may be the biggest downer of a book EVER. But the story is so laced with love and humanity! The story is very simple – a man and his son who are never given real names are travelling “the road” south somewhere on the east coast after some horrible event has destroyed the world and most of humanity. They never say what actually happened (which bugged) but you get the impression that after this mystery cataclysmic event, the people who didn’t die turned against each other in desperation.

It’s hard to describe why this book is good, but it truly is. Granted I’m pregnant, but I found myself crying multiple times during the book and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am NOT a crier. The love between the man and his son is just so truthful. I think I read somewhere that the author dedicated the book to his son, so I suppose the writing comes from somewhere real. And you can tell.

On a related note – did anyone ever read a book called something like Z for Zacharia? I feel that I read a book like this in middle school that was also a post-apocalyptic story but can’t remember anything else about it…

BAAAHH! I just Googled The Road so I could find an image to post with this review and noticed that it was an Oprah's book club book! The trend (unknowingly) continues...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It's Official

I'm pregnant. 3 months to be precise. This is the true reason why I haven't been reading as much lately. Turns out being pregnant makes me feel like I'm super car sick. Like, all the time! And what is the last thing you want to do when you're car sick? You guessed it. Read. I haven't even been reading books about being pregnant, which totally goes against my obsessive nature.

Anywhoo, I will refrain from posting too much personal information on this site, but if you're curious and want more information (and a baby pic from today's appointment), you're always welcome to visit my other site: jill's daily note.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Drowning Ruth

I wonder why I’m all about reading Oprah’s book club books lately? Does Oprah ever pick a book that isn’t kind of a downer? I think no. But that’s okay because at least the writing was solid. The story was also captivating. All around, I actually quite enjoyed this book. Lindsey asked in the comments on my last review whether I’ve ever read any Anita Shreve. The answer is yes! And coincidentally, this book actually reminded me a little of Shreve’s story telling. It takes you to a certain time in history and the voice is very consistent.

I tried a few different times to summarize the plot on my own, but alas nothing I’m writing is right. So I will resort to the back of the book description:

Winter, 1919. Amanda Starkey spends her days nursing soldiers wounded in the Great War. Finding herself suddenly overwhelmed, she flees Milwaukee and retreats to her family’s farm on Nagawaukee Lake, seeking comfort with her younger sister, Mathilda, and three-year-old niece, Ruth. But very soon, Amanda comes to see that her old home is no refuge – she has carried her troubles with her. On one terrible night almost a year later, Amanda loses nearly everything that is dearest to her when her sister mysteriously disappears and is later found drowned beneath the ice that covers the lake. When Mathilda’s husband comes home from the war, wounded and troubled himself, he finds that Amanda has taken charge of Ruth and the farm, assuming her responsibility with a frightening intensity. Wry and guarded, Amanda tells the story of her family in careful doses, as anxious to hide from herself as from us the secrets of her own past and of that night.



Really strong character development – it’s one of those books where you think about them when you’re not reading, wondering what’s happening to them. You might not like every one of the characters, but you really get the whole story with each of them. The plot is a bit melodramatic (it is, after all an Oprah book) but I bought into it. For some reason I always have an easier time buying into melodrama when the story takes place in “olden times”. Like everyone was all running around getting drowned and creating scandals in the 1910s, right?

Anyways, there are plenty of plot twists to keep your attention, plus they don’t tell you the whole effing story until like the very last page, so you really are compelled to keep reading. Considering how lethargic my reading habits have been of late, the fact that I tore through this book in 3 days should tell you that I liked it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Year of Pleasures

For Christmas my sister in law and her husband gave me a big box of novels. Last week I dug around in there and picked out The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg, which I finished last night. If memory serves, Berg is rather prolific and has written tons of books that I always pick up at the bookstore and then put down after seeing that they all seem to feature women in their 50s.

But this time the book was free, had a nice cover and for whatever reason, the story appealed. The Year of Pleasures tells the story of Betta Nolan, who is in her mid 50’s and who’s husband recently died from cancer. They lived in Boston together and led a rather insular life with no real friends. After his death, she follows through on a promise she made her dying husband and sells their house, drives West and moves to a small town to start over. She ends up in a small town outside Chicago, reconnects with some old college friends and also makes new friends in the town. I felt like the title was a bit of a misnomer, since the book is essentially the story of her grieving with a little bit about pleasures.

I enjoyed the book. The writing was solid but the plot left a tiny bit to be desired for me. The theme of her grieving was well done, but the character development for all the supporting characters and their story lines felt a little unfinished to me. She does a good job introducing all these new characters (Betta’s old friends, an adorable 10 year old neighbor, a 20 year old guy and his Brazilian roommate…) and I was interested in their stories. Then all of a sudden it felt like the book was over without wrapping up any of it. Also? It bugged me a little that she had no friends. Rather than irritation, I should probably feel sympathy, but I don’t really. I feel like there are those couples out there that don’t make an effort to maintain outside friendships and I have a really difficult time relating to these people. That said, I’d probably read another of Elizabeth Berg’s books. Can anyone recommend one I’d maybe like?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Like I mentioned in my last post, I haven’t been reading as much lately. That said, I was too tempted by The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to not read it. It might have taken me longer than usual, but I did it! I started it while on a business trip with my Mom (long story) but then put it down when I got back home. I picked it up again over the long weekend when Jeff and I ferried our asses over to our Orcas Island hide-out (also known as his parent’s cabin).

I think I first read about this book on Raych’s blog and was intrigued. Then it appeared on the EW New Classics List. Then my sister-in-law gave it to me for Christmas. Obviously, I HAD to read it. And it was pretty amazing really. Very different from the stuff I’ve been reading lately. The whole book is centered around the Dominican culture, with the plot twisting in and out of New Jersey and The Dominican Republic.

Oscar Wao is a giant Dominican dork. Which is apparently a bit of an oxymoron because Dominican men are all supposed to be major players and have mad game. Oscar however is obese and loves, loves, loves anime and everything medieval and mystical. He lives in New Jersey with his angry Mother and lovely sister Lola and wonders if he’ll die a virgin. The story bobs and weaves (sometimes a little too much for my liking) so that you end up getting to hear about his Mother’s childhood in the DR, his grandparent’s destruction by the evil dictator Trujillo, his sister, and Oscar’s college roommate, Yunjior.

Truthfully the author had me hooked on page two when he used the phrase Fuckface. I know that’s a little inappropriate and maybe weird that I loved it so much. But fuckface is a funny thing to say! And he was using the word in a *footnote* which is ironic because footnotes are supposed to be all official and serious. The book is totally fresh and different and really brilliant. The stuff about Oscar’s interest in Elvish, Tolkien, role playing games and basically anything dorky was hilarious. Learning about Dominican history is heartbreaking and interesting and Oscar’s story in particular is captivating. Definitely not uplifting, but captivating (remember it IS his “brief” life). My only complaint about the book is that the narration was confusing sometimes. I couldn’t really tell who was narrating half the time. Was it Yunjior, Lola, objective third person? It felt like it skipped around constantly, but maybe this is more a symptom of my recent affliction with reading A.D.D.?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Eventide

I’ve been awfully negligent about posting lately. I feel bad, but I think I’m going through a little bit of a reading drought. Maybe it’s the post-holiday coma I’ve been in, I'm sure it has to do with being on a business trip for the last 4 days, and maybe it’s also the promise of all my favorite TV shows coming back any day now, but reading’s been put on the back burner for now. That said, I still have a review that I owe you for Eventide, which I read over the holidays. So here goes:

For those of you who aren’t a giant Kent Haruf fan like I am, Eventide is a semi-sequel to Plainsong. I read Plainsong last year and I would rank it in my top 5 of 2008 (read my review here). I actually tried to read Eventide in October on my trip to New York. Some of you may remember that I accidentally left it at my friends’ house in Brooklyn after reading only a chapter or two. I think they meant to mail it back to me, but given that they have a 1 year-old, and jobs and all that, I’m pretty sure I need to forgive them. So when my friend Darrah (who originally loaned me Plainsong) gave me Eventide for Christmas this year, I was super excited. I couldn’t really remember how much I’d read on my trip to New York, so I started from the beginning.

Eventide picks up the story of the McPheron brothers who were my favorite characters in Plainsong. The McPheron’s are basically two crusty bachelor ranchers who took in a young pregnant girl in trouble during Plainsong. In this book, the girl is leaving for college with her daughter and the brothers have to figure out how to live alone again. There are also a few new story lines added to Eventide and some characters that were followed in the first book are dropped in this one. Per usual, Haruf has a heartwarming and honest way of writing that totally sucked me in. I balled like a baby at times and smiled to myself numerous times. It’s a great book that I think men and women would like equally. I wish Kent Haruf was my Grandpa.

Since finishing Eventide, I’ve dabbled in a few books but nothing is sticking. Instead of soldiering trough and reading books when I’m not in the mood, I’m going to take it easy. When I feel like reading, I’ll read. When I don’t, I won’t. If you notice less frequent posting here in the next few weeks, but you still need something to read during your lunch break, you’re welcome to cruise my non-book blog (link is in the sidebar) where I will likely post updates about my horrible taste in television.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Marley and Me

It’s possible that I’m being overly sensitive and maybe it’s totally cool to read Marley and Me. But I’m pretty sure not. And the few of you who were thinking it was maybe okay for me to have read this book, you will change your mind when I tell you that I read the short, fat airport-version with a big picture of Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson on the cover. Anyways, now’s the part where I explain WHY I chose to read this book. The reason is that it was snowing. Lots. And I was stuck with nothing to read. One day I got real desperate and decided to buy a book at Safeway. So there I was, totally book-deprived, standing in the “book aisle” of my grocery store and faced with an entire shelf FULL of nothing but Joanna Lindsey romance novels and 3 copies of Marley and Me. So really, given the alternative, I’m pretty sure I did okay.

Now that I’ve spent an entire paragraph justifying having read the book, I will spend about 3 sentences “reviewing” it. The book is sweet, but very simple in plot and style. It’s a true story about a nice couple who buy a poorly behaved puppy. Then the puppy gets old and it dies and it’s sad. The end. Oh, and there are pictures. Not childlike illustrations but like real pictures of the real Marley and the author.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Update and Apologies

Jeff and I went up to Vancouver BC for the New Year to visit our friends Chris and Beth. We had a fantastic time tromping in the snow, getting the driving tour, watching old school movies and trying Sukiyaki for the first time - which for any of you fellow uncultured souls is basically a restaurant with a giant Asian crock pot on each table. You order a bunch of raw meat, noodles and vegetables and dump them in the pot with some sauce then you all eat directly out of the pot. Really fun and different, but as Beth pointed out, perhaps not the best meal for a germaphobe. Luckily, Jeff and I have been known to share a toothbrush on occasion and much to my friend Heidi's dismay I ALWAYS take a free sample when it's offered, even if someone else's dirty hands may have also been rummaging through the sample bowl. Apologies for the less frequent posts lately Unfortunately, I've been feeling a little under the weather since our return from Canada. I've read two books in the last week and cannot seem to motivate myself to review them. I'm hoping for a rush of energy and motivation later today, so stay tuned for reviews of Marley and Me (along with an explanation/excuse as to why I read this book) and Eventide.