Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 favorites and my list for 2011

I would like to make a top ten list for this past year, but I only read twenty books this year, well, actually twenty-one books.  So a top ten list would be kind of silly. 

My favorite books of the past year are the Millennium Series -- Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Girl Who Played with Fire and Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  Loved those books.  At the beginning of the school year, I let someone borrow my copy of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and haven't seen it since, no mention of it, so not even sure if the person is reading it or not.  But I decided to use that as my excuse to purchase the deluxe box set of the series. 

I also really liked The Invisible Bridge.  I thought that book was kind of amazing.  Now I'm even thinking of visiting Budapest this summer.

So those are my top four books.  Now I can start working on my reading list for next year.

I joined an online book club that has a reading challenge -- twelve books that have to be books that have been on our reading list for at least year, plus two alternates. 

Right now this is my list:

1. Witching Hour by Anne Rice (I've wanted to read this for years, I read the vampire books, but never this one.  I think I've been waiting for the right time to read it, a long break and a dark mood.)

2. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby  (I've liked everything he's written and have had a copy of this sitting by my bed for a couple of years.  I enjoyed the movie quite a bit.)

3. Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Woman who Created Her  (another book I've had for years but have never gotten around to reading)
4. Water for Elephants (I want to read this before the movie comes out!)

5. Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (I started to read this last year, but knowing that it would be dark, I didn't feel I could handle it.  But it's something I must read, I read everything by Atwood.)

6. Persuasion by Jane Austen (I need to read something by Austen, and this was the book mentioned in Lake House.  I bought a very nice copy of this at Barnes and Noble a while back, but have never gotten around to reading it.)

7. Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy (another one that has been on the reading list for years)

8. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingslover (Last year, I bought this for my mother because she's a big Barbara Kingslover fan, I planned to give it to her for Christmas, but when I saw that the book was about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, I decided I would try to read it before giving it to my mother.  A year later, still sitting by the bed.)

9. Schulz and Peanuts: A biography (another one I received as soon as the book was published and have yet to read it.)

10. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (this is the Oprah influence here -- I've already read Tale of Two Cities)

11. Private Patient by PD James (PD James is one of my favorite authors, not sure why I've not read this yet.  I'm sure I bought it as soon as it was released.  But I always try to wait until I know I'll have a lot of time to read, hers are not books that work well with only a few pages a day.)

12. Fried Green Tomatoes (Loved this movie and have wanted to read the book for years)

13. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy  (I read Tess when I was a teenager and I would like to read it again as an adult.)
14. On The Road by Jack Kerouac  (Everyone should read this at some point in her life, right?)

Other books I wanted to include on the list - Mists of Avalon, A Town Like Alice, and David Copperfield. 

Something about which I am very embarrassed is that I've only read one book by Dickens (Tale of Two Cities) and have never read anything by Jane Austen.  I recently tried reading Pride and Prejudice, but maybe I just wasn't in the right mood.  It was taking me forever and there was a hold on it at the library, so I had to return it before I could finish it.  I've since downloaded it to my Kindle, for free, but haven't felt any strong desire to continue reading it.  I added Persuasion to the list because it's mentioned so much in one of my favorite movies -- The Lake House. 

I got a Kindle for my birthday, but I still have an issue with paying for digital books.  Really difficult to pay for a digital file when I know I can get the books for free at the library.  However, I've downloaded lots and lots of free classics.  I'm hoping this will encourage me to get back to reading the classics. 

And there are several books released within the last year that I hope to read soon.  (We couldn't include books from the past year on our reading challenge list.)  The book I'm most looking forward to reading is Keith Richards' biography and I'm hoping to read Fannie Flagg's I Still Dream About You before I return to school next week.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books.  It's one of those books that is short enough that it can be read in a day or two, and I admit, I've read it several times.  Such a beautiful book.  So when I saw the title of this book, I was intrigued.  I didn't know much about the book before I picked it up at the library -- I sort of like diving into a book without a clue as to what it is about.

Within the first few pages, it is mentioned that Cassie, or Stella, depending on who's talking to her, is feeling sad and a bit weepy thinking of the aunt she's lost, even though she'd not spent much time with her in recent years.  Immediately I bonded with this character, understanding too well what it was like to hover under a cloud of grief caused by the loss of an aunt who played an integral role in my childhood.  Months later and still I'm never prepared for the cloud bursts and raining tears that start up without warning.  As silly as it sounds, as soon as I read that part about Cassie missing her aunt, I felt that there was a reason for me to read this book even if that reason was simply to have someone - albeit a fictional someone - with which to commiserate.

The story is about two half sisters who inherit their aunt's house in the Hamptons.  Their aunt, Lydia, asked them to sell the house and split the profits because there is no way they can afford the upkeep on the house.  In a letter she mentions that she hopes they find within the house a "thing of value."  The sisters assume this to be an object of value and are on a quest to locate this object within the house. 

Truth is, there isn't much of a story here, not a whole lot happens.  The sisters go to parties, they hang out with their friends, they talk about the house and the things inside the house but not a lot happens.  At moments you think there is going to be something of a mystery and even a hint of danger involving the strange artist living in the house.  But the mystery develops into more of a comedy and the danger never materializes like I thought it would.  I don't want to give anything away, but I will warn to not expect much to develop with regard to suspense or mystery.  But that's fine, I didn't feel that the lack of action or any big dramatic storyline took anything away from this book because the characters are such interesting people.

I loved the characters in this story, the two very different sisters and the eccentric neighbors.  Even the aunt, only there in their memories, seemed to be someone that everyone would have enjoyed being around.  She was single and had no children, she taught literature at a boys school in New York City and she loved Paris and books and art and artists.  (Do you see why I liked this aunt?)  The novel is filled with a cast of amusing, clever, and likable characters.  Also, besides the many references to literature and Gatsby in particular, there are several art references, mostly about Jackson Pollock.  I wanted to be inside this book, having a "dressing" drink with Peck and Cassie.  I wanted to live their life and spend the summer at Fool's House with them.

I was sad when the story was over.  I wasn't ready for it to end.  I wanted to know more.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

My interest in Jane Grey was sparked by a painting I saw at the National Gallery in London.  She was queen for nine days and eventually beheaded for being queen.  Also, I really love the name, "Jane Grey" but that's probably because it makes me think of Jean Grey, one of my favorite X-Men.

In the bookstore of the National Gallery, there were several books and videos about the painting and about Jane Grey.  I bought a DVD, and considered buying a book, but couldn't decide which one I wanted.  There were several by Weir.

When I returned home from my trip, I looked up the author at the library.  She's a historian and has written quite a few non-fiction books, but this was her first novelization.  Seemed like a good place to start reading about the Tudors.

I found the story interesting.  But I found the style a bit odd.  It's written in first person, but every few pages, the narrator changes.  Seems like there could have been a better way to tell the story.  I guess I find it especially bothersome because so much effort is put into trying to figure out what is going on in the minds of each of these people.  I realize it's historical fiction, and a novel, not factual, but it does involve events that really happened.  In the beginning Jane's mother despises her and in the end she's distraught over what happens to her.  Then we have Jane's husband who rapes her in the beginning of the marriage and is extremely cruel to her, but later adores her and misses her so much he carves her name in the wall.  None of that made sense to me.

The story is about Jane, who has very ambitious parents.  When they fail to get her married to the king, they make arrangements to involve her in a plot that will eventually make her queen.  Jane is, as the title indicates, innocent in all of this.  She doesn't want to be queen, she doesn't want to be married, she just wants to be left alone with her books.  That's what makes this so tragic.  She was punished for things that were entirely beyond her control.

What I most get out of books about this time period is the horror and destruction caused by people's beliefs in God.  This all takes place around the time of the Protestant uprising.  People are executed for having Protestant beliefs, and then another king is in place and suddenly people are punished for being Catholic.  Jane was very much part of the Protestant movement.  According to this book, she held her beliefs so strongly that even in the end when she was told she could live if she would convert to Catholicism and she wouldn't.  That seems absurd, because it isn't as if the two religions are that different.  Same God, same Bible, same characters in the book, just different ways of worship.  She was sixteen and willing to die for a fairly new form of a religion rather than go back to the form that had been around for centuries?  I'm not saying that Catholics are the one true way, but still.  That's extreme.
More than anything though, it makes me very glad I don't participate in any sort of organized religion.  Knowing the bloodshed these religions, all of them, have, it makes it very difficult for me to view them as organizations with which I would want to affiliate myself.  They were really just businesses, all about power and control.  Whoever was in power had no issues with crushing those who were not in power.  It's all very disturbing.  Very harsh times.

Back to the book though, I liked it enough that I plan to read more books by Weir.  I've already checked out Lady Elizabeth.  I did feel that reading the book taught me a lot about the time period that I didn't know, and I find this an easier way to learn than from a history book, even if the novel isn't completely accurate.  As far as we know, the history books aren't any more accurate.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

I very much enjoyed this story of a woman's memorable summer in New York City, working at Tiffany.

The year is 1945, the country is at war and her family is horrified over the idea of her going off to the big city to have fun.  The impression is given that up until this point in her life, Marjorie has always been very sensible.  She attends college in Iowa, close to home.  She practices the cello and when her mother had surgery, she took a semester off to help around the house.  She never would have considered going to New York City, until she learns that some of her sorority sisters have gone to the City and easily found jobs and her roommate convinces her that they should do the same thing. 

The save up glass bottles to try to earn enough money for their train ticket, convinced that once they get to the City, they'll quickly find jobs and make lots of money.  They're going to go lots of Broadways shows and shop at fancy department stores and go to the beach.

Finding a job isn't as easy as they were led to believe.  Their first few days are spent standing in long lines with other young women in the employment offices, filling out applications and often being told there are no more openings.  Then they see Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Avenue.  Tiffany doesn't even have an employment office.  But they talk their way into a job as pages on the sales floor.  They're only making twenty dollars a week, and know they can't afford to live off that, but they can't turn down a job at Tiffany!

They don't let their meager salary keep them from enjoying the city, hoping for a glimpse of Wallis Simpson, and marveling over the laughter of Judy Garland, and trembling at the sight of a gangster who needs his watch repaired.  They date midshipmen and celebrate the end of the war in Times Square. 

I loved the innocence of the story, a glimpse of a different New York City, a time when people carried themselves with a bit more dignity.  It's a time when men and women went on dates and got to know each other rather than today when everyone is simply expected to "hook up" and "put out" moments after making eye contact.  It's the kind of New York I yearn for every time I wander around the city.  I enjoyed seeing New York City through the eyes of someone living in the City for the first time -- that first sighting of the Empire State Building, the shops on Fifth Avenue, dinner at the Stork Club. There were several amusing moments when she tried to order a drink or dessert, always wanting to sound as if she belonged and not like a wide-eyed girl from Iowa. 

I've been told that I'm an old soul.  I love Sinatra and black and white movie and stories about a time that I can only imagine.  Also, I love New York City, so this book was perfect for me.  It's a quick read and provided a nice, enjoyable escape from the holiday blahs. 

Sunday, November 07, 2010

I don't care about your band by Julie Klausner

I was talking about books to some students the other day and the conversation went a bit like this:

"I'm reading this book called, I don't care about your band," I said.  "It's well, a little graphic, so I can't tell you the details, but it's about this woman's dating experiences.  It's funny, but it's really gross.  Like, really, really gross.  Some of the things that happen in it.... yuck.  When I started the book, I almost decided to not continue past the second chapter, I was just thinking, this woman is a slut.  But I kept reading and parts are hilarious.  This woman, though, she's just stupid."

My kids were laughing.  "She's just stupid," mimicked one of the boys.

"She is.  I can't even tell you the things that happen.  Makes me so glad I don't date and never have," I said. My students don't believe me when I say things like this, but it's true.

And that sort of sums up my feelings about his book.  I don't date now, didn't really date in my twenties.  There was one brief sort of almost-relationship experience, but in hindsight, I've realized it existed more in my head than in actuality.  I was sad when it ended, but eventually I was glad that it never really, um, came to fruition, if you, well, know what I mean.

I suspect there may be something wrong with me for not having any real interest in dating and all that accompanies dating.  But as it is, at the advanced age of 35, I don't really feel like I'm missed out on much.  When I read a book like this, I am overwhelmingly grateful that I missed out on such experiences.

In the beginning she claims to have had a great, loving relationship with her parents, but if that was the case, why go on such a desperate search for "love"? Or whatever the heck she was searching for. She mentions often that she's in need of a husband and a father for her future children, but wow, did she honestly for even a moment consider any of those men to be candidates for a role in her future? She doesn't seem to be going about it in a way that I would consider to be productive. But then again, I don't know about this stuff. I've never had any interest in seeking out a future husband or life-partner or whatever term is used these days.

The author is giving blow jobs by ninth grade.  Maybe this is normal and maybe I'm just that sheltered.  If so, thank goodness.  Some things do not belong in my mouth.

Despite my shock at her ninth grade experiences, I kept reading, and several times I found myself laughing aloud.  As horrible and grotesque as many of the stories are, they are also hilarious.  Most, or rather, all of the stories are more about sex than dating.  She doesn't talk much about dating.  She tends to meet guys and then get undressed as soon as possible.  Ugly guys, fat guys, boring, unemployed, drug using guys, she's not particular.  She does them all: Men with dirty apartments and bedbugs, men with criminal records and/or indie records, men who smell bad and treat her even worse.  One impression I got from this book is that the author possessed no self respect, none at all.  Why oh why would anyone put herself in these situations?  You have to hate yourself to do some of the things she did.

While I believe the author and I are the same age, and I've been in situations similar to hers, known people like the ones she mentions, I couldn't relate to the way she interacted with these people.  For instance, as indicated by the title, she talks about dating musicians and how a person who dates a musician has to go to every show. I will admit to having some involvement with musicians, it happens to everyone at some point, even to people like me who work hard to avoid "dating", but also, I never had a problem telling these men that I just couldn't attend every gig, sometimes I had other plans, sometimes, there was a really good movie on TV that I wanted to stay home and watch. Most of the guys respected the fact that I had a life separate from them.  Those who didn't, well, they moved on, which was best for all involved.  That's the difference between the author and I.  I've never had a problem telling a guy no.  At least, not since I was like 21.  I'm a quick learner, one bad experience and I'm done.  Works out well, really, it does.
By the end of the book, I found that I really liked the author, despite thinking she's not very smart, takes way too many risks with regard to her body and is completely lacking in self-respect.  I especially felt that I bonded with her when she started in on her dislike of Brooklyn.  I can bond with just about anyone over a dislike of Brooklyn.  Though I have to say that her rant about how bothered she is that men are attracted to Cameron Diaz in Something About Mary and Pam on the Office made me think she and I wouldn't get along all that well.  She sounds like one of those women that likes to get really made up because she thinks that's what men like and she's angry at the idea that they don't like that.  Being that I've never done the whole "dating, seeking out men" thing, I've never given all that much thought to what men like with regard to how I dress.  Maybe that's my loss, but after reading this book, I have to say I'm grateful for having missed out on all these experiences. 

Overall, I enjoyed the book because it's funny.  It took a few chapters before my impression of the book moved from disgusting to hilarious, but now that I'm done reading it, I've recommended it to several friends.  In the end, the author claims to have learned from these experiences.  She chalks them up as her "twenties".  I think back on my twenties, which ended five years ago and all I remember is working late at a job I hated and so that I could pay the bills that accompany adulthood, so I guess I kind of appreciated living out the author's experiences from a distance, without suffering the consequences.

-- Random bit here:  Near the end of the book there is a line in quotes, and I wondered if it was in quotes because it came from a song or movie or something, but whatever it was, I really liked it.  Does anyone know what this is referencing, or is it just something the author wrote:  "going to bed early at least a couple of nights a month to make the loneliness stop screaming for the night."  Something about that line really hit home for me, even though I very much chose to be alone.  Sometimes, well, sometimes, you know...

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

This summer, I watched a few episode of a new show on TNT called Rizzoli and Aisles.  I liked it, didn't love it, but it held my interest.  I like crime dramas, especially those with strong female characters.  The show is based on a series of books, so I decided to try the books because I love reading crime fiction.

This is the first book in the series. 

The book is okay.  It's well-written, held my interest.  The book kept me company during an especially bad recent bout of insomnia.  (Though one of my students wisely pointed out that that maybe the book was the cause of my insomnia when I told him what the book was about.)

The story is about Rizzoli, a female detective, who has a tough time working with a lot of insecure men.  She ends up on a big case -- a serial killer who slices up women and removes their wombs before he slices their throats.  Turns out the case is connected to another round of serial killings, in which everyone believed the killer had been murdered.  I found of interest the research that went into tracing back the connections between the two acts, or rather, two series of acts.

But I didn't like the portrayal of Rizzoli.  She seemed a bit unlikable.  I also didn't like that is always seemed like the men were swooping in to save her, as well as the other women.  In the end, she did redeem herself, but there was a lot of the book in which it was her mentor who was a bit too much of a hero.  Granted this was the first book in the series and I'm sure the dynamics between the characters changes as the novels progress.

But also, I didn't like the main victim in the story.  I grew tired of reading about her being so very beautiful and vulnerable.  (I notice that Rizzoli feels the same about this character, so maybe it was a way to make the reader relate to Rizzoli?  If so, it worked.)  And it's the same male character who saves Rizzoli who then acts as the victim's protector. 

My biggest issue though was the portrayal of the murderer.  Throughout the story, we're allowed into his thought process, and this bothered me.  I have issues with the idea that these monsters have any sort of rational thought.  I'm not saying the author was trying to justify what he did, because she wasn't.  But at the same time, I have no desire to "see" into the minds of criminals.  Also, much emphasis was placed on the idea that the men involved had perfectly normal lives.  Everyone loved them, they came from great, loving families, nice, polite boys who did well in school.  While I realize that we always hear the stories about how, "no one had a clue" in regard to captured murderers, I often believe this is a case of people simply not paying attention.  I have a very difficult time believing that people from wonderful, financially well-off, loving homes can turn into such gruesome monsters.  Not saying it can't happen, because I'm sure it does.  But in a story like this, I need a little something to provide a better explanation for the horror.  The only deviance hinted at is a bit of homosexual tendencies, which, as you may imagine bothered me.  Because they're gay, they chop up women?  No, I don't think so.  Again, the author didn't directly say that, but near the end, it seems to be implied, and that angered me.

For a while, near the middle of this book, I thought maybe I had found myself a new author, another series to explore, but by the time it ended, I'd had enough.  At the moment, I don't feel compelled to read any more books in this series.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky

I really liked the title of this book.  I'll fully admit that's what drew me to the book.  Just sounds so intense and passionate.  Fire in the Blood.

This is considered one of the unfinished works of Irene Nemirovsky.  Difficult to really judge the work based on the idea that it was her rough draft.  This was found years after her death at a concentration camp during WWII. 

Unlike Suite Francaise, this is not at all about the war.  This is about some people living in the country.  The story is almost soap opera-ish, with their dramas involving affairs and lies and loves and such.  The narrator is a man who lived a full life, traveled around the world -- he claims he had a "fire in the blood" that kept him from remaining at home.  Now he's old and observing the lives of his cousins and their adult children.

There's a very dramatic twist at the end, long buried secrets revealed that's fairly shocking to all involved.  I can't elaborate too much without giving the story away.

It's a somewhat interesting story, a very quick read.  It's not great though.  As I said, I believe this was the author's rough draft, so the story wasn't fully developed.  I'm looking forward to reading some of the author's finished work that was published during her lifetime to see if there is a significant difference in the writing.

Up in the Air by Walter Kirn

I've never seen the movie based on this book.  I've heard it's very different from the book.  Since finishing the book, I've recorded it, and it's saved on the Tivo, but I've yet to watch it.

I was intrigued by the story of a person spending so much of his life in airplanes and airports.  I've gone through phases of my life in which every weekend was spent in and out of an airport.  I've become familiar with several different airlines.  A few routes I flew so often, the flight crew began to recognize me.

I almost didn't read this book because the reviews on Goodreads were so negative.  But I decided to give it a try and I'm so glad I did.

I really liked this book.  It's so well written, reads very quickly.  It's funny and interesting.  Because I've spent so much time on planes, I felt I could relate to a lot of it.  Those awkward conversations with strangers, the way the two of you exchange information that you don't even tell your closest acquaintances because here on the plane you have the safety of knowing you'll probably never see this person again.  This book brought back so many memories of encounters on planes.  The fast, fleeting friendships that usually end once we touch the ground.

There's also the main characters conflict with his job.  Again I felt I could on some level relate to this. For years - nine years to be exact - I had one of those jobs that no one really understood.  Truth is, I wasn't even certain as to what I did -- international news distribution - but whatever anyone assumed it was, it probably wasn't.  Selling a product that doesn't really exist, because it's just an idea, and its success depends on convincing other people that the service exists even though it's just an idea.  None of that makes sense,does it?  It's not supposed to.

But this character, he's not just a weekend traveller, as I was.  He travels all the time.  At this point, he doesn't even have a home.  He's got his things in storage somewhere.  He's let his place go, let his car go.  He rents, he stays in hotels.  He's liquidated his life.

He's trying to get one million miles before his boss finds out he's quit his job.  He says he wants to work from home.  He's trying to write a book, trying to get a job with another company that is selling an idea or a service that isn't quite defined.  He's moving from place to place, in a mad rush to accomplish his goals and also save his sister's wedding and keep his family happy.  But all this travel, all this moving from city to city, it's starting to wear him down and his past is beginning to catch up with him.

There are hints throughout the story that something is amiss, something a little more jarring than mere confusion over extensive air travel.  But even with the warnings, the last few pages threw me.   I'm not sure I understood what happened.  I sort of do, but I'm not certain I "got it."  I didn't like the ending, didn't like it at all.  Or maybe I just felt so connected to the character after sharing his hectic journey that I wasn't ready to let go.  I especially didn't like the way I had to let go.  Didn't like what I was reading.  I wanted to keep going, and I wanted to find out more.

Overall though, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who has spent a substantial amount of time traveling through airports and airplanes.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Hardball by Sara Paretsky

Hardball is the first VI Warshawski book I've read.  I believe it may be the 13th or 15th in the series.  Based on this book, I don't feel especially compelled to read the other books in the series.

This book never really grabbed me, or put me in a position where I just couldn't put it down.  In fact, about mid-way through, I considered not even finishing the book because I didn't care what happened next.

VI is a private detective, and she's trying to find someone who disappeared thirty years or forty years earlier.  But as soon as she begins the investigation, people start coming after her.  Then you find out that her cousin is involved and her uncle and her dad, and it all seems a bit too coincidental and absurd.  There's lots of action -- bad guys attacking her and fires and break-ins, but none of it feels very natural.  As I read it, I found myself thinking, over and over again that it all seems a bit ridiculous. 

I tend to prefer British mysteries, which involve a lot more brain power to solve the crime, less jumping out of windows and hiding in cases for musical instruments and frequent stays in hospitals.

Despite all that action, it all seemed a bit boring, or rather a lot boring.  I didn't care about the characters very much.  None of them -- except for the neighbor downstairs -- seemed like people I would ever want to meet or be around.  So it didn't matter to me if they got hurt, or lost or went missing forever.
Maybe if I'd read the other books in the series, I would care more.  But there are so many other books I'd rather read, going to stay away from these in the future.

finished reading:  August 29, 2010

Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

I love Paris and try to learn as much as I can about the city.  My summer visits to Paris also have increased my interest in World War II.  In the U.S., reading about that time period, it all seems very distant and remote.  But in Paris and in much of Europe, the war happened right there.  It was my love of Paris and my interest in WWII that drew me to this book.

The summary I read of Julie Orringer's Invisible Bridge described the book as a love story between a young, Jewish Hungarian college student and an older ballerina in Paris, on the eve of war.  I imagined it to be a passionate love story with a gorgeous, tragic Paris setting. 

It is a love story, but not exactly what I expected.  It's much more than a love story and not quite as, well, passionate as I expected it to be.  I'm not even sure what I mean by that, I just know I was expecting a different book than what this actually was.  That doesn't mean I didn't like the book, I liked it very much.  The story of the student, Andras, meeting the ballerina, Klara, in Paris is simply the beginning of a much broader story.  Also, the fact that she's a few years older than him doesn't seem to be that big of a deal.  She does have a teenage daughter, that she had when she was only a teenager, which makes things a bit complicated.

But this story isn't just about their relationship, it's more about the ways some horrible events over which they had no control derailed their lives and their plans.  And it isn't just about these two people and how they were effected, but rather how everyone in their families, in their neighborhoods and in their country was effected.

This book is so very well written, once I got started, I didn't want to put it down, but at the same time, I was so horrified by what was happening that I was hesitant to continue, knowing things would only get worse.  The author manages to transport the reader into a time and place in history, and makes it feel as if we are living in that time period.  While I was reading this book, I couldn't stop thinking about it when I was away from the book and at night I would have dreams about the book. 

The characters have to leave Paris, and return to Budapest where much of the story takes place.  I liked the scenes in Paris best, because I could visualize the areas mentioned.  I've never been to Budapest.  Once they reach Budapest though, Andras is sent to a work camp and everything is downhill from there.  I suppose that's when I had to accept that this wasn't going to be some steamy, Parisian love story of two people escaping the Nazis.

My only issue with the book is that I found I did not like Klara.  There was something so selfish about her.  She was a beautiful woman who was used to men taking care of her.  Even with this younger man, she seemed to expect the same from him -- despite her claims that she could take care of herself.  And yes, she raised a daughter on her own, but she had a wealthy, married man helping her out financially.  Only when he moved on and decided to take of his own wife that she became involved with Andras.  Before him, her father was risking everything for her, and afterward, it was her brother having to save her.  Even after they'd lost almost everything, with no hope in sight, her husband in a work camp, her entire family living in a small apartment, she keeps getting pregnant.  Pretty sure that even then, there were precautions that could be taken until they were in a more stable situation. 

Throughout the book, I never warmed to that character, and I thought I would after she revealed her horrible secret, but I didn't.  I felt bad for her, but even then, it seemed like she made a decision that she had to have known would have a bad result.  (Not going to give it away because it's a fairly big revelation in the book.)

Despite not really liking Klara though, I really did like the book and would readily recommend it to anyone interested in that time period, or anyone simply wanting a big, engrossing book to get lost in for a few days.

It is tragic because how could it not be in that place and time.  It's truly horrifying to realize that those things happened in this world.  It's even more horrifying to know that others sat by and did nothing as it happened.  Maybe it was so horrible they couldn't believe it was really happening, but I don't know.  Seems like a lot of people readily turned away from the horror and thought they would be fine because it didn't directly affect them.  They thought it was just a small group of crazies, and then that small group took over their countries and everyone suffered.  There's a scene where the "illegal immigrants" are shot because they can't find their papers quickly enough and I couldn't help but think about how many people in this country would be just fine with that.  I can't help but think about our own country and how we allow the zealots to spout their craziness, their hatred for anyone who has a different religion or a darker shade of skin.  We have people in Arizona who think it's okay to harass anyone with dark skin, we have crazies blabbing on and on about how we need to blur the lines between church and state and allow their particular brand of religion into law.  Anyone who worships differently, or not at all is considered evil.  Most of all though, when I read a book like this, I worry that we've learned nothing from history.

finished reading around 3 a.m. Sept., 12, 2010

Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici by Jeanne Kalogridis

For the past few years, I've visited Europe once a year.  As anyone who has ever been to Europe knows, it's impossible to visit without seeing buildings that once housed royalty.  Much to my own embarrassment, I don't know a whole lot about the history of these building or the people who once inhabited them.  My history classes were taught by football coaches.  While I'm visiting, I read what I can at the location or in my guidebook and always wish I knew more, and then make plans to do more research before my next trip.  As soon as I return home, I visit the library, and check out a stack of books about the Anne Boleyn and Marie Antoinette.  Usually they sit in a stack by my bed for a few months, then summer fades and I become too busy with school to read and by the time summer rolls around again and I'm packing my bags for Europe, I find myself really wishing I'd read those books.  (I should clarify, I'm not completely ignorant, probably know a bit more about history than the average person, but I'm the sort who always wants to know more and when I'm walking through the Tower of London or the Palace of Versailles, I get frustrated when I can't quickly identify the names and time periods and activities of the people mentioned on the placards.)

This summer in Paris, I wandered into the Gardens of Luxembourg and saw the Medici fountain.  I didn't even though the Medici family ruled in France -- that's how ignorant I was on this.  I knew of this family only through their connection with Florence.

Shortly after returning from Paris, while at the library, I noticed this book, The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici.  (I'd seen the book once before my trip, at a book store, but at the time I was looking for novels about the Tudors, so I set it aside, but added it to my reading list.)  The Medici fountain still fresh on my mind, I checked out the book.

I have to admit, I also was intrigued by the mention of the Queen's association with dark magic.  Magic is something I find of interest, especially the role it has played in history.  We live in a society that wants us to believe that all magic is nothing more than fiction, despite proof that it's been around for centuries.

I was a little hesitant about the book after reading some other reviews, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It's a well written, interesting story.  There are some soap opera-ish elements to the story, which make it quite intriguing, but I'm not sure of the accuracy.  It's a novel, not a history book, so, of course, some liberties were taken.  The conversation is written in a modern tone, which makes the story accessible, in my opinion. 

I found Catherine to be a fascinating character.  She was very determined to save herself and especially those she cared about.  However, this determination often caused her to make some dangerous decisions.  The character in the story realizes too late the mistakes she's made and finds herself in a difficult position to try to remedy what she's done.

Also, a benefit of the novel is that it did provide some historical information about this time period and these people.  Catherine's sons are kings during a time in which France was involved in a very bloody religious wars.  Such good Christians, slaughtering people to prove their way of worship is better. 

What I liked best about the book though is that Catherine is living in the Louvre during her time in Paris.  The Louvre is my favorite place in Paris, maybe my favorite place in the world.  Not only does it house thousands of works of art, but was also once a royal residence.  Every time I visit, I think of the artists, as well as the kings and queens that once called that place home.  I enjoyed reading this and trying to picture the events happening in the same corridors where millions of tourists now wander to view art.  Now though, I am in search of a map of the Louvre during the time of Catherine de Medici, so that I can see what parts of the building she and her family occupied, because I know that over the last few centuries there have been many changes to the former fortress.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and it has prompted me to seek out more information about the people mentioned in the story.  Also, I should probably mention, the Medici fountain isn't even named after Catherine, but rather another Medici who only has one mention in this book.  Marie de Medici's role in French history didn't happen until after the events in this book.

finished reading: Oct. 3, 2010

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Invisible Bridge

Right now, I'm reading a book called The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.  I'm not very far into the book, but already, I really like the way it's written.

Maybe I'm in a sappy mood, but I think the following sentence might be one of the greatest lines I've ever read in a book:  But he could no sooner have sent her away than he could have dismissed geometry from architecture, or the cold from January, or the winter sky from outside his window.

Really looking forward to reading the rest of this book.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Random book talk - coincidence, TV and movies

After I finished Suite Francaise, I started reading Sara Paretsky's Hardball.  I don't usually like reading books that are part of a series unless I've read all the books in the series.  But for some reason, I decided to go ahead and read this.  I'd seen a pop up add that said if I liked Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I should read Hardball.
I was checking out a stack of books, I saw Hardball on the new release shelf, so I got it.

On page 110, VI Warshawski is reading Suite Francaise.  I thought that was an odd coincidence, since I just finished reading that book.

In other book news, I'm really liking the show, Rizzoli and Isles.  I checked out a couple of the books -- including the first one (because I like to start at the beginning of a series).  Hope I like it.

And on the subject of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - I read they've cast the part of Lisbeth Salander.  I've never heard of the actress - Rooney Mara, but she has a huge job ahead of her, taking on the role of possibly the coolest fictional character ever!  I really like the casting of Daniel Craig and Robin Wright.  In the Swedish movie, I didn't think the person playing Erika was attractive enough.  I loved the person playing Lisbeth, but I had quite a few issues with the movie.  They changed several things from the movie.  I'm looking forward to the new version.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

I bought a copy of this book last year, after I returned from a trip to Paris.  When I take trips, nice trips, I tend to want to continue living them.  Several people on a travel forum recommended this book so I went and bought a copy, not knowing much about it.  Honestly, with regard to extending my time in Paris, it wouldn't have been effective.  This is more about the effects of World War II on Paris and France.  I didn't get around to reading it last summer though because I suppose school started and once I realized it was about the war, I was afraid it might be a bit heavy and emotional for escaping the classroom stress - which is why I read books during the school year.

This summer, I packed the book in my suitcase before my trip to Paris.  I had another book to read, and was carrying this as my "backup" book.  I didn't start the book until I got on the plane leaving Paris.  It's divided into two parts and I read the entire first part on the plane from Paris to Boston.  Then I set the book aside and didn't return to it for a few weeks.

In order to fully appreciate the book, it's important to know a bit of background about how this story.  It's unfinished and is only two parts of the author's intended five.  The story wasn't published until almost sixty years after it was written.  The notebook in which it was written was in a suitcase belonging to her daughters, and it traveled with them for years as they hid from the Nazis.  Her daughters assumed it was a journal, and they didn't read it, thinking it would be too painful.  When they did finally read it, they discovered what became Suite Francaise, as well as notes about how the author wanted the story to progress.

The story takes place in occupied France.  The first part, Storm in June, is the story of people fleeing Paris as the city is claimed by the German army.  The city is in a complete panic.  Nemirovsky introduces several different characters, from various backgrounds, with different interests.  She doesn't paint a very flattering view of the people in her city.  There are the rich people more concerned about their possessions than they are their neighbors.  They're driving around with a vehicle loaded down with dishes and bed linens while people are walking along the roads, with no other means to escape.  Some of the people are quite horrible, arrogant and cruel, others kind and generous, doing all they can to assist those in such a desperate situation.

I thought some of the stories were a little strange and melodramatic, which I assume is the result of the story being the author's first draft.  (At the end of the book, it describes her writing process, how she'd write everything she could think of, then go back and edit.  Even in her notes she mentions not liking an event that I found a bit too awful.)

One thing to keep in mind about this is that the author wrote these stories as she was living the experience.  This is not a case of a someone writing a story based on history or family stories.  Nemirovsky was in Paris as this was happening.  She saw the people around her going through this.

The second part, Dolce, takes place in a village occupied by the German army.  Again, this story is based on the author's experience of living in an occupied village.  I think what's most interesting about the story is the way she objectively views the French and the German citizens.  She paints a very sympathetic view of the Germans, pointing out that these soldiers are in some ways in as dire a situation as the people who's homes they are occupying.  She describes them as young men, far away from home, in a place where they don't speak the language, living among people who hate them.  Also, it's clear that she is not especially proud of the way the French behaved during this time, so eager to tell on each other if they thought it would benefit themselves.

The story ends with the German army leaving the village and moving on to fight in Russia.

I liked the second part of the book better than the first.  There was more of a continuous storyline.  The characters were more developed and more likable. 

She never finished the story, and in her notes even mentioned that she wasn't entirely sure how it would end, that it was in God's hands.  Because, of course, she didn't know how the war would end.

Before she finished the book, she was taken to a concentration camp, where she died.

Knowing that made me so sad, because here she'd written this story in which she clearly didn't hate the German army.  She seemed to understand that it was a war, they were only following orders.  And yet, these men that she portrayed so kindly are the same ones who took her from her family and led her to her death.

My copy of the book had notes in the back and a series of letters from her husband to others, trying to get her returned to her family.  It's clear that the family didn't know the full horrors of what was happening at the camps.  He kept writing and trying to find her, long after she'd died.  He eventually met the same fate, never knowing what happened to her.  It says that after the war their children would go meet the trains that had the survivors on it, hoping to see their parents return. 

I think this book is especially valuable in the way that it provides a unique perspective of the war and its effects on the people.  This isn't a history book or a tale of famous leaders and soldiers, but rather a picture of the lives of the people who suffer as the result of these leaders' actions.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Prospect Park West by Amy Sohn

As I was walking to the checkout desk in the library, I noticed this on a shelf.

I've never been to Park Slope or Prospect Park. But I've heard of the area, haven't we all? The place where people like to take strollers into bars -- because all babies deserve to be exposed to alcohol! Weird. Also, I know of a guy who got married, moved to Park Slope and disappeared. He was a bit of a jerk, and a liar, so it amuses me greatly to picture him, overweight and sloppy (he sort of already was) walking through the park with his frumpy wife, pushing a stroller with a screaming, messy kid in it -- just like the people in this book.

I thought this book was hilarious. It's about four women, all mothers living near Prospect Park. They're obsessed with their addresses, and more importantly, their school zones. There's Karen, the crazy mom who puts knee pads on her kid before he plays on the playground because, you know, children should never have skinned knees. (Parents like this are why kids are so messed up -- I'm a teacher, I've seen the damage first hand.) She's obsessed with finding property in the "right" school zone and she's trying to get pregnant again. She's also stalking one of the celebrities on the block.

Melora was a child star, now married to a handsome Australian actor and raising their adopted child. She's also a drug addict, and struggling to hold onto her career, and not all that interested in being a mom. And yet, I probably liked her a bit more than some of the other women in this story.

Lizzie was a lesbian -- a hasbian is what she calls herself -- until she married a guy in a band. He's always on the road, leaving her alone with their son. She's not as status conscious as the other moms and doesn't seem to fit in with the crowd at the playground. But she's so happy when she thinks she meets a normal mom - Rebbecca.

Rebbecca hasn't had sex since her one and half year old daughter was born, and that's pretty much all she thinks about. She's so self absorbed. Her husband won't go near her because she's mean and insanely jealous of the attention he gives their daughter. She's a horrible person and gets worse as the book continues.

These women are all messed up in some way. There's women are pathetic and damaged. But reading about their troubles was amusing to me. In fact, it gives me a sense of superiority to read this and be so very glad that I don't have their problems.

I liked the book. Granted, it's not great literature, but it was entertaining. I got through the book quickly, not wanting to put it down at night. As I described it to someone, I equate reading things like this to watching Real Housewives on Bravo. I know it's wrong, but they make me laugh. Sometimes, it's okay to indulge in our guilty pleasures.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Girl Who Played with Fire, and Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Rather than write a separate post for each book, I'm just writing one for all three. It's a long one, and it's mostly me gushing over the books. But I don't want to say too much for fear of giving something away.

When I imagine Lisbeth Salander, I automatically hear the Mission Impossible music playing or maybe something from the Matrix soundtrack, something that sounds big and powerful, and I see her walking forward, calmly, steadily, a bullet in her head, blood on her face, a weapon in her hand, her shirt is torn, her arms are scraped up, but she remains invincible as she leaves behind a trail of destruction in her wake. I see towering flames, buildings falling and explosions going off behind her, but none of it fazes her in the least. She’s done with that shit, she’s moving on to the next bastard who needs his ass kicked.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
My image of Salander is based only on the books. I plan to watch the first movie later tonight, but I wanted to write my review of the books first because I don’t want the movie to influence what I write.

This morning I finished reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. It’s the third in the Millennium series, or The Girl Trilogy, as I’ve seen it called. The series that begins with Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, continues into Girl Who Played with Fire and ends with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
I have been so engrossed in the world created by these books. There are times it’s all I can think about it. When I wasn’t reading, I was wishing I was reading – more so than normal. I just wanted to get back to the books. When I went to sleep, I dreamed about this world – and that wasn’t such a good thing. But I was that sucked in.

Difficult to believe that I avoided these books for so long.

I’ve been hearing about these books for a while. It’s not possible to walk into a bookstore or past any sort of book display without seeing them. But I wasn’t going to get sucked into the hype. I really didn’t have any interest in reading them. I could try to come up with a sensible reason as to why I didn’t want to read them – over exposure, not wanting to follow the crowd, too violent. But the truth is, I’m very particular about the crime novels I read. I tend to only read crime novels by women. In fact, I tend to only read books by women and anytime I read something by a man, I often find I regret it. I didn’t want to read these books because they were written by a man. Call it reverse sexism or whatever, but there it is.

As I was getting ready to leave for a two week trip to Europe, I became desperate to find a book to read on the trip. I would be spending lots of time on planes and trains and I’m the type that always has to have a book with me. I needed something that wouldn’t take up too much space, wasn’t too heavy, but would last for a while. I needed something interesting, and I wanted something European.

So I gave in to the Swedish crime novels that have topped the bestseller lists. If that many people loved the book, then it couldn’t be that bad. Also, I’d become more curious about the books after reading an article about the author in Vanity Fair. Most importantly though, the book would fit in my purse.

I ended up not reading it on the plane. I flew first class and had my own entertainment video system, so I watched movies the entire trip. When I ended up reading it was on the underground in London. Tip for solo travelers: always take a book. If you’re sitting there reading, you look like you know where you’re going, what you’re doing, and not like a lost, lonesome tourist.

The first book is very slow in the beginning. Lots of background and legal info. I think it took about 130 pages before I really felt like I was absorbed into the book. I was on the train from London to Paris when it happened.
I carried that book all over Paris with me, not realizing that the Millennium 2 movie poster I passed in the metro every day was for a movie based on Girl Who Played with Fire.

I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on my last night in Paris. I thought I’d be able to pick up a copy of the sequel at the airport. The books were all over London. But the Paris airport – at least the section I was in – is a horrible place. I finally found a display of “foreign” books. They had about ten books in English, one of the books was Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. But Girl Who Played with Fire couldn’t be found. Luckily, I had another book to read on the plane from Paris to Boston. In the Boston airport, the first thing I did was find a bookstore and buy a copy of the sequel. I think I paid more for that book than I’ve ever paid for a paperback, probably more than I’ve ever paid for a hardback. But I wanted it right then so that I could read it on the plane back to Dallas. Then I promptly fell asleep after the plane took off. Typical.

Reading the books has almost felt like taking another trip across the ocean.

What I absolutely loved about the books is the character of Lisbeth Salander. She’s everything a person wants to be and should strive to be. She’s brilliant and strong and doesn’t give a damn about what anyone thinks of her. She’s in complete control of her emotions and actions. When someone hurts her or someone she cares about, she goes after that person. But not in a blind rage, she puts together an effective strategy and carefully puts it into place. She believes in taking responsibility for every action, never making excuses. She had a horrible childhood filled with abuse and torture and bureaucratic mishaps and she survived it all and made herself stronger as a result of it.

She's described as being 4’11” and thin, and yet she never backs down from a fight against someone bigger than her. To me, she is the perfect mixture of action and intellect. She does just as much, or more, fighting with her mind. I can’t remember the last time I loved a character this much. I can’t stop thinking about her, and am so sad that the series is over.

As I said, I initially avoided these books because I tend to not read books written by men. With that attitude, I was pleased to discover that the female characters in this series were, for the most part, strong women. The series is filled with women who care about their careers and their families, women who don't simper in a corner and wait for a man to save them, women who aren’t afraid to fight back. When a character calls for a body guard, it’s a woman that shows up to handle the job. The two toughest police officers in the story happen to be women. Also, the men who have problems with these women are viewed as complete idiots. It is clear that these books were written by a man who respected women, understood the kinds of adversity women often face, and did not in any way regard them as the weaker sex. It breaks my heart to know that there won’t be any more books written by him. (The author died after writing the third book. Supposedly, there is part of a fourth book written and maybe an outline for up to ten books.)

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Vintage)I read somewhere that the original title for the first book is something along the lines of Men Who Hate Women. I’m glad they changed it, because I like that the focus is put on Salander, but at the same time, the first title makes sense. The villains in the story are pure evil and sadistic and their cruelty is directed at women.

I have to admit, there was one scene that was so horrible, I very seriously considered setting the book down in the seat next to me on the Paris metro and leaving it there. I felt ill and stopped reading and looked around me, horrified by what I’d read. Of course, I realized no one around me knew what I’d just read. I didn’t think I could continue reading the book. I like my crime novels to be more intellectual, less physical. But I knew if I left the book there, I’d be wondering what happened next, so I kept reading. The horror was balanced by the brilliant way in which Salander sought her vengeance. I realized that what happened had to be that horrible in order to show the extent of Salander’s determination. Still, consider yourself warned.

I think the second book probably moved the quickest. I found parts of the third book slow, again it was because of extensive, but necessary background information. Once I got through that, the action picked up again. I had a few issues with one of the characters - Berger. I thought the author went overboard with describing her insatiable sexual needs. But, then again, I am something of a prude. Also, in the third book, I felt like the storyline involving Berger got in the way of the main storyline. He sort of tied it all together, but I think the book would have been fine without it. At this point in the series I was really disliking this character and just wanted her to go away.

Overall, though, I can’t remember the last time I got this excited about a series of books -- probably when I was reading books 1-4 of the Harry Potter series. I’m disappointed that despite the books’ popularity, it seems no one I know has read them, so I have no one to discuss them with. I could go on for hours and as lengthy as what I’ve written is, I cut out a couple of pages. (Not kidding.) So if anyone would like to borrow my books, feel free, then we can get together for dinner and discuss them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Believers by Zoe Heller

A friend of mine mentioned this book in her facebook status. She recommended it with a warning for those sensitive to stories about dysfunctional families. Hmmm... sounds right up my alley.

What I liked about this book, is what I liked about the other Zoe Heller book I've read (Notes from a Scandal). She has a knack for creating complex characters. They're real people, not good or bad, just people, trying to do the best they can to get through the day. She lets her readers into her characters' heads and provides an understanding as to why they do and say the things they do.

This particular story is about a family in which the father has just suffered a stroke. The story isn't necessary about the father's stroke, but rather begins at that point. Then the reader learns about the mother and the two daughters and their adopted son. I suppose the best way to describe this book is that it's about a family and the different personalities that make up a family. It's about the difficult interactions between parents and siblings. Everyone is searching for meaning in their own way - through work or religion or politics or relationships or most likely some sort of combination of those elements.

The family was very politically minded, the father a well-known lawyer fighting for social justice. His wife stood proudly by his side, her identity tied closely to his. They raised their children to think and believe as they did. One daughter went to Cuba and then decided to devote herself to helping young girls in New York City and another married an important man in a union. But both begin to realize they aren't satisfied in their lives. Maybe because they were living the lives their parents told them to live, and not the lives they wanted.

As adults the children are beginning to question their beliefs and trying to figure out what is real and what works for them.

I enjoyed this book. I liked the daughters. I felt so close to them and wanted so much for them to find happiness. I thought the mother was a bit horrible, but I think she truly believed in the life she'd left, which I assume is where the title comes from. She believed and wanted her family to do the same. The family was very opposed to religion, but in a way, created their own religion in their home. But with their leader -- their father -- gone, the foundation of this "religion" begins to crumble. Their reality becomes an illusion as the truth emerges.

I do recommend this book. It's an interesting, well-written story.

Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters

Minette Walters is one of my favorite authors. I like her books that include strong, tough women. This book had a bit of that with the character of Jackson, but not as much as her other books.

This is the story of Charles, a solider who returns home with a disfigured face. He ends up linked to several violent crimes. Luckily for him, Jackson, a doctor, who is also part owner of the pub where he gets drunk and gets in a fight, takes pity on him. Without her assistance, Charles would have ended up in jail, with no way to defend himself.

I really liked the character of Jackson. But the story had so many coincidences that it became a little difficult to believe. Some of the conclusions they arrive at about the effects of abuse seemed a little far out. I don't want to give away what happened, but it was weird.

This book was okay, but not anywhere near Walters best work.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

I really liked Nick Hornby's Long Way Down, so when I saw this on the new release shelf at the library, I picked it up. A story about a musician, a person obsessed with that musician, and that person's girlfriend. Being that I love music and know a bit about people being obsessed with music, I thought the story sounded interesting.

First there's Duncan, the fan who spends all his time obsessing over this musician, Tucker Crowe, and communicating with other obsessed fans on a message board. If you've ever visited an online forum for a band, you've seen these people. They analyze everything, each lyric and guitar chord. They know setlists and cities and dates and anything and everything that has to do with the musician. Duncan's girlfriend Annie has been with him for years. It's on a trip to America, while visiting Tucker Crowe-associated sites, that Annie begins to realize she's growing tired of Duncan and his obsession. She's beginning to think she wants more out of life. She's comfortable with Duncan, but she's longing for something more than simple comfort.

One day, while going through the mail, she opens a package for Duncan. It's a CD called Juliet, Naked. It's a stripped down version of Crowe's CD, Juliet. This version is simply demos and unfinished tracks. Much to Duncan's horror, she listens to the CD before he gets home.

After listening to the CD, Duncan posts a long review on his message board, claiming Juliet, Naked is the greatest thing he's ever heard. Annie, having listened to the CD before Duncan, posts a response saying that it's ridiculous and insulting to claim these unfinished tracks are better than the studio production. Clearly a lot of work went into the finished piece, and to claim the "naked" version is superior is to disregard all that work.

Much to Annie's surprise she receives a Private Message from someone agreeing with her response and claiming to be Tucker Crowe.

The story that follows is about Annie and Duncan splitting up and Annie's online flirtation with Tucker Crowe. Annie is trying to figure out what she wants in her life, as is Tucker Crowe.

I enjoyed this book. It's a funny story and the characters are likable and real. As with Hornby's other books, the story moves quickly.

I thought the ending was a little too sappy, but overall, I do recommend this book, especially to music fans.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I read this book because I was curious about the movie. It sounded interesting, but I don't know that I really ever understood what it was about. A married couple who wanted more out of life. They were going to be different - "revolutionary."

I just happened to see the book on a shelf at the library and decided to check it out.

I so wish I hadn't.

I didn't like this book at all. The couple were two extremely selfish, arrogant people. They were convinced they were better than everyone else. Completely and totally convinced. And yet, I never learned anything about them to convince me that they were smarter or more attractive or at all better than the people they seemed to despise.

The husband is so pleased that he manages to do nothing at work. In fact, he is described as selecting the job because it was one of those big companies that no one would notice if he did nothing. We all hate our jobs at some point, and office jobs can be especially soul sucking, but we figure out ways to compensate for that. You either look for work that does have meaning, or you try to create a meaningful life outside of work. He's quite content to just brood about how boring his life his. How he deserves to live in Europe because life is better there.

His wife is equally horrible, convinced of her husband's brilliance and her own, by association with him.

His wife does at least make an attempt to do something to change their lives. She decides they're going to move to Europe. She's listened to her husband all these years and is convinced that is the cure. She starts making plans to get a civil service job of some sort. I didn't really understand that part. It seemed to be very easy for her to apply and get this job, despite the fact that she'd not worked in years.

But her action is, in a way, calling her husband's bluff. What is he going to do in Europe? He's not an artist or a writer or an inventor. How is he going to uncover his true potential in Europe? This is when you realize that all he wanted to do was complain. He never though moving would be a possibility, and now that it is, he's panicking. Also, at this point, he's finally starting to get involved in his office job and isn't sure he wants to leave.

The husband is such a jerk. He's always thinking about himself and how he looks and what impression he's leaving on others. Some of the descriptions of conversations between him and his wife were so bothersome. They never spoke to each other like two people who knew each other and cared about each other. He was always playing a role. I got so frustrated with them, why didn't they just talk to each other and tell each other how they were feeling.

These two people didn't love each other, they didn't even like each other. They liked the impression other people had of them. He was handsome and she was pretty and they liked the way they looked together.

Their plans to move fall apart because of their carelessness. The situation looks to only be worsening and April again finds herself trying to make things better. I suppose the ending is sad, but I disliked the characters so much I didn't care all that much.

finished reading: June 15, 2010

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

I like the way Hoffman interjects bits of magic into seemingly normal, every day stories. She does it so casually, in such a matter of fact way, that a reader almost believes that magic must exist around us, just as it does in Hoffman's books. At least that's what I choose to believe and I suppose these books seem to validate my own beliefs. There are fairies hovering in the window, demons hiding in the corners, pure thoughts create pure action, just as anger conjures evil.

The Story Sisters: A Novel is about three sisters in New York City who also have family in Paris that they visit. Their parents split up and their lives begin to fall apart. They try to cope by creating a magical world of their own, their own language and magical creatures. But then something truly horrible happens to one of the sisters and sets her on a path of self destruction. The magic created with her sisters loses its power and she turns to harsh reality of theft and drugs and sex.

I understand that we're supposed to feel sympathetic toward Elv because what happened was very bad and this is her way of coping. But she did terrible things to her family. She was so self-absorbed and didn't seem to care about who she was hurting. I hated her. As a reader, I knew that she'd had this bad experience (something the other characters in the story didn't know) but I still didn't feel sorry for her. She didn't seem tough, she seemed pathetic. Her actions ended up ruining the lives of the people who loved her the most. Any time someone tried to help her, she did her best to hurt that person more.

It's a very sad book, one tragedy after another. To some extent it seemed like too much. These sisters did nothing to deserve such a horrible life and yet things kept getting worse for them.

What I did like about the book though was the scenes in Paris. One of the sisters, Claire, goes to Paris to try to get away from the sadness. Her grandmother is there, and all of her grandmothers friends provide the support system that she needs to move on with her life. I loved the descriptions of Paris and the different colors in the sky. I thought of that on my recent trip to Paris, and I noticed the colors in the sky, the pink and orange and yellow as the sun sets in the evening. Also, when I walked around some of the neighborhoods, I noticed the little glass figures in the windows of shops and I thought of Claire's creations.

There's a hint of happily ever after in the end. The bad sister seeking redemption and I suppose we're expected to view her as a recovered person, but I felt too wary based on her past actions. I couldn't forgive, even if the rest of her family did.

I suppose I liked the book, without liking all of the characters.

finished reading a bit before 5 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

An employee at Borders recommended this book. I told my book club about it and we decided to read it.

This is a story about a little girl who doesn't speak. She's a selective mute. She can speak, but she won't. She and her friend disappear one morning and the novel is about the family and law officers attempt to figure out what happened and find the children.

It's been a while since I read this, so I don't remember the exact details. I remember that the story held my interest. I didn't find it boring. But I also remember that the storyline seemed to get a little absurd. There were several villains in this story, and one seemed to appear near the end and wasn't really tied to the rest of the story. I don't want to give away spoilers, but I thought it seemed a bit odd.

What mostly stands out to me though is the mother in the story. There are few things that annoy me more than the sympathetic treatment of a neglectful mother. The mother in this story is portrayed as so pretty and so innocent and so abused and weak. All the men want her, even if just to make sure the other men can't have her. She made me so angry, and I don't think that was the author's intention. As I was reading this though, I felt like the mother was largely to blame because she should have gathered her children and gotten the hell out of the abusive situation in which they lived. She had family and friends who would have helped her, but she instead chose to be dependent on a man who beat her.

It was an okay book. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either. I didn't like the characters very much. I even found the little girl annoying. Maybe it's just my general dislike of small town, rural life and their different value system that annoyed me. I'm a city girl and I like reading about people in cities.

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

I am a huge fan of the TV show, Bones. Bones is based on the life of Kathy Reichs, who writes a series of books about a character named Temperance Brennan. If you watch the show, you may have noticed that in the show, Temperance (Bones) is a novelist, who writes a series of books about a character named Kathy Reichs. Anyway... Deja Dead is the first book in the Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brenan series. I'm always looking for a good mystery novel, and a great series to dive into would be especially nice, so I decided to start with this book.

I liked the story well enough. But the character of Temperance is so, so different from the character on the show. In the book, she lives in Canada and she's a recovering alcoholic and divorced with a grown daughter. She seems tired and weary and sad. She seems to be missing a lot of the traits that I love about the character on the show. On the show, Bones doesn't care about dating, she's not worried about her family, she's too involved in work to pay attention to anything else.

If I could view this book as something completely separate from the show, I may have liked it more. But I was a little disappointed. Also, I felt there were some weird coincidences. She happens to be helping out on a case and then, oh look at that, the killer is also stalking her because he happens to have newspaper articles about her in his house. I remember thinking that was odd because he would have had to have targeted her before he had any clue that she would be involved. I was also bothered that the criminal was able to get so close to her, and there seemed to be a lot of physical violence. I think I've said before, I'm more drawn to the intellectual investigations, less direct involvement with the killers.

I wanted to like this book so much that I would felt compelled to read the rest of the series. But I didn't feel that. I may read the other books, but I didn't feel the need to rush out and get the second book.

Finished reading Jan. 18 around 4 a.m.