Monday, March 1, 2010

Top Ten Books of 2009

My Top Ten for 2009, I cheated a little by combining the two Hunger Games books as one entry, the top 3 books were my hands down favorites for the year. All books link to a complete review on Amazon:

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Hunger Games/Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
John Adams by David Mccullough
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Blue Notebook by James Levine

2009 Year End Totals

Total Books Read: 49
Audio Books: 15
Total Books Read: 64
Total Pages Read: 17,835
Total Hours Audio: 170
Average Pages per Book: 364

The Sari Shop Widow

Book No: 64
Title: The Sari Shop Widow
Author: Shobhan Bantwal
Genre: Chick Lit
Completed: 12/18/09
No. of Pages: 352
Rating: 3/5*****

The Sari Shop Widow was a pleasant if predictable “girl meets boy, they don’t like each other yet are somehow deeply attracted to one another” genre of chick lit.

Anjali Kapadia is a young widow and the owner, with her parents, of a Sari Shop in the Little India section of New Jersey. When it becomes clear that the business is in trouble the Kapadia’s reach out to their business savvy relative for help. When Uncle Jeevan arrives her brings with him Rishi Shah, his mysterious and attractive protégé. Sparks soon fly between Anjuli and Rishi as they lock horns and battle their attraction to each other.

There is nothing groundbreaking here, despite the Indian cultural background. It was pretty standard fare, you know where the story is heading and how it will end, it’s a enjoyable enough story but it isn’t anything you haven’t read before. Even with all the cultural references the story could have been set anywhere. Speaking of those cultural references a glossary would have been helpful for all the Indian words that were referenced. Nice read for the beach or if you are looking for a light, fluffy read. Fortunately it was a Kindle freebie.

Suite Francaise

Book No: 63
Title: Suite Francaise
Author: Irene Nemirovsky
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 11/30/09
No. of Pages: NA
Rating: 4/5*****

This is the kind of book that the background of the story colors the way you feel about the work, much the way the knowledge of what happened to Anne Frank makes her diary all the more moving.

What we have in Suite Francaise is really an unfinished work in progress. The author was Irene Nemirovsky, a well known writer who fled Russia and settled in France. She converted to Catholicism upon her marriage but was sent to Auschwitz in 1942 where she died at age 39. Her belongings were in the possession of her children, but for 60 years they did not go through them all; when the manuscript for this book was found it was published an became an international best seller.

What is most compelling about Suite Francaise is the story was written as the chaos of WWII was happening all around the author. Originally planned to be a Suite in 5 parts Nemirovsky only finished the two novellas that complete this book. The first is Storm in June, which details the utter chaos that occurred when the Germans invaded France and made their way to Paris. The tone of this novella is in itself written in a disjointed sort of way, focusing on a few characters, but jumping around quite a bit, which in essence reflects the panic and chaos of the exodus. There are a few characters we come to care about, but Ms. Nemerovsky comes down hard on those of privilege who used their status to obtain special favors while others around them died in the streets. Of course in the end it is what we have within that sustains us all, courage and honor do not always follow class lines.

The second half of the book is called Dulce (sweet) and focuses on the behaviors of a small village in the countryside that is occupied by a German Army unit in the year between the French armistice and the beginning of the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Although a few characters from the first part of the book are referenced we are introduced to an entirely new set of people. This part of the story is slower paced, and examines how the lives of the oppressed often become intertwined with their oppressors. Friendships are formed; love affairs are born, while under it all resentment and anger also wells up.

Although I enjoyed the book overall I didn't love it, mostly because it does feel incomplete- which of course it is. I would love to have seen what this book could have become had it been completed the way the author wanted it to be. It is that feeling of being cheated of a wonderful talent that remains after the last page is turned, to be denied that chance to see what more this author could have given us. The appendices of the book that describe the background story make the reading of the book that much more compelling.

The Secret of Everything

Book No: 62
Title:The Secret of Everything
Author: Barbara O’Neal
Genre: Chick Lit
Completed: 11/30/09
No. of Pages: 386
Rating: 3/5*****

Tessa Harlow is a tour guide recovering from a terrible accident on her last tour, a tour that ended with a death and Tessa recovering from severe injuries. After months of recuperation she is looking to get back to work and heads to Las Ladrones, New Mexico to determine if it would be a good tour for her company. Tessa has a bit of a past there, she lived there as a child and almost drowned. While there Tessa comes face to face with her past and she begins to discover “The Secret of Everything”.

This book was an easy read, pretty standard chick lit fare; beautiful emotionally damaged woman meets incredibly handsome but equally damaged man, sparks and sex fly and together they help each other heal. Nothing earth shattering here, although there was a bit of an interesting mystery involving Tessa’s past. Some small magical realism bits seemed a little out of place. The characters were very likeable, especially the character of Natalie, a little girl grieving the loss of her mother. The descriptions of New Mexico make you want to pack your bags tomorrow. The storylines eventually come together in one big happy bow at the end, not too believable but if you just want to have a nice beach read this is the book for you.

Sleepwalking in Daylight

Book No: 61
Title: Sleepwalking in Daylight
Author: Elizabeth Flock
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 11/19/09
No. of Pages: 324
Rating: 2**/5*****

I read Emma & Me several years ago and thought it was an amazing story, so I was ready to like this book, but I really, really disliked it.

Samantha Friedman is locked in a loveless marriage with her extremely distracted husband. Looking to feel something Samantha begins a flirtation that leads to more. Her teenage daughter Cammy has been looking for happiness in all the wrong places; since learning she was adopted she has made friends with a questionable group, is taking drugs, drinking and having risky sexual encounters. Both women are desperately trying to escape their lives and eventually do, but in totally unexpected and shocking ways.

I have no problem with sad books, or books that deal with difficult subjects, but first and foremost I need to care about the characters. With the exception of Cammy there was nobody in this book I liked. Sam was so self-absorbed in her own search for happiness she does not see her daughter crying out for help over and over again. Bob the father is a one dimensional nobody that evoked no feelings in me at all. Craig, Sam’s possible boyfriend is a sneak and a liar. The only one I cared about was Cammy but her downward spiral became increasingly difficult to read. Unrelenting in its bleakness this was not an enjoyable read, after turning the last page I was just glad to be done with this depressing story.


Book No: 60
Title: Drood
Author: Dan Simmons
Genre: Historical Fiction
Completed: 11/13/09
No. of Pages: 782
Rating: 3/5*****

Six months after starting this book I am finally finished. I’m not a stranger to big chunky books, I’ve read quite a few and in much shorter time. This book just seemed to drag on and on without actually getting anywhere. A good editor was desperately needed to make this a faster paced and more enjoyable read.

This book is ostensibly a story about Charles Dickens and the character of Drood, which haunted Dickens for the last 5 years of his life, after his near fatal train accident. I thought it would be a fictional look at Drood and what influenced Dickens to write this mystery, something he hadn’t really attempted before. Unfortunately this book was really about Wilkie Collins and his love/hate relationship with Charles Dickens; his friend, competitor and perceived enemy.

It is really difficult to enjoy a book where you dislike the main protagonist so much. Wilkie Collins as depicted here is a completely unreliable narrator. He is an abuser of both morphine and opium and beyond that a man so eaten alive by his jealousy of Dickens that you cannot believe any of his retelling of events This book is told entirely from Collins point of view and there are literally hundreds of pages taken up with his life with two women, the meals he ate, the long walks and talks he had with Dickens about projects they were working on, ad infinitum; my eyes glazed over more than once. For a story entitled Drood, although his presence permeates the book, I don’t think the character was actually in 50 pages of the book.

There were some parts of this book that were really creepy and scary, but these scenes were interrupted by other scenes so tedious I couldn’t wait for them to be done. Half the time you are reading this book you are questioning Collins’ sanity or wondering if what you are reading is one of his drug induced hallucination. In point of fact the final answer to this question comes in about the last 50 pages or so and is a complete let-down. Mr. Charles Dickens does not fare too well in this tale either, making me wonder what the whole point of this book was, in the end I think it was really about the destruction that jealousy can cause in a person’s psyche.

Another aspect of the book that I found annoying were the very many plotlines that were left unanswered, what really happened to Agnes and Joseph Clow? What occurred during Wilkie’s many excursions and conversations with a myriad of people – were they all hallucinations? There were just too many plotlines left dangling.

There were so many glimmers of excellent writing in the story that I rated it a bit higher than I normally would. I do have Simmons’ The Terror in my reading stacks, another large book, but after this it maybe a while before I have the strength or desire to read it.

Die For You

Book No: 59
Title: Die for You
Author: Lisa Unger
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Completed: 11/9/09
No. of Pages: 352
Rating: 3/5*****

I’ve been a fan of Lisa Unger since her first book “Beautiful Lies” was published and I very much enjoyed her next two books. This book however was not up to par with her previous works.

The storyline has a good premise, what if your husband leaves for work and then disappears? What happens when you learn that your life for the past 5 years has been a total lie? This is exactly what happens to Isabel Raine; Marcus Raine goes to work, disappears and leaves the wreckage of all his lies and deceptions behind. Unable to understand what has happened Isabel begins to look for answers and puts herself and everyone around her at risk.

There were several things I did not like about this book, the main one was the protagonist. I just didn’t like Isabel very much, for a successful bestselling novelist she does some really bone head things. There were too many subplots; her sister Linda’s perfect marriage that is not quite so ideal; Detective Crowe’s marital problems; the death of the father that haunts both Isabel and Linda. Although I understand the question of trust is a huge part of the story it just seemed a little overdone and melodramatic. I don’t like when a book tells instead of shows, where two characters explain everything by having that confessional conversation, I find that to be a cop-out, it’s just too easy. Perhaps my two biggest problems involved the Prologue. Why write a prologue to a suspense novel that takes away all the suspense? Part of the fun of this kind of book is the question of what is going to happen. This thrill is gone from the start since we know who is telling the story. If you do write a prologue it should match up with the scene it foretells; the two scenes were completely different and that really annoyed me.

The book moves pretty quickly and the writing is generally very good, so I will probably read Ms. Unger’s next book. I’d also like to see a book that is a little different than the theme she has written about in all four of these books- although they are different stories they seem to be following the same pattern, I’d really like to see her tackle a different premise.

The Seance

Book No: 58
Title: The Séance
Author: John Harwood
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 11/03/09
No. of Pages: NA
Rating: 3/5*****

I love Victorian settings in books, I love gothic mysteries and I love a good ghost story, therefore I should have loved The Séance, unfortunately I didn’t love this book. It started out well but fell apart by the end, a similar complaint I had for The Ghost writer, Harwood’s first book. Once again I felt that the author didn’t know how to close out the story and started throwing in way too many surprises and twists, making the ending more complicated than necessary.

The story is told in three alternating narratives, Eleanor Unwin, Mistress of Wraxford Hall; John Montague, solicitor for Eleanor’s husband Magnus; Constance Langton, a young woman who has recently become the new owner of Wraxford hall, through an inheritance from a distant relative. Told by Montague to burn the house down and never live in it Constance is drawn to the mystery of the manor and the tragedies that seem to surround it.

All the elements of a good Victorian Gothic are here, a brooding manor house, ghostly apparitions, dark woods, a marriage that isn’t what it seems, a young woman estranged from her family and trying to make her way in the world, doomed lovers, mesmerism and secrets galore. Yet it somehow fails to all come together in the end. There are several plot threads that are dropped or never resolved and while the title of the book and the appearance of a few ghosts seem to indicate a paranormal story, there isn’t a lot of séance in the book and although a bit of a creepy story it wasn’t a very scary one. The ending was anticlimactic, although Harwood does score points for wrapping up one of the mysteries in a very believable way.

Although this book was very atmospheric and I liked the style of the writing, in the end it was a disappointing read.

The Hunger Games

Book No: 57
Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Science Fiction
Completed: 11/01/09
No. of Pages: 391
Rating: 5/5*****

It must be difficult to write a hugely popular book, like The Hunger Games, and then having to produce the sequel and not suffer the dreaded Sophomore Slump. Suzanne Collins need not worry, for Catching Fire is a terrific follow-up to book one. It’s hard to keep up the pace in the middle book of an expected trilogy, the first book lays the groundwork and the final book is the resolution and frequently the middle book has none of that excitement, but that is not the case here.

It’s also very difficult to review a sequel that gives nothing away from the first book and doesn’t reveal any spoilers for the second book. Therefore I will note here that there are spoilers ahead for The Hunger Games, so if you haven’t read it yet stop reading here. There will be no spoilers for Catching Fire, just a general review of the story and characters.

***SPOILER SPACE for The Hunger Games***

At the end of Book One Katniss and Peeta have upended the 74th edition of The Hunger Games, placing the Capitol in the position of letting them both be declared winners. Upon returning back to district 12 the two try to pick up their lives, but everything has changed. They are celebrities now and we rejoin their story as they prepare for the Victory Tour through the Twelve Districts. As they make their way through the tour, visiting one district every month, it is clear that there are signs of unrest and rebellion, fueled by Katniss’ act of defiance during the last competition. It’s seems as though the Capitol and President Snow have not forgotten their stunt either and have planned their revenge; it is an act of retaliation that sends tremors through all of Panem.

To reveal anymore would ruin the book for all. However Collins manages to keep the tension ratcheted up as the 75th Hunger Games begin and we are introduced to more characters to root for and against. The triangle between Gale, Katniss and Peeta is ongoing and there are twists, turns and betrayals that you won’t see coming. The ending is a cliff hanger that will have you clamoring for the next book now!!

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Book No: 56
Title: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author: Muriel Barbery
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 10/21/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 5/5*****

Renee Michel is the concierge of a small but elegant Paris apartment building, inhabited by eight families who are part of the wealthy upper echelon of French society. Our concierge strives to blend into the surroundings, to present a bland but courteous demeanor to those who only see her in relation to what she can do for them. So Renee goes through life hiding whom she really is, presenting the demeanor of uneducated woman who could aspire to nothing more than the job she has held for 27 years. However when the door to her loge is closed we learn of another Renee, a self educated woman who glories in Tolstoy, Dutch artists, Mozart and Japanese culture. It is her secret life away from the world, one she works assiduously at keeping hidden.

Paloma Josse is twelve years old and lives with her wealthy family in the building where Renee works. An exceedingly bright child, Paloma too presents a different face to the world, trying hard to hide her intelligence and just fit in. Paloma is frequently at odds with her family all of whom she disdains for their clichéd lifestyle. It is for this reason Paloma has decided that on her 13 birthday she will commit suicide. Before she goes through with her plan she begins recording her Profound Thoughts in a journal that we become privy to. Although Renee and Paloma are aware of each other, they have little to do with each other; we just get to see the residents through two sets of eyes.

At first I wasn’t sure about this book, I wasn’t at all sure I liked either of the main characters, whose stories are revealed in alternating chapters. At times I found them a bit pretentious and very self-centered. After a few chapters they began to grow on me, and I enjoyed their wit and humor, as well as their rather astute observations of the people around them. Just as I was settling into a comfort level with these two protagonists, Mr. Kakuro Ozu, a Japanese gentleman, moves into the building. As Mr. Ozu befriends the concierge and the young girl both Renee and Paloma’s lives will become intertwined and changed in ways neither of them could foresee, leading to a series of events that are humorous, touching and sometimes heartbreaking. From the time he enters the story until the last page I could not put this book down. The writing is beautiful and as much as I wanted to finish this book I also didn’t want it to end. I was sorry to turn the last page and end my time with Paloma, Renee and Kakuro. Recommended very highly.

Shame on Me

Well I had an extremely busy several months, and therefore my poor blog has suffered benign neglect, I feel so bad. I am going to try and bring it up to date over the next few days, and will try and get back into weekly updates. I hope anyone who was following me hasn't given up entirely :)

The reason for my being so busy? I bought a house in Florida, here are a few photos:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dune Road

Book No: 55
Title: Dune Road
Author: Jane Green
Genre: Chick LIt
Completed: 10/12/09
No. of Pages: 341
Rating: 2/5**

Jane Green, Jane Green where have you gone? After writing some of my favorite books (Jemima J, Bookends and Mr. Maybe) and a few fairly good others, I was pretty disappointed by Dune Road.

Dune Road is set in a tony Connecticut suburb, filled with trophy wives, soccer moms in designer duds and workaholic husbands. Kit Hargrove is recently divorced and trying to make a new life for herself and her children. Her best friend Charlie is a married to a successful banker (or financial planner or something) and she is a part time florist- they don’t need the money it’s just for fun. Tracy is a yoga instructor at a studio that she owns. These three women are the best of friends, always there for each other when needed (well kinda, sorta- not really). When the financial market crashes leaving Charlie destitute, Kit starts dating a new man, Tracy becomes involved with Kit’s boss and a mysterious stranger causes some havoc; everyone’s live will change. Excuse me while I yawn.

Cardboard characters, lame dialogue and some ridiculous plot lines caused me to roll my eyes a couple of times. The mystery of Steve the new man in town is pretty easy to figure out, the intent of the mysterious stranger is telegraphed from the start. I question the implausible easy forgiveness of some transgressions that frankly for me would take years to get over. By the end everyone is happy, except you because you paid $26.00 for this hardcover mess. It’s an easy read for the beach, be sure to borrow it from the library if you still want to read it.

The Physick Book of Deliveerance Dane

Book No: 54
Title: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Author: Katherine Howe
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 10/03/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 4/5*****

Connie Goodwin is a PhD candidate at Harvard in 1991, seeking to move along in her field of American Colonial studies. When Connie’s mother, Grace, calls from New Mexico and tells Connie she needs her to clean out her grandmother’s house in Marblehead Connie is taken aback because she never knew of this home. While cleaning things out Connie comes across an old fashioned key; a scrap of paper with the name Deliverance Dane written upon it is attached. Intrigued Connie sets out to learn Deliverance’s story; in so doing she learns some truths about herself, her family and her mentor at the University.
The premise for this book is intriguing in that explores the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It actually poses the question “What if the claims of witchcraft were true”? The book is set in 1991, but Deliverance’s story is told in several flashback chapters. As often happens with these types of books I often find the ‘older’ story more interesting than the modern one. I really got caught up in Deliverance and Mercy’s story, it was quite fascinating.
It is very clear that a lot of research went into the book and the depiction of early colonial life and the trials themselves were very detailed. I was curious as to the placement of the book in 1991 instead of today, but I read that the point was it was before many of the universities had transferred their catalogs online so that allowed for some old fashioned detective work, digging through the stacks.
I have a few quibbles;, at times for a smart woman Connie could seem a little slow on the uptake, but I’ve known book smart people who were not at all street smart, so that was somewhat believable. Connie could also seem a little boring but the romance with Sam, the steeplechaser, helped make her far more human so that was a good touch. The Boston accents, especially Chilton’s, Connie’s adviser, were a little annoying after a while and some of the storyline involving Chilton seemed a little over the top. The ending felt very rushed and a bit confusing. I did however really like the epilogue where Ms. Howe went into a lot of the background for the story.
Overall a good book that could have been better, but I would recommend it if you like books on Salem and the witch trials.

Nine Dragons

Book No: 53
Title: Nine Dragons
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 10/02/09
No. of Pages: 375
Rating: 4/5*****

I am a long time Connelly fan, in particular the Harry Bosch series. Over the years there have been some less than stellar books, but a so-so Bosch book is still better than most police procedurals out there. Nine Dragons however is among the best in the series. We get a vulnerable Bosch in this story, a man who will go to the ends of the earth to protect those he loves.

The book starts out fairly routine, Bosch and partner are called upon to look into the murder of a liquor store owner. During the investigation it becomes apparent that this murder involves a Chinese gang, a Triad, and they are notoriously violent. When Bosch makes an arrest the case turns on its head when it becomes clear that this gang has kidnapped Harry’s daughter, who lives in Hong Kong with her mother. In a race against time Harry flies to China to try and find his child.

Taking Harry out of his element brings a fresh feel to the story and the pacing of the book is at break neck speed, a sense of urgency permeates every page. We also get to see Harry in a new light, a man terrified for his daughter, bringing another facet to his personality. It is a book that keeps you turning the pages all night until you are done. There is more than one twist and a few shocking moments sprinkled throughout and the ending completely blindsided me. It also looks as if the next book is going to bring even more change for Harry. This entry in the series is a winner, a very enjoyable read and highly recommended.

The Hunger Games

Book No: 52
Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Fantasy
Completed: 9/26/09
No. of Pages: 374
Rating: 4.5/5*****

The Hunger Games is an amazing post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel set in Panem, the former USA. This nation is ruled by The Capitol and surrounded by the 12 districts. In an effort to wield control over the Districts an annual competition called The Hunger Games is held, in which one girl and one boy from each District competes in a fight to the death, which is televised night and day during the competition. When 16 year old Katniss Everdeen’s little sister is chosen for the games she steps forward to take her place; Katniss does this knowing that she is probably going to die.

This is a concept that has been explored in many different novels over the years. It’s a bit of 1984 with a dash of The Running Man and a heaping serving of Survivor. What really sells this book though is Katniss. She is a fighter long before she is chosen for the games. She is the sole means of food for her family, hunting against the rules, dealing in the black market, a strong female protagonist who is not going down without a fight. By using her survival skills and forming an alliance with Peeta, the other contestant from her district, Katniss becomes a challenger in the games. Along the way she is also confronted with her feelings for Peeta as well as those of the boy she left behind at home.

I love that this book is written for Young Adults in a way that is exciting and engaging, while at the same time opening their eyes to injustice without it seeming like a history lesson. So many topics are touched upon; a nation filled with so many poor and a handful of very rich, the use of fear to govern, Big Brother watching every move, even the issue of our addiction to ‘reality tv’ and questioning how real it is. To have a female character that uses her brains to survive, without losing her humanity, is a great achievement, although the games and deaths are very, very brutal. The burgeoning love story between Katniss and Peeta is handled well, with just enough romance to not be mawkish and the book doesn’t wrap everything up completely, since the last line is: END OF BOOK ONE.

The tiniest of complaints is at times some of the writing feels a little repetitious, but that is a small criticism for a truly riveting story.

Now I need to get Catching Fire, book 2.

The Lace Reader

Book No: 51
Title: The Lace Reader
Author: Brunonia Barry
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 9/17/09
No. of Pages: 388
Rating: 2.5/5*****

Thank goodness for libraries, because had I spent good money on this book I would have thrown it against the wall more than once, but I restrained myself as I didn’t own the book.

The title is intriguing, as is the premise of the book as presented on the blurb inside the cover, promising a story about a family of women who can read the future in the patterns of lace and the generations of secrets they guard. If only the book was actually about this family of women. The Whitney family of Salem Massachusetts is featured in the book and it does focus on several of the women, but the book is really about Towner/Sophya Whitney, who introduces herself as a person who lies all the time. So we have an unreliable narrator who is telling us the story of her sister’s death and her own mental breakdown. The lace reading plays a very small part in the story, what we are left with is a fairly weak psychological mystery.

This book meanders all over the place, the construction is wildly disjointed, characters come and go with no real purpose, the narrative changes perspective for no apparent reason, time jumps happen all the time and any storyline that holds any promise is abruptly dropped. The big ‘twist’ at the end was not very surprising; I had pretty much figured it out about half way through the book. So beware the hype surrounding this story and if you feel you still want to read it - borrow it.

Fragile Things

Book No: 50
Title: Fragile Things
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Short Stories
Completed: 9/7/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 3.5/5*****

I have only discovered Gaiman recently, definitely because of the Author, Author group. I read Coraline and The Graveyard Book both of which I loved, and I am now working my way through his back catalog. Fragile Things is a collection of short stories and poems. I am not a huge fan of the short story, because I always find I want more than I get and often resent the ending to the story as I have just begun to get into the rhythm of the story. This collection was a very mixed bag, so I really liked several of the tales and others were just okay. Because the two previous books I read were children’s books I was a little surprised by the language and some of the sex scenes, but it’s just because I wasn’t expecting it. I would have to say my favorite story was October in the Chair, where the months of the year have a sort of board meeting, and one month gets to tell a story. I would have loved to hear each month’s story. I also really liked The Monarch of the Glen which featured an enigmatic character named Shadow; I’d really like to read something more substantial featuring this character. The few poems were lovely and because I listened to this on audio there is always the added bonus of Neil Gaiman’s beautiful voice. Overall this was an interesting if not great collection of horror/fantasy/sci-fi tales.

Thhe Widow's Season

Book No: 49
Title: The Widow’s Season
Author: Laurie Brodie
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 9/7/09
No. of Pages: 303
Rating: 3/5*****

The premise of this book sounded very promising, a young widow whose husband is presumed dead after a kayaking accident, however his body has never been found. Three months later Sarah suddenly begins to see David everywhere. Is her husband dead? Is Sarah having a mental breakdown? Is she being haunted by a ghost? The answer to this mystery was pretty predictable and not at all surprising. Throw in the fact that I actually disliked Sarah, the protagonist of this story and you have the makings for a run of the mill story.

At first I understood a lot of the inertia and apathy Sarah has as a reaction to her husband’s death and part of her grief process. After a while I began to see that this was the way she was about everything- never taking the initiative and seeming to just do whatever is expected of her or never reacting to events around her. I found her constant analyzing and complaining about her marriage contradictory to her reactions to the apparent reappearance of her husband. I also greatly disliked the turn her relationship with her brother-in-law takes. In fact the only person I liked in this book was Sarah’s calm and competent neighbor Margaret. The revelation of what was going on was pretty ho-hum and not at all surprising, and contrary to a number of the blurbs on the cover I did not find this story haunting at all. I was hoping for a great mystery or a paranormal story and got neither, just a mediocre story that ended up disappointing.

Life's A Beach

Book No: 48
Title: Life’s A Beach
Author: Clare Cook
Genre: Chick-lit
Completed: 8/30/09
No. of Pages: 256
Rating: 3/5*****

Clare Cook has found a formula for her books that produce quick, light, beach reads. Take a woman of about 35-40, floundering through life. Mix in a quirky boyfriend or possible boyfriend, an eccentric father and a loopy cast of relatives and friends; have a few misadventures and a happy ending. Voila you have Life’s a Beach (or Must Love Dogs or Summer Blowout) Cute, light, easy to read. Cotton Candy for the brain, you enjoy it while reading it but you hate yourself in the morning.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Company of Liars: A Novel

Book No: 47
Title: Company of Liars: A Novel
Author: Karen Maitland
Genre: Historical Fiction
Completed: 8/31/09
No. of Pages: 480
Rating: 4/5*****

It is 1348 and the Black Plague is racing through England. In a desperate attempt to outrun death a disparate group of travelers band together hoping to make it to the North, away from the cities and ports that have become little more than ghost towns. As they slowly wend their way through the countryside and we get to know each traveler it becomes clear that none of them are what they profess themselves to be and each of them is guarding a closely held secret.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It works as an adventure tale as well as a suspense tale with a bit of a mystery as to every character’s secret, each of which is revealed one by one. The gritty descriptions of medieval life and the customs, beliefs and superstitions of the times added a great background to the saga of this company. Some of the secrets were foreshadowed a little too heavy handedly so that not all of them were a surprise, but the tension within the group is ratcheted up little by little so that you cannot wait to turn the page to find out what happens next. The last page of the book was deliciously eerie and although you might have suspected it coming it still has an impact. If you like your historical fiction detailed and steeped in the era in which it is set and filled with engaging characters, both good and evil, then this is the book for you.

After You

Title: After You
Book No: 46
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Genre: Fiction/Chick-lit
Completed: 8/19/09
No. of Pages: 340
Rating: 3.5/5*****

I read Ms. Buxbaum’s debut novel the Opposite of Love and really enjoyed it. I was really looking forward to her latest book and was not disappointed.

Ellie Lerner’s best friend Lucy is murdered, right in front of her daughter’s eyes. When Ellie learns of this tragedy she drops everything to run to her goddaughter Sophie’s side. What we don’t know at first is that Ellie is also running from her life, her own tragedy and possibly using this as an excuse to escape reality.

As in her previous book Julie Buxbaum does not always present characters you immediately identify with. Ellie can be self-absorbed, prickly and dare we say it – stupid. Yet she is a bit of a lost soul trying to find her way through the loss of her child while trying to help her best friends child come through the loss of her mother as unscathed as possible. When Ellie stubbornly refuses to return home to her husband and he begins divorce proceedings, and when she learns some unpleasant truths about her best friend, she slowly comes to terms with the mess that is life.

I like the way the author doesn’t make everything cut and dried, good or bad, black or white. There are so many shades of grey – like life. Sometimes you love Ellie other times you wonder what the hell she is thinking. There are some predictable plot lines yet you still want to know how it will all turn out. It doesn’t all end in a neat little bow, but the ending is hopeful and more on the realistic side than usual. Enjoyable, often thought provoking; I don’t think Ms. Buxbaum has hit her stride yet, but she is getting there and I am looking forward to more from this author.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Book No: 45
Title:Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safron Foer
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 8/13/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 5/5*****

I have been thinking about my review of this book for the last few weeks, finding it hard to put my thoughts into words. I approached this book with a lot of trepidation; I live outside of NYC and unfortunately know too many people who lost their husband, wives, parents and children on September 11th. I have had this book sitting on my shelf for several years and finally got up the courage to read it. I am so very, very grateful that I did.

Although the events of ‘The Worst Day’, as Oskar Schell the nine year old protagonist of the story calls September 11th, form the framework of this book, the story is more about how one accepts loss and learns to move on, albeit changed and damaged in some way. The book is about the horrors of war and terrorism and all the pain that is left for the survivors to experience and try to learn how to live again. It is a book that if filled with humor, sadness, tragedy and love.

Oskar is an extremely bright child nine year old. His father died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. When Oskar finds a key among his father’s possession, mysteriously labeled Black, he decides to set out to find the lock the key will fit. His search sets him on a journey in which he encounters people from all different walks of life, each of which seems to have some small impact on his life. When Oskar finally learns the meaning of the key he also reveals a secret he has been living with since the death of his dad. Interlaced between Oskar’s search is the story of his grandparents, survivors of the bombing of Dresden during WWII.

I think part of the beauty of this book is in the depiction of Oskar. He’s intelligent, but Foer doesn’t make him sound mature, he’s still a little boy and he can be rude, obnoxious, sweet, funny, cruel and at times remarkably perceptive; he’s very much like many little boys I’ve known. There were so many times I just wanted to reach out and hug this child. I found his relationship with his grandmother very touching and often charming. The story of his grandparent’s life plays out rather slowly and at times it seems a preposterous life, but it juxtaposes nicely with Oskar’s own attempt at making sense out of unbearable tragedy. In the end we are left with a feeling of hope that healing is possible.

I love Foer’s use of language and his skill at evoking a reaction from you; he has the ability to mix humor and pathos, frequently in the same sentence. He also paints indelible pictures in your mind, not by the retelling of unfathomable events but by his characters reactions to these acts. There were times I had to stop reading because I could not see through my tears.

This was an outstanding book one that will stay with me a long time. I am planning on reading Foer’s first book, Everything is Illuminated, very soon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Falling Behind- Again!

Who ever said "So many books, so little time" knew what they were talking about. I am sadly overdue with reviews, because I just have too many books to read. I have 4 reviews to write to bring this blog up to date. I have one more book to read and review for Amazon Vine - Dragon House by John Shors. I have 2 books out from the library: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman and just got a notice that The Hunger Games by Suzanne collins has come in; I am going to read that for my Play Book Tag Coming of Age read. I also need to read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe for my Bibliophile Reading Group as well as Sarah's Key for Booktivity! and to top it all off I have been reading Drood by Dan Simmons for 2 months now and am only have way through it! There just aren't enough hours in the day and for some reason my family expects clean clothes, a clean house and some hot meals! There really are just too many books and not enough time!

September Tag at Play Book Tag

The tag for the month of September at Play Book Tag is: Coming of Age

Shelfari members have tagged over 5,000 books with the Coming of Age tag, so this month Play Book Tag members will be reading and reviewing as many books as we can that have this tag. If you're interested in reading or learning about more of these books come and join us:

Play Book Tag at Shelfari

Michelle Moran Book giveaway at Ruby Loves Adventure

Michelle Moran is giving away a copy of her book Cleopatra's Daughter. To enter the contest go to this blog:

Ruby Loves Adventure

Good Luck!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Shanghai Girls

Book No: 44
Title: Shanghai Girls
Author: Lisa See
Genre: Historical Fiction
Completed: 8/12/09
No. of Pages: 309
Rating: 3.5/5*****

I’m not sure where to start with this book, because I have truly mixed feelings about it. I, like so many others, read and loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I was looking forward to this book because I had heard many good things about it and it was strongly recommended to me by my librarian. In the end I found it a disappointing book, although there were many parts I did enjoy.

The Shanghai Girls are Pearl and May, two ‘beautiful girls’ who are models for traditional Chinese calendars. They live a life of privilege and ease, often thinking of no one but themselves. When their father arranges their marriages to Chinese-American men looking for wives, the girls refuse to go to America, setting off a chain of events that leads to heartbreaking tragedy. The sisters ultimately leave for San Francisco, and spend months on Angel Island being interrogated by immigration officials. While there a secret is revealed and a pact is made between the two that will alter the rest of their lives. Eventually arriving in Chinatown, to a life much different than they anticipated, these two sisters struggle to make a life for themselves and their new families.

There were some things I enjoyed about this book. I loved the beginning of this story, set in Shanghai in the mid 1930’s. It was very descriptive and full of fascinating detail of a city I knew very little about. Even when it gets into the invasion of the Japanese and the hardships and horrors that occurred I was fully engaged. However form the time the girls arrive on Angel Island through the ending I felt the book never reached that level of writing. I liked a lot of the history that was depicted and I learned quite a bit about the birth of Chinatown and immigrant life, but at times it felt like a history lesson, as if the author wanted to tell the history, it didn’t feel ‘lived in’.

I had several problems with the book that in the end took away from my enjoyment. The voice of the book is Pearl’s and it is her POV we get for everything, there are no other sides to the story. I also didn’t much care for the two sisters, for different reasons. May was spoiled, selfish and seemed to go through life without a care in the world for anyone except herself and what was good for her. Pearl on the other hand was the ‘good sister’ sacrificing herself again and again for May because she was her older sister and had to take care of her. I wanted Pearl to get a backbone, and when she finally does stand up for herself it is at the wrong time and has a devastating consequence. The men in the book are secondary characters, and seem to be there only to further the sister’s story along. The tragedies in this story are never ending and by the end have a soap opera quality to them – you just keep wondering what else can possibly go wrong. Some of the things that happened were predictable and when May reveals her big secret in the end I almost laughed because it was so obvious. And last but not least is the ending – there isn’t one, or at least a satisfying one. We are left with a bit of a cliff hanger, leading one to suspect a sequel.

This is actually the second book I have read this summer about the struggles of Chinese immigrants during the years leading to WWII and I found the other to be far more engaging and enjoyable, even though it was also very sad at times; if you enjoyed this book you may also like Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Play Book Tag: August Tag

THe tag for August at Play Book Tag is:


We will be reading and reviewing all sorts of books that have been tagged humor by Shelfari members.

Sound interesting? Come on by and join in the discussions.

Day After Night

Book No: 43
Title: Day after Night
Author: Anita Diamant
Genre: Historical Fiction
Completed: 8/2/09
No. of Pages: 292
Rating: 3/5*****

Anita Diamant’s latest book focuses on an aspect of WWII history that I think many of us know little about. After the end of the war and the liberation of the prisoners from the concentration camps thousands of survivors went to Israel; most of them no longer had homes or families and chose to start anew in The Promised Land. Upon arrival most of these people were placed in internment or refugee camps because they were ‘illegal aliens’ with no paperwork- an irony that is almost laughable in its stupidity. Nevertheless, these people found themselves once again prisoners, although treated far more humanely than where they came from.

The book focuses on four women who slowly form friendships, something they are afraid to do, having lost so much during the war hope had become one more thing to put aside. Little by little Tedi, Leonie, Shayndel and Zorah come together to help each other face each new day, while slowly trying to shed the unspeakable past. As each day passes in boredom and loss of expectation, an escape plan begins to be put into motion.

Over the years I have complained that books seem to be getting longer and longer and editing seems to have disappeared. In this particular case I wish the story had been longer, because I never felt an attachment to these women. Bits and pieces of their back story are revealed, yet none of them felt substantial to me; I frequently had to look at the back blurb which gave brief descriptions of the characters because they would blend together in my mind, they never took on lives of their own. There was so much more I wanted to learn of them and some of the secondary characters, Tirzah the kitchen aide in particular. When the escape finally occurs it is anti-climatic and we only learn the fates of the four women in a small epilogue; there was so much more I would have liked to have known about these women and their lives.

For a look at a little known footnote in history I found the book interesting, I just wish I was more engaged in the characters.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Book No: 42
Title: Kindred
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Genre: Historical Fiction
Completed: 7/30/09
No. of Pages: 264
Rating: 4/5*****

This book has a truly fascinating premise: What if an African American of modern day was unaccountably catapulted back in time to a time when slavery was the norm in the southern United States? What happens when her modern sensibilities are confronted with the real experience of being black in a time and place where that meant you had no rights at all? That is the scenario in Kindred by Octavia Butler and it is a riveting story.

Entwining historical fiction with science fiction Ms. Butler tells the story of Dana, an educated black woman living in NYC 1976 with her husband Kevin, who is white. Inexplicably she is pulled back in time, by a young boy named Rufus; he is drowning and Dana saves him. Rufus is Dana’s ancestor and time after time when he is in danger he somehow summons Dana to his side; she has no way of knowing when it will happen or what event will trigger her return to her own time.
Using the device of time travel Ms. Butler shows how an entire race is subjugated by the slave owners, how easily Dana slips into the life of a slave in order to survive. One time her husband is transported with her and they act as slave and owner in order to endure the times. They are both shocked by how easily they slip into their roles.

The book starts off with a bang and every time Dana is brought back in time the tension is ratcheted up a bit. The young Rufus grows up to be a slave owner and a selfish and cruel one at that. Each time you are wondering and worrying about what will happen to Dana and the rest of the slaves we become involved with over the years the story takes place. My only real problem with the book is Dana’s constant forgiveness of Rufus despite the way he treats her and her friend Alice. I understand her need to make sure nothing happens to Rufus, for otherwise she could not exist, so she is damned is she does something yet damned if she doesn’t. It’s a moral question that isn’t fully addressed; I would have liked to see Dana question her own motives more. I also would have liked to learn something of what happened to Kevin at the time he is left behind while Dana returns to the present. Outside of these two issues I enjoyed this book and would recommend it.