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Showing posts from 2011

A Game of Swords by George R.R. Martin

Everyone has been talking about Game of Dragons on HBO and I even read an article about George RR Martin in the New Yorker right around the time that the fifth novel in the series was released! I'm the type of person that would prefer to read the books before seeing any movie or show adaptations and since I'm sure that I will probably have time to read the first five books of the series before even the first season gets released onto DVD, I thought I would start now.
The book was first published in 1996/97 and won various awards for science fiction when it was released. I'm actually surprised i never heard of it or was ever given a copy given my penchant at the time for authors the likes of David Eddings and Terry Brooks. The novel alternates chapters with various viewpoints through which Martin introduces us to the noble houses of Westeros, a fantastical world that seems to be poised on the brink of civil war and endless winter. The first of three major plot lines follow…

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by

So, I really like Alexandra Robbins, generally speaking. I have read other books by her - The Overachievers most notably - but I was drawn to this book because the premise was a noble one - to promote (at the very least) tolerance of the non-conformists in high school and, at the best, outright acceptance of the non-conformists. Her philosophy is also a noble one - to encourage acculturation and diversity and appreciation of those things instead of encouraging people to act like drones - thinking alike, dressing alike and talking alike. I think that a part of her also wants to stop the rampant bullying that exists everywhere from our schools to our workplaces. And I genuinely appreciate that - that message is an essential one to get out because that bullying sort of mentality exists even among adults in the workplace.

Her basic premise is also an easy one to understand and agree with - she essentially argues that the qualities that make people non conformists and outsiders in high …

Endless Love by Scott Spencer

As with most books, I heard this one mentioned on NPR and thought I would give it a shot. It was written and published the same year that I was born - 1979 - making it 32 years old but for some reason, I had never heard of this book or the author before.  I was, quite frankly, almost hesitant to read it because it is about teenage love.  Those books are never good, I thought.  They are self aggrandizing and boring - who wants to relive that angst again and again and again? I could just read my journals from that time period after all right? But this book surprised me.

The book opens in Chicago.  David, a 17 year old and the protagonist, is dating Jade, a then 15 year old. Jade's family are well known in town - they live a hippie-esque and bohemian lifestyle where just about anything goes.  They allow David and Jade to have sex in their house, they smoke pot and would be the type to provide condoms to their children and their children's sexual partners if they had been more re…

E-Reader v. Actual Book: Which Do YOU Prefer?

As my e-reader (a first generating Kindle) slowly begins to die, I began to think about what is fast becoming a philosophical debate: which is better, an e-reader or the real thing?

On behalf of:

Perhaps not THAT particular e-reader, but e-readers in general. I like the idea of an e-reader in general.  It cuts down on the amount of space that I have dedicated to books (which, for someone like me, can be quite a massive amount of space) - and this was the reason that Izzy got it for me in the first place.  He was getting upset about the amount of space that was being eaten up by my book habits. It also makes carrying a TON of reading material on vacation with me that much easier and being able to update it when I'm done with a book and on vacation is super convenient. I so wish that e-readers had been around when I travelled to Europe because that would have made the long flights and travel time all that much more bearable. I have yet to try to download a book from the library but I…

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Like with most of the books that I read, I heard about this on NPR. This novel was Wilson's first and was wonderful.

Camille and Caleb are the heads of the Fang family and are known the world over as conceptual artists, with their roots in Slavic Eastern Europe. They have won many, many awards and receive many grants that would enable them to perform their art and not have to worry about earning the money to support their children: Annie and Buster (known to most of their fans as Child A and Child B). In order to memorialize their art, which often makes use of their children, they use video recordings. An example of their art is this: one day, the Fang family go to the mall.  Annie,Buster and Camille go into a candy store separately and un-attached, so there is nothing to attach them to each other. Camille begins to put candy under her dress and Buster tells one of the clerks about it.  The ensuing chaos is recorded for posterity by Caleb. As the children get older and enter into …

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Firstly, I must disclose that I have absolutely been in love with Jeffrey Eugenides since I read Middlesex, a few years ago, so I may not be the most impartial of reviewers.  I eagerly awaited this new release of his and was happy when my name was up on the library's list.

In this novel, we literally follow a modern day Marriage Plot between three students at Brown University in Rhode Island.  They are on the eve of their graduation in 1982 - one is suffering from debilitating bi polar disorder (manic/depression), the second is Madeleine (who is brilliant and beautiful and sells herself short constantly) and the third is Mitchell, who is the journeyman and travels through Europe and India.  All three students are brilliant academics, with their own interests and academic strengths, but who often mistakenly follow their sex drives in directions that lead one to wonder : WTF? We follow Mitchell on his journeys, Madeline through her struggles in dealing with a lover that struggles wi…

Her Husband: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes - a Marriage by Diane Middlebrook

Ever since reading The Bell Jar, I have been in love with Sylvia Plath.  I loved her writing and her strong, strong feelings. So I have been reading everything that I could about her and her life, from her journals, to her letters and her poems.  So when I saw this book at the library, I picked it up and brought it home with me, even though it's not solely about Plath, but about the often volatile relationship that she had with her husband, Ted Hughes.

Diane Middlebrook examines the relationship between the two poets from the moment that they meet while studying in England until after Sylvia dies, and beyond.  She begins with their meeting and courtship and ends with Hughes' passing.  She must have done an immense amount of research in writing this book, because her narrative was very detailed and very articulate.  It was a pleasure to read, in part because I could tell that she was truly striving to give us an unbiased account of their relationship and what, in her opinion, r…

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson

I was browsing in the library and saw this book. When I read the inside flap, I thought it looked really intriguing so I picked it up. After 9/11, I've been really interested in Islam and Muslim conversions.  I also had a pretty big interest in women in Islam - their role, how they perceive their roles and what the Koran says about their roles. This particular book intrigued me more then other books about gender and Islam because G. Willow Wilson is a white, American woman that converted to Islam after studying Arabic and Islam extensively as a college student in Boston, living in the Middle East for some time and marrying an Arab man.

Before reading this memoir, I think it's safe to say that the readings I had done previously about women in Islam had been mostly negative: women were treated poorly and had to straggly mightily in order to gain some degree of recognition.  I think that this sort of portrayal leads the reader easily to believe that women that follow Islam are co…

As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto

This book tells the true and heartbreaking story of David Reimer. At the age of 8 months, he suffers a botched circumcision at the hands of apparently inept doctors, who then refer David's family to a sex specialist by the name of John Money. Dr. Money, to use the term lightly and loosely, recommended that David's parents have him physically reassigned as a female and then suggested that they raise him as such. Dr. Money firmly believed and convinced David's parents that if David was physically re-assigned as a girl and then raised as a girl, he would grow up firmly believing and feeling that he was a girl. So that's what they decided to do after consultation.

As the experiment progressed (because that is what it was essentially - this was the first time that this sort of thing had ever been attempted), Dr. Money reported that David was adjusting wonderfully to being a female, but this was less than accurate reporting to say the least.  David was depressed and acting o…

Banned Books Week - an honorary posting

So, Banned Books Week is a week dedicated specifically to books that have been banned.  It's a week set aside each year by the ALA. Banned books are books that have actually been removed from libraries and school curriculums; they aren't books that have simply been challenged.  Banned books won't be found in the particular library that you are in, if they have, in fact, been banned. Books are challenged and/or banned for three main reasons: containing sexually explicit material, containing offensive language or being unsuited for any age group.

Examples of books that have been challenged are: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Ulysses by James Joyce, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, 1984 by George Orwell, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Native Son by Richard Wright, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, The Satanic Verses Salman Rushdie, Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara…

"There Are Things I Want You To Know" About Stieg Larsson and Me by Eva Gabrielsson

This is a memoir written by Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg Larsson's life partner, in which she details her life with Mr. Larsson and the complications regarding his legacy and his estate which his untimely death caused. Stieg Larsson is the author of the insanely popular "Millennium Trilogy," which includes The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The book was initially written in Swedish and translated into English in 2011, and begins with diary entries that Ms. Gabrielsson wrote in order to help her cope with the grief of losing a man that she had been in an extensive relationship with. Gabrielsson apparently took the title for the memoir from a letter that Mr. Larsson had written to her before a trip to Africa that he thought that he might not survive. The memoir details how the couple met and how Stieg tireless fought the right wing fascist movement.  He was also a tireless crusader for the rights of women, having become a feminist after witnessing the brutal rape of a girl during …

The Good Wife by Stewart O'Nan

No, this isn't the CBS series (which is also wonderful and a must see!), but a novel by Stewart O'Nan.

This novel follows the life of a seemingly ordinary woman over a tremendously long period of time: we meet her when she is pregnant with her first and only child and we leave her after her son has graduated from college and taken his first job. When we meet Patty Dickerson, her husband, Tommy, has committed a crime at the beginning of the novel while he is drunk and ends up serving a sentence of 28 years for first degree murder.  Patty gives birth to their son while Tommy is incarcerated.

I loved this short novel for quite a few reasons.  The novel is told from Patty's perspective, so you really get a good feel for what it's like to be in her shoes.  You get the sense of the time from the snippets of the outside world that seep into the small portion of Patty's conscience being that isn't preoccupied with Tommy, his case and surviving. For instance, at the be…

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Wow.  That's all I can say about this powerful, gritty novel. NPR really picked a winner for this one.

Margaret "Margo" Crane is the protagonist of this novel - she lives in rural Michigan in the 1970's. When we first meet Margo, she is 15 but is no way your ordinary 15 year old teenage girl. Margo lives with her father on the river, after her mother abandoned them, and can shoot, skin and hunt like no one else.  In some ways, she's like her idol: Annie Hall in that she is a trailblazer - no other girls in the area are like her. Margo is often in extremely heartbreaking situations. Her uncle rapes her quite early on in the novel and she is such a good shooter that she manages to shoot off the tip of his penis. She also watches her father die in front of her and that is just the beginning of the heartbreak.

This book doesn't have a strict plot per se. It's more about how Margo learns about herself, learns to become self-sufficient and learns to accept hers…

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

Reading seems to be the only way for me to escape these days.  I picked up this book because the premise was interesting but to be quite frank, it ended up falling flat for me.

In this novel by Gabrielle Donelly, the Little Women that we all know and love aren't the main characters per se: they are the foremothers to the main characters in the novel. Emma, Lulu and Sophie are sisters and their great-great- grandmother is Jo March. Of course, her sisters are Amy, Meg and Beth. Emma, the oldest, is smart (but not brilliant), has a settled career and is soon to be married.  Lulu is brilliant but less settled - she doesn't have a job even though she graduated at the top of her class with a science degree (chemistry I think) and on the romance front she doesn't appear to have many prospects either.  Sophie is the youngest and a flighty actress.  They live in London - their American mother and English father also live in London in a house where Lulu finds old letters to and from…

Catching Santa (The Kringle Chronicles, Book 1) by Marc Franco

Just to be up front, I got this as an advance reader copy to review from LibraryThing.Com.

This is the first in the Kringle series by Marc Franco and is a young adult novel.  In it, Jakob is an 11 year boy that is easily distracted, doesn't pay attention and can often be found doodling in class instead of listening to his teachers. On the last day before Christmas vacation, Jakob is teased mercilessly when his classmates steal some of his doodles (featuring Santa!) and pass them around to each other. Jakob, later that day, receives two mysterious emails from S.R. that essentially tell him that the best way to make people who don't believe in Santa actually believe in him is to catch Santa. Later on in the novel, we learn that the main antagonist from the day before break - Rick- is missing and actually makes a panicked call to Jakob, prompting Jakob to being his search for Rick and eventually, Santa himself.

The story itself was was a tremendous story. I enjoyed it and I thin…

Simple Justice by John Morgan Wilson

So, I had never heard of the Benjamin Justice mystery series and I'm not quite sure what led me to request this particular book from the library.  I was immediately drawn into this novel by John Morgan Wilson.

In the first of the series, a young man is murdered outside of a gay bar in Los Angeles.  A young Latino man is found kneeling over him and is arrested and charged with his murder. Perhaps most damning, he has has confessed to killing the young man that he has been found with.  The young man turns out to be related to a wealthy family and is also discovered to be a coke head. Benjamin Justice is a disgraced journalist - he had written a series for the LA Times that had won him prestigious awards and was soon discovered to have been completely made up - and also struggling with alcoholism and the loss of his partner.  He is asked by his former boss to look into the murder of the young man, so he does.

I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book when I first started it …

Daughters of the Revolution by Carolyn Cooke

I was mesmerized by the review that I read of this book in the Times.   I tend to enjoy reading books about colleges and prep schools and the strife that often occurs between students and/or within the students that are the center of the novel. So that's why I was drawn to this novel.

The novel focuses, mainly, on a New England all-male prep school in the 60's.  The school, which is nearly all white and is all male, is struggling with issues of race and socioeconomic status and the headmaster is trying to decide if the school should go coed when the first female is accidentally admitted (her name is Carole, a name that the secretary mistakenly thinks is male).  Not only is Carole female, but she is black and from the lower middle class, so she makes everyone uncomfortable.

This book was a bit disconcerting to read, although it ended up being moderately enjoyable. It was disconcerting because it often jumped around from first person to third person and often dealt with many dif…

The Whore's Child and Other Stories by Richard Russo

I have loved Richard Russo ever since I read Empire Falls way back when.  So when I saw this book in the library I picked it up and brought it home.

This is a collection of short stories about mundane, ordinary lives.  But I was still enthralled and absolutely enamored nonetheless. Russo has a way of depicting such lives in a way that you absolutely can't rip your eyes away from, no matter how "boring" you would think that they would have been normally. Somehow, Russon manages to draw you into these lives and make them interesting.

Perhaps the best story in the book is the title story.  It is about a nun who was born out of wedlock to a woman that worked as a prostitute and who had, essentially, had her pimp drop her off at the school run by the nuns of the order when she was a young child.

All of the stories are a pleasure to read. As I say, Russo has a way with words and draws you into the lives of the characters so much so that you just can't rip your eyes away. A…

The Halfway House by Kathleen Noel

I was at the library one day picking up one of the multitude of books that I had requested (you know, because I had seen it on NPR or something) and I was walking by a book display and saw this novel in it.  I think the display was about summer reading or something like that - and I was intrigued, so I picked up the book and read the inside flap and decided that I would get the book.

Angie Voorster is 17 at the start of this novel and she is everything, seemingly, that you would want your daughter to be, at least on the outside. She is a star athlete - a swimmer that has broken, is breaking and continues to break records - and she has a future in swimming at a division one school. She is also a straight A student, making her a candidate for the Ivy League. She lives with her mom (Jordana), her dad (Pieter) and her younger brother, Luke, who is also a swimmer.  Things seem to be going well until, in the middle of the boys' race, she dives headlong into the pool and to the bottom, c…

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson

I picked this up because it looked intriguing to me and boy, was it fantastic.  In this novel, Christine is a middle-aged woman who has a bizarre form of amnesia.  She cannot remember anything from day to day and whenever she goes to sleep, her memory is wiped clean. Each morning, she wakes up and has no clue who she is, where she is, how old she is or any other bits of knowledge that we take for granted. Imagine having to re-create your entire life history each day that you wake up - that's what she has to go through. She lives with a man named Ben - her husband - and her only way to remember is by reading the journal that she keeps daily.

This is SJ Watson's first novel and I hope that he will continue to write more for us because it was fantastic - a good premise, wonderful writing and great characters. It was a page turner - I found myself constantly thinking about the novel, the characters and what would happen at inopportune moments. I also wondered when the next time th…

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

Jake Bergamot is your typical, upper middle class New York City student - he is 15, goes to a prestigious school and likes to party with his friends. At a party, he rebuffs the advances of a pretty drunk eighth grader. But, in the early morning hours, he gets an email with a salacious video attached to it - one that the eighth grader made specifically for Jake and for Jake only. On some level, Jake was honored but on another level, he was absolutely horrified and shocked by the lewd and lascivious video that ended up in his email in box, so he forwarded it to his friend, in part an attempt to get rid of the hot potato. And you can see where this goes. Within a few hours, the video that was private initially has been posted everywhere on the internet and has thousands of hits. As a result of this video gone viral, Jake's and his family's lives are turned upside down.

Schulman's book raises a lot of good themes: privacy in the internet age, shame, gender roles, internet prot…

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

This was hands down one of the best books that I have read this year.   Geraldine Brooks has absolutely outdone herself with this novel.

Caleb's Crossing mostly takes place in 17th Century Martha's Vineyard and 17th century Cambridge (most notably, Harvard Yard).  Bethia Mayfield is a teenage Puritan whose family is quite wealthy by colonial standards - her grandfather is the founder of the island itself and had emigrated there in order to establish a haven that was outside the purview of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Bethia is an intelligent young woman, who learns Hebrew, Greek and Latin seemingly by osmosis - she listens in on the lessons given to her older brother and learns not only the ancient languages but the language of the native American tribe also inhabiting the island. Bethia also has an aptitude for wandering and, during her wanderings of the island, meets a young Native American man who is eventually adopted by her family and renamed Caleb. Caleb is tutored exte…

My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe

This is a memoir by Ben Ryder Howe that follows his life as he works as an editor at The Paris Review while also buying and operating a deli with his wife and her mother. Howe and his wife, Gab, buy the deli as a last, Hail Mary, attempt to make enough money to move out of her parents' basement and into their own place. Howe hopes that the deli will make them enough money that they can either buy or rent their own space and begin their own family. Gab puts additional value on the deli - it's her way of giving something back to her mother, a Korean emigre who raised Gab and her siblings seemingly on her own in a foreign country.

The memoir follows the intense ups and downs and the trials and tribulations of owning a deli in New York City. The trials include a mugging, busts for selling cigarettes to underage customers, fines and massive tax bills in addition to being taken advantage of by vendors and the weather alike. During the same period, Howe works at his day job - as a se…

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon - contains spoilers

This book is the third book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.  I read Outlander, the first book in the series, years ago and then Dragonfly in Amber in October right around the time that Gabby was born and the series will occasionally call to me. And call to me it did now, so I picked up the third book.

This book picks up where Dragonfly in Amber left off - Claire has returned to her own time.  Twenty years has passed by and it is 1967.  Clair is living in the United States with her daughter, Brianna and they are visiting in Scotland attempting to determine whether Jaime has survived the battle of Culloden.  Assisting them is Roger Wakefield, who maintains a consistent interest in Brianna romantically. Claire, Roger and Brianna must discover whether Jaime Fraser has survived and, if he has, whether any of them should go back in time to meet him. If she goes back, she must attempt to rekindle a romantic relationship with a man that she hasn't seen in 20 years and who could…

Post 100 is here!

And I'm reviewing The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva. I don't remember where I heard about this book.

Gabriel Allon is an aging and retired Israeli operative who has retired to the English coast with his wife, Chiara, in order to enjoy the good life.  Instead, an old friend has managed to wrest him from exile to find a missing painting - a painting created by Rembrandt - a pairing that has actually been stolen. The painting is the source of many dark secrets related to the Holocaust, its perpetrators and its victims and the dark side of Swiss banking that helped to perpetuate thefts and stolen money.

This is a mystery novel that details a multinational and eccentric group of people that are forced to work together in order to solve the crimes surrounding the money, the painting and the evildoers that have stolen it.  Very enjoyable and a wonderful novel.

The Great Journey by David McCullough

So I'm absolutely plowing through my books for the summer. This was another recommended both by NPR and by The NY Times.

In this masterpiece and monster of a book, historian (and Pulitzer Prize winning author) David McCullough (who wrote about John Adams the last time around) writes about the American expatriate community that lived in and around Paris during the 19th century - he focuses on the ENTIRE century, not just a small portion of it.  He chose this era to focus on because these expats inspired the expats of the 1920's and 30's in their journeys in and around Paris. In writing about this time period, McCullough looks at such figures as Samuel Morse, George Healy, Charles Sumner, Mary Cassatt, James Fenimore Cooper and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

This book was intriguing. It took me a relatively long time to complete the book - about 5 or 6 days (which is a long time for me) - but it didn't feel that long.  I attribute this in part to how wonderfully written the boo…

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

This was again a book that I found on NPR's summer reading recommendations and it intrigued me initially because of the subject matter. It's a cross between drama/literature and crime but it isn't really any of both - it's not a crime novel like a novel by James Patterson would be but it isn't really dramatic literature either.

The book is written from the perspective of Dr. Jennifer White. At the time of the novel, Dr. White is a 65 year old retired orthopedic surgeon - she specialized in hands - who is suffering from Alzheimer's/dementia. There are days when she's completely lucid and knows what is happening to her and days when she doesn't remember anything, including her own history, children or caretakers. She is living in the beautiful family home in Chicago with Magdalena, her caretaker and is visited occasionally by her two adult children - Mark, a lawyer and Fiona, a financial analyst and college professor.  When she didn't have the disease…

Soul Clothes by Regina D. Jemison

In the manner of being ethical and up front, I wanted to let people know that I got this book from Librarythings for free to review.  Now onwards!

Soul Clothes by Regina Jemison is not a particularly long book - it is comprised of 44 pages and 12 poems, with a mostly African-American and law based leaning. However, I found that it really and truly packed a punch that I, at least, associate with a much larger, more dense book. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from it - I'm not normally someone that reads a lot of poetry, with the exception of a former co-worker's published works, so I was really hesitant at first.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.

The poems reflected Ms. Jemison's history and taught us a lot about her personal story, her feelings about topics from the criminal justice system all the way to religion and spirituality and relationships. I learned, for instance, that she went to law school and taught criminal justice and criminal law classes. I also l…

Big Machine by Victor LaValle

At the recommendation, yet again, from the people at NPR, I elected to read this novel. I had never read anything by Victor LaValle before, even though this is his third novel apparently.

Ricky Rice is the flawed hero in this novel - he's a recovering heroin addict who has been summoned from his janitor's post in Central NY to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont by a mysterious man that everyone has taken to calling The Dean. While there, he and several other recovering social misfits become a group called The Unlikely Scholars and they begin to peruse newspapers from all over the country and investigated The Voice that spoke to the founder of the library at which they study. At some point, Ricky is selected by the Dean to go to California with another scholar - Adele - to assassinate a former scholar that has defected and has started his own rogue group intent on bringing down the Unlike Scholars. During his mission, we learn about Adele and Ricky and the lives that they abandon…

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

I've been getting a lot of my reads lately from NPR and this is no different. NPR has consistently recommended quality books and continues to do so in this debut novel by Amanda Hodgkinson.

World War II survivors - a husband, wife and child - are attempting to re-create their lives together after surviving the war.  He was in the Polish Army and, eventually, the British RAF and spent time in France after getting injured.  His wife and child were refugees in Poland during the German occupation and spent most of the time in a refugee camp hidden deep in the woods of rural Poland. They are rescued by American liberators as the end of the war.  Superficially, the family has all the ingredients for a successful post-rescue life: a home in Britain, jobs, food, clothing and all the amenities. They even have a connection to the black market that will get them the things that they need for free and they have a car (which was almost unheard of for most middle class British at this time). Bu…

A Singular Woman by Janny Scott

So, I had read Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father a while ago - maybe during the election season - and was sorely disappointed in the seeming lack of attention that he paid to his mother even though she was, by all accounts, a driving force in shaping him. So when NPR had a story about this book, I immediately decided to get it.

Stanley Ann Dunham led a completely unconventional life from the beginning apparently.  Her parents gave her the first name "Stanley," although later in her life she often went by just "Ann" or "S. Ann" if she were writing something professionally.  As an adolescent, she moved to Hawai'i with her parents (who had eloped) and began to study Anthropology. Her love of anthropology, and industry/textiles in particular drove her life.  During her studies, she met Barack Obama, Sr., a Kenyan national also studying at the University of Hawai'i. At 18, she found herself pregnant with his child, so they got married and then d…

Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz

I read somewhere, probably NPR (because that's where I normally get all of my stuff to read) that John Burnham Schwartz had a new book out but he's perhaps best known for Reservation Road, so I was determined to read this one first to see if I liked it before I delved into the new stuff.

After a wonderful, peaceful and idyllic summer concert, a youngish family is driving to their home one evening. The Lehrners think that their night has been perfect.  The couple pulls into a little gas station in Wyndham Falls, CT so that Emma, the eldest child, can use the bathroom. Grace, her mother, accompanies her. Ethan Lehrner, the father, remains outside momentarily with Josh, their son. He is there long enough to tell Josh to get away from the side of the road before he goes inside as well to buy some windshield wiper fluid. Within a matter of seconds, a dark blue car plows around the corner and hits Josh, throwing him feet into the air and away from the side of the road and killing hi…

Unfinished Desires by Gail Godwin

I am finally catching up on my reviews - I've been so behind lately because of health issues but now I'm finally getting there!

Unfinished Desires is a fictional account of an all girls Catholic school - Mt. Saint Gabriel's - in the early fifties. The school is located in a small Southern town that isn't exactly known for its tolerance of anything other then Protestantism. We are told the story by Sister Suzanne Ravenel, who is telling the story to us as she writes her memoirs in 2001 at the age of 85.  Sister Ravenel was a student there and she was also the headmistress of the school during the 1951-52 academic year. Sister Ravenel is haunted by what happened to her during that year, and, in particular, the actions of the small, freshman class.

I particularly loved the characters that Godwin introduces to us, in part because they are so vivid and in part because they embody the narrative device that was used so effectively by Godwin.  There is Sister Ravenel, who is p…

In the Garden of Beasts By Erik Larson

After reading Devil in the White City, I became a huge fan of Erik Larsen, so when I heard on NPR that he had written another book, I knew that I had to read it. I even thought enough of Larsen to actually purchase this book as a hardcover!

In The Garden of Beasts is the story of Hitler's Germany in its infant stages, when Hitler had just been made chancellor and Hindenberg was still President (and some control over Hitler) as observed through William Dodd (the newly minted American ambassador to Germany) and his daughter Martha (who was scandalous by anyone's standards, but perhaps more so considering the time at which she was living). Dodd was an interesting pick for the position - and it's made clear pretty early on that he wasn't FDR's first choice - because he is a history professor, extremely frugal, had no real experience in politics (in spite of his friendship with Woodrow Wilson, of whom he wrote a book), and is very unassuming (which makes him an oddity in…

A Strange Stirring by Stephanie Coontz

So I heard about this book on NPR and it sounded really interesting - it is described, accurately, as a biography of a book that changed the discourse in this country: The Feminine Mystique.  It was actually better than the book that it was about!

Coontz writes this book after having talked with the women that The Feminine Mystique impacted (and those who didn't) and looking at other primary sources: letters written to Ms. Friedan and by Ms. Friedan for instance.  It was a wonderful perspective really and raised not only the old, tired arguments about the work but continued to peel back the layers of the onion and pierce the veil so to speak.

What was also really interesting to me was the chapter in which Ms. Coontz talked about the current mystiques that prevail. I wished that there had been more discussion about the prevailing modern mystiques but I also realize that this could really be a complete book unto itself.

A really good, accessible read that provided really good analy…

Muhammad by Deepak Chopra

I was browsing through the stacks at the library and saw this and was immediately intrigued. Deepak Chopra attempts to tell the life of the prophet of Islam through the eyes of the people that are often closest to him - his wife, his daughters, his followers.  And it was amazing, to say the least. I had never read anything by Deepak Chopra before, so I was a little nervous, but it was totally worth it.

This book is one of a trilogy of sorts - Chopra also wrote fictional accounts of Buddha's life and Jesus' life (aptly - Buddha and Jesus) and I intend to read at least the one on Jesus but will probably end up reading the one on Buddha as well.  This is a really well researched novel that discusses Muhammad's teachings and how they relate to Christainity and Judaism, both older religions relative to Islam. I was also really impressed by how Deepak Chopra chose to tell the tale - he told each part of the Prophet's life through the viewpoint of an important person in his fa…

The Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

So, I read a review of this novel on the NY Times review blog/book review and thought that I would take a look at it. 

Bitter End is a "young adult" novel - I think mostly so because the protagonists are in high school. The main character is Alex, the middle of three girls whose mother died when Alex was young (but old enough to remember her at the same time). Alex's dad, also, unfortunately, checked out sometime before the events in this novel - he's emotionally unavailable and doesn't really pay attention to the girls, even though he generally provides the physical necessities to the girls. While she isn't close to her sisters, Alex is very close to her two best friends with whom she is planning a trip to Chicago. She eventually meets cole, the new guy in town, because she is his English tutor. They start dating and Alex is tremendously happy - cole seems to be the perfect guy. But things go downhill once Cole begins to get jealous and possesive.

Maybe it…

This Won't Hurt a Bit (and Other White Lies): My Education in Medicine by Michelle Au

I was really excited to hear that Michelle had a book coming out, particularly when I learned that it was a memoir about her time in medical school and how she balanced it with being a parent.  Michelle is the author of The Underwear Drawer, a popular blog that she updates pretty much everyday.  So I was super excited to see that she had a book coming out.

Michelle went to Columbia for law school and this memoir details her training in precise, exqusite detail that isn't too much to get into. She's also really funny. The book starts off, literally, with Michelle sticking her finger up a patient's butt in an attempt to get a stool sample.  It then proceeds to talk about her motivations in going to medical school, all the way through her medical training, intern years and residencies (including deciding to change residencies while pregnant and halfway through her previous residency). 

I loved Michelle's voice - she's down to earth, funny and honest.  She's brave…

Onward by Howard Schultz and Joanne Gordon

So, I spend time at Starbucks. Anyone who works with me or lives with me or knows me knows that.  So I was curious. I know about how Starbucks is supposed to be the evil coffee company that drives other, independent coffee houses out of business so i was curious to see how Howard Schultz, the current CEO, handled that. And he handled it poorly.

In 2000, Howard Schultz left the company to become chairman of the board; however in 2008, he returned to the position of CEO. The economy was tanking and so was Starbucks (which is no big surprise - I mean, people don't want to spend $2.00 for a cup of coffee when you can pay $1.00 for the same size coffee at the independent, fair trade, organic local coffee shop and the coffee is better!). This book is a business memoir, for lack of a better way of describing it and covers the period of time from 2007 to 2010. This is the period where Schultz retakes the helm as CEO and attempts to bring Starbucks through one of the worst recessions in r…