Monday, December 24, 2012

Book 40 - Prague Winter by Madeline Albright


I'm embarrassed to say that I never knew that the former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, spent many of her formative years in London during the second World War (and survived the blitz!). But this book introduced that information to me along with many other things that I didn't know...

I had read Madam Secretary, and even have a signed copy, and I was, quite frankly, anticipating that this would be a similar book. I expected it to be heavy on the memory and less so on the historical context. I expected it to be a little sappy too - I mean, it's really hard to look back upon your time in your homeland without rose-colored glasses even though it was a particularly bad time. However, this book was none of those things. In fact, the memoir part is the secondary narrative here. There was memoir in it - Albright describes her family's experiences in the Czech Republic and England during World War II. However, she also provides an intriguing historical narrative of World War II, with her focus being primarily on the experiences of Czechoslovakia.

In reading this book, I really felt that I learned something. I learned a lot about World War II and its impact on the people of the Czech Republic, which isn't something I knew a whole lot about previously. History glosses over facts that relate to the smaller countries, even though they are often just as important if not more so than the facts that we do learn. This book also brings the fascist and communist rise to power to the forefront with precise,accessible explanations as to what happened and why - this sort of narrative is important in teaching us what happened and how to avoid or prevent it from happening again. The way that Secretary Albright presented her story and the historical perspective, as well as the way that she had them intersect, were phenomenal and made the re-telling of a story that we all generally know, fresh and interesting.

Definitely a buy for addition into your library. FTC disclosure: I was not provided this copy to review. I got it out of the library.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Book 39 - The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan


I heard about this book on one of my favorite podcasts: Books On the Nightstand and I generally like what Ann and Michael have to recommend so I got it out of the library. What drew me to the book was, ironically, its cover and its blood red pages. But that is where it seems that my interest ended - one really can't judge a book by its cover because it just didn't work for me.

The protagonist is Jacob Marlowe - a male werewolf that has been alive for about 200 years or thereabouts. Jake is living in Modern London when he learns that he is the last werewolf left - a group has been systematically hunting and killing them and people just aren't turning into werewolves like they used to. I didn't mind that the main character is pessimistic, cynical and negative. I generally think that characters that are drawn like this are some of the most interesting characters out there. They are creative and original, so I truly don't mind a character like this. What I did mind was how absolutely boring this book was. I didn't like the writing style. I didn't like the plot and found it utterly predictable. It was just not my cup of tea. I will pass on the next one.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book 38 - Barack Obama: The Story by David Maraniss


So, I'm a huge fan of the podcasts on Slate and recently (well, recently for me anyways because I'm still catching up on my podcasts), they spoke about this biography of President Obama. Now, I've read Dreams From My Father and I've also read a Singular Woman, which is a biography of President Obama's mother. I wanted to get more of a third party story of Barack Obama, so I picked this up.

I found that Maraniss strove to rise above the myth making/myth-bashing that both sides have attempted to create in surrounding Mr. Obama. Mr. Maraniss starts with early Kansas and early Kenya. A good portion of the book is dedicated to the familial heritage that led up to Mr. Obama's birth, including the death of great-grandparents and the fight for independence in Colonial Kenya. We don't meet an infant Obama until page 165 or so. I was particularly impressed by how detailed Mr. Maraniss' descriptions of Obama's alcoholic and self destructive father were. I was also struck by how quick Ann Dunham's relationship with Obama, Sr. was - I mean, I knew it wasn't a particularly long relationship and couldn't be because Obama Sr. had wives scattered all over the place. However, I didn't realize it was as over and done as quickly as it was.

I got the book out of the library so that I could specifically learn about President Obama and his life while he was growing up. I wanted to learn more about his coming of age - his awakening so to speak - and this book did not disappoint in that regards. I learned about Obama's life in Indonesia and in Hawai'i while he was at Punahou School and it was absolutely fascinating. He also looked at his years at Occidental College and at Columbia and while he was community organizing in Chicago. I was very impressed by Maraniss' research style - he based the biography on interviews with the people that were involved with him, letters and journals. Maraniss also did a wonderful job pointing out the differences between Obama's actual biography and what he recorded in his memoir because there were some definite inaccuracies.

This is a book that all should read and add this to their library.

Monday, November 12, 2012

First episode in a Long Time!


    Email: mominsanitypodcast@gmail[dot]com

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Music

      "That's where I Come In" by

Codie Prevost

      "Faded Taillights" by

Bill Hudson

    .
      "Quiet Room" by the

Tokyo Pop Stars

News

Farmville

    gets woman new kidney.

6 year old

    delivers her sister.

Prosecutor

    arrested for hitting EMT.

Mom

    names her twins Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

Government

    is tracking smoking in movies watched by your kids.

Living

    at high altitudes will impact the babies' development.

Good bacteria

    during pregnancy will ward off eczema.

Check out this episode!

New podcast

For show notes, pleae head here.


Check out this episode!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

IQ84 by Haruki Marukami


I have been wanting to read this book for ages; however, whenever I would go to the library to get it out, there would be no copies. Until this month. IQ84 is a play on words. "Q", pronounced "cue" in Japanese is the word for 9, so the word actually ends up being 1984. It was published in Japan in three volumes but in one volume in the United States. At over 800 pages, give yourselves a lot of time in reading this book because not only is it long, it is well worth the time and very engrossing.

The bulk of the narrative takes place in Tokyo, Japan during a fictional 1984. In the very first pages, we are introduced to Aomame, a young woman whose name literally means "peas" ("edamame" means soybeans so I figured that this was some type of bean). Aomame is a young woman that is riding in a taxi on the freeway in heavy traffic and, while in the cab, on her way to her assignments, hears a particularly uncommon symphony on the radio. When the taxi gets caught in a traffic jam that seemingly isn't moving, the driver suggests that Auomame leave the car, walk down an escape staircase though, doing so could alter reality. In spite of that warning, Aomame opts to take the walk, exits the car and goes down the staircase. Aimame begins to notice little differences about the world around her: the policemen are equipped with semi-automatic guns. There are two moons. There are major news stories that she doesn't remember ever occurring even though it's part of her job to remember those things.

We are also introduced to Tengo, a writer and cram school teacher whose enterprising editor asks that he rewrite a promising but awkwardly written manuscript originally written by a mysterious 17 year old girl. Tengo learns about the commune where the author was from and her family and becomes obsessed with finding out more about the commune and who could possibly have helped the girl to write her narrative.

I Quickly fell under the spell of this author. The narrative voice - a third person, viewing from the outside - was eerily detached (making for a wonderfully creepy tone) and the cults that were involved added an additional level. The plot in this narrative was revealed layer by layer, almost as if one were pulling back the layers of an onion. The theme of authoritarianism and the flight from it played a tremendous role in this novel and I really enjoyed how Murakami handled it - it's obvious that he despises authoritarianism because it stifles creativity and breeds other horrors upon its participants. What I didn't like is that the book seems to just peter out at some point without coming to a grand moral of the story - like 1984 by George Orwell did (well duh, Big Brother is BAD!!!). That being said, I think I am going to try another book by this author to see if he should be on my list of authors that I might recommend to a certain reader.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Book 36 - Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson


This book

is the only authorized biography of Steve Jobs, meaning that Steve Jobs himself was the one that initiated the process and actively participated it. Walter Isaacson is a master biographer and was, it seems, hand chosen by Jobs to write the book (which, once you've read the book or if you know anything about Steve Jobs, isn't a shocker!). The book was, surprisingly, based on at least 40 interviews (although I suspect that there were more) and other research that took place over the span of two years (including an insane amount of time with Jobs himself).

We all know who Jobs is, for the most part. It is because of him that I'm sitting here blogging about him on a IMac and that I make all my calls on an IPhone. Essentially, he is the person that revolutionized the personal computer by making it accessible to all, perhaps more so than Bill Gates did. He changed the music and phone industries as well. There were some things that I didn't know about Steve Jobs. For one, he was put up for adoption pretty much at birth, which seemed to hurt him all the more when he (and the reader) realize that his parents went on to have another child that they did not put up for adoption. Steve Jobs has four children as well, the oldest of which is a 30-something half sibling to the younger ones and whom Jobs abandoned and denied for years. He was very much a product of the 60's counterculture in the sense that he was a practicing vegan and Buddhist and shunned materialism. His homes weren't overstuffed with things and he, before he began Apple, travelled abroad to learn Zen Buddhism from the masters. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he was so adamant about being holistic that for the first 9 months, he only pursued naturopathy (which his doctors believed prevented them from helping him survive).

This was an intriguing book, more, for me, because it gave me insight into his personal life. I was more interested in learning about him and his foibles then I was about the history and the technical aspects of Apple. I found that I skimmed those chapters and read the chapters about his personal life more closely and with more relish. My husband was the opposite and appreciated the history of Silicon Valley that this book naturally provided (since it was so intertwined with Jobs' own history). What surprised me was that Jobs was absolutely meaner then I thought that he was - I mean, I knew that he was mean but he was above and beyond what I thought he was. Other than that, the book was really impressive. It was well researched and thorough and there was never a dull moment.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Banned Books Week


So, last week was Banned Books Week. It is essentially one week out of the year where the American Library Association celebrates books that have been banned in various schools and public libraries around the State. The goal is also to raise awareness about censorship.

I often find myself really and utterly confused about how, in this society, it is acceptable to censor or ban books. Granted, there is often speech that is hateful (I'm thinking of the awful anti-Islam movie that is creating a wave of protests around the world currently). While I think that the movie is abhorrent in more ways than one, I'm not sure that banning it is appropriate either. I think that banning books especially is a travesty because it narrows a person's knowledge, deprives them of the ability to evaluate and think critically about the material they read and ensures that a parent doesn't have to parent - they don't have to worry about what their child is reading and they don't have to talk to their child about reading. So not only do I believe that it goes against the values of free expression and free thought that our society prides itself in, but I also think it is laziness.

WhatI really enjoyed about the Banned Books website is the listing of books that have been challenged and banned. I like to try to challenge myself to read all of the books on the list. And the resources section is pretty neat too. Get out and read those books people! Talk to your kids about them.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book 35 - A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon


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I have been on an Outlander kick, what with the NH Highland Games coming up this weekend. I rounded out the series with book 6, leaving I think one left in the series until I'm all caught up. I don't want to talk too much about the book otherwise I will give away things that are better left for you, the reader, to discover. That being said, while I love these books, I can only take so much of them at a time and need to portion them out because I find myself getting bored easily.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book 34 - The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon


This is book five in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. This book picks up exactly where the end of the previous book left off - Brianna and Roger were getting ready to get married as were her aunt and her fiancee. The clans were gathered at the great Gathering. The big focus is on Jamie Fraser and his desire to not only protect his family and the people living on his land, but guide them through the war of Regulation and then begin to prepare for the American Revolution. I don't want to get too much into this book because I would give too much away but needless to say, I enjoyed it!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Book 33 - The Healing by Jonathan Odell


When Amanda Satterfield, the plantation mistress, loses her daughter, she goes insane with grief. She literally loses her mind and while in the middle of her psychotic break, she steals an infant from one of her slaves, names the baby girl Granada, and clothes her in her daughter's clothes at public events, much to the chagrin, embarrassment and ever increasing wrath of her husband. In the hopes of curing his wife of her psychosis, the plantation owner purchases a slave by the name of Polly Shine. Polly is a healer woman - a midwife - whose reputation has preceded her and who quickly becomes revered on the plantation. Polly quickly recognizes that Granada has the "gift" - the same one that Polly has and which makes her a powerful healer. Polly demands that Grenada be sent to her to train and is granted that demand.

Odell is a tremendously good writer. He is subtle and his character development is phenomenal. I felt that I was immersed in the life of this plantation because his writing made me use all of my senses in imagining what was going on as the story unfolded. What I also had and have the most respect for is that Odell based the character of Polly and Granada on oral histories that he read extensively before beginning to write. The fact that Odell spent so much time with the actual words of the women and the men that experienced these miseries first hand was wonderful and admirable and made the novel that much more authentic. I was disappointed when the novel ended because I wanted to learn more about what happened to the people that I met along the way. Hopefully Odell will be publishing much more in the future and will use the same level of care and consideration and empathy that he used in this novel.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book 32 - Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates


I didn't know this, but this book came out in 1961/1962 and was a finalist for a book award, along with Catch-22. The novel is set in 1955 and features April and Frank Wheeler as the protagonists. The book starts with an awfully produced and acted amateur play starring April and viewed by Frank ad their other suburban neighbors. Frank and April's relationship quickly deteriorates (although there is a question as to whether it was any good to begin with), with extramarital affairs a la Mad Men making appearances and April convincing Frank that they need to uproot the family (they have two youngish children) in order to move to Paris. Many unexpected twists throw wrenches into the plans...I don't want to give too much more away.

I felt that this book was at heart a tragedy with the American Dream dying a death at the center of it all - Frank and April seem to have it all with a family, stability and a beautiful home in the suburbs and yet, they hate each other and their lives and their surroundings. The way that it was written was so beautiful and inescapable that I felt drawn in, watching a train wreck that I couldn't rip my eyes away from. I liked how Yates dealt with the everyday life of the middle class of the 50's - he didn't tell the story all from one person's perspective either. We learned about April from April, Frank from Frank etc. and this was really effective in showing us how miserable or clueless certain people were. I wish that I hadn't seen the movie beforehand because I had certain appearances stuck in my mind of what the characters looked like and what their mannerisms were and so I think that this ruined a truly beautiful book for me, even though it was only by a little bit. Definitely a must read.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book 31 Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames


I didn't know what to expect from this book. A book about Buffalo, NY (a depressed town) wasn't very promising. But I tried to keep an open mind. This novel is about a young man in his late twenties named James whose mother is in the grips of ever worsening dementia. James finds himself struggling with both the physical and mental decline that accompanies the disease - his mother is in a nursing home where she receives 24 hour medical care and hygiene care. He is keenly aware of the irony of the situation - his mother was a nurse who not only dealt with and cared for people with dementia and Alzheimer's Disease but also advocated for the right of the patient to make all of end of life cares including when to kill themselves. He also worries about his father, who now lives alone in a big house in Buffalo, visiting his wife everyday and getting older everyday without he (because James lives in NYC) or his sites (who is in the Pacific Northwest) around to help.

I didn't really like James all that much but I didn't think that I was supposed to. On some level, I empathized with him. He drinks way too much and is unsuccessful by conventional definitions - while he longs to write the Great American novel, his employment in this novel involves him wiring smarmy one liners for a greeting card company. His one seemingly redeeming quality, was his dedication to his mother - he constantly agonizes over what she would want to see happen to herself now with the disease, he carefully flosses her teeth after the meals he attends with there and once, when she has to be changed after going in her adult diapers, he attempts to convince the nurses that he should be allowed to help them change and clean her.

I felt that this book was one way of poignantly presenting a side of the physician assisted suicide debate by blending what the life of someone suffering from a terminal and degenerative disease like Alzheimer's or dementia with a little bit of the science (in the voice of James' mother ironically, who wrote frequently about P.A.S. before she became ill). He doesn't offer a specific answer as to whether it is right or wrong, but I got the sense that he was sympathetic to the cause if you will. It was a wonderful novel and I hope that he writes more soon!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book 30 -Once Upon a Secret by Mimi Alford


There isn't a whole lot to this book - I mean, really, I think that people nowadays aren't all that worked up about extramarital affairs and Presidents post-Bill Clinton and we all knew that JFK had his mistresses so what was one more? And quite frankly, Mimi Alford's naiveté made her look more the fool than the President (although he did look cruel too - but again, we all knew that didn't we?). I found myself having to suspend my disbelief for some of it - really, Mimi, you (a virgin) let him have sex with you after four days of working in the White House? And then, when you went back to school, he called you on the communal pay phone all the time without fail and no one had any clue as to what is going on? Sure.

Initially, I think it's quite clear, that I didn't feel badly for Ms. Alford - I found her to be a willing participant in the affair that continued for 18 months and included weekend trips during the school year and being whisked around the country and to the Caribbean in the President's entourage. It also included being taken care of financially - she never paid for these trips - and it included being given two expensive hits (two that she told us about...). I did feel some sadness and empathy when she began to talk about the impact that this affair had on her marriae. There was overlap between her affair with JFK and her dating of the man that would become her husband. She was sleeping with JFK for some time where she was also in a fairly serious relations with her soon to be husband. And when she finally told her fiancee about what had happened, he was so upset that not only did he essentially sexually assault her (he had sex with her to lay claim to her), but he ordered her never to talk about it again to him or anyone else and proceeded to marry her, resulting in a 20 year joyless marriage. I found this to be the most tragic part of the story because it caused a tremendous strain on not only Mimi and her husband but on their children and on everything that went on in their life.

I think that this book served as a way for Mimi Alford to "purge" herself of her demons and the blackness that resulted from this affair. That's all it was - it wsn't necessarily well written and isn't steamy, graphic or a tell all in that sense. Not a must read, IMHO.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book 29 - Feast for Crows by George RR Martin


I finished this but am not going to do a full out review because, quite frankly, one can't be done without massive amounts of spoilers. All I can say is that you have to read these books. Totally the best fantasy books I have read since the "classics."

Book 28 - Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson


I have followed Jenny Lawson's blogforever it seems like so when I saw that she, like a few other bloggers recently, had written a book, I got it from the library to read at my leisure. I think that this book is kind of true in some ways but it's hard to tell because some of the stories that she tells are so odd that I can't imagine them truly happening to anyone (although some of the stories that I have are "quirky" and hard to believe but are true - like getting lost at the age of 5 at Macy's Turkey Day parade in Time Square in Manhattan and living to tell about it - but are most assuredly true, so who am I to judge right?). Anyways, Ms. Lawson aka her highness, the Bloggess, grew up in West Texas and most of the stories that she tells are about her time there and about her attempts to deal with some significant social anxiety.

About one third of the way through the book, I began to get bored bt that's when I met Victor, Jenny's husband, who entered an additional charm and humor to the book that was needed at that point, or the book would have risked dragging. Victor is portrayed as being tremendously sweet and just wonderful - which I'm sure that he is - and the interactions that Jenny describes in her book are hilarious in part because Victor has a pretty good sense of humor in dealing with the things that happen to Jenny (and she's pretty funny herself!). These things being said, I really enjoyed this book - but I wouldn't read it if you are easily offended by lots of things, get freaked out easily and don't like cursing or references to alcohol because this book is chock full of em. I generally liked it and would read it again in a heartbeat.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Book 27 - Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian


I have been a fan of Chris Bohjalian's since I read Midwives back in the late 90's and I became even more of a fan when I learned that he, like me at certain points in my life, was living in a very rural community in Vermont. Skeletons at the Feast is his first foray into historical fiction, I think.

Bohjalian writes about the period right before the end of the Second World War. The Emmerich family are leaving their manor house as the Russians approach. The family is comprised of Anna, her mother, nicknamed Mutti, her father, Rolf, her twin brother Helmut, her younger brother Theo and the Scottish POW, Callum Finella, who has been working on the farm. Anna also has an older brother named Werner, that is referred to a lot, but whom we don't see because he is off at the front, fighting for the Third Reich. Rolf and Helmut eventually leave the family and the rest move on in an effort to escape the Russians. They eventually cross paths with a Jewish man named Uri Singer, who poses as either a Russian or a German, in order to escape persecution at the hands of either group.

I loved this book. I can't tell you how much I loved this book, because it is beyond words. I loved and appreciated it because it told a perspective that is somewhat different from what a lot of people think about when they think about WWII - the bombing of Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima and Nagasaki/the atrocities committed against thee Jews and gypsies by the Nazis. However, this novel reminded us that oftentimes average Germans were also targeted and victimized, although not as severely or as badly as other groups (they did have the benefit of being "Aryan" German). The characters in this novel lived in a very rural area and heard rumors of the awful things that their beloved Fuhrer committed against Jews and others but they never personally saw or participated in those awful events. They didn't even witness the mass evacuations of the concentration camps. In fact, when Mutti finds out pretty certainly what her beloved leader has been doing, she is so mortified and shamed, that I thought that she would kill herself.

This book was wonderful, easy to read and quite interesting.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Book 26 - Enlightened Sexism by Susan Douglas


I was trolling through the books that some of my Wellesley profs were reading because a lot of times, I find really interesting and well researched books and this was no exception. This book takes a look at how popular American culture puts forth, what I call, subtle sexism in the guise of female empowerment. In essence, Susan Douglas argues that society tells us that women have achieved equality, at least in the Western world and with regards to things like equal pay for equal work. She deftly takes apart pop culture and in doing so, demonstrates adeptly that sexism is alive and well, albeit in a more subtle form.

There were many persuasive arguments put forth and many interesting topics covered including The Spice Girls phenomenon and the rise of kick-butt female heroes, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I loved how accessible Douglas made this book - it's a book that everyone can read and is completely understandable based mostly on the fact that the examples that she used are things that we are familiar with simply because we live and operate in American culture. I can't wait until my children are old enough to read this book so that I can read it with both of them!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book 25 - Population: 485 by Michael Perry


This is a memoir, so don't be fooled. It's definitely not a novel. It's Michael Perry's collection of memories about his time as a volunteer firefighter/EMT in a small country town in Wisconsin. And it's mostly about firefighting and EMT work and NOT about small town life necessarily. As background, Michael Perry left his small community to attend college, where he got a degree in nrsing. When he returned, he elected to become a volunteer firefighter/EMT in the community where he was born and raised. It gave him a way to re-connect with the community that he had left and also, gave him a way to learn about and reintroduce himself to his former neighbors. I think that he was under the impression that people believed that he wouldn't return after leaving for college and so, he thought that this disproved them.

What I particularly loved was how Mr. Perry introduced his readers to the colorful characters that all small towns inevitably have. For instance, we meet a man that everyone affectionately calls "The Beagle" - a heavy man that chews tobacco and who has been an EMT/Firefighter since before the world was created. His descriptions were colorful and he really transports the reader to Wisconsin and to the scenes at which he attends. That being said, this memoir seems to follow a bit of a formulaic pattern: Perry strives to be authentic bt at the same time, he strives really hard to convince the reader that he's an educated writer as well, so he'll drop really big, million dollar, "College" words in order to remind s that we're reading something by someone who isn't only a bumpkin from the middle of nowhere. However, if that's the only complaint that I have, then it really isn't a complaint. The stories were interesting and wonderful and worth reading. Please enjoy!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book 24 - Chastened by Hephzibah Anderson


I was in the library, naturally, and saw this book. It looked intriguing so I picked it up and read the book flap. Essentially, Ms. Anderson (a Cambridge educated 30 something journalist) decided to write a memoir of her year abstaining from sex and trying to withstand the temptation to have sex. She has the oh so difficult task of withstanding the numerous lovers that seem to flock to her in trendy London and this, my friends, is the premise of this book.

The premise of the book was promising, I'll grant you that. But Anderson was a horrible writer. She wasn't funny and her prose was wandering. I didn't feel like the book was organized, although the chapters seem to suggest that it was, probably because the prose was so scattered and things didn't really seem to be connected all that well. She talks about a million things in the process of trying to tell you one and it takes her like 10 pages to do the simplest things, like buy clothing. For someone that practices writing as a profession and who has done much book reviewing, she isn't very good at it. Pass on this one.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book 23 - Anatomy of Injustice by Richard Bonner


In early 1982, an elderly widow had been found brutally beaten to death in a small town in South Carolina. The woman was white. Nearly immediately, a man named Edward Lee Elmore - a black man that was illiterate and mildly mentally retarded - was arrested. Within 90 days of his arrest, he had been tried and sentenced to seat (CRAZY!!!). Within 11 years, however, Elmore had netted a young attorney named Diana Holt, a spitfire who was convinced that Elmore was innocent and was dead set on getting him a new trial.

I am not shocked at how difficult it was to unring the bell in a capital case - but that's because of what I do. I know that the courts are very cautious in their review of lower court cases and jury trials. So that aspect of the story didn't really surprise me at all. I thought that Richard Bonner had a way with words and a really nice way of telling the story, which made the entire thing fascinating. It was obvious that he had done his homework and his research and in doing so, was able to give us a very thorough and accessible account of Elmore's trial and the appeals process. This book is a must read because it is an educational primer about the criminal justice system, the death penalty and why it could all go so wrong.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book 22 - Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru


This book is set in the Mojave desert of Southeastern California and spans a few decades with a focus on the 60's and 70's. We are introduced to the area, most notably the three pinnacles, in 1947 when an aircraft engineer believes that the three large rocks are ideal for channelling messages to and from extraterrestrial beings. In the subsequent chapter, we are in present day (2008), and learn that a rock star has fled from LA to the same place (but is staying in a motel) and that a family has a severely autistic child, which is deemed to be a failure by the father of the family. The chapters move along in alternating fashion, with the past interspersed with chapters in 2008. It alternates about the awful story about what happens to Lisa and Jaz (the family with the autistic children) and the development of the cult created by the aerospace engineer in 1947. The common thread are the Pinnacles. Common themes also include missing children, loneliness, technology and chaos.

This book was read when I was on vacation and I found it to be entertaining and diverting. It distracted me from the stresses of work and the craziness that vacation entails when you're traveling with young children. The sub stories encompassed by each chapter were entertaining standing on their own but, when combined into a novel, they created a comprehensive story that was entertaining and wonderful. Kunzru is talented enough to connect all of the dots into a comprehensive story in a way that only authors such as Alice Munro had been able to do in the past.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Book 21 - Diary of a Public Radio Slave by Kerri Wood Thomson


When I was on vacation recently, I didn't want to bring a whole lot of paper books with me because they get heavy and are sometimes really just inconvenient to drag around. So I wanted to put some interesting looking but light books on the Kindle to read and I saw this one when I was browsing around. I love NPR and my local NPR affiliates (OK, I'm a total dork and I love listening to them all the time because I actually learn something while I'm getting my news; and those links take you to different affiliates). This one seemed to fit the bill and looked light and interesting so I borrowed it on my Kindle.

When we first meet Sloan, the protagonist of this book, she has just been fired from her job. She thinks that she can manage this because her fiancee, with whom she has just bought a home and with whom she will be marrying within a short period after receiving her pink slip, has gotten cold feet. In fact, he tells her that he's going out and will be right back and doesn't return for days on end - his mom breaks up with her for him. Afterwards, when Sloan finally manages to break herself out of her slump, she interviews and gets a position at her alma mater's public radio station (which she learned about after visiting her most favorite college professor). The position is a step down from what she was doing before - she was an announcer/journalist - but hey, this is a job and beggars can't be choosers. In fact, she's in no position to turn down any sort of paying job that carries benefits so she immediately takes the position. While working there, she meets many people - Horg, a student that is working on his British accent so that he can get a job at the BBC; Gladys, who has worked at that public radio station since the War of the Worlds was broadcasted and shows no sign of stopping; Marjorie, the resident hippie and fundraising coordinator who disappears during the interview to make herself a wheat germ smoothie made from ingredients that she grew in her own office; and their elusive manager who is absent so much that he is nicknamed a ghost).

At first, I was really wary of this book. I didn't think that I was going to like it because it seemed too fluffy. And don't get me wrong, it is fluffy and a novel that ends much more neatly then my troubled soul wants thought provoking literature to end - I want books to give me food for thought for ages after they end. I was expecting to be throughly disappointed and let down but this book was perfect for me at the time that I read it. It wasn't written so heavily that I was tired when I was done and I could easily put it down and then get back into it after dealing with the kids or jumping in the pool or putting sunscreen on. And the characters were funny, even though I felt like I was dealing with stereotypes. I found moments so perfectly clear in my mind that I occasionally would let out a random snort or a giggle.

The book also dealt mostly with day to day life at the radio station and the ups and downs of the job but didn't get into Sloan's personal life a whole lot, which I'm not sure is realistic considering that it's written in journal or diary form and what person isn't going to divulge everything about anything to their journal? On the other hand, the book kept flowing at such a rapid pace, a pace that wouldn't necessarily have been maintained if every minute detail about Sloan's life. What irked me about this book was the lack of proofreading that was readily apparent - it bugs the living bejesus out of me to see things that are not spelled correctly or commas that aren't placed in the appropriate place. At least half a dozen times, the wrong word was used (it's "descent" into the bowels not "dissent" - things like that) and that distracted me from the experience of the book.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Book 20 History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

I read this book while I was on vacation and, because my computer was hopelessly broken (and required three days at the Apple Store to fix, but hey, it was free so no worries), I haven't been able to get around to it until now. This book is mostly about Piet Barol, a young, 20-something man living in Amsterdam in 1907. He's attractive - at least most women believe that he is - and he knows that he's attractive to most women, so he's going to capitalize on it to any extent possible. In essence, Piet wants to use this to make some money so that he can move up in the world and make a name for himself, in another country if possible. So, he takes a job as a tutor with the wealthy Vermeulen-Sickerts family; he will be tutoring their son, who suffers from such severe obsessive-compulsive disorder that he cannot leave his house without having a debilitating panic attack. Piet's role is to cure him of the OCD and the agoraphobia. As it turns out, however, the other members of the family (Mrs. Vermeulen-Sickerts in particular) also have strictures and fears that they need to be liberated from. Mason weaves into his story he 1907 stock crash and the building of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan as well as the undercurrents that are beginning to escalate into World War I. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I felt like I was truly on the canals of Amsterdam in the early part of the twentieth century. I also felt like Richard had the strict Victorian mores regarding sexuality intact, which makes the sexual tension experienced by Barol and his employers all the more salacious and just plain wonderful. I really enjoyed how Mason wrote as well - this book could easily have been tawdry and just plain awful with the sheer amount of sex that appears in it (think really bad Harlequin novel - there's a time and a place I guess but really too much of it gets really old really quickly). Instead, Mason somehow got it right - giving you just enough, just often enough and at just the right pace. So good and, because of how it ended, looks like there will be more of Piet Barol in our future and in Mason's. I can't wait.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book 19 - Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

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This is Tupelo Hassman's first work, and boy is it powerful. The story focuses on Rory Dawn (also affectionately known as R.D. - a nickname bestowed upon her by her maternal grandmother). It is told in bits and pieces, a novel that has some plot line but is mostly comprised of short stories that deal with the same characters. Rory lives in the Nevada desert (somewhere outside of Reno) with her mother, Jo, in a trailer. You learn shortly that R.D. has 4 older half brothers but doesn't know their father or her own father (at least she knows their father's name). Jo works as a bartender at the local truck stop and combats a nasty alcohol habit as well as a habit of picking up the wrong men. Her grandmother also has an addictive personality and cannot, for the life of her, stop gambling or smoking.

R.D. desperately wants to be a Girl Scout and takes out the Girl Scout Handbook from the library so often, that her name is the only name on the checkout slip. There are no troops in her poor town, so she has to live through the handbook and, essentially, creates a troop comprised of herself and her imaginary friend, Viv. They often compete for badges. There is also tales of abuse and neglect, interspersed with reports from a social worker, test questions and excerpts from the Girl Scout Handbook.

This is book that deals with judgment - mostly the judgement that people have toward people of lower economic classes and R.D.'s fear of it. It also deals poignantly with ideas of loneliness and belonging and independence, but is so depressing in dealing with these themes (but that could be because of what I do for work and my hope that I can use reading as an escape from this, so a book like this wasn't really an escape). This book is gritty and detailed in ways that are sometimes painful and often uncomfortable to read. I really enjoyed that Hassman wrote the book, mostly, in R.D.'s voice because I was able to get a connection to her - it was like she was talking to me about her life or writing me letters or I was reading her diary - so the mechanism for telling the story was powerful and effective. I liked how Hassman had some confidence that we could connect the dots and imagine the horror of R.D.'s existence. And R.D. is a FANTASTIC character.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book 18 - Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan

Caitlin Flanagan is, perhaps, best known for her book To Hell With All That and this is her latest in her series of dithering, except that instead of targeting mothers (both stay at home moms AND moms that have jobs outside the home as well as being a mom), she targets our tween and teenage daughters. I think that more specifically, she's looking at girls that are on the cusp of getting their first periods and maybe a little bit older (because she does look at people like Patty Hearst in addition to teenagers).

The tone of the book (and it's broadly sweeping generalists) were pretty apparent right from the get go when Ms. Flanagan claimed that all of her female friends stated that the tween period was the most intense period of their life (excluding childbirth, first sexual encounters and other, potentially life changing events, such as marriage and first jobs of course - please note the sarcasm). Flanagan then goes on to talk about things like moral mania (essentially a whole chapter on rainbow parties and other related topics), diaries (yes, Anne Frank type diaries, minus the Holocaust aspect of it) and Sexual Initiation (including about 10 pages on Patty Hearst). She also devotes some time to her, seemingly cloistered, adolescent experiences from the 1970's(that, aside from an unwanted grope in a parked car), was pretty tame.

What I found really annoying about this book, is that this lady, Flanagan, wrote this book as a commentary (and I appreciate social commentary, really, I do - I love this stuff. Sometimes I wish that I had done something more like that then what I currently do for work), but her research was abysmal. She honestly read dozens and dozens of copies of 17, The Diary of Anne Frank, a couple of other biographies and not much else. Her research was flimsy at best - nothing to be proud of and certainly nothing to base these general and sweeping analysis of girlhood culture on. If she were going to read anything, she should have read the blogs that the girls that she was claiming to study wrote. She should have asked them for their diaries. Hell, she should have asked me for MY diaries from the ages of 13-19 because I would have candidly turned them over and talked to her about them. Maybe even talked to the girls that she was claiming to know so much about, because I'm sure that first person accounts and interviews would have given her the insight that she needed to write a much more candid, thoughtful and insightful account of what girls go through in this day and age in maturing sexually, emotionally, physically and mentally into adult, American women. But she didn't do that and, as a result, her book is shallow and out of touch, in spite of moments of smartness. In fact, the moments of brilliance almost make it worse because, in showing me those moments, I become aware that she is, in fact, capable of doing things in a much better fashion then she did with this book.

If you are going to read this, borrow it from your library but don't add to your collection.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book 17 - Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

This novel is, essentially, a sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice but you didn't need to have read Pride and Prejudice in order to understand and get this book. This is a murder mystery that takes place at Pemberley (the Darcys' estate) approximately 6 years after Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet have married. James adequately describes the history of the families and the characters and then also, lovingly and painstakingly describes what appears to be a beautiful life (at least in the beginning). On a dark and blustery evening, Elizabeth, her sister Jane, Darcy and a few guests are eating dinner, relaxing by the fire and preparing for the annual ball that is taking place the next day. As they are getting ready to pack it in for the night, the characters see a chaise lurching and speeding unsteadily towards the house, nearly falling over in the process. When the carriage finally gets to the house, Lydia (the sister of Jane and Elizabeth, who, as you may or may not remember, married in disgrace to Wickham) is hysterical and even more high strung than she normally is. What ensues is the discovery of a dead body with Wickham standing over it, covered in blood. There is also an investigation, an inquest, a trial and a few twists and turns.

I don't know how she did it, but PD James could have passed as Jane Austen in her literary style. It was as if she was channelling the author of books like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. If I hadn't known any better, I would have though that Austen came back from the dead to write this novel. That being said, while I generally liked the book, because of the style, it was slow going, almost like wading through molasses or taffy (in a good way!). If you are really into the detective genre, though, you'll probably guess at most of the big twists and turns accurately, but it was still an entertaining read, nonetheless. I also really enjoyed how PD James attempted to introduce the tensions that English society at this time was facing - namely the growing women's rights movement and how it played against the more conservative elements of British society in the 19th century or thereabouts.

Definitely one to try.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Book 16 - Mad Women by Jane Maas

OK, so I'm one of the people that really (and I mean really) enjoys watching the AMC series "Mad Men." I am obsessed with that time period for quite a few reasons but mostly because I find any era that immediately precedes and/or involves or causes as drastic a change as the 60'sdid is fascinating to me. Specifically, I really enjoy the historical changes in women's roles that occurred during this time period and so, when I saw that there was a book written by a woman that had actually done what Peggy Olson (who happens to be my favorite character in the series, followed closely by Joanie) did, I really wanted to read it. I also think that the book was written because of the series - was the series accurate? Did people really drink, smoke, have that much sex at the time in the Madison Avenue advertising agencies? During the first part of the book, Jane Maas works for Ogilvy and Mather as a copywriter. Ogilvy was one of the first people to do market research and put tremendous stock in it. And yes, there was a lot of sex. The Pill was widely available, so at the time, American society was in the midst of the sexual revolution. The rule, essentially was, if there were doors and couches in offices, there was probably sex going on. Maas claims not to have engaged in any affairs while at the office, but she spent so much time there, that I am skeptical, although of course, I have no direct proof. Just my gut instincts. What surprised me the most about this book is how conservative Maas seemed to be. This was the era in which second wave feminism was also birthed and she, quite frankly, didn't see the use of it. That shocked me because all around her (and in the firms that she worked for), women would be fired for getting pregnant. Maas herself was the subject of much sexism - when she appeared for a client meeting with a big client, they assumed she was the secretary and gave her a pad and pen to take notes on. She was also sexually harassed so badly, that she began to see a psychiatrist - this co - worker would go so far as to come to her hotel room when they were on trips together, knock on the door and essentially ask to come in to spend the night with her (she got him away by saying she had her period). I would have thought that such an obviously intelligent, tough woman (who had gone to Bucknell among other colleges) would have seen the value in second wave feminism, so I was really shocked. While I found the first person accounts of working in an advertising agency during this period to be absolutely fascinating (that's the historian in me), I didn't really enjoy how the book was written. I felt like Maas rushed through everything and, as a result, you feel not only like you're on a treadmill running very quickly (and getting nowhere) but you're left with very shallow observations. I'm going to leave this one up to you - the subject matter was really interesting but the writing style was mediocre at best.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Book 15 - Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson




This is the new novel by Eleanor Henderson and takes place in Lintonburg, Vermont. Lintonburg is obviously Burlington, VT, and is rife with references to Vermont State (UVM) and Lake Champlain (which is still Lake Champlain). At the beginning of the novel, we meet Jude and Teddy - two teenage boys that are seniors at the local high school and who are into the local drug scene. Jude's father is a marijuana dealer in New York who is dating Di, a prima ballerina (literally). Teddy is Jude's best friend and his mother also is heavily involved in the drug trade. Eliza is Di's daughter from a previous relationship and is a few years younger than the two boys. At the opening of the novel, it is New Year's Eve and it is the Mid-80s. Eliza decides to stop in Burlington on her way home to New York after a ski trip to Stowe and parties with Jude and Teddy. The three attend a bash at a local, wealthy classmate's home where there is alcohol, pot and cocaine (the cocaine being provided by Eliza, who never was into the whole pot scene apparently). After using coke with Eliza (and having sex with her) and then huffing freon with Jude, Teddy suffers a tragic overdose and dies, leaving both Jude and Eliza with massive amounts of guilt (and a pregnancy). As a result of this, Teddy's half brother, Jude and Eliza opt to band together to raise the baby and often shuttle between Lintonburg and Alphabet City in New York City, where Jude and Eliza become members of the Straight Edge punk rock scene, almost by default.

What I found really interesting about this novel is how Henderson used the Straight Edge movement as a catalyst for a coming of age epiphany for each of her characters and how each of them came out markedly differently even though they all partook in very similar situations and actions at very similar times (pregnancy aside). And yet, while each struggled to use the movement to attain individuality and to rebel, they all were seemingly like lemmings - they alls haves their heads and got X tattoos and listened to the same music and abstained from everything. They force their belief system on others and beat up those who don't buy into their theories and belief system (a la the Crusades but on a much lesser scale of course?). What I also really thought masterful about this novel was Henderson's writing style actually. The prose that she uses moves smartly along, and the dialogue was wonderful. I also really like how she delayed plot turns until a character essentially started talking about the twist which is gutsy, particularly in a newer writer and which I really appreciated because it kept my attention. Henderson is also gifted in the sense that she developed her characters and they had discernible epiphanies and were markedly different at the end.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Book 14 - The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson






Let's get one thing clear right from the get go - Adam Johnson is a white American dude who teaches literature at Stanford University and who has had very little opportunity to live or work in North Korea, the country of which is one of the subjects of this novel. In fact, he's only been to North Korea once in his lifetime. But somehow, he manages to capture our imagination and what he believes the life that exists in North Korea must be like.


The novel follows Jun Do's (John Doe?) life and Jun Do is supposed to be a stand in for the average North Korean man - the anonymous, like our John Doe or Jane Doe would be here in the States. Jun Do is raised in an orphanage, even though he's not really an orphan. In fact, the man that runs the orphanage is Jun Do's biological father; but Jun Do has never met his mother (who is supposedly a beautiful opera singer that lives in Pyongyang) and he has never been to a museum (even the "North Korean kind"). The orphanage is located in a very remote industrial town, so Jun Do gets through his entered childhood without seeing Pyongyang. When Jun Do comes of age, he is assigned to military training where he is trained in no light combat and put into tunnels underneath the de-militarized zone and then on kidnapping missions where he is charged with kidnapping seemingly innocent Japanese citizens. As a reward, he is sent to Language School where he learns English and then assigned to a fishing ship where he listens to English broadcasts and types out what he hears on a typewriter. Eventually Jun Do is promoted so much that he is sent with an intelligence team to the United States (Texas) and eventually, to impersonation of a high level military official.


I found that the first half of the book was absolutely fascinating while the second half of the book was really, really weird The second half of the book also seemed to deal in stereotypes of North Korea (although I have to say that for all I know it's really like that there - I've never been there and probably never will be there so maybe I'll never find out, although I find it hard to believe that political prisoners are treated the way that they are treated in this novel). AS far as novels go, I really enjoyed it - it was entertaining although sometimes confusing, particularly in the second half of the novel. I generally enjoyed it though.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Book 13 - Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman





This is a parenting memoir (a la Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) but, instead of intense, hand on parenting that borders on abuse, this is more of a laissez-faire style that the author would have her readers believe is actually pretty deceptive. In this memoir, Druckerman, who has moved to France, gotten married to a British sports journalist and has had children, documents her attempts to become a perfectly French mother. Her theory, which may actually contain some sentiment of truth, is that French parents are not actually obsessed with their children the way most British and American parents are. They don't spend weekends acting as the mom taxi and they definitely don't negotiate tantrums - instead, they have firm boundaries that allow for their children to be creative so long as they don't go outside of those boundaries. The French seem to base their parenting theories on a few, dare I say, common sense ideas: 1. That children and babies are really rational and miniature adults that can understand everything that we say as long as we explain things to them; 2. That children adapt to adult routines because it's important that they learn that they aren't alone in the world and that there is a time and place for everything.

What I found to be the most fascinating about this work was the research that Druckerman did in writing this book and how she incorporated it into it. I loved her interviews with the other parents that she came across in France - both the expatriates that she interviewed and the French parents that she owned. I also really enjoyed how she managed to incorporate the scientific and psychological research into her memoir as well. However, I didn't feel that anything that the French do is particularly unique to them - in fact, a lot of the stuff that was done was pretty common sensical so I'm not quite sure why this was particularly fascinating to Druckerman.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book 12 - The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes





This novel is the 2011 Booker Prize winner, written by Julian Barnes. It's 176 pages, but just because it's so short, doesn't mean you should undersell it. In fact, you shouldn't at all because it wholeheartedly deserves the recognition that it has received. When we meet the narrator, Tony, he is in prep school in the 50's or 60's in England. His group includes him and two other boys, but makes space to include a 4th - a brainy young man named Adrian, whom the boys quickly begin to admire and emulate. Tony is also discovering romance in the form of Veronica, and actually develops a really warm relationship with her mother (that is odd in retrospect, but I guess hindsight is 20/20). When Tony and Veronica inevitably (and quickly) break up, Veronica begins to date Adrian. Years later, after the friends have moved away and apart, and have grown up and had families and careers of their own, Veronica and Adrian become a part of Tony's life again, but not in the way that you would think.

What I really enjoyed about this book is its message: memory is not infallible and is often more edited then we would like to believe. The editing is often done by ourselves and not in ways that often make us feel proud about what we've done. It's a book that I am still thinking about and am highly considering re-reading in a month or 6 weeks, after much thought, because I am sure that I will peel back even more layers with a second reading. This novel was thoroughly enjoyable and I look forward to a re-reading.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Book 11 - Go the F*** to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes




Author Adam Mansbach wrote this children's book for adults and it is so, so, so food and so, so, so funny. It is based upon his experiences with his daughter, Vivian, who, apparently, would take up to two hours to fall asleep at night when she was younger. It is written in the style of a children's book but also adds, at the end of each verse, the parent's profane thoughts about the inability of their child to go to sleep at night. I really, really liked this because it's so funny and so true - the child's excuses and the responses that I think that we all seem to have as parents. What I also really liked is that it opens up dialogue about those frustrations that we have as parents but are sometimes difficult to talk about because of the stigma sometimes attached to them and the fear about being perceived as bad parents.

Would I read this to my kids? No. It does con taint profanity and that's all I need - both my four year old and my 18 month old running around dropping the f-bomb (everyone knows I say it way too much anyways - why should I tempt fate by actually reading a book to my child with that word in it?). But would I read it or listen to is (as read by Samuel Jackson - how awesome?!) myself - absolutely because it made me chortle and laugh so hard. Go out and either read this or listen to the audio book or both. It's wonderful.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book 10 - Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck by Eric G. Wilson




Can elephants really tell us anything about the macabre or morbid? What about our toddlers: will they ever stop wanting to blow things up? Why are we so drawn to things like the Holocaust Museum, Auschwitz, Ground Zero and Gettysburg? Why is there such fascination with autopsy photos of famous people? These are the questions that Wake Forrest Prof. Eric Wilson attempts to answer in this book, his newest. To answer these questions, Wilson not only draws upon his own experience but he uses philosophers like Kant, Aristotle and Freud as well as Shakespeare, among others (although there weren't any females that he relied upon interestingly enough but more on that later on). He also draws upon the cases of serial killers and the people that collect items that relate to them (because yes, apparently there are people that collect memorabilia that relate to Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and Aileen Wournos among others). We learn about his interviews with some of these collectors and about his attendance at a live re-enactment of the Passion of Christ.

Essentially, Wilson states that we're curious about death because we want the truth about that and we want beauty, as opposed to the view that death is the destruction and failure of the body that the medical establishment perpetuates it as. He claims that hospitals sterilize and hide the macabre aspects of death, creating an imbalance that can only be corrected by TV and our fascination by the morbid that we see and hear about on the television.

I was ambivalent and apathetic about this book. I really appreciated the short chapters but found them to be disjointed and hard to follow at times. I didn't feel that he even grazed the psychological and cultural machinations that lead to our oftentimes morbid fascination with the macabre. What was also disappointing is that he didn't use any female examples or philosophers to explain the experiences of fascination with the macabre. Wouldn't women experience this fascination for the same reason or would they experience it in a different way and why?

All in all, this book had a lot of potential but fell short.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book 9 - The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott


So, I picked up this book by Stephen Elliott expecting it to be the run of the mill memoir about a guy from the streets who has a drug addiction that he kicks and then makes good by becoming what he always dreamed of becoming - in his case a writer - and then writing this particular memoir in order to make sure that other people don't follow those early footsteps (or if they had, to prove to them that they too can achieve their goals). But this memoir isn't like this. It's actually way more complicated (and, by extension, much better). It's not just about Elliott's journey to self-discovery, although he manages to discover himself in the process. He's actually searching for a story that will help him to overcome his writer's block. His "official" story is about a murder that has occurred and the two people that are suspects in it - a soon to be ex-husband and his ex's new boyfriend. This search leads him through the wasteland of his childhood (in which he is a ward of the court and abused/neglected by his father) and his current addiction to Adderall (which he takes in pill form and snorts) and his penchant for S/M sexual relationships. No matter where he looks, though, he can't get around the demon of his father - all the paths that he takes seems to lead there.

I liked this more than I thought that I would. It's not a confessional, tell-all type of thing - more of the process of getting there then anything else and that was refreshing because the tell all memoirs can sometimes become very...old for lack of a better term. I thought it was also a creative take on the memoir genre. It used a real life murder trial to delve into and explore personal demons and that was brilliant, because it was different. It is, therefore, honest, raw and heart wrenching by turns. Elliott remains true to himself and the memories, as he remembers and feels about them. They're not sugar coated or filtered. They just are. And that is also what makes this memoir so interesting. Don't get me wrong, this memoir is sometimes disjointed and is more stream of consciousness or a mix of short stories held together by Elliott's reports of the murder trial, which act as the glue for the whole memoir.

I felt like this memoir was sincere and honest and I really enjoyed it. Go out and get it right now!

Book 8 - A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin


A Storm of Swords is the third in the Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin. It first came out in 2000 in the United Kingdom and then in the United States. It picks up the story lines slightly before the ending of the previous book, Clash of Kings, and features the remaining kings all fighting in the effort to secure their own thrones and secure domination of the entirety of the continent of Westeros. I don't want to provide too much more information because doing so would ruin the surprises (and let's face it, the surprises are the best parts of this series because they truly are gems that you don't see coming at all) but I can say that there are amazing plot twists and fantastic character development that draws you and almost forces you to become attached to the characters without you even realizing what's happening.

What I also really liked about George RR Martin in general, and with this book in particular, is that he is a master at both dialogue and prose. His dialogue is intricate and witty. His prose puts you into the scene and maximizes its use of the reader's senses in establishing scenes and the physical and emotional feelings of the characters that he's writing about. Somehow, Martin also never allows the pace to falter, even as the novel reaches 1100 pages. Definitely go out and get this book, but only after you've read the first two!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book 7 - From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry





This is Gilvarry's first novel and is told in the first person voice of Boyet Hernandez, a young man from the Philippines, who has arrived in New York City 2002 with the hopes of pursuing a career in fashion and design (he went to school for it in the Philippines). His dreams, we learn fairly quickly, have been dashed because he is writing his memoir from a prison cell in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba, where he is sitting awaiting his military tribunal (and a visit from his lawyer that seemingly never arrives) for consorting with and aiding known terrorists. We are given insight into the world that is Gitmo - a place where there are barely tolerable conditions, no lawyer visits and only one two minute shower per week, which must be taken alongside another detainee. We also learned about and are swept up in the hustle-bustle that is the fashion world in New York City.

Gilvary takes a really nice, witty and yet, sharp, look at the American world, post 9/11 and the paranoia that has seeped into the consciousness, thereby obscuring practicality and reasonableness and clouding judgment. Because Gillivarry uses humor, the tension and emotions that surround such a political time bomb of a subject are diffused;however the message is not lost or diluted simply because of it. I think that it actually makes the message easier to accept into your brain and it assists the reader in processing the message that is being conveyed by this remarkable novel. His views on the horrendous treatment of people in Cuba is still clearly articulated. Some of the best moments were the chapters about Cuba, because they were often placed in positions in the book where you could easily note the stark contrasts between Boy's experiences there and his experiences in New York, pre-detainment.

This was a really good first book - the author will have a big task in living up to expectations because of how well-done this book was. Go out and purchase this book for your library immediately.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book 6 - the Upright Piano Player by David Abbott




This is a pretty short novel that follows the story of Henry Cage, an aging British businessman that has been pushed out of the company that bears his name, that has an ex-wife that is dying, whose children are alienated from him and who has seemingly acquired a stalker, an ex-con that seems out to destroy his life. But what sets the tone for the novel is the chapter in which we first meet henry - he is attending the funeral of his grandson, who died in a horrific accident. The narrative then jumps back five years, to the time when Henry is kicked out of the company and we must then bear witness to his complete and utter destruction - a destruction that actually culminates in the chapter that initially introduces us to Henry.

Surprisingly, to me at least, this is Abbott's first novel. It was surprising because Abbott writes with a maturity and a knowledge and a voice that is so wise beyond his seeming lack of experience. He writes with the voice of a man that has written many novels previously and who will continue to write for many years to come. I also really enjoyed how we were given insight into Henry's life, personality, his flaws and his destruction -- we are given the best pieces of insight and wisdom through other people that interact with Henry. It did take me a while to adjust to the constant jumps in time and between characters. However, once I did, the novel moved smoothly and seamlessly and I was very happy to be able to get to read this novel.

Rating: BUY!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Book 5 - Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire


I've always been a fan of the Wicked books, ever since I read Wicked way back when it first came out. And then I got to see the musical version of it, which was wonderful, so when I saw and heard that the newest and final version of this series was out, I set out to the library to get it and I didn't even have to put it on hold. So I give you my review of the following book, with the most minimal amount of spoiler age as possible:




When we first open the book, we meet again with Dorothy Gale, who is 16 years old and visiting San Francisco with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. For her, six years have gone by since she visited Oz and rocketed to fame with her killing of the Wicked Witch of the West, but she can't forget about it and her aunt and uncle hope that the trip will cause her to forget about it, make her less loony and therefore, make her more marriageable. While in SF, an earthquake hits and before we know what happens to Dorothy, we are transported to Oz and the social upheaval that is rearing its ugly head. The Emerald City ("EC") is mounting an invasion of Munchkinland, which wants its independence and Glinda, the Good, is under house arrest. And Elphaba's granddaughter, the green baby Rain, has come of age and is living with Glinda, masked as her scullery maid. She has, however, an uncanny ability to make the Grimmerie, Elphaba's book of spells, do what she wants it to do even though she's scruffy and illiterate. And to top it all off, because of her gene lines, she can lay claim to the thrones of both Munchkinland and the Emerald City.


So she does what any girl would do: she becomes a fugitive and travels down the Yellow Brick Road with a motley crew of folk that includes Brr, the Cowardly Lion, a Dwarf named Mr. Boss, Little Daffy (a Munchkin that used to be a nun), Auntie Nor (her father's half sister), her father Liir (Elphaba's son) and Tip, a young man that becomes her lover eventually but who remains very mysterious. It also includes Dorothy, who has been transported back to Oz. I loved this novel. Maguire really tied things together and ended it poignantly and perfectly. There were moments where I laughed and moments where I cried. The writing style was wonderful - accessible, satirical and made tongue in cheek bites at the original books and the movie. Go out and grab it right away but not before getting the other books in the series - which I highly recommend that you read before you read this one in order to be able to appreciate the beauty that this book brings with it.

Here are links to the other books:



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