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Showing posts from 2013

Dear Life by Alice Munro

I have so many reviews and so little time! I'm generally not a tremendous fan of short stories; however Alice Munro is one of those few authors who can succinctly and powerfully capture a whole life in the span of a handful of pages, masterfully. And that is something that I enjoy and respect. Many of these stories are set in rural Canada, probably where Ms. Munro herself grew up. Many look back, in 20/20 hindsight, on events that occurred in childhood and that is the event on which the entire story is focussed. I did really enjoy the story, "Haven" in which a passive-agressive woman rebels (albeit passively-aggressively), in spite of having spent the great majority of time deferring to the antisocial opinions of her husband. I liked it because it was the portrait of a woman who are caught in the midst of changing social expectations and norms. The passive aggressive woman was caught between the compelling and strong needs to be independent and the need to belong, betw…

The Night Film by Marisha Pessl

The true believers only come out at night, at least to watch the psychologically horrific films that Stanislas Cordova creates in Marisha Pessl's latest novel. The movies are screened in abandoned buildings at night and only the initiated know about them. Specifically, the devoted initiates know to look for a red bird on the doors or walls to tell them that this is the building in which the latest Cordova movie is to be screened. What makes the director even more curious is that he has become a recluse - mostly because people suspect that he has something to hide or has done something more unsavory than his movies. Scott McGrath is the protagonist and definitely has a vendetta - a few years before we meet him as he's jogging around Central Park at 2 in the morning, he got sued for libel, lost and was disgraced for writing a story about Cordova. When Cordova's daughter, Ashley, who is talented beyond belief, suffers from an untimely death, he sees the opportunity that he…

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

This book is set on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota in 1988, give or take a few years. The protagonist is Joe Coutts, a thirteen year old member of the Ojibwe tribe and whose mother is brutally beaten and raped in the tribe's Round House. The Round House is a place of prominence in the tribe's culture as that is where a number of religious ceremonies are held, including the Sweat Lodges. His father, Bazil, is a lawyer and the town's tribal judge, making the violation that occurred even that much more horrific. Because Joe's mother is extremely unclear as to what happened and where due to her injuries and her seeming unwillingness (who can really blame her) to remember what happened to her, it's hard to figure out who committed the offense and in what jurisdiction each event happened. This is significant because it could be a federal offense, a state offense or a tribal offense, with the ramifications of each being extremely different (for instance, on Indian …

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

We learn pretty much at the beginning of this utterly engrossing book that Will Schwalbe's mother had Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Yes, thats the terminal kind that has metastasized to many other organs of a person's body. While this may have been devastating to most people (and was to Will, his siblings and the rest of his family), his indomitable mother continues to live a *really* active life. She juggles her treatments with her other obligations and her pleasures, most notably her voracious appetite for reading. During her treatments, Will (also a tremendous reader in a family of readers) will read the same books that his mother does and discuss them with her in great depth.I'm normally very hesitant about books about books - they can go so horribly wrong so quickly; however this one was really good in part because it's not a Cliffs note version of books, and because it's also a memoir of his mother's struggle with cancer and because he's such a good wri…

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

This book is a memoir written by Piper Kerman, a WASP-y, upper middle class, Smith college graduate that has to spend 15 months in a minimum security prison in Connecticut after she pleads guilty to federal drug charges. It is the basis - loosely - of the Netflix series of the same name. If you haven't seen the series, please take a time out immediately, go over to Netflix and add it to your streaming queue because it is to die for - it's one of my guilty pleasures.I really liked the memoir (which is different in many ways from the series - which can take many fictional liberties whereas the memoir can't). Kerman tries to provide a glimpse of what life is like on the inside of the prison, albeit in a way that is similar to what went on in Eat, Pray, Love. I really liked seeing the day to day life of a post-adjudged convict in the criminal justice system and the struggles that these women faced and that were inherent in the return to society. I really wished that I had got…

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

How good this novel is can be demonstrated by its opening line: ""My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost 40 years ago [the early 1970's] I was sent on a secret mission for the British security service. I didn't return safely. Within eighteen months of joining I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, though he certainly had a hand in his own undoing." Yes, it's a "spy novel" in some sense; however only very loosely so. Too much said about the plot will ruin the effect for the reader though. I can say that the book is full of irony and simply wonderful. Serena is one of the best characters that I've ever met in literature. She is so complex. As we meet her, we learn that she has gone to college at Cambridge (not too shabby) where she studied math after being forced to do so by her ambitious mother (instead of English and literature, which were Serena's passions and still are when we meet her - she litera…

Fairyland by Alysia Abbott

This book is a memoir written by a woman in the hopes that she can recover the memory of her father and his innocence, because his innocence was the first thing that came to her mind when she thought of him. Alysia's mom and dad were a couple, got married, had the author and then Alyia's mother died in a car crash. Once she did, Alysia and her dad moved to San Francisco, where Alysia began to realize that her father was gay. Steve Abbott, Alysia's father, began to move through the peripheries of the San Francisco poetry scene in the sixties and seventies. He came out during the age of Harvey Milk and he was able to finally find his voice during that time period. During that time period, Alysia was right by his side - he was her only parent. The part of her memoir that struck me the most was how she chronicled the seeming loss of innocence that occurred between the age of the Beats, the onset of AIDS and the death that it wrought before people became educated about it. Wh…

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

When we first encounter Thea Atwell, our protagonist, she has been sent away from her home in Florida to the mountains of Appalachia in what we know is disgrace. She is 15 years old and one half of a set of fraternal twins, the other half of which remained at home with their parents. Thea hopes that she is merely there for summer camp, but when summer is over, she learns that she will be there for the rest of the school year at the very least. The events occur during the beginning of the Great Depression and one can tell that it is having an impact on the girls at the camp, many of whom must leave or get hastily married in order to ensure the family's financial stability and/or position. Economics, however, are a secondary theme to adolescent, and specifically female adolescent, sexual awakening. It doesn't take the reader long to figure out that sex was at the heart of Thea's exile from the fold; however, it is richly given to us in layers that are peeled away slowly. The…

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Without giving too much away, hopefully, I think that I can say this about the plot of this novel: it's about the lives of a woman named ursula Todd who continuously reliving her life. For instance, we meet her on the day of her birth, where she is still born and then on the next page, we meet her again and she has managed to live a little longer. And in the section after that, a bit longer. And so the whole book goes, with Ms. Todd living a bit longer each time. During each of these lives we learn a lot more about Ms. Todd and we also learn that she becomes aware that this is happening to her. The book was a bit difficult to get into as far as the rhythm and pacing of it - it is also disconcerting and disorienting in the beginning because the reader has no idea of what is going on. I think that this may have been intentional on the part of the author because as the novel goes on, one of the most impressive parts is the main character's increasing self awareness including…

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle

Surprisingly to me, this was Jill McCorkle's sixth novel; however it was her first in about 15 years.The center of activity of this novel is an assisted living facility in the Southeast, which is also located near a cemetery. THe novel introduces the reader to many different residents of the facility, its workers and their friends. Their memories and experiences are revealed to the reader through memories, journal entries and first person narrative. Slowly and surely, the reader begins to grasp the tension between illusion and reality and the difficulty that each person has determining what belongs to each realm.I loved these characters - even the ones that were reprehensible. I appreciated the authenticity of the characters. It wasn't a stretch to believe that these were people that I would have known in real life. It moved somewhat slowly and yet I didn't mind that it moved slowly. It allowed me to get to know the characters and to immerse myself in the community. It…

Detroit by Charlie LeDuff

I heard about this book on one of my favorite reading podcasts: Books on the Nightstand and it sounded so good. I found it quite easily at my local library. Charlie LeDuff is a trained journalist and he actually lives in Detroit. He states that his family is from the area, however I'm not positive that this is accurate. He does currently live in Detroit and does online and TV journalism. This made his perspective unique, intriguing and heartbreaking all in one. His narrative looks at many different parts of Detroit's existence: his personal and family life, politics, economics and law enforcement. Even the parts of the narrative that aren't personal become so as he talks about them through a personal lens. He chronicles the appalling neglect of the fire department - their shoes literally have holes in them. One of the firefighters that LeDuff shadows as he researches the book dies in a house fire, in part due to equipment failure. LeDuff's narrative delves into the in…

World Without End by Ken Follett

This is the second novel in the Pillars of the Earth series; however you should know that the books aren't dependent upon you reading one and then the other. They simply take place in the same place. This novel takes place in the 1300's, approximately 200-300 years after the events in The Pillars of the Earth, in the same town. The cathedral is still standing; however, there are many things that are changing in the lives of the people. Serfs are beginning to free themselves by looking to other towns that pay more for the jobs they do and the products they sell. This novel follows the lives of four very different children: Ralph, Gwenda, Caris and Merthing. We meet them when they are quite young and they have wandered into the forrest, only to watch a man be killed. The characters use this moment seminally and it completely influences who they become.The book not only encompasses the black plague and the slowly evolving role of the church, but also issues surrounding econo…

A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin

This is the 5th of seven novels in the Fire and Ice series by George Martin. There was six years in between this latest novel and the 4th book in the series so the question has to be whether it was worth the wait. It's hard for me to say because I came to the series late enough that there wasn't much of a delay between when I finished the 4th book and when the most recent book was released. Without giving much away, I think that there were both good thins and bad things. I really loved the battle scenes from the forth novel and missed those in this most recent installment. However I was also very pleased at how Mr. Martin developed quests in the most recent installment. I'm hopeful that the next book will combine the two in the ways that the first three books of the series did, since that was very effective. That being said, Martin is a better writer than when he started the series all those years ago (and how in the heck did I not know about them, the prolific reader that…

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed went through a very tough time in her life in the mid 90's. She lost her mother to a very fast moving cancer, cheated on her husband and then divorced him. She moved from waitress job to waitress job, hoping that something would appear or she would get a big break. At times she was both promiscuous and an illegal drug imbiber, exposing herself to diseases that in her prior life, she may not have. In the midst of these struggles, Ms. Strayed decides that in order to exorcise her demons, she must hike the Pacific Coast Trail from the Southernmost tip of California to Canada for a grand total of 1100 miles. This is a memoir that encapsulates a trek through beautiful countryside as well as a meditation on loss. Strayed describes her emotional and mental landscape as thoroughly as she describes the landscape that she is hiking through - she doesn't spare any discussions of the losses that she has endured. What disappointed me a little bit was that Ms. Strayed didn&…

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I had never heard about Lionel Shriver before, ironically, seeing the movie adaptation of this novel (starring Tilda Swinton who I think, may have won an award for her portrayal of Kevin's mother). I was shocked to learn that she was born in 1957 and is 22 years older than me mostly because the pictures that I see of her show her when she's younger and because she handled the material in this novel so adroitly.This novel was published initially in 2003 and tells the story of a fictional school massacre from the perspective of the killer's mother - Eva Khachadourian. The story is told in the first person through letters that Eva has written to her husband, Franklin, and which seem to come every week or so. In the letters, Eva deals with everything from her relationship with Franklin both before and after Kevin is born and she struggles with adjusting to life after this has happened, which is difficult because she lives in the town that this happened in. What made this novel…

Columbine by David Cullen

What an awful choice of books in the current time and circumstances; however, in my own defense, I chose to read this book earlier this month - and finished it way before the Boston Marathon bombings but I never got around to reviewing it until now. And quite frankly, I always have had this morbid curiosity as to what drives people that were seemingly normal to do such horrendously awful things. That was the motivation that I had in picking up this book (and why I ahve been obsessed with the Boston Marathon case since it happened). This book is a comprehensive examination of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado and follows two story lines very closely. What I loved about this book is how much of it took me by surprise. We all believed and thought that they were targeting specific people; however that isn't what happened. The two boys were shooting at random that day. They didn't have targets at all! Well, I take it back - the school and the community were the tar…

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

You know that a book is going to be a wonderfully epic novel when the first line is: "The small boys came early to the hanging." The novel lived up to the tremendous first line because it was honestly 900 pages and then some of wonderful prose.The Pillars of the Earth was written by Ken Follett and came out in 1989. It takes place in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England in the 12th century and the centerpiece of the novel - the thread that binds everyone in the tapestry together - is the building of the town's new cathedral. It takes place during an important period - the time between the sinking of a ship and the murder of the Archbishop, Thomas Becket (both of which play somewhat important roles in the novel). When we meet the town of Kingsbridge, Henry has already died and there is no clear heir. Maud (his daughter) and Stephen are fighting for the throne. Tom Builder, a master builder, is searching for work for his family of four (soon to be five) because the…

Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon

I am a tremendous fan of Emily Bazelon - I have been ever since I started listening to her on the Slate podcasts and reading her blog articles there as well. I also loved her interview with Steven Colbert, which is what convinced me to get her new book. My husband bought it for me as my birthday present, which made it even more special!I think that the idea for this book started in 2009 when Ms. Bazelon began writing articles on Slate about bullying and its impact on students. Social media seemed to amplify the impact of bullying on various groups and that piqued her concern and interest even more so. In this book, Bazelon attempts to define what bullying is, using three case studies, and attempts to provide some guidance to administrators and families in the hopes of reigning in bullying in the social media age. I think that a lot of people assumed that this book would be really a self help book in disguise and it really isn't - you would know that Bazelon is NOT the self help t…

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban

This is a young adult novel that focuses on Tim MacBeth, a 17 year old albino that has transferred to a prestigious private school in upstate New York in the middle of his senior year. The motto of the school is "enter here to be and find a friend;" however, Tim has no interest in this. He just wants to finish school and move on, hopefully without drawing too much more unwanted attention to himself. Right away, Tim's plans go out the window when he finds himself falling for the homecoming queen, the "it" girl Vanessa, who is conveniently dating the most popular guy at the school. Vanessa is surprisingly sweet to Tim and really likes him as well. They begin a relationship that not too many people know about; and both are living under the Senior English project - The Tragedy Paper. Even though this is classified as a young adult novel, you should by no means underestimate it because the novel is beautifully written and wonderfully crafted. It exemplifies the sayi…

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

AFter reading this 2012 winner of the Orange Award, I learned that Miller studied drama at Yale and that her specialty was adapting the classic Greek and Roman myths into stage productions for modern audiences and that's when I realized that this wonderful book came "naturally" to her as a first time novelist. We are immediately transported to the Ancient Greece of the heroes that we know so well and we meet a less well known (er, ok, unknown completely) young man named Patroclus. Patroclus is a prince, who as a young boy is one of the contenders of Helen's hand and who subsequent to his rejection, killed another boy. Patroclus is, as a result, disowned and sent to Phthia as an exile to live in the palace of the king. While there, he becomes friends with Achilles, the half human/half God prince and becomes his companion. Where Patroclus is geeky and awkward, Achilles is strong, handsome and has none of the growing pains that a normal teenage boy should have. They e…

Broken Harbor by Tana French

This novel is one of Tana French's Dublin murder squad books. I think that she has two (that I'm sure of) and possibly another additional one out there. I liked both of the ones that I read so when I saw that she had a new one, I started salivating over it and here we are. In this novel, Mick "Scorcher" Kenned - a supporting actor from her novel, Faithful Place, published in 2010, - takes center stage in this novel. His goal is to attempt to figure out what happened in the early morning hours and which resulted in the death of two children and their father and left their mother barely alive and clinging to life. The setting is a development that was obviously intended to be upscale - the homes were designed to be beautiful and are overlooking the sea of a former resort town (that ironically, Mick used to visit with his family). The development hasn't been completed : there are shells of homes and half built homes and empty homes all over the place because the re…

Marmee and Louisa by Eve LaPlante

I think that I fell in love with Eve LaPlante when I read American Jezebel perhaps last year or the year before. I thought that LaPlante was my type of historian - a feminist that delved into the women in America's history and then told their stories in a way that was accessible. But then I found out that not only did I love her books, but she is related to Louisa May Alcott - she is a cousin and her great great great grandfather, was Louisa May Alcott's uncle!! So, when I saw that she wrote a book about Louisa May Alcott, I was so excited and, after reading this book, I am convinced that I was Louisa May Alcott in a previous life (or, at the very least, I would totally have been friends with her if I lived when she did because she was awesome). If you read the first of Alcott's works: Flower Fables, it is inscribed to her mother, Abigail May Alcott. That inscription states: “Whatever beauty or poetry is to be found in my little book is owing to your interest and encourag…

In One Person by John Irving

So, I started reading books by John Irving way back when I was in college and a friend of mine recommended that I read The World According to Garp (a book that I should probably re-read along with The Cider House Rules and a Prayer for Owen Meany). I should probably send a very heartfelt thank you because Irving has become one of my most treasured authors of all time, and his place in my heart has grown since I learned that he's from New Hampshire.In One Person is told from the viewpoint of Billy, who always seems to have a crush on the "wrong person," including gender bending types that one wouldn't necessarily expect a young man growing up in the 50's to confidently express a desire for (but whom Billy does). It focuses on his years as a faculty brat at a prep school in rural Vermont and then the years shortly after - I think that it's accurate to say that most Irving's attention is paid to Billy's adolescence and college years. There are big quest…

Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie

I don't remember where I heard or saw this book, but it was an interesting read. It is a collection of short stories written by a man that is Native American and grew up on a reservation near Spokane, Washington (he is in fact, a member of the Spokane tribe) and the stories heavily portray the Native American experience and are autobiographical in nature. I guess not truly autobiographical as they are classified as short stories/fiction; however they took root in experiences that Alexie had while he was growing up and as an adult.The title of the collection is appropriate because it seems like the main characters are always committing some sort of sin or other blasphemy. I loved how all of the protagonists, like the author, are Native American and literally make everyone uncomfortable because they all push the envelope in some way. And while they push the envelope, they are also addressing issues that Native Americans currently face: alcoholism, joblessness, transitioning from th…

Southbound by Lucy and Susan Letcher (aka Isis and jackrabbit, the "Barefoot Sisters")

I have been scouring my local library for tales about hiking and the mountains, with a focus on first person narrative but also history. I found this book by doing a Google search for hiking memoirs and it landed on a number of top 10 lists so I picked it up. This book is a memoir told in the first person voice, an alternates between the perspectives of the two sisters: Lucy and Susan.Thru hiking, or hiking the entire AT from North to South or South to North is not something that I want to do right now although I'm not dismissing it completely - perhaps when the kids are older - anyways, this was a good intro to it.Lucy and Susan have jsut graduated from college and are trying to decide what to do with their lives. As they attempt to find themselves, they decide to hike SOBO on the AT. Barefoot. While it's still fun, at least. The narrative often alternates between either girls' perspectives, never really repeating itself but alternating visions of a single, chronolo…

Defending Jacob by William Landay

I heard about this book on one of my favorite book podcasts: Books on the Nightstand. I was surprised to find a copy available in the library for me to take out. Pleasantly so. This novel looked and sounded intriguing because it is about Andy Barber - a high powered assistant district attorney in a county that borders the city of Boston. He is so high powered, that he is the first assistant and is often the go guy for the homicides and other serious offenses that crop up in his jurisdiction. Anything involving lawyers and criminal law is intriguing. Not only is he well respected at his job, but he is loved and respected in his family and in his neighborhood as well. He seems to have the most perfect life that anyone can imagine having. His perfect suburban life is shattered by an odd homicide in his neigh brood - a 14 year old boy is killed as he was walking to school and Andy's son Jacob, has been arrested and charged in the death. The book starts out with what is obviously the …

This is How You Lose her by Junot Diaz

This book has been all over the place from NPR to the book podcasts that I listened to. In this book, we are introduced to Yunior again - Yunior and his family have emigrated from the Dominican Republic and have settled in the northeast - New Jersey is the setting for many of those tales. We learn that he grew up in a poor immigrant community there. Yunior's life with his family is the focus of his most recent collection of stories - that is what this book is - a collection of short stories, the common thread of which is Yunioor's life and his interactions with his family. Yunior's voice also holds the stories together because they are all told from his perspective and it is a really unique and interesting perspective. I particularly like the first story entitled "The Sun, the Moon and the Stars," a story in which Yunior brings his girlfriend, with whom he has had a pretty serious romantic relationship, to the Dominican Republic for a vacation. They visit both t…

Up by Patricia Ellis Herr

I found this book while doing a search for books that related to hiking in thee White Mountains and the 4000 foot club. The search may have even been more narrow in the sense that I was looking for the best hiking books out there that weren't guides of some sort and were mostly if not all memoir. It took root in Herr's blog about hiking with her daughters. She also has nother blog about hiking here. After having done my research on her, I was quite frankly fascinated. I admire her drive - she's a homeschooling feminist thta dropped out of the workforce and before getting her Ph.D from Harvard in order to do what she did - and I wanted to do what she did at least as far as the hiking with the kids thing. So I eagerly went hunting for this book at my local library and I found it.Tricia and her 6 year old daughter start hiking on a whim - she's one of those moms that believe in indulging her daughter to some degree and encouraging her to try new things in the hopes tha…

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

<This novel is the second in a trilogy by Justin Cronin. I'm kind of in a bind in the sense that I don't want to give too much away - so be forewarned that there may be spoilers here. I found this book as I do a lot of my books - by browsing through the new releases section of the library. I didn't get it to review as an advance reader version or anything like that. The book starts, almost pretentiously (OK, actually pretentiously) in the format of Bible verses that serve to describe what happened in the previous novel. We then fast forward to brief updates as to where the characters from the last novel are currently and once that is done, Cronin attempts to give us some history of where things are now.I enjoyed the story, even though it's obviously just filling time until the third installment of the trilogy comes into being. I'm not going to knock it too much, because some of the best movies or stories are the "filler" or bridge (I'm thinking …

Book 2: Making Babies by Anne Enright

This book doesn't count towards the 100 fiction books challenge that I'm participating in, but definitely counts towards my 100 books in 2013 challenge so I'm going to label it as book 2.Anne Enright is, apparently, one of Ireland's eminent authors; however I had never heard of her before. I was browsing around in the library and saw this book, picked it up and read it. In it, Ms. Enright has just had two babies in pretty quick secession: a boy and a girl. She had them approximately 18 years after marrying their father, during which she had a mature and lucrative career as a writer. She won the Booker prize in 2007 for crying out loud. This book is made of several anecdotes about her experiences in the early years of having children and is definitely memoir. I learned something while reading this book: It's often really hard to write about babies because, guess what, they're boring. And when you write a book on them, as Ms. Enright did - while they are infant…

Book 1 - Boston Noir

So I picked this book up because I love the city of Boston and have spent a lot of time there in my college years and law school years. I went to college near Boston and then in law school, visited a lot because my husband still lived there. I also spent one summer there interning in between my first and second year in law school. Boston has a place in my heart even though it's not the same as the city that I grew up in. And of course, Dennis Lehane is a wonderful, local author that has written a ton of good fiction based in Boston. This is a collection of short stories I think edited by Dennis Lehane which was published in 2009. The "Noir" series is published by an independent press in the Bronx that started the series with Bronx Noir (also fantastic) and has since moved onto cities like Detroit, New Orleans and even Istanbul. Each story focuses on a particular neighborhood in Boston - ranging from the North End and Beacon Hill to Southie. Two of the stories have rema…

My 2012 Challenge and My 2013 Challenge

So my 2012 challenge fell flat on its face. I apparently read approximately one-third of the books that I wanted to read. I will read 100 books gosh darnit, I will. And that is what the challenge for this year is, again: The rules can be found here. Wish me luck!