Friday, July 31, 2009
On a visit to her childhood home in Texas, Julie Powell pulls her mother's battered copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the bookshelf. And the book calls out to her. Pushing thirty, living in a run-down apartment in Queens, and working at a dead-end secretarial job, Julie Powell is stuck. Is she in danger of becoming just another version of the house-wife-in-a-rut? Her only hope lies in a dramatic self-rescue mission. And so she invents a deranged assignment: in the space of one year, she will cook every recipe in the Julia Child classic, all 524 of them. No skips, no substitutions. She will track down every obscure ingredient, learn every arcane cooking technique, and cook her way through sixty pounds of butter. And if it doesn't help her make sense of her life, at least she'll eat really, really well. How hard could it be?
But as Julie moves from the smooth sailing of Potage Parmentier into the culinary backwaters of aspics and calves' brains, she realizes there's more to Mastering the Art of French Cooking than meets the eye. For every triumphant Bifteck Saute au Beurre there is a disastrously soupy Creme Brulee. For every heavenly meal, an obscenity-laced nervous breakdown lurks on the horizon. But with Julia's stern warble steady in her ear, Julie carries on. She battles sauces that separate and she haunts the city's butchers, buying kidneys and sweetbreads. Her husband endures the crying jags and midnight dinners. Together they discover how to mold the perfect orange Bavarian cream, the trick to extracting marrow from bone, and the illicit thrills of eating liver. With fierceness, irreverence, and unbreakable resolve, Julie Powell learns Julia Child's most important lesson: the art of living with gusto.
My review: I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while, especially once I saw the preview for the movie that is releasing soon. I expected to read a humorous, chaotic story about learning to find oneself while cooking some hard-to-pronounce French cuisine. I was also thoroughly looking forward to all the food descriptions and various kitchen catastrophes that would undoubtedly ensue—so I waited my turn in the local library reserve line and then got started.
It didn’t take very long before my excitement for this culinary adventure dimmed, flickered, and then went out all together. Usually I can slide right by the odd profanity now and then (desensitized heathen that I am), but this book was so obscenity–laden, that it was hard not to just stop in the middle of the page and stare at the words. Seriously, you’re going to say that word HOW many times in a sentence!?!? Really? If this were a movie script, it would have exceeded the Rating Commissions standards for a PG-13 rating by page 8 (I’m not exaggerating).
Julie Powell, as written, is rarely likeable. While some reviews out in cyber-la-la-land have called her refreshing and honest, I found her style of writing to be hardly more than crude and insensitive. Among other things, Julie mocks the events of 9/11, encourages her friend to sleep with married men, swears unapologetically, and frequently engages in the kind of conversation more likely to take place in a men’s locker room than on the pages of a book about cooking. While others might find this entertaining, I found it distracted so thoroughly from the heart of the story (the Julie/Julia connection and the cooking) that I couldn’t get into the book.
Even the Julia moments, a hope that I was sincerely clinging to by the time they arrived, are few and far between—more afterthoughts or transitions than a cohesive part of the book.
Despite my high hopes for Julie & Julia, I quit reading at page 143 (lest you think I am basing this review on pages 1-7) and felt that I had given this book enough of my time. Ultimately, the author’s excessive profanity and vulgarity made it completely impossible to fully appreciate the parts of the book that were worth appreciating. If material like that doesn’t bother you, then you might like this book a whole lot more than I did. If you manage to make it through the whole thing, please let me know. We’d love to have your review.
I still have high hopes for the movie and I’m sure that I will like it much more than the book.
POST-EDIT: I finally saw the movie and it is INFINITELY better than the book. It is exactly what I hoped the book would be.
SIDE NOTE: If you just had your hopes dashed into a million little pieces by this review, I strongly recommend The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. It is everything a good food lit book should be and it’s DELICIOUS without being crude and offensive.
My rating: 2 Stars and only because I'm being kind and assuming that other people might not find this a complete waste of time.
To sum it up: A disappointing and offensive book --not at all the humorous, emotional journey I expected.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Four years ago, in Ventura, California, Jonell McLain saw a diamond necklace in a local jewelry store display window. The necklace aroused desire first, then a provocative question: Why are personal luxuries so plentiful yet accessible to so few? What if we shared what we desired? Several weeks, dozens of phone calls, and a leap of faith later, Jonell bought the necklace with twelve other women, with the goal of sharing it.
Part charm, part metaphor, part mirror, the necklace weaves in and out of each woman’s life, reflecting her past, defining her present, making promises for her future. Lending sparkle in surprising and unexpected ways, the necklace comes to mean something dramatically different to each of the thirteen women.
With vastly dissimilar histories and lives, the women show us how they transcended their individual personalities and politics to join together in an uncommon journey. What started as a quirky social experiment became something far richer and deeper, as the women transformed a symbol of exclusivity into a symbol of inclusiveness. They discovered that sharing the necklace among themselves was only the beginning; The more they shared with others, the more profound this experience–and experiment–became.
Original, resonant, and beautifully told, this book is an inspiring story about a necklace that became greater than the sum of its links, and about thirteen ordinary women who understood the power of possibility, who touched the lives of a community, and who together created one extraordinary experience.
(Cover Photo from barnesandnoble.com, Summary from book jacket)
My Review: I found this to be a creative, fascinating experiment and was curious about the women who would be willing to fork over more than $1000 a piece to buy a necklace they had to share. These women formed a club around the necklace, getting together each month to discuss everything from insurance issues to sharing rules. They even went as far to bestow upon the necklace a quirky name, Jewelia, and would discuss in depth the different places the necklace was worn during the last month. At times I had to wonder how another woman could stand the thought of that around her neck after knowing where it had been.
The book is divided into 14 chapters, one for each woman and a final chapter about the overall experiment with the necklace. I dove into the book expecting a little background information about each woman, as well as the story of why they decided to participate in this experiment and how sharing the necklace has changed them. I was also expecting a few thoughts from each woman about the highs and lows of the adventure they have undertook. This was where I found myself disappointed.
With the exception of two women, Jarvis merely touches on each woman. Although each woman has her own chapter, it may be only a few paragraphs in that chapter that speaks of who that lady really is. During those paragraphs you are more likely to hear a physical account of the woman (blond, thin, tan, etc), then anything of real substance. The rest of the chapter is spent highlighting the happenings of the necklace experiment, which would have fit nicely except many times what was going on within the chapter had absolutely nothing to do with the woman who the chapter was titled after. I found this to be rather distracting and thus had a most difficult time keeping the participants' names straight. I felt that each woman was never given her own voice.
If you are going to fit a story about thirteen women into a mere 200 pages you should make every word count and I didn't feel Jarvis accomplished this. There were many, many words wasted on describing the California scenery. Great for a travel guide, not so great for this book. All the descriptions actually had me a little bored. Where's the emotion? A couple women dropped out of the experiment over the years and this was barely touched on. Give me that story instead of explaining in great detail the drive to the different homes, what the inside of each looked like and then going on to explain the view out each window within the home.
I did enjoy the recounts of how the necklace was used to bring happiness to so many more than the original thirteen. It was said so many times that this purchase was more about the sharing then the actually wearing of the necklace and, for the most part, these women proved that. I truly believe that the friendships found amongst the women ended up being much more valuable than the actual necklace.
Though I can't say that I really liked this book, I believe that this will be an interesting book for our book club. I can envision a discussion regarding diamonds and friendship. At points this was an inspiring story, the power woman have when working together as a group. And there's no denying that what these women embarked upon was a unique journey. Though I won't be recommending this book, I do think many would enjoy this condensed version of the story found in Readers Digest.
My Rating: 3 Stars, (4 stars for the story, 2 stars for the actual book)
If I had to sum it up in one sentence it would be: A rather dull account of thirteen unique women who embark upon a very fascinating experiment.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I love browsing the “New Non-fiction” tables at my library. I picked this up because I was in the midst of a change in my two-year-old’s TV watching habits. My recent pregnancy, resultant bed-rest, and concluding (thankfully) with “tired mother nursing an infant” had increased her TV watching from none - to a LOT of Seasame Street,” for which I was feeling guilty, and like I’d let down my standards. Because of the topic I assumed this book with guilt me into cutting back the amount of TV she was watching to “pre-pregnancy” levels (or increase my guilt when I didn’t).
Imagine my surprise when it completely justified, in a positive way, the TV my daughter was watching and in fact convinced me to add other children’s shows to the line-up. But wait, I don’t recommend this book because it justifies me, but rather, because it is an broad look at TV and children that relies on scientific information while and taking into account the realities of raising an child (or two) from birth through pre-school. I was so interested in what the author was telling me that I felt breathless as I read - does it make me lame that I would describe this as a "page turner"? This book was so balanced that I wish wish wish the author would research for me: vaccinations, methods of education, and whether or not I should move nearer my family.
A few highlights from the book:
While there are studies on how children learn from pre-school programming, this is in its own infancy and the kids heavily exposed to the newer programming (ie, Baby Einstein) haven’t even graduated from elementary school yet. So stay tuned for further research.
One of the most important and eye-opening things I learned was the effect of background noise on the development of language and vocabulary. If you have the TV, or radio, on all the time, even if no one is watching, you should read Chapter 4.
This book gave me “permission” to expand the shows my daughter watches to from just Sesame Street to include Thomas the Tank Engine, Dora, Barney, and Blue’s Clues. Within reason of course. (In fact it made me feel like I was short changing her by not letting her watch these shows, which some studies have shown increase vocabulary and “pro-social” skills.)
This book affirmed my decision not to let her watch full-length animated shows until she is older.
In addition to examining the effects of TV watching, this book taught me a lot about the cognitive development of my children.
My rating: 5 stars, a must read for parents of pre-schoolers.
In one sentence: A refreshingly and excitingly unbiased and realistic examination of TV's place in our homes.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Laurel turned to the mirror again, her eyes on the hovering petals that floated beside her head. They looked almost like wings.
This extraordinary tale of magic and intrigue, romance, and danger, everything you thought you knew about faeries will be changed forever.
(summary from book jacket - photo from amazon.com)
My review: I didn’t know that this was LDS fiction when I read it. I suspected, when I got to the end, and saw that Pike was from Idaho and was now living in Utah her hubbie and 3 kids. Am I stereotyping? Absolutely—but I’m also right. I googled. Like I’ve said, LDS authors come from a smaller pool of writers and, with the high demand (in the LDS world) for clean fiction, things sometimes get published that maybe, well, wouldn’t ordinarily be picked up by another publisher.
However, I am totally impressed with Aprilynne Pike. She held her own in the sea of fantasy YA fiction that is currently on the market, managing to write an engaging, and inventive faerie-tale that has a great deal of potential. While I didn’t find the story compelling in a grown-up sense, I think that a younger reader would thoroughly enjoy themselves. Pike definitely puts a new spin on things. I never expected that Laurel would be what she was in the biological sense and I appreciated all the little details that she created to make that character different.
I enjoyed the love triangle she created. Any good romantic novel has to have a little bit of conflict and though one guy definitely had more sizzle than the other, I felt she did a good job of creating tension without actually taking the characters anywhere inappropriate for young readers.
That having been said, I didn’t feel a strong pull to the “David” side of things. This is in part because I couldn’t stop picturing David Archuleta, which pretty much ruined him as a romantic character for me (sorry David). However, I think that might work in her favor with a younger audience though as I understand he’s all the rage in the 'tween set. I think she could have done more with David in order make Laurel’s decision that much harder.
There were a few awkward situations where the term “flower” could have had a double meaning, though I highly doubt it was intended. Maybe I’m just dirty minded. I don’t know. It’s a side-effect of being married to my husband, I guess.
Overall, this book ended just as I started to really get into it. I will definitely pick up the next one to see how the story progresses before I decide just how much I like the series.
My rating: 4 Stars (for YA Genre). I think there was one swear word in the entire book.
Sum it up in one phrase: I’m interested to see where this goes….
Monday, July 27, 2009
The Big Love Book Group Recommendations
I’d like to think I was a book groupie long before Madame Oprah made it vogue to belong to a book group with her official Oprah stamped books. I moved to Washington DC in 1993 (Oprah’s club started in 1996, I think?) to start my first “real” job out of college. Not soon thereafter, my friends from church invited me to their book group. Keep in mind, I’d never read for pleasure. College reading was a necessity and I don’t remember much about High School lit classes, nor did I read any of the childhood classics that I should have. So, the thought of picking up a book for enjoyment was totally foreign to me.
The book selection that night was Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Between the book and discussion, my world was changed forever. First, I discovered that I love food writing! The glories of reading about the delicacies in her book made me weep. Plus, I had no idea how much fun it would be to sit around talking “book talk.” And the refreshments after were, quite literally, icing on the cake.
After nearly 5 years of living in DC, my future husband swept me off my feet and moved me to NYC, where my monthly book group ceased. We had no friends and we commuted/worked 15 hours a day. It was like living in a vast literary waste land. NYC was not meant for us, so after two years of wrangling the Big Apple, we were happily pregnant and off to the South.
My first goal (after trying to figure out how to deal with a sleepless/screaming newborn), was to start a book group. I knew it would be essential to my survival as a new mom and individual. When my daughter turned two, I took the plunge. I sent out postcards to nearly every member of my ward’s Relief Society. The following month I had 10 ladies sitting in my very cozy, living room. We picked the classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the rest is history.The following is the accumulated reading list of our six years together. We meet once a month for 11 months out of the year (we don’t meet during December because of the holidays); so during our 6 years together, we’ve read over 66 books – most of which, I would consider “clean reads.”
Please heed this warning: I don’t always remember EVERY word, sentence, scene of every book I’ve read. So, if you decide to read a book on this list and find something objectionable, I apologize in advance!!
To Kill a Mockingbird** - Harper Lee
At Home in Mitford* - Jan Karon
Uncle Tom’s Cabin* - Harriet Beecher Stowe
Tuesdays With Morrie - Mitch Albom
A Painted House - John Grisham
Fried Green Tomatoes - Fannie Flagg
Expecting Adam - Martha Nibley Beck
The DaVinci Code - Dan Brown
Gone With The Wind** - Margaret Mitchell
Under the Tuscan Sun - Frances Mayes
Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier (RFS Review)
The Red Tent - Anita Diamant (This book contained objectionable material)
In the Time of the Butterflies - Julia Alvarez
Pride and Prejudice** - Jane Austen
Ender’s Game - Orson Scott Card
The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd (RFS Review)
Emily of New Moon - L. M. Montgomery
The Glass Blowers - Daphne DuMaurier
And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie
The Agony & The Ecstasy - Irving Stone (I don’t remember enough about this book to make a comment )
A Return to Modesty - Wendy Shalit
Jerusalem Vigil** - Bodie & Brock Thoene (This was a great discussion!)
Evelina* - Fanny Burney (this was a SNOOZER!)
Song of Survival - Helen Colijn
The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros
My Name is Asher Lev** - Chaim Potok
Life of Pi** - Yann Martel (This was a great discussion!) (RFS Review)
Sarah: Women of Genesis* - Orson Scott Card
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
The Samurai’s Garden - Gail Tsukiyama
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
My Side of the Mountain - Jean Craighead George
Mutant Message Down Under - Marlo Morgan (RFS Review)
The #1 Ladies Detective Agency* - Alexander McCall Smith
Family : the ties that bind -- and gag!* - Erma Bombeck
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou (may contain objectionable material)
Rebecca - Daphne DuMaurier (RFS Review)
The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
The Secret Garden - Frances Hogdson Burnett
Alas, Babylon* - Pat Frank
Light on Snow - Anita Shreve
The Count of Monte Cristo* - Alexandre Dumas (this was REALLY LONG!)
The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax* - Dorothy Gilman
The Heavenly Village and Missing May - Cynthia Rylant
The Stolen Child - Keith Donohue
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
The Hiding Place - Corrie Ten Boom
The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom
My Antonia* - Willa Cather
The Memory Keepers Daughter - Kim Edwards
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer - James L. Swanson
The History of Love - Nicole Krauss
Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer (may contain objectionable language)
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (may contain objectionable material)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn* - Betty Smith
Cold Sassy Tree - Olive Ann Burns
Peony in Love - Lisa See (may contain objectionable material)
In Search of Eden - Linda Nichols
The Gift - Richard Paul Evans
My Sister’s Keeper - Jodi Picoult (RFS Review)
The Giver - Lois Lowry
Devil in the White City - Erik Larson
Prisoner of Tehran - Marina Nemat
Dreamers of the Day - Mary Doria Russell
The Poisonwood Bible** - Barbara Kingsolver
Moloka’i - Alan Brennert (may contain objectionable material)
Julie** - Catherine Marshall
Back When We Were Grownups - Anne Tyler (this book was BORING!)
Peace Like a River - Leif Enger (RFS Review)
Enemy Women - Paulette Jiles (current book group selection)
* I didn’t read it due to new baby, sick baby in hospital, out of town, or it was so boring I couldn’t manage it.
**Exceptionally awesome book or awesome book discussion
Sunday, July 26, 2009
My Review: First off. I did NOT finish this book. I need to be very upfront with that fact. Now, let me explain why.
This was my first book of Kellerman's. I am not sure if I will pick up another one. I read 104 pages and was absolutely bored stiff. I am not usually the type to put down a book just because it drags a little, especially a mystery, I always have to persevere because I want to know "who done it". I have no desire to do that with this book.
Kellerman's writing is choppy, his dialogue between characters is weak and overly sarcastic. I felt no connection to the acting students characters as they were introduced in a very odd almost silly way. And I felt even less of a connection to Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis, who play leads in the story.
Delaware, who I believe is supposed to be the focus of the story, is kind of a weepy, "woe is me" sort of guy. The only real thing that I remember about him, other than the fact that he is incredibly dull, is that he is a shrink.
There is not much I can say about the plot. Again, it is very weak and very run of the mill. I cannot say if the ending would have changed my view on that, but I kind of doubt it.
My Rating: 1 STARS
Sum it up: This book is proof that even a big name like Kellerman can flop. I hope his others are more on the target, but I will probably never know.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
My review: I love fairy tales, even as the mother of five grown children and one not so grown, so I was eager to read Rose Daughter and see what Robin McKinley came up with. Fairy tales are well know and well loved, so the retelling of one needs to be something that reaches out and grabs you in the first chapter or two. McKinley left me wandering around in the in the halls of a magical castle for almost 4 weeks (I’m serious, it took me that long to finish this book). While Beauty spent most of her time in Beast’s glass house taking care of his roses, he was out in his orchards or up on the roof of his massive castle brooding. If I were turned into a beast I’d probably brood too, but this is a fairytale not real life.
I’m a person who keeps plugging along at a book because usually, sooner or later, you get to the really good part and are glad you stuck with it. I was glad I stuck with it but only so I could say I had finished the book. The good thing about this book was that it contained no objectionable material. Anyone could read it.
My Rating: 2.5 Stars
Sum it up: If you love magical books that keep you wandering until the very end you might like this book.
Friday, July 24, 2009
A naturalist who spent months at a time living on her own among wild creatures in remote jungles, Sy Montgomery had always felt more comfortable with animals than with people. So she gladly opened her heart to a sick piglet who had been crowded away from nourishing meals by his stronger siblings. Yet Sy had no inkling that this piglet, later named Christopher Hogwood, would not only survive but flourish–and she soon found herself engaged with her small-town community in ways she had never dreamed possible. Unexpectedly, Christopher provided this peripatetic traveler with something she had sought all her life: an anchor (eventually weighing 750 pounds) to family and home. (From back of book)
My Review: When my book club host for July picked a book titled “The Good Good Pig,” well the jokes ran rampant for a few minutes. I mean really, the story of the extraordinary life of a pig? Didn’t we all read this in elementary school? Let me guess, there is a spider, and a rat… It seemed a bit too silly for the likes of us (haughty indignation). “Oh, don’t worry” the host said, “it’s a true story AND was featured on NPR”. With those magic words we all settled down to read the book. (Although the last book I chose based on an NPR recommendation was a big disappointment.)
Within the first three chapters I was ready to adopt a pig and raise it like as my child (though to be honest I changed my mind once the pig topped 400 lbs).
Like many memoirs this book had a predictable rhythm. This one was: educational anecdotes from around the world, involving either pigs, or other animals encountered in the authors extensive travels, then a tie into the life of Chris the Pig, and his family. I enjoyed both the anecdotes and the running narrative because they were interesting and uplifting. There were some aspects of the author’s story that I raised an eyebrow at, mostly in regards to how she claimed to like, and relate to, animals better than humans (which seems like reverse discrimination to me), but overall the story was one of love and respect between family, neighbors and the entire animal kingdom.
Who could object to that?
Some of the members of my book club thought the book was too slow moving to enjoy. But I thought it had a nice relaxing pace with a plot that doesn’t suffer if read in bits and pieces. I’d recommend keeping the book in the car for those random moments of waiting; by the bedside for winding down at night; or, as was my case, to pick up every two hours while feeding an infant. (Although I will warn you, that nursing a baby while reading about the a sow laying on her side feeding her young is a bit…er…close to home.)
My rating: 4 stars
In one sentence: The grown-up version of Charlotte's Web, minus the spider. (Thank heavens!)
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Mormon housewife Becky Jack is seven months pregnant with her fourth child when she meets celebrity heartthrob Felix Callahan. A few hours, one elevator ride, and one alcohol-free dinner later something has happened, though nothing has happened...It isn't sexual. It isn't even quite love. But soon Felix shows up in Salt Lake City to visit and before they know what's hit them, Felix and Becky are best friends--talk-on-the-phone, drop-everything-in-an-emergency, laugh-out-loud-at-stupid-jokes best friends.
Becky's loving and devoted husband, Mike is mostly unconcerned. Her children roll their eyes. Her large extended family and neighbors gossip endlessly. But Felix and Becky have something special, something unusual, something that seems from the outside--and sometimes from the inside too-completely impossible to sustain. (Summary from book jacket - Image from amazon.com)
Before I begin, a word (or two) on LDS Lit: This is the first LDS Lit book I’ve reviewed, so let me just take a little time to explain what that means to me. First, I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints aka LDS Church aka the Mormon church. While I read mostly mainstream fiction, I do like to dip occasionally into the LDS Lit genre and read books by LDS authors or on LDS topics. It’s a nice safe place to read and recommend if you’re looking for something clean and sometimes romantic without too much of all the extras we find in so many novels.
Even though I understand that they come from a significantly smaller pool of authors, I’m going to try very hard to review them as I would any other book and not take it easy on them just because I might someday be in their ward or run into them at Women’s Conference. Here goes.
My review: Wow. Uncomfortable. That's pretty much how this entire book made me feel. I can't explain it...no wait. I can totally explain it. Becky Jack is "besties" with movie star Felix Callahan. I had a difficult time buying this storyline. It was really hard for me to get past the fact that this could never happen. Not in a kazillion years. Never would they meet and hit it off like that. Never would the husband be okay with it. Never would she end up selling two screenplays and acting in one of them. Never. Never. Never. Even the author must know this, as she remarks several times (through one of the characters) how unbelievable it all is. Well she's right. I didn't believe it.
I did, however, try to get past it. Books are supposed to be an escape, and what's an escape if you can't dismiss reality when and where you choose. So I dismissed it. And then I just got uneasy. Little Mrs. Becky Jack is married and running around with a married man. Now I don't know about you, but if Angelina Jolie and my husband all of a sudden started hanging out, you better bet your first born I'd have something to say about it--something HIGHLY unprintable--and Angelina would be limping for the rest of her natural life.
I was a big ball of emotional confliction over the Felix-Celeste-Becky-Mike quadrangle of platonic (and not so) love. I kept thinking (and I assure you, I'm not a judgemental person, really) that Becky and Felix should just call it quits. It felt like cheating. If you can't find the level of male friendship fulfillment you need in your spouse then you probably need to work on your marriage. Becky of course constantly confessed her undying love and adoration for her husband in a highly believably fashion, but persisted in turned into a shriveled up soulless raisin whenever Felix left the page. It kind of bugged me.
There were parts of this book that I loved. Felix and Becky were masters at sarcastic and witty banter. They were self-deprecating and made fun of each others peculiarities (opening up the window for TONS of stereotypical Mormon jokes that I thought were great). I also enjoyed her descriptions of the craziness of home-life for a stay-at-home-mom which were nothing if not completely accurate. My favorite part I can't even tell you about, because it would give away too much, but it made me cry my ever-loving eyes out (like sobbing-on-the-couch kind of tears). I felt it was the most honest portrayal of the entire book and it doesn't come till the latter part of the book.
The ending. Well, I don't think I would have been happy if it had ended another way. But I think a lot of people won't be happy with how it did end. Could I be more vague. I think not.
If you read mostly LDS fiction, you might enjoy this book. It's funny but not preachy and definitely tugs at all kinds of emotions. However, I found that this book didn't quite fulfill my expectations for a great read or even, really, a good one. Personally, I think she is much better at writing for the YA genre and would recommend some of her other books like the Goose Girl series and Princess Academy. My rating: 2.75 Stars. Fans of LDS fiction might be surprised that there is a teensy bit of swearing in this book, even if it regarding a female dog MOST of the time. It does touch lightly on the topic of Mormonism (as it is a defining characteristic for Becky) but mostly in a humourous, make fun of the green jello sort of way.
Sum it up in one phrase: A over-the-top sarcastic soap opera with a slightly Mormon twist.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
It is a truly SPECIAL STORY and we don't want to spoil it.
NEVERTHELESS, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this:
This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again - the story starts there...
Once you read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.
Summary from book jacket, cover photo from barnesandnoble.com
My Review: I will be very brief and vague so as to not spoil the story for any of you but I do feel that as a reader you should know a little more than the above summary gives you about the book before you sit down to read it.
Little Bee is a Nigerian refugee when Sarah, a white woman from England, saves her life. The two women have never met yet Sarah makes an incredibly hard choice for the other woman. As quickly as the women were drawn together they are pulled apart. Only two years later does Little Bee get the opportunity to thank and repay Sarah, with difficult choices of her own, for what she did on the fateful day the two met. It's a haunting, brutal story that will stay with you, yet one that is (almost) balanced by the goodness within select individuals.
This is the story of how decisions shape one's own life, as well as surrounding lives. It explores both the big decisions and the small ones. It's about how petty we can be when our focus is on beauty, materialism and sex, yet we are able to cast off the real life-altering issues because they are ugly, difficult and make us hurt. All the while we are gently reminded of how much value is place on money, how powerful we find these coins, yet in the end money can not buy true freedom.
Be warned, this is not your typical light summer read. It's actually a heavy story, quite horrid in parts. Yet it emits a quiet beauty about the leaps some women will make for another. This is not a fun read. Nor is it a story I'd want to read again. Yet it is an extremely thought-provoking, well-written book. It's one I'll recommend to a select few and one that I would like to discuss with others who have already read it. If anything it is utterly unforgettable.
My Rating: 3 1/2 Stars
If I had to sum it up in one phrase it would be: A heavy, emotional read that will have you questioning the lengths which you would go for a fellow human being.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
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Monday, July 20, 2009
She could be more wrong. Turns out the semi-stalker is not a figment of Zara's overactive imaginationi. In fact, he's still following her, leaving behind an eeirie trail of gold dust. There's something not right--not human--in this sleepy Maine town, and all signs point to Zara.
In this creepy, compelling, breakout novel, Carrie Jones delivers romance, suspense, and a creature you never thought you'd have to fear. (summary from back of book - photo from amazon.com)
My review: When I read the summary for this book, I wondered if it was going to be another one of the many Meyer knock-offs that are running helter-skelter around bookstores these days. It definitely had some of the main components. Young girl. New school. A mysterious and sparkly stranger. I decided to give it a try because I figure SOMEONE out there has to read all these and let you know if they are worth your time. I know. I’m so generous. I am the literary equivalent of a guinea pig.
After the death of her grandfather leaves her nearly catatonic, Zara was sent to live with her grandmother and is having a hard time adjusting to life in Maine. While she’s made some really great friends and met a few cute guys, one girl at school is being a total wench and Zara can’t figure out why. As the story moves on Zara soon finds out more than she wants to, about what is stalking her, and discovers that people have been keeping secrets from her for her whole life. I enjoyed Zara as a character. Her sarcasm and stubbornness made me laugh and I enjoyed the dynamic between all the main characters.
I was thrilled to discover that, while Need contained elements of the fantastic, it wasn’t a carbon copy of Meyer’s work-- though there were a few references in the book that I thought might have been nods to her work. I have to admit that when I found out what the hook was—the thing that made this different from a vampire book—I snorted a little bit, but decided to just let go of the reality for a little bit and enjoy myself. After all, it’s not like Twilight is non-fiction.
Was it the next Twilight? No, but it was fun without being too cliché and an entertaining clean, young adult novel. I spent an afternoon reading by the kiddie pool while my kids played around, and I had a good time. I finished it really quickly and would probably read the next book--if there is one.
My rating: 4 Stars. Fun. A few instances of biblical language (ie. Words found in the Bible) but fairly clean. There is some steamy romance between two of the characters (yippee) that, thankfully stays within the YA realm.
To sum it up: (SLIGHT SPOILER HERE) If you’ve ever been on Team Jacob, you might like this book.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
My Review: Reading this story was like ripping off a bandaid: best done quickly, not drawing out the pain. I'm reading this only 2 months post-partum and I know that inevitably taints my view. I wanted to lock my daughters up until they're married to gun-totting burly men after reading the very first section of the book where the rape/murder occurs. It is disturbing. It could be more graphic and I thank the author for not doing that. It still doesn't sit well and leaves you feeling sick to your stomach. Which, if you think about it, is what a rape/murder should do.
There were aspects to the book that I found intriguing and others I found lacked taste. I'll start with what I liked. She spends quite a bit of time on how death and tragedy affects people differently. Her father clings to his children, while her mother shuts down and shuts everyeone out. Her sister and brother also react differently. Everyone grieves differently and heals differently. This I found very realistic. I also liked her exploration of how thin the veil is between the living and the dead. I'm not sure how much truth there is to her version, but it's intriguing all the same. Her depiction of heaven is also interesting how it changes as the person's desire changes, but again, I'm not sure how much stock I put in her version there either. Her writing is captivating from the start. I liked her style and enjoyed reading the parts that felt right--I'll explain this further in the review.
The parts I didn't like or appreciate: I didn't like how sex was such a huge theme throughout. It was as if it defined people. They weren't human until they'd experienced it. Why was there so much dependant on the sexual experience? What was realistic was how people used it for different purposes and in vain: to fix things, to hide from things, to use as a way to love, to use as a way to connect, to grow up. It didn't seem there was a character in the story that had much moral fiber except her father and her brother. This was disappointing to me. A friend of mine stated she didn't think there was a character in the book with morals and that rings true to a certain extent. It is placed during the 1970's, so I was kind of under the assumption there would have been less sexual prowess by so many of the characters. I could understand some, but almost all? Seemed a bit much or overly done. I also wasn't real sure about the twist she throws at the end. I'll explore it a little further at the end of the review so as to not spoil it for a potential reader.
Two characters in the book hold on to the image and life of Susie in a way that I found odd. I can understand family clinging to her memory. I don't quite understand a girl she was hardly friends with or a boy she didn't really date, only had a first kiss from, clinging to her memory as they did. I know it made the story. I know it was critical to the plot. I just don't see it as real. Ray and Ruth seemed overly obsessed with her death. I guess I'd have to say since I've never known a murder personally that I cannot judge. It just seems surprising to me that a 14 year old boy, who grows into a man, would hold such strong attachments to a girl he hardly knew. Same with a 14 year old girl who was barely a friend.
It was hard to see the family unravel as the book goes on. I can only imagine this is truly possible considering the damage a tragedy like this can have on a family. It's just heartbreaking. Buckly's reaction to his mother leaving and then coming back hits with full force and I felt was very real. I also loved her grandmother. Despite her oddies, her flare for shock value, she is endearing. I felt she painted a flawed human with admirable and endearing qualities accurately.
I felt the switching bodies scene was weird, and slightly out of place. How she could seduce Ray so quickly in someone elses body, whom he was friends with, whom he knew favored women, was just weird and didn't sit right with me. If he'd had a crush on Ruth, or she'd been more attracted to males than females, or Susie had had more time on earth to reveal herself to Ray, maybe, just maybe I could believe the whole sex scene while in her friend's body. But it wasn't like that. It was weird to me.
Rating: 2.75 Stars. Could have been better if things were left out or characters were given more moral strength, but that's my opinion. It's almost 3 stars, but not quite in my mind.
Sum it up in one phrase: An exploration of life, death, the flaws of human nature, and one family's process to heal from tragedy.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Summary: Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness--featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghost that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truths themselves. (Summary from book cover - Photo from usatoday.com)
My review: Gracious me. I’m not going to divulge too much about this book, partly because I don’t want to spoil it for you and partly because I don’t think I can conceivably do it justice. The Thirteenth Tale is achingly, deliciously beautiful, while Setterfield’s writing is fluid and gorgeously descriptive.
Here’s a little excerpt from the book that illustrates what I mean:
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic."Gives me goosebumps every time I read it. That paragraph pretty much sums up what this book did to me.
Setterfield has also mastered the art of well-timed revelation, waiting until just the right moment to let something slip, give a different perspective, or rock your entire world. I read it slowly because each chapter gave me something to think about – a new clue to the mystery, a secret finally told, that I wanted to mull over for a while. I can’t count the number of times that breath was literally taken from me by an unexpected twist in plot. The whole book gave me a feeling that there was more to know--that I hadn’t heard the whole story--so I kept reading. And reading. And reading. And I loved it. It was dizzying--an eerily haunting masterpiece of fiction.
Seriously, it’s that good.
My rating: 5 STARS!! It’s got some heavy topics (not inappropriate, just heavy) so don’t go giving it to your toddler or anything. There are a few moments of EWWWW that’ll likely make your skin crawl, but other than that, you don’t have much to worry about.
To sum it up: A dazzlingly marvelous read that you will not soon forget.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
However, such serene solitude is not meant to be.
First, a mysterious letter from long-deceased Lady Anne Fitzwilliam Darcy is discovered. Then, a summons to Northanger Abbey involves the young couple in intrigues that threaten not just the Darcy legacy and good name, but quite possibly Darcy's freedom as well. Making matters even worse for the newly expectant mother, Darcy's Aunt Catherine de Burgh arrives to further bedevil Elizabeth.
Adding to all of the madness are rumors of treasure and past scandals. Pemberley is not the quiet estate the Darcy's envisioned. Rather, it is home to secrets and spirits of the past, whose revelations can have a chilling effect on not only the Darcy's but on their growing family. (Summary from back of book. Image from Powell's.)
My Review: This was a fun little read. It continues the Elizabeth and Darcy saga, allowing you to see into their first year of marriage and the anticipation of their first child. In order to make it worth the read of course there is scandal and mystery. Carrie Bebris does a pretty good job retaining Austen's style, although for me it isn't quite the same. I don't know if anything will totally compare to the first experience with Elizabeth and Darcy. Bebris does stay true to the era and gives more insight into what world looked and felt like. There is quite a bit of information regarding gardening and flowers, which I also enjoyed.
Another aspect to the story that was interesting, at least for the female reader, is Elizabeth's journey through her first pregnancy. I liked being able to see (as much as is possible through a fictional book) what was expected of doctors and women during pregnancy and delivery. There isn't much mentioned about the latter, but it is an integral part of the story. It brings up the decision of a doctor over a midwife; something that is debated even today.
You still have the same irritating characters involved: Lady Catherine, Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Wickham, and Lydia. They are played well in this story as well. You can't help but feel for Elizabeth dealing with pregnancy hormones and her mother and Lady Catherine. That would be enough to do in any good woman.
If you're wanting to read more about the saga of the Darcy's, it's worth picking up. Just be prepared that it isn't the same banter and conflict between the two that exists in Pride and Prejudice. That said, it's easy to get into because the characters are familiar.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
Sum it up in one phrase: An extended ride along the lives of the Darcy's.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Written in 1941, the manuscript of Fire in the Blood was entrusted in pieces to family and a friend when the author was sent to her death at Auschwitz. The novel—only now assembled in its entirety—teems with the intertwined lives of an insular French village in the years before the war, when “peace” was less important as a political state than as a coveted personal condition: the untroubled pinnacle of happiness.
At the center of the tale is Silvio: in his younger years he fled the boredom of the village and made a life of travel and adventure. Now he’s returned, living in a farmer’s hovel in the middle of the woods, and, much to his family’s chagrin, perfectly content with his solitude.
But when he attends the wedding of his favorite young cousin—"she has the thing that, when I was young, I used to value most in women: she has fire"—Silvio begins to be drawn back into the complicated life of this small town. As his narration unfolds, we are given an intimate picture of the loves and infidelities, the scandals, the youthful ardor and regrets of age that tie Silvio to the long-guarded secrets of the past.
Némirovsky wrote with a crystalline understanding of the pretensions and protections of society, and of the varied workings of the human heart, in language as evocative of a vanished era as of the emotional and moral ambiguities in her characters’ lives. All of which was evident in SuiteFrançaise—and abundantly evident again in this powerful, passionate novel.
Summary and book cover photo from barnesandnoble.com
My Review: Suite Francaise has been quite the hype lately so I headed to the library to pick it up. Disappointed in not finding it, I found this novel written by her instead and decided to take it home. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this novel has a very similar background to Suite Francaise (see summary above). And truth be told it is the author's background as much as the story (perhaps even more so) that make this novel fascinating.
However this is an interesting story, one of love and betrayal. It's a timeless tale, told through the eyes of an aging man who sees his second cousin making comparable mistakes in her life. It's a story of reflecting on your own mistakes, and seeing youth make similar ones. It articulates on the consequences of these mistakes (for better and for worse) while proving the power of hindsight. It also speaks of the dramatics involved when we are engulfed in the situation and how inconsequential these things seem later in life, or perhaps not.
Though I can see how the author may have been meaning to expand on the story (some chapters are merely a paragraph), a complete story is told within the 124 pages. I did long for an expanded ending, yet the story comes full circle. And a delightful story it was.
My Rating: A solid 4 stars
If I had to sum it up in one phrase it would be: A story of mystery and romance, of regret and passion, by an author with a fascinating history.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Now seventeen, Willow is living iwth her older brother, who can barely speak to her. She has left behind her old home, friends, and school. But Willow has found a way to survive, to numb the new reality fo her life: She is secretly cutting herself.
And then she meets Guy, a boy as sensitive and complicated as she is. When Guy discovers Willow's secret, he pulls her out of the solitary world she's created for herself, and int a difficult, intense, and potentially life-changing relationship. (Photo from barnesandnoble.com - Summary from book jacket)
My review: I’m not entirely sure what to think, or say, about this book. I can’t say that I loved reading it, thought it reminded me a lot of “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Willow, at it’s heart, is a book about overwhelming emotional pain and the lengths to which a young girl will go to survive it. When Willow runs into Guy, a fellow classmate, and he learns her secret, she is forced out into a world she isn’t remotely equipped to handle. Willows pain is graphic and all encompassing. It is so obvious that she is barely holding things together and I really felt for her as a character even though the disturbing subject matter was hard for me to fathom. At first, Guy feels obligated to keep her safe, but as the two spend more time together, their relationship grows in an unexpected (okay, so entirely expected) direction. After all the pain, it was comforting to see her life creeping back into place and returning to a shadow of teenage normalcy.
However, just as I was thinking that this book was a raw, realistic glimpse into the life of a cutter and perhaps would be a good book to recommend to someone dealing with the issue—I read the last chapter and got a bad taste in my mouth (SEE SPOILER). I only know of one person who has had issues with cutting, and my understanding is that the desire to cut stems from an almost inescapable need to control something in a world that seems to be spinning out of control. It also has the effect of temporarily overriding emotional pain and replacing it with a more manageable physical pain. If you know someone with this problem, I suggest reading it first, so that you can decide if it’s appropriate to recommend.
SPOILER: It seems that all it takes to give up the extremely addictive, psychological problem of cutting oneself is to get a really nice, patient boyfriend who is a great listener and then, at just the right time, have sex with him. Guy invested so much time drawing Willow out of her own world of self-inflicted pain that to see her miraculously healed by a sexual catalyst was actually a little offensive.
My Rating: 3 Stars. For the sensitive reader: This book contained occasional outbursts of language (of the PG-13 and R variety) and one sexual situation (that, if it were in a movie, would be as close to PG as you could get). Contains mature themes involving self-mutilation (cutting) and addiction.
To sum it up: A raw and seemingly realistic portrayal of the difficulties of dealing with catastrophic loss, grief, and pain--with a somewhat disappointing twist.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted insider her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women -mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends- view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.
Summary from book jacket, photo from barnesandnoble.com
My Review: To quickly summarize this is the story of the help, referring to black housemaids living in Mississippi in the 1960's. It's their journey and one that will completely engulf you. If you want a more detailed explanation read Mindy's review or the above summary from the book jacket. What I will tell you is that this is an utterly delicious story that will consume you from the opening chapter right through to author's note on the final pages.
Kathrynn Stockett has written this novel in a manner which allows the reader a private journey inside the characters heads. Three main characters tell this story and each chapter is written in their unique voice. The first chapter begins with Aibleen describing herself, "I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning." And in writing as such these brave, humorous, sassy, sensitive, tough, sweet women seem to jump from the pages.
I found myself tangled up within this story, completely engrossed and loving every moment of it. Tears and laughter, love and bitterness, humiliation and pride, it's all within the pages of this book and on so many different levels. It's a riveting story that addresses the ugly issue of discrimination, (not only racism but sexism and social class as well), in a delightfully entertaining manner.
It is a beautifully told story that you'll want to share with others. There is so much to talk about that this is a must pick for book clubs. While this story was based in the 60's, it's easy to see how some of the issues still apply in modern times. It will leave you reexamining the treatment of our fellow human beings, regardless of race or social class.
My Rating: 5 Stars, really not a book you should miss
If I had to sum it up in one phrase it would be: An all-consuming story of three women whose courageous actions confirmed that they had much in common regardless of their skin color.