Friday, September 18, 2009

Love in the Time of Cholera

I'm a sucker for a love story. A love story that spans fifty-three years, seven months and eleven days and nights? Be still my beating heart.

Love in the Time of Cholera is beautiful. In the beginning, I had a hard time keeping track of the characters (mainly because a) I suck at keeping names straight anyway and b) I was only reading bits at a time on the train in the morning). Soon though, it became hard to put down. I wouldn't mind the Boy being a bit late to pick me up from the train station at the end of the day on his way home, just because I could get in a few more pages of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza.

Gabriel García Márquez is a beautiful writer and provides visuals that make you feel like you're there with the characters. Márquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude is on my booklist still, and I'll be picking it up sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

First of all, let me preface this book review with a quick little disclaimer. I heart vampires and vampire stories. I have a bit of an (unhealthy?) obsession with these creatures of the night. I'm not sure why, but I do. That being said, I shall proceed.

Dead Until Dark is the first in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. I don't know why I'm just now reading these - what with my obsession with vampires and all. But I guess I was a little wary of another vampire series. I tried reading that series by Laurell K Hamilton and just wasn't able to get into them. And I enjoyed Twilight to an extent but had issues with Bella and Meyers kind of jumped the shark with the last book. So I held off on this series, but after looking for something quick, easy and fun to read, these were suggested to me (my friends know of my vampire penchant) and I've fallen in love.

But I digress. As I was saying, Dead Until Dark is the first of a series. We are introduced to Sookie Stackhouse from Bon Temps, Louisana and she has a special ability to hear people's thoughts, though she tries to block them out as much as possible. She's a waitress at a local bar and is extremely excited when they get their first vampire customer. See, vampires are "out of the closet" in this series - they are integrated with humans for the most part, but a vampire in Bon Temps is a pretty exciting deal considering how small the town is.

Sookie quickly realizes that this vampire, Bill Compton, is special - different - she can't hear his thoughts! And he realizes that she's not like most humans. So begins the love story. But it's not all sex and lame romantic stuff. No, there's murder and humour and mystery and a cameo by a supposed dead "King" (which made me laugh hysterically)'s just a damn good story. Well, a damn good story for someone who hasn't read an actual book in almost 9 months at any rate. Plus? I actually like the heroine of this story. This is rarity with me but Sookie rocks. She has her flaws (as any good protagonist does) but she more than makes up for them.

READ THIS BOOK. Then, go watch the HBO series True Blood. The plot of season 1 basically follows this first book...loosely. And for the first time, I actually enjoyed both the book and the TV adaptation - even though the TV series has quite a bit of differences than the book I never once uttered "that didn't happen in the book!" And if you don't fall in love with Sookie and Bill (seriously, how could you not?) and all the others of Bon Temps then...well then I'm just sorry for you. But if you tire of Twilight's immaturity and Edwards creepiness and Bella's annoyance and want some good vampire stories - read this now.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ms. Taken Identity

I must admit, I'm very picky when it comes to chick lit; for every excellent story, there seems to be 100 "Babysitting for the Very Vuitton." What attracted me to Ms. Taken Identity wasn't the cute cover or even the plot, it was that it was written by a guy. And that, admittedly, is 100% why I chose to read it.

Ms. Taken Identity is about Mitch, a college professor and PhD student working on his epic novel. After being rejected by every publishing company, he has a moment of inspiration and a chance meeting. Seeing the popularity of chick lit books, specifically those done by the fictional author Katharine Longwell, he decides that it can't be that hard - that he, himself, should try to write his own novel. This is made even better when Katharine herself agrees to review the book after randomly meeting Mitch at a cafe. The only problem? Mitch told Katharine that his female cousin wrote the book - not him. And so starts a series of lies that spiral around until, of course, the end.

To get into the female mindset, Mitch reads magazines, watches Oprah, and joins a dance class under the pseudonym Jason. There, Mitch meets, and naturally falls in love with, Marie - a hairdresser who is more than the stereotypical girl Mitch is writing about. She's also his roommate's sister. And thus sets up the tale of Mitch - a slightly pretentious 27 year old who learns that sometimes you have to look past everything, every hang up, to see who you really are. And what you really want.

I must admit - I really liked Ms. Taken Identity. At 272 pages, it's an incredibly easy and short read (I got through it in two days). Full of pop culture references, the book absorbs you and messes with each emotion. Dan Begley does a fantastic job of telling a guy's story that will appeal to girls. The book, somewhat autobiographical (to the point that he, too couldn't sell is book so he decided to write a chick lit novel) sheds some light on why guys do what they do and think what they think. And, like every other girl, each decision still frustrated me. There were parts that I wanted to smack Mitch for being so stupid, but his decisions were so real - because it's what a guy would do in each situation. And that one element made it incredibly interesting.

What I liked most about the book was what it said about chick lit. There's one passage that specifically got to me:

In regards to the genre, Katharine states: "Even those stories that merely entertain us have the power to touch us and delight us, and that goes a long way toward making us more human."

Even I felt punched in the stomach there. Because it's true - like Mitch I was jaded by the genre for a while; it was too girly, to fanciful for me. But it still tells stories - ones that people truly love to hear. So what if every character ends up with the perfect person in the end, that's fun to read! And just as the realization hit me, it hit Mitch as well.

It was fun watching Mitch work through his novel, his lies and, even more so, his relationship with Marie. The characters were illustrated wonderfully - from the eccentric Rosie (who, admittedly, was my favorite) to the vulnerable father, each character was real.

Ms. Taken Identity is a great book for anyone who wants a quick, entertaining (albiet frustrating at times), and truthful read. It's a wonderful beach read and a perfect book to share with a friend. It's one that sticks with you for a while.

If interested, here's a passage from the book.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

L.A. Candy

LA Candy by Lauren Conrad.

I found this to be quintessential read of the summer for anyone who aspires. Yep, just anyone who aspires. Maybe you are a frumpy English lass with a voice of gold (kinda like the movie "Little Voices" only actual people) or a snotty brat from Colorado who is tortured by NBC (and who isn't these days?) if you have ever dreamed a dream, or not, this book is for you.

Ok, I'm joking! I haven't read this book (yet). I just spent $200 on books and realize I never write about what I read, BUT I do read your reviews...

Thanks for keeping my book list growing!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People
By Farahad Zama

What does an Indian man with a wealth of common sense do when his retirement becomes too monotonous for him to stand it? Open a marriage bureau, of course!

Thus starts The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, a fantastic book that tells the story of Mr. Ali and his small, yet extremely popular, marriage bureau. What starts out as a part time endeavor, flourishes quickly. The book showcases a brilliant cast of characters including Mr. Ali, the careful and kind business manager; Mrs. Ali, his strong and maternal wife; Aruna the full-time assistant to the bureau who's working through her own family-and non-existent marriage-problems; and a slew of people looking for the perfect match.

The customers, albeit important, are just the background to the true story. The young Aruna cannot get married due to her family's financial problems. She works to support them and without her salary, they cannot get by. And without money, they can't pay for the elaborate wedding or necessary dowry the husband's family will expect. While that is happening, Mr. and Mrs. Ali deal with their son, Rehman, a freedom fighter who's trying to stop a giant conglomerate from building on farmers' lands. As he fights for the rights of others, he forgets the feelings of his parents. And in India, you never disrespect your elders.

An underlining theme of the book is what makes a marriage work. To this day, the caste system is still going strong in India. One doesn't marry outside of their caste, and one very rarely marries for love. Instead, through family members, an appropriate match is made. But what's better? A marriage that appeases the family, or one that appeases the husband and wife?

What I found most endearing about the book was the role of Mrs. Ali. It's common to think that the man runs the household, that he leads. But, it's the wife's job to decide if she wants to follow or not. And although Mrs. Ali doesn't go against her husband, she's extremely well spoken and does what she sees as best, even if her husband doesn't understand at first. Mrs. Ali ultimately brings two important people together - not through a marriage bureau, but through love.

Farahad Zama tells the story beautifully with rich words and vivid elements. You could almost taste the halwa Mrs. Ali cooks, see the green sari Aruna purchases, or feel the ripe mango plucked from the tree. Zama doesn't leave one description out. I can't be alone in thinking this - Zama recently won the Melissa Nathan award for comedy romance. He is the first male writer to receive it.

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is a delightful tale that's an extremely fun read. It made me laugh out loud at parts, and tear up with happiness at others. I loved how it concentrated on important elements of India, but presented them in a lighthearted manner. It's an excellent novel for anyone looking for a quick, enjoyable and interesting literary trip to India. I can't wait to read it again. I'll definitely be checking out the other books Zama has in store.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Slam by Nick Hornby

I read the blurb of the $13.59 copy of Nick Hornby's 'Slam', and my eyes didn't go wide with fascination, nor did my feet eagerly scuffle to the cash register. It was nothing new - teen pregnancy in the father's point of view, unsure of where his responsibilities lie and what is important. However, he is a bestselling author and I thoroughly enjoyed another three books of his, and so as a loyal fan, I ended up walking home with a plastic bag from Borders.

The little snippets of reviews from newspapers were quite promising, as was one of my friend's response to the novel. I began to read it, and instantly, I felt as if I'd known Sam for years. Yes, Sam is the main character; a sixteen-year-old skateboarder (or as he says, the more artistic term - skater) and the son of divorced parents, living with his mother. His family has been known to constantly screw up, and he's their biggest hope, but blood takes over all in the end - he gets his girlfriend, Alicia pregnant.

As I read on, having a nice chortle in between almost every paragraph, I could imagine Sam's every move and every facial expression. It did not occur to me as if it was a novel written by a fully-grown Englishman, but a friend sitting right next to me, telling me his life story over an ice cream. Despite a rather cliché plot, there were moments in the book where you thought, "Hah, he's definitely gonna do _____ next," and the character would do nothing like that at all.

In the end, I figured out that the story was not about the ordeals of dealing with teenage pregnancy, but that Hornby only used that as a vessel to convey a much bigger picture. Through Sam's dealings with the situation, Hornby slowly and handily, was able to encompass the process of growing up in only 342 pages, with the vocabulary of a teenage boy.

It started off as a not-too-promising novel, but with the charm and genuineness of the characters, the splashes of humor, and an experience everyone can identify with - it turned out to be quite worth my while. I think Nick Hornby's going to remain a favorite author of mine for the time being.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Religious Symbolist Robert Langdon is back in this DaVinci Code prequel when he is called in by CERN (world's largest physics laboratory) after one of their top scientists, Dr. Vetra, was murdered. Upon his arrival at CERN, Langdon discovers that the killer left behind a clue that shows that the ancient brotherhood of the Illuminati may have resurfaced after being in hiding. At the same time, Vetra's daughter discovers that a container of anti-matter (an experiment she and her father was working on) had been stolen during the murder. Both of these elements lead Langdon to be swept up in to going to the Vatican to help destroy a plot to blow up the entire city.

It just so happens that the a beloved Pope had just died in preceding days and the Cardinals were beginning to start conclave to elect a new Pope. Just as the Cardinals head to conclave, four Cardinals go mysteriously missing and the Illuminant's vow to execute a Cardinal on each hour at the four altars of science. With the threat of the antimatter hidden somewhere in Vatican City/Rome and thousands of people gathered in Vatican Square, Langdon and his team must race against the clock to find the antimatter and discover the hidden clues that lead them to the ancient Illuminati altars of science.

This was a fantastic read and I really wish I had it read it much earlier before now. I finished the book before I headed off to the theater to see the film and I thought that the film was pretty decent. They left out quite a bit of detail surrounding the history of the Illuminati, CERN, and Vatican City in general but there so only so much you can do in a movie. I'd read the book just specifically for those elements. They also changed a bit about some of the ending details but the basic elements were there and I can see why they did what they did. Overall though, I found the book much more exciting. But, isn't that always the case?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Important Artifacts...

Important Artifacts and Personal Property From The Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry - Leanne Shapton

Important Artifacts... is quite possibly one of the most creatively done books I've ever read. Shown though an auction catalog, the book tells a story of two lovers (Doolan and Morris) through notes, gifts, books, clothes, and more all being auctioned off due to the fact that the relationship has ended. That's right - the story is told through pictures and explanations of each auctioned item.

Starting with the first time they met, each lot contains a memento from their four year relationship (2002-2006). From the invitation to a Halloween party where they mutually attended (dressed as Harry Houdini and Lizzie Borden) to dried flowers kept by both parties, the story of their love emerges. The items progress as the relationship does - from love notes hidden between pages of old paperbacks to angry e-mails sent from across the sea. The book shows what's left behind after a relationship ends.

Leanne Shapton, the art director for the New York Times Op-ed page, excellently puts together this story. In a fantastic interview with the New York Times, she states: “It’s sort of about how reliant we are on our things to define us,” Ms. Shapton said, acknowledging that there is a strain of what she described as somewhat “suffocating discernment” running through the protagonists’ lives. “But I wanted to balance that with a pretty genuine love of very private meaning,” she said, adding that most of the things put up for sale are “those kinds of things that mean everything to the person who owned them and nothing to anyone else.”

The book ends with the breakup, of course, but starts with hope. As a preface to the catalog, a recent postcard from Hal states that he and his current girlfriend broke up. That he'd like to see Lenore once again. It leaves the book open for another shot at love, or, another auction.

Important Artifacts... is a brilliantly done quick read that shows the transgression of a relationship. And how little artifacts can really tell a lot about a person or a time period.

Watch a clip with Shapton here and read an interview here.

The book's movie adaptation is currently in progress, staring Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman.

The Hour I First Believed

I have read, and loved, all of Wally Lamb's books, so I was anxiously awaiting the release of his newest novel, The Hour I First Believed. At first, I thought the book was going to disappoint, as it got off to a slow start, but after thinking back to his first novel, She's Come Undone, I remembered the feeling the same way, so I hung in there and continued reading. Lo and behold, the book took off and gripped me so that I could not put it down until I was finished. I'll admit the story line is somewhat depressing, describing in full detail the events of the Columbine shootings and the emotional aftermath of these events. The story is told through the eyes of a high school teacher who survives this ordeal and his wife, the school nurse, who struggles with post traumatic stress disorder following the event. As does his second novel, I Know This Much is True, the story includes a diary that provides a second subplot of historical fiction adding extra dimension to the tale. Overall, Lamb's writing is explosive, with a real feel for the broad ranges of human emotion. I wonder, sometimes, if he wasn't a psychologist or sociologist in a past lifetime. I highly recommend his work to anyone who enjoys digging deeper into the human psyche, and encourage readers to hang in there through the slow start. It's highly worth it!!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Soloist

I received a copy of this book a couple of weeks ago at professional day on campus. It was announced that The Soloist would be next year's "One Book" and they wanted the faculty and staff to have copies so they can read it over the summer if they choose.

At the time I received the book I had no clue that it had already been made into a movie, and starring one of my favorite actors (Robert Downey Jr.), but the buzz seemed interested so I shelved it until I finished the book I was already reading.

After reading the very first "One Book" selection a few years ago, a biographical account of growing up in South Boston called "All Souls", which totally sucked, I've been hesitant to read and of the selections since but I am certainly glad that I took the shot with this one.

The book chronicles a period of approximately two years in which Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez came to know a man named Nathaniel Anthony Ayers; a homeless man with a story and a gift - and an illness.

Ayers had been a student at the prestigious Julliard School in New York City thirty years prior and as a result of mental illness, Lopez finds him in spot on "skid row" playing a beat up violin. Whatever it was that sparked this chance meeting had sparked Lopez's interest to where he wanted to know more. At first, it was about writing a column but as time went on, a very special bond was formed and this book tells the story in long form.

There wasn't a moment of this story that didn't have my interest at its peak and there were a number of occasions where the emotional impact of the story was almost too much. This is a story that will stay with me for a very long time I am sure and I highly recommend this wonderful book.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Atlas of Unknowns

Atlas of Unkowns by Tania James

Atlas of Unknowns was actually nothing like I thought it would be. And that's a good thing. Set in Kerala, India, this beautiful written and incredibly involved story introduces us to two sisters Linno and Anju, and their unknown past and future. When Linno was 7, and Anju just a baby, their mother Gracie died in the ocean. Being raised by their father Melvin, they faced another tragedy when Linno burns her hand badly with a firecracker. Trying to surpass their sad history, Anju, the brilliant one, applies for a scholarship that will take her to New York City, where she will study for 10 months. Lucky for her, she receives the scholarship, yet only by staging a lie - one that reveals itself a few months into her stay in the city.

The story continues to revolve around the girls and how they will one day be reunited again. As Anju tries to get a green card and works in a beauty salon, Linno earns money to get her Visa by creating handmade invitations. Juxtaposed by the story of their mother's past, everything comes together at the end when two separate tales are joined.

I really enjoyed Atlas of Unkowns. The book was incredibly engrossing - jumping from story to story, it was a nonstop page turner. As James's first novel, she weaves a beautiful, yet heartbreaking tale of two sisters and how much they'll risk to set things right. James' descriptions of rural India are so vivid that you could see the multi-colored saris and taste the spicy foods. What she portrays most interestingly, however, is Anju's time in the city. An outsider trying to fit in, Anju learns how to push her way into the subway, talk to people in department stores and make friends with classmates. I also loved the descriptions of Linno's innvitations. Seeing her create an object out of nothing was especially inspiring.

The story is deep, with many layers detailed different generations of the family. Each substory is important, each relates back to the present. Each section is told by a different main character, which is especially important. With that, you learn each side of a story, every part of a never forgotten tale. Additionally, every character is given an incredible amount of detail-enough that you feel as if you know them. Of those Bird is the most important, with her motherly protective ways towards Anju.

My main problem with the book is that it doesn't wrap up in the end. Yes, things are resolved, however so much more is left out. Characters are dropped and plot lines are avoided. Although none of them are as essential as the main story, I would have liked to see what happened afterward. I suppose this book isn't a story though - it's about a life. A life can't be wrapped up after 300 pages; it keeps going.

Regardless, Atlas of Unknowns truly is a beautiful book that I recommend to anyone who has an interest in Indian lifestyles, cultural studies or coming of age tales. I look forward to whatever else Tania James writes.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

I'm a little behind on reading (and reviewing) this amazing book, as it was released in 2005 by Curtis Sittenfeld and was a very successful first book for this amazing author. I started reading it when it first came out and for reasons that are unknown to me today, I did not finish it. However, after reading American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld's third and newest novel I knew I had to pick Prep back up again.
Boy, oh boy am I glad I did! Prep's main character is teenager Lee Fiora from South Bend, Indiana who decides to apply to the prestigious boarding school, Ault in Massachusetts after seeing a glossy brochure featuring old brick buildings, pristine lawns and preppy coeds. Lee is accepted into the school and offered a scholarship, so her parents allow her to go for the great opportunity. Lee quickly learns that the East Coast is definitely very different from the Midwest.
Lee is a quiet girl that doesn't draw attention to herself, she's not considered popular but she's not considered nerdy either. In my opinion she's the girl that is everyone's friend, but maintains an aura of mystery around her at all times. She is extremely observant of her classmates and even of students in the classes above her. She studies the yearbooks and knows everyone's names as well as their bios.
It's hard not to relate to Lee (even if you were the most popular girl in school - which, lets face it, most people weren't) she's unsure of herself and questions everything. All she wants is to be normal, but at Ault she anything but normal. Her classmates are made up of almost entirely East coast kids that come from wealthy families. Lee is from a lower middle class family in Indiana. Her classmates send out their laundry to be cleaned for a "small" fee of $3000 per year, Lee does her laundry herself. Her classmates don't think about tuition or how to pay for it, while Lee is there on a scholarship.
My favorite part of the book is during her junior (or sophomore year, not quite sure) she does a favor for the most popular girl in school. By chance the most popular boy in school (and coincidently Lee's crush) is there as well. During the little amount of time she spends with these two students, who are regarded as the same level as celebrities, Lee realizes that they are just as weird as she is. Essentially, realizing they are no different from one another.
The problems Lee faces during her four years at boarding school are not unlike any problems that a typical high school student faces. It's hard to be confident at this time in your life when you're not sure who you are.

I definitely suggest reading this book if you went to a public or private high school, everyone will find a reason to identify with Lee whether popular in high school or not. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Beach House

I've talked about enough James Patterson books on this blog to not have to go to much into detail here.

If you like thriller/murder-mystery type books and you would like to have something that you can bang out quickly (I started it on a Saturday afternoon and finished it on a Sunday afternoon), this is a good selection.

It would almost seem impossible, at least to the untrained author such as myself, to develop characters as deeply as he does because these stories just fly by but for me to invest such a short time and be so deeply involved in these fictional lives is very gratifying.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain

"The Poet Laureate of Skid Row", Charles Bukowski usually falls into one of three categories with people: Love him, hate him, and who the fuck is Charles Bukowski. If you fall into the third category, do me (and yourself) a favor, read this book and then pick one of the first two.

Released a decade or so after his death, this collection of poems, many of which were written near the end of his life, truly defines the author in the context of his own life. I became a fan in the late 80's after seeing Barfly with an ex-girlfriend and then reading a few compilations of his poetry.

Of all the poems that were great in this collections, and there were many, I chose to include one here that I thought might best exemplify my words thus far. The essence of this poem defines Bukowski for me and is the reason why I think he is so amazing at what he does.

feeling fairly good tonight

Thou shalt not fail as a writer
because the vultures are waiting in the wings ready
to swoop down and sign their
“I told you so’s.”

Thou shalt not fail as a writer
because the very act of writing is the best protection
from the madness of the

Thou shalt not fail as a writer
because it 's the finest form of self-entertainment

but Thou shall be finished as a writer
upon the hour or day of your

only to have thick new books of yours
appear for years afterwards compiled
from the stockpile of poems you
left behind for your

let it be so:
these wisps of magic
wrested from the clutch

Monday, April 13, 2009


Malcolm Gladwell, author of the brilliant works "The Tipping Point" and "Blink delivers another compelling study related to the concept of Outliers; which in the context of this book describes an individual who has achieved a measure of success that would be considered extraordinary.

The premise of the book is to explode the idea that the success of outliers such as Bill Gates (whom he cites as an example - which makes perfect sense because everyone knows who he is) is not as simple as a measure of the individual but also the circumstances, often random circumstances, that happen to occur and exist around the individual.

Gladwell has a very unique writing style that not only is pleasing to read but much like a good suspense writer, it is both engaging and filled with the subtle yet effective use of literary devices that create a unique form of page turner.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

When the Wind Blows

I'd like to take a sentence of this to thank everyone, especially Airam, for keeping this blog going. It's been a while since I've posted so here goes...

Originally released in 1998, "When the Wind Blows" is a departure from the commonly themed stories the Paterson churns out. Patterson's readers often become invested in his characters because they run through so many of his books, it's easy to stay invested in them. Here, he proves that his character development skills are in top form as are his storytelling skills.

Not only do we get drama, but throw in suspense, thriller, and even a touch of science fiction make this a page-turner that I couldn't put down. Written in the classic style of Patterson, you'll leave this book wanting more but loving what you got.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Monsters of Templeton

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

When this book came out in 2008, the cover instantly made me want to read it. And then, after seeing much talk about it, I finally picked it up. In the end, I'm incredibly glad I did. The Monsters of Templeton is about a girl who returns home from graduate school after a disastrous event to find her small, idealistic town turned slightly upside down. It turns out that in the lake she used to run by and play in, they discovered a monster. A real one. A giant one. The thing is, that's not at all the monster the title is referring to.

While home, at a place she never wanted to visit again, Willie tries to re-coop and reconnect with her hippie mother who's found religion. While doing this she learns of her mother's greatest secret: apparently Willie was not the product of a faceless father during her mother's reckless days in San Francisco, oh no, instead she's the product of one of her Templeton neighbors. One that may, just may, be related to her way back down the line.

And so starts The Monsters of Templeton an intricate tale that follows Willie as she does intense research to find how who her real father is. As the chapters fly by, you read accounts by each person from her family, from old letters to diary entries. Her family tree has so many branches that I created my own genealogy chart to follow it correctly. And it ends with one welcome understanding.

What I was most impressed with was Groff's voice. This being her first novel, she has a very sophisticated story telling ability. For each character she portrays within the novel, there's a new character voice. She creates so many personas and so many histories it's incredibly impressive and addictive. In the end, you just hope that everything she wrote was true and that Templeton (actually based off of the real city Cooperstown, NY) is exactly how you imagine it to be. I do agree that some subplots were a bit much and a bit overwhelming, but that didn't matter in the end. I devoured this book quickly, really loving it, which is why I'm trying to stop myself from tracking down the author who coincidentally lives right by my boyfriend. I'm definitely excited to read her new short story collection Delicate Edible Birds.

The Monsters of Templeton is about reconnecting with your past and learning from it. Going back and reevaluating the monsters and the heros. Learning enough from it to form a future that the next few generations can research and maybe even inspire to be like.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thanks for the Memories

Thanks for the Memories by Cecelia Ahern

Oh Cecelia Ahern, we meet again. While in London, I picked up a paperback copy of Thanks for the Memories since it doesn't come out (in hardback!) until next month here in the states. The Irish writer has made quite a name for herself and I'm always excited to read her next novel. I suppose that's why I was slightly disappointed with this book.

Ahern is known for starting her books in the middle of a tragedy and this book is no different. It opens with the heroine, Joyce, laying at the bottom of a staircase after a terrible fall, one where she miscarries her baby. Elsewhere, Justin, after suffering from a painful divorce, meets an attractive woman who somehow manages to convince him to donate blood. From there, the story weaves these two characters together through chance meetings and magical realizations. Ahern is known for giving her stories a fairy tale sort of feel and this one is no different.

My problem with this book was that it was incredibly predictable, right down to the ending. The characters were illustrated well enough, you liked them and understood their actions, however that was it. My greatest compliment for this book is that it's well written in typical Ahern style. It is grabbing, definitely, but it left me feeling nothing, regardless of the happy ending.

If you're looking for something that's a quick read (despite its 400 pages) with surefire happiness, then this is the book for you. If you're looking for something a bit deeper, a bit more like her last few novels, than wait for her next book The Gift which seems to be getting better reviews. Despite my lack of love for this book, I'll definitely still check it out. I like her writing too much to give up.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lost and Found, by Carolyn Parkhurst

I thought this was a very good book. The idea behind it (a mother/daughter go on a reality tv show in order to repair their relationship) is something interesting, something I hadn't come across before. The book goes back and forth, narrated by both Laura (the mother) and Cassie (the daughter), as well as several of the other contestants on the show. At first, that bothered me, becase I found it a bit hard to keep track of each of them, but I soon found myself intrigued by their characters as well. There were twists throughout the book, to keep up the entertainment value, I suppose and the book was a bit better then I expected, to be honest. I found myself picturing the scenes in my head, which is a sign of a good book, in my opinion. Lost and Found, the name of both the book and the tv show they are competing on, is a similar idea to The Amazing Race, which is one of my favorite shows, so I am sure that helped me like it even more.

It was an easy read- I read it in less then a day, but I'd surely recommend it to others.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Everyone Is Beautiful

Back in December, I was contacted by Laura Ford, who is an editor at Random House Publishing. She must have come across my review of Katherine Center's first novel, because in her email, she asked if I would like to receive an early edition of Katherine's second novel. Her exact words were, "May I send you a galley?" My words back to her (although not exact) were "Hell yeah!"

So, I had the honour of having a reader's edition of this book. I would be lying if I said that I didn't excitedly wait for this book to arrive on my doorstep. The book itself didn't officially come out in bookstores until February 17th. And of course I urge you all to go to your nearest book store and purchase the book if you haven't already done so.

Without giving too much away, this book is about Lanie Coates who is a young wife and mother to three children. Her life is uprooted across the country when her husband gets accepted to a grad program for music (his dream).

Ever the supportive wife, she willingly packs up her life's belongings into a U-Haul to make the big move. Things are changing and it's never more apparent when she finds out that her parents have not only sold her childhood home, but are moving to a different country/time zone.

In an effort to make sense of her life (and find herself while she's at it), she decides to make some changes, including joining a gym and signing up for a photography class. While she is snapping photos of the world around her, her own little world is beginning to slowly come back into focus.

Of course this doesn't come easily. There are a few obstacles that she'll have to overcome ...

This was a great read and yet another winner by Katherine Center.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Wonder Spot

The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank

I found this book for $1.50 at a used book store. Having previously read Bank's other book, I was tempted to buy it, especially at that price. It was, quite bluntly, not a good choice, even at $1.50. Sophie Applebaum is our heroine, an everyday Jewish girl. The book illustrates small parts of her life from age 12 through 30-something. Each piece has a different impact on her life and is important in one way or another. The thing is, you never know why they're important. I suppose I expected everything to come around, for things to be explained, but they never were. Sophie kept going with her job she hated and love life that never went her way, but she never changed. Instead, she complained. She never grew or became someone better. And because of that, I really didn't like her. The ending left me confused and wondering what, exactly, the point of the book was. To give Bank credit, though, her writing is good. Her descriptions are fantastic and the book is engaging. It's just not worth it in the end.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Released within the same year as The History of Love, there was a minor controversy started when this book came out. Both have young and naive starring characters, both have influential older Jewish characters who've been through traumatic events relating to the Holocaust, both have the characters searching for something, someone. And, most importantly, they're written by husband and wife. Foer, who is previously famous, crafted with this novel one of the most interesting looks at 911. The story follows Oskar, who's father died in the World Trade Center. As the novel starts up, Oskar discovers a key in his father's closet. Thinking it will bring closure to his father's death, he is determined to find the lock. And thus starts the epic story that has him all over NYC, meeting people and finding his way. At the same time, Oskar's grandmother is writing letters about her life growing up and how she had to flee after the bombing of Dresden. How she falls in love. How she falls out of love. Much like The History of Love, Extremely Loud... takes you on a journey through different lives, all of which come together in the end brilliantly. Told with pictures and various typographies, the book is an adventure and highly addictive. It has one of those endings where everything hasn't changed, however it gives you an interesting feeling of hope. I really liked it.

The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl. The History of Love is far from what you expect it to be - it is not a simple love story about two people falling in love, breaking up, getting back together and living happily ever after. It's far from that , actually. The History of Love is a beautifully written intricate tale of the fate of two very different strangers and how their lives connect. It takes you from Nazi invaded Poland, to current day New York City. Story number #1 centers around Leo Gursky, an old, old, old Jewish immigrant just trying to live until tomorrow. He reflects often about a girl he loved back in Poland and wants to be remembered. Story #2 shows young Alma who is trying to make her mother happy and fall in love. Her mother, a book translator, lost her husband, Alma's father, many years ago and her only companion is an old book called "The History of Love." Knowing that, Alma tries to find information about the book. The story is heartbreaking and beautiful. You're involved in it up to the very last word. In a book where many stories take place, all separate, it's amazing how they all connect together lovingly in the end. I'm really excited to read every other book Krauss wrote and will write.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Marley and Me

When I was just a little girl, I thought I was more of a cat person than a dog person. I’d spend hours while pretending to do my chores, mainly focused on playing with the kitties and searching out new ones in the barn. They’d get so tame, that if you went pick up a bale, they’d scurry on to it to get your attention; or you decided to sit down for a rest, they’d climb right up on to you. I was personally hurt when my brother took to torturing the poor things, swinging them around by their tails and whatnot.

When my sister scoured the want ads and listened to “Swap Shop” on the radio religiously to find a suitable dog for the farm, I wasn’t too interested. When “Katy” arrived on the scene, I was annoyed that I couldn’t run barefoot on the lawn, or lay outside without the slobbering Collie all over me. She was a dumb dog. She stood in the middle of the road and barked at traffic. She climbed up the stairs on to the school bus. She got hit by tractors, the slowest moving vehicles on the planet. I was not her biggest fan.

When a lovable Golden Retriever/Labrador cross took her place; however, I changed my tune. Nelly was (and still is, as far as I know) a beautiful dog. A hot blonde. Gentle, more intelligent, so adorable that everyone in the family began giving her treats for the hell of it. If I decided to lay in the grass, she’d sit beside me with her tail thump-thump-thumping away.

It’s because of Nelly that Marley and Me by John Grogan was such a wonderful reading experience. It was easy to relate to the demeanor of Labs, the way the Grogans fell in love with the little pup, the unconditional love when Marley devoured the house and failed out of dog training. While our experiences with our beloved family pets were quite different, I couldn’t help but love this tale.

Before I start to gush too much, I feel the need to inform everyone that I haven’t seen the movie. A co-worker loaned me the book with her own story about how tears sprung to her eyes at opportune moments, warning me that if I was a crier (which I totally am) I was doomed. I don’t know if it was the fact that I carried this book around everywhere with me on the off chance that I’d get to read a couple pages here and there that prevented me from tearing up at the end of the story or not, but I didn’t cry. However, the fact that I wasn’t moved to tears didn’t ruin my impression of the novel.

Marley and Me is a relatable story about the impact a family pet can have on your life. Certainly, for anyone who had a dog growing up, or has one now, it’s easily to nod your head as you read about the trials and tribulations the Grogans face with Marley. Though we all come from different backgrounds, different family situations, and experiences, Marley and Me is the type of story that brings people together. This is probably why when John Grogan wrote the obituary for his pet in the paper he worked at, he received more calls, e-mails and letters than he had for any other piece of his career.

I spoiled it, but c’mon, you had to know that was coming.

Do yourself a favour, pick up Marley and Me and remember your own favourite childhood pet as the story unfolds.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Bed In Heaven

::Peace Turkey waves "hello" to the Book Me In community::

I found this short, amazing novel by Tessa de Loo on the "featured reads" shelf at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on a rainy, boring day when I was taking a break from studying last fall. Six months after finding this book, it's sticking with me like few books have.

A brief 128 pages in length, I gobbled up this book in one sitting in a dark, isolated corner of the library that day. And I've reread it many times since.

A cross between historical fiction and a family drama, A Bed in Heaven is the story of a Jewish Hungarian family deeply affected by World War II. Focused on Kata, the daughter of a man given shelter from the Nazis by a stranger at the height of the war, this novel broaches controversial topics about which novels are rarely written - incest, the power of female sexuality and a frank look at oft overlooked effects of war.

de Loo's writing style is sparse but descriptive at the same time. Certain sentences haunted me and made my heart ache. I would reread whole passages over and over again. If you feel like taking a break from the light-hearted, easy reads we're all wont to read during the holiday season, A Bed In Heaven is a great book to start with. Get your Kleenex ready and have a teddy bear or loved one on hand as you reach the last page. You're going to need a hug when you're done with this one.