Monday, August 29, 2011


A Novel of the Irish Rebellion
By Morgan Llywelyn

This book is amazing. I love everything about it. I love that it is a kind of historical fiction book. I love that it is about Ireland and Irish history. I love each and every character Llywelyn created. 1916 is completely engulfing. The world is so vivid and electric.

If you have no interest in Ireland or Irish history, do not even open the book. It is all about the political and cultural climate of Ireland during one of the most tumultuous and infamous times in Ireland's history. Llywelyn does an incredible job of making this book historically accurate and informative without being tedious. The reader doesn't get bogged down with names and dates. Instead Llywelyn weaves an expansive yet very personal story within the fabric of the political changes.

However, I will say the novel does become convoluted when the Rising is in full swing, but, as frustrating as it may be will all the names and places and action, that sense of frustration and confusion mirrors that of the characters. There was not truly reliable communication, no one knew for sure what was happening until the action involved themselves.

Llywelyn does a good job of making the book somewhat impartial. Obviously the reader is put on the side of Ireland. But she presents all sides of the conflict, causing the reader to question each party's actions, motives and consequences.

Ned and Henry are extremely strong characters, full of conviction and fire. Sile is wonderful in her own strength. And Precious will just break your heart. I really enjoy that Llwelyn combines characters of her own creation with historical figures.

This is truly a remarkable book, and I cannot wait to read the rest.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

I've been slacking. Well, that's not exactly true. I started reading 1949 by Morgan Llywelyn. Unfortunately I wasn't paying attention and didn't realize I had picked up the third book in a series of three. Typical. But I was committed, so I figured I'd keep reading. And then came moving day, and as 1949 was a library book, I had to give it up. Even worse, I had to make the decision which books would be moving with me and which would need a new home. Not an easy choice. So my book collection is now limited. But I did have enough sense to bring The Color Purple with me.

What I liked most about this book is the letter-writing format. It makes the book very personal. And truly, I think that's the only way the reader would have gotten to know anything about Celie because she started off so stony to the outside world, and understandably so.

The only letter I didn't enjoy was the one Nettie wrote to Celie about how Samuel and Corrine met. That one went on forever and was pretty dull actually. But other than that I don't have any complaints.

Although, I don't know how someone could have read this book and said, Hey, this would make a good movie. The book leaves so much that would have to be fleshed out. (I haven't seen the movie or the musical).

Truth be told I rushed though this book a little. I don't have strong feelings about it one way or another. Also I just picked up my copy of Llywelyn's 1916 and I'm eager to start it. So, really, for me this book was about killing time more than anything else. That isn't to say it's not a good book to read, I just, like I said, have little feeling one way or the other about it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Adventures with Extremists
by Jon Ronson

I have become a real fan of Jon Ronson. I really like the way he writes and I really like how he structures his books and makes them accessible to the average reader. He puts himself in some crazy situations and I admire that. He doesn't just interview some interesting figures, he spends days or months with them and truly getting to know their side of the story. It's excellent.

This book is fascinating. I am just amazed by the people Ronson interviews and spends time with. They see the world in ways I never thought people considered.

After reading "Them" and "The Psychopath Test" I became intrigued with David Icke. He is a brand of crazy I just cannot understand. I won't go on about it. But I will say I looked up some interviews of his on youtube and discovered I just cannot bear to listen to him speak. But what do I know? Maybe the world is ruled by bloodsucking alien lizards.

"Them" brings you into the paranoid world of conspiracy theorists. What's truly amazing to me is just how convinced these people are of what they believe and perceive to be true. The men Ronson interviews are certainly passionate people. The book takes you on an interesting journey of their minds. It may not change your views on who is really running the world, but "Them" is worth exploring.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

I really enjoy these kinds of anecdotal stories woven into a novel connecting people. It's like an investigative way of getting to know the characters and how they relate to one another.

What else is there to say about this novel that hasn't already been said? It does make me think about the generations of women in my family and how much I really know, or don't know about them; the lives my mother and grandmothers lived before they got married and had children; whether I want to or would rather not know.

Tan has excellent pacing in this novel. She keeps the readers' attention with one character long enough to paint the necessary picture and plant a seed of understanding and relation. Each story maintains good momentum and provides a kind of moral or reveals a deeper meaning to the character's life and relationships. Every character's life is unique and vastly different from each other and distinctly interesting. I do wish there had been a little more talk of the actual Joy Luck Club and how these women and their families came together.

I don't know that the novel needed the mechanism of the journey to China and the discovery of the long-lost sisters. I could have done without that one piece.

But this is a great book. It may be a "girl book" because it is almost exclusively about women, but it is by no means "chick lit." It's definitely a book worth exploring.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Psychopath Test

A Journey Through Madness
by Jon Ronson

This book is completely fascinating.

I was especially interested about madness in the media. It's completely true. I love watching trashy reality TV shows because they're just mad enough. I can watch and judge and feel content in the fact that I'm not as crazy as those people. We are a society of schadenfreude.

The people Ronson interviewed are remarkably interesting, from Scientologists to psychologists to psychopaths. I mean the man interviewed Toto Constant! Just about everything I read in this book was a shock. And Ronson's writing style makes the complex accessible to the average reader. I am now a fan. I plan to read "Them" next. I appreciate Ronson's open mindedness about the subjects and the people her pursues.

"The Psychopath Test" is like nothing else I've picked up. The only word I have to describe it is "fascinating." The people who devote their lives to psychology or fighting psychology, they are all so convinced of how right they are. And truly, I believe that everyone is mad. I do think that society on the whole is over diagnosed. We all have madness in us and it's better to accept that and live in a way that makes it work for us, without harming ourselves or others, rather than trying to curse ourselves of our mad tendencies. But, as for psychopaths, I don't know that there is much hope of curing their madness. All I know is that putting them in facilities together and giving them LSD is not the way to do it. Maybe they really are a completely different breed. Maybe there is nothing that can be done for them.

This book will make you question and consider psychology, medication, the people around you. I think reading this book will help anyone feel sane.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

I really enjoyed these stories. The book is gossipy and entertaining and just fun to read. It's not easy subject matter, it's not comfortable subject matter, but it's addressed in a way that makes it comfortable (almost). The book is honest without being too heavy or serious, but is wonderfully poignant when it needs to be.

Only two things stuck out that I didn't like: Skeeter comparing herself to Boo Radley, because she is nothing like Radley, at all. It's fine to reference a book you think is relevant to yours, especially since "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published around the time this book is set, but don't make a half-hearted reference for the sake of making a literary reference you think makes you look smart. I also disliked the riding-into-the-sunset ending of Aibileen. In my opinion, endings are the hardest to write, and the riding-into-the-sunset variety are the easiest to fall into. I wanted a more concrete ending, but I'll take it.

Also, I have mixed feelings about the book within the book. It's a little too metafiction. The book "The Help" and "Help" are essentially the same thing. I understand Stockett needed something to make her book work, which was to make her characters tell their stories for the purpose of writing their own book, but there's something about that I don't like, which is why I think the movie will be so successful. That being said, the stories and characters were so strong and vivid that I could put my misgivings aside.

All of Stockett's characters are clear and strong in their own right, even the not-so-bright pushover Elizabeth. Hilly is wonderfully wicked in her racist convictions. Minny is a great sort of comic relief at times, but her stories were no weaker than Aibileen's; I loved Minny's relationship with Miss Celia and looked forward to her chapters.

At times the book felt drawn out; all the repetitious anticipation for the book to be finished and then to be published. But every incident, every story was fun to read. The atmosphere of the book is wholly engrossing and an interested place to set yourself in.

I'm probably one of the last people to read this book, but if you haven't read "The Help" yet, it is well worth it. It's a cliche and it's corny, but this book will make you laugh, make you cry, break your heart, and lift you up.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

House Rules

by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult was the first author I gravitated to when I was looking for "real" authors to read. I was out of the Young Adult section and a long time out of Junior Fiction and was looking for "real" fiction to read. To be honest, I don't remember which of her novels I read first, but I read a lot: "My Sister's Keeper," "Keeping Faith," "The Pact," "Vanishing Acts," and "Plain Truth." Then I decided I needed to take a break; that and I read the first line of "Nineteen Minutes" and decided I just couldn't read it. So "House Rules" is the first Picoult book I've picked up in a few years. A woman came into the library and recommended it to me.

I really enjoyed this book. It's suspenseful. I think Picoult has great timing and pacing. However, I also think her novels are very formulaic, and so I really need to space out my reading of them. That being said, her novels still feel unique and authentic. She tackles some hard issues in a very intimate and very well-researched way. I like that she tells the story through multiple characters' perspectives.

I think autism and Aspberger's especially is fascinating, and this book is somewhat eye-opening. Jacob is a very complex boy. I loved his humor and his frankness. And God bless his mother, Emma.

This book made me realize I've probably watched one too many episodes of CSI (ironic) because I figured out early on what happened to Jess. But the ending still warmed and broke my heart. Jacob is just so wonderful, there are no words.

On a side note, I do not like this cover. I know that's a trivial thing, but I don't like it. It has nothing to do with the book or its themes. All it shows is a boy, too young to be Jacob or Theo, playing by himself. It's no good. No, I can't think of what would be more fitting off the top of my head, but I'm sure they could have found something better.

I think Jodi Picoult is an extremely accessible author, and I recommend her books to any young adults looking to read "real" fiction.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jemima J

a novel about ugly ducklings and swans
by Jane Green


But did I expect to learn anything from this book? No. Did I expect it to change my life? No. You get what you pay for. (Except I didn't pay for this book, I picked it up among the library paperbacks.) I did enjoy reading it though. Despite the fact that I could have come up with this story myself, I liked reading it. I think a small does of chick-lit is healthy now and again.

However, the narration is dreadful. It switches from first person Jemima to first person Ben to third person to third person omniscient; it's schizophrenic! It almost reads like a script rather than a novel. Pick one point of view and stick with it.

Also, I really hate Jemima's name. I couldn't decide just how to pronounce it, so I gave up and just called her Jemma (which I think is a much better name).

But all in all, I found myself wanting to read this book and having a good time at that.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Fiction Class

by Susan Breen

This book is similar to The School of Essential Ingredients, in that Arabella is a teacher and her class is a random assortment of people who learn and grow together. But The Fiction Class focuses more on Arabella and her life as opposed to the lives of her students.

I find Arabella very likable and sympathetic. I like how cerebral she is. Breen created fairly pedestrian, typical student characters who I initially wrote off as being a little stereotypical, but who turned out to be completely unexpected as Arabella got to know them.

I really enjoyed this story, and couldn't help but try my hand at a few of the writing exercises, some of which I thought were particularly creative and intriguing (the prompts, not my writing). I do wish, though, that Breen had included the student's evaluations at the end, maybe as a epilogue, but I guess having them enroll in Arabella's next class was sufficient. I did not especially like Vera's story, "Fortune," but I did like how it brought her and Arabella together just when they both needed it most.

This is a good read for people who like to write. It's also a good read for people who like well-crafted stories with a touch of sadness.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The School of Essential Ingredients

by Erica Bauermeister

I don't know if I'm still riding the risidual waves of love from the Sisterhood, but I found myself loving this book. Bauermeister created Lillian to be a wonderful, magical foodie fairy godmother. She seeks out those who most needed her expertise and draws out the best in them.

I can't help myself when it comes to books about food. I want to go to Lillian's restaurant, which sounds cozy and beautiful, and I want to take her cooking class.

This book is more like a series of short stories cleverly woven together. I love the way each recipe reflects each individual's particular story, almost mirrors them in a way. That was a nice touch. Tom's story broke my heart, as did Isabelle's, in different ways, but they were both beautiful. I love how everyone in the class came together, not only to cook.

The School of Essential Ingredients is a really nice book to read. It's cute and cozy, but it will make you hungry.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sisterhood Everlasting

by Ann Brashares

I didn't want to read this book. But I read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood, and Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood when I was in high school, so when Sisterhood Everlasting came in at the library, I had no choice.

I forgot how much I love these four girls, these four woman. I devoured this book. That's the thing about the Sisterhood books: I just couldn't consume them fast enough.

Ann Brashares is not a particularly great writer. Her style is difficult for me to sink into. There's not enough flow, no real finesse. For the first hundred pages or so, reading her is like driving a standard when you're accustomed to driving an automatic: every gear shift is jarring and you occasionally stall out just as you're gaining momentum. But I just love these girls. Carmen was never and still is not my favorite. I was disappointed by how much she changed, but was happy to see she found herself again. I used to beg for the story to hurry along so I could read more about Bee's life, although initially in this book I couldn't stand her and her transient ways; luckily she found her much-needed roots. Lena I have always loved and felt a kinship with, and I was thriled with her story. And Tibby, well you'll have to read the book.

I had a cynical moment of "What is this?? P.S. I Love You???" But it worked. Everything about this story worked (though I will admit, the initial mourning period for them all started to feel a little too drawn out). This book, and the previous four books, makes my heart feel full to bursting. I just can't explain it. I encountered the Sisterhood books at the perfect age, and my love for them was rekindled, not instantly, it took a hundred pages or so, but it was revived.

I will say I wasn't happy about how the Sisterhood came to be reunited in this book, but I got over it and everything about how the story developed was beautiful. After finishing the book, all I could do was sit back, smile and sigh.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

22 Britannia Road

by Amanda Hodgkinson

Of course I couldn't resist another WWII book. I actually gravitated to this book because of the cover (again), because it looks similar to the cover of "Suite Francaise." Though both books are about WWII, they are vastly different. "Suite Francaise" is a much better book.

I didn't dislike "22 Britannia Road." It's a good book. I just wasn't expecting it to be so much of a love story/love triangle book. At times it was too much; it wasn't what I was looking for in a WWII book. To be honest, there wasn't enough about Janusz and Silvana's lives during the war for my taste. I wanted to hear more about Silvana trying to survive with Aurek in the woods for years. I wasn't as interested in Januz's travels and his French love affair. It seemed like Janusz didn't do much of anything in the war actually. It was Silvana who had the worse of it, and I would have liked to hear more of her story. The book basically glosses over their 6 years apart. I understand the book is about their reuniting, trying to move beyond their past and become a family. In that respect, the book is successful. It just wasn't to my taste.

I did however like the unexpected plot twists (one of which I suspected all along). The men in this book, though, on the whole, are not very likable. I found myself disliking Janusz because he was trying to hard to be a good English citizen, however, he does eventually understand Silvana and his son and do what he can, or feels he has to, to accommodate them. Tony I didn't particularly care for either, and I don't quite understand what Silvana saw in him. Gilbert is basically just note-quite-always drunk and impotent. I loved hating Doris, the epitome of the nosey, gossiping next-door neighbor, though, she's great.

If this book had focused solely on Silvana's years in the woods with Aurek, I would have loved it. As it is, it is a good book, an honest look at difficult reconciliations, but not one of my favorites.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield

I loved this book. It is the perfect book to curl up with on a rainy day with a cup of tea (or cocoa). I didn't know what to expect when I plucked this book from a bag of paperback donations at the library, but something about the cover intrigued me (I know, 'Don't judge a book by it's cover,' but let's be honest, we all do it, it's human nature). Within reading the first chapter, I was hooked.

"The Thirteenth Tale" feels old and musky and musty and dusty. It's mysterious atmosphere is all-encompassing. Immediately the tone is set, and I was ready to be absorbed by this story. The way Vida Winter descries her life, through a series of stories feels authentic and intimate. I wanted to know everything about her and uncover the mystery of her life. Sad and shadowed, her life unfolds itself in pieces to explain the woman she has become. It is storytelling at its best.

My one issue with the book is Margaret's obsession with her dead twin and the ridiculous "Postscriptum." I understand twins have a inexplicable connection, but Margaret's seeing her twin's ghost and then being visited by her (shouldn't Moira have still been a baby, by the way?) didn't really add anything to the story; I think it was largely unnecessary. But don't let that deter you; this book is absolutely worth reading.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Namesake

by Jhumpa Lahiri

I have mixed feelings about this book. The first I knew about it (that I remember) was from seeing a trailer for the movie. Naturally I thought, Well I should read the book before I go ahead a order the movie. And I did just that. But the movie trailer gave me a very different impression of the book.

First of all, this book is slow. There is something about Lahiri's writing that feels very measured and controlled and deliberate. Because of that, the book feels very slow-paced. The story, for me, didn't really pick up until after Gogol's father died. And even then Lahiri put on the breaks quickly thereafter. The emotional highs and lows of the book feel very restrained. It feels as though Lahiri puts a vast distance between herself and her writing.

Gogol's parents didn't seem all that upset by his and his sister's "American" life choices. And when they were, it felt a little out of place, because they had so encouraged their children to assimilate, even celebrating Christmas. I thought there would have been stronger conflict.

All in all, I wasn't too impressed by this book. I didn't find anything too remarkable about it. It is telling of first generation Americans and their relationship to their parents and the conflict of cultures, but, for me, it just didn't push far enough, didn't go deep enough emotionally. It left me feeling pretty lukewarm.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memoirs of a Geisha

by Arthur Golden

This is a wonderful book! I absolutely loved reading "Memoirs of a Geisha," I couldn't put it down!

What a I especially love about "Memoirs" is that it reads like a culture-study. The books is extremely well researched, without feeling tedious, and authentic. Golden immediately emerges the reader in Japanese culture, and it only gets better from there. Everything about this book is enrapturing. It is a wonderful complex story to get lost in.

Sayuri's life was such a captivating mixture of tragedy and elation. Well, elation may be a bit strong a word. After being sold from her family, Chiyo/Sayuri endured torture at the hands of Hatsumomo and looked as if life would end with her being a maid forever. But through unexpected turns of good luck, Sayuri manages to become a geisha. There is something innately alluring about the mention of "geisha." They're exotic and exquisite and reading about one was like taking a peek into some kind of exclusive, elite world. (Though now I would like to read a book from the perspective of a wife and a maid at the time and see how much they enjoyed their lives compared to Sayuri.)

Frankly, I didn't care too much for the love-story aspect of the book. I thought Sayuri's initial reaction to the Chairman was like a schoolgirl crush on the knight-in-shining-armor/pseudo father figure. It seemed a little ridiculous how obsessed with him she became. I suppose that's why the New York Times referred to the romance as "Dickensian."

Sadly, I found the last few chapters to be a disappointment. I cannot believe what Sayuri wanted to do to Nobu after he showed her so much kindness and truly she owed him her life. Then she unexpectedly learns that the Chairman has been the driving force and savior of her life ever since she first met him, without her knowledge, and now the can live happily ever after because he's been secretly in love with her too? Please. That was much too neat and tidy and unrealistically convenient. It felt like a cop-out. Sayuri absolutely deserved a happy ending, but not the way Golden crafted it. The plot and the whole atmosphere of the book was so well executed up to that point, it was like letting air out of a balloon.

That's the other thing I really liked about the book: it's poetry. The story is full of beautiful metaphors, which felt like a very Japanese touch, to me. Also I liked the way it did read like a true dictation of a geisha's life.

I know the book looks long, but it is well worth the effort, and once you're in it, reading it won't feel like effort.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

I really enjoyed this book. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this.

The world of the train circus Gruen creates is thoroughly fascinating and engrossing. It was like reading about a foreign country, a totally unfamiliar culture, complete with exotic animals. "Water for Elephants" is a really well thought out and well-crafted story that reels you in right from the onset.

Each character Gruen created feels genuine and believable. I bought into every situation and reaction. It's a book I didn't want to put down!

I only have two small issues with the book: It took Jacob too long to figure out Rosie only understood Polish. And I don't understand why Jacob carried around so much guilt for such a long time. What happened wasn't his fault; really it wasn't anyone's fault. Though he did explain that elephant executions were common at the time. Still, I think he could have told Marlena and nothing would have changed between them. His guilt was important to the story, but in relation to what happened and to his life, I think it was unnecessary. I was expecting him to be holding some horrible secret, and really it wasn't that awful.

Jacob gets a hard-knock education in life and love during his three months with the Benzini Brother's Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Initially I had my doubts about his abilities to survive, but he quickly integrates himself into circus life and endears himself to many through his charm, hard work, and open heart.

I can see why it was chosen to be developed into a movie. It is vivid and expansive and, I think, easily lends itself to film.

"Water for Elephants" is for any reader looking for an enthralling story, complete with star-struck love, deception, suffering of all varieties, and in the midst of all that, a circus! Gruen wrote a remarkable story that deserves to be read again and again.

Monday, May 9, 2011


by Tina Fey

I have an infinite amount of respect for Tina Fey. She is one of the greatest female role models in the media today. I love that she has had so much success in the male-dominated comedy world, as a writer and actor. She is fearless, or at least manages to quell her fear enough to go for what she wants. And what makes her a great comedy writer and actor (and this goes for women like Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig as well) is she isn't afraid to look foolish or goofy or downright unattractive at times. She makes comedy look as it should: FUN!

"Bossypants" is a great read. It's a little formulaic when it comes to famous people writing books: childhood stories, lists of positives and negatives, funny pearls of wisdom, commentary on her current situation in life. But "Bossypants" is well worth reading. There are times when I find a kindred spirit in Tina Fey.

Fey has some truly classic anticdotes (I particularly love the one about her first appointment to the gynocologist!). I think it's interesting to see where she came from and how she grew up. And she commits to her stories. She doesn't gloss over the awkward or unfortunate, she owns it.

The chapter "Dear Internet" is a very clear example of why Tina Fey kicks ass. And I'm not saying that because I am and she is a woman. If Craig Ferguson had to answer those kinds of idiotic emails, I'm sure I'd find his responses just as hilarious and awesome. Though, being a man, I doubt Ferguson would have as many sent to him. Fey's responses are snarky and biting and smart. I admire how she is so unapologetic and really owns who she is and what she does.
"Do your thing and don't care if they like it."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

by Judith Viorst

I've always liked this book but felt there was something slightly upsetting about it. Now it's all been explained to me. Also I thought the mother was not sympathetic enough about the little personal disasters going on throughout Alexander's day. But I suppose the moral really is: Suck it up; that's life.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Five Quarters of the Orange

by Joanne Harris

I fell into a book-funk and got wrapped up in other things, but I've managed to pull myself out.

I really enjoy reading Joanne Harris's books. She isn't one of my favorite writers, her writing lacks a certain poetic polish and those great moments when you as a reader realize that someone has seen the world the way you see it or has felt the exact same way you have felt, but she creates some truly great stories. Though there are a few similarities between "Five Quarters of the Orange," "Chocolat," and "The Girl With No Shadow," "Five Quarters of the Orange" is a very different book. There isn't much that's magical, and it has a much more somber quality.

This book combines two of my favorite subjects to read about: food and WWII. And in "Five Quarters of the Orange" she also throws in a sense of unfolding mystery. There is an interesting commentary on the innocence and naivety of children, and how games can turn so horribly wrong before the child's mind can fully catch on. It's sad, really. There is a lot of guilt in this book. It can be difficult to read. Mirabelle Dartigen probably never should have had children in the first place, and her bad spells certainly didn't help matters. And really, you can't fault Cassis or Riene-Claude or Framboise for their foolishness; they were growing up in the middle of occupied France with no father and a disturbed mother.

Harris creates a curious story which unfolds nicely, reaching far into the suppressed past. I like it. Though all the guilt weighs heavy on you when you read it; it can be hard to shake off. But a really good story to read nonetheless.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Angela's Ashes

by Frank McCourt

This is another book I've read multiple times, and I still think it's great. And Lent somehow seems like a fitting time to be reading this book. Although I'm not sure the people in this book would appreciate that opinion.

I remember when it first came out it was something of a phenomenon.

The reader is instantly absorbed into Frank's childhood world. He sets the mood brilliantly right from the start, with a few of my favorite lines:
When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.
And 'miserable' is certainly the word I would use to describe his childhood alright. About 2/3 of the way through the book I found myself thinking, Enough. This can't be real. This is beyond the beyonds. And I'm often suspect of memoirs. They're not "truth" strictly speaking. I wonder if Frank condensed some of his memories to make the book move faster or to make certain scenarios more interesting to the reader. Or that really his how Frank remembered his childhood. Either way, it's fascinating. And I don't think it's out of a sense of schadenfreude. To me, Frank's childhood is completely foreign, which makes it so interesting. I can not, and frankly do not want to imagine a life without bathrooms, a life of chamberpots and one outdoor lavatory per lane.

Stylistically, sometimes the grammar bothers me. I know it's largely dialectal, the leaving out of verbs, but there's occasional verb confusion in paragraphs and other minor things. It's charming at first, but towards the end it starts to wear on you.

"Angela's Ashes" is a completely engaging read. It's not everyone's cup of tea though. Some people find it just too depressing. I don't think it was meant to be, it's just as honest as a memoir can be. It is sad and painful but has it's humorous moments. Somehow life doesn't seem quite so terrible when told through the eyes of a child. But as Frank gets older, right around 13 or 14, Frank really starts to grow up and you begin to see Limerick in a harsher light.

On another note, I remember trying to read "'Tis" and thinking it wasn't nearly as good as "Angela's Ashes." Maybe one does of McCourt's style is enough.

Friday, March 18, 2011


by William Shakespeare (aka Billy Shakes)

Ah, Shakespeare. Back to my roots.

I've read Macbeth at least 4 times. I read it again now for the montly book discussion. This is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, along with Othello, Midsummer, and Richard II (I know, no one likes Richard II) to name a few. I truly do enjoy Shakespeare, and Macbeth has it all: murder, betrayal, the supernatural, not to mention some unforgettable monologues (unsex me here!).

I love lady Macbeth, she's crazy. And let's face it, Macbeth would have been nothing without her, both the play and the man. She is a force, and she's unforgettable. Shakespeare knew how to write some really excellent female characters.

I suppose I can't really explain why I like Shakespeare so much. It's work to read, without a doubt, but it almost feels like reading a secret, sacred language, like there's magic in it. And it is the words that hold all the power. There's no blood and gore, no long descriptions of epic chase scenes. It's all about language, which is great.

Shakespeare isn't for everyone, I know, but I still believe he is worth studying (even though UConn no longer requires it for English majors. You can now choose between Chaucer, Milton or Shakespeare. No contest).

Sidenote: this Dover edition isn't so great, although it does provide some definitions. But I'd prefer just about any other edition to this one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Meaning of Night: A Confession

By Michael Cox

This book is a commitment. 600+ pages of commitment. Once you begin this book you'll feel compelled to move through all the twists and turns and will be itching to know the outcome.

A few things make me crazy though. A) We know by now that I hate footnotes. But also, I hate when authors try to make fiction real. It's called suspension of disbelief. Everyone who reads fiction understands that and is willing to go along wherever you take them. Don't invent an editor and say he found this lost 19th century manuscript. It's unnecessary. You're just making extra work for myself. You used some real places or maybe even some characters who may have existed in real life, fine. But it's still fiction. I know it's fiction. Don't try to make it seem otherwise.

Now that we've got that out of the way, I really liked this book. The Meaning of Night is as enveloping and atmospheric as the thick London fog. Cox constructs an enthralling mystery. It is a master work of festering contempt and patient but desperate revenge. Cox puts you on Edward Glyver's side through it all: his opium hazes, shady work responsibilities and his supreme idiocy in love.

Yes, it is a long book. But the chapters go by quickly, even when the plot is moving slowly. This is the perfect read for the rainy, windy, sometimes snowy, gray month that is March in New England.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Big Sleep

by Raymond Chandler

I hate to give up on a book, but, hey, life's too short to waste time on a bad book. (What's really terrible is I didn't even want to take the time to watch the movie, which is the least I could do.)

Hardboiled crime novels are just not my thing. I have no interest in them. This book was chosen for the February book discussion, which is why I made the attempt. There is very little chance I would have picked this up on my own. It feels very dated and cliche. When it was first published, I'm sure it was ground-breaking and a huge piece of popular culture. It must have been since Chandler "set a standard to which others could only aspire" and "created a body of work that ranks with the best of twentieth-century literature," according to the back of the book. And for it's genre, I'm sure it's excellent, but I am just not into this crime genre.

The book is only mildly exciting and the plot barely kept me interested. Chandler's writing style is minimally descriptive and I couldn't get a good sense of the scene or the characters. I was not invested in the characters whatsoever, which made it hard for me to care about the plot. If I have no emotional connection to your characters, positive or negative, then I don't care who lives or dies or if any mystery gets solved. I disliked the homophobic sentiments and physical abuse of Carmen. There is little to no fluidity between chapters; it feels like reading a screenplay, one set fading into the next.

Plus, a porno book shop in Hollywood isn't such a scandal these days. Today, the plot would be: the Sternwoods let the nude photos of Carmen get leaked to the public but try to make a big deal out of a half-hearted cover-up so Carmen ends up famous because of her emotional suffering (and the fact that everyone's seen her boobs) and she gets her own reality show.

The real problem for me is that this genre has been spoofed over and over and over, and I can't take it seriously. On to the next.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Gates

by John Connolly

It's been a while since I've read a book in a matter of 4 days. But this book is excellent. I won't compare it to "The Book of Lost Things." They're in the same vein of pseudo-children's books, but they're very different. "The Gates" is a wonderful book to curl up with and get completely lost in.

This book is almost cartoon-like. I get the sense that Connolly wrote this book more for himself than to impress anyone. It's nerdy and very funny and seems like Connolly could have written this book for his own fun, to amuse himself, and it translates. The book reels you in with a somewhat scary plot that doesn't disappoint. Samuel and Boswell make for two excellent heroes you really root for. And Connolly creates some terrifying and some surprisingly endearing demons.

In general, I hate footnotes. But Connolly writes his in the same narrative voice as the rest of the story and makes them humorous in a way that doesn't completely take you out of the story. They add to the story rather than distract and confuse. Although, some of the footnotes are a little confusing, but still manage to entertain. My personal favorite is an explanation of lesser demons, including "Erics', the Demon of Bad Punctuation." (He's a frequent visitor of mine; I misuse semicolons all the time.)

This book is absolutely worth reading. It makes me feel like a kid again, getting completely wrapped up in a fantastical story. "The Gates" is 100% enjoyable and if you have any affinity for fantasy/science fiction/a great story about the triumph of the unexpected nerdy underdog, give this book a try.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Better Book Titles

A friend sent me a link to this the other day and I immediately had an "Ah! Why didn't anyone tell me about this sooner!" moment.

Better Book Titles is an absolutely hilarious blog any literary junkie (or non-junkie for that matter) can appreciate. He posts a new better book title every day and even accepts outside submissions. Definitely take the time to check it out.

I have too many favorites to list here, but here is one of them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recipes for a Perfect Marriage

by Kate Kerrigan

I repeatedly scoffed at this book on the library's paperback shelves and refused to put it out. The title alone made me want to gag. But after weeks of seeing it stick out, I decided to pick it up.

I am a sucker for books involving food. I love them. Books with recipes, about food writers/bloggers/critics/recipe testers/home cooks, I can't get enough. Food adds another emotional level to a story. Whether it's the frustration of seeing a recipe fail, the need to distract yourself from bigger problems by baking, or trying to make up for something with a three course meal. It makes a story more personal and brings so much more to the plot.

This book is about the intersection of two woman's lives, Bernadine and her granddaughter Tressa, decades and worlds apart. It's the recipes and the struggles with marriage that bring them together.

"Recipes for a Perfect Marriage," despite the off-putting title, is a good book. It's an easy read with a lot happening in both Bernadine's and Tressa's lives, plenty of scandal, hardship, and, of course, learning how to be married. I especially like Tressa's silent battles with her seemingly cold mother-in-law. Bernadine is a little harder to like because she frequently wished her husband dead, but you warm up to her, as she does to her husband. Although, I personally dislike the undertones of Tressa's revelation that her marriage is saving her from her hedonistic single lifestyle surrounded by pervy men and self-absorbed women. I also dislike the notion of Bernadine's having a baby to see her life fulfilled and keep her marriage together. But, ignoring those twisted morality tales there is a lot to like about this book. Sure, go ahead and tell me I can't fully appreciate it because I don't know what it's like to be married, and maybe that is partially true, but nonetheless I enjoyed this book and I think it's worth reading (even if you aren't married).

Monday, February 7, 2011

We Are in a Book!

by Mo Willems

I stumbled upon a great new children's book at the library. "We Are in a Book!" is absolutely adorable. It's something I've never seen in a children's book before (except briefly in The Stinky Cheese Man, and this is ten times better): it's children's metafiction.

The illustrations are clean and simple and the two characters are hilarious. This is a children's book grownups can appreciate too. Find it. Read it.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Almost Moon

by Alice Sebold

This book is brutal. There is no sugar-coating and no shying away. It's brutal, and it's addictive. This is the kind of book you just can't put down. The story isn't exactly anything I haven't read or seen before, but the way its written, it draws you in.

I don't want to say too much about this book because I really think you should read it and I don't want to give too much away. But the book is filled with some great What?!!? moments. It centers around relationships, mostly disfunctional multi-generational mother-daughter relationships and the products of mental illness. It's riveting. But it's not about pitying the characters, except maybe the husband, a little, but they knew what they were signing up for. Everyone has their own demons, their own disfunctions, and their own way of dealing with them, or not, and how they've shared them with or projected them on the people they love. It's completely absorbing.

The ending is a little dissatisfying. Part of what drives the reader is the desire to find out how Helen is going to get out of her situation and the end didn't really deliver. But the book is still great and definitely worth reading.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Ha-Ha

by David King

This is a good book. The plot feels entirely original and it's an interesting story line. However, this book for me falls every so slightly short. It isn't enveloping the way I'd like it to be. It's the kind of book you can pick up and read during commercial breaks or at a baseball game, paying half attention to both. I wanted more from this book.

I wanted Howie to make progress. He's a smart and incredibly observant, intuitive character, but very little of that gets expressed or noticed by anyone around him. I was hoping that he and Ryan would develop a kind of sign language to enable them to converse. But Howie sticks to nodding and shrugging and makes no progress. To be fair though, Howie did progress: Ryan's presence changed Howie on the inside and changed the whole regimen of the household, but little of that was evidenced though Howie's communication skills, and I think is should have. It was a little disappointing.

However I was very happy with the way Howie and Sylvia's relationship ended up. She was a manipulative, designing, ungrateful bitch. I hated her from the start and railed against Howie every time he thought of her lovingly. She wasn't deserving of his love and devotion. So in the end, I was satisfied.

The last ten chapters of the book are brilliantly written; they're the best in the book. Initially I was thinking this book reads like a first novel: it was lacking in fluidity and solidarity, which is why I couldn't get as invested in the story as I wanted. But the last ten chapters more than make up for any shortcomings and show that King is an excellent story teller and at times poetic.

"The Ha-Ha" has its moments of repetition and slow-going, but on the whole the book has a great story and has a completely satisfying ending. If you're looking for a way to fill up some free time during your day, if your New Year's resolution was to start reading more, I would say this is a good book to pick up.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

I do not especially like Jane Austen. I know this because I read "Pride and Prejudice" in high school (but, really, what does anyone know in high school?). I read it again for this month's book discussion. I put it off until I couldn't ignore it any more and plodded my way through it. And I have to admit, I like "Pride and Prejudice" much better now.

"Pride and Prejudice" is dense. Not to mention dated and trivial. This is not a timeless classic. Except, it is. Because if you've ever seen an episode of "Friends," then you know "Pride and Prejudice." It's all parties and dinners and balls and "she likes him, but he doesn't like her and he's really in love with that other girl but she's going to marry that other guy" and a desperation for marriage. And sadly, this book also supports the notion that, if she loves him enough, a woman can change a man. But that's a whole other conversation.

The only way to read this book is to forget its being a "classic" and take Jane Austen off her pedestal. Instead of reading it with so much seriousness, I read it as a more satirical look at society, sort of Oscar Wilde-esque. After all, Mrs. Bennet with her anxieties and "nerves" is quite stupid and comical. Even better are her exchanges with her worn-out, indifferent, yet still tersely funny husband. His sarcasm and mocking of Mrs. Bennet is completely lost on her, making him funnier and her all the more pathetic an typical. This book really is the original romantic comedy.

The other hang-up is the language. If you've studied Shakespeare in any capacity, you're told that reading the language of Shakespeare takes getting used to, but after a few pages you get into the rhythm and it doesn't seem quite so foreign anymore. For me, Shakespeare is cake. Victorian lit, on the other hand, is more of a foreign language to me and takes some getting used to. And I can't help but read it with a cliched, stuffy, melodramatic woman's voice narrating the action (if you can call it

All that being said, I will admit the book does become more engrossing after wading through the first 100 or so pages, with the introduction of Mr. Whickham and Mr. Collins (completely insufferable! To say that Lydia's being dead would be favorable to her running off! And then to go on to say, Thank God I didn't marry Elizabeth, otherwise I would be as much disgraced as the rest of you sad people. What a prick.) I do enjoy the intertwining of characters and connections, and it is easy to get caught up in the plot and the "he said, she said" once you trim the fat.

On the whole, the characters are actually pretty great. I started reading the book thinking they were going to be one-dimensional, but they're very fleshed-out. Miss Bingley, Mrs. Bennet, and Lydia are, to be blunt, stupid and make for a good laugh. Mr. Collins is awful in every way and fun to scoff at. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth (along with nearly everyone else, aside from maybe Jane and the Gardiners) are both prideful and prejudiced. Austen did create great characters and a plot of how the people of "society" related to one another.

I enjoyed this book much more than I expected too. It's frivolous and romantic and, dare I say, sort of fun once you get past the language and the pacing. Now I need a break from Austen, but maybe, in the near future, I'll pick another novel of hers. Maybe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Girl With No Shadow

by Joanne Harris

This book is the sequel to Harris' "Chocolat." It has the same magical, mysterious atmosphere and tone. But also feels cozy and alluring.

I prefer this book to "Chocolat," Probably because there is no movie of it for me to have seen before I read it, so it feels original and authentic. Though I was a little sad to see there is a sequel because I wanted to believe Vianne and Anouk stayed in Lasquanet-sous-Tannes. I am glad that Harris resolved Vianne's relationship with Roux in this book, because the way it was crafted and left in "Chocolat" was, frankly, a little ridiculous.

"The Girl With No Shadow" is structured almost exactly as "Chocolat," but that by no means makes them painfully similar, as might be expected. Yet "Chocolat" and "The Girl With No Shadow" are very similar in terms of circumstance and characters. However the plot is thicker in "The Girl With No Shadow," it's more of a mystery, which adds some more depth to the book. There also is a much stronger sense of suspense in this book, which makes it nearly impossible to put down in the last hundred pages or so.

The one real issue I have with this book is the repetition. Certain thoughts were brought up over and over again by different characters. It made me wonder if she read her work from chapter to chapter. Or did her editor? But it gets better, or just becomes less noticeable as the book moves a long.

I really enjoy the way the fairytale stories from Vianne/Yanne's mother are told and then are woven into the plot of the book. It's a nice cohesiveness and adds to the magic of the book.

If you've read "Chocolat" and liked it, I recommend reading "The Girl With No Shadow." It ties up loose ends, and is a really fun, engrossing read.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


by Vladimir Nabokov
I have a confession to make. I read this book largely for the sake of saying I've read this book. That being said, it's no big surprise I didn't get a whole lot from it. It certainly made me uncomfortable though; success on that count.

I like the way the book is written, aside from all the French (even if I do understand some of it without the aid of a dictionary, it still bothers me), but it does get slow and bogged down by detail occasionally.

I can't say I enjoyed this book and I can't say I'd recommend it to anyone to read. It took a while to get through, and I can't help but think it was a bit of a waste. Although, I like it better now that I'm not reading it anymore. Maybe I'm missing the value and the substance of this book; if you feel so inclined, you can find out for yourself.

(Perhaps not the best way to kick off the new year...)