Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of 2007 - Goal for 2008

My description of the 2007 goal: "This year, I'll attempt to tackle Time's Top 100, ALA's Top 100, the top 10 books that are banned in 2006/2007, and 5 books about different religions. With some overlap and already-reads, I should reach approximately 90 books for the year."

While I surpassed my reading goal in quantity, I didn't meet my goal for the religious education. I read the Bible and part of the Torah, as well as The God Delusion. The Koran will be read, though it is not part of my 2008 goal.

In addition, I switched my goal mid-way through the year, concentrating on banned books, no matter what year they were published. Throw in a couple "looks good while waiting in line" novels and let's call it a good year.

My favorites for 2007:

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. A proper prep school novel, and a banned book besides.

A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That, by Lisa Glatt. Simple, succinct prose.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. The best comedic/ironic novel that I read this year.

Finn, by Jon Clinch. An excellent twist on a classic.

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. Worth the wait, and now I get all of the suave references.

The Secret Life of Harry Houdini, by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. More a favorite for personal reasons, like a 9-year-old son with an interest in magic, but still a remarkable biography.

The Terror, by Dan Simmons. Perhaps it's the nightmares it induced, or maybe it's the can't-get-outta-my-head imagery, but probably the unforgettable climax. If all authors took the care to research like Simmons, ah, what a wonderful world it would be.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan. The only almost-TKAM book for the year (To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel that I hold as the example of all that is sacred in the world of writing.) I'm not ashamed to admit that I still weep when I reread the end.

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I'm grateful for this blog because it supplements my terrible memory. Former students always get a happy smile, but I've warned them from the beginning of class that I will not remember their names after finals, even if I remember their knack for metaphor or gift for imagery.

So when someone recommends a book, I check the blog. There have been a few occasions where I start reading a book and have a sense of deja vu, only to see that I have read it already, and most of the time disliked it. This is why you will see more XX posts - reminders to me that no matter how many people suggest it, that book did not work for me. And, in the unforgettable words of a reader, "There is not enough time to read shit books."

Another way to aid my memory is the 1001 books spreadsheet created by the fantastic duo at Arukiyomi. I have read 120 books out of the 1001 that I am urged to "read before I die." While I disagree with many of the selections, I hope that this coming year will encourage others to voice their own opinions, telling me which books I should read in addition to these chosen 1001.

I liked the idea of reading the Pulitzer prize-winners, as well as the Booker finalists. My time will be limited in 2008, however. Between writing two novels and teaching full-time, I've shifted reading aside. Even my bedside table has books hidden now; notebooks and scribbled sheets take precedence.

Thus, the official goal:

I read 150 books in a year, then tackled 90+ of the all-time greats and banned books. For 2008, I will read at least 60 books from the 1001 books "you should read before you die" list, as well as those brought up to challenge these recommendations by my blog readers. I'll continue to review new books that I find challenging and interesting... a high standard for this year.

I wish you all a year of peace and joyful reading.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

93. "The Terror" - Dan Simmons

With another glowing recommendation from Stephen King, I was a little hesitant when I picked up this novel as I was exiting the library, arms full. What a smart choice.

Simmons combines the true story of the 1845 British expedition to find the Northwest Passage with a touch of the macabre. The two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, are icebound for two years. A creature resembling a humanoid-polar bear is slowly killing off the men. They are also running out of food and hope.

It is 800-plus pages of tightly woven plotlines and sensational description based on methodical research. The bibliography at the end of the novel is mind-boggling; Simmons branches beyond the normal scope of the horror writer into a new cross-genre of historical horror.

I loved every page of it.

4.8 out of 5.0 Polar Bear Shots.

XX. "Clara Callan"

Two sisters fighting via letters, repetitive, made it to page 35.

Friday, December 28, 2007

"A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read." - Mark Twain

Informal poll... what shall the Books for Breakfast blog concentrate on for 2008?

1. 1001 books you should read before you die

2. Penguin's 100 classic books

3. The top book award for each of the United States during the past five years.

4. A book for each country on the planet (The Terror for Antarctica, for example).

5. Other?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

92. "The Shadow of the Wind" - Carlos Ruiz Zapon


One of my graduate students spoke of his dislike of the technique used by novelists and screenwriters where the huge surprise is saved for the last five minutes. He preferred knowing the end in advance.

While we debated the merits of this, I never considered how knowing a false ending could infuriate me. Thank you, The Shadow of the Wind, for showing me how *not* to foreshadow.

Written like an old-fashioned whodunit with a splash of Stephen King-esque male-based slapstick, this novel aims to create a literary mystery set in post-war Spain. The narrator, Daniel, is a book-lover who falls in love with an author named Julian Carax. Strangely, someone is tracking down all of Carax's novels and burning them.

This could be a rally cry for the book lover, but it falls short, landing in ashes instead of smoldering coals. It did get a rave review from Stephen King (but, as I said, it is very similar to the maestro's work).

2.0 out of 5.0 Spanish Town Cocktails.

91. "The Pirate's Daughter" - Margaret Cezair-Thompson


Errol Flynn, shipwrecked on the outer islet of Jamaica, finds a new place to "start over" from his horrible career as a famous actor and regular gigilo. Enter Ida, a local girl/nymphet that slowly seduces him.

The author stated that she wrote this book based on historical facts regarding Flynn, as well as her own desire to see Jamaican stories in literature. Unfortunately, I felt like she may not have been the right person to introduce readers to the loveliness of Jamaica.

There are few descriptions, and the decent ones are recycled. What I learned from its pages I've known from other stories. In short, it read like a high-brow Jackie Collins novel... all plot, no substance.

1.0 out of 5.0 Jamaican Yo-Yos.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind." - Samuel Johnson

2006 - Read 150 books in a year. Check.
2007 - Read 90 books, mostly banned books. Check.

What shall my goal be for 2008?

90. "Atonement" - Ian McEwan


As long-suffering readers of this blog know, I will not see the movie unless I've read the book... at least, not knowingly. After Atonement received so many Oscar nods, I quickly checked this one out, despite a friend's warning that it "bored her to tears."

My experience couldn't have been different.

Based right before and during WWII, this is Briony's tale, a story to atone for a horrendous lie that changed the lives of lovers, her sister, Cecelia, and the charlady's son, Robbie Turner. It is rich in detail, reminiscent of Virginia Woolf, but that similarity is taken care of later in the book.

At times it was a bit self-aggrandizing. "See how great I am, but I'm hiding behind my author-character." The bitter mirror is turned to all of the characters, though, and nothing can be disguised. Admirable writing.

Simply, I wept over the last 20 pages, then reread them. I don't think I can go to the film, now. Lovely experiences with such books are what keep this soul stumbling along.

4.99 out of 5.0 Gold Cadillacs.

89. "Portnoy's Complaint" - Philip Roth


Alexander Portnoy is not happy. Sexually deviant, guilty, frigid regarding relationships... yes. Happy, no.

Thus, we find Portnoy on the psychoanalyst's couch, where he proceeds to describe his life for the entire novel. Or kvetch. Published during the sexual sixties, Roth questions everything about sex through a Jewish-tinted lens. After all, Portnoy is not happy because of his upbringing, a hilarious look at the (now stereotypical) Jewish family.

Jason recommended this book as an alternative to Roth's other novels that contain the character, Nathan Zuckerman, an alter-ego of the author. What amused me the most is how similar some of the images and scenes were to the Zuckerman books, which of course leads one to wonder where fiction falls and truth ties.

But I digress... I laughed, but I think the shock value was lost between 1969 and now.

3.25 out of 5.0 Dirty Condoms.

Friday, December 14, 2007

86. 87. 88. "His Dark Materials" - Philip Pullman


The trilogy, The Golden Compass (in theatres now, though I haven't seen the film), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, has garnered its own publicity due to the author's outspoken opinions about atheism. But like all books, the symbolism is only recognizable if you are looking for it, and most children (I would recommend this series for ages 10 and up) adore characters and plot before language and deep meaning.

Of the three, The Amber Spyglass is my favorite. It provides a fearful look at the afterlife that gave me nightmares. It also ends heroically, with sacrifice, that even the most die-hard religious right can't ignore for its effect.

I won't get into the story lines or plot; simply, these are intriguing fantasy books akin to The Chronicles of Narnia. If they get children to read, then a gallant nod to Pullman.

3.75 out of 5.0 Corpse Revivors.

Monday, December 03, 2007

XX. "Finnegan's Wake" - James Joyce

Dear husband calls me during the middle of my writing group's meeting. "I picked up a book from the library for you," he says. "Tell me what this means..." He proceeded to speak in tongues. I think he's been tippling in the port a bit early. "Nevermind," he says. "I know if I wanted to read this book, I'd have to listen to Brad Pitt in Trainspotting first."

The book is Finnegan's Wake. I think my husband has gone crazy. It is, after all, just a book.

Yes. A maddening, infuriating novel of hellish proportions that has forced me to resign my MENSA membership. I flipped through chapters, looking for some desperate clue to unlock its anagrams. Nuttin' honey.

Perhaps I need my literature spoon fed, at least in English. It is a sad day for this book lover.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

85. "Play It as It Lays" - Joan Didion


Maria Wyeth grew up halfway between California and Las Vegas, this no-man's land where she remains, at least mentally.

Written in mostly short bursts (1-4 page chapters), the reader understands the heartbreak of Wyeth, as well as the definitions of her generation - drugs, alcohol, self-indulgence in thinking. Though she could be successful as an actress, she is wasting away under a heavy load of thoughts - a mentally disturbed daughter, an aborted fetus, strange romantic rectangles.

The restraint of these short chapters, as well as Didion's language choices, are impeccably original. A fascinating peek at a different time, and a lovely start of an icon's writing career.

4.0 out of 5.0 Broken Down Golf Carts.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

84. "A Confederacy of Dunces" - John Kennedy Toole


I tried to read this book months ago, but Ignatius Reilly, the main character, annoyed me so much that I quit after a few chapters.

Try, try again. This time, I think reading the forward helped me get in the mindset of the themes in this book. Toole committed suicide after being depressed over the lackluster response to his masterpiece. His mother harassed Walker Percy at Loyola to read this manuscript, and the rest, as they say, is history. The novel won the Pulitzer.

So Ignatius, bumbling, big Ignatius, is New Orleans Don Quixote, aiming his sights at a hot dog stand instead of a windmill. His wildly opinionated philosophical musings are written on Big Chief tablets in his room. Did I mention he's a 30-year-old man still living with his mother?

And what a mother. Due to a couple too many beers, she ran into a store facade, making Ignatius go to work to help pay off her debt. She moans over how Ignatius treats her.

Described as a "tragicomedy," it does create a crazy, symbiotic relationship between all of the odd characters placed in different lifestyles in the Quarter, but the real tragedy is that Toole did not live to see the success of his novel. While Ignatius may be the most piercingly irritating character ever created, at least he is not boring.

3.0 out of 5.0 New Orleans Bucks.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Most of our suspicions of others are aroused by our knowledge of ourselves." - Anonymous

With a little time, and a little more insight, we begin to see both ourselves and our enemies in humbler profiles. We are not really as innocent as we felt when we were first hurt. And we do not usually have a gigantic monster to forgive; we have a weak, needy, and somewhat stupid human being. When you see your enemy and yourself in the weakness and silliness of the humanity you share, you will make the miracle of forgiving a little easier.
-- Lewis B. Smedes

I just turned 35. In my mind, that is when the senior center calls and asks you to join the pfeffer club, then the church asks you to bring communion to those who are housebound. "What if I'm housebound," I asked. "What if I stopped going to your church years ago?"

Housebound is where my mind is trapped, unable to grow and learn as much as I should have over these 35 years. Childish fights and sloppy insults. Each a weight pinned to a muscle, dragging down my trapezius, tightening the latissimus dorsi.

As the Desiderata says, " Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth." I'm surrendering my pride, my anger. It has done nothing for me.

I know that 35 is not old, but I am not where I saw my 35-year-old self. I did not see these freckled hands, these empty shelves. I thought there was more time to finish things. I thought I would have forever to say I'm sorry.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

83. "Beware of God" - Shalom Auslander


Every story in this slender volume has to do with jerking off, being Jewish, and/or failing to meet expectations. The last theme really hit me as the overriding issue of the entire book... high expectations due to the buzz surrounding this author, but really let down by the barely there attention to craft.

I can't even say that the details are great. While each story strives to be funny (and some succeed), a voice in the back of my head wondered, "Who published this? Did anyone?"

The stories weren't very original, either, which made it even more embarrassing to admit that I laughed occasionally. One short was just a litany of possible "Peanuts" cartoons.

I know Auslander can write; I've seen other articles. But perhaps fiction isn't his forte.

1.25 out of 5.0 Dark Lagoons.

82. "American Pastoral" - Philip Roth


Postwar Newark, Jewish neighborhood. "The Swede" is the WASP-y BMOC, excelling in all three sports and all-American hero. He married Miss New Jersey and settles into quiet, suburban life.

The end.

Or not. Nathan Zuckerman, featured in several of Roth's other novels, discovers the fall of "The Swede," otherwise known as Seymour Levov - his only daughter blew up a post office during the Vietnam peace-hate frenzy.

The first chapters were brilliant in their efficiency of language. So much nostalgia, but not an essence of it. Only when Nathan is at his 45th high school reunion, dancing with a woman he didn't recognize, did I feel like I could smell old people, which meant that it was getting a little schmaltzy for me.

But then the POV becomes Levov's through the end, aptly titled, "Paradise Lost." Pages of assumptions, self-doubt, and glove-making (Levov's company) later and I missed the soft voice of Nathan Zuckerman. I'm still questioning why Roth chose to use his character other than the obvious schtick of the constant narrator traveling from book to book.

This is a novel at the top of several "all time best" lists. I understand the irony of this American "pastoral," but didn't fall completely under its spell.

3.0 out of 5.0 Osmosis Pickles.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

81. "On Borrowed Wings" - Chandra Prasad


"I know what's going to happen. This is predictable."

OK, smarty. Now see what I'm going to do.

Chandra Prasad's debut novel, On Borrowed Wings, seemed to be on borrowed time, but her lyrical passages and fascinating plot captivated this snarly reader in the end.

In 1936, Adele should have married a local quarryman and washed clothes for rich people. Instead, after the death of her brother and father in a quarry accident, she takes her brother's place at Yale. Literally.

Instead of going for the laugh like so many women-in-drag stories, Prasad creates a wondrous world of books and learning... even an appearance by Amelia Earhart. Fantastically researched, she captivates the culture and society of the Yale class of 1940, as well as the many families that surrounded them in New Haven.

4.25 out of 5.0 Yale Cocktails.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Quickfire challenge - from Top Chef

My quickfire challenge... to give a rapid response review for a few books:

Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy.
Beautiful violence, didn't make me urp up as much as The Road, descriptions and details that all authors/writers aspire to, may be best to take in small doses.

4.0 out of 5.0 Cowboy Cocksucker.

I Never Saw Paris: A Tale of the Afterlife, by Harry I. Freund.
Typical Judeo-Christian view of the afterlife with a dash of humor, a couple very annoying characters, strange end, quick read, quickly forgotten.

2.0 out of 5.0 Screamin' Gulches.

Angels of a Lower Flight: One Woman's Mission to Save a Country ... One Child at a Time, by Susan Scott Krabacher.
Former Playboy centerfold loses God, finds Him again in her work for children in Haiti, does amazing things like builds schools and orphanages, good book for God's lambs who need to find a cause.

2.75 out of 5.0 Blonde Bombs.

Monday, October 29, 2007

77. "The Other Mother" - Gwendolyn Gross


The simmering anger of stay-at-home moms and working moms could torch the wood chips at playgrounds. I've experienced both sides, as well as the snooty sniffs over breastfeeding, babysitters, and homeschooling.

While I let go of that a long time ago ("you'll make a swell bartender someday, kid"), it seems to be as prevalent an issue. At least it is for Thea and Amanda, two neighbors who silently battle out their disapproval for each other's choices.

Add in some dead animals on the doorsteps and it could be a psychological thriller.

But it never achieves that pitch. Thea, the perfect SAH mom who makes cookies and never raises her voice, just wants a break, while Amanda, nanny in tow, just wants to survive the guilt. The reason for the dead animals has the dull ping as the last nail drops into the well.

2.0 out of 5.0 Sour Patch Kids Bombs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

"I never said I'd lie and wait forever." - My Chemical Romance

So, you may have noticed some neglect, some dust across your title, even a dog licking at your pages. I've been busy, and, well, I don't think this is going to work out right now. No, no, it's not you. It's me. I've just... made other choices.

No, no, don't be like that. You're great. I mean, you've gotten critical acclaim and quotes from awesome authors and maybe even some awards. It's just not there. I'm not saying that we may not end up together, some blurry-cold evening, cuddled together with Aveda candles and Ciroc vodka. But, right now... it's just. You know.

Back to the library or shelves:

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Dingley Falls
Welcome to the Monkey House
The Sword and the Circle
Free Food for Millionaires
The Adventures of Augie March


Forgive me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

76. "Tree of Smoke" - Denis Johnson


*Sidenote* - the "D" on my library copy was a bit covered up, so my youngest son thought it read, "Penis Johnson." Which of course brought up that johnson is another word for penis, how this would be repetitive, and just how damn funny this is for young pre-teen boys.

Multiple characters carry this story, the first full-length novel by Johnson in almost 10 years. Sectioned year by year, right before the Vietnam War through its declining months, it follows the characters like a benevolent god as they muck through physical and psychological hell.

Skip Sands seems to be the nucleus, though his duties are lame and his purpose unclear. Eventually, I didn't care about his story and was relieved by the others who filled his place, whose more interesting lives were full of vivacious vitality only Johnson can wrangle into words.

Until page 480-ish. Then, I slipped down the rope until it turned to dental floss and snapped. The plot wouldn't hold me. Even the most beautifully assembled sentences tasted like the grit after a dental cleaning. So close.

3.5 out of 5.0 Vodka Paralyzers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

75. "The Last King of Scotland" - Giles Foden


Journalist Giles Foden, while not old enough to remember this conflict, writes about the rise of Ugandan president Idi Amin, and his reign of terror from 1971-1979.

A fictional Scottish doctor serving in the poorest regions of Uganda is chosen to serve as Amin's personal doctor. Garrigan's fascination overwhelms his repulsion of the dictator, and he finds himself slowly sucked into the world of manic madness.

Authentic historical events support the fictional memoir, which I typically love and find essential to the depth of the story. However, who is Garrigan? We are reading his faux memoirs, but I never find myself caring about his safety or his sanity. I would not go so far as to say he is a dislikable character, but worse, he is bland. It's like when the server asks if you want parmesan on that. Meh. Whatever.

Add a romance that seems based on boredom, yet influences Garrigan's choices. 2+2=5. There are some elementary problems with this storytelling. Perhaps a visit to characterization 101.

Is the movie better? I've followed my edict of book before flick, so I haven't seen it yet.

1.75 out of 5.0 Throw me to the floors.

"I am the man of constant sorrow," - Soggy Bottom Boys

Strep throat plus a kidney infection? Ahaha, yes. I am a representative of health for the masses.

Wait, no alcohol? For ten days? Whew, you're pushing it, Mr. doctor.

~~~~

Negotiations for one of my screenplays... wish me luck. Or evil. I'll take anything.

~~~~

I will take a step back from the banned books to read a plethora of new material. Someone put me on a reviewer's list (finally), so I have about 8 brand spankin' new books within my grasp. One step closer to my dream of reading for a living.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

74. "The Secret Life of Houdini" - William Kalush and Larry Sloman



Once upon a time, I spent hours in the grade school library studying Houdini and the Hindenburg. Not related, but next to each other in the non-fiction section.

Houdini fascinated me with his cool, steadfast eyes. Third grade was a time of secrets and, being the geekiest kid on the playground, I was left out of a lot. I vividly remember a circle of girls chanting, "Don't know homo!" I didn't. And it wasn't in the card catalogue, either.

So, when picking up my weekly allotment of reading material, I saw this new book. What more could be said?

A lot... everything from his work for different governments to his battle against mediums and seances. It is a biography for breakfast, filling and delicious, with enough mysteries left to render Houdini one of the most enamoring figures in history.

4.0 out of 5.0 Black Magics.

"She has received little attention in recent years and has been criticized as strident and eccentric."

- NPR reporter about Doris Lessing, winner of the Nobel Literature Prize, which was announced yesterday.

Strident and eccentric? Well, yes. We writers have other people talking to us that nobody else can hear. Der.

The Golden Notebook is now on my TBR list ASAP. UGT? PO.

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Vodka Saves Lives! See, I am doing you a service.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

At my lemonade stand I used to give the first glass away free and charge five dollars for the second glass. The refill contained the antidote."

- Emo Phillips

My little self-important blog was mentioned alongside such greats as Bookslut at Pete Anderson's mess of politics, writing, and books - Petelit.com. Too sweet, really. Especially his concern for my kids. Snicker. Or should I hiccup?

~~~~

2007 National Book Awards announced. Collective sigh of "meh?" And did Farrar, Straus & Giroux slip a couple bills between the books' pages or what?

~~~~

I'm losing my pace. Banned books have slipped under tomes from 2007. Those books hide beneath sheets of student work and character notes. As I said earlier this year, I'm writing again. It's the greatest piece of fiction that you will never read... or know that I've written. After a pissy time with my first book, I vowed to never publish under my name. Is this my name? Only my hairdresser knows for sure.

Even though I've slowed down, I will still meet this year's goal. Lucky readers... that means more cocktails for you.

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Now playing: Safety Scissors - I Am the Cheese
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

73. "A Thousand Splendid Suns" - Khaled Hosseini


Like The Hours, this book combines two separate stories in a three part novel, giving intimate looks at two Afghani women's lives, then putting the two together for the last "book."

Following the modern news of the Taliban and Kabul history, it is an interesting peek into the lives of these characters. However, the cliched turns of the women (familial pain, detachment from parents due to childish anger, surprise pregnancies after one chance with sex) make me wonder - not for the first time - why men feel as if they know enough about women to write stories about them. Sexist much? I don't think that's my issue. I'm tired of the cliches and unbelievable behavior. In this novel, for example, there is even the tired (but Kabul-icized) scene of the pillow fight that brings the women together in giggles and brick-solid comaradarie.

To say that I'm grossly disappointed is an understatement.

1.0 out of 5.0 Fire Bridgewater.

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Now playing: Kurt Masur; New York Philharmonic Orchestra - Beethoven: Symphony #5 In C Minor, Op. 67 - Allegro
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, September 30, 2007

72. "The River Wife" - Jonis Agee


Annie Lark's Missouri house pins her to her bed after a horrendous earthquake of biblical proportions; in fact, her family leaves her there while trying to save their own lives. In 1811, they believe this is a sign of God's displeasure, but all Annie wants is a drink of water and relief from the pain in her legs.

A French trapper, scavenging the empty homes, finds and frees her from imminent death. They live together as man and wife through years in sod houses until he builds a farm on the river called Jacques' Landing. Her stumbling about on the thonk-thonk of crutches is powerful enough to imprint itself on future generations.

This book stretches between the time of Annie to other lovers of Jacque after Annie dies. They all write their stories in a journal that the "modern" woman - Hedie from the 1930s bootlegger time - reads and frets over. All of the women write about the ghost of Annie, limping away on her crutch, peeking in the windows at stressful times.

It's a mammoth production, as broad in scope as it is in depth. The women are all different in attitudes, gratitudes, and platitudes, but all are fallen by their love for the wrong men.

Beautiful descriptions and plotting throughout. Finally, a book I'm pleased to review.

4.0 out of 5.0 Divine Guiness.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

“I have made my world and it is a much better world than I ever saw outside.” - Louise Nevelson

After committing myself to BBC's world news, I've often clicked on the different tabs to check the view from other formats. BBC online is pretty uniform in its approach to news, so I didn't see much variation, but when I checked out MSNBC - an old haunt - I noticed a new option:

Wonderful World.

Here is all of the news that is lovely, I thought. Here is where I can bookmark the page, awaken and greet the day with happy-happy-joy-joy news. I clicked on an article:

Page not found

Our web servers cannot find the page or file you asked for.
The link you followed may be broken or expired.

Click your browser's Back button to return to the previous page.

Snicker. Snort.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

71. "Consolation" - Michael Redhill


If it's any CONSOLATION, this book won the 2007 Toronto Book Award. As a CONSOLATION prize to the other authors, know that you didn't have a chance unless you wrote about Torontonian (yes, that was the official word) history.

But this is not a CONSOLATION to readers of the book who reside elsewhere. Instead, you must read it yourselves to understand the heart-wrenching CONSOLATION of reaching the end of the book to say...

WTF?

1853 photography, opium, pharmaceuticals, hotels, London. Topics were interesting enough. Book receives the CONSOLATION prize of the week.

Was that annoying? Indeed. Now you have a sense for how I felt after reading this book and despising its characters.

.5 out of 5.0 Canadian Car Bombs.

70. "Songs Without Words" - Ann Packer


First, may I say that The Dive from Clausen's Pier was brilliant. Not as good as my friend Becky's version of a similar event, but close.

So, is this the "sophomore slump"? I didn't have this on my list of to-reads, but Clausen's Pier stuck with me for so long that I immediately scooped this up at the library.

Liz and Sarabeth live in the SF Bay area and - surprise! - have been friends since puberty. Events in Liz's life lead her to lean on Sarabeth, but Sarabeth can't deliver those friendly feelings.

Blah, blah, can't even write an interesting post about this book.

1.0 out of 5.0 Red Marbles.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

69. "Mr. Pip" - Lloyd Jones


Matilda, a 13-year-old native of the village of Bougainville, follows along as her teacher, Mr. Watts, reads aloud Great Expectations. It is the best way to forget about the "redskins" who burn down her village and the boys who have left the village to hide in the jungle.

A story about New Guinea and Australia's invasion of the Bougainville property in 1990 (heard of it?), it is also a story of survival through invisibility. The story allows the students to be hidden from their families, and Mr. Watts, the last white man in the village, uses it to hide the discomfort of his life.

It's a short book, more novella than novel. With a severe reliance on Great Expectations, it seems that the author could have provided more to the story. The metaphor of invisibility worked for Jones, as well.

2.5 out of 5.0 Fruit Freaks.



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Now playing: Petra Haden - I Can See for Miles
via FoxyTunes

68. "Anna Karenina" - Leo Tolstoy


Thank you for recommending it... I had expected superfluous language and irritating imagery. Instead, I was surprised by the descriptions of heartache and heartbreak.

When I am left with questions about a book, I know it was a healthy, meat-and-potatoes read. As Anskov said, I finished it and felt satisfied.

4.0 out of 5.0 Russian Bums.



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Now playing: Fall Out Boy - Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn't Get Sued
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Who decides these things?

My personal favorite, The Gift of Rain, did not make the Booker shortlist.

I've tossed The Gathering back into the pile due to the library. Whiny and depressing. Mr. Pip drove me back into the arms of Anna Karenina. And At Chesil Beach was just okay.

My vote goes to The Reluctant Fundamentalist and the rest can go to pot.

Plbbbt.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

“I do my thing, and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations.” - Frederick S. Perls

Jeez, y'all bored? This past week was a record number of site hits, as well as a full mailbox. Rock on... here are my humble replies:

Change your photo change your photo change your photo.

Dodge, change your photo.

Mmm, maybe. That photo is over a year old. I still have the ski jump nose and scowly face, but I've gone "ginger" (for Ducky in London). Botox and plastic surgery have changed the rest.

Can I have your AOL/MSN/chat name?

I've gotten this request frequently, which is very disturbing... I mean thoughtful and sweet! Thanks! But no thanks! I'm trying to work here.

I happened to see *blankety-blank* business and your name was attached. Is it you?

I loves the internets. Yes, I started my own business years ago. I'm reestablishing it right now, which is more work than you'd think. Fortunately, I have the clients first this time. I will share once I feel better about the website.

Why don't you post on your "Effin' Ranch" site?

I'm trying to respect the Dude's privacy a bit more. In Kristin code, this means I'm saving it for the book, where I will respect nobody's privacy.

What's with the song things in your last coupla posts, ladybird?

OK, first, if you are referring to those nasty ladybug beetles, I want no comparison. They squirt out smelly pheromones and cluster around cocktails. Hmm. Perhaps we are more alike than I thought.

The songs are a kid-bop thing I picked up from FoxyTunes. Unlike others, who will debate for several minutes before putting in the "now playing" emblem. "What will people deduce from my music choices? Will they think I'm wicked raw?" - I'm purposely leaving it. If I'm jamming to George Michael, you shall know thy truth.

You were so off in your review.../Why haven't you read.../Blah, you suck.

Seriously, I'm thinking you're just mad that you lost the bet over whether I would read 150 books last year or not. Suffer!

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Now playing: Hans Zimmer - Singapore
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, September 02, 2007

67. "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" - Mohsin Hamid


Like When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, this is a vision-altering book for me. I truly believe in this quote: "War is God's way of teaching American's geography." This is why I am addicted to pages... not just the visits to world's unknown, but also visiting real situations unknown to me.

Pakistani writer, Mohsin Hamid, writes about the increasing frustration of his character, Changez, with American relations with India and Pakistan, amid his relationship with a depressed young woman.

The story is told in the second person, as if Changez is speaking to a nervous American visitor in a cafe throughout an afternoon and evening. I thought I would get annoyed - "I'm not afraid. I'm not a man." - but the use of this device increases the tension of the story. Who is this man? How does he fit in?

There is no immediate answer at the end, but one can assume by Hamid's careful plotting what the final action entails.

I've never read a book like this, at least, one where I could stand that second person POV long enough to enjoy the book. And it has made me more aware of the plight of Pakistanis. Another reason why I'm looking outside American media for news information.

4.0 out of 5.0 Graveyard Spirits.


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Now playing: Cake - Comfort Eagle
via FoxyTunes

66. " The Welsh Girl" - Peter Ho Davies


As I'm reading the second chapter, I had an intense feeling of deja vu. Not the "I've read something like this before," but "I have read this before." But this is Peter Ho Davies first novel. Impossible.

I drove me friggin' crazy. Flipped through to the end, scanned online. Finally, I found it in his words of gratitude - the second chapter had been in a 2004 (?) edition of best short stories, edited by Barbara Kingsolver. Aha! I knew I wasn't going crazy. No comments from the peanut gallery.

Rural Wales, early 1940s. WWII has begun. A Welsh girl is pouring ales at the local pub where half of the bar is Welsh-speakers - farmers, quarrymen - the other half is British soldiers. She doesn't know that later in the night, something will happen that will (dun dun dun) change her whole life.

Reading like a series of short stories (unsurprising, since Davies has two other books of shorts), the novel brings together the arc of a German soldier, a lost British boy, and the Welsh girl.

I predicted the ending by the fifth chapter, which isn't a problem if the journey to the finish is worth it. There were some moments where I felt the brilliance of the imagery and metaphor. But overall I would have rather stuck with that beautiful second chapter that was so memorable as to cause deja vu.

3.0 out of 5.0 Woo Woos.


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Now playing: Arcade Fire - Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, August 30, 2007

65. "The Gift of Rain" - Tan Twan Eng



The first sample from the Man Booker prize long list, I almost decided to refrain from reading the other nominees because this book had such an impact on me. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, the taste of The Gift of Rain will linger for years.

Philip Hutton is half Chinese, half British, and 100 percent alone. When he meets a Japanese sensei, Endo-san, he finds his needs for love and acceptance through his work as a student of aikido, a Japanese form of fighting and mental strength.

When World War II begins, the Japanese invade Philip's island of Penang. To save his father and siblings, Philip agrees to work with the Japanese, but to mixed ends.

Rich in Chinese and Japanese culture, reading this book feeds the imagination and the soul. His descriptions are unique and beautiful, based in observations of nature. It was a four-day excursion into another world, one full of beauty, hate, regret, memory. If only all books could create such an imprint on the soul.

4.9 out of 5.0 Green Tea Vodkas.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

64. "Peony in Love" - Lisa See



I keep records of who recommends a book, whether the book won the Pulitzer or is up for the Man Booker award, perhaps something I heard about on NPR.

I have no idea how I found out about this book.

It's the only thing that irritates me because it is so beautifully written that I want to pay tribute to whomever told me about it.

Peony is a Chinese girl who is soon to be given away in an arranged marriage. For three wondrous nights, she meets a man in her family's gardens, falling in love with him so deeply that she refuses to eat while preparing for her wedding. Of course, predictably in the fairy tale style, she dies, and the man of her dreams was to be her groom.

It is her afterlife that fascinates. With nods to all of the Chinese religious days, Peony's story as a ghost is entertaining as well as informative. While not as deep as other novels (particularly The Gift of Rain, which is also about Chinese culture - to be reviewed soon), it is lovely in its detail and wistful impressions of love.

3.8 out of 5.0 China Whites.

Friday, August 24, 2007

63. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" - Robert M. Pirsig


This is one of those book titles that sticks with you because of its marketability. How many times have you heard (or seen) of lackluster imitations: Zen and the Art of Dog Grooming or Zen and the Art of Flunking Out of School?

Perhaps, for this reason, I thought this was going to be a bit of light reading. As a zen student, I expected enlightenment (aside: all zen students seek enlightenment, while most expect it to be an easy task... so why not find it in a book?). As a storyteller, I expected his tale through his "chautauqua"

Instead, it is a book about learning, teaching, and being. His stories of being a composition instructor at a university are woefully familiar; however, he begins to "lose his shit" as he tries to tie down the definition of quality.

Pirsig tells his story in contrast to a motorcycle trip across the U.S. with his son. The "zen" aspect is at direct odds to the "motorcycle maintenance" aspect, where one is "romantic" and the other is "pragmatic." He speaks of different approaches to philosophy until my head spun.

This is the type of novel to purchase and read again. And again, but at different moments of your life... just to see how you have changed.

3.5 out of 5.0 Motor Oils.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

62. "The Turner Diaries - Andrew Macdonald (William Luther Price)


My library copy of this book had claims on the cover: "This book is the reason for the Oklahoma City bombings. They are trying to ban this book."

It reminded me of Abbie Hoffman's Don't Steal This Book. Guns on the cover. Outrageous claims. Let's try to drum up a publicity bandsaw.

Instead, these claims are purposeful indications of the author's personal beliefs, including white supremacy, gun rights, and, actually, base idiocy.

Timothy McVeigh was reading this book when he was caught after the Oklahoma City bombings. For a book that was only sold at gun fairs or via white supremacy groups, it met its target audience.

Basically, this follows the idea that 110 years from now, it will be a white world. No gays, no Jews, etc. After I figured out that this was a poorly written novel powered by hate, I tossed it in the "good riddance" pile. While I don't disagree with the right to free speech, I relish the right to choose what to allow into my own thoughts.

0.0 out of 5.0 Dead Nazis with Golden Tooths.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

61. "The Echo Maker" - Richard Powers


Dear Richard Powers,

Congratulations on the National Book Award for The Echo Maker. I'm sure that your use of unique language and interesting plot contributed to your win. At least, I assume so, because I never finished your book.

After reading the phrase "braided river" twenty times in less than two hundred pages, I swore to myself that if I saw it again, I would launch your book across the room. If you read my blog, you will see that I have quite the arm... the Twins could use me this season.

So, it happened. You'll be satisfied to note that I hit my dresser with your book, which shook on its legs (my floor is not level) and spilled candle wax across its surface. However, your book came out unscathed and hopefully another less compulsive will enjoy its pages.

Best wishes,
Kristin

1.0 out of 5.0 Yellow Birds.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

60. "Love, Work, Children" - Cheryl Mendelson



Sometimes I have purchased just enough at bn.com to miss the free shipping by a few dollars. When that happens, I check out the reduced price books, what I envision as lonely hardcovers choking beneath the dust in the warehouses. Most of the time I draw a stinker, a book that is not worth noting on this blog. But there are times I am lucky.

Love, Work, Children is one of those times. Centered around the Frankl family - and its friends and coworkers - this novel tracks the seemingly random meetings and pairings in a small neighborhood in NYC.

Peter Frankl, in his early 60s, has suffered through an unsatisfactory marriage for the sake of his children, but watching their failures in love makes him question the success of that age-old decision of "staying together for the kids." His wife is in a car accident and remains comatose for months, giving Peter time to realize his true desires.

Add his awkward daughter who is studying to be a musicologist, his socially inept son just finishing an MBA, and their circle of friends and it's a smorgasbord of love affairs and mismatches.

Even with the plethora of characters and plot lines, I found it easy to follow simply because they were entertaining and memorable. It is a happy-ever-after story, but that doesn't seem to be cliched when I could truly care about the players. I shut the book with a satisfied sigh.

4.0 out of 5.0 Sweet Lovin's.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Joy is but the sign that creative emotion is fulfilling its purpose." - Charles du Bos

Updates from the email files:

Why aren't you aiming for a goal again? Try to top 150 books.
Me: maniacal laughter

Are you and your family/freinds (sic) ok? Ive been reading about the bridge collapse.
Me: Completely fine, though it's difficult to process. I have family near there and have driven over that bridge countless times. Could have happened anywhere, which is not a comfort.

What does the Witness Protection Program at the Effin' Ranch mean?
It's the working title of the manuscript. Can't say much more without giving away the goodies.

I have a book coming out. Will you review it?
Yes, but as you may notice, I'm not always kind. Please email for more information (see profile).

I've enjoyed reading your blog for a year now but what's up with the sudden young adult novel obsession?
I read books that people recommend. Some of them are young adult. Some are nonfiction. Since my goal was to read banned books, I'm reading a lot of young adult fiction because those are the books that are banned most often.

Why don't you read the books I recommend/why do you hate the books I recommended/why did you have the picture of the book I recommended but didn't write a review?
The past week has frustrated me. You may have noticed that over August I've changed "what's in the fridge." There have been several books that I've started, only to throw in the back-to-the-library pile. It may be my mood, it may be that I'm tired of 9/11 themes, it may be because I don't want to put the effort into a crap book just to write a negative review.

You don't know what you're talking about/you wouldn't know a good book if you tripped over it/who made you queen/you're too mean.
Snicker-snort. Stop loving me so much!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"I have always imagined paradise as a kind of library." - Jorge Luis Borges

I'm putting this to a vote based on the vast reading experience of my wonderful readers. Two books, two heavy tomes - weighty enough to hold open my door during summer storms, two books that you are "supposed to read."

Dun-dun-dun. Shall I read:

Les Miserables



or Anna Karenina?

Monday, August 13, 2007

59. "After This" - Alice McDermott


McDermott is the scientist bent over the microscope of human behavior. She picks up on the best details and uses them to create an overlapping world full of wry wit and deflected misery.

Each chapter is like a short story, all connected to the Keane family. John Keane is a WWII vet, and in a strange twist of fate, his son, named for one of John's killed comrades, is called up to serve in the Vietnam war.

McDermott plants descriptions and characters into each story, so later you read about someone who was first introduced in the second chapter. This encourages the sense of everyone connected by such a fragile spider's web and creates more intensity without over-writing. Lovely work.

4.0 out of 5.0 Afterglows.

Friday, August 10, 2007

58. "How I Live Now" - Meg Rosoff


Daisy is sent by her wicked stepmother and father to live with cousins in England. She soon finds they are unique and magical, a bubble of freshness on the farm for this unloved, anorexic teen.

As she is falling in love with her cousin, Edmond, a terrorist act kills many in London, shutting down the world and reaching even to their small farm. Soldiers take over and Daisy is sent away with her cousin, Piper.

There is so much heavy material - war, death, love (incestual? you be the judge), eating disorder, violence. How Rosoff could combine all of it is miraculous, but even the change in Daisy's voice toward the end of the novel is beautifully mastered.

I'd say this is the young adult version of The Road, with a couple scenes that even gave me pause. Would I let my son read it? Not now. It gave me nightmares. Powerful work. Thanks to Jen for the recommendation.

4.5 out of 5.0 Graveyard Spirits.

57. "On Chesil Beach" - Ian McEwan


Two virgins in the early 1960s wait until they're married before the wedding night that makes up the bulk of this novella. Edward and Florence have retreated to the honeymoon suite of an inn on Chesil Beach, each with fears for the deflowering, but such drastic differences that it is a horrifying experience.

Painstakingly detailed, readers find out about each newlyweds background and hangups, all relating back to that fateful night.

McEwan makes this night so vivid it's painful to read. A bit of a letdown at the end, seemingly autobiographical (which the author squashes by specifically saying in the intro that this is a work of fiction).

2.75 out of 5.0 Sex on the Beach on the Rocks.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

56. "The Higher Power of Lucky" - Susan Patron


Thanks to Dewey for this recommendation...

Lucky Trimble spends her time in a small California desert town listening to a hole in the wall while blank-anonymous meetings are held. She wants to discover her own Higher Power, especially since her mother died and she's not sure if her guardian is going to stick around.

Well written, it captures the heart of a ten-year-old. And it's already stirring up some controversy because of the word "scrotum." You know, sometimes I wonder if some parents, librarians, and teachers have forgotten the language of children. I could list the word choices that would make this "worse," at least to those wanting to ban this book based on that word.

3.5 out of 5.0 Peachberry Shakes.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

55. "19 Minutes" - Jodi Picoult


I've been urged to read this book all summer. However, everyone who has recommended it has prefaced their advice with, "Now, it's not literary" or "It may not be what you ordinarily read." People. Attention, please. This is the chica that stood giddily in line (fourth) counting down the minutes to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with her son's classmate.

But, I realize why people would say that. At first glance, one immediately thinks chick lit. I've even read reviews that dismiss it, listing all the things you can do instead of reading this book for 19 minutes.

This novel follows the whys and how comes and whos of a school shooting. Picoult has an agenda - she repeatedly references or promotes left-wing causes - and seems to gloss over character development with the passage of time. However, she also brings up difficult questions, like how much of our children's self is from our parenting skills? Why don't teachers/parents/teenagers hold bullies accountable for their actions?

Too much is tidily swept away or snuck into the end. Still, I think it took a brave person to write it and I'd consider it a great beach or, as I call it, chocolate martini read.

2.5 out of 5.0 Vile Green Stuffs.

54. "Zoology" - Ben Dolnick


This book makes me want to sit my writer-friends and have them explain the difference between young adult novels and books that are about young adults. Simply, what makes it a young adult novel? The lack of sexual language or action?

If that's the case, then Zoology should be considered young adult fiction, but with a little sticker on the cover that says "May Contain Sexual Language, Innuendo, or Imagery." (My kids love reading those warnings on DVDs, but pronounce it "in-oon-do" and give it a proper "ooooo.").

Henry Elinsky drops out of college with a whine and a sniffle. He stays in NYC with his brother (uber successful... you can see this coming, right?) and his brother's girlfriend. Henry gets a job at the Children's Zoo and makes friends with a goat. No, the sexual parts don't begin there, you filthy-minded readers.

Henry just wants to be loved, but the object of his affections does not return that emotion. It seems that no one loves him, no one wants him, he may as well eat worms.

And that's the end.

This has been compared to the "modern day Holden Caulfield," which I find insulting. Dolnick, a young author, has written about what he knows. Sometimes, as I've told students, that's not the best idea.

If not for the unique language choices, this would be a total wash.

1.5 out of 5.0 Kicks in the Nuts.

Monday, July 30, 2007

I've opened the gates again. If you like the quirky personal notes contained in this blog, please check out the writing blog: The Witness Protection Program at the Effin' Ranch.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

53. "When a Crocodile Eats the Sun" - Peter Godwin


I'm on a nonfiction kick; this is the third in a series (unless you count the Bible as fiction - but that argument can wait).

Peter Godwin has written articles about 65 countries, but the one that always pulls him back is his native Zimbabwe. As he visits more often, due to his father's declining health, Godwin notices that not everything is as it appears. The country that held warm memories of growing up now is a fearsome place for a white man. And the father that he knew is not the man he claimed to be.

Godwin traces the reasons for the downfall in Zimbabwe, most likely earning himself another no-pass-GO-no-collecting-$100 ban from his homeland. He shows how the dictator Mugabe has created racial hate and fear through hate and fear, and how an 80-year-old man holds the future of Zimbabwe in his hand.

Beautifully written, it is terrifying to imagine this world. Even worse, it makes me irate that this isn't talked about in American media. Another reason to subscribe to BBC news.

4.65 out of 5.0 Screaming Nazis.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Oh, parents. Aren't you taking things a bit too far?

Banning Junie B. Jones? Because she doesn't use "the Queen's English"?

My 8-year-old went through a Junie B. stage where every night we read about this ballsy stinker of a kindergartner (now a first grader). We laughed together at her escapades and talked about her misuse of language.

Sheesh, moms and dads. If it irritates you so much, quit wasting your time trying to ban a series of books and use it as a teaching experience.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

52. "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" - Amy Krouse Rosenthal


As Amy states from the beginning, she grew up in a normal family, she was never abused, she has no major story to tell other than an encyclopedic reference of her ordinary life. Chronologically, then alphabetically, the reader is rushed through the tidbits that made up the thoughts and life of Amy.

That's it. She doesn't die after a long, difficult battle with cancer. She is simply telling the world that she is here. Somehow, her appeals for communication - through randomly placed postcards with money tucked in, through pleas for emails, through this non-fictional account of her life - is a reminder of how out of touch we are, as a society, with each other.

Amy's observations are dead-on. In fact, after reading the fine print on the back of the title page, I became enamored with her "purple flower moments." Luckily, she continues this online.

As she states along the way, who would care to read about her? Everyone... because you may find a piece of your own soul within the pages.

4.75 out of 5.0 Purple Bikini Martinis.

51. "Stormy Weather" - Paulette Jiles


Jeannine Stoddard is the heroine of this story, picking up her family of four after her father's work on the oil fields causes him to {insert something awful here}. Like the girls in Little Women, Jeannine is the hard-working Jo, trying to create a family feel on her father's farm.

If Jeannine, is Jo, then her youngest sister is Beth, her mother is Meg (a bit flighty and never there to help), and her other sister is a silly Amy, just wanting to get out of there.

The book reminded me of Little Women because there is no real emotion. In fact, there was more to-do when Jo cut her hair for money. Jeannine should be furious with these whiners saddled to her, yet she rarely shows any frustration with them. Which makes one wonder, is this a saint story? Or have I missed the point?

2.5 out of 5.0 Dirty Dishwashers.

Friday, July 20, 2007

"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." -J.K. Rowling

It would be remiss of me to ignore one of the strangest moments of literary history - the last book in the Harry Potter series. Fans are lining up outside of bookstores. Websites are turning in the IP addresses of people posting photos of the book's pages. And millions of people show more concern over the fate of a single character in a novel than the future of the U.S. military in Iraq.

I can aim to sound tongue-in-cheek, but I, too, am obsessed with Harry Potter and his world of magic. By bringing this world to life in literature, J.K. Rowling has made reading fun for hundreds of thousands of children, as well as reminding adults of fantasy and myths. It beats the hell out of the day to day clock-punching where most of us live.

I will receive my book at approximately 12:01 a.m. and, with the help of a large double espresso, read it straight through until noon-ish Saturday. If I do not finish it, I will not look online. I will not talk to friends about it. I relish the secrecy like I savor my own unwritten ideas.

What will happen? I want Harry to live happily ever after, becoming an Auror and having red-haired magical babies with Ginny Weasley. But I don't think this will happen. I believe that Harry will die. He is too much like a Christ figure... but he will sacrifice himself for the good of magical beings. I think Ron will die, also, but that is just a hunch that I can't explain.

Time will tell, but I will go no further with my thoughts or opinions after this post. After all, I want those of you who care to live in this imaginary world for one last time to enjoy yourself.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"The Night Birds" - Thomas Maltman


I have a self-monitored rule - I don't do reviews of books
1. Written by friends;
2. Edited by me;
3. That I've watched grow up from story to novel during my M.F.A. years.

Still, with this rule, I know this book is going to be amazing. So I will talk about the author instead.

Tom has an amazing gift of language. Most of it is pure talent, but he constantly honed it, reading books like The Art of Fiction. When we returned from a holiday break, all of us wannabe poets and writers discussed trips, crazy family members, and our classes for the spring. Tom edited 500-plus pages of his manuscript. He gets it, which is why he deserves every ounce of success he receives.

The Night Birds is about the Dakota Conflict of 1862 (true Minnesota history) and how it affects the relationship between Hazel and a Dakota warrior. Read it. In fact, go buy it, then read it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

50. "The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things" - Carolyn Mackler


Virginia has lost a lot recently - her best friend moved to Walla Walla, her sister is saving lives in Africa, and her brother is too cool to hang out with her anymore. But one thing that Virginia hasn't lost is weight, which is a sore subject for her mom, a nationally recognized teen psychologist who seems to have all of the answers for everyone but her own family members.

Virginia is sassy and bold and blunt. Mackler created a character who will reach many pre-teen and teen girls... and remind those of us with the ghost of our adolescence lingering in our hearts that we can find our own way.

I didn't expect to like this novel as much as I did, thinking that the teen genre would ricochet off me. But it is as much about relationships and family as being a teenager, and those issues never disappear.

Loved it. Loved it enough to purchase a copy for my private library and share with pals.

4.5 out of 5.0 Jolly Ranchers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

49. "The Double Bind" - Chris Bohjalian


Laurel was the victim of a violent interaction with two men while biking a lonely Vermont road. She pushes this out of her mind until she finds a photo of a lone biker that looks like herself - taken by a homeless man.

Using the characters from The Great Gatsby was an interesting literary device; however, it has been so long since I read it that I had to refer to online notes to nudge my memory.

This book pretends to ask the question, "Why would a man with family connections and money be homeless?" But, like most Bohjalian books, things are not what they appear to be. Unfortunately, Bohjalian seemed to concentrate more on the mystery of his story than the development of Laurel's character.

No spoilers here... I will simply say that if the whole book could have had some of the vitality of the last ten pages, I would have enjoyed reading it, rather than feeling like I was biking uphill the entire way.

1.75 out of 5.0 Emeralds.

Monday, July 09, 2007

48. "Finn" - Jon Clinch


From the powerful imagery of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Clinch scoops up his favorites and patches them together to create the story of Huckleberry's father, known simply as Finn.

Finn, as relayed in Huckleberry Finn, lives off the river and spends nearly every nickel on whiskey. But Clinch goes deeper into this man's life. Why did he become an alcoholic? And where is Huckleberry's mother?

Brilliantly plotted, Finn catches you by the throat from the first paragraph and doesn't let go until the end. While these types of fictional hero-worship stories make me nauseous (anyone remember the sequel to Gone With the Wind?), this tale is all the more powerful because it doesn't rely on its origins to tell a good story.

4.25 out of 5.0 Cornwallis Rivers.

Friday, July 06, 2007

47. "Pillars of the Earth" - Ken Follett


This 900+ page epic novel spans forty years of life in the town of Kingsbridge, mainly revolving around the priory (home of monks) and a cathedral that took nearly the entire book to complete. Based on historical facts, the specific details about kings and civil wars and building are interesting.

You know there had to be a "but."

But... when I was about halfway through, a little grumpy about losing interest and the waste of 400 pages, there is a scene where Jack, the builder, and Aliena, his lover, are cuddling and she asks him to tell her a story. He tells about the lovers who lived on separate hills (hands move to breasts), but that they met in the forest (hands slide downward).

Book. Thrown. Across. Room.

I mean, really. This is the stuff giggly horndogs would say.

As someone succinctly said in the comments, "Life's too short to read rubbish books." Indeed. However, if you like this one, the sequel is due out in October. I, for one, will not be reading it.

1.0 out of 5.0 English Highballs.

Banned Book: One of the top 100 banned books for 1990-2000 because of rape scenes, sex scenes, and overuse of adverbs. Oh, fine, I made the last one up, but it's true.

46. "America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction" - Jon Stewart



I've meant to read this for a while; if the Daily Show were on earlier, I would be a huge Jon Stewart fan. The book does not disappoint.

Although you need to know some of your history to understand the best jokes, this book - in textbook format, of course - goes through the good, the bad, and the ugly of American history. Snarkiness aplenty. And where else would you learn about countries historical leaders, as well as whether there is a salad dressing named after them?

This is my Fourth of July pick and a nice chocolate martini read it was, thank you.



3.0 out of 5.0 Romulan Ales.
Online Dating

Mingle2



Thanks to my kindred blog spirit, who was my first link when I started this blog, I found this rating system. I'm horrified, to say the least.

Therefore, as the reader of banned books and general shit-stirrer, it is my honor to pull that rating down with a hearty "goddamn" and "fucker" and "bitch."

Whew. It was getting a little too Pixar there for a moment. Like Dory was going to come by, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

45. "The Witches of Worm" - Zilpha Keatley Snyder


Lonely Jessica finds a couple-day-old kitten and nurses it back to health, even though she hates cats, even though she is too busy waiting up for her wayward mother to come home late at night.

The kitten grows into a cat, which she names Worm. Suddenly, all of Jessica's anger seems to manifest itself in the cat, and Worm speaks to her, telling her to lie and hurt others. Jessica believes she is a witch or possessed by one. There is no real answer if this is true.

For the young adult reader, it's a good book for discussion in the classroom. However, due to the witchcraft aspect, I doubt that it is taught much, due to its banned status at several libraries.

2.75 out of 5.0 Salem Witches.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

44. "Flowers for Algernon" - Daniel Keyes


Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded janitor in a bakery, volunteers for a new surgery/treatment that will increase his IQ. Indeed, it does, and Charlie becomes the first human to undergo the procedure that made him a super-genius.

He isn't the first victim, though. Algernon, a white lab mouse, also went through the procedure, and originally beat Charlie at solving mazes. But soon, Charlie sees his own destiny through the behavior of Algernon.

Told via progress reports written by Charlie, it is a desperate and gripping novel that remains timely in its questions of science and manipulation, as well as religious arguments.

The first review on the inner flap of the book said, "Charlie will break your heart." That didn't happen to me. As he progressed into a super-human, I lost empathy for him, which I think Keyes purposely manipulated. Overall, I was satisfied with the read, but anxious to see the theatrical version and how the actors would pull off two Charlies. Most of the time, when I love a book, I am not looking forward to other adaptations of it, so this knocks Algernon down a bit.

3.0 out of 5.0 Marijuana Milkshakes.

Banned book - oh dear, wet dreams and other acts of puberty, as well as some sexual references.