Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Challenge for 2010

First, do you pronounce it "two thousand ten" or "twenty ten"? Post in comments... this is something that makes me tilt the cup more and say, "O-10!"

2009 was the year where I read whatever I wanted. 2010 is the year where I read whatever others want me to read.

Send me your recommendations, favorites, or new books. I promise to stick to only this list for 2010, and I am aiming for 100 books. This will be quite a feat because I also have to finish my novel or my hair will be dark red forever.

I have kept a list of "you should read"s for a year, but I will continue to add to the list. In contrast to the past, I am including an email address again: booksforbreakfastblog@gmail.com. I miss the crazy comments that anonymous people like to make. Don't worry... I'll share.

~~~~~

Mushy stuff ahead: move on to CeleBitchy or Book Slut if it would provide disturbing images.

Thank you for your support. After watching "Julie and Julia," my dear husband turned to me and said, "Why can't your blog be about something else?" I could (and will) have a year dedicated to reading 365 books (2012), but a movie about it would be horribly boring.

However, I have met some amazing, uber-cool people through this blog. I have talked to radio d.j.s in Greece and Italy and been quizzed about my "true alcoholism" by potential employers. This blog used to receive twelve hits per week, and I knew six of them were my own. Now, I receive 4,000-8,000 per week. Y'all are too quiet! Speak up!

Anyway, I am grateful that you choose to waste your time here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Best of 2009 - Books for Breakfast-style

These are the books that received my highest ratings (listed here in order, with best ratings at the top). I left out any glowing reference to Diana Gabaldon, and if you are a reader of this blog, you know why. Otherwise, search her name.

It is always humbling to rate someone else's work, whether it is a grade or a proposal or a book. Why should anyone listen to me?

Perhaps because I have read books since I was five years old. Perhaps because I am also a writer, so I understand the nuances of characterization and imagery. Or, perhaps it is simply because I have read more than 600 books in my lifetime, so I have an idea of what appeals to other readers.

So, sit down with a cup of cocoa and peppermint schnaaps, and make your reading list for next year:

THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE ~ David Wroblewski (4.75) - I hate when Oprah is correct.

THE SKY ALWAYS HEARS ME AND THE HILLS DON'T MIND ~ Kirstin Cronn-Mills (4.75) - a powerful new voice in YA writing.

WOLF HALL ~ Hilary Mantel (4.75) - I laughed, I snickered, I loved the bitchy dialogue.

BEND WITH THE KNEES AND OTHER LOVE ADVICE FROM MY FATHER ~ Benjamin Drevlow (4.5) - short stories with long reverberations.

THE GARGOYLE ~ Andrew Davidson (4.5) - still hits me as I think of it, and not many books can resonate for months or years.

OUTLIERS: THE STORY OF SUCCESS ~ Malcolm Gladwell (4.5) - I still think about the messages in this book.

THE HELP ~ Kathryn Stockett (4.3) - recent read, but it is still weighing on my mind.

WELL DESERVED ~ Michael Loyd Gray (4.3) - unexpected beauty in writing about darkness.

DROOD ~ Dan Simmons (4.25) - it's Dan Simmons? And Charles Dickens! Need I write more?

IN THE WAKE OF THE BOATMAN ~ Jonathon Scott Fuqua (4.25) - prose that made me realize I will never be a "literary" writer.

THE CHILDREN'S BOOK ~ A.S. Byatt (4.25) - epic storytelling without the fairy tale ending.

THE LIGHTNING THIEF ~ Rick Riordan (4.25) - "say it's sick writing."

THE WEIGHT OF HEAVEN ~ Thrity Umrigar (4.25) - the weight of reality; if this does not make you grateful, I do not know what will.

THE DEAD FISH MUSEUM ~ Charles D'Ambrosio (4.0) - the new king of one line intros and conclusions, and I am ill with jealousy.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO ~ Stieg Larsson (4.0) - twisty-turny mystery for a quick read.

JOSEF JAEGAR ~ Jere' M. Fishback (4.0) - thank you to publishers who are finally letting these types of YA stories out into the world.

THE MEMOIRS OF CLEOPATRA ~ Margaret George (4.0) - a luxurious read, especially in a freezing environment.

SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU ~ Peter Cameron (4.0) - a copy will go to teens I want to encourage.

*****

What will the goal be for 2010? You shall find out within the week. I promise.

65. THE HELP - Kathryn Stockett


For the love of Thor, get this book. Read it in your book groups. Discuss it. Ruminate. Journal about it. I finished it days ago and could not write this review because I keep thinking about it.

Set in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, all of the maids ("colored" or "nigra") wait on white women during their bridge games, parent the family's children, scrub the house, cook the meals, and say, "Yes Ma'am" and count the silver. She will use a separate bathroom, and she cannot eat with the family. If one is fired for backtalk or thievery, the head of Jackson society, Miss Hilly, will ensure that woman will never be employed in that town again.

Miss Skeeter, daughter of a cotton grower and his former-debutante wife, has bigger plans than the diamond on the finger and kids in the nursery. She wants to be a writer. Through her determination, she gets to talk to a New York agent. When told to come up with something no one talks about, Skeeter realizes that the relationship between the maids and their employers is a sharp subject. The problem is that no one wants to talk for fear of what Miss Hilly, one of Skeeter's best friends, will do if she finds out.

Minny and Aibileen are wonderful characters as the first maids to speak of their experiences to Skeeter. However, even with Skeeter's kindness during this racially-wrought period (Kennedy forcing the governor to allow a black student into "Ole Miss," the rise before Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech), I wonder of the irony of her motives. She is using black women to get ahead. I wonder at the author's motives - a white woman writing in black vernacular.

The book made me think and analyze and create opinions. What could be more delicious?

4.3 out of 5.0 So-Co Teas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

64. THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD - Margaret Atwood


About a third of the way into this book, I thought, "Have I read this?" and flipped it over. "Praise for Oryx and Crake" the back copy exclaimed. I almost stopped reading.

I read Oryx and Crake before I began this blog, but if I had to rate it, I would have given it a 2.25 out of 5.0 Stupidity DNAs.

Atwood, whom I have adored in the past, makes me believe we may be having relationship problems now.

At the end of Oryx/Crake (spoilers), Jimmy the Snowman is left in a tree, the DNA-manipulated perfect species of blue-penis-waving men and big busted women singing happily along the ocean.

The Flood tells how Jimmy got there, though through the eyes of God's Gardeners, a nature-cult that would make PETA look like a Burger King. Living off of organic food grown in their roof gardens, they listen to Adam One and sing a lot of hymns. Personally, the hymns were annoying additions, but a couple held humorous references (like Saint Dian Fossey - who died while studying the silver-backed gorillas). Adam One tells the Gardeners of the Waterless Flood that will cleanse the earth.

However, it is Toby and Ren who are the leaders in this book. Toby had once eaten meat and worked at "A Noo Yoo" spa, while Ren was a stripper/sex servant at a local security-approved brothel. At once point, Toby is Ren's teacher, but it is the very weak connections to Crake and Jimmy that link this book to Atwood's "prequel."

Does the waterless flood occur? Yes, you know this if you read the first book. By the way Atwood ended this novel, we are not finished with her fiendish obsession with the future yet. Expect a sequel in a few years, and people will buy it because it is Margaret Atwood. Not this girl. Some of my favorite authors have fallen in love with their characters to the point where the plot or narrative becomes unbelievable and annoying. While Atwood wants to show the world a unique perspective on where we may exist with DNA testing, gene splicing, and government rule (in this case, being privatized), I wonder if she considers the waste of trees being used to distribute her messages.

1.75 out of 5.0 Gorilla Farts.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come."

~ Matt Groening

Our ice weasel comes in the form of a ginger-haired, flexible, death-proof squirrel. Of course, the Effin' Ranch has many of these creatures. They create gangs: gray squirrels versus red. There are secret handshakes and everything.

However, one of these death squirrels discovered a way to squeeze into the attic through the corner eave of the roof. He left the gang calling card: a black walnut and pile of poo.

We are not pacifists. The boys (including the largest, oldest one) play Halo. I have been known to scream, "Beat him down!" during one son's football game. Mice caught in the basement get hooted out the door and into the garbage bin. And I will admit that I laughed out loud, frightening our dogs, when I saw Mr. Squirrel try to get in with a pawful of acorns, then fall two stories to the snow below... and run away from our German Shepherd mix, Savvy, who had been waiting with her jaws open.

So, the largest (for another six months), oldest male pounded a slab of wood into the corner, either blocking out our errant ice weasel or sealing it for an Egyptian-style death.

Not to be deterred by a simple wood block, this blasted squirrel is testing the remainder of the roof. His means? A black walnut. He means business. As I try to answer student email or grade papers, I hear the tap-tap-tap of his gang knock, and I freeze. He'll wait, like a perverted stalker, and - tap-tap-tap - knock somewhere on the opposite side of the house. I spin around, surrounded by these knocks and taps and warnings that if I step outside, I will be shanked with a black walnut.

Gray squirrels - good for a replacement if possum is not available. Red squirrels - just let 'em go.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Dance like it hurts,/ Love like you need money,/ Work when people are watching." - Scott Adams

Well said.

My annual yearly review is always around my birthday. For you naughty readers (who are not reminded infernally by Facebook), it is in the beginning of November. I think about what I achieved that birth year, as well as what I would like to set as goals in the future.

For once, I rocked my year. I made my goals. In fact, I surpassed them.

Pooh on me, but I am going to keep them private. Still, I felt like giving myself an award (I did) and a lot of recognition (still doing it - obviously). Several pats on the back (and on the arse - why not? it's not sexual harassment if it is yourself and you work at home) later, and I still needed to figure out my next birth year goals.

Shared goal number one: internet-free Sundays. Ahem, by reading the date and timestamp of this entry, you will see how that goal is working out for me.

Shared goal number two: finish the damn book. Seriously, or my hair will remain dark auburn eggplant fire, and I already miss my "natural" dark blond.

Shared goal number three: learn more about Buddhism. I've studied other religions (see past blogs about the Torah and Qur'an experiences), but I am drawn to the ideas of Buddhism. I love saying "namaste" in yoga class (some smartass is going to tell me that is Sanskrit). I like the idea of free-flowing energy. Lotus blossoms smell nice. And saying, "Ohm!" very loudly frightens away raccoons, possums, and errant wild kids.

But I have so many questions, like do I have to become a vegan? Why do some people see Jesus or saints during meditation, while I use the entire time telling myself, "Shut up. Stop it. Quit it. Don't make me pull over and force you to not think."

Can I still have PMS? Do I need to bless the Japanese ladybug beetles that squirt nastiness on me before I squish them? Can I still use sarcasm? How often? What about alcohol? Oh, Buddha, what about alcohol?

I am reading The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings, and I love how Hanh uses poetry to express parts of Buddhism. It is inspiring without being cultish... so far.

~~~~

The best reads of 2009 will be posted in a couple weeks, as well as the official Books for Breakfast reading goal for 2010. I think you will have fun with it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

63. MEDICUS - Ruth Downie


Based in second century Deva (a town in Britannia, or England), this first book in a series by new author, Ruth Downie, is a fun, quickie read for lovers of early British history (like me) and mysteries (like most of readers).

The new "medicus" for the Roman fort in Deva named Gaius Ruso has lost his father, his wife, and a lot of money in trying to repay debts on his family farm. Now, he is mystified by the loss of two women who were - ahem - "employees" at the local brothel. Although no one in the town seems to care about the dead women, or the questions by Ruso, he continues to examine the case, collecting a slave (accidentally) and a new commanding officer in the process.

Ruso could be a Roman Dr. House without the drug addiction. He is a bit irritable, yet his sarcasm and dry wit create an interesting character. The scenes with the dialogue between Ruso and his friend/competitor/fellow medicus, Valens, have been noted by other reviewers as reminiscent of Trapper John in M.A.S.H. I simply found them charming.

Personally, I will like this book much more than others because it contains information about the dwindling Briton tribes of the time, such as the Brigantes. After writing about these mythical times in ancient Britain, it is reassuring to see familiar names and symbols.

However, many will approve of the mystery, though it is rather predictable. The characters definitely carry the book on their shoulders, and I look forward to reading her future work.

3.0 out of 5.0 Roman Riots.

62. THE MEMOIRS OF CLEOPATRA - Margaret George


After reading Margaret George's novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, I knew that I wanted to try another one of her historical books. The Memoirs of Cleopatra did not disappoint.

Julius Caesar and Marc Antony are two of ancient Rome's greatest figures, and both became the lovers (and husbands - with a question mark?) of Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt and the Nile. Most of my prior information about her involved Marc Antony (Shakespeare, the film with Liz Taylor), as well as her infamous death. However, this book is so meticulously researched that every lush, decadent detail about both the queen and her realm pulls the reader into the story.

From her childhood - the rebellion of her sisters to hold the throne over her father - through the many battles against Rome, I thought this was a historical fiction dreamland. The romantic elements involving her loves, Caesar and Antony, brought a warmth to an otherwise formidable figure on the page.

Topping 900 pages, it is a challenge for the most devoted reader. If you like historical novels, though, and especially enjoy learning new information (such cities! what characters and leaders!), you will be engulfed by this book for many wintry nights.

4.0 out of 5.0 Caesars.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

61. THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE - Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi


When Mario Spezi, a young journalist in Florence, took a Sunday shift at the newspaper's crime desk, he had no idea that it would lead to a 40-plus year entanglement with Italy's most notorious serial killer.

When Douglas Preston, a mystery writer, decided to pursue the story with Spezi's help, he had no idea that he and Spezi would soon be the center of the investigation.

This is not a book of fiction, but the analysis of the serial killer Spezi labeled, "The Monster of Florence," the botched investigations following the murders, and the crazy allegations that caused dishonor upon many families and shamed one man enough to kill himself.

While the killer has never been caught, Spezi and Preston give a full account of the modern theories. However, the book's publicity seems to imply that they know who is the killer. I was disappointed to find no allegations in my U.S. copy (probably due to libel laws). Overall, it is an interesting enough read for real-crime lovers. For my personal tastes, I found the study of Italy in these pages much more fascinating.

2.75 out of 5.0 Italian Surfers.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo - (-30-)

As a journalism/mass communications student, I learned the story of -30-. It signifies the end of the story. One journalists, upon finding out he had cancer or a brain tumor or looming bankruptcy (the tale changes, depending on the source), wrote his goodbye and - rather than signing it - ended it with -30-.

Most public relations pros and journalists use ### now, but it does not hold the allure of -30-, the story told by the dreamy college professor whose face was lit by an overhead projector as he told the silent class in cool, clipped words. It took years for me to adapt to the ### format. My brain and heart do not adapt as quickly.

NaNoWriMo is being -30-ed. My story there has ended. Under the pressure of an avalanche of words, I cannot focus on my story. Last year, when I had no real sense of my novel, it was a fantastic experience where I could play and smear things on the walls with no sense of reprisal or fear. This year, I know my story. I know my characters... in some cases, better than I know my friends. In pushing for word counts, I found myself creating unlikely scenarios for these characters, and the waste of it made me sick to my stomach.

So, I tried to shock my system in another manner. My greatest vanity (highly encouraged by my husband and sons) is my long, blondish hair. It hits the back of my shoulder blades, perfect for a child to stroke or my man to grab and pull me down for a kiss. My youngest would play barber and brush my hair, but even then he would not pretend to cut it.

I colored it red... dark auburn cherry fire red. The color of my heroine's hair, the color that let her be known to her soldiers during battle.

Because, after all, I am fighting a battle of my own. I am writing the novel, after playing with its sister-screenplay for almost eight years. Typing instead of swinging swords, the clatter of keys instead of the clang of metal. But I am going to finish it, and my beloved Celtic queen will finally be released from our strange, intimate bond.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Day 10

I am struggling. I have never written such crappity crap in my life, just for the sake of writing it. While I like the forced march of writing, I wonder if I will be able to use any of this in the final draft, and that is a depressing and debilitating thought. 50,000 words by November 30, and I have had none of the promised responses, like a renewed idea of the plot or a twist in the characters' stories. Still, discouraged > failure.

As you may have noticed, Photobucket gave me the boot because I did not log in for a year. I get my access back if I join their premium program. Pshaw! As if! Insert your own 80s phrase here.

So, I will be remodeling the blog - but not until December. NaNoWriMo, work, and family take precedence over my silly little blog. Still, I welcomed my 10,000th independent visitor last week (thank you whomever checked in from the Netherlands), so I will continue to read and post my boozy thoughts for other crazy bibliophiles in search of a friend.

60. REBECCA - Daphne du Maurier


No, it is not a "new novel." In fact, many of this blog's readers have recommended Rebecca for years. I've followed your advice because you have seldom been wrong.

Until now. Or not?

I am sorry dear blog readers, but I had such a difficult time with the plot of this novel. The writing was extraordinary - her use of language incredible. Descriptions danced off the pages and into my imagination. Allowing the main character to stay nameless throughout the book could be considered an amazing literary accomplishment for the times (and by a woman! you can hear the critics of old gush).

But I think I needed more backstory - the things she told Maxim about her past but never revealed to the reader. Then, I would understand her desire to stay.

For those who have not read this book (I thought I was the last one, but you never know), Rebecca is the dead wife of the narrator's new husband. Her presence seems to haunt the huge house of Manderley and distract the husband, Maxim, from his new wife. Mrs. Danvers, a nasty old servant of the house, is so dedicated to her former employer that she and the others insist that certain things (menus, the placement of flowers) be like Rebecca would want.

What kicked this over to the plus side was Daphne du Maurier's post script in my paperback version. She didn't give the narrator a name because she could not come up with one. Love it!

3.? out of 5.0 Boat Drinks.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

59. WOLF HALL - Hilary Mantel


Winner of the coveted Man Booker award for fiction in 2009, Wolf Hall charmed and challenged this reader.

First, I will admit some bias. As readers of my blog know, I have been exploring the books about European royalty, including several volumes about Henry V alone. This book shows the relationship between Henry and Anne Boleyn, yet it is through the eyes of dark merchant/lawyer Thomas Cromwell.

If you know enough about British history (or, Thor forbid, you read Phillippa Gregory novels as truth), you already know these characters. Otherwise, it would be a confusing read. Still, these are not the characters that I have known through different pages. Thomas More is older and fierce in his religious beliefs, while Anne Boleyn is both automaton and vengeful bitch.

What was brilliant about this book, however, was the dry humor. Whether at home, in court (meaning the court of royalty), or back alleys, I re-read bits of dialogue over and over to fully enjoy the snark veiled by manners and questions.

4.75 out of 5.0 English Highballs.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

58. THE CHILDREN'S BOOK - A.S. Byatt


Nominated for the 2009 Man Booker prize for fiction, The Children's Book is written for fans of epic drama; in this case, the Wellwood family and its friends during the years 1890-WWI.

Philip Warren, a runaway found by Olive Wellwood's son in the South Kensington Museum, states that he, "[...]wants to make..." Looking at pages of his drawings, Olive assumes he wants to make pots, and he is sent to apprentice with a famed friend. However, it is Philip who is the steadying character in this novel.

The Wellwoods are enchanting with a lovely English home called Todefright in the country and loads of children to fill it. Olive writes children's stories, while continuing to write a personal story for each of her own children. Humphrey, the father, works in banking and trashes it in his publications under a pseudonym. They host ravishing parties and invite the most radical of their circle.

However, not all is as misty and magical as it seems. Daughter Dorothy and son Tom worry about their parents' fights. Their cousins worry about boarding school or the lack of education for females. The younger Wellwood children are simply mothered by their aunt Violet.

As children do, they grow up and expand into lives that even creative Olive could not have predicted. In fact, this was the most satisfying part of the book - the first 120 pages were devoted to knowing the huge background of players. The ending left many threads hanging loose from the tapestry, which I appreciated.

I almost gave up on this book. It was difficult to plow through the names, the characterizations, the histories. Once the fairytale gave way to the truth, I became fascinated. It was ugly and raw, but the polite English way of dealing with pain made me wonder at how they survived loss or disappointment. Especially Olive, with her proper endings to each story.

Why did this novel not win the Man Booker? Perhaps because of the beginning. The writing could easily bore some readers who are not interested in the nuances of the characters' actions or dialogue. It could have been too long. Still, I think it became a finalist for these same reasons. It is a novel that I will think about for a while, and that is always considered valuable in my experience.

4.25 out of 5.0 Milk Punch.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2009 - NaNoWriMo


Yes, it is that time of year when people put on silly hats and beg for chocolate. No, not Halloween, silly... NaNoWriMo! National Novel Writing Month - every November, insane idiots from strange places like Mississippi and New Yawk City join this online group and try to write a novel in one month.

I meant to do it last year and the year before. There is never the "right" time to write. It is a matter of getting your butt in the chair and doing it.

So, I am doing it under the sassy nom de plume: KDRockstar. Friend me. I am lonely. And my avatar on NaNoWriMo has zero friend placings as well (*ching* - rimshot - and, thank you, tip your waitresses, I'll be here all weekend).

Click here to join the insanity.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

57. AN ECHO IN THE BONE - Diana Gabaldon


In a word: disappointing.

The background of the series - Claire goes back in time to 1700s Scotland, meets and marries Jamie Fraser, yet must go back to her own time because she is already married to Frank.

For Gabaldon fans, anything more would be "spoilers," so for the full review, see the comments section.

2.0 out of 5.0 Bonesetters.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

56. ONE SECOND AFTER - William R. Forstchen


Anyone want nightmares? It is the time of year when people search out ghosts and goblins and witches. Whether it is for All Hallow's Eve, Samhain, or Halloween, nothing will scare you more than this book.

This novel is about the year after three EMF nuclear bombs are set off above the United States - EMF meaning electro-magnetic frequency. All electronics are affected, including newer cars and water pumps. There are no ways to get medicines or travel, except by foot.

John, a history professor and former Looey, is forced by his conscience to help his small North Carolina community. The choices are brutal, and the results are realistic. Even John does not come out of this situation unscathed.

My gripes: there is a definite agenda to this book. The foreward is by Newt Gingrich, and the conclusion is by a doctor who talks about how this is being ignored by current and past administration. The writing is achingly poor... at times, I had no idea who was speaking because of the strange dialogue format. When I read about Hurricane Katrina - well, let's just say I laughed out loud because of the author's politics being inserted into the story.

Still, it is a quick read and will make you have freaky nightmares. And if this happens, don't even think about coming out here. My ranch is already booked for doomsday scenarios.

2.5 out of 5.0 Red Deaths.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

55. MARY QUEEN OF SCOTLAND AND THE ISLES - Margaret George


Before I get to the review, let me just whinge (I learned how to pronounce this properly last week) a bit. I miss reading. I miss it desperately. Lately, however, I have had to choose between reading and writing. I want to publish in the next decade, so I choose writing. Reading is like taking a hot shower after doing grungy farm work all day. And I am bitter-sad.

So, when I have an eight hundred pager, I expect it to be amazing. The first two-thirds of MARY were great - fast-paced plot, excellent characters, interesting historical elements. Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles, is portrayed as a woman who tried her best but was led astray by shifty advisers and loves. However, the last part, when Mary was exiled, needed a strong editorial hand. Slash, cut, burn. Red ink everywhere. There is only so much that one can write about someone in prison. Although the author stuck to the facts, since this was presented as fiction, there needed to be action rather than inaction (off to another prison, brought my sewing).

Still, I am fascinated by the history of the Scots, so if anyone knows of a good book about King James, I would be grateful. If you pick this one up (or use it as a doorstop), skip through the exiled portion. You can thank me later.

3.5 out of 5.0 Queen of Scots.

P.S. Seriously, I am going to try this drink tonight... love it!

Friday, September 25, 2009

54. DRAGONFLY IN AMBER - Diana Gabaldon


This novel is the second in the "Outlander" series about Jamie and Claire Fraser. While I would not say that Diana Gabaldon is the most notorious or gifted writer of our times, I will say that she knows how to capture her audience with fantastic plotting and historical information.

Though it starts out a bit slow (we do not join old Scotland until the eightieth page or so), the rest of the book will appeal to those who loved the romance, time travel, and Bonnie Prince Charlie aspects of the first book. This time, the fighting is about to occur, and Claire and Jamie are trying to stop the civil wars from beginning.

I love the Scottish history, I adore the characters, and I wept at the "true end" (not the conclusion - readers will know what I mean and I do not want to give away too much). However, toward the conclusion, the strange plotting began, and this is what made the next three books a trifle frustrating for me.

Still, I am looking forward to the release of "Echo in the Bone" next week. Jamie and Claire are not doomed lovers but life partners, and I will stick with them until the end.

4.0 out of 5.0 Dirty Scotsmen.

53. SILVERSTEIN AND ME - Marv Gold


Based on Marv Gold's lifelong friendship with Shel Silverstein, this memoir gives a glimpse of the mysterious man who lived a juxtaposition. He created art for Playboy and published children's poems. He wrote incredible songs ("Boy Named Sue") but did not have the voice to sing. He barely gave interviews, and when he did, he turned the questions back to the reporter.

Do I feel like I know the man more now? Not really, though the book does have some interesting stories. However, I wonder if they are meant to enlarge the myth of Silverstein or simply remember that even his closest friends did not really know him.

With its quick narrative style, you can read this in a few hours at most. Because I never felt that I received substantial answers, it was more of a disappointment than an intriguing peek at a famous man whose children's poems will forever be stamped in my mind.

2.0 out of 5.0 Miami Beaches.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

52. THE SPANISH BOW - Andromeda Romano Lax


Feliu was almost born Feliz, which means "happy" in Spanish. After the birth, he lay still and silent, so they began to fill out his death certificate. Due to a slight spelling error, his name was changed.

This signifies the theme of the novel: a slight change can have divining ripples throughout the rest of someone's life. For example, after his father's death, he received a bow without horsehair, too big for a violin, but how else could it be used? As a small child in rural Catalonia during the turn of the twentieth century, Feliu knew nothing about music until, by chance, he meets the famed pianist, Al-Cerraz. Through one note, Feliu is set upon a lifetime of learning the cello, a lifetime that includes historical appearances by King Alfonso and Queen Ena, as well as Picasso.

The author, a practiced cellist in her own right, pours her love for the instrument into this novel. As for the historical aspects, there are some tidbits that are stretched to fit the narrative. This never broke the spell for me of this fascinating world of music and artistry... at least, until the final chapter. Rather than continue with the wavering lines of fate, there is a loud splash of a giant rock thrown into the pool.

While the ending disappointed me, I still find myself reflecting on the other aspects of the novel and appreciate the dedication to historical aspects. When one can enjoy a piece of literature and learn from it, I believe it is worth a look.

3.75 out of 5.0 Spanish Super-Charged Coffees.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

2009 Man Booker Short List

The Children's Book by A S Byatt (Random House, Chatto and Windus)

Summertime by J M Coetzee (Random House, Harvill Secker)

The Quickening Maze by Adam Fould (Random House, Jonathan Cape)

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (HarperCollins, Fourth Estate)

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer (Little, Brown)

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (Little, Brown, Virago)


I'm giddy... any recommendations? Predictions? I've always liked Sarah Waters and J.M. Coetzee, but I need to get these in my sticky little hands ASAP.


Monday, September 07, 2009

51. FLYING CHANGES - Sara Gruen



I sorta-kinda liked Water for Elephants and half-remembered that it was historical in nature and literary in style. Mm, no. I should use the search option on my own blog more often.

Flying Changes is the second book in a series (I guess of only two because she's moved on to writing about apes) about Annemarie Zimmer, an almost-40-year-old woman with a pAin in the A daughter and iffy boyfriend. Still, she has her horses. She has wonderful memories of Harry, the horse that tripped and fell during competition, putting Annemarie in a coma and Harry to the great farm in the sky.

As I read, I thought, "This woman is annoying." She is neurotic and obsessive and strange. A-ha, but I didn't know about the first book, so I missed a lot of references.

Still, this was not a journey I wanted to take for pleasure. I have my own teen to yell at me, I have my own experiences with horses that need to go or be put down. Many of you may like this as a quickie read, but I never felt the satisfaction of escape. That is why I read and write. Otherwise, it is like the "stay-cation" of the mind.

1.75 out of 5.0 Bay Horses.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

50. MADAME BOVARY - Gustave Flaubert


I have spent more time considering the name play of the title character than the literary merits of this novel. Did he mean that she was "bovine" or a cow? Also, do publishers read the book before printing the cover? Seriously, it took me five Google pages to find a non-blonde Emma.

Sigh. I suppose I should review this book for those of you who care. Perhaps you skimmed the Cliff's Notes (kids, these were paper versions of items like Spark Notes) or skipped to the end. Whiny, spoiled Emma Bovary has a series of lovers. She kills herself at the end. Oops, sorry to spoil it. Um, spoiler? Is it too late?

Yes, I understand the historical importance of this book - Flaubert was sued after portions were released in serial form. In fact, he dedicates the book to his lawyer. I must have seen too many commercials for Doritos or Bud Light because most of the steamy sex scenes that sent women groping for the smelling salts were lost on me.

And Emma is a spoiled cow. Hmm... I wonder if he planned that.

2.0 out of 5.0 Brown Cows.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

"Why do writers write? Because it isn't there." - Thomas Berger

MH - I promised to remind you when this book was available because my review came out so early.

"The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don't Mind" - from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

No, it is not written by me.

Yes, I know the author, but I am not the only one raving about this book.

And, as you are quite aware, I have slammed the books of people I know in the past, so just have a Ciroq lemondrop with me and kick back.

(MH does not give me her email... she is like Batman.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

This is Kristin. She hates wearing a watch and loves lighting candles.

I did a search on my blog but could not find an answer... who recommended the movie, Amelie? I watched it tonight and absolutely adored it. She is my new girl-crush. Such beautiful dark eyes and swingy hair with a dimple in her cheek. The screenplay is tight with pitch-perfect dialogue. I remembered the "follow the blue arrow" scene, but I do not remember where I saw it.

Someone gets a cocktail on me...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

49. THE CALLIGRAPHER'S DAUGHTER - Eugenia Kim


Writing this review makes me heartsick because it is not often that I read a novel where I can see how it could have been a masterpiece. Perhaps I've been dipping into my Ciroq stores a bit more, or perhaps this book was marketed to the wrong audience. Either way, this coulda-shoulda been an amazing novel about Korean history that turned, instead, into a novel about Christ and the love of Jesus.

Stop. Right. There.

First, we have a novel/book and it is the Bible. There are also several other novels about God, Christianity, and the Ten Commandments. There is an entire romance line for Christian women. I have read the Bible, the Koran, and other religious texts, including numerous novels that attempt to recreate moments from Biblical history. I am not going to suffer through a ton of hate-posts. Period.

But, if a book is marketed and released as a historical novel spanning the time when Japan occupied Korea in a series of battles and spars, then I would like to read about it. A portion of the book shows the young heroine, Najin (based on the author's mother) in the palace with one of the princesses before the last emperor of Korea is murdered. That is historical fiction.

However, there are few pages without a link to Christianity. While I understand that Korea was one of the few Eastern countries open to the idea of a new religion, during this time it was still considered new and strange, and households often used a mixture of Christianity and Confucian proverbs, casting "devils" out using both religions. If this had been relayed more true to history, the religious aspect would not have been an issue for me.

With advanced reviews, I seem to be in the minority, but after page 286, I winced while reading. She coulda been a contendah. Amen.

1.0 out of 5.0 Godfathers.

Friday, August 21, 2009

48. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE - Stieg Larsson


~ English translation by Reg Keeland who was kind enough to post to this blog with the first review.

By now, you have probably heard of Stieg Larsson, a Swedish businessman/journalist who dropped off three manuscripts with his publisher. He died of a massive coronary before seeing the first novel, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" was published. This is the second book of a three (four?) part series, and it is my personal belief that you must start from the beginning with the first book to follow along.

Part of the reason why I loved the first book was its "murderer in one room" or "Clue" aspect. It also introduced fascinating characters. The second book continues with Salander, but she and Blomkvist are no longer together. In fact, she does not want to have anything to do with him. However, she soon needs his assistance when she is declared the only suspect in a triple-murder.

What a relief to finally learn about Salander's background, which was only toyed with in the first novel. Now, we understand her reasoning, though it is often based on her own moral code. However, this book had such a plethora of new characters that it became frustrating for me to keep track. After much flipping back and forth, I would hope to rely on written clues, but I was disappointed several times.

Perhaps most frustrating of all is the obvious plug for the next book. The ending is jumbled, needing the quick, clean proficiency of Salander and Blomkvist - together - to fix everything.

Reg... I think this book's translation is much more efficient and precise... well done!

2.75 out of 5.0 Snowballs.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week


Thank you to whomever nominated me for this - we shall have to wait and decide what to wear to the party. I will bring the Ciroq. No, really, I promise this time.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

47. THE NAMESAKE - Jhumpa Lahiri


Ashoke and Ashima are Indian immigrants in America, trying to balance the life that they left with the life they now lead (with Christmas decorations and trips to the school). The main character is Gogol, their son, who had to be named before being allowed out of the hospital after his birth. Their custom is to have a family name and a "good" name. Gogol's name becomes both, which begins the novel with the tension of something never being completed or perfect - simply in between.

Eventually, Gogol changes his name to Nikolai, believing it easier to live as an American, yet never truly feeling as if he fits in. Later, his father tells him the reason he was named Gogol, which only increases the feeling of alienation and solitude.

As the reader follows Gogol throughout his life - a paragraph that covers a year, twenty pages to cover a date - it is apparent that this story is not really about Gogol at all. It is about finding a way to bring two lives together, two cultures closer, and/or two understandings amended. It is about finding the medium that makes one, if not happy, at least content.

With such depth in the first half of the book, I expected the same from the rest, but the author leaves it to the reader's imagination. I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this novel, but I did appreciate the extensive depth of detail.

3.5 out of 5.0 Russian Bears.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

46. POPE JOAN - Donna Woolfolk Cross


Ah, the legends and "what ifs" of a female pope was exactly what I needed to clear my head of work (both teaching and writing).

Many have heard of Pope Joan, also known as Pope John Anglicus, whose two-year reign in the ninth century has virtually disappeared from modern history. In this account, Joan, a wicked-smahrt lass is discouraged from studies. When her brother is killed during a Viking attack, she chops off her hair, dons the clothes, and becomes "John."

Her quick wit and mastery of logic bring her notice, as does her ability to heal others with herbal remedies. After Pope Gregory is healed by John/Joan, the path to greater power is revealed.

The author combined some of the legends to create her own ending, but in the afterword she discusses her meticulous research. Even for doubters, this is an interesting historical read. Of course, the essence of romance is thrown in to stir the pot a bit more, but I think the rest of the stew is tasty enough without it.

3.75 out of 5.0 Sneaky Cassies.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

45. WELL DESERVED - Michael Loyd Gray


Argus, a small town in Illinois, is the home of four substantial characters whose lives are intertwined in this driven novel. I often find myself putting books into one group or another: character-driven or plot-driven. This book is an intriguing mix of both.

Jesse, the small-time pot dealer, meets Raul, the just-off-the-docks Vietnam vet, both of whom are being watched by the new chief of police, Art, and the cashier at the market, Nicole. Yet this is not a novel as simplistic as that sentence. Each character is lovingly shaped through dialogue, other character's thoughts, and internal drives. With the strokes of immaculate detail, it is difficult to resist being pulled into their lives.

Personally, I liked this section: "But California really wasn't a place for Midwesterners. Not for very long, at least. Californians expected things to always be easy. Midwesterners knew what it meant to struggle and work for something. [...] One had all the weather and no sense, and the other was more grounded in reality and understood the changing weather to be just part of life's challenges." I am a product of both California and the Midwest, so this tickled me.

Gray's use of specific symbols and imagery create a postcard of small town America, one that pulls the reader through the pages with both smiles and a bitten lip.

4.3 out of 5.0 Sex on the Grasses.

44. OUTLANDER - Diana Gabaldon


I had the pleasure of meeting Diana Gabaldon twice during intimate lunches with other writers, and she is so passionate about her characters. In particular, she adores her hero, Jamie Fraser, and said (on both occasions) that she could never imagine any actor to portray him.

Recently, a screenwriter friend said that OUTLANDER, the first of an enormously popular series involving time travel, Scottish and American history, and a love comparable to the adult version of Bella and Edward (of TWILIGHT fame), was (finally) going to be made into a film. I remembered Diana's statements, so I re-read the book while vacationing to try to imagine who on earth could play Jamie Fraser.

If you are a romance reader, I need not review this novel. You read it more than a decade ago. You know that the latest addition is coming out next month. But for the rest of you, imagine a WWII nurse named Claire who is reunited with her husband, Frank, a historian/professor who has meticulously traced his heritage through the Scottish highlands. A chance visit to a rock circle during Beltane and she is transported a bit over 200 years into the past, where she gets to meet these famous relations who are rather more dark than "black sheep." Enter Jamie Fraser, dreamy red-headed romantic Scot, and you have a historical novel with a heap of good lovin'.

The next book is the "end" of the saga, so for those of you who have followed the series as I have, who do you think is the Scot that Frank meets on the street in this first book? I am interested in seeing how she wraps this up.

4.25 out of 5.0 Scotch Coolers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

2009 Man Booker Longlist announced

Byatt, AS The Children's Book Random House - Chatto and Windus

Coetzee, J M Summertime Random House - Harvill Secker

Foulds, Adam The Quickening Maze Random House - Jonathan Cape

Hall, Sarah How to paint a dead man Faber and Faber

Harvey, Samantha The Wilderness Random House - Jonathan Cape

Lever, James Me Cheeta HarperCollins - Fourth Estate

Mantel, Hilary Wolf Hall HarperCollins - Fourth Estate

Mawer, Simon The Glass Room Little, Brown

O'Loughlin, Ed Not Untrue & Not Unkind Penguin - Ireland

Scudamore, James Heliopolis Random House - Harvill Secker

Toibin, Colm Brooklyn Penguin - Viking

Trevor, William Love and Summer Penguin - Viking

Waters, Sarah The Little Stranger Little, Brown - Virago


Where to begin? Anyone have recommendations?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

43. TEARS IN THE DARKNESS: THE STORY OF THE BATAAN DEATH MARCH AND ITS AFTERMATH - Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman


As a child, my grandfather would read the newspaper and say things like, "Those damn Japs, trying to take over ." I knew that was not the right thing to say, and I would look at my sister with big eyes until one of us would break out into giggles. My grandmother would tell us that he had fought in the war and tell him to hush that talk.

Twenty-some years later, I think I understand why he held such long-standing hatred of the Japanese. This book details the atrocities of American prisoners-of-war, and it is so emotionally choking that I had to read it in spurts.

In 1942, American and Filipino soldiers fought for months against the Japanese over a sliver of land called the Bataan peninsula. Ben Steele of the United States Air Force became adept with his rifle, as did many others (cooks, machinists, pilots), but the battle ended with the surrender of 76,000. This is the largest defeat in American military history.

The book mixes biography with heart-wrenching journalism. As we follow Ben Steele's fight for survival - first, the Bataan death march, which was a 66-mile horror; next, the series of POW camps - readers are also told of the struggles of other people, as told through diaries, interviews, and painstaking research.

While Germany is often the "bad guy" of WWII and Japan is considered guilty of Pearl Harbor, this shows another detailed history of the war. It should not be missed by anyone. The beautiful, poignant writing and organization of the material only adds to the powerful tone of the book.

4.75 out of 5.0 Teas.


Friday, July 24, 2009

42. FINGER LICKIN' FIFTEEN - Janet Evanovich


Janet, girl, we need to chat.

I adore Stephanie Plum and Ranger and the rest of the crazy characters in your books. I remember the first time I picked up Three to Get Deadly, and I had to go back to read the first two of the series immediately. Loved the tone, loved the Jersey hair, loved the sassy sex scenes.

Obviously, others like it, too, or you wouldn't be on the fifteenth book (not including the holiday episodes). But 300 pages (hardcover) with triple spacing and two and a half inch margins? Are you one of my former composition students?

I'm a tad bummed, Janet. Even for a vacation book, this made me sad. It is a novella. It is getting silly instead of clever. And I hate that I still found it amusing. So, I am going to stay clear for a while - perhaps read Tolstoy - and just read your next book in private while still at the bookstore. I am sure that I will finish it there.

2.5 out of 5.0 Barn Doors.

“80 percent of success is showing up.” - Woody Allen



Wow, I received an award from Katie at 101 Books in 1001 Days. In the spirit of giving, I will pass it on to my first reader: Bibliolatry's blog. Her reviews are always funny and spirited, and I think that she will take over the world of online book reviewing within the next five years. Or, she will not have any more books to read. Either/or.

Thanks again, Katie!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Books for Lunch, as well...

As I am reading TEARS IN THE DARKNESS: THE STORY OF THE BATAAN DEATH MARCH AND ITS AFTERMATH, I think about all of the atrocities of American soldiers and how little I have read about them (other than during the Vietnam War). I want to read about that.

Then, I started thinking about how quiet it has been since I stopped checking my email account and moved to Facebook. Where are the book recommendations? What has made your summer or changed your year? What is your all-time favorite book that you cannot believe I have overlooked?

Friday, July 10, 2009

41. JOSEF JAEGER - Jere' M. Fishback


As I read more YA books, I wonder, "Where were you when I was a teen - and stuck with Gone With the Wind?"

JOSEF JAEGER is no exception. Based on Hitler's Germany, Josef is a 13-year-old who lives with his uncle after his mother's death. His uncle, Ernst Roehm, is the openly gay chief of the Nazi brown shirts. Through his personal experiences, Josef realizes that he is gay, as well.

After Josef is chosen to play the lead in a propaganda film, he finally feels safe. He loves his work, he loves a Jewish boy, and he loves his life in Berlin. However, he hears rumors that his mother's death was not natural, so he does what he can to find out the truth.

I knew I would like this book due to the historical elements, but I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Rather than using a heavy hand with the stories that we have all read - the deaths, the extermination of Jews, the Nazi power - the author uses Josef as a metaphor for the German people. He is a teenager who is trying to find himself during a time when politics truly meant life or death.

My only gripe was that Josef is portrayed as a 13-year-old. Since I live with one, I felt that some of the experiences would have been more believable in a 15- or 16-year-old. While I kept in mind the cultural and time differences, I still have difficulties. Even the cover drawing looks like a much older boy.

Outside of this, the writing is clean and concise. There are beautiful passages of imagery, like jagged snow peaks "looking like monstrous teeth biting into brilliant sky." Fishback's use of language is poetic at points, like a master brushing paint on a canvas. For the author's sake, I hope this book gets banned because then it will receive the attention it deserves.

4.0 out of 5.0 Summer Beers.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

40. NATURE GIRL - Carl Hiaasen


I love me some Carl Hiaasen. He has perfected the quirky characters, strange yet predictable plotting, and hilarious flashbacks to the point where I wonder if he even thinks about it when he writes. I know that I hardly think at all when I read what he writes, which is the whole point. Lovely escapism with a few laughs.

In this case, Honey is furious at a telemarketer, so she scams him into coming for an eco-trip in Florida with his mistress. Of course, the plot is much more complicated, but the general point is that she is out to screw over Boyd.

After reading so many of his books, I think I could give a doctoral thesis oral exam about his writing style, thematic purposes, and use of sex for laughs. Since a Ph.D. in Literature is not in my immediate future, I will simply say that he has written another good vacation book. Not my favorite of his, but good enough.

2.75 out of 5.0 Key Lime Martinis.

39. LITTLE CHILDREN - Tom Perrotta



I adore the film, ELECTION. It's probably the last time that I have liked Matthew Broderick's work. Still, the book is even more incredible, which is why I chose to read this rather than watch a lovely, sweaty Kate Winslet in the role.

Stay at home parents are akin to propaganda-spewing Nazis. I can say that because I was one for several years. Every parent has starch-stiff beliefs (no TV as a babysitter! home school! flashcards! no violent toys!). This book takes a group of parents, mostly stay at home mothers and fathers, and allows them to bump along, similar to that video game, "The Sims."

Perrotta is both empathetic and cruel in his characterizations, but he is always funny. After closing the book, I was thankful to be out of those mind-numbing years, though I do miss the naps.

3.0 out of 5.0 Sour Patch Bombs.

38. MY SISTER'S KEEPER - Jodi Picoult


Every time that I want to flick the dust of Jodi Picoult off my liter-ahry map of books, she surprises me again. Yes, she is writing women's literature, but she uses imagery like Maya Angelou and dialogue like Quentin Tarantino. Plus, she intrigues me with her "what if" scenarios, which is why I enjoy writing.

The movie is out. I have heard it does not compare to the book, so I will not go there.

Simply, Anna was created to have the cord blood to help her older sister fight cancer. When that didn't work, she repeatedly donates plasma, blood, and bone marrow. Finally, at the age of thirteen, Anna wants her body left alone, but that means her sister will die without the vital kidney transplant. So, Anna hires a lawyer.

This is a "what if" scenario of the highest degree, but I found myself angry with the mother and frustrated by the father. However, by the end, I was bawling through the last pages. Yes, it is women's lit, but it is of the highest quality. Picoult, as a mother, knows just how to hit the solar plexus and make one gasp for breath.

3.75 out of 5.0 Silent Erasers.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hot Books for the Hottest Month

I love it when Barnes and Noble has its dollar days. Thick, fresh-smelling hardcover books for $1.99, woody paperbacks for a buck. Of course, I need to spend $20 for free shipping, but that is the price I must pay.

I have always dreamed of this: a child pulling apart the packing tape with small fingers, hacking at cardboard with dull scissors. He shuffles through the books until he sees the blazing titles and crazy cartoonish fonts that indicate a book Mom does not want. He flings himself at his mother in gratitude. "You know me so well," he cries out. "You knew exactly what I would want to read!"

That moment filled my cup for days.

I begin my new job on July 21 as assistant professor of English. It is a reward after several years of hard work, but I will miss two things - my time for writing and reading. I expect that I will have to change some habits (10 hours of sleep per day? really?) in order to finish writing my novel, but I know I will always find time for a quick read (burned chicken for dinner, anyone?).

Meanwhile, packages are still arriving from B&N, along with more envelopes with new, exciting books, like Tears in the Darkness (wow, I have to take it slow because it is so heart-wrenching), Josef Jaeger (YA historical with gay heroes - where were you when I was a teen?), and Hume's Fork (I don't even know how to describe this book yet, but I can't wait to try). Books piled into a three-foot tall tower, books tucked under my journals and planner, books hidden in magazine racks and bathrooms.

I may rinse my mind with some easy reads as I wade through the next weeks, full of family plans and commitments. Or I may tackle a tough tome during vacation, something to lug on planes and boats... something to read to appear intelligent and distinguished. Or I may just plunge in, like the old Nestea pool commercials: sip and fall back into the coolness of pulped pages.

37. OUTLIERS: THE STORY OF SUCCESS - Malcolm Gladwell


For decades, there is always at least one how-to book that crops up like a dandelion in a strawberry patch. You know the names, even if you never read past the title: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus or Dianetics. I remember "the Secret," as well as "the Word."

Still, Outliers is different. It shows the correlation between success and behaviors, situations, and just plain luck. For example, most Canadian professional hockey players are born in January, February, and March. Do you think that parents plan that? They might start thinking about it, now.

With fantastic interviews that build on basic principals, it is a book that encourages more discussion - even prompting a huge talk about how many hours one must read and write to become a successful author (with my 10-year-old).

4.5 out of 5.0 Knock-Outs.

Monday, June 29, 2009

36. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO - Stieg Larsson


Originally titled, "Men Who Hate Women," this is the first of a series of three (or four - there are rumors abound) books by author Stieg Larsson, a talented plotter who died from a heart attack before the books were published.

"The Girl," in this case, is Lisbeth Salander, a punkish, asocial 20-something with a knack for finding anyone's secrets. She is called in to help Mikhael Blomkvist, a journalist who is hired to find answers to a 50-year-old mystery: what happened to Harriet Vanger, niece to the powerhouse Henrik Vanger.

The mystery is reminiscent of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" (I forgot the politically correct version of the title), where everyone is on an island and no one escaped. Therefore, did Harriet die? Was she murdered?

This book is not just a mystery. The author has statistics about sexual abuse, rape, and assault of Swedish women at the beginning of each major section. Half of the book involves Lisbeth's backstory before meeting up with Mikhael. The end is not the triumphant answer to the mystery.

I know I am a bit late to this party, but the unique style and anti-formulaic approach fascinated me, as it has for many readers and critics. It is just a shame that the author did not live longer to share his gift through other stories.

4.0 out of 5.0 Dragon Breaths.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

35. THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE - Katherine Howe


As I adore asking the question, "What if?" this book was a wonderful treat. What if one of those accused during the Salem Witch trials was, in fact, a witch? I use the term loosely because, as in the novel, there is the current fads of reiki healing, energy work, and aura readings that account for helpful modern "physicks."

This debut novel explores the possibility of a true physick/magic-healer named Deliverance Dane. As 1990s student, Connie Goodwin, a doctoral student of colonial history at Harvard, begins to empty out her grandmother's New England home, she finds clues that lead her on an academic adventure. Her mother, a "healer" who moved to be near energy centers in the southwest United States, makes Connie roll her eyes in frustration. Therefore, the deeper Connie is involved in the mystery, the more she must give up her preconceived notions.

Fascinating premise; however, the book is best for light summer reading due to a sub-plot about a crazed professor and the forced romance between Connie and a local. Still, it held my interest enough to keep me reading late into the night.

3.0 out of 5.0 Salem Witches.

34. THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN - Kate Morton


A toddler is left on the wharf in Brisbane, Australia, in the early 1900s. A dock worker takes her home, and when no family searches for her, he and his wife move and pretend that Nell is their own daughter. Still, Nell remembers something about "The Authoress," and a book of fairy tales is all that remains from her voyage.

The narrative switches from Nell's childhood memories to her search for her "real" parents in the 1970s to her granddaughter's attempt to solve every snippet of the mystery.

Personally, this whiplash storytelling became frustrating, and too many coincidences (a clue falls out of a book... not once, but twice!) had me skimming to the end.

1.75 out of 5.0 Adios Cabachos.

XX. THE EMBERS - Hyatt Bass


Death, family tragedy, dysfunctional relationships - all of the makings of a great Russian novel. Unfortunately, this is the debut fiction of Hyatt Bass, a book that has been glorified by many reviewers.

Not this one.

After 63 pages, I grew exhausted by the whiny, self-absorbed characters. The plot could have pulled me deeper into this tornado, but a quick flip proved that there would be no redemption, just frustration. My wall has enough dents from past clunkers.

Friday, June 12, 2009

32. IN THE WAKE OF THE BOATMAN - Jonathon Scott Fuqua


The relationship between fathers and sons is rocky, precarious, tenuous at times, as I watch my boys, as I watch my friends' families. I wonder at adult males who like their fathers.

IN THE WAKE OF THE BOATMAN explores this relationship from before the main character, Puttnam Steward, is born until a crumbling mid-life crisis that makes him reassess everything about himself. Not to be coy, but all that he learned, he learned as a kindergartner - rough lessons from a damaged, pathetic father.

As Putt tries to figure out himself as a teen and young adult, he ends up putting himself in situations where he is in danger, yet he comes out as a hero each time. This further enrages him because he cannot connect the person he is with the one others see. The person he is wants to wear dresses and be pretty.

The descriptions are so vivid and consuming that one feels itchy within Putt's skin, just as he did. It is lovely writing regarding a fascinating subject.

4.25 out of 5.0 Boat Drinks.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

31. "The Secret Keeper" - Paul Harris


This debut novel about British journalist Danny Kellerman puts a new spin on the world of Sierra Leone. As he covers the war, he meets a children's aid worker named Maria, who seems to be out to save the world. After receiving a letter from her four years later, pleading for help, Danny finds out that Maria had been killed in a roadside burglary. Using journalism as an excuse, he flies back to Freetown to determine the true cause of Maria's death.

I have read many books about the occurrences during the war, Mosquito, and the RUF (child army). If this had been just another book about this horrible part of history, I would have put it down. Instead, Harris uses the history as a backdrop for a mystery. Especially for people who are not familiar with the war, it is a good introduction to the misery and hopelessness of the Africans involved.

My only gripe is that the viewpoint switched from third person, limited to omniscience - and at the strangest times in the story. It popped me right out of the groove. Instead of viewing this as a mystery through Danny's eyes, I was suddenly with a man on a porch? Outside of that quibble, this is a great beach read for mystery lovers.

3.25 out of 5.0 Gin and Sins.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

30. "Bones" - Jonathan Kellerman


I try to write in the mystery genre, but I do not read a lot of the popular mystery authors. Jonathan Kellerman turned me *off* with a prior book, but I picked this one up for less than a dollar.

Dead bodies in various states of decomposition are found in a suburban Los Angeles protected marsh. Alex Delaware is - dun, dun, dun, dun! - the psychologist who provides insights into the minds of criminals and their behaviors.

Did I learn anything? No, this was a quickie read to satisfy an overwhelmed mind. This psychologist was too HelLA for me, though the chief investigator has some snappy dialogue. There is a lot of backstory that I didn't understand, but I was not compelled to read more of his books to find out why someone ignored someone else and why it wasn't resolved in this book.

Besides, my own psychologist from the realm of *amazing* (near the planet of Rockstar) has provided more forensic information before coffee this morning than a few days spent with this book.

If you like mysteries, supposedly this is a better Alex Delaware novel in the series. If not, you will like mysteries after my books are published. The end.

2.25 out of 5.0 Fruity Bone.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

29. "The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don't Mind" - Kirstin Cronn-Mills


Young adult fiction has found a new, kick-ass voice.

Morgan lives in "Central Nowhere," Nebraska, writing fortune cookie slogans in her head while stocking shelves at the local grocery store. She is furious with her family, annoyed with her boyfriend, and indifferent to "the Girls I Sit By At Lunch." Morgan wants out of there, wants it so desperately that sometimes she has to drive to the hills bordering the edge of a valley and scream, "[...]ALIENS TAKE ME NOW, 15 times, shouted into the air. Then I AM INSANE and DIE ASSHOLE DIE and BITE ME, but only five times each."

Morgan is also frustrated because Tessa, her neighbor, kissed her in a hammock, and Morgan liked it. But Central Nowhere is the last place where alternate sexualities are tolerated, so Morgan stays with Derek, the dumb jock, lusts after Rob, the assistant manager at work, and worries about her connections to Tessa, as well as her own sexuality.

I haven't been this excited about a book for teens since Judy Blume's "Forever," and I still have a copy of that with red ink circling my favorite parts. Morgan is quite different from Katherine, though; one time, she screams, "I am a secret sex fiend!" and her fortunes advise against having sex in the front seat of a car. Morgan's voice is the driving force of this novel in a genre where teenage girls are praised for their timidness or silence (yes, Bella, I am talking to you).

Cronn-Mills creates characters of substance, from Tessa and her Kool-Aid tinted hair to Morgan's grandmother and her closet filled with special organ-playing shoes. But it is the dialogue that hit me, especially when I was at the grocery store recently and heard a teen girl say, "He's not into you? No, all he wants is to get into you." I thought I found Morgan in the pickle aisle. Her voice resonates long after you turn the last page.

4.75 out of 5.0 Skittles.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

28. "The Weight of Heaven" - Thrity Umrigar


After the death of their son, Frank and Ellie move to India to escape. Frank works as the head of a company, HerbalSolutions, which uses local trees for a diabetes medication. The trees were used by the natives, as well, but the new restrictions cause havoc between boss and workers.

Meanwhile, Frank yearns for his lost son and tries to fill the gap with Ramesh, the bright, ambitious son of their housekeepers. This hurts his father, who wants only the best for his son, as long as it is true to India.

This is a wrenching read. I thought of heaven as light, airless, but the grief - which Umrigar expresses with metaphors and beautiful imagery - the grief, the grief, oh, how it hurts the chest and heart to imagine.

4.25 out of 5.0 Gin and Tonics.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

To be continued...

LOVE AND OTHER INFECTIOUS DISEASES.

Meanwhile, I think I have the "whine" flu. The one where you use a high-pitched screechy voice when saying things like, "Mommy took care of you when you were sick" or "Has anyone seen the rest of the orange juice because I need to triple mix it with Ciroq." Also used when spouses make small talk, but are misunderstood: "Are you saying I'm not working? I got my work done. I can't help it if my temperature is 102.4. So what if all I'm doing is watching the first two seasons of 'Weeds'."

This is the same flu that causes irritability, loss of memory (or perhaps that's the Ciroq), addiction to old TV rather than books, and stanky clothes (which could also be a result of mixing up the anti-cellulite lotion with the self-tanner).

Pandemic, y'all. Watch yourselves.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

27. "This One is Mine" - Maria Semple


It is not called "Holly-weird" for nothing.

Violet is fighting to be a super mom and super wife in the middle of HelL.A. Her husband, David, is a music deal-maker, but he has a super mean, self-absorbed streak. Duh. It's L.A.

Violet meets Teddy Reyes, a Hep-C positive musician barely scraping by. He woos her with promises of poetry and glimpses of a different life. Meanwhile, David's sister is attempting to capture her own bit of the spotlight as she seduces a mildly autistic sports betting (but not gambling) TV personality.

It all ends up being a huge satiric view of the helL.A. lifestyle. If you read the book, keep that in mind. It is not a romance, it is not killer-funny. The characters are sad shells of human beings, where one is judged on the ability to spot a fake Hermes bag.

Though it is not mentioned (anywhere, that I have seen), this is also a great book about post-partum depression. Violet has all of the trademark symptoms, and by relating to that, it makes the downward spiral of her world more believable.

Semple, a former L.A. script writer for "Arrested Development" and "Ellen," among others, chews and spits out every quirk and richy-rich craze... except the drugs. Where were the drugs? Despite my few gripes, I held this book in my hand for a day and read it during every spare moment.

3.5 out of 5.0 Nik a L.A.s.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

XX. Other books...

Convince me to give any of these another shot:

  • THE SHARPER YOUR KNIFE, THE LESS YOU CRY
  • SHADOW COUNTRY
  • KIERON SMITH, BOY
  • LUSH LIFE

26. "Infinite Jest" - David Foster Wallace

Slap me, please. Preferably within the first 25-30 pages. I've been flipping through books at an incredible pace, but I've finished only one.

What knocked you out of your seat? I'm frustrated with stinker books (like this one with its rambling paragraphs that repeat-repeat-repeat like a skipping record for five irrational pages.

25. "The Rum Diary" - Hunter S. Thompson


Semi-autobiographical, this novel revolves around the shady industry when journalism meets public relations in the "new" paradise of 1960s Puerto Rico. To knock back self-loathing and job fears, the reporters sit around and knock back drinks.

Paul Kemp left New York for this new adventure, but his fears about growing old without roots or love begin to create more issues that need self-medicating. When he falls for a good friend's girl, Paul balances his work life and his social life with a few good shots of rum.

Is it Thompson's best work? No, but it is an honest portrayal of the times, written in the maniacal style that has made him famous.

3.25 out of 5.0 150 Whats?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

24. "Bend with the Knees and Other Love Advice from My Father" - Benjamin Drevlow


As most of my readers know, I often mix books. It's like drinking cocktails. I don't want my pineapple juice to be lonely; therefore, the vodka must join the party.

I've been mixing Drevlow with Hunter S. Thompson, and I never thought that I'd say that I've found the new Thompson.

The two men are decades (and mortally) apart, but Drevlow's book of short stories (fiction, though very close to fictionalized memoir) is very similar to Thompson's biting humor, if he had lived in northern Wisconsin. Reading both authors is like sitting at the bar and soaking up stories along with your alcohol (which I did with one of these authors - make your own guesses).

Bend With the Knees switches from booze cruises to suicides within a matter of pages, but it is Drevlow's voice (and use of himself as a character) that is reminiscent of Thompson. For example, in The Rum Diary, Thompson uses brittle cracks to describe the other journalists in Puerto Rico. In a description of a air-headed writer wannabe, Drevlow writes of "How I'd filet the entitlement out of her gills." It's edgy with a wedge of lemon to shock the senses.

4.5 out of 5.0 Vodka Lemons.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

23. "Drood" - Dan Simmons


Oh, Bibliolatry, please forgive me. I still adore and worship you and your amazing taste.

Dan Simmons continues to confound readers using historical events as a backdrop to some creepy shite. In this case, the relationship between Charles Dickens and his friend, Wilkie Collins, after Dickens survives a train wreck and meets the infamous figure, Drood.

Who is Drood? Well, that would be spoiling the surprises. In short, Drood is a powerful mesmeric of London's underworld. Is he a form of Dickens's fiction? Or does he literally haunt the writer to his death, leaving Collins to write the monster's biography?

Wilkie Collins is not the most reliable character. While he prides himself on specifics of detail, he is under the influence of mega-doses of laudanum all of the time. However, his growing jealousy and hatred of Dickens is perfectly written because even *I* grew tired of the doddering fool by the middle of the book.

Could this novel have been edited from its original 700+ pages? Absolutely. Is this as compelling as Simmons's THE TERROR? Not a chance. Did I still sequester myself for the final 200 pages? Yes, but I'm a bad, bad person who ignores others.

4.25 out of 5.0 Stingers.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

XX. "The Afterlife" - Donald Antrim


I need to read this, but when Dan Simmons's book, Drood, came into my possession, everything else faded away.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

22. "Beginner's Greek" - James Collins


Peter is a romantic, always dreaming of sitting next to a woman on a plane: she will be "the one." Then, he meets Holly on a plane bound for L.A. Sparks fly, he gets the number, he loses the number.

Years later, they meet again, though Holly is now the wife of his best friend. And, so it goes.

This book has been heralded as chick lit from a guy's perspective or cruelly accurate mockery of New York elitists. Whatever. I guess you could pigeon-hole it into romance, but Peter would turn on only a small percentage of women who needed their gaydar reactivated.

With wildly inane character descriptions (really? we really need to know ten pages about the woman who cooks for someone?), Collins was applauded for this overwritten piece of meth.

In other words, I despised it.

.25 out of 5.0 Fucked-Up Shits.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" - David Wroblewski


Wroblewski knows dogs.

Rural Wisconsin - a boy is born with no voice. He screams as a baby, but his dog, Almondine, is his champion, waking mom and, later, following Edgar Sawtelle as he does his farm chores. Edgar's family breeds dogs: Sawtelle dogs, wonders with training and mindfulness. His mother and father love each other, and he learns to speak to them through sign language.

Then, a death that rocks Edgar's world of chaff and "down" and tails. Edgar can't speak the truth, but he plans a way to convince everyone of it.

I know Oprah recommended this book (now, of course, *after* I read it). I don't care. She loves her dogs, too, and it is impossible to turn away from the pages when you read the dog-love.

4.75 out of 5.0 Salty Dogs.

20. "Secret Daughter: A Mixed Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away" - June Cross


June Cross was born the child of a white woman and a black man in 1954. Her memoir is a gripping recount of her experience as a woman who is struggling to find her culture, switching from her home with an "aunt" and her visits to her L.A.-rocking mom.

I've annoyed many a friend with the comment, "This is not our first black president: he's a mix of all of us." Obama has called himself a "mutt," which is why I relate to him (as a Norwegian-French-German-British-??-chica).

Cross's writing is beautiful and spare. There is no room for a Kleenex sob story here.

3.85 out of 5.0 Secret Martinis.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

19. "The Lightning Thief" - Rick Riordan


After watching my son devour this series of novels by Rick Riordan, I asked for his cast-offs. "You're going to love it, Mom," my son said. "Did you get to the part about his father? About blah blah blah?" I had to screech at him, "Don't *tell* me, I don't want to ruin it, etc."

Because this book is like Harry Potter with ADHD.

Actually, Percy Jackson, pre-teen hero of the novel, has ADHD and dyslexia. But the best part is he's the son of an Olympic god. Which one? Through stories about mythology, Riordan teaches as he writes. Percy is sent on a quest with his friends, Grover and Annabeth, with crazy bus rides, restaurant visits, and water park pools adding excitement for the early-YA crowd.

The dialogue is fantastic in its pitch-perfect tune of a 12-year-old. Riordan throws a few bones to the parents, too, which made me laugh out loud. Overall, it's a delightful book, and I've promised my son to "say it's sick writing." Whatever that means. I'm on the bandwagon.

4.25 out of 5.0 Monkey Businesses.