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


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.