Saturday, December 18, 2010

Under the Dome

Under the Dome by Stephen King

This book reminded me of The Simpson's movie for about 20 pages. The book itself is 1065 pages. It is a fast read regardless of the size.

In short, a small mid-western town is suddenly trapped by a dome. As the dome drops, people and animals are cut into pieces landing on either side of the dome. No one can figure out where the dome came from, what it's made of or how to get rid of it.

The town trapped inside is run by a megalomaniac used car dealer who has been "saved by Jesus". Big Jim is a character that is so well written that I loathed him from the beginning and I couldn't wait for him to be killed. He is bent on taking over the town and ruling a la Pol Pot although he envisions himself an altruistic leader called by God.

Our hero is a retired veteran of the Iraq war but is the town short-order cook. He has just had an altercation with the son of the man running the town and he is NOT well liked by the powers that be in town. He is, in fact, on his way out of town when the dome appears. His former military contacts come in handy in dealing with the dome situation. It doesn't help him any with his relationship with Big Jim and his son Junior.

In just a few short days, the peaceful town is changed into a strange and stressed place where people are being murdered, committing suicide, and murdering and then committing suicide. Some people tend to loose their humanity and others become even more humane and caring of their neighbors.

This was a fascinating study of people under duress. There are many layers and so many people that it is a fun and fast read. The final scenario is weird, tense, and a final relief when the final word is read.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Outlander

The Outlander by Gil Adamson

The novel begins with a 19 year old woman on the run. She is being chased by men and dogs. She has just killed her husband and his brothers are hunting her. The year is 1903 and it is the northern Rockies in Canada.

This book is full of suspense and adventure. The widow is mentally disoriented because she hears voices and sees ghosts. The language of the book supports a feeling of disorientation in the reader. Sometimes it's unclear for awhile if the experience of the widow is happening, being imagined or being remembered.

I was a little surprised by the ending. I had thought that it would go a different direction entirely. I enjoy being surprised because, frankly it doesn't happen all that often. The ending became clear in the last 8 pages of the book. This was a great first novel. I would definitely consider reading another novel by this author.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fall of Giants

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

This is another great historical fiction novel by this author. It is the first of the Century Trilogy and I look forward to the next two books. The trilogy will follow 5 families in their lives through hardship and success, peace and war.

It's a big book (almost a thousand pages) but it didn't take too long to read because it was so engaging. It begins in 1911 and ends in 1924. As promised, five families are highlighted in Wales, England, Germany, America and Russia. There are people of great privilege and great poverty. There are a few actual persons of history who have cameos in the book. The author tried to quote them from actual speeches or letters and tried to place them in situations that they were actually in, or may have been (meaning he didn't put them in a situation that they never would have been in real life).

It covers World War I in great detail and I found it fascinating to have famous battles and scenes re-enacted in a way that I better understood and grasped the circumstances.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction and/or anyone interested in the period of World War I.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Enchantress of Florence

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

In the beginning of this book I had a hard time figuring out who was talking and what time frame, or generation, they were talking about. I decided to just go with it and not worry too much about it. That method worked pretty well for me.

This is a beautifully woven story about a woman who was part reality and part myth. She was beautiful, wise, clever and magical. The trick is figuring out what is real and what is fancy. The tale moves backwards and forwards through time and across the deserts of the Mughal, across the sea and into Italy. This tells a story of friendship, love, emperors, politicians, pirates, and people.

I had a hard time getting into the book because it was hard to tell sometimes who was the voice and from what time was the story being told. Also, the language at times felt like a vine winding it's way around a trellis and slowly making progress upward. This is not a book to read in 10 or 15 minute stretches here and there but is better read in longer stretches so you can get into the language, the rhythm, and the story. It is a book worth reading if you are willing to be patient and not try to rush it.

The Last Olympian

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

This is the final book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and it did not disappoint. The book was just a full of danger, adventure, and Greek Mythology come to life as all the other books.
Percy and his friends are yet another year older and at the books end, it seemed as though another series may follow.

I recommend this entire series.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This is a weird book that could easily by someone's Doctoral Thesis on language.

The premise is this. On an island country off the coast of South Carolina, lived the man responsible for the sentence, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." This man, Nollop, becomes the golden child for his country. They change the name of the country to Nollopia and they erect a statue of the man complete with a tile cenotaph of the famous sentence.
Fast forward 100 years. The country of Nollopia has progressed but not as quickly as their neighbor, the USA. Telephone service is unreliable and computers are non existent on the quaint island country.

When a tile letter falls from the cenotaph, the leaders of the country decide that it is not because the glue used to fix the tiles has become old and brittle but that Nollop is speaking from beyond the grave and wishes them to cease using the letter in question. Punishments are determined and the ban of the letter Z begins. Soon, of course, other letters plunge from the statue and more letters are banned. Eventually Nollop is turned into a diety and the governmental powers that be become totalitarian in nature.

This was an interesting use of the language. What happened within the laws and government of Nollopia however can be likened to the recipe for frog soup. Place the frog in a pot of cool water and then turn on the heat. The frog will remain in the pot as it begins to boil rather than leaping out as it would if you placed it directly into boiling water.

The Mockingjay

The Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

This was a great ending to this trilogy. The suspense and action was kept up throughout the entire series. The ending was "as it should be" I think.

One of the things I liked best was that by writing through the voice of Catniss, the whole series had a whirlwind feel to it. Just like it would feel for a 17 year old to be ripped from her reality and thrust into all these varied experiences against her will. Also, in losing the closeness she shared with Gale, she lost her grounding wire so she was feeling completely isolated and alone.

This would be a great series to begin discussions of government, types of government and their role in the lives of the people as well as a discussion of the responsibility of the people when the government is not acting on their best interest. A very fun and fast read.

Catching Fire

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The sequel to The Hunger Games did not disappoint.
The only annoyance was that I had to keep reminding myself that Catniss is only 17. She is so annoyingly frustrating with her emotional immaturity that I wanted to smack her. It's really quite accurate though, when I compare her to other teen girls I know.
The suspense that began in the first book was well kept into the second even though this second book doesn't have the action of the actual Hunger Games.
Starting the third book immediately.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This is the first book of a trilogy. My library has it tagged as Young Adult Fiction which means that everyone from about 14 on up reads it. It's pretty dark, though, for young adult fiction.

The setting is post-apocalyptic North America. The country is now called Panem and it is controlled by the people and government in the city called The Capitol. Everywhere else is separated into Districts. There were 13 Districts but after an attempted uprising, The Capitol destroyed District 13 and subdued all others.

Since the uprising, The Capitol has forced the Districts to celebrate a "holiday" called The Reaping. This is where all children between 12 and 18 have their names put into a pool (one for boys and one for girls). The children can add their names extra times in trade for food and fuel for their families during the year. This means poor kids are more likely to have their names drawn than the wealthy. The name of one girl and one boy is drawn from each district.

These children are sent to The Capitol and then to an Arena (newly built each year) where they fight all the other children drawn in The Reaping in what is called The Hunger Games. This is a fight to the death. The last one standing wins and The Capitol showers them, their family and their District with wealth, food and fuel for the next year. The winner and their family are given a house in the wealthy neighborhood of their district for life.

The Hunger Games is told by a girl named Katniss who has supported herself, her mother and sister with her hunting skills since her father was killed in a mining accident. She is from District 12 which is the poorest of the Districts and she comes from the poorest area of the District.

It was an interesting story and well written enough that I'm planning to read the other two books. It's pretty dark since it is about government mandated murder of children murdering children. It would be a good book to read with a tween or teen to spark discussions of government and different types of government.
Also, the idea that the people of The Capitol being glued to their television screens during "The Game" to catch every minute of the horror is pretty disturbing. To them, the children are just Tributes and somehow they have lost sight of the humanity of each child and the horrible fact that they must kill to survive as mandated by law. The people of the Districts watch hopefully for the Tributes from their District but really only watch because they are required by law. Anyone found in their house and not watching is put to death. It makes one wonder how such a power as The Capitol could truly be defeated and whether the people there could be made to see how inhuman they have been.

It only took me a little over a day to read the book. It's not long and, because it is young adult fiction, it is written with simpler vocabulary and syntax so it's a pretty fast read.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Almost Moon

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

I have only read one other book by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones, and it was creepy - so is this one.

A woman crosses a line and then has to deal with the aftermath. In just a moment of unplanned action, her entire existence is altered. The book bounces back and forth between her childhood and the current time but it isn't difficult to follow or disorienting the way it can be in some books.

The book covers just over 24 hours of time but much occurs and many choices are made by the character that make you want to cringe.

This was a good book and I recommend it to anyone who likes her books and/or who likes psychological thrillers - it's a little on the disturbing side.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Forgive Me

Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward

This was a fast read. It was, in large part, about a woman examining her life without wanting to examine her life.

The main character, Nadine, is a foreign correspondent who seems to thrive on blood, gore, and tragedy. She is constantly moving and never letting anyone really get close to her.

Briefly in Mexico, the story is mostly in the Cape Cod and Nantucket area and South Africa. The scenes in South Africa are haunting and heart breaking in many ways.

This is a good read that made me want to keep on reading.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

I used to think that Romeo and Juliet was the best of all tragic love stories. You know, no one gets their true love and everyone dies. I may have to re-evaluate this.

Ethan Frome is a bleak and desolate book set in a bleak and desolate locale. It is a short novella and you don't really find out for sure "what happened" until the end. I don't want to be a spoiler but I have to say this. The best of all tragic love stories is one where the lovers are crippled for life and forced to rely on the care of the one person who keeps them apart, thereby keeping them from being happy. What more could you ask for in a tragedy?

Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize but it wasn't for Ethan Frome. Ethan Frome was published in 1911 and it was 1920 when she published The Age of Innocence for which she won the Pulitzer. Summer, published in 1917 was apparently the companion to Ethan Frome. I am tempted to read Summer (especially if it is as short and easily read as Frome). I already have The Age of Innocence on my list of books to read (I read it years ago but I don't remember much about it).

For anyone who is a fan of tragedies or of Edith Wharton, I would recommend reading this book. If for no other reason, because it is only 130 pages long.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Battle Of The Labyrinth

The Battle Of The Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

Book 4 of the Percy Jackson series. I read it in a matter of hours.
Seriously these books are fast and fun and they bring to life in the modern world the characters of Greek mythology.
Did you know the Labyrinth created by Daedalus kept growing and changing? Neither did I but it does in this book.
I have been thinking about reading stories of Greek mythology again (but I probably won't because I have too many other things I want to read more).
Only one more book to go and I'll be kind of sad about it, I think.
I'm taking a reading hiatus for about 3 weeks because I have a bunch of studying to do.
Next book, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn - stay tuned :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Hummingbird's Daughter

The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

This is an epic novel. It covers essentially 19 years of the life of Teresa Urrea a.k.a. Santa Teresa de Cabora. Teresa Urrea was a real person and was a distant cousin of the author. He grew up hearing tales of her but thought they were all myth until he found actual documentation of her life. After over 20 years of research, came this novel.

This novel is rich and compelling and felt similar to One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez). I loved it yet it took me forever to read. A large part of this was that I was otherwise occupied with my time. Another part was the scope of the book. This is not a difficult read (weird syntax, antiquated English, etc.) but for some reason it requires that the reader take their time and savor the story. I read another of the author's books, Into the Beautiful North, and I enjoyed it very much. This book is bigger and more grandiose perhaps just because of the historic nature of the story.

Teresa Urrea lived from 1873 until 1906. According to the novel she was a bastard daughter of a wealthy Mexican man and an Indian servant that everyone called "the hummingbird". She became a curandera, a healer, and was also called a saint. Her name was cried out by the indigenous people as they went to war against the invading Mexicans. In the nineteen years of her life covered in the book, she lived a remarkable life. Much about her life is not known so the author has created a rich novel to fill in the holes that history has left.

I highly recommend this book to anyone not afraid to tackle the 499 pages that are often sprinkled with Spanish. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Titan's Curse

The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson and friends are back for another adventure in "The Olympians" series. The evil of the titans is building and they are re-grouping and re-forming to battle the Gods of Olympus once again for rule. It's up to Percy and his friends to solve mysteries and battle monsters, titans, and other demi-gods in order to save the world as we know it.

The Sea of Monsters

The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

This is the second book of "The Olympians" series with Percy Jackson. It is more Greek mythology and monsters coming to life to take over Olympus and the modern western world. Good thing 14 year old Percy is a hero who takes his tasks seriously.

This is a great series for young adults. It will teach them about Greek mythology in a way that just might stick in their minds. It's also great because the heros are kids too. It's a fun fast series for adults as well who just want something fast and entertaining to read.

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I figure everyone has a least seen the movie starring Gregory Peck but just in case here is what I told my four year old about the book.

It's a book told by a woman about her life when she was a girl. There is her dad, Atticus and her brother, Jem, their maid Calpurnia and a summer friend, Dill. It is a few years of their life in rural southern Alabama. It is a book about how to live in a way that treats all people with respect.

This was Harper Lee's only published book. Her writing was plain, witty, and poetic all at once. I highly recommend reading the book as well as seeing the film. Apparently Ms. Lee was quite pleased with the screen play and became good friends with Gregory Peck and his family so they must have gotten it right.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Sun

The Sun is not a book it is a magazine and I have had a subscription pretty consistently since 1998. (I have all my back issues if you ever want to read them - not sure what to do with them now that I've been saving them this long)

I was on such a book reading jag that I wasn't reading my issues of The Sun and so I decided it was time to get caught up. Also, I started reading a book that I just couldn't get into so I'll try it again at a later date - or not. Plus I've been crazy busy traveling and working and doing stuff that is not necessarily conducive to sitting and reading for long lovely periods of time.

If you have never heard of The Sun you need to check out their website for examples of how great this publication is. One year I gave gift subscriptions to many of my friends and family. I only think one person has kept it going but, oh well.

This magazine is great for a variety of reasons the first being NO ADVERTISING (yea!). It is a literary magazine with fantastic black and white photos, essays, memoirs, short stories, poetry, fiction, always and interview and my favorite - reader's write.

Reader's Write is just what you think it is. Reader's send in their short non-fiction stories on predetermined topics. For instance, February 2011 will be about Making It Last. May 2011 will be about Shoes. I regularly laugh out loud or break down crying when reading the Reader's Write section.

I am almost finished with the July issue and then I can get started on August but I'm also reading To Kill a Mockingbird for my book club so stay tuned for that review.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Host

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

This book is touted as Science Fiction for people who don't like Science Fiction. It's really only Sci-Fi because there are aliens. This is a romance novel. A chick flick with aliens - kind of like her other books that are chick flicks with vampires and werewolves.

This is an updated version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It is primarily told from the perspective of one particular "body snatcher" named Wanderer. She has now entered her "host" body, formerly known as Melanie, on her 10th planet. Melanie is reluctant to give up her body, however, and Wanderer has to put up with having another voice in her new head that doesn't want to stop talking.

After Wanderer sees enough replays of Melanie's happy life with her true love, Wanderer falls in love with him as well. She decides she no longer wants to do her civic duty and rat out Melanie's family because she loves them. She (and Melanie) ditch the alien police and try to hook up with Melanie's family.

It's not a bad book, it's just not really science fiction (except a couple of parts). It's a very romantic drama in which most all the bad guys either get what's coming to them or change their evil ways. Also, only a few token good guys die which, considering the circumstances, is a very romantic look at this possible reality. It's a good sized book but it only took me 3 or 4 days to read.

Apparently this is being made into a movie so you should for sure read the book first so you and I can both be annoyed by whatever changes they decide to make in order to get this into standard movie format and length.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

This book is set in two times, 1942 and today. The author states that she did not set out to write historical fiction. All the characters and specific stories are fictional but the main scenario in July 1942 in Paris really did happen.

In 1942 our fictional family are Jews living in Paris. The parents have immigrated from Poland and the two children were born in France. The French police go door to door and round up all the Jews still left living in Paris and take them to the Velodrome d'Hiver (an indoor cycling arena). There, with 4,000 some odd other Jews they are held for several days with no food or water and unsanitary conditions. From there they are bussed to the train station and taken to camps. From these camps, they are taken to Auschwitz. None of the children and few adults ever return.

The modern story is told from the voice of an American woman living in France and married to a French architect. He is preparing to renovate the family apartment and then they will move in and live there with their daughter. The American is a journalist working for an English-speaking magazine in Paris. She is given the assignment of writing a story about the 60th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv as it has become known. She has no idea what the Vel d'Hiv is about and her research shocks her and takes her back to 1942 in a way she never imagined.

The families become connected and as best as can be, the present comes to terms with the past and people begin to heal and move on but never forget.

This book was very engaging. So much so that I read it in 5 hours staying up way too late to finish the book. I highly recommend the book although keep in mind there are some saddening and horrifying details of the treatment of the Jews in 1942.

In the Woods

In the Woods by Tana French

This is a psychological thriller and a pretty creepy one at that. It's about child abduction and murder so if that is not your bag, don't read this.

There are two different situations twenty years apart. In the first, three friends go off to play in the woods and when they don't come home, police and search parties comb the woods. They find one of the kids gripping a tree trunk in terror wearing blood-filled shoes and with no memory of what has happened.

Fast forward twenty years and the kid is now a police detective with the murder squad. He and his partner are given a case in which the body of a young girl is found in the location of the woods, now an archeological dig. The police detective is trying to keep his past both buried in his mind and a secret to his boss and the rest of the world while trying to discover the truth behind this murder.

The book is set in Ireland so there's a bit of Irish slang to get used to but otherwise it's a pretty easy read even with the harsh subject matter. I liked the book and I've heard the author's second book, The Likeness, is a better book and not so creepy. I'll have to put it on my list of books to read.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer

I admit it. I read all the "Twilight" saga books. They each took about a day to read. This one took 3 hours. They are like junk food. Think of this book like a package of powdered sugar donettes and a Dr. Pepper - sweet, easy and fast.

I enjoyed the Twilight books as young adult chick-flick books with vampires and werewolves. This book was much the same.

Honestly, I did not remember Bree Tanner from Eclipse, the third novel. As it turns out, her role was fleeting but apparently Stephenie Meyer took a liking to her character and decided to pound out a novella sketching Bree's brief life as a vampire.

It was an interesting look at the life and hunger of a "newborn" vampire. In the Twilight books, the Cullens are all very self-disciplined and even Bella (SPOILER ALERT) is remarkably controlled when she finally gets her wish in Breaking Dawn and "gets" to become a vampire. Bree's young life has very little control, if any, from her or any of the other "newborns".

It's a good appetizer before going to see Eclipse in the theater which I know I'll do but I have no idea when.

The Bastard of Istanbul

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak

This is the book that my book club is reading this month. I think it's a good book club book because there is plenty to discuss.

This is the story of a Turkish family living in Istanbul and an Armenian American living between Arizona and San Francisco. There is a Turk living in America, Armenians living in America, an Armenian living in Istanbul and a woman from Kentucky who was married to an Armenian and then a Turk.

The story intertwines all their lives in our modern world but also shows how the past affects us all.

It was interesting to see the difference in attitude between the Armenian in Istanbul and the Armenians in the diaspora a.k.a. America. It was also interesting to see how modern Turks sympathized with the plight of the Armenians during the Armenian Genocide cir.1915-1923 but they felt no link between themselves and the Turkish perpetrators.

This was an entertaining novel and it brought to life issues of ethnicity in America, feelings of disconnect that children of immigrants can have in America as well as personifying the Genocide.

I would recommend this book.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cities of the Plain

Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy

This was the last book in the Border Trilogy and I must concur with a friend who was wondering why on earth he didn't win the Pulitzer Prize for these books.

This book combines the main characters of the first two books - John Grady Cole and Billy Parham. I think it might be the most tragic of the books although each book is heart wrenching in its own right.

I love McCarthy's language in these books. He paints such a grim and bleak picture of the life of a cowboy yet it felt like a romantic, poetic perspective. Once again he vividly paints the landscape and the beauty of the vast open lands along the border - this time around Alamogordo, NM. With few words his characters convey much. They are men of brevity but there is a feeling of depth to the characters.

This is the kind of book that one must read in large time blocks as opposed to picking it up 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there. I also needed a couple of days to decompress afterwards because it left me feeling both empty and full at the same time. I was sad to finish the book and wished there were more to come. In each book, each tragedy struck me in a sad and horrific manner but the foreboding of what was to come in this final book was the hardest to bear.

I loved these books and highly recommend them.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Steig Larsson

Well, the long awaited final book in the trilogy did not disapoint. My synopsis will be brief so as to not be a spoiler.

Like the first two books it is fast paced and chaotic at times (trying to keep track of all the bad guys vs good guys in different arenas was a challenge).

I recently read an article that was published in the NY Times Magazine regarding Steig Larsson, his books, his "estate" and the disagreement between his father and brother and his long-time companion. His companion, Eva Gabrielsson, stated that he had planned a 10 book series. Apparently an unfinished book #4 is on a computer in her possession that may or may not ever go to press.

The book ended in a way that finished the trilogy but also could have easily led to the next book. I stayed up until 1 AM to finish the book and I didn't feel that sad empty feeling I sometimes get when I finish a good book. I was satisfied - for now.

Next time, I'll read all three back to back and see if I feel any differently about it.

If you have read the others, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire, this is a must read and I don't think it will disappoint. If you haven't read them, maybe you should. They are excellent police thrillers with plenty of mystery, twists and turns to keep from getting bored. They are extremely graphic (violence and sex) though, so I don't recommend them for young adult reading.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This is a novel about the writing of a novel. It is set in the 60's in Jackson Mississippi. It is told from the voice of three women, one white and the other two black.

The fictional novel is all about the lives of black maids in the south from their perspective - good and bad. The actual book itself is all about the writing of this fictional book and what is going on in the lives of the three main characters as well as their friends during the 2-3 years or so that it takes for the book to come to fruition.

Once I got into this book, it was a real page turner. I highly recommend it for book clubs as well as individuals (but you are going to want to talk to someone about it when you finish).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

This is one of the latest great young readers series' a la Harry Potter.

This is the first in the Olympians series in which there are 5 books. The premise is that the Greek Gods are alive and well and living on Mt Olympus which has been relocated high above the Empire State Building in New York. Demi-Gods continue to exist and our hero, Percy Jackson, is just such a boy.

In this first book, he learns about the reality of the Gods and the truth about his father whom he believed to be "lost at sea" since he was a baby. He is also sent on a quest and must dive right into the world of magic and monsters as a parallel world with the "real world" in which he has been living.

It is interesting and a good refresher on the myths and legends of the ancient Greek Gods and company. It is fast paced and easy to read. The characters are engaging and as believable as Demi-Gods, satyrs and centaurs can be.

I am looking forward to reading more of The Olympians series as well as seeing the new movie.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read something fast, light and fun.

Broken Prey

Broken Prey by John Sanford

This is a fast paced police murder mystery involving gruesome and detailed serial murders.

It is a pretty smart thriller that kept me guessing pretty far into the book. It was a good "in between books" book.

I would recommend it to anyone who likes this genre. I will definitely consider reading another John Sanford book in the future.

The Crossing

The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

This is the second book of the Border Trilogy. The first book was All The Pretty Horses.

The book takes place along the Mexico US border before and during World War II. This book, like the first, left me feeling bleak and desolate - much the way the landscape is described within the book. Even the rugged mountainous areas are described in a cold, harsh, desolate way.

It is a book of the wild west, not set during the wild west. A book of harsh laws and harder lives.

It is the tale of the son of a rancher and his journeys crossing the border into Mexico and back three times. He is 16 when the book begins and time passes slowly and strangely in the story. The time he spends isolated and wandering in his first crossing is never explained in an exact time frame.

His brother is with him during his second crossing but it seems they are on separate journeys although they are traveling together. Between them little is said and, it seems, even less is understood.

The final crossing it seems he is becoming even more lost than he was at the beginning of the book. He is on a specific journey with a goal in mind but he seems to be losing himself in the process. He completes his journey but like many things in McCarthy novels, it does not end the way he hopes for.

The book left me feeling empty and hopeless but wanting to reach for the third book of the trilogy, Cities of the Plain. Alas, I had gone on vacation and forgotten it (I know). I'll be starting it soon now that I am home.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When the Emperor Was Divine

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

This is almost a novella - only 144 pages. It begins in 1942 in Berkely, CA and ends in 1946 in Berkely, CA. In the years in between it takes place at Topaz, UT - the Japanese internment camp in the Utah desert.

The story is very matter of fact and succinct in it's way of communicating what one family did to prepare to leave their home and how they lived in the years following away from their home. After the war, as they return to a home that had been heavily vandalized and try to pick up where they left off, the tone of the narrative becomes a bit sad. In the end, after their father has returned, but is never again the same, the tone becomes bitter. The bitterness is understandable and almost desired at this point.

The narrative of the book covers several different situations of discrimination. It addresses life before and after incarceration. And finally it touches on torture and duress and how people will eventually agree to anything in hopes of changing their situation.

I enjoyed this because it was a powerful way to tell the story of how American families suddenly became enemy aliens by just being of Japanese decent. Then, after the war when they were no longer the enemy, they were still disenfranchised from the world where they had once belonged. If the story had been longer and more verbose, I don't think it would have had as much power behind the feelings it conveyed.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

This was a great read. It's set in New England in both the late 1600's and 1991.

The story in today's world is about a woman from New England who is entering the doctoral program at Harvard University in American Colonial History. Through a series of circumstances, she begins research to locate evidence of an historical person, Deliverance Dane, and then a book that had belonged to Deliverance. She soon determines that Deliverance was declared a witch during the Salem witch trials but her name had not previously been known.

Throughout the book the author bounces between the lives of Deliverance Dane and her progeny and the modern world. She uses historical fact regarding the Salem Witch Trials and life during the era and weaves her fictional characters into the story.

It was an intriguing book that was fun to read and had suspense, mystery, a bit of romance as well as lots of information about life in Colonial New England especially the life that women would have led.

This book was similar to another I read last year, The Heretics Daughter by Kathleen Kent but I think this one had more suspense than the other. I highly recommend this book (as well as the other book) to anyone who enjoys historical novels.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

This is a murder mystery steeped in the colloquialisms of a "what if" world.

In 1938 Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, proposed offering Alaska as a haven for Jewish refugees from Germany and all of Europe which would by-pass normal immigration laws. Alaska was not part of the US at the time and so could be considered a good location for an exception such as this. The proposal was voted down in Congress and it never happened. This book operates on the assumption that it did. It is 40 years after the first wave of immigrants and the Jews must apply for citizenship of the US or figure out someplace else to go.

On the eve of the "Reversion", an unknown man is killed in the seedy hotel where our detective lives. All members of the cast are Jewish with varying degrees of faith and dedication to the religion and orthodoxy. Despite being told the case has been officially classified as a "cold case" the detective can't let it go. He and his partner delve into the closed world of the "black hats" to uncover the identity of the dead man and finally that of his killer.

I didn't notice that there was a Yiddish glossary at the end until I was finished with the book. It probably wouldn't have made it a faster read because most of the words used were self-explanatory based on usage in the sentence. The dialogue was not only full of Yiddish but the kind of slang that you really only hear on cop shows or pulp novels.

I enjoyed this book. It is a good mystery / detective story plus you get a fair back story on the principles and their messed up lives and addictions. You also get a small look into the world of Chassids. My copy of the book had a story from the New York Times about the book as well which offered some insight into how much of the story was real information and how much was fiction. The story was woven with such detail that, until I finished the book, I had no idea that there hadn't been a Jewish settlement in Alaska.

I have also read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by the same author and enjoyed it as well. His books are not fast reads but they are worth the effort. I will definitely put other books by him on my list of books to read.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Grave Goods

Grave Goods by Arianna Franklin

This book is the third in a series. They are CSI mystery thrillers set in the 12th century England. The author has done quite a bit of research with regards to both political hisory (Henry Plantagenet aka Henry II is a recurring figure) as well as social customs and the circumstances of women.

Our heroine, Adelia, was raised in Italy and attended medical school there. Nowhere else in Europe are women allowed to practice medicine, including England. Another twist is that the bulk of her medical training has been in the investigation of corpses. She finds herself in England with her good friend and protector, an Islamic Saracen. They are forced to offer the world the pretense that the Saracen is the doctor and she the arabic interpretor in order to avoid having her tried and executed for witchcraft.

King Henry II is fully aware of her presence and her expertise but goes along with the pretense knowing that the people of England are not yet ready for women to be doctors let alone doctors of the dead.

Adelia is brought in for yet another mystery for which King Henry II needs an answer. She and those she cares most about in the world are at his whim and must travel into danger to investigate two corpses thought to be those of King Arthur and Guinevere. Her task is to either prove that they are the fabled pair or make sure no one can prove who they really are. Using the anatomical and investigative knowledge of the 12th century, she is once again able to complete the task at hand but not without experiencing peril to her own life and that of others.

All three books are great reads that are entertaining as well as informative with regards to the reign of Henry Plantagenet. They could be read separately but I would recommend reading them all. The first book is The Mistress of the Art of Death and the second is The Serpent's Tale. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

This is the third book in the Robert Langdon series by Dan Brown. I had read The DaVinci Code first and then followed it up with the first book, Angels and Demons. Angels and Demons was a slower book than DaVinci Code but not too much. It's been awhile but The Lost Symbol seemed almost as fast paced as The DaVinci Code. It only took about 2 days to read.

This book is set in Washington DC and incorporates the legends and symbols of the Masons and how the founders of the country fit into the Masonic history. It also covers some pretty groovy science, Noetic Science.

As always, Dan Brown did a great job combining ancient myth, legend and mysticism with modern reality and science.

From what I can tell, the provable science of Noetics in the book is a bit further along than reality. Although, my research regarding Noetics has been pretty cursory at this point.

I really enjoyed this book. It was fast paced but kept my brain moving with a variety of story lines going at once as well as hitting on ancient beliefs of many kinds and modern science and "reality." I recommend this to anyone looking for a quick, easy and fun read.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Into The Beautiful North

Into the Beautiful North - Luis Alberto Urrea
This was a fun book, an entertaining read and, once I actually had time to sit and read, it went fast.
Most of the book is dialog so it reads fast. Some of the dialog is Spanish and if you don't speak Spanish and want to look up the words, it could slow you down a bit. Mostly, you can get away with not worrying about it because the rest of the dialog and text explains enough that you get the idea of what was said.

This is a story of a young woman and her friends in a small, rural coastal village in Sinaloa, Mexico. One day the woman realizes that, not only did her father leave to go north, so did every other man in town. Soon, drug dealers have figured this out as well and decide to move into this territory. After watching the movie, The Magnificent Seven, the woman decides she must go north into the US and get her father and 6 other men to come back and rescue the town from the drug dealers and help revitalize and populate the town as well.

Our heroine and her friends venture north to Tijuana having many adventures and questioning their logic and purpose all the while. Once at the border, they must figure out how to survive and then figure out how to cross the border.

They find their seven warriors and many more. They also learn much about themselves as people and as Mexicans. It is an interesting view of America from the perspective of a Mexican who just wants to go back to Mexico.

I highly recommend this book. It would be a great vacation book. It is a new book and not yet available in paperback so look for it at a book exchange or Costco or get it from the library.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Beneath a Marble Sky

Beneath a Marble Sky - a love story by John Shors

This was a picturesque and engaging novel. It is a historical novel surrounding the building of the Taj Mahal and the lives of a few people (some real, some fictional) that were involved.

John Shors did quite a bit of research regarding the building of the Taj Mahal as well as the political history and the life scenarios in 17th century Hindustan (currently India in large part as well as parts of Pakistan). Using text as well as paintings he was able to craft an incredibly descriptive story of life as the Emperor's daughter. The story is told from her voice and he does a good job speaking in the female voice. At no time during my reading did I think, "well, this is just what a man would think that a woman would think, say or do at this point."

I very much enjoyed reading about the history of the region with the wars between the different tribes and religions. It seems little has changed in that realm in the hundreds of years that have passed. The author took some artistic liberties with regards to his love story of Jahanara, the daughter of Shah Jahan and the voice of the story. In the book her relationship with her brother, Aurangzeb, is venomous. In reality, however, it seems that it was a cool and politic relationship but they did make amends in later life unlike in the novel. Also, it appears that she never married and had no children.

In the novel much is made of how power-hungry and blood thirsty Aurangzeb was. It seems that this was an apt description in large part. He was not the benevolent and loved ruler that his father had been. He did have his older brother executed and did kill his other brothers in battle to gain the throne. He was also an extremely devout Muslim who ruled against music in order to cause the Hindus to be unable to perform religious worship as music was integral in their worship. It seems many Hindu temples were destroyed under his rule. He strongly encouraged all under his rule to abide by or convert to Islam and follow the rule of Islam strictly.

The love stories told within the novel are well crafted and believe-able. They brought a richness to the telling of the story that would not have existed had the story been told from a strictly historical standpoint. The building of the Taj Mahal is a love story that is true and it was a wonderful aspect of the book but the fictional love stories help carry the book beyond the Taj Mahal and help complete the history of the time.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in historical novels or anyone just looking for a light and enjoyable read.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Food Rules

Food Rules by Michael Pollan

This book only has 140 pages and many of the pages only have a picture of a fruit or vegetable on it. I read it in 1 hour.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. Most of it is "common" sense with regards to food. Much of it I consciously ignore when I shop or drive through someplace to purchase "food."

We are trying to eat a more healthy (and less expensive) diet and I thought this would help us to kick start that plan. I think it did.

Read it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

I finally finished The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel this weekend. I had been reading this book for over a month. It was written in 1934. My translation (I don't know that there are any others) was done by Geoffrey Dunlop. The author's note stated that the book was conceived during a stay in Damascus in 1929. There he witnessed the situation of many Armenian refugee children working in a rug factory. Franz Werfel wrote the book between July 1932 and March 1933. This book is a novel based on actual events and historic records including a documented conversation between Enver Pasha and Pastor Johannes Lepsius.

Musa Dagh is a mountain located in Syria on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea not too far from the border of Turkey. The novel begins in the spring of 1915 when the deportation orders for all Armenians living under Turkish rule began. The deportation was used as a method of extermination. The men and boys were taken from the deporting columns and forced into labor. Once their task was complete, they were taken into the woods and executed. The weaker Armenians, the very young, old and infirm, died during the march and were left along the roadside. The few remaining Armenians who reached the deportation camps (it is believed there were 25), were given practically no provisions and most died of starvation. This was only part of the Armenian genocide by the Turkish government.

By the time that the six villages surrounding Musa Dagh received their deportation orders, they had become aware of the situation. The older Armenians remembered the massacres of 1895 and 1909 in which Kurds working for the Turks as well as members of the Turkish military slaughtered 115,000-330,000 Armenians.

The village leaders decided that if they were to die at the hands of the Turks, they would prefer to die close to home and fighting. In the novel, the master planner of the Armenian defense was a fictional former member of the Turkish reserves who had been educated in France and lived most of his life in France. Because of the death of his brother, he just happened to be at his family estate at the foot of Musa Dagh at just the wrong, or right time. Once the Turkish authorities demanded all travel papers be relinquished, he was trapped and unable to travel as well as his french wife and son.

Some 5,000 Armenians from six villages took what few weapons they had as well as provisions up the mountain after sun-down over several evenings. Some of the Armenians in the villages chose to be deported thinking that they had better chances of living if they did not resist. The villagers who chose deportation assisted the others in that, on the day of deportation, they reported the others had all run off into the countryside in the night.

In the novel, the resistance lasted 40 days but in reality it lasted 53 days. In the end, more than 4,000 Armenians were rescued by French and English ships who saw their banners "Christians In Need of Help." The ending of the book was changed slightly in order to accommodate the fictional drama that Werfel had created.

This book was more readable than I expected given the formality of the language during the time it was written. The fictional characters and their personal stories really brought the situation to life. I think the reason it took so long to read was the subject matter itself. It was horrible to read the Turks talking a mundane and, almost bored manner of the planned extermination of an entire race.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Armenia, Turkey or the region. Also, it would be a good read for anyone interested in learning more about genocide.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I finally finished We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.
This did not take me several months and 5 or 6 other books because it was boring. I had to keep stopping and reading other, lighter, fluffier books because it was too intense and creepy.
Written in 1920 / 1921 it is the original dystopia.

Zamyatin was a naval architect who had worked in England during the First World War and also lived in Paris in his later years. His early life was spent in his rural home town of Lebedyan (200 miles south of Moscow). He lived during the end of the Czarist regime, the rise of the bolsheviks and the communists. As a most inconvenient citizen, he was exiled by the czarists for a year and then, later, the communists exiled him forever. Combining the differences in culture and considering the time in which it was written and the level of technology, his vision for the far-future was an interesting one. All buildings made entirely of glass. Everything see-through since no one had anything to hide. Food made of petroleum. Flying transport called aeros.

Socially, the perfect world, OneState, depicted in We was a world of automatons. People who all believed the same "truths" and all worked together in perfect rhythm for the good of all. People who were not people but numbers. I couldn't help but think about what kind of political or religious stance could lead someone down the path to this type of world. It was bothersome.

There were, of course, some fantastical sci-fi allusions which derived, I believe from the fact that the book was finalized in 1921 and I am reading it in an entirely different century. There was also a crazed feel to some of the writing. This was purposeful to give you the feeling that our protagonist, D-503, was losing his mind and gaining a soul (the worst thing imaginable). The ending was a happy/unhappy ending in which all order was renewed and everyone could again live in blissful happiness with a smile on their face but all imagination was quelled and "souls" erased.

Reading through the notes by the translator after I finished the novel (I always read these afterwards because otherwise they cloud my reading of the work itself), I was interested to find that Zamyatin had read H.G. Wells prior to his writing which helps a great deal with his somewhat campy sci-fi perspective. In a way, I wish that I had read this book knowing nothing of the author especially not the fact that he was Russian. This was a very western novel and unlike the other Russian novels I have read. Perhaps in his need to be non-specific about a particular political party or formula, his writing lost its "Russian-ness". I am intersted to read more works by Zamyatin to see if they are also western in feel.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to read a piece of literature as opposed to mere entertainment.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Someone suggested that I blog about all the books I read. You know, a book report of sorts.
For lack of a better idea, I have decided to do just that.

Last night I finished Zorro by Isabel Allende. It was 384 pages and took about a week to read. It was not a week in which I did nothing but read. It is the latest book for my book club that meets in a week and a half.

I really enjoyed the book. It covered the formative years of Don Diego de la Vega a.k.a. Zorro. I like the writing style of Isabel Allende and found this to be an "easy read" like the other books of hers I have read.

She was inventive in coming up with reasons why Zorro can do all the amazing feats that he is able to do (swordsmanship, horsemanship, acrobatics, etc.). I also like that she created a man who was attractive to women but only ever loves those he cannot have. This made for a nice twist in the romance factor of the book.

The book club picked this because we all like Allende's writing (more or less) but we had all pretty much read the other books we wanted to and we have a pretty strict "no new books" policy since they are too expensive and too hard to get from the library. One member had read the book before and she may not be at the next meeting but suggested we read it. We also wanted a fun book. Our previous book was by Cormac McCarthy who is a wonderful writer but not, by any stretch of the imagination, lighthearted.

I've been reading the book We by Yevgeny Zamyatin for quite some time. I've had to put it down and read other books in the middle. I'm back to it and hoping to finish it before I start another. I don't have much longer to go so stay tuned for my post on that book.

I just reread this post and it seems to be lacking in umpf. Sorry. I'll work on getting better at this whole written book report thing as I go along. After all, I think the last book report I wrote was probably in high school which was a very long time ago.
I do recommend the book, by the way, in case you weren't sure.