Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

So I went on a bit of a binge with the Joanne Harris books this month. She is just so great. This particular book focuses on a family of four -- three children and their mother, who gets strange attacks. They live in France (go figure) during the Nazi occupation, and something terrible happens, which gets blamed on the mother for years and years. I won't reveal the terrible happenings, but suffice to say they are terrible. Terrible.
If I were going to recommend a Harris book to a first time reader of her works, I wouldn't choose this little guy. Start with Chocolat, and then move on to Holy Fools or maybe Gentlemen and Players. But you can hold off on this one. Kind of a formula book, and although they have their place and time, she's not in her best form. The tension is only slight, and the antagonists are weakly played out.
On to the next!

Monday, May 26, 2008

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

These are two books which I consumed in a frenzy this spring. I refuse to go another day without at least mentioning them
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (the author of 101 Dalmatians) was a delightful read. That's truly the best word to describe it -- delightful. It describes the antics of a family who has fallen on difficult times as recorded by the youngest daughter. It starts out with comic scenes galore and ends with some elegant romantic touchs. A great summer read, if you're looking for something entirely enjoyable and sweet.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons is a classic to some -- I really enjoyed the story and the twists and turns of this crazy family. It's a contemporary of Castle, so if you enjoy that book, you'll enjoy this one as well. But Farm has a little bite to it -- it's written as a parody, so sometimes the reader might find themself wondering who the author is laughing at -- the characters, or you? But it's all in good fun, and the quotes from the outlandish characters are worth the read alone. For example, "There be no butter in hell" -- Amos Starkadder. Or perhaps more famously, "I saw something NASTY in the woodshed" -- Aunt Ada Doom
Good summer reading, both! Give them a try!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Girl With No Shadow by Joanne Harris

It is so wonderful to have found an author who can spin such a delicious sequel. Sequels are usually disappointing, whether because a character you loved has disappeared, or because the author just can't capture the same sense of individualism. But Joanne Harris had no problems with sequel-shock in this book. It's a sequel to Chocolat, her book about a mother and daughter who slink into a small French town and take it by storm with their domestic chocolate wonders. You'd have to get on a wait-list at the library for The Girl with No Shadow, but the wait would be worth it. The characters are still magical and complex and the food descriptions make your mouth water. I slowly ate a chocolate bar from Cost Plus World Market called "Maya Bar," which had cayenne pepper and cinnamon mixed into the dark chocolate. It was a perfect companion for this book!

Also, I read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri about a month ago, and that was also a book that made my mouth water. The delectable food descriptions made me wish I had an all-you-can-eat pass to our local Indian restaurant.

I hope to start blogging about the books I'm reading again...I really enjoyed writing this blog, and now that we have our new little iMac, I think I could be persuaded to spend a little more weekly time on the computer!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Stiff by Mary Roach

When her next book comes out, I am so there. I love Mary Roach. She tackles uncomfortable subjects with such vivacity and humor and interest...sigh. What a wonderful read.
Stiff is about human cadavers -- uncomfortable topic, indeed. Roach goes into the history of cadavers, including all the grave-robbing and unethical practices of the past. Any topic involving what might happen to your body should you decide to donate it to a scientific pursuit is examined, including airbag testing to see how actual bodies react to organ transplant to new "green" funerals which are gathering power in Sweden.
Honestly, I know it sounds like a really strange book, and I will say that when I sat in the car dealership waiting for my tire to be replaced reading this book, I tried to keep the cover out of sight. But her two books, Stiff and Spook, are without a doubt the most compelling and intriguing nonfiction books I have ever read. Just fantastic. And any question you ever wished to ask, but didn't for fear of seeming morbid or macabre? You'll finally get to know the answer.
In conclusion, read one of her books. Even if they seem a little morbid.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Summer Reading

It's like I always forget that when summer rolls around, I won't be reading only one book or two a month. With all the time that the summer affords, my reading just snowballs around me, and I just keep getting deeper and deeper into pages. Eventually, I realize, "Hey -- I haven't written about a single one of the many books I've read lately."
So here's the long and short of it.

A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood -- the first Atwood novel I've read that I wasn't crazy about. It was interesting sci-fi, but I am positive that I would have enjoyed the book more if I had read it when it first came out. I had difficulty with the one-sided nature of the story, and with the victimized, rolling-over nature of every single female (and, for that matter, male) character in the book. Also, I think times have changed since 1986 (one hopes), and Atwood's thought experiment of what would happen if fundamentalists took over the American government. Well, that's sort of already happened, and the world has not changed as dramatically as this experiment foresaw. Turns out that most everyone involved in politics, fundamentalist or not, is a little bit racist/sexist/crazed/opportunistic/corrupt. As always, her writing is so amazing and irresistible, but I just couldn't get past some of my own hang-ups for this book. We'll call my dislike a lack of reader openness.

Spook by Mary Roach -- Loved it! This nonfiction jaunt was fascinating, funny, and very good-natured. Roach's objective in the book is to find out what scientific proof there is for an afterlife. Buckwalter recommended this one to me, and at first, I wasn't sure I wanted to read it, because I have my own unconfirmed but regardless unstaunchable beliefs on this front. Worried about being a little bit rocked in my ideas, I avoided it. But it was a fun book. Roach truly does concentrate on the scientific side of things, looking back at varied "scientific" approaches like mediums, ectoplasm, the weighing of the soul, and other more modern efforts. My favorite part? When she, a total skeptic, enrolls herself in a "medium school" to see what's going down. In her own words:
This is a book about the afterlife for people who never read that sort of book. Most afterlife books fall into two camps. There's the earnest New Age type of book, with the swirling colors and light-beings on the cover, and lots of inspirational anecdotes inside. Then there are the debunking books. Spook is different in that it's first and foremost a fun read. This subject area is fascinating and bizarre and silly and profound all at once; most afterlife books don't take advantage of that richness.

The Memory-Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards: Great book. The whole story centers around familial ties -- what makes a family? What can break a family? What can mend a family? I really enjoyed it. Great characters, beautiful descriptions, and an emotional read.

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris: I read this book in Taos, NM, while staying with the hospitable Taosanians. This is a great summer read, as are all of her books, simply because of the mystery that unfolds and because her writing is so crisp. Actually, I guess that would make it more of an early fall book -- Red Delicious type.

There were some others scattered in there, but these were the books I knew I had to mention. Also, Buckwalter and I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It is a very satisfying ending, and no more need be said.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

I had never read a Kingsolver novel before, but have been guiltily eying the Oprah's Book Club stash at our local library for several months. It seems like she has a major glitch for Toni Morrison, which is understandable, since she's a fascinating author. But sitting there, patiently biding its time among the bestickered collection, was The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. See, this is the best thing about the library. I think to myself, "Who have I always wanted to read but just haven't yet?" Kingsolver would be one of those names!
So for the past two weeks, I've been picking up speed through The Bean Trees. I didn't exactly what to expect from the novel...the back cover made it sound like things could easily go sour on me in the minor odyssey.
I am happy to report that I really loved this book in the most pure sense. It was, first of all, full of newly realized truths for me about living in the desert. The simplistic beauty of it married with the ever-present thirst in your soul to see, feel, or even smell some water. But the story was also unique and touching. I finished the last page and thought, "Now that makes me me feel good."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Pieces from Berlin by Michael Pye

The trouble with browsing at the library is that you often find a book with a strong spine on the dust jacket, but a lack of spine on the inner pages. That might be a little harsh, but this book, The Pieces from Berlin by Michael Pye, began so strongly. It piqued my interest with the issues it seemed to bring up -- possession, mysteries in the family, the mind's memory, and, of course, wartime and the aftermath it brings for generations to come. Sounded pretty good. And it was pretty good...until it became hard to follow.
It's difficult to read a book once you feel like you don't understand it anymore. The main character was an elderly lady sinking into a memory loss brought on by the despair she felt as situations became more difficult for her...I think. That's the trouble with this book. I felt like it was either a lot dumber than me, or a whole lot smarter. I think the latter is more likely, but still...if I have to stop and say, "Wait...what?" too many times during a novel, I am always happy to see the last page in sight.