Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Book Review: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill by Mark Bittner

You might not know this about me if you don't know me, but I'm into birds. We just lost a cockatiel and I've been working on getting a new one. He arrived last Saturday, and as I write this, is cooing contentedly on my shoulder. So a friend bought me this book for Valentines Day. I live in the San Francisco bay area, and I'd never even heard of this book!

I am also notorious for not doing non-fiction very well, so I was dubious. But I loved this book!! Apparently there is a flock of wild parrots (conures, to be exact) who live in San Francisco and frequent Telegraph Hill. I had recently heard of them because I was working with Mickaboo to get a new cockatiel. They do bird rescue here, and occasionally rescue these wild parrots when they get hurt or diseased. I even met one when I had to go to a bird class with Mickaboo!

Anyway, the author Mark Bittner was living on Telegraph Hill as a caretaker and started feeding and befriending these wild parrots. By the time he was done with the book, there were 70-some parrots. He named them and got to know them individually, at times bringing them in the house when they got hurt or sick. It's really amazing -- the subtitle "a love story...with wings" is really apt. Even if you don't like non-fiction, you'll like this one. (There's also a documentary of the same name, if you prefer your non-fiction onscreen!)

I can't wait to take a trip into San Francisco, visiting the places in this book to look for the parrots!

Review: Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo

Ugh. That's really my one-word review for this book.

I like Richard Russo. I read Empire Falls a few years ago and loved it. Then last fall, I listened to Bridge of Sighs on audiobook, and I also loved that. He is the absolute master of small town sagas, almost making the town itself a character in the book.

At first I thought maybe I'd just taken on another thick Richard Russo too soon after Bridge of Sighs. But I don't think that was it. This book was long, and the main complaint I have is that the main character simply wasn't likable. He tried to make him so, giving him little quirks that supposedly should have offset the fact that he was a total loser. But no, he was just a total loser. I got tired of reading about him and his loser life. If I lived in that town, I'd probably cross the street on the other side when I saw him coming. I mean, everyone's got problems, but you try to rise above. He didn't try to rise above -- didn't seem to even have enough deep thought to feel like he should rise above.

I finished the book, because I think Richard Russo is a great author and I wanted to see it through. But I wouldn't recommend it. If you have read the other two I've read, read one of those!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Several book reviews...

I'm woefully behind on my reviews. I've been sick so reading a lot, but reporting...not so much. Anyway, here goes:

Western Limit of the World by David Masiel

This is a seafaring novel, and one I never considered giving up on, although I'm not sure if I'd recommend it to anyone. The story goes along well enough, although the main character is decidedly unlikeable. I think that's intentional. You're supposed to love him anyway, but I had a hard time summoning up any kind of deep feelings for him whatsoever. I liked this book; I suppose the writing was what carried it through -- and yet, I'm still not really sure I totally followed the plotline. I have a vague uneasy feeling that I missed something somewhere along the way. David Masiel is a great writer (although the fact that he named one of the characters Maciel kind of annoyed me), but if you're looking for a great seafaring adventure, I guess I'd recommend "Voyage of the Narwhal" by Andrea Barrett first.

No Visible Horizon by Joshua Cooper Ramo

I used to be an air traffic controller and know a lot about aerobatic flying, so this book was interesting to me. Had to be, because I'm a notorious non-fiction hater. I'd like to be intelligent enough to enjoy non-fiction, but usually the lack of a running plotline makes me sigh and give up. This book, though, was great! I loved learning more about aeronautics and the kind of lives these people lead. Joshua Ramo does a great job of describing it, giving some backup research and even waxing philosophical about it. I really loved this one. There is some pretty technical information here, so if you don't know anything at all about aviation, you might be overcome with details. Also, in the version I read, the chapter headings drove me bananas. Instead of Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and so on, there would be blank page with a sentence on it, say "Bill Hunter was a great pilot". Then on the next page, a new chapter would start, beginning with said sentence - "Bill Hunter was a great pilot". Kind of drove me batty. I'd rather just see a simple Chapter 12 than to read the same silly sentence twice as some sort of a dividing sentence. I know, a silly little criticism, but it can't be helped.

Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carlson

This is a non-fiction self help book. Generally, I'm not of the "change your thoughts and you can change your life" vein....(as a therapist, I believe that sometimes it's the feelings or circumstances that precede the thoughts, and they are the things that sometimes need to change first)....but having said that, this book is worth a look. Basically, the gremlin is that little guy (or girl) who lives in your head and says mean things to you all day long, like "why can't you be more successful?" "are you ever going to lose that weight? you look awful" or "if you weren't such a failure, you'd be doing xyz". and so on. By externalizing this voice into the guise of a gremlin, Rick Carlson helps you begin to see it as your archenemy, something that you need to war and battle against. If this kind of gimmick works for you, it could be powerful. No question that most of us need to be more aware of the way we talk to ourselves and be a little nicer!! I know I do.

Things I Want My Daughters To Know by Elizabeth Noble

Guess what? I got this book FREE as an advance copy (it's not even OUT yet!) from the publisher because I'm a member of the Early Reviewers Group on Library Thing!! Isn't that cool? Anyway, I'm supposed to review it, and I don't have to give it a good review if I don't want to.

The story of a family with four daughters, the book begins with the mother's death. You get to read alternating passages about each of the four daughters and their (largely messed up) lives. The mother left letters and a diary with advice and lessons she wanted her daughters to know, also cleverly interspersed into the narrative. The writing was lovely, the characters well-drawn. I don't know if it was because I was reading this while my cousin was dying or not, but it was all very "Terms of Endearment" to me. If you like that sort of heart-wrenching, life-examining kind of work, it was really good. I'm afraid it was a bit maudlin for me, but an easy read and one that wasn't just entertaining but meaningful too. I'd read Elizabeth Noble again in a New York minute, but maybe I'd wait until I was in a better mood for this one!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Book Meme

Ok, ok, I got tagged for a meme. I rarely, if ever, do these things. But my kids are in the bathtub and I have two minutes to myself. It's a short one, so here goes. Here's the rules:

The rules of this particular meme are:
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)
2. Open the book to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence
4. Post the next three sentences
5. Tag five people

So the nearest book is one I bought for my 6 year old at Costco today called "The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog". The three sentences are:

"Right now we've got another case to crack. Now look at these tracks. What do you make of them?"

Easy enough. Unfortunately, I don't have enough time to tag 5 other people (my two minutes are up - sigh), so if you're reading this, you're tagged!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Review: Grief by Andrew Holleran

I liked this book. Andrew Holleran's writing is very good, and I always seem to like these "memoir-type" books -- this is very similar in style to Gilead, Rules for Old Men Waiting, those types of books.

The story is narrated by an aging gay man whose mother has just died. He comes to Washington D.C. to teach a semester as a way of getting a change of scenery and dealing with his grief.

My problem with the book is the gay-centered themes. I have no problem with a gay character, but it's kind of like violence or sex: As long as it's not gratuitous, no problem. But if I feel like it's just thrown in because it's the authors pet issue, then it's a bit overdone. Such is the case here, at least for me. Yes, I know all about the struggles of being gay (I am a therapist, after all!); Yes, I know about the AIDS epidemic and the losses sustained; I'm not unsympathetic. But it's almost like instead of it being weaved surreptitiously throughout the story, it's too much of the plotline or something. It's hard to explain, but I just felt like it was overdone, and I would have had more tolerance for it if it had been more subtle.

I'd read it again, though, and I'd recommend it in certain circumstances. Surely, if you have a particular interest in the subject, it's a good read.

Another one in the trash bin

Apparently this is my year to give up on books. Really, I feel like I have so many books I want to get through this year. I really want to whittle down my list a bit. And I love that feeling when I start a book, and I just can't wait to pick it up again and get back to it. I guess I've decided that there are so many books in the world I feel that way about, that it's not worth it to spend too much time on a book I don't feel that way about.

This book wasn't terrible. It was good writing. The characters were well-written and the story was moving. But I just found days going by before I'd want to pick it up. I always found an excuse to do something else. Finally, I admitted to myself that I just didn't really like the characters. I couldn't relate. And I wasn't really interested in finding out if they became more relatable. So I gave up and moved on. I've started to make a list on the sidebar of books that just didn't make the cut. Sadly, I anticipate more of this, because my standards are just getting more stringent. I don't have time for books that aren't fabulous.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Two Reviews: In the Country of Men/Case Histories

I've been wanting to read Kate Atkinson's Case Histories for a long time. Basically, it tells the story of three cold cases (in police terms) and one private investigator. All of these stories, of course, intertwine with each other and with the life of the private investigator.

It's a quick read, well written and entertaining. However, a disclaimer is that there is a lot of blood and gore, especially in the beginning. It's not gratuitous; the story couldn't really be told without it. But still, don't read it while you're eating anything with tomato sauce! Seriously.

All in all, though, a definite good read. I like her style and would read anything else she has written.

I've also had this book on my list for quite some time. Most likely, it got on the list from a Bookmarks Magazine review. It is a very interesting and engaging book, narrated by a 9 year old boy growing up in Libya. Sometimes reading about childhoods in other countries can seem daunting or unreal, but this book is easy to read, while informative about the leadership of Qaddafi and his people. It could be because Hisham Matar does such a great job weaving the story of the relationships in the book - which of course, is universal to us all. Either way, though, this book is a good example of a book I never saw anyone hand-selling, never saw get much exposure -- and yet, it's a fantastic book that deserved better. If you're interested at all about learning about some of the politics of Libya and what it was like to grow up there, read this book.