Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of/Book List for 2009

Here it is, my complete list of books read in 2009. And I have some dubious awards to hand out!

Best book of 2009, by far: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Award winning book that I personally hated: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Book most quoted by me: Arriving at Your Own Door by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Book with the scariest, meanest main character EVER: Serena by Ron Rash
Book written by an author I personally know and LOVE: Tie between Embracing Coincidence (Carol Lynn Pearson) and
Inspiration Divine (Darwin Stephenson)
Book my book club loved and I personally hated: Three Cups of Tea
Most bizarre book of 2009 (but I loved it!): The City and The City by China Mieville
Book with the most "bodice ripping": Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Author with the most talent in terms of scope: Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow and Dreamers of the Day
  • Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
  • Here if you Need Me by Kate Braestrup
  • Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
  • Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon
  • My Latest Grievance by Elinor Lipman
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
  • Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles
  • Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell
  • Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt
  • The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama
  • The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent
  • Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
  • The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
  • The City and The City by China Mieville
  • I'll Steal you Away by Niccolo Ammaniti
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Inspiration Divine by Darwin Stephenson
  • Let the Great World Spin by Colum Mccan
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • Christine Falls by Benjamin Black
  • One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak
  • JULY
  • Fingerprints of God by Barbara Bradford Hagerty
  • The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri
  • Mentoring by Chungliang Huang
  • JUNE
  • The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield
  • In Pale Battalions by Robert Goddard
  • 10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting by Mimi Doe
  • Boundaries by Dr.'s Cloud/Townsend
  • Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
  • MAY
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam
  • Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo
  • Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer
  • The English Major by Jim Harrison
  • Mallory's Oracle by Carol O'Connell
  • The Beach by Alex Garland
  • The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
  • Away by Amy Bloom
  • Serena by Ron Rash
  • Zero Limits by Joe Vitale
  • Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate by Brad Warner
  • The Power of Focusing by Ann Cornell
  • Arriving at Your Own Door by Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
  • Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy by Gene Gendlin
  • The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay
  • A Year To Live by Stephen Levine
  • Consider the Butterfly by Carol Lynn Pearson
  • White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
  • Etta by Gerald Kolpan
  • I'll Steal you Away by Niccolo Ammaniti

Books I've Given Up On in 2009

  • Winter Vault by Anne Michaels
  • Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen
  • Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book Reviews

Dear American Airlines: I was told this book was witty and a quick read. I found it to be the kind of complaining rant that I see enough in my actual world -- I don't need to read about it in my spare time! It begins as a complaint letter from a man who got bumped from a flight - a flight to his daughter's wedding. As he camps in the airport overnight, he begins to tell American Airlines in his complaint letter about his life and all the mistakes that he made in it. He did make a lot of mistakes in his life -- I found him completely unlikeable, and am a trifle resentful that I spent an afternoon with him!

The Lightning Thief: I am reading this series with my 8 year old son. If you have kids that age, read these!! I love them. I tell people they are a cross between Harry Potter (magical stuff) and Wimpy Kid (hilarious kid relationship stuff). They are making a movie of this soon. We are finished with The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters and are in the middle of The Titan's Curse. We both "sneak" reading the book ahead when the other one isn't looking.

My Latest Grievance: Oh, this book is kind of my latest grievance! Elinor Lipman is another supposedly very funny author. This book is about a couple who work for a private girls college. Their daughter, now a teen, has been raised on the college campus. They believe themselves to be a very egalitarian household, always asking their daughter her opinion and being very considerate of her. What this girl really needs is some boundaries!! Sheesh. If I want to see rotten kids, I'll go to my therapy office, thanks!

Jarrettsville: Recently, I went to a book discussion put on by our local paper. This book was one that the book discussion leader suggested; she said she had recently read it and loved it. I bought it on my Kindle for a recent airplane flight and just devoured it. It is based in the Civil War era -- and I'm not a huge fan of that genre. But this one has a twist...Jarrettsville is right on the Mason-Dixon line and so there is a split in the town - some boys fighting for the north and some for the south. The book starts with a young lady gunning down a man at the local saloon -- then you get the back story to explain the first chapter. It's really great. Not only that, this book is based on stories that Cornelia Nixon heard in her childhood -- apparently a true family story!

Cutting for Stone: I knew nothing about this book, but keep hearing awesome things about it. I read it in the beginning of December, so I had a hard time getting through it. There were times that I almost didn't pick it up again, but I'm so glad I did. I think I can chalk it up to the general busy-ness of my life right now. In the end, I thought this was an amazing book and one that I keep thinking about even though I finished it over a week ago. The one issue that I had was that Abraham Verghese is a medical doctor, and went into great detail about the surgeries and medical procedures happening in the book. I found the inside information about being a doctor really great, but honestly, I don't need to know every single gory detail of a surgery! I love that you get such a history and visual picture of Ethiopia and Eritrea in this book, along with a fantastic story. A definite must-read.

Dragonfly in Amber: I'm really annoyed that I finally gave in to the Outlander series. This book (the 2nd) was 760 pages and the next one is 880 -- and there are like 7 so far!! But now that I'm addicted, I gotta have the stuff. I must confess that I really do love time travel books -- and I have learned so much about Scottish history in this series. I could do with a bit less ravishing, but ... you can't have everything perfect!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mid-month Book Reviews

Dreamers of the Day: I think Mary Doria Russell is one of the best authors around. Usually, I like an author for a book or two, but then it becomes clear that all of their books have a general style that I'm done with. That's why I'm always stumped when people ask me my favorite authors. I rarely read everything an author writes. But Mary Doria Russell has written a group of books that seem to have nothing in common. Not style, not theme -- it's amazing. You would never know these books are written by the same person...The Sparrow and Dreamers of the Day??? Incredible. This book is a fictional account of the Cairo Conference of 1921, something that has been written little about, but shaped the modern Middle East, to a large degree. Our main character is a "nobody" who falls in with the likes of Lawrence of Arabia and Winston Churchill. It's really fascinating, and despite the heavy subject matter, an easy and enjoyable read.

Sorrows of an American: This book got great reviews in Bookmarks Magazine. I'm sure the author would hate this, but I was also drawn to it because the author is married to Paul Auster -- a household like that has got to create awesome books, no? Anyway, it was a good read -- I'm not raving about it. I really enjoyed the references to psychotherapy (being a psychotherapist and all) but I don't know that the average reader would. There was something bulky about it -- I found myself skipping over whole passages of the father's journal (then regretted that at the end when I realized that the father's journal passages were actually REAL passages from the author's father's journal - the rest was fiction). The whole gist of the book is that there is a big secret the characters discover about their father after he dies -- but the secret turns out to be a big fat nothing, really...I thought it was going to be a suspenseful mystery and it wasn't. It was really more of a character study. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either.

The Samurai's Garden: A year or so ago, I saw Gail Tsukiyama at my library and put all of her books on my "to be read" list. This is a different book than the ones I've read previously, mainly because the main character was a young man, and she usually writes in women's voices. Still, as always, her books are intelligent but entertaining; informative about both Japanese and Chinese cultures and their conflicts; and just good storytelling. There's nothing here that is incredible or amazing -- her books are slow, thoughtful and nothing much happens in them - not a lot of drama. But it is enjoyable and a very good read.

The Heretic's Daughter: Someone picked this for my book club. I had never heard of it, and still haven't really heard anything of it or seen it around. I can't understand it - it was such a fantastic book!! Basically, it is the story of Martha Carrier, one of the women executed in the Salem witch trials. Apparently Martha Carrier is an ancestor of the author, so it remains to be seen how much is true fiction, and how much is a story that has been passed down through stories in her family. I've never really been much interested in the Salem witch hunts, but this book was fascinating and revealing. At one point, I was trying to sneak in a couple of minutes between seeing clients, and I was crying!! Crying in my office between seeing therapy clients!! ha. It was awful!! Anyway, the conclusion I've come to after reading this book is that we haven't changed all that much....put religion and fear together, and, well.....thankfully we have laws that prevent us from killing people we disagree with. They weren't so lucky then....Read this one!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

October Book Reviews

Inspiration Divine: Here's a book that is close to my heart. The author, Darwin Stephenson, is a loyal yogi at the yoga studio that I own. His story is that he had an enlightenment experience where he got in touch with God's purpose for his life, and really, for all of humanity. He debuted the "Inspiration Workshop" at my studio, Cosmic Dog Yoga, and continues to offer these workshops. I took the workshop and thought it was awesome, so of course I had to read the book. There was some stuff here I didn't exactly agree with necessarily, but can't really argue with, either. The main point is that we need to balance our mind, body and spirit regularly. If you are always lost in your head, how about nurturing your body some? If you are a rigid eat healthy/exercise person, how about investing in your spirit? Balance is key. Take his workshop; read his book! You'll like it!

Catching Fire
: The 2nd offering in "The Hunger Games" trilogy. I was almost afraid to read it, seeing as how The Hunger Games will probably make my "best of 2009" slot. Could it possibly live up to it's predecessor? Oh yeah. If you loved The Hunger Games, do not delay!! It's just as awesome.

Songs for the Missing: Oh, depressing, depressing. It's classic O'Nan. I keep reading him because his writing is just beautiful and lovely. But this book, written about the family of an 18-year old girl who disappears, is just what you'd expect. Why do I not read the news? So I don't have to know about this kind of stuff! And here I am reading it. Still, O'Nan will pull me back time and again. A beautiful book -- if a bit of a downer...

The Good Thief: My local newspaper is reading this for their monthly book club pick. I've read almost everything they've picked previously, but I'd never heard of this one. So I figured it would be a no-brainer that I'd like it. Also, they almost always have their discussions on a night I can't go, and this time I can!! This book was really great - I have no idea who Hannah Tinti is, but I'm going to watch her for sure!! A very quick moving and well planned story about an orphan boy with no hand. He has no idea who he is or how he lost it -- until the day a man comes to adopt him and we are taken on a rollicking romp to find out the truth. **Update: The book club had mixed reviews - many didn't like it, said it was "too dark and gory". I still like it, but agree it is quite 'different' than most books I read.

The City and The City: I've been enjoying more and more "soft" science fiction lately. I really liked this book, and picked it up after I read a review in the local paper. It's hard to even describe. It's your well-known and well-understood murder/crime mystery, with a twist. There are two cities occupying the same geographical space - they're "crosshatched". If you're in one city, you have to "unsee" the other city, or else you're in the breach. People in the "breach" are never heard from again. So what happens when a murder takes place in one city, and the body is dumped in the other??? Whoa. Read it and find out!!

I'll Steal You Away: What a strange book! Translated from the Italian, it's just different in nature and culture than most books I read. If I read about small town America - even though I'm not from a small town - I understand the cultural references. Not so much here. There were some things in this book (that I'll leave unsaid for suspense purposes) that I can honestly say I have never encountered in ANY other book in my lifetime!! If you read it, email me and we'll talk!!! Seriously, I struggled a little with this book, but I'm glad I read it and feel like I grew, just in terms of becoming more familiar with a culture that is not mine.

The Graveyard Book: Oh, Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman!! What can you even say about him?? What's not to like, I ask you?? I actually had a bit of a hard time getting into the first chapter here, just because of the concept that I knew was coming.....a little boy being raised in a graveyard, a la The Jungle Book?? How could he really make it work? And yet, it does, and beautifully. You'll never ever regret reading a Neil Gaiman book, and this one is certainly no exception.

Let the Great World Spin: A couple of years ago, I read the book "Zoli" by Colum McCann, and thought it was a really, really fantastic book. So when I saw he'd written a new book -- and especially when I read that the story revolved around Phillipe Petit -- I ran out and got it right away! (Phillipe Petit is the man who walked on a tightrope between the World Trade Centers when they were being built? If you don't know about it, I highly recommend the children's book "The Man Who Walked Between the Towers" as a keepsake) Anyway, while Zoli swept me up and away in a minute, I struggled and struggled throughout this book. Maybe it was the expectation. I thought the book was about Phillipe Petit, so I kept wondering "Is this character Phillipe? How does this tie in?" This book has a million gazillion characters who are all seemingly totally unrelated. It all revolves around the day that Phillipe Petit walked on the tightrope, but almost nothing in the book is actually about him. Of course, by the end, the characters are all related in some way - but there were so many and they were so vastly unrelated throughout that I almost didn't have the patience to find out what the end was all about. And even then, the relation between characters was so insignificant, it wasn't even really worth waiting for. The only thing that saved the book from being tossed in the dustbin was McCann's gorgeous and wonderful way with words and with a story. He's so good, I'll struggle through an awful book just to see what he has to say. Here's hoping he'll redeem himself with the next.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Book Review: 3 Book Reviews

This book is like a car accident. You don't want to look. You can't bear to see. But you have to, you are compelled to continue until the carnage is over. The main thing I hated about this book is that my life did not come to a skidding halt in order to allow me uninterrupted reading time.

It's horrifying. It's awful. And it's the most consuming book I've read for quite some time. I absolutely cannot WAIT until the next book, which comes out very soon.

This is billed as a young adult book - You are in an awful, post-apocalyptic America, which has been separated into 12 Districts. Each year, a boy and girl are chosen from each District, and placed in a reality-game type setting where they must fight to the death. That's right, 11 deaths, one winner - with the entire country watching. And if you start this book, you'll watch it too. And you should start this book. Now, if possible.

I've had this book on my list for so long. An Iran post-Shah in the 70's. A Jewish family gets caught up in the wave of imprisonments that came after (and come after) regime change. This book is pretty brutal, too - although much more real than the above book. This stuff really happened. Like Hitler-era type brutality, this book depressed me at times. I hate to think that humans are capable of this kind of cruelty, but apparently they are. I wouldn't rave wildly about this book - the characters didn't completely capture me and carry me away. But I certainly have no complaints about it. I'd recommend it for sure, especially if you have an interest in this culture, this era, or the plight of Jews around the world in various countries and regimes.

I read this book many moons ago and remember not liking it all that much. I rarely, if ever, read a book twice. However, my book club is reading this and I did not remember enough to have an intelligent discussion about it. Now I wonder if I had read this pre-therapist days, because this time around I found it fascinating. This author so accurately captures the thinking and associations of an autistic-spectrum child it was amazing! I think you'd like it even if you don't know a kid like this, but if you do, all the better. The richness of the character's world proves that these kids aren't dumb or vacuous. There's a lot going on in there! I really enjoyed this book this time - so glad I gave it another go.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I have resisted reading this book for SO long!! I am one of those people who hates jumping on a book bandwagon, and it just seems like everywhere I go I hear people raving about this book. My book club is reading it next month, though -- and one of our members just received something like 25 copies of it for free, and gave me one. I thought "oh, I'll just read the first few pages and save the rest for next month". haha, that's funny. Once you start this silly book, you canNOT stop reading it, may as well forget everything else you have to do. So I guess that is an earmark of a very good book. The book I had contained a preview of her next book in the back, so I didn't realize I was so near to the end and actually felt cheated when I finished it all in one big gulp. I've felt a little bereaved today to be without the life of the characters. I'm glad there's a few more in the series!

I feel like a split personality, though, because there were some things I didn't really like. It felt so much like a Harlequin to me at times....can we have a few less "he crushed her lips" and "she swooned against him" scenes, please?? I mean, I like a good love story like everyone, but the dramatic flair was a bit much for me at times. Some things, too, seemed a little off to me. The main character is a woman from England in the 1940's -- would she really say "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ"? I mean, I'm not arguing that a nurse on the front lines wouldn't have awful language -- it just seems like a pretty American thing to say! And once, she calls her man "John Wayne" -- again, it seems particularly American. Would Europeans really have acquired the American slang necessary for these expressions? Maybe; it just seemed rather inauthentic to me.

I tend to prefer a more literary offering, which this book could have been with it's obviously extensive research and information. It came off feeling like a thriller, though - a beach read, a romance. I can't quite put my finger on why. Will I read the rest of the series, though? You absolutely bet your bottom dollar. I can't WAIT to see what happens here! I love the time travel concept, and love the premise of this book.

Oh, and if you love this book, don't miss The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. Another time travel wonder -- I think I may have like that one a tiny bit better, and would have loved it if Connie Willis had written more in that series!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Waaaaaaayyyyyy behind

Ok, a friend of mind on Facebook told me the other day that she actually READS this blog once in awhile for book ideas. I do update the "Books Read" section on the right pretty often, but haven't been reviewing books at all. I'm so far behind that I'm not going to try to make it look real pretty -- but here's a little blurb on what I thought about all the books I've read since my last review!

The Help: This is an awesome book I recommend to everyone! Based in the 60's in Mississippi, you will be shocked at how people still felt about black people in our lifetime!! My whole book club loved this one, and we had lots and lots of discussion about it.

Finding Nouf: Yet another bookclub pick - I picked it and it's my favorite type of book. You will learn a LOT about the Muslim world, culture, and mindset - all while being very entertained with a well written mystery. Loved it.

Boundaries: This book is VERY Christian-based, and therefore not all my clients can tolerate it, but it's the best book out there on having boundaries in relationships. I wish I could find a more mainstream book that explains this just as well.

10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting: We had a 6 week group on this subject at my yoga studio, using this book as the text. I can't think of a religion that would find anything disturbing about this book - it will help you no matter what your religious background is.

In Pale Battalions: Awhile back I heard that Stephen King LOVES this author, and I had never heard of Robert Goddard!! How could that be? This is touted as his best book, and I thought it was really good. A mysterious sort of book, set in Europe after the second world war. A worthwhile read, and I'll be reading more of his.

The Wise Heart: When I spout Buddhist stuff, my friends often think I'm leaving the Christian faith or something!! I've often said that Buddha wasn't a god - he was the world's first GREAT psychologist. If you want to read about Buddhist psychology, without any religious overtones, this is the book for you. It's fantastic. If all my clients read it and understood it, I wouldn't have a job.

Mentoring: I'm going to be supervising another therapist soon, and this is the book that I chose to read to prepare myself for the new role. Based on the Tao Te Ching, it provides a great frame of mind for anyone who is in management, parenting, or any kind of authoritative role in life. I like to use it as a companion book to "Grace Unfolding".

The Age of Shiva: I have been looking forward to this book for a long time. It's the kind I love - education about another culture (in this case Indian), while being entertained. I was a little disappointed, though, and it might just be because I was so busy that I really didn't have time to throw myself into this book. I read it in very short spurts over a long period of time. It just didn't capture me. Looking back, I think of it as a pretty good book, but it certainly didn't keep me up late at night.

Fingerprints of God: I think this book might be pretty similar to the movie "What the Bleep do we know?" You probably shouldn't read it if you don't want to blow your mind and question all of your well-formed and comfortable religious beliefs. A non-fiction book written by the religion correspondent to NPR news. I don't even LIKE non-fiction. I could NOT put it down until I was done.

One for Sorrow: It came highly recommended to me, but was a little too weird for my taste. The entire book is about a boy's friendship with his dead friend. I never did quite figure out if he actually SAW the friend, or if the entire book was just a catalogue of his delusions. I think the kid really needed to just go to bed with some really good anti-psychotics, myself.

Christine Falls: A mystery story by Benjamin Black, which is the pen name of John Banville ("The Sea"). Some reviews on Amazon complained that for a mystery, there wasn't enough "on the edge of your chair-ness". Well, that's John Banville...his writing is slow, evocative and beautiful. I personally loved the book, but you should probably read it more based on the fact that you love John Banville, and less on the fact that you love mysteries.

Ok, that's it. Promise I'll try to keep up better in the future!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Book Review: The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam

With over 100 books on my "to be read" list, rarely do I move a book I just heard about to the top of the list. But I did do that with this book, after reading a glowing review in my local paper. If you follow my reviews, you know I love books that take place in other cultures and locales. This book, the review said, had not only beautiful writing on it's side, but it is based in Afghanistan. I wanted to read it, and I wanted to read it now! So I did.

Let me first say that I struggled through this book for two reasons: the first is that I have been unreasonably busy the last few weeks, and the second is that this is tough material for a Western girl from California to read. It's not just the sort of book you can pick up while your car is going through the wash at the gas station. You need some quiet, some brain power, some sleep the night before.

(Minor spoilers below)
Having said that, though, this book is powerful. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to broaden their understanding of Afghanistan and that region of the world. It's fiction, to be sure, but so much of it is laced with truth. And, by the way, don't read this if you are married to one point of view. Yes, you'll see the great things the Americans have done in Afghanistan; you'll also see our not so moral or wise choices. You will meet fundamentalist Muslims - and gentle ones. You'll see the world through the eyes of a boy trained in a jihad camp - you'll see how he wants to change....and ultimately can't. This book is not for the faint of heart. But if you have the courage to read it, you'll love it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Book Review: Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Wow! This is one of my favorite books of the year! I am so excited to report back on this one! I read that this book was the story of a skeptic's road trip with some sort of monk and the things that they talked about. I was expecting this to be a pithy little novel that espoused the Eastern viewpoint in a banal way, but I still wanted to read it.

Oh, wrong, wrong. This book is really profound. If you are skeptical of the Eastern viewpoint and you don't know much about it, this book will explain it perfectly -- all while you are being entertained! What could be better? There are some profound truths in this book, and your skeptical responses are welcomed - indeed, they are the responses of the main character.

If you already understand the Eastern viewpoint, and especially if you do yoga, you will love this book as well. There is an absolutely hilarious scene where the monk takes the skeptical character to a yoga class. It's hysterical, and does the best job I have ever seen of explaining why someone would put themselves through a vigorous yoga class. This book gets 5 stars in my book.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Book Review: The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer

This book defies review. Almost anything at all I would say about it would be a spoiler. The story unfolds so subtly, but so shockingly, that I'm still thinking about the implications after a night's sleep.

Marriage is my business (I'm a marriage counselor) so of course this book's title grabbed me. Oh yes, I want to hear another marriage story! This is the story of Pearlie and Holland Cook, living in San Francisco in the 1950's. Awesome writing, lyrical prose, you will get pulled in and won't want to stop. I read it in one sitting.

I'm sorry I can't say too much more, because of the spoilers. This story so typifies the marriages of the 50's though. So much unsaid. We're doing a little better now - at least we're saying more. Now we just need to figure out how to say more without destroying everything!! But I digress. Read this. It's great!!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Book Review: The English Major by Jim Harrison

This was an ok book. The writing is well done, told in first person (which I love) and the adventure is entertaining. I didn't have any trouble getting through it or anything. But, having said all that, I would say it's a passable read. I've read several books in this genre - an older man, looking back on his life and going through some kind of reflection about what he sees there. If you like that sort of thing, there are better ones -- I would recommend "Be Near Me' by Andrew O'Hagan, "The Sea" by John Banville or "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson above this one.

This character's wife has left him and taken everything and he's off on a road trip across the country to regroup. It's a good premise. I find all the sex and sex talk to be unlikely of an elderly farmer type though. And he has this hare-brained idea to rename all the states and the state birds and so forth. It seems a strange preoccupation. I guess maybe my main complaint was that I didn't like him all that much. His wife left him because he was a bit boring and predictable -- and, well, I guess I thought so too.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Book Review: The Beach by Alex Garland

This book is a trip into another world. Wow. I was so caught up in it and absolutely hated to see it end! Some of the blurbs on the flap compared it to The Lord of the Flies, but I've never read that one, so can't say if it's accurate.

This story is about a young guy named Richard, off backpacking around Asia. You know the type, right? Well, while in Thailand, he hears about this beach, supposedly some kind of Eden, where a group of people is living in paradise. Curious, he sets out for it and finds it.

What follows is a compelling story that you'll be caught up in - but also a philosophical discourse about creating a society from scratch. We feel like if we could create something from scratch, with all we've learned through history, we could make an ideal society, heaven, nirvana. But as the book unfolds, you realize that maybe we're not as smart as we think we are. Suspenseful and entertaining - and not just your run of the mill mystery. Kind of reminded me of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, which many of you know is one of my favorite books. You can take this book as a "beach read", or you can ponder it's deeper implications. Either way, it's a great read.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Book Review: The Street of a Thousand Blossoms

Recently, Gail Tsukiyama came to our local library to talk about her new book (this one). I had read her first book back in my first book club - Women of the Silk, and I have never forgotten it. Set in the silk factories in China, and telling the stories of the women who worked there, it is my favorite kind of book - the kind where as you are engrossed in a fantastic story you can't put down, you are also learning something about some other culture or people.

I found Gail in person to be so charming and wonderful. As she talked about all of her books in succession, I realized that all of them sounded like they were my favorite kind of books! This latest one especially intrigued me: Set in Japan during the second World War, it is the story of a boy who dreams of being a sumo wrestler, and then grows up to be one - and his brother, who longs to be a mask maker for the Japanese Noh theater. Gail insists on educating you fully about the subjects of her books, so you will read lots of description about sumo and Noh theatre. Luckily, it's not like reading a dry non-fiction research book. She skillfully weaves this information into an engaging, richly characterized book about family drama, love and loss.

I admit that it took me a fair while to get into this book, and there was a moment early on when I considered not going further. BUT, I really do think that it's more of a statement about the harried nature of my life than it is about this book. I'm having difficulty finding relaxed time to read. I'm so glad I didn't give up on this one! I loved it, and look forward to reading all of her books I've missed in the interim between her first book and this latest one.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

3 Reviews

I read this for our reading group at Cosmic Dog Yoga. I usually choose the monthly book based on something I've read about it. We've been getting kind of heavy lately, though, so I wanted to pick kind of a fun book. Dharma Punx did well a few months ago, and this seemed similar. NOT!! I hated this book! It was really nothing more than a few hundred pages of bragging about what low and pathetic morals you can have and still be considered a Zen master. Don't waster your time!

I've had Away on my list for some time and finally got around to choosing it from my list of 132 (ack!) books I want to read. It's written by a psychotherapist, and since I am one too, it always interests me to see their take on human nature. I read the reviews on Amazon and the negative reviewers seemed to think at some point, the book became unbelievable. I think there is some truth to it -- it's hard to believe that on person could have such terrible luck, year after year after year. But, we are so far removed (most of us) from the true immigrant experience and how difficult it really was to survive, that it might just seem unbeleivable to us. Even if not, it's fiction, people! I don't require total believability on the part of my fiction author friends. I liked the book and the characters - and while I probably won't pick it for the top 5 of the year or anything, it's definitely worth your time.

I just recently read a recommendation for Serena, and although I have about a gazillion books in line ahead of it, the review was so compelling that I picked it up right away. Rarely, if ever, have I read a book with such an evil, despicable main character that really worked. Usually, in this situation, I would say "I hate this character. Why do I even care what happens here?" I think it's very difficult to write a hateful main character and still keep your audience. To do it, you normally would want to draw your reader in with some redeeming quality, some reason to root for the character, even though they are bad. Ron Rash apparently felt none of this pressure. He has succesfully written about the most horrifying character ever, and still kept me reading voraciously late into the night. You won't be able to put this one down and you will be shocked until the very last page. Read it!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Review: The Gathering by Anne Enright

I was aware, before starting this book, that people either love or hate it. It did win the Man Booker prize, though, and I usually enjoy the winners.

Alas, I wasn't totally thrilled with this book. The beautiful and captivating writing carried me about two thirds of the way through. But then, I found I really didn't care what happened to the characters -- and, suspected nothing at all would happen. I almost, almost, didn't even finish it. I forced myself to do so. I wasn't sorry I read it, but I think it's one of those books you need to be in the mood for. I find myself lately pressed for time - with very limited time to read. A meandering, lovely book that doesn't really go anywhere doesn't really fit into my frame of mind right now. So by all means, take my review with a grain of salt.

The writing is beautiful, and it is a great character study of a large family. It's just that nothing much happens, which isn't the prerequisite for a great book -- you just have to be in the mood for it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Book Review: The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay

First, I want everyone to know that I liked this book. I got it as part of the Library Thing Reviewers program. I hope there is more in this series and I will definitely keep reading.

The title is a play on "The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler. This book - The Little Sleep - is about a detective who has narcolepsy and falls asleep at very inopportune times while trying to solve cases!! It's a pretty classic detective story, nicely written. I got to a place in the book where I told my husband 'there'll be no sleep for me tonight until I'm done with this book!' which is always a good sign.

My only complaint is that I thought the book ended a bit unsatisfactorily. I had questions. I want to know if some of the characters knew more than the book overtly said they knew. I want to know why some of the characters did what they did. I don't want to spoil the plot, so I won't get any more detailed than that, but I just had an unsettled feeling like all the strings weren't quite tied in pretty bows - know what I mean?

It's not enough to make me not want to read installment #2, though. I love this character, and hope to see more of him.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Book Reviews: White Tiger/Consider the Butterfly

My business partner got me this little gem for Christmas and I've really enjoyed it, and will enjoy it for years to come. It's the kind of book you could pick up and just read one little entry, but for this first reading, I read it all the way through. Basically, the author is talking about the power of coincidence, how if you look at the synchronicity of coincidence, you might find grace. She even suggests that you can cultivate "meaningful coincidence" in your life by looking for it in your everyday world. The author is a Mormon, which isn't really a factor in reading the book, except that I happen to know tons of Mormons and this author seems the most open and accepting Mormon I know!! (You'll know why when you read about her life story!) Still, I really loved the openness and gentleness that is obviously part of her life and will look forward to looking for grace in small places now.

White Tiger has gotten great reviews, and I believe won the Man Booker award last year. I picked it up at our local bookstore after I heard the owner (my friend) say they were struggling. I started feeling guilty for all those "Amazon Kindle" downloads and bought the actual book! I really loved it. I've read a lot of books about India, or with India as a "subject", but never one like this. Even the gritty "Shantaram" had a totally different flavor. This is India from the mind of the servant, the forgotten, the despised caste. It's a totally different look. And although the main character isn't exactly faultless (okay, he's almost downright despicable), neither are the upper class anything to write home about. This is India, down dirty and real. It's very engaging - and an easy read, even though it took me weeks to read. That's more about my life than it is about the book!! And THAT is a whole other blog.

A word about "Oscar Wao": As you may notice in my sidebar, I gave up on this book. I usually give books to 50 pages to hook me in. Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer Prize for crying out loud, so I figure it has to be good right?? I gave it to 100 pages. I wanted to like it, I really did. But at 100 pages, I could care less about what happens to these characters. This book commits the one crime I can't stand. I love to read about other cultures, but I hate it when the author assumes that I know all about it, the slang, the nuances. What results is a book that I can't even follow. Oh, and the lengthy footnotes don't help either. I'm glad Junot Diaz got critical acclaim, and the book probably deserves it. Call it reader ignorance.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Book Review: Etta by Gerald Kolpan

I received this book from Library Thing's Early Reviewers program. It is due to be released in March. I was dubious - to say the least - not being a fan of historical fiction or the Wild West. But I feel an obligation to read these early releases quickly and get a review out. And so I began.

Boy, was I surprised! Apparently Gerald Kolpan became fascinated with Etta Place some years ago when he realized that the notorious companion of The Sundance Kid was a vast mystery. Almost nothing is known about her. So Kolpan has proceeded, in this book, to craft a fictional account of what her life might have been like - where she came from, how she happened to mix up with Butch Cassidy's gang, and her romance and life with the Sundance Kid. The result is a book you can't put down. This story is imagined so well that it could actually be her life - in fact, I wish it was a true story. This book is about as close to perfection as it gets for me. A little bit of suspense and intrigue, a good solid love story (without too much sappy-ness), and a deep character study.

In the past, books where the author tries to intersperse news articles or journal entries has seemed jarring to me. In this book, Mr. Kolpan does a great job of weaving them into the story. In fact, I have no criticisms of this book at all. Read it. You'll love it, even if you think the Wild West holds no interest for you. This is a story about a woman's life, and an fascinating one at that. But plan wisely, you'll be reading late into the night!