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.