Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 94

What a way to end the year. This book was ridiculous! Trite, overly religious, maudlin. I had hoped to recommend it to my book club, but no. Not at all.

Friendship Cake - C-

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 93

This book wasn't really good enough to merit a long description or review. Here's what's I'll tell you: Josie is turning 16. It's February 29. And every chapter is split in two, with part A told from Josie's perspective and part B told from the third-person omniscient perspective of every other character who crosses her path throughout the day. It's a clever literary device, I'll admit - you get the inner thoughts of a lot of "unimportant" characters that really flesh out the story, and I did enjoy the part B sections about the teachers at the school, Josie's parents, and a few of the other high schoolers.

But overall? MAN, is this book lame. First of all, it's set in Orlando. This gives the author plenty of opportunities to use Disneyworld as a location. Awesome? Not really. Also, no high school anywhere in the world has a much fun as the high school in this book. Josie gets to leave school during third period to take her drivers' test. A girl goes into labor at lunch. It's the day of auditions for Romeo and Juliet. It's also the day of the annual sophomore scavenger (more time at Disneyworld!) and the first day of Senior Dart Gun Wars. And later, Josie's buddies take her down to the lake for some traditional initiation (although she's the first one to turn 16, so how can they know what to do?). Thankfully, she doesn't get the guy, nor the part in the play she wanted (oooh, should I have told you there would be spoilers?), but she does go through a big change where she takes time to ponder her dreams and accept life as it happens.

One more thing: Josie feels that since she was born on Leap Day, there's absolutely no way she would die on Leap Day, too, so she's basically invincible one day every four years. But there's all this ominous stuff in the book that leads... NOWHERE. Here's an example: in one of the part B sections, Josie's friend's brother contemplates telling the girls that they shouldn't take up smoking - which leads to sentence like "Turns out he'd never have to." Now, maybe I'm just morbid, but coupled with all the references to Josie not dying on February 29, this little gem led me to think that she'd get in a car accident and die on her way home from the lake tonight. But no! The friend just takes a puff of a cig and chokes and sputters and decides on her own to never smoke! Pretty weak, if you ask me.

Thank goodness this was in the bargain bin at Borders - I only paid $1.99 for it.

Leap Day - C-

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 92

After the success of Beat the Reaper, Dad took it upon himself to send me another one his favorites from this year, Rain Gods by James Lee Burke. For those of you who are practicing your Monte impressions, it went a little something like this: "You're gonna read it and say 'Dad's two for two!'"

Well, not quite. Rain Gods was good, but nowhere near as good as Beat the Reaper. Rain Gods is the story of Hack Holland, a Texas sheriff, investigating a heinous crime, and the vast cast of characters who played a role in the events surrounding the crime. There's drugs, and guns, and Jewish matron who might be a queen, and above all, there's thick, rich Texas landscape. I could SEE this book played out as a movie. In fact, sometimes I felt like I was reading a screenplay (although without all those pesky acronyms and action lines) - the language was lush and descriptive, and the words "spoken" by the characters felt like lines of dialogue. Rain Gods totally needs to be optioned into a movie... although Tommy Lee Jones has already played one of JLB's other characters, Dave Robicheaux. And if you can't get TLJ to play a creaky alcoholic small-town Texas sheriff, who CAN you get?

In the interest of time, I slammed through the last 40-ish pages of this last night, and didn't really absorb everything that happened. Bad guys died, good guys got absolved, but the final showdown was a little contrived for my tastes. And the epilogue was LAME. But come to think of it, aren't all epiloguies lame? I call it the 19 Years Later Syndrome. I'm a sap, but I don't need everything to be wrapped up in a pretty package at the end. Leave some loose ends for the curious of the readership!

Rain Gods - B+

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 91

I got this book for the Natester for Christmas, but really that's just because I wanted to read it. Here's the back-of-the-book description for Dog Man:
"This is the story of Morie Sawataishi, who lived a radically unconventional life, particularly in ultramodern and blatantlly conformist Japan. He was a man most of us would never have the chance to meet, but from whom we have much to learn.

"After World War II, there were only a handful of Akita dogs left in Japan - the iconic dogs had been donated to the war effort, either eaten or their pelts used for coats. Morie became obsessed with the magificent, fiercely loyal dogs and single-handedly revived the four-thousand-year-old breed and saved it from extinction. He lived his life for the dogs, and he did it in a very un-Japanese way: defying convention, breaking the law, giving up the opportunity to live a fancy life in the city with a prestigious job. Instead, he moved to the isolated, rural snow country of Japan in the midst of the war, and never left, accompanied reluctantly by his wife, Kitako - a sheltered sophisticate from Tokyo. Due in large part to Morie's perseverance and passion, the Akita breed has become wildly popular, sometimes selling for millions of yen. Dog Man tells the story of Morie's unique and soulful path, and at each stage incorproates the special dog that came to define the period for him. From Three Good Lucks to One Hundred Tigers, Victory Princess to Shiro, the dogs and their kisho, or Akita spirit, spring from the page, as does Morie himself, who would become a revered figure in the snow country - a peaceful man, a mountain man, a dog man."

Sigh. This was a lovely book. The description tells you everything you need to know, but let me reiterate: this guy gave up "the good life" in pursuit of SAVING A BREED OF A DOG THAT WAS ABOUT TO BE EXTINCT. Can you imagine? Of course, the good life came to him in a different way, considering he's a now in the Akita Preservation Society Hall of Fame (who knew there was such a thing?), and his life was enriched by hundreds of dogs. He alienated his wife and children, and drank too much, and probably lost thousands of dollars by never selling a single puppy, but he came out in top - in his soul. Dog Man's first chapter and last chapter were pretty trite, but the meat in the middle were great.

Ever loved a dog? Read this book.

Dog Man - A-

Cannonball Read - Book 90

I bet a lot of you have heard of Holes, or have already read it, but for those who haven't, here's my quick overview: wrongfully accused Stanley gets sent to reform "camp" in the middle of the Texas desert, where he and the rest of his bad-kid group are made to dig gigantic holes every day after day to "build character." But there's more to Stanley, the camp, the holes, and the other kids than meets the eye, and Stanley's will and wiles prevail against the big bad Warden, the harsh elements and his family curse. Stanley Yelnats for the win!

This book is really well written, cute but not simpery, and I really liked that the worst of the bad guys was actually a lady. I could say more, but why? Just read it!

Holes -A-

Friday, December 25, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 89

I love it when my MIL hands off books to me that just barely make the 200-page minimum... short equals quick! I started La's Orchestra Saves the World at about 9 PM last night and was finished with it by 1:30 PM today(and that includes a break to open presents). Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, of which I have only read the first book - and I didn't love it. It's been quite a while since I read it, though, and now I can't remember why I didn't like it - and the MIL assured me that this was a quick, good read.

And it was! Set in England during World War II, La's Orchestra Saves the World is tale of suspicion, redemption, love, work, friendship, loss, all those things that make for a captivating and quick read (no sentences about tetrodotoxins in this one). Like so many books I've like a lot this year, LOStW makes you care about the characters and their circumstances, even the ones you aren't supposed to like very much. Not liking doesn't mean not caring, you know? La, the protagonist, survives as she can after personal hardship; lonely and intelligent, she struggles to find her place in her countryside community, and starts up a village orchestra to "boost morale" during a dark time. The healing power of music (or art or dance) may be a bit of a literary cliche at this point, but McCall Smith doesn't hit you over the head with it; it's subtle but powerful.

La's Orchestra Saves the World - B+

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 88

I've read a few books about zombies this year, but this was the first I've ever read about zombis. What's the difference, you ask (other than a missing 'e'?) Zombis actually exist. Here's the back-of-the-book description of The Serpent and the Rainbow:

"In April 1982, ethnobotanist Wade Davis arrived in Haiti to investigate two documented cases of zombis - people had reappeared in Haitian society years after they had been officially declared dead and had been buried. Drawn into a netherworld of rituals and celebrations, Davis pentrated the voudoun mystique deeply enough to place zombification in its proper context within vodoun culture. In the course of his investigation, Davis came to realize that the story of vodoun is the history of Haiti - from the African origins of its people to the successful Haitian independence movement, down to the present day, where vodoun culture is, in effect, the government of Haiti's countryside.
"The Serpent and the Raibow combines anthropological investigation with a remarkable personal adventure to illuminate and finally explain a phenomenon that has long fascinated Americans."

Except for one problem: TSatR illuminated NOTHING! This was one of the most complex, convoluted and confusing books I've ever read. My tiny brain could barely keep up with all the Creole words, much less the scientific names of all kinds of crazy plants. Here's just one sentence from the chapter titled In Summer the Pilgrims Walk: "Puffer fish grown in culture, for example, do not develop tetrodotoxins, and it is possible that the puffer fish, in addition to sythesizing tetrodotoxins, may serve as transvectors of either tetrodotoxin or ciguatoxin, a different chemical that originates in a dinoflagellate and causes paralytic shellfish poisonings." And thank God for the glossary, which I referenced about every eight pages to explain this spirit or that priest.

Not that it wasn't interesting. The sections on the history of Haitian slave revolt were fascinating (and some of the easiest passages to understand). And like most Americans, I know very little about Haitian culture and religion, so yes, it was illumniating. But it was like what I imagine reading a dissertation would be like: at times compelling, at others way over my head.

The Serpent and the Rainbow - B

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 87

I don't even know how this book got onto my bookshelf - I think maybe my MIL brought it to us, but I wasn't aware of such a thing and it doesn't look like she's read it lately, so I guess it will remain a mystery.

"Married for twenty years to Edward Berry, Lyddie is used to the trials of being a whaler's wife in the Cape Cod village of Satucket, Massachusetts—running their house herself during her husband's long absences at sea, living with the daily uncertainty that Edward will simply not return. And when her worst fear is realized, she finds herself doubly cursed. She is overwhelmed by grief, and her property and rights are now legally in the hands of her nearest male relative: her daughter's overbearing husband, whom Lyddie cannot abide. Lyddie decides to challenge both law and custom for control of her destiny, but she soon discovers the price of her bold "war" for personal freedom to be heartbreakingly dear."

As someone who likes female-centered historical fiction, it should come as no surprise that I quite enjoyed this book. Massachusetts in the 1760s is not a time period I'm very familiar with, so any liberties Sally Gunning took were lost on me, and I was fully immersed in the time period, the story, the language and the characters. It was only tedious in that many of Lyddie's days were full of mundane chores: milking the cow, building up the fire, making 200 candles, that sort of thing. But I imagine that the life of a whaler's wife was often tedious, driven by necessity instead of luxury (didn't chop enough wood this autumn? too bad, no fires for you this winter), so in this case, repetitive doesn't equal boring. Plus, Lyddie is a badass. She stops going to church AND she has wanton sex with an Indian. How sweet is that?

The Widow's War - B+

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 86

For my book club's holiday party, we did a book exchange. Awesome, right? Why give candles and tchotchkes when you can give someone a book that you read and liked but don't need to hold onto? (for the record, I gave away this) I received The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer, and I really enjoyed it, but I'll be damned if I couldn't get past the similarities to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Which makes me feel bad: Andrew Greer, the author, has written an excellent "defense" of his book, which you can read here, but that doesn't change that I saw Benjamin Button before I read Max Tivoli and couldn't help comparing.

Ultimately, The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a better book than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a movie, so it's not all bad that I saw the movie first, but you gotta believe me, once you've seen the movie, it's next to impossible to read the book without feeling that it borrowed heavily from the movie. Which it didn't. (really, you should read Greer's defense) Argh, I'm talking in circles! Long story short, pretty good, not awesome, kept seeing Brad Pitt in my head.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli - B

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 85

Maybe a spoiler or two in this one...

Here's a quick description of The Gates by John Connolly:

"Young Samuel Johnson and his dachshund, Boswell, are trying to show initiative by trick-or-treating a full three days before Halloween, which is how they come to witness strange goings-on at 666 Crowley Road. The Abernathys don't mean any harm by their flirtation with the underworld, but when they unknowingly call forth Satan himself, they create a gap in the universe, a gap through which a pair of enormous gates is visible. The gates to Hell. And there are some pretty terrifying beings just itching to get out...
"Can one small boy defeat evil? Can he harness the power of science, faith and love to save the world as we know it?
"Bursting with imagination and impossible to put down, The Gates is about the pull between good and evil, physics and fantasy. It is about a quirky and eccentric boy, who is impossible not to love, and the unlikely cast of characters who give him the strength to stand up to a demonic power.
"In this wonderfully strange and brilliant novel, John Connolly manages to re-create a the magical and scary world of childhood that we've all left behind but so love to visit. And for those of you who thought you knew everything you could about particle physics and the universe, think again. This novel makes anything seem possible."

Here's what I don't love about that book jacket description: the use of the world "impossible." Really? It was possible to put the book down. It wasn't covered in SuperGlue.

On to my review! This book was really, really good. It had a YA feel to it - and you all know how much I love YA. The characters were really likeable, even the unlikeable ones (you know, like the Devil and his minions, and while I figured that the little boy would win in the end, I was rooting for him nonetheless. You know how sometimes you don't root for the hero because he's, well, the hero, and whether you root for him or not, he's going to win? Not so with The Gates. Maybe the book jacket has it right: Samuel is impossible not to love. And hello!? There's a dog! And he's a thinking, feeling dog, but a dog nonetheless. John Connolly mentions what the dog smells, from the dog's point-of-view, but the dog never talks. Good job, JC. However, I could think of a better breed than a dachshund for Samuel's four-legged friend. Someday I'll tell you about my granddad's evil doxies...

One last thing: I really liked that Samuel has friends. Too often in books like this, the protagonist is all alone in the cold, cold world: an orphan, or an only child, and certainly with no buddies. But Samuel has AWESOME friends, Tom and Maria, as well as a mother who loves him(and Boswell, of course). And rather than alienate me by bucking the formula, the friends drew me in even further.

This 293-page book sure felt a lot shorter. Because I LOVED it.

The Gates - A

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 84

Entertainment Weekly told me I should read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and since I usually listen to what they tell me, I picked it up earlier this summer (and in the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that I bought it at Urban Outfitters). But it didn't hold my interest then, so I let my dad borrow it. It didn't hold his interest, either. I decided to give it another go in the the waning weeks of Cannonball Read, just to see what the fuss was all about.

Even though the title pretty much says it all, I think my readers deserve the book jacket description:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton - and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers - and even more violent sparring and the blood-soaked battlefield. Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read."

So. I've never read Pride and Prejudice - and P&P&Z doesn't make me want to read it. I'm intrigued to see if there are passages that are word-for-word the same, but other than that, I'm sure that the characters are the same and the major plot points are the same, so really, adding the zombies probably didn't detract from the original. But boy oh boy, was this book ridiculous. Gruesome and funny, sure, and I suppose it held my interest once I got into it, but really, I don't think it was very good. This was one of those "great in theory, awful in execution" concepts. Zombies are hot right now, so let's throw some into a great piece of literature and see what we come up with - right on! But sadly, I didn't love it. And as you recall, sometimes I really, really love zombies. P&P&Z was a big let-down. I think that part of this is the original's fault. Elizabeth Bennet seemed silly to me from the get-go, as did her entire family, as did all of Darcy's buddies. Darcy was the only one I really liked, but I'm still not entirely sure how Elizabeth went from abhorring him to loving him. He was an ass, right?

Ugh. I don't know. No more Jane Austen for me, in any form.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - C-

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 83

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Crowned by Julie Linker was recommended to me - more like, my teen titleholder was reading it, so it caught my attention. Miss Teen didn't have much to say about it, other than that each chapter opens with an interview question - questions like How do you handle people not liking you? and If you were on a TV talk show and could get one message across to viewers, what subject would you choose? These questions frame each chapter, so if you're into that sort of thing, it's a nice concept. And if you're preparing for a pageant, they might be good practice questions.
Crowned is pretty formulaic - teen girl with amazing best friend and popular boyfriend gets dumped by said boyfriend, tries to distract herself by the next big event coming up (in this case, the Miss Teen State pageant), and falls for an even better guy along the way. Of course, they can't get together too easily, and another girl does everything in her power to keep the heroine down. But good prevails, and the better guy comes to his senses and all is well. Yay!
Some parts of Crowned were awfully familiar to me - like, personally familiar. Turns out that Julie Linker is from Arkansas, where I had my short-lived yet triumphant pageant career. Good on you, Julie, way to expose Arkansas' dirty little secrets.
Easy, silly, fun, but not anything anyone other than a current or recovering pageant girl needs to read.

Crowned - B-

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 82

Book 82 is Now You See Him by Eli Gottleib. My friend Timmy foisted this on me at a party one night (he also gave me Book 81) when I was complaining about running out of books - more accurately, running out of books I want to read, since there's only about a bajillion books at my house but I can't face any of them. Now You See Him is the story of Nick, coping with the murder-suicide of Rob, his childhood best friend, and Rob's girlfriend; his lingering feelings for Rob's sister; the strained relationship with his aging parents; and the dissolution of his marriage. It's tough material - and there are twists!

I'm not one to shy away from dark novels, but holy cow, this one was a doozy. And twists are well and good, but one top of another tends to take me away from the plot - if at all possible, I like to forget I'm reading a story. And this was another book where the author seemed to be using big words and poetic devices just for the sake of using big words and poetic devices. Do you ever get the feeling that some people are just so proud to be authors?

Now You See Him - C+

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 81

Book 81 was The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I think this was the first translation I've read this year - originally published in French, TEotH is the tale of Renee, an apartment concierge (sort of like a building super, only less maintenance-y) who acts the part of slightly stupid matron while secretly appreciates the finest of fine things, particularly philosophy, Dutch painting and Japanese film; and Paloma, a precocious 12-year-old in Renee's building who has determined that life is not worth living and plans to kill herself on her 13th birthday unless she can find something beautiful in this world, be it movement or art. When Mr. Ozu, a Japanese aesthete, moves into their building, both Renee and Paloma have new worlds opened to them, and while the ending isn't exactly what a reader hopes for, both women realize the joy in their lives.

So, it was good, but I struggled. In fact, I'm pretty sure I outright skipped a couple pages. I'm sure the sections on philosophy furthered the plot, but I'll be damned if they didn't lose me from time to time. I'm no dummy, but even three pages of theory can remove me from the story.

Please, send me something fluffy that I can read in one sitting! Don't forget, at least two hundred pages...

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - B

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


People seem to fit into neat little boxes. You get to know someone one way, and that's where they stay. But then, you find something out, and that pigeonhole is just blown wide open.

Here's what happened: I worked with these two nice young ladies (I'd say they're both in their early 30s, a tiny bit older than me but not much) who were performing in and presenting a show where I work. I saw both of them dance, and they are beautiful dancers. I didn't have their careers figured out, but I knew they did something other than dance for a living. And then I read the program notes. These ladies are both PROFESSORS OF MOLECULAR BIOLOGY. Are you kidding me!? You're insanely talented dancers and smarty-pants scientists!? I was beyond impressed. Good on you, gals.

Then I thought about myself. People are often incredibly surprised when they learn I was in a sorority in college (actually, two, but we can talk about that another time). It's not just that they have a vision of a stereotypical "sorority girl," but that I'm not it. And then, they find out I'm a former pageant queen who's the director of a local pageant. And usually, jaws drop. Again, it goes beyond the broad stereotype to the actual person. I fit in a box of theater employee, dog mom, TV watcher, crazy reader, girly girl, but not a pageant girl. And I'm OK with that.

I'm not calling anybody out for stereotyping. I'm just looking to open the pigeonholes.

Incidentally, doves and pigeons are the same. Those pigeons in big cities are feral pigeons. Creepy.

pigeonholes - B

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Love Is In The Air

Two of my coworkers and another young friend of mine have all gotten engaged in the past three weeks. And just about three years ago, the hubs and I got engaged. I have two people using the marquee at work to propose in the next six weeks (and here's an article about another one that took place over the summer), and I've had three or four inquiries from recently engaged couples thinking about getting married at the theater.
Seems like love is in the air in the fall. Why is that? Does crisp weather make you feel like canoodling? Are people trying to give that big gift before the holidays - or start the wedding planning over the holidays when the families are together?
Whatever the reason, I like it. Good game, all of you.

love - A

Cannonball Read - Book 80

So, Vendela Vida, the author of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, is married to Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and founder of McSweeney's publishing house. And I don't really like Dave Eggers (we get it, you're literary, now back off). But someone in my book club recommended LtNLEYN, and let me borrow it, so here we are.

I think my biggest problem with this book is it was trying too hard. I finished it, but I never got into it - too much darkness, too many twists. Clarissa, the protagonist, wasn't sympathetic at all, and the family drama (where's her mother? who's her father?) didn't really move me. It seems to me that Vida was trying to write this little gem of a tragic family tale, and instead ended up with junk jewelry: an imitation of a gem.

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name - C+

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 79

Book 79 was City of Thieves by David Benioff. Here's the book jacket description:

"Stumped by a magazine assignment to write about this own uneventful life, a man visits his retired grandparents in Florida to document their experience during the infamous siege of Leningrad. Reluctantly, his grandfather commences a story that will take him almost a week to tell: an odyssey of two young men determined to survive, against desperate odds, a mission in which cold, hunger, and the Russian authorities prove as dangerous as the invading Wehrmacht.

"Two young men meeting for the first time in a jail cell await summary execution for crimes of dubious legitimacy. At seventeen, Lev Beniov considers himself 'built for deprivation.' Small, smart, insecure about his virginity, he's terrified about the sentence that awaits him and his cellmate, the charismatic and grandiose Kolya, a handsome young solider charged with desertion. However, instead of a bullet in the back of the head, the pair is given an outrageous assignment: In a besieged city cut off from all supplies, secure a dozen eggs from a powerful colonel to use in his daughter's wedding cake. Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt to find the impossible in five days' time, a quest that propels them from the lawless streets of Leningrad to the devastated countryside behind German lines. As they encounter murderous city dwellers, guerrilla partisans, and finally the German army itself, an unlikely bond forms between this earnest teenager and his unpredictable companion, a lothario who maddening, and endearing, bravura will either advance their cause or get them killed."

It was great. Totally engrossing, and incredibly realistic. And now I need to go do research on the siege of Leningrad - and I love it when historical fiction makes me feel like doing research. Seriously.

City of Thieves - A-

Hence the Title

Good times.

people in movies saying the title of the movie - A+

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Oooooh, I Just Love You!

Many of you may have seen this already, but I can't stop watching and I show it to everyone I know.
This, my friends, is a slow loris:

AND I WANT ONE. They are, alas, illegal to keep as pets in the United States. So I guess I'll be moving.

slow loris - A-

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 78

Here's the book jacket description for The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein:

"Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the worods of his master, Denny Swift, and up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't about simply going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.

"On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny's wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoe, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoe at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

"A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look and the wonders and absurdities of human life... as only a dog could tell it."

I don't think I can write a review for TAoRitR - at least, not without reliving the book and CRYING ALL OVER MYSELF again. It was beautiful, and really, really sad.

Don't tell anybody, but I think I'm a dog person. Or maybe a Formula One person. Or maybe... both?

The Art of Racing in the Rain - A

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 77

I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe is another one of those books that's been out for quite a while that I've always wanted to read, but just sort of overlooked every time I went to purchase a new book. For one thing, it's long - the hardback version I read was over 650 pages (can't that count as two books?). For another, it's the Tom Wolfe version of a tale as old as time: brilliant country bumpkin heads off for an Ivy League university and is shocked at what she finds - drinking, sex, revealing clothing, frivolous spending, more drinking, a fixation on sports, more sex, vulgar music, bitchy girls, more drinking, more sex. I've read books like it before (my neighbor observed that I have a "prep school thing going"). In Wolfe's hands, the subject matter is familiar, yet removed - after all, he was 73 years old when he wrote it and hasn't been an undergrad himself in over fifty years. He relied on research conducted by students at five universities - and you can tell when you read the descriptions of quarters, fraternity houses, and common usages of the words "shit" and "fuck" that current college students helped him. I've lived in a college town since 2005, and some of this stuff was spot-on. But as I mentioned earlier, I've read books with similar subject matter before, and I knew certain things were going to happen. Of course Charlotte would have a bitchy roommate. Of course Charlotte would meet up with two other misfit girls - and of course they would betray her. Of course the fraternity guy would invite her to his formal - what else would he do? Rich, lush, startlingly accurate - but a little stale.

Here is an awesome, albeit somewhat more scathing, review.

I Am Charlotte Simmons - B+

Cannonball Read - Book 76

I went to visit my in-laws this weekend. When I walked in the door, my MIL gestured to the sideboard and said "I read that book the library and saved it for you." No pressure, QueenB! You know those things have due dates, right!? But she assured me that Notes from the Underwire was a quick read - and that at times, it reminded her of me. How could I pass it up?

A quick read deserves a quick review: Cummings is a former child actor (although that's not the only way she wants to be known) with a long-time boyfriend and daughter, trying to be hip and maintain some sanity living in LA; she's worked as a talent agent and now has a popular blog (and apparently, a book deal). She also invented this thing. So Quinnie's been busy. But she hasn't lost her humor - or her snarkiness. I've read lots of books like this one, memoirs/essays with a mother's touch, and this one was pretty good. Best book I've ever read? No. Entertaining during a long weekend? Sure. She might have been trying too hard, but I chuckled out loud a few times.

Notes from the Underwire - B

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 75

Possible spoilers!

Dead Until Dark is the first in the series of Sookie Stackhouse novels, the basis for the HBO series True Blood. Since I don't have HBO, and since the book is always better than the movie (or TV show, I'd assume), I thought I'd check this one out. Here's the description:

"Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She's quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn't get out much. Not because she's not pretty. She is. It's just that, well, Sookie has this sort of 'disability.' She can read minds. And that doesn't make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill. He's tall, dark and handsome - and Sookie can't hear a workd he's thinking. He's exactly the type of guy she's been waiting for all here life...
"But Bill has a disability of his own: He's a vampire with a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of - big surprise - murder. And when one of Sookie's coworkers is killed, she fears she's next..."

Here's the problem: I've already read the Twilight series. I couldn't get past the good vampire vs. the bad vampires, and the bar owner having his own supernatural secret... well, it was just too much like the Cullens versus the baddies and little Jacob being a werewolf. Are there no more original ideas?

I enjoyed this book. It think it's more accessible than Twilight. It's more down-home, and if possible in a vampire book, more realistic. Yes, Bill the vampire glows, just like Edward Cullen, but it sseems natural and not over-blown. And there are honest-to-goodness sex scenes! None of the longing crap (or the written version of a fade-to-black) - no, Bill takes Sookie and makes her a woman. Good times.

It's also a murder mystery - who killed all the slightly trashy girls? Was it Bill? Some other bad vampire? Sookie's brother Jason? I didn't see the answer coming.

I would read more of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, but probably only in a pinch, like if I'd left my real book behind and was at the airport.

I could have done without the subtle product placement (isn't Nike a brand name?)

Dead Until Dark - B

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cannonball Read - YEAR TWO

To all my friends and loved ones:

You know you've been impressed with all the reading that I've been doing this year. You should be - I'm awesome! And maybe you've been saying to yourself, You know, I wish I had joined in on that, but gosh, 100 books in a year is an awful lot.

Well, friends, I'm here to tell you about Cannonball Read 2: Electric Bookaloo. The rules have changed. Books still need to be over 200 pages long, no graphic novels, short story or essay collections must contain at least six stories/essays. But this year, the book total has dropped to 52 books. That's one book a week. So join in the fun!

One other requirement: you've gotta have a blog, and you've gotta post reviews. Oh no, you cry! I don't know how! Just ask me, I'll help you.

Literacy, people!

Officially, Cannonball Read Year 2 begins Sunday, November 1 (click here for all the official info). But since I started on January 1, 2009, I'm starting year 2 on January 1, 2010. So that means, to keep up with the rest of the gang, I have to read my 52 books in nine months. Challenge!

Cannonball Read - A+

Cannonball Read - Book 74

Thank goodness for the Cannonball Read. I am reading all sorts of books that I've seen for years and have thought, "Oh, I really should read that," but something more compelling always came along. But now, with my trusty library card in hand and a goal almost within reach, I'm finally getting around to it.
Book 74 is Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff (which came out in 2004). Sheff is a writer by trade, so it's a good book - but not a very good story. Perhaps it's the nature of the story being told: an addicted kid mayb be compelling, but it's certainly not uplifting. And here's the part where I'm going to sound hateful: it was really repetitive. Nic, the son, relapses a couple times. OK, that's sad. But how many ways can the dad say "I was in agony. I worried. I wanted him to get better. He called me and he was high?" It was a pageturner, but not in a good way - I was just waiting for the next new thing, instead of the next description of the agony or the high phone call.

Beautiful Boy - B-

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 73

Wendy Wasserstein wrote one of my favorite plays, The Heidi Chronicles; I didn't know she had written this novel, Elements of Style, but I saw it at the library and grabbed it. Here's the book jacket description:

"From the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author of the essay collection Shiksa Goddess ("Utterly delicious" - Judith Thurman), a dazzling debut novel, a comedy about New York's urban gentry living in a post-0/11 world - the arbiters of fashion and the doyennes of charity balls; about the rich and the nouveau rich(er), the glamorous and the desperate to be.
"We meet Francesca Weissman, the Upper East Side pediatrician rated number one by Manhattan magazine, who takes us into the upper strata of privilege and aspiration (she's originally from Queens with a father in hosiery; life on the fringes of glittering New York is fine with her)... Samantha Acton, thoroughbred descendant of the Van Rensselaers and the Carnegies, who defines the social order in the great tradition of Mrs. Astor and Babe Paley... Judy Tremont from Modesto, California, daughter of a cop - her life's work, her obsession, is New York society and its richest families... Barry Santorini, Republican, moviemaker, winner of twelve Oscars, and his wife, the Italian supermarket heiress and former media rep for Giorgio Armani... and many more.
"As Elements of Style opens out, we see a madcap mosaic of the social lives and mores of twenty-first-century Manhattan - of romance, work, family, and friendship. Satiric, fierce, touching - and deliciously Wasserstein."

First, let's talk about that last phrase: deliciously Wasserstein. I think that's going to be the name of my next band.

Next, the book cover. OMG! Doesn't it make you want to read it? I judge books by their covers all the time - and you do, too, so don't deny it! It looks like a fancy purse is inside that box, and I for one want to open and see it.

The inside is just as good as the outside. I imagine that Elements of Style is like a grown-up version of the Clique series. Better yet: a fictional version of the Real Housewives of New York City. Except, these characters seem more real that those crazy ladies on that show. It's satire, to be sure, and many elements are over the top (there's a party scene set in an old pantyhose factory, and you should see what these ladies are wearing), but where I don't care about the Real Housewives' struggles to get their kids to the right nursery school or pediatrician, or if they have this season's Birkin bag, I did care about those same trials and tribulations with the characters in this book. And couple of somewhat tragic things happen, but they seem like a sad part of life instead of a complete derailment of a perfect existence.

It's good.

Elements of Style - B+

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 72

Here's the back-of-the-book description for The Bridesmaid by Hailey Abbott:

"After years of watching couples come to blows over ice sculptures, Abby wants no part of the family wedding planning business. She'd rather spend weekends kicking a soccer ball or antagonizing Noah, the cute son of a famous pastry chef - not doing the Electric Slide. Then Abby's barely legal sistr, Carol, does the unthinkable - she announces she's getting married and wants Abby to be her maid of honor. Clearly, Carol has lost her mind. Will Abby soon lose hers?
"So what if Carol turns into Bridezilla? So what if the dresses are hideous? So what if the invitations get messed up? So what if Noah looks extra hot with frosting in his hair? Abby can handle it. After all, it's just one day, right?"

So really, what else do I need to tell you? Jock girl, cute boy she's known since she was a kid, awesome sister turned psycho by wedding planning, slightly sketchy fiance of said sister, and every wedding cliche you can think of - and more than that, every "this is why weddings are bad" cliche you can think of. Yes, we all know you should put the Macarena on your "do not play" list. Yes, we all know that you should not commission a local artisan to create wooden figures of the bride and groom to use as cake toppers. And yes, we all know that most bridesmaids' dresses are unattractive. Do you really need to it us over the head with this, Hailey Abbott?

To be fair, I picked this up from the young adult section at the library yesterday. I think that teenage girls want to read about weddings, warts and all, and I bet a fourteen-year-old would love this.

The Bridesmaid - C

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 71

My dad recommended Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell to me. Not only that, he sent it to me. I was skeptical. My dad's tastes run more towards Louis L'Amour then, say, Augusten Burroughs or Michael Chabon. But it's hard to be choosy when you're thirty books short of your goal with less than three months to finish, so I picked it up a couple days ago and gave it a shot.

Here's the book jacket description:

"Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at Manhattan's worst hospital. He has a talent for medicine, a shift from hell, and a past he'd prefer to keep hidden. Whether it's a blocked circumflex artery or a plan to launch a massive malpractice suit, he knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
"Pietro 'Bearclaw' Brnwa is a hit man for the mob, with a genius for violence, a well-earned fear of sharks, and an overly close relationship with the Witness Protection Program. More likely to leave a trail of dead gangsters than a molecule of evidence, he's the last person you want to see in your hospital room.
"Nicholas LoBrutto, aka Jimmy Squillante, is Dr. Brown's new patient, with three months to live and a very strange idea: that Peter Brown and Pietro Brnwa might - just might - be the same person...
"Now with the mob, the government, and death itself descending on the hospital, Peter has to buy time and do whatever it takes to keep his patients, himself, and his last shot at redemption alive. To get through the next eight hours - and somehow beat the Reaper."

Don't you just love book jacket descriptions? I remained skeptical. It seemed like Beat the Reaper would be just another former-Mob-guy-on-the-run trashy novel, only set in a hospital. Quick and easy, but nothing special.

Sorry, Dad. I shouldn't have doubted you. This book was. Off. The. Chain! For one thing, there are footnotes. Hilarious footnotes. And Peter's voice is over the top, for sure, but completely believable as the hardened doctor trying to do the right thing but save his ass at the same time. The action flips back and forth from the present-day hospital to snapshots of Peter's past (I won't give it away...), which really helped keep me engaged. It's action-packed, to be sure. Some violence takes place within the first, oh, two pages, and it's compelling and funny a little gross, but voyeuristic. And did I mention the footnotes?

Shit gets real around the last ten pages. I've read lots of books that have made my lady parts tense up for one reason or another. But no lie, I was in the fetal position, cringing, while I read the big finale. I could see it. I could feel it. And it wasn't pretty. But it was awesome.

Moral of the story? Listen to your dad.

Beat the Reaper - A

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 70

Short back-of-the-book description for Stiff:

"Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers - some willingly, some unwittingly - have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them."

This. Book. Was. AWESOME. Seriously bad-ass. Funny and gross and totally respectful of the dead - although at times, not so much of the living. But that's what makes it even more awesome. You can't really help what happens to you once you die - but you can control what you do to dead people. Does that make sense? I mean, science has benefited greatly from cadavers, but did you have to go and grave-rob, people of the 18th- and 19th-centuries?

I could probably write a better review, but who needs to read that? Just read the book! Probably one of my top ten favorite non-fiction books of all time, and certainly one of the best this year.

Stiff - A

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 69

Did I tell you I joined a book club? I did. Aside from the social aspects of being in a group of women, drinking booze and eating party snacks, I like the book club because I don't have to pick ALL the books I'm reading this year. No, I can let someone else pick a book from time to time.

Which leads me to One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus. Here's the basic premise: an Indian asks President Grant for one thousand white women (hence the title) in exchange for one thousand horses - and Grant agrees. Ladies looking for a way out of their current bad situation are given the opportunity to join the group traveling to the Indians as the first wave of the trade. Enter May Dodd, formerly locked away in a mental asylum due to her promiscuity. May signs on to travel to Indian Territory, and befriends some outrageous characters along the way. There's Daisy, the scorned Southern belle; Gretchen, the homely, burly Swiss; Susie and Meggie, the swindling Irish twins; Sara, young, lovely and mute; and Phemie, the escaped slave (so not exactly a "white" woman, but you get the idea). These ladies travel by train, then by wagon, out to Indian Territory, where they meet their future husbands and fathers of their children. May is paired with Little Wolf, Sweet Medicine Chief of the tribe, and her life carries on with equal measures of joy and hardship. But maybe May is promiscuous. Did I mention John Bourke, the rugged Army captain May meets at Fort Laramie, on the way out west. May and Bourke have one steamy night that May must revisit only in memory; she grows to love Little Wolf, but her heart often returns to her time with Bourke.

I've gotten carried away. You don't want to know everything, do you? Of course not. You want to read the book. Maybe. It's not a classic, it won't stick with you for weeks on end, but as far as "fluffy" books go, it's solid. Fergus has written some great characters, particulary the supporting characters. May's fellow white women, as well as Little Wolf's other wives, are well thought-out and often quite funny. It did get tedious at times - weather, tipis, peeing outside, etc. I think I'm done with alternative history for a while. But if you're looking for a book for your book club (or reading group, which sounds more illustrious), this is a good pick.

One Thousand White Women - B

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 68

I found this synopsis at Books On Board:

"Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden, disappeared 40 years ago... and her octogenarian uncle is determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.

"Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, is hired to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance... and Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age — and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it — assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism... and an unexpected connection between themselves.

"A contagiously exciting, stunningly intelligent novel about society at its most hidden, and about the intimate lives of a brilliantly realized cast of characters, all of them forced to face the darker aspects of their world and of their own lives."

Throughout my Cannonball Read quest, I've been taking a lot of recommendations. Some of them paid off. Others, not so much. Maybe it's that I trust too deeply, or maybe that I want to believe my friends or relatives and I have the same taste in books when really we don't. Or maybe, it's that I end up not buying into the hype. And The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo falls into the latter category.

Don't get me wrong. It's good. REALLY good. Sandwiched between an overly wordy first 40 pages and an interminable final twenty pages is an incredible story about family, revenge, violence, finance, and IKEA. It's a pageturner, folks, and I stayed up way past my bedtime to read one more chapter, or sometimes just one more paragraph. The family at the center of the story is simultaneously twisted and lovable, and the protagonists, Mikael and Lisbeth, were incredibly well-written, to the point that at times, the book seemed like true crime rather than fiction.

But with all that said, it's not as good as people make it out to be. I can't tell you how many people I know have said (or written) to me "Oh my God, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is awesome. Go get it now! Add it to the top of the list!" etc. And yeah, it was good. I just didn't think it was incredible.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - B+

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 67

Here's the book-jacket synopsis for A Ship Made of Paper by Scott Spencer:

"Daniel Emerson lives with Kate Ellis and is like a father to her daughter, Ruby. But he cannot control his desire for Iris Davenport, the African-American woman whose son is Ruby's best friend. During a freak October blizzard, Daniel is stranded at Iris' house and they begin a sexual liaison that eventually imperils all their relationships, Daniel's profession, their children's well-being, their own race-blindness, and their view of themselves as essentially good people. A Ship Made of Paper captures all the drama, nuance, and helpless intensity of sexual and romantic yearning, and it bears witness to the age-old conflict between the order of the human community and the disorder of desire."

Here's my synopsis: yearning, yearning, yearning. Consummation! Angst, angst, angst. Yawn. But then, an event so shocking that I gasped aloud while I was reading. Which doesn't happen that often. Followed by a "come on, that's the best you could do?" And then yawns until the end.

This was one of those books where I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop - and when it did, it dropped hard. Gruesome (without being graphic) and terrible. But then I just went back to waiting - is Daniel going to choose Kate or Iris? Which one? WHICH ONE!? But instead of being left with a sense of anxiety about it, I just wanted him to hurry up and make up his mind already. And as I mentioned above, there's one more big deal moment near the end, but it's so over the top that it completely removed me from my reading experience. I may have even snorted in derision.

A Ship Made of Paper - B (would have been a B- but I'm telling you, the shocking moment is really shocking)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 66

I'm trying, I'm trying so hard to keep on track with my reading, but I'm falling further and further (farther and farther?) behind. The last two books I've read have been re-reads, in the hopes that I can skim the parts that I remember. And I'm trying to choose short-ish ones, but that only gets me so far when "short-ish" is still 300+ pages. And I spent three hours last night reading - thank you, TV, for nothing good on Tuesdays - but am only about 2/3 of the way through book 67. I'm trying, I'm trying so hard, and I'm not giving up. Can't someone arrange for me to have a three-day weekend where my husband and dog go out of town and leave me here, and I don't have to work, and drop off four 220-page books?

On to Storm Front:

"Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the 'everyday' world is actually full of strange and magical things - and most of them don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a - well, whatever.

"There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when they police bring him in to consult on a grislu double murder committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage behind it. And that now that mage knows Harry's name. And that's when things start to get... interesting."

To me, Storm Front is the best of all possible worlds for nerdy boys. There's sex, murder, a hard-ass in a long black duster, and lots and lots of magic. It's like Louis L'amour books for sci-fi nerds. It's not amazing: the magic parts are great, but the murder and crime stuff are sort of weak. But it's fun, and it's funny, and dorks of all ages will eat this shit up.

Storm Front - B-

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 65

Here's a little description for you:

In one of the most acclaimed and original novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, Never Let Me Go hauntingly dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School, and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

It's tough for me to write a review of this one, because it's really good, and I want people to read it, but basically anything I write will be one big spoiler. It is haunting, for sure, and I've been thinking about it for days. In fact, I read it once before, and couldn't stop thinking about it for days afterwards then, too. And it's creepy. I like to think of this as sci-fi literature, heavy on the -fi and not so much sci-.

My copy has this quote from the Sunday Times on the cover: "A clear frontrunner to be the year's most extraordinary novel." I quite agree.

Never Let Me Go - A-

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 65

I sure wish I'd known about The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter during the last Cannonball Read 5K, when I was supposed to read book set in places that I've lived. The Feast of Love takes place in my current town, and I get a little charge out of reading descriptions of places that I pass every day. It makes me feel part of the in-crowd.

I could pick many adjectives to describe The Feast of Love. Here are a few: Luminous. Lush. Realistic, yet unbelievable. Deep. Sumptuous. Did I mention lush? There's an economy to Baxter's writing, but he doesn't shy away from using big words. I like to think that writers have perfect words at their disposal, and sometimes they use the perfect word, and sometimes they use imperfect words to make the same point, leaving the writing either clunky or overblown. Not Baxter. He makes perfect choices, every time. It's a book about love, that's for sure, but sometimes love isn't awesome. Sometimes it hurts real bad - and that's where The Feast of Love comes in. Good days, bad months, they're all here, and it feels right.

The Feast of Love - B+

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 64

My guess is, a lot of you haven't read The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, so here's the book jacket synopsis:

"It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family's polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.

"Soon after Ann Eliza's story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds - a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father's death. And as Ann Eliza's narrative intertwines with that of Jordan's search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith."

Have you ever read Carrie by Stephen King? You know how it pulls from "sources" like courtroom transcripts, letters, academic journals and first-person accounts? The 19th Wife is just like that. It uses different types of writing (letters, academic papers, some IM messages, a Wikipedia entry, along with the narrator's voice) to tell the story. But the big difference between Carrie and The 19th Wife is this:

Carrie is good.

Seriously, The 19th Wife is just not good. It's not written well, partly because of all those literary devices, but mainly because it's just not a good story. It's a morality tale disguised as a murder mystery... but I didn't really care whodunit. And Jordan, the protagonist, isn't really that sympathetic a character. He's gay, which is fine, but he's got this faggy best friend. I mean, really. Why does every "normal" gay man need a faggy best friend who calls everybody Sweetie and Miss Thing? And he's got a dog, too. Now come on. The unconditional love from the dog who rides along in the van (a van, too!) bit is kind of stale. The sections written by Ann Eliza, Brigham's wife, are better - actual historical fiction that feels real. Which, I suppose, is the point of historical fiction. But the tie-in between the historical segments and the current, murder-driven segments never really came together, and overall, the badness outweighed the sort-of goodness.

I could go on - but why? Read Under the Banner of Heaven instead.

The 19th Wife - C-

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 63

I'd only read Water for Elephants once before, so I read it again! Hooray for the re-read.

Water for Elephants is a circus story. You got your midgets, you got your bearded ladies, you got your big tents, you got love triangle between horse boss, sparkly horse rider, and circus vet. Sorry, I'm not really into writing this review. But I do really like the book.

That's all.

Water for Elephants - A-

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 62

The Lightning Thief is the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (am I the only one that thinks Percy Jackson and the Olympians sounds like a boy band from the '60s? "Here, with their smash hit "Burnin' Me Up," it's Percy Jackson and the Olympians!") Percy is a young lad who just happens to be a demi-god: one human parent, one parent who's a Greek god. When Percy finds out he's a demi-god, and shit goes pear-shaped, he goes to a summer camp called Half-Blood Hill, where he learns some god skills and sets off on a quest with his two buddies.

Sound familiar?

Percy Jackson certainly feels like the poor man's Harry Potter at times. There's fancy weaponry, and rival cabins, and good guys who betray, and lots of creepy monsters. But unlike the world that J.K. Rowling created, Percy's world is grounded in history - you can go to a reference book and look up Dionysus and Poseidon and Athena, and you'll find things that Rick Riordan has folded into his book. But still. Another boy wonder, the best anyone's seen in a long time, proving his worth but facing gigantic obstacles along the way? It's all been done before.

The Lightning Thief - B-

Cannonball Read - Book 61

I am falling further and further behind in my quest to read one hundred books this year, particularly since I had two three-hour flights this weekend when I could have cranked out two or three books. Instead, I read just one.

But it was so worth it.

Middlesex was fantastic. I mean, seriously awesome. This story of a hermaphroditic Greek-American and his family's struggles and intracacies was wholly engrossing from the first page. And the moment I was done with it, I wanted to start it over, to see what I had missed the first time around. It was funny and painful and shocking and just... just... look, I'm no Jeffrey Eugenides. I can't explain it any better than this: it was outstanding.

Middlesex - A+

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 60

I had never heard of Mount Misery by Samuel Shem, but EJack was giving it away in his moving "sale," and who am I to turn down a free book?
I found this review/synopsis from the School Library Journal at Amazon:
Roy Basch, protagonist of House of God (Dell, 1981), has survived his internship and now begins his three-year training at the aptly named Mount Misery, a posh New England psychiatric hospital. Things get off to an ominous start when his mentor, a renowned therapist in the field of depressive disorders, kills himself. This is just the beginning of a year filled with disaster. Employing gallows humor, Basch and his fellow residents confront bureaucratic nonsense in a manner reminiscent of Richard Hooker's MASH. The tone then becomes more like that of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as patients are assaulted by the cruel words and manipulations of the powerful attendings. Shem's novel confronts some powerful themes - sexual abuse, psychosis, greed, depression, suicide - and counters them with examples of the very best the human spirit has to offer. The field of psychiatry is unflinchingly held under a microscope and its failings, limitations, and successes are relentlessly catalogued. With such ferocious intensity, this lengthy novel will not appeal to all teens, but those who persevere will find that Mount Misery's "Laws" and characters will live on in their imaginations for some time to come.

First of all: if you read that synopsis, and you have a teenager, DON'T LET YOUR KID READ THIS BOOK. Seriously, it is not for kids, not even high schoolers.

Now, on to the rest of my thoughts: I really hope I never have to go to therapy again. No, that's not true. What I mean is, I hope I never have to go to therapy with any of these jokers. So Mount Misery is a satire, right? So probably the characters needed to be over the top, more like caricatures of psychiatrists than real psychiatrists. Well, they were, all of them, even the ones I was supposed to like. I basically couldn't stand the protagonist, Roy, even though I'm sure I was supposed to feel his pain, be with him in the trenches as his patients failed and then failed some more. But I didn't give two shits about this guy. He was a sucker. He took on every problem that his patients had. Working on the depressive wing? He got majorly depressed. Drug and alcohol wing? Developed a leetle problem with phenobarbitol. As a reader, I didn't find this compelling; I found it annoying.

The sex scenes weren't that great, either. And every time the author threw in a naughty word, it felt like it was for shock value, not in a way that someone would actually use said naughty word.

And then... and then... the ending! It got all preachy and enlightened. To that, I say bah. When your protagonist, his wife, and their adopted Chinese baby daughter go to Arizona and he starts working with drunks on the res and she starts taking care of their preschoolers... I mean, are we supposed to believe that in the course of one year, this guy changed so dramastically (that's dramatically and drastically, for those of you paying attention) that now he's all one with the universe? NO.

Mount Misery is out of print. Just an FYI.

Mount Misery - D+

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 59

Remember the Jungle Book? Remember the story of Mowgli, the lost baby who is raised by wolves and a host of other creatures who live in the jungle?

This book is JUST LIKE THAT. Except, instead of a jungle, it's a graveyard.

Here's a synopsis:
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs neither to the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy - an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, a gateway to a desert leading to an abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, the he will come under attack from the man Jack - who has already killed Bod's family...

Neil Gaiman's book is certainly geared toward a younger reader... but a good story's a good story. And this, my friends, is a GREAT story. Gaiman is an incredibly gifted writer, and with the Graveyard Book he's created a fantasy world that's completely believable. It's suspenseful - there's bad people (and non-people) out there, trying to get at Bod. It's funny - Bod, after all, is a little boy, and he gets into little boy mischief (and revenge). It's sad, too - I was surprised to feel tears in my eyes as I wrapped up the last chapter, but they were real tears. I cared about Bod, and about his family, and all the characters in the graveyard.

Rumor has it this is not the last we'll see of Bod, that Gaiman is writing another collection of his stories (much like Kipling did with his second collection of Jungle Book stories). I can't wait.

The Graveyard Book - A

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Close Up Shop

Hey, Michelle Duggar? Sweetie, I think it's time for you to take a little break. I worry for you. 18 kids, and you're having another? Listen, I respect you - you obviously love children, and that's awesome. But you know what? God would probably be just as happy if you ADOPTED a kid and let your hoo-ha rest for a little bit.

And Jim Bob? Dude. Get off of her. Literally. Take her out to dinner, maybe a nice G-rated movie, enjoy some time together without knocking her up.

Read more about it here.

Duggar 19 - C (an average grade, people)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 58

"Since their mother's death, Tip and Teddy Doyle have been raised by their loving, possessive and ambitious father. As the former Mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle wants to see his sons in politics, a dream the boys have never shared. But when an argument in a blinding New England snowstorm inadvertently causes an accident that involves a stranger and her child, all Bernard Doyle cares about is his ability to keep his children, all his children, safe.
"Set over a period of 24 hours, Run takes us from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard to a home for retired Catholic priests in downtown Boston. It shows us how worlds of privilege and poverty can coexist only blocks apart from one another, and how family can include people you've never even met. As in her best selling novel Bel Canto, Ann Patchett illustrates the humanity that connects disparate lives, weaving several stories into one surprising and endlessly moving narrative. Suspenseful and stunningly executed, Run is ultimately a novel about secrets, duty, responsibility, and the lengths we will go to protect our children."

Patchett is not at the top of her game with Run. That distinction belongs to her novel Bel Canto. If you haven't read it... what are you doing reading this? GO GET THE BOOK AND READ IT NOW. But that's not to say that Run isn't excellent. Because it is. It is rich, and sad, and funny, and readable. It's been a long time since I've read a book in only six hours, but that's just what I did with Run. It drew me in. I wanted to be done reading it so that I could know how it all turned out, but I didn't want it to be over, because I wanted to know everything about this family. And like so many of the wonderful books I've read this year, it was just heartbreaking. Why does so much bad stuff happen? Probably because it's fiction, and it wouldn't be so readable if it were mundane and generally happy. But it was just so sad. Sigh.

A truly great book.

Run - A

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 57

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser exposes the deep, dark truth about the fast food industry, from its humble beginnings in California to the global giant intent on taking over the universe that it is today. FFN offers up startling evidence on the meatpacking and slaughterhouse industries, on-the-job injuries, wages, marketing to children, government control (or lack thereof) of food, disease, and just why those fried taste so good (anwer: beef tallow!). With Food, Inc. and The Omnivore's Dilemma and the other "where's my food coming from?" stuff out there these days, Fast Food Nations stands as one of the first to really take a hard look at what we eat, and how, and why.

This book is pretty disturbing. It's not just the chapters on what the cattle are fed and how much E.coli can kill you that get me, though. What was most horrifying to me was learning that brand identification and loyalty can form before a child is two years old. Two years old! All those toddlers are asking for McDonald's by name. Also, Schlosser writes that 90% of all American children eat at McDonald's at least once a month. Scary.

Fast Food Nation - B+

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 56

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer... defies description. How's that for a reviewer's copout? Seriously, EII is like nothing I've ever read. It's fiction, yes, and multiple stories are told at once by multiple narrators, and some parts are set in the present and some set in the past. But it's more than the sum of its parts. The language is rich and complex, the characters are compelling and fully realized, the action is devastating and really real. It's a page turner, for about the last fifty pages, and the first 250ish pages just lead up to that - lots and lots of exposition, not such a bad thing when you realize what it was all building up to. My jaw dropped once or twice while I was reading those last 50 pages, just in horror at what was taking place and being revealed (illuminated, you might say).


But the book is a little pretentious. As brilliant as it, it knows it - at least, you get the feeling that Foer knows how good he is, how masterful at language and bending it to his will, shaping this work so that it's like nothing else out there. And that's OK, I guess, but I wanted to come away from EII thinking, Wow, that was incredible, and instead I came away thinking, Wow, that would have been incredible if it hadn't been just a little TOO "incredible."

Everything is Illuminated - A-

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Everyone Deserves a Lifetime

Several people asked me if I was going to write a recap of my experience walking in the Breast Cancer 3-Day. I've been putting it off, because it's going to be virtually impossible to sum up such an incredible event in a few words. But I can't let down my legion of adoring fans, so here goes:
Day One started bright and early... the day before. I like to think there was a Day Zero. I picked up Little Sister Meggie from the airport (and almost got hit by a bus in the process) and went straight to Target to purchase a fine selection of travel size toiletries. They're so wee! Meg and I had a delicious protein-and-carb filled dinner at the Melting Pot, then went home and finished packing. The 3-Day tries to limit the amount of stuff you bring with you: no bags over 35 pounds, including your sleeping bag (more about the sleeping bag later). Meggie and I worked out a deal: I'd carry the sleeping bags and a few other things in my gigantic duffel bag, and she'd carry the majority of the clothes and toiletries. I love it when a plan comes together.
Day One really started at 3:45 AM Friday, when Meg and I woke up, slammed down breakfast, and got in OUR LIMO! One of my training walk buddies set up a limo to drive us to opening ceremonies so that we could leave our cars very close to the closing ceremonies. This, too, was a brilliant plan - bravo, Spencer. We ate our second breakfast on the limo and arrived at opening in style. We met up with the rest of our team, the Bodacious Tatas, resplendent in our bright purple shirts, and braced ourselves for the onslaught of emotions that accompanies opening. Let me tell you, the 3-Day is not for the emotionally weak or unevolved. There are LOTS of tears. The opening ceremony is really beautiful, and it gets the walkers very pumped for the task at hand - 60 miles is no easy feat.
Day One continued through the mean streets of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, with a multitude of pit stops and a lovely lunch break at a big park. Meggie and I did all the right things in terms of stretching, hydrating and foot care - but I still ended up with two gigantic blisters on my heels (more on those blisters later, too). We arrived at camp on Day One after walking 19.9 miles, and only about two miles of Meggie complaining about needing to pee. The wonderful young men of the Romeo High School football team helped us carry our luggage and set up... our tents! That's right, tents - cute little pink tents, but tents they were. You walk 20 miles a day, then collapse to sleepo on the ground (hence the sleeping bags). But we came prepared with a tarp to help keep out ground water, so we were good.
What else happened on Day One? Well, kids, I competed in the 3-Day Rockstar competition. Yee-haw! When I walked in 2006, they had the first ever 3-Day Rockstar, but it wasn't a competition, it was basically a karaoke night, and I was too mentally and physically drained to even fathom singing. But not this year! I'd been PRACTICING! So I got on the stage, did my little shtick with host Janae, and sang my little heart out... and the crowd went wild! But there were six other very good entrants in the contest, so I thought my chances of making the top three and competing in the final the next day were limited.
So imagine my glee when I got this:

I was a finalist! YAY!!!

Day Two also dawned bright and early. Meggie and I checked in at the medical tent to work on those blisters (and for Meg to get her subluxed patellas wrapped) before we hit the route. I covered both heels with Second Skin (a gel pad with the consistency of a Jell-o Jiggler) and moleskin, and felt good about how the day would shape up. But alas, those effin' blisters got the better of me. Meggie and I walked very slowly all morning and arrived at lunch only half-an-hour before it closed. See, along the 3-Day route, pit stops and lunch only stay open for a certain length of time. If you don't make it to the stop before it closes, or if you're still there when it closes, you get "swept," 3-Day lingo for taking a van to the next stop or back to camp. I really, really didn't want to get swept this year, since in 2006 I had to shave off about 7 miles and head back to camp early on Day Two, but when I took off my shoes at lunch and saw that the blisters were visible through my socks (as in, pushing my socks out away from by body), I knew I needed to get medical attention. Like I said, we were really behind in our timing, so I gulped down my chicken caesar wrap and limped over to medical... ten minutes before they closed. They didn't turn me away right away, but at 11:55 and lunch closing in five minutes, it was suggested that I get swept to the next pit stop, only 1.8 miles away. I sucked it up and said OK, bid Meggie farewell, and flagged down a sweep van. I thought that I could just get the blisters lanced and be on my merry way, down less than two miles in total 3-Day mileage; but again, not the case. When the very nice nurse lanced just one of my blisters, she left me with these words: "If you can't walk on it without limping, don't walk." Limping to take pressure off my heel would very easily have resulted in hurting my back, knees and hips, putting my out of commission for the rest of the walk or the rest of the week. Right about that time, Meggie showed up at the pit stop, needing some attention to those knees, so we stayed at medical a little bit longer. I finally re-latched my fanny pack and tried to set off for the last 11 miles - and that first step I took was a limping step. I was done for the day. I don't think there's anything I could have done to prevent those blisters, and it won't do me any good to think about those socks I shouldn't have worn, or the Bodyglide I should have used more frequently on my feet... I got on the bus back to camp, accepted my "sagged and proud" pin with grace, and headed back to camp. Yes, I was feeling low, so I thought I'd stop at the 3-Day post office to see if anyone had sent me any mail. And, WOW. I didn't count, because that would be tacky, but I must have gotten close to twenty cards and letters, from as far away as Nashville and Sacramento and as nearby as the office across the hall. I think my dad and Nate's mom must have had an unofficial contest to see who could shower me with more cards. To tell the truth, I only scanned some of them, because I was CRYING. I love my people.
And I also love my dog. Check out what he left for me in my suitcase (no, it's not poop):
I went back to the medical tent to get the other, now bigger, blister lanced, and was so pleased to be seen by the Marquise de Sade. Seriously, this lady should not be allowed to work at the 3-Day again. OK, OK, I have to cut her a little slack. These doctors and nurses and sports trainers probably see people with REAL injuries all the time, and then volunteer to take care of people walking on this amazing journey and get stuck lancing blisters. I'm sure they LOOOVE that.

But she was a little mean, and very terse, and then she injected my blister holes (both of 'em, 'cause she re-lanced the first one) with zinc oxide. Again, benefit of the doubt: she's the professional, and the outcome was really positive, because the blisters didn't get infected and were almost totally better by Sunday. But it would have been nice if she had told me that it would HURT. Like, a LOT. I would be happy to never have her touch my feet again.
Day Two ended a lot like Day One: nice cool shower, hearty dinner, back on stage singing in the 3-Day Rockstar competition. I didn't say before that the prelim round had three judges - so now you know. The final round was judged by audience applause, so I tried to get all my teammates and training walk buddies riled up before I sang. I did get lots of applause - the most applause, in fact - but I think that the host was maybe trying to not hurt anyone's feelings, because it ended up a three-way tie. But seriously, I'm pretty sure I won. That's me all the way to the right, in the purple shirt, tearing it up.

I told you I couldn't do it in a few words, right? Everybody hangin' in there? Anyone need a snack? Stay with me.

Day Three began with a bus ride to Ann Arbor - good times. There was more walking, lunch in beautiful Burns Park, lots of pretty neighborhoods and rolling hills. Oh yeah, we also walked right by my place of employment. I'll pause to let you all pat me on the back for this sweet marquee message. But it was a scorcher, and people were dropping like flies. Meggie and I played lots of fun celebrity games while we walked, and managed to keep our spirits up for the first twelve miles (this was just a 15 mile day, since all the walkers needed to be at the closing ceremonies). We got a little loopy around mile 12, though:

Did I mention it was ungodly hot?

We made it to closing with about forty-five minutes to spare, plenty of time to take of our shoes and give each other little footrubs, which ended up being a little slice of heaven. We met up with the rest of our team and walked into closing together, proud, tired, emotionally raw, but holding our heads high at what we accomplished.

And that, my friends, is my story of the 3-Day.

The Breast Cancer 3-Day - A- (c'mon, I had to take points off for the blisters)