Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Mermaid Chair - Sue Monk Kidd : By the author who wrote The Secret Life of Bees, this is the story of a middle-aged woman in a stable, but passionless marriage, who journeys home and falls for a monk. While dealing with her mother's apparent insanity, and coming to terms with the death of her father, the main character evaluates her two relationships and makes a decision about her life. This is well-written and entertaining, but I felt like much of the mystery set up in the beginning of the book failed to life up to anything in the end. This book reminded me of books by Ann Tyler - which I enjoy, but after awhile feel like they are about the same mid-life crisis time and time again.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gilead* - Marilynne Robinson (Halfway) - Earlier this year I made a rule: If I wasn't in to a book after 100 pages, I'd just set it to the side and give up. There are too many books to read to slog through ones I'm not enjoying. After 80 pages of Gilead, I wanted to just lie down and die. While very well written, this is an incredibly slow moving book - a letter from a dying preacher to his seven year old son. The narrative walks through the lives, not only of the preacher himself, but of his grandfather and father. It reminded me of a slower moving Cold Mountain, but not as interesting. The book is only about 200 pages, so I thought I'd give it more of a chance. After 120, I was done. I will not be finishing this one.

(* - Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer)

Ya-Yas in Bloom - Rebecca Wells - The third book in the series including Little Altars Everywhere and The Ya-Ya Sisterhood. This one recounts how the Ya-Yas first became friends with each other and proceeds through the Petite Ya-Yas (their children) and the Tres Petite Ya-Yas (their grandchildren). Each chapter is almost its own little self-contained story, though they do thread together fairly well. Very fun (like the previous two) and a fast read. Definitely a good pool-side companion.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Good Harbor - Anita Diamant : Not as good as The Red Tent and nothing like it. About a woman diagnosed with breast cancer and coming to grips with the death of her infant son which happened 25 years ago. And another woman - trying to write a serious novel while dealing with her marital problems and soon to be teenage daughter. The two women become friends, have an affair, wonder if their son is gay, and contemplate their Judaism. A little too much going on, and while enjoyable, was in the genre of Anita Shreve, just not as well done. I recommend it for a lazy day on the beach, or a rainy day on the couch. Not for anything enlightening or particularly literary.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Kafka on the Shore* - Haruki Murakami A modern take on the Oedipus tragedy, set in Japan. A 15-year old runs away from home in search of his mother and sister. At the same time, an elderly gentleman injured in the war, sets off on a trip of his own. Their paths will eventually cross, but not before humans speak to cats, leeches fall from the sky, a sculptor is murdered, and a young transvestite befriends Kafka. This novel is beautifully written and as enjoyable and strange as Murakami's Wind Up Bird Chronicles - which I highly recommend. He reminds me a bit of Tom Robbins (I recommend Jitterbug Perfume) - in the mixture of real world and fantasy. A fun strange journey.

(* - listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Life Expectancy - Dean Koontz This is the first Dean Koontz book I've ever read, loaned to me by a was a definite page-turner, a good mindless thriller to get my mind quickly off of work at the end of the day. It is about a man named Jimmy Tock, whose grandfather, on his deathbed, predicted that Jimmy would face five horrible days in his life - and predicted the dates. The book walks through Jimmy's life and his fate at the hands of a family of crazy circus performers. A non-legal John Grisham...I plan to pick up a few more for plane rides in my future.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Choke* - Chuck Palahniuk By the author who wrote Fight Club, as well as a few others I'd recommend: Lullaby, Survivor, Diary, and Invisible Monsters, this is a story about a man obsessed with his dying mother, choking to death to make a living, working at Colonial Williamsburg, and sex. Palahniuk comes up with the most interesting premises for his novels. I usually find that the second half of his books fall apart or fail to keep my interest, but Choke carried me through the last page - it's not particularly gripping or suspenseful, it's just filled with real emotions described in ways that made me laugh or so, "I can definitely remember feeling like that." I'd recommend this for a fast read, but definitely not of the Oprah feel-good-about-life variety.

(* - listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die)

Friday, December 1, 2006

"Housekeeping vs. The Dirt" - Nick Hornby A collection of essays from Hornby's column in The Believer magazine. This is the "sequel" to "The Polysyllabic Spree". Hornby writes monthly about the books he's bought and the books he's read, along the way offering insightful and witty advice about reading - what to read, why people read, what not to read, and how not to feel guilty about all those books on your shelves (and in the library) that you haven't read. I love Hornby's novels (High Fidelity, About a Boy, The Long Way Down, How to Be Good), but his essays have truly made him one of my favorite (if not the favorite) writers of all time. Truly brilliant.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Sportswriter - Richard Ford : I've been wanting to read Independence Day by Richard Ford - seeing as it won the Pulitzer and all. The Sportwriter is the prequel, so I thought I better start there. Big mistake. This is the story of Sportwriter Frank Bascombe, recently divorced and grieving the death of his son. In the same vein as Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, the characters in this book were just way too self-absorbed and I had difficulty caring what happened to Frank. Of course, I already bought "Independence Day" so I will have to see if he can redeem himself. November has been a good month for me to finish up books I started long ago and were only half-way through. I don't usually read this many books in a month!! I'm just sad I haven't read anything that I absolutely love for awhile.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being* - Milan Kundera This one took me awhile to slog through. I felt like there were chapters/scenes that went quickly, and others that I simply could not focus on (this seems to be a reoccuring theme with me - and reflects more on my concentration levels recently, than on the substance of the novels I'm reading)...but, basically this book revolves around the relationships of four couples - there relationships among each other, concepts of fidelity and love...I feel like this would be a good book for a discussion group - lots of weighty themes and moments of recognition. I started reading this right after I finished A Multitude of Sins - a collection of short stories by Richard Ford - all about marital infidelity. I think it was too much on the same topic all at once for me. But, wonderful writing style - a little too asbstract for my recent tastes.

(* - listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs Series - Book 1) This is the first in the Maisie Dobb's detective series...after reading a few in the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, I was excited to start a new series about a female Sherlock Holmes. This one is set in late 1920s and features a former wartime nurse turned sleuth. Winspear is definitely more "literary" than Smith, but I found myself trying too hard to figure out what was going on. My mind kept wandering and it took awhile to get into the rhythm of the book. Ultimately, I enjoyed the mystery, but thought I had to get through too much to appreciate the story. That being said, I think I'll still try to tackle the next one in the series.

On Beauty* - Zadie Smith I read this for the Stanford Book took about 100 pages for me to get into it, but then I really started to enjoy the story of a mixed-race family living in the shadow of an upper-class university. I did not think this was as good as her first novel White Teeth, but it was much more enjoyable than Howard's End, the E.M. Forster book it is based on.

(* - listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die)

Meely LeBauve - Ken Wells The story of a 15-year old boy growing up in the Louisiana Bayou. This is a coming of age book about a boy with no mother, and an alcoholic gator-hunter of a father always on the run from the law. It seemed like something a teenage boy would enjoy reading, very quick and funny - in the same vein as Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life and Old School.

The God of Small Things* - Arundhati Roy I read this book about 8 years ago, and decided to read it again for the Stanford On-line Book Group. It's the story of twins growing up in India - their family relations and a tragedy involving their cousin and mother. While I enjoyed the basic plot of this story, I found the writing difficult to get through. While beautiful at times, it mostly seemed to be trying too hard. I've been reading a lot of Indian authors lately, and the basic themes seem to carry through many of the books. For other books set in India/about Indian families, I recommend A Fine Balance and Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry, as well as The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (which I was probably the last person in the world to read when I finally picked it up last month).

(* - listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die)