Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lonesome Dove

Lonesome DoveLonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


There are few books that I can't put down. Plenty I don't WANT to put down, but I do anyway when the dishes or the kids get to be too much to ignore. But I read this every chance I got, sneaking in chapters whenever possible, and Thanksgiving vacation was pretty much swallowed up in the open fields and dry tumbleweeds of Texas, the Indian fights and lightning storms on the trail, the life and loves of the people from Lonesome Dove.





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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Immortal

ImmortalImmortal by Traci L. Slatton

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


The same person who referred me to The Help and Cutting for Stone told me I HAD to read this book. She warned that I would hate it at first, but that it would get better and better. I kept waiting for it to get better, and it never did. I didn't care about the main character, Luca, a decendent from Seth who inheriets an extra-long life span. Despite living for almost 2 centuries, he never seems to learn anything. He has special powers and yet he hardly ever uses them for anything other than killing. He is the same at the beginning as he is at the end. The only redeeming quality about this boring book is that it does detail the history of Florence. That's it.



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Cutting for Stone

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I loved this book. I loved the poetry of the language, the pacing and action of the novel, the characters with whom I fell in love with--especially the father Ghosh and the narrator Marion--and the setting in Ethiopia,complete with breathtaking landscapes, the political instability at times, and the heart and soul of its people. Highly recommended!



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Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied VictoryOperation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben MacIntyre

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I love it when nonfiction reads better than fiction. Who could make this up? Borrowed from a little-known mystery story, British spies take a body and plant false documentation on it to convince the Germans they are attacking Sardinia instead of Sicily. It's amazing the amount of work it takes to make the documents and the story believeable. It's amazing how the Germans retrieved the information, and how the British were able to tell they had opened it--(ah! the importance of an eyelash!). It's amazing the group of creative, smart people that were employed in espionage--Ian Flemming, le Carre,--and the characters--guys who went undercover as women, the brother of the inventor of ping-pong, a guy that hunted locusts in Africa after the war. It's really a fascinating story and made even more readable by MacIntyre's telling--it reads like the best of novels.



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Monday, October 11, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful SymmetryHer Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Audrey Niffenegger writes so eloquently of the lonliness of missing someone you love, of how much characters long to be together yet for some reason can't, that it brings me to tears every time. It is refreshing for characters who ache to be together, rather than look for ways to escape their relationships.

Niffenegger does a great job introducing us to 2 sets of twins; Elspeth, one of the eldest twins has died and she has bequethed her estate to her twin neices. Elspeth slowly realizes she is a ghost and begins to try to communicate with her neices. Niffenegger does a brilliant job fleshing out these quirky characters. Elspeth's progression as she learns of her powers as a ghost are organic and realistic. The tone of the book, set in and around Highgate Cemetary is both appropriately dark and hopeful. And the plot, with it's secrets is original without being overwrought.

But then 3/4 through the book, it's like she had to wrap things up for a deadline. After the climax, things seemed hurried and too neatly wrapped up.

My favorite part is the side story of Martin, the neighbor with OCD, who slowly takes back control of his life in order to reclaim his wife whom he loves so much.



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Friday, October 1, 2010

Waiting to Exhale

Waiting to ExhaleWaiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


We are introduced to four black women in the early '90's in Phoenix. They are in various stages of their life: Bernie just found out her wealthy husband is divorcing her to be with a white woman; Savannah is moving from Denver to Phoenix to further her career and change her scenery; Gloria is a single mom who comforts herself with food instead of lust; and Robin is a single girl who will sleep with any fine man she finds in hopes of finding Mr. Right.

And then the book meanders through their lives. They meet men. Mostly they are jerks. They break up. They meet more men. They are new, different jerks. They are part of a Black Women's Organization that is explained in way too much detail, that then does nothing. But then nothing really happens in the book. They just complain about how boring their lives are. That makes for a pretty boring book--realistic, maybe, but boring.



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Monday, September 13, 2010

Trail of Crumbs

Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for HomeTrail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home by Kim Sunée

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I feel like memoirs are tricky to critique. These are memories of a person's life--would I make the same decisions as them? Is the story of their life interesting? Do I like the person telling the story?

I will say that Sunee is a good, solid writer--full of imagry, concrete details, good dialouge. I found her story interesting and exotic--a Korean orphan abandoned in the marketplace when she is three and haunted by that abandonment ever since. She travels abroad, meets a wealthy stranger and falls in love, and becomes mistress of his house in Provence and step-mother to his daughter. They travel and eat, and she includes delicious-sounding, if esoteric recipes (most would require a trip to a gourmet grocery store).

But then she decides she isn't happy and leaves in search of happiness. Here, the book gets a little tedious with her list of men, her back and forth with her wealthy ex, her sessions with a psychiatrist. Then it neatly wraps up in one page during a trip to the jungle, where she is finally able to "forgive herself" and look forward. Why? How? But I did want to keep reading to find out what happened next.







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stuart: a life backwards

Stuart: A Life BackwardsStuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I think I was expecting a different type of book. Or maybe I just wasn't in the mood, but I could never fully get into the life of Stuart, a homeless man in England. Masters writes Stuart's life backwards as a sort of mystery to figure out how Sturart ended up on the streets. That was actually Stuart's idea, and the best idea of the whole book. The rest seems sort of rambling, too much about Masters trying to write the book, and in the end, what makes Stuart homeless is pretty much what you'd expect: abuse, mental problems, drugs. No great mystery.



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The Help

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


One of the best books I have read this year, and certainly one of the best books about the civil rights movement ever. Stockett alternates between 3 voices: Skeeter, a white woman graduated from college trying to become a writer and find her own voice in a town where the girls are expected to behave properly and marry well; Aibileen, a black maid that has raised countless white children and lived through the unjust death of her own son; and Minnie, another black maid that has a fiery temper and sharp tongue. Together, they unite to write a book about what it is like to be the help in Missippi during the 1960's--the good and the bad.

It is touching, funny, suspenseful. Stockett does an amazing job of writing each character as a complete person and completely believeable.

I loved, loved, loved this book.



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Friday, August 13, 2010

The Family Man

The Family ManThe Family Man by Elinor Lipman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Perfect summer light read. The main characters are a delight, the plot was fun, and everything wrapped up nicely.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

High Fidelity

High FidelityHigh Fidelity by Nick Hornby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Top 5 reasons I loved this book:

1) It made me smile every other page and at least every 5 pages made me laugh out loud. In public.
2)It shows that given the right author, you can write about pop culture of the day and still be timeless.
3)It gave me hope that something actually goes on in the male brain. When all the boys and men in my life answer "Nothing" to the question "What are you thinking?" you begin to believe it is true. At least something is going on in the mind of Nick Hornby's Rob Flemming, and it is eerily similar to the stuff that goes on in my brain.
4)It seconds the fact that the best music happened in the '80's.
5)The movie version stars John Cusack and anything remotely connected to John Cusack is cool.


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Friday, July 30, 2010

The Good Thief

The Good ThiefThe Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was such a charming book! Ren is an orphan with a missing hand. Miraculously he is adopted by his "brother" who turns out to be a charming con-man. Together they have adventures and end up in a town with a villian so melodramtic, he fairly twirls his mustache when he speaks. There are giants and dwarves, grave-robbers, women who shout, and men in Hats that are out for blood. Although there are themes like what makes a person "good" and loyalty, it is mostly entertaining in a Dickinson sort of way. The ending seemed a bit heavy for such a light-hearted book, but it was an enjoyable read.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

The House of the Scorpion

The House of the ScorpionThe House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I loved this book about Matt, a clone, growing up among opium fields. Between clones, "zombies", drug addicts, wealthy patrons who want to live forever, and poor orphaned boys who only have each other, Farmer explores what makes someone human and how ignorance and lack of empathy can make humans more terrifying than monsters. Subtly woven in are questions of control: who has control over whom and why? And how Matt ultimately takes control of his own life. Wonderful plot, great characters, creative premise. Loved it.

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The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1)The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is the latest series by the author of The Olympian Chronicles--(the Percy Jackson books). My 10-year-old and 11-year-old loved that series, and they really liked this book. It definitely has similarities to the first Percy Jackson book (where Percy learns he is a demi-god and must go to the underworld to save his mom)--this time it is an estranged brother and sister, Carter and Sadie, who find out they are from the blood of the Pharaohs and they must go to the underworld to save their father. It is still interesting to see the difference between the two belief-systems. Like the other series, this book has lots of battling monsters, magic creatures, etc.
Two criticisms: the book is written as a transcript of Sadie and Carter retelling their adventure on a tape recorder. It is a great idea: the beginning lines are "We only have a few hours, so listen carefully " (brilliant) But they change narrators every 2 chapters and even though the narrator is on each page heading, I think it would be less confusing if each narrator had his own typeface.
The other is that though Riordan certainly knows and respects the stories of other belief systems, I wish that his characters wouldn't curse as often as they do. Sadie must say OMG at least once each chapter. Both series talk about how powerful a gods name is just by saying it, so I just wish his characters wouldn't curse our God so often.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World SpinLet the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is now one of my favorite books.
First of all, the writing is gorgeous. I swear when I read it, the same pleasure centers of my brain that ignite when I eat chocolate were ignited when I read this book. Sometimes I got so lost in the language, I had to re-read it so I could follow along with the plot. And there isn't much of a plot, really. More of a collection of points-of-view of people on a certain day in 1973 when a man strung a wire between the world trade towers and walked across. For some, this is the central focus, for others it is merely on the periphery. The stories are about what love is, what death is, what life is and how ultimately, it's the risks you take to love someone other than yourself than makes life worth living.
It made me want to write a critical essay--on the role NY played in the book, on the role of noise and quiet, etc. Loved it loved it loved it.
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Say You're One of Them

Say You're One of ThemSay You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This isn't a feel-good book. But it is a book that expands your world-view and changes you fundamentally. This book is a collection of short-stories told from the point of view of different children in different parts of Africa. Each of them have trials we can only begin to comprehend--poverty, ethnic cleansing, slavery. What Akpan does is put the problems of Africa into a form that at once intrigues and repulses, but one that you cannot ignore--the emotional resonance with which he writes makes these problems as intimately yours as it is the children's about whom he writes.
I must admit when I started with the first story "An Ex-mas Feast"--I was really confused. It took awhile for me to grasp that verbiage he used in conversation was the way they talked, and not editorial errors (sometimes I'm slow). And the events in the story seemed muddled and extraneous, but maybe that's just how his child narrator perceived it. "Luxurious Hearses" does double duty as a harrowing tale of refugees trying to escape ethnic cleansing in one part of the country(only to realize that the killing was occurring at their destination as well) and as an allegory of the religious/political make-up of the country. "My Parents Bedroom" is emotionally gut-wrenching but the one that stays with you is one of the longer stories: "Fattening for Gabon"--excellent all the way around.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lily's Crossing

Lily's Crossing (Yearling Newbery) Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My daughter picked this book for our parent/child book assignment for her 5th grade class. It's a delightful youth book, full of details about what it was like in America during WWII. Lily is a wonderfully complicated girl who learns a lot about courage, redemption, and gratitude the summer her father joins the Army and she meets a refugee from Hungary. It's a simple, sweet story but I admit I was hooked enough to read most of it in one sitting, and cried at the end.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Heat wave

Heat Wave Heat Wave by Richard Castle


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
If you love the show...you'll either love the book or feel like you're reading a rerun. At times I loved how you would read something that happened on the show, slightly altered, like how a real author would reshape what happened in real life and use it in a novel, because I felt like it was a *private* joke. Other times it bored me, like I'd already experienced it on the show, give me something new. But it was a fun book overall--(though maybe not as good as some episodes). If we learn anything in this book--Castle and Beckett should NOT get together. In the book "Jameson Rook" hooks up with "Nikki Heat", and after that the heat sort of fizzles.

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Mormon Scientist

Mormon Scientist: The Life and Faith of Henry Eyring Mormon Scientist: The Life and Faith of Henry Eyring by Henry J. Eyring


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was less of a biography than a memoir about Henry Eyring. It's written by his grandson and so is treated with less objective observation than a real biography would be. In fact, in some ways it was more of a religion book than a biography book at all. The author presents an ideal and then explains why Eyring exemplifies it. It made for an interesting format but one that repeated ALOT of experiences and quotes, which I think, ultimately was a disservice to Eyring's life by making it seem there was less to tell than there was.
Still, Eyring's life was pretty extraordinary and his example of someone who was able to balance career and religion, science and faith was inspiring. While I think most Mormons today can reconcile evolution with divine creation, perhaps that is because Eyring's bold take on it back when it was a national debate.
All in all, I liked the book, enjoyed the stories about Henry--I just wish the author would have let the life speak for itself.

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Too Much Happiness

Too Much Happiness: Stories Too Much Happiness: Stories by Alice Munro


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I felt like Goldilocks reading this book. It wasn't too obtuse, it wasn't too banal, it was just right. Munro does a great job of delving into her characters, and creating a world for them in just a few sentences. She does a great job of forshadowing just enough that you know what's going to happen without you consciously *knowing*. And most of the time, the plot builds to a satisfying end with just enough intrigue to mull over later. Interestingly, the only story I didn't love was the title story "Too Much Happiness" which was actually based on a real person. While terribly interesting, I didn't feel connected to the main character like I did with her other "fictional" characters in the other stories. It seemed that in Munro's eagerness to showcase an amazing woman and get in all the facts, she forgot to let us peek in under the surface. The rest of the stories are excellent.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Close Calls with Nonsense

Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry by Stephen Burt


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I thought that this was a book to help the average reader understand newer poetry. Aside from three essays, this is more of a collection of critical pieces *about* modern poetry writers, and it is clearly not for average readers, but for real afficionados of poetry. For one thing, I would never want to play Scrabble with Burt--his vocabulary is astounding--and while I will admit that once I looked the words up on dictionary.com they were exactly the right word to make his point--many times I had to look up too many words to understand his point--"portmanteau word" , "mingling plagency", "phenomenological inquires"... maybe these are household words for poets and poetic students, but not me. In conjunction with the big vocabulary, his points were so dense and rapid at times, that I was continually having to read paragraphs 2 or 3 times to understand his point. And while describing one poet, he would refernce their work with a nod to another poet, whom I also didn't know.
That aside, I will have to say that as a *textbook* this was very informative. I learned a lot of poetic verbage such as what a "sestina" or a "pantoum" is (although, it's not because Burt explains it, it's because I had to look it up) and I was introduced to a lot of names in poetry I hadn't heard before and he included enough of their poetry to help me decide whether I wanted to read more of their work.
It took me about 2 months to wade through this book, but I look at it like I took a home study course on modern poets. Still, I think this was more of a 500 or graduate level course, and I could've used a poetry 101 or at least 200 first to really appreciate it.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #3) The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This third book felt more like a set-up for the grand finale than a well-defined quest. We get introduced to lots of characters who either die or play piviotal roles in the upcoming books. Still, I enjoyed meeting Apollo, with his fast cars and terrible poetry. Some of the baddies were really good, like zombie soldiers and Atlas (really, Atlas is a baddie?!). There were a few deus ex machinas (literally and figuratively) in this book, which is only fitting, being an ode to Greek literature and all.
Enjoyable overall, but not one of the best in the series.

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The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #4) The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book captured by kids' imagination the most of any of the books--and I can see why, with a maze underground that constantly shifts and bends time and space. Each corner introduces the characters to new dangers, challenges, and wonders. Lots of adventure, lots of fun. It does a good job of setting up the series for the final book as well.

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My rating: 4 of 5 starsThe Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5) The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan



The final book is full of action. In fact, there is so much of the grand and final show-down in the book, that it does tend to drag on a bit. The gods have all joined together to fight Typhon, a super-monster that is making it's way across the U.S. and the demi-gods are left to defend Olympus against Kronos. Monsters seem to overwhelm the heros, but new allies come to help drive them back. Then Kronos unleashes another new suprise monster/attack and a surprising new ally comes to the rescue, et cetra. Still, the story has enough emotional integrity to keep it from becoming too tiresome. The ending wraps up nicely, though there are a few inconsistencies. I won't quibble about them though, because overall the series was fun, adventurous, promoted good things like family, loyalty, and environmentalism, and most importantly, excited my 9-year old enough to read the whole series.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The 19th Wife: A Novel The 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This was an interesting read for me, since as a Mormon, I haven't read literature about Mormonism that wasn't either written by a Mormon or was anti-Mormon literature. So there was more emotional baggage attached to this novel than I'm used to. Still, this novel, while historically enlightening, left a lot to be desired.
There are two tales entertwined--one of Ann Eliza, the 19th wife of Brigham Young, who divorced him and then campaigned vigorously against polygamy. The second is a murder mystery set in the cultish "Firsts" who still practice polygamy in modern day. The historical tale takes up the majority of the book, and is the more interesting of the two. Although it was a "memoir" written to show the abuse Ann Eliza endured as a multiple wife, I thought she came off a bit unsympathetic--selfish and vindictive as opposed to victimized and justified; in some ways it was hard to care about what happened to her. The modern day tale was, in my opinion, not well-developed, most of it was completely unbelieveable, and was wrapped up without much of a climax; even the epilogue left many questions still unanswered.
As far as the treatment of Mormons and Mormon history I have to say Ebershoff was more fair than I thought he'd be. There were even some parts of our history that I discovered as a result of reading this book. As far as the accuracy, the real memoir of Ann Eliza is available for free online, and it only takes a quick skim to see where Ebershoff deviates. Other questions of validity were quickly answered with a few google searches--and he has a quite lengthy note at the end of my copy addressing where he aquired his information.
The main character in the modern day story is gay mainly, I think, to point out the parallels between how early Saints were pressed upon to accept polygamy for their salvation and how gay practices are not tolerated today. So I get that--(although the characters fall into the stereotypes of either flamboyantly gay or clingy and neat, and all hypersexual, and so no one felt like a real person). But why the modern day characters have to swear so much, that I don't get.
In the end, the sole reason I liked this book at all was because it motivated me to read more about the early saints in Salt Lake, and because it prompted a few deep discussions with my husband late at night.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Once a Runner

Once a Runner: A Novel Once a Runner: A Novel by John L. Parker


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was described as the "best novel about running", and I read an excerpt in Runners World that was pretty good. I admit I checked it out hoping to help my motivation but I took the "best novel about running" in stride--add enough adjectives and anything can be the "best". I will readily admit that it's not the best novel--some parts are confusing, the subplot about being kicked out of school isn't very developed and doesn't seem to make much sense--but it may very well be the best novel about running (not that I've read any others--except if you can count The Time Traveler's Wife). Parker captures what it is like to run beautifully. I surely haven't experienced a tenth of what an elite runner must feel like, but Parker described the parts of running I do know so well and so elegantly that I readily believe the rest.

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