Monday, July 28, 2008
Thursday, July 24, 2008
So Long at the Fair is a story of two families that intertwine over the course of two generations. The main focus is on a day in the life of Jon and Ginny, a couple who is struggling after years of marriage. Christina Schwarz presents several strands of narrative throughout the book including the present, memories of the past from each of the characters, and flashbacks to 1963--a year that changed the course of both Jon's and Ginny's parents. While I find it hard to explain here, Schwarz does an admirable job of managing them all. After all this, I was surprised at the resolution (or lack thereof) of these various strands. I finished the book a few days ago and have come to appreciate this fact. It allows the reader to create their own "next chapter" for the characters and interpret events as they choose. There are other surprises along the way, which always kept me coming back for more. If you hate reading about extramarital affairs or like stories wrapped up in a neat, little bow, this probably isn't the book for you. However, if you like to mull over a book even after you've finished it and enjoy reflections on human foibles, pick this one up now.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
One of my all-time favorite books is Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City. Larson is a master of turning history into a fictive narrative. His last two books have featured the intertwining a great mystery with an event of historical significance. In The Devil in the White City, Larson pairs the 1893 World's Fair with the search for a murderer who preyed on those who flocked to Chicago for the Fair. His prose is artful and continues to draw you into this 19th-century moment. Being a Midwesterner, the familiarity of the locales made it all the more interesting for me. If you love history, but sometimes lament the dry narrative that often goes with its telling, The Devil in the White City is for you.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Talk about terrific summer reading! Queen of the Road is a hilarious, easy read. Doreen Orion had me laughing out loud as she humorously related the adventures, and misadventures, she and her husband had in a year-long bus trip across America. There are also touching moments as Orion traces the parallel journey of self-discovery that the trip inspires in both she and her husband. Between her wonderful description of the sites they see, her funny portrayals of Project Nerd (her husband) and her own mounting bus phobia, and her reflections on the way they and others choose to live their lives, I never wanted to put this book down. I would highly recommend Queen of the Road to any reader.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is the story of a murder investigation in Victorian England. Despite the author's claim that "the book is modelled on the country-house murder mystery" and "uses some of the devices of detective fiction," she failed to keep me engaged. I was expecting an Erik Larson-esque non-fiction as fiction narrative, but was disappointed. Her writing seemed more of a recitation of facts. Summerscale frequently digresses into history of Victorian England, the detective fiction genre, and crime investigation. While interesting, I found that it detracted from the main narrative. I was unable to overcome this and failed to finish the book. My own preconceived notions ruined this book for me, but it has been getting great press so, please, check it out for yourself.
Friday, July 11, 2008
This is something that has been going around the LibraryThing community. I'm interested to see how many I've read...I'm guessing it isn't going to be very many. :)
These are the top 106 books most often marked "unread" by LibraryThing's users. Here are the rules: BOLD the books you have read, italicize the books you started but did not finish (DNF), *STAR* the books you've read more than once, underline books that are on your TBR pile, and cross out books that you hated.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Pride and Prejudice
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible: a novel
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
The Three Musketeers
Wow, I was right. I haven't made much progress on this list. Too bad seeing the movie/play doesn't count...
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Monday, July 7, 2008
I love his essays on books equally. Two collections of his essays from The Believer magazine have been published. His insights on reading are spot on. Plus, it's nice to know that even a celebrated author has a tendency to buy more books than he can consume. Just as interesting as his thoughts on what he has read is a comparison of what he has bought in a month to what he actually reads that month and the next.
If you are a fan of contemporary fiction or the reading habits of others, I highly recommend any of Nick Hornby's books.
Though not my typical fare, I enjoyed this book. Hannah Tinti tells the story of Ren, an orphan searching for his place in the world. Ren is thrown into a non-stop adventure when Benjamin Nab adopts him from an orphanage and removes him from the only life he knows. Ren struggles to fit into this new world and choose from right and wrong, truth and lies. Tinti touchingly portrays this journey. The reader will be glued to the page, debating to herself where the truth really does lie as Ren comes closer to finding out for himself.
(Published simultaneously on LibraryThing)
Set during 1950s Soviet Russia, Child 44 grimly depicts the reality faced by Russian citizens under the rule of Stalin. I was sometimes disturbed by the scenes, but appreciate the research and historical accuracy Smith integrates into his narrative. I felt I was granted an insider's view of this time in Russia's history and the struggles of its people.
Tom Rob Smith has created a wonderful first novel. His ability to weave seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive narrative is impressive. I kept reading simply because I wanted to know how it was all going to come together. I would recommend this to any mystery fan. Of all the recent books of this genre I have read, this is by far the best.
(Originally posted on LibraryThing, June 27, 2008)
This novel falls into one of my favorite genres, historical fiction. That is, fiction that combines true elements of history within the narrative, fleshing out a period in time around characters that existed in real life. In Anatomy of Deception, Goldstone weaves a mystery into 1880s Philadelphia. Dr. Ephraim Carroll studies under the real-life Dr. William Osler, a pioneer of American surgery. Dr. Carroll quickly becomes embroiled in a mystery that seems to have no end of unexpected twists.
Lawrence Goldstone's first attempt at fiction is well-researched and well-written. The pace was slow at times, but I never lost interest in the characters. I would recommend this book to fans of the genre. If you like this, you should definitely check out Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City and Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club.
(Originally posted on LibraryThing, June 12, 2008)
This is a brilliant first novel. There were moments that made me cry, moments that made me laugh, and, quite honestly, moments that made me sick to my stomach. It is a testament to Davidson's talent that I kept reading through the first few chapters when he describes a burn victim's treatment in sickening detail. I couldn't tear myself away from these disgusting images because the writing was so beautiful and the imagery so unique.
The author continued to draw me in with each new voice and story that he wove. His details are vivid without becoming overwhelming or boring. In the end, I found myself loving this book and all its flawed characters. I would definitely recommend this tale of eternal love, but be prepared for the graphic imagery--especially if you have a weak stomach.
(Originally posted on LibraryThing, June 12, 2008)
I was completely drawn in by this tale. Having been to Salem, I could envision myself moving through the world Barry successfully recreates. I've always loved a good mystery, and the author delivers. I also think she did an admirable job of depicting the effects of abuse on a family. However, I knew a twist ending was coming and was not impressed by it. In fact, I thought Barry did a poor job of explaining how this ending could be. I am still puzzling over details in the book that don't make sense in light of the resolution. I did speed through the book, which is a sign of a well-crafted narrative.
(Originally posted on LibraryThing, May 31, 2008)
This is the sad and epic tale of Lilly Nelly Aphrodite, born on the eve of the 20th century in Berlin. Her life spans what can only be described as an era of hardship and poverty in Germany. Yet Lilly always manages to survive through a series of events that would leave a lesser person broken. The Glimmer Palace is well-written and moving to the very last page. If you are looking for a tearjerker, this is the book for you.
(Originally posted on LibraryThing, May 29, 2008)
Though the release of The 19th Wife is well-timed due to the recent national exposure of the Texas FLDS sect, the strength of Ebershoff's storytelling stands on its own. He seamlessly weaves two stories into a cohesive whole. His mastery of his art is apparent in his ability to effortlessly transition between two very different voices separated by more than a century but connected by the thread of polygamy and the destructive force it plays in the lives of men, women and children. Ebershoff sprinkles subtle clues throughout his narrative about how these two stories will become one, but never gives too much. I found myself eagerly awaiting the turn of each page. This is a brilliant book. I would recommend it to any reader.
(Originally posted on LibraryThing, May 16, 2008)
Peter Sagal's first book is a humorous examination of the most common of American vices. The incongruity of this self-proclaimed square and the strip clubs, swinger parties, etc. he visits--with his wife in tow--makes it all the more entertaining. If you are a fan of Sagal's witty repartee on "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!," you'll love this book.
(Originally posted on LibraryThing, May 1, 2008)
I have to admit, I am a huge fan of "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" I was lucky enough to attend a taping recently at the Chase Theatre in Chicago. Peter Sagal and his panelists are a riot. If you haven't heard the show, please check it out! (I recommend Peter Sagal's blog too.)
This book definitely meets my expectations of a National Geographic publication. I expected descriptions of places where authors had lived and worked but was thrilled to find tours of the places within these great authors' novels mapped out for me.
These are not the staid entries of most travel guides. The authors provide a bit of history and biography with each entry. This, combined with quality writing, makes Novel Destinations a great read for any lover of literature, travel, or both.
(Originally posted on LibraryThing, April 24, 2008)