Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Review: Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery

A few months ago I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time, and was utterly charmed. And for the first time as an adult, I decided to pick up the whole series (these days when I read the first book in a children's series, that's usually the only one I read.) And so I have now also read book #2, which I also thoroughly enjoyed!

Anne is 16, out of high school and a certified teacher. At the end of the first book, she has decided to forgo college to come home to help Marilla, her adopted mother, whose eyesight is quickly failing. But this isn't as terrible a prospect as it may seem as most of her schoolmates have also come home, or are teaching at schools near enough by come home on the weekends. And of course, her best friend Diana is there. And naturally, Anne gets into scrapes and has brilliant ideas that only work out with some twists and turns, and also she and Marilla take a pair of orphaned 6-year-old twins, until their remote uncle can take them on. Anne finds teaching to be a fine prospect, she is not having as much difficulty staying out of trouble, and to my surprised, there is barely no mention of Gilbert (although based on the end of the last book I had assumed this book would largely be about them courting. Maybe book 3.) It takes place over two years and at the end, circumstances are arranged so that Anne can go to college after all (which at the turn of the century, seems rather shocking, in a very good way, to me.)

It's amazing how modern Anne seems, and as this book is not exactly a historical novel - when it was written, it was contemporary - Ms. Montgomery certainly didn't write her that way with any anticipation of what the future would bring for women. Although one dated event was pretty shocking to me. Anne, in her modern views, is very opposed to corporal punishment, and she is teased by many people for this. In the end, she lost her temper and did whip one of her students, who then immediately stopped rebelling and was a perfect angel afterwards, proving Anne's silly "modern" notions foolish, and everyone else who knew that whipping was the right thing to do, correct. Yikes.

I can't help but compare these novels to the Little House books, and I must say that I wish they had more of an overarching plot, whereas instead each chapter is kind of its own episode. I also don't like how fast time passes - from one chapter to the next we might go from November to March. But that's a good thing - I want the book to slow down as I want to spend more time with Anne. Luckily, I have 5 more books in which to enjoy her.

While Anne has mellowed a bit, she is still very imaginative, good-natured, impulsive, and well-intentioned. It's nice to see her growing up and maturing, and yet remaining essentially the same. I think if she stopped imagining fairies and knights in shining armor, I would be quite disappointed.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

I loved this book! I want to be sure to start with that because if I say I first heard about this guy in Freakonomics, and this book is based on his graduate dissertation in Sociology, you might be put off, but it's a terrific story!

When Sudhir started his graduate studies at the University of Chicago, he was eager to start doing some field work, and to help out his professors with their research. Armed only with a survey and a clipboard, he naively went out to one of the worst projects in the city and tried to start asking questions ("How do you feel about being black and poor? A, pretty good; B, mostly good; C indifferent....") Local gang members quickly corralled him and held him until their boss came by to check him out. That boss, JT, was a local gang leader, and having gone to college himself, he was able to quickly decide that Sudhir was less than dangerous,unless you count to himself. JT then took Sudhir under his wing, introduced him to people, let it be known that Sudhir was protected so his life would be safe, and allowed him inside the gang to see how it operated, and how people lived in the Robert Taylor Homes, the most notorious projects in America. Sudhir saw beatings, a drive-by, helped a stoned, sick hooker, sat in on a truce meeting between JT and another rival gang leader, and eventually was invited to citywide meetings with the higher-ups in JT's gang. He took copious notes as he went along, and was privy to the corruption, bad cops, failed urban renewal plans, and also how the gangs were trying to position themselves as communities that helped all their people, by registering voters and contributing to school-supply funds and hosting basketball tournaments and picnics.

Most of the gang members seem like generally decent guys, albeit with some drug and alcohol issues, which would also lead to violence. But they ran the gang like a regular company, with middle managers, a board of directors, and high school kids earning just minimum wage. It's just that their product is illegal.

The book is filled with a compelling cast of characters, lots of fun new facts to learn, and occasional visceral violence. At times, I truly would not have been able to put this book down, and although it's perfectly obvious that Sudhir survived, I was sometimes quite afraid for his life. The poor men and women he interacted with nearly daily for several years shared their hopes and dreams, their daily survival techniques, they had some fun at his expense, and occasionally used him when it was expedient. But he comes to understand that he is using them too, for his thesis, for his research, for their stories. This story isn't the least bit academic or pedantic in tone, written with full realization of his extreme innocence going into it, with optimism and hope, and showing how his opinion of JT and the other gang members and Robert Taylor residents changed, for both the better and the worse as he got to know them as truly well-rounded individuals.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, even dreamed about it last night! A great memoir, showing that one person really can make a difference, simply by allowing the rest of us to understand a variety of complex and complicated issues in American lives.

I got this book at the Friends of the Library sale.

Book Beginnings on Friday: Gang Leader for a Day

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

"During my first weeks at the University of Chicago, in the fall of 1989, I had to attend a variety of orientation sessions."

The main thing he learned in them? Do not go to the bad neighborhoods, especially the projects! So being a good sociologist, what did he precisely then go do? Yes, he went to the projects.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Sex on the Moon

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History by Ben Mezrich

description from Goodreads:
Thad Roberts, a fellow in a prestigious NASA program had an idea—a romantic, albeit crazy, idea. He wanted to give his girlfriend the moon. Literally.

Thad convinced his girlfriend and another female accomplice, both NASA interns, to break into an impregnable laboratory at NASA’s headquarters—past security checkpoints, an electronically locked door with cipher security codes, and camera-lined hallways—and help him steal the most precious objects in the world: the moon rocks.

But what does one do with an item so valuable that it’s illegal even to own? And was Thad Roberts—undeniably gifted, picked for one of the most competitive scientific posts imaginable, a possible astronaut—really what he seemed?

Mezrich has pored over thousands of pages of court records, FBI transcripts, and NASA documents and has interviewed most of the participants in the crime to reconstruct this Ocean’s Eleven–style heist, a madcap story of genius, love, and duplicity that reads like a Hollywood thrill ride.

Publishing July 12 by Doubleday.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest

This memoir of depression, mania, suicide-attempts, and most of all, therapy, was highly lauded this spring so when I ran across it, I thought I should check it out. After all, I love memoirs, I have been in therapy (although not the other things), and it's pretty short (always a good thing!)

And I did zip through it. Ms. Forrest is a compelling writer, and she does an excellent job showing how important her therapist, Dr. R was in her life, and how thanks to his therapy, she was able to eventually get over his unexpected death, as well as other bumps in her life, and how she is mostly better now, due not in small part to being able to hear Dr. R's voice in her head at times.

One thing that put me off though was her name-dropping. And yes, she does live in L.A. and is a screenwriter and did date a movie star (I googled him, he is definitely a big-name star). And for some of them, like the boyfriend, she doesn't actually name them, but even in her not-naming, she is name-dropping. She seems to revel in being around famous people, about knowing who it was who ODed at Chateau Marmont, about telling us she sold a screenplay to Scott Rudin and that she knows people at William Morris. These things may all be true, but I don't think those details are necessary to story, unless of course you think (which is at least partly true) that her celebrity-obsession IS part of her story, although Ms. Forrest doesn't consciously realize it. It does fit perfectly with her grandiose, bipolar personality. But it was a bit of a turn-off for me in the end. She also seems to think she herself is a famous author, which I would dispute, having never heard of her before (she's also written three novels). Just because she's had books published, even if successfully, that doesn't make her a famous author.

Nonetheless, her story is a powerful and important one. She attests to the power of psychology in her life, and therefore the potential for it to help others. She is honest in her fears and her mania, and it did give me a window (if small) into suicidal thoughts. Occasionally funny, fairly relatable, and a quick, easy read, I would recommend this book.

I picked up this book at the WNBA Book Swap.

Teaser Tuesdays: Your Voice in My Head

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest p. 19

"At the same time that I've graduated from cutting my body to cutting my face, I have started to worry, terribly, about the mental health of people I have never met. "I would prefer," says Dr. R in the week before my suicide, "that you stop sending prison packages to Robert Downey Junior." "

This teaser gives you a great feel for the book, as Emma is mentally disturbed yet funny, and occasionally a name-dropper.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Books I Know I'll Hate: The Red Flags

Right now a friend is trying to talk me into reading a book I just know I'll hate. It's literary, the author is from my hometown, it's been getting nothing but rave reviews, but I don't want to read it. True, some books I've been forced to read (by my book club) I have in fact liked. But some I've just hated.

Over the years, I've been trying to see commonalities between those books that would alert me so I can avoid them. I've found a few:

  • book described as "lyrical" or "poetic" or "atmospheric:

  • cast of characters list at beginning or end of book

  • book, author, or main character described as "earnest"

  • blurbs comparing the author/book to other authors/books I hate

  • winning the Pulitzer for Fiction, or the NBA for Fiction (I have no problem with the nonfiction winners of both awards.)
None of these issues are intrinsically bad, they're all just bad for me. I like a book with a pretty straightforward story line, where things actually happen, where we don't stray off-topic too often (and when we do, there's a reason for it.) I like books with a hint of humor, people who don't take themselves too seriously, who don't think too highly of themselves. I hate a book where halfway through, I have no idea who any of the characters are because they've been so shallowly developed that they make no impression (and a listing of the characters is just a dagger to the chest because that says to me that the author knows that his/her readers will have a difficult to impossible time keeping the characters straight and instead of perhaps developing them better or paring down the extraneous ones, they've taken the lazy way out and just made a list, thinking that will get them off the hook.)

I don't trust a person who claims to not hate any books. I think you can tell much, much more about a person by the books they hate than the ones they love (also with sports teams.) In fact when recommending books to a person, I've been known to ask, much to their shock, to tell me a couple of books they've hated. Book lovers aren't supposed to hate book, right? Well if you don't hate anything, then I dare say you don't think very deeply, have very high standards, or are willing to stray out of your comfort zone. After all, it's a thin line between love and hate.

What books have you hated?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Home-Based Business For Dummies by Paul Edwards, Sarah Edwards, Peter Economy

Up next:
Father and Son by Larry Brown
The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama
This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Review: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

I read this book for book club, so while it's been very well-reviewed and supposed to be quite literary, I had no desire to pick it up at all before it was assigned. But that is a large part of the point of book club isn't it? Reading books you wouldn't otherwise? And thankfully, this is one of the ones I was forced to read and thoroughly enjoyed!

It is a series of short stories, each narrated by a different character who all work for (well, one is a reader of) an English-language newspaper in Rome that services all of Europe and then some. The stories don't feel like separate short stories though, at least not in the way of Olive Kitteridge. These all take place sequentially, although sometimes time has passed between the chapters, and they're more than loosely linked, as the majority of these characters work together daily. The narrator of one section is likely to appear in passing in a later chapter, or even be a minor character.

The chapters are very deftly written, three-dimensional even with only a few telling details to draw them. They are compelling with very real, ordinary, relatable problems. They all have the common problems of working at a dying newspaper in a dying industry, and all being ex-pats, out of their element in Rome, but of course each character has their own personal issues and concerns.

I really liked this book, whipping through it in just two days. One quibble I have though is with the tons and tons (and tons) of glowing reviews plastered all over the book - many of them refer to the book as funny or humorous. There were two chapters - Winston Cheung's and Ornella de Monterecchi - that I found pretty funny but many of the rest were actually quite depressing. Several dealt with extreme loneliness, there's a death or two, some infidelity, and disillusionment sprinkled throughout. In fact, I can think of only one happy character - Herman Cohen - and he too has a bit of an issue, as he has imagined his best friend to be a Superman of sorts, and instead he's quite ordinary to the point of being nearly boring. But even when Herman realizes the extent that he has put his friend on a pedestal, his world doesn't come crashing down, and he's not lost his friend or made wretched when he discovers the extent of his self-deception. He accepts it, and thanks mostly to his very happy home life, just moves on.

Now the depressing things throughout don't make me want to cry or anything - they're often handled at a distance (particularly in the case of Arthur Gopal) and also they're presented in a way that shows the universality of many of these problems, so they're not Great Tragedies but instead, daily disappointments. And the very realism of the workplace and the characters make them all very accessible and sympathetic. I found it a fast read and hard to put down.

I bought this book at B&N.

Book Beginnings on Friday: The Imperfectionists

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

"Lloyd shoves off the bedcovers and hurries to the front door in white underwear and black socks."

That does give you a good idea of who Lloyd is, doesn't it? Or at least his age.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell

Wow. I finished. Finally.

This book is enormous. 1210 pages. I started it back at the very end of February. It was one of the five fat books I brought on my cruise, just to be sure I wouldn't run out of reading material. Not to worry. Not only would this one book obviously have kept me more than entertained the whole trip, but my ship had a library! (I borrowed two books.) I had no idea that it would be FIVE months for me to finish it, whew!

So, to back up:
On the Dutch ship Erasmus in 1600, the Pilot, Blackthorne (a Brit), and his remaining men arrive at the until-then mythical island of Japan. There are Portuguese there, mostly Jesuits, but it was still not entirely known if the rumors about it existing were true. Partly that's due to the fact that so recently after the Reformation, the Protestants (Dutch and English) don't believe a word they learn from the Catholics (Portuguese). But now Blackthorne must rely on the priests to translate for him as he attempts to navigate his way in this world, trying to keep his ship and his crew safe, and eventually negotiate for their return to the sea (although to do so, they'll need to hire some locals as seamen as they have lost too many crew to get back to Europe by themselves.) Meanwhile he learns of the incredibly lucrative Black Ship - the annual trading ship that runs between Portugal, China, and Japan (which he wants to capture), and he's attempting to learn the Japanese language and ways, with the help of the beautiful Mariko, who through the Catholic church has learned both Portuguese (the language of sailing) and Latin. Blackthorne convinces Lord Toranaga that he can be more helpful alive than dead, as he can help Toranaga build a navy, and teach them how to fight using guns. While Toranaga and the four other lords of the council come to the brink of war over Japan (they are ruling while the heir to the throne is not yet of age), Blackthorne and Mariko grow closer.

Why is the book so darn long? It covers roughly 6 months' time, and there are very intricate political relationships and maneuverings and plotting leading up to possible battle. The translating takes up a lot of time, even if we never get the Japanese. We do get a lot of wondering about the translation's accuracy, comments on its speed, occasional editing by the translator, and so on. But mostly it is due to the extreme formality of the Japanese culture, and the newness of it. Mr. Clavell spends a great deal of time explaining everything from "pillowing" to why Japanese house are made of rice paper to what are ronin. The language is very convoluted, where someone has to ask for a thing in a certain way, and will be repeatedly denied, over and over, and yet must keep asking because that is the tradition and the approved manner to behave. A simple conversation that, in English, could be conducted in a few lines, sometimes takes page after page, in order that no one's rank or sensibilities are insulted. I don't mean to imply that it's tedious - the foreignness of these rituals make them quite interesting - but it is long. And of course learning about samurai and seppuku and bushido and hatamoto all takes a lot of explanation. Even more than you might think because back when the book was published, in 1975, I don't know that there was as much familiarity with concepts like karma as there is now.

Personally, another thing that slowed my reading down was all the Japanese language. I am terrible at languages. Really horrible. It's a family trait, and despite great struggles in high school and college, I remain dreadful at languages. Through the book, as Blackthorne is learning Japanese, more and more of it is sprinkled in the text without explanation. Thanks to Styx, I always could remember domo arigato, but words and phrases like gomen nasai and wakarimasu ka kept cropping up that I was much fuzzier on. So not only did those slow me down as I puzzled to remember their meaning, but I also then wasn't sure I was getting the meaning of the dialogue where those appeared, which further slowed me. Even the names were confusing. Clavell had obviously tried hard to use Japanese names that were dissimilar from each other, but what threw me was that most people had 3-4 different names, even Blackthorne (the Japanese couldn't pronounce that so that called him Anjin which means pilot in Japanese.) There are many, many other readers who would not struggle with this issue even half as much as I did and it shouldn't alarm anyone unless you too decided to not apply to a college you otherwise liked that required 3 years of a foreign language.

These speed bumps notwithstanding, it's still unprecedented that it would take me MONTHS to read a book! So, did that mean I didn't like it? Well, I did have trouble really getting into the story, partly because of the above issues. I love to really get sucked into a story, and when that happens I often will pick up the book at every opportunity, spend entire Saturdays doing nothing but reading, but that never happened with Shogun. I liked it, but I never got sucked in. Well, until the last 150 pages. I thought that I knew how the book was going to end, but several twists in the last 150 pages completely broadsided my assumptions and made the ending much more interesting than I had anticipated. I like an author who is willing to take risks like Clavell did there, and don't worry, they weren't out-of-character events at all (in fact the opposite is true). But I'm not going to spoil it for you.

So would I recommend this book? Sure. I learned a ton which I always enjoy. But it's more of a guy's book with action and machinations and cross-alliances and secret plots, and it's definitely a beach read type. I liked it but I didn't love it. But when I posted it as a "to read" on Facebook, I had more people comment that they had loved the book than on any other TBR posting, so obviously many readers have fallen in love with Shogun. However for me the constant back-stabbing and trying to remember who is on whose side and are they really on their side or are they secretly allied with someone else, well it was a bit exhausting. I enjoyed it but I didn't love it. Many people will, and if you find it intriguing, please don't let my review put you off. Domo arigato.

I bought this book used at the Friends of the Library book sale.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Growing Up Amish

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Growing Up Amish: A Memoir by Ira Wagler

One fateful starless night, 17-year-old Ira Wagler got up at 2 AM, left a scribbled note under his pillow, packed all of his earthly belongings into in a little black duffel bag, and walked away from his home in the Amish settlement of Bloomfield, Iowa. Now, in this heartwarming memoir, Ira paints a vivid portrait of Amish life—from his childhood days on the family farm, his Rumspringa rite of passage at age 16, to his ultimate decision to leave the Amish Church for good at age 26. Growing Up Amish is the true story of one man’s quest to discover who he is and where he belongs. Readers will laugh, cry, and be inspired by this charming yet poignant coming of age story set amidst the backdrop of one of the most enigmatic cultures in America today—the Old Order Amish.

Publishing July 15 by Tyndale House Publishers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Borders' Liquidation: What It Means To You

While pretty much everyone is shocked and dismayed by Borders' liquidation, I don't see anyone out there explaining to the general reader why this is going to have wide-ranging and long-standing repercussions for all of the book world, so I figured I'd give it a go.

As of last year, most publishers' sales went to Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Borders, probably in that order. If you walked into a B&N or Borders, you would see large stacks of bestselling books, on tables, in cardboard displays, or simply in piles on the floor. Now a huge percentage of those sales are gone. Now you might think "those sales aren't gone! They'll just move to B&N or the local independent bookstore." Well, maybe. Some certainly will. But not all. In some towns, there aren't other bookstores. B&N and Borders already ran the local independent under. Or else it's a town that was never big enough for more than one bookstore. The nearest bookstore now might be hours, and hundreds of miles away.

"But they can shop on Amazon!" you might cry. Sure, they might. Those sales won't have the same impact on the local community as Amazon employs no one in your town, and also doesn't pay sales tax (this subsidy, allowing Amazon to undercut all bricks and mortar stores at the expense of our roads and schools, has long been part of the problem, but that's a rant for another day.) But some people won't. Some people might not have computers (strange, but true!) Others don't like shopping online because of the identity theft danger. Still others will shop online, but will only buy the book they're looking for, and not the cool book they walk by on their way to the cash register, further reducing overall book sales.

So this loss of a book outlet means drastically lower initial shipments of books from publishers. (Yes, those all wouldn't sell but there is a secondary market for remainders which will also be hurt.) Which means smaller print runs. Which means higher printing costs for publishers. Which means thinner margins. And therefore less money to buy books and pay for advances. And so, fewer books will be published. Without Borders, there will be fewer places to promote titles, fewer places readers might see books, one less bestseller list to brag about and try to get publicity with, thousands fewer locations for authors to arrange signings to promote books, one less web page for promotions, and so on.

I'll admit, Borders was never my favorite bookstore. I try to shop independent whenever I can but when I can't, B&N has always been my go-to. But I am going to miss Borders. As will all of you. The ramifications of this bankruptcy will be reverberating for a decade or more, and it won't end well. So for the next ten years, when you hear complaints from authors of low print runs, low advances, fewer publisher acquisitions, and when you readers complain about less selection and variety, remember this is where it all began. The next few years will be ugly, but if we hang in there, we'll get through it together.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Imperfectionists

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman p. 1

"Come in," he says. "No need to knock." And his wife enters their apartment for the first time since the night before."

I haven't actually started this book yet (but must read by Thursday night for book club!) so I picked a line from the first page. Why is Lloyd's wife knocking at their door? Did she not come home last night? What happened last night? Luckily, I'm intrigued so hopefully it won't take much for me to get started with this one.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch by Rob Dobrenski

This memoir is naturally a little bit fudged. Due to being a psychologist, Dr. Dobrenski is bound by confidentiality, therefore what he has done is taken stories of many patients who, for instance, have dealt with the aftermath of a rape or the death of a spouse, and consolidated those stories into one. That said, it doesn't read or feel like fiction. These compilations don't detract from the book at all, they don't give a feel of inauthenticity or two-dimensionality. It's unfortunate, but the only way a psychologist could write this kind of book. It could have been self-serving, but Dr. Dobrenski never fails to show his own culpability and flaws in the therapy process.

Although he appears to now be in his 30s, the book focuses on his early years in training and just starting out as a therapist, and how he often stumbled along the way. One of his big themes is that therapists are human too, often even having a lot of the same mental issues that their patients due, which he shows through himself and two colleagues' problems. We're all "crazy," hence the title.

The book is set up as a "day in the life" of a therapist, where he has a 9:00 appointment with a depressed blind man, and then a 10:00 appointment with another "patient", and so on, covering a range of psychological topics. I'm not entirely sure why this structure was chosen, as I don't think it improves the narrative, but it also doesn't detract. He gives an overview, through individual case studies, of child therapy, group therapy with sex offenders, he helps people with OCD, panic attacks, couples therapy, and several other issues. Having been in therapy myself, I can say the way he relates how the therapy sessions go (at least the one-on-ones, I don't know about groups) seemed very accurate to me. It is interesting to see things from the other side of the couch, and to think about the diversity of problems that a generalist can see in the course of a day. Sure would keep work exciting!

A fast read, although not for the faint at heart (both the rape victim and the sex offenders sections can be graphic), this book would be a good read for anyone casually interested in psychology.

I received this book for review from the publisher, Lyons Press, which did not affect my review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch by Rob Dobrenski
Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell (audio)
The Borrowers by Mary Beth Norton

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Home-Based Business For Dummies by Paul Edwards, Sarah Edwards, Peter Economy
Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell

Up next:
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book Review: The Borrowers by Mary Norton

Another beloved classic from my childhood! But this one has a weird twist. We had this book on audio when I was a kid, and I must have listened to it a dozen times. Even though it's been a few decades since then, I could not get that narrator's voice out of my head! She didn't have a bad voice, although she read much more slowly than I do, and I didn't always agree with her inflections. Have you ever had that problem?

I am sure I have had Borrowers. Although I was quite shocked in my very first apartment of the audacity when they "borrowed" my copy of How to Make an American Quilt which I eventually had to repurchase in order to finish! Sadly, I am not an ideal house for them - I am too neat and organized and have an irregular schedule. I do in fact keep track of my safety pins in one place, although they could occasionally take one or two small things from my junk drawer, I am sure they do not in this house. I think that's a little sad, although I am glad to always have my needles and matches and bottle tops when I look for them. This is an enchanting story that must have come up when someone was frustrated with how these small things sometimes seem to just disappear, like socks in the dryer.

I'm not 100% certain I'm sure why there is the framing story of Kate and Mrs. May, except that this way whether or not the story is really true can be fudged, since it's being told second hand. This is a pretty common trope in the era, but it doesn't do much for me. I don't remember the other books in the series well - I am sure I read them although probably only once - so I don't know if Kate and Mrs. May become more important in any of them. But it doesn't detract from the story at all to have them there.

I wish Arrietty, Homily and Pod well on their journeys! I hope they don't run into any danger getting to the badger set and I hope they find Aunt Lupy. This story of basically, a dollhouse come to life, is a perfect tale for any imaginative child. Particularly if they are prone to losing barrettes, pens, and small toys.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: Crazy

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch by Rob Dobrenski

"As a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, I met with a patient I'll call Bill, who was a chronically depressed fifty-five-year-old man."

Bill's problem: depression, mostly due to his blindness
Bill's solution: driving
Rob's problem: what to say to a blind man who's just driven a car, even if he's the happiest he's been in years? Hmmm. They don't cover that problem in school.

Book Review: Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell, read by Sarah Vowell with John Slattery, Paul Rudd, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, John Hodgman, Catherine Keener, Edward Norton, Keanu Reeves, Maya Rudolph. Wow. That's quite a list of narrators! Sarah has done this in her other books as well. The guest narrators don't do extensive pieces, but they each take on a few of the "characters" and read their direct quotes. I will admit, knowing the list was extensive, with fun people I like, I did spend some time thinking "Is this Bill Hader? Who was that?" I think John Slattery had the most distinctive and easy-to-pick-out voice. I like this technique, although it might sound distracting, as sometimes knowing when something is a quote and isn't on an audio, can be difficult as people don't say "quote... close quote" when reading quotations. There's often an opening such as "Theodore Roosevelt then said..." but there's seldom any way to figure out when a quote ends. I also like it, as it's an add-on for us audiobook listeners, who often get shafted and don't get to see funny drawings (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night), or photo inserts (any serious biography) unless the book is the very awesome Bossypants.

Anyway, on to Unfamiliar Fishes. Sarah Vowell is an unconventional historian, probably most similar to Tony Horwitz. She doesn't at all try to remove herself from the story (although it isn't a memoir per se). She talks about her sister and her nephew joining her on her research trips to Hawaii and relates what she learns to herself personally. Most notably in her comparison of the treatment of the Hawaiian native to the Native Americans, as she is part Cherokee, which is an apt comparison. She's funny, a little kooky, loves a random bit of trivia (my favorite!), and tries to both understand the thinking of the people back then and also from our modern-day perspective.

Favorite trivia: Morse, inventor of the telegraph and Morse code, was a painter. Not like he painted on the side or it was a hobby, that was his regular job, day-in and day-out, and he was respected and paid well. But while he was painting some semi-famous guy in New York, his wife became deathly ill back in Connecticut. By the time he found out and was able to race home, she had already died. He invented the telegraph out of frustration with the poor communication of the times. I had always thought he was one of those inventor-guys like Edison and Franklin who probably invented a bunch of other things, but nope.

I know some people find Ms. Vowell's voice abrasive or grating, but I find it very endearing. To me she sounds a lot like a little kid. But several hours of it would be a bit much if it was grating to you, so I recommend her books on audio with the caveat that you should check out her voice first with a quick This American Life story or a Daily Show clip. But if you like her, this book won't disappoint. And I promise, you'll learn some unusual history not covered in class. Aloha.

I downloaded this book from Audible.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Historical Novels: Lots of Fun Facts

I am going to give blood this afternoon. I'd do it anyway but the Red Cross is running a sure-fire promotion right now: give blood, get free Ben & Jerry's ice cream! I can so get behind this.

So I was thinking about what book I would be bringing with me, and that reminded me of a conversation I had while giving blood a couple of months ago. The girl at the next station asked me what I was reading: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. She then asked if I mostly read historical fiction. I immediately said no, my usual answer for what I mostly read being memoirs. But as I thought about it, she's not all that off base.

Since Year of Wonders I have read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene, and Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (which is a contemporary novel but has a historical diary as a huge element, not to mention a flashback.) Earlier this year I read The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, True Grit by Charles Portis, The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, and Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. Hm. If I don't like historical fiction an awful lot, I'm doing something wrong.

Now I consider myself mostly a nonfiction reader although in reality I read about 50/50. The main thing I like about nonfiction is that I get to learn a lot of fun facts while reading, which I mention often in my reviews. I rock at Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit and the more random the facts, the more likely I am to retain them. So why on earth would I be reading so much historical fiction, a genre I usually associate with little old ladies? Well the answer I think is simple. For the same reason. Lots of fun facts.

Historical novels (as opposed to novels that were contemporaneous when written but are now old, like Peyton Place by Grace Metalious and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton) are usually extensively researched, and authors give many of those details in order to imbue the story with more authenticity, as well as demonstrate their mastery of the era. In my review of Remarkable Creatures, I even included an image of one of the fossils Mary found, and in my review of Snow Flower, an image of foot binding.

I wouldn't have thought that historical novels would be the best fictional counterpart to my nonfictional bent, but there it is. As I continue to plod through Shogun, and contemplate which novels should be at the top of my TBR list - March by Geraldine Brooks (yes, I've pretty much decided to read all of Ms. Brooks books this year), The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, or One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus - I've come to accept that perhaps my favorite genres are memoirs, AND historical fiction. Who knew. And it only took me three decades to figure that out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Rules of Civility

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Rules of Civility: A Novel by Amor Towles

synopsis from Goodreads:
A sophisticated and entertaining debut novel about an irresistible young woman with an uncommon sense of purpose.

Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year- old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.

The story opens on New Year's Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarefied offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle. Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.

Elegant and captivating, Rules of Civility turns a Jamesian eye on how spur of the moment decisions define life for decades to come. A love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression, readers will quickly fall under its spell of crisp writing, sparkling atmosphere and breathtaking revelations, as Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote, and McCarthy.

publishing July 21st 2011 by Viking.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Unfamiliar Fishes

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

"Acts 16:9 is the meddler's motto, simultaneously selfless and self-serving, generous but stuck-up. Into every generation of Americans is born a new crop of buttinskys sniffing out the latest Macedonia that may or may not want their help."

I'm not sure what page this is on because I'm listening to the audio book. A very large part of the story of how Hawaii became a state revolves around Christian missionaries. Which seems to me very appropriate for America.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell (audio)
Home-Based Business For Dummies by Paul Edwards, Sarah Edwards, Peter Economy
Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell

Up next:
Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch by Rob Dobrenski
A Good House by Bonnie Burnard
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Review: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

I have read several historical novels recently and thought I'd keep up the trend with Revolution which a former co-worker had strongly recommended to me. It is very long for a YA novel, which I worry will be off-putting to some teens, as it's a great book, and a pretty fast read even at this length.

Andi has been miserable. Ever since her little brother Truman was killed in an accident she witnessed in their Brooklyn neighborhood, she has been just barely holding things together. Her artist mother has not been so lucky, and so Andi is also on her own. Eventually her high school calls her father in Boston to warn him of her imminent expulsion due to failing grades. When he arrives, he has her mother committed to a mental hospital and takes Andi with him to Paris where he, a Nobel-winning scientist, is going to help a historian friend, G, who is trying to prove if a preserved heart, rumored to belong to the lost prince Louis-Charles, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. While in Paris, Andi works on her senior thesis about a renowned classical guitarist and composer, tries to mend her broken heart, embarks on a romance with a young taxi driver and rapper, and attempts to reach detente with her father. She does not succeed at all these things, though she is helped along the way by the diary of a French girl in 1795, Alex.

I think the beginning part about Brooklyn could have been much shorter. Since we never really circle around to those characters (except her best friend who she talks to throughout), that whole part could have been summarized and we could have begun with Andi going to Paris. However, I say that as if the book were way too long, which it did not feel like to me. The story clipped along at a good pace. I learned a lot about the French Revolution which I did not know (always a bonus for me). I do wish the subject of Andi's biography, the classical guitarist, had also been real so I could have learned even more, but that might truly have been overkill. I will admit that Ms. Donnelly did get me in one regard - I thought I'd figured out a clever twist, but it didn't come to pass, so her red herrings in that regard were particularly effective. As for the ending, a friend recently said she didn't find it satisfying, but it worked for me. Perhaps because it was pretty realistic. Which means it didn't have a big huge amazing change, not everything in Andi's life got fixed, and one temporal twist had a little bit of a cop-out ending to it (personally it's a twist I'm not overly fond of so I was perfectly fine with how it resolved.) I actually prefer that. I don't like an ending where every little thing is tied up in a bow - that's so unrealistic. But I know many others prefer those endings. I think a lot of teens prefer more realism. They feel like adults are always trying to shield them from the real world, so I think this will work well for teens. The history lessons aren't too pedantic, and Andi's problems are very realistic. I've read some reviews that say she's whiny, but I'll bet I would be too if my little brother had been killed. I think it's pretty cruel and ignorant for anyone to think they'd hold up better in Andi's situation without having gone through it. Her loss was enormous, and therefore so is her grief.

Enjoyable and thought-provoking, this is a great book for teen girls. This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I bought this book at the Friends of the Library book sale.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: Revolution

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

"Those who can, do. Those who can't, deejay."

Sorry, I had to do two lines! The first line is lame without the second. A funny opening to a YA novel.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: In Spite of Everything

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

In Spite of Everything: A Memoir of Divorce, My Messed-Up Childhood, and the Fight to Make Everything Right by Susan Gregory Thomas

from the publisher's catalog:
A smart, surprisingly funny memoir about a mother's heartbreaking struggle to survive divorce and save her kids from reliving her own damaged childhood.

When Susie Thomas was a teenager, her parents' divorce almost destroyed her. As an adult, she shaped her life around the promise that no matter what, she would never allow her own children to face that pain. Until, eight years into what seemed like a perfect marriage, it happened anyway. Here is the story that follows, an astounding, brilliantly told account of a mother's fight to protect her children's future and to finally make sense of her own troubled past. Woven throughout with original insights on divorce, parenthood, and the meaning of home, Thomas's eye-opening, gut-wrenching, but ultimately beautifully optimistic memoir holds a mirror up to a whole generation.

Publishing by Random House on 7/12/2011.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Revolution

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly p. 49

"You were never here when you were supposed to be. Now you're not supposed to be here and you are."

Andi screams this at her father who has come to see her after finding out she's failing all her classes, and upon finding her mother's deteriorated mental state, he insists on checking her mother into a hospital and taking Andi to Paris. God forbid, Paris! Only a teenager would be mad about that. I personally missed out on a trip to Southern Europe when I was 14 because I wanted to go to summer camp and see my friends instead. Teenagers can be crazy.

Monday, July 4, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
John Adams by David McCullough - OMG it took forever and I just barely made it (I wanted to finish it in the month of June, Audiobook month, and it took a real push) but it was worth it!
Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale and Stan Redding

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell - I just passed page 800! I am 2/3 of the way through this book, woo hoo!
Home-Based Business For Dummies by Paul Edwards, Sarah Edwards, Peter Economy
Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell (audio)

Up next:
The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
The Ragged Way People Fall Out of Love: A Novel by Elizabeth Cox
The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding by Robert Hughes

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Review: Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

I remember this book being on every summer reading list from probably 5th through 10th grade, but I never read it in school. I found it recently in a used book store, and thought it was a modern classic I had missed.

Patty Bergen is 12, her family is the only Jewish one in their small Arkansas town near the Tennessee border, and they own the department store in town. In the summer, all Patty's friends have gone to a Christian summer camp and she's left alone to entertain herself. A whip-smart, inquisitive girl, she doesn't mesh with her stylish, elegant mother or her dictatorial father, who both adore her Shirley Temple-esque little sister. The big gossip of the summer is that nearby a POW camp has been built and recently a shipment of German POWs was shipped to town. When a group of them arrive in her father's store to purchase hats (they are passing out, working in the fields in the hot Southern summer sun), Patty speaks with the POW who is acting as interpreter, Anton, and finds him to be kind, intelligent, and appreciative of her. So a few weeks later, when she sees him escaping from the camp, she hides him in her family's garage. The repercussions that come from her violent father, and the close-minded town, are inevitable but still heartbreaking

Oh, how I hope Patty gets out of that town and away from her family! I wish she could live with her grandparents in Memphis, or even just be a few years older so that 18 isn't as far away! It's amazing she's doing as well as she is, given that neither of her parents show her the least bit of affection, her father beats her badly, regularly, and everything that makes Patty special - her curiosity, her openness, her love for people regardless of their race, nationality, or status - are the things her parents hate about her.

Some people criticize the book because at one point there is a very brief, chaste kiss between Patty (12) and Anton (22) but I think they are reading far too much into it. Anton isn't taking advantage of Patty and it was quite innocent. What I find shocking is that anyone - let alone a Jewish girl - can understand that even during WWII, not all Germans are Nazis, and therefore they're not all intrinsically evil. They're human and individual, and I think that lesson would have been a hard one for many Americans to accept (even now.)

I'm glad I read this book as an adult. I'm not sure that I would have appreciated it as a preteen. It is deceptively simple, but this kind of subtlety is often lost on children readers (even me!) Read in class with a teacher to guide discussions, I can see how it can work, but I think it would have been difficult for summer reading. A lot of it would have gone over my head. But it's a great book now

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I bought this book at a used bookstore.