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Katie's 11 in 11 Reading

The 11 in 11 Category Challenge

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Edited: Dec 10, 2011, 8:58am Top

I don’t have as much time to read as I would like, so I am only trying for three books in each category – it may still be a stretch. I won’t count a book in more than one category - but I will note any that cross-over - and all the books (except in the “Gifts” category) have to be ones I own as of 1 January 2011 (at least that's my goal but I make no promises!).

Oldies - COMPLETE!
Shivers - COMPLETE!
Groans - COMPLETE!
Impulses - COMPLETE!
Wrinkles - COMPLETE!
Accents - COMPLETE!
Whatifs - COMPLETE!
Shorties - COMPLETE!

Edited: Dec 10, 2011, 8:59am Top

Oldies – Books that moved halfway across the country with me in 2005 and are STILL languishing unread on my shelves.

1. The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns (02/09/11 - 02/12/11)
2. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (03/11/11 - 03/13/11)
3. The Perfect Elizabeth by Libby Schmais (12/03/11 - 12/06/11)

Possibilities: Too many to list!

ETA to change category

Edited: Dec 18, 2011, 5:20pm Top

Shivers – mystery/suspense/thriller. Self-explanatory

1. Still Life by Louise Penny (12/31/10 - 01/01/11)
2. Still Missing by Chevy Stevens (01/08/11 - 01/11/11)
3. A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (02/02/11 - 02/04/11)

Bonus Reads:
4. A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie (03/12/11 - 03/12/11)
5. The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill (03/20/11 - 03/26/11)
6. In the Woods by Tana French (04/04/11 - 04/11/11)
7. Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (04/27/11 - 04/30/11)
8. Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson (05/10/11 - 05/15/11)
9. The Last Talk with Lola Faye by Thomas H. Cook (05/11/11 - 05/20/11)
10. The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (05/19/11 - 06/07/11)
11. All Shall Be Well by Deborah Crombie (06/30/11 - 07/03/11)
12. The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill (07/06/11 - 07/14/11)
13. The Chopin Manuscript by Jeffrey Deaver et. al. (08/05/11 - 08/16/11)
14. A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George (09/21/11 - 09/24/11)
15. Undone by Karin Slaughter (09/28/11 - 10/4/11)
16. A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny (10/31/11 - 11/07/11)
17. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (11/25/11)
18. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (12/06/11 - 12/18/11)

Edited: Dec 3, 2011, 6:27pm Top

Groans – classics. I actually love 19th and early 20th c. literature but a lot of people groan at the thought of reading it.

1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (01/30/11 - 02/02/11)
2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin (02/16/11 - 02/21/11)
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (03/19/11 - 03/20/11)

Bonus Reads:
4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (04/17/11 - 05/07/11)
5. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (05/24/11 - 06/12/11)
6. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (06/13/11 - 06/18/11)
7. Emma by Jane Austen (07/18/11 - 07/30/11)
8. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (10/07/11 - 10/11/11)
9. Persuasion by Jane Austen (11/28/11 - 12/03/11)

Edited: Dec 31, 2011, 9:02am Top

Impulses – books by authors whom I have never read but still impulse-buy their books because they sound so good/interesting/fun/etc. Hope to discover some new favorite authors here.

1. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (02/23/11 - 03/11/11)
2. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (08/26/11 - 08/31/11)
3. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (11/04/11 - 11/05/11)

Bonus Reads:
4. Felicia's Journey by William Trevor (12/29/11 - 12/30/11)

Edited: Aug 26, 2011, 10:21am Top

Wrinkles – historical fiction. Hope to go fairly broad here in terms of setting and time.

1. Mirabilis by Susann Cokal (01/11/11 - 01/22/11)
2. The March by E.L. Doctorow (05/20/11 - 05/23/11)
3. Partitions by Amit Majmudar (07/15/11 - 07/18/11)

Bonus Reads:
4. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (08/02/11 - 08/06/11)
5. Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (08/06/11 - 08/16/11)
6. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (08/19/11 - 08/26/11)

Edited: Dec 31, 2011, 12:02pm Top

Tykes – childrens/young adult. Favorites from my childhood.

1. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (07/04/11)
2. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (08/02/11)
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (08/16/11 - 08/19/11)

Bonus Reads:
4. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (08/27/11 - 09/08/11)
5. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (12/15/11 - 12/31/11)

Edited: Jun 30, 2011, 11:32pm Top

Accents – “multi-cultural” fiction or non-fiction. I am a Caucasian American so anything different from that counts!

1. I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali (01/29/11 - 01/30/11)
2. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (03/11/11 - 03/12/11)
3. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (06/03/11 - 06/04/11)

Bonus Reads:
4. Amore and Amaretti by Victoria Cosford (06/22/11 - 06/27/11)

Edited: Dec 21, 2011, 9:03am Top

Facts – non-fiction. Self-explanatory.

1. Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff by Rosemary Mahoney (02/04/11 - 02/09/11)
2. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (02/22/11 - 02/23/11)
3. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (04/15/11 - 04/27/11)

Bonus Reads:
4. Idyll Banter: Weekly Excursions to a Very Small Town by Chris Bohjalian (04/30/11 - 05/06/11)
5. The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White by Doug Merlino (DNF)
6. The Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche (06/13/11 - 06/22/11)
7. Bossypants by Tina Fey (09/09/11 - 09/29/11)
8. Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich (11/5/11 - 11/18/11)
9. Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman (11/19/11 - 12/02/11)
10. My Reading Life by Pat Conroy (12/03/11 - 12/14/11)
11. A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz (11/28/11 - 12/21/11)

Edited: Nov 25, 2011, 10:13am Top

Whatifs – fantasy/science fiction/horror. This is a new one for me as I have not read much in any of the three genres. Recommendations are welcome!

1. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (03/06/11 - 03/10/11)
2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (03/14/11 - 03/18/11)
3. Animal Farm by George Orwell (05/20/11)

Bonus Reads:
4. Soulless by Gail Carriger (05/25/11 - 05/28/11)
5. The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan (09/17/11)
6. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (10/11/11 - 10/20/11)
7. The Maze Runner by James Dashner (10/07/11 - 10/24/11)
8. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (11/17/11 - 11/25/11)

Edited: Dec 31, 2011, 12:02pm Top

Shorties – stories/novellas/essays/plays/poetry. Self-explanatory.

1. Life Studies by Susan Vreeland (02/13/11 - 03/15/11)
2. Disquiet by Julia Leigh (04/12/11 - 04/16/11)
3. Without by Donald Hall (04/16/11 - 04/16/11)

Bonus Reads:
4. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (05/06/11 - 05/11/11)
5. Silk by Alessandro Baricco (05/14/11)
6. Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott (06/22/11)
7. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (06/27/11 - 06/30/11)
8. Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan (08/31/11 - 09/02/11)
9. A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr (10/04/11 - 10/07/11)
10. Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Edited: Dec 29, 2011, 10:54am Top

Gifts – anything else that grabs my attention.

1. Trespass by Rose Tremain (01/22/11 - 01/25/11)
2. If I Stay by Gayle Forman (03/05/11 - 03/06/11)
3. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (03/18/11 - 03/19/11)

Bonus Reads (decided to list here the books I've read and will read that don't fit any of the other challenges. Those read prior to April 1 are not reviewed in this thread.)
4. England, England by Julian Barnes (01/02/11 - 01/08/11)
5. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig (01/25/11 - 01/29/11)
6. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King (03/26/11 - 03/29/11)
7. Something Missing by Matthew Dicks (03/30/11 - 04/02/11)
8. My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (04/02/11 - 04/14/11)
9. Room by Emma Donoghye (04/17/11 - 04/23/11)
10. The Ideal Man by Julie Garwood (05/07/11 - 05/09/11)
11. The Cinderella Deal by Jennifer Crusie (05/12/11 - 05/18/11)
12. The Lion by Nelson DeMille (05/29/11 - 05/31/11)
13. Eighteen Acres by Nicolle Wallace (06/12/11 - 06/13/11)
14. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen (06/18/11 - 06/22/11)
15. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (07/04/11 - 07/05/11)
16. The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig (07/06/11 - 07/28/11)
17. Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter (07/30/11 - 08/02/11)
18. Plum Lovin' by Janet Evanovich (07/28/11 - 08/03/11)
19. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson (09/02/11 - 09/09/11)
20. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (09/10/11 - 09/16/11)
21. Burning Bright by Helen Dunmore (09/24/11 - 09/27/11)
22. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (10/21/11 - 10/23/11)
23. When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (10/24/11 - 10/31/11)
24. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (11/7/11 - 11/15/11)
25. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (11/25/11 - 11/27/11)
26. Jane by April Lindner (12/21/11 - 12/23/11)
27. A Thinking Man's Bully by Michael Adelberg (12/27/11 - 12/28/11)

Dec 26, 2010, 11:14am Top

Welcome to the challenge!

Dec 26, 2010, 4:46pm Top

>13 lkernagh:: Thanks so much. I am excited to get started...

Dec 28, 2010, 11:56pm Top

Welcome to the challenge and sounds as if 3 books per category will be a good goal for you. Love your category titles - short and to the point!

Edited: Jan 2, 2011, 9:12pm Top

Still Life by Louise Penny
Category: Shivers

What The murder of a well-liked denizen of Three Pines, Quebec brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache to the picturesque hamlet where… all may not be what it seems… dundunDUN…

The first in the series of Inspector Gamache mysteries.

Why I wanted a fairly easy read for a car trip, and it was my choice for the 75ers January TIOLI challenge to start a new series in the new year.

How All in all, I enjoyed this book. The “cozy” mystery is not usually a genre I read, but I wanted to try something different, and I was not disappointed. The characterization of Gamache was excellent and he was immensely likable, as was Clara Morrow. Some of the secondary characters, and the village itself in all its cuteness, came off as somewhat clichéd, but the descriptions were spot-on in bringing the people and setting to life. I am interested to see if Yvette Nichol, a trainee in the security force, returns in any of the other books – I loathed her and secretly hope she meets an untimely end.

As for the mystery/plot itself, there were plenty of red herrings to throw off a reader like me who doesn’t read a lot of mysteries, but I wonder if a die-hard mystery fan wouldn’t have it figured out well before the end. The story moved along nicely to a rather melodramatic conclusion (which felt out of keeping with the rest of this quiet, gentle read). A solid read, and one good enough to send me to the bookstore to look for the next in the series. 3 stars

Jan 2, 2011, 7:43pm Top

I am glad you enjoyed it! I actually started with book #2 (Since it is set at Christmas time!) and have Still Life buried in mount TBR. I think you would like book 2, and yes Yvette is in the book (Won't spoil it for you).

Jan 2, 2011, 9:14pm Top

#17 I had a feeling Yvette would be back - too much unfinished business there. It'll probably end up being a tale of redemption or something, when I would much prefer she just get her comeuppance and go away! Ah, well... I'll just have to wait and see, I guess!

Jan 2, 2011, 11:51pm Top

Ha! You are like me, I love to hate a good villain :P

Jan 4, 2011, 10:20am Top

I am in the midst of a book not for this challenge, unless I want to count it for the catch-all category. I am about a quarter (maybe a third) of the way into England, England by Julian Barnes. I hope it picks up soon, as so far it's a bit of a slog - funny in places but almost trying too hard to be over-the-top satire. I think (hope!) that it will improve when the story and ridiculous premise really get going.

Jan 9, 2011, 6:08pm Top

I did finish England, England finally. I won't post my review here, as I am not counting it for this challenge, but my thoughts on it are on my threads in Club Read 2011 and the 75 Book challenge.

I've just started Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. I think it will fit my "Shivers" category, so stay tuned!

Edited: Jan 11, 2011, 11:30pm Top

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
Category: Shivers

What Told through her sessions with a therapist, Still Missing is the story of Annie who is abducted, held in a remote cabin for over a year suffering daily abuse, and finally escapes. It is the story of her captivity and her return to "normal" life.

Why I can't remember where I first heard about this book but it was probably here on LT. I picked up a copy when I saw it at my library. I was in the mood for something that would keep my attention and be an easy read.

How It was an easy read, but not a fun one. The descriptions of what Annie goes through while being held captive were very disturbing and hard to read in parts. The book kept my attention and kept me turning the pages because it is well-paced and riveting in parts. The writing is adequate but it was quite obviously a work done by a first-time author. The characters were not well-developed and I did not find myself engaging with any of them. Even Annie came across as fairly one-dimensional. The "twist" at the end felt kind of forced. I don't think it was needed; the book would have been stronger if it focused on Annie's experience and recovery rather than trying to be suspenseful or surprising. All in all, a great premise that didn't live up to its potential. 3 stars .

Edited: Jan 12, 2011, 11:12am Top

I have started Mirabilis by Susann Cokal for the "Wrinkles" category (historical fiction). It's set in France in the 14th century and so far - 25 or so pages in - it's very good.

Jan 22, 2011, 3:41am Top

Mirabilis by Susann Cokal
Category: Wrinkles

What A gorgeous, lush story of 14th century France, rife with sensuality, miracles, heresy and magic. It’s the story of Bonne, a wet nurse on the fringes of society, who becomes the savior of her town during a famine.

Why This one had been on my list of books to read for a long time. Don’t remember where I first heard about it.

How My first really good read of the year, Mirabilis is a beautifully written, intriguing story of religion and superstition. There is a lot going on in the book – purported miracles, rumored heresy, famine, healing, mischief and devotion – and it would be difficult to do justice to the story here. There are three primary voices in the book, and they weave together into a vivid tapestry depicting the society and environment of medieval France. The descriptions of place are very strong, and the character development is well done. Some of the details are very explicit, though not gratuitous, and for me, made the story come that much more alive; some readers, however, might be turned off. 4 stars

Jan 22, 2011, 11:38am Top

Good review on Mirabilis. I love historical fiction and this one sounds like something I would enjoy reading. I haven't read very many set in medieval France.

Jan 22, 2011, 12:55pm Top


It's a fascinating read with a wonderful sense of time and place which is what I look for in good historical fiction. Hope you like it!


Jan 22, 2011, 2:09pm Top

Humm...Mirabilis sounds like something right up my alley. On the wishlist it goes!

Edited: Jan 22, 2011, 3:27pm Top

For your "whatifs" I'd suggest Lois McMaster Bujold. She creates wonderful characters, beautifully woven plots with thoughtful touches, and she writes both SF and Fantasy. If you prefer an emphasis on fantasy, try The Curse of Chalion. For SF/romance, try Shards of Honor where her Vorkosigan saga begins, for 'straight SF' read The Warrior's Apprentice, or for fantasy/romance, check out Beguilement. She's terrific!

Jan 22, 2011, 6:19pm Top

As another fan of historical fiction, Mirabilis has really caught my attention. I'm adding it to my wishlist. Thanks.

Jan 22, 2011, 7:41pm Top

>25 lkernagh:, 27, 29 - This is the first time one of my entries has led to longer wish lists. I don't know if I should celebrate or apologize!

>28 Kek55: - Thank you for the suggestions! I will definitely look into the Bujold books.

Edited: Mar 1, 2011, 11:32pm Top

Trespass by Rose Tremain
Category: Gifts

In a nutshell: A beautiful and haunting novel of lives and memories disrupted by the trespass of truth and secrets.

There is a good range of reviews on Trespass here on LT; it seems most people either love it or hate it. I am in the former camp. While it’s true that most of the characters have few, if any, redeeming characteristics, I still found myself drawn in and caring about them. This is a dark, lyrical book where the bleached landscape is mirrored in the lives of the four main characters who seem to be bleached of all happiness. I don’t want to call it grim, because it isn’t; it is infused with melancholy and lost opportunities but in the absence of innocence and contentment in these lives, one is left with the knowledge of what is good and true in one’s own. 5 stars

Jan 26, 2011, 12:32am Top

Trespass looks good. I keep seeing it mentioned here on LT. Great review!

Jan 26, 2011, 10:27am Top

Thanks, Lori. It's definitely worth reading!

Edited: Feb 19, 2011, 5:22pm Top

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali, with Delphine Minoui
Category: Accents
Alternative Category: Facts

In a nutshell: A true account of one young Yemeni girl's quest for justice.

Nujood is 9 or 10 (no one can tell her for sure when she was born) when her father marries her off to a man three times her age. After a few months of sexual and physical abuse, she escapes and petitions for a divorce. That part of her story is shocking enough, but equally shocking is that this young girl found the strength inside herself to expose what was going on and demand justice in a very conservative Muslim country where girls rarely go to school, much less have a voice.

It's an interesting story and a quick read - I think it is intended as a YA book - though not particularly well-written. Whether that is the fault of the translator or Nujood's young voice, I don't know. Definitely worth reading, especially for those with an interest in international womens rights and/or understanding other cultures. 3 stars

Jan 30, 2011, 10:08pm Top

I am starting Sense and Sensibility tonight, for my "Groans" category. I am also participating in the Austenathon group reads over on the 75 Books group, so I could fill this category purely with Austen, but I am going to try to fit in some non-Austen classics.

Edited: Feb 3, 2011, 9:56am Top

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Category: Groans

In a nutshell: Not Austen’s best, but a fine and entertaining introduction to her work.

I really enjoyed my first reading of Sense and Sensibility, despite being familiar with it through the Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet film. This was Austen’s first published work and a good introduction to the themes and ideas that concern her most. The characterization is very strong without endless descriptions and explanations. The dialogue and actions of the characters provide us all the detail we need to know what Austen wants us to know about each. The minor characters are especially entertaining – selfish Fanny, spineless John Dashwood, vulgar but loveable Mrs. Jennings, and mean-spirited, sneaky Lucy. There is some wonderful commentary in the novel; my favorite line:

”Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”

And another favorite:

”…and because they were fond of reading, she fancied them satirical; perhaps without exactly knowing what it was to be satirical; but that did not signify. It was censure in common use, and easily given.”

I won’t go into the Elinor vs. Marianne, sense vs. sensibility arguments. This was my first reading and I read mainly with an eye to the plot and characters. A second reading will provide better opportunity for deeper reflection. 4 stars

Feb 3, 2011, 9:28am Top

Nice review of S&S! This year is the bicentennial of its publication, which is kind of cool. :) I love Fanny Dashwood -- that scene where she talks her husband out of giving any money to the girls is hilarious!

Feb 3, 2011, 9:55am Top

>37 christina_reads: Thanks, Christina. If you like Austen, the 75 books group is having group reads of all of her novels this year (in publication order). I've only read P&P and Emma (and now S&S), so I am looking forward to getting through them all. Feel free to come join the "Austen-a-thon"!

Feb 4, 2011, 9:55am Top

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
Category: Shivers

In a nutshell: Strong sophomore effort in the Inspector Gamache series.

I read Penny’s first mystery, Still Life, at the start of the year, and while I thought it was good, I didn’t really understand all the rave reviews of the series I had heard. But after finishing the second in the series, I am starting to understand. While I had some complaints about this one, they were minor and were far outweighed by the beautiful writing and imagery. A Fatal Grace is much darker than Still Life, but the darkness is broken up by startling rays of light provided by the goodness and fellowship of some of the denizens of Three Pines.

The mystery in A Fatal Grace is intriguing, but I found myself more caught up in the mystery surrounding Gamache’s past and the machinations against him from his superiors. This tangle was first hinted at in Still Life but there is much more of it in A Fatal Grace, and I look forward to learning more in the third book. My thanks to those on LT who encouraged me to stay with the series after my initial blah reaction. I plan to acquire #3 as soon as possible. 4 stars

Feb 4, 2011, 9:57am Top

I have completed my first category - three mysteries/suspense/thrillers. I will now keep track of bonus reads in that category. I've committed to three books in each category, but I'm reading a lot more than I expected, so it will be interesting to see how far I go over my goal.

Feb 8, 2011, 1:29pm Top

>39 katiekrug: I think I understand your reaction to the Louise Penny books. I really liked the first 3 books, thought they had a bit more substance than many of the cozies that I read (and enjoy), but it wasn't until book #4 that I started raving about them. My expectations for the early books weren't so high.

Feb 8, 2011, 3:39pm Top

>41 ivyd: Thanks, Ivy. I am definitely hooked!

Feb 9, 2011, 11:26am Top

Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff by Rosemary Mahoney
Category: Facts

In a nutshell: Interesting travelogue evocative of modern Egypt but lacking some depth.

Rosemary Mahoney does an excellent job of depicting the experience of being a foreigner, especially a woman, in Egypt. The overly helpful and solicitous Egyptians who ask a lot of questions and the overly familiar (bordering on inappropriate) comments of Egyptian men who seem to look on foreign women as an entity wholly “other” from Egyptian or other Muslim women are perfectly captured here. I visited Egypt in 2007 – business in Cairo and then a short vacation cruising up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan – and Mahoney’s narrative brought back many memories. (If interested, I’ve posted some photos on the gallery in my profile.)

The book is about the author’s attempt to row down the Nile from Aswan to Qena, and the difficulties inherent for an American woman in doing so – from trying to buy a boat to avoiding the authorities who would prevent her from making the trip. She intersperses the story with excerpts from, and reflections on, the letters and diaries of other visitors to Egypt, most notably Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert in the 19th century. She also includes stories of her previous visits to Egypt and its various tourist destinations.

I enjoyed this book mostly because of my own experience in the country and because I could draw parallels between her impressions and mine. I think the book would also be a good source for understanding parts of Egyptian culture for people planning to travel there (current turmoil not withstanding). I expected it to be more of a memoir, to provide insight into Mahoney’s impulse to attempt a difficult journey, and to gain a better understanding of who she is and what drives her. Instead, the book is more of a straight travelogue with occasional insights into what she gained from the experience. And in that sense, the book was somewhat of a disappointment. But there were wonderful parts that certainly made it worth reading – especially the relationship she develops with Amr, a Nubian falucca (the traditional sail boat) captain who assists her at the start of her endeavor. As a person who has been blessed to travel far and wide and to a variety of interesting places, I liked and agreed with her final sentences: “Travel never makes one cheerful. But it makes one thoughtful. It washes one’s eyes and clears away the dust.” 3.5 stars

Feb 10, 2011, 10:46am Top

Picked up The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns last night. This one fits my "Shivers" category (which is already complete) and my "Oldies" category, which is where I will count it. I bought it in May of 2004 and it has been on my shelves ever since, despite my hearing really good things about it. I'm about 50 pages in and definitely hooked.

Edited: Feb 12, 2011, 5:36pm Top

The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns
Category: Oldies
Alternative Category: Shivers

In a nutshell: Creepy and well-executed exploration of a small town’s descent into suspicion and hysteria.

The Church of Dead Girls has been languishing on my shelves since 2004 – I don’t know why, it was just one of those books that never made it to the top of my TBR list. Had I known what I was missing, I would have gotten to it a lot sooner.

I picked it up a few days ago, expecting a typical mystery/suspense story. And while all the elements of that kind of novel are present, this book is much more. It is narrated by a man who protects his solitude, so while a part of the town, he is also apart from it. This allows the reader to understand the setting and characters from a near perspective, while also seeing it all from a certain remove. As young teenage girls go missing, the citizens of Aurelius, New York begin to look upon one another with increasing suspicion and a touch of hysteria descends on the town. At first, outsiders are blamed, anyone different from the established norm, but as the mystery deepens, neighbors begin to look askance at one another and families are divided.

While the mystery aspect is solid, and the suspense builds well, I was most taken with the portrait of the town and its people and their disintegration, as the community turns on itself. Dobyns does it with a light and subtle hand, so that the evolution is natural and understandable, but still haunting. 4 stars

Feb 13, 2011, 10:22pm Top

I've picked up Life Studies by Susan Vreeland ("Shorties" category), and will soon be starting The Awakening by Kate Chopin for my RL book club. I've got a business trip next week with 28 hours of flying time (round trip and not counting lay-overs), so I hope to get some good reading in then. I always find it hard, though, to choose books for trips - what if none of them appeal to me at the time, or don't keep me engaged, or....? Such pressure!

Edited: Feb 21, 2011, 11:38pm Top

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Category: Groans
Alternative Cateogry: Shorties

In a nutshell: Lush, evocative writing is not enough to save this one for me.

I wanted to like The Awakening, I really did. As a strong, independent woman, I know it is my duty to celebrate others like me, whether real or fictional. But good Lord, Edna Pontellier has got to be one of the most unsympathetic, frustrating, and annoying heroines in all of literature.

Yes, her husband was a boor, her life was a bore, and she felt stifled. I can understand that and sympathize with it, and I applauded her small declarations of independence. What I could not get past, though, was the never ending internal struggle and swings of mood and emotion from one extreme to the other. I think this book is less a classic of feminist fiction and more an early exploration of bipolarity.

I will say no more so as not to give anything away. The novella is beautifully written, with incredibly evocative descriptions of place, home, weather, etc. The strength and beauty of the writing earned this one a star for that alone, bumping it up from a paltry two. 3 stars

Mar 1, 2011, 11:29pm Top

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Category: Facts

In a nutshell: Riveting account of the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster.

Jon Krakauer was a member of one of the groups caught in a sudden storm on Mt. Everest in May 1996. He was on assignment for a magazine, and this story benefits from both his mountaineering and journalistic experience. This book was, for me, a classic page-turner, and I zipped through it on a flight from Dallas to London, with plenty of time to spare. Krakauer’s descriptions of the mountain, the snow, the climbing, and the intense cold give the reader a feeling of “you are there, ” and his account of what happened when a blizzard suddenly came upon the dozens of people at or near the peak is gripping. His own sense of guilt and sadness provide a human dimension to the narrative and help to reinforce the power of the story. 4 stars

Mar 2, 2011, 2:38pm Top

I am about a third of the way through Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, and loving it so far. This will be the first entry in the "Impulses" category. I think I have three other books by the same author waiting to be read...

Mar 6, 2011, 4:08pm Top

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Category: Gifts

In a nutshell: Heartbreaking but life-affirming young adult novel.

If I Stay is the story of Mia, a seventeen year old musician in Oregon who, after a horrible car accident, finds herself in the space between life and death, forced to choose whether to hold on or to let go. The novel shifts between Mia’s experiences outside her body – able to see the results of the accident, know what happened, see her friends’ and family’s reactions and vigils at the hospital – and her memories of life before the accident. Forman gives us a picture of a somewhat unconventional family, one bound by love and acceptance of each other. It’s a beautiful portrait, but I found the sections describing the hours after the accident the most gripping. The idea that sometimes a victim is allowed to choose whether to live or to die, in a part of reality invisible to us, was wonderfully explored, and the horror of what happened to this young woman and her family is ultimately tempered by the reader’s knowledge of all that she still has to live for. 4 stars

Mar 6, 2011, 6:20pm Top

If I Stay sounds good. Adding it to the list. Thanks for the review!

Mar 10, 2011, 9:43am Top

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Category: What Ifs

In a nutshell: Challenging novel of psychological horror that will stay with me.

I don’t really know what to say about this odd little novel. It tells the story of Miranda Silver, a British girl afflicted with all sorts of problems from the physical to the mental, her twin brother Eliot, the house they inhabit in Dover, England, and the ghosts of their mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. The house is a malevolent force and so much a character in the book that it gets its own narrative voice. There are, in fact, multiple narrators here, and most of them are unreliable. The narrative perspective changes often, as does the time, so that the reader is left to figure out if the story has advanced or moved back. In reading other reviews, I found some of them contradictory to each other and to what I thought had happened – Oyeyemi obviously is playing with time and perspective and the reader never does get a handle on the story as a whole. Reading this book is like trying to read through a prism or pieces of fractured glass. I felt like I was always missing something, some fragment that would make sense of it all. That being said, the imagery in the book is wonderful – very rich and textured, and the sense of foreboding and horror build nicely. I struggled with the first half but settled in for the second and was rewarded. Though still confused. 3.5 stars

Edited: Mar 11, 2011, 4:18pm Top

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Category: Impulses
Alternative Category: Wrinkles

In a nutshell: Rollickingly fun ride through Victorian melodrama.

Fingersmith started off a little slow for me, like the beginning of a roller coaster as it slowly makes its first ascent; and then it just takes off, sweeping down and around the twists and turns, up and down, until one can do nothing but enjoy the ride. There are over a hundred reviews of the book here on LT alone, so I’ll just say that the historical detail, world-building of Victorian London, and intense atmosphere more than made up for any slight flaws that I felt existed (for instance, the first real twist in the plot wasn’t difficult to anticipate), and I only took so long to finish this one because I didn’t want it to end. 4.5 stars

Mar 11, 2011, 6:38pm Top

>53 katiekrug: Oh, I have this! I've really been in the mood for a historical novel. I'm off to dig this out.

Mar 12, 2011, 10:09am Top

>54 Tanglewood: Hope you enjoy it!

Mar 12, 2011, 7:43pm Top

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Category: Accents
Alternative Category: Shorties

Mohsin Hamid’s novella takes the form of a single monologue, delivered by a Pakistani man named Changez, to an American stranger in a café in Lahore. At first, it is a seemingly straight forward narrative of Changez’s success in realizing the American dream – attending Princeton, landing a lucrative job at a prestigious financial firm in New York, and falling in love with a beautiful American woman. As the narrative progresses, and the tension builds, we learn of Changez’s inner turmoil after 9/11, how his life and perspective are changed and challenged.

Nostalgia emerges as a theme early on and is carried throughout the novella. The grip of memory, of what once had been, is a destructive force here, as Hamid seems to be commenting on the danger of looking too much backward. The truth of what is, and what was, is not always universal. This is most clear in Changez’s relationship with Erica, a classmate with whom he falls in love, but who remains out of his reach, devoted to the memory of her first love who has died.

The monologue is interspersed with Changez’s reassurances to the American who exhibits some wariness, suspicion and discomfort at various times during their evening together. It is in these brief asides that I found the central tension – that two people, sitting in the same place at the same time, can view the same action or observe the same situation but see it completely differently. Experience colors everything and contributes to misunderstanding and distrust. The abrupt ending only reinforces this idea, as the way in which the reader will fill in the blank depends very much on personal perspective and bias.

When I first finished this book, my initial reaction was apathetic – interesting story, well-done narrative, but I don’t like it as much as I am “supposed” to. In thinking on it more, however, I’ve come to appreciate what Hamid was attempting and how he succeeded. The story made me uncomfortable and frustrated me, but it made me think and gave me insight to a perspective much different from my own. 4 stars

Edited: Mar 13, 2011, 10:11am Top

A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie
Category: Shivers

In a nutshell: Enjoyable first entry in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma Jones mystery series.

There was nothing very surprising or groundbreaking here, just a solid, enjoyable mystery introducing Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, and his Sergeant, Gemma Jones. I think I may have developed a little crush on Kincaid – he is smart, dryly humorous, and has toffee-colored hair. Three pluses in my book. I believe the series now numbers around 13, and I look forward to reading more. One note: this was the first book I read on my new Kindle and was a perfect page-turner (button-pusher?) for the format. 3 stars

Edited: Mar 14, 2011, 12:22pm Top

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Category: Oldies

“(They) scraped with their tiny tools at the surface of the hidden world, hoping for what? To find a microscopic tracing of buried life. Life turned to stone.”

Daisy is an ordinary woman whose life story is told through a third person narration, occasionally alternating with Daisy’s own perspective and that of family and friends, as well as through letters written to her. Throughout the book, we see her life through others’ eyes and as it went on, I began to see this as the central theme of the book – how a woman’s life is framed by others’ perceptions and experiences of her and how she can maintain her own identity in those circumstances. Loneliness and numbness and the transience of existence are explored, not only through Daisy’s story but through those of some of the secondary characters.

The novel is broken up into several sections; interestingly, the section on “Motherhood” is broken up into several sub-parts, which brought to mind the fragmentation of a woman’s life – wife, mother, friend, etc., and the subsuming of the whole person to these various roles. And in the last section, “Death”, Daisy’s life is reduced to a recitation of lists, a few recipes, and scraps of conversation among her family who never seem to truly have known who she was.

A few favorite passages:

“Is this what love is, he wonders, this substance that lies so pressingly between them, so neutral in color yet so palpable it need never be mentioned? Or is love something less, something slippery and odorless, a transparent gas riding through the world on the back of a breeze, or else – and this is what he more and more believes – just a word trying to remember another word.”

“In turn it perceives nothing of her, not her history, her name, her longings, nothing – which is why she is able to love it as purely as she does, why she has opened her arms to it, taking it as it comes…”

“So much had happened, so many spoken words and collapsed hours, the rooms of his life filling and emptying and never guessing at the shape of their outer walls, their supporting beams and rough textured siding….. There are chambers, he knows, in the most ordinary lives that are never entered, let alone advertised, and yet they lie pressed against the consciousness like leaf specimens in an old book.”

“… hurling herself at the emptiness she was handed at birth. In the void she finds connection, and in the connection another void – a pattern of infinite regress which is heartbreaking to think of – and yet it pushes her forward, it keeps her alive.”

Shields writes with grace and a subtle depth of feeling that grows as the story advances. There is a lot to reflect on in this novel, and I have only touched on a bit of it. I have not done justice to a beautiful book that pulled me in from the beginning. 5 stars

Mar 14, 2011, 12:44pm Top

Good review of The Stone Diaries.

Mar 15, 2011, 10:07am Top

Thanks, Lori!

Mar 15, 2011, 8:45pm Top

Life Studies by Susan Vreeland
Category: Shorties

In a nutshell: Mixed bag of stories with some beautiful images and languages.

Susan Vreeland has established her own cottage industry in writing fiction based on the lives and works of famous artists. The first half of this book contains stories in a similar vein, while the second half is focused primarily on regular people discovering the power of art and artistic creation. Some of these stories worked better than others - in particular, one focused on Modigliani’s daughter and one on a young girl exposed for the first time to death and to art were very moving. Unfortunately, more of the stories felt rushed and somehow incomplete.

I actually started this book in February and would dip into it now and then. I can’t tell if it would have had a bigger impact on me taken as a whole, and perhaps I did not give it enough of my attention. As I said, some of the stories were lovely, and all of them were well-written but none have really stayed with me. Still, an interesting take on the role of art in illuminating the ordinary of the everyday. 3 stars

Mar 18, 2011, 5:02pm Top

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Category: What Ifs

In a nutshell: Perfect young adult fantasy.

This was my first book by Neil Gaiman, and I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. In Nobody (Bod) Owens, Gaiman has created an endearing portrait of childhood with all its attendant inquisitiveness, humor, curiousity, fear, and sweetness. Bod exists in a charming world – a graveyard – populated with wonderfully imagined characters, and I love how Gaiman brought it all to life (no pun intended!). While there is darkness and suspense in this story, it is more than balanced out by the humor and love with which Bod is surrounded. I laughed out loud, and teared up, at various times, and did not want the story to end. And it was such a bittersweet ending, a perfect conclusion to a wonderful book. I am looking forward to sharing this with my little cousins (currently aged 5 and 2) when they are old enough. 5 stars

Mar 19, 2011, 4:19am Top

Hey! I thought I come by and say hi!! You were in the Stone Diareis thread -so I thought I'd pop by and say hi! I've read the book Still Missing and I really loved it! I've also read a couple of Louise Penny's books! Come and visit me on my 75 books to read in 2011 - if you look on my profile, you will find the link! :)

Mar 19, 2011, 8:20am Top

I really enjoyed The Graveyard Book too, but I just finished his Odd and the Frost Giants which I thought was just average. If I didn't like Gaiman so much I think I would have given it three stars instead of 3.5 ;) Although the mood is very different, you might try his Stardust. It's one of my favorites by him.

Mar 19, 2011, 10:23am Top

Thanks, Tanglewood. I have heard good htings about Stardust and will add it to my wish list.

Edited: Mar 19, 2011, 7:13pm Top

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Category: Gifts

In a Nutshell: Lushly atmospheric tale of murder, loneliness and race in Mississippi.

I won’t do justice to this book, no matter what I write. I am not even sure how to categorize it – mystery, coming of age, Southern gothic, an exploration of race – they all fit to one degree or another. Gorgeously written (despite some bad copy editing which left one too many typos in my edition), Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter tells the story of two boys – one black, one white – each with his own pain, who find common ground for a few months and transcend their histories, family expectations, and loneliness to be just boys – roaming the woods and creek beds of their southeastern Mississippi home.

Fast forward 25 years and now the boys are tormented men (though for different reasons and in different ways), and old secrets and truths begin to come to light. Tom Franklin has created an authentic sense of place in tiny Chabot, Mississippi, as well as two compelling characters in Larry and Silas for whom it is impossible not to feel deep sympathy. While dark and sad throughout, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is ultimately a story of redemption and hope (and yes, I know it’s a cliché, but even clichés can be true). The book fell short of 5 stars for me due to a bit of a clunky resolution to the “mystery” part of the novel; however, one should not read this in anticipation of a typical work of suspense or a thriller. It is so much more. 4 stars

ETA: My thanks to RidgewayGirl for the impetus to move this one to the top of my Read NOW pile.

Mar 20, 2011, 12:06pm Top

I'm so glad you liked it too! But this was a very good book. I'm eager to read others by Tom Franklin.

Mar 20, 2011, 12:34pm Top

Me, too. I've put his others (2 novels and a collection of stories) on my wish list.

Mar 20, 2011, 8:37pm Top

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category: Groans

In a nutshell: Really? If you don't know what it's about or how great its awesomeness is, just go read it.

One of my favoirtes of all time. Nuff said.

5 stars (though I'm tempted to take away some tiny tenth of a star for the annoyingness that is Jane Bennett)

Mar 24, 2011, 12:17pm Top

Great review of The Graveyard Book. I read it earlier this year and loved it as well. Last year I read my first Gaiman, Neverwhere and was totally captivated by it and I have Stardust sitting on my TBR shelves to look forward to. In a very short span of time Neil Gaiman has made my favorite authors list!

I have Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter on my wishlist to look forward to as well.

Mar 24, 2011, 2:07pm Top

>70 DeltaQueen50: Judy, I am defintely going to read more Gaiman. I am also thinking about listening to The Graveyard Book on audio, as I think it would probably be a good one for that format.

Hope you like Crooked Letter when you get to it!

Edited: Mar 27, 2011, 9:24am Top

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill
Category: Shivers

In a nutshell: Very good police procedural dealing with a serial killer, alternative medicine, and the intriguing DCI Simon Serailler.

This is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Simon Serailler. I read somewhere that it was also Hill’s first time working in the genre, and though that is evident in some small ways, I think she acquitted herself well, and I look forward to reading more.

The Various Haunts of Men deals with a serial killer in the town of Lafferton. There is a lot going on here, not all of which seemed necessary to the story arc, and Hill introduces a lot of characters – many tangential – which prevented the novel from being a perfectly tight, gripping read. Those are the kind of flaws, though, that will probably diminish as the series goes on and Hill finds her footing. The strength of this book is the characterization of the primary figures – some of them likeable, some of them enigmatic, and a few infuriating.

And speaking of infuriating, I did throw the book down in anger about 10 pages from the end when Hill throws in a twist that completely gobsmacked me and turned my expectations for the book and the series on their head. After that outburst, I did pick it up and finished it; though still not happy, I respect Hill for the choice she made and look forward to the second entry in this series. 3.5 stars

Mar 29, 2011, 10:45pm Top

Just finished The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King but it doesn't really fit any of my categories so I won't be counting it here. My less than enthusiastic review is on the book's work page and my 75ers and Club Read threads.

Apr 1, 2011, 11:08pm Top

I am reading a lot more than I expected, so three books in each category is proving to be not much of a challenge. I am not going to set a new goal, but will continue to record all that I read to complete categories and fill out with bonus reads.

Apr 2, 2011, 9:53am Top

2011 Quarter 1 Summary
Books Read: 25
Pages Read: 7805
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (re-read)
Trespass by Rose Tremain
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

2011 Totals
Books Read: 25
Pages Read: 7805

11in11 Challenge (This quarter/2011 Total)
Oldies: 2/2
Shivers: 5/5
Groans: 3/3
Impulses: 1/1
Wrinkles: 1/1
Tykes: 0/0
Accents: 2/2
Facts: 2/2
What Ifs: 2/2
Shorties: 1/1
Gifts: 6/6

Comments: I joined LT in November of last year and am amazed at how it has rekindled my love of good books and reading. I’ve cut out a lot of TV watching and discovered some great new books and authors thanks to the threads here. I have already read more this year than in all of 2010 (though my personal best was about 120 books in 2003 or 2004 when I had a long commute on public transportation and no life outside of work)! It’s been great fun “meeting” people here and exchanging thoughts, and I am looking forward to more good reading and conversation in the future. The only downside I can see is the amount of money I’ve been spending to move books off my wish list and onto the groaning TBR shelves…

Apr 2, 2011, 11:20am Top

Nice summary. You are making good progress and I agree, LT has been great for bringing some fantastic books to my attention that I otherwise would never have picked up.

Apr 2, 2011, 1:03pm Top

I'm having the same experience with LT. Don't forget the growing list of absolutely needed books due to reading about them here.

Edited: Apr 2, 2011, 4:42pm Top

Something Missing by Matthew Dicks
Catgory: Gifts

In a nutshell: Charming story of a quirky thief.

Matthew Dicks has created a memorable hero in Martin Railsback, a thief with a touch of OCD who takes only items that won’t be missed from his “clients’” homes – some laundry detergent, a few groceries, a rarely worn piece of jewelry. In this way, Martin has escaped detection, despite routinely entering some people’s homes repeatedly over the course of many years. He has come to consider his clients as friends, though they have never met. It is this instinct which gets him into trouble – while trying to play guardian angel to those he cares about, Martin finds that keeping his identity a secret may be impossible.

Something Missing is charming and laugh-out-loud funny in many parts, and though you know intellectually that what Martin does for a living is wrong, he is so engaging a character – so modest and self-effacing – that you can’t help rooting for him. If I were to look for a deeper meaning in the novel, I would say that it is about personal relationships and what holds us back from connecting to other people. Only by moving out of what we consider safe and known can we really know ourselves and come to truly know other people. 3.5 stars

Apr 2, 2011, 7:17pm Top

I did enjoy Martin and the story of Something Missing. Glad to see you did as well!

Apr 3, 2011, 10:42am Top

>79 lkernagh: Lori, have you read Dicks' other book - Unexpectedly Milo? It looks fun and quirky, too. Need to check the library to see if they have it...

Apr 3, 2011, 5:34pm Top

I checked my library. Unfortunately, they do not have Unexpectedly, Milo so I will have to scour my other book sources to see if I can locate a copy.

Apr 3, 2011, 11:15pm Top

78: Glad to see I am not the only one who read Something Missing for the challenge and enjoyed it! :) It started off in my mystery category and shifted to humour since I couldn't really see the mystery end of it :P

Apr 3, 2011, 11:22pm Top

>82 Bcteagirl: Janice - It was such a fun read. Definitely more humor than mystery in it. I am looking forward to reading his other book.

Apr 3, 2011, 11:24pm Top

>81 lkernagh: Lori, I just checked and my library doesn't have it, either. I was sure they would and passed up a 60% off copy at Borders, thinking I could read it for free. May have to make a return trip to Borders...

Edited: Apr 11, 2011, 10:02pm Top

In the Woods by Tana French
Category: Shivers

In a nut shell: Darkly atmospheric suspense set in contemporary Dublin.

I have had In the Woods on my TBR shelves for a while now and expect I’ll be adding French’s other two novels shortly. Simply put, I loved this book. I loved the fine character development, the sharp dialogue, and the sweet, dark sadness at its heart.

Beautifully written, In the Woods is less a police procedural than an exploration of memory and experience as it explores two separate but tenuously connected mysteries: the present day murder of a little girl and the disappearance, twenty years earlier, of two children. The two missing children happen to have been the best friends of the lead detective on the murder case and his inability to remember what happened a long ago summer day still haunts him. French’s evocation of childhood summers – that intense feeling of freedom and wonder where the world seems to be all yours – is excellent. Equally good is her depiction of the friendship and camaraderie between the narrator – the lead detective – and his partner. The toll the case takes on each of them and on their relationship is heartbreaking but rings truer than not.

The solution of the mystery of the murdered girl is not all that surprising, but nor was it the heart of the book so it didn’t really bother me. French uses that story to tell a deeper one and one well worth reading. 5 stars

Apr 11, 2011, 10:26pm Top

Glad to see you enjoyed In the Woods! I have her second book, The Likeness sitting on my TBR pile while I see about getting around to reading her first book.

Apr 12, 2011, 5:35am Top

>85 katiekrug: I'd looked at this book, but it seemed that a lot of people were unhappy with the ending. Did you feel that ending came to a satisfying conclusion? I don't mind some ambiguity, but I don't like to be left hanging.

Apr 12, 2011, 7:18am Top

I'm glad you liked In the Woods. I think that the people who didn't were upset that questions remained, but the story would not have been as strong otherwise.

The Likeness is much better--you have an excellent book to look forward to.

Apr 12, 2011, 10:21am Top

>86 lkernagh: - Lori, I think you are in for a treat. If nothing else, the writing is very, very good.

>87 Tanglewood: - Tanglewood (Michelle? I think you're Michelle, but if not, forgive me!) - the ending is not neat and tidy but it's realistic. I also think French might be setting up for a continuation of the story line that wasn't concluded in a future book.

>88 RidgewayGirl: - RG (Allison? Kay?) - I agree with you about the ending. And I am SO looking forward to reading The Likeness.

Sorry if I got first names wrong. I try to look at people's profiles to get it right, or make a mental note when I see other LTers address you. After a few posts, it seems so impersonal to use "handles" :-)

Apr 14, 2011, 10:50pm Top

My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Category: Gifts

In a nut shell: Charming collection of Wooster/Jeeves and Reggie Pepper stories.

There is not too much to say about these bits of fluff. I read them on my Kindle during lunch hours and they proved a nice diversion. I enjoyed the Bertie Wooster and Jeeves tales more than the others, as Jeeves is just such a perfect straight man. Some of the off the cuff remarks and descriptions were very funny. My two favorites:

”…I hadn’t the heart to touch my breakfast. I told Jeeves to drink it himself.” from “Leave It To Jeeves”

”She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.” from “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest”

I look forward to reading more Wodehouse but will do so in small doses. I think it would lose its charm if taken too much at a time. 3 stars

Apr 15, 2011, 7:41am Top

I've read a couple of the short story collections for Jeeves and Wooster and agree that the small doses works well for those. They just end up a bit samey otherwise. I've also read one of the full length novels and found it not to be just a stretched out version. Overall I enjoyed the novel more than the shorts.

Apr 15, 2011, 10:17am Top

Hi Dave - I was thinking I'd try a novel next time just to see if it was a bit different. Thanks for stopping by!

Apr 16, 2011, 3:26pm Top

Disquiet by Julia Leigh
Category: Shorties

In a nut shell: A spare, barely-there story of a broken family trying to become whole again.

With a minimum of dialogue and description, Leigh captures the bleak atmosphere of an old French chateau where a woman has come for refuge, with her two children, from an abusive husband. Also present are the woman’s mother, brother, and sister-in-law, as well as the body of a stillborn baby. Spare and haunting, Disquiet is a novella of betrayed trust and shattered dreams and the struggle to reconnect in a new reality. Powerful, though at times almost too spare. 3.5 stars

Apr 16, 2011, 4:23pm Top

I remember reading Disquiet a few years back. I had some difficulty with the book as well. I found the writing disjointed in places and just never managed to connect with the story or the characters. Apparently, I also found it to be a 'dark', rather disturbing look at a family.

I do wonder, upon reflection, of some of the books I tend to pick up on a whim at my local library! ;-)

Apr 16, 2011, 6:21pm Top

>94 lkernagh: Lori, I can't remember where I first heard about Disquiet but I put it on my wish list and got a copy for Christmas two years ago. I remember being surprised, and somewhat disappointed, it was a novella, though having now read it, I am glad it wasn't longer. I would htink it would be hard to justify more than 120 pages of Leigh's writing style :-)

Apr 16, 2011, 6:30pm Top

Without by Donald Hall
Category: Shorties

In a nut shell: Poems on the illness and death of the poet Jane Kenyon.

Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, both well-known poets, had a long and happy marriage despite a substantial age difference, his multiple bouts with cancer and her clinical depression. Then, she was diagnosed with leukemia, endured a long treatment and eventually died in 1995. These poems chronicle the time of her illness and the period after her death, and are incredibly moving.

Some favorite bits:

"Dying is simple," she said.
"What's worst is...the separation."
When she no longer spoke,
they lay alone together, touching,
and she fixed on him
her beautiful enormous round brown eyes,
shining, unblinking,
and passionate with love and dread."
(from "Her Long Illness")

Tonight the Andover fireworks
will have to go on without me
as I go to bed early, reading
The Man Without Qualities
with insufficient attention
because I keep watching you die.
Tomorrow I will wake at five
to the tenth Wednesday
after the Wednesday we buried you.
(from "Independence Day Letter")

I grew heavy through summer and autumn
and now I bear your death. I feed her,
bathe her, rock her, and change her diapers.
She lifts her small skull, trembling
and tentative. She smiles, spits up, shits
in a toilet, learns to read and multiply.
I watch her grow, prosper, thrive.
She is the darling of her mother's old age.
("Postcard: January 22nd")

This book was published on the third anniversary of Kenyon’s death and lays bare Hall’s pain, both at what she endured and at her eventual death. It is a beautiful, 80-page volume of naked grief and lonely mourning. 4 stars

Edited: Apr 23, 2011, 6:51pm Top

Room by Emma Donoghue
Category: Gifts

There are plenty of excellent reviews of this book here on LT and elsewhere, so I won’t say much. I know some readers were enthralled by the first half of the book and liked the second half less. I was the opposite, finding the transition Jack and his mother had to make very interesting and thought-provoking. It’s difficult to go into it here without spoilers….

As others have noted, the book is narrated by 5-year old Jack and his voice is wonderful. The dichotomy of a horrible situation being seen through the eyes of a young child who doesn’t know any better made this a gripping read for me. The narrow perspective provided by Jack serves to make the reader more acutely and uncomfortably aware of the heartbreaking circumstances and allowed me to engage with the story in a unique way. 4.25 stars

Apr 23, 2011, 8:49pm Top

I keep circling this book. I think I'll have to just go and buy a copy as I'll need to be in the right frame of mind to be able to read it.

Apr 23, 2011, 8:58pm Top

>98 RidgewayGirl: - Kay, It's definitely worth reading but you are right - you need to be in a certain frame of mind.

Apr 23, 2011, 9:40pm Top

Good review of Room Katie! I agree, Donahue did a great job capturing the voice of Jack. It is actually the only Donahue book I have read so far.... Slammerkin keeps waving at me from my bookshelves but I know that is a completely different story from Room and one I do plan on getting to someday.

Apr 23, 2011, 9:57pm Top

Lori, I've read Slammerkin (loved it!) and have The Sealed Letter and Life Mask on my TBR shelves.

Apr 24, 2011, 9:30am Top

She's the same Emma Donahue that wrote Slammerkin? How interesting. I will have to give Room a go.

Apr 24, 2011, 10:24am Top

Yes, it is Michelle :)

I've been seeing a lot of people reading Jane Kenyon poems. I need to check out both her poems and Hall's Without: Poems. His book sounds very touching.

Apr 24, 2011, 10:55am Top

>102 RidgewayGirl: - Yup, same one. I was kind of surprised when I first realized it, as I only knew about her historical fiction.

>103 Tanglewood: Hi, Michelle :-) I am hoping to read some Kenyon poems myself.

Apr 28, 2011, 10:57pm Top

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
Audio book Read by Shelly Frasier
Category: Facts

This was my first-ever audio book, and it was a good introduction to the format. Roach takes us through the different possible fates of bodies donated to science after death and provides a lot of fascinating historical anecdotes dealing with the same. This was my first encounter with Roach’s work, and I look forward to getting to more of her books. I appreciated the excellent detail and humor throughout.

The narration by Shelly Frasier was very smooth, and she hit just the right notes of wryness and irony in the humorous asides and stories being recounted. The only problem, really, was that there were a few scratches on some of the discs (I borrowed this from the library) and I missed out on some parts. While I enjoyed listening to the book – done mostly during my commute to and from work – I find that I am left only with general impressions. I don’t know if this is because of the new-to-me format or the nature of the book, or my inexperience in listening rather than reading, but I can provide very few details. I think most of my deep reading will have to be done the old-fashioned way. 3.5 stars

May 3, 2011, 5:43pm Top

Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Audio read by Derek Jacoby
Category: Shivers

What a delight! I have never read any of Josephine Tey’s books but have seen glowing reviews here on LT. I stumbled across this audio book at my local library and decided to give it a try during my drive from Dallas to Houston. Never has I-45 passed by so quickly…

Daughter of Time is not a traditional mystery. It is the story of a Scotland Yard detective who is laid up in the hospital after an injury and who, in an effort to alleviate the boredom of being bed-ridden, begins a historical investigation into King Richard III of England. Richard is widely believed to have had his two nephews killed in order to secure the throne for himself. A detailed explanation of all the political and familial machinations would be too difficult to attempt here, and some of it was a bit difficult to follow on audio (had I been reading the book, I would have been flipping back a lot). But Tey does a wonderful job of elucidating the situation and laying out the evidence.

There is very little action in this book, but it’s filled with wonderfully-drawn characters and sharp dialogue. Highly recommended for fans of mysteries, history, or just darn-good stories. 4.5 stars

May 5, 2011, 3:04pm Top

Idyll Banter: Weekly Excursions to a Very Small Town by Chris Bohjalian
Audio book read by the author
Category: Facts

Eh, this one really didn’t do it for me. I have read and enjoyed a couple of Bohjalian’s novels and have a few more TBR, so when I saw this collection of his columns for a newspaper in Burlington, Vermont, I thought it would be a good choice. Not so much… The first problem was the reading. Bohjalian has a strange, awkward pacing that I found off-putting, especially when he ended every essay as if the last few words were separated by periods. It. Was. Very. Annoying.

Also bothersome was the self-congratulatory tone. Why, look at me! I moved from New York City to the wilds of Vermont and what fun I’ve had learning the ways of the natives! Being from a small town, I loathe this kind of patronizing condescension. Bohjalian takes great delight in recording the eccentricities of small town folk who name their cows, shop at the general store, hunt deer, and participate in civic activities. I got the sense that he wanted desperately to fit into this community but by continually drawing attention to its “otherness” (in his eyes), I don’t see how he ever could.

And finally, I don’t think Bohjalian is as funny as he would like to think. He continually employed a faux self-deprecating humor that fell flat. And there was always a pause after one of these “humorous” asides, as if he was giving the listener a chance to finish laughing. I don’t think I chuckled once through the whole thing, much less laughed.

I did listen to all 4.5 hours while sitting in Houston traffic, because it was (slightly) more enjoyable than listening to reports on the radio of how crappy Houston traffic is. 2 stars

Edited: May 7, 2011, 4:24pm Top

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Category: Groans

This was a re-read for me. I think I originally read it as a teenager, and remember liking it. There was a lot in the story I did not remember – the horrors of Jane’s childhood at Gateshead, her friendship with Helen at Lowood, and the recurring religious theme, in particular. It took me almost three weeks to read the book – not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because life kept getting in the way. When I was able to sit down and read, I tore through the pages quickly. It was kind of an odd reading experience for me – I was never eager to pick it up but when I did, I didn’t want to put it down. Also strange was the fact that I liked it so much almost despite the fact that I didn’t really care for many of the characters in it. Mr. Rochester was creepily over-bearing, St. John Rivers horribly sanctimonious, and even Jane grated on me most of the time. I most enjoyed the flashes of fire in her when she was roused to great emotion, but those times seemed few and far between. Despite all of this, I really enjoyed the book and am having a hard time figuring out why exactly. Nevertheless, it’s a 4.5 star read for me.

May 7, 2011, 6:07pm Top

I enjoyed your review of Jane Eyre. I too read it as a teenager, and after reading your thoughts on it, I'm thinking it's time for a re-read.

May 8, 2011, 9:29am Top

Hi Paulina, Thanks for stopping by. It's always interesting to me to re-read a book I have a vague recollection of enjoying years ago and seeing whether it stands the test of time.

May 10, 2011, 7:37pm Top

The Ideal Man by Julie Garwood
Category: Gifts

This was an ARC I received from NetGalley. It’s actually the first one I requested as I was playing around with the site. I have not read any romantic suspense in quite some time, though it used to be regular fare in my reading diet. This one was better than a lot, but not as good as some.

The plot is fairly typical: damsel in distress, though this damsel was more interesting than most – smart, funny, accomplished (but emotionally wounded, of course). The hero is perfect - ideal - in that hero kind of way – handsome, strong, sensitive, somewhat vulnerable, etc. etc. Damsel meets hero under extreme circumstances, chemistry ensues, hero protects and saves damsel, hero and damsel admit their love and live happily ever after. It’s formulaic, but it works, especially if one is in the mood for escapism.

There were a few things that bothered me about this book, some of which can be cleared up before publication. The misuse of words: at one point, one of the characters is “plummeted” by another (I think the word is pummeled); another time, “she glimpsed up at him” (glanced?). It was kind of distracting. Also, the resolution of the threat(s) against our damsel were a little too quick, as was the resolution of the romantic tension between damsel and hero. Obviously, there is going to be a happy ending but the best romantic suspense builds up to satisfying conclusions, while this one just raced to the finish.

I wanted to get this read and reviewed since I received it a couple of months ago. I might have enjoyed it more had I been mood-driven rather than duty-driven in reading it. 2.75 stars

No touchstone for this one yet...

May 11, 2011, 11:49am Top

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Audio book read by the author
Category: Shorties

The Uncommon Reader was a wonderfully sharp, funny and charming story of the universality of reading and how books can expand one’s world. Bennett uses the premise of Queen Elizabeth discovering the wonder of books and reading as a way to discuss themes and truths that will resonate with any book lover.

While one would assume the Queen has everything she could possibly want, it is not until she begins reading for pleasure that we (and she) begin to see the narrowness of her world, despite all her unique experience. Bennett’s Queen is a sympathetic figure, and his telling of her story is both gentle and very humorous. He accomplishes a difficult task: enabling the (common) reader to identify with the Queen of England. And that feat points to what seems to be his central point: the experience of reading – no matter who you are or what your circumstances – is by its nature universal and democratic.

I loved this novella – especially the end (no spoilers here!). I intend to pick up a physical copy of the book to add to my personal library. 4.5 stars

May 11, 2011, 1:39pm Top

>112 katiekrug: Nice, thoughful review of The Uncommon Reader, Katie. I really enjoyed it, too.

May 11, 2011, 1:50pm Top

Thanks, Ivy. It was a gem!

Edited: May 14, 2011, 1:08pm Top

Silk by Alessandro Baricco
Category: Shorties
Alternate Category: Wrinkles

A slight (88 small pages) but rich novella of a 19th century silk merchant who travels to Japan and falls in love with a concubine, without ever exchanging words with her. Silk is like a beautiful piece of music with motifs repeated throughout and each of the merchant’s journeys to Japan is a variation on a theme. The language is spare but lyrical and caught me up completely. A quick but very satisfying read. 4 stars

May 15, 2011, 12:27pm Top

Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson
Category: Shivers

This is the first book in the Gaslight Mystery series, set in turn of the century New York and featuring Sarah Brandt, a midwife, and Frank Malloy of the New York City Police. I enjoyed the historical tidbits and details regarding life in the city at that time, especially those related to the corruption and attempted reform of the police force. The mystery was solid and interesting, though the ending was both unsurprising and rather melodramatic. I plan to continue reading the series, as it is light and eminently readable, perfect for when I am not in the mood for anything complex or brain-taxing. I look forward to the development of the relationship between Sarah and Frank, two likeable and intriguing characters. 3 stars

Edited: May 18, 2011, 10:50pm Top

The Cinderella Deal by Jennifer Crusie
Audiobook, read by Susan Boyce
Category: Gifts

Jennifer Crusie is my go-to brain candy author. She writes smart, funny, contemporary romances. There is little depth in her novels, but she consistently writes strong, sharp heroines and wonderfully quirky secondary characters. They are the perfect kind of book to listen to.

Apparently, this is a re-release of one of her early works, and I did not like it as much as some of her more recent novels (Bet Me, Welcome to Temptation). It’s a classic opposites attract romance with two endearing lead characters and a strongly drawn supporting cast. Not much else to say – a fluffy escape during rush-hour traffic. 3 stars

May 19, 2011, 9:59am Top

I've read one of Jennifer Crusie's books and I think you're right -- she would be great to listen to in the car. I need audiobooks where my attention can wander to, well, driving or whether or not we need milk or if I have time to run by the post office. So anything too involved is a dud, but it also has to be good enough to listen to.

May 19, 2011, 10:29am Top

RG - I agree. I am now trying to listen to The Old Man and the Sea and it is just not working out. It's read by Donald Sutherland, who is wonderful, but I can't give it propoer attention. I think I need to stick to fluff in the car.

May 20, 2011, 10:43am Top

The Last Talk with Lola Faye by Thomas H. Cook
Category: Shivers

Do you ever pick up a book, smugly knowing exactly what to expect, and read maybe 100 or 150 pages, getting more and more frustrated because the author is taking so long to get where you know he is going, but you keep going because once he gets there you know it will be worth the wait? And then there are only 50 or so pages left, and you realize the author is not doing what you expected and you realize you probably would have enjoyed the book more had you gone in with no expectations?

Such was my experience with The Last Talk with Lola Faye. I thought it would be a tight, suspenseful mystery with a big reveal at the end. About a quarter of the way in, I had already decided what that big reveal would be and how the story would resolve itself. I wasn’t totally wrong, but instead of enjoying the process of getting there, I was impatient with what I perceived to be Cook’s digressions, mis-directions, and ham-handed way of telling rather than showing. It was only in the last third of the book that I realized Cook was telling a much more subtle story, and that the suspense – the expectation by the reader of some sort of action-based denouement – was actually driven by the careful disentangling of threads.

Last Talk is a dialogue between Luke, a mediocre historian and academic and Lola Faye, an old acquaintance. Years ago, tragedy struck Luke’s family and he has spent years with the ghosts of his past and his certainty about what happened. The novel switches between Luke’s recollections and his conversation with Lola Faye in a hotel bar. Slowly, everything Luke thought he understood is revealed to be based on his own assumptions and biases. What takes the place of Luke’s “truth” is a story of miscommunication, misplaced anger, and missed opportunities. The youthful Luke is a character entirely devoid of sensitivity, empathy or understanding, despite his academic brilliance. The adult Luke is a man frozen in place and numb to the world. Neither one evokes any sympathy in the reader, and the redemptive ending of Luke’s story seems a little too pat and happy.

Despite these flaws, I admire how Cook deftly drew me in and shattered my assumptions and expectations of the story, just as Luke’s are during the course of one evening. 3.5 stars

May 20, 2011, 10:21pm Top

Animal Farm by George Orwell
Category: What Ifs

A perfectly executed political allegory and indictment of totalitarianism, Animal Farm is also an engaging story full of insight and humor. There are purges, obligatory "spontaneous" celebrations, and a cult of personality to make Stalin proud. But in the end, it is heartbreaking to an extent I did not expect. Each character is beautifully drawn, from Napoleon, the porcine leader of the rebellion, to Benjamin, the cynical and depressive donkey. Orwell is masterful in his depiction of the transformation of a revolution into nothing more than a re-ordering of the status quo. Brilliant. 5 stars

May 20, 2011, 11:35pm Top

Hi Katie - nice review of The Last Talk with Lola Faye. I had some trouble accepting Cook's approach to story telling when I read The Fate of Katherine Carr and your review has convinced me that I probably won't like The Last Talk with Lola Faye, for the same reason.

May 20, 2011, 11:50pm Top

Thanks, Lori! I've looked up other books by Cook, and some sound very good so I will give him one more shot.

May 23, 2011, 10:57pm Top

The March by E.L. Doctorow
Category: Wrinkles

”I don’t know what to think. I’ve lost everything to this war. And I see steadfastness not in the rooted mansions of a city but in what has no roots, what is itinerant. A floating world.” (page 61)

The March is, quite simply, exactly what historical fiction should be. It brings alive a specific time and place, creates characters that are complex and reflective of their period, and brings to the reader the sights, smells and sounds of that period.

Doctorow tells the story of Sherman’s March to the Sea and the end of the American Civil War through numerous characters – white, black, free, slave, army, civilian, rich and poor. The sheer number of characters and stories could be overwhelming but they are connected by the March itself, a shared experience, and really the central character of the book. Through a kaleidoscope of images and stories, Doctorow pieces together a portrait of war, death, brutality, kindness, hope and redemption.

One of my favorite parts was the brief glimpse we are given of President Lincoln very near the end of the war. Wrede, a doctor observes: ”His affliction might, after all, be the wounds of the war he’d gathered into himself, the amassed miseries of this torn-apart country made incarnate. Wrede, who had attended every kind of battle death, could not recall having ever before felt this sad for another human being.”

This book sucked me in, both as a very good, well-told story, and as a fictionalized account of a part of American history I am not deeply familiar with. My one complaint would be that a map of Sherman’s route through Georgia and the Carolinas would have been helpful, as would some indication – perhaps in an afterword – of what characters were real or based on historical figures and which were purely fictionalized (some are obvious, but I now have a lot of Googling to do). 4 stars

Edited: May 24, 2011, 4:33pm Top

I have had March on my wish list for ages, I really must get to it as I think he is an excellent writer and I have enjoyed the other books by him that I have read.

May 24, 2011, 1:26pm Top

I hope you like it when you get to it, Judy!

May 24, 2011, 4:34pm Top

I just edited my previous message to correct my calling E.L. Doctorow a "she"!

May 24, 2011, 5:27pm Top

LOL! I didn't even notice...

Edited: May 25, 2011, 3:55pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

May 28, 2011, 11:22am Top

Soulless by Gail Carriger
Category: What Ifs

I’m not quite sure how to characterize this book – it’s a mix of historical romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, steampunk, alternate history and probably a few other things I don’t know about. This was my first foray into whatever this genre is, and it was a light, easy, occasionally fun read. Ultimately, though, not really my cup of tea.

Alexia Tarabotti is a preternatural – a being with no soul – living in Victorian London where vampires and werewolves exist side-by-side with “regular” folk. She stumbles upon a bit of a mystery and matches wits with Lord Maccon – a werewolf – who doesn’t appreciate her meddling in his investigation. Alexia and Maccon, of course, fall in love, solve the mystery and get married.

This is the first in a series and, while Carriger builds an interesting world and injects some sharp humor into her descriptions and dialogue, I quickly grew tired of it all. Maybe because it was my first introduction to this kind of novel, it just seemed a little too “cute” to me. I don’t think I will continue with the series; it wasn’t terrible but there are too many other books out there that I know I will enjoy more. 2.75 stars

May 28, 2011, 11:42am Top

I just checked The March out from the library, for a Civil War Reading Challenge I'm participating in. Thanks for the review, I may bump it up on the TBR list.

May 28, 2011, 8:26pm Top

Hi Jules - Hope you like it!

May 31, 2011, 10:04pm Top

The Lion by Nelson DeMille
Category: Gifts

Decent escapist fare. DeMille is not a great writer but he can put together a pretty good page-turner. And I do enjoy the protagonist's smart-ass thoughts and remarks. 3 stars

(Cannot for the life of me find the correct touchstone, so I used the one for one of the earlier books in this series.)

Jun 4, 2011, 7:17pm Top

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Category: Accents

”She told me about a group of people in Guinea who carry the sky on their heads. They are the people of Creation. Strong, tall, and mighty people who can bear anything. Their Maker, she said, gives them the sky to carry because they are strong. These people do not know who they are, but if you see a lot of trouble in your life, it is because you were chosen to carry part of the sky on your head.” (p. 25)

Breath, Eyes, Memory is Danticat’s first novel, and while it suffers from some familiar flaws of first novels, it rises above those to tell a painful and beautiful story of family and women in Haiti. There are many layers to the story – the immigrant experience in New York, political violence in Haiti, maternal love, duty to family – and all are told in a rich prose that I imagine, were it tangible, would have the consistency of a thick, sweet caramel.

”Great gods in Guinea, you are beautiful,” {he} said… “I would crawl inside your dress and live there. I can feed on your beauty like a leech feeds on blood. I would live and die for you. More than the sky loves its stars. More than the night loves its moon. More than the sea loves its mermaids. Strike me, thunder, it’s no lie. We do not know one another, I know. Still I must tell you. You can be the core of my existence. The ‘I’ of my ‘We.’ The first and last letter of my name, which is ‘Yours,’…” (p. 93)

Sophie is twelve when she leaves the only home she has ever known – with her aunt in a village in Haiti – to go to her mother in New York City. But always there is Haiti, both a country and a legacy, which informs their lives and their relationship and whose traditions and superstitions cause a rift between mother and daughter. Eventually, Sophie returns to Haiti with her baby daughter, and this part of the novel with Sophie, her aunt, and her grandmother, was probably my favorite. We are treated to Haitian folk tales, religion, cooking, and other aspects of everyday life. It was both fascinating and heartbreaking.

The end of the novel was less successful for me, as it seemed Danticat felt the need to throw in as many “women’s issues” as possible – abortion, bulimia, suicide, female genital mutilation – in order to indicate the Importance of her story. Unfortunately, her story needed very little else than what it already had; what could have been a 4.75 or 5 star read for me suffered from this debut author’s over-enthusiasm. 4 stars

Other passages I liked:

“I felt broken at the end of the meeting, but a little closer to being free. I didn’t feel guilty about burning my mother’s name anymore. I knew my hurt and hers were links in a long chain and if she hurt me, it was because she was hurt, too. It was up to me to avoid my turn in the fire. It was up to me to make sure that my daughter never slept with ghosts, never lived with nightmares, and never had her name burnt in flames.” (p. 203)

”I come from a place where breath, eyes, and memory are one, a place from which you carry your past like the hair on your head. Where women return to their children as butterflies or as tears in the eyes of the statues that their daughters pray to. My mother was as brave as stars at dawn. She too was from this place. My mother was like that woman who could never bleed and then could never stop bleeding, the one who gave in to her pain, to live as a butterfly. Yes, my mother was like me.” (p. 234)

Jun 7, 2011, 9:32pm Top

The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White by Doug Merlino
Category: Facts

This was an ER book, and the second work of non-fiction I've received from the program. I think I will stop requesting non-fiction from unknown authors. It is a difficult genre to do well, and Merlino does not seem up to the task. I'm about halfway through this book and have decided to abandon it.

The premise of The Hustle is interesting but I don't think there is enough of a story here. To fill pages, Merlino discusses the settling of Seattle, the city's economy, and the beginning (and end) of the dot com bubble. The center of the story is supposed to be a youth basketball team in 1986 that drew players from the inner city and an exclusive prep school. The idea was that boundaries would be crossed, opportunities provided, lives changed, etc., etc., etc. None of that really seems to have happened, and the story is pretty shallow. It just could not hold my interest.

Edited: Jun 7, 2011, 10:43pm Top

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
Category: Shivers

Another very good entry in the Inspector Gamache/Three Pines mystery series. Penny continues her strong characterization and dry humor in this one, and the creepy suspense is well-balanced by the charm of the village and its denizens. There is a lot of depth to this series; don’t be fooled by the “cozy” façade. 4 stars

As an aside, I own a copy of the book, but after reading so many great reviews on LT of the narration by Ralph Cosham on the audio version, I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed and very much enjoyed listening to this one.

Edited: Jun 7, 2011, 10:52pm Top

Sorry to hear The Hustle wasn't something you could finish. Hope your next read is better!

ETA: Now that I am back on a real computer.... hate typing on the ereader ..... I see that you have had better read! I am still working my way through the Three Pines series so I am always happy when I see good reviews for the books in the series I haven't made it to yet!

Jun 8, 2011, 10:16am Top

Hi Lori! I am just glad to get The Hustle off my plate; it was weighing me down and making me not want to read anything.

I love the Penny books :)

Jun 12, 2011, 10:44pm Top

Excellent review of Breath, Eyes, Memory.

Jun 13, 2011, 10:58am Top

Thanks, Kay!

Jun 14, 2011, 10:01pm Top

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Category: Groans

I approached Mansfield Park with a bit of trepidation, as most Austen fans I know consider this the worst of the lot. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. I think the key is to go in with an open mind and to not compare it too closely to Pride and Prejudice or any other work. The writing is excellent and Austen’s humor is very present, especially in the descriptions, dialogue and actions of the secondary characters.

Mansfield Park is different from the other Austens I’ve read (P&P, Sense and Sensibility and Emma) in that it is more serious in its concerns and more of a commentary on morality. But far from boring or preachy, Austen strikes a nice balance between those concerns and the humor and social observation included in her other works.

While I did wish Fanny Price had more spunk in some situations, the circumstances of her childhood and her being brought to Mansfield are such that her rather timid and retreating nature were understandable. Since Mansfield Park is not, to my mind, intended as a romantic work, the lack of chemistry between Fanny and Edmund also makes sense. Austen is less concerned with them as lovers than as moral figures whose interior compasses bring them inexorably together.

This is definitely not my favorite of the Austen novels I’ve read, but it is still entertaining and perhaps more thought-provoking. 4 stars

Jun 14, 2011, 10:36pm Top

Eighteen Acres by Nicolle Wallace
Category: Gifts

This was a fun, fast read that I devoured on an airplane. It tells the interconnected stories of three women – the first female President of the United States, her White House Chief of Staff, and a network reporter covering the White House. While some of the plot developments force one to suspend disbelief in order to succeed, it was a surprisingly good page-turner for a debut novel. There is a lot of drama, some humor, and excellent behind the scenes details about working and living on the 18 acres of the White House complex.

The author is a former White House and campaign staffer and knows of what she speaks (full disclosure: I worked at the White House at the same time as the author, but I don’t think we ever met.). There were a few details that were flat-out wrong, but I think Wallace was trying to advance the story in a coherent way. For instance, a WH Chief of Staff would never have the role in a campaign that the character in this book has; it’s illegal! All in all, though, a good read, especially for a recovering political junkie like me. 3.25 stars

Jun 15, 2011, 12:11am Top

@ 181 -- Great review of Mansfield Park! I completely agree that the key is not to treat it as a romance. Fanny and Edmund are a pair of wet mops compared to, say, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy...but that's not the point of the book. I think it's interesting that MP was the next book published after P&P; the lively and witty woman goes from being a heroine in P&P to a villain in MP. That Austen, she's a sly one!

Jun 15, 2011, 8:36am Top

Thanks, Christina. If I remember correctly, she wrote P&P several years before MP and a lot had happened in her life that might have impacted her persepctive. I should go read the introduction to my edition, which I only skimmed previously...

Jun 18, 2011, 3:54pm Top

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Category: Groans

”The war has ruined us for everything.” (page 87)

I am a realist, both in everyday life and (as a former student of political science) in my thinking on international affairs, as well. So I don’t buy into the whole “If only our leaders knew what war was like, there would be no more war” argument. There will always be war, plain and simple, like it or not. And some wars are good and useful (yes, I said it). So with all that out in the open, all I can say with regards to All Quiet on the Western Front is “Wow.”

I’ve read other books about war (fiction and non-fiction), seen movies, talked with veterans, etc., etc., etc. But I have never experienced anything like this book. It is real and visceral and haunting and so beautiful. Remarque brings a poetic rhythm to his description of life in the trenches of World War I (the War to End All Wars – HA!). He writes movingly of the sense of loss, of comradeship, of universality amid the everyday horror and terror.

”At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are more to me than life… they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades. I am no longer a shuddering speck of existence, alone in the darkness; I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me.” (page 212)

The narrator, a 20-year old German soldier, leads us through life at war – the stretches of boredom punctuated by intense fear during an attack, the hunger and deprivation, the pain of bullets and shrapnel and gas, the reality of death and suffering, the discomfort and alienation at going home, the sense after a while, that the only place one will ever belong and feel right is at the front. Remarque is strongest when describing the narrator’s growing sense of futility and common cause with all the young men of his generation, whether friend or foe. The war connects them in ways no one else could understand though they may stand on opposite sides.

The novel is full of dichotomous passages that use beautiful prose to describe unspeakable things:

”No longer do we lie helpless, waiting on the scaffold, we can destroy and kill, to save ourselves, to save ourselves and to be revenged. We crouch behind every corner, behind every barrier of barbed wire, and hurl heaps of explosives at the feet of the advancing enemy before we run. The blast of the hand-grenades impinges powerfully on our arms and legs; crouching like cats we run on, overwhelmed by this wave that bears us along, that fills us with ferocity, turns us into thugs, into murderers, into God only knows what devils; this wave that multiplies our strength with fear and madness and greed of life, seeking and fighting for nothing but our deliverance.” (page 114)

An elegiac, haunting testament to the horror of war that deserves to be read, pondered and re-read even if it changes nothing. 4.75 stars

Jun 19, 2011, 11:32am Top

It truly is an astounding book, I was blown away by it last year. Some lovely quotes there too.

Jun 19, 2011, 12:23pm Top

I read All Quiet on the Western Front about 40 years ago (at the height of the Vietnam War -- and the protests), and it's one of those amazing books that has stayed with me ever since. I've never wanted to re-read it, though.

Jun 19, 2011, 12:39pm Top

Hi Claire and Ivy - Nice to see you over here. It is, indeed, a powerful book.

Jun 26, 2011, 4:58pm Top

I hate the feeling of being behind on reviews, so I will do some quick ones for my last three reads while I sit in a really boring meeting on a gorgeous sunny day in Monterey, CA.

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

This was a solidly enjoyable read that I initially wasn’t crazy about because I expected something different. Nice bits of magical realism counter-balanced the somewhat heavily caricatured main figures in the story. I will try more of Allen’s books, but will borrow them rather than purchasing. 3.25 stars

The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime by William Langewiesche

I listened to this on audio, read by the author himself. It was a random pick from the library, though I am somewhat familiar with the author’s work for Vanity Fair. In reading other reviews once I finished, I learned that the books was really a collection of articles Langewiesche wrote for The Atlantic. I would not have guessed that, as it was pretty seamless, though more interesting in some parts than others. Langewiesche recounts various episodes of crime, piracy and tragedy on the high seas (especially moving was the account of the sinking of The Estonia, a ferry between Talinn and Stockholm which sunk in 1994). The overarching concern of the book seems to be the effects of economic globalization on the safety and health of the world’s oceans. 3.5 stars

Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott

A somewhat fictionalized account of Alcott’s time as a nurse in Washington, DC during the Civil War. At times humorous, eye-opening and very moving, I was much more engaged in this read than I expected to be. It is a short work that stands the test of time. 4 stars

Jul 1, 2011, 11:15pm Top

Amore and Amaretti by Victoria Cosford
Category: Accents
Alternate Category: Facts

"It is as if the food is just a symbol, an expression of everything that inspires, animates and activates a part of me that ceases to exist when I leave. As if I am two people, or simply a more complete woman."

This was a somewhat disjointed but adequately written memoir of the author’s several sojourns in Italy, focusing on her relationship with a charismatic but temperamental chef. I didn’t find much depth in Cosford’s reflections, but she perfectly evoked Florence and Tuscany for me, a landscape I am always happy to return to. The descriptions of place and cuisine seem to be Cosford’s strengths; I found myself repeatedly drooling over the passages related to the meals she consumed.

"We eat home-grown egg tomatoes drizzled with green olive oil and fresh basil, thick slices of moist white mozzarella, paper-thin cuts of cured beef dressed with oil, finely chopped rocket leaves and shavings of Parmesan cheese, mushrooms marinated in lemon juice and garlic, strips of red and green capsicum bathed in oil, garlic, and parsley, slices of spicy pancetta. There is crusty bread to mop up the juices, and wine is flowing freely."

Mouth-watering food aside, though, I was glad to have received this book gratis from NetGalley, as there wasn’t much to it. I often wanted to throttle Cosford and had little patience for her peripatetic and self-indulgent life. 2.5 stars

Jul 2, 2011, 12:15am Top

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
Category: Shorties
Alternate Category: Groans

"There were only two real people in the world, Chris and this woman whose personality was sounding through her squalor like a beautiful voice singing in a darkened room."

I don’t know how to do justice to this perfect little gem of a book. An intriguing story, sparely but fully drawn characters, and language that is rich and languid and heartbreakingly beautiful – it is all here in a book that despite the plot is less about war and more about duty and the sublimation of one’s true character.

Chris Baldry is the titular soldier who returns from the front of World War I suffering from shell shock and amnesia which has erased his memory of the past 15 years. He does not recognize his current life, home, or wife; in fact, he is still infatuated with Margaret, his first love from 15 years ago. The story is narrated by Chris’ cousin, who provides the perfect balance between distance and proximity to the story. As it unfolds, the narrator’s views slowly evolve as she perceives the truth of Chris’ life.

"I felt, indeed, a cold intellectual pride in his refusal to remember his prosperous maturity and his determined dwelling in the time of his first love, for it showed him so much saner than the rest of us, who take life as it comes, loaded with the unessential and the irritating."

How the three women – the wife, cousin, and first love – react to Chris’ condition and the circumstances in which they find themselves forms the central tension of the story. The resolution is both expected and heart-wrenching.

Beyond the plot, however, West imbues the simplest gesture and act with import and grace. Describing a woman sitting beside the sleeping figure of a man, she writes:

"It was the most significant, as it was the loveliest, attitude in the world. It means that the woman has gathered the soul of the man into her soul and is keeping it warm in love and peace so that his body can rest quiet for a little time. That is a great thing for a woman to do… What we desire is greatness such as this, which had given sleep to the beloved."

I had downloaded this onto my Kindle, and at the next opportunity, purchased a copy to add to my permanent library. 5 stars

Jul 4, 2011, 8:15pm Top

All Shall Be Well by Deborah Crombie

This is the second in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series, and a fine example of a genre I like to call the “throwaway mystery”. It’s perfectly acceptable, a decent story, and competently written, but nothing really knocks my socks off. There was some further development in the two main characters from the first book, and the mystery plot itself was sufficient to hold my attention, but I know that within a month or so, I won’t really remember much about it. That being said, I will continue with the series – especially since I seemed to have acquired the next 11 books at a Borders closing sale... 3 stars

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

This Newberry Medal winner is just as charming as I remembered, though for different reasons. As a child, I liked the idea of the pioneer life and a happy family coming together. This time around, I was taken by MacLachlan’s ability to capture perfectly a child’s experience of loss, loneliness and fear. It’s such a sweet story of a motherless family welcoming a mail-order bride to their farm on the prairie, but told with such beautiful imagery and language that there is enough to hold an adult’s attention. 4.5 stars

Jul 8, 2011, 11:46pm Top

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Category: Gifts

"Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another – physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion. In equating physical beauty with virtue, she stripped her mind, bound it, and collected self-contempt by the heap." (page 122)

The Bluest Eye is a searing and brutal story of African American lives in the first half of the 20th century. Incorporating several points of view and different stories, the emotional center of the story is Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who dreams of having blue eyes, believing they will make her beautiful. Morrison explores themes of prejudice, beauty and self-worth in prose that slices and burns, but which is yet somehow still beautiful. My favorite passage (it's long but worth reading):

"The birdlike gestures are worn away to a mere picking and plucking her way between the tire rims and the sunflowers, between Coke bottles and milkweed, among all the waste and beauty of the world – which is what she herself was. All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us – all who knew her – felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty made us generous. Even her waking dreams we used – to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength." (page 205)

Pecola’s story is riddled with the ugliness of life and the tragedy of betrayal; through her, Morrison is telling us something about the desire for perfection and the striving for the superlative. There is so much going on in this slim novel that I cannot do it justice. Read it. 5 stars

Jul 10, 2011, 2:04pm Top

I am really looking forward to reading Sarah Plain and Tall and was happy that it fit into the TIOLI Challenges this month, unfortunately I am on a waiting list for the book at the library and I want to get all my library books for the month finished this week as I am going away next week. I would hate to have to take it off the Challenge as it sure sounds good.

Jul 10, 2011, 2:07pm Top

I hope you get it, Judy! And it's a fast read :)

Jul 10, 2011, 2:20pm Top

Enjoy your vacation. I look forward to seeing what you consider holiday reading.

Edited: Jul 19, 2011, 10:02pm Top

The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill
Category: Shivers

If you like neat, clean, tied-up-with-a-bow resolutions to your crime novels, then this one is not for you. The Pure in Heart is the second in the series featuring Simon Serrailler, and like the first (The Various Haunts of Men), it’s a well-written and thought-provoking read. I found it a bit slow and ponderous for the first 50 pages or so, but after that, I was pulled into the story – actually stories, as there are several parallel plot lines. What Hill does so well, and differently from a lot of crime writers, is explore the effect of tragedy on those left behind. That is where her concern lies, not in the actual whodunit.
Her character development is organic and never forced, and she beautifully renders a sense of place. I found her writing to be exquisite in places:

There had been a place she had kept secure, a place in which there had been a small bright patch of warmth and hope into which she had been able to retreat. No one else knew that it was there but she had relied on it because in there was the truth, that David was alive and well and would come home. Alan had sent a blade slicing through the wall and all the light and brightness and hope had leaked out and turned black, a pool of darkening blood on a floor. The place was empty now, the air foul and contaminating. He had killed the last resource she had. Now there was no hope or comfort.” (page 218)

While there were no easy resolutions to any of the multiple storylines, I finished the book with a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. 4.25 stars

Jul 19, 2011, 10:54pm Top

Partitions by Amit Majmudar
Category: Wrinkles

"If there is one thing dangerously abundant right now, it is certainty. Certainty makes possible in men the most extreme good and the most extreme evil. A land like the Punjab, five rivers and three faiths, could do with a little less certainty." (page 159)

This is a fascinating book about a subject I don’t know very much about – the partition of India in 1947 and the creation of Pakistan. Majmudar tells three stories which parallel the story of Partition and its attendant displacement, fear, violence and loss. There are the twin Hindu boys who are separated from their mother while fleeing what has become the Muslim state of Pakistan; a young Sikh girl who escapes the death planned for her by her own family to prevent her being shamed by the marauding gangs; and an old Muslim doctor who sees his clinic destroyed by Hindu gangs and starts the trek to Pakistan on foot to start anew. As these tales unwind, we are also provided some back-story which provided insight into different kinds of partition within these lives and their families, faiths and communities.

"How little we know each other, though for centuries our homes had shared walls. How little we will learn, now that all we share is a border." (page 97)

This is a harrowing read, with a lot of implicit and explicit violence. It’s also suspenseful, as the reader senses that these three narratives are going to converge, and hopeful in its resolution. It does suffer, in parts, from over-writing (especially in the beginning), but it still grabbed me right away. Overall, a strong debut novel; I hope to see more in the future from Majmudar. 4.25 stars

Jul 20, 2011, 8:33pm Top

Partitions sounds like something I would find fascinating to read. Nice review!

Jul 20, 2011, 10:09pm Top

Thanks, Lori!

Jul 29, 2011, 9:41am Top

The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig
Category: Gifts

This is the second of the Pink Carnation books, a series that is well-known to anyone who might be interested in them, so I won’t go into much detail. They are silly, fluffy books that don’t work on every level but are good fun. I liked this one better than the first, mostly because I found the two primary characters more enjoyable to spend time with. The plot is ridiculous, of course, but that’s what I like best. Willig is unabashed in her ridiculousness but delivers some genuinely funny moments.

A good light, summer read but nothing more than that. 3 stars

Jul 30, 2011, 11:50pm Top

Emma by Jane Austen
Category: Groans

This was a re-read for me; I first read it one summer in the late 1990s, I think, when my best friend from college and I tried to start a long-distance book club (epic FAIL). This is also my fourth work by Austen this year as I participate in the Austenathon, and it is my least favorite to date.

What I Liked:
- Austen’s characteristic sly humor
- Sweet Mr. Woodhouse
- The perfect picture of life in a small English village
- Mr. Knightley, especially imagined as Jeremy Northam in the 1996 film version with yucky Gwyneth Paltrow

What I Didn’t Like:
- Not enough of Austen’s characteristic sly humor
- Insufferable Emma Woodhouse
- Nearly every single character in the entire novel

I tried, I really did, to like Emma. And I began to by the end when she suddenly matured and saw the error of her meddling, self-centered ways. By that point, though, I had suffered through about 400 pages of gritting my teeth and snarling in disgust, so it was a little bit of too little, too late.

All that being said, Jane Austen is so great – and remains one of my favorite authors – because I can still love her novels even when I seem to hate most parts of them. 4 stars

Edited: Aug 2, 2011, 12:18pm Top

Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter
Category: Gifts

”There were no cherubs, no judges, no dying saints. There were no angels or mustard gas, no smoke or beautiful young girls; the dome was simply, blessedly, empty. He felt that he might like to drift in that sky forever, breathe that clean, cold air, and leave the earth below to consume itself.” (page 123)

Musician Josh Ritter has produced a novel that, were it a song, would be one of those heartbreakingly bleak Appalachian folk ballads, sung in a plaintive twang and telling a tale of loss and grief and violence and maybe, just maybe, redemption. Bright’s Passage is an elegiac reflection on lost innocence and lost faith, told through the story of Henry Bright, a veteran of the Great War who returns home to West Virginia accompanied by an angel. Henry’s history is told backwards, while the plot advances forward, and in this way, we learn about his hardscrabble existence in the mountains, his experience in the war, and the cause of the journey he is now on with his new born son, his angel in the guise of a horse, and a goat. And yes, somehow it all works. After a slow start, the intertwining narratives picked up, and I became enthralled in Henry’s story. 4 stars

Aug 2, 2011, 2:12pm Top

I don't have a comment on a specific book, but I do want to let you know how much I enjoy reading your reviews. I'm going to take a closer look at Bright's Passage.

Aug 2, 2011, 6:44pm Top

Thanks, Kay. I'm just glad to know someone is reading my comments :) I think you would like Bright's Passage.

Aug 2, 2011, 7:59pm Top

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Category: Tykes

Home from work today with a strained neck, so I picked up this childhood favorite that I had not read in years and years. The story of comraderie and friendship on a farm is just as charming as I remembered. I hope it is still being shared with children today. 4 stars

Aug 2, 2011, 8:15pm Top

Hope the neck is better soon! Glad to see a childhood classic is still charming!

Aug 2, 2011, 8:38pm Top

It's getting there, thanks, Lori!

Aug 4, 2011, 10:24pm Top

Plum Lovin' by Janet Evanovich

I listened to this on audio. It was okay. I think I've read one other Stephanie Plum book but I'm not sure which one. There were some funny moments but I don't think I'll pursue the series. 2.5 stars

Edited: Aug 6, 2011, 7:31pm Top

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Category: Wrinkles

This is a compulsively readable meditation on the meaning of life, death and identity in the shadow of war. It tells three parallel stories of people grappling with a reality whose very existence calls into question everything they thought they knew about themselves, their city, and their fellow citizens. The cellist of the title is less a character than a catalyst for the internal ruminations and moral struggles faced by the three primary figures. In the end, they each find meaning in the cellist’s commitment to honor the dead and see in him “a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness” (page 228). 4 stars

Aug 6, 2011, 10:09pm Top

I enjoyed The Cellist of Sarajevo when I read it a couple of years ago. Your cover looks much more like the Sarajevo described in the book than the cover that was on my copy.

Aug 8, 2011, 1:35pm Top

@ 171 -- Glad to see your good review of this, as it's been on my TBR list for a very long time!

Aug 8, 2011, 8:22pm Top

Hi Lori - Thanks for stopping by. I will have to go look at the alternative covers.

Christina - It had been on my TBR list for a looooong time, too!

Aug 18, 2011, 3:33pm Top

The Chopin Manuscript by Jeffrey Deaver et. al.
Category: Shivers

This thriller was written by several different contemporary writers – one chapter by each, with Jeffrey Deaver contributing the first and the last two. It started off decently enough, but the number of characters, red herrings, and outlandish situations quickly grew unwieldy. The plot surrounds rare musical scores and secret codes embedded therein, and it was really just kind of ridiculous. I was almost glad that I had to skip almost an entire hour of the audio due to constant hiccups and scratches on the tracks. 2 stars

Aug 18, 2011, 8:51pm Top

Too bad about The Chopin Manuscript. Novels written by a number of authors where each one writes their own piece to the story seem to have to potential to either work.... or not.

Aug 19, 2011, 11:49am Top

I think each author wanted to make his/her mark on the story and it just became so convoluted. To tie it all up at the end, Deaver had to some pretty preposterous things and required the reader to suspend A LOT of disbelief. Bah.

Edited: Aug 20, 2011, 11:43pm Top

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
Category: Wrinkles

”He wanted a story. A thing of horror. I have a story, a terrible one. But I’ll tell no tales. He doesn’t understand at all: it’s not that kind of a story, not horror but grief I have to deal with.” (page 276)

I very much enjoyed this book, though I am not entirely sure what to make of it. As an homage to 18th century adventure tales? A tip of the hat to 19th century coming of age novels? A reinvention of contemporary metaphorical stories urging us to reconsider our relationship to the natural world? Ultimately, I saw some of all of these (and more) in Jamrach’s Menagerie, a novel which inspires a host of adjectives – fantastical, disturbing, hallucinogenic, humorous, brutal, life-affirming – but which, to me, suffered a bit from over-ambition on the part of the author.

Carol Birch writes wonderfully evocative descriptions of everything from places to emotions to characters. I flagged many fascinating and beautiful passages. I loved the basic plot of the story – London urchin is taken under the wing of an exotic animal importer, makes friends with another young boy, they both eventually set sail on a whaling ship, capture a dragon, and then are set adrift on the unforgiving ocean after their ship sinks. I also loved young Jaffy Brown’s narrative voice (”I loved my ma. To me, she would ever and always be a warm armpit in the night.”) Through that voice, we see his development from an impish child to a haunted man, and it is a well done transformation. There is a lot going on in the book and parts of it are by turns moving, horrifying, and funny. My only complaint is that the point of the story, the theme of the book, was muddied to me by the inclusion of SO MUCH. I admire Birch’s ambition but wish she had been a bit more focused. 4 stars

A few passages I noted:

”I put my head back and watched the sky along with him. It was black and very starry. Starry out there is not like in London. There, starry is an observable impossibility, and looking up is a gaze into infinity.” (page 248)

”Home. Hope Ma’s all right. She should be, Charley Grant’s a good sort. Home, Ma, Ishbel, never get back, never go home, never again. A burning place in my chest. Something to hold against the terror, a blanket. I’m alive, burning brightly with a head full of everything that ever was, our Bermondsey home, the Highway, the tiger, the birds, the smell of lemon sherbet.” (page 235)

”Long as I live I’ll never be wise. Never understand why it happened as it happened, never understand where they’ve gone, all those faces I see clear in the darkness. There’s no way out of this, it’s stark: live or die. Every given moment a bubble that bursts. Step on, from one to the next, ever onwards, a rainbow of stepping stones, each bursting softly as your foot touches and passes on. Till one step finds only empty air. Till that step, live.” (page 279)

Aug 21, 2011, 12:17am Top

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Category: Tykes
Alternate Category: Whatifs

I did it – I caved into the hype, downloaded it onto my Kindle, took a deep breath and turned to it as an easy read on an airplane, and, as predicted and promised, was totally enthralled. Collins has definitely written a page-turner and one I was reluctant to put down. I will not summarize the story but will just say that my biggest takeaways from the book are: (1) I don’t remember YA books being this violent when I was the target audience! I’m not very squeamish, but there were some points where I think I visibly cringed; (2) Collins does a great job of building a dystopian world, including lots of interesting futuristic tidbits but also enough contemporary detail that the reader recognizes to make the story just a little uncomfortable – this future isn’t necessarily all that far away… (3) even with tempered expectations due to the warnings of others, I am very much looking forward to starting the second book in the trilogy – even if it’s only half as good, it will keep my attention. 4.5 stars

Aug 26, 2011, 11:21am Top

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Category: Wrinkles

Eli Sisters is a killer with a heart of gold; his brother, Charlie, is a killer with a heart of, well, not gold. Each in their own way has internalized the hardships and violence of life in the “Wild West”. While Eli, our narrator, questions his life as a hired gunslinger and works to improve himself and his lot in life, his brother evinces no such compunctions, at least not consciously. We do learn that Charlie whimpers and moans in his sleep.

There has been a lot of talk about The Sisters Brothers as a western, which it certainly is, but the specific genre was secondary to the story. It could just as easily have been a story about two brothers in a modern-day gang, or a Mafia story. At base, this is a story of family and loyalty and how far one can ever move away from personal history. I think deWitt chose the setting of Gold Rush California to show us how universal and timeless these issues are.

This is a fun, funny story with a serious heart, but I expected a bit more given its selection for the Booker Prize longlist. Still, a good read and one I would recommend. 3.75 stars

Aug 26, 2011, 9:37pm Top

I have been sitting on the fence watching all the discussions and reviews here on LT for The Sisters Brothers and your review fits nicely with the others that while it is a fun interesting story, it is a bit of a head scratcher trying to understand how it made the Booker longlist. I will keep it in mind as something to read when I am in the mood for something different, but won't race out to get my hands on a copy.

Aug 26, 2011, 11:18pm Top

Good plan, Lori!

Aug 27, 2011, 9:30pm Top

Oh, I have my copy. It's the most interesting sounding of the Booker candidates.

Aug 27, 2011, 9:56pm Top

Hope you enjoy it, Kay!

Aug 31, 2011, 8:54pm Top

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Category: Impulses

Every bit as good as everyone says it is. There is more here than just a “mystery” – the cases presented are only the catalyst for an exploration of family, grief and mourning. In this way, I found Case Histories similar to The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill in which the crime is almost secondary to the story. Atkinson develops strong characters, and adds just the right touches of dry humor and some lovely writing, to keep the reader turning the pages. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one will recognize the struggle to create a new kind of existence around an empty space that once held so much love and joy. 4.5 stars

Sep 1, 2011, 2:33pm Top

>178 katiekrug: I liked the 2nd book Catching Fire almost as much as The Hunger Games, the 3rd book Mockingjay not as much but still really enjoyed it. I hope you like them, too!

>184 katiekrug: I want to read this! I'm guessing it will be next year, though...

Sep 1, 2011, 9:01pm Top

Hi Ivy - I'm glad to hear Catching Fire is good; sequels can sometimes be so disappointing. And I hope you like Case Histories when you get to it!

Sep 2, 2011, 10:45pm Top

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
Category: Shorties

Stewart O’Nan’s novella is the story of Manny, an overweight, eager-to-please manager of a Red Lobster that is going out of business. We follow Manny through his last day on the job as he tries to fulfill his duties and motivate the remaining staff, not to mention puzzle through his relationship with one of the waitresses. It may sound like a dull premise, but it’s not. I love novellas – when they are well done – because an author has to be able to do a lot with very little. O’Nan has produced an excellent portrait of a hard working guy who, despite his best efforts, can’t seem to catch a break. It’s bleak and sad, and yet the pride Manny takes in his work is also moving and somehow beautiful. And it gave me a hankering for a cheddar bay biscuit… 3.5 stars

Edited: Sep 3, 2011, 12:43am Top

Wow! I just realized you are almost finished... good job!

ETA: hit save message too soon.. wanted to add that I have heard great things about Last Night at the Lobster and have moved it further up my TBR pile.

Sep 3, 2011, 12:47am Top

LOL Lori - I'm only almost done because I only committed to 3 books in each category :) I really did not expect to read as much this year as I have!

Sep 3, 2011, 9:45am Top

I read Last Night at the Lobster a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. Now you have me craving those biscuits!

Sep 3, 2011, 9:57am Top

>190 thornton37814: - I'm not a big fan of Red Lobster but gosh those biscuits are good :)

Sep 9, 2011, 9:30am Top

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Category: Tykes
Alternate Category: Whatifs

This was a rather labored YA science fiction-y read about an angsty teenager (is there any other kind in YA lit?) who discovers a truth about herself that causes even more angst. The book explores questions of identity, humanity, religion, love vs. control, and a bunch of other things that caused the book to feel a bit like a jumble of Very Deep Thoughts. Maybe because I wasn’t an angsty teenager, I have very little patience for the self-pity, drama, and self-importance that seem to go along with it. Also, I didn't find it particularly well-written with a lot of awkward dialogue and phrasing.

I listened to this on audio and found the narrator to be kind of annoying, especially when affecting different voices to differentiate among characters. A teenage girl sounds like a lisping child – it was very distracting. Also, to be fair, the final CD conked out with about 10-15 minutes left to go, so I might have missed some bit that would have redeemed the entire novel for me, but I don’t think so (the big denouement had already occurred). The intended audience would probably see past any number of flaws in this book and enjoy it, as the premise and core of the story is rather interesting. But being a rational, fairly well-adjusted woman in my early 30s, I just couldn’t stop rolling my eyes. 2.5 stars

Sep 10, 2011, 10:35am Top

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Category: Gifts

A total slog. I’m kind of upset I spent a week with this book. I kept thinking it would get better, and the premise was promising, so it didn’t need to be as boring as it was.

The basic story: a woman with amnesia wakes up every morning forgetting most of her past and has it told to her by her husband. But is he telling her the truth? She begins secretly seeing a doctor and keeping a journal to record her own history, and it doesn’t quite jibe with what she’s being told. The problem with this is that much of the book is repetitive, and the parts that aren’t don’t really ring true. The ending and explication were just dumb.

I’m sad thinking of all the good books I might have read instead of this one. 2 stars

Sep 10, 2011, 11:10am Top

Hi Katie - sorry to see you have had back to back duds on the reading front. Here's hoping your next one is more enjoyable!

Sep 11, 2011, 1:49pm Top

Thanks, Lori!

Sep 12, 2011, 12:05am Top

@ 193 -- Oh man, I'm sorry this book wasn't good, because the premise sounds really interesting! Any recommendations for a much better book with a similar plot?

Sep 12, 2011, 9:03pm Top

Christina - I can't think of one with a similar premise off the top of my head. It is disappointing given the promising premise.

Sep 16, 2011, 6:34pm Top

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
Category: Gifts

As the author admits in an interview I read, this is more a novel of voice than one of plot. I won’t try to summarize what little actually does happen because it would sound crazy and turn you off. It’s like when I try to explain to people down here in Texas what I love about New York City – it’s dirty and loud and chaotic and sometimes scary – sure, it might sound awful but you really need to experience it for yourself.

O’Neill has written a dense, genuine, and verging-on-heartbreaking-but-there’s-a-bit-of-hope-in-the-end portrait of alienation, identity, connectedness, and loss. The title has multiple meanings, and I think you could pick whichever resonates the most on a personal level and write a lovely review based on that one piece. But it’s a kaleidoscope of images and voices and emotions. And despite how some people want to categorize it, Netherland is not a book about 9/11. It is, maybe, a book of 9/11 in that I doubt the same story could have been written and had such resonance absent that event. It’s a book about the American Dream, as seen by a Dutch equities trader from London and a Trinidadian crook from Brooklyn. As the old hackneyed saying goes, “Only in New York…” 4 stars

Sep 23, 2011, 2:34am Top

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
Category: Whatifs

A wonderfully engaging and entertaining read, especially if one is not bothered by a lot of sex and violence. I read The Last Werewolf on a flight from LA to Hong Kong, and it just ate up the hours. The beginning was a bit slow, but it quickly picked up and turned into a manic ride through a contemporary world in which werewolves and vampires exist and are not quite the romantic heroes Stephanie Meyer would have us believe. TLW is beautifully written with lush, voluptuous language even when describing the down and dirty doings of our beastly protagonist. Very enjoyable but not for the faint of heart. 3.75 stars

Sep 23, 2011, 9:50am Top

The Last Werewolf is certainly something I want to pick up at some point so thanks for your review. He's an author I want to read more from having so far only read I, Lucifer though I'm almost halfway through his debut novel, Hope, and it's probably the most sex-filled book I've ever read. Excellent writing but definitely not recommended for those who want to remain pure of thought. I also have Death of an Ordinary Man waiting on the tbr shelves for when I can fit it in.

Sep 24, 2011, 4:30am Top

>200 AHS-Wolfy: - Dave, I am planning to look into Duncan's other books, as I found his writing beautiful.

Sep 24, 2011, 4:30am Top

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
Category: Shivers

The epitome of well-done modern British crime fiction and the first in the Inspector Lynley series, A Great Deliverance is a well-plotted, well-written mystery. George’s character development and pacing are spot-on, and the ending is stunning in its details if not in its general outline. I look forward to continuing this series of, oh, about 16 books (gulp!). 4.5 stars

Sep 24, 2011, 10:55am Top

I haven't read the Inspector Lynley series but I have seen the British TV adaptations of the books and can see where it would be an interesting series to read! enjoy!

Sep 24, 2011, 9:28pm Top

Thanks, Lori!

Sep 26, 2011, 10:57pm Top

Burning Bright by Helen Dunmore
Category: Gifts

”She didn’t wonder where he’d gone, or how long it would be before he came back. She was unsuspicious. You can’t get it back once it’s gone, that stupor of trust.” (page 110)

Helen Dunmore won the Orange Prize for A Spell of Winter which is one of the creepiest books I can remember reading. Burning Bright, her second novel, is right up there now. Throughout my read, I was accompanied by a sense of foreboding and gently increasing tension as the story of a sixteen year old girl, her older boyfriend, and an old lady unfolded. The perspective and narrative shift constantly, sometimes within the same chapter, and it was difficult to establish a connection with any of the characters. They are all flawed in some way (some more than others), but this story of loss of innocence and establishment of personal identity was very compelling in its own quiet way. 3.75 stars

Sep 29, 2011, 2:38pm Top

Bossypants by Tina Fey
Category: Facts

If you are at all interested in reading this, do yourself a favor and don’t. Please, instead, listen to it on audio narrated by Ms. Fey herself. It is an absolute delight – very funny, of course, but also topical, timeless and profound in many ways. 4.5 stars

Oct 4, 2011, 10:39pm Top

Undone by Karin Slaughter
Category: Shivers

A fast-paced thriller with more character development than one might expect from the genre, Undone unfortunately suffered from too much gratuitous violence and a few holes in the plot large enough to drive a truck through. And while the three primary characters had some depth, the rest were little more than one dimensional stereotypes. I’m glad the book read so quickly, and I’m glad to move on to something else. 3 stars

Oct 4, 2011, 11:39pm Top

Did I read it right - two more books and you are finished the challenge? Nice!

Oct 5, 2011, 9:34am Top

That is correct, Lori :) It helps that I only committed to three books in each category!

Oct 7, 2011, 10:37am Top

A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr
Category: Shorties

”But there are times when man and earth are one, when the pulse of living beats strong, when life is brimming with promise and the future stretches confidently ahead like that road to the hills.” (page 101)

Tom Birkin is a wounded survivor of World War I and a broken marriage. His trade – art restoration – brings him to a quiet village in the north of England to restore a church mural. J.L. Carr’s novella reads like syrup, and I mean that in a good day. It’s the literary equivalent of the hot and sticky summer days described so well in the book. As Tom works to uncover a lost masterpiece, he slowly begins to find himself again and his place in the world. Not much happens but the story is pitch-perfect and Tom’s re-emergence into himself is rendered beautifully. 4 stars

Oct 11, 2011, 11:15pm Top

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Category: Groans

Northanger Abbey is not destined to be my favorite novel of Jane Austen’s, but it seems almost unfair to judge it against the others, as it is so very different. Written well before her better known works but not published until after her death, it is a witty and surprisingly profound commentary on the fashionable Gothic novels of the late 18th/early 19th century, as well as on the social mores that credited women with little sense or ambition outside of securing a suitable marriage. The novel is full of Austen’s characteristic wit and wonderfully drawn secondary characters. What stood out for me was the unsympathetic portrayal of Catherine, the heroine, for much of the book. This may very well have been by design – Austen commenting on the empty-headed, silly nature of so many young ladies. I found myself not very invested in Catherine’s story for much of the book and only began to root for her once she experienced some hardship and gained maturity. 3.75 stars

Oct 21, 2011, 7:22pm Top

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Category: Whatifs

My LT friend, Jenny (GCPLReader), pretty much nailed this book for me in her comments when she said the writing was flat and the characters one-dimensional. The premise is intriguing but Jordan can’t quite live up to it with her writing. I have not read her first novel, but this is either a case of the sophomore slump or her talent has been overrated. There were some interesting details, but the world-building of dystopian America seemed incomplete – details were provided when they advanced the plot but otherwise remained unexplained or completely hidden. Because of this, I found the plot full of holes or requiring such suspension of disbelief that I became distracted. A disappointing book that I had really been looking forward to after some glowing reviews. 2.5 stars

Oct 26, 2011, 12:24pm Top

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Category: Gifts

”And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent.” (page 63)

I didn’t have high expectations going into this one given all the varied reactions to it, not to mention the controversy surrounding this year’s Bookers. But I loved, loved, LOVED this novella. I think its strength lies in the gorgeous writing but also its various layers and nuances which allowed me to relate to it in a very personal way, and a way different from a lot of people whose reviews I read. I just got lost in it, marking passage after passage and re-reading pages at a time. Sometimes fine writing isn’t enough to save a book for me, so this must have had something more but damned if I can describe it. Just lovely. 4.5 stars

Oct 26, 2011, 12:25pm Top

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Category: Whatifs

I listened to this one on audio, as I find YA books work well for me in that format. I had seen The Maze Runner compared favorably and unfavorably to The Hunger Games, which I loved. While TMR is good and certainly held my interest, I didn’t find it nearly as enthralling as THG. Some of the writing was very clunky with really terrible, awful, lame, cringe-inducing similes sprinkled throughout. I kept meaning to write them down and never did, unfortunately… I think the book would work really well for the target audience and for anyone who is a big fan of the genre (speculative YA fiction). I’m just dipping my toes in here and came at it with a critical eye so I may be short-changing the book. 3.5 stars

Oct 26, 2011, 3:08pm Top

I feel nearly identical to you regarding TMR and THG.

Oct 26, 2011, 8:47pm Top

Sorry to see When She Woke was a disappointment but happy to see you enjoyed Barnes' The Sense of an Ending. I hope to pick that one up soon!

Oct 27, 2011, 6:15am Top

I was pleasantly surprised by Sense of an Ending I love a book that is only as long as it needs to be and that one was a perfect length. Managed to fit in a great twisting plot and some fantastic ideas without interrupting the flow.

Oct 27, 2011, 10:41am Top

Hi Victoria - It seems no one likes them equally :)

Lori - Oh, I hope you like it as much as I did!

Claire - I couldn't agree more. Bigger isn't always better ;)

Edited: Nov 2, 2011, 7:06pm Top

When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
Category: Gifts

”’Nothing stays forgotten for long, Elly. Sometimes we simply have to remind the world that we’re special and that we’re still here.’” (page 105)

When God Was a Rabbit tells the story of wise and precocious Elly, her brother Joe, and their wonderfully strange family, as well as Elly’s mysterious friend Jenny. It is broken into two parts – Elly’s childhood and adulthood – both of which combine stories of the major and minor, big, historical moments alongside the mundane of the everyday.

I absolutely loved the first half of this book. Winman managed to capture the essential mix of wonder and pain and mystery that we all experienced as children – to such a degree that though she depicted fictional scenes, they rang true to me and made me remember small moments from my own childhood. The writing is, for the most part, lovely:

”I sat on the bed noting her qualities in a way most people would have reserved for an epitaph. My fear was as silent as her multiplying cells. My mother was beautiful. She had lovely hands that lifted the conversation when she spoke, and had she been deaf, her signing would have been as elegant as a poet speaking verse. I looked at her eyes; blue, blue, blue; same as mine. I sang the color in my head until it swamped my essence like seawater.” (page 29)

”You had to translate his actions, for they were seldom accompanied by words, because his world was a quiet world: a disconnected, fractured space, a puzzle that made him phone me at three o’clock in the morning, asking me for the last piece of the border so he could fill in the sky.” (page 183)

I felt that the story lost something towards the end – almost as if Winman had run out of the manic energy that propelled the first part of the novel. But there are books that sometimes just speak to you, no matter their flaws; books that touch something and draw something out of the reader. This was such a book for me and one I will return to. 4.5 stars

I received a copy of this book through LT’s Early Reviewers program.

Edited: Nov 5, 2011, 11:17pm Top

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Category: Impulses

A short, spare novella detailing the doomed relationship between a man and his wife’s cousin. There are plenty of reviews, so I won’t rehash any of it. What I found most compelling was Wharton’s ability to make her reader invest in a story that does little more than detail the bleak landscape of New England and the icy nature of New Englanders’ emotional existence. A total downer, but a beautifully written and evocative one. I listened to this on audio, narrated by Scott Brick, and will return to the story in printed format at some point, as I think I missed some powerful writing. 3.75 stars

Nov 7, 2011, 4:06pm Top

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
Category: Shivers

”Armand Gamache was the explorer. He went ahead of all the rest, into territory unknown and uncharted. He was drawn to the edge of things. To the places old mariners knew and warned, ‘Beyond here be monsters.’” (page106)

I will probably not be one of the die-hard fans of this series, though I can see their appeal. And I will keep reading them, but I won’t be waiting with bated breath for the next book to be published. I think I still have three still to get to. These are decent enough mysteries, though in all four that I’ve read so far, I’ve found the actual crime and mystery to be secondary to the excellent character development and lovely descriptions of everything from food to flowers to furnishings. I did find this entry to be more interesting, as it tells more of Gamache’s personal story and I liked very much the relationship depicted between he and his wife. 3.5 stars

Nov 18, 2011, 3:22pm Top

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Category: Gifts

”…{H}er desire for the impossible eclipsed every piece of science she had ever known.” (page 3)

And here, at the very beginning, the reader is presented with a central tension of the book: science and creativity, the objective and subjective, rationality, emotion, empiricism, feeling… How do we reconcile two sides of a dichotomy? Can we even do such a thing? No plot summary from me (it’ll make it sound boring!), instead, I will laud Patchett’s gorgeous writing and her lush, evocative language.

Describing the air in Brazil: ”The outside air was heavy enough to be bitten and chewed. Never had Marina’s lungs taken in so much oxygen, so much moisture. With every inhalation she felt she was introducing unseen particles of plant life into her body, tiny spores that bedded down in between her cilia and set about taking root.”

Describing the impenetrable darkness before her eyes adjust: ”In an instant the veil of insects lifted and Marina saw nothing as she had never seen nothing before. It was as if God Himself had turned out the lights, every last one, and left them in the gaping darkness of His abandonment… Beyond the spectrum of darkness she saw the bright stars scattered across the table of the night sky and felt as if she had never seen such things as stars before. She did not know enough numbers to count them, and even if she did, the stars could not be separated one from the other, the whole was so much greater than the sum of its parts. She saw the textbook of constellations, the heroes of mythology posing on fields of ink. She could see the milkiness in everything now, the way the sky was spread over with light.”

Where Joseph Conrad’s Marlowe ventures into the heart of darkness and finds brutality, Patchett’s feminist re-telling of the ancient quest myth leads to the opposite. Conrad depicts man’s ultimate power as the subjugation of one to another; Patchett sees ultimate power in the ability to bring forth life and the unstoppable turning of the circle of creation. But State of Wonder is far from an empty paean to the superiority of women, native tribes, and pristine environments. Patchett raises fascinating questions of right and wrong, situational ethics and moral subjectivity, and what it means to see the world in black and white. Good stuff. 4.25 stars

Nov 18, 2011, 5:29pm Top

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

This was mildly diverting, but I have never liked smarty-pants college kids who think it is okay to do something just because they can. The author tries to treat Thad Roberts, the brilliant university student who stole lunar rock samples from NASA (and yes, had sex with his girlfriend on top of them), in a balanced way, but seriously? I’m sorry his home life was messed up and that he was shy and socially awkward, but I have no sympathy for this guy who threw away amazing opportunities and turned his back on people who believed in him. His enormous ego and sense of entitlement landed him exactly where he deserved – federal prison. Some people really are too smart for their own good. 3 stars

Nov 18, 2011, 6:48pm Top

Great review for Patchett's State of Wonder! I am saving that one for my 12 in 12 and really looking forward to reading it.

Nov 18, 2011, 7:02pm Top

Thanks, Lori! I will look for your comments on it next year... :)

Nov 25, 2011, 10:26am Top

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
Category: Whatifs

This story of the human war with machines in revolt is told in a fragmented, episodic format that leaves some gaping holes and questions unanswered, but which is a fun ride, nonetheless. There were a few problems with the narrative, especially in terms of clumsy foreshadowing that ended up not being connected to anything later, and the writing was labored in parts. For all that, it was good, mindless fun. And I like the cover art. 3.5 stars

Nov 25, 2011, 10:48am Top

I have a robot category next year - will have to keep this in mind. Thanks!

Nov 25, 2011, 5:53pm Top

This would be an easy fit and not much of a taxing read, Victoria. Look forward to finding out what your other categories are!

Nov 25, 2011, 10:44pm Top

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Category: Shivers

Very clever story by a master of the genre, though I was slightly disappointed in the resolution. Still, a solid read that I gobbled up in one day. 3 stars

Edited: Nov 28, 2011, 10:16am Top

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Category: Gifts

I very much enjoyed this collection of linked vignettes. At turns heartbreaking and comic, these peaks into the lives of people associated with a failing newspaper depict the way in which we delude ourselves and others into believing everything is good and fine and normal in our lives. Just as the paper is barely surviving, so are many of these people about to drown under the weight of misconception, miscommunication and missed opportunity. Rachman is a fine writer, providing surprisingly full portraits of his characters despite the limits of the story format. And he is funny! The chapter about the Cairo stringer is a wonderfully exaggerated portrait of naiveté and egotism. Asked how he likes Cairo, the young wanna-be journalist replies:

”I have a couple of gripes, but they’re pretty minor.”


“Nothing serious.”

“Tell me one.”

“Well, the air is kind of hard to breathe, with all this pollution. Sort of like inhaling from an exhaust pipe. The heat makes me faint sometimes. And the food isn’t all that edible. Or maybe I’ve just been unlucky. Also, it’s a police state, which I don’t love. And I get the impression the locals want to shoot me. Only when I talk to them, though. Which is my fault – my Arabic is useless. But basically, yeah,” he summarizes, “it’s really interesting.”

This book won’t work for everyone, but I appreciated Rachman’s ability to do so much so well in so limited a way. 4 stars

Edited: Dec 3, 2011, 2:54pm Top

Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman
Category: Facts

An engaging study of Jane Austen’s life and works, and their reception and appreciation (or lack thereof) at different times in history. This is not a weighty academic tome, but it is filled with interesting tidbits about Austen’s relationships with various family members; Harman makes a convincing argument for Austen’s acerbity and ambition, two traits that were papered over by her family after her death in favor of a “Saint Jane” hagiography. Not being a scholar, and not having read much in the way of Austen’s biography, I found this book to be both entertaining and informative. I especially enjoyed the section towards the end on various film and TV adaptations of the novels, as well as treatments of Austen’s life, from Becoming Jane to Miss Austen Regrets. Overall, a good survey of some primary questions about Jane Austen for the casual reader or curious fan. 3.5 stars

Dec 3, 2011, 7:41pm Top

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Category: Groans

I love both Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth; I think Persuasion edges out Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen because of the depth of characterization and emotion we see in each, thanks to the maturation of the author. It may be the least overtly witty and most overtly romantic of all of Austen’s work – despite that, or maybe because of it, I find it near perfection. 4.75 stars

Dec 10, 2011, 9:17am Top

The Perfect Elizabeth by Libby Schmais
Category: Oldies

This is a book that I’ve had on my shelves since May 2001 – I think my aunt passed it along to me during a visit I made to Texas when I lived in Washington, DC. It then moved with me four years later from DC to Dallas, where it has languished another six years or so. Poor book. The problem, sometimes, with books that have been sitting around a long time is that they reflect one’s reading tastes of many moons ago. I used to inhale this kind of light and breezy “women’s fiction” with less substance than cotton candy. Now it’s just kind of bleh to me. So this story of two sisters trying to figure out what they want out of life struck me as unimaginative and banal. It’s not particularly well-written and doesn’t explore any new issues in any kind of new way. 2.5 stars

Dec 10, 2011, 9:20am Top

So that officially concludes my 11 in 11 challenge. I was concerned I wouldn't be able to meet my modest goal of 3 books in each category... I am on track to finish right around 100 books this year :) I'm so thankful that LT has helped me get my reading mojo back!

I will continue to list my 2011 books here as bonus reads, just to see what categories end up being the fullest, barest, etc.

I will be participating in the 12 in 12 - just trying to finalize my categories :)

Dec 10, 2011, 11:35am Top

Congrats on completing your challenge Katie! Sorry to hear The Perfect Elizabeth ended your challenge reading with a 2.5 rating. Here's hoping your next read is a vast improvement over the last one!

Dec 10, 2011, 12:11pm Top

Sad to finish on a bad one but congratulations on completing your challenge anyway.

Dec 10, 2011, 12:19pm Top

Congratulations on finishing your challenge! (I am two children's classics away from finishing mine, both in progress). Can't wait to see what you come up with for 2012.

I was concerned I wouldn't be able to meet my modest goal of 3 books in each categoryI know what you mean. I too have been astonsihed by how many more books I've read this year than I expected. I wonder how much these challenges have to do with that.

Dec 10, 2011, 12:48pm Top

Congratulations, Katie!

Dec 10, 2011, 7:49pm Top

Congratulations Katie. I know what you mean about older books just not reflecting your tastes anymore. I really credit LT and the people who come here with stretching my reading choices.

Dec 10, 2011, 8:08pm Top

Hi there Lori, Dave, Anne, Ivy, and Judy!

I was a little disappointed to finish on a not-great book, but I have the rest of the month to make up for it!

Dec 13, 2011, 11:21am Top

Belated congratulations from me too!

Dec 14, 2011, 9:22am Top


Dec 14, 2011, 2:14pm Top

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
Category: Facts

I have read and enjoyed three of Pat Conroy’s books, and have another three still to read sitting on my shelves. He is a gifted storyteller, and I very much enjoyed this book focusing on his love of literature and reading and the various influences throughout his life that set him on a literary path. I had the audio version of the book, which is narrated by Conroy himself. He’s not the most polished reader, but to hear his own story from his own lips (soft Southern slur and all) was very effective and made the telling more intimate. At turns funny and sad, My Reading Life is both a memoir and a manifesto; a memoir of one man’s life journey through books, and a manifesto on the value of all things biblio – books, libraries, writers, bookshops, etc. While in the middle of listening to the book, I had the opportunity to purchase a gently used hardcover copy of it, which I snapped up to add to my permanent collection. This one gets five stars because how can I quibble over such a passionate articulation of the value of books and reading? 5 stars

Dec 14, 2011, 2:14pm Top

Thanks, Paruline and Victoria!

Dec 18, 2011, 5:18pm Top

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
Category: Shivers

Not quite as good as Case Histories and much more bleak. Atkinson once again tells several different stories and then slowly reels them in and integrates them into the primary narrative. I love how she does this, without relying on cute coincidence or contrived set-ups. I missed the warmth provided to the first book in the series by the presence of Jackson’s daughter – she humanizes him and brings out his softer side. Still, I look forward to the next book. 3.75 stars

Dec 21, 2011, 9:52am Top

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz
Category: Facts

This is a decent, if not very profound, look at the impact of Jane Austen’s novels on one man. It’s kind of a memoir, kind of a literary analysis. I appreciated some of his insights into the texts, but the sections where he connected his analysis back to his own life were often clunky and riddled with cliché. It’s an interesting premise for a book – especially having a male perspective on an author and novels usually more identified with women, but the superficiality and rather banal conclusions ended up making it more of a boring read than anything else. Eh. 3 stars

Dec 21, 2011, 1:01pm Top

@ 246 -- Aww, too bad -- this is on my list of potential 2012 reads. I may still read it, but now I know not to get my expectations up too high!

Dec 21, 2011, 3:54pm Top

Christina - It's worth reading, just with lower expectations, as you say :)

Dec 24, 2011, 2:55pm Top

Stopping by to wish you a Merry Christmas Katie!

Dec 24, 2011, 9:56pm Top

Thanks, Lori. Back at ya!

Dec 26, 2011, 4:34pm Top

Jane by April Lindner
Category: Gifts

A contemporary re-telling of Jane Eyre for the young adult audience. It wasn’t awful but it definitely could have been better. Mr. Rochester is a rock star; Jane is a college student forced to drop out of school and find work; there is still a mad woman in the attic and suspicious goings on. The biggest failure here, though, is Lindner’s inability to capture the atmosphere of the original – or really any atmosphere at all. It felt neither mysterious nor foreboding. And Jane was incredibly annoying and “woe is me” for most of the book. Despite all the flaws, I am a bit of a sucker for contemporary versions of classics and this one was kind of fun. 3 stars

Dec 29, 2011, 10:49am Top

A Thinking Man’s Bully by Michael Adelberg
Category: Gifts

I found this debut novel to be eminently readable, despite not liking a single character in it. In a series of vignettes, we learn about one man’s past history of bullying and that of his son. The format is not very smooth and feels rather disconnected; the main characters are pretty obnoxious, and I found the ending to be a little too tidy. Despite these flaws, I stayed up late to finish the book, as the writing was clear and succinct and had a definite “voice.” 3 stars

Received through the LT Early Reviewers Program

Dec 31, 2011, 12:21pm Top

Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor
Category: Impulses

”She knows she is not as she once was… The innocence that once was hers is now, with time, a foolishness, yet it is not disowned, and that same lost person is valued for leading her to where she is.” (page 207)

I have several of William Trevor’s novels and short story collections on my shelves, but this was the first work of his I’ve read. What a dark and creepy introduction! Felicia is a naïve Irish teenager, left pregnant by a local boy and abandoned upon his return to England where he supposedly works in a factory. She travels there in search of him but meets up with the helpful Mr. Hilditch instead.

The novel started off rather slowly for me but as the tension mounted and the atmosphere of foreboding and menace increased, I found myself more and more involved in the story. Trevor’s great gift here is to present the reader with “warts and all” portraits of his characters but to stir a sense of empathy for them, as well. The snatches of memory and dreams he describes give the novel a disjointed, uneasy feeling that only adds to the dark atmosphere. It’s all very bleak but also very well-written. I am glad I have more of Trevor’s work to explore. 3.5 stars

Dec 31, 2011, 2:53pm Top

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Category: Tykes

This is the first book in a trilogy concerning a steampunk alternate history of World War I. Utterly delightful and inventive. I listened to the audio narrated by the actor Alan Cumming which was fantastic. The book itself has some great illustrations (I’ll be buying a copy), so either way you can’t go wrong. The characters are wonderfully developed, and I can’t say enough about Westerfeld’s imagination in creating this world. 4 stars

Dec 31, 2011, 3:03pm Top

Lady Susan by Jane Austen
Category: Shorties

I loved this short epistolary novella detailing the selfish and devious nature of the titular character. What an incisive sketch of a horrible woman! Besides providing an hour or so’s entertainment, it has inspired me to seek out the other minor works of Austen. 3.5 stars

Dec 31, 2011, 4:52pm Top

The novel started off rather slowly for me but as the tension mounted and the atmosphere of foreboding and menace increased, I found myself more and more involved in the story.

Felicia's Journey sounds like my kind of book. I have made a mental note to look into this and Trevor's other works as I haven't heard of him before reading your post!

Dec 31, 2011, 5:14pm Top

Oh, I hope you like it, Lori!

Dec 31, 2011, 5:16pm Top

Happy New Year to All!

Visit my 12 in 12 thread HERE!

Dec 31, 2011, 8:16pm Top

Happy New Year Katie!

Glad you enjoyed Leviathan as I have it due up for my 2012 challenge. Looking forward to following your new thread.

Dec 31, 2011, 9:34pm Top

Thanks, Wolfy.

Group: The 11 in 11 Category Challenge

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