Saturday, November 10, 2007

Books that Should Be Movies

Here's a list of books that should be made into movies. Anyone got any others?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Long May She Reign

A while back in the midst of Harry Potter frenzy, Anstrat had a post about what other books are you anticipating and this was my selection. The first book in this series, The President's Daughter, was an earlier pick of mine, as it and its two sequels were among my friend Krista's favorite books in junior high and high school. Now, nearly twenty years after the last sequel, Meg Powers, daughter of the first woman president is back. The story picks up soon after the end of Long Live the Queen with Meg and her family still dealing with the immediate aftermath of Meg's kidnapping and injuries. Eventually Meg realizes she needs to be more independent and goes away to college at Williams. This book, like LLTQ, isn't easy to read-- Ellen Emerson White is almost too good at depicting Meg's mental and physical anguish. But for long time fans of the series, there is a lot to find satisfying, specifically Meg's deeper, more adult conversation with her parents, Trudy, the family's former housekeeper, and Preston, a white house staffer who is also one of the first family's closest friends. White brings in a character from some of her other novels which I found distracting, especially in the face of the updated time period for this book compared to the first three. While I enjoyed the book, I'm not sure how someone who hadn't read the prequels would react and I may have had unrealistically high expectations.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Brokeback Mountain

I read this story recently for class. It's actually the second time I've read it; I also read it before seeing the movie. I couldn't stand E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, so I was completely surprised at how perfect this story is. It is stripped down so bare and compact. Twenty years pass by in twenty pages. I did really like the movie, also, but the story expressed even better the horrible dilemma these characters face and how much it weighs on them. It's sad and beautiful and there's not a word out of place.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Harry Potter Update

So, as you've no doubt heard, Albus Dumbledore is gay. What do you think of Rowling's decision to keep revealing more and more tidbits about her characters after the release of the final book?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Thread of Grace

Since my last post was about The Wedding Officer I thought I would talk about this book, which is another look at World War II Italy. This book focuses on the last years of the war when Germany was no longer Italy's ally and Germans and Allied forces were both at the proverbial gate. The features several Jewish families on the run, as well as the people who helped shelter them and an SS doctor who when separated from his unit must come to terms with the blood on his hands for his role in the concentration camps. Reading this book, I learned the Italy had highest Jewish survival rate in Europe, which the author seems to partly attribute to the Italian suspicion of centralized orders and government as well as the greater integration of Jews into the culture as a whole. The book also shows how fascism grew in response the pressure the war put on Italian society.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Into The Wild

Hello folks. Sorry you didn't hear from me last Sunday; it was the end of a bachelor party weekend and well I was not in much of a literary mood. I shall spare you the details. But don't worry ladies, the celebration was not in my honor.
Today's selection has just been made into a major motion picture so I figure it is somewhat topical. "Into The Wild" is the true story of a young man who decides to ditch society and live alone in the Alaska wilderness. The ending is no big secret, let's say its similar to the end of "Grizzly Man", without the bear attack.
But the story poses big questions. What made Chris McCandless, a 24 year old young man of means and intelligence decide to spurn all human contact and association? Was he searching for something meaningful in his life; an honorable communion with nature? Or was a thrill seeker who got in way way over his head? Anyway, it is a really enjoyable read and I would certainly recommend it. See you next time.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Intuitionist

I can honestly say, this is the best book about elevator inspectors I've ever read. This debut novel by Colson Whitehead follows Lila Mae Watson, the first African American female elevator inspector, in an unnamed time and place (probably 1950's or 1960's New York). Elevator inspection is very prestigious and Lila Mae takes her job seriously. She comes from the Intuitionist school of thought--she can "feel" what's wrong with the elevator. She's very good at it, too, until an elevator she recently inspected crashes in a total freefall. Lila Mae suspects sabotage and must figure out who did it. Along the way, she uncovers new information about her mentor and founder of the Intuitionists, Fulton. The whole novel is an allegory about race--the cover blurbs compare it to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. I liked the novel a lot, even if it tried to do too much in a couple of places. There's some dark humor and I really enjoyed Whitehead's writing style.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Wedding Officer

This is another book club pick. Set in World War II era Italy, the book centers around Captain James Gould a British Officer assigned the duty of making sure that British solders did not marry Italian women of "poor reputation", specifically prostitutes. However wartime shortages and extreme poverty ensure that almost all of them have slept with a solider for cash and he approves almost no marriages. He also attempts to crackdown on the black market with little or no success. Then Livia Pertini, a widow from the Italian countryside becomes the cook for Gould and the other officers. Gradually Gould begins to fall in love with her, the food she cooks, and Italy itself and see the world as more than black and white. The story takes a few turns towards the far fetched, but the book was still a worthwhile read.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Books You May Have Missed

I forgot to post yesterday, but here's a bonus post I came across while cleaning out some bookmarks. I love book lists of any kind, and this list has books I've mostly never heard of (the only one I've read is Any Human Heart by William Boyd). I have read many of the contributors, though, and may have to check out some of their selections. Has anyone read Elizabeth Taylor? Those stuck out for me as books I want to try out.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

National Book Award nominees announced

Our very own Anstrat has read and reviewed Now We Come to the End but otherwise we seem to have made it through another year without reading any of the best books. Very sad. I guess we have until November 14 to get the rest read. If anyone has read any of the other nominated books, be sure to post about it in the comments.

Doris Lessing wins Nobel for Literature

What does everyone think of this choice? I've recently read The Sweetest Dream and wasn't terribly impressed. I tried to read The Golden Notebook in college and it never grabbed me. Post your thoughts on Ms. Lessing or other Nobel literature choices.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Running With Scissors

Augusten Burroughs has had the weirdest life of all time, if half of this memoir is true. (which it may not be as I think he recently settled a defamation lawsuit, part of the terms being he would no longer refer to it as memoir.) Born to a distant alcoholic dad and a manic depressive mother, Augusten lives in his imagination, pretending to be a talk show host and cleaning and polishing things. Then his parents separate and he is sent to live with his mother's therapist and his family who are crazy themselves. The children play with an electroshock set kept under the stairs, the mom eats dog snacks and no one cares about housework or school or the fact that 13 year old Augusten is having sex with the family's other surrogate son, a man in his 20s. The book is shocking, engrossing and darkly humorous. I listened to this on audio, which was great except when ever I had to pay the parking garage attendant the book was always in the middle of something sexual or a string of profanity. Recommended for people who aren't easily shocked.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Ultimates 2 Vol 2: Grand Theft America

The Ultimates, written by Mark Millar and and drawn by Bryan Hitch, is a reboot of the traditional and somewhat stodgy Marvel Comics Avengers series. Millar take on the Ultimates is far more adult and politically grounded than the original Avengers series. Inspired very much by the modern American culture of paranoia concerning terrorism and WMDs, this more realistic (for superhero comics that is ;-) ) series has the U.S. Government creating their own super-powered team, the Ultimates, in response to the increasing dangerous world they found themselves in.

The Ultimates, between finding themselves dealing with the occasional alien invasion and and superpowered acts of terrorism (Hulk Smash!), find themselves being used to invade and disarm a middle eastern country developing WMDs. In the collection Grand Theft America, rogue elements from several countries are concerned that they may find themselves a target of the U.S. government sponsored super-beings. In response to this threat, they secretly develop super-powered team of their own and decide to pre-emptively invade the U.S. to head off any attack on their own homelands. What ensues is a very entertaining knockdown, drag out fight between the invading super-team the Liberators and the Ultimates.

Aside from the fantastic action in the series, Millar managed to create what feel like fleshed out, fully 3-dimensional characters. Beyond the outlandish comic-book powers and action, most of the characters come off as real people who have with very real problems, and I really felt for them when bad things happen to them. Millar is one of my favorite comic book writers these days, and the Ultimates series is a good example of why that is.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


The Lucky Bones, a book club favorite, is Alice Sebold's best known book, but I found this to be more affecting. A memoir of the rape Sebold suffers as a college freshman and the aftermath both short and long term, Lucky is a book the pulls you in until the last page. The title refers to Sebold's being told by a police officer that she was lucky, as another girl had been murdered in a similar attack. Luck is clearly relative, as Sebold's world is turned upside down and her friends and family feel the after effects. She suffers from post traumatic stress and and engages in destructive behavior including drug use and years after the attack is still trying to regain her equilibrium. A moving, well written book and Sebold's strength is inspirational.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

I Sailed With Magellan

Hello all. I figured a book by one of my favorite authors would be appropriate considering Stuart Dybek has been in the news this past week. Dybek is a Chicago native who is currently in residence at Northwestern University. He was in the papers because he received one of those MacArthur "Genius" Grants. Basically, for being a talented and awesome writer he gets $500,000 with no strings attached. Where do I sign up?

Dybek is far from prolific. "Magellan" is only his third collection of short stories. His first two, "Childhood And Other Neighborhoods", and "Coast of Chicago" were both excellent but I think "Magellan" is his best. The primary character in the stories is Perry Katzek, a Polish-American boy growing up on Chicago's south side. The tales are populated by the colorful members of Perry's family as well as local gangsters, drunks and others that make these stories breezy and compelling reads. Its definitely worth a read at the very least to satisfy your curiosity at just what the $500K fuss is about.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Bridge of Sighs

Loyal Dailybookbuddy readers may remember the ridiculous level of anticipation I had for this book. While I did enjoy and highly recommend it, I'm afraid it didn't quite live up to my impossibly high expectations for a Richard Russo book. After winning the Pulitzer for Empire Falls, it appears that Russo felt the need to write a Very Important Book. Bridge of Sighs tackles lots of issues of class, race, what it means to be an American, how much choice we have over our life's direction. I wouldn't characterize Russo as a subtle writer anyway, but his characters are constantly asking themselves series of rhetorical questions about the Big Issues. To Russo's credit, he never supplies the reader with easy answers. The story basically revolves around two boys--Lucy Lynch, the likable optimist who is content to live in Thomaston all his life and his counterpart, Bobby Noonan, who leaves Thomaston and never looks back, eventually settling in as a famous painter in Venice. Lucy's wife, Sarah, loved them both but chooses Lucy in the end. The three lives threaten to converge once more when the Lynches plan a trip to Venice thirty years later. The story is primarily told in Lucy's memoir of his childhood and adolescence, and this conceit is sometimes a bit awkward. If you're new to Russo, I wouldn't start with this book (I'd go with The Risk Pool or Straight Man). But it's still filled with great writing and vivid characters (this book probably has his best-written female characters). It may not be quite as funny or seamless as some of his previous work, but I still don't think I've read a better book this year.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Book Of Illusions

This book was a public library book club choice. The protagonist David Zimmer is a college professor whose wife and two sons die in a plane crash. Struggling to find something to help him reconnect to the world the living, he spots a silent film clip on late night tv. Surprised to find himself actually laughing he seeks out information on the clip's actor and learns he is Hector Mann a silent film star who disappeared completely just as sound entered movies. Zimmer seeks out prints of his movies which have been appearing anonymously in the mail in various film archives and writes a book about Mann's art. Zimmer is shocked by first letters and then a late night visitor who claim Mann is still alive. He travels to New Mexico and learns the story of Mann's disappearance. The book takes a turn for the strange at several points but serves as an interesting study of how survivor's guilt can manifest itself.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Heckuva Job:more of the Bush Administration in Rhyme

Every week Calvin Trillin's political poetry appears in The Nation. Works such as "George W. Bush's Approval Rating Sinks to 34 Percent", "A Member of Congress tries to Recall Jack Abramhoff" and "Watching Dick Cheney in Debate" (I must say this, in studying Dick Cheney:/ The man betrays no impulse to be zany,/ Resembling in his scowl and condescendence/ The stern vice principal who takes attendance.) Trillin skewers Washington and the White House house in particular. This is the third volume of his political poetry, following Deadline Poet, and Obliviously On he Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Nazi Games

Well there's nothing more fun to discuss on a pleasant summer-like autumn Sunday than National Socialism right? I'm being sarcastic of course but I just finished reading this book so since its fresh in my noggin its going to be the subject of my post.
I read this book because my suburb's library never has any of the new releases I actually want to check out. So seemingly every time I end up strolling despondently through "New Non-Fiction" and pick something up. I'm not sure why this caught my eye, I think because I took a lot of German History courses in college (they were always scheduled for the afternoon).
But anyway it certainly is an interesting historical footnote that Adolf Hitler hosted the 1936 Summer Olympics and this book tells the story of how exactly that came to be. Berlin was chosen to be host during the Wiemar Republic before the rise of National Socialism, but despite the complaints of many people with foresight in this country and elsewhere the Games went off in Hitler' s Germany without nary a boycott or protest by any of the nations invited.
Besides the obvious political story of the event and its use as a propaganda tool by the Nazis the book uses primary sources to re-examine the accuracy of many oft-told fables surrounding this event. Most notably, Hitler's reaction to Jesse Owens and other black Americans dominating track and field events literally under his nose...which was of course a visible and undeniable rebuke to the concept of Aryan supremacy.
But most importantly this book addresses the fact that the world allowed the Olympics to be held in a nation that had already, through measures such as the Nuremberg Laws, made it patently clear their ideology regarding a minority of their population. And I think it was the Olympic movement's reaction to the protests of Jews across the world that gives an insight to the seed of National Socialism and in fact the Holocaust itself. Basically, the protests against a Hitler-led Games were denounced as Jewish "agitation" and efforts to politicize a peaceful non-political sporting event. Hindsight is of course, 20/20, but a lesson from this story is that many leaders of the world were not very concerned about Hitler's treatment of the Jews until it was much too late.
That all said, this was not a quick or easy read and in fact I think Oak Lawn has a 70 cent late fee coming their way. See you next time.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


I just watched this Showtime series on DVD last week and was hooked immediately. And it has a bookish connection, too, since the show is based on the Dexter books, starting with Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay. Dexter is a sociopath who lacks emotion, except for that dark desire to kill people, of course. His adopted father Harry, a cop, discovers his dark side after he kills a few animals. Through flashbacks, we see Harry teach Dexter how to fake his emotions to get by in the world and how to channel his dark side into something positive. Harry realizes he is not going to be able to stop his son from eventually killing people, so he sets about teaching Dexter a code--basically to just kill the bad guys--and how to get away with it. That's the setup, and the flashbacks are just a small part. Dexter is a blood spatter analyst for the Miami PD and the department is trying to track down the Ice Truck Killer, who chops up his victims after draining their blood and leaves the collection of parts in unusual displays. Dexter develops a fascination and admiration with the killer, even as he tries to hunt him down. Meanwhile, Dexter is also trying to manage his personal life with his sister and his girlfriend Rita, and trying to unravel his past and figure out how he managed to become who he is. Dexter is convincingly played by Michael C. Hall (from Six Feet Under, another excellent TV on DVD choice). If you have an aversion to blood, you might want to stay away, though.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Pride and Prejudice

Angstrat and I had been toying with posting some movies and DVDs and since I seem to be unable to finish a book lately I though I'd take a crack at it. I went to Great Britain in 1997 (ten years ago!) as part of a college study abroad trip. While we where there our Brit Lit professor found out the BBC would be replaying this miniseries and basically moved heaven and earth to find a TV to watch it on. About a dozen (of both genders) of us watched with her, and became transfixed. I had read Pride and Prejudice before but because I'm an extremely literally minded person I hadn't really seen the humor in the book. Mr. Collins was a minster who came to Longbourne to propose to his cousin. ok. Now, watching the movie, I saw just how funny he and the Bennets could be. I also completely feel in love with Colin Firth's Darcy (along with every other woman on earth). I came home and got my husband, Angstrat and several other friends hooked on this great movie. My husband (then boyfriend) watched the first half (all I had rented) and said to me in a wail, "you HAVE to tell me what happens to Charlotte Lucas!!". This is a great adaptation, a great movie, and great fun.

Opening Line Trivia Quizes

Sorry for the missed post we had some technical difficulties with our internet. This link is to a series of first line quizzes. They give the first line, you ID the book. I did well on the children's lit one, but not so well on the others. Post your results if you dare.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Making Money

A con-man by trade, Moist Von Lipwig was rescued from the hangman's noose in Going Postal by the Patrician Vetinari, the tyrant who runs the city of Ankh-Morpork. Seeing a use for a man of Moist's talents, Vetinari puts him in charge of the city's crumbling post office. In Making Money, we find Moist growing listless and bored at the now efficient and smoothly running Ankh-Morpork Post Office. Fortunately the Patrician has another job in mind for the former con-man: running the city's mint. Moist, forced into the position, suddenly finds his life far more exciting as he fends off the aristocratic owners of the bank and mint, rebellious clerks, mad scientists, the City Watch, an old "friend" from his con-man days, and more.

I felt there were a few problems with the story that left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied at the end. Pratchett seemed to spend nearly half the book getting Moist into a position to run the bank, but then we don't seem to do all that much with the bank once we get there. The Lavish family, while entertaining, didn't seem to be particular menacing as the villains. The golems that appear late in the book seem out of place, as if they stumbled into the wrong story. Despite these criticisms, I really did enjoy the book. While the story was perhaps not as strong as some of the other Discworld books, but it's the humor and characters, both new and old, really make the book enjoyable.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

This book is the story of Lia Ling, a Hmong child from a Laotian refugee family. Lia was diagnosed as having severe epilepsy (the title comes from the translation of her disease). Her family and her medical team struggled to over come the culture clash between them in order to treat her condition, but without much success. Factors such as difficulty finding translators (the Hmong people have not integrated as fully as many other groups), the fact in Hmong culture western medicine has been embraced for short time fixes such as antibiotics, but not for long term conditions (so her parents don't understand why she needs her medication forever), and mistrust on both sides ultimately result in heartbreak. The book is a great cultural study of both our culture and the Hmong and raises the question of how so many well intentioned people could have gone so wrong.

Monday, September 24, 2007

All the Pretty Horses

This is definitely not a book I would have picked up my own, and I may have given up on it before 100 pages if I wasn’t reading it for a class. As Shuttsie knows, the western is not my favorite genre, thus my reluctance to read Lonesome Dove despite her best efforts for the past ten years or so, although you could argue that ATPH is not really a western. The story follows John Grady Cole, sixteen, and his friend Rawlins as they travel to Mexico to work on a ranch. The beginning of the book is filled with long stretches of the weather and the landscape and endless searches for water. It picks up once the boys meet another boy, Jimmy Blevins, who ends up getting them in trouble later on in the story. The boys find work on a ranch in Mexico where John Grady falls in love with the rancher’s daughter, never a good sign. There are some beautiful passages in McCarthy’s writing once you get past the lack of punctuation.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

War Letters

Hello from Sunday afternoon. I know we're all gearing up for the Bears showdown tonight but since we have a few hours to kill lets talk reading.

This selection is for all the military and U.S. history buffs out there. It is a collection of correspondence from American soldiers, usually letters home, stretching from the Civil War through Bosnia. Each of the letters are prefaced by a short introduction which provides historical and personal context regarding the soldier and his deployment. The letters range from inspiring to wholly depressing, I much like any account of war I suppose. But I guess why I find this reading so essential is that provides a human perspective to the great forces of war and history.

This was published in 2001, shortly before our most recent military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. But its doubtful in the age of email that correspondence is crafted and preserved in such a way to make this book possible. I suppose "War Letters" is also a history of how we used to communicate.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

I'd like to think I picked this book up because of a great review I read, but really, it was the title that made me take it home. I read a lot of good reviews but a good title or a good book cover will push that book to the top every time. Arbitrary, I know. The arsonist in question is Sam Pulsifer, a self-described bumbler, who accidentally sets fire to the Emily Dickinson house, burning it to the ground and killing two people inside. He is sent to prison and released after ten years. He marries a nice woman and moves to the suburbs, but neglects to tell her about his past. When the son of the couple killed in the Dickinson fire shows up on his doorstep to confront him, Pulsifer's bumbling past catches up with him. Then, more famous writers' homes are set on fire and Sam must find out who is behind the fires before he is blamed. I found the book to be very funny and I enjoyed all the commentary on stories and literature and their importance in our lives.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why I'm like this

This book is a collection of essays following Kaplan from childhood to her own experiences as a mother. She is quite funny and covers a number of different topics, from her summer camp experiences to her struggles as an actor/waitress to putting her grandmother, who was suffering from Alzheimer's into a nursing home. Towards the end of the book, where she began writing about her struggles with infertility, the book became a little more clunky, but still a very worthwhile and entertaining read.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Studs Lonigan

Hello kids,
As way of introduction my name is Mike. I've been a reader of this fine blog from its inception and Shuttsie was kind enough to ask me for a humble weekly contribution. So here we go.

We'll start with one of my all-time favorites, the Studs Lonigan trilogy. James Farrell (1904-1979) is one of many Chicago authors who is now all but forgotten from the modern consciousness. If this town was true to its history and its artists Farrell would be taught in every high school in the city. But his stuff can be a little tough to swallow so to not be controversial the kids get John Knowles instead.

Anyway the Lonigan books are the signature works of Farrell's career. They describe the childhood of the character Studs Lonigan, an Irish-American youth on the south side of Chicago over a 14 year period ending during the Great Depression. Studs is such a sympathetic character to me probably because he reminds me of many kids I knew growing up. Sadly he reminds me of myself as a teenager as well. Farrell has the inner monologue of messed up teenager down pat. Its also a look at a city in a much different point in its history. I agree wholeheartedly with the review posted on Amazon regarding some of books' disturbing content. However its this content that gives the books and its characters such sad authenticity. So anyway give it a look if you have any interest in Chicago social history. It is fiction, but it is set in Farrell's neighborhood and populated by characters drawn from his own childhood. If you really like it you can move on to Farrell's five "Danny O'Neil" novels, set in the same time and place but based on his own life.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Tightwad Gazette

As a rule, I like to save money. However, I am not quite as intense about it as Amy Dacyczyn, the author/editor of the three volumes of the Tightwad Gazette. These books are a font of cheap ideas- essentially three collections of a newsletter sent out over a period of years. They include recipes, articles on such topics as tightwad valentines ( a cherry pie with a heart cut in it, a coupon for a massage), as well as calculations as to how much money things like energy saving light bulbs will save over the course of decade. There are some crazy ideas (magazine holders from cereal boxes) but learning how much per ounce soda (or pop as we say in the mid- west) is from the movie theater, a restaurant, the grocery store and versus good old water is quite an eye opener. Also, the author's viewpoint about "spending for the sake of spending" is a good reminder for anyone. Fun and helpful, even if you don't adopt all her ideas.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Atrocity Archives

I love this book. :D The Atrocity Archives collection combines Lovecraftian Horror with Len Deighton style cold war style spy thrillers, and has a pinch of Dilbert thrown in for good measure. The books centers on Bob Howard, a lowly computer nerd working for The Laundry, the super-secret British agency that deals with paranormal, demonic, and various otherworldly threats. Though his job primarily entails keeping the office computers up and running, Howard made the mistake of expressing an interest in field duty. Because magic and summoning in this world is all very mathematical, scientific and regimented, Howard's unique skillset and nerd cred make him uniquely qualified for certain tasks, and he finds himself thrown into increasingly dangerous missions involving possessed terrorists, necromantic Nazi holdovers from World War II, and world devouring monsters. This is on top of the peril he faces from his evil, soul sucking, pointy-haired supervisor at The Laundry. Luckily our protagonist is up for the challenge.

The main story from the Atrocity Archives collection, the The Concrete Jungle, is available online under the creative commons licence. I'm about to finish The Jennifer Morgue, the sequel to The Atrocity Archives. It's has more of an Ian Flemming/James Bond flavor, and is also quite good. Stross also has another Lovecraftian style Cold War story online called A Colder War , though this story takes place in a different universe and is written in a different style. Amusingly, Ollie North makes an appearance here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

It's been six years since the 9/11 attacks and many writers have attempted to use art to make sense of both 9/11 and its aftermath. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the story of Oskar, a young boy whose father died in the World Trade Center and a parallel story about his grandfather surviving the bombing of Dresden. If I hadn't look at the Amazon review, the story about the grandfather would not have come back to me, because Oskar is far more memorable.
A highly intelligent but extremely weird kid, he travels all over New York trying to piece together the meaning behind the key his father left behind in and envelope marked "black" and to come to terms with the loss of his father. Brilliant and a little post-modern, this is a fine beginning toward an understand of the effects of 9/11 on our country and our culture.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Jeff Winston is 43 when he suffers a fatal heart attack while on the phone with his wife. He wakes up in his college dorm, a freshman at Emory again, in an 18 year old body, with all of the knowledge of the last 25 years intact. So begins a series of "replays" in which he lives his life in any way he chooses, usually getting rich off of sports betting and the stock market due to his knowledge of the future. Each life ends in the same heart attack, no matter what steps he takes to prevent it. Jeff experiments with all kinds of lifestyles, from the ultra straight laced to complete hedonism. His "replays" grow progressively less meaningful until he meets a woman in the same predicament and they try to discover the meaning behind what is happening to them. I was a bit horrified at his blowing off class upon his return to college and found it interesting he never seemed interested in friendships, only romantic relationships. A fast read with some interesting thoughts on what gives life meaning.

Other book blogs

Nina's Reading Blog
Conversational Reading
AbeBooks' Reading Copy
Reading the Past
Becky's Book Reviews
Comics Worth Reading
Fausti's Book Quest

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bad Monkeys

We meet Bad Monkeys' protagonist Jane Charlotte in the "nut wing" of a Vegas jail where she is being held for murder. Through interviews with her prison shrink, we learn about Jane's colorful past and her involvement with the Organization, an all-encompassing secret society devoted to fighting evil in its many forms. The Organization, which uses a variety of methods to fight evil, has Jane working in The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons, or the Bad Monkeys division as it is informally known. Bad Monkeys' particular solution to evil involves ray-guns that shoot heart attacks.

Or not. Jane may simply be insane and making it all up.

The book is a very fast read, but it manages takes us through multiple twists by the time we finish. It was very enjoyable it and I was disappointed only that we didn't learn more about the Organization and its opponents before it wrapped up. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Primary Colors

This book was originally published anonymously but Joe Klein has since admitted authorship. The story of a Southern governor and his steely wife’s ride through the campaign system not so subtly parallels that of the Clintons. The book (and movie of the same name) were hyped by this fact, especially since the presidential candidate is accused of fathering the baby of a black teenage girl. For me, however, the book works better as a look inside the day to day operations of a campaign on the road, the machinations and mercenary nature of the staff, and the truly strange ways we go about picking our nation’s leaders. The book was entertaining, though I wish some of the characters, especially Susan, the wife of the candidate, were more fleshed out.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Blog news!

Faithful readers, we have a change in our line up! John is now going to take over Wednesday posts and Mike will be joining us on Sundays. Yay!! (picture me waiving my hands in the air like Kermit the Frog announcing the guests on the Muppet Show)

Learning to Bow

This book is an account of Bruce Feiler first year as teacher in rural Japan. He signs on to teach English to Junior High students as part of Japan's (then) new Living English program- to teach students true conversational English, rather than just memorization. Feiler writes about Japanese culture both in and out of school-- from daily mandatory school cleaning by students and teachers alike, to the transition away from arranged marriages and toward love matches. A lot has undoubtedly changed in Japan since this book came out in the early 1990s, given the shake up in their economy, but the book is still an interesting comparison of cultures and a fast read.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Best of 2007 (So Far) has listed its best books of the first half of 2007 in fiction, nonfiction, and kids books. The lists are mostly populated by the big names you'd expect--Chabon, DeLillo, Kingsolver--but there is also a list of hidden gems as well. My 2007 book year started out great but I hit a couple of dry spells and haven't done a great job of keeping track of my recent reads. I would have to say that my (new) book of 2007 so far is one that is also on Amazon's list--Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. If we count books published before this year, it would probably have to be The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham. What books make your best of 2007 list?

Spook Country

I did enjoy this book, but not quite as much as much as the only other William Gibson novel I've read, Pattern Recognition. Spook Country follows three different threads that you just know will all come together at the end. Hollis Henry, former lead singer of The Curfew, takes a job for a new magazine created by the mysterious Hubertus Bigend. She thinks she is writing an article on locative art but finds herself caught up in much more. Tito delivers ipods loaded with who-knows-what to a mysterious old man. Milgrim has been kidnapped by a seemingly rogue government agent in order to help him translate messages. The threads do converge but I was still somewhat confused as to how some of the characters were related. On the whole, it was a quick read with some interesting political commentary thrown in as well.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Year of Magical Thinking

You either love this book or you hate it. Even though bad books week has passed, Anstrat's comments in her earlier Joan Didion pick made me want to take a swing at this one. The Year of Magical Thinking is a memoir of what has to be the most horrible year on record for Joan Didion or for anyone. First, her only daughter Qunitana becomes ill and is hospitalized. Then her husband dies of a massive coronary. Then Quintana has a series of recoveries and relapses and ultimate dies as well (in her thirties) although the memoir was completed before that occurred. Joan Didion is a perfectly capable writer and does express some germane thoughts on grief. She is also an obsessive name dropper and cannot stop describing the luxuries they enjoyed in the utmost detail. (We dined at Morton's almost every night, the Beverly Hills Hilton felt like home-- I knew the manicurists). I found it incredibly off-putting and unnecessary - you can say you went to the same restaurant every night with out name dropping a famous and exclusive restaurant. You can mention your husband's navy windbreaker without mentioning it was the staff jacket for the movie Up Close and Personal, which, oh, by the way you and your husband just happened to write. These details do not help me understand your grief-- they distance me from you and make us both seem shallow, you for writing them and me for being bothered by them. I read her White Album in college and had the same reaction to her meeting with Jim Morrison and her pretentious title. Not recommended.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Center of Everything

Evelyn Bucknow is a Kansas girl who thinks she lives with her single mother, Tina. The book traces Evelyn from around age 10 to 18. Evelyn has many influences in her Kansas existence--her mother, Tina, who makes a series of disastrous mistakes, mostly involving men; her religious grandmother; her next-door neighbor and best friend, Travis; and teachers who recognize her potential. The author, Laura Moriarty, also has a new book out, The Rest of Her Life.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Amy's Answering Machine

One of my favorite moments on the TV show Friends was when Monica complained that Rachel lost her messages. "What messages don't you get?" jeered Rachel "Chandler or your mom? Your mom or Chandler?". Moms love to call their kids but not many moms do so with the flair of Amy Borkowsky's mother. This book, a small volume of transcripts of the messages the author's mother left on her machine is a fun quick read. Amy's mother warns her of the danger of wearing an underwire bra through airport security, informs her that she saw on TV that a rich bachelor from Alaska was going to be in New York, and gives the vital information that her foam headphone covers could be a germ breeding ground.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Book of Common Prayer

I still haven't made up my mind whether I like Joan Didion's writing. I've loved a couple of essays she wrote. I read The Year of Magical Thinking and it suffered in comparison to Calvin Trillin's About Alice which I read in close proximity to it and was a much more personal, affecting book. I just read A Book of Common Prayer, the story of two women in the fictitious South American country of Boca Grande. Grace, the narrator, is a widow in one of the controlling families of the country. Charlotte travels there after her daughter commits a terrorist act in the United States. Grace tries to piece together Charlotte's story. I admired a lot of the writing and Didion has a very distinctive voice. However, I feel some of the power of the writing was undermined by the excessive use of some of the techniques I first admired. It's all a little too much for me. I found the story to be interesting and found myself wanting to figure Charlotte out along with Grace.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Westing Game

I loved this book as a kid. A millionaire has died and a group of specially chosen individuals move into Sunset Towers. They include 12 year older Turtle Wexler, her parents and older sister Angela, the Hoo family, the Theodorakis family, and several others. One of the people in the towers took the millionaire's life but before the book reveals the answers the reader must puzzle through tons of clues and each character's back story. This is a highly sophisticated children's book and richly deserved the Newberry Medal.

Good Reads

A friend of mine suggested I check you this book recommendation web site. It's similar to Librarything, but seems to be more focused on rating books rather than cataloging them. I have been using it to rank books as a means of listing what I've read (as opposed to what I own)and check out other recommendations. You can organize your books into "shelves" which seems to be the equivalent of the librarything tags. I think that if you could get several of your bookish friends to keep up with it, it could be a lot fun, getting updates about what they are reading and how much they like it. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Sweetest Dream

This is a qualified recommendation. My book club read this book and my mother and I weren't crazy about it, but everyone else loved it. Doris Lessing wrote this novel instead of a third volume of her memoirs because she felt that would hurt too many vulnerable people, to paraphrase the introduction. The first half is the story of Frances, an actress who made a young marriage to the Britain's most self absorbed Communist, Comrade Johnny. After he leaves her and their two boys she is forced to become a journalist rather than taking acting jobs, move in with Johnny's German born mother, who vaguely disapproves of her, and become a den mother to seemingly dozens of young people (her sons' friends) who are drifting through the 60s. The second half concerns Sylvia, the daughter of Johnny's second wife with her previously husband (got that?) Sylvia morphs from a miserable child to a doctor in AIDS ravaged Africa. Our book group felt comparing that the attitudes towards family were interesting conversation starter.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Niagara Falls All Over Again

Mose Sharp, the narrator of this book, dreamed of a vaudeville career with his young sister, Hattie. After her death, he goes on to pursue that dream with minimal success until he teams with Rocky Carter. The two men end up becoming the central figures in each others' lives. Mose chronicles their partnership from their early struggles to their ascent to the top of the vaudeville ladder to the early stages of movies. The depiction of the dying out of vaudeville and the fledgling movie industry were very interesting. Mostly, though, this is Mose and Rocky's tale, their lifetime partnership, friendship, and separation. Their relationship is every bit as important as a marriage and McCracken explores all aspects of it. Any conversation of my favorite books or authors has to mention Elizabeth McCracken. She writes like I can only wish to--beautiful, wise, and funny. This is not quite up to my favorite, The Giant's House, but is still a gem.

The Giver

This Newberry Award Winner was suggested as a pick by a friend. Twelve year old Jonas lives in seemingly perfect world. Each family has one boy and one girl, everyone trains for their career (selected for them by the elders), everyone marries a suitable spouse selected by the elders. Jonas' world begins to show its cracks when he learns he has been selected to be the community's Receiver of Memories. Jonas comes to realize that not only has his society eradicated hunger, war and poverty, but has also removed the pain from their lives, going so far as to medicate them to tamp down any sexual or violent impulses. As Jonas, one of the few people not so stifled, learns, pain is what brings life much of it color.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Short History of a Prince

Oprah gave the seal of approval to The Book of Ruth and The Map of the World, but this is the Jane Hamilton book I love. I first listened to an abridged audio version of this and was captivated by it and then went to the book which was much more fleshed out. The main character is Walter McCloud and the story concerns his present life where he has recently returned to the midwest as a teacher. The most engaging parts, however, are the parts that take place in the past, during the summer where Walter comes to terms with his sexuality, his brother's illness (and death), and his aspirations as a dancer. Hamilton weaves together Walter's love of dance and his love for his friend, Mitch. The slow realization that he will never be able to have either, is achingly beautiful. Walter's reflections on this period as a much older man reveal both his innocence at the time and the lasting effect of that summer and it is all wrapped up in Hamilton's beautiful prose.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Night Listener

Gabriel Noone is the host of a NPR program called "Noone at Night", sort of a "Prairie Home Companion" crossed with "This American Life" crossed with "Queer as Folk". His life is in a tailspin because his much younger partner, Jess, who is finally responding to new HIV meds has moved out. His writing is blocked and nothing in his life seems meaningful. Then a publisher sends him a memoir writing by Pete, a 13 year old boy, who has been sexually abused by his parents and has AIDS. Gabriel begins a series of phone calls with Pete and his adoptive mom Donna that begin to restore Gabriel's sense of self. Until questions begin to rise to the surface about whether Pete is really what he seems. Maupin is a great writer and the story is a fast read with some excellent moments of suspense.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Child's Garden of Verses

I think this collection of poems by Robert Louis Stevenson was the first book I remember reading. By reading, I'm pretty sure I just had most of my favorite poems memorized. I was recovering from a surgery and had nothing to do in bed but read and I remember reading this one over and over and my aunt helping me to follow along in the text. The poems reflect the wonderment of childhood. We had the Little Golden Book version and I loved the illustrations as well.

What Book Got You Hooked on Reading? has compiled a list of the Top 50 books that got people reading. It's a list with a lot of familiar titles, many of which I could make an argument for applying to myself. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Dr. Seuss, the Ramona books, etc. There is also a list of writer and celebrity favorites as well. So what book got you hooked?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

So You Think You Know Jane Austen

As an undergrad I took a study abroad trip to England. While we were there the BBC replayed their Pride and Prejudice miniseries and almost our entire group fell in love with P and P (or Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle) Upon my return, I took a class devoted entirely to Jane Austen, where we read even the dreaded Mansfield Park. Since then I've seen the mini-series at least 4 times and the new (inferior) Keira Knightly version. With this background I thought that I could at least do well at the Pride and Prejudice section of this literary quiz book. Alas, it was not to be. Each of the six major Austen novels has four quizzes, the first strictly fact based, the second more tricky, the third requiring some speculation on the part of the reader and the fourth being the most interpretive questions, such as why Mr. Bennet marries Mrs. Bennet in the first place (physical attraction is provided answer). I liked the different types of quizzes but because I hated flipping back and forth (and was getting so few right) I ended up just reading the end section which provides questions with the answers. It's a lot of fun, though much of it is speculative, making any answer as right as another to such questions as to why Wickham chose to run off with (spoiler!!) Lydia.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Mango Trees

Sorry, another late post. This memoir covers actress and author Madhur Jaffrey's childhood in India. There is a pleasant wistfulness to the stories of her childhood surrounded by extended family. There is also an emphasis on the many influences on Jaffrey and her family from all elements of Indian society--Hindu, Muslim, and English. But above all, it is about the food from her childhood and the many memories of preparing and eating everything from traditional meals to the treats from street vendors. There are also many family recipes included in the back.


Lamb is a retelling of the story Jesus, through the eyes of his friend Biff (real name Levi). The story starts in Joshua's (Jesus's true name, Biff explains as Jesus is a translation) childhood, where he struggles to understand his powers and resign himself to the idea that he is the Messiah (and deciding God doesn't mind if you eat bacon). They meet Mary of Magdalene (Maggie) who they both love. Maggie loves Joshua, but knows he can never be hers. In years of Jesus's life not described in the Bible, Biff and Joshua are traveling the east, learning the tenets of Buddhism, meditation, and Kung Fu. They return home, Joshua gets down to performing miracles and preaching in earnest, and the apostles join their group. The story is funny and Moore has some interesting observations of both modern and ancient Christianity. (sorry this wasn't up yesterday, we lost our electricity)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules

This anthology is a collection of short stories hand picked by David Sedaris. I had read several of these authors before, but none of the stories and was impressed with the selection. Most of the stories fall into the funny or dark categories, and sometimes both. It’s really hard for me to pick a standout story. I remember loving Richard Yates’ writing style (still keep meaning to pick up Revolutionary Road). Flipping through, though, I am reminded how many of the pieces affected me. I also loved Tobias Wolff’s powerful “Bullet in the Brain” and Charles Baxter’s “Gryphon”. This is a great introduction to some amazing authors.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

If You Ask Me

Libby Gelman-Waxner on the movie The Fisher King-- "This is a movie for people who thought that Field of Dreams and Dances with Wolves were too sarcastic. After seeing it I decided that there are certain things that Robin Williams must never be allowed to do on-screen, by federal statute if necessary:
1. Smile through tears
2. Hug another man, who will then act embarrassed
3. Clutch a child's toy
4. Talk dirty so it sounds cute
5. Rip off his clothes as a rite of freedom
6. Twinkle, cavort or exult.

Libby, whose columns appeared in Premiere
, has got to be the funniest movie critic of all time. Written by Paul Rudnick, a Hollywood screenwriter, Libby always stays in character as a Jewish mother of two, married to an orthidonist and working as an "assistant buyer of junior activewear"> This leads to memorable columns such as helping her daughter Jennifer to understand "the larger topics like death and heaven" after the death of her hamster by going to see Ghost. This collection was published in 1995, so the movies covered are older, but Libby's observations still seem fresh, none more so than the Robin Williams comments above. I'd really love for another collection to be published- fingers crossed!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Beautiful Mind

This book is so much better than the movie. Sylvia Nasar captures the complexities of John Nash, the brilliant mathematician and schizophrenic. Nash's decline is difficult to read as we see him lose the very qualities and talents that defined him. Nasar also doesn't skip over the things the movie does in order to foster the love affair aspect, including Nash's homosexual affairs and child out of wedlock. Nash's slow climb to recovery in the 1990's is also inspiring. I also really liked the glimpse into the Nobel process, when the committee, wanting to honor a game theorist, contemplates the ramifications given Nash's mental illness.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Devil Wears Prada

My sister will be ill when she sees this pick on my blog. She hated this book, which, along with the Nanny Diaries is the Ur text of assistant lit.(see Chambermaid as an example). She found Andrea, the young assistant to Miranda Priestly, part genius, part monster to be a terrible cry baby and sided instead with Miranda. That in a nutshell is the beauty of the book, perhaps created unintentionally by the author, who no doubt believed all the readers would side with the thinly veiled copy of herself over thinly veiled version of Anna Wintour, the famed editor of Vogue who Lauren Weisberger briefly worked for as an assistant. Instead, you have to deliberate between the woman who worked hard to get what she wants but can be deliberately unreasonably just because she feels like it and the woman who feels oh so sad that she has to hang up her boss' coat. Sometimes Andrea wins and sometimes Miranda does. The subplots with the best friend and boyfriend are quite silly, but the book still has value as a test to see whether you as the reader take the side of the rookie or the old pro.

Harry Potter round-up

If you can't get enough Harry...spoilers ahead

Stephen King on Harry Potter
J.K. Rowling interview
Deathly Hallows quiz
Another J.K. Rowling discussing the upcoming Encyclopedia of Magic
Harry Potter parody
Another interview

Thanks to Krista and John for links

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Burning Chrome

I was carrying around my copy of William Gibson’s latest book, Spook Country, when a coworker came up to me to pronounce her love for him. A friend first made her read the story Burning Chrome in a Nebula collection (best science fiction stories of the year) and she was hooked. Gibson is considered a father of cyberpunk and his books explore technology and its impacts. Many of the stories in this collection, including the title story that my friend loves, take place in the same world as his famous novels Johnny Mnemonic and Neuromancer.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


This is one in a series of teen romances that were published when I was in grade school and junior high. Each one had the heroine's name as the title, each was set in a different historic era (Emily is set in 1899), each featured a 16 year old heroine (or a 15 year old who would turn 16 in the course of the book) who would chose between two disparate suitors (here the "adoring and rich Worthington Bates" and "handsome Dr. Stephan Reed"). The boys were always pictured on the cover behind her, with a smaller picture showing the heroine with ONE of them. (I had a theory there was some kind of formula to whether the boy pictured would be the one chosen, but school eventually became more challenging and that research was abandoned) To be honest, I don't remember who Emily chose, but I remember the historical details including how rich, sheltered Emily had to stay home from anywhere fun to protect her reputation, to people debating whether 1899 or 1900 was the turn of the century. The entire series is fine historical fiction and truly I think these books gave me a much stronger interest in American history than I might have otherwise. I am not the only reader who remembers these books fondly, this site discusses collecting the series.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Best American Political Writing

This series has become an annual purchase for me. It collects some of the best political writings from the past year from a diverse range of viewpoints. The collection includes pieces from newspapers, magazines, and internet sources and sometimes book excerpts are also included. I've found the collection edited by Royce Flippin to be pretty balanced. I'm a bit of a political junkie and it's sometimes hard to not just get the perspective of the people you agree with. This series does a good job of picking out the pieces from both sides that are less partisan diatribes and more thoughtful analysis of the issues. I was initially a little skeptical of the series because of the topical nature of political writing that can date itself fairly quickly, but most of the pieces I've read in these collections remain fresh and timely.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Suite Francaise

The story behind this book is nearly as interesting as the book itself. The author, Irene Nemirosky, was a Frenchwoman of Jewish ancestry, who had converted to Catholicism before World War Two began. She had completed the first two books of a five book cycle about the War, when she was sent to Auschwitz, and was killed. Her daughters found her notebooks, but only sixty years later did they realize what the notebooks contained. The first book tells of the flight or attempted flight of various Frenchmen, both Jewish and Gentile, likable and not on the eve of the German invasion. The second book, tells of everyday life in a rural French community under German occupation. Some of the characters overlap and the end of the book contains her notes hinting where the work would have gone had she lived to complete it. A memorable book, both for what it is and and for its unfulfilled promise.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


This is another recommendation from a co-worker. She really enjoyed this book by the co-writers of The Nanny Diaries. I admit that I am really intrigued by the premise. Kate and Jake were high school sweethearts. After he abandons her the night of the prom, he goes on to be a famous rock singer. It's hard for Kate to get over him considering she keeps hearing songs about their relationship on the radio. When he returns to their hometown, Kate is anxious for some closure. My co-worker thought this was funny and recommends it to anyone looking for closure or sweet revenge.

The Kite Runner

This should have been posted yesterday-sorry. ) feel I am uniquely qualified to comment on this book, having first listening ed to it on Audio while on a trip with my husband, and then having read it in book form for my public library book club. I think the book was more enjoyable than the abridged version at least, because the end of the book has a bunch of hairpin plot twists, that seemed absurd when the story was paired down even further. The book is about two motherless Afghan boys, Amir, the son of a rich man, and Hassan, the son of his servant. Amir narrates the story, telling first of their boyhood in Afghanistan and then of the flight he and his father made to the US after the Russians have invaded. Amir, must return to Afghanistan as adult and faces his demons concerning his childhood and especially Hussan and his childhood betrayal of him. The book starts strong during the descriptions of their childhood and life in the US, but Amir's trip to Afghanistan is a little too packed with coincidences (born in a a desire to tie things up a bit too neatly). A interesting read, but not an all time favorite.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Water for Elephants

This book, written by Sara Gruen was a selection of one of my book clubs a few months ago. It's the story of a young man named Jacob, who leaves veterinary school a few weeks before graduation following the death of his parents. It's the 1930's and after finding out that his parents have spent every penny on his education he takes to the rails and meets up with small and slightly seedy circus. His skills with animals, and particularly Rosie, the elephant the circus acquires, make him a valuable member of the team but his position and even safety are jeopardized when he begins a flirtation with the boss's wife, a bareback rider named Marlena. The book culminates in a circus fire, the true cause of which is not revealed until the end. There are several plot twists throughout the book and, while it is not the deepest read out there, it was entertaining and full of interesting circus trivia.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Shards of Honor

A coworker highly recommends the Vorkosigan series by Lois McNuster Bujold. Shards of Honor is the first book in the series. The series is the story of two generations of a family in a distant future where Earth is a part but not central. The first book in the series deals with the clash of people from two very different cultures and their ability to love one another. It also raises a lot of questions about honor. These were the first adult books my coworker remembers reading and enjoying. She liked the series because it was character-driven and funny. She also enjoyed the scientific and cultural aspects of the world Bujold created and comparing it to the things she was studying in history.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Cake Mix Doctor

A lot can go wrong with a cake made from scratch-falling, too crumbly, too hard. That's why cake mixes are popular despite not tasting as good as a scratch product. This cookbook teaches you how to add various ingredients to obtain the best of both worlds- the taste of homemade and the ease of a mix. I have personally made about ten of Anne Byrne's recipes and all but one (peanut butter frosting) have turned out amazingly well, especially the strawberry cake and turtle cake There are a million ways to take a cake mix and make it ten times better and once you've had homemade frosting, the can will never seem acceptable again. Each cake has a picture which is a nice touch. She also has a second volume focused on chocolate, a dinner cookbook and a cupcake book based o n the same principles.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Just Me and My Dad

I've bought a lot of books for my niece and nephews over the years and it always amazes me which ones seem to be the most popular with them. The Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer are probably the most read ones, especially by my niece. The books are told from a child's perspective and in many of these books the child character is allowed to take on grown-up roles and make decisions (and mistakes). This book is about the adventures of a boy and his dad on a camping trip. It is a nice bonding story between a dad and child that is appropriate for both boys and girls--my niece loves it.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet?

Do you know the difference between professional girls and amateur girls? According to Cynthia Heimel, "Professional girls are desperate for a boyfriend with a platinum Amex card. Amateur girls are desperate for a boyfriend who can deliver a good punchline". Unfortunately men love the professional girl with her perfect hair and eye shadow, while the hapless amateur girl struggles in the back of the room to dislodge the toilet paper stuck to her shoe. Then Men wonder why they are only valued for their wallet. This is only one of the many phenomena that Heimel skewers in this collection of essays. She also takes on the lack of good roles for women actors and modern dating, and talks about watching her son and his friends grow into men. Heimel is like a girlfriend you can always call at two in the morning who will make you laugh every time. She has several other collections, including When Your Phone Doesn't Ring, It'll Be Me.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

King Dork

Tom Henderson is a lovable high school loser. He and his best friend, Sam Hellerman, make up band names and album titles without ever really getting around to forming a band. (My favorite entry: Band name: the Nancy Wheelers, me on guitar, Sam Hellerman on bass and ouija board. first album: Margaret? It's God. Please Shut Up.) The plot contains two mysteries: Tom's attempts to track down a mysterious girl he makes out with at a party and his attempts to make sense of his father's death after finding his father's marked-up copy of The Catcher and the Rye. Several of the Amazon reviews compare King Dork to the TV show Freaks and Geeks, and I agree that the book's tone is a good match for that series. There isn't a whole lot of resolution, though, and I found the book lost some momentum in the last third, but it is a good portrait of the alienation of high school.

A Wrinkle in Time

I have been entering my kids books into blogger and I came across this book, I favorite of mine in the junior high era. Meg Murray and her little brother Charles Wallace don't fit in very well. They appear to the town as either idiots or genius and everyone thinks they are strange. Plus their father is mysteriously missing. One dark and stormy night they travel through time via tesseract (the wrinkle in time) as well as space to rescue their father from where he is being held. A popular boy from Meg's grade -Calvin O'Keefe joins them and find he fits in better with Meg's family than his own. The story it great, exciting and fun, but as a kid, Nerdy Meg finding a a person who likes her and feeling useful on the hunt for her father were the highlights of the book for me. This book is a Newberry award winner.

Friday, July 27, 2007

First Lines

This site allows you to receive emails or texts of a first line of a book twice a day. Or just check out the ones posted, if you aren't that high tech. Once again thank to Pop Candy for the link.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress

This memoir is a collection of humorous autobiographical essays loosely arranged in chronological sections--childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. While I enjoyed her high school encounter with Mick Jagger, on the whole, the later sections stood out for me. In particular, I was touched by her experience covering a teenage group trip to the Polish concentration camps for a Jewish newspaper. A cynical non observer, Gilman is forced to put away the jokes and look anew at her heritage. The highlight for me, though, is the title piece. The author is a committed feminist, but when she tries on a wedding dress in a bridal salon she is faced with the contradictions of the princess fantasy wedding and her previously held ideas of a less traditionally gender-proscribed marriage ideal. Although a few pieces are a little too self-absorbed, on the whole, this was a funny, fast read.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I first read this book about 6 years ago, but I remember liking it a lot and I wanted to give Daily Book Buddy readers a thorough report so, just for you, I reread the book. It's a fantasy/sci-fi book, but to be honest, to me it seems to fit just as neatly into the romance category. The book is set in a world where angels (yes with wings and stuff) walk among men. The land is divided into three territories and each has its own group of angels who live high in the mountains but come into human territory to assist them by praying on their behalf. Gabriel is about to become the Archangel, the highest ranking angel, who has authority over all three territories. Before he does so he must find the woman who is destined to be his wife as she must sing with him at the ceremony or their world will be destroyed by Jehovah. The oracle identifies Rachel as the woman, but he still must search her out. When he finds her she is a slave and while happy to be freed, she's not really keen on marrying him. Eventually both Gabriel and Rachel realized their paths are more intertwined than they knew, and they must work together to avert catastrophe. The book seemed a bit more of cliched upon rereading, but I don't know if that is just because it was familiar due to having read it before. It's well written, kind of fun and I think most of you can probably tell if it's the kind of book you'd like. This is the first in a trilogy, but I have not read the the third book.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

You Don't Love Me Yet

Lucinda, Matthew, Denise, and Bedwin are members of a fledgling indie rock band in LA. They don't even have a name or a full set list yet. Bassist Lucinda takes a job answering phones for a complaint line that is also part of a conceptual art piece conceived by one of her exes, Falmouth. An intriguing caller unknowingly supplies the lyrics to some new songs, and when the band plays them at Falmouth's art piece/party, the band's career trajectory changes in a hurry. A lot of critics seemed to think this was a slight book from Jonathan Lethem. While it definitely lacks the scope of Fortress of Solitude, which I loved, I do think the reviews don't quite give it enough credit. I enjoyed the inside look at the start-up band, the collision of the art and music worlds, and the questions of creativity and originality that the book poses.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The post that has been almost ten years in the making! Deathly Hallows is a worthwhile finale to the series. Many, many elements from the preceding six volumes reappear making the book very satisfying to a careful reader. The final battles with He-Who-Must-Not-Be Named are exciting, although maybe not as scary as some of the ones in Order of the Phoenix. Almost every character we've met joins the fight one side or the other which makes from some unexpected situations. I felt Rowling was a bit heavy handed comparing Voldemort to Hitler (the whole mudblood/pure blood thing) and the final chapter was a bit too cute. A great book, a great series, a few flaws, but what can you do?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Eyre Affair

Thursday Next is a detective in Jurisfiction who investigates literary crimes. When the evil Acheron Hades begins stealing characters from the original manuscripts of literary masterpieces, thus altering all copies of the books, Thursday sets out to stop him. She jumps into Jane Eyre to keep the novel intact. While the plots are kind of silly, the attraction of this series, for me anyway, are all the literary references. The book is set in an alternate version of 1985 England, where literature has a much greater prominence. Their version of Rocky Horror is Richard III which is performed with audience participation. Baconians go door to door to convince people that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's works. Thursday's interactions inside Jane Eyre are also fun to follow, as she sets out to keep the storyline intact and possibly improve it. Jasper Fforde also has a fun and interactive website for fans of the series.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Tenth Circle

Angstrat is not of a fan of Ms. Picoult (I look forward to a future bad books review from her on My Sister's Keeper) and what I've read by her has been ok, but not enough to make me join her fan club. This book was a fast interesting read, but I can't say it was amazing. The book is the story of the the Stone family (and may I just say that sentences such as "He followed the Stones to Anchorage" made me think of Mick Jagger and Co. every time?) Daniel is a comic book author, Laura is an English professor who specializes in Dante's Inferno and their 14 year old daughter Trixie is a girl who's heart has been broken at the beginning of the book. (Trixie is named after the Beatrice who was the love of Dante's life, not Trixie Belden, sadly). The story concerns the Trixie's rape and it's aftermath and it is paralleled by the comic book pages Daniel creates of his comic alter ego following his daughter through the circles of Dante's Hell. I think Picoult tried to hard to cram too many things into the plot, but she does write well and it held my attention sitting on the sidewalk outside Barnes and Noble waiting for Harry Potter.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Potter Mania!

Could there be any other possible subject for the bonus post today? Unless you're living under a rock, you probably already know that the seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be released at midnight. The title link goes to J. K. Rowling's official site. I was going to link to an article about the release but really, all you need to do is open up any newspaper or magazine or book website and you will find more information and speculation than you could possibly want to know. Confession: I've only read the first book (and seen the first movie). Shuttsie, on the other hand, is probably in line at a bookstore as we speak. I kind of wish I had gotten into the whole Potter craze because it would be fun to take part in all the mass excitement over a book. Sadly, I can't imagine this much build-up over a book again in a long, long time. As much as I would love it, I don't think Borders will be staying open until midnight on September 25 when Richard Russo's newest book comes out, even though I've been waiting SIX years for it. So time to hear from you (if you're not too busy reading Deathly Hallows, that is). What do you think of the Harry Potter books? If you're not a fan, whose books would you wait in line for?

At Large and at Small

I read Anne Fadiman's excellent collection of essays on books and reading, Ex Libris, several years ago after shuttsie recommended it. This book is a collection of what Fadiman calls familiar essays--more personal than a critical essay but more expansive than a personal, navel-gazing one. The scope of these essays range from the everyday subjects of coffee and ice cream to the more highbrow--Charles Lamb and Samuel Coleridge. The standout for me was probably the last essay about a canoing trip gone wrong. It is probably the shortest essay in the book, but for me the most resonant. They are all well-written and even the ones I had no interest in (Charles Lamb, say) have an insight or sentence that stands out. But while Ex Libris was the perfect marriage of an excellent writer and a subject I care passionately about (books!) this one was a bit more one-sided.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sweet and Low

What if your mother's family invented Sweet 'n' Low? And what if your entire branch of the family was cut out of the will? ("to Ellen and her issue I leave nothing"). The Answer is write a memoir and spill all of the family secrets. This book documents the invention first of the sugar packet (which, never having been patented is stolen from the author's grandfather) and then of Sweet 'n' Low, along with documenting the rise and fall of various artificial sweeteners and the federal investigator that sent several high ranking executives from the family business to prison. The family story is interesting but a bit repetitive and the author loves digression and some times throws in too much personal asides. Overall however, the book is engrossing and you will never look at the little pink packets the same way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

I haven't recommended many of my favorite books in this blog yet, mainly because any time I sit down and start to write about one I want to immediately reread it to be able to fully capture what makes the book so special. I resisted reading this book for quite awhile because I didn't really get the appeal of comic books. But this book is really about much more than that. Sammy and Joe are two cousins who unite as a formidable team in the superhero comics world. Flipping through this to refresh my memory, I almost forgot just how much more there is--Hitler and WWII, golems, Antarctica, and Houdini. Even though this book has a lot of action, I was moved forward by the complex inner struggles of both characters. Initially, I was mostly drawn to Josef's feelings for his family left behind and his muse, Rosa. But then Sammy reeled me in with his guilt. I hit a couple of rough patches along the way, but when I closed the book it ended up being one of my most favorite reading experiences. Michael Chabon also brought the cousins' creations to life in a line of Escapist comics.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Family Shoes

Noel Streatfield wrote lots of kids books, mostly with kids who had some sort of occupation, i.e. Ballet Shoes. This book is the story of a more ordinary family, the Bells- a family of four kids who's father is a minister. Along with the sequel, New Shoes, it was one of my favorite books growing up because of the relationship the family has with their grandparents and other extended family. Usually families in kids books are either cruel and heartless or wonderful every moment of the day. Here there is true tension in the family (grandfather disapproves of the father's decision to become a minister and to consequently have much less money than the rest of the family. Nobody is a bad guy, but everyone is constantly frustrated by each other. The book is very funny, as the younger daughter is constantly scheming to get things to go her way and the younger son is a dreamer and always saying something outrageous.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Falling Man

It's been six years since 9/11 and I still have mixed feelings reading or watching fictional works that deal with the subject. I've never read DeLillo but have read enough effusive praise of him that I was willing to give a novel of his about 9/11 a try. The main character is Keith, who survives the attacks. He walks from the falling towers to the home of his estranged wife, Lianne, and son, Justin and then stays. Other characters include Lianne's mother and her lover, Martin; another survivor named Florence, a performance artist who recreates the falling man jumping from the towers, and one of the hijackers, Hammad. For me, the book had a lot of great moments that really felt like authentic responses to that day. Justin and his neighbors' obsession with the planes and ''Bill Lawton" (bin Laden) was especially poignant for me. But many of these threads have frustratingly little resolution. I also found the dialogue to be jarringly unnatural in a few places. Overall, I found it to be a compelling, if somewhat incomplete, read.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Daily Book Buddy lives! Sorry for the missed posts, but we were moving and then had some Internet problems. This book is a pick of my library book club. It's the story of two women in 19Th century China who are "old sames" which is a sort of arranged best friendship. The book follows them from the time of the their foot binding to their lives as adults, focusing on the narrator, Lily and the shame she feels at not being true to Snow Flower, her old same. While the moment of betrayal doesn't have quite as much punch as I was expecting, the description of the the women's lives was very interesting, including the secret writing the women practiced unknown to men and of course, the depiction of foot binding.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Can I Keep My Jersey?

Can it be not recommended day? I tend to feature most of the books I finish reading upon completion. Usually if I make it to the end, there is at least something to recommend it, albeit sometimes with reservations that I usually try to note. It's much easier to profile a book while it's still fresh in my mind and I still remember what it is exactly I liked about it. Or in this case, didn't. I just finished Paul Shirley's memoir of the first four years of his professional basketball career--a career that includes stints (usually very brief) at a few NBA teams as well as ABA, CBA, and European ones. Shirley grew up in small town Kansas and I saw him play in high school once, as well as in college at Iowa State (on TV). Other than him being 6'10'', I don't think many people would have pegged him for a future NBA player. NBA general managers would seemingly agree. There are glimpses of an interesting book here--about the business of professional sports, about the itinerant nature of the not-quite-good-enough player, some musings on athletes and religion (apparently in the NBA, you're more likely to be invited to a Bible study than a strip joint). Unfortunately, those glimpses are too few and too completely focused on Paul Shirley himself. Really, this is the most narcissistic memoir I think I've ever read--you would think during a career in professional athletics and long stints in foreign countries you would bump up against some pretty interesting characters. But, though we are treated to frightening levels of detail concerning a catheter, none of Shirley's fellow players get more than a paragraph or so mention. It doesn't help that the book is told almost exclusively with a self-deprecating, sarcastic humor, which normally I like. But along about the 500th time Shirley says, "I'm such an ass!", I really found myself quite agreeing with him. Despite his small town origins and long odds, Paul Shirley is no "Rudy" like figure. If he possessed any love for the game or competitive desire whatsoever, it does not come across in this book. The book came about from a blog he wrote for the Suns and for ESPN that developed a following and I had read once or twice. Toned down and in much smaller doses, I'd probably like this a lot more. It's worth a glance at a bookstore to read a small section or two, but not very tolerable in large doses.

The Dark Tower

The link above takes you to a boxed set of the first four books in Stephen King's Dark Tower series. My husband has read all of these (mostly listening to them on audio) and enjoyed them but the intensity one of my friends from my old job has about these books is what made me decide to include them here. He once remarked that if he were to ever get a tattoo, it would be a symbol of the Dark Tower. Since not many people get tattoos to commemorate books, this got my attention. He recommends reading the first two books of the series before making up your mind about them, as he feels the first book is a prologue that sets up some of the action in the other books. These books are entries in "road books" such as Lord of the Rings (which he feels these books are modern equivalent too) where a disparate group of people meet up and begin traveling together to achieve a common goal --getting to the Dark Tower and defeating the Crimson King among other bad guys (including the Man in Black-- no, not Johnny Cash). Many characters are very easy to identify with and King makes them feel very real. For King fans, these books bring in several characters from his other works and King himself appears as a character.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Head Over Wheels

I remember reading this around junior high and being deeply affected by it. It is the story of twin brothers, Terry and Kerry. Terry is involved in a car accident and is paralyzed. The relationship between the brothers changes as Kerry struggles with the fact that his brother will never be able to walk again and he can. The book is mostly told through Kerry's point of view. The book went into pretty good detail for a YA book about the struggles of rehab for Terry and how his injury affected his family. I was a huge sucker growing up for books that made me cry (I kind of still am) and this one definitely fit the bill.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Paris to the Moon

Sorry this wasn't up yesterday. Paris to the Moon was a book club pick and in the spirit of full disclosure, some people found it boring, but I really enjoyed it. The book is memoir of the years the author, his wife, and preschool age son spent in Paris. The book does not try delve into the lives of the French, but merely recounts how the differences between French and American culture and society effected them. His essay about the crush his son develops on a little girl he meets in the Ritz swimming pool is very memorable as are his misadventures with French electronics, particularly Christmas tree lights. I am not sure why the reviews are so hostile on Amazon, but I disagree with the readers who find him self centered. To me it seemed like he was writing about what he knew, which was his own experience. This book inspired the author of Ella in Europe, who writes about taking his dog to many of the places Gopnik visits in the book.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Wife

This is one of the titles on the New York list I have read and I agree with its inclusion. In Meg Wolitzer's novel, Joan Castleman, the wife of famed novelist Joe, decides to end their 40+ year marriage on the plane flight to Finland, where he is set to receive a prestigious award, a step below the Nobel. The book bounces from present to past as the story of the Castleman's marriage unfolds. Joan was a student of his when they met, and she ends up abandoning her own literary promise to help prop up her husband's career. As his reputation increases, so does Joan's resentment for very good reasons. I really enjoyed Wolitzer's portrayal of the woman behind the supposed literary genius and the build-up of the story until the full reason for Joan's bitterness is eventually revealed. I loved the peek behind the curtains of the life of a famous couple in literary circles and the secrets they keep.

The Best Novels You've Never Read

New York magazine asked book critics to list "one that got away", a book that they loved but didn't seem to catch on with the public. The result is a very eclectic list of titles that makes for an interesting list. I've only read a few of the books on this list, have heard of several more, but the majority of the list are books and even authors that are mostly new to me. I have this list bookmarked and hope to try a few of the titles soon.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Tales of the City

This is the first in at least six books about the residents of 28 Barbary Land, a boarding house in San Francisco. This book is set in the 70s and the series follows the various characters through the next few decades. The books are a series of short pieces that alternate between the stories of the landlady Mrs. Madrigal, the wide eyed newcomer Mary Ann Singleton, openly gay and proud Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, among others. This is not deep literature, but the books are a bit soap opera like and are a fun quick read.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

America (the Book)

In honor of the Fourth of July, today's recommendation is American history and government the funny way. Jon Stewart and his Daily Show team brilliantly use the format of a fake civics textbook to provide their own humorous take on the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, the media, and the election process. The textbook format allows for charts and graphs that make up some of the book's funniest gags. One of my personal favorites is the voter registration form that asks you to check which shaded box best represents your skin color, your credit card and PIN, and to check whether you're just really doing it for the sticker. (I love the sticker!). Also included are discussion questions (What does bicameral mean? Are any of the girls in your class "bicameral?") and classroom activities (Disenfranchise a black student). Though The Daily Show may have taken a step back recently--I haven't warmed to the new correspondents and miss Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry, and Ed Helms--the book reminds me that when they are on top of their game, they are hard to beat. I also recommend the audio version of this book. Though you miss out on some of the great visual gags, you do get to hear all the words they bleep out of the TV show.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Good In Bed

This book is the ur text of so called chick lit. Unlike most chick lit, which is a dressed up romance, this book is really more about finding yourself rather than finding romance. The heroine, Cannie Shapiro, is recovering from a breakup when her ex-writes a thinly disguised column about her for a national magazine making reference to her plus sized body. Even though the column is not a put down but rather his attempt thoughtful look at how her weight affected their relationship, Cannie is still sent into a tailspin that ends up changing her whole life. The book is hilarious as Cannie's voice is sarcastic in the very best way and the whole book is inspiring, especially to anyone who's ever felt like the "fat girl."

Monday, July 2, 2007

Our Guys: the Glen Ridge rape and the secret life of the perfect suburb

The community of Glen Ridge, New Jersey is shocked by a rape scandal in Bernard Lefkowitz's book. Leslie, a 17 year old retarded girl, is lured by a group of football players into a basement where she is raped with a broomstick and baseball bat. Leftkowitz explores the aftermath of this shocking incident in the perfect suburban community. His sociological study of the community explores the town's affluence and white male jock culture and how the confluence of both contributed to the boys' actions and the community response. The same factors that created the sense of entitlement in these "golden boys" lead many in the community to defend them and condemn the victim. The result is a fascinating study of privilege, gender, and athletics that eclipses the story of the rape itself.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Devil in the White City

I know, I know, lots of people have read this already. In fact, (book snob alert) in December when reading this book on the train to Chicago I kind of felt self-conscious, as if the other people on the train would be thinking "Has she been reading that for a year or what, what's taking her so long?". But its a worthwhile read, the story of the 1893 World's Fair Colombian Exposition intertwined with the story of a serial killer who took advantage to the fair to find victims. In retrospect while I enjoyed both halves of book in some ways the fair was more interesting. It's almost impossible to envision the White City of the fair over the face of modern Chicago, whereas creepy serial killers are all over CourtTV. Right now, Chicago is trying to be selected to host an Olympic games and the debate parallels the debate over the fair. The book was interesting and quite well written and I'd like to read more by Erik Larson.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

On Chesil Beach

This is my third Ian McEwan novel, after Atonement and Saturday. I know it's hardly an original observation, but he can sure put a sentence together. The amount of detail he crams into each scene is remarkable in that it never, or rarely anyway, seems tedious or extraneous but adds to the atmosphere and characterization. Like Saturday, which takes place in one 24 hour span, On Chesil Beach unfolds mostly over one fateful evening, the wedding night of Florence and Edward. It is 1963, and both partners come to the marriage inexperienced and somewhat naive. Edward looks forward to the consummation of their marriage with desire and nervousness; Florence, on the other hand, is filled with complete dread. When events take a disastrous turn, they both lack the confidence, vocabulary, and self-awareness to handle the aftermath. While sex and the cultural and gender attitudes about it at the time are the central theme of the novel, I was also drawn to its portrayal of communication. More awkward than Edward and Florence's attempt at sex is their attempt to talk about it and the same patterns are mirrored in their conversation. McEwan perfectly describes how saying nothing, or the wrong thing, or the right thing imperfectly can turn things on a course that was never intended. While not quite up to par for me as his previous novels, at 200 pages reading On Chesil Beach is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.