Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Tale of Despereaux

Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread

This Newbery Medal winner is the delightful story my kids and I have been enjoying in the car for the last few weeks. I figure we spend so much time in the car, we might as well make it worth our while. The book is recommended for third grade and up, but both Courtney and Carter really enjoyed listening. (Jonah did not. Bella doesn't count.) Personally, I think a good story is a good story and this is one that I think you get more out of the older you are when you read it. It explores themes of darkness and light, mercy and forgiveness, friendship and love.

Truly, a tale for all ages.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Road

Earlier this year The Road was given the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It was also picked by Oprah for her book club, which quite frankly was a strike against it for me. You kind of know going into an Oprah book that it is going to be about some kind of depressing struggle and hopefully a triumph of some kind at the end.

This book takes place in post-apocalyptic America (apparently in the Southeast after a nuclear holocaust, although the cataclysmic event is never specifically identified) as a father and son struggle to survive as some of the few remaining inhabitants left on earth. Just to give you a taste of some of the horrifying aspects of the book, they carry a gun with two bullets meant for suicide so they won't be captured by cannibals. Parts of the book were downright terrifying, but there was a sweetness in the relationship of the two characters who are willing to see life through no matter how repulsive the world is around them.

I need to make some notes about the stylistic nature of the novel. First, I havent read anything else by Cormac McCarthy so I dont know if it is just this book or if it is just him, but he doesnt use any apostrophes in contractions. I thought it was a little strange. Second, he also doesn't use quotation marks in dialogue which I was actually OK with. It kind of reminded me of blog writing. Finally, I will admit that there were some sentences that I had no idea what he was talking about. But he did use cool words like "crozzled" which I have to give him credit for, even though I think McCarthy's reputation for being one of "America's pretentious authors" probably holds true.

I don't know to tell you whether to read it or not. You can't walk three steps into Borders without tripping over the book, and I do think it is one people will be talking about for awhile. It will leave you feeling melancholy and reflective (probably one reason I decided to read it quickly) but I wouldn't blame anyone for feeling like they just couldn't/didn't want to stomach it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Star Garden

I was so happy when I got to bring this book home from the library! I was the first reader of my copy, and I was happy to be the one to crack the book open and turn each page for the first time. On to the review...

I just love Sarah. Even though she is 43 now, there is a lot I feel I can relate to in her personality. But there is enough that I can't relate to which keeps her interesting. This book picks up right where Sarah's Quilt left off. It's been a two years since I read Sarah's Quilt so it took me a few chapters to remember where I left off and who the characters were. But once I got up to speed, I couldn't put the book down.

I actually think I liked this book better than Sarah's Quilt, because Sarah was much more real. Granted, she was more fallible in this book which was disappointing in some cases, but much more true-to-life I suspect. Still, the first book, These is My Words, stands on a pedestal for me...but Sarah's saga continues with this very satisfying read.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Set in Yorkshire England, this book follows 4 generations of women through two world wars and concludes in 1992. The story is narrated through the voice of Ruby Lennox, who represents the 4th generation.

Atkinson has a witty, clever writing style and I always enjoy following family histories. There are some plot surprises, some of which I guessed early and some I missed completely, even after all had been revealed. The writing weaves back and forth between the generations so you do have to stay on top of who's who throughout the book, but it does help to keep your interest.

This family is especially dysfunctional--family members have a tendency to "disappear" or die early, and the women have a propensity to attach themselves to lousy men. I think I would have enjoyed this book a little more if I were 20 to 30 years older, the same age the narrator, but I definitely enjoyed the quirkiness and British humor.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Book News

My mom alerted me to the wonderful news that Nancy Turner's third book in the Sarah Agnes Prine series is out. Considering that These is My Words is definitely on my top 10 favorite book list, I am thrilled. Some libraries have not gotten their orders in yet, so be sure to get in the queue.

And a sad day for my husband and other sci-fi/fantasy fans out there. Robert Jordan passed away yesterday leaving the #12 book in the Wheel of Time series unfinished. Wikipedia states:
Due to his health problems, Jordan did not work at full force on the final installment, but blog entries confirmed that he continued work on it until his death, and he shared all of the significant plot details with his family not long before he died.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Devil in the White City

This book was simply amazing.

Erik Larson takes you on a journey of Chicago through the Gilded Age--from the inception of the idea of a World Fair through its ultimate conclusion in the 1890s. This non-fiction book reads like fiction and it is truly staggering to realize that it is all true and appropriately cited.

The book revolves mainly around Daniel Burnham, architect of the fair and H. H. Holmes, a serial killer who lived in Chicago during the same period. The chapters about Holmes were quite eerie and I didn't love reading them when Dan wasn't around. I took great comfort in the fact that this guy could not pull off today what he was able to back then. Still, the details do get grisly. The fair chapters are packed full of interesting tidbits about American life. It is truly flabbergasting to see what we have accomplished in the last 100 years and how much of it we owe to this period in American history.

A range of other fascinating figures appear in the book including many other architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, and landscape architects, such as Frederick Olmstead (designer of Central Park and the Biltmore gardens, just to name a couple), Susan B. Anthony, and Bill Cody. These men and women had enormous impact on the future of America, and the World Fair was the central point that brought all of these people together for one incredible event.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

One Thousand White Women

I've got a thing for books written in journal form and books that are historical fiction to boot. While this book does not come close to supplanting my favorite of this style, These is My Words, I did enjoy it quite a bit.

I'm kind of surprised I decided to pick this book up. I read Fergus' Wild Girl last year and wasn't particularly enthralled. It took me months to finish Wild Girl, and I think I only did because I actually purchased the book and felt some sort of obligation to see it through. This book did take me a few days, but I really grew attached to May, the author of the journals.

One Thousand White Women is a story of a group of women the government traded to the Cheyenne in exchange for horses. The goal was to try and more peacefully integrate the cultures, but we all know how that turned out. In truth, the idea of behind One Thousand White Women was actually put forward by the Cheyenne and promptly dismissed by the US government.

I think the concept of this novel is what interested me. I don't actually know why I chose to stomach a lot of this book when I didn't feel like reading Atonement, which is much tamer in comparison. Chalk it up to fickleness and mood I guess. But do know going in that you will find sex, violence, language, and human atrocity as befits a novel of this nature and time period. Still, I thought it was good and enjoyed the journey.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

This gem of a book is 533 pages long. I told Dan he needed to read it, and that it only takes an hour or two and he looked at me like I was INSANE. I don't actually read that fast, but this novel is told in both pictures and words. If you haven't read a graphic novel yet, this is a great one to try first.

You will find it in the juvenile section of the library. If I hadn't looked it up, I would say this book would be great starting around 5th grade--Publisher's Weekly says ages 9-12.

I don't want to tell you too much about it. (I'm glad the site that I got the recommendation from didn't spoil it for me.) Just go get it and enjoy. You'll be glad you did.

Good Harbor

I've actually delayed writing about this book for a few days so I could let it settle. And, I'm not very settled still.

I liked the premise of the book--two middle-aged women facing various health, religious, marriage, and family crises becoming friends amidst the backdrop of their shared Jewish faith in Cape Ann. I was totally into the book until about 3/4 the way through and then Diamant lost me. Of course, by then I had to finish. But, I remember thinking, "There is not enough book left to resolve these issues in a way that is going to satisfy me."

Hence, my unsettledness.

Maybe I just like things tied up too nicely. But I almost got the feeling that Diamant realized she was in over her head and figured she'd better quit the novel while she was ahead.

I still may read her most recent novel, The Last Days of Dogtown, also set on Cape Ann. But, The Red Tent, this was not.