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Showing posts from March, 2008

Review--Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

Remember Me? is a quirky, fun novel by one of my favorite authors. A quick read (it took me only a few hours to complete), Remember Me? features Lexi Smart, who wakes up one day to find herself twenty-eight years old, working as a director in her company, married to a (seemingly) perfect man, and the possessor of the most fabulous closet she has ever seen. The problem is, Lexi can’t remember the last three years of her life, those three years having been wiped away in a car accident. Lexi frantically tries to regain her memory and figure out who she is; along the way, she learns that she’s turned into a completely different person than she expected to be.

The writing is funny and quirky, and I love how Sophie Kinsella manages time and time again to suck the reader into the plot. My only problem with the plot was that the characters seemed to have changed too much in a three-year time span, especially Lexi, who turned out to be a completely different person at twenty-eight than twenty-f…

Review--The Idiot Girls' Action Adventure Club, by Laurie Notaro

The Idiot Girls' Action Adventure Club was recommended to me by Amazon.com, and I have to say that I absolutely loved it (the book, though the website has its advantages)! The book is actually a collection of short essays, written by Laurie Notaro, the heavy drinker and smoker who tells of her exploits with candor and a sense of humor. And along the way, she's able to laugh at, and with, herself. The essays can be read alone, but they work best when they're read in the order in which they're presented. I loved the essay about her attending her high school reunion (I think we all have a story in which we do something mortifyingly embarassing in front of old high school/ college classmates. I sure do), and the one where she explains oral sex to her 82-year-old grandmother.

Although not very well written (sometimes Notaro sounds as though she's in middle school), The Idiots Girls' Action Adventure Club was a quick read (I read it in one day) and had me laughing so…

I've found a book I want to read based solely on the cover!

It's called Dorothy On the Rocks, and the author is Barbara Suter. From the book description (the book is set for release at the end of June, in paperback): "In Maggie Barlow's world, reality is overrated. So what if her singing career has hit a sour note or she's no longer the ingénue that she used to be? So what if she drinks and smokes a bit too much or likes to chat with a fairy godperson who appears to her from time to time? She's the queen of denial and an actress to boot—she can just take on the role of someone she likes better than her sorry self. Regrettably, that role is currently Dorothy in the Little Britches Theater Company's production of The Wizard of Oz.
Dorothy on the Rocks is the story of a funny, lovable, totally self-destructive woman who, after a night of one-drink-too-many, wakes up with a strange man in her bed: confident, handsome, sexy, twenty-eight-year-old Jack. What happens next is what makes Barbara Suter's coming-of-middle-age ta…

Review--The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford

The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate are actually two short novels, centered around the same set of characters. In The Pursuit of Love, we are introduced to Linda Radlett, one of the seven children of Matthew and Sadie, Lord and Lady of Alconleigh. Told through the eyes of Fanny Logan, a cousin with “wicked” parents (her mother has been nicknamed “the Bolter,” not for nothing), the book is mostly autobiographical (how much so, I don’t know). Linda marries at least twice and has love affairs about which she is surprisingly blasé, given the time in which this novel is set (between the wars and during World War II).

Love in a Cold Climate, featuring the ill-fated marriage of Polly Hampton, is also told from the point of view of Fanny Logan. Both novels are a social commentary of marriage and the English class system. They’re both novels of a bygone era (women’s lives today certainly aren’t, for the most part, defined by marriage), but Mitford did a wonderful job satirizing the n…

Review--Revenge of the Rose, by Nicole Galland

Revenge of the Rose is a satirical view of courtly love in the thirteenth century. The book takes place in the court of the fictional Konrad, Holy Roman Emperor. At the behest of Konrad's troubadour, Jouglet, a young knight named Willem comes to court, where he shines on the jousting field. His success is detrimental to three major men at court: Marcus, Konrad's best friend, who is engaged to marry the love of his life and is afraid that she'll be taken away from him; Alphonse, Konrad's sneaky uncle; and the emperor's brother, a clergyman, none of whom are impressed with or thrilled by the sudden elevation to prominence of a "nobody" provincial knight and his sister, Lienor, whom Konrad wishes to marry.
The novel is witty and lively, and peppered with characters with secrets. Although those same characters seem one-dimensional and wooden at times, Nicole Galland has a sense of humor that shines through in this, her second novel, which was based on Jean Re…

Review--Lush Life, by Richard Price

Lush Life is the story of Eric Cash, a thirty-something guy living on the Lower East Side, in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Manhattan. Early one morning, a bartender ends up dead, and Cash, an inveterate liar, finds himself the center of a murder investigation by Matty Clark.

The world that Price describes in this book is not the Yuppie New York that most people hear about (or most New Yorkers have experienced), and I loved the gritty and grim way in which Price depicts Cash's world. The author uses short, terse sentences that can be confusing at times, but are ultimately lyrical. For example, he could have said, "he muttered," but instead he says, "...went off somewhere behind his teeth." The dialogue is written in the way people speak, which makes this book all the more realistic. While Lush Life might not be to everyone's taste, this novel is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's a novel about the city I know and love so well…

Review--A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz

This is the story of Martin and Jasper Dean, a father and son who are as different as they are alike. The story begins with Martin, whose brother, Terry, was a famous criminal in Australia. Martin Dean has spent pretty much his whole life philosophizing about everything, and his mind tends to go to unexpected places. It’s essentially a novel about soul-searching.

The characters, especially the two main ones, are extraordinarily eclectic, much as John Irving’s are; however, the story of A Fraction of the Whole tends to wander all over the place, which is something I didn’t really like about the book.

Both men in their turns provide narration, and although there’s not much to say who’s speaking when, it’s pretty clear by the style of talking who is narrating the story. That’s one thing that I thought was done very well; Steve Toltz has a gift for narration and for creating distinct “voices” for his characters. Nothing ever occurs as expected. Te book is rife with satire and a unique sense…

Review--Beginner's Greek, by James Collins

Peter Russell meets Holly on a plane from New York to LA, and immediately falls in love with her. However, when he arrives at his hotel that night, he finds that he's lost her phone number, written on a scrap of paper torn from a Thomas Mann book. Ten years later, Peter finds that Holly is married to his best friend, Jonathan, and Peter himself married to Charlotte Montague, a pretty yet unremarkable girl. Meanwhile, Peter has risen through the ranks at Beeche, a Wall Street firm.

I'll be blunt, and tell you that I hated this book. It was bland, and the plot seemed to go nowhere. Moreover, the coincidence that Holly just happened to marry Peter's best friend is too much. There are also other coincidences in this book that really require the reader to suspend his or her belief. This book really and truly reads like the script for a Lifetime Original Movie. Peter's boss seems like a cartoon character--I mean what boss in real life would come straight out and say, "I …

Review--Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, by Alison Weir

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, by Alison Weir, is a absorbing look into the life of one of Europe’s most intriguing queens. Born in Aquitaine, she was married off to King Louis of France. Her marriage to him was annulled, and Eleanor married King Henry II of England. She then became mother to two kings of England. What emerges from this book is an in-depth look at not only the life of this queen, but insight into the world of the laste-12th century. Eleanor of Aquitaine was a truly remarkable and unusual woman, having had more power than other women of the period and having had a dynamic personality.

It turns out that, despite her notoriety, not much is truly known about Eleanor (in fact, there exists not even an accurate painting or sculpture of her, and some periods of her life are unaccounted for), but Weir does an amazing job in this biography of putting the pieces together. I hadn’t known much about the life of this fascinating queen before reading this book, but I learned a lot an…
In T-minus approximately 27 hours (not like I’m counting or anything!), I’ll be on a plane headed to sunny, beautiful Arizona for a week’s vacation. Actually, ten days. I’ve been fantasizing about 80-degree weather, a pool, Mexican food, and margaritas for weeks, so you have no idea how excited I am to finally get away from this frigid weather (plus it’s been raining today)! I love New York, but every now and then a girl needs a break. Of course, I’ve got a few books stashed in my duffel, so I'll be doing a lot of reading (and reviewing) while I'm out west.

Review--A Treasury of Royal Scandals, by Michael Farquhar

If you ever found yourself wishing that People magazine contained less of Britney and more of Henry VIII, then this book is for you. A Treasury of Royal Scandals: The Shocking True Stories of History's Wickedest, Weirdest, and Most Wanton Kings, Queens, Tsars, Popes, and Emperors is a compendium of all the deliciously, scandalously bad things kings, queens, emperors, and popes have done over the past two thousand years or so. Covering adultery to alcoholism, torture, murder, and beyond, it turns out that the ruling classes of Europe, especially in France, England, the Holy Roman Empire, the Roman Empire, and Russia, were quite badly behaved at times. We're given, in short form, everything from Richard III to the Babylonian Captivity, to Emperor Nero (even if he didn't fiddle while Rome burned), to Mad King George III.

Farquhar provides the reader with several family trees and appendices, which include timelines and the various royal houses. The writing style is witty and li…

Review--Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Phillips

The ancient Greek gods, while immortal, had very human characteristics, so its no wonder that they've managed to survive well into the twenty-first century. Since 1665, the gods have been living (just barely) in a dilapidated house in London and have taken up modern-day jobs. Times have changed, but the gods haven't—Dionysius is still drunk, Ares is still plotting war, and Demeter is still tending to the plants in the garden. Artemis, who is now a dog-walker, is the character on whom the novel focuses the most (she’s also one of the more straightforward of the gods).

The book opens with a fight between Apollo (a TV psychic) and Aphrodite (a phone sex operator), which escalates when the latter enacts revenge on her nephew. One day, as Apollo is in the middle of a broadcast, Eros causes him to fall violently in love with Alice Mulholland, a house cleaner who happens to be in the audience that day.

What ensues is a wonderfully comic (albeit dark) tale of love and sex in modern-day…

Review--A Passage to India, by EM Forster

A throwback to the classics!

I recently finished reading A Passage to India, by EM Forster. Actually, I re-read it; the first time I read the book was in college. But it’s a fairly dense novel (despite being only 362 pages), so a second read was definitely worth it. It’s a complicated novel about British imperialism in India in the 1920s, and about the relationship between the natives and the British as those two cultures collide.

The story revolves around several characters: Adela Quested, a young woman come to India to marry a government official; her potential future mother-in-law, Mrs. Moore; Dr. Aziz, a local doctor who becomes friends with these ladies, until something shocking happens one day on an outing that changes things forever; and Cecil Fielding, another member of the expatriate community.

In some respects, A Passage to India hasn’t aged all that well. I also found my attention wandering in some places. But still, it’s a well-written novel about what happens when East meet…

Genre in review--Chick Lit

I have mixed feelings about chick lit. On one hand, I deplore it as shallow, self-serving fluff. On the other, if it’s done right, chick lit can be a social satire about modern, urban life.

Chick lit tends to have a formulaic plot—in most cases, the protagonist balances work (sometimes having to do with a struggle with a Satanic boss or demonic coworkers) with a social life. In nearly all cases, the protagonist meets her perfect man (who happens also to be the reader’s idea of the perfect man) and discusses said perfect man with friends, one of whom invariably is a gay man (there’s a certain dream that single, urban women have, to have a male friend who is not interested in them sexually and with whom they can talk candidly about men and shoes and stuff; the gay friend fulfills that role). Ultimately, the story ends happily, with everyone getting what they want.

Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada is a classic example of this. The main character, Andy, obtains a job as the assista…

Review--Run, by Ann Patchett

Run is the story of family--that which we are born into and that which we create for ourselves. Bernard Doyle, former mayor of Boston, is father to three children: Sullivan, the "black sheep;" Tip, the intellectual who has no interest in going into politics and spends his time at Harvard in the fish department; and the life-loving Teddy, the athlete of the family. The latter two are adopted.
Run takes place over the course of a single day in January, when Tennessee Moser, single mother to Kenya, is hit in a car crash wile trying to save the life of her son, Tip. Kenya quickly becomes a part of the Doyle family.
I had mixed feelings about this novel. I feel compelled to give this book a higher rating than I might otherwise have done; I loved Patchett's Bel Canto. But I just couldn't get into the plot the way I did with Bel Canto. Run definitely read like a Lifetime Original Movie drama. There was this great family tension, but Patchett never really drew it out the way …

Five more books I'm looking forward to reading in 2008:

1). Crossed, by Nicole Galland. About the thirteenth-century crusades; features a wandering minstrel and one of my favorite cities, Venice.

2). The Red Leather Diary, by Lilly Koppel. A work of nonfiction featuring a found diary that paints a picture of life in New York City in the 1930s.

3). A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz. A novel about the complicated relationship between a young man and his father.

4). Shakespeare's Wife, by Germaine Greer. A book about not only Anne Hathaway, but the lives of women in the 16th and early 17th centuries in general.

5). The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton. A novel about a young woman who goes to be a maid at a wealthy country house and becomes privy to the goings-on there.

Review--The Secret Scroll, by Ronald Cutler

Centered around a Da Vinci Code-esque mystery that features something akin to the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Secret Scroll begins when Josh Cohan, an archeological professor, makes an important discovery in the desert outside of Jerusalem. It turns out that the scrolls were written by Jesus Christ, who was, according to this book, a Gnostic. Josh is then led on this whole action-adventure, in which his faith is tested. There’s a lot of promise, but ultimately, the novel fails to deliver.

When I began reading The Secret Scroll, I thought, "you have GOT to be kidding me." The people who agented, edited, copyedited, and published this book need to be fired. However, I don't think any editor could have saved this book; the flaws are much deeper than grammatical. There's hardly any plot here (or at least any plot that makes sense), and the book is riddled with trite clichés, writing geared toward a sixth grader, and oversimplification of archeological trivia which insults the …

Review--A Golden Age, by Tahmima Anam

A Golden Age is a complicated novel about a woman during the Bangladeshi War for Independence. Rehana Haque is a widow with two children on the cusp of adulthood in the spring of 1971, when a revolution in Dhaka changes their lives, and those of their friends, forever. While the world rages around them, Rehana attempts to come to terms with the choices her almost-grown son, Soheil, and daughter, Maya, have made. And, despite herself, Rehana finds herself getting involved into the revolutionary movement, despite her indifference to it.

Family relationships play a strong role in this novel, for a poignant revelation about what a mother will do for her children. The novel is short, but complicated and dense. You can't help but get sucked into these characters' lives, so different from our own. The title of the book, A Golden Age, is a bit misleading (considering that the period was hardly golden), but it comes from the name of Rehana's house, Shona, which means gold in Bengali…

Review--The Queen of Bedlam, by Robert McCammon

The Queen of Bedlam is an intriguing, thoughtful novel about the underworld of New York in the early eighteenth century. Matthew Corbett, the magistrate’s clerk to whom we were introduced in Speaks the Nightbird, returns, this time to solve the murders of three of New York’s citizens: a wealthy business owner, an orphanage owner who Matthew was acquainted with in a previous life, and a doctor. It turns out that the murders are just the simplest link in a series of mysteries and crimes that began years ago in England; one of the mysteries include a mute woman in an asylum whose identity is unknown, but simply called the Queen of Bedlam.

The character of Matthew has been strengthened in this novel. The reader definitely got to see more of what made him tick, though I think Matthew got over his anger at Eben Ausley a little too quickly. At times Matthew has a wicked sense of humor, and it definitely came out more in The Queen of Bedlam. I was interested in McCammon’s descriptions of early…

Review--Speaks the Nightbird, by Robert McCammon

It is 1699, and a magistrate from Charles Town and his clerk come to the town of Fount Royal to oversee the trial of a young woman accused of witchcraft. Matthew Corbett, although only twenty, has a clever and inquisitive mind, and he begins to suspect that Rachel Howarth is not as the townspeople make her out to be. The town of Fount Royal is populated with characters that would make the citizens of Peyton Place envious; it seems that everyone has something to hide, and that they would commit murder to keep those secrets hidden. Even Woodward, the magistrate who is Matthew's mentor, is secretive about his past.

While I thought the author was a little bit crude in some places, I really liked how the story ultimately unraveled itself, from the encounter at the beginning with a murderous innkeeper until the denouement, which caught me by surprise (and I've read enough mysteries to be adept at figuring out "whodunit" part way through). The story is a mixture of horror an…