Monday, December 31, 2007

North River by Pete Hamill

PLOT: Dr James Delaney treats everyone in his old neighborhood, even when they can't pay him or if they are dangerous. It's 1934, and most of his patients cannot afford his compassionate care, but Delaney's commitment to his community is firm. These are his people - the gangsters, the wife beaters, the prostitutes, and the alcoholics. He cares for all of them. The place - New York City - is part of his being, the deep roots of his identity. He loves his wife Molly, but she disappeared months before and Delaney doesn't know if she's even alive. His daughter, Grace, left home to follow revolutionary dreams, and in the bleak New York winter, Delaney is alone. He is a grey man in a grey world, burdened by regret, loneliness and sorrow. Two events are poised to change his life. First, Delaney is yanked out of a dream of ice and loss by the sound of his gate bell; his old friend Eddie Corso, now a gangster, needs his attention. Then, upon his return, Delaney finds that his daughter Grace has literally dumped her three-year-old son on his doorstep on her way to Europe to search for her husband. Delaney hires the Sicilian Rose (who has a past touched by violence) to take care of the child and cook, and in spite of being on Frankie Botts' hitlist for treating Corso and being watched by the FBI who want to find his daughter, colour and light slowly seep into his world.
QUOTE: "He would try as hard as he could to ease their pain. To bring them sleep. To give them another day, another week, another year. The reason was simple. Here all sins were forgiven. Even the sins of James Finbar Delaney."
COMMENT: The unequivocal star of North River is the city. Hamill puts the reader right into old NewYork - so much that you smell Italian sausages cooking and feel the dirty snow under your feet. He creates a neighborhood and its people with vibrant detail. Unlike Chevalier's Burning Bright, whose setting completely overshadows the plot and characters are just shadow puppets on a backdrop of old London, here the characters and the plot are well developed and three dimensional.
Even though there is danger in North River, the danger does not eclipse Delaney's love story or Hamill's song of New York. Recommended. A lovely read.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

COMMENT: I enjoyed The Yiddish Policemen's Union so much that I had to read this one. I wasn't disappointed. Chabon knows how to write with POW! His dialogue is never boring; his characters are well drawn and his plots have great twists and surprises.

PLOT: Gentlemen is set in 10th century Khazaria, a Jewish state bordered by the Kievan Rus, the Byzantine Empire, and Azerbaijan. It is a great adventure - a totally entertaining yarn of two mismatched "gentlemen" con artists and wanderers who are as good in battle as they are with a scam. Amram, a giant Abyssinian ex-soldier, and the pale Jewish doctor Zelikman, a wraith who can fight like a warrior, travel together without plans or maps through the Caucasus Mountains. After a particularly successful evening of separating gullible inn patrons from their money, Amram and Zelikman find themselves the unwillingly protectors and guardians of a deposed and hunted young prince of the legendary Khazar Empire who stubbornly insists on returning to his homeland to avenge the murders of his family members. With this change of plan, our gentlemen and the reader are off and running (riding) headlong into excitement and a story that never slows down. Their way is littered with bodies, marauding Vikings, bloody battles, elephants, and intrigue. In the entertaining Afterword, Chabon explains that his original title was Jews with Swords. Highly recommended - great fun (with some historical interest too)!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Family That Couldn't Sleep - D T Max

Until recently, a "prion" was a bird, a small petrel to be exact. But, in 1982, "prion" gained a new meaning - "proteinaceous infectious particle," rogue proteins that can cause devastating diseases in humans and animals. Prions are proteins that fold, setting off a cascade of folding proteins that destroy surrounding cells. They are not living and cannot be killed by antibiotics or high heat or by any other way we use to treat and contain viruses or bacteria. A book about prion diseases is not going to be a light read, but D.T. Max makes the science comprehensible and the researchers three dimensional, fleshing out their personalities, rivalries and genius.
Max brings the science down to the personal with his study of an Italian family that for generations has been afflicted with "FFI" or fatal familial insomnia. Seemingly at random, family members in each generation have stopped sleeping, begun sweating, become disoriented, agitated, profoundly demented and died. Prions ravage their brains leaving behind plaques and holes. This family's story runs throughout the entire book, giving a glimpse at prion-caused devastation.
Prions first grabbed public attention with mad cow disease, but they've been around for a while. Animal prion diseases include scrapie in sheep and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in wildlife like elk and deer. Humans suffer from BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy - aka mad cow), GSS (Gerstmann-Sträussler syndrome), kuru, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but as Max implies, these conditions could just be the tip of the iceberg. As he points out, one of the characteristics of prion diseases is the presence of amyloid plaques in the brains of infected individuals - plaques very much like those found in Alzheimer's victims.
Comment: Max shows how modern agricultural practices (breeding and feed) have contributed to the spread of prion diseases in both animals and humans. (Cow "cake" - you don't want to know what's in it!) I give The Family That Couldn't Sleep 4 stars for content and clear, uncomplicated delivery.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Playing for Pizza - John Grisham

A completely charming love song to Italy and to football. Now, I must admit that knowing something about football really enhanced my enjoyment of this book. Instead of a football-playing boy, my father got me - a bookish girl, but, off we would go every Friday night (high school) and Saturday (college) to see games and provide me with a proper education in case I should ever meet a football-playing boy I might want to snag and bring home. (It was the South in the 50s.) By the age of ten, I could discuss strategy and plays.

PLOT: Rick Dockery wakes up in the hospital with a nasty concussion (his third) and the news that he has single-handedly defeated the Cleveland Browns in the AFC championship game. Unfortunately, he was playing for the Browns. With quarterbacks 1 and 2 injured, third stringer Rick got his chance to play in the final minutes as the Browns held a secure lead. Not secure enough. With an angry mob storming the hospital and no visitors except his agent, Dockery flees the ignominy to Italy, heaped with scorn and shame from everyone, including his parents. The Parma Panthers are thrilled to have a real, professional quarterback help them fulfill the dream of finally defeating the Bergamo Lions and winning the Italian Football League Super Bowl. The Panthers actually love the game and play for love of the game. By the last page, Rick re-evaluates both his life and the real importance of football.

COMMENT: OK, so some passages read like a travelogue - it's Italy! And, in this ode to la bella vita, what's not to love! The food is described in yummy detail; the people are exuberant, warm and passionate about their football and life; the country is beautiful. Playing for Pizza has an endearing underdog protagonist (we all innately pull for the underdog, don't we), a great setting, and a light, fluffy plot line - molto bene!

Monday, November 19, 2007

An Ice Cold Grave - Charlaine Harris

Oh, I do enjoy the fun of reading Harris. I was in dire need of some plain, uncomplicated, unadulterated enjoyment with no strings attached. I wasn't disappointed by An Ice Cold Grave. I didn't guess the ending (which I usually do with mysteries). Harris had provided so many good suspects and well, I was coasting along, so completely willing to be carried away by the plot that I couldn't be bothered to guess who-done-it. The plot does involve the grisly murders of teenage boys plus a good serving of violence, hospitals and death, but Harper's voice keeps events from becoming oppressively grim. And there's romance too - pretty hot stuff in a cold cabin. Ice Cold is a quick read and thoroughly entertaining. Go for it when you need some diversion from heavier fare.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen

Delightful, magical, a joy to read.

From the first page, I believed - just like I did when, on Georgia summer nights, the attic fan pulled in a wisteria-scented breeze from the vine winding around a giant pine outside my window. All things were possible, and the mystical and real blended into one.

The Waverly women have their own special talents. Claire's lavender tea cookies give Ladies Aid members the ability to keep secrets (I imagine they must be pretty strong magic). And those who drink her honeysuckle wine on July 4th can see in the dark. She knows just what to add to her catered dishes to make children thoughtful or adults full of hope. And everyone in Bascom, North Carolina, knows that if seventy-nine year-old Evanelle gives you a gift, you had better keep it because her gifts are always needed later. In addition to possessing a healthy appreciation for fine male posteriors, this track suited old lady has an uncanny knack for picking exactly the right present.
Claire's sister Syndey had run away from both Bascom, NC and the Waverly talents, but now she's returned with her young daughter. While Sydney hides an unhappy past marked by violence, Claire resents the disruption to her ordered life created by Sydney's arrival and the very disorderly emotions stirred up by Tyler, her new neighbor. But, love is in the air. Fate and the old apple tree with a penchant for throwing prophetic apples conspire to make sure that life will not remain the same for Claire.
Garden Spells is romance sprinkled with fairy dust. It definitely put a spell on me (sorry, the pun is too apt). I really hope Allen writes another book - soon!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Watchers (and peripherally The Good Guy)- Dean Koontz

Koontz wrote Watchers in 1987, and it's so similar to The Good Guy (2007) that you really need to read only one of these books. If you're a real "dog person" (like me), go for Watchers. I chose it for the RIP2 challenge and added Good Guy to my TBR just because I like Koontz. I had enjoyed The Taking, relishing the theme of good versus evil and Koontz' metaphysical bent. Watchers qualified for RIP because of its supernatural element, taking "supernatural" in its purest sense - being "above and beyond what is natural." It's this element that distinguishes Watchers from Good Guy. Travis Cornell finds a very special dog and at the same time becomes the prey of a genetically altered, highly intelligent killing machine. He meets and falls in love with a young woman - a loner burdened with a tragic past, and they spend most of the novel attempting to elude not only the beast that psychically pursues them, but also a human psychopath - a contract killer who savours his work and whose latest job is to find them and the dog.

Summing up plot similarities between the two books:
  1. Both male protagonists are former military with superior combat skills.
  2. Both men have avoided close relationships.
  3. Both female protagonists have also experienced trauma and have avoided society.
  4. They fall in love and are relentlessly pursued by a sadistic hit man.
  5. The hit men both think they are somehow superhuman. Invincible.
  6. Both books deal with the battle between good and evil.
  7. The fleeing pair is also pursued by law enforcement/government agency.

Now, about the dog. All of Koontz' dogs (that I've encountered) are wonderful. You'll find some in The Taking. They are the embodiment of good, loyal and often brighter than the humans. With Watchers, Koontz has created the most lovable and intelligent of puppies. Everyone should have an Einstein, the result of genetic experiments (I'm not giving anything away - you'll figure this out from the jacket cover). I must admit I kept reading mid-book (which dragged a bit), simply because of the dog. I did become frustrated with Travis and Nora who appeared really slow to realize the full extent of Einstein's brilliance. Their experiments became tedious and I found myself shouting, "For Pete's sake, he's trying to tell you he can spell!!!" - or some such.

The beast is truly terrifying - not just in its bloody focus and canny intelligence, but also because you know a similar being could possible be created in some secret lab. He's a monster that really could exist. And, in the end, you wonder who the real monsters are - the beast or his creators.

Good book - thought-provoking, slows down in middle, but has enough bangs to keep you going

Recommended - 3.5 stars

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

PLOT After reading two books set in possessed places and experiencing both the gravity of Ghostwalk (a bit of a pun here) and the suffocating terror of Lost Boy Lost Girl, I was ready for some humor with my horror. Hooray for Charlaine Harris who makes scary delightfully fun! Dead as a Doornail is the fifth book in Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series. Sookie, a waitress in Bon Temps, Louisiana, is pretty, self-reliant, telepathic, and lusted after by a pack, ummmmm, pride, or is is colony, of supernatural, handsome male beings. There's Bill, her vampire ex-boyfriend; Eric, the blond Viking vampire; Alcide Herveaux, the sleek werewolf; Sam, who can shift from friendly dog to stalking panther, and a zoo of other suitors. Danger and mystery enter the scene when a sniper begins shooting shapeshifters, seriously wounding Sookie's boss Sam. When her own brother, Jason, a newly made shapeshifter, falls under suspicion, Sookie knows she must find the real culprit. Enter Charles, the new vampire bartender with a murky past, and abusive, violent Mickey, vampire boyfriend of Sookie's childhood friend, Tara. Now, throw in a real fairy godmother and a struggle for werewolf leadership, and you have fun and chills right until the last page.
COMMENT I had read Grave Surprise from Harris' Harper Connelly series and thoroughly enjoyed it. Harper can find where people are buried; she can tell who is interred and how they died, leading her into the age-old mystery of "who done it." Harris is a master of snappy dialogue and her plots never bog down. With Sookie and Harper both, each book is a great ride until the end. Recommended for those of us who like a little levity peppered with jolts of supernatural (and human) danger.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lost Boy Lost Girl by Peter Straub

WINNER Bram Stoker Award
PLOT Late one night Mark Underhill discovers his mother sitting on the edge of the bathtub, staring forward with empty eyes, "an expression of dazed incomprehension" on her face. A week later she commits suicide. The week after that Mark disappears - just like three other boys from Millhaven.
Mark had never noticed the empty house across the alley, never really looked at it, but once he does, his obsession steadily grows as his mother becomes increasingly exhausted and distracted. It's Mark who discovers her body and becomes convinced that the house had something to do with her death. The house is one the book's main characters as it entangles Mark in its dark history. Writer Tim Underhill, the boy's uncle, returns to Millhaven to help in the search for his nephew. Uncovering a serial killer in the present, he also finds a bloody past and the story of a girl who drew Mark into her world.
COMMENT Lost Boy Lost Girl shifts between past and present and among points of view. Although initially confusing, this constant shifting blended horrors present and past while blurring the fine line between reality and apparition. I had a difficult time getting into the book, but eventually settled into its hypnotic cadence. I must say this is like no other book I've ever read, and by the end - the hopeful, surreal end - the house had grabbed me too.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The God of Animals - Aryn Kyle

Alice Winston is twelve. She has a reclusive mother who rarely emerges from her bedroom, a beautiful, high-spirited sister, Nona, who ran away with a rodeo rider, and a father overwhelmed by money problems and preoccupied with his horses. Absorbed by their own dreams and disappointments, they don't really see Alice standing on the periphery in isolation. Alice has no friends. When her shop partner, Polly Cain, drowns, Alice posthumously invents a friendship with the dead girl and forms an unsettling relationship with her English teacher.
To save their ranch, Joe Winston, begins to board horses and sells Nona's prize winning Cap to a girl he hopes can be taught to win. As the summer heat seres Desert Valley, the family's lives become enmeshed with the wealthy women who come to groom their animals and drink cocktails from their thermoses. Alice begins to understand and resent the security that money can provide. It's a summer of lies and promises, cruelty and generosity.
COMMENT: Aryn Kyle adeptly captures the voice of a twelve-year old girl. Sometimes Alice speaks with a wry humour ("I was the only person present who couldn't sue my father if the mare crushed me into pieces") and sometimes with heartbreaking sadness ( "I kept my eyes closed, letting myself pretend that she was someone, anyone, who loved me.") The plot development is strong and through Alice's eyes, the characters are well drawn.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott

PLOT Cameron Brown, prominent neuroscientist, finds his historian-mother, Elizabeth Vogelsang, dead in the river, a prism clutched in her fist. He asks Lydia Brooke, his former lover who was also Elizabeth's friend, to return to Cambridge and complete the missing last chapter of the book his mother was writing about Sir Isaac Newton, Trinity College and alchemy. Lydia moves into Vogelsang's studio and of course, in addition to rekindling her affair with Cameron, strange things begin to happen. Papers disappear or blow away when there is no breeze. And then there are the odd lights and shadows, the strange man in red, murders and mysteries, both past and present, a violent animal rights group, and a blurring of the 17th century with the 21st. Lydia, pursuing the truth behind the 17th century deaths, soon finds herself haunted and pursued herself.
COMMENT Ghostwalk could be called creepingly eerie, or eerily creeping (toward its end). It's full of historical detail about 17th century Cambridge, alchemists and Isaac Newton. Stott's style borders on essay-writing in some chapters dealing with Vogelsang's research while she's almost poetic in others. Written from the first person (Lydia) to a second person (Cameron), Ghostwalk's use of "you" was disconcerting and a bit confusing at first. Imagery, delivered in snapshot sentences, is definitely effective in creating the ominous mood.
I sensed a supernatural threat from the beginning and was surprised by the plot addition of the real-time threat posed by NABED, the animal rights group. But this really is a ghost story with one century bleeding into the other.
Sometimes Stott's erudition might be a barrier to digesting Ghostwalk . If you aren't familiar with Mondrian, her reference to the painter will not create the image she intended. To explain the entanglement of past and present, she delves into quantum mechanics - which is fascinating, but not light reading.
Overall, I enjoyed Ghostwalk, but I am really looking forward to my next book by Dean Koontz.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards

I should have known - on the cover is glowing praise from Sue Monk Kidd, author of Mermaid Chair. I didn't like Mermaid Chair (But enjoyed Secret Life of Bees) I am beginning to think that there is something seriously wrong with my literary tastes. Memory Keeper's Daughter is the flavor of the season - a bookclub darling. There are still 32 requests for it at my library - in other words, 32 people are in line, breathlessly waiting to read it. (The library has 14 copies plus a bookclub kit and CD.) It was published in 2005, so it's not just a flash in the pan! Now for the truth - I found the book slow, annoying and well, numbing.
David Henry, orthopedist, on a snowy day in 1964 delivers his own twins. Without telling his wife, Norah, he "hands over his daughter," who has Down Syndrome, to his nurse, Caroline Gill, telling her to take the baby, Phoebe, to an institution. Caroline just can't do it and decides to keep Phoebe, raising her as her daughter. What ensues is 25 years of interminable introspection, alienation, and regret. Oh goodie.
There is a lot of repetition of imagery and thought in this book. For instance, Caroline, when pondering whether to leave Phoebe at the institution, keeps returning and returning to the image of the dark haired young woman in a slip being shorn of her hair in the institutional cold. David Henry refers again and again to the day he "handed over" (using that phrase) his daughter to Caroline Gill. I get it, I get it!!
The Memory Keeper's Daughter functions on the premise that the family is torn apart by David Henry's secret, but I think Norah is a basically weak character, and she would never have been able to cope with Phoebe. She's too concerned with moving in the proper social circles as shown by her reaction to Kay Marshall. She would have been a promiscuous lush anyway. I just couldn't cope with this book's bleak view of relationships (maybe that's my problem - but I loved the Moviegoer. Go figure.) Paul, the son, rails constantly about his father's lack of love for him in spite of the fact that David tries to connect. But, alas, somewhere along the line, David has expressed his reservations about Paul's being a musician and well, that's it! David can never convince the kid of his pride and love. It's really quite a sad story of a basically good man, who makes a bad decision. David Henry is burdened by secrets and surrounded by very needy people.
On a more positive note - I rejoiced in Phoebe's life and Caroline's love for her daughter.
To sum up: I found the constant, interior ruminations tedious - like listening to the slow ticking of a clock, and I could not muster much sympathy for Norah. Without that sympathy, the book for me was an exercise in endurance. And maybe I do need some sort of biblio-therapeutic intervention.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

PLOT Hosseini portrays the tumult of Afghanistan's last thirty years as reflected in the lives of two woman married to the same man. Miriam was a harami, a bastard,loved by her father,Jalil, but not quite enough. She's quickly married off to the brutal Rasheed to safely rid Jalil's legitimate family of her embarrassing existence. Laila is young, beautiful and well-educated by her doting father, but as the violence of Afghanistan's repeated upheavals decimates her family, she, too, marries Raheed to survive. In the midst of killing and oppression, bombs and hardship, beatings and tears, the two form a bond that enables them to continue living.
Why I Pulled This Book from My TBR Shelf I had read and loved the Kite Runner, one the the most powerful and beautiful books I've ever experienced.
Comment A Thousand Splendid Suns presents much more history than does The Kite Runner. In Suns, Hosseini intertwines periodic history lessons with the story (and it's obvious these lessons are a digression), even giving all the names of the warlords, where they were from, and their political goals. While in Runner, the history is there, it functions as a backdrop against which the plot unfolds. Suns, occasionally bordering on didactic, and perhaps incorporating too much information for some readers, did give me a much better sense of why Afghanistan is so torn and what the Afghan people have endured. The character development is excellent - I understood and identified with these two women even though my world is so different. Hosseini's writing "engages" the reader with both the characters and the setting. He has the ability to draw you into his world - I felt as if I experienced both books with all my senses. Highly Recommended.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind - Ann B. Ross

Absolutely Delightful! A Real Treat!
PLOT "Miss Julia" Springer is surprised when the sudden death of her pillar-of-the-community husband, banker Wesley Lloyd, leaves her a very rich widow. Just when she's considering central air-conditioning for her home (Wesley Lloyd deemed it to be a waste of money), she discovers, right on her own doorstep, something else he's left - Wesley Lloyd Junior - a pale nine-year old. Pretty soon, Pastor Ledbetter, her clergyman, is trying to claim her inheritance for the church; a Bible-thumping televangelist, "Brother Vern," arrives looking for Little Lloyd; the police suspect Miss Julia might be involved foul-play, and she's driving a get-away car.
COMMENT Ross writes with wry humour, delivering a warm and witty (cliche wording, but very true here) portrait of small town life. The images of the formerly prim and proper Miss Julia adopting a new style of merging into traffic (step on the gas and go) or speeding down the highway protected by a phalanx of big rigs were laugh-out-loud material. I chuckled all the way through this book, not only because I could recognize so much that was familiar, but also because reading it is just plain fun. As she gains her own voice, Miss Julia's observations and comments are filled with both wisdom and dry humour. She muses, "Now I understood. Anytime a preacher starts talking about stewardship, he's talking about your money and his plans. Especially his building plans." A big thank you to fellow book blogger Tiny for recommending and lending Miss Julia to me for the Southern Reading Challenge!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Our Former Lives in Art - Jennifer S Davis

PLOT LINES Alabama native Jennifer S Davis draws us into the lives and emotional conflicts of her characters. Set in the Deep South, her nine short stories capture with insight, power and compassion, the turmoil and drama of human relationships. In the title story, a father whose lifetime joys are football, hunting and fishing tries to connect with his young son whose first word was "art" and who has created, since the age of two, amazingly realistic, detailed, and gory drawings of Civil War battles. In "Lovely Lily," as part of a program ("Love Knows No Age") to pair the old with the young, the rebellious, troubled title character finds a surprising kinship with a man who is "sucked dry as a husk from emphysema." In "Rapture," Opal knows she shouldn't get in her car and go out with a tornado roaring toward her town. In her head, she hears, with apprehension, the whisper, "Now, the time is now," but she does get in her car and her world is redrawn.
COMMENT Davis follows in the tradition of southern authors like Welty and O'Connor. Her stories are haunting. She writes with a wry, bemused voice and a strong talent for description. Please note: this is NOT "chick lit." Highly recommended.

Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger

PLOT Nice girl from a hippie-organic background joins an upscale PR agency and becomes a shallow, weight-and-fashion-obsessed borderline bimbo with the "in crowd" at the "in crowd" clubs of Manhattan. Lots of lovingly described apparel - a setting filled with gorgeous people relentlessly pursuing the life of the rich, famous and useless. Happily, girl is saved at the very end by down-to-earth prince charming.
Why in the world did I pick this book The Devil Wears Prada - I saw the movie (which I enjoyed), so I should have known better (plots like this play better on the big screen). I thought Weisberger was true chicklit and I should experience one of her books.
COMMENT If I hadn't listened to this book, I probably would have given up in the first 50 pages, but, as I've said, I have a long commute, so, with a book on CD, I'm not really wasting too much time. To enjoy Everyone Worth Knowing, you have to really care about,well, everyone worth knowing, be able to understand all the inside jokes, recognize the celebrity names, and know your Prada from a whatever (see, I don't and I don't care - can't even think of a designer). Bette Robinson is appealing enough to engage your interest, but, in 20 years, books like this one will be soooo passe, dahling. You can only go so far with pop culture. Weisberger, is a skilled writer, however - she skillfully skewers the players in this milieu just by describing them, BUT, it just wasn't my kind of book. Sigh - maybe I'm just too old to get it.
Reader Stina Nielsen was OK, just OK. Her reading lacked expression and was not convincing in many places. Too often, she sounded like a grade 11 drama student trying out for the lead part in a high school play.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

No Country for Old Men - Cormac McCarthy

PLOT Llewelyn Moss, young Vietnam vet out hunting antelope, stumbles into a drug deal gone really, really bad -several dead men, a stash of heroin, and 2.4 million dollars. Even though he knows he's making a potentially fatal mistake, Lewelyn grabs the money and runs, and the chase begins immediately. He is now a the prey, hunted by miscellaneous Mexicans, the psycopath Chigurh and an ex-Special Forces agent. Set along the Texas-Mexico border in 1980, No Country for Old Men is an action-thriller laced with the thoughts of "the good guy," WWII vet, Sheriff Bell, who is himself hunting Moss to save him and his 19-year-old wife.
Why I Picked this Book My daughter, Savannah, recommended it.
COMMENTS No Country has enough action,with elements of old shoot-em-up westerns, to rivet the most rabid of action fans. By the time you arrive at the last page, the body count is quite large. Again, as in The Road, McCarthy's style is lean and quick. The dialogue is rapid fire, often propelling the story, acurately reflecting dialect. But, this novel works on another, deeper level in Bell's observations about the moral decline of our time - our slide into the world of The Road, perhaps. These digressions do not slow the action, but rather provide a moral underpining for the plot. And, there are echoes from The Road, particularly striking as Bell talks about his dead father: "And in the dream I knew that he was goin on ahead and that he was fixin to make a fire somethere out there in all that dark and all that cold and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there." Gave me chills.
FORMAT NOTE I both listened to and read No Country. (Listened in the car during my commute and read at night.) The narrator, Tom Stechschulte, was excellent. His vocal characterizations were superb. I could immediately recognize which character was talking.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Moviegoer - Walker Percy

Plot Synopsis: Binx Bolling is young, affluent, charming and attractive enough to consistently bed his secretaries. But, beneath his "southern gentleman" facade, Binx floats in a void of despair. He lives in fear of becoming an "Anyone living Anywhere," a ghost, and so he anchors himself in the world though movies. Movie going gives Binx the scripts to function in life. Without really comprehending why, responding only to his ennui and emptiness, Binx is on a "search" for meaning and involves his emotionally unstable cousin Kate(now she could be diagnosed "bipolar" or "clinically depressed")in his journey.
Why I Picked This Book for the Southern Reading Challenge When I read the Moviegoer 40 years ago, it was as if Percy were speaking right to me. At the time, I considered it one of the best novels I had ever encountered. The Moviegoer has been compared to Camus' L'Etranger, and 40 years ago, Camus was one of my favorite authors also. (He's from the SOUTH of France. :-) However, I could remember very little about the plot and wondered if it would have the same impact today.
Comments It did. Today we would call Binx a depressed yuppie and quickly recommend that he be put on antidepressants, but Percy has painted a powerful portrait of a young man caught in the malaise of our age - a deadening of the soul and senses. Binx is cut off from truly experiencing the world around him. He is elated when his car crashes because for a short while he really feels alive. Conversing with others draws this reflection, "For some time now this impression has been growing upon me that everyone is dead." In portraying Binx and his world, Percy strikes the right balance between light and dark, humor and philosophy.
The Moviegoer is not a light read, but for me, it was a delight to reacquaint myself with an old friend. The images of the South and of the relationships between black and white were true images of a time long ago. This book will be on college literature lists for a long time to come.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What kind of Intelligence?

Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence

You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.
An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.
You are also good at remembering information and convicing someone of your point of view.
A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie

Jennifer Crusie is a master of wit and dialogue. I would enjoy her books for the repartee even without the romantic, fun plots (I'm a sucker for romance and fun). She lets us in on what her characters are REALLY thinking with italicized subtext, while the bon mots zing by on every page. Why, it's like eating a choclate-covered Krispy Kreme donut - so yummy it's just about decadent.
We meet Min Dobbs as her boyfriend of two months dumps her in a crowded bar. We quckly learn that she's obsessed with being thin, never eats carbs or butter, and lets her mother dominate her clothing choices and her self-esteem. Enter the perfectly handsome and eminently eligible Cal Morrisey, a scurrilous bet, and the requisite misunderstanding - the stage is set for pages of delightful fluff.
We know from the beginning that there's more to Min than a pinstripe suit - her shoes give her away - and we have all the fun of watching as her relationship with Cal releases a sensuous and confident woman who can enjoy chicken cacciatore and Krispy Kremes without guilt. Cynical Liza and idealistic Bonnie, Min's two best friends, are her yin and yang, alternately swaying her in opposite directions along the way, adding delicious complications to the mix.
Highly recommended for summer.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Confessions of a book junkie

I have a secret compulsion - buying books. I love going online and throwing books into my cart (I read a lot of review journals which fuels the fires of my addiction), and it's so easy to push "proceed to checkout," adding a little more to get the free shipping. AND THEN, the total thrill of the plain, black lettered cardboard box with its nifty zipper strip awaiting me in the mailbox with the brand new books inside. All mine to hoard and fondle. Think Gollum and his precious. Add to this that I'm a librarian with unlimited access to shiny new books I can bring home FREE , and it's pretty obvious that I really need therapy. (the problem with library books is that you have to take them back) Now, here's the true confession: this buying frenzy wouldn't be classified as a compulsion if I actually found the time to read them all.
But I do have an excuse - my book clubs. It's both a curse and a blessing that I'm a member of two book clubs - they keep picking things not already in my bookcase. But that's one of the reasons you join a book club - to widen your literary horizons. (sometimes I wonder about the wisdom of this) So, every 6 to 8 weeks I must digest two books not on my shelves. (In all fairness, I've discovered some all-time favorites this way) In any event, last weekend, I put all my unread Amazon purchases into a bookcase and counted them. Oh, the shame and horror - 93 books I've purchased and haven't read! If I were to drop out of both book clubs and read one book per week, I could finish them all in one year . . . and 41 weeks. Maybe when I retire . . .

Review - The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Our Earth is gone, and all that remains is an alien world of darkness, deprivation and despair. Gaia is dead - hopelessly dead. While the people of Crace's Pesthouse have regressed to a primitive, medieval state, the world of the Road is completely unrecognizable. Sooty rain falls to the scorched earth, and rivers run black with ash. The sun's passage is only evident as the void of night turns to the unrelenting grey of day. Life as we know it is extinct. We are thrust into this nightmare to travel with the man and the boy. They have no names; they do not need names. There is no one else travelling with them but you, the reader. It would be wrong to say that they are wandering. The journey has a purpose, a destination - the ocean. The man has a purpose - to keep his son alive. And the boy has a purpose - to give his father a reason to survive and travel the road. Their love is what sustains them.
McCarthy briefly alludes to the cataclysm that caused a great holocaust and the nuclear winter that followed. A flash of bright light - a world destroyed. His writing is spare. Short sentences and phrases reflecting the death of words. The names of colours and animals that no longer exist and of emotions and ideals that are no longer felt.
Surrounded by madness and mayhem, starved and freezing, the boy and the man keep going. They continue. The "good guys," the carriers of "the fire" in a wet, black Hell. The Road is strong stuff, but at its centre there is a sliver of hope in the father's desperate fight for his son's survival. Humans can transcend fear and hardship if they are surviving not just for themselves, but for another. It's a thought we'd all like to believe. At the end of The Road, I found myself wondering if I would have it in me to be one of the "good guys."

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Review - The Pesthouse by Jim Crace

I suggested this book to one of the two book clubs I attend and, after describing the plot, was met with protestations of "too depressing," "just can't handle something so bleak," and the plaintive wail: "how can you suggest something so dark!" (and this group LOVED Fall on Your Knees.)
Well, contrary to the the opinions of my fellow book groupies, The Pesthouse, is not depressing, as a matter of fact, it's what I like to call a "triumph-of-the-human spirit" story and a very well crafted one at that. I was engaged from the first page in Crace's future, medieval America where anything metal is scavenged, people live in isolated communities, violence controls the roads, and the America we know today is the stuff of oral legend. Groups of travellers stream toward the sea and a promise of a better life in Europe (nice touch - the flow of immigrants reversed) Disease, marauding thieves and slavers pick off the hopeful pilgrims in a landscape littered with twisted remnants of the USA. Crace never tells us what happened to make the country an inhospitable cesspool of chemical horrors, but we don't really need to know.
Margaret and Franklin, two strangers thrown together by pestilence and disaster, begin the trek together and, along their journey through the unknown and the horribly unexpected, find their own dreams. Even in this setting, and the setting is the antagonist, people still have the will to laugh, to love and to hope. It is all very believable.
Recommended - food for thought

Saturday, June 16, 2007

On Chick Lit

When I was younger, my tastes tended toward the more "intellectual" literature. The harder to digest and the more abstruse, the more I hurled my brain into taking it on and then discussing it with similarly pompous friends over spaghetti dinners lit by Chianti-bottle-enshrined candles, and scored by jazz soundtracks.

Now, at a rather ripe age, I have discovered there is no shame in the joys of chick lit. (Better late than never) While the plots all seem to blend together after mass consumption, a healthy dose of chick lit is good for the soul. Nothing wrong with a fairy tale - and it's nice to realize I have not become so cynical at the age of 61 that I can't let myself believe (break out the ruby slippers . . . just wish and tap your heels toether.)

I have a long commute to work and have become addicted to chick lit on CDs. Good companionship for long drives. Jennifer Crusie has become a favorite - her dialogue is witty and fun. BTW, my definition of reading does include listening to unabridged CDs or MP3s - and no, it's not cheating, you're just using a different sense to absorb. So, my blog will be a mix of written and audio, nonfiction, chick lit, mysteries, a dash of horror, and even some"serious" literature (some of which is forced on me by the other members of my two bookclubs. I like to pick and chose my own serious stuff. ) Don't get me started on Ann-Marie MacDonald.