Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Average American by Kevin O'Keefe

The Average American by Kevin O'Keefe (2005)

O'Keefe starts out on a quest to find the "Average American" based on various statistics (i.e. the majority of Americans live in a single-family home that they own, live in the state in which they were born, etc.) and tours through various cities in America to interview Americans and discover more "average" characteristics not profiled in the U.S. Census. I love statistics so this was a fascinating book for me. I found out I'm way more average than I previously thought--the biggest way I differ from the average is that I don't eat meat. In the end, what this book ultimately proves is that we Americans are all generally the same. Red states, blue states, whatever. And, interestingly, who knew that there are more democrats than republicans?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin (2008)

Oh, good chick lit, I've missed you! Given that this is a chick lit novel, you have a youngish main character, Ellen, living in New York City and working a fabulous job (photographer). The difference here is that she's married and not hopelessly single like the main character in other chick lit novels. In fact, her marriage is perfect! So where is the storyline? Well, there's "the one that got away" her most significant ex, Leo, who comes back into her life and makes her rethink many of her major life choices, including her present relationship. The writing was crisp and the story was relatable, but not all that predictable as is the case with many books with similar storylines. I really, really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a light read.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sundays at Tiffany's

Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson (2008)

I really did know better. However, the synopsis of this book was so intriguing, and it had been on the bestseller list for so long, that I had to read it. A 32-year-old single woman in New York City falls in love with her childhood imaginary friend. The idea has such possibilities--there is so much that can be done with this idea. The writer, Gabrielle Charbonnet (not James Patterson, of course, when did he last write a book anyway?) instead falls completely, totally flat with a novel that I found insulted my intelligence and bored me as much as it disappointed me because the story had absolutely no surprises and it also was completely unbelievable. But not in a good way, as in her writing didn't erase any doubt that this story would never, ever happen in real life. In conclusion, I hated this book.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (2005)

A story of an old man and a teenage girl whose lives are marred with unhappiness, mostly because of a loss of love, but also strangely tied together by a book about love. The narrative winds through years and through narrators to show the universality of loss, loneliness, and love. I found the characters, especially Leo and Alma, to be quite intriguing and I wanted to know that they would be happy in the end. However, I was left wanting more at the end--more information about Alma's life, more information letting me know Leo's life wasn't as sad as it seemed, and a clearer ending. The writing was quite good, but I was left too unsatisfied with the story to fully recommend the novel.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Loved Walked In by Marisa de los Santos (2005)

Cornelia is a 31-year-old coffee shop manager with a passion for old love stories, and a deep desire for her own love story. When Martin walks into her life, a set of events spring to action that eventually bring her to more than one unexpected love. This was a quick read and it kept my interest, but most of it was pretty unbelievable. I really liked the narrative tone and it made Cornelia a more believable character, despite her lusting after a much-older man and her sister's husband. Clare's 11-year-old voice, however, was quite unbelievable to me. In the end, the book was disappointing and I would not recommend it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Abstinence Teacher

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta (2007)

Ruth is a sad, divorced, lonely, liberal sex-ed teacher in New England trying to stand up against a growing congregation of Evangelical Christians in her community. The novel focuses on her struggles, but also zeroes in on Tim, a born-again Christian soccer coach whose life is intertwined with Ruth's. The characters are strong and believable, but the book is also predictable and rather bland. It would also lead a reader to believe that all middle-age suburban men and women think about is sex and all the different people they want to have sex with that they aren't married to (a la Perrotta's successful Little Children). Instead of coming across as a hero, Ruth just seemed self-righteous and annoying so I found it hard to really enjoy the novel.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

A classic that I had bypassed for years because I figured it was likely boring. I'm so glad I finally picked it up, because I was not bored once in the nearly 500 pages.
One of the last scenes in the book takes place between Francie and the man who gives her a first painful introduction to heartbreak and it is one of my favorites:

"New York! I've always wanted to see it and now I've seen it. It's true what they say--it's the most wonderful city in the world."
"Brooklyn's better."
"It hasn't got skyscrapers like New York, has it?"
"No. But there's a feeling about it--Oh, I can't explain it. You've got to live in Brooklyn to know."

Despite the fact that her family grows up in poverty and they face many losses and hardships, Francie loves Brooklyn because it is her life. The novel takes place over a six year time period before the first World War and when the Irish were still one of the main immigrant groups in Brooklyn. Francie is the heroine, of course, but Smith introduces us to so many other colorful characters that make the time period and place come alive. I read that Smith used her own experiences growing up in Brooklyn during this time period as a framework for the story which perhaps makes the story that much more relatable and touching. I give this book 5 stars out of 5 and an unquestionable recommendation to everyone!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck

Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck (2006)

This is a hot pick for the children's summer reading program and that, combined with the intriguing title, convinced me to pick it up. Also, I've never read a Richard Peck book so this seemed like a good introduction. The heroine, Eleanor, was likable and I really enjoyed the theme of women pioneers. It takes place outside Indianapolis so the references to the area were especially amusing for me, as were the stereotypes of libraries and librarians! Peck brought in some "beautiful" and lively librarians to bring some excitement to a small Indiana town stuck in the past and in turn brought some great PR to librarianship. "Put two librarians' heads together, and mountains move."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Areas of my Expertise

The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman, 2005

A good friend recommended this book. This friend has a great sense of humor and likes David Sedaris so I figured the book would be amusing to me as well. It was not. Hodgman is a comedian and frequently appears on "This American Life." The writer essentially creates a fake almanac of random facts, spending a lot of his wordcount on actuaries and hoboes. Some of the 700 hobo names he lists are amusing and some of the "facts" about the 50 states are pretty funny (that is, the states I know enough about to get the jokes), but ultimately I found the fake facts and his little narratives on black squirrels in Madison Square Park and other randomness annoying. If he'd had real facts, I would've been amused. But I simply didn't understand why this parody was so funny.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Gathering by Anne Enright

The Gathering by Anne Enright, 2007

This was one of the best, if not the best, books on memory I've ever read. Veronica, the narrator, goes back and forth through generations of time and perfectly captures the feelings of looking back on dark childhood memories. Her brother has died and her large Irish family comes together to mourn so we get back stories to all of the children and then see what happens in the present. The glimpses of different periods in the family's history we get at the beginning are intriguing and I plowed through the novel to find out the dark family secrets that led to the brother's death and the family's all-around dysfunction. I was disappointed in the ending, but still think it's some of the best writing I've enjoyed in years.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Born on a Blue Day

Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet (2006)

**This fulfills my challenge--written by an author I haven't read before
This has been on my to-read list for months so perhaps I expected too much, but I was very disappointed. It's a memoir of an austistic man starting with his earliest memories as a boy and taking us to his present twenty-something life. Most of what stuck with me about his life is what I already know is common in autism--a compulsive need for routine, seeing colors in numbers, and difficulty empathizing or functioning in social situations. What is perhaps unique in Daniel's tale is that he traveled to Lithuania and lived on his own and taught English for an entire year following secondary school. This experience served as a wake-up and introduction to the greater world and he comes home to meet his boyfriend whom he still lives with.

Although Tammet had several unique experiences (meeting Kim Peek, the inspiration for Rain Man, reciting all the decimal places in pi for five hours, learning the Icelandic language in a week, appearing on David Letterman), I felt the writing was bland. There was a lot of boring talk about numbers and the words didn't really come alive for me. The only part of the book that really captured me was the small part of his chapter on falling in love in which he shows a hidden emotional side. He wrote, "Falling in love is like nothing else; there isn't a right or a wrong way to fall in love with another person, no mathematical equation for love and the perfect relationship."

Sunday, June 8, 2008

When You Are Englufed in Flames

Review #1
When You are Engulfed in Glames by David Sedaris, 2008

This is one book that does not meet the requirement for my "challenge" in the Summer Reading Program because I have certainly read Sedaris before. I recommend Sedaris to anyone--regardless of their literary tastes. He is funny and a good writer. A truly rare combination. That being said, his latest book of essays doesn't disappoint. Somehow he was able to cover new topics while giving us a further glimpse into his present and past life. I especially enjoyed the stories about his experiences with rowmates on airplanes, cabdrivers who ask far-too-personal questions and reveal way-too-much about themselves, and his difficulty in social settings and how he comes prepared to make small talk. I wasn't really grabbed by the long essay on his quest to quit smoking, but luckily the book had enough other gems that I'd still give it 5/5 stars. Not necessarily his best work, but some of the stories will belong in a "Best of David Sedaris" book one day.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Summer Reading 2008

So as I'm working on the children's summer reading program at the library this summer, I figure I'd have some fun with my own summer reading. I'll be posting reviews, lists of books I'd like to read, and perhaps include movies and music, too.

Please leave me a comment with book, music, and movie suggestions or reviews of your own!

Right now I'm going through a stack of vegetarian cookbooks because my summer project is becoming a better cook.

This week I re-watched Swingers (totally needed it after my relationship woes), read Cynthia Kaplan's Leave The Building Quickly (not as good as Why I'm Like This) and Scott Douglas' Quiet Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian.

I also watched Sex & the City on the big screen and could write about the movie for days. Let's just say, I wasn't happy with what happened with Carrie or Samantha. I don't know anyone who has broken up with her boyfriend that many times and married him. Let's be serious, ladies.

Ok, let the summer of fun begin!