Far From the Madding Crowd
|This classic starts off in the usual ho-hum way of introducing
a main character through a description of his lineage, how he came
to be where we find him, and the background of his present occupation.
Don't get complacent. Both the fate of the main character in Evelyn
Handful of Dust and the devastating beginning of Ian McEwan's
Love could have been inspired by what befalls Gabriel Oak
in these first few pages. While Hardy's work is dense with tragedy,
it is the tragedy of being human, not of being a victim. Devastations
are unleashed by moments of pique. All of the drama takes place without
props outside on English lanes evoking a universality to the pain
of being human and the realization that we can all be victimized by
our own emotions. Hardy's prose captures landscapes, weather, and
the emotional palettes of his characters with equal aplomb. Sharply
pin-pointed prose reaches and awakens places in the psyche possibly
rendered dormant by exposure to much duller fare. Two chapters appropriately
named "Storm" and "Rain" stand out as examples of Hardy's incredible
ability to describe weather. If you like weather to be part of your
reading experience, M. C. Beaton's Hamish
Macbeth series provides that, along with great characters and
cozy mysteries to be solved. If you like unrelenting suffering, you
will like Joyce Carol Oates' We
Were the Mulvaneys, or the classic by A. J. Cronin, Hatter's
Castle. Available on dvd: A
Handful of Dust, Enduring
Were the Mulvaneys, Far
From the Madding Crowd (classic), and the Masterpiece Classic
remake of Far
From the Madding Crowd.
Recommended March 2014
A Simple Plan
|This is the story of three men who find $4.5 million in
the woods and become casualties of a war between fantasy and reality.
From the moment these men find the money any action is rationalized
in their attempt to hold on to it and escape detection. Smith's brand
of suspense is so unrelenting that you will beg for mercy more than
once. The movie
by the same name, starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton,
surprisingly altered the events of the story, but without any loss
of quality. Both the book and the movie are good storytelling. If
you like merciless suspense you will also like The
Ruins, Smith's second book, which features a unique manifestation
of evil as the main character. (You can skip the movie version of
The Ruins.) The
Blunderer, by Patricia Highsmith, is also a good choice for suspense
with the added bonus of a sucker-punch ending. An equally brutal treatment
of characters can be explored in Evelyn Waugh's civilized, subtle,
and unforgettable A
Handful of Dust; Waugh was chastised for his treatment of the
protagonist and accused of hatred toward the characters.
Recommended February 2014
|Although this story will evoke thoughts of the Amanda
Knox case that took place in Italy, the author assures us that this
is not Amanda's story. The location is a hot and hostile Buenos Aires.
The focus is more on the satellite characters of the story and less
on the actual crime. The character of the accused is illuminated through
the perceptions gleaned from her family, the prosecuting attorney,
and her boyfriend. The eponymous cartwheel is central to the perception
of guilt, as well as the proverbial blood in the water fueling the
tabloid feeding frenzy. The truly fascinating cast of characters —
including her boyfriend, who is described as looking like a "homosexual
pirate" in one instance and a "postapocalyptic butler" in another,
and the prosecuting attorney haunted by his mad wife — lend a humanity
to the chaos that ensues when innocents are embroiled in the horrific
repercussions of a criminal act. Do not skip the author's note at
the end of the book. For similar reading experiences try Loving
Frank, by Nancy Horan, for its literary caliber and other
brilliant lives scarred by violence, Defending
Jacob, by William Landay, for the debilitating experience
of having a child in trouble, and In
Cold Blood, classic true crime by Truman Capote.
Recommended January 2014
|An artist, detoured by life into a bizarre marriage to
a local scion and motherhood, finds herself being relentlessly maneuvered
into taking up her paint brush again. The plot is rhythmically driven
by diary entries and "weather" reports. "The weather today is increasing
concern followed by full-blown dread." (The weather reports became
my favorite part of the book — and now I come up with my own.) Comments
addressed to and about her husband, who is now in a coma, punctuate
the narrative and keep him a main character in the story. The impression
that the narrator is possibly unreliable renders the unspooling of
the underlying conspiracy of the story borderline atmospheric. The
ending veers off at the last minute, ruining (in a good way) any confidence
the reader might have had thinking that they knew what was going to
happen. Great setting, great details, and interesting style elements
make this a memorable reading experience. Reminiscent of Vonnegut's
rhythmic repetitions, and Christopher
Demonkeeping came to mind because of the characters' eccentricities
and attachment to place.
Recommended December 2013
|A woman wakes up alone. Her husband is gone. She assumes
that he has left to get something for their breakfast. Hours later,
worry sets in — worry that gradually turns into agony. Everyone becomes
a suspect in his disappearance; however, the possibility of his absence
being willful cannot be completely ruled out. Unrelenting suspense,
paired with the constantly pivoting opinion of the reader as to what
has happened to this man, causes some doubt as to whether the author
can conclude this story satisfactorily. She does. The ending is surprisingly
subtle and yet devastatingly effective. Other books that may interest
Laughing Policeman, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, has the
same calibre of excruciating suspense; Mrs.
Kimble, by Jennifer Haigh, has the same mystery of characterization
of the "missing" man; and Black
Seconds, by Karin Fossum, has the crushing, atmospheric doom
that encompasses those who wait.
Recommended November 2013
|In this action and adventure tale, our hero tries to find
his calling in life while tending to a budding romance. We watch and
listen as he processes his experiences through personal and professional
analysis. You will witness the moments of realization that alter his
perspective and allow him to genuinely evolve. Sometimes his vehicle
spins out of control, but by the end of the story he's become a better
and wiser person and so have you. This is a subtly powerful illustration
of how strenuous an examined life can be—and how worthwhile.
Recommended December 2012
|Burke, James Lee
|As if good writing weren't enough, we have flawed but
noble characters, ring-true dialogue, an exotic locale, and a plot
that won't quit. Burke's 19th might be my first, but it certainly
isn't going to be my last.
Recommended December 2012
Not Taco Bell Material
|Adam's story is reminiscent of that legendary species
of crab that can be collected in a bucket and left unattended, for
when one of them attempts to escape the others pull him/her back in.
Only a real comedian could sidestep maudlin bitterness and make a
childhood characterized by apathy, poverty, malaise, and contempt,
both sympathetic and hilarious. In spite of bad DNA (his claim, not
my judgment), Adam successfully climbs out of the bucket. He's no
longer a crab. He's evolved into a caring husband and father—who still
likes fart jokes.
Recommended October 2012
Naked in Death
|This first book of the series introduces Eve Dallas, tough,
no-nonsense cop, and the impossibly handsome and fantastically wealthy
Roarke. Love blossoms amidst grisly murder, suspicion and betrayal.
Scenes of cosmopolitan sophistication and opulence vie with seamy
characters and the sinister streets of Eve's milieu while Roarke and
Eve connect through mutually tormented pasts. The year is 2045. Completely
plausible technological advances are evenly incorporated into everyone's
jobs and lives. Auto-Chefs have to be stocked, so grocery shopping
hasn't been eradicated. Felinebots flit among garbage strewn in alleys
seeking out rodents. People are transported off planet both for recreational
and business reasons. Human foibles accessorized with a layer of future
technology make for an entertaining backdrop to the dynamic pairing
of two forces of nature. J. D. Robb's "In Death" series, started in
1995, consists of 33 books with more on the way. From what I hear,
they never get old.
Recommended February 2012
From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden
|When she finally gets the opportunity to indulge her gardening
fantasies, Amy Stewart keeps a written record of her endeavors. Full
of hard-won gardening tips and fun adventures such as keeping worms,
by expressing her enthusiasm she makes gardening accessible to the
timid and non-expert. The most fascinating aspect of this memoir is
that through transforming her little plot of land into the garden
of her dreams, she transforms herself.
Recommended May 2011
In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks
|Adam Carolla has opinions about everything and most of
them are hilarious, as well as smart and possibly even wise. Or maybe
common sense has become so rare it looks like wisdom. Aliens, peanut
butter, airlines, pandas, and women are all given their due, but it
is his take on cats (page 87) that is worth the price of this book
(free at the library!).
Recommended April 2011
Blood and Ice
|It's 1865. A couple is chained together and forced off
a ship into an icy ocean. Forward to the present. Following a tragedy,
a young travel journalist is offered a trip to Antarctica. Shifting
between the past and present bring these two seemingly separate and
unrelated events closer and closer together until they meet, with
spectacularly haunting results. Masello's writing brings the reader
so close to what is transpiring that the fictive events almost become
an actual experience in your memory. You watch the scenery change
on your way to the Antarctic. You suffer on the side of a mountain
following a climbing accident. You ride in a sled pulled by barking,
jostling dogs. You hear, see, and smell what is conjured on the page.
Look for Masello's next book, The Medusa Amulet, coming out
in April, 2011.
Recommended March 2011
|Rosenthal, Amy Krouse
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
|Rejected by publishers for being too random or too hard
to pigeonhole, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life finally found
a publisher, giving us the opportunity to enjoy a truly original memoir.
This nonlinear sift through the minutiae of a life will have you asking,
"Why didn't I think of this?" Your mind will love connecting the entries,
which add together to become the author's story, at the same time
you pick and choose entries that fit the encyclopedia of you.
Recommended February 2011
|Duncan, Elizabeth J.
The Cold Light of Mourning
|Located in the North of Wales, this tale of a runaway
bride is both picturesque and suspenseful. The main character, the
manicurist who polished the bride's nails on the morning of her wedding,
gives the author the opportunity to invent very cute nail polish names:
Altar Ego, Big Apple Red, Sonora Sunset. How about Pinkslip Pansy,
Palsied Peach, Livid Lavender? A location junkie after reading M.
C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series, I like mysteries set in or around
Scotland, with weather uninviting and water treacherous. Throw in
a dead body and there is no resisting. The Cold Light of Mourning
is first in this Cornwall series, followed by A
Brush With Death.
Recommended October 2010
I'll Mature When I'm Dead
|If you picked up this book you are either already a Dave
Barry fan or will soon be one. A witty wordsmith, Barry is never mean-spirited,
always original, sporadically wise, and his collection of new essays
does not disappoint. But be warned: the chapter "Fangs of Endearment:
A Vampire Novel" will cause both cheering and cringing. Behold, this
parody of the Twilight series is so excruciatingly right on that I
had to laugh, and then cringe as well. Picture Dave Barry actually
Recommended September 2010
|When a woman comes to the realization that she has been
voluntarily participating in a boring relationship for years, the
cracking begins, and you won't be able to wait to see what hatches.
The most salient feature of the man she's with is his obsession with
a musician who suddenly and mysteriously retired from public life
after an apparently innocuous visit to a restroom. Fame and fandom
are explored here, as well as the temptation to settle for safe as
opposed to sublime in our personal relationships. Hornby makes the
reader's relationship with his characters intimately friendly. You'll
laugh, listen, hurt, anticipate, and ultimately care about them.
Recommended August 2010
I [heart] Macarons
|After seeing the movie Julie and Julia, I knew
I wanted to try cooking my way through a recipe book, but I didn't
want to cook my way through Julia Child. (No way, aspic and duck.)
I thought about Moosewood. I thought about vegetarian. And
I thought about a Southern Living Annual with all the butter
left in. Then I found it. The cookbook I was going to cook my way
through: I [heart] Macarons. The instructions are easy to
follow and well illlustrated. The flavor and color pairing examples
ignite fantasies in your mouth. The only way this cookbook could be
better is if the pictures were edible or at least scratch and sniff.
Recommended July 2010
|The title is deceptive if it makes you think it's about
Brad and Angelina’s great love affair. The majority of Brangelina
deals with Angelina and the making of the brand "Brangelina." In an
attempt to validate, normalize, or garner sympathy, every one of Angelina’s
attention seeking behaviors is analyzed. The litany is long and exhausting.
Just when you think about tossing this book aside, there is a chapter
on Jennifer Anniston, and sanity is juxtaposed with shenanigans. What
a relief! I don’t want to give it all away -- just let me say there
are answers to the questions that some of us may have percolating
in our brains, but those are found mostly between the lines. I think
the key to understanding this relationship isn’t to go deeper but
to go shallower.
Recommended February 2010
|Young, William P.
|Part mystery, part fantasy, part philosophical discussion,
the key to enjoying The Shack is keeping an open mind. When
a man's daughter is abducted from their campsite and later presumed
dead, he is overwhelmed by a depression that curdles everything in
his life. A mysterious note left in his mailbox compels him to return
to the place where the last evidence of his beloved child was found.
Though dreading what he might find there, he makes the trip. What
the bereaved father encounters tests his faith, helps him turn his
life around and move on as he tries to make sense of what has befallen
his family. The scenery and characters are well-wrought and memorable.
My favorite is a fractal garden described as a controlled chaos of
color. It is easy to appreciate The Shack if you think of
the characters as representing different schools of thought, each
trying to understand and relate to the others. Some of your own beliefs
will be validated even if you don't agree with them all.
Recommended November 2009
Free-Range Knitter : The Yarn Harlot Writes Again
|"Never in a million years would I become one of those
people who reads books about knitting." I guess I'll have to eat those
words. Meet Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, a fantastic knitter, brilliant
woman, and great writer. The world seen through her eyes is full of
interesting characters, a lesson is learned around every corner and
the mundane turns into adventure. You won't get very far into this
book before you forget it's about knitting or knitters. Two favorite
chapters are "Glory Days," about a competition called The Furnace
Wars, and "Things Crappy Yarn Taught Me," which offers insights far
beyond judging yarn quality. Start with those if you're sceptical.
I know you'll want more. If you do, try Drunk,
Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair: The True-Life Misadventures of
a 30-Something Who Learned to Knit after He Split by Laurie
Beasley Perry, recommended for knitters and nonknitters alike. This
reading experience was so good I'm thinking of branching out into
books about fishing, or perhaps even a golf memoir.
Recommended September 2009
The Survivor’s Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life
|The premise of The Survivor’s Club is that too
many people die in disasters who shouldn’t. Studies done to find out
why some people survive when others do not reveal surprising insights
that could save your life. From the first anecdote involving a misstep
and a knitting needle, you will be riveted. You might recognize some
stories from the news, but Sherwood supplies clarifying information
and answers the question, "What happened to these people?" One example
is Dr. Phil. I didn't know he had a sister and certainly wasn't aware
of the tragedy that befell her. Hers is just one of the incredible
stories in this book, stories that will haunt you long after you've
read the final page. You will learn from this book and, as incredible
as this may sound, be uplifted as well.
Recommended August 2009
|Cocks, Heather and Jessica Morgan
Go Fug Yourself Presents The Fug Awards
|Being barely aware of the website www.gofugyourself.com
didn't stop me from picking this up and reading it from cover to cover
in one sitting. The Fug Awards features photos of known,
unknown to me, and unknown-and-could-happily-have-stayed-that-way
celebrities, in various states of dress, undress, overdress, underdress,
and what the ? dress. A lot of the time I actually loved what the
authors hated, but the commentary is amusing whether you agree with
them or not. Glossy photos, funny commentary and perhaps even a few
fashion do's and don'ts, and what's not to love?
Recommended July 2009
|Black Seconds, an Inspector Sejer mystery penned by Norway's
"Queen of Crime," displays a curiously civilized and sedate tone.
Although I was certain I'd figured out the mystery long before the
end (in spite of purposely trying to be dense), Inspector Sejer's
need to understand the suspects and their motives kept me enthralled.
Black Seconds may sacrifice the fun of guessing the "who" of the crime,
yet it contains emotional and psychological depth that is thoroughly
satisfying, and surpasses most mysteries in character development.
Add to this the subtle attractions of a Norwegian locale and few will
be disappointed. Fossum has been compared to Ruth Rendell, who is
another author I've enjoyed and you may too.
Recommended May 2009
|The title of this book suggests one person but actually
stands for three different women who married the same man consecutively.
The weight of the story subtly shifts from the wives’ individual experiences
to the bigger picture of who or what their husband is. Always mysterious
and chameleonic, Mr. Kimble gradually comes into focus in the wake
of devastation he leaves behind. Haigh’s book, The
Condition, was a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “Best
Books of 2008” pick.
Recommended April 2009
The Book of Murder
|A woman approaches a man she worked for briefly ten years
before with a fantastic story. She believes that another of her previous
employers is murdering everyone close to her. The alleged murderer
is now a profoundly successful and famous author who is apparently
murdering her loved ones in ingeniously contrived “accidents.” Not
just a murder mystery, Martinez attempts to analyze life itself. Is
life just a series of random events or coincidences that the human
mind needs to organize in an attempt to make meaningful? Or is all
this philosophizing just a smoke screen to discredit the victim and
hide the truth? Guillermo Martinez also wrote The Oxford Murders,
another psychological and philosophical mystery.
Recommended March 2009
|Jack London, known predominantly as the author of The
Call of the Wild and the short story "To Build a Fire," is often
pigeonholed for his “dog” and “man-against-nature” books. But he actually
wrote on other subjects, including a memoir of his struggles with
alcoholism, John Barleycorn. Considered too shocking to be
published in his day, today it would rest on a crowded shelf. Martin
Eden is not about dogs or nature but is an adventure story of
another kind. Imbued with philosophy and the difficulties faced by
anyone who tries to circumvent society’s predilection for squelching
individualism and nurturance of mediocrity, the peril of our hero,
while not physical, is real. Attempting to become worthy of a woman
far above his class, autodidact extraordinaire Martin Eden manages
to outstrip all his contemporaries only to find that it is, indeed,
lonely at the top. Throughout Martin’s quest, London gives glowing
examples of public libraries and librarians and the self-empowerment
they facilitate. I felt as if I’d been thanked. Thank you, Jack.
Recommended February 2009
|Beaton, M. C.
Death of a Charming Man
| This is number ten of the Hamish Macbeth series and I
can honestly say, since I am reading the series in order, that these
never get old. Instead, I have a new favorite country: Scotland. I
have a newfound respect for the unambitious--albeit one probably confined
to Hamish. I revel in the descriptions of the smells and dank weather
and always-threatening storms, mists, fogs, and even the occasional
sunny day. The characters are maddening, and Hamish's on-again-off-again
relationship with the love of his life is always intriguing. I have
avoided series my whole life as being too much of a commitment, but
I have to say that these and M. C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin series (I'm
alternating between the two not having been able to choose between
them after having read the first of each) are a constant delight.
I'm serious! So enter if you dare. Guaranteed: the well-written Agatha
and Hamish series will become not only a welcome, but necessary part
of your life.
Recommended October 2008
|Cooper, M. Thomas
| I was attracted to this book not only because of its
title (an homage to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)
but because Booklist's review described it as "Highly recommended
for adventurous readers willing to expand the boundaries of genre
fiction." It starts off at the apparent cliche--end of a marriage;
two people married to each other and each experiencing discontent,
hohum. George married a painter and ended up with Martha Stewart.
When George comes home to find a cryptic note from his wife stating
the obvious while invoking Murakami--she's left with their child,
a subtle and yet relentless decline begins in George and consequently
the life they'd built together. As George becomes more obsessed with
finding his family the pace of the narrative becomes downhill-rollercoastering
breathtaking. You will rush to find the answers to all his questions,
dodging falling debris and careening events. While the end leaves
a lot of questions unanswered, this is truly a fun reading experience.
You might just be tempted to hop right back on and take this ride
again. I can't wait to see what Cooper is going to do next.
Recommended September 2008
| Sedaris, David
When You Are Engulfed In Flames
| Where else can you read about an assault with a cough
drop, an abduction by a spider, and the boy scout motto, which isn't
be prepared to ask people for stuff? David Sedaris does it again,
Recommended July 2008
| Adams, Scott
Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!: Cartoonist Ignores Helpful Advice
| Having loved all the previous Dilbert books, I didn't
hesitate to pick this up. It is at first a disorienting read since
this book does not adhere to a business theme, but finding out how
brilliant Scott Adams can be in his take on the world from globe to
doorstep was startling and satisfying. Adams is a very funny and wise
man and writing this review makes me just want to pick the book up
and read it again. Anyone who has read Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
thinks about what book they would commit to memory to preserve for
generations to come. This would be the one for me.
Recommended June 2008
| Rock, Peter
| I first discovered Peter Rock when I read Carnival
Sept. 2006). He reminded me then of the "grotesques" of Sherwood
Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and this short story collection
is also populated by the subtly awry. Rock’s stories beg the question
“what if?” His characters are just lost enough to pursue ghosts of
temptation. The message throughout this collection seems to be: if
you don’t seek, you are never going to find. The quest is its own
reward; a variation on the theme that the journey is more important
than the destination. Rock doesn’t do anything crass or rude or violent,
but he does keep you teetering on a brink that somehow you’ve imagined.
Perhaps the title says it all.
Recommended May 2008
I am Legend
|Richard Matheson’s original story of a man who finds himself
alone in a world overrun by the “living” dead is a misanthrope’s fantasy.
The plot has been done over and over again since without improvement.
Matheson’s version is so practical in its details, it is almost a
how-to book for an apocalyptic event. (I found myself taking mental
notes just in case I ever ended up being the “one.”) However, if you
read this as a simple story of what could go horribly wrong, you will
be unseated when the narrative segues into the philosophical side
of what it means to be the “other.” This novel could be a truly refreshing
interlude for those who need a break from the turmoil of modern life
or a timely read for a world threatened by the not so unrealistic
consequences of power shift. You will want to read more of Richard
Recommended May 2008
| Brookner, Anita
| On the surface, Leaving Home is about a woman
trying to reach a decision about her future and is typical of Anita
Brookner’s writing. Brookner specializes in real people, unheroic
and almost insanely normal. Their outer lives may appear dull, possibly
pathetic, but their inner lives are rich with observation, imagination,
and projection. They turn the minor events in their lives into adventures
and the major events into only temporary excursions away from their
practically unassailable equilibrium. The life of the mind makes these
people rich and shows up the pursuits of their more active and adventurous
counterparts as being shallow and futile. Read Brookner for her character
development and a break from writers that try too hard to stimulate
only to exhaust or at best provide only a temporary escape. You will
think about her characters long after you've finished her books as
if you'd actually met them. Her people think and analyze; perhaps
a habit we could all benefit from developing.
Recommended April 2008
| Bageant, Joe
Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War
| Remember, not long ago, the horror some of us felt over
the result of the last election? Red vs. Blue? How could the very
people most brutalized by the current economic system not take a chance
on even just the possibilty of relief from these conditions by their
vote? The answer is frightening. Bageant understands and even loves
these people and his compassion and concern comes through. This is
a problem and reality that none of us can afford to remain ignorant
about, for it can, and will, engulf us all. I truly feel that there
isn't anyone that wouldn't benefit from the insights Deer Hunting
With Jesus provides, including the people being discussed.
Recommended February 2008
| The Vanishing is written almost as a series
of vignettes or short stories that traverse time and introduce what,
at first appearance, seem to be jarringly unrelated characters, victims,
and manifestations of dark and brutal forces. The individual stories
are fascinating in their own right, but it is the juxtaposition of
past and present, ancestors and progeny, and the karmic play of justice
that makes this much more than just a scary story and a bumpy ride.
Bentley Little is my new favorite horror author.
Recommended January 2008
| There is something wrong with Scott Smith. Someone call
a professional. The Ruins is the most relentless horror experience
I have ever had. Page after page, you keep telling yourself it can’t
get any worse, and it does. I didn’t care about the characters at
all (whether that was the author’s intent or just my personal antipathy,
I don’t know) and still cringed throughout the entire story. I don’t
want to reveal the nature of the horror, but I guarantee that you
have never come close to imagining it. Even as the characters’ horror
builds through physical hardship and deprivation, their minds can’t
accept what has become their reality. I was experiencing voyeuristic
guilt. Just keep in mind you can’t help them or save them without
sacrificing not only yourself, but the entire world.
Recommended November 2007
The Eight of Swords
| David Skibbins’ debut into the mystery genre is a wonder
to behold. In a field so crowded and prolific how could it be possible
to come up with something not only unique, but potentially long running?
Make your reluctant sleuth a fugitive from the law with multiple identities
and then you're not cornered. Plots and characters don't all have
to disgorge from the same center. How do you provide titular cohesiveness
without mimicking what's already out there? Use the great visuals
and interpretations inspired by the tarot deck without weighing down
the storyline. In this first of the series, Warren Ritter is older,
wiser, and nonaffiliated. He reads, loves poetry, philosophizes, and
attempts to be a better person. You will like him and root for him
even as he tries to evade the sometimes life-and-death responsibilities
that befall him.
Recommended October 2007
| Patterson, James
| I read my first James Patterson, The Quickie,
and came to appreciate that the source of his popularity is that he
has practically invented a new genre: quickies. The periods don’t
even stop you. If there’d been a squad car behind the couch, I would
have gotten a ticket for speed-reading. I almost broke my neck tripping
over some implausibilities, but I brushed myself off and turned the
page. Reading has never been this breathless, reckless, or fat burning.
If you’re ever tempted to indulge in an almost unbearably suspenseful
read, James Patterson is the man.
Recommended September 2007
|found by Kristine Atkinson and Joyce Atkinson
Journal : Amy Zoe Mason
| Reading Journal is a unique experience. The
story, told through notes, letters, and emails, is presented as a
gorgeous antique scrapbook. The detritus of life is given a glorious
makeover lending background music to the sinister plot. The clues
Amy accidentally stumbles upon are inadvertently and alarmingly given
a cohesiveness rendering both the reader and narrator helpless in
the face of what is to come. While the story is suspenseful, sad,
and poignant, the reader can't help enjoying a certain sense of adventure
in having "found" the evidence of this horrific crime.
Recommended July 2007
Bitter is the New Black
| Being a memoir written by a survivor of the dot.com crash
which in itself contains enough material to be a superficial kind
of hysterical, I was surprised by the amount of real depth and truth
contained here. Between the lines about material excess, bloated egos,
and entitlement issues, a real story emerges. There is heart among
the thorns and the dawning of a true awareness that ironically, some
would pay millions to achieve. Jen Lancaster maintains a certain edginess
to her tone and sense of humor throughout that never waivers or jars
even as she becomes a mature and caring adult. Lancaster's new book,
Lights, Big Ass is available at a library near you.
Recommended June 2007
The Year of Sorrows
| Four young men pursue their dreams in New York City in
a reality more conducive to suicide. In spite of that, the main character
and novelist wannabee maintains a healthy attitude. While it is hard
to understand how these people stay motivated, an almost catatonic,
smelly centerpiece of a roommate may be the answer. No one would want
to end up like The Loach. Rapp’s language is fresh, although disturbingly
olfactory-obsessed at the beginning. The odors blessedly taper off
and his wide and wild palette of adjectives is put to better use.
Recommended May 2007
| Waldman, Ayelet
| As fluff goes, this is a dandelion seed riding its parachute
across a playground. So why couldn’t I put this down? The characters
are charming. That’s how you know they are the “good” guys. The villains
are cliché and stereotypical making them very familiar and adding
coziness to the mood. The very pregnant crime buster has a charming
husband with whom she has a charming relationship. Her child is imperfectly
charming, as are her mothering skills. They all have the right attitude
and a buoyancy that while it may not keep them from harm at least
guarantees another day. Mysteries and murders are solved almost matter-of-factly
and the book is short enough to guarantee a desire for the next installment
in the Mommy-Track Mystery Series.
Recommended March 2007
| Donovan, Gerald
| Julius Winsome, surrounded by 3,282 books, is living
an idyllic life in a cabin in the woods of Maine. But they've left
something out of the guidebooks: the constant sound of gunshots and
the killers and victims that they represent. Julius has been under
a constant barrage of reminders of mortality his whole life, both
historically (both his grandfather and father were soldiers) and daily.
When he finds his dog murdered it is as if this is the last death
he can tolerate. Something is unleashed in Julius and sets off a need
to somehow restore balance to his world. There are times when having
sympathy for Julius gets to be a bit much, but that is when another
crumb of truth is thrown on the path and you can't help but follow.
This is a tight, intense, and eye-opening experience instinctively
muted at times and made bearable by Julius's affinity for nature and
deep respect for all forms of life.
Recommended February 2007
| McCarthy, Cormac
| McCarthy serves up the thinnest and most potent sliver
of apocalyptic hell in his latest, The Road. As a father and
son make their way through a stark and devastated landscape where
all the "roads" go nowhere, the reader can't help but wonder, "What
is the point?" along with the characters. The difference between hope
and survival is blurred leading to the suspicion that hope might just
be "will to survive" in a tux and consequently overdressed for this
occasion. The subject matter is grim, but the poetic flow makes it
impossible to sink or stop swimming. In spite of already knowing the
end of the story, readers of The Road will find themselves
rushing along to find out how the book about the ultimate end of everything
is going to end. Oh, and as an added bonus, you will never look at
a grocery cart the same way again.
Recommended January 2007
| Collins, Wilkie
The Woman in White
| Wilkie Collins wrote what was called "sensation" novels
in his day. The "sensations" that comprise this novel would probably
be considered hohum by today's standards but that aside, The Woman
in White still manages to maintain a level of almost excruciating
suspense throughout. The story is well-populated with well-drawn and
despicable characters acting out against a detailed backdrop of the
culture, history, and economics of the time. The result is a rewarding
immersion akin to time travel and a sense of familiarity with a humanity
that existed before our level of technology.
Recommended December 2006
| Bronte, Charlotte
| Having recently reread Jane Eyre, I found that it was
far from the book I'd read originally as a teenager. I'd remembered
only the bare bones of the story and was surprised that as a teenager
I'd loved something so dour. My teenage affections must have been
snared by the integrity and resilience of Jane, the protagonist and
heroine of the story. I have a new appreciation and admiration for
this book which stems from Bronte's amazing development of character
and motivation. My favorite character was one I'd forgotten; Jane's
zealous missionary cousin, Mr. St. John, who tries to tempt Jane with
an interesting proposal of marriage. Mr. St. John's rationalization,
manipulation, and will, while recognizable as universal qualities
and thoroughly familiar to modern readers, take on a frightening ruthlessness
when forged on the anvil of agenda. This work is definitely worth
a second look or, if you're lucky enough to have ducked this assignment
in school, a first.
Recommended November 2006
| Rock, Peter
| Peter Rock gives the reader a philosophical gift in this
portrayal of how perception can alter reality and just being interested
can reap fascinating results. Meet Alan Johnson. You may not like
him, but you will be drawn to his relationship with the world. Alan
supports an appreciation of the most mundane that is contagious and
magnetic. A dog falling from a cliff frees Alan from his security
guard job and triggers a nomadic non-quest. Through Alan’s wanderings
the pathways of the people he meets crisscross in ways that only through
the aerial view given the reader can be appreciated. This is a profoundly
affecting rendering of the interconnectedness of people and the undeniable
power we have over each other, both humbling and inspiring.
Recommended September 2006
| Parkhurst, Carolyn
The Dogs of Babel
Recommended September 2006
| Ishiguro, Kazuo
Never Let Me Go
| This is a horror story of the most civilized kind. On
the surface, Never Let Me Go appears to be a story about
a school. You are introduced to students and teachers as you become
privy to the mechanics of this intimately enclosed society. The subject
matter and time are futuristic without being technological. Mysteries,
clues, and questions propel the story until locking in on what is
looming over this microcosm; society has taken the potential of cloning
to an obscenely organized level of dehumanization. The subject is
compelling in and of itself, but Ishiguro's true stroke of genius
is generated by the blanket of passivity and acceptance over it all.
The horror lies not in the offense, but in the toleration of it. Is
humanity beyond experiencing the outrage that could save us from ourselves?
Very well written and detailed, you will think about this book a long
time after you've turned the last page. And yes, fear.
Recommended June 2006
| P.D. James
Cover Her Face
| A not-so-innocent victim is murdered at the time when
you hate him/her the most. A nucleus of suspects hem and haw exhaling
fumes of guilt, while an intriguingly intelligent and potentially
dashing police inspector sifts through just the right amount of evidence.
The summation is arranged and dramatically delivered with excruciating
suspense et voila, the murderer/ess is exposed. Sounds like every
good mystery? The difference lies in the details. James, in her first
book, provides wonderful interiors and a procession of realistically
flawed characters, none of which could ever commit a murder, or could
Recommended January 2006
| Carlos Maria Dominguez
The House of Paper
| Carlos Maria Dominquez turns prose into poetry. He bequeaths
visual treasures that you will turn over and over in your mind's eye
as if exploring the facets of a rare gem. The House of Paper
is a mystery, a quest, a dreamlike parable, and an expose of bibliomania.
Take comfort that the characters and locales are exotic because the
psychology and motivation will be disarmingly personal. Curiosity,
passion, obsession, fear, and the sordid degradation and murder of
that most cherished is all contained in these few pages beginning
with the most intriguing of first lines:
"One day in the spring of 1998, Bluma Lennon bought a secondhand copy of Emily Dickinson's poems in a bookshop in Soho, and as she reached the second poem on the first street corner, she was knocked down by a car."
Warning: This book is infusive and in the event that you ever need a transplant will render you only compatible with other people who have been exposed to this book's transformative power.
Recommended January 2006
| Cynthia Rylant
| A poignant collection of observations about a mysteriously
intriguing cat named Boris. Atmospheric without being maudlin, sympathetic
without the requisite death, this was a pleasure to read and will
strike a chord with most cat lovers.
Recommended October 2005