Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Story of My Life by Clarence Darrow

Book:  The Story of My Life 

Author:  Clarence Darrow 

Grade:  B

Recommended To:  Monkeys

This book is about what you would expect.  A story about this dude's life who was relevant a long time ago and who no one really knows about now.   My aunt got this book for me as a must-read classic. 

But, this book was also extremely funny.  This guy wrote an I-Don't-Give-A-Shit book.  And I loved it.   He's balls to the wall about laying his "truth" out there.  He rants about how the educational system is completely flawed, including how learning latin, greek and even mathematics is completely useless. 

The absolute funniest chapters are about the Scopes Money Trial.   Darrow mocks the religious fundamentalists ruthlessly.  I recommend just reading the Scopes chapters.  There are about three at page 250 in the book and I was laughing out loud on the train.

I'm not sure if Darrow intended to be funny, it is likely that when he sat down to write his life story, that he had no concept of a 20 something attorney giggling on the metra, but even if that wasn't his goal, he achieved it.  His writing was so straightforward and honest that you couldn't help but chuckle.  His story is also very egotistical.  Darrow knows that he's the best and has no qualms about it. 

His writing was often choppy, unedited, and difficult to follow.  But, this is why I recommend reading just the few funniest chapters.  

I'd check it out if I were you. 

Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kindle touch

Kindle touch

You have to live under a rock to not know that Amazon is releasing new Kindle editions in the coming weeks and that they have dropped the prices drastically on said Kindles.

Actually, if you live under a rock, then you likely aren't reading this blog, and you probably don't care about e-readers.

Either way, I picked up this beautiful new Kindle touch for a mere 99 dollars and it is set to be delivered sometime after Thanksgiving.

I was hesitant about e-readers.  I love holding books, turning actual pages, and the smell of a brand spanking new book.  But, then I started walking 2+ miles to the train and back and it became burdensome to carry Diana Gabaldon around with me.  She's a heavy read.  I would post pone books that I really wanted to read because of the sheer weight of the physical book.  Enter the Kindle.  This puppy is light and I will likely just use it for the really weighty stuff.   Like Stephen King's new 960 pager about the Kennedy assassination.

Stephen, I love you.  But, my back hurts when I have to carry you around.

I'll let you know how it goes when I get it.  I decided on the touch because there is no reason not to get the newest and best edition.  I also have a touch phone and I'm used to just poking at something until I get what I want.

Do you prefer e-readers over actual books?  Or are you a physical book holdout?  Let me know in the comments!

Happy e-reading!!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thunder over Kandahar by Sharon McKay

Book:  Thunder over Kandahar 

Author:  Sharon McKay

Grade:  C

Recommended To:  Young Adults 

I ordered this book from PBS and was waiting foreverrrr to get it in the mail.  Finally it came and I think it is a young adult novel.  I must have been aware at some point what the book was about, but after waiting months, I forgot.  Turns out that is is about two teenagers who live in Afghanistan and who escape.

I'm still not completely sure that this book is "young adult" but it has super big print, poor editing, extremely simple sentence structure, and is about two 14-year-olds.  So, all of these clues lead me to believe that it is actually a book for children.  I'm disappointed because of this.  I was not at all made aware that this book was actually for young adults.

Plus, I don't really like books that are overly dramatic.  If you are going to read Thunder over Kandahar then you should stop reading this post now because there are going to be spoilers.  First, these idiot parents move their daughter from England to Afghanistan during the US occupation, the kid has to wear a hijab and a burka for the first time ever. Culture shock anyone? Then the mother is attacked in the street, and oh, guess what, the dad refuses to leave, even though there aren't any hospitals that will treat women.  Then, the daughter is attacked for something completely unreasonable and they parents talk about leaving, but don't.  Then, the parents are shot in the street.  See where I'm going with this?

This book is approximately 200 pages long and there have been three violent incidents in half the book.  The drama doesn't end there, but you'll have to read it to find out.  I don't want to spoil everything.  The most shocking thing about this book was how dumb the parents were.  Oh Hey, let's bring  our adolescent daughter to a war torn country where there aren't any schools.  And YOU get the parent of the year award!

How infuriating.

Anyway, if you are looking for something fast to up your book total on Goodreads (not that I would ever do that) then this is the book for you, but don't expect to be impressed.

Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

World War Z by Max Brooks

Book:  World War Z

Author:  Max Brooks

Grade:  A +++

Recommended To:  That Guy on Fox who thinks it is the end of the world.  Glen Beck? 

I haven't been this excited about a book in a long time.  I was initially extremely doubtful about World War Z.  Many of my friends had read it and raved about it, and I brushed it all off as Zombie hysteria.   I was wrong.  It isn't the first time I've misjudged a book, but I'm not sure that I've committed such a serious error in judgment to date.

World War Z is the best book I've read this year.  It is original, interesting, extremely captivating, and terrifying.  All at the same time.  The book is a collection of stories about humans who have survived the Zombie infestation.  These people range from regular families to the vice president of the United States.  The narrator is a youngish male who travels the world recording the oral histories of people who survived the world war against the zombies.

This book is more about the human experience than it is about Zombies.   There is a Great Panic that sweeps the world when the Zombie infestation becomes widespread.  It is easy to imagine the panic and fear that would come with any type of plague or biological disease.  It is also easy to imagine the secrecy of world governments, the huge rumors and profiteering that would result, and the ability of the human race to overcome. 

The sheer scope of the book was excellent.  The amount of research that Brooks put into this novel was astounding.  He easily moved from the average American family to a Japanese teenager who did nothing but surf the internet.   He also captured the military, political, and and social ramifications of the infestation.

I can't say enough good things about this book.  It was extremely well written - the style was concise, accurate to the various voices, and was not over played.  Either Brooks has an extremely talented editor, or he is a very very good writer.  Either way, this book is worth every single word.    It has been months since I read a book that I tried to read slower because I wanted to savor every word.

Check this book out.

Happy Reading!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Secret Soldier by Alex Berenson

Book:  The Secret Soldier 

Author:  Alex Berenson 

Grade:  C

Recommended To:  Magicians, soldiers, 

I just finished the 5th book in this John Wells series and I have a piece of advice for Berenson:  Stop writing a book a year, your writing suffers if you do that.

This book is okay.  It isn't great.  It is actually about the same as the other John Wells books, so average.  This book is about the internal politics of Saudi Arabia and I had a lot of trouble getting into it.  I started the book a month ago, put it down and just finished it yesterday.

The problem is that the story just isn't that compelling. Do I really care if part of the Saudi royal family is trying to bring down the other half?  Not really.  Do I really care that John Wells has some "moral dilemma" about killing people.  No, that's his job.  He was an undercover soldier with the terrorists a couple of books ago, you can't convince me now that he has feelings and has to "add 6 more men to his death list."  If he doesn't like killing people, or at least isn't bothered by it, then he should find a new line of work, and then where would the story series be?

Berenson has this annoying habit of attempting to create suspense by starting a sentence -

And then continuing that sentence on the next line.  Um, stop that.  It is super annoying and I actually add pauses into my reading, so then part of the time I forget what I was reading in the line above if there is a pause.  It isn't suspenseful and it isn't a new way to write books.  It is just dumb.

This is a good book for someone who likes action novels where there is a strong hero.  It is a fast read and kept my interest after I got back into the book.

Happy Reading!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wedding Books

Love this book.  It is totally helpful and has real life advice on wedding planning.   Plus, who doesn't like a book that is made for average people.

So, everyone joins the when they get engaged.  It is like the thing to do.  But, I don't love it.  First, the email me WAY too often.  Second, they are uppity about weddings.  I know, this is ALL they do, but wedding planning isn't hard and I'm not an idiot. 

This book is okay - it is helpful for putting together a time line, but I probably could have found everything online.  Fail.

Anyway, I've been reading wedding book, magazines, and reviews for the last month and I'm not sick of it yet.  I was born to event plan! 

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Book:  Little Bee 

Author:  Chris Cleave 

Grade:  C 

Recommended To:  Book Clubs (maybe) 

This book was recommended to me by a friend who was surprised that I hadn't read it yet.   I did some searching on goodreads and discovered that most people either love or sort of like (three stars) this book. 

It was definitely a three star book.   The back of the book has an extremely short snippet about how the lives of two women intersect and then a "shocking revelation" or something happens afterward and the publisher "doesn't want to give it away."  That is a LOT of hype.   And, I'm not sure that the hype was accurate.  The hype on the back made me expect a lot more from the book and it didn't deliver.

My biggest issue with this book was the enormous number of mashed together themes.  It seemed like Cleave said "oh, I want to write a book for book clubs, here are a bunch of themes I could use."  So, then instead of starting with a story, he started with the themes and tried to build the story around them.  He was unsuccessful. 

Parts of this story were shocking, but nothing was as shocking as the English woman, Sarah's, extreme naivete.  She thought she could save Little Bee from her inevitable deportation and murder in Nigeria by going to Nigeria in the middle of an oil war with her four-year-old son.  I do not respect characters that do incredibly stupid things.  What an idiot.  Here's the kicker:  I'm sure one of Cleave's themes was NOT to have an idiot for a main character.  Of course not.  He thinks she's "morally flawed" or some such nonsense. 

Anyway,  save yourself the trouble on this book.  It was a fast read and it had some shocking bits, but that just didn't make up for the poor writing, the convoluted themes, and a mediocre story. 

Happy Reading!!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Book:  Unbroken 

Author:  Laura Hillenbrand 

Grade:  B

Recommended To:  Anyone with an interest in WWII.  Especially the pacific theater. 

  I took a break from this blog, and I needed it.  I was too overwhelmed with this blog, wedding planning, and my job to actually keep up with the blog how I wanted to. 

But, I'm back. 

I have been reading a lot and Unbroken was one book that I just couldn't help blogging about.  I got this book for my birthday from my fiance's parents and it came highly recommended. 

This is the story of Louis Zamperini, an olympic track runner who joined the air force during WWII.  He worked on a B24 bomber as the user of a brand new proprietary invention that could sight targets and aim bombs directly at them.  

On one mission his plane crashed into the pacific and he survived for over 40 days and then became a POW in a Japanese camp.   This story was excellent.  I have read a lot of WWII non-fiction and this was one of the first books I've read about the pacific theater and the first book I've read about POWs. Everyone knows about the conditions in the concentration camps, but I hadn't seen any literature about the conditions in POW camps that were supposedly regulated by the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions.

This was often a very disturbing book, but also a book that left me believing in the American cause.  It was a book full of hope and resilience and I read it in about two days.  I recommend it to anyone interested in a real life hero and to anyone interested in a story that isn't often told. 

Happy Reading!! 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

TIME Magazine's top 100 Non-Fiction Books

TIME Magazine has posted a list of the top 100 Non-Fiction books of all time on its website and perhaps in the magazine?  

I have read exactly 6 of them: 
  • Hiroshima by John Hersey
  • Why We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King Jr. 
  • The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of World Order by Samuel Huntington (Believe me, I was surprised too...Thanks college)
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcoln X and Alex Haley
  • Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Most of these were required for various classes. I wish they would do a fiction list, but I'm sure my numbers wouldn't be much better since I read popular fiction instead of engrossing literary fiction.  

How many have you read?? 

Happy Reading!! 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Blog Hiatus

It has come to my attention that I am under a high level of stress.  One of the things that stresses me is my job, another is this blog.

Once you start a blog - there seems to be a lot of pressure to keep the blog going.  Or else all sorts of terrible things start happening, like losing readership.  Gasp! (I know I get super annoyed when my favorite blogs only post once in a while)

This blog is especially  difficult to maintain because I actually have to read things to be able to write reviews on them. I don't get to just write about my life, like some bloggers out there.  Of course this means that I have to read fast enough to be able to update frequently.  That just isn't the case anymore.   So, in the interest of leading a less stressful life I am going to allow myself to feel less pressure from my blog.  I'm only going to update when I feel like it and when I've read something worth reviewing.

Sure, this will lessen my readership - but really, there are a lot of book blogs out there and I just don't have the time to keep pushing A Book of a Different Color down everyone's throats.

So, enjoy the reviews as they come and as always -

Happy Reading!!

P.S.  I'm always open to suggestions about how to maintain a blog that requires some serious work, like taking on a new blogger or reviewing law cases or something.  Leave 'em in the comments.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva

Book:  Portrait of a Spy 

Author:  Daniel Silva 

Grade:  C 

Recommended To:  Gabriel Allon fans, people who like to paint. 

This is the 45th or so book in the Gabriel Allon series.  Daniel Silva has really hit a gold mine with this group of characters and sometimes in series novels there are hits and there are misses.  This book wasn't exactly a miss, but it wasn't as good as some of the others in the series.

I don't want to sound sacrilegious, but it might be time for Gabriel Allon to retire for good - I love his character and I love the books, but I think each time there is a new book, it gets even more far fetched that Gabriel and his wife would come out of retirement against for one last mission.   This has happened at least twice already and I can't picture the series doing much else except having singular missions for Gabriel to perform for each book.

This book did have a good story line - there is a new network of Islamic terrorists that planted bombs in three European cities, Gabriel is called in by his old friend Aaron Carter, the American, to take apart the network.   He succeeds of course, but not before getting captured and nearly killed.

This book had lots of twists and turns, some return appearances by characters that I didn't think we would see again, and a lot of drama between Israel, America and Britain.  Definitely a solid read but the story took too long to get started and seemed to be a repeat of The Rembrandt Affair.  But, because I think Gabriel Allon is the hottest middle aged spy to ever be created by a novelist - I will keep reading these books.

Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen

Book:  In the Garden of Beasts

Author:  The unparalleled Erik Larson 

Grade:  A 

Recommended To:  Non-fiction lovers, people who loved Devil in the White City.

Erik Larson has done it again.  He has written another non-fiction masterpiece.  If you've been following this blog for a while,  you will know that this is the third Erik Larson book that I've read this year.  This is because if I like something, I want more of it.  And boy do I like Erik Larson.

This newest work is about Ambassador Dodd and his family and their adventure in Germany during the rise of Hitler's Nazi Party.  This book starts with Dodd getting the ambassadorship to Germany in 1933 and ends when he is removed from the post by Roosevelt some 4 years later. During this time Hitler as appointed the Chancellor of Germany and slowly started implementing regulations and rules that restricted the movements of the nation's Jewish population.  The book also tells of the many attacks on American citizens for their failure to celebrate Nazism and salute during parades and gatherings.   This is a little known part of German and American history and it is fascinating to read about how so destructive a man kept his tenuous grip on Germany in the beginning.

This book is incredibly interesting because Dodd had the opportunity to meet with many of the higher German officials, including Hitler himself.   Dodd was one of the few Americans who had an early hesitation around Hitler and his party and after his ambassadorship was one of the few who spoke out severely against the Hitler regime.

Dodd's daughter, Martha is also heavily featured. She is depicted as having varied and wild sexual tastes and even became romantically involved with several Nazi officials - but she finally falls for a Russian undercover operative. Her story is fascinating.

The story is pieced together through letters, journals and speeches that were made during the time period and Larson's research allows him to present a very thorough picture of life as an American in Nazi Germany before the war. Larson is detailed in ways that other non-fiction writers are not and that makes his books by far some of the best non-fiction that I've ever read.

This book was so good, that I nearly believe that it was better than Devil in the White City and certainly more comprehensive than Isaac's Storm.  Both of which I reviewed this year.  You can be sure that I will keep reading Erik Larson and I hope he continues his strong bid for best-non-fiction-writer that this blogger has ever read.

Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Books:  Catching Fire and Mockingjay

Author:  Suzanne Collins 

Catching Fire:  B 
Mockingjay:  B+ 

Recommended To:  Adults, Suzanne is fooling herself if she thinks these are YA novels. 

Catching Fire

There are some in my book club world that believe that Catching Fire was better than The Hunger Games, but I disagree with those women wholeheartedly.  Catching Fire follows Katniss on her journey back to District 12 after she wins the Hunger Games.  But, this is the year of the Quarter Quell - the 75th anniversary of the games where there are special circumstances for the games.  I don't want to give too much away, but there's a mega huge surprise at the end and I had to re-read the last 6 chapters or so to make sense of the ending.

Catching Fire was not as good as the first in the series because for most of the book, it was much of the same, except now there are uprisings in the districts and Katniss is super rich because of her victory.  The ending was sufficiently shocking to make up for some of the repetitiveness in the rest of the story.

This isn't to say that I didn't like Catching Fire.  It was magnificently well written and again has very dark themes that are not suitable for children or even some young adults.


This was far and above the best book in the series.  Katniss has escaped to the mysterious District 13 to begin healing from her ordeal in Catching Fire.  What I really like about this book is that Katniss is so broken.  She is absolutely not a typical hero - she has feelings, emotions, and severe PTSD from her experiences.  I am so glad the author didn't make her any stronger because Katniss's weakness made her believable and extremely interesting.

That said, she still does a lot of hero things - but she does them reluctantly and she does them with a sense that the decisions she makes may not be the right ones.  I appreciate Collins' restraint and ability to craft a believable character that is also heroic.  Isn't that always it anyway - the heroes are the ones who are actually pretty normal?

That is what makes Mockingjay the best book in the series.  There are some superb actions scenes too though, so if you aren't interested in Katniss getting over her issues, Mockingjay does not lack for a great story line.

Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Book:  The Postmistress 

Author:  Sarah Blake 

Grade:  C

Recommended:  Just read the first 1/3 and make up the rest.

I got this book because Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help recommended it when I went to see her for an author talk.  She raved about it and there's even a quote on the front of the book by Kathryn praising this book.

I am not of the same opinion.  The book started off very very well.  The beginning was tremendously written and the premise is intriguing.   Basically there are three stories intermingled; a postmistress in Cape Cod, a doctor and his wife in the same small town, and Frankie - a female war reporter in London during the Blitz.  The lives of these people intersect in one way or another, and some of the stories end tragically, of course.

The back of the book says that the postmistress saves a letter and doesn't deliver news.  But, that's not really what happens.  The Doctor leaves a letter with the postmistress and tells her to deliver it to his wife in the event of his death, when letters stop arriving from the Dr., everyone presumes that he is dead, but the postmistress decides not to hand over the letter.  Who cares?  Seriously.  I know this is all about preventing pain and looking out for one another, but to me, this isn't the big moral dilemma that the author tries to create. 

Further, the end of the book simply sucked.  All of these characters go on these big "growing spurts" and "change for the better"  but I didn't get that at all from the book.  Emma, the doctor's wife had no growth whatsoever.  She just moped around the whole book thinking about how she was going to be lonely for the rest of her life.  Boring.

Frankie has these amazing scenes in Europe where she is traveling by train with Jewish refugees and recording their voices, then she goes to Cape Cod to befriend Emma?  Also boring.  Finally, Iris, the postmistress has this scene where she goes to a doctor who finds her to be "intact" and writes up a certificate for her new boyfriend.    In my opinion, that is interesting stuff, but after that - she's just this crochety old lady who sorts mail. 

I liked these characters in the beginning but about 1/3 of the way through the book became a serious struggle to finish.  Especially when it had to compete with Catching Fire (Hunger Games 2) for my attention. 

I don't know who I recommend this book to, but I my opinion of Kathryn Stockett's preferences has diminished after reading The Postmistress.

Happy Reading!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Book:  The Hunger Games 

Author:  Suzanne Collins 

Grade:  B

Recommended To:  Everyone. 

You know a book is great when you put off working on your very first jury trial in order to read long into the night.  You also know a book is good when you are sitting in the courtroom for your trial and you are still reading The Hunger Games.  In all fairness - I wasn't really slacking - there was a 5% chance that the trial would go and it didn't end up going.

Either way, this book snatches your attention and doesn't let go.  This is the book club book this month and it is excellent.  It was probably the fastest I've ever read a book and I could not put it down for the 24 hours it took me to read the thing. 

I'm probably late to the Hunger Games phenomenon - but in case you are also late - this book is about a post-apocalypse society that is controlled by the Capital.  Each year the Capital picks a boy and a girl from each of the 12 Districts and sticks them all in an arena to fight to the death.  It is all about survival and taking chances.

Although this book is technically "young adult,"  I wouldn't let kids younger than say 15 read this book.  There are a lot of dark themes that left me thinking several days after I finished the book and I don't think they are appropriate for young kids.  I also don't read a lot of  YA books, but this book was refreshingly adult and interesting.

The book did smack of Stephen King's The Long Walk and I found myself wondering if Ms. Collins borrowed some themes from other prominent last-man-standing books.  But, either way, I'm going to definitely read the second and third books in the series.

You should check this book out if you want something super fast - but, I recommend reading it on a weekend when you don't have a work conflict.

Happy Reading!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch

Book:  The 13th Hour 

Author:  Richard Doetsch

Grade: C

Recommended To:  Thriller fans, People who can't read clocks. 

I feel a little bad giving this book a C, but I give way too many B+'s and honestly I liked this book, but it has an audience that is limited to fast-paced thriller fiction.

This book starts out with the last chapter and works its way backward into time and the story.  The premise is very fresh, which was why I liked this book so much.  The main dude is at home and sees his wife get murdered right in front of him.  Then, as he is being questioned as the murderer, a mysterious man appears and gives him a watch that makes him go back in time an hour at a time until he figures out who killed his wife.

This book has a lot of action and a lot of twists and turns that are totally unexpected.  I liked that the premise was original.  And, instead of a story that just goes in "forward" motion - this book kept me thinking about what had happened previously and this meant that I couldn't just veg out while reading. 

I recommend this book to anyone that likes thriller/action books.  I checked out Doetsch's website and evidently he is an extreme sports enthusiast who enjoys "100 foot drops into water without anything to slow his descent."  Crazy.  But, he writes well - so hopefully he doesn't kill himself before coming up with something else captivating.

Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Miles from Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams

Book:  Miles from Ordinary 

Author:  Carol Lynch Williams 

Grade:  B+ 

Recommended To:  This is Young Adult, but there were some intensely strong themes - so probably not young adults. 

My friend won this book on a giveaway and was surprised at how good it was.  So, she recommended it to me.  I don't usually read young adult fiction and I picked this book for this weekend mostly to up my book count on Goodreads.  I have goals to meet, you know.

I was also pleasantly surprised about how excellent this book was.  This is the story of a 13 year old girl who is left to care for her mentally ill mother.  The story takes place over just one 24 hour period and essentially reads like a short story.  It took me under three hours to finish it.

Lacey, the main character, and her mother live in her mother's childhood home and are both starting new jobs at the beginning of the story.  The book unravels slowly all of the tension and drama that has caused Lacey to be the sole caretaker for her mother and the book ends with a bang.

I really enjoyed it - I feel like I can't describe the book much more because I'll give away something juicy, but I think this book was surprisingly well written, it kept my attention for the three hours that I read it, and it was a good story that I thought about for a bit afterward.  There is some really heavy stuff in this book and I don't think it is really for kids, but, it was a good read for me on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Happy Reading!!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Book:  Cleopatra:  A Life 

Author:  Stacy Schiff 

Grade:  B 

Recommended To:  Strong women,  people interested in the Roman version of Cleopatra's life. 

I finally finished Cleopatra  this weekend and I really enjoyed it. Stacy Schiff does an excellent job creating a picture of a woman who ruled a vast and dense empire for 22 years.  This is a very different picture from the motion picture version we all get.

Most of us think of Cleo as the woman most famous for her relationships with Ceasar and Mark Antony and then for her famous death at the fangs of an Asp.

But, that version has some serious flaws as Schiff points out.  Sure, she slept with and had children with both Ceasar and Mark Antony, but she also was one of the most successful female leaders, if not the most, of the last 2000 years.  Cleo ruled over a kingdom that never revolted, was the richest kingdom in the ancient world and grew to the largest it had ever been under the Ptolomies.

I really liked that the author didn't make anything up when there were holes in the history.  Schiff acknowledged that there are parts of Cleopatra's life missing and she used other parts of the Ptolomaic history to fill in the holes.   Most of the reason why we do not have a complete life of Cleopatra is because papyrus is a notoriously poor instrument to last 2000 years and because Ceasar burned the Alexandrian library.  So, all of the information we have about Cleopatra comes Rome.

This colors her history significantly because she wasn't very popular with the prolific writers in Rome during her lifetime.  Schiff does an excellent job of parsing out the bias and crafting an interesting account of cleopatra's life.

I really enjoyed this book and I recommend it to any lover of non-fiction who wants to read about a powerful woman who had an amazing reign.

Happy Reading!!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Eyes Wide Open by Andrew Gross

Book:  Eyes Wide Open 

Author:  Andrew Gross 

Grade:  C+ 

Recommended To:  People who like thrillers but who don't mind the plot giveaways half way through. 

I think Andrew Gross might be a new author.  I'm just guessing.  I didn't even google him to find out - but I think that because I won this book on LibraryThing and I've never heard of him.

This book was right up my genre-alley because it is billed as a thriller with lots of murder and crime solving - perfect.

Some parts of this book were good.  The writing was pretty well done.  It flowed well and the plot was pretty original, but needed a good editor.

Here's what I didn't like:

First, the dialogue.  This was fine sometimes, and terrible other times.  There was a LOT of dialogue, even during the parts where someone was fighting for their life.  I can't imagine holding a conversation if I'm trying to defend myself.  But, apparently Gross thinks that's how it would happen.  

Second, the reinteration of the spooky parts.  There's one part where this women kills a bunch of chickens and in two separate parts different characters come to the conclusion that "she's never going back home, because the chickens were her only friends."  Okay, great.  This doesn't have to be spelled out for the reader like that.  Just say she killed the chickens.  We already know that she considers them her only friends.  Give your readers some credit, man.  We aren't idiots, and this isn't a super important part of the story anyway, so let me jump to some conclusions by my self.

Third, the plot was original, but it was a stretch.  I don't want to give too much away, but mostly a few current murders are linked to a cult from 30 years ago.  But, most of the people are at least middle aged, if not old, and also in jail.  So, please, tell me how a cult leader can orchestrate murders from a super max security prison?  No.  You can't tell me that, because it wouldn't happen.  These bits were unbelievable.

This was generally a story that held my interest though  and for me these days (to be posting on a thursday!) it was a really fast read.  I've started Cleopatra, A Life by Stacy Schiff and it is totally awesome so far.  So, look forward to that review in the coming week!

Happy Reading!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Festen by David Eldridge

** This is a review of a play I saw last night at the Steep Theater Company here in Chicago.

Play:  Festen 

Script Writer:  David Eldridge  
Director: Jonathan Berry

Grade:  A
Jon got me tickets to see Festen for my birthday. I really like experience gifts, and he did a fantastic job finding these tickets and reading all of the reviews.  Getting there was a bit of a hassle, because the Steep Theater Company is located right under the Berwyn L stop on the Redline.  So, of course, we parked in the wrong place, got stuck in mega traffic, and were nearly late for the show. If you do get tickets, the seating is first come first served - so you should get there earlier than we did if you want to sit together.

Luckily, there were two seats left (not together) and we snatched them up.

The play is about a family, gathering to celebrate the father's 60th birthday.  You find out early on that one of the children, Linda has recently passed away and this is the first time the whole family has been together in a while. There are some very serious revelations during the toasts and this keeps the play going.  Many of the revelations were shocking and I probably sat there with my mouth wide open for 1/2 of the play.

The play begins with a lot of tension and that feeling doesn't let up for the entire show. There were moments of extreme awkwardness - the kind that leaves you feeling like you just witnessed something you weren't supposed to.  It is also the kind that makes you want to leave the room so you don't feel worse!

I was also very impressed with the stage directing.  The entire play takes place on a tiny stage around a dinner table.  At one point there were three scenes being acted all at once and the genius of the stage-directing and writing really shone during that scene.

This play was an easy A.  It was the best I've ever seen and evidently much of Chicago's theater community also loved it because the show keeps getting extended for further dates.  I recommend this to anyone who wants to spend an evening being shocked by excellent acting and the storyline of the play.

Happy Watching!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Book:  K2 - Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain

Author:  Ed Viesturs with David Roberts 

Grade:  C- 

Recommended To:  Mountain lovers who can over look poor writing. 

I love reading books about mountain climbing.  Just like I love reading books about polygamists.  But, sometimes, in those two categories, you pick up a real miss.  K2 is one of those books.  I bought this at Borders for 1.50 when it was going out of business and I remember being so excited that I found this book for that cheap.  Really, thank God it was so cheap.  I would have rated this book even lower if I had paid more.

Then I started reading it.  I have to admit up front that I didn't finish it.  You've all seen my to read pile, and I just can't afford to keep reading something that I'm annoyed with.  I have too many other deliciously good books waiting for me. 

The first chapter is about Ed's own attempt to climb K2.  I loved Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air so I thought this book was going to be like that - but I was wrong.  Ed mostly just prints excerpts from his own journal and then either criticizes himself for thinking that at the time, OR uses those excerpts to bolster his criticism of how other people in his party handled the mountain. 

This guy comes off sounding like a total jackass.  Sure, he was the first American climber to climb all of the 8000ers (those are mountains that are higher than 8000 meters).  But, instead of sounding like a wizened and seasoned climber, he instead sounds like a whiny teenage girl, bitching about how others could have made his life and his climb easier.  Ugh. 

The rest of the book is about the various expeditions that have attempted K2 over the last 100 years or so.  Ed, thankfully, doesn't incorporate much of his journal, but the research seems half-assed.  It is as though he found a few letters from each time period, read the books that are already in mass print, and then sifted though for the drama.  This book could belong on MTV. 

I'm bored with Ed.  I'm bored with his writing style, his story, and his extremely pompous attitude.  Do yourself a favor and read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer if you want a good book about mountain climbing. 

Happy Reading!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Book:  Cutting for Stone 

Author:  Abraham Verghese 

Grade:  B

Recommended To:  Everyone who thinks a book is great even with a mediocre ending. 

 Cutting for Stone was out of this world incredible until I got to about the last 50 pages or so.  The book is about twins who are born to a nun who dies in child birth and who are fathered by a very accomplished surgeon. 

The twins are born in Ethiopia and are adopted by the resident gynecologist at the hospital where the twins are born.  To be honest, I wasn't sure in the first 100 pages or so where the story was going and the book seemed to take a very long time for the actual story to start.   The first 100 pages are consumed with the birth of the twins, and Verghese spends a lot of time on the background of each and every character.  It gets tedious. 

The middle of the book is by far the best.  The book is full of amazing imagery - and beautifully crafted language.  Unlike the Sweet Valley Confidential book, I never had to re-read a sentence to figure out what was going on.  The book just flowed.  The chapter breaks didn't even feel like breaks because of how well crafted the story and sentence structure was.  I appreciate books like this. 

The end of the book was much too quick for the amount of time spent leading up to the end.  I won't give anything away, but the end is a bit shocking - and in my opinion, the book was wrapped up too quickly.  It turns out that the story is about Marion's (one of the twins) entire life.  It was a lot to fit into 660 pages.  And seriously, 660 is a LONG book. 

I mostly gave this book a B because of the beginning and the end.    This is a must read for someone looking for beautifully crafted story.  The book is long, but it doesn't feel long.  You will like this book if you pick it up,  I nearly guarantee it.

Happy Reading!!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sweet Valley Confidential - Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal

Book:  Sweet Valley Confidential - Ten Years Later 

Author:  Francine Pascal

Grade:  D+ 

Recommended To:  Sweet Valley High Fans will think they had terrible taste as a pre-teen reader. 

Okay, I don't have a problem admitting that I read almost every single Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley Middle School book that Francine Pascal thought up.  I even read the weird Christmas special ones where Elizabeth ran away from home and met the ghosts of past, present and future.  I loved these books - and when I found out that Pascal was writing a catch up book "Ten Years Later,"  I immediately put it on my birthday list.  

Thank God I didn't pay for it myself.  (Sorry, Mom!)  I'm not sure if I just didn't have any discretionary taste as a 13 year old or if the books had a much higher writing quality.  Somehow, I think it is the former. 

The writing in this book - blew.  That's to put it simply and accurately.  The sentences were often weird, misshapen blocks of words that I had to read more than once to even figure out what was going on or who was speaking.  Okay, I consider myself a prolific reader and fairly smart, so if I can't even figure out what is going on after reading a passage twice - then I want to use the book as firewood. 

The storyline was also incredibly disappointing.  There are going to be SPOILERS so stop reading now if you don't want to know what happens.   Or just skip the bullets - whatever.

  • Jessica has stolen Todd from Elizabeth after only sleeping with him once in a drunken one-night stand. That one night stand fueled 5 years of tension and love between them, even though they never slept together again and Jessica got married a few times. They are engaged.
  • Elizabeth has fled in a fit of rage to New York where she lives in a shitty apartment and eats take out. 
  • Elizabeth is FULL OF RAGE, people.  She does things like throw her purse on a chair to get relief. 
  • Jessica is a townie who has stayed in SV to be with her friends (who mostly think she's a big ole slut) and her PR job where she throws parties for pay. 
  • Elizabeth is obviously a writer, but it is for a crappy "throwaway" magazine that does play reviews. 
  • Oh, and the brother?  He's married but having a affair with a gay dude that I don't remember AT ALL from the books.  But, don't worry, at the end when Francine wraps it all up she wishes "that the Wakefields will soon have three son's in law because of a change in the gay marriage laws in California."  Oh boy.
God, are you bored yet?  I am.  If Jessica was such a slut and has been married three times - then wouldn't she have a few kids by now?  I want those "perfect size 6" bodies to change a little bit, add some flab here and there, live on food stamps for a while, don't get your perfect job at 27 right out of college.  

The worst part is that the characters haven't actually matured a bit.  They all act like they are still in high school.  The parts narrated by Jessica have a bunch of extraneous "likes" and "Sos" thrown in just to keep up that valley girl appearance.  Francine, you can't possibly expect me to believe that she has gotten ANYWHERE in life or at her job talking like that.  No, its like so not possible.  I don't care if she works in makeup. 

Elizabeth, always the more mature sister - hasn't changed - she is still ridiculously, annoyingly perfect, except now she is also angry.  Oh, and she sleeps around too.  It is as if Francine just added some swear words, let the twins have sex, and live on their own and then boom!  magically they are adults.  No.  That's not how life works.  They still act, speak, and think like teenagers.   Also, there's no way that Elizabeth could pay Midtown Manhattan rent with a job at a blog - AND eat take out?  I don't think so. 

I am so deeply disappointed.  I might write some fan fiction and send it to Francine just to show her where she went oh so very wrong in writing this monstrosity.  This book felt like my childhood had been ripped to shreds - thank God no one has ever done this to the Boxcar Children.  

I hope you enjoyed this post - I would love to hear what you think of SVC - Ten Years Later.  Here's what the good people at Goodreads thought.

Happy Reading!!

Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre

Book:  Agent Zigzag

Author:  Ben Macintyre

Grade:  B+ 

Recommended To:  Non-fiction fans who love a story that could be fiction.  

This book was outstanding.  If I didn't have to work so much, and if I wasn't so tired when I get home from work, then I would have finished this book a lot sooner, but alas, I have bills to pay and a job to perform. 

This book is about a British citizen, Eddie Chapman, who is a petty thief and criminal in Britain before WW2. He is finally arrested for a few of those crimes and is jailed on the Channel Islands when the Nazis invade and occupy the islands.  This is reminiscent of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which was also about the occupation of the Channel Islands.  Anyway, Chapman uses his savvy to inform the Germans that he wants to become a spy for them.   Evidiently he does an excellent job of convincing the Nazis of his credibility because they expend enormous effort and money to train him as a spy, ship him into Britain and set up communications with Chapman there.

Things go awry for the Germans almost immediately and the book spirals into the world of Double Cross, the British plan to turn all German spies and feed false information to the Nazis.  This is an absolutely fascinating account of a real life spy who played a huge role in the War, but certainly isn't a character taught in an average history class. 

Macintyre had a big job when he took on this project because it seems that huge amounts of paperwork, including letters, reports, statements, documents survived the war.  There seemed to be very few gaps in the author's research which made this story even more compelling. 

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a incredible real life account of a spy who was able to fool the Germans, the English and come out far ahead after the war ended. 

Happy Reading!!

Monday, May 30, 2011

If I loved you, I would tell you this by Robin Black

Book:  If I loved you, I would tell you this 

Author:  Robin Black 

Grade:  B+ 

Recommended To:  Short story lovers,  people who like to cry on their back porches while reading, people with short train trips. 

I was given this book by a dear friend who won in on GoodReads and thought I would enjoy it.  She was right!  This book is a collection of short stories all fiction and all written by Robin Black, who I've never heard of.  When I googled her for an image, I got a punk rock band also called Robin Black, so my powers of deduction tell me that she's newish.

But, newness doesn't detract from this author's ability to create a story in just a few pages, hit you with a literary climax, and then teach you a less within 20 pages.  She's incredible.  Some of the stories are of course better than others, but that's true for all short story collections.  Even my beloved Stephen King occasionally writes a less than perfect short story.

The best story is the title story in this book - "If I loved you, I would tell you this" is about an older couple - the wife has cancer, their son is in a mental institution for the developmentally disabled, and they have a neighbor who wants to build a fence on what they thought was their property line.  I wept on my backporch while reading this story - and then I insisted that I read it aloud to Jon - just to make sure he actually heard the story.  It was outstanding.  Especially because Robin Black cultivates all of this emotion in 25 pages.  Absolutely incredible. 

If you love short stories, you should absolutely check out this book.  It took me a while - because I'm incredibly busy and addicted to "Bubble Shooter" this game I found on my phone.  So, instead of reading on the train, I usually play that.  Don't judge - I'm on level 106 and going strong. 

Pick up this book! 

Happy Reading!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

Book:  The Summer Without Men 

Author:  Suri Hustvedt 

Grade:  C MINUS

Recommended To:  poetry loves, middle-aged women, married people. 

This book was wretchedly disappointing.  The back snippet made it look awesome - this lady needs a break from her husband who has been cheating on her, so she moves back to her hometown to spend time with her mother and teach a bunch of 13 year olds how to write poetry.

Unfortunately, this book did not live up to even my slight expectations.   The narrator's husband tells her he wants a "Pause"  just like that too - with a capital P and in italics every time it is written in the book - this causes her to have a total mental collapse and she lands in a mental hospital.  Which sounds interesting right?  Except it isn't.  She recovers quickly and then takes a break in someone else's house for the summer.

Can you tell already that there is a lot going on in this book that doesn't intermingle at all?  I just get so tired of books that are  just about someone's life and nothing interesting happens.   There is one point where the narrator feels a "presence behind the door" and for some totally inexplicable reason she's terrified, but there isn't anyone there.  She chalks it up to ghosts that she has "felt her whole life." My God - I hope she got raptured yesterday, so that I never have to read about this narrator's life ever again.

I think the real problem is that this author tried too hard to make her character deep, but then didn't wait around to tie all of the pieces together.  You are left with this character that is fully "developed" but hasn't gone anywhere or done anything during the book.

Finally, this book is chock full of poetry - I don't love poetry, I don't read it, write it, or really understand verses that don't rhyme.  So, when I see a song or a poem in a book, I usually, out of habit, just skip over it and keep reading the next lines.  That sucks for this author, who I'm sure spent a lot of time finding poems that fit with whatever she was trying to do in this book.  I'm bored with poetry - and I was bored with this book.

In general, I gave this book a C minus - mostly because there aren't any grammatical errors or anything too egregious.  But, it was barely worth a C because it was pretentious, boring, and generally an eye-roller because of the stream of consciousness writing.   Sigh, I'm glad I won this book, but I will be passing it on quickly.

Happy Reading

Sunday, May 15, 2011

New Book News

DUE OUT:  July 19, 2011 according to and Daniel Silva's Official Website. 

This is the 11th book in the Gabriel Allon series.  Yes!! 

I'm marking my calendar right this minute and alarming it - so that I can dash out and buy it that day.  Actually, that sounds expensive, so it is already on my PBS wishlist and I'm #26.

This book came out May 10, 2011.  It is going to be excellent - Erik Larson is one of the best non-fiction authors that I've come across in a long time - and anything about WWII is absolutely intriguing. 

Come On PBS - hurry up and send me this book! 

DUE OUT:  Tentatively December 2011.  Greg Iles has an update about this book on his site that says that the manuscript was too long to be printed in just one book.  Apparently, he has split up his massive work into two books. 

Unwritten Laws: The Bone Tree and Unwritten Laws: The Trial of Penn Cage.

Honestly, some of Greg's last books about Natchez and Penn Cage have been his worst.  So, I will read these books, but my expectations are not high - especially if he could not edit himself down to one book.   Really?  This is thriller fiction - and you can't edit out some of it?  7 months early, and I have my doubts.

DUE OUT:  November 8, 2011. 

This is a story about a man going back in time to stop the assassination of JFK.  OMG, I can't wait.

Happy Future Reading!!

The Autobiography of Henry VIII - Update

Book:  The Autobiography of Henry VIII 

Author: Margaret George

Progress Report - 400 pages in.  Not even halfway after three weeks.  

There will be another update when I finish - in 2012. 

This is a beast.  I should have waited to read this book on a vacation or something.  I can only read on weekends because I absolutely refuse to walk 2 miles a day to and from the train, and carry around this megaton brick.  Plus, I would get through like 5 pages and then my train ride would be finished.  Not. Worth. It.

I can barely hold this thing up on my couch, let alone lug it all over Chicago.  So, I'm progressing slowly, but here's what I think so far: this book has an awful lot of detail.  I like detail, but I can imagine that it might turn away a lot of readers that aren't hardcore Tudor Fans like myself.  I ordered this book because it was billed as the premier book on Henry VIII from Henry's point of view!  For those of you who read Tudor Fiction - this is a new twist.  Nearly everything is written from the perspective of Henry's wives - and frankly I'm a bit bored by that after reading so many.   How many perspectives can Anne Boelyn really have?  So, this book is a refreshing brick - but still a brick. 

I can say that newbies to Tudor Fiction should not start with this book.  Since it is taking me so long to read, it is very nice to have a background in the time period.  This way I don't have to do a lot of back tracking to remember what happened. 

Right now, I'm giving it a B -  which, considering my deep love for Tudor dramas, is a bit lower than I expected.  But, lord, Margaret, there is a an awful lot of detail.

Happy Reading!! 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson

Book:  Isaac's Storm 

Author:  Erik Larson 

Grade:  B+ 

Recommended To:  Non-Fiction Fans, Storm Chasers, People Who Drink Hurricanes. 

 This is the non-fiction account of the 1900 hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas which destroyed virtually everything on the island, and stunted Galveston's growth as a major American port forever.

The book revolves around Isaac Cline, the meteorologist who failed to predict the biggest hurricane ever and the surrounding stories of family that suffered through the storm.  Larson does an excellent job of choosing a few stories, some happy, some extremely tragic and crafting the whole experience of the storm.   The book starts out with Isaac's career journey to Galveston and the scandals surrounding the National Weather Bureau. 

The scandals were surprisingly entertaining and Larson wrote about then with a dry biting wit that made the National Weather Service of a century ago nearly comical.  Unsurprisingly,  the weather service 100 years ago sucked.  They had just figured out how to use a barometer and they made a lot of assumptions about how hurricanes traveled - without actually knowing much at all. 

This book was very well done.  It sounds totally boring - a book about a hurricane and meteorologist who can't predict anything - but Larson really did an excellent job crafting a compelling story.  This is nearly as good as Devil in the White City perhaps even better because Larson didn't have to weave two completely incongruent stories together that just happened in the same city at the same time.  

This book was a riveting B+.  I really enjoyed it, even though it took me ages to complete because it was my "train book."  If you liked Devil and have even a passing interest in hurricanes - you are going to love this book.

Happy Reading!!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Help - Author Talk - May 6, 2011

Book:  The Help 

Author:  Kathryn Stockett 

Author Talk Review 

On May 6, 2011,  I went to see Kathryn Stockett speak at the Chase Auditorium in Chicago.   She wrote The Help, which I ranked as one of the best books I read in 2011 - so far at least.

Despite the moderator's refusal to actually ask questions, the author did a wonderful job of picking up the slack and keeping the audience on their toes with her wry sense of humor.   Initially, I had my doubts when she started talking in her whispery southern lilt - but, when Kathryn Stockett warmed up, she shoved the already willing crowd in the direction of a "good time."

She talked about writing The Help - and how she would go to the local Day's Inn to frantically write, of her husband she said: "I'm sure he thought I was having an affair but it was with two black maids and a skinny white girl."  She also discussed doing research from old phone books and help wanted ads from that time period.   But, apparently she hates research and feels it is best to: "pick up a book someone else has written on the topic and take it from there.  Which, as my astute friend pointed out - is research.  

Of course Stockett was asked which books she likes best and she listed several - including: The Paris Wife, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Lolita, and The Secret History by Donna Tartt.  I can imagine that those are going to become Book Club books very quickly.

The movie comes out in August and she referred it to as "incestuous"  apparently her entire family and all of her friends are in the movie and it is produced by one of her childhood friends from Jackson, Mississippi.  Can't wait!

Overall, it was a great way to spend a Friday night - we got a signed! book, the talk, refreshments (including lots of wine) and all for 20 bucks.   If you ever get the chance to see Kathryn Stockett speak - you should go.  She's witty and wonderful. 

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

April Book Goal! keeps track of how many books I have read towards my goal of 75 in a year.  I am currently three books ahead of schedule!

This is obviously due to three things.

First, I wasn't working for a whole week and I read at least 4 books. 

Second, I was reading much shorter books.  I'm not talking kids books here, but The Insider had mega huge print and I knocked that sucker out in a day.  It's a good thing I'm up this month, since I just started The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George, which boasts 800 + pages.  That might just take me the entire month of May and I intend to savor every single minute of it. 

Third, we road tripped to Indianapolis to watch the Chicago Bulls sweep - oh right, that didn't happen - the Indianapolis Pacers and had hours and hours in the car for reading.  That knocked A Secret Kept out of the park.

Unfortunately my reading days are coming to an end because I got a new job as a real-live attorney with a firm downtown.  So, it doesn't look like I will have days off during the week to read for fun anymore.  But, making some cash doing something I love is probably better.  Sigh.

Either way, I'm ahead of schedule after being behind in February and God knows where in March.  Here's to May being the greatest month ever because it is my birthday month!

Happy Reading!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Double Whammy by Carl Hiaasen

Book:  Double Whammy 

Author:  Carl Hiaasen 

Grade:   B 

Recommended To:  Hiaasen Fans, Fishermen. 

This was one of Hiaasen's first novels - I didn't know this until the elusive Skink showed up and he still had both of his eyes.  This is a recurring and magnificent character in Hiaasen's works and you get a lot of background on Skink in this book. 

In this book the main character is hired to research incidences of cheating in bass fishing tournaments and during those escapades - there are lots of creative murders and drama that make this book so classically Hiaasen.

This book is a lot darker and a bit less funny than some of his other books, which is why I gave it the B rating.  But, overall I will never fall out of love with Hiaasen's work.  He is an extremely talented and well written author that never leaves his audience stranded. 

I almost wish that I had read his books in order - but unfortunately I've had to piece together Skink's character and history from the many books where he is featured.  So, that is my recommendation to new Hiaasen readers - find his website and read them in order - it isn't at all necessary, but it will help if you are interested in the chronology of Skink.  What a goofy sentence!

This book is a solid B for its darker story line.  But, nevertheless I enjoyed it.  

Happy Reading! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

Book:  Jesus Land 

Author:  Julia Scheeres 

Grade:  B-

Recommended To:  The Religious Right (not!) 

Jesus Land is the memoir story of a girl and her adopted black brother and their story of survival throughout their  teenage years.  Julia and David have a terrible home life, get into trouble (which mostly sounds like normal teenage behavior), and then are shipped off to reform school in the Dominican Republic. 

Some of the stories in this book are very difficult to read.  There is a lot of child and sexual abuse in this book.  Although I don't think these children were necessarily abused because of their religious upbringing; perhaps their parents' very strict view of the Bible accounted for some of the harsh punishments the kids received.

The story begins when the family moves to Lafayette, Indiana and there aren't any other black kids at school in 1974.   This leads to tension for the kids at school and between the kids because as a white student, Julia ultimately has an easier time assimilating.   This part of the story is interesting enough, but the real juicy bits happen when both kids are shipped off to a reform school in the Dominican Republic.  There, they are systematically beaten down, physically and psychologically, and have witness punishments that are severe.

This book was an enthralling story, but sometimes I am doubtful of memoirs.  I don't think Julia is making it up, but everyone remembers things in a different way.  I would have loved to know about her current relationship with her wretched parents who sent her to the reform school, about how she has gotten past all of this abuse and what her life is like today.  Those details were not included in the book.  I would also have liked to read about the reform school's response to her book - because it is clearly an expose. 

Overall this book is an 80% or B-.  If you like this type of shocking memoir, then you should read it.  I got it on PBS without an issue and I'll probably stick my copy back up.

Happy Reading!!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosney

Book:  A Secret Kept 

Author:  Tatiana de Rosney

Grade:  C+ 

Recommended To:  Divorcees, People who didn't read her first book. 

I didn't have very high expectations for this book because it is a second novel by a successful-first-novel author.  Usually the second novel isn't great.  I think this is because really good books don't happen overnight.  These first time authors get super successful and they want to capitalize on that success with a second book immediately when really they should engage in the editing process a bit.

That's what happened with this book.  I mostly liked Sarah's Key, the author's first book, but was not a part of the group of readers who thought this book was astronomically good.

The real issue with A Secret Kept is the characters.  The narrator is a middle aged man who can't communicate with anyone, his dying father, his grandmother, his sister, his children.  This is so far outside my family experience, I found myself getting frustrated with the narrator.  I just wanted him to man up already and ask his kid why he was getting in trouble with the law.

The other problem is that the secret builds and builds but then is only a little shocking.   You find out that narrator's mother died early, in her mid thirties, and then you find out that she was having an affair, also early on.  So, you aren't sure what the secret could be and generally it is disappointing for the amount of buildup. 

To this book's credit, I was wrapped up in it while I was reading.  It was a compelling story even though I was annoyed occasionally at the characters and the plot.  A lot of stuff happened that was out of the blue and kept the story moving.  de Rosney also has a gift for describing scenes and experiences that makes the story quick and light.  She doesn't drag the story down with a lot of pretentiousness and poor writing. 

So, If you read de Rosney's first book and loved it - I can imagine that your hopes might be dashed reading this one.  But, if you had low expectations to begin with, this book is a solid fast read.  I finished it in about a day.  This has been a hell of a week for reading.  My new job starts tomorrow, so I can only imagine how many hours I'll be working and how little time I will have to read and update this blog.  

Happy Reading!!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Insider by Reece Hirsch

Book:  The Insider 

Author:  Reece Hirsch 

Grade: B-/C+  (maybe I should start giving % ratings out of 100)  This would be 72%

Recommended To:  Legal Thriller and action fans.  Outsiders. 

I tried to win this book on Goodreads, failed and waited forrrevaaaa to get it on  Finally it comes, and I read it in a day.  It is the fastest I've read a book this year that is of any substantial length.  It seems that the font used for this book was especially huge; I might have gotten the "large print" version.

This book follows big law firm associate/partner Will Connelly in his short journey through the world of insider trading, the Russian mafia, and a potential murder charge.

Here's what I liked:  This was a quick book and what I classify as a "train read."  Super fast, easy, doesn't require a lot of thought.   This is the first book by Reece Hirsch and it was a solid first effort.  He probably has a promising future as an author as long as he sticks to what he knows, cuts down some of the character dialogue, and doesn't try to cram too much stuff in one book.

The plot was okay.  It often seemed like a HUGE stretch that a partner at a big firm would be knocked for insider trading, possible terrorism, murder, and connections to the Russian mob and all because he was set up to take the fall.  This could probably have been four books instead of one.  With all of the plot lines and twists it was hard to keep track of what was going on.

Here's what I didn't like:  The main character!  He was so dumb sometimes.  If the Russian Mob tells you that they are going to extort you, then you DO NOT under any circumstances leave your busy law office with them.  What is wrong with this guy.  He's so smart sometimes because he figures out all of the tenuous connections between terrorists, mobsters, partners, etc.  but he does some mega dumb things, like go to the Russian restaurant that serves as the headquarters of the mafia.  Alone.  As in -  by himself.  Foolish.

Connelly was also a very flat character.  Hirsch tried to give him dimension, but sometimes in these action based novels it is better not to pretend that the characters are substantive. The effort at substance highlighted that Connelly was flatter than ever.  Jack Bauer - not very substantive.  Excellent show?  Yes. 

I also didn't like the fight scene at the end.  Without giving too much away at one point the main dude and some other guy are circling each other with a hammer and a screwdriver respectively.  What?  The mental image I got from this was so funny I had to laugh out loud. 

I get that this is a first novel - and it was a solid first effort by Hirsch, but I think there were some serious plot fails that took away the story as a whole.  I enjoyed reading this book overall and if you are looking for something fast from a new and promising author - then you should check out this book.

Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Predators by Anna Salter, Ph.D

Book:  Predators:  Pedophiles, Rapists, & Other Sex Offenders 

Author:  Anna Salter, Ph.D 

Grade:  B 

Recommended To:  Parents, Potential Parents, Grandparents.  Not recommended for actual children. 

My sister is a social worker and has spent the second half of her short life working with victims of sexual assault.  She read this book as a part of a class in college, owns two copies, and has been talking about this book non-stop for the last 7 years or so.

I finally, finally, decided to read it and I am seriously glad that I did.  I feel so much better prepared to have kids and to keep them safe after reading this book.  Which is why this book is recommended to every single person who has kids and every single person who wants to have kids.This book might become a staple in every baby shower gift that I give from now on.  Just so parents have the opportunity to be aware of the dangers facing their children.

The incidence of child molestation and rape is far too prevalent not to be prepared for this horrifying situation that could happen to anyone.  Salter breaks the book up into chapters about each type of predator and ends the book with chapters about how to detect deception and how to deflect predators from yourself and your children.  Those chapters were my favorite because Salter gives practical advice on what predators look for when they groom child victims and how to deflect that attention away from your kids.

Salter is admittedly a bit dry.  This is a sociological work and she goes into lots of detail about a lot of different studies.  This can drag, but she generally does an excellent job of explaining the studies in a way that is very easy for a lay person to understand.  She also includes a lot of anecdotes that move the book along very well.

A word of warning about this book.  It is absolutely terrifying.  Especially the chapter on psychopaths.  Those are the predators that don't feel even a bit of remorse or guilt when they lie, deceive, or commit heinous crimes.  I can't speak about the chapter on Sadists because I skipped it.  Salter includes a warning at the beginning of the chapter and says that if you don't think you can handle it, then you should skip it.  I opted to heed her warning.  I think I can be aware of predators without knowing the exact details of the crimes they commit in their own words.  That's too much.

In short, this book is B material.  I liked it.  I'm passing it around to all of the women in my book club so that we are prepared to keep our kids safe and I recommend it to everyone who has the same goal. 

Happy Reading! 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Three Cups of Tea - Retraction

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen 
Retraction based on 60 Minutes  

I feel it is necessary to issue a retraction for any statements I made endorsing the charity Central Asia Institute that was begun by Greg Mortensen, the author of Three Cups of Tea. 

60 Minutes aired a piece about the CAI today and exposed several aspects of Mortensen's charity as poorly run and several portions of his book as fictional, even though the book is written as a non-fiction account of Mortensen's work with the charity.  

I'm especially upset about this because I used the Central Asia Institute as my yearly Christmas charity this year.  My mother donates to a charity of our choice in our name each year for Christmas as a part of our gift and I loved Three Cups of Tea  so much that I chose the CAI as my charity.  Unfortunately, their records are rarely audited and the charitable organization funds Mortensen's book tours and travel expenses to the tune of millions of dollars a year  - instead of sending donations to the schools in Pakistan. 

60 Minutes also investigated some of the schools and found that some of the schools are underfunded and that Mortensen exaggerated the number of schools that were actually built in a particular area of Afghanistan. 

Bummer.  A total stinking bummer.  I don't think it is that bad that Mortensen is making money from his books, or that he uses the books to promote education for women and girls.  But, I do have an issue with a charity that is poorly run and a book that might have serious exaggerations for the sake of selling books.

I apologize for my un-researched support of Three Cups of Tea and for the CAI.   Greg Mortensen still wrote a compelling book, regarless of the fabrications and the problems with his charity, but I will think twice about donating after watching that 60 Minutes episode. 

Happy Reading! 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Book: The Help

Author:  Kathryn Stockett

Grade: A 

Recommended To:  Everyone.  Literally everyone should read this book.  

I was skeptical when The Help was chosen for my book club for this month, but oh. my. gosh. was it one of the best books that I've read this year.

I thought this book was a self help book - and I was surprised to learn that it is actually about the relationship between black maids and white employees during the civil rights movement.  I could not have been more wrong.   I think I would have passed this book by, if I hadn't been encouraged to read it by my friends - AND we are going to watch the author speak right here in Chicago.  How exciting.

This book was written in three voices:  Miss Skeeter, the white woman who wrote the expose book about how black maids were treated by their white employees; Minny, the loud-mouthed maid who finally found an excellent place to work; and Aibileen, the woman who has raised 17 children - 16 of whom are white.   Their stories are woven together to create a passionate and extraordinarily well written novel about the relationships between women, children, and racism in the deep south.  

This book has deeply touching moments - like when Aibileen starts telling her white charge about "Martian Luther King" the green alien from outer space and how he came to Earth to teach everyone that they are the same.  Or, when the reader finds out about some of the wonderful things the white women do for their help. 

But, the book has deeply unsatisfying moments, most of which involve Miss Hilly, the evil woman who holds the town in her powerful League grip.  It is unclear in the book why everyone bows to her commands - but she is a powerful voice for segregation and at times seemed a bit extreme.  Unfortunately, I didn't grow up in the south during the civil rights movement (though I've said often that if I could go back in time to any era, I would want it to be the 1960s) so I'm not sure how accurate Miss Hilly is, but she was an excellent protagonist against the other characters.

I can picture this book being read in classrooms all over the United States.  It is as good as some of the classics that are taught in high school English class and far less daunting.  If I ever decide to teach, this will certainly be on my students' reading list.

My one real wish is that Kathryn Stockett does not waste her second book.  Too often new authors with an extremely successful first book are rushed into printing a second and the second is far worse than the first.  Stockett is obviously talented, but writing too fast will waste that talent and her readership.

Pick up this book - I don't give A's often, but this book is well worth it.  I'll update again after we've heard the author speak!

Happy Reading!