Friday, February 25, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Book:  The Lincoln Lawyer

Author:  Michael Connelly

Grade:  B

Recommended To:  Grisham Fans, Car Enthusiasts, Nebraska Residents.

This was the first Michael Connelly book that I was given by a friend and after reading it I was hooked on his characters and his story lines. (You can check out said friend's bread blog here).

Connelly writes about Mickey Haller, an attorney, who conducts most of his criminal defense legal practice from the back of a Lincoln Towncar equipped with a computer, fax, and phone line.  In the first few chapters, Haller lands a huge case defending a rich guy who is accused of murder. 

The drama unfolds quickly and culminates in a shocking and exciting finale that would never actually happen in real life.  I like this book and the way that Connelly writes because there are some excellent courtroom scenes that are fairly accurate.  Of course the scenes are trumped up a bit for the sake of the novel, but compared to my courtroom experience they were accurate enough.

I mostly wanted to write this post because of the new movie coming out starring Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Philippe (Hello, Cruel Intentions!).   The movie comes out next month - March 18th - and unfortunately it might be terrible.  I'm certainly going to go see it in theaters - but who casted McConaughey, most famously know for surfing - as an Attorney? 

For Connelly's sake, I hope the movie is great and that he got paid big money for the movie rights.  Who knows, I might even include a review of the movie on this blog!

Happy Reading!!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

George's Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl

Book:  George's Marvelous Medicine 

Author:  Roald Dahl 

Grade:  B+ 

Recommended To: Children, Nostalgic Adults, Sick People. 

When I was a child, I didn't go anywhere without a book.  I'm only 25, but I'm old enough so that portable DVD players, handheld games and cell phones with computers didn't exist when I was a kid.  So, every time we went somewhere in the car - we didn't grab a toy - we grabbed a book.

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't read.  Of course, I didn't read as a baby, but as soon as I was able to form words my parents coaxed out my eventual obsession with books.   I can't remember my parents ever saying no to a book - even though I was told no over useless toys all the time.

As I look back there are books that stand out that shaped the reader that I am today, and Roald Dahl certainly had an enormous influence on my childhood.  I think I've read every single one of his books and so today's post is dedicated to that fabulous writer.

George's Marvelous Medicine was incredible because this little kid creates this potion out of common household ingredients and then feeds the "medication" to his crochety old grandmother in hopes that it will "cure" her.  If you haven't read this, then you must!

My all time favorite story by Dahl, that I've read countless times, is called The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar.  I think it is one of his lesser known short stories and comes bound with 6 others, but it tells the story of a man who learns to see without his eyes and then uses that gift to take all of the casinos in the world.

Do you have a favorite children's book?  One that when you think about your childhood you recall with a smile?  Or, one that you are definitely passing down to your own children?

Happy Reading!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Sacred Cut by David Hewson

Book:  The Sacred Cut 

Author:  David Hewson 

Grade:  B- 

Recommended To:  Dan Brown Fans, Serial Fiction Fans 

I was given this book by a friend who recommended it as a thriller/mystery.  That is exactly what this book is.  Evidently David Hewson has several books that follow one character:  Nic Costa, who is a police detective in Rome.

In this book, a body is found during a crazy snow storm with an ancient symbol carved into its back.  You soon find out that this is the most recent in a string of similar murders and it is up to Costa, his partner Peroni, and a female FBI agent to figure out "who dun it."

This book started off pretty slowly, but it had some good action that kept the reader guessing.  I like that the Costa and Peroni characters are serial.   I love reading books where the characters repeat themselves - see Daniel Silva's Gabrial Allon series - because then I don't have to get to know the characters again and again every time I pick up a book by that author.  I'm looking forward to reading more of David Hewson.

I gave this book a B- because although some of the plot was different, the book was really predictable.  I found myself guessing, correctly, what was going to happen before it did.  I also thought that Hewson's writing style was a little hard to get used to.  Maybe this guy had a word limit in a past life  because some of his sentences were so choppy that it was hard to pay attention to what was going on in the story. 

I think this book is a good read for someone interested in a quick thriller/murder mystery.

Happy Reading!!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Moving + Books = Hiring Professionals

I've spent my day packing my book collection and it has been intense.  These 5 boxes are packed full of books (I know they are just small boxes, but the movers bitch if you use the medium sized ones).   I think we'll have another two boxes when everything is packed- if I can't convince Jon to part with his law book collection.  Someone please tell him that we can just wikipedia everything we need to know about the law!

Borders filed for bankruptcy and as a part of the restructuring plan, is selling off all of its merchandise.  The sale starts today and everything is 20-40% off.   Fortunately for us, there is a Borders within walking distance of our apartment - and we are going this afternoon.  Unfortunately for the movers, this might mean a whole other box of books.  I just can't resist a good book sale - even when I know I own too many and I know that I have a stack to the ceiling of books that are on my "To-Read" list.

As far as I'm concerned I only live once, and I could have far unhealthier obsessions than owning a few too many books.

Happy Reading!!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen

Book:  Three Cups of Tea 

Author:  Greg Mortensen 

Grade:  A + 

Recommended To:  Philanthropic minded individuals/readers. 

I love this book.  I love the meaning behind this book and I love everything about the organization that Greg Mortensen started.   I finished this book about a year ago and I have been so hesitant to write a review about this book because I was fearful that my complete devotion to Greg Mortensen and the Central Asia Institute might come off as disingenuous.

But, I review everything else, so why not give it a go.  I kept seeing this book in Borders on the must-read shelf and never wanted to buy it, so of course I waited forever to get it on

This is the story of Greg Mortensen - the mountain climber turned philanthropist.  Greg got lost in the Hindu Kush and was taken in by the people of a small village.  While there he made a promise that he would return and build a school for the village children.  It took him years to build the first school, but he did it and that school turned into dozens all over the mountainous region of Pakistan.

The schools are mainly for women and girls and the goal is to give the people of the harsh lands bordering Afghanistan an educational alternative to the fundamentalist madrassas that were popping up all over that area and training the residents in fundamentalist Islamic doctrine.

This story wasn't particularly well written, but when I read it, it gave me such hope that a normal person could exert such influence in an area where Americans aren't exactly welcomed with open arms.  Though I suppose Greg Mortensen turned out to be anything but normal.  I was in tears through out much of this read - not the sad kind of Anna Quindlan tears - but the joyful-I-don't-want-to-stop tears.   I have not been so in love with a charitable organization since St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

This is a really fantastic, hopeful work, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of joy.

Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Lady's Slipper by Deborah Swift

Book:  The Lady's Slipper

Author:  Deborah  Swift

Grade:  B+

Recommended To:  Anyone who loves a good story with a side of history.

I won this book from in a giveaway.  This book is by a new author, Deborah Swift, and you can find her blog here and her GoodReads page here.

I am so excited to be reviewing a new author that shows such promise.  This is a first for this blog because I usually read books by authors that I've read before and already know that I love.  Or, I read new authors and I'm so totally unimpressed that I have to write bad reviews.  Sorry, Steve Barry

This book was billed as historical fiction, but I think that was probably a misnomer.  The book was set in the mid 1600s in England and some of the characters were Quakers, but all of the characters were fictional and of course so were the events they experienced.  To me, this makes the billing of historical fiction incorrect, but, I thought this was an excellent story and I am looking forward to reading more from this new author.

Here is what I liked: 

This story really kept me guessing.  Sometimes books can be predictable and tend to fall along the same moldy old plot lines, but this book was only slightly predictable and I really liked that the author didn't try to hard to create suspense. Instead Swift let her words and the story work FOR her instead of against her.  I'm so impressed that she deployed this strategy with her first work and to me this means that if Swift has more stories in mind, that they will all be successful.

The book was also very well written.  I have a huge beef with authors that don't vary their sentence structure, or use repetitive patterns, or heaven forbid incorrectly use apostrophes. This book felt well crafted.  I could tell that the author wasn't rushed to finish this book, but that it was a true labor of love.  Swift should be proud of her writing abilities. 

Here is what I didn't like:

The love story between Richard and Alice was so forced.  I was rolling my eyes over this.  There was no real backstory for them falling in love (in fact, they hated each other for a lot of the book!) - Alice has just been through major trauma, was she really ready to fall in love with Richard?  I doubt it.  I think I would have liked the progression better if they had just become friends and then progressed to love once they got to the New World.  It would have been far more believable and would have fit with their character development far better than the sudden rush to a relationship.

I think including a "mandatory" love story is a trap that some authors fall into, but, sometimes I just want to read about life as it would actually happen instead of how we all wish life would turn out.

I gave this book a B+, I would never have thought that this was Swift's first novel and I sincerely hope that she doesn't allow her writing to fail in the face of publishing demands and deadlines. Swift offers a fresh and entertaining voice in a sometimes tired arena.  I thought her book was extremely well written and had enough twists and turns to keep me very interested. I look forward to whatever else this author can dream up. 

Happy Reading!!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh - a guest review by Lea Ann

***Periodically I will feature guest reviewers on this site - this is Lea Ann's second review.  You can read her first here.

Book:  Baker Towers

Author:  Jennifer Haigh

Grade:  C

Recommended To:  Blue Collar Fiction Fans

Baker Towers begins with the death of Stanley Novak and then follows the five Novak Children, George, Dorothy, Joyce, Sandy, and Lucy through almost three decades of events. The story takes place in Bakerton, a town built on the coal mining industry and founded by the Baker brothers - owners of twelve separate mines that employ almost the entire town.

I enjoyed reading about a small town and the unique life led by those who live in company houses, shop at the company store, and basically live and die by the company.

The main problem with Baker Towers is that Haigh seems to take on more than can be handled in a 330 page novel. She jumps through time and narrative point of view without grounding the reader. Within the first 50 pages the reader discovers that Lucy was born in 1942, but when George comes back into town driving his 1948 Cadillac, she is only four years old - this was an oversight that bothered me through the rest of the book. Although I never bothered to check on the math again, I was increasingly frustrated by the large chunks of time that were simply skipped over.

Haigh didn't spend enough time with a single character to make the reader engaged in their story. Just as I was interested in what was happening to the character of focus, the chapter abruptly ended, the time jumped anywhere from two to ten years, and I was seeing through the eyes of an entirely different Novak sibling. The jumps left some narrative themes or facts completely uncovered and baffling.

In the end I wasn't invested enough in any of the characters to really know what sort of development the characters made or to understand why they would have changed. The book either should have been much longer or simply tried to tell a smaller story.

Happy Reading!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots by Carolly Erickson

Book:  The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots

Author:  Carolly Erickson

Grade:  C

Recommended To:  People who think Historical Fiction means short on the history.

Carolly Erickson isn't going to win any awards for her historical fiction.  These are really basic books and it almost feels like she read the Wikipedia page on Mary and then creates some drama and fiction around the basic history.  She even admits at the end that she blatently made up certain events, including travel that Mary did within England. 

Ok, I get that the point of historical fiction is to have some fiction. But, Erickson is light on the substance and heavy on Mary's love life. This book was more of a light-hearted romance than a well written historical fiction novel.

Erickson isn't a bad writer - she just shouldn't bill herself as a historical fiction writer.  Her books are somewhat entertaining and are good for the train.  I've noticed recently that a lot of the books I read are "train books," and that maybe some of my readers don't take the El every single day for 2 hours.  But, mostly "train books" are those that you pop in your bag, get salad dressing from your lunch on, and don't require a ton of thought after a long day.

This is my third Erickson and I thought her other two books were more entertaining than this one.  It dragged in parts and I simply wasn't interested in reading Mary's story from her selfish perspective.  Mary Queen of Scots in this novel has little depth and breadth and if you are looking for a book with a lot of accurate information on this time period and Mary's life, then this is not the book for you.

Philippa Gregory has a pretty good account of Mary's life in her book The Other Queen because she tells the story from the perspective of Bess and George Talbot who were forced to house Mary when she was captured and held in England. 

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vendee by Charles Tilly - Guest Review by Ben

*** Periodically I will feature guest reviews on this blog.  This is Ben's first and is an insightful and concise review of a real historical tome.***

Book: Vendée

Author: Professor Charles Tilly 

Grade:  B+ 

Recommended To:    Any European Historian Worth His or Her Salt 

Charles Tilly is the kind of historian that makes you want to quit trying to be a historian and just sit back and read history.  He constantly challenges accepted historical thoughts, but he is never revisionist (I am not a fan of revisionist historians, I'm looking at you, Goldstein).  His treatise on the Counter-Revolution of the Vendee is no exception.

Professor Tilly's Vendée is a fairly dry read by historical standards, he first examines the accepted historical rubric for the Counter-Revolution in the Vendée (CR in the V, from here on out).  He rules out the standards of French history text; the Peasants were not all that Rural! He Yells!  The Vedeans were not all that good Catholics, He shouts! and lastly, Everyone hated the Draft Laws!

If all of this is lost on you, no worries, as herein lays the problem for the reader.  The book is not incredibly user-friendly.  The reading is dry, the writing is addressed to students of French history.  To be honest though, it ought to be a little dry,  Tilly spent months pouring over the last will and testaments of many Western French nobles, as well as the tax records of the 1st Republic.  It's dry stuff, and I personally am very glad that I did not have to sit in a moldy French cellar with a glass of wine to learn about why the accepted facts of the CR in the V were wrong.  Tilly does the work for us.

When Professor Tilly does finally make his point, it's a bombshell.  He claims that geographical determinism - in this case, the market and economic forces of barley farming vs. winegrowing - is the REAL culprit of the CR in the V.  Again, dry but excellent (similar to a good Bordeaux). 

The CR in the V is an incredibly historical event, that deserves attention.  It holds key historical events, like the first targeted genocide in western culture, as well as dashing heroes and triumph and tragedy.  Charles Tilly's book is not the best way to learn about it for the first time, but it compliments historical knowledge in this area incredibly well (I think I'm out of wine lines). 

Lastly, read in concert with Fernand Braudel's A History of Civilization, to really rock your world. 

Happy Reading!


Monday, February 7, 2011

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Book:  Sarah's Key

Author:  Tatiana De Rosnay

Grade:  B-

Recommended To:  Holocaust fiction fans and women.

This is the first book I've read by Rosnay, but after reading it I immediately put her newest book on my PBS wishlist.  Evidently Rosnay has written a lot of books which you can find on her GoodReads page, but this was the first I had heard of her. 

Sarah's Key fluctuates between the story of a little girl and her Holocaust experience and an adult American woman who is writing about the roundup of French Jews at the Vel’ d’Hiv.  This is a little known portion of French Holocaust history, and this is the first book that I have read about the experience.

I didn't expect this book to be very good.  But, as it turns out, I was charmed by the little girl and ended up eventually cheering on the woman as she gathers the strength to leave her potentially abusive and annoying husband. 

It must be said that the story of Sarah, who locks her little brother in a cupboard in order to keep him safe from the Nazis is far more intriguing than the story about Julia the American stuck married to a Frenchman.   Rosnay switched back and forth every single chapter and I found myself skimming some of Julia's story to get back to Sarah's more interesting plotline.  This book probably could have benefited from some built in suspense and Rosnay should have told the story in larger chunks to build that suspense.  Without that, the stories were choppy and disconnected.

This is absolutely a story for women.  The story about Julia was probably better because I read it from a women's perspective and I can't imagine that men would appreciate her relationship with her husband and her lack of female friends in France as much as most women. 

Overall, this book is a solid B-.  It was nice to read about a part of French history that is often overlooked, but the author needed some serious editing to make the book climb over the B hump.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Book:  Every Last One 

Author:  Anna Quindlen 

Grade:   B 

Recommended To:  People who like to cry? 

Warning:  This book is very sad.  I cried at least 4 times while reading this book.  And, I teared up countless more.  This is not a book to be read in a public place if you are concerned about making a fool of yourself.

Anna Quindlin is probably one of the most gifted writers of her generation.  She creates masterpiece works that delve deep into the lives and minds of her characters and wrap you up so tightly that you can't help sobbing when they sob, laughing when they laugh, and smiling when they smile.   See:  Black and Blue and Rise and Shine.  Two very powerful stories by Quindlen.

Every Last One is her newest novel and I had it on my wish list for the longest time until I can across an Advance Reader Copy at the Brown Elephant!  Oh Joy!  I snapped that book up like it was my lost child.  This book follows a perfectly average family that is struck by a tragedy so completely heart-wrenching and shocking that I had to read the passages over again to make sure I was reading it correctly.   The book is narrated through the voice of the mother and the second half of the novel follows her struggle to put her and her son's life back together.

I love how Quindlen writes.  Unlike Jonathan Franzen, an allegedly good American writer, she doesn't talk down to her characters with big language.  She uses a very strong vocabulary to describe events and conversations, but writes about characters that you can imagine actually use those "big words."

I wonder how Quindlen can write such consistently intense novels.  The last book I read of hers was Black and Blue, a work of fiction about a woman who escapes domestic violence and moves to Florida with her son.  She then struggles with being a single mother and her son's serious attachment to his father.  If the books themselves leave me so drained after merely reading them, I can't imagine what process Quindlen must go through to write such powerful fiction.

The reason I gave this book a B was mostly because it was so overwhelmingly sad.  Books like this  leave you thinking about them for days and weeks afterward.  This is not throwaway fiction, but I was unprepared for just how many times I was going to cry while reading it.  You really need to be in the right frame of mind to pick up Every Last One. 

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

Book:  Star Island 

Author:  Carl Hiaasen

Grade:  B

Recommended To:  Hiaasen fans will LOVE this book! 

There are some things that just get better with age and Carl Hiaasen is one of them.   His stories and characters have aged like a great wine and it shows in his continued ability to build stories and characters with such comedic depth that you have to read his books with a box of tissues to wipe away the tears of joy.

I've loved nearly ALL of Hiaasen's novels and Star Island is no exception.  He brings back the infamous former governor Skink, and the weed-whacker embellished Chemo who add fabulous hilarity and connection to his earlier novels.

The novel follows the drugged out and hard partier, Cherry Pye, the pop star who seems intent on ruining her virtually non-existent career.  Hiaasen features a fat poparazzo, Cherry's delusional parents, and Cherry's body double, Ann.  This is a cast of characters that is sure to tantalize the most die-hard Hiaasen fans and I definitely recommend this book to anyone in need of a serious laugh.

I've discovered that reading funny books on the train is tough.  I want to laugh out loud so badly!  But, I definitely fear the looks that other passengers will give me when they hear my laughing over a book.  I read the majority of this book on the train to and from work and found myself biting my lip to keep from causing an uproar.

I gave this book a B because it seemed like the story didn't have as much depth as some of Hiaasen's other novels.  I mean have you read Skin Tight yet?  That book is pure gold.  This book wasn't quite there and needed a little more character development to become one of Hiaasen's top novels.

Despite the B status, you should totally read this book!

Happy Reading!!