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!