Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shafer and Annie Barrows

Bad Germans. Good Germans. This account of the German occupation in British Guernsey has them all. Artfully woven vignettes that paint a vivid picture of WWII England and what the Occupation experience was illustrate how goodness is not so much a matter of geography as it is a matter of the heart.

The story is told though written correspondence amongst the different characters in the book and I found the many voices charming. (I kept holding auditions in my mind with various British and Irish actors/actresses for the movie. My cast was great.) : ) Because of this letter-turned-story format, I expected to find the plot disjointed. I was pleasantly surprised that the story flowed along quite nicely. The characters were quirky and endearing and the authors did an amazing job of balancing the heavy and sad things in the story with accounts that were equally uplifting and inspiring.

My one criticism for Guernsey was that it was really easy to put this book down. Because the letters are each only two or three pages long, there were natural breaks in the book all the time. This is fine for someone who is very busy but wants to take a couple minutes each day to read. I, however, like a book that will suck me in and eat away the hours without giving me the slightest hint that I am beginning to petrify on the couch. : ) In spite of the ease with which I could disengage, I still thought the overall message of the book was quite beautiful. The love story was sweet and not completely predictable. Something more substantial to be sure.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is easily something more substantial. It wasn't my intention to read two of these in a row. This was a happy accident though. The writing is excellent. The language is surprising. The perspective is original. The message is touching. Read it. It's good.*

*You should know going into this story that it is a Holocaust book and therefore may contain themes which are difficult to read.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Hmmm. There were little moments when I loved what Elizabeth Gilbert was saying and how she was saying it. There were bigger moments where I hated the book and her attitude and everything about what she is peddling as spirituality. This made for a pretty good book group discussion. Overall I would have to say I didn't like it but I would recommend it. I'm not sure if that qualifies as something more substantial or what, but for lack of a better category I will give it that. I would like to share some of the little gems that struck a chord for me.

I loved how the book was structured.



How This Book Works


The 109th Bead"

"When you're traveling in see a lot of people wearing beads around their necks. ... These strings of beads are called japa malas."

"The traditional japa mala is strung with 108 beads. Amid the more esoteric circles of Eastern philosophers, the number 108 is held to be most auspicious, a perfect three-digit multiple of three, its components adding up to nine, which is three threes. And three, of course, is the number representing supreme balance, as anyone who has ever studied either the Holy Trinity or a simple barstool can planinly see. Being as this whole book is about my efforts to find balance, I have decided to structure it like a japa mala, dividing my story into 108 tales, or beads. This string of 108 tales is further divided into three sections about Italy, India and Indonesia- the three countries I visited during this year of self-inquiry."

I loved this. Each section has 3 names as well. I thought it was very clever writing.

There was a bit her friend in Italy told her about cities that I also loved.

"He said, "Don't you know that the secret to understanding a city and its people is to learn-what is the word of the street?" Then he went on to explain, in a mixture of English, Italian and hand gestures, that every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. If you could read people's thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought. Whatever that majority thought might be- that is the word of the city. And if your personal word does not match the word of the city, then you don't really belong there. "What's Rome's word?" I asked. "SEX," he announced. "But isn't that a stereotype about Rome?" "No." "But surely there are some people in Rome thinking about other things than sex?" Giulio insisted: "No. All of them, all day, all they are thinking about is SEX." "Even over at the Vatican?" "That's different. The Vatican isn't part of Rome. They have a different word over there. Their word is POWER." "You'd think it would be FAITH." "It's POWER," he repeated. "Trust me. But the word in Rome- it's SEX." ... Guilio asked, "What's the word in New York City?" I thought about this for a moment, then decided. "It's a verb, of course. I think it's ACHIEVE." (Which is subtly but significantly different from the word in Los Angeles, I believe, which is also a verb: SUCCEED....)"

I found that so intriguing. I've been trying to pin down my own word ever since reading it.

There was one other part I had intended to share about how prayer works but I really don't want to spoil it for you if you are going to read the book. If you do, it is on the 58th bead (p.176).

Friday, August 7, 2009

Trespassers Will Be Baptized: The Unordained Memoir of a Preacher's Daughter by Elizabeth Emerson Hancock

This was so much fun to read. Another airplane book but very enjoyable. On second thought, you wouldn't want to read it on an airplane. The number of times I laughed out loud would definitely draw stares in an enclosed space.

Emy is a very precocious child. Her stories are poignant, sometimes inspiring and always entertaining. I appreciated that the ending was unpredictable. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I want to thank Kim at Good Clean Reads for the recommendation. When I finished this book I felt as if I'd walked- well, not a mile in someone else's shoes, but at least to the end of the driveway- and because of that I'd say it is something more substantial.

Specials by Scott Westerfield

I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Adrenaline rush on paper! I am so glad that Scott Westerfield made reading Pretties worth the effort. : ) There is definitely an environmentalist agenda in this one so be aware if you have not yet succumbed to the mass marketing of "being green". I am so relieved that this was something more substantial.

Girls In Trucks by Katie Crouch

Skip this one. This is what I get for judging a book by its cover. Love the picture. Hated the book. This is a light-minded-read-on-a-short-airplane-trip book about making all the wrong turns in life. I have nothing against fluff books. Sometimes I really enjoy a good airplane book. Not this time. I kept waiting for the girl to learn her life lesson and change her ways or her path or something. I was disappointed. She never does get a clue and I think we're supposed to feel happy that she meets someone at the end who is not a total slimeball. I don't go in for man-hater books and I definitely felt this was one. Total waste of time. In the words of a good friend, "I would like those three hours of my life BACK please."

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

My mom sent us this one along with several others to be used as a family read-aloud. I am glad I read it by myself first however, as I do not think it suitable as a read-aloud for young children. That said, I thought it was a wonderful book for probably 5th or 6th grade readers. It is filled with tons of great vocabulary (it has a glossary in the back) and is a sort of who's who of children's books with mentions of everything from the Bobsie Twins to Anne of Green Gables. Be warned that almost ALL of the adults in the book are wicked, evil people and the story has a slightly anti-parent/child slant. Everything turns out all right in the end and to the satisfaction of the reader and the characters. I don't want to tell about the plot because I don't want to give too much away. Just trust me when I say it is a charmingly good read and something more substantial.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thyroid Power by Richard and Karilee Halo Shames

Ugh. Infomercial.

I have an open mind. I am willing to consider alternative medicine and homeopathy and other methods of wholistic healing. I do however, believe that if you are looking for information on a particular approach to wellness, it is a mistake to find out about it from someone who is going to directly benefit from your use of it- say the inventors, for example. This book was recommended to me because of the thyroid problems I've been dealing with for several months but it is completely biased and I would never recommend it to anyone. Skip this one.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

Eh. Color me nonplussed. This was disappointing after the excitement of the first one. The writing was consistent throughout the book but because the setting was among the light-minded "pretties", it was consistently annoying. I read this book beacuse I loved the first one so much and I am hoping/expecting the next one ("Specials") to be better, but on it's own I'd say skip this one. Except you can't. Oh well. : )

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is an apocalyptic tale of a society where the rich/ruling class control the masses through a campaign of televised intimidation. Katniss Everdeen rebels against the system when she volunteers to take her sister's place in the Hunger Games, a mandatory fight to the death with 23 other teenagers from across the country. This story was very exciting, and not entirely predictable. I read the whole thing in one sitting- about 5 hours and enjoyed all but the last minute of it. The flavor of the book suggested something along the lines of Uglies. If you liked that one, you'll like this one. The writing of The Hunger Games was average but very engaging. I was disappointed that the story came to a screeching halt and left me hanging for the next book to have anything resolved. I hate that. Scott Westerfield handled that so much better in Uglies. In this book I felt like almost nothing was resolved. Still, it was a really fun read so I say it's something more substantial.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks

This book is a memoir written about the author's family and experiences growing up. I liked the themes of family solidarity, sibling friendship, and putting your family first. It was fun to read about the people that Nicholas Sparks' other books are based on. Overall though, the book was just a little ho-hum for me. Like this review, it just didn't have any- SPARK. I enjoyed it but I was never so drawn in that I could not easily put it down and when I did put it down, I did not easily pick it back up again. I think it is something more substantial based on content but the writing doesn't quite qualify it for a hearty endorsement.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

Ooooo. This is so good. This is the other time travel book recommended to me by a friend that I mentioned before. I have to say it was much, much more fun to read than the other one. The only thing about the other one that I liked better was that it was clean.

This book was very realistic. The series is historical fiction chronicling the lives of those involved with the Scottish Rising, Colonial England, the pirates and slave traders of the Carribean, and the American Revolution.

Claire Randall is swept back in time through one of the many "little Stonehenges" that dot Europe and finds herself in Scotland during the mid-1700's. The book follows her adventures as she tries to survive the dangers of life at that time and falls in love in the process. The man she meets there- Jamie Fraser, is the Colonial Era Forrest Gump (sans the slow mind). The series finds Jamie pretty much anywhere that anything historically significant happened. Diana Gabaldon does this so artfully though that it seems completely natural for Jaimie to be everywhere and in every walk of life.

The writing is skillfully executed, often beautiful, sometimes poetic. The books are long and sometimes a little drawn out (think Dickens) but absolutely enjoyable nonetheless. Another thing Gabaldon has in common with Dickens is her extraordinary characterization. Both the detail and the web of interconnections of her characters brought to mind "Great Expectations" (without the boredom). The action is exciting, the time travel is intriguing, the setting is fantastic, and the love story is compelling.

A few words of caution: You won't be finding this series on GoodCleanReads. These books have a lot of foul language in them, particularly the taking of the names of Deity in vain. There is also quite a lot of explicitly detailed sex in these books. (Enough that my mother's local bookstore actually has this book in the Romance section. I disagree with that assessment, BTW.) The sex is not the focus, but it is a facet of the stories which comes up several times. It is, with two exceptions, always between married couples. There are three rapes in the series in addition to those exceptions. Also, there was some pretty brutal torture (including the aforementioned rape) toward the end of the first book which was hard for me to read. Just a word to the wise for those of you survivors out there who prefer not to relive past traumas.

I really liked this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction. I'm not sure it exactly qualifies as something more substantial though, if only because I think the objectionable material may not be edifying unto "the improvement of the mind by extensive reading."

My favorite quote from the series is in this first book: "Overall the library held a hushed exaltation as though the cherished volumes were all singing soundlessly within their covers."

I liked this book less than the first one. The love story gets better, but the political intrigue bored me a little. There is a whole part of the book when Jamie and Claire are in France that I found nearly mind-numbing. Interestingly enough, that part is what my friend loved so much about this book. To each her own, I suppose. I liked the book enough to keep going though and it's worth it to continue the story in the third book.

Voyager takes us to the high seas. Our characters travel to the Indies, visit a slave market, and end up shipwrecked more than once. There are pirates, kidnapping, and danger at every turn.
I had so much fun reading this book. However, I think my enjoyment of it may have been augmented by having read "The True Confession of Charlotte Doyle" and watching the Horatio Hornblower miniseries.
There is a little bit of strange voodoo in the Carribean but it didn't detract from the story in my opinion.

I found Drums of Autumn to have a slow start. Diana Gabaldon introduces some new characters in this book and I found myself impatient to find out more about the characters I was already emotionally invested in. Stick with it, the new characters are every bit as good as the old ones.

The Fiery Cross was my most and least favorite. I loved the American history it chronicles but I felt that it should have been two books. To wit- it felt to me like there was one book that was less interesting sandwiched into the middle of another book that I liked very much. The events leading up to the Revolution begin to take shape in this story. The love stories continue and do not disappoint.

Hmmm. What to say about this one? I love the emotional depth which the romantic relationships have achieved by this point in the story. I found the beginning of the Ameican Revolution fascinating. I found the plot interesting, but I confess it was the same interest one might have after getting sucked into a Prime Time soap opera (inaccurately dubbed "drama"). The plot just had one too many twists for me. It was still a good story but I felt a little exasperated by the Young and the Restless quality it had. I liked the book but I felt it lacked the aspect of realism Gabaldon had achieved so well in the prequels.
I will definitely be reading the next in the series, slated for release this fall. One other thing people may want to know about the books is that they are pretty long. (Between a thousand and 1500 pages.) Don't start one if you won't have time to finish it, because trust me- you'll want to finish it. I think I'm going to have to come up with a third rating option for enjoyable books that are probably not the best things to read. I think I'll call it- Refined Sugar. It's so good but you shouldn't try to subsist on it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

I was a little impatient with this book. It is a real-life fairy tale set in the present and in the past; in the United States and in Russia; in reality and in fantasy. I grew frustrated with waiting for the setting to be where I wanted it to be; with the characters interacting how I wanted them to act; and for the plot to get to the good part. The ending was thoroughly predictable- not in a lovely fairytale sort of way but in a poorly executed fashion that was glib and cliche. My impatience was probably due in part to the frazzled state of affairs here at the NotQuiteTheBradys household. (I was throwing three kid's birthday parties in three days.) Mostly though, I was simply not very impressed with story. It had so much potential but I just felt Mr. Card was a little off his game when he wrote this one. I would say it was just o.k. so probably you could skip this one.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

I knew I was forgetting one! Lovely Bones is an interesting story because it is told from the point of view of a murder victim. A girl is raped and brutally killed. She then watches all the people in her former life as they struggle to put the pieces of their world back together without her in it. This means that the book focuses on a lot of pain and dysfunction in many various relationships. The afterlife in this book reminded me of the Robin Williams/Cuba Gooding Jr. movie, What Dreams May Come. It was interesting but strange. I thought the book was depressing and I didn't find any uplifting themes at the end. I think I would say skip this one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Getting Caught Up

Although it appears I have given up reading, I actually just have not been posting reviews for a while. If you read my other blog you already know that life has been challenging for us these last several months. I am happy to report that things seem to be slowing down and I am getting back into my routines. Here are some of the books I managed to read since you last heard from me.

Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange
I loved this one. It is the Midnight Sun to Pride and Prejudice. I thought Grange nailed Darcy's voice and thoughts. This is the book I was looking for when I read that other one. It is fluff by very gratifying. Can fluff actually be called Something More Substantial?

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
This is a Steel Magnolias-type story set in Manhattan. The problem I had with this book was that the main character was such a closed person that when her crisis finally came, I was not emotionally invested in her enough to care. I didn't dislike the book but mostly felt like it was a waste of my time. Around here time is a precious comodity. If it's not something you have a lot of, I would say skip this one.

Sarah by Orson Scott Card
I absolutely devoured this book. I fell in love with Abraham- maybe because he reminded me so much of my own husband. Sarah was strong, Abraham was kind, and the writing did a magnificent job fleshing out a story for the backbone we are all familiar with. This was my favorite of the Women of Genesis series. It is definitely Something More Substantial.

Rebekah by Orson Scott Card
I didn't like this one nearly as well as Sarah. The writing was every bit as good, but I found Isaac extremely unlikeable. I would prefer to think of him as a better man than he was portrayed as here. The story continues to be good and I would still recommend this book as Something More Substantial.

Rachel and Leah by Orson Scott Card
The third book in an unfinished series, I liked the men of this book better than those in Rebekah but I thought some of the women in this one lacked quite a lot. An arguement can be made for the realism captured in Scott's characterization- we, none of us, are perfect, and there certainly are those among us who shine a little more brightly than the rest. I got into this story more than I did Rebekah but was disappointed a little in the somewhat abrupt ending which left me hanging for the next book. I look forward to the next book with anticipation, but feel a little betrayed by the way this one ended. If you are going to read it I would suggest waiting until the next one in the series is published. Since I don't know how it ends, I give this one a qualified Something More Substantial.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

This is one of those rare instances when I actually liked the movie better than the book. I can't say why exactly. I just think the movie did a good job of covering the story and Kathy Bates and Mary Stewart Masterson bring so much to it. I'd skip this one and rent it instead.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Ooo. I liked this story a lot. It is set in the future in a time when RADICAL plastic surgery is the normal thing to do when you come of age. BUT- what seems like harmless beautification is actually something else altogether sinister and conspiratorial. The book was exciting, easy to read (it is a young adult book) and I enjoyed it very much. I look forward to the next three in the series. Something More Substantial for sure!

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

I thought this was the strangest and most predictable book in the series but it was still good. The name of one of the principal characters was laughable and therefore was irritatingly distracting throughout the entire book. That said, I'm glad I read it. "Substantial" is probably a stretch, but I wouldn't want anyone to skip it so I will say I give it a lukewarm Something More Substantial.