Change the names, create an absurd little scenario, and call it fiction. As a fan of Notaro's essay collections, tAbsurd . . . But Pure Laurie Notaro
Change the names, create an absurd little scenario, and call it fiction. As a fan of Notaro's essay collections, this story, There's a (Slight) Change I Might Be Going to Hell, didn't surprise or disappoint. It doesn't stretch too far from her roots in writing first person vignettes about a funny, irreverent woman, however, the woman in this story happens to be named "Maye." Maye is clearly a Laurie alter ego, and it helped to have read her earlier collections to get a full picture of this likeable, humble creature.
Maye and her husband, Charlie, move from Phoenix, Arizona to Spaulding, Washington, because of her husband's new job. The plot centers on Maye's insatiable quest to make new friends. She is very unsuccessful--mistaking a coven of witches for a book group, infiltrating a meeting of vegetarians only to be busted eating meat later that night, and making a fool of herself at her first faculty gathering by getting stuck in her sweater and doing a striptease of sorts. She makes an enemy of the town matriarch, Rowena Spaulding, and her postman, who makes it necessary for her to take her dog, Mickey, to obedience training. Ultimately, Maye decides to win friends by attempting to win the annual "Miss Sewer Pipe" crown. She obtains a sponsor, the mysterious former Queen, Ruby Spicer, and as their friendship develops, the story grows more interesting. In spite of all the characters bantering back and forth in overly clever repartee and an annoying abundance of similes, I couldn't help but turn the pages just to see how the town pageant would unfold.
No great piece of literature, but fans of Laurie Notaro will love this book, and I applaud the author for giving "fiction" a crack, even though according to her acknowledgements, she seemed forced into it. Just keep writing Laurie. You make us laugh. ...more
This book, Gloss by Jennifer Oko, defines a page-turning summer read. An insider's look at a splashy industry like morning televisionOh, What the Heck
This book, Gloss by Jennifer Oko, defines a page-turning summer read. An insider's look at a splashy industry like morning television, at least for viewers of the morning shows, is fun reading. This story is well written and one can feel the author's tongue firmly planted in her cheek as she spins the tale of a television producer who gets caught up in the fangs of a snake venom lip gloss product and Homeland Security in a case that comes to be known as "Glossgate."
The main character, a 30-year-old woman named Annabelle Kapner, "Annie" to her friends, manages to be likeable in spite of her unwitting foray into what turns out to be the story of her lifetime. She's funny, but seems to be just on the edge of intelligence. She's a victim of her circumstances, who over-thinks everything--from her career choices to her love life. Often, the progress of the story is stalled, bogged down with too much detail and again, over-thinking by the narrator.
Most of the characters are exaggerated stereotypes, including the prima donna anchor, Faith Heide, and the eligible bachelor White House staffer and love interest, Mark Thurber, who works for the corrupt Vice President, as well as Annabelle's jailhouse buddy, a Slavic know-it-all named Galina, who literally tries to slap sense into Annabelle. The plot provides an interesting twist or two, but there's nothing really original or memorable. The author also uses viewer letters to introduce the early chapters, then waivers on the format, quoting journalism notables as chapter heads and from time to time, newspaper clippings from a television critic to propel the story forward. In spite of these criticisms, I had fun with this one and recommend it for a juicy, mindless read. It's kind of like reading a People magazine or the headlines of the tabloids while waiting in line at the grocery store. ...more
I had a hard time putting down this book and felt utterly transported to a village in the Hunan province in centralAn Excellent Choice for Book Clubs
I had a hard time putting down this book and felt utterly transported to a village in the Hunan province in central south China during the early to mid-nineteenth century. The narrator, 80-year-old Lily, who refers to herself as one who has "yet to die," tells the story of her life. She has outlived her family members and relates the story of her formative years--and her relationship with another woman, Snow Flower. This well written tale is related with clarity, sentiment, and most poignantly, remorse. It's through remorse that the reader comes to know the true character of Lily, as she reflects upon a misunderstanding she had with her one true love.
Beyond the reflection of Lily's relationship with Snow Flower, a girl she meets at the age of six when they are introduced by the local matchmaker and tied by contract to forever be known as "laotongs," or "old sames," this story provides a lesson in Chinese history and culture. Many have heard of the tradition of feet binding, but through Lisa See's writing, one experiences the excruciating pain and the meaning behind a mother's duty to bind her "worthless" daughters' feet. It's all about marriage and, of course, sex. At once I went to the Internet to look for images of bound feet because I had a terribly hard time visualizing a foot only seven centimeters in length.
I enjoyed every minute of reading this story and I highly recommend it. I think it would make an excellent selection for book clubs, given the vast number of elements to spark topics of conversation: Chinese culture--past and present; Mother-daughter relationships; Foot-binding; Arranged marriage; Female relationships; Lesbian relationships (?); Chinese history; Chinese foods; Chinese geography, etc. ...more
A-Bombs from the Japanese Perspective Sunrise on Kusatsu Harbor, a story propelled by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII, is a captivaA-Bombs from the Japanese Perspective Sunrise on Kusatsu Harbor, a story propelled by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII, is a captivating, well-written novella. The narrator is a man who, along with his wife, discovers a homemade videotape at an Auburn, California yard sale, which he thinks is "The Sound of Music." It turns out to be the confessional biography of a Japanese man named Mieko and the love story of Mieko and his childhood sweetheart, Tori. The story is at once engrossing, painting the dedicated love between the ill-fated couple while WWII still raged, and their separation shortly before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings when Mieko is called to serve his country.
We experience the first bomb through Tori's eyes, while her love was away in Nagasaki performing research on a highly-desired chemical weapon, which the Japanese hurriedly tried to develop to end the war and claim victory over the United States. They were too late. First came the horrors of Hiroshima, and days later, as Tori, who survived the Hiroshima blast, sets out toward Nagasaki to find her love. Meanwhile, Mieko sets out to find her and misses the second blast at Nagasaki. Tori does not, and yet she survives. From there, their story is a consistent series of missed opportunities. Ultimately they both wind up in Northern California, where Mieko sets his sites on developing a weapon to get revenge against the Americans. He believes Tori is dead, yet Tori never lets her hopes down, and always with a bright, positive, and loving attitude, sets out to find him again.
The pages turn quickly as one can't help but hope the couple finds one another again despite the incredible odds. It's a beautiful story, both historically and culturally enlightening. It raises strong ethical questions of forgiveness and draws out the polarizing attitudes toward war.
And this is where I wish the story had ended. The twist at the end cheapened the romance and history lesson of the Japanese couple as the story took what I felt was an absurd twist during the chapter entitled, "Our Story." It made the overall effort seem too ambitious and more like the outline for a novel or a movie rather than a complete package. Still, I recommend it due to the excellent storytelling of the Japanese couple, and the potential of this talented author. ...more
A for Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaangst Prep, a story told by the talented Curtis Sittenfeld, was hard to put down. The narrator, Lee Fiora, an unremarkable girl fA for Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaangst Prep, a story told by the talented Curtis Sittenfeld, was hard to put down. The narrator, Lee Fiora, an unremarkable girl from South Bend, Indiana, does a remarkable thing. At 13 she decides to apply to East Coast Prep schools and winds up spending an angst-ridden four years at Ault School just outside of Boston, Mass.
("How was I supposed to understand, when I applied at the age of thirteen, that you have your whole life to leave your family?")
This is the story of EVERYTHING that goes on inside her head. The quote above is just one example. It's all about observation and laying bare the atmosphere that is Prep School as experienced by an outsider. And this outsider believed herself to be "a petty, angry, impotent person."
Lee outlines her memories by grade level, (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) and focuses on major and minor events shaping each year. The detail is both exquisite and annoyingly sharp and pulls you into each scene as though it's happening in the now rather than some 20 years ago. It's personal and revealing and I can't imagine anyone who didn't experience at least some of the same thoughts during high school--no matter what school or what place.
Freshman year it's all about roommates and assimilating to what is for Lee a foreign climate. It's also the year where she first develops a crush on a golden boy named Cross Sugarman. Other students, Dede and Martha, for example, use their time at Ault to get the education they were promised; however, Lee--an average to poor student--spends all her time fantasizing about Cross. As the years sail by, Lee learns to deal with all things associated with coming of age, except for what it truly means to fit in.
Great storytelling, tremendous character development, extremely well written and I highly recommend this book. I have to say it reminded me a little bit of four years at Hogwarts, without the wizardry, of course, and a heroine who unlike Harry Potter, wasn't popular and had no self-confidence. ...more
"Don't Touch It With A Bargepole" According to the main character of this book, Marie Sharp, a woman turning 60 who decides to start a diary, there are"Don't Touch It With A Bargepole" According to the main character of this book, Marie Sharp, a woman turning 60 who decides to start a diary, there are only two ways to describe books: "One is: `Absolutely brilliant! You must read it!' or `Total cr@p. Don't touch it with a bargepole.' " Here in the USA we might refer to a "ten foot pole" rather than a "bargepole," but it wasn't for a lack of understanding British humor/humour or widely used British slang that made me find this effort not remotely worth my time. (Thank goodness I didn't recommend it to my book club.) Bridget Jones for an older audience it surely ain't. The writing flows and is easy to read, however, I was so bored, I practically threw it down the aisle on a recent plane ride. Is there a gripping plot? No. Is the writing fresh? No. Is she funny? She has her moments. Mostly, I found this to be a collection of dated ramblings by a self-absorbed, unremarkable narrator. (In fairness, what is a diary if it doesn't contain a vast degree of self-absorption?)
I admit I bought the book because the title tickled me. The book club to which I belong is a haven for a group of intelligent and fun middle-aged women. I wouldn't mind poking fun at the activity a bit while reading a witty outlook on life through a pair of 60 year-old lenses. Unfortunately, when you choose only one book per month to discuss, it is a much more worthwhile experience when the book sparks an interesting conversation. The only things I could imagine this book provoking is a discussion about how some diaries should remain private--hidden behind a little gold lock and key; or the wonders of the publishing world that markets this kind of cr@p. ...more
Now THIS is a Good Book! When I finished reading Water for Elephants, goose bumps covered my skin. Now this is a good book! Immediately engrossed, I haNow THIS is a Good Book! When I finished reading Water for Elephants, goose bumps covered my skin. Now this is a good book! Immediately engrossed, I had a hard time putting it down as I read the story of Jacob Jankowski and his reminiscence of days with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth--otherwise known as a train circus in 1930's America.
A talented writer and storyteller, Sara Gruen takes readers on a bumpy and tense train ride through history. This tale defines Americana. There is no evidence of author here--simply narrator telling the story from Jacob's perspective (is he 91 or 93 years old?). I liked everything about the book, but primarily it was the crafting I liked best about this reading experience.
Seamlessly, Gruen weaves together the modern day voice of this old man, a Cornell-educated veterinarian, abandoned in a nursing home--a.k.a. assisted living facility--and his memories of three months spent as the accidental veterinarian on a traveling circus. Just before his final exams, he learns his parents have been killed in a car accident and this is what sets the story in motion. Once he hops aboard a train, which he soon learns is a circus train, he falls in love with a pink-sequined performer, Marlena, and battles her schizophrenic husband, August, who happens to be his boss. Jacob, a sensitive and innocent soul, is highly likeable and befriends most of the animals aboard. Most unforgettably is a "Polish" elephant by the name of Rosie. But he also endears himself to his roommate, a dwarf named Walter, and a stowaway named Camel. One can't help but root for Jacob through the entire story. And to my complete delight, it comes to a surprising and very satisfying conclusion.
This is an excellent novel and I give it my highest recommendation. Well done Sara Gruen! ...more
Bel Canto is one of those novels that is good on so many levels, it's taken me days after finishing it to put my thoStay With This One. It's Worth It.
Bel Canto is one of those novels that is good on so many levels, it's taken me days after finishing it to put my thoughts about the story and the characters into words. This work is as lyrical and dramatic as any opera, and the word "brilliant" isn't excessive to describe the talent of author, Ann Patchett. I wondered how she came up with such a remarkable and unique story, but then learned she'd been influenced by actual events involving a hostage situation in Peru. Patchett goes far beyond the headlines and enters the minds of the players on both sides. It's a fascinating story and a rewarding and entertaining character study.
The first 100+ pages were slow going as the stage is set; however, the ennui I experienced while reading helped me relate to the monotony of daily life experienced by the guests of a party, who'd been taken hostage in a failed attempt to kidnap the President of a South American country. The country, unnamed in the story, is a developing, Spanish-speaking nation. The party, hosted by the Vice President, is a birthday party for a Japanese businessman. It is filled with an International guest list, including the famous and enormously talented opera soprano, Roxanne Coss. Virtually everyone in the room, both hostage and captor, falls in love with her during the four-month siege. The story picks up speed when two distinct love stories begin, one between Roxanne and one of her admirers, and another, which focuses on the second-most sought-after talent possessed by a multi-lingual interpreter, a Japanese named Gen. Each, along with several intriguing subplots, led to the building of a unique story and ultimately satisfying climax.
The ending comes quickly and shook me to my core. It was not unexpected and yet it still made me cry. And then there's a surprise, which after a lot of thought, made perfect sense. Brava Ms. Patchett. My highest recommendation. ...more
When You Feel The Need to Read a GOOD Classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is named as one of the Century's Best Books by the New York Public Library for aWhen You Feel The Need to Read a GOOD Classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is named as one of the Century's Best Books by the New York Public Library for a reason. Originally published some 60 years ago, even to jaded readers of modern contemporary fiction, it remains highly readable. Every word.
This was my mother's favorite book. I remember watching the movie with her when I was a child and for these two reasons, reading was slow. I couldn't help but reflect on the story as if they were MY memories rather than the main character's, a young girl named "Francie," growing up in poverty in the early twentieth century. It reads like a series of both heartbreaking and entertaining anecdotes about life among first and second-generation immigrants in Brooklyn, New York. And while you can sense the starvation and the continual worry over making ends meet, through the eyes of the children, Francie and her brother, Neely, and also through their Aunt "Sissy," who absolutely takes a bite out of life, it's difficult to feel sorry for them. They are prideful and make the most of all that they have. There's a scene where the children manage to stay standing as the tree vendor chucks a giant Christmas tree at them on Christmas Eve, which I will never forget. What will also stay with me are the feelings Francie discovers while growing up, about the different kinds of love she had for her family.
I savored each page and didn't want it to end. For all the days I read, it was like spending time with my mom....more
The Bengali culture of the Ganguli family and its assimilation to life in the United States is central to this work. The NamesakeA String of Accidents
The Bengali culture of the Ganguli family and its assimilation to life in the United States is central to this work. The Namesake, through intriguing and well-drawn characters, succeeds at raising questions about what it is truly like to be both a visible immigrant in this country and, more pointedly, a first generation American--offspring of Indian immigrants.
The primary focus, and the reason it's called The Namesake, is because of the main character, Gogol, and his obsession with his name. Like the author herself, "Jhumpa," this boy is unwilling to give up his traditional, "pet" name, when he becomes school-aged and is suddenly expected to use a "good name," Nikhil. Thus begins the conflict of the generations.
Gogol develops into a brooding, selfish character and in spite of his confusing upbringing, this reader found little reason to find him sympathetic. Thankfully, the storytelling alternates perspectives, going beyond the young boy sulking over his odd name, to that of his parents, Ashimi and Ashoke, together by way of arranged marriage, and includes Gogol's various love interests, not the least being his ultimate wife, the very unlikable Moushumi. Each of these characters is fleshed-out, arousing interest and empathy, and make the story absolutely readable. Additionally, there's a lot of focus on food, and the author described the meals and specialties so well, I could almost taste them.
To use Gogol's own conclusion (that appears a mere five pages from the end) "his family's life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another." It begins in the 1960s, is written in present tense, and jumps across chunks of time until it comes to its conclusion in the year 2000. This story left me with a feeling of empathy for Indian immigrants and made me truly wonder what it was like to walk in their sandals. ...more
I have no doubt as to why this book was recommended by to me, given my taste for well-written memoirs and my affinity forLike a Phoenix From the Ashes
I have no doubt as to why this book was recommended by to me, given my taste for well-written memoirs and my affinity for books like "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," by Betty Smith and "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt. This completing engrossing tale of Jeannette Walls and her rise from the ashes of an extremely difficult childhood is on a par with both Smith's classic, and McCourt's Pulitzer Prize winning efforts.
"The Glass Castle" starts out on fire. Literally. Within the first few pages, when Walls recounts one of her earliest memories as a burn victim, I fell in love with this child and quickly turned pages awaiting to see how she'd go from being a neglected and abused child to a clearly well-educated, successful author and, according to the book jacket, a regular contributor to MSNBC.com So many of the incidents she brings to life through a vivid and colorful memory left me with my jaw hanging open. I found myself yelling at her parents, a charming alcoholic father, always with a master plan to bring upon riches, and a selfish (seemingly bipolar) mother, focused on her "art" and her need to live life as a constant adventure. "Sometimes you need a little crisis to get your adrenaline flowing and help you realize your potential," said her mother, as she arguably put the words into practice again and again, while her starving children made the best of their impoverished upbringings.
Her utterly non-conventional parents taught their children many things, but mostly, it seems, how to fend for themselves. And from the tone of this book, written with great reverence for not only her brother and two sisters, but also for her mom and dad, she indeed took to heart her mother's advice: "Learn to enjoy the comic episodes." The story of Jeannette Walls and her search for a home is ultimately filled with more smiles than heartaches.
This is my favorite kind of book. One to pick up, savor each word and never want to put down. Chevalier has a rich imaginatiOh! What a Tale She Weaves
This is my favorite kind of book. One to pick up, savor each word and never want to put down. Chevalier has a rich imagination, basing this historical fiction on an existing series of fine tapestries with questionable (undocumented) history, and telling the story through (nearly) all involved in their creation.
We begin with the painter, Nicolas des Innocents, who conceptualizes the stories and major symbolisms of the work. A womanizer, he's brash and vain, yet his charm wins the day with the ladies and the reader. He learns much through his experience with the women he depicts as the tapestries take form. One can't help but fall in love with him. He calls the women he wishes to seduce, "Beauty," and offers to tell them the story of the unicorn's horn.
Through the words of Nicolas' true object of desire, Claude, the daughter of the nobleman commissioning the work, we learn much about the place of women in Paris society at the end of the fifteenth century. In fact, this is also true about all the ladies featured in the story and ultimately in the tapestry: Claude's long-suffering mother, Genevieve de Nanterre, the blind daughter of the weaver, Alienor, and her mother, Christine, who longs to be a weaver although the Brussel's weaver's guild forbids it.
Other unforgettable characters include the lady-in-waiting, Beatrice, and the servant Marie-Celeste.
Chevalier has clearly done her research, and in doing so, allows the reader to experience this story with all five senses. In taking admitted liberties with the language, it is an utterly readable tale and I give it my highest recommendation. ...more