Jane-Emily is getting an extra star from me only because I have such fond memories of reading it when I was a little girl. In its pages, I can see whe...moreJane-Emily is getting an extra star from me only because I have such fond memories of reading it when I was a little girl. In its pages, I can see where my love of ghost stories, the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and historical fiction started. However, Patricia Clapp's "classic" hasn't aged very well, especially the antiquated gender politics (although they're perhaps more true to the time than the plucky young proto-feminists in today's YA historical fiction). Or maybe it's just me; I'm not a fan of gore and violence at all, but I do expect a thriller to be, well, thrilling. (less)
It's funny. I've never read any of Francine Prose's books, and yet I had this image of her work as rather more challenging than My New American Life u...moreIt's funny. I've never read any of Francine Prose's books, and yet I had this image of her work as rather more challenging than My New American Life ultimately proved to be. This is a light, fast read, a biting satirical look at one immigrant's life in Bush-Cheney America (and not recommended for supporters of our previous President and his policies). Our Albanian heroine Lula, despite her near-constant lies to her employer, her friends and herself, is totally sympathetic; thanks to her observations on our lives, I felt like she knew Americans better than we knew ourselves. There are a couple unbelievable plot lines, a few cliche situations, but Lula's character is ultimately so engaging I forgave Prose's writing choices, and enjoyed being along for the ride with one of Lula's red pepper jelly and cream cheese sandwiches in hand. (less)
I don't have any children of my own, but every once in a while I get on a YA reading kick. This summer, it's been a combination of recent Newbery Meda...moreI don't have any children of my own, but every once in a while I get on a YA reading kick. This summer, it's been a combination of recent Newbery Medal and Honor books and ones I remember reading when I was around eight or nine. Carl Hiaasen's Scat and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate were a delight; Jane-Emily was a disappointment.
So I was around eight or nine when I read The Great Gilly Hopkins. I remember being horrified at the life of a foster child in a filthy household. This was most likely because I was a beloved only child, a part of a tidy, two-parent stable household. I just couldn't understand why her mother gave her away to the system, even though there were other family members to take her in. Re-reading Gilly again, that sadness was still there (30+ years later, the absolute selfishness of Courtney Rutherford Hopkins is still horrifying), but it was tempered by the realization that Katherine Paterson wrote an incredibly bold book for young readers; it explores racism in a still very mature way, it introduces children to the beauty of poetry, and it has a definite political-social undertone (for example, there's a line one adult character says to another, a line that due to my youth and I'm fairly sure due to being so close to the age, the place, and the mind-set I completely missed: "God help the children of the flower children"). It's such a warm, human exploration of love and longing that if I had a child, I'd let her read this in a heartbeat. (less)
It's been years since I read American Tabloid and several months since The Big Nowhere, my favorite of the books in James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet, but I...moreIt's been years since I read American Tabloid and several months since The Big Nowhere, my favorite of the books in James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet, but I don't remember either leaving me quite as exhausted as The Cold Six Thousand. Ellroy's words, his style, is jacked up on Dexedrine. It's slapping you hard in the face after the end of each rapid-fire sentence, making you dig the real score here, leaving you breathless and wondering how the hell anyone survived the Sixties. (less)
The rarely-seen illustrations and photos from Dr. Otto Bettmann's famous archive are what make this book a classic. And they're rarely seen, I suppose...moreThe rarely-seen illustrations and photos from Dr. Otto Bettmann's famous archive are what make this book a classic. And they're rarely seen, I suppose, because most are rather gruesome, much like daily life for middle and lower class, urban and rural Americans during the latter half of the 19th century. People don't want to imagine their great-grandmothers swimming with dead dogs and other refuse, let alone eat the food that's been tainted by such horrors.
Long before the word "frenemies" was coined, there was Mrs. Emmeline Lucas and Miss Elizabeth Mapp. E.F. Benson's tales of the vicious schemes these t...moreLong before the word "frenemies" was coined, there was Mrs. Emmeline Lucas and Miss Elizabeth Mapp. E.F. Benson's tales of the vicious schemes these two ladies--and their assorted hangers-on--engage in to maintain their social prominence (schemes that almost always go hilariously awry) are a must for any fans of Saki, Wodehouse, or that wonderful dry, sarcastic English sense of humor. First time readers should tackle the novels in order because the inside jokes and daffy reoccurring characters carry on until the very last chapter of the last book. Even though the omnibus took me six months to read I never got tired of the parvenus of Riseholme and Tilling; the biting satire in Benson's stories of English village life between the World Wars teach us that social climbing could be as perilous as anything on the battlefield.(less)
Melissa Marr took an interesting premise, a new take on the creation and control of the walking dead, and ruined it with an inert love story, dull-as-...moreMelissa Marr took an interesting premise, a new take on the creation and control of the walking dead, and ruined it with an inert love story, dull-as-dishwater dialogue, and an incredibly frustrating build-up to the main event. Easily three-quarters of Graveminder is made up of the following conversation:
"I love you." "I don't love you." "I love you." "You love her." "I love you." "I don't love you...I think."
Obviously, it seems like her story is written to be the first of a series, and she's trying to give us some backstory to her main characters Rebekkah (god, how I hate alternate spellings of my name like this) and Byron, but by the tenth or eleventh conversation along these lines, I didn't care. JUST GIVE ME THE DAMN DEAD, MELISSA.(less)
Don't be fooled by my giving The Sisters Brothers only three stars. I quite enjoyed it; I devoured it in two sittings. However, readers should realize...moreDon't be fooled by my giving The Sisters Brothers only three stars. I quite enjoyed it; I devoured it in two sittings. However, readers should realize Patrick deWitt's spare, funny and violent Western is just an imitation of the true master of this style: Charles Portis. Read Brothers for a few chuckles, and then go pick up Dog of the South or, naturally, True Grit. (less)
I was ready to put this book down by the end of the first chapter, sensing yet another Tony Bourdain schtick (his blurb is even featured on the cover...moreI was ready to put this book down by the end of the first chapter, sensing yet another Tony Bourdain schtick (his blurb is even featured on the cover of Blood, Bones & Butter). But then something happened: Gabrielle Hamilton dropped the sex, drugs and rock n' roll and just cooked. By the time she was power washing the rat shit-crusted floors in Prune, I couldn't put her memoir down. And when I started pumping my fist while reading this passage about real farmers and the scene at farmers markets, I became her biggest fan:
(from pages 241-242)
"It's the toothless vecchio who makes my pants pound, not Alfonso over here with the hair gel. He has his American counterparts, Mr. Gucci sunglasses does. The "chicks" and "dudes" who drove me from the farmer's market years ago. I love the vegetables but I can't go near the place. There's always the girl with the bicycle, wandering along from stall to stall with two apples, a bouquet of lavender, and one bell pepper in the basket of her bicycle. A teeming throng of New Yorkers tries to push past her to get to the vegetables for sale, but she shifts her ass from side to side, admiring the way her purchases are artfully arranged for all to see in the basket of her bike, and she holds up the whole process. And I struggle, as well, with the self-referential new kind of farmer, aglow with his own righteousness, setting up his cute booth at the market each morning, with a bouquet of wildflowers and a few artfully stacked boxes of honeycomb and a fifteen-dollar jar of bee pollen. And from what I've seen, that guy behind the table, with his checkered tablecloth and his boutique line of pickled artichoke hearts in their jar with their prissy label packed just so, he wants to talk to Miss Bicycle, to Miss I've-spent-four-hours-here-this-morning-to-buy-these-three-cucumbers. He gets off on it. I stopped going to the farmer's market years ago when some hipster chick in sparkly barrettes and perfectly styled "farmer" clothes came screeching at me 'DON'T TOUCH THE PEAS!'"
As someone who's given up the joys of sleeping in on Saturday mornings just so I can get down to our farmer's markets at 8am and be out of there by nine, before the scenesters start clogging the aisles just to show everyone they're sporting the right name brand performance gear and perfectly draped scarf in their pursuit of one latte and two tomatoes, I immediately felt like Blood is food writing that's authentic, real.
Someday, when I visit New York again, I hope to eat at Prune. Until then, I'll eat up Gabrielle Hamilton's words.(less)
I honestly wish I liked Beijing Welcomes You more than I actually did. I picked it up thinking it was largely about changes to the city and its cultur...moreI honestly wish I liked Beijing Welcomes You more than I actually did. I picked it up thinking it was largely about changes to the city and its culture and government during the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. I didn't realize just how much detail Tom Scocca writes about each sporting event, both during the Games and at the smaller match-ups before the Olympics. I'm not interested in sports, whether its the four page GO GRIZ! section in my local fishwrap or an otherwise interesting first-person analysis of current events in China's capital. My eyes were glazing over during these sections of Beijing. And it's a shame, because it detracted from my enjoyment of Scocca's humorous descriptions of the years-long tug of war the Chinese bureacracy went though in trying to get its citizens to behave in new, different, acceptable-to-Westerners ways once they were in the global spotlight (chief among which was: STOP SPITTING EVERYWHERE).
Aside from the (to me, anyway) zzZZzzz subject matter, Scocca provides readers a surprisingly even-handed look at modern urban China. While its communist government does come in for strong criticism over political repression and censorship, he takes Western human rights activists to task for their--in his view--misplaced support of a Free Tibet. According to him, not only is it strange that many who live in secular democracies back the aims of a (admittedly very nice) god-king, but if the West is willing to defend Tibet, if China is so horrible, so repressive, then we should also help the Muslim Uighurs in the western province of Xinjiang in their own fight for independence. But we're not. Why?
If you like a rather large dash of sports with your current Asian events, this is the book for you. As for me, I prefer the story of 2008's changes in Michael Meyer's The Last Days of Old Beijing. (less)