This anthology was great for discovering poets I didn't know of (but perhaps should know?). My only quibble is because it's meant to be accessible theThis anthology was great for discovering poets I didn't know of (but perhaps should know?). My only quibble is because it's meant to be accessible there are no footnotes or other guides to give a sense of context. All the poems stand very well on their own but some of them had me yearning to find out just a bit more about how they fit into the body of the poet's work, which I suppose is the point of an "invitation"--to get you to find out more. :)...more
That for me sums up Key Lime Pie Murder. I usually love books centered around food because they tend to be chaBoring book, boring town, great recipes.
That for me sums up Key Lime Pie Murder. I usually love books centered around food because they tend to be charming and incorporate a dash of sensuality. This was not the case with this book. Hannah Swensen is the full-time owner of a local bakery and part-time detective. When she finds Willa, a bake and beauty contest judge dead, she sets out to find the killer and bring him to justice.
Great mysteries are known for their tight pacing and "never-let-up" suspense. The problem is, this book is so slow moving that any interest anyone could have possibly had in the murder case is drowned by all the boring details of the town and the interactions between its equally boring inhabitants. I was more than halfway through the book before the main crime was even introduced!
The characters were boring to me not because they were from a small town, but because most are little more than caricatures. For example, Hannah our main character is the typical, not too pretty, not too plump, frizzy-haired cat-lady heroine who doesn't think she's beautiful and yet has two great guys fighting for her affections. Her sister Andrea is the typical beautiful, vain-appearing woman who deep-down is smarter and more insecure than she appears and her mother is the predictable genteel, bossy busybody.
Finally, Willa the victim is such a cardboard cutout that not only does the reader find it difficult to care about her fate, but even the characters in the book don't seem genuinely moved by her death. There's a brief spat between Hannah and Mike (local policeman and love interest) about whether Willa should be referred to as "the victim" but that's about as much emotional involvement we see. Hannah angsts more about Moishe the cat's eating habits than her supposed friend's death.
There were other WTF moments that were annoying. No matter how small a town someone is in (and I grew up in a small town myself), I found it really hard to swallow Hannah's complete lack of technical savvy from everything to computers to cell phones. It seemed more typical of a 65 year old than a 30 year old. In general too much of Hannah's behavior felt "older" to me, like the author had over-identified herself with the character. Then the choice of weapons in the book were just ridiculous. I'm sorry, but using a pie and a cell-phone as a means of self-defense is just dumb. Hannah also has a penchant for explaining "localisms" that not only are obvious but don't seem that "local" at all. Take this passage for instance:
"I'll be there. Do you want to come over after?" Hannah asked the question, and then she laughed at the way she'd lapsed into regional Minnesota dialogue.
I could identify nothing in the phrasing that was particularly unique to Minnesota.
The one saving grace of this book was the recipes which were truly mouth-watering. If not for those, this book would have been a complete waste of time.
I love historical fiction because I'm always fascinated by different times and places. Yet, it's surprisingly hard to find a historical novel with jusI love historical fiction because I'm always fascinated by different times and places. Yet, it's surprisingly hard to find a historical novel with just the right mix of period detail, character development and plot intensity. I picked up Immortal and from the first page I thought "this is what I've been waiting for".
The only life Luca Bastardo has known is life on the cruel streets of Florence. He doesn't yet know that he possesses an incredible gift that gives him great longevity and eternal beauty. At least, it should be a gift, but for Luca who endures unimaginable suffering, his gift far too often seems like a curse.
Traci Slatton's writing is spare yet sensual and the world of Renaissance Florence really comes to life. The textures and smells and all the details become immediate through her writing, but she never makes the mistake that so many historical writers do by becoming bogged down in world building. All the major figures and painters make their appearance but the story is about Luca and the focus remains on him throughout a plot that's thrumming with tension. Remarkably for a book that spans almost two hundred years, Slatton manages to make Luca's life seem too short. I kept reading, knowing what was coming and thinking "no, not yet".
One of the things that comes through most strongly in the novel is human cruelty and human limitations but also our potential for good. I feel like part of the tragedy of Luca's story is that he'd suffered so much that he'd come to believe more in the cruelty than the kindness of humans and the divine. Perhaps if he'd been more decisive, and felt more deserving of happiness he could have changed how things turned out.
My only quibble with this book was the portrayal of female characters. Too often I felt they were more representative than three-dimensional. We're told that they're smart and brave but they seemed to be waiting to be saved more than anything else. The author also seemed to struggle at times with the topic of homosexuality and how to present it but it wasn't handled in a way that was unrealistic given the context. Overall I enjoyed Immortal immensely. A sad but also satisfying read. ...more
This book was such a surprise. When I first glanced at it, it seemed very chick lit-esque, which usually isn't my kind of thing. But, it was $3.00 inThis book was such a surprise. When I first glanced at it, it seemed very chick lit-esque, which usually isn't my kind of thing. But, it was $3.00 in the sale pile at Borders and when I flipped through it, the dialogue seemed funny and snappy. I thought "oh what the hell" and went for it. I'm so glad I did.
Midnight Brunch is actually the sequel to Acosta's first book, Happy Hour at Castle Dracula (which I now want to get my hands on). Our heroine, Milagro de Los Santos is dating a vampire--except vampirism in this world is a genetic disorder that causes blood cravings, super healing abilities and sensitivity to sun. There are no sharp fangs and a judicious application of sunblock is all the vampires need to stay healthy and happy.
We learn that Milagro accidentally became infected with the disorder in the previous novel and not only has she survived the infection (which is a very rare occurrence) but she's gained some special abilities as well. Needless to say, these abilities attract the attention of the wrong kind of vampires and Milagro must fight to stay out of their clutches.
This was such a breezy enjoyable read. Milagro is a funny sassy protagonist and the plot is transparent but not thin. You can guess what's coming a mile off but it's the cast of characters and the humor that really fuel the novel. Sure Milagro falls into traps that might as well have danger signs written all over them, but she does so more out of her sense of adventure than actual ditziness. She never becomes a weepy heroine and so even if the bad guys are obvious, it's easy to forgive. You'll find yourself chuckling with her along the way even as you hope that she really does find true happiness....more
Wow, this book took me on a roller-coaster ride. I couldn't decide if I loved it or hated it and it seemed like every few pages I'd go from thinking GWow, this book took me on a roller-coaster ride. I couldn't decide if I loved it or hated it and it seemed like every few pages I'd go from thinking Gilbert was delightfully witty to thinking this was the most horribly self-absorbed person to ever set foot on the earth.
In the end the overall effect was rather like sitting at a party listening to someone tell a long involved story all about themselves, and you're alternately annoyed and fascinated and you want to get up and leave but she's just so entertaining that you keep telling yourself you'll leave in the next minute--and so you end up sticking through the whole thing.
<----- WARNING: LOOONG REVIEW AHEAD :) ------->
I didn't hate Eat, Pray, Love, but it left me really unsatisfied. When I first started reading the book, I couldn't help rolling my eyes and thinking "Here we go, another tale of a precious, privileged woman who is unsatisfied with her life." I stuck with it though and was charmed through the Italy section by Gilbert's humor and down-to-earth writing style. Still, for a woman who abandons everything in search of a true spiritual experience, she leaves most of the important questions unanswered. I felt that Gilbert projects herself so strongly onto every place and every person she encounters that I'm not sure what she really learnt along the way.
As delightful as the Italy section was to read, I felt like she never really stepped out of herself to understand the country on its own terms and to move beyond the stereotype. Despite it being a bit of a superficial assessment, I have no problem with Gilbert associating Italy with pleasure. There is enough beauty there to warrant it.It was more her interpretation of what it means to open oneself to pleasure that bothered me and seemed very narrow. For Gilbert this consisted mostly of overindulging in foods and allowing herself to put on weight. It seemed like she came to Italy thinking she already knew how to experience pleasure and proceeded to enact it based on her definition (even though there are indications that the Italian interpretation of pleasure is not merely restricted to this.) I would have liked to see her explore what it meant to devote herself to pleasure just as seriously and reverently as she seemed to take the meditative experiences in India.
Overall though, my biggest problem with this book was I had difficulty at times believing Gilbert achieved the enlightenment she talks about because she is so internally focused. Most importantly I still have not really grasped why it was necessary for her to travel to these 3 places.
I understand that her intention was not for this book to be a travelogue but it begs the question, "Why was it necessary to go to Italy, India and Indonesia if the purpose was to not to gain something from them that could not be found elsewhere?" In every country Gilbert created a little security blanket of expat friends who seemed to cushion her from really understanding the lessons the countries had to offer on their own terms. Why go to India to meet Richard the big Texan Guru, for example? Why not just go to Texas?
For those of us with "eyelids only half-caked with dirt" but who can't uproot our lives and travel to countries of our choosing is "enlightenment" still an option? I wanted Gilbert to talk more about how anyone with an ordinary life but who is searching for insight could still balance spiritual yearning with duty.
And that's my final peeve about this book. I wondered if Gilbert had any sense of duty or sense of obligation to anything beyond herself. Gilbert seems to recognize the bonds of duty that restrict the locals she encounters. Yet, she somehow paints them as pleasurable or inevitable yokes for the people who bear them. Her detached observations of life and death rituals in India and Indonesia as though they are restricted to those parts of the world made me want to shake her and say "but there are rituals everywhere; you have made a conscious decision to remove yourself from the ones you know."
I ask about duty not because I wanted Gilbert to stay in a loveless marriage but because the concept of duty is also linked to a concept of justice. What is it that we ought to do? What do we owe each other?
Part of me felt that Gilbert took comfort in the non-dual aspects of Eastern philisophies in a strange way. She seemed almost relieved that the non-duality of existence would ensure that one would not necessarily be punished by the universe for selfish deeds. I felt like Gilbert embraced that aspect of the philosophy without realizing the equal importance those cultures place on the balancing notions of reciprocity, duty, of being social beings in the truest sense (often taking it to the other negative extreme).
The lack of sense of obligation to anyone other than herself made Gilbert seem curiously dead to the contradictions around her. She didn't seem perturbed at the abject poverty of the Indian women around her, or to question if it was just. She never wondered how a spiritual person should grapple with the injustice of the world, nor did she seem to question the "rightness" of living in the midst of poverty in an artificial environment created to specifically cater to pampered Westerners. In Indonesia, she finally seems to see beyond herself to the suffering of others but when she does try to help someone it seems impulsive and done almost with carelessness so that the whole thing almost becomes a big mess.
After all of this, the end of the book just seemed to fall flat as Gilbert tried to wrap things up quickly, crowning it all of course with a romance with a doting and exotic lover.
This book had a lot of potential but ultimately it seemed like a story about one woman's sense of entitlement and her inability to ever quite move beyond that though she does make some valiant efforts to do so. ...more
I finally finished reading this and it was a much slower read than I expected. Because Wicked is based on the fairy tale and because I'd known there wI finally finished reading this and it was a much slower read than I expected. Because Wicked is based on the fairy tale and because I'd known there was a musical I expected it to be a fun romp with witty characters and tongue-in-cheek humor. I was quite surprised to discover instead a pretty dense novel, symbolically and thematically. It's the kind of book I kept wishing I could study in a literature class where a professor well versed in L. Frank Baum's work (and the historical context within which he was writing) could help me tease out some of the allusions.
I think Maguire has a gift for showing the contradictory nature of human beings (are we essentially good or evil or neither?) and his female characters really tend to shine and take on archetypal overtones. At the same time, the books slows down often because of the dense imagery. I don't think he's as successful at crafting a coherent and consistent weave of symbols and themes throughout the book. Part of the opaqueness for me came from the fact until I started reading Wicked I didn't know Baum had written 15 books in the Oz universe. I'd only read "The Wizard of Oz" as a child. I kept feeling that maybe if I'd read those books I would have had a better sense of the themes and references in Wicked.
That said, despite all the murkiness, there is something very magical about Maguire's writing and when he gets it right he shines. Some passages in the book moved quickly and sucked me in and in a way those made up for the slower more obviously ponderous parts. In the end maybe it was simply Elphaba and the unlikeliness of her character which redeemed this book. As kermit the frog once said, "it's not easy being green" but Elphaba makes reading about it a lot of fun. :) ...more
This is a book I read twice and will probably never read again. I try to see this as a "great" novel but I have always wished Conrad had achieved a grThis is a book I read twice and will probably never read again. I try to see this as a "great" novel but I have always wished Conrad had achieved a greater separation between his own voice and Marlow's. For me his inability to do so made it difficult to stomach the inherent racism in the book. The passage that will always stick out in my mind is the one in which the narrator muses that an educated black man is as "unnatural" as a dog putting on clothes and walking on its hindlegs.
That said, I don't think this book is worthless. In my experience the people I've discussed it with tend to either completely ignore the racism or excuse it and instead focus on the pyschological state of Kurtz or else they see the racism and completely dismiss the pyschological and other symbolic aspects of the book. For me this is not a great novel in the sense of it being one of the best ever written. There are just too many internal tensions and the blurring of the character's and author's perspectives makes this a very uncomfortable read. It is a great book for discussion though if all of its tensions are recognized. There is a powerful message here about how the darkness of the mind (and one's own inhumanity) can be projected onto others and one's environment and there is something very anti-colonialist and anti-racist about that. At the same time, these themes exist side by side with the author's own unacknowledged racism. Knowing that a book was written long ago helps contextualize and explain something offensive but I don't think it ever makes it less painful to read. For me the value in Heart of Darkness is in examining both the story Conrad set out to tell and the one he didn't even realize he was telling when he wrote this book....more
One of my favorite romances for the sheer unconventionality of it. The heroine is plump, smart and bold and Malloren is a good match for her. Their baOne of my favorite romances for the sheer unconventionality of it. The heroine is plump, smart and bold and Malloren is a good match for her. Their banter and the troubles they find themselves in are quite amusing. Haven't read this in a long time but this makes me want to pick it up again....more
I found this quite engaging. Lily is not a likeable protagonist and in my head I'll always think of her as a female Hamlet. She learns her lessons tooI found this quite engaging. Lily is not a likeable protagonist and in my head I'll always think of her as a female Hamlet. She learns her lessons too late but by the end of the book I felt surprising sympathy for her....more
A fascinating look at World War II from an "insider's" perspective--the book was first published in Japan for Japanese readers. Saburo's strength is hA fascinating look at World War II from an "insider's" perspective--the book was first published in Japan for Japanese readers. Saburo's strength is his ability to give a sense of the internal struggles taking place in Japan at the time, but his weakness is his tendency to be too polemical. If you're looking for an unbiased account of both the situation in Japan as well as international dynamics this is not the book, but it's still a lively read and valuable if only for its different perspective....more
I really don't know what to rate this book. I started reading it because I'm an inveterate procrastinator and I'd heard this author was good at givingI really don't know what to rate this book. I started reading it because I'm an inveterate procrastinator and I'd heard this author was good at giving advice for how to get out of the procrastination rut. However, while the author's advice seemed sound, the book just wasn't positive enough for me to get into it. Reading about the author's feelings of worthlessness made me feel depressed and I kept getting the feeling that he needed this book more than I did LOL. In short, it seemed more like a memoir than a book intended to give readers concrete strategies they could use. I'm going to give this one another try eventually ... but probably not too soon....more
A slim book but probably the best overview of the measurement (and ideological) debates surrounding international inequality. Milanovic is meticulousA slim book but probably the best overview of the measurement (and ideological) debates surrounding international inequality. Milanovic is meticulous yet writes in a very clear way. A must read for anyone interested in globalization and international development....more
I usually like my romance mixed in with a good bit of erotica but this just doesn't seem to hold my attention. There's sex, lots of it, even a historiI usually like my romance mixed in with a good bit of erotica but this just doesn't seem to hold my attention. There's sex, lots of it, even a historical setting which I usually enjoy but every time I pick this up I just feel bored. I'm going to put it aside for now and try reading it again some other time. Maybe then I'll somehow discover its charm....more
This book broke my heart. It's difficult for me to imagine what the world was like during the Cold War and the suspicion, fear and competition that moThis book broke my heart. It's difficult for me to imagine what the world was like during the Cold War and the suspicion, fear and competition that motivated it, so reading Laika was like stepping into another time.
Abadzis tells the story of Laika, the first dog to be sent into space as part of the US-Soviet race to the moon. We follow her from puppyhood all the way to her ill-fated selection as the test subject for the program. The art in the book is simple but vivid and through it we come to see how Korolev's and Laika's lives become intertwined. Ironically, it is Korolev's attempt to escape his own imprisonment which causes him to condemn Laika to an even worse suffering.
I think the most heart-breaking parts of the book are all the missed opportunities for happiness as well as the moments of hope which are contrasted with betrayal. It's the very sad story of a dog, but also a story of how humanity can be sacrificed to ambition and ideals....more