Sophomore efforts often misfire - even sophomore years tend to be sort of mildly dreadful and a letdown after all the discoveries of being a freshman....moreSophomore efforts often misfire - even sophomore years tend to be sort of mildly dreadful and a letdown after all the discoveries of being a freshman. This book, however, is really good and redeems the author for me after the utter disaster of Little Face.
Hannah's device of alternating perspective from first-person to third-person by chapter is still here, but as in The Wrong Mother, it is much less distracting as a device than it is in Little Face. The difference is that the story utterly compelling and distinctive as are the characters. This novel kept me reading and reading on the edge of my seat as I waited for her to play out all the strings. I found the story and the characters believable and convincing and interesting psychologically. The story is definitely disturbing, but it's well-written and doesn't cut corners or shy away from the complexity of human relationships.
This was a great read and redeemed Hannah for me. I look forward to her fourth novel.(less)
I really like Sophie Hannah's third book, The Wrong Mother, so I was looking forward to reading this one (her first) and was sorely disappointed. This...moreI really like Sophie Hannah's third book, The Wrong Mother, so I was looking forward to reading this one (her first) and was sorely disappointed. This book was so disappointing that it made me wonder if I should rethink how much I liked The Wrong Mother.
Hannah alternates chapters between first-person narrative of the protagonist and third-person narrative of the cops. In The Wrong Mother this works really well, but in this book it feels too much like a device (which, of course, it is in both books). In thinking through this I believe the heart of the problem here is in the rather poorly cobbled together characterizations; they just don't seem substantial or even internally consistent and this makes their actions ultimately unbelievable and mildly bland and predictable in a Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip kind of way. There is a terrible waste of a really interesting premise here and an even more terrible waste of some good writing that's buried in here along with all the clumsiness.
I'm reading Hannah's second book and will decide how I feel about her then, but at this point I'm feeling dubious and sort of jipped.(less)
This was terribly disappointing. The annoyances were numerous including, but not limited to:
- The format of the book - It's printed in newspaper type...moreThis was terribly disappointing. The annoyances were numerous including, but not limited to:
- The format of the book - It's printed in newspaper type with two columns per page as if it were still a zine. It makes reading it difficult.
- The introduction - This is printed as in a regular book and starts out okay, but quickly devolves into self-congratulatory drivel. Yes, yes, you are the coolest, gothest ever. We all bow to your amazingness.
- The writing - Almost universally mediocre. These were the 40 best items?
- The illustrations - If you had a goth friend in high school who doodled cartoons in their notebook, you'll recognize these.
Out of 298 pages and 40 or so essays only one of them was worth reading - Souvenir of Hell by Brian Thomas - about visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau. Thank you, Mr. Thomas, for writing about this experience in an intelligent and honest way.
This book got two stars because of Mr. Thomas' essay - a long-winded way of saying you might as well skip this.(less)
I expected this book to be a fun, insubstantial bit of fluff. Boy, was I surprised.
Mr. Fellowes wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park and is the autho...moreI expected this book to be a fun, insubstantial bit of fluff. Boy, was I surprised.
Mr. Fellowes wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park and is the author of another novel that I haven't read, but now will. He's working in P.G. Wodehouse/Evelyn Waugh territory - an English novel of manners - a mix of novel and ethnography of the upper crust with plenty of humor thrown in.
The premise is a lovely one. The narrator's decidedly former friend, Damien, is dying. The quest: to find Damien's hitherto unknown and unidentified illegitimate child. The prize: a life-changing inheritance for the to be designated heir.
It would have been easy to write something bitchy and erudite about this journey into the end of the sixties - the Season of 1968 - and the various where are they now stories this journey naturally elicits and that would have been a fine book. Instead, Fellowes has painstakingly and rather beautifully described a world in transition and captured the tension and ambiguity of the time. These are not rebellious flower children heading for Carnaby Street to smoke dope with the Beatles. These are debutantes and their escorts, still in thrall to their parents, and with relatively few options. The novel is rich in period detail and observation, sumptuous in language, and strangely kind in its judgments of its characters.
I liked almost everyone in this novel and even the characters that I didn't like were worth reading. I appreciate that Fellowes manages to avoid most stereotypes and to make even the worst sort of gorgon a human being. This was a lovely read and a nice way to end the year.(less)
I love Jack Reacher. He's a combination superhero and B-movie action hero. I've been trying to cast him in the movie in my head, but haven't quite man...moreI love Jack Reacher. He's a combination superhero and B-movie action hero. I've been trying to cast him in the movie in my head, but haven't quite managed to get him down. I'd like to think of him as a big guy, like John Wayne, but more urban tough, like Charles Bronson.
This whole series is built to be incredibly entertaining and a non-stop joyride. You do not read these for probable outcomes or events or for great literary significance. You read these because you want good escapism in the form of a really good thriller and these will deliver.
I always manage to learn some odd bit of trivia I didn't know before from these books. This time is was a bit about the British in Afghanistan that I never put together until now.
I seem to be reading a lot of European police procedurals - British cops, Irish cops, and now Scottish cops. I'm becoming a mini-expert in how cops in...moreI seem to be reading a lot of European police procedurals - British cops, Irish cops, and now Scottish cops. I'm becoming a mini-expert in how cops in the British Isles investigate things and in all the nuances of their acronyms. I'm sure I really only know enough to be dangerous, but it's cool to read all the different ways people have to get to the same goal.
This book represents the exit of John Rebus, an irascible Scottish cop, who has been featured in 16 other books by Ian Rankin. Rankin writes irascible well and the plot here is fun, if bittersweet. I'm thinking at this point that I need to go back to the beginning and read them all through in order, this isn't the best entry into the series. Having said that, it was a fun book to read and if you like P.D. James (and who doesn't), you'll like these. I wonder what his next series will be like?(less)
This is not a perfect book, but I enjoyed reading it. The parallel stories of Sarah, taken away by the Nazis carrying the key to the cupboard where he...moreThis is not a perfect book, but I enjoyed reading it. The parallel stories of Sarah, taken away by the Nazis carrying the key to the cupboard where her little brother is hiding, and Julia, an American journalist living in Paris, are very compelling throughout the first half to two-thirds of the book. I loved learning the history of the Vel d'Hiv and I loved the sense of the two different voices intertwining to reveal both the history of roundup and deportation of the French Jews and of their own separate, but interconnected stories.
Where things got dicey for me was in the last part of the book where the voice of Sarah drops out completely and Julia, her pregnancy, and her marriage problems take over. I just didn't care much about whether or not she should stay with her philandering French husband and the implied potential love story between Julia and Sarah's son was just too pat for me.
Still, read this book for the first wonderful bit and read it to learn some history you didn't know and read it for a little tragedy and a little bit of hope in a dark and scary time we should never forget. You won't be sorry you did.(less)
This wasn't a perfect thriller, but it was a really good one. Set in Houston, TX in the '80's, Locke tells the story of Jay Porter, a lawyer who witne...moreThis wasn't a perfect thriller, but it was a really good one. Set in Houston, TX in the '80's, Locke tells the story of Jay Porter, a lawyer who witnesses something bad out on the bayou, but is disinclined to trust the cops.
Jay Porter is a wonderful character - a former civil rights activist, burned by a snitch in his group and put on trial, but acquitted. He has come through this experience with a law degree, a wife, a baby on the way, and a not-so-thriving law practice in a strip mall. His life hasn't exactly turned out the way he planned. Riding along with Jay as he sorts through the events he is tangled up in accidentally you can't help but root for him, despite all his damage, despite all his paranoia, despite his imperfections.
Locke does a great job of bringing the reader into the Houston of the '80's where it's all about oil, corruption, and growth - growth so fast that the city can't keep up with basic services and toney gated communities must hire their own garbagemen to avoid drowning in their refuse. Locke grew up in Houston and obviously knows the city well. I loved her ability to move through all the various niches - from ghetto to honky tonk to City Hall.
Locke is a screenwriter and it shows. The pacing in the book is very cinematic and she really knows how to grab you and keep you reading. Another reviewer compared her to Dennis Lehane and I guess she's working in similar territory if Dennis Lehane was African American and from Houston. The final third of the book gets a little clunky and a little too convoluted as if she threw too many balls in the air at once and doesn't quite know how to make it all work, but this was fresh and entertaining and I hope she writes another one.(less)
I find this author incredibly frustrating and had the same experience with this book that I did with The Time Traveler's Wife. I spent the first 100 t...moreI find this author incredibly frustrating and had the same experience with this book that I did with The Time Traveler's Wife. I spent the first 100 to 150 pages being utterly delighted and thinking, "This is such a cool idea for a book! I love the setting and the atmosphere! This is going to be such a good read!" I then spent the rest of the book becoming more and more disenchanted and frustrated.
Niffenegger has the potential to be an amazing writer. She's obviously very creative and she is extremely skilled at creating interesting characters (even if I hate some of them) and putting them in interesting settings. My problem with her is that once she's got everyone on stage, she doesn't seem to know what to do with them and she spends an enormous amount of time with her characters wandering about the cool stage set in random patterns, picking things up and putting them down in different places, and stepping all over each others' toes in the process. Meanwhile, way over there in the unlit corner is the actual story - too bad you can't see it. In this book, the buried and undertold story is that of Martin and Marijke - hemmed in by Martin's OCD like the crossword puzzles he designs.
There are some other beautiful little vignettes here - Jessica and her love for Highgate Cemetary, Robert and his loss of Elspeth. Least interesting is the drama at the center of the book - Elspeth and her twin nieces - none of them likeable and, in fact, unlikeable for no good reason. The decisions about these characters and how to portray them are maddeningly poor. There is no build to who they are, no sense of internal logic, they're all just randomly Bad as if a small child was told to draw the wicked witch and she came out as a ghost and a pair of twins.
Then there is the absolute waste of an amazing setting - the funny apartment building with its garden gate opening into Highgate Cemetary, Highgate itself, and London with its hidden nooks and crannies and tube stations and buses and tourist attractions and hat shops. There's the flat the twins inherit - filled with the remnants of their aunt's life - her clothes, her shoes, and most ignored her rare books (Elsepeth was a dealer in rare books - not that you'd know it from reading about her, just a few bare mentions of rare first editions). Again, the stage set is amazing, but that's not all that's needed and the sheer waste of this one is infuriating.
I really want to like this writer and I'm sure I'll give a third book a try, but I really want her to make some decisions about what she wants to do. Everything doesn't have to have a coherent plot - it's okay to populate a stage set with interesting people who don't do a whole lot more than be interesting, but I hope in future she'll stop rabbiting around looking for the Big Plot Point because it just gums up the works and ruins what could be two wonderful books.(less)
I tend to be really wary of books that everyone says you have to read because it's the best ever. So I avoided picking this one up for quite awhile. I...moreI tend to be really wary of books that everyone says you have to read because it's the best ever. So I avoided picking this one up for quite awhile. I found I was really interested in her second book and I figured I should read the first one first, so I did.
This book was just okay for me. The device (the time traveling guy and his long-term relationship) was really really cool. The way the time traveling was handled and the sort of universal breaking of lots of the established rules about time travel (thou shalt not meet thyself or thine world will end kinda thing) was original and handled with lots of verve. She writes well and I liked how well she established time and place through mention of bands of the time period and clubs and whatnot. I think some people should get over themselves when they complain about "name checking."
Now, on to what mostly didn't work for me - Henry and Clare. How wonderful that they had this great big mythic love. How awful that the author couldn't manage to make me believe in it, mostly because Clare is so poorly written that it is almost impossible to differentiate her from any other random character. I'm okay with the main narrator having the most fully fleshed voice and other characters being, well, less. But if a mythic romance is at the center of your time traveling story both halves of that romance ought to feel real and Clare just doesn't work for me.
Ultimately, there were big chunks of this book that I really enjoyed, but I think the coolest thing about it - the time traveling device - was also its downfall. I'm still interested to read Her Fearful Symmetry (I'm a sucker for a good ghost story) and more interested now that I've read the first book. Niffenegger is a writer with a lot of interesting promise - let's see if she lives up to it.(less)
This is the second book in a new police procedural series by Irish crime writer Brian McGilloway. The series features An Garda Inspector Benedict Devl...moreThis is the second book in a new police procedural series by Irish crime writer Brian McGilloway. The series features An Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin - a policeman in the borderlands between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The first book in the series was Borderlands and it was a decent first outing. Sometimes the second book lags behind the first, but that is not the case with this one. If anything, Gallows Lane is a better book.
This books contains hidden evidence, death threats, and an unexpected rivalry as Devlin works to solve some intertwined murders and to work out for himself whether he wants a promotion to Superintendent. The crime writing is smart and effective and the characterizations deepen (as does the sense of place). This is a book about struggle of all kinds and about the sometimes sad consequences of struggle. Ben Devlin's an interesting character and I look forward to getting to know him better as the series progresses.
My one criticism of these books is that while it's refreshing to see a cop who is a happily married father, Devlin's wife and kids get sort of short shrift as characters. I'd like to see them developed more and made an actual part of his life rather than incidental moments.
All told this was a great whodunit. Can't wait for the next one!(less)
The received wisdom of the Holocaust is that all the Jews went passively to their deaths like so many sheep and all Germans either committed heinous w...moreThe received wisdom of the Holocaust is that all the Jews went passively to their deaths like so many sheep and all Germans either committed heinous war crimes or stood passively by and allowed them to happen. There is also the notion that only Jews died in concentration camps. Then, if you're like me and find history fascinating, you read more and learn about the Warsaw Ghetto and Sobibor and partisan groups of all kinds (even Jewish ones). You learn about the resistance movements in various places (and the very real consequences to taking part in them). The literature (both fictional and non-fictional) is rich and worthwhile. Yet this is the first time that I've really understood that there as an active resistance inside Germany. Yes, I knew that the communists and trade unionists and social democrats and lots of anything else that can be imagined were purged pretty much throughout the time leading up to the war and during the war itself. Yes, I knew that there were a number of different conspiracies to assassinate Hitler. What I didn't know about was the Rote Kapelle (the Red Orchestra) and the gripping story of their courageous resistance from within the highest echelons of German society and the horrible price they paid for it.
Nelson's book documents this group in intricate well-researched detail using as many primary sources as she could get her hands on. Often characterized as Soviet spies, the group was actually filled with artists and intellectuals who passed along information to the Soviets, but who also organized and participated in various resistance efforts in their community. The horror of it all is that it was the sheer ineptitude of the Soviets that ultimately got them caught and executed. The sheer enormity of the risks these people took for so very little gain was both inspiring and terribly tragic. The cast of characters is large, but Nelson does a great job of telling this story. I'd like to say that the aftermath of their sacrifice was justice for the people who perpetrated their deaths, but those individuals were protected by the US in a misguided attempt to fight the demons of communism.
Lastly, I was struck by the information that over a period of twelve years almost 3,000,000 Germans were in and out of concentration camps and penitentiaries for political reasons. About 800,000 were arrest for overt anti-Nazi acts; of these, only 300,000 were still alive after the war so about 500,000 died resisting the Nazi government.
The thirties and the run up to the War and the War itself are crucial to understanding the world today. So much of history repeats itself again and again - the more information we have, the more nuanced our view, the more prepared we will be to fight fascism wherever it occurs.(less)
What an excellent thriller this was! I got it because it had a recommendation from Tana French on the back cover. French is one of my favorite new cri...moreWhat an excellent thriller this was! I got it because it had a recommendation from Tana French on the back cover. French is one of my favorite new crime writers who managed to write an amazing first book and an even more amazing second book. I figured if she liked this one, I would, too. And I did!
This is one of those books that both excels past its genre and stays firmly in it. Hannah never breaks the rules of thriller in this book, but she expands the notion of what a writer of thrillers can do. All the things that you want from a thriller writer are here - tight and intricate plotting, suspense, and unexpected twists and turns. Add to those things compelling characterizations and deft writing and the book is successful.
I especially liked that Hannah was brave enough to allow one of her characters to express the dirty little secret of mothering small children - that it's hard, back breaking, frequently enraging work; that mothering is thankless and brutal; and that small children are often tyrannical in their power over us as parents. No, this isn't the only story to be told about mothering, but it is a part of the story - it's just the part we're all too uncomfortable to express. Express it Hannah does, and she expresses it with utter skill.
This was a great thriller and now I have to go find her other two novels! You should read this - it's really really good.(less)
Adolf Eichmann was the model for Hannah Arendt's banality of evil. Kafka could not have written a more bloodless bureaucrat than Eichmann - the Chief...moreAdolf Eichmann was the model for Hannah Arendt's banality of evil. Kafka could not have written a more bloodless bureaucrat than Eichmann - the Chief Operating Officer of the Final Solution. Although he was manifestly responsible for the deaths of 6 million or more Jews, Communists, prisoners of war, Gypsies, political dissidents, homosexuals, mentally retarded people, and anyone else who had the misfortune to be caught in the wheels of the Nazi system, he never accepted responsibility. He was just following orders. "I never killed anyone ... I was involved in collection and transport."
Hunting Eichmann tells the story of the 15-year hunt for Adolf Eichmann after the War ended. Eichmann had been last seen in Hungary, overseeing the systematic murder of over 430,000 Hungarians before fleeing the country in 1945. Captured by the Americans under a false name in 1946, Eichmann escaped them and eventually made his way to Argentina where a community of expatriate Nazis waited to welcome him.
Bascomb's book is the most comprehensive story of how Eichmann was tracked down yet written. Bascomb had access to extensive written materials all over the world that have recently become declassified. In addition, he was able to interview every major player in the story of the capture. It is clear from reading the book that the US and the Europeans were invested in ignoring the Nazis that were left unprosecuted after Nuremberg because bringing them and their stories to light would have also shed light on the number of prominent ex-Nazis working for the U.S. and various other European governments. By the time WWII ended everyone was primarily concerned with fighting Communism and looked the other way when convenient.
Had it not been for the relentless bravery of Nazi hunters like Simon Wisenthal and Tuviah Friedman the case might have gone cold, but their work along with the work of concentration camp survivors in Argentina identified and located Eichmann. The Israelis were tipped off to his location by a West German prosecutor and the capture was on. This team of a dozen Israelis - over half of whom were concentration camp survivors or who had lost their entire families to the camps - went to Argentina to pick him up. That they did so was pretty amazing. That they managed to hold him for 10 days without murdering him outright, despite how soul sucking being in his presence was, is nothing short of a miracle.
This book reads like the best fictional spy stories you've ever read. The history is fascinating and the writing is gripping. I'm not sure that I enjoyed this, but it was well worth reading.(less)
In the past couple of years there has been a lot of good new crime fiction coming out of Ireland so I was pleased to find even more! Borderlands intro...moreIn the past couple of years there has been a lot of good new crime fiction coming out of Ireland so I was pleased to find even more! Borderlands introduces us to An Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin, working on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
I like police procedurals and this is a good one made even more interesting to me because of its setting. Borders are interesting places and border towns even more so as the people on each side spill over and influence each other. There is a perpetual sense of ambiguity that makes these places transgressive and McGilloway definitely captures that.
Benedict Devlin has the potential to be a recurring police character who will be worth reading about. He carries his own set of ambiguities that will make him interesting to read. I like that he's not a super cop - sometimes he's competent and sometimes the obvious flies by, but he keeps on banging away at the problem until he gets some resolution.
There are interesting secondary characters here, as well, as plenty of twists and turns. All in all a good read and a good first outing.(less)
I'm fond of Scott Turow, so when the back of this book compared the author to him, I figured it would be worth a shot (and it was). This is a combinat...moreI'm fond of Scott Turow, so when the back of this book compared the author to him, I figured it would be worth a shot (and it was). This is a combination legal thriller and portrait of a man at the end of his rope.
Our hero, Work, has always been his father's son - following his father into the practice of law, marrying the woman his father chose for him, living the life he was supposed to live. His father's disappearance and the subsequent discovery of his body (with two bullets in the head) has widened the cracks in Work's life. Convinced his sister, abused by their father and suffering from long-term suicidal depression, shot their father, Work sets out to take the blame (or at least to deflect the attention away from her).
There are times when this book is truly absorbing, but at times it is overblown and a bit melodramatic and you really want to tell Work to stop being such a pussy. Amusingly enough, shortly after you want to tell him that another character does.
This was a decent read, but I'm not rushing out to find the author's other books. Still, it kept me entertained throughout several days of public transportation and there's a lot to be said for that.(less)
This is one of my all-time favorite books. I've read it numerous times since it first came out and I enjoy it every single time and every single time...moreThis is one of my all-time favorite books. I've read it numerous times since it first came out and I enjoy it every single time and every single time I am so sorry to finish it. It belongs to what I think of as a trio of books about school along with Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand and Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Let me be clear - these books are nothing alike - the only thing they have in common is their college setting. In a way, though, they are alike - they each deal with Dionysian events and their consequences in closed and exclusive college settings.
The Secret History isn't so much a whodunit as a whydunit - you know the who immediately, the why is somewhat more mysterious (and in many ways is never fully revealed). I love the sweeping romanticism of this book - set at fictional Hampden College in the eighties. I was in college at the same time and some of the characters are familiar - the punk rockers, the druggies, the incredibly annoying hippies. Our hero is a California transplant, at college on scholarship and thrust into a small group of privileged students studying the Classics with the enigmatic Julian Morrow.
This is a winter book - cold at its heart, colder in its setting. There are deaths and funerals and philosophizing - lots of masks constantly worn. At its center is the narrator, Richard, and his love of the picturesque and Henry, who may or may not be a psychopathic killer. In this reading I found Julian Morrow to be the most chilling character - he is the old man in the road with the answers you probably won't like once you get them.
If you haven't read this, it's worth reading. Donna Tartt is a good writer and a good storyteller (a worthwhile combination). It takes her forever to write a book (this one took 8 years). Her second book, The Little Friend, is an odd Southern gothic that I also enjoyed, although it doesn't have the staying power of the first. It was 10 years between the first and second novel. Her third novel is due out in 2012. I'll be interested to see how she gets past her sophomore slump.(less)
Recently I paid a visit to Target to pick up some things. I always stop by the book section when I'm there, even though I don't usually buy anything (...moreRecently I paid a visit to Target to pick up some things. I always stop by the book section when I'm there, even though I don't usually buy anything (I'm a used book and library kind of girl). I like to see what they've got on display because it keeps me abreast of what's selling out there in the wonderful world of books. On this visit, I was appalled to find that there was nothing in the young adult section, but paranormal romance. It was all 90210 with fangs, fur, or wings. How depressing!
Don't get me wrong - I like well-written fiction that contains an element of the paranormal and even an element of romance, but that's not all I like. I shudder to think that these the the only books being marketed on a mass scale to teenage girls. The fact that they are frequently dreadfully written and feature relationships that teeter on the edge of emotional (if not physical) abuse is appalling. Why are we giving young women the message that they should be stalking and putting up with young men who are emotionally unavailable, passive aggressive, and (by the way) not human?
Fallen follows the latest version of this trend by making the bad boys (yes, there are two fighting over our intrepid heroine) fallen angels. The setting is Savannah, but the writer takes no advantage of it. We are to believe that the characters are in a reform school, but it reads more like one of those school advertised in the back of Town and Country for challenged kids. It's boarding school with slightly higher security.
The concept of this book could have been interesting, but the book definitely falls short. Wooden characters, a truly dumb heroine, and completely unbelievable storyline make this one worth missing. I like the cover, though!(less)
This is the second in a trilogy of books about his childhood on Corfu that Gerald Durrell wrote in part to subsidize his collecting habit. Durrell, th...moreThis is the second in a trilogy of books about his childhood on Corfu that Gerald Durrell wrote in part to subsidize his collecting habit. Durrell, the brother of Lawrence Durrell, was an author, naturalist, and conservationist. He founded the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Jersey Zoo.
I was first introduced to him by my Seattle grandparents, Wayne and Lorene, who I remember sitting up in their big king-sized bed with me, all of us reading Gerald Durrell books and laughing and stopping to read bits aloud to each other. That's a really great memory.
These books gave me my long-time not-so-secret desire to run away to live on Corfu. Maybe some day I'll get to do that.
Durrell writes wonderfully about animals and about his hilarious family and their friends. These books will make you laugh out loud and will teach all kinds of things you didn't know about all kinds of animals. I turned my son on to these books when he was 10 and recommend them often.(less)
I've been binging a bit on Gothic novels with the approach of Halloween. I remembered that I liked another book by Victoria Holt, The Legend of the Se...moreI've been binging a bit on Gothic novels with the approach of Halloween. I remembered that I liked another book by Victoria Holt, The Legend of the Seventh Virgin when I was in high school so I thought I'd pick this one up since it's frequently on lists of definitive Gothic literature.
It's definitely got all the elements - the brooding mansion, the mysterious and tragic older man, the plucky noblewoman down on her luck and forced to earn her way as a governess. It's sort of the daughter of Jane Eyre and Rebecca with a bit of Wuthering Heights thrown in for seasoning.
This is not a read that will get you points with your snooty Literature reading friends, but it's a quick read and kind of fun in an old-fashioned sort of way. Yes, it's genre fiction and yes, it's formulaic, but that's not always a bad thing(tm).(less)
If you like intelligent true crime books about organized crime in particular and you haven't read T.J. English yet, you're missing out. His books are...moreIf you like intelligent true crime books about organized crime in particular and you haven't read T.J. English yet, you're missing out. His books are meaty and well-written, but as entertaining as any thriller out there. I've read all of them and enjoyed them all, but for different reasons.
Born to Kill is English's first book. It examines the rise and fall and rise of the Vietnamese gang, Born to Kill. This gang was born in Chinatown among young Vietnamese immigrants during the nineties. The book tells their story in the context of both Chinatown's traditional gangster societies and as a fundamental, if unexpected, consequence of the Vietnam War.
The majority of the members of Born to Kill were boat people who immigrated alone, often as 11 to 13 year olds. In a society literally destroyed by civil war, it was felt that these young men would have the best chance of making it to America, becoming self-sufficient and making the money to bring the rest of the family over. Imagine being 12 years old and dumped onto a small boat to cross the seas to America; encounters with pirates were ubiquitous and the conditions in the refugee camps where those who survived a voyage ended up were brutal. Once arrangements were made for immigration to America, most of these young men were sent to live with foster families who had no connection to them or their culture - many were in it for the money alone. Most of these young men washed up on the streets of Chinatown where they met other young Vietnamese men who banded together in shared apartments and in shared crimes to form the nucleus of the Born to Kill gang - a kind of extended family.
The Vietnamese gangs were very violent and very mobile. With no real ties to the larger Asian community or indeed to American in general, they broke all the established norms for criminal endeavor. Ultimately brought down by one of their own members, this is a fascinating story of a sad and brutal kind of family.(less)
This is the last of the Dark is Rising sequence and, in keeping with my re-read of the Prydain Chronicles, this is probably my least favorite book, ag...moreThis is the last of the Dark is Rising sequence and, in keeping with my re-read of the Prydain Chronicles, this is probably my least favorite book, again because it is the most epic.
In this last tale the Dark and Light are gathering for one last battle and Will Stanton and his Welsh friend, Bran, must gain the crystal sword and join with the Drew siblings to aid Merriman.
Everyone is here, but for me the book is marred by the long section all about looking for the crystal sword through the Lost Land. The pace in this large section seemed off and I had trouble caring about what happened. The ending of this novel also feels off, somehow - like Cooper ran out of steam and worked to tie up loose ends all at once. Choices are expediently made or not made at all and Gummery, predictably, goes off to the Summer Country (or the Old One equivalent).
Still and all this is a wonderful series for both children and adults (and excellent for reading aloud chapter by chapter)!(less)
This was a delightful book about a girl who can see ghosts (it runs in the family). It's good that she can see visitors from the other side because he...moreThis was a delightful book about a girl who can see ghosts (it runs in the family). It's good that she can see visitors from the other side because her parents are ghosts - killed in a car accident, but still taking care of her. One day, all the ghosts in the world begin to disappear, including Belladonna's parents. She and her friend, Steve, and her ghostly friend Elsie team up to discover what's happening.
This was a book where I loved both the story and the characters. Ms. Stringer creates a believable world for her characters to inhabit. The heroine is smart, funny, competent, and imperfect. Her friends are just that - friends. As a trio they are successful because of their friendship. It was wonderful to read about a competent female character and her friendships. Ms. Stringer is a wonderful writer who has created a wonderful first book in what promises to be an entertaining ongoing series appropriate for ages 9 and up.(less)
I like this series, set in San Francisco, partly because it's set in San Francisco, but also because the recurring characters & their lives are interesting. After twenty books in the series, I really care about these people, they feel fleshed out and real to me. Additionally, Lescroart has avoided the trap of making his series character massively irritating (Patricia Cornwell, I'm looking at you). I don't know why so many series writers turn their characters into people I wouldn't want to spend ten minutes waiting on a bus with, but they often do. I'm glad Lescroart hasn't.
This isn't the best in the series, but it's a good read - tightly plotted, good character development, lots of suspense & a surprise ending. What more could you want from a thriller?(less)
This was an entertaining social history of the Dakota apartment building in New York. The early parts of the book discusses the early history of the b...moreThis was an entertaining social history of the Dakota apartment building in New York. The early parts of the book discusses the early history of the building, its first tenants, & its place in the history of the city & this is where the book is at its most interesting. Who knew that early apartment buildings & hotels were frowned upon because they were so much like the tenements of the day?
The last bit of the book is a bit gossipy, but that's also delicious in its own way, although somewhat disconcerting after the earlier historical writing. There are some cool photographs, as well, but I would've liked to have seen more photos of the interior of the building - maybe not the insides of people's apartments, but surely there's a picture of the lobby somewhere!
I love the notion of this building going up on the west side of Central Park & being called the Dakota because at the time it was so far out west. Its original budget was a million dollars & it took four years to build - from 1880 to 1884.
This, of course, is where John Lennon lived & where he was shot. The exterior of the building has been used in a couple of movies, Rosemary's Baby most notably, but they don't allow filming inside.
This is an enjoyable, if not terribly scholarly, book.(less)
I recently managed to make it all the way through Sophie's Choice, a book I had attempted to read in college and hadn't had the maturity to finish. I...moreI recently managed to make it all the way through Sophie's Choice, a book I had attempted to read in college and hadn't had the maturity to finish. I loved it on my recent read so I thought I should return to Lie Down in Darkness, another book I hadn't been able to complete.
This is a very good, if not great, novel. It is also very depressing. I remember it being so depressing that I just couldn't get through it the first time (and my memory was good). All the same, the writing is beautiful and the characterizations clear and sad. In a sense, this novel is a lyrical essay on Tolstoy's quote about unhappy families from Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
The novel opens on Peyton Loftis' body returning to her family on the train from New York after her suicide. Styron ranges back and forth in time and point of view throughout the novel in presenting the causes of Peyton's depression and suicide.
Peyton Loftis is the template for a particular kind of doomed Southern girl - beautiful with Daddy issues and a dozen bad habits, the kind of girl certain kinds of boys fall in love with but never marry. She is in some ways a very old-fashioned character - very much of her own generation. Reading her will make you grateful that our mothers' generation fought the feminist battles and gave us options beyond attending Sweet Briar and marrying the first fraternity boy that crossed our path. I think it's a wonder more intelligent and creative women didn't cut their own throats in the public square out of sheer boredom.
I'd like to say that all the changes in the status of women in the last 50 or so years have made the Peyton Loftises of the world obsolete, but that would be untrue. There are still plenty of boxes for both women and men to be confined to and political and societal change don't necessarily eliminate them.
I'm glad I made it through this one this time. It is, as I said, a good novel. I can strongly relate to all the flavors of despair that Styron depicts and truly felt the presence of his own depression throughout the novel. Styron is wonderfully flamboyant with language and character, even when weighed down with his own demons.(less)
This is a beautiful combination cookbook/memoir filled with relatively classical Greek recipes & a number of the writer's own interpretations of t...moreThis is a beautiful combination cookbook/memoir filled with relatively classical Greek recipes & a number of the writer's own interpretations of these classics.
Michael Psilakis was voted Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine for 2008. One of his Greek restaurants - Anthos - is one of only two Greek restaurants in the world with a Michelin star; that's really impressive. That he writes well & tells charming story, obviously loves food & wants to share his love of it, & can craft a good recipe are wonderful bonuses where he is concerned.
Many of these recipes are, frankly, complicated & require a pretty strong cooking background & lots & lots of ingredients. Many more, however, are straightforward & should be doable for most home cooks. The author's stories about his family & his love of Greek cuisine are highly readable & enjoyable. The photos in the book are outstanding & will make you want to go out, buy, & prepare octopus. Right now.
I am especially intrigued by the last chapter of Aegean pantry items that includes all kinds of confits, vinaigrettes, & candied fruits. Aside from the fact that it all sounds really tasty, it also screams Christmas presents!
This is a beautiful book & I know I'll be cooking from it often.(less)
Fashion is a wonderful thing. The right clothes can transform not only how you look, but how you feel. Couture is wearable art, pure & simple, but...moreFashion is a wonderful thing. The right clothes can transform not only how you look, but how you feel. Couture is wearable art, pure & simple, but for the rest of us mortals there is plenty of beautiful ready-to-wear to costume our days.
Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy capitalizes on the popularity of the Mrs. O website to bring readers a beautifully designed book filled with pictures, narrative of Michelle Obama's journey to the White House & what she wore along the way, & interviews with some of her favorite designers.
Michelle as been a breath of fresh air in Washington, DC. Too often political wives and female politicians have settled for drag & boxy skirt suits or frumpy dresses. Their color palette has either been red, white, & blue or Easter egg pastels &, with a few exceptions, they've all tended to look pretty dreadful. Michelle Obama, with her mix of high & low fashion & her self-confidence has given us all something new & beautiful to look at. It's lovely to see a strong, well-educated African American woman who looks like a million dollars whether she's wearing something from the Gap or something from Thakoon. Our First Lady is a great representative for our country.(less)