I love Ian McEwan's writing, but this one was just an average read for me. I'm not sure that I learned much from it, nor was I particularly connectedI love Ian McEwan's writing, but this one was just an average read for me. I'm not sure that I learned much from it, nor was I particularly connected to any of the characters. Only in the last two or three pages does it become clear that this was exactly what the author intended - there is a lovely twist to the plot - but it was too little, too late. ...more
For years, the true story of the mysterious theft from the Isabella Gardner museum in Boston has compelled me, leading me to read most of what has beeFor years, the true story of the mysterious theft from the Isabella Gardner museum in Boston has compelled me, leading me to read most of what has been written about that fateful night when a couple of thieves stole priceless artworks from a totally vulnerable site. This real-life mystery has taught me much about museum security and the seamy underbelly of the black market that the mafia and many drug cartels - and how they often hold great artworks hostage as collateral for their dark dealings. "The Art Forger" added to my interest in this topic in it's careful presentation of the world of art forgery. Add to that a compelling story of a young artist who has been cast out of the contemporary art scene and has the opportunity to forge her way back into it and you have the makings of a great page-turner, a mystery in and of itself....more
As many other reviewers have written, "Brain on Fire" is compelling more for what the author teaches us about the nature of neurological problems andAs many other reviewers have written, "Brain on Fire" is compelling more for what the author teaches us about the nature of neurological problems and the frustrations inherent in diagnosing and curing those problems. In the past few years, I have been caught up in helping my mom with her subdural hematoma that almost destroyed her brain and the dementia that ultimately did take her intellect and wit from her. Reading Susannah Cahalan's honest, carefully-researched account of her virally-induced "month of madness," however, resonated deeply with me and helped me better understand my mother's impossible behavior as well as appreciate those medical professionals who are willing to work in an area that is still not very well understood scientifically and socially....more
It has been many years since I have read a book that was able to tackle history (the brutal massacre and war for independence of Biafra from Nigeri),It has been many years since I have read a book that was able to tackle history (the brutal massacre and war for independence of Biafra from Nigeri), character (the story was told from the perspective of a white British male who claims Biafran allegiance, a native Igbo boy who desires to be less native and more aligned with the educated elite, and an Igbo Biafran beauty elite who falls passionately in love with a Biafran revolutionary), and social, economic, and cultural subtleties and complexities better than Chimamanda Ngozi Adeche. I have little experience with African history or literature but finished this book with a strong sense of the cultural frustrations rooted in colonization and extending to ethnic cleansing among tribes. And yet, the story was incredibly moving and personal - I was able to inhabit the lives of the three main characters and consider the multitude of other perspectives that contributed to this beautiful narrative.
This is absolutely worth every moment of your reading life....more
Smith Henderson's first novel is a significant work that unfolds the patented preconceived notions that we fold people into. The storyline follows PetSmith Henderson's first novel is a significant work that unfolds the patented preconceived notions that we fold people into. The storyline follows Pete Snow, a rural Montana social worker whose own life is unraveling as he tries to patch other families together. You can't help but like Pete, even as he falls prey to the worst qualities in a father and husband: drunken binges, escapism through drug use, abandonment, and unadulterated adultery. But his heart is in the right place always, and he manages to save a few lives, even as he lets others fall apart.
Filled with characters who are deeply flawed, the perspective often shifts from Pete to other perspectives, allowing the reader a glimpse into the best laid plans and intentions of others. Especially effective is the use of the omniscient reporter-like interviewer who follows Pete's young teenage daughter as she spirals into seedy and dangerous territory in an effort to be loved.
Henderson's narration is comprised of a delightful mix of precise and descriptive imagery, apt raw dialect, and a smattering of arcane words (serried, anyone?) that will expand your vocabulary.
"Fourth of July Creek" is a terrific novel, let alone a first novel, filled with emotional highs and lows and surprises that drive the reader to question how our snap-judgements, grudges, and prejudices often work against our ability to love one another....more
This was Tara Conklin's first novel and it reads as such. While many authors have incorporated flashbacks and epistles to weave together the narrativeThis was Tara Conklin's first novel and it reads as such. While many authors have incorporated flashbacks and epistles to weave together the narratives of two separate characters, Conklin's two storylines and characters felt cobbled together, contrived to help her reach her ultimate goal. In fact, in reading her Q and A at the end of the text, she explained that she started with one of the minor characters, then built in the main character from the past...which reinforces my sense that the narrative frame from the present tense was more of an afterthought. And yet, this narrative frame overwhelmed the novel and detracted from some of the best writing.
The novel shifts from the detective work of Carolina Sparrow, who is sleuthing about the history of a remarkable slave house girl, Josephine, who may or may not have painted and drawn what are now deemed to be works of art that represent humanity and compassion about plantation life. Josephine may or may not have direct descendants. One of the descendants may or may not be a salt-of-the-earth rock band member who supports himself by working at a library. Lina may or may not be falling in love with him, all the while grappling with her famous artist father's possible love affairs and the memory of who her dead mother may or may not have been.
You get my point?
The best part of the book is when Conklin lets Josephine take over and live in the moment. This is when her imagery and storytelling takes on a poetic, magical quality featuring careful, purposeful imagery. This is when Conklin is at her finest....more
The three-star rating that I gave to this, the fourth book in the Robert Langdon art history mystery series, belies the eagerness with which I read itThe three-star rating that I gave to this, the fourth book in the Robert Langdon art history mystery series, belies the eagerness with which I read it, as is usual when reading a Dan Brown book. This time, the distinguished professor paired up with a young and brilliant beauty to tackle an emergency scavenger hunt in order to save the world...in less than 36 hours. If this sounds familiar to you, then you must have read any or all of Brown's other Langdon novels. Pick any one - they all are built on the same frame.
And yet, there are reasons - good reasons - why all types of readers flock to read the latest Dan Brown. The stories are compelling page-turners. Brown is like the neighborhood kid down the street who was so brilliant and athletic, always just a few steps ahead of you, almost frustrating you with such mastery of the game, but always kind enough to slow down to let you catch up, sometimes even letting you catch him just to make you feel like you are an expert. And while this is a kindly way to treat his readers, keeping them from becoming lost or frustrated by being immersed in a winding plot that wades through the mire of the art history world, it can be frustrating when Langdon solves the most impossible clues but stumbles on what is obvious to even a novice.
In the case of "Inferno," Brown struck on some of my favorite academic pursuits - Dante Alighieri, Florence, Italy, and the text of "Inferno." So it was surprising that the reading snob and the humanities teacher in me (having taught these topics for almost 15 years)still learned a few compelling things that I did not know. There were even a few chapters that inspired me to do further research to add to my Dante dossier. And so, even though I knew immediately what the story behind Langdon repeating "very sorry" in his amnesiatic state meant, and knew instantly the secret behind the phrase "cerca trova," I was still inspired to research about Dante's death mask and the Doge who pillaged Istanbul.
If you can look past the neighborhood kid down the street who (patronizingly) lets you win from time to time in order to keep the game going, Inferno is a great summer read from with you will certainly learn and may be inspired to learn more.
This is a clever artistic endeavor that started as an art school project and became a way of thinking about what we consume (i.e. food, literature). IThis is a clever artistic endeavor that started as an art school project and became a way of thinking about what we consume (i.e. food, literature). It's clear that these comestibles also consumed the author, who chose dishes as hearty as the clam chowder from "Moby Dick" and as sweet as the berries from "Blueberries for Sal." Accompanied by excerpts from the texts describing the dishes, the author created compelling tableaus to feature her fare. This is a delightful, quick read in which the photos take center stage....more
Green is one of the most honest voices in teen fiction today, and "Looking for Alaska" is deservedly considered to be one of his best titles. In MilesGreen is one of the most honest voices in teen fiction today, and "Looking for Alaska" is deservedly considered to be one of his best titles. In Miles Halter, Green captures the alternately hopeful and despairing voice of a 16-year-old - of most 16-year-olds. While it may seem macarbre that Miles memorizes famous last words of historic figures, it is perfectly relevant to Green's theme of youth attempting to understand where they fit into the spectrum of life. The feeling of absolute immortality and the rush of being wholly alive are represented honestly and realistically in Mile's antics with his boarding school friends. But Green is careful to temper such optimism, as reflected in Mile's pursuit of "the great perhaps" (Rabelais' last words), with an honest and smart examination of death as perceived by the great world religions.
"Looking for Alaska" is filled with memorable characters and warmth. As a contemporary Bildungsroman novel, it's appeal transcends the tweener set and makes a meaningful connection with a readers in search of "the great perhaps."...more
This was a quick and poignant little read focused on what matters in life. And while it seems to be billed as a great book to gift to a graduate, it sThis was a quick and poignant little read focused on what matters in life. And while it seems to be billed as a great book to gift to a graduate, it seems that Saunders' message that life is a powerful series of connections based on acts of kindness is relevant to a broader audience focused on amassing wealth and stuff....more
"All the Light We Cannot See" navigates its readers through explorations of loss, helplessness, and tragedy, as one might expect of a novel set in the"All the Light We Cannot See" navigates its readers through explorations of loss, helplessness, and tragedy, as one might expect of a novel set in the heart of WWII. However, more than showcasing the atrocities and ramifications of Hitler's reign, Anthony Doerr allows his setting to be the backdrop for the emergence of two points of light in these dark times.
Marie-Laure, despite becoming blind at age 6, grows to love the light of knowledge, the light by which she explores humankind and its most profound questions. How can we understand the heart of what we cannot see? What if we are catapulted into a strange, new world where the rules of humanity do not prevail? Werner, an orphan who lost his father to the dark, smothering coal mines in his German town, also seeks the light of knowledge and human connection. He is drawn to the anatomy of the radio and gravitates to radio broadcasts for their magic, and he almost unknowingly immerses himself into this unseeable mode of human connection. From the start, it is certain that these two points of light are destined to meet, but the course of the novel is much more complex and layered than the trajectories of these two might indicate.
The book is a beautiful balance between the forces of light and darkness before, during, and after the war, but the critical moment of human connection is concentrated into the last days of the war in Saint Malo on the northern coast of France. Around this siege dance pinpoints of light, moments that define both Marie-Laure and Verner and separate them from those who would give in to despair and tyranny. Doerr masterfully navigates a timeline that shifts repeatedly from present to past, dancing between Marie-Laure's story to Werner's. With beautifully-crafted metaphors sustained throughout the text and precisely-worded sentences that demand to be re-read and extracted as quotable, Anthony Doerr has written one of the best books I have read in years....more
This was an unexpected treasure, my first Oyeyemi read. The poetic title references the three characters who weave this tale that balances some of theThis was an unexpected treasure, my first Oyeyemi read. The poetic title references the three characters who weave this tale that balances some of the sinister motifs of fairy tales with a more contemporary look at questions of identity, race, and gender. Not a single character in this book falls prey to his or her stock character mold; instead, each character springs forth to balance the seeming goodness or evil that defines them with elements of the opposite attribute. Despite the relative compactness of this novel, its scope is rather sweeping and will raise questions about identity and perception....more
Valerie Martin tackles a compelling maritime mystery and loosely adds to the layers of ambiguity with her imagined persona of the creator of SherlockValerie Martin tackles a compelling maritime mystery and loosely adds to the layers of ambiguity with her imagined persona of the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle, and her fictional creation of trailblazing female journalist, Phoebe Grant. A tale told in waves and eddies through these several characters over approximately fifty years in stories, journals, and recountings would seem to be right up my alley.
Ms. Martin writes wonderfully spooky haunting scenes that paired nicely with the occult-loving Victorian world. And yet, despite these elements, the book couldn't hold my attention for the cast of characters that often times didn't link up anywhere else in the book or seemed superfluous. The central storyline just didn't hold up.
This was part of my signed first editions book-of-the-month club, and therefore was not a book I would typically gravitate toward reading. While the book was compelling at the onset with the diary of Sarah Briggs introducing the key players who would later take part in the mystery of the missing "Mary Celeste," I found the bulk of the middle of the book to lag significantly.
"The Ghost of the Mary Celeste" featured a few compelling characters, but Martin's unbalanced use of coincidence and the supernatural did not gel well with the ambiguity that she shrouded the central storyline of her tale in....more