The 104 Book Challenge - 2011 discussion

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Nicole's Novel Niche

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message 1: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 1. The Hammer Of God by Bo Giertz
I read this book because my pastor recommended it. Most likely, it won't be too exciting for people who aren't Lutheran. But, I enjoyed reading about trials of three different pastors working in the same town during three different periods of history. Great explanations of the doctrine and liturgy of the Lutheran church. It was originally published in Swedish, so I wonder if anything was lost in translation.


message 2: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 2. Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
I really felt like I inhabited this book. The author is so descriptive that I felt like I was one of the villagers on the Greek island of Cephallonia. In fact, you could consider the island itself one of the main characters. I had no idea of its history-- occupied by the Italians, then the Germans during World War II. Then once the enemies finally left, the small bands of Communist Greeks who'd been living in the hills off of the supplies that the British sent them (assuming they'd use them to fight the Nazis) came and terrorized their own people. Yeesh! Meanwhile, you have such unique people. Lemoni, the little neighbor girl who digs for snails. The old communist guy and the old imperialist guy who say their sworn enemies, but are really dear friends. The doctor and his huge vocabulary (I actually had to look things up in the dictionary), the fat priest who is so changed by the war, Pelagia. Jeez, I'm going to miss these guys.


I especially enjoyed the love story between Pelagia and Corelli, but felt extremely frustrated by how that turned out. To me, it was "too little, too late, buddy." But, I'm sure there are those who will think the ending is very sweet.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Hi Nicole, I grew up Presbyterian. I'm not very educated when it comes to what Lutheran's believe, but I love anything like that, so I'm sure I'd enjoy reading The Hammer of God.


message 4: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) Hi Rainbows of Faith! It's definitely worth a read. Sometimes when religious authors write a fictional work things seem a bit contrived. But, I really liked his plot and characters and didn't feel like he was manipulating his readers. I think he did an excellent job of showing why liturgy can be a good thing. It can be so overwhelming for people who aren't raised with it (I know my poor Baptist husband very confused when he was introduced to the Kyries, Agnus Deis, etc. etc.). But, like one of the characters says, it is a great inheritance.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Oh wow your husband grew up Baptist and then when he married you, you went to a Lutheran church? Growing up Presbyterian I would say there wasn't as much liturgy. I have been to an Episcopal church that had a lot more of that and I liked it. It helped keep me focused and awake. :-)


message 6: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 3. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
My daughter (Jane 3 1/2) and I finished this last night. We've been reading it aloud together at night for the past few weeks. Of course, I'm sobbing by the end when Charlotte dies. So sweet.


message 7: by Kirsty (new)

Kirsty Darbyshire (nocto) Nicole wrote: "3. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
My daughter (Jane 3 1/2) and I finished this last night. We've been reading it aloud together at night for the past few weeks. Of course, I'm sobbin..."


Isn't it a great book - I read it to my daughter a couple of years ago when she was about the same age as Jane is now - it had us sobbing too. I'm really enjoying reading children's classics I never read as a child to my own child.


message 8: by Jen (new)

Jen | 90 comments Nicole wrote: "3. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
My daughter (Jane 3 1/2) and I finished this last night. We've been reading it aloud together at night for the past few weeks. Of course, I'm sobbin..."


I haven't read that in years, but it was one of my favorites when I was a kid. I loved Charlotte, she was so wise and kind. I always wanted my own Charlotte. I really enjoy EB White's books.


message 9: by Nikki (new)

Nikki | 84 comments Kirsty wrote: "Nicole wrote: "3. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
My daughter (Jane 3 1/2) and I finished this last night. We've been reading it aloud together at night for the past few weeks. Of cou..."


I read this with my 9 yr old son last year and I forgot how great it was. I was crying my eyes out when Charlotte died. Who knew you could love a spider so much :)


message 10: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) I know, these children's classics have really been holding up. I remember my 1st grade teacher reading us Charlotte's Web and I just loved it then. So glad that I had the same response. Now we're starting Little House on the Prairie because we enjoyed Little House in the Big Woods so much. I'm not sure how much of it she is getting, but she sits still and listens and asks occasional questions, so I guess she's engaged. Anyway, I'm enjoying it.


message 11: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 4. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
I usually love character-driven novels, especially when it is a variety of characters whose lives intersect. (Raymond Carver is one of my favorite authors!) But, I just never connected to any of the characters in this novel and felt that the author just kept beating his readers down with a feeling of hopelessness. Such a sad book and so hard for me to force myself to keep inhabiting McCann's New York. A person I absolutely trust for book recommendations, though, loved this book and said it was her best book of 2010. So there you go. Read it yourself and see what you think.


message 12: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 5. Among Friends by M. F. K. Fisher
I really enjoyed MFK's writing style. Such a great memoir about growing up at the turn of the last century. Of course, I'm biased since she is writing about my hometown of Whittier, CA and I recognize all the streets and landmarks to which she refers. Boy, she was not a fan of those Quakers, though. Apparently, her family was not one of the Friends and so was frozen out of the very close-knit community. I guess that would leave me a tad bitter, too. Anyways, I'll have to track down some of her food writing next.


message 13: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 6. Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick
I loved the heck out of this book! Quirky character abound from Joan of Old to the Korean Divas for Christ to Franks Freak Force Five. So nice to have a YA novel where Christianity is shown in a positive light, adults (both Christian and Atheist) are allowed to be smart and compassionate to the YA characters, and the heroine at the end can choose to remain a child for a little bit longer. The heroine has such a great voice and even though I know the ending is tied up just a little too perfectly, I loved that about it.


message 14: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 7. The Great California Deserts by W. Storrs Lee
Great little book that covers everything from prospecting to the space age as seen in the California deserts. Lots of anecdotes that really make old-time California come to life. I have to admit, I found it when I was weeding the non-fiction section at the library. It was a little dingy and hadn't circulated much, so it was a "pity check-out" on my part. So glad I did check it out. It's staying in the collection, by the way.


message 15: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 8. Jack Smith's L.A.by Jack Smith
As a resident of one of the "forty suburbs looking for a city," I enjoyed this compilation of L. A. Times columnist Jack Smith's articles about the eccentricities of Los Angeles. The articles were written mostly in the 1970s and cover everything from Leo Politi's beautiful murals and picture books depicting L.A. to the old Hollywood Hotel where Joan Crawwford danced the Charleston to the Black Dahlia. I loved that Jack Smith is L.A.'s defender and you can tell from his writing that he truly loves his city.


message 16: by Nicole (last edited Feb 01, 2011 02:53PM) (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 9. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley
Wow--I loved every second of this book and read it one sitting (which is not easy to do with two little kids!). I was up late finishing it. Ptolemy, or pitypapa or Lil' Pea is 91 years old and struggling with dementia. (As a side note, I lived with my Grandpa during the final years of his life and these descriptions of trying to remember really struck a chord.) But, he knows he has something that he has to do before he dies so when there is an opportunity to be part of a medical trial that he knows will kill him but will restore his memory first, he grabs it. I don't want to give away what happens next, but there is a deep dark secret and some righteous vindication coming. Great stuff!


message 17: by Linda (new)

Linda Boyd (boydlinda95gmailcom) Ohhh Nicole - I won this on Goodreads and have not gotten a chance to read it yet - so you really enjoyed this book????


message 18: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 10. Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do about It by Kelly Gallagher
I read this at the recommendation of a colleague and fully agreed with the arguments this book is making. Teaching to the test and taking away Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) time in class is killing kids' appetites for reading good books. Very interesting look at how the whole No Child Left Behind program is producing students who will not be lifelong readers, in fact most don't ever want to read another book again because the ones they encountered have been so overtaught. Gallagher makes a lot of interesting points, I'm going to pass this book recommendation along to my teacher friends.


message 19: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) Hi Linda,
I really enjoyed it. I haven't read any of Mosley's mysteries and I had to read The Man in My Basement for a Contemporary Novels class and didn't enjoy it all that much. But this one really grabbed me. Congratulations on winning it!


message 20: by Linda (new)

Linda Boyd (boydlinda95gmailcom) I have several of Walter Mosley's books, but have only read a couple of them. I do plan to read more of them, hopefully this year, but will read The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey soon, hopefully! thank you for the information.... :)


message 21: by Nicole (last edited Feb 04, 2011 02:47PM) (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 11. Cake Boss: The Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia by Buddy Valastro
Okay, okay, not high-brow reading, but I really enjoyed it. I'm a fan of the show and this book definitely captures his mannerisms, I could hear Buddy's voice as I was reading it. So, good job ghost-writer! Can't wait to try out some of the recipes in the back. I have to say, though, I'm glad I didn't grow up in his family where the girls are off preparing dinner, washing dishes, cleaning etc. while he and his dad sit back and relax. (Obviously, the bakery kept the men busy, but still. . .)


message 22: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 12. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The "Goon Squad" is time and Egan sure knows how to play with it as we race from the 1980s punk scene to sometime in the 2020s where all the punksters are old, gray and irrelevant. I especially enjoyed the chapter done in powerpoint.


message 23: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 13. You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
Really good writing. I think I'm going to have to buy it to keep on my bookshelves. I never thought about what an adjustment it must be when the men come home from overseas--the women have been handling things by themselves for the past 12 months--where do the men fit in the family? Also interesting to read about all the jealousies. The wives worrying about the women in their husbands' units, the men worrying about the civilian men left on base (the teachers, office workers, etc.). Makes for some very interesting dynamics. For example, rather than spending his leave with his family, one soldier sneaks home to plan a stakeout to see if his wife has been cheating. Surprising things like that.


message 24: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 14. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
This was almost like a book of short stories. We delve into the lives of different reporters at a failing American newspaper based out of Rome. This is such an interesting look at Americans living abroad, the need for human connection and the bygone newspaper culture. Bittersweet.


message 25: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 15. The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama
Very light and fun, I enjoyed reading it. However, you can tell that it is a first novel and the author does a lot of telling rather than showing. I learned a lot about Indian culture, though, and enjoyed reading about Mr. Ali's adventures as a matchmaker.


message 26: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 16. Just Kids by Patti Smith
Such a remarkable look at how artists evolve. Patti Smith writes so eloquently of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, never accusing (though I'm sure she had a right to be on more than one occasion). He was always her Blue Star. I especially enjoyed how they both viewed each other as artist and muse. Have to admit, I was bawling by the end when Robert finally succumbed to AIDS.


message 27: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) I'm glad! I was amazed at the whole "artistic process." Both of them just think in a different way than I do. Super interesting.


message 28: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 17.The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Are So Important in a Distracted Time by David Ulin
We hosted this author at my library last week and he was very humble and entertaining. I enjoyed this book as it made me slow down and think about why I read and how my reading habits have changed. However, you can tell that he took a shorter, more concise essay and expanded it. It felt a little too padded and stretched.


message 29: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 18. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
I loved how this author cared for his characters. Hema was my favorite--such a firebrand. However, his plotting (especially toward the end) was so forced. Too many coincidences, too heavy-handed. I loved reading about Ethiopia, though, and Missing Hospital.


message 30: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 19. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
We listened this on audiobook in the car on the way home from Death Valley. Stockard Channing does an awesome job reading it. Ramona definitely holds up from my readings as a child. Beverly Cleary captures what it's like to be a kindergartner. My daughter loved it, but was really upset that Ramona got in trouble for "boinging" Susan's curls.


message 31: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 20. Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
I wanted to love this. Romance based on an old English ballad of True Thomas. But, it was just okay. The author has a beautiful way with words and I was definitely swept up in the story. But Thomas was a thoughtless jerk who could only think about one thing (ahem) and Elspeth really got the short end of the stick over and over again. I had heard that this was a love story and maybe it was between the Queen of the Fairies and Thomas, but poor Elspeth sure didn't rate much consideration.


message 32: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 21. After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti by Edwidge Danticat
Yes! Five stars! What a great little book about Jacmel, Haiti. Danticat gives a quick overview of Haiti's history and then gives us lots of local color in her wandering through cemeteries and pine forests. I was so sad to find out, though, that a lot of what she describes was flattened by the earthquake. Such a beautiful snapshot, though. And I loved that she introduced me to the Cine Institute (google it!).


message 33: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 22. Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
I picked this up after I heard the movie was nominated for all those academy awards. I'm so glad I did. Beautiful writing. The protagonist, Ree Dolly, is living a far harder life than I could ever imagine, where meth labs were the most common place of work and sprinkle cheese is a luxury when grocery shopping. But Woodrell does such a gorgeous job of creating both characters and scene. Ree has this thinking rock out in the woods that she sits on until her butt gets cold--I know that rock! The landscape is very much a character in this book and I loved it. Must find more by this author!


message 34: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 23. Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein
With two young daughters, this Disney princess pink frou-frou business is definitely on my mind. The author does a good job of pointing out the marketing schemes of all these major toy and film companies (Disney in particular) and considers just what effect they are having on our daughters. Of particular interest to me was the fact that none of the Disney heroines have normal friendships with other girls. Oddly, if you look at any of the Disney princess products (the lunch pails, the nightgowns, the bedspreads, whatever) none of the princesses even make eye contact with each other--they're all staring out in different directions. Apparently, this was deliberate in deference to Roy Disney's outrage at the thought of grouping all the princesses together outside of their own movie. (Apparently, this had never been done before. Products were only launched in conjunction with a movie.) Anyways, what kind of message is that sending? Why can't girls have healthy friendships with other girls? (Don't even get me started on all the Disney dead mothers. . .)


message 35: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 24. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My daughter and I had been reading this together at bedtime. Why is this so much scarier to me as an adult? They lived a hard and frightening life and I don't remember any of that from when I read it as a child! When we finished this book, Jane burst out crying--she didn't want it to end. So sweet.


message 36: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 25. Shadow Ranch: Novel, A by Jo-Ann Mapson
I read Jo-Ann Mapson for her characters. You feel like you know them, they're your neighbors. Of course, the fact that they're set in Southern California, my home, makes them fun, too.


message 37: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 26. Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss
It's a biography of the Curies but also a work of art. The illustrations tell their own narrative as beautifully as the text. It truly made me care about the Curies and their era in a way that I wouldn't have normally. In addition to the gorgeous pictures, the author includes stories you probably would never had heard anywhere else. For example, she tells about all the young women in New Jersey who were hired to paint watch dials with the "undark" paint that was made from radium, who subsequently came down with all sorts of horrible symptoms (up to and including death) from twisting the paintbrushes between their lips to keep the tip sharp. She also tells how the Curies were so fascinated by their new-found element that they would take it home in a jar and show it off at dinner parties--in fact, Marie even used a stick of radium as a nightlight for a while. And, get this, after Pierre's death, Marie took up with a married man and her lover nearly fought a duel to defend her honor against a newspaper columnist (take that 20th-century TMZ). All the while, Redniss is paralleling the lives of the Curies with the "life" that radium takes on. There are interviews with cancer survivors whose lives were saved by radiation. There's an interview with a survivor of Hiroshima. And I have to admit, the bit about the buttercups made me cry. You'll see what I mean.


message 38: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 27. Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Perkin
If you liked The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, you'll like this. Perkin presents stories of various people in Rwanda as they come to order cakes from the protagonist, Angel. She looks at issues like Aids and the Rwandan genocide through the lens of those who are living their day-to-day lives right in the middle of these problems. I didn't think it was possible to read a "light" book about these subjects, but Perkin strikes a good balance.


message 39: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 28. A Good Indian Wife by Anne Cherian
I'm conflicted about this book. On the one hand, I stayed up until one in the morning finishing it. So, the author obviously tells a good tale and keeps you involved. On the other hand, the male protagonist was a jerk and I don't think he ever redeemed himself. Meh.


message 40: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (phaedosia) 29. Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant by Paul Clemens.
Wow. So sad. The author spends about a year observing a crew dismantle the Budd auto plant in Detroit. You feel like you're witnessing a death. He does a great job of including little tidbits about what the company newsletter bragged about in 1987 or how the UAW used to be this force of nature. Not anymore. So well-written, but depressing.


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