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Monday, June 30, 2008

A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth's Castle

Campbell, Liza. A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth's Castle.

6 words: Charmed or cursed? Fairytale turns nightmare.

Well, of course, when I saw this autobiographical work about growing up in Cawdor Castle, I was unable to resist.

Liza Campbell recounts her family history, dwelling on the problems experienced by her father Hugh, the 25th Thane of Cawdor, and the impact of his behavior on immediate family members. Witty, dry, and exceptionally unsentimental, Campbell tells of Hugh's descent into alcohol, drugs, and sexual adventures that coincide with greater and greater instability, verbal abuse, and domestic violence at home.

Although a sorry tale of privilege abused, Campbell tells a compellingly readable and strangely entertaining tale of Hugh's decline and his family's attempts to survive his many betrayals.

Nonfiction. Autobiography/ Memoir. 2007. 321 pages.

The Chameleon's Shadow

Walters, Minette. The Chameleon's Shadow.

6 words: Psychological thriller. Jekyll/Hyde protagonist. Suspenseful.

Horribly disfigured by an injury in Iraq, Charles Acland has sustained head injuries that may have produced brain damage. Physical injuries aside, Acland is most certainly dealing with emotional damage, and Dr. Willis, his psychiatrist, is concerned about his volatile temper and anger towards women. Walters has an uncanny ability to create fascinating psychiatric profiles, and this novel is another example of her ability to get inside the heads of disturbed individuals.

I am a fan of Minette Walters and enjoyed this novel very much. As usual, she includes newspaper clippings, pages from reports, extracts from the psychiatrist's notes, and emails, etc. for verisimilitude. There are some plot twists that seem unlikely toward the end, but I found the novel highly entertaining.

Fiction. Psychological thriller/mystery. 2007. 370 pages.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Go Green: How to Build an Earth-Friendly Community

Taylor, Nancy H. Go Green: How to Build an Earth-Friendly Community.

6 words: Practical hints, resources for sustainable future.

As our energy crisis comes to a head, many of us are becoming more conscious of our fragile environment and our place within it. This short little book (on recycled paper) offers many ways for us to begin some lifestyle changes at both the personal and the community levels that will benefit our pocketbooks and our environment. She suggests that we can find a middle way: "between denial and deprivation," in which we practice conservation, recycling, and innovative thinking.

In the final chapter, Taylor says, "In the Chinese book of changes called the I Ching, the symbol for crisis is related to the symbol of opportunity." Now is the time for us to seize the opportunity to take a long-range approach to our planet's future.

Since this is a subject that interests me, I found this little book useful and full of great resource material.

Nonfiction. Ecology/Green Living. 2008. 135 pages + 3o pages of notes and resource material.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Year She Disappeared

Harleman, Ann. The Year She Disappeared.

6 words: Mother suspects abuse. Grandmother rescues child.

When Nan's daughter Alex asks Nan to take 4-year-old Jane away for a while, the plan was to keep Jane in an unknown location for six weeks while Alex figured out how to keep her daughter safe. Nan and Jane fly to Providence, Rhode Island to stay with a childhood friend of Nan's. The plan, however, goes awry in a number of ways.

Interesting, but full of implausible situations that make the central plot less believable.

Fiction. Suspense. 2008. 306 pages.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Modern Classics

Over at The Bookish Kitty, the Literary Feline has posted the following list which as appeared on several other sites as well. Originally found in Entertainment Weekly, the list contains EW's staff picks of modern classics published in the last 25 years. Of course, we all have disagreements about the value of particular books, but there is no doubt that these books have been influential.

The very first one bothers me because I found No Country for Old Men to be MUCH better than The Road-- so much so that the book's impact prevented me from seeing the movie; just couldn't face the emotional tension in visual form. The themes in No Country were more complex and gave me more to ponder. I still think about it. Didn't enjoy it, but consider it an excellent book.

At any rate, I've highlighted the one's I've read (some of which have been among my all-time favorites and others that did not appeal at all), and I'm reminded of the many titles here that have been on various TBR lists I've compiled, but that I've never gotten around to reading.

1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
, J.K. Rowling (2000) 3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
4. The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
9. Cold Mountain
, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)
18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
20. Bridget Jones's Diary
, Helen Fielding (1998)
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove
, Larry McMurtry (1985) 25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
27. Possession
, A.S. Byatt (1990)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto
, Anne Patchett (2001) 30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
, Michael Chabon (2000)
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
67. The Kite Runner
, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History
, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
, Mark Haddon (2003)
73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)
74. Friday Night Lights
, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
79. The Tipping Point
, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
82. Atonement
, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)
85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)
90. Comfort Me With Apples
, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent
, Scott Turow (1987)
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)
96. The Da Vinci Code
, Dan Brown (2003)
97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
98. The Predators' Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)
99. Practical Magic
, Alice Hoffman (1995)
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ivory: A Legend of Past and Future

Resnick, Mike. Ivory: A Legend of Past and Future.

6 words: Kilimanjaro Elephant- where are his tusks?

Duncan Rojas, senior researcher for Braxton's Records of Big Game in 6303 G.E. (Galactic Era), loves research and problem solving more than people. Approached by Bukoba Mandaka, last of the Maasai, to discover the tusks of the Kilimanjaro Elephant (an actual legendary elephant which was supposedly killed in 1898 and whose enormous tusks are still in the British Museum), Rojas finds himself plunged into a challenge worthy of his time and efforts. While he has questions about his employer, he quickly becomes immersed in his quest.

The novel consists of various episodes moving back and forth in time as Rojas traces every mention of the tusks. In each episode, new characters who have had possession of the tusks are introduced. Initially, Ivory moves pretty quickly, but some of the episodes should perhaps have been omitted as they add little to the novel.

I found much of Ivory enjoyable, but there were definitely some slow periods and the pacing felt off.

Fiction. Science Fiction. 2007. 315 pages.

I'm Trying...

to get caught up with my reviews. Seriously. I still have several to go, but at least I've posted the ones I started a week ago.

Summer seems to holding me in thrall.

Blue Smoke and Murder

Lowell, Elizabeth. Blue Smoke and Murder.

6 words: Art scams, forgeries. Light summer read.

Another ARC. I enjoyed the art aspect, but overall, just another bit of light entertainment. Could certainly have done without the emphasis on the sexual attraction between main characters--too obvious and too frequent. Subtle would have been better; hitting me over the head too many times causes distinct irritability. Guess what? She wants him. Kind of liked the St. Kilda stuff, but didn't think they were as skilled as they should have been at protection. Sure took a long time for them to discover that bug...

Fiction. Suspense. 2008. 404 pages.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Alexander, Lawrence. Rubicon.

6 words: Oh, please. Don't waste your time.

This is a political "thriller." A paragon of virtues, Senator Bobbie Hart must stop a conspiracy that involves assassinations of presidential candidates. Over the top, decidedly partisan, fallacious arguments, scare tactics, poor characterization.

The premise is actually feasible and could have made a great political thriller, but the decidedly partisan view (in spite of having a good guy from the bad party) turns the novel into propaganda. If the author had controlled his personal inclinations and attempted less virulent ad hominem attacks, he could have produced a truly frightening work.

Fiction. Suspense. 2008. 295 pages.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Eden's Outcasts

Matteson, John. Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father.

6 words: An excellent and thorough Alcott biography.

Informative, fair, well-documented, well-written! Matteson has written a highly readable biography that is both scholarly and conversational. I had no idea this much material was available, but all of the Alcotts kept journals and these personal writings alone would certainly have been an overwhelming task--yet Matteson obviously managed it. The personal writings, especially of Louisa and Bronson, give much of the interest and vitality to this biography.

Bronson was, indeed, a piece of work - a dreamer, philosopher, and thoroughly impractical man. My feelings about Bronson went back and forth, but Matteson's research reveals the man in depth, with compassion, and over the length of his long life.

What a family they were! Poor, almost nomadic as they were forced to move over and over, failing again and again, full of high ideals fostered both by Bronson and Abba, confined to a vegetarian diet and few amenities, the Alcotts persevered, and eventually, succeeded. Certainly Louisa did, providing much of the families support.

A biographical MUST READ if you are interested in the time period, the Alcotts, or Concord and its prominent inhabitants. (I loved Emerson all the more for his many kindnesses.)

Nonfiction. Biography. 2007. 428 pages + extensive notes and an excellent bibliography.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dreamers of the Day

Russell, Mary Doria. Dreamers of the Day.

6 words: Spinster travels to Egypt; homely heroine.

After the 1919 flu epidemic causes the death of her family, Agnes inherits enough money to find a little adventure. With her dachshund Rosie, Agnes bravely travels to Egypt where she meets T.S. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, and Winston Churchill. Caught up in the intrigue of the Cairo Peace Conference of 1921, Agnes forms and gives her opinions, experiences much of the Egyptian culture and climate, and finds a little romance. She returns a more sophisticated woman.

I loved the Egyptian portion of the book with the insights into Churchill, Lawrence, Bell, and their roles in the nation-building that resulted in the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.

The portion of the book dealing with Agnes' return home has some important historical markers, but is not nearly as fascinating as the Egypt section. Nevertheless, Agnes is an Everywoman who steps outside of her cultural bonds and has a fascinating experience.

While not as good as Thread of Grace, (and Ann noted that it wasn't as good as The Sparrow), I have to say it was a pleasure to read!

Fiction. Historical. 2008. 253 pages.

A Fatal Waltz

Alexander, Tasha. A Fatal Waltz. Another uncorrected proof from William Morrow division of Harper Collins.

6 words: Lady Emily, amateur sleuth, again prevails.

"Anybody can be good in the country. There are no temptations there." Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Evidently Wilde was wrong because Lady Emily Ashton needs to solve the murder of Lord Basil Fortesque which occurs at a country house party. The solution takes her to Vienna and back and appears to involve an anarchist movement. While in Vienna, Lady Emily's friend Cecile du Lac has an affair with Gustav Klimt.

A light, romantic novel with a mystery.

Fiction. Historical mystery. 2008. 289 pages.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The House at Riverton

Morton, Kate. The House at Riverton.

6 word synopsis: Death of an era. Upstairs, Downstairs.

Coincidentally, as I was reading this, I'd already watched the first disk of Upstairs, Downstairs, the legendary BBC series about an aristocratic family and their servants, which I'm receiving disk by disk from Netflix.

I was also reminded of The Thirteenth Tale and other novels in the modern gothic vein and was delighted that in the Author's Note, Morton listed some of them as part of her inspiration and for further reading: Remains of the Day by Ishiguro, Possession by Byatt, Half-Broken Things by Joss, and a Dark-Adapted Eye by Babara Vine. I enjoyed all of these and plan to locate copies of two others that the author mentioned, but that I've not yet gotten around to reading: The Chatham School Affair by Cook and The Blind Assassin by Atwood.

The story is predominantly set in the early part of the twentieth century, but alternates between that period (when the important events occured) and the latter part of the century. The narrator is Grace Bradley who entered service in 1914 when she was fourteen and end in 1998 when she was 98 - an individual utterly entwined with the century. The novel begins with Grace at 98 as she re-visits her early life during interviews for a movie about the family she served.

Grace's memories, however, continue to push through, becoming more real to her than the present, and a great deal of the story she remembers is never mentioned in the interviews or conversations.

Lots of secrets and a mysterious death in this one. I enjoyed it.

Fiction. Psychological mystery. 2006. 473 pages.

Monday, June 09, 2008

More to Review

I've got 3 more books to get reviewed (A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander, The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, and Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell- not as good as Thread of Grace, but still one of my favorite reads this year. Ann of Table Talk recently reviewed Dreamers of the Day).

I'm also in the middle of a mystery and two nonfiction books that I'm enjoying, Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season and Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father.

Then while visiting A Life in Books-- another must have nonfiction: In Beauty May She Walk: Hiking the Applachian Trail at 60. I've always wanted to hike the Appalachian trail, maybe not the entire 2,000+ miles, but a portion of it anyway, so this book may be just what I need to live as Lesley says "vicariously" and maybe for inspiration as well. Thanks, Lesley, for a timely reminder- I've already ordered it.

Listening to NPR this morning, I heard a new term hyper-miling and since gas prices are so high (and with little chance of them going down to last year's prices), I found the idea interesting and did a little further research online. You can google the term and find out more, but here are two interesting articles concerning gas milage benefits and traffic jams & waves.

Now, some of the hyper-milers are extreme; they are actually in competition with other hyper-milers in trying to get more miles per gallon. Not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly not up everyone's alley. Some of the tips offered are worthwhile, however, even though I'm driving much less this year. The article on traffic jams and waves is especially interesting to me as with constant repair work on our local roads and limited routes on our side of the river, traffic jams are frequent and merging often difficult.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Stone Gods

Winterson, Jeannette. The Stone Gods.

Six word synopsis: Future. Past. Same thing. Same thing.

Jeanette Winterson is fascinated by repetition and myths. Mankind repeats: makes mistakes, attempts to recover, makes the same mistakes. Over and over.

This a dystopian future myth that incorporates the past. It is a warning, a reminder, a lament. A tiny novel that explores man's arrogance, his tendency toward self-destruction; it raises questions about robo-sapiens and examines the power of love.

Divided into three separate satiric versions of Billie Crusoe's life (& Winterson's?), there is even a reference to the fact that the manuscript was left at an underground station, found, and returned.

This was an ARC, an uncorrected manuscript, that I only recently got around to reading. It reminded me of Winterson's Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles which I reviewed here. In both, Winterson matches style to content and provides a poetic example of the power of myth in our lives.

In The Stone Gods, she concludes with: "Everything is imprinted for ever with what it once was. (At least in the uncorrected manuscript I received.)

In Weight, Winterson says, "What can I tell you about the choices we make?" and "I want to tell the story again."

And, I suppose, she has. The choices, the mistakes, the telling, and re-telling.

Fiction. Science fiction/Myth. 2008. 207 pages.

Friday, June 06, 2008

A Pigeon and a Boy

Shalev, Meir. A Pigeon And A Boy.

6 word synopsis: Beautifully written story of two generations.

Present and past interwoven. From the kibbutz to the Israeli 1948 War of Independence to contemporary Israel ... back and forth. The characters are beautifully and sensitively drawn, and the plot, as it moves from the past to the present revealing increasing information and insight, is compelling. This is a powerful story and an introduction to an author that I'll be seeking out.

I must also add that the translation from the Hebrew by Evan Fallenberg is beautifully done and flows with rhythm and skill. Author and translator have provided an experience to savor. Highly recommended.

Fiction. 2006. 311 pages.

Souls of Angels

Eidson, Thomas. Souls of Angels.

6 word synopsis: A nun, costumed patrone, a murder.

Sometimes, one just can't think of anything to say. Certainly nothing much that would encourage anyone to read this book.

Sister Ria returns to California (1880's) to try to save her father who has been convicted of the murder of a young prostitute. Characters: boring or bizarre. Plot: Unbelievable.

Fiction. Mystery. 2007. 286 pages.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Back Home

We had a wonderful trip, and I both hated to leave and was eager to get home. After getting home, things have been hectic for everyone- all 17 family members. Back to a normal life, and trying to catch up with everything that had continued at a regular pace while we were on beach time, and to cooperating with the clock after that time of no alarm clocks or watches...

I've been trying to catch up on emails and comments, but am still in the process. So easy to get sidetracked by this clever little time-consuming bit of technology; I check an email or comment and check that blog and then follow the links and, in a flash, I've forgotten that I've other things that need to be done.

Here is one recent digression
-- I spent a good deal of time looking at info about book clubs and scrolling down looking at book titles. LisaMM at Books on the Brain has some tips about all things book club and has lots of suggestions from commenters and guest bloggers. If I decide to try organizing another book club, I will make use of this great resource. Check it out.

I have about 6 books to review and will get to them as soon as I get caught up on everything else. I hope! Especially since some of them were excellent!

My new lap top organization is confusing and trying to get my pictures uploaded is another chore that I've been wrestling with for a while. Right now, must get back to the real world for a while and more chores and errands that hang over me like a black cloud.