Sunday, December 26, 2010

Best Books of 2010

This was quite a year with so many change in my life.  That being said, things are good and I am grateful.  I was especially blessed with the books that I read as 17 of them made my 'Best of 2010" list (yes, I counted The Book Thief as even though I read it more than 4 years ago, reading it again made me realize what a fabulous book it is).  With more than one "Best of" book a month it was difficult to narrow it down to my top 5, but, here they are:

and without a doubt, my #1 must read Best Book of 2010 would be Shantaram.  Before you read any further, make sure you can say you have read the above 5 books (especially Shantaram!). 

If you are still lookiing for additional books, check out the other books on my "Best of" list for 2010 as well as my "Must Read" list.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I very rarely ever re-read a book.  The Book ThiefWhen this book was picked by my bookclub, I knew I wanted to re-read it as I enjoyed it so much the first time (4 years ago!)  Zusak has created a work that deserves the attention of sophisticated teen (definitely not for anyone too young) and adult readers. Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative and I am SO glad that I picked it up again.

Recommend: 4.8 Definite Recommend!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

This is a wonderfully told story of 1930s Budapest and starts out just as a young Hungarian Jew, Andras Lévi, departs for the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris. He hones his talent for design, works backstage in a theater, and allies with other Jewish students in defiance of rising Nazi influence. And then he meets Klara, a captivating Hungarian ballet instructor nine years his senior with a painful past and a willful teenage daughter.

The Invisible Bridge
The historic presentation of the book is as forceful and gripping as it is chilling and haunting.  Orringer's ability to translate into words the shattering horror of the Jewish experience of the Holocaust and World War II is masterful storytelling of wrenching emotional intensity.

The first 1/3rd is light and builds the reltionships between Andras, his brothers, his college friends and his lover, before it switches to be more focused on the horrific experiences of WWII.  I learned a lot of historic events from this is a beautifully researched old fashioned love story.  They could have been a bit more judicious in the editing but, other than that, this is a wonderful book.

Rating: 4.6 Recommend

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

Falling Angels: A Novel
This story takes place in London at the turn of the 19th century and centers around two young girls of the same age, whose family plots are situated side-by-side in a cemetery.  The families end up being neighbors in life as well and the two mothers are as different as night and day.  We watch the lives of the Coleman and Waterhouse families unfold over the course of a decade, starting with the death of Queen Victoria.

Although the point of view shifts between many characters the story flows effortlessly with each character picking up in the story where the last left off.  I found one of the little girls to be very annoying but, so did the other characters in the book so, it helped to know I wasn't alone.  At times, the children seemed much older than their ages but, some of that could have been the era in England.  This proved to be a very interesting commentary on English womanhood during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, taking age, class, and educational differences into account.

Rating: 4.0 Good

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club)
I finally succumbed to see what all the fuss was about with this book.  This is a portrait of a Midwestern family, Patty and Walter Berglund, who find each other early: a pretty jock, and a budding lawyer. They make a family and a life together, and, over time, slowly lose track of each other.  I had a difficult time of getting in to this story or caring about the characters and just could not see what all the fuss was about.  It felt very mundane and did not live up to the hype.

Rating: 1 Do NOT Recommend

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bellwether by Connie Willis

A sociologist who studies fads and a chaos theorist are brought together by a strange misdelivered package. Employed by the HiTek company, Sandra Foster is trying to develop a theory that can predict how and why fads and trends begin. But her attempts to computerize her data (mostly in the form of magazine and newspaper clippings) are constantly frustrated by the awful Flip, the erratic, forgetful, careless interdepartmental assistant. The humor that comes from the chaos of the hiring of an assistant for Flip, who is (gasp) a SMOKER, and Management's efficiency meetings is so clever and really rings true.  This book has a witty, geeky love story that is about trends and sheep and is thoroughly enjoyable.

Rating: 4.4 Good

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Tyler Miller was a socially invisible nerd ("Your average piece of drywall who spent too much time playing computer games") before he sprayed some attention-getting graffiti and became a legend. Sentenced to a summer of physical labor, he enters his senior year with new muscles that attract popular Bethany Millbury, whose father is Tyler's dad's boss. On probation for his graffiti stunt, Tyler struggles to balance his consuming crush with pressure that comes from schoolwork and his explosive father.  While this was mildly entertaining it also felt very immature and was definitely no where near on par with Anderson's Wintergirls.

Rating: 3 Just OK

Monday, November 29, 2010

Saving Ceecee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt: A Novel
This is about twelve year-old Cecelia Rose Honeycutt's recovery from a childhood with her crazy mother, Camille, and cantankerous father, Carl, in 1960s Willoughby, Ohio. After former Southern beauty queen Camille is struck and killed by an ice cream truck, Carl hands over Cecelia to her Great-Aunt Tootie. Whisked off to a life of privilege in Savannah, Ga., Cecelia makes fast friends with Tootie's cook, Oletta, and gets to know the eccentric women who flit in and out of Tootie's house, among them racist town gossip Violene Hobbs and worldly, duplicitous Thelma Rae Goodpepper.

Aunt Tootie is the epitome of goodness, and Oletta is a sage black woman. Cecelia takes it all in and you are glad after her upbringing with her crazy mother that she has landed in Aunt Tootie's life to see normalcy and good things. This is a sweet novel that is very light but still an extremely enjoyable read.

Rating: 3.9 Good

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse

The prologue of this novel absolutely captured me. Then I realized that, although connected, each chapter was a "short story" which I do not care for.  Echo Park is the Los Angeles neighborhood and is the setting for this novel-in-stories—a portrayal of the lives of Mexican Americans who live and work there.
Madonnas of Echo Park, The

Skyhorse (Mexican himself, but given his stepfather’s last name) weaves his characters—migrant farm workers, gardeners, dishwashers, bus drivers, house cleaners, gang members—in and out of his stories in various time frames. Felicia, the cleaning woman for a wealthy couple who becomes the wife’s only real friend, and Felicia’s mother, who sent Felicia away when she was four. And Efren, a bus driver whose strict adherence to the rules of the Los Angeles MTA insulates him from feeling remorse over a preventable tragedy, and his brother Juan, a gang member who escapes by joining the army. Each is trying to make a life where “everything is paid for in cash and sweat.”

Despite not caring for short stories, I found this book intriguing enough to keep me reading.  If someone likes short stories, then I think they would really like this book as it is well written and weaves the stories together very well.

Rating: 4 Good

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I StayThe last normal moment that Mia, a talented cellist, can remember is being in the car with her family. Then she is standing outside her body beside their mangled Buick and her parents' corpses, watching herself and her little brother being tended by paramedics. As she ponders her state (Am I dead? I actually have to ask myself this), Mia is whisked away to a hospital, where, her body in a coma, she reflects on the past and tries to decide whether to fight to live.

Despite the heavy storyline, this seems very fluffy.  The story doesn't seem cohesive and at times, is boring and simple.  Laurie Halse Anderson is a much better quality YA book.

Rating: 3 Just OK

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I anticipated and I have even gone so far as to include it in my "Best of" for this year.  I don't typically enjoy books in the vernacular Room: A Noveland Room is written completely from 5 year old Jack's perspective.  Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way--he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and an unnerving nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to craft a normal life for her son. When their insular world suddenly expands beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are piercing and extraordinary.  Don't read too much else about this book or it will spoil it for you.

Rating:  4.7 Recommend

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Father of the Rain by Lily King

Father of the Rain
This novel captured me and held me right from the start.  I love Lily King's writing style and the effortless way she brings the characters to life where you know and care about them.  Daley is an acute and attentive witness to her parents' divorce.  Daley's father, Gardiner, is a jovial but an alcoholic whose behavior is increasingly erratic and punishing to the point that Daley finally breaks away--in spite of how much she loves him--for much of her adult life. She is resilient, a woman you can respect but also challenge, and her love is (ultimately, amazingly) uncomplicated and true.  She makes some very difficult decisions.  Lily unfolds the story so effortlessly and draws you in.  An extremely enjoyable read.

Rating: 4.8  Recommend

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

The Good Thief
Twelve-year-old Ren, named after the initials R.E.N. which were in the collar of the clothes he was wearing when he was abandoned at St. Anthony's Catholic orphanage, has always wondered how he lost his right hand and who his parents were. Other boys get adopted, not Ren, for who, after all, wants a deformed boy in New England at a time sometime between the wars, Revolutionary and Civil.

Then one day out of the blue Benjamin Nab shows up claiming to be Ren's brother. The monks let the lad go and all of a sudden Ren's life takes an adventurous turn, for "brother" Ben is a con man, thief, grave robber who will do anything to turn a buck, including exploiting a one handed boy.

I will watch for other books by this author and hope that their plot is more believable and appealing as her writing is wonderful.

Rating: 3.4 Good

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Friend of the Family by Laura Grodstein

A Friend of the Family
Peter Dizinoff, a successful New Jersey doctor, is struggling to adjust to the aftermath of his actions as the foundation of his personal and professional life crack beneath his feet. At the center of his troubles is his beloved son Alec, who deflates his father's high expectations when he drops out of college after just three semesters and moves into the apartment above their garage. And when his son begins seeing Laura, the troubled daughter of Peter's best friend who is ten years older than Alec and lives in the tainted shadow of being acquitted for an unspeakable crime when she was 17, Alec's ambivalence to his father's hopes in living a good life turn into a simmering rage. Dizinoff, a man with a clear definition of right and wrong, flips back and forth in time as he narrates the history of events that build their way to a layered, emotionally wrenching climax.

This story is laid out extremely well.  It weaves the complex layers of the two families so you understand their history together and feel the emotions.  She does all of this effortlessly so it feels like a light easy read.

Rating: 4.8  Recommend

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Open by Andre Agassi

I am not a lover of memoirs, preferring fictional reads, don't know much about tennis and don't care for sports yet I loved this book.  OpenIt starts in the present day and goes back.  In 1992, when Andre "burst" (he tells the many years of gruelling effort that led up to that) onto the world sports stage by winning the Grand Slam at Wimbledon, he looked like a deer in headlights. Nobody seemed more surprised and upset by his big win that day than he did. For good reason, too. Agassi hated tennis. This is the biggest revelation in his very revealing autobiography. Agassi has hated tennis from early childhood, finding it extremely lonely out on the court. But he didn’t have a choice about playing the game because his domineering aggressive father drove him to become a champion, like it or not. Mike Agassi, a former Golden Gloves fighter who never made it professionally, decided that his son would become a champion tennis player. I almost cried at how beautifully he expressed how much he loves his wife and children and, at other moments in the book, I openly laughed out loud.  This is an easy enjoyable read that feels very "open" and real.

Rating: 4.8 Recommend

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof

This woman has my life!  She has a crazy insane hectic paced job that she wants to escape from and, she does what I want to do which is run away from it all on a boat to the Caribbean!  This book recounts Ann and her husband's two-year voyage from Toronto to the West Indies and beyond in their 42-foot sailboat, Receta. As they escape the restraints that have bound them to their desks for years, the pair undergo not just a change in physical appearance (the noticeable weight loss is an unexpected bonus) but also a change in attitude. And although their trip may sound terrific, it has a few glitches.
An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude

Along with sunset cruises and afternoons spent on untouched beaches (where "you can sit and stare at the ocean for hours scarcely seeing another soul"), they encounter "blinding forks of lightning" during a big squall, hailstones during an unpredicted hurricane and other tumultuous events. A lot of the allure of this book lies in the way she captures the local cuisine, people and agriculture - it takes me back to many fabulous places and makes me want to go again.

Rating: 4.7 Recommend

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Twentieth Wife

Twentieth Wife, The
This is set in 17th century India.  At the age of 8, Mehrunissa (the name means "Sun of Women") has already settled on her life's goal. After just one glimpse of his face, she wants to marry the Crown Prince Salim. And marry him she does, albeit some 26 years later, after overcoming the opposition of her family, an ill-starred early marriage, numerous miscarriages, and the scheming of other wives.

From the beginning, this seemed "Soap Operaish".  I stuck with it but, when I didn't know who the characters were and, didn't care, I knew it was time to move on to any number of better books.

Rating: 0 Do NOT Recommend

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

Summer at Tiffany
At the age of 82, Hart, a professional cellist, recalls 1945, when she and her best friend, Marty, students at the University of Iowa, spent the summer in Manhattan, in this memoir. Failing to obtain work at Lord & Taylor, the pair, self-described as long-limbed, blue-eyed blondes, were hired at Tiffany's—the first female floor sales pages, delivering packages to the repair and shipping department, for $20 a week. Hart details their stringent budget ("1. Two nickels for subway. 2. Sandwich at the Automat: 15 cents") and describes, somewhat breathlessly, what a thrill it was to see such luminaries as Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland shop at the fabled store. Her romance with a midshipman, the combat death of her cousin, the news of the dropping of the first atomic bomb and a vivid account of the celebration in Times Square after Japan's surrender convey a sense of the WWII era. She interjects wonderful imagessuch as going to the Stork Club for their ice cream rolled in shredded coconut, then drizzled with chocolate sauce or shampooing with Kreml ("Glamour-bathe your hair in Kreml," the as in Life urged).  She evokes New York City as seen through the eyes of two innocent smalltown girls. This is a sweet and quick read of a by-gone era.

Rating: 3.6 Good

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is the story of an adolescent girl, Lia, suffering from anorexia.  Lia and Cassie had been best friends since elementary school, and each developed her own style of eating disorder that leads to disaster. Now 18, they are no longer friends. Despite their estrangement, Cassie calls Lia 33 times on the night of her death, and Lia never answers. As events play out, Lia's guilt, her need to be thin, and her fight for acceptance unravel in an almost poetic stream of consciousness in this startlingly crisp and pitch-perfect first-person narrative. The text is rich with words still legible but crossed out, the judicious use of italics, and tiny font-size refrains reflecting her distorted internal logic. All of the usual answers of specialized treatment centers, therapy, and monitoring of weight and food fail to prevail while Lia's cleverness holds sway. This is an amazing book that I inhaled in <24 hours.  It is real, haunting and I know it will stay with me.  I would caution parents to read/screen it before allowing their young adults to read it as it does broach intense heavy subject matter in a straightforward manner.  Thanks Liz for introducing me to this amazing author.  I can't wait to read her other works.

Rating: 4.9 Recommend

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout

In the cold northern reaches of New England during the Cold War, Tyler Caskey is a young handsome minister tending to the faith of his small, gossipy parish.  It has been more than a year and he is still struggling with the aftermath of his wife's premature death, which has left him with two little girls to raise. Caskey tries to raise his traumatized older daughter, while leaving his younger daughter with his meddling mother. 
Abide with Me: A Novel
The man who once held them rapt from the pulpit now appears ridiculous up there—"like a big tractor being driven by a teenage kid, slipping in and out of gear"—and his daughter has started screaming and spitting in kindergarten. How can he lead them if he himself is lost?

I really tried to give this a shot.  It was boring and stagnant and just didn't grab me.

Rating: 1 Do NOT Recommend

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Agaat by Marlene VanNiekerk

This is about two women—one white and one black—living on a farm in South Africa at a time when the nation is undergoing huge racial and social change.  Milla, the elderly white woman, is paralyzed and dying.  Agaat, the younger black woman, is taking care of her.  They have their own personal history between them. The story shifts back and forth from the present to the past, and from first person to third person, including long, rambling diary passages (with no punctuation, weird abbreviations, references to unknown people and generally hard to follow), all from Milla’s perspective, to tell a tangled story that takes place during the years 1947–96. Trust as you read, that this will all weave together and make sense.  The author weaves it so well that you understand the close bond that the two women share.  There is incredible humor and understanding that these two women share.  Despite Milla being unable to do anything except blink her eyes, she and Agaat communicate and understand each other so well.  This is not an easy book to read (I skimmed a lot) and is too long but, very well written.

Rating: 3 Good

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation
A resolute yet naïve Chinese girl confronts poverty and culture shock with equal zeal when she and her mother immigrate to Brooklyn. Ah-Kim Chang, or Kimberly as she is known in the U.S., had been a promising student in Hong Kong when her father died. Now she and her mother are indebted to Kimberly's Aunt Paula, who funded their trip from Hong Kong, so they dutifully work for her in a Chinatown clothing factory where they earn barely enough to keep them alive. Despite this, and living in a condemned apartment that is without heat and full of roaches, Kimberly excels at school, perfects her English, and is eventually admitted to an elite, private high school.

An obvious outsider, without money for new clothes or undergarments, she deals with added social pressures, only to be comforted by an understanding best friend, Annette, who lends her makeup and hands out American advice. A love interest at the factory leads to a surprising plot line, but it is the portrayal of Kimberly's relationship with her mother that makes this more than just another immigrant story.  I enjoyed this sweet simple book.

Rating:  4.1 Recommend

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam WarThe novel Matterhorn takes place during the Vietnam War, specifically on several large hills that the US Marines fought to take control of, one was Helicopter Hill, and another is Matterhorn. We follow Second Lieutenant Mellas, who is commander of First Platoon Bravo One.  I have just started this novel and can already tell it is going to be great.  It deals with the US Marines and captures the heart detail and emotion of the Marines serving in the novel.  It shows a side of combat that I haven't seen portrayed before.  From the opening scene of a soldier having a leech up his urethra, this has been riveting and I can't wait to get back to it.  Do not read this if you are bothered by cursing as this is US Marines in wartime.  Maybe because this is to gritty and about war, I think that men may enjoy it more than women.  The writing and story will keep you on the edge of your seat till the very end.  A huge thank you from the bottom of my heart to all those who have served our country to enable us to be free.  What an amazing sacrifice.  Thank you.

Rating: 4.6 Recommend

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Nook Vs. Kindle

As most of you know, I have had a Kindle for several years and I recently got a Nook as it handles library books.  I thought I would type up a comparison of how the Nook stands up.

Nook Pros
• Very easy to get my library books onto it – woohoo! (So far, I have used the Phoenix Overdrive system and it has worked with both ePub and ePDF books.)

• A slightly ‘rubberized’ back means it isn’t slippery and easy to grip

• Love the touch screen (but see bullet below under cons)

• Like being able to ‘swipe’ to turn a page (although this is more of a novelty and I find I use the buttons most often)

• The web is much easier to access/browse than the Kindle

• You can loan a book out but, only one time to one friend for 14 days. No second loan allowed though – to that friend or anyone else (like Sophie’s Choice)

Nook Cons
• Sharp bright contrast screen is difficult on the eyes (like a computer screen). Kindle is easier on the eyes although, the thicker Nook font makes up for it.  I don't find it a big deal once you adapt.

• Does not have text-to-speech capability

• It doesn't have as many options for resizing the text

• You can't access Amazon eBooks. This is not due to Barnes & Noble but, rather due to Amazon having their properiatary formating and wanting to force people to buy a Kindle. Although B&N and other providers give you a wide selection of books, it is something to be aware of as it does limit your book selection.

• The battery does not seem to last near as long as the Kindle. Kindle easily lasts me a couple of weeks but, the Nook appears to be about 4 or 5 days. This could be due to the next 2 bullets.

• Wireless default is always “on”. Unlike the Kindle that is easy to turn on/off from any screen, you have to get out of your book, the web or shopping and go through a couple steps on the menu to get to a separate screen to turn it on/off.

• It is a loooooooooooooooooooooooooong start up/load time, so I keep it in screensaver mode vs. turning it off. It is a 5 second start up time on the Kindle and a 55 second start-up time on the Nook. That is a huge difference.

• The touch screen can be confusing (maybe this is only for blondes) as it is only touch screen on the bottom portion. The top portion is controlled by the bottom portion but, I forget this and frequently try to touch the top portion to make it do what I want.

One final thing.  From the day I got the Kindle, it would spontateously reboot/crash.  I did talk to Amazon's support department and they got me to make a few tweeks that lessened the frequency of these unexpected reboots but, they still happened.  The Nook has not crashed once since I got it.  I am willing to admit that my Kindle may just have been quirky so, this may not apply to your experience.

You need to evaluate both to decide which features are important to you.  I am glad that I have both :-)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

CURRENTLY READING: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Good Earth
Set in the time of turn of the century China, is about the fifty year fraction of the life span of the main character, Wang Lung, and how his life and his ever-growing family drastically changes through out the years. The story starts out with Wang Lung on his wedding day with his arranged marriage to a slave in a Great House. The slave's name is O-Lan and she was a very hard worker.   Wang Lung starts off as a poor farmer and gradually evolves into a rich dynasty with money coming from every angle. This wonderful book shows irony in a way I thought not possible, how money can change a person, and how sometimes the ". . .rich become too rich."  This book captures the soul of the people of China and is told so beautifully.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram: A Novel
Lindsay escapes from a New Zealand jail and arrives in Bombay with little money, an assumed name, false papers, an untellable past, and no plans for the future. Fortunately, he meets Prabaker right away, a sweet, smiling man who is a street guide. He takes to Lin immediately, eventually introducing him to his home village, where they end up living for six months. He also meets Karla, an enigmatic Swiss-American woman, with whom he falls in love. Theirs is a complicated relationship, and Karla’s connections are murky from the outset.

Lin is a tough guy with a tender heart, one capable of what is judged criminal behavior, but a basically decent, intelligent man who would never intentionally hurt anyone, especially anyone he knew. He is a magnet for trouble, a soldier of fortune, a picaresque hero: the rascal who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. His story is irresistible. Shantaram brings out the humane side of the Lin who couldn’t help but fall in love with innocence of people and led his life in abandon savoring each and every tide of life in his own stride.  I have fallen in love with Prabaker and his optimistic ways and constant smile.

Do not let the fact that this is almost 1,000 pages deter you - it flies by! Consider it "more for your money" :-)  This is amongst my list of top books of all time.  A definite must read!

Rating: 5 DEFINITE Recommend

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates

The Easter Parade: A Novel
Two sisters, Sarah and Emily, are the children of divorced parents. We observe the sisters over four decades, watching them grow into two very different women. Sarah is stable and stalwart, settling into an unhappy marriage. Emily is precocious and independent, struggling with one unsatisfactory love affair after another. Richard Yates's classic novel is about how both women struggle to overcome their tarnished family's past, and how both finally reach for some semblance of renewal.

Yates is one of my favorite authors.  He writes so powerfully and effortlessly.  In just a sentence or two, you are captured by the characters and feel immersed in their lives.  I love how he writes with force and simplicity.  As with all of Yates books, he captures suburban middle America so well.  His books are not happy -- usually dealing with dysfunctional families, alcoholism and dissatisfaction with jobs and life.  He works capture the lives of the characters so well.  When I finished this book, I felt a dissatisfaction but, find that it is staying with me and the richness continues to unfold.

Rating: 4 Recommend

The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha

The Crying Tree: A Novel
The Crying Tree is a story of a family's journey toward justice and forgiveness towards their son's killer. Deputy sheriff Nate Stanley calls home one day and announces he's accepted a deputy post in Oregon. His wife, Irene, resents having to uproot herself and their children, Shep and Bliss, from their small Illinois town, but Nate insists it's for the best. Once they've moved into their new home, Shep sets off to explore Oregon's outdoors, and things seem to be settling in nicely until one afternoon when Nate returns home to find his 15-year-old son beaten and shot in their kitchen. After Shep dies in Nate's arms, the family seeks vengeance against the young man accused of Shep's murder.  As much as this is a heavy topic, the writing feels light and fluffy and not a substantial quality read.

Rating: 3 Just ok

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Boys in the Trees by Mary Swan

The Boys in the Trees: A NovelThis story is set in19th-century smalltown Canada and deals with a horrific crime. William Heath leaves his native England with his young family, eventually landing in Emden, Canada. But just as the family is feeling settled, William is accused in the local paper of embezzlement, and as the scandal peaks, William kills his family. He's sentenced to death, and the novel is taken over by a cross-section of locals—a teacher, a doctor, a boy curious about the facts of the crime—who share their thoughts about the Heaths.

This story sounded intriguing and I have an affinity for Canadian novels but, neither of these facts were sufficient to save this novel.  It meandered and just didn't make me care about any of the characters.

Rating: 1.5 Do NOT Recommend

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden: A Novel
In 1913, a little girl arrives in Brisbane, Australia, and is taken in by a dockmaster and his wife. She doesn’t know her name, and the only clue to her identity is a book of fairy tales tucked inside a white suitcase. When the girl, called Nell, grows up, she starts to piece together bits of her story, but just as she’s on the verge of going to England to trace the mystery to its source, her grandaughter, Cassandra, is left in her care. When Nell dies, Cassandra finds herself the owner of a cottage in Cornwall, and makes the journey to England to finally solve the puzzle of Nell’s origins. Shifting back and forth over a span of nearly 100 years, this is a sprawling,  novel, with family secrets, stories-within-stories, even a maze and a Dickensian rag-and-bone shop.

This has a syrupy sweet feel to it with a touch of mystery.  It rambled and meandered and bored me with too many characters, mediocre writing, a poor plot and nothing in it to keep my interest.

Rating: 2 Do NOT Recommend