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 :-)