Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Me and Mr. Darcy

ME AND MR. DARCY: Alexandra Potter: Ballantine Books: 2007: 356 pages

Emily Albright runs a bookstore and after her last few dating experiences wishes all men could be like Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. So when her best-friend and co-worker suggests a wild weekend on a beach in Mexico, Emily does just the opposite and flees to England for a tour through the historic Austen countryside with a bus-load of grannies and one foul-tempered man.

This novel has the unfortunate experience of getting released at the same time as Shannon Hale’s Austenland which has the same plot concept though the stories go in very different directions. Me and Mr. Darcy also has some strange twists like when Emily meets the real Mr. Darcy in some kind of (never fully explained) time-warp incident. If you enjoy romantic spin-offs of Austen’s novels then you will still get some pleasure from this story, but there are better books out there.


When the Emperor Was Divine

WHEN THE EMPEROR WAS DIVINE: Julie Otsuka: Anchor Books: 2002: 144 pages.

The story of a Japanese-American family, known only as Mother, Girl and Boy and their experience in a Utah internment camp. The father was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy prior to this and had been sent to a similar camp in New Mexico.

The story begins when the mother sees notices posted around Berkeley, CA instructing Japanese residents that they must evacuate. The next three years are spent in shoddy lodgings in the Utah desert with highs over 100 in the summer and below freezing in the winter. The family returns to their home in Berkeley after the war and must assume their old lives, but nothing is the same for them. They must deal with the trauma from their experiences and hostility from their neighbors.

This book really drives home the injustice of the Japanese-American experience during World War II. They did not see themselves as Japanese any more and indeed had nothing to go back to in Japan. The children didn’t even know how to speak Japanese. The author has created a quick but thorough look at this moment in history.


The Namesake

THE NAMESAKE: Jhumpa Lahiri: Houghton Mifflin: 2003: 291 pages.

In the 1960s Ashoke and Ashimi Ganguli immigrate from India to America for Ashoke to go to school at MIT. Ashima soon gives birth to their first son. The Ganguli’s end up putting their son’s pet-name on his birth certificate because the grandmother’s name for the baby never arrives from Calcutta. He is named Gogol after the Russian author because one of his books literally saved Ashoke’s life in a train wreck.

Gogol grows up an American boy who hates his name which is neither Indian nor American. He tends to blame his discomfort with his world on his name. Before entering college, Gogol legally changes his name to Nikhil, the good-name his parents finally decided on but never actually used.

This novel follows the Ganguli family through their assimilation into Western culture and how difficult it can be for children born into different customs to understand their parents’ transplanted traditions and for parents to comprehend why their children don’t see the world the same way they do. The story was a little disjointed at times, but I really felt like I was seeing the world through an immigrant’s eyes.


Verdigris Deep

VERDIGRIS DEEP; Frances Hardinge; London: Macmillan, 2007; Young Adult; 328pp.
Three friends miss their bus and need money they don't have to catch a different one or they will be in deep trouble at home. Josh, the cool older guy, drops down into a wishing well to fish out coins for the bus, with wildly unexpected consequences. Ryan, Chelle, and Josh suddenly find themselves endowed with creepy powers apparently designed to help them grant wishes to the true owners of the coins. But what happens if the stated wish is hiding a deeper, maybe even subconscious wish? Ryan and his friends soon find themselves over their heads (in more ways than one) in this ingenious, funny, often truly frightening tale.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism

Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism:Daniel Lopez: Basic Books: 2000: Nonfiction: 270

In his book, Daniel Lopez doggedly "show(s) how the aesthetics of consumerism are the lies we tell ourselves to preserve our individuality even as we enjoy the luxuries of the mass market." Throughout reading this I couldn't help but feel paralyzed by any and everything I have ever been inclined to buy. Lopez sardonically examines almost every aesthetic that is used to sell us suckers things we don't really need: Cuteness, Zaniness, Deliciousness, and Quaintness to name a few.

This book was relentless in its cynical approach to consumerism. In most cases it was a lose-lose situation - you were trendy and shallow if you fell for the advertising tricks or pretentious and self righteous if you didn't. However, except for a few chapters of one rant too many, it was a fascinating read. In a chapter about food Lopez suggests that the can (as in canned food ) had the "same effect on the kitchen as television had on culture, leveling regional cuisine, internationalizing food, and producing a kind of dietary Esperanto in regions once dependent on meats and vegetables of local farmers." Well worth the wade through Lopez' wordy sentences and Ph. D language.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts

By Clive James
W. W. Norton, 2007. 876 pgs. Nonfiction

This fascinating and unusual book includes over 100 biographical sketches—some of people you’ve heard of and some of people you’ve never heard of (I recognized about half the names). Each sketch gives some information about the individual—often with a slant to a very particular aspect of the person or their contribution to civilization. Each sketch also seems to become a platform for launching into a related or sometimes apparently unrelated topic, such as in the sketch on Marc Bloch, wherein he launches into a diatribe against Ezra Pound.

There are a fabulous number of very quotable passages (I jotted down my favorites as I went—it’s not often a book prompts that sort of reaction). Here are three of my favorites: Speaking of Camus he states “The Gods poured success on him but it could only darken his trench coat: it never soaked him to the skin”. During the sketch on Dick Cavett is found “It might be said that the United States is the first known case of a civilization developing through disintegration”. Also in the vignette on Bloch he writes “Admirers of Ouspensky, Gurdjieff and Wilhelm Reich were all under the illusion that profundity can be attained by embracing principles with no basis in science. The occult and the mystically profound are perennial shortcuts to a supervening vision: a worldview without the world”.

Superbly written, erudite, literary, and humorous--this work is a very good read.

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder
By David Weinberger
Times Books, 2007. 277 pgs. Nonfiction

The internet has prompted a revolution in information science. This book is about the emerging methods of finding information. These methods are applied to locating music (iTunes), books (Amazon and WorldCat), real estate (Zillow and PropSmart), photographs (Flickr), encyclopedias of information (Wickipedia), used stuff of every sort (eBay), and the list goes on.

Weinberger sets for three orders of information. The first order is the arrangement of things (books alphabetical on a shelf, for example), the second order involved a representation such as cards in a card catalog. With the first two orders things were like leaves on a tree and to get to any given leaf one had to follow the correct path of branches and twigs to get to it. The third order is digital. Now we forget about the branches and just rake the leaves into the piles we’re interested in.

Very accessible with plenty of examples (that will have you pulling up websites on your computer), this book includes a little library science, a few facts from history, a bit about biology, while being essentially a work of philosophy.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

F5: Devastation, Survival, and the most Violent Tornado Outbreak of the Twentieth Century


Heavy Weather junkies (you know who you are) will be glad to get their hands on Mark Levine's book about the greatest tornado outbreak in the twentieth century which occurred on April 3-4, 1974. Tension boils up like thunderheads on a hot summer's day in Limestone County, Alabama, where we become acquainted with the folks whose lives will be unmade by tornado after tornado dropping from black skies later that day and into the night. We know what is coming--they don't. Levine's narrative teeters on the verge of melodrama, but rarely tips over, making his book a terrifying and heartbreaking story of sudden death and unimaginable destruction. Levine interrupts the narrative a couple of times with philosophical, political, and sociological musings that might profitably be skipped, but F5 is otherwise a gripper and a half.


Monday, August 13, 2007

The World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century

THE WORLD IS FLAT: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: Thomas L. Friedman: Farrar, Straw, and Giroux: Non Fiction: 488 pages

Thomas Friedman comes out and makes the claim that the world is indeed flat. And how is it flat you ask? Globalization. He shows that through advanced technology, connections are made in today's world that force your company to not just compete with the other firms in town, but ones across the globe.

You feel smart just reading this book. I finally understand the .com bust. Who would have thought. At times Friedman gets on a bandwagon and you need to skim, but overall the book is filled with interesting facts that will make for great conversation at your next dinner party.


The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Khaled Hosseini: Riverhead: General Fiction: 352

This aching exercise in redemption and self-knowledge centers around two young Afghan boys. Amir is the wealthy son of a prestigious man in Kabul and Hassan is his racially inferior servant. Though Amir has all the bounty that life has to offer, it is Hassan that has all of the courage and character of nobility. When Amir's cowardice stops him from intervening in a brutal attack on the ever innocent Hassan, the shame of the haunting memory permeates his whole life - even after he moves to America. Amir finally finds redemption when he travels back to war torn Afghanistan to face his demons and the characters from his past.

This book was as sad and epic as I wanted it to be, and then some. It did all of the standard "literary" things beautifully: Christ figure, characters changing places over time, self discovery, the return home, issues of redemption and forgiveness etc... I thought the story was thought provoking and heartbreaking, not to mention an insightful view into modern Afghanistan. I guess what I liked the most about it was the idea that people have both parts to them; good and bad, and even the bad can "make it right again" as the book suggests - but it won't be easy.


Thursday, August 9, 2007


SANCTUARY: Beverly & David Lewis: Bethany House: Fiction: 320 pages

This book was a delightfully quick and easy read. It had a little suspense (who is after Melissa and why), a little romance ( Melissa and Ryan had the perfect courtship and marriage until...), a little religion (the generic type), a little cultural insight on the Amish and Mennonite ways of life and a lesson on the true meaning of friendship. While the ending is a little shmaltzy, I recommend this book to anyone who just wants to sit down and read a nice clean book.


The Wisdom of Menopause

THE WISDOM OF MENOPAUSE: Christiane Northrup, M.D.: Bantam Books: Nonfiction: 589 pages

This was a mercy reading. My sister who lives in a non-libraried part of Idaho, asked me to read this book. She had been impressed with this very well respected author while watching a PBS TV program. Her question was, "should I buy the book?" My answer, NO! I dragged myself through 3/4 of the the book before I found anything I considered useful. However, in defense of the book, if you are having a midlife crisis, gotten or getting a divorce and need mental support that you are doing the correct thing, by all means read this book. For me, the majority of this book seemed to be the author's own whinny self-therapy session. The parts that were helpful (diets, medical terminology etc.) seemed scrambled and difficult to understand. I did finish the book but it exhausted my brain and my patience.


Telegraph Days

TELEGRAPH DAYS: Larry McMurtry: Simon & Schuster Audio: Western

I was excited to read/listen to a Larry McMurtry book, he has after all won a Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, I do not recommend this book to anyone. The reader's voice (Annie Potts), annoyed me to the end. I plowed through the entire book waiting for a plot to develop. It barely happened. The promiscuous activities of the the main character were focused on way too many times for my liking. Basically, brother (Jackson) and sister (Nellie) come to Rita Blanca after their family dies off. Brother becomes the sheriff; sister becomes the telegraph operator. Brother kills bad guys; sister sleeps with every man who comes into town. Brother get drunk; sister goes of to manage Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Brother is deputy; sister comes back and becomes mayor. Brother is still deputy; sister goes to Tombstone and marries. Brother dies; sister ends up in Hollywood. Buffalo Bill dies; end of book. There you have the entire book, you've been spared having to read 416 pages or listening for what seemed an eternity.


Charles Kuralt's America

CHARLES KURALT'S AMERICA: Charles Kuralt: Simon & Schuster Audio: nonfiction
I have always loved Charles Kuralt. I love his wit, wisdom and humor. The sound of his voice makes me smile. This audio book is in his signature style, talking to locals with unique stories in unique American towns. Kuralt visits his 12 favorite places during the course of 12 months including Sly, Minn. and Grandfather, North Carolina. I enjoyed these tapes and do recommend them to anyone. I was, however, a bit taken aback by what seemed a little bitterness in his voice when referring to his former employer. Of course you can read the book (279 pages) instead of listening, but half the fun of Charles Kuralt is closing your eyes and imagining you are there somewhere in some unique American town listening to the locals who give America her flavor.

Bidding for Love

BIDDING FOR LOVE: Katie Fforde: St. Martin’s Press: Fiction: 390 pages

Having inherited 51% of a family auction house, Flora moves to the country to learn the business. Her cousin Charles, the other shareholder in the business, and his fiancĂ© don’t relish help from an inexperienced, city girl, though, and Flora has to work hard to prove she deserves a share in the business. Naked men (well, just one) doing tai chi in her garden, a position in a local choir, and attention from a local cad keep Flora busy in her spare time, between sparring with Charles and Annabelle at work.

A chick lit novel milder than most (although still a little steamy at the end), this will appeal to fans of Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella.


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Right Attitude to Rain

THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO RAIN: Alexander McCall Smith: Pantheon Books, c2006: Mystery Fiction: 276 pgs.

For everyone who can’t get enough of Alexander McCall Smith and his best-selling #1 Ladies Detective Agency series, he started another. Though this time, set in his very own native Scotland. This is the 3rd in the Isabel Dalhousie mystery series. Isabel is a comfortably well off Scottish woman in her 40’s with a love of her country and kin. An intellectual, she’s the editor for the “Review of Applied Ethics”, a philosophy journal, which allows her (and the reader) to contemplate the never-ending moral dilemmas facing humankind. She’s always engaged in a mystery of sorts, some truly ethical conundrum, and her cautious undertakings in a May/December romance (the cast-off boyfriend of her niece, no less).

It’s an interesting mix and the stories always leave me wondering if Isabel isn’t just an autobiographical figure of Smith. It’s full of Scottish tradition, poetry, art, and music—so you’re in for a treat if you’ve always wanted to explore Scotland, but your budget has been less than convenient.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Jane Austen's Guide to Dating

JANE AUSTEN'S GUIDE TO DATING: Lauren Henderson: Nonfiction: Hyperion, c2005: 287 pgs.

Dear Provo,

You didn’t know Jane Austen wrote a dating guide, did you? Well, technically she didn’t. But then again, she did!

So here’s the real scoop. There was this British girl, namely Lauren Henderson, who did her thesis on courting rituals in Jane Austen novels. Then she came to America and lost her boyfriend. She was sad. And of course everyone tried to give her dating advice (which didn’t work mind you.) But that brought her back to Jane Austen, whose work is chock FULL of dating advice, in a manner of speaking. She began to examine how Austen’s characters caught their true love. Then she compiled this lovely dating guide based on the romances--both those that worked and those that didn’t—of all your favourite Austen characters. It’s brilliant. After the tales of your Lydias, Emmas, Annes, and Darcys, the author describes exactly what the lover did right or wrong. She then relays a couple of modern examples, via her own or her friends’(names have been changed to protect the innocent) love lives to illustrate just what to do or not to do—in order to get to “I do”. She even provides a quiz for you to find out which Austen character you are (and which match you should be looking for).

Lots of luck in love,


Life of Pi

THE LIFE OF PI: Yann Martel: Fiction: Harcourt, c2001: 319 pgs.

It’s a zoo tale.
It’s a search for God.
It’s a story of physical, mental, and spiritual perseverance.
It’s a mesmerizing, adventure tale of ship-wreck and survival.
It’s a point where animals become people and people become animals.
It’s a religious conversion to Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam—all at the same time.

It includes: one 16-year-old Indian boy named Pi Patel who is stranded in the ocean with an orangutan, a hyena, a zebra, and a Bengal tiger. And while he sits in the middle of the ocean, on a dilapidated lifeboat, having lost his entire family, with a man-eating tiger ready to devour him at any moment, he tells you why he still believes in God. You’ll want to know why.

It seems redundant to say, “you need to read to the end of the book”. Isn’t that a given? But you absolutely must. Because what you find out changes everything.


Dave at Night

DAVE AT NIGHT: Gail Carson Levine: HarperCollins: Young Adult: 281 pages

"Gideon the Genius" and "Dave the Daredevil," their father called them: two Jewish boys growing up in 1920s New York, playing stickball and--in Dave's case--getting into trouble. But when their father dies, Dave finds himself separated from his older brother and thrust into the cold halls of the HHB, the Hebrew Home for Boys (which he later dubs the "Hopeless House of Beggars" and the "Hell Hole for Brats," among other things).

Eager to escape the strict rules, constant bullying, and tasteless gruel of the orphanage, the Daredevil hops the wall one night to explore the streets of Harlem. He hears what he thinks is someone--or something?--laughing, but traces the sound to a late-night trumpeter shuffling backward into a wild "rent party." And just as quickly as he'd found himself stuck in the HHB, Dave is immersed in yet another world--the swinging salons and speakeasies of the Harlem Renaissance. Cramped, crazy parties packed with the likes of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen give Dave refuge from life at the orphanage and awaken his artistic bent. And Dave's new friends, among them a grandfatherly "gonif" ("somebody who fools people out of their money") and a young "colored" heiress who takes a shine to him, help turn things around for him at the HHB.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved that Dave found friends in unlikely places, that he worked hard to make a better life for his buddies and that he made the best of a less than ideal situation. I would recommend this book to teens and adult alike. I also enjoyed learning more about the Harlem Renaissance and a bit of Jewish Culture.


Monday, August 6, 2007

Fresh Off the Boat

FRESH OFF THE BOAT: Melissa de la Cruz: HarperCollins: Young Adult: 243 pages

Vincenza Arambullo, a new immigrant from the Philippines, doesn’t fit in at her exclusive all-girls school. She works after school at the cafeteria her parents run for the Sears employees at the mall and helps with the family’s bootleg reality TV exporting business at home. Her only friend at school is a French student known (unfortunately) for wearing a purple leather jacket, and the boy she has a crush on is dating one of the popular mean girls. Will she triumph over the cliques? Will she find inner peace and a boyfriend of her own? Of course! It’s that kind of book.

Melissa de la Cruz writes some pretty popular young adult fiction. Her vampire series is flying off the shelf this year. Fresh Off the Boat is a nice enough multicultural title but it doesn’t stand out from any of the other young adult books written in the last few years.


Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Secret Servant

THE SECRET SERVANT; Daniel Silva; New York, Putnam's, 2007; Fiction; 385pgs.
Gabriel Allon is back (huzzah!), this time in a case that begins in Holland in a manner reminiscent of the actual murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist terrorist in 2004. In Daniel Silva’s “The Secret Servant,” Allon, art restorer and Israeli spymaster, is called into action when a Dutch anti-terrorism expert, Solomon Rosner, is killed in the streets of Amsterdam. Sent to Holland to sort through Rosner’s files, Allon, with the help of a mysterious Egyptian informant, discovers a plan for a large-scale terrorist attack in London, which also includes the abduction of the daughter of the American ambassador to the Court of St. James. As Gabriel and company frantically search for Elizabeth Halton before The Sword of Allah executes her, we meet the usual gallery of memorable characters, from Allon’s shadowy Egyptian source to “the Sphinx,” a terrorist mastermind and amoral butcher whose true identity has been heretofore impossible to discover. In “The Secret Servant” Daniel Silva manages to convey boatloads of information about how covert agencies operate, and about the exponential rise in the terrorist threat to Europe, without heavy-handedness or slackening of pace. Great summer reading, but with more substance than most beach books.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Plot to Save Socrates

THE PLOT TO SAVE SOCRATES: Paul Levinson: Tor Books (2007): Sci-Fi: 272 pages.

This is a time travel tale with many twists. Sierra Waters, a student of the classics, fluent in Greek, is shown a recently discovered copy of a dialogue by Socrates that suggests that someone from the future tried to save Socrates from death. The professor who gives her the dialogue promptly disappears and Sierra becomes a major actress in the mysterious plot. Who is trying to save Socrates, who invented the time machines that carry Sierra and others trying to save him back to Greece, and can he be saved without changing history? The twists and turns of this plot reveal and explore a variety of paradoxes that demand to be considered when time travel is at the heart of a story. In addition, modern characters interact with highly intelligent and influential people from the past making this book an intellectual challenge on another level, too.

However, I thought the author spent much more time developing the themes at the beginning of the book and not enough time unwinding the twists at the end. The characters are pursuing the solution to a mystery but the mystery is so big that the reader can easily get lost and characters that you come to care about disappear into the past – or maybe the future – without explanation. This is a very clever book and a challenging read that leaves you hanging at the end – probably so the writer can publish a sequel.


C'mon Over! Hassle-free, Hustle-free Entertaining

C'MON OVER! HASSLE-FREE, HUSTLE-FREE ENTERTAINING: C.A. Pillsbury and Company: Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2007
Nonfiction: 208 pp.

If you've been shy about inviting folks over for a social gathering because your hostessing skills remain unhoned, pick up this colorful and easy to use book. Pillsbury combined tasty, quick recipes with step-by-step instructions, mixed in seasonal themes and stirred up some handy tips for quick clean-ups once the guests are gone.

No matter if your guest list includes kids or adults, a fete for four or forty, you'll find make-ahead treats, shortcut tips and more. It may guarantee that you will host a spectacularly successful event complete with festive food and frolicking fun.


When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

WHEN A CROCODILE EATS THE SUN: A MEMOIR OF AFRICA; Peter Godwin; New York: Little, Brown, 2007; nonfiction; 344pgs.
In Zimbabwe, a solar eclipse means a crocodile has eaten the sun and is a very bad omen indeed. Peter Godwin details the destruction of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe by Robert Mugabe (of the crocodile clan) in this poignant memoir that also describes Godwin's father's decline and death.
The Jewish diaspora plays a role in Godwin's story, as does the less well known white and middle-class black diaspora which has left Zimbabwe a terrifying shell of a country ruled by a wealthy and sadistic few who have neither mercy nor shame. The tenderness of Godwin's relationships with his parents and sister and their kindly neighbors stands in stark contrast to the cruel excesses of Mugabe's regime in a land where it is not possible to protect the people
you love.