Friday, December 26, 2008

Nothing with Strings: NPR's Beloved Holiday Stories

NOTHING WITH STRINGS; Bailey White; New York: Scribner's, 2008; 193pgs. Fiction

I have laughed myself sick over some of Bailey White's early stories and essays in her books "Mama Makes up Her Mind," and "Sleeping at the Starlite Motel," but her new collection, "Nothing with Strings," is more sober, with stories of Alzheimer's, unkind and oblivious family members, and missed opportunities for happiness, given and received. White, a Southerner, has a fine ear for dialect and good eye for the lay and beauty of the land--one of the finest prose
stylists of our generation. "Nothing with Strings" is memorable and cautionary--don't not see what is there--don't not do what you can.


Monday, December 22, 2008

The Graveyard Book

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK: Neil Gaiman: HarperCollins: Young Adult:312 pages

After his family is killed by a man named Jack, Nobody Owens wanders into a cemetery and is adopted and raised by the ghosts who live there. Years later, Jack discovers Nobody in the cemetery and Nobody must use all the skills he’s learned in the graveyard to survive. This is a terribly fun story with an imaginative premise that remains light-hearted despite the fact that it revolves around the murder of a family.


Shakespeare Wrote for Money

SHAKESPEARE WROTE FOR MONEY: Nick Hornby: Believer Books: Nonfiction: 131 pages

In this compilation of novelist Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns from Believer Magazine, Hornby lists the books he’s read each month and reviews them in an informal, conversational style, taking the occasional detour into a review of the British football (soccer) season. This is the third and final collection of “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column, following The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, and in each Hornby is a delightful companion with a wide range of interests that are reflected in his book selections. This last collection is especially nice, since Hornby finally discovered YA literature (with the publication of his own YA novel, Slam) and includes a number of contemporary YA classics in his last columns.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Finding Nouf

FINDING NOUF: Zoe Ferraris: Houghton Mifflin: Mystery: 305 pages

Finding Nouf tells of the mysterious disappearance of the daughter of a well-to-do Saudi family in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. Nayir al-Sharqi, a Palestinian desert guide and friend of the family tries to help locate the missing girl. He is aided in his search for the truth about Nouf’s disappearance by Katya Hijazi, who works in the state medical examiner’s office and is the fiancé of Nouf’s brother.

The author, who lived in Arabia for a year, has a very interesting idea: write a mystery set in an exotic and little known place, create a male/female investigative team and develop a relationship between them (and then, possibly, write more books featuring these two characters). Ferraris writes well, her descriptions of the Saudi landscape are wonderful and she gets many, many things right but too many impossible and unbelievable things happen in this book that, really, believe me, couldn’t have happened in Arabia (I lived in Arabia for nine years). Reading the book you’ll believe that you are gaining insight into the way people really live in Arabia and you are – but unless you’ve lived there it will be impossible for you to know when you are glimpsing life as it really is and when you are not. If you like mysteries set in exotic places you’ll want to read this one but …. remember, it is fiction.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Into the Dark

INTO THE DARK: Peter Abrahams: Young Adult: Laura Geringer Books: 300 pages

Ingrid is on the case again, but this time she has to prove that her Grandfather did not murder the local conservation agent who was found dead on his property. To prove his innocence, she has to dig into her grandfathers past and family secrets have to be revealed before it is too late.

Not as strong as the first book in the series, Down the Rabbit Hole, but if you are looking for a quick, easy mystery, Abrahams stories are a treat.


Monday, December 8, 2008

The Loser's Guide to Life and Love

THE LOSER’S GUIDE TO LIFE AND LOVE: A.E. Cannon: HarperTeen: YA Fiction: 256 pages

Ed works at a video store in Salt Lake and wears the nametag of a former employee, Sergio. In an attempt to impress Ellie, a beautiful girl who visits the store, Ed pretends his name actually is Sergio and that he’s from Brazil. Meanwhile, Ed’s best friend Quark falls for Ed’s other best friend Scout, who may have feelings for Ed but doesn’t want to hurt Ellie, who’s warmed up to “Sergio.” In a plot very loosely based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the four characters navigate their way through their complicated relationships in a quick but sometimes stale story. The references to Salt Lake are fun, but readers may enjoy the author’s earlier works more than this one.


Saturday, December 6, 2008


OUTLANDER: Diana Gabaldon: Delacorte Press: Romance: 627 pgs.

WWII nurse Claire Randall is suddenly hurled back 200 years when she visits an ancient circle of stones in Scotland. Her chief goal is to return to her own time, but she becomes entangled in local distrust between the Scots and the ruling English. The only way for her to escape being arrested and held by the English is for her to claim rights as a Scot – by marrying one. Claire is torn between surviving long enough to make it back to the circle of stones and her husband in 1945, and her growing attraction for the husband of her marriage of convenience in 1743.

Adventure and romance captivate in this series hailed for its outstanding characters and the relationships between them. Be aware that this book contains sexual situations, though you could skip to the next section of the chapter once you see them coming.


Anybody Out There?

ANYBODY OUT THERE?: Marian Keyes: William Morrow: 2006: Fiction: 456 pages

I went into this story expecting a chic-lit romance. It surprised me by being much deeper and emotional than expected. The story begins with Claire recuperating on her parents couch in Dublin. She is incapacitated with massive injuries, the reason for is not explained until well into the first half of the book. When the cause of her injuries are revealed it's a shock, and you as the reader feel something of the emotion she is dealing with.

Marian Keyes has an excellent way with character development and even the side characters are charming and well fleshed out. Along with the serious theme there is quite a bit of humor to balance the sadness.


Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table: A Collection of Essays from the New York Times

EAT, MEMORY: GREAT WRITERS AT THE TABLE; ed. Amanda Hesser; New York: W. W.
Norton and Company, 2008; 204pp. Nonfiction.

“Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table,” edited by Amanda Hesser, riffs on Nabokov’s
“Speak, Memory” to bring the reader stories by prominent writers about memorable food experiences. As Hesser suggests, “Food is the royal road to the unconscious” and “the most familiar and universal medium of our lives.” Some of these essays are sad, many are funny,
none is “sentimental,” as that was against the rules—in fact, it was the only rule. Julia
Child finds a prominent place here in “The Sauce and the Fury,” where she describes flunking her written exam at the Cordon Bleu because she skipped over the beginner’s pamphlet and went immediately to work on the high-end stuff (“Zut alors, and flûte!”). Ice cream lovers may
be undone by Colson Whitehead’s “I Scream,” where he tells the sad story of losing all interest
in that chilly dessert after three summers of making waffle cones and scooping “the nuclear green sludge of mint chocolate chip” at Big Olaf’s on Long Island. Although the texture and tone of each essay is different from the others, all are surpassingly well written. A tasty treat in more ways than one.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Keeper of the Grail

KEEPER OF THE GRAIL: Michael P. Spradlin: Young Adult: Putman’s Sons: 248 pages

When a troop of Templar Knights board at a monastery on their way to fight in the Third Crusade, Sir Thomas asks Tristan, a boy who was raised by the monks, to join them and be his squire. While in battle in the Holy Land, knowing they will soon be defeated, Sir Thomas tells Tristan to escape with the Holy Grail and bring it safely to Scotland, reminding him no one can be trusted, not even a fellow Templar.

This new series, The Youngest Templar, is a great read alike for those who enjoy John Flanagan’s Rangers Apprentice series.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship

TRUTH AND BEAUTY: A FRIENDSHIP: Ann Patchett: HarperCollins: Nonfiction: 257 pages

Ann Patchett, author of the award-winning novel Bel Canto, and Lucy Grealy, author of Autobiography of a Face, roomed together as graduate students in Iowa and became fast friends, seeing one another through relationships, career changes, and Lucy’s neverending medical procedures. Patchett’s devotion to Lucy is evident as she recounts memories of her lively friend, even as Lucy’s behavior becomes self-destructive and she spirals out of control, abusing drugs and contemplating suicide. Reading about Lucy’s last year is difficult but Ann Patchett, as always, beautifully tells her tale and delivers a memoir overflowing with affection.