December 03, 2004
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende: a novel about a young woman’s search for her lover who has gone to California to seek his fortune during the gold rush of the 1850s.

On March 15, 1832, a baby is discovered on the doorstep of the British Import and Export Company is Valaparaiso, Chile. Rose Sommers, the sister of Jeremy Sommers, one of the main figures at the company, immediately falls in love with the child and adopted into the family.

Eliza, as the baby is named, has a life of privelge and learns of the world from her two very different mothers - Rose, the upper crust, very correct Englishwoman, and Mama Fresia, the Chilean cook. Her life is pretty straightforward until, at the age of sixteen, she meets Joaquin Andieta and falls desperately in love. Shortly after their affair begins, he leaves her to travel to California, hoping to become rich in the gold rush fever sweeping the world.

A few months after he leaves, Eliza, too consumed with her love for him for them to remain apart, decides to leave Chile and find him so they can be reunited. Thus begins a journey of thousands of miles and many years.

I found Daughter of Fortune to be absolutely riveting. Allende manages to bring not only Eliza and Joaquin’s story to the front, but also dozens of other characters. I found myself getting lost in several of these other people’s stories and almost forgetting that the book was actually about Eliza.

The descriptions of life in other parts of the world - particularly that of China and of California during the 1850s - was fascinating, though the corruption and inhuman treatment of minorities was deplorable and extremely disheartening.

The only problem that I really had with the book was that the ending was too abrupt for my liking. Several revelations were made that I wish would have played out more amongst the characters. I would have liked to have seen a more final conclusion than the one that was presented.

On a side note, this book has the absolute longest paragraphs I have ever come across. In some places, the same paragraph would last for a few pages. I can’t recall the last time I’ve been struck by paragraph length while reading.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of Isabel Allende’s works in the future.

November 26, 2004
Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks: the story of a English village that decides to quarantine themselves due to the bubonic plague in 1666.

As the story begins, we meet Anna Frith. She is the housemaid for the rectory in a small Derbyshire village. The year before, in the Spring of 1665, a tailor inadvertently brought the plague to the town on an infected bolt of cloth. People begin to sicken and die, causing Michael Mompellion, the rector, to propose a plan to the townspeople.

His plan is that the town seals itself off from the rest of the world (aided in part by a local earl who is willing to give them with supplies) so that they don’t spread the disease. However, this means that those that are healthy now run the risk of possibly getting sick in the future.

Despite the fact that the most prominent family in town decide to flee, everyone else stays. As more and more of the townspeople get sick, a friendship between Anna and the rector’s wife Elinor grows as they try and battle the disease. This complicates the feelings that, after the plague has just about run its course, are starting to develop between Anna and Michael, leading to an ending that I never expected.

The novel is actually historical fiction, inspired by the English town of Eyam, making it easy to feel like you’ve been transported in time and are experiencing what life for those townspeople must have been like.

I truly loved this book. I found the story to be many things: sad (Anna’s longing for her children and the time she could have spent with George Viccars was heartbreaking), courageous (the towns willingness to sacrifice themselves to help stop an outbreak), inspiring, and just downright interesting.

My only problem is with the abruptness of the novel’s conclusion. Most of it was told as a flashback to the time of the plague’s outbreak, so when we get back to present time, there’s very little of the book left. Considering what we find out about certain things, I would have appreciated Brooks taking more time to deal with these revelations.

All in all, though, I found it to be an engrossing read with characters that I really cared about, making me want to find out what would happen to them as the plague decimated the town. I also enjoyed seeing a woman gain indepence and self-reliance in a time when it was rare for so many. Definitely well worth reading.

November 22, 2004
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire: The Wizard of Oz, told from a different viewpoint from what we’re used to, that of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba.

When our story starts off, we’re treated to the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, swooping down on her broom to spy on Dororthy Gale and her group as they discuss her origin. The majority of the book is then told as a flashback, beginning with Elphaba’s mother getting ready to shortly give birth to her.

Honestly, I don’t feel like recapping the entire story, so I’m not. I liked about the first half of the book, but once Elphaba left for the Vinkus, I really felt like the story bogged down. Up until then, it had been interesting with political discourse, love affairs, and interesting characters. After that point, however, it seemed to just drag on and on with no real purpose.

Once the final events leading to Elphaba’s death start to get put in motion, I felt like they were very haphazad and didn’t relate well and were just rushed to finish the book up. The whole part about a possible conspiracy drawing the lives of the three witches together also never set very well with me.

I’m torn whether I would recommend this book or not. Ultimately I found it disappointing, but so many people really love it that it might be worth your time to read.

November 07, 2004
Affinity by Sarah Waters

Affinity by Sarah Waters: a gothic story that’s part supernatural tale and part romance, but always interesting.

In late September of 1874, Margaret Prior becomes a Lady Visitor - a woman who visits the inmates giving them friendship and guidance in hope that when they are released they will better their lives and turn away from crime - to Millbank Prison in London.

The prison is, of course, a dark, sad place with two hundred and seventy women incarcerated (there are also men, but they don’t figure into the story). On her first visit she is captivated by the sight of a young woman holding a violet that she puts to her lips and breathes upon.

She becomes enthralled by this woman, a medium with the beautiful name of Selina Dawes and a face like that of an angel by the painter Crivelli, and an unlikely friendship which soon becomes fraught with much more.

I don’t want to say much more about the plot of the novel since half of its intrigue was in determining what had happened, not only to Selina but also to Miss Prior. Why is she watched so closely by her mother? What is the illness that she speaks of?

I enjoyed reading the book and trying to figure out where the story would go next. It was delightfully entertaining despite the somber tones of the novel. Highly recommended for those that like their stories enigmatic and a bit dark.

September 30, 2004
The World According to Garp by John Irving

The World According to Garp by John Irving: a novel about the illegitimate son of nurse and feminist, Jenny Fields, and the people that inhabit his world.

T.S. Garp was born to Jenny Fields, an independent minded woman and young nurse during World War II. Jenny becomes a nurse at the Steering School for boys and raises Garp there. After Garp graduates, he and Jenny move to Vienna where she writes the novel that will make her popular as a feminist leader and Garp begins his writing career.

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m going to keep this review intentionally vague. The book covers Garp’s life as a writer and a father, his marriage, and the lives of his family and friends, including Roberta, a former Eagles tackle who is now a woman after having a sex change operation.

The World According to Garp was both funny and sad, reflective and exciting. I found the writing style to be very inviting and I’m not surprised that this book made Random House’s Modern Library 100 Best Fiction Books of the 20th Century. I highly recommend it.

September 07, 2004
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: a fabulous book that defies classification that I’ve reread several times.

At the beginning of Outlander, the year is 1945 and we are introduced to Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, who is on a second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband Frank. One night, while at a local stone circle, Claire touches one of the stones and is transported back in time to 1743.

She quickly draws the attention of both the Scottish and the English and is emboiled in plots and deceptions. To complicate matters further, there’s James Frasier, a tall, handsome Scot on the run from the English that Claire finds herself drawn to.

This novel, the first in a series of several, is an amazing read. It’s well over eight hundred pages, but I never feel like it’s too long - in fact, I’m always anxious to start the next one right away. The writing is wonderful and the characters so full of life that you can’t help but believe they are real. You also get a history of Scotland and England’s struggles at the same time.

I’m hard pressed to put this book into a category. It’s clearly a romance, but it’s also got elements of history, science fiction, fantasy, and even mystery. While some may be put off at its length, I still highly recommend it and its sequels to anyone looking for a great read.

August 18, 2004
Jasmine Nights by S.P. Somtow

Jasmine Nights by S.P. Somtow: a coming of age tale set in Thailand in 1963.

Little Frog, who’s real name is Sornsunthorn but prefers Justin, is twelve years old in 1963 when our story opens. Refusing to speak his native Thai and left by his parents with his relatives, particularly his three aunts that he refers to as the three Fates, Justin finds himself living between two worlds - the one where he is but a child living in a vast protected estate and the one that he has created out of the poetry and Greek classics that he loves so much.

Soon an incident involving a stiletto high heel and his beloved pet chameleon Homer at a funeral leads Little Frog to a meeting with an American child living next door and brings about changes that he cannot even start to imagine.

I throughly enjoyed reading about Little Frog’s life. The novel had almost a poetic sense to its writing and almost every scene had a sort of poignancy to it, especially by the end. I’m not really sure that I liked how the novel ended up, but it certainly fit with the rest of it.

My only complaint was that the book was peppered with Thai phrases and vocabulary. There was is a glossary at the beginning of the novel, but I found it very annoying to have to stop reading, flip to the front, look up the word, and then get back into the story. While I enjoyed learning some foreign vocabulary, it really did break up the book.

All in all, though, the novel was extremely well written, very interesting, and well worth a reading.

August 08, 2004
The Bachelor's Cat: A Love Story by L. F. Hoffman

The Bachelor’s Cat: A Love Story by L. F. Hoffman: the story of a struggling artist and how his life changes when he adopts a kitten.

The titular bachelor in this novel is a struggling artist with a gorgeous girlfriend. Unfortunately, she has left him time and time again for other men only to return when her interest in them wanes.

Shortly after his first gallery opening, the bachelor finds a tiny grey kitten on his front porch. He adopts her and their relationship, one built on mutual trust and love, develops. Presently he meets a woman that is very much unlike the women he usually dates (she’s almost his age and is somewhat chubby). However, he has conversations with her that intrigue him and he finds himself gradually spending all his time with her. She’s so different, though, from the girlfriend that he struggles with what he really wants and needs and can only decide with the help of his cat.

I wouldn’t really classify this little tale as a romance novel, though there were definitely elements of that there. To me, this book was more about finding out who you are as a person and finding the person that makes you happy with what you and they are.

I finished it in under an hour, but it was so charming that I honestly wished it would have been longer though it probably didn’t need to be. Well worth reading.

Bluebird Cafe by Carmel Bird

Bluebird Cafe by Carmel Bird: as much as I wanted to get through this short little book, I just couldn’t. There was something about the writing stlye that just made it impossible for it to hold my interest.

August 07, 2004
Felicia's Journey by William Trevor

Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor: a strange little book about a pregnant Irish girl and the man that attempts to befriend her.

Felicia is seventeen and pregnant. Her lover, Johhny Lysaght, has returned to his job in England, so determined to find him even though the circumstances around her points to the fact that he doesn’t want her any longer, Felicia follows him.

While searching the town that Johnny is supposed to work in, she meets Mr. Hilditch, an overweight canteen catering manager. Mr. Hilditch befriends young girls in need and we are left to wonder for what purpose he feels compelled to do this.

The first two thirds of the book I spent trying to determine Mr. Hilditch’s motives. They seemed shady, but since nothing was ever definitely said, I was left wondering. Once his motives are made perfectly clear, however, I found myself not enjoying the book as much and by the last fifty pages, I really just wanted to be done with it. I also must admit that the twist revealed in the last chapter, I didn’t see coming at all.

All in all, a decent read and at two hundred pages, probably worth the read.

July 07, 2004
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: considered one of the finest books of all time, this novel tells the story of an unrequited love that has lasted for half a century.

I’m not sure what it was, but for some reason, I just could not get into this book. The prose was gorgeous, the descriptions wonderful, but I just could not get past page twenty. I suspect that a lot of stuff that’s going on in my life is to blame, but since this is a BookCrossing book that needs to move on to others, I’m going to surrender and pass it on. I hope to try it again at a later date and see if I can’t finally get into it.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: considered a modern classic by many, Bulgakov’s book is anti-Stalin, dealing with the Devil coming to spread havoc in 1930s Russia.

Since this book is so highly regarded, I really looked forward to reading it. Unfortuantely, I couldn’t get past the first couple of chapters. I read some reviews suggesting that a few of the translations out there are almost unreadable, so I’m just going to assume I got a bad one. Maybe I’ll give it a try again some time in the future.

July 06, 2004
Harry's War by Dr. Edward Bradley

Harry’s War by Dr. Edward Bradley: an account of a teenager’s life in a British private school during World War II.

Fourteen-year-old Harry Lockwood has just set off to attend Markhaven College on the outskirts of London. It’s 1941 and World War II is happening all around him - bombs go off, airplanes fly overhead, and people he knows are getting killed. At the same time, Harry (or Woody to his friends) has to contend with growing up and with the harsh realities of life in the British educational system.

The thing that impressed itself upon me most of all from this book was the description of the British educational system. I’ve always found all of the corporal punishment and hazing that goes on in schools like the one Harry attended abhorent and that idea was only reinforced by this book. I find it unbelievable that people ever would think that treating a child in that manner would be good for them.

Otherwise, I found this book to be very interesting both in the description of the war and in Harry and his group of friends. I would like to read the sequel to see what happened to Harry, Captain, and the rest of his group from school.

July 03, 2004
A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds

A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds: a novel that examines the relationships between people, both those that are living and those that are dead.

Finch Noble is a cemetary caretaker that has no real friends except for the dead. Burned and left disfigured in a horrible accident as a child, Finch has been shunned by most of the town and is content to care for the cemetary and talk to the dead, her parents among them. All this begins to change, however, when she follows the request of her best friend, Lucy, a stripper who committed suicide.

Lucy’s mother cannot believe that her beautiful daughter, once a beauty queen and pageant winner, would ever kill herself and refuses to believe Finch when she tells her that her daughter wasn’t murdered. Filing harassment charges against Finch leads her to becoming close to Leonard, a policeman who’s been nothing but a failure to his father. As the two worlds interact with each other through Finch, the tension builds and results in a climax that reveals hidden secrets.

In a way, this novel was more about the people and how they deal with both their lives and deaths more than moving towards a plot resolution, though one was given. I enjoyed getting to know Finch, Lucy, and Leonard and enjoyed Reynold’s style. An enjoyable, quick read.

June 29, 2004
The Dive From Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer

The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer: this mesmerizing debut novel asks the, “How much do we owe the people that we love?”

Carrie is twenty-three, fresh out of college, and falling out of love with her boyfriend of over eight years, Michael Mayer. At a Memorial Day picnic, tragedy ensues when Mike tries to impress Carrie by diving off of Clausen’s Pier and ends up a quadriplegic. Carrie is suddenly confronted with terrible responsibilites that she doesn’t know if she’s up to - being there for Mike, his family, and their friends while continuing to give Mike her love and support.

Ultimately, this event makes her life become a battle between what she feels she owes Mike and what she owes herself - should she stay and become the devoted, loving wife that everyone wants her to become or should she just leave and try to find out what she really wants to do with her life?

I found the suspense in Carrie’s choices - will she stay with Mike or will she strike out on her own? - so dramatic and so very real that I couldn’t wait to see what choice she would make and then to find out how she would be able to make peace within herself with that choice. The novel was well written and the characters very complex. You could sympathize with Carrie for wanting more out of life but also want her to stay with Mike since he loves her so. All in all, it was a great read and I look forward to reading more books from this author.

March 01, 2004
Parting Gifts by Charlotte Vale Allen

Parting Gifts by Charlotte Vale Allen: a touching look at the relationships between people and their families.

The novel starts off with Kyra, daughter to a well-know director father and actress mother, learning that her husband Gary has died in a freak accident. A few days later, while coming home from Gary’s funeral, Kyra is confronted by a teenage mother that insists that Kyra is her own mother and that she must now watch her son whom she plans to leave with social services if Kyra won’t comply. Kyra is confused to how this girl could think she’s her mother (she was born with a birth defect that left her sterile, so it’s an impossibility), but agrees to accept the neglected boy since she always wanted children. The rest of the book deals with Kyra and Jesse learning to live together and Kyra coming to terms with her family until an important decision that Jesse must make changes life for everyone.

I haven’t read any of Charlotte Vale Allen’s books before, but I must confess that at first I didn’t think I was going to like it. The book seemed to start off a little stilted and while we’re reading about Kyra’s family as she comes to grips with Gary’s death, I thought it was going to go right off into the land of caricature (which, in retrospect, is probably the point). Fortunately, as soon as Jesse was introduced, this proved not to be the case.

Ultimately, I found the novel to be really touching - I even cried towards the end. The characters were very real and believable and while some of it was pretty predictable, it was still very enjoyable.

November 14, 2003
The 6 Messiahs by Mark Frost

The Six Messiahs by Mark Frost: the sequel to Frost’s adventurous The List of 7.

Ten years after the events of The List of 7 we find Arthur Conan Doyle a celebrated writer. He has been made famous by the creation of Sherlock Holmes, loosely modeled on Jack Sparks, his old friend who died pursuing his evil brother, Alexander.

Doyle is getting ready to embark to America for a book tour and taking his younger brother Innes with him to serve as his secretary. While on board their American-bound ship, Doyle becomes embroiled in a plot to steal a priceless religious book. This leads him to once again put his life on the line to help stop a terrible event from occurring.

The 6 Messiahs follows the same kind of formula as The List of 7, but I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed it for the same reasons I enjoyed the other book - lots of adventure and wonderful characters. I found this one easier to get into and also thought that it resolved some of the abruptness of the ending of The List of 7.

If you’re looking for rollicking good fun and an entertaining read, look no further.

November 11, 2003
The List of 7 by Mark Frost

The List of 7 by Mark Frost: a mix of adventure and occultism with a tiny bit of romance thrown in for good measure in Victorian England makes for quite an interesting book.

Arthur Conan Doyle is a physician of modest stature in the late 1880s in England. He has a few patients and submit manuscripts to local publishing houses. He also has a keen interest in the occult and spends a fair amount of time investigating spiritualists and mediums trying to find the real thing.

All this is abruptly thrown into disarray when he finds himself the target of a group of seven people that wish him dead before he can disrupt their plot - one he has unwittingly stumbled into.

At first, while I liked the book, I found it really hard to get into. It wasn’t until page 60 or so that I really started to enjoy the book and the direction it was taking. I was eager to see what would happen next and what the fates of various players in the book would be.

My only real complaint with the book is that at times it the prose was a bit windy. Also, while the book was set in Victorian England, I myself don’t know all their terms and slang. It would have been nice to have had some translations. The only reason that I knew that an alienist is, basically, a psychiatrist, is because of the excellent book by Caleb Carr The Alienist.

All in all, the novel contained quite the adventure and I look forward to reading the next book in the series The 6 Messiahs.

October 29, 2003
Swagbelly: A Novel for Today's Gentleman by David Levin

Swagbelly: A Novel for Today’s Gentleman by David Levin: a tale of a pornographer and the events and memories that make up his life.

Elliot Grubman is an extremely wealthy publisher of Swagbelly - a pornographic magazine who’s quality is below Playboy but above the crude, typical magazine that dominate the industry. Newly divorced, Elliot’s life is slowly falling apart despite the fact that he is worth over $100 million. He tries to put his life back together by dating models from his magazine, learning polo, and other measures, but what really is it that he needs and wants?

I find it hard to really describe this book. I guess it’s a “Day in the Life” kind of novel, even if that life does involve lots of money and models. It would be hard for most to like a man who uses women, intimidates people, and deals in the sex industry, but Elliot is a surprisingly rich character who I really liked. I wanted things to go well for him.

While the tale of an extremely rich pornographer may sound like an off-putting idea for a novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would like to see more of Levin’s work.

October 25, 2003
A Cup of Light by Nicole Mones

A Cup of Light by Nicole Mones: a surprisingly good novel that deals with Chinese history, art fraud, and romance with a deft hand.

Lia Frank, a deaf porcelain art export, has been called to China to check the authenticity of twenty expensive, rare pots. When she arrives there, she finds out that it’s not twenty pots she’s checking, but rather 800. At this point, the mystery of where the pots came from begins since a collection of this magnitude is a rarity and valued at almost $200 million.

Lia is almost a mnemonist and is able to recall every pot that she’s ever looked and every catalog or book that she’s read dealing with porcelain. This allows her to relive Chinese history in trying to track the pots and I found these interludes some of the most interesting in the whole book.

While in China Lia also meets an American staying in the same place and they immediately click. Since she’s only in China for a short while, it leads to questions about whether she should get involved with him or not.

On a side note, while I know you should never judge a book by its cover, the cover on this novel is absolutely stunning. The colors are beyond lovely and it actually seems to glow. The subtle Chinese characters repeated throughout the background and the beautiful picture of a cup is so perfect - very hoi moon.

I enjoyed reading this book immensely. It seemed almost like poetry as opposed to prose. The flashbacks to ancient China were amazing and the rich details of the porcelian pieces made me want to immediately visit a museum to see the type of perfection that she was describing. Mones is an extremely talented writer and I look forward to reading her first novel, Lost in Translation, and any others that she writes.

October 18, 2003
Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland

Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland: an incredibly powerful and hypnotic novel that pulled me in immediately.

In the beginning of the novel, Richard and Karen have sex for the first time on top of a snowy mountain. A few hours later, after giving Richard a note that she warns him not to read since she wants it back unopened, Karen inexplicably lapses into a coma. Her coma changes everything in the life of her friends and family and sets into motion unexpected outcomes. I won’t mention anything more (and I suggest not reading the reviews on Amazon since they contain a fair amount of spoilers. Best to just read this one and let you take you where it goes).

From the start, I could not put this book down. I found Coupland’s voice to be so engaging and his characters so real. I could not wait to see what was going to happen next.

Almost the entire novel was a surprise - I could not predict what was going to happen next and where it would end up. Saying that, however, I felt that the ending was weak. The book seemed to just kind of end. The last thirty pages or so were very disappointing in light of how much I enjoyed the book, but I would still highly recommend this one to others.

October 12, 2003
The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel

The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel: an absolute delight for several of the senses - seeing and hearing.

This novel starts out in Mexico as the conquistadors are obliterating the Aztecs. After a brief interlude with a conquistador and an Aztec princess, we are in Mexico City still, but far in the future. We immediately meet Azucena, an astroanalyst, who with the help of a gaurdian angel help people put the karma of their past lives into balance. She is going to meet her twin soul and true love, Rodrigo. Soon after meeting him, however, she loses him and begins a journey through many lifetimes to help all the people of the world learn the Law of Love.

At first, going from ancient Mexico to futuristic Mexico threw me off. I also felt a bit lost since the book starts talking about Azucena being an astroanalyst, but I wasn’t sure what that was. I quickly picked up on everything and enjoyed the story quite a bit. The occasional chapters from both a gaurdian angel and a demon always interrupted me from the story - they would always jolt me to reality.

There were several interesting concepts in this book that I found both entertaining and enjoyable. Whenever Azucena wanted to regress to a past life, she would listen to her CD player. A CD with the same tracks that she listened to was included so that the reader could hear what she was hearing. The past lives were also done in wonderful color illustrations by Spanish artist Miguelano Prado showing exactly what she was experiencing.

While the New Age talk may throw some people off, I found the book very entertaining and enjoyable. I would recommend this to anyone looking for something a little bit different to read.

October 01, 2003
Wake Up by Tim Pears

Wake Up by Tim Pears: surreal novel that never could hold my interest as much as I would have hoped it would.

The novel starts out with John, co-owner of a very successful potato company in England, driving out to see his brother (and business partner) to tell him about two fatalities that occured in an experiment to give people vaccines administered by genetically altered potatoes. John is frightened to what these deaths are going to mean to his company and he can’t quite get himself to take the exit he’s supposed to. Almost all of this short novel takes place on that Monday in John’s car as he thinks to himself about his life and what is going to happen now.

John’s thoughts wander all over the place and he frequently changes them ("Did I say (I met my wife this way, etc.) earlier? Oh no, that’s not what happened at all; it was like this..."), which kept annoying me.

Listening to John prattle on about his life never quite could get me as interested in him as I wanted to be, so the book’s events never really mattered much to me. I will admit, however, that I wasn’t expecting the surprise revealed at the end of the book.

Would I recommend this book to others? Probably not. I didn’t really like it and ultimately, that’s what I read for - enjoyment. No enjoyment out of the book means it wasn’t worth my time. Good thing it was short.

September 23, 2003
An Ocean in Iowa by Peter Hedges

An Ocean in Iowa by Peter Hedges: a quirky novel by the author of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape that turned out to be a quick, but wonderful, reading experience.

At the beginning of An Ocean in Iowa Scotty Ocean announces to his mother, Joan, that “Seven is going to be my year.” Turning seven does bring about many changes for Scotty, including his alcoholic mother’s decision to leave her family and try to live on her own.

The novel is set in the late sixties when the war in Vietnam raged and when man had yet to walk on the moon. Scotty experiences most of these things on the periphery since his main focus in life is his mother and how to get her to come back home.

While I enjoyed the book very much, after finishing it, I thought about how really it was quite a melancholy novel - most of the book is just life and picking up the pieces after major changes. However, Scotty’s character was so engaging (it was interesting to see a book take place through the eyes of a young child) and I wanted things to work out for him that I was compelled to read it in just a day or so.

All in all, not a very cheery book, but one that I would still suggest reading.

September 19, 2003
Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore

Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore: the first United States publication of Dunmore, winner of the Orange Prize (for debuting women novelists), that deals with the hidden secrets that can tear a family apart.

Nina has come to spend time with her sister Isabel after the birth of Isabels first child, Anthony, is much more difficult than expected. In the isolated cottage where Isabel lives is Edward (one of Isabels friends), Susan (the nanny), and Ricard, Isabels husband whos usually away on business trips.

Its almost difficult to describe what this book is really about without giving away the major plot details. Suffice to say, the heart of the novel is the relationship between Isabel and Nina and what is true and what is simply manipulated in the events that entwine them.

I wish now that I had gone back and read both the beginning and the ending before sending it to the person who was to read it after me. I would like to take them both in again and see if my conclusions and thoughts were the same.

Ultimately, its a very quick read and Dunmores voice is both strong and mesmerizing. I enjoyed the novel and would like to read other things by her in the future.

September 16, 2003
The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: exquisitely written first novel that crosses so many genres that it is almost impossible to categorize.

Most novels do not start out with telling you both who has been murdered (Bunny Corcoran) and who has murdered him (Richard, Henry, Francis, Charles, and Camilla) since usually the point of a novel containing a murder is to figure out who did it. However, in the case of this novel, it only made me want to know even more why Bunny was turned on by his friends - what could motivate such a betrayal?

The novel is set is a small, very exclusive Vermont college. Richard, a freshman from California who studied ancient Greek, is enamored with the five elite Greek students taught by a professor, Julian, who refuses to take more than a handful of pupils into his class. Most of the novel focuses on Richard’s increasing interaction and the inevitable murder that it leads to.

While I wouldn’t call this novel slow, it definitely is not a quick read, but I think I liked it more for its slower, more stately pace. It’s a fairly large book (just over 500 pages), but I never did feel that it was too long or needed to speed up even throughout the first two hundred pages or so it’s impossible for one to imagine how things are ever going to end up with a murder.

I enjoyed the book greatly and while I’m not sure it’s for everyone, I would recommend reading it and seeing why Bunny’s death was an eventuality that was almost impossible for the group to avoid.

September 08, 2003
Baudolino by Umberto Eco

Baudolino by Umberto Eco: I feel like such a failure. For the first time that I can remember, I have failed to complete a book that I have started.

I tried really hard with Baudolino. I read almost 200 pages (the whole book is only about 500 pages). Those 200 pages, though, took me almost a week - a span of time that I can usually finish two or three books in. Also, it was a bookring that I received through BookCrossing so I felt guilty for holding on to it when I couldn’t get into it. In the meantime, I had several other books that I was on bookrings for show up, so I hated to hold them up as well while I tried to work my way through it.

In the end, it was easier for me to send Baudolino on its way than to keep reading it and holding up all the other books that I need to get started on. Perhaps it just wasn’t my cup of tea or maybe I’ve read too many other books that don’t require as much to get through. Either way, I wish I could have finished it, but even more so, I wish I could have enjoyed reading it.

September 01, 2003
The Virgin's Knot by Holly Payne

The Virgin’s Knot by Holly Payne: an amazing first novel set in 1950s Turkey.

Twenty-two year old Nurdane is the center of this book - indeed, she is the virgin who ties the titular knots. Crippled with polio when she was six, her father taught her to weave so that she could travel places without her legs. Normally, this would be a skill taught by women, but sadly Nurdane’s mother died in childbirth. Since she is considered less of a woman by men, Nurdane’s virgin status allows her to create prayer rugs and matrimonial dowry rugs that are believed to heal the sick and bring good fortune for any lucky enough to possess them. Most of the novel is about Nurdane’s life, but we are also introduced to John Hennessey, a physical anthropologist, and Adam, Nurdane’s doctor along with people from her village.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel until the last fifty pages or so. I found the ending to be very out of character for what I thought would have happened. After thinking about it, I can see why it was that way, but I felt that the book would have been stronger with a different ending. It altered the intricately woven narrative with a dream-like quality into almost a totally different novel. Still, the book alone is worth reading simply to experience Nurdane’s life.

August 28, 2003
Fluke Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

Fluke Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore: another wonderful book by the author of Island of the Sequined Love Nun and Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story.

In Christopher Moore’s newest book, Nate Quinn, a marine behavioral biologist is consumed with the question of why whales sing. Until the day, that is, that while out observing the whales he sees one with “Bite Me” written on its tail.

So begins Nate quest to find out exactly what the hell is going on. During this adventure, we meet characters that only Moore could bring to life this well - Clay, Nate’s partner in Maui Whale; Amy, the luscious, brilliant research assistant that Nate has a thing for; Kona, the dreadlock-wearing, pot smoking white boy from New Jersey who speaks Rastafarian; Elizabeth (AKA The Old Broad) who supports the researchers. There are also the assorted people - like Nate’s ex-wife and other biologists - that lets you know that you are definitely reading a Christopher Moore novel.

I always love reading one of Moore’s books. No where else can you find a sentence like “Quinn felt like he’d just smacked a bag of kittens against a truck bumper” or learn a phrase like “action nerd.” A hell of a funny book with a really interesting premise that’s well worth reading.

August 25, 2003
House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III: one of Oprah’s Book Club picks (though I didn’t know if when at the time) and one of the most captivating books I’ve read all year.

The story centers around two main characters - Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani and Kathy Nicolo. Kathy is a former cocaine addict trying to recover from her husband leaving her eight months earlier. Due to a bureaucratic error, Kathy’s house, left to her by her father, is seized and put up for auction. Behrani, who fled Iran four years earlier and is having a tough time finding a good job, takes the last of his family’s money and purchases the house for a very low price. This is when the real trouble begins.

Kathy, naturally, wants her house back. Behrani sees this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to get his family’s fortunes back on track and refuses to sale without at least tripling his money. Meanwhile, Kathy has become involved with a married police officer, Les Burdon, complicating both her life and his.

Immediately, this book grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. I felt sympathy for both sides in this struggle and couldn’t imagine any way that this would work out well for anyone. I wanted everyone to get what they wanted, though that obviously couldn’t be. I worried about all involved- epsecially Mrs. Behrani and Kathy - and feared what would happen to these wonderfully vivid characters.

Not giving anything away, I totally felt that the book had an inevitable conclusion once it began moving. I was completely drawn in and recommended this book heartily.

August 23, 2003
The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice

The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice: one of the most boring books that I’ve had the displeasure of reading in quite some time.

Set at one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, the book revolves around two freshmen, their friend, and the college professor that one of them is sleeping with. Since the college professor is married, the fact that he’s sleeping with a student isn’t a good thing, especially since it’s a male student. The professor’s wife ends up dead causing all kinds of suspicion to fall on him. The college was also the scene of a young woman’s drowning twenty years earlier causing one to wonder what the parallels may be.

The Snow Garden is supposed to be this great psychological thriller and horror story, but I couldn’t ever get into it. I found all of the characters either downright unlikable or uninteresting. Also found the way that people’s past secrets were hinted about for over half the novel very annoying. By about page three hundred or so, the novel started picking up, but since the book is only four hundred pages long, that’s quite a lot of pages to have to slosh through to get to any kind of interesting material.

August 14, 2003
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman: when I was in high school I read the most amazing short story ever that was about a murdered angel. It was in this great little anthology that I somehow misplaced and was never able to find again. About five years ago I came across the short story again in one of the ever-excellent Years Best Fantasy and Horror collections. Over the years the story has stayed with me, though never the name or the author. Imagine my delight when, while coming to the end of this amazing collection, I find it contained within.

Neil Gaiman has always been a favorite of mine through both his short stories and his novels (especially American Gods), so I can’t describe how happy it made me that he wrote one of the best short stories that I have ever read (the title, by the way, is Murder Mysteries).

I simply can not recommend Gaiman, especially this collection, highly enough. Everything that he writes is pure magic. There’s heartbreak, there’s happiness, there’s sorrow, and there’s joy, but the most important this is that his stories always ring true.

Pick this up as soon as you can. It is not to be missed. Forgive me if this review seems a bit disjointed, but I am so excited that the title of that missing anthology was mentioned and I have been able to find it again.

Favorite stories of mine from this collection are Chivalry, The Price, Don’t Ask Jack, The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories, Queen of Knives, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar, Bay Wolf, Mouse, Desert Wind, Babycakes, the aforementioned Murder Mysteries, and Snow, Glass, Apples.

August 12, 2003
How to be Good by Nick Hornby

How to be Good by Nick Hornby: Hornby is one of my friend’s favorite writers, so when I found this at a half price book store I picked it up. I’m certainly glad I did.

Apparently, this is one of Hornby’s more depressing and less fun books, but I found myself enthralled nonetheless. Katie, a GP who likes to think of herself as a good person despite having an affair, is married to David, the Angriest Man in Holloway (that’s actually the title of the column he writes).

Pretty soon into the book, David has a spiritual experience and decides to live his life the right way, the good way. He talks his neighbors into housing homeless children, he plans on how to redistribute wealth to those in need, he even talks his children into giving their toys away to those less fortunate.

The real story is Katie’s struggle with how this makes her feel. Sure, she’s against homelessness and for helping others, but why do all these good works make her hate David even more than she did? What he’s doing is good - why’s it driving her insane?

I was fascinated with how this book was going to end and what was going to happen to the people involved. It’s definitely not a cheery, light-hearted book at all, but I enjoyed it anyway. Hornby’s got a very easy to read style and his characters are very much real. Good book and highly recommended.

August 05, 2003
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel: what a wonderful book this was! It was very short (I read it in one day), but absolutely engrossing from the start. A fabulous mixture of love, romance, fairy tale, and recipes.

The book tells the story of Mama Elena and her three daughters - Rosaura, Gertrudis, and Tita, the youngest. When Tita turns fifteen she wishes to be married, but family tradition dictates that the youngest daughter must never marry and look after her mother until the day she dies. Pedro, the boy in love with Tita, in turn marries Rosaura so he can be near the woman he loves. This leads to all sorts of complications and events that no one could predict.

The novel has the same sort of feel as Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic. For example, the sadness of that Tita feels while cooking causes an entire wedding party to experience longing and unhappiness simply by eating her food.

I also enjoyed that included in each chapter was a recipe for the dish that was being prepared. I’m not a cook, but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

Simply put, this is a fairy tale of life in Mexico that anyone can relate to. It’s simply delicious and should be read by all.

July 31, 2003
The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque by Joyce Carol Oates

The Collector of Hearts: New Tales of the Grotesque by Joyce Carol Oates: normally I love anthologies and enjoy reading them greatly, but this one was an exception.

I’ve mentioned before that while I don’t mind “vague” stories - stories where you don’t really know what’s going on, who the people are, or why they’re there - full books of them always are tedious for me to make my way through. Unfortunately, most of the stories is The Collector of Hearts were of the vague kind, so I didn’t really enjoy the book and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

There were some good stories in it - notably “The Sky Blue Ball,” “Death Mother,” “Schroeder’s Stepfather,” “The Sepulchre,” “The Sons of Angus Macelster,” “The Affliction,” “Unprintable,” “Valentine,” and “The Crossing.” Mostly these stories had less of a vagueness to them and I felt it easier to connect to the characters.

All in all, not a bad book, but not really recommended unless you’re a fan of the short story or of her.

July 19, 2003
The Lovely Bones: A Novel by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones: A Novel by Alice Sebold: I tried to tell some friends who came over this weekend why exactly this book was so good, but it seems hard for most of the people to get past the fact that this book is by a girl who has just been raped and murdered by a family acquaintance as she watches down on her family from Heaven. Of course, her heaven has the high school that she went to with the wonderful architecture that she loved so, but they never have to go to class and their textbooks are Vogue and Seventeen.

Susie watches her family try and come to grip with the sudden hole that she has left in their midst. She can’t influence them, but she cannot tear herself away from them either.

What moved me most about this book was the way that the characters - from the boy who gave Susie her first kiss to her sister to her little brother to the girl who felt her soul leaving this earth to her killer - were intertwined. The story’s biggest impact on me was simply the way that one must learn to let go - not forget, no - but let go when a tragedy like this has occurred.

Sebold writes with a clear voice that makes all of the people in her book incredible real and alive. I can’t help but worry for her family as they try and stay together. I can’t help buy worry about Ray, the boy who kissed her - will he be able to move past almost having her?

Oddly, though, George Harvey, the man who killed Susie was never much in my mind. I think it was because I loved her family so, that as long as he wasn’t near them to do harm, he didn’t really matter much to me.

Despite the morbid tone to the idea of this book, this book does not ever come close to being morbid. In fact I found it full of promises, light, and hope and I hope that everyone will take time to read this amazing novel.

July 17, 2003
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: I was excited when I was able to borrow this book from a fellow Book Crossing member. I kept thinking, “Tragic, gothic romance. Should be right up my alley!” Unfortunately, I found it not to be.

I know that I’ve liked other books from this time period (Jane Eyre and (Madame Bovary for example), but I found Wuthering Heights to be extremely difficult to get into. I also had a rough time keeping track of the characters and their relationships to one another as well.

To me, I think the biggest problem was that I didn’t really like any of the characters. By having no particular character to root for, it became a laborious task to continue with the book. However, around page 200 or so, I finally found a character that I could sympathize with and like and I felt that the book picked up and managed to draw me in since I did want to see how it ended. I don’t know, though, if slogging through the first part of the novel made it worthwhile.

June 14, 2003
Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry

Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry: a book about the lives of a mother and daughter, but where the plot just isn’t of major importance.

I’ve never read anything by McMurty before, but my friend Dan kept going on and on about how much he loved him so I borrowed Terms of Endearment. I’m very glad I did because I fell completely in love with the characters immediately, especially Aurora Greenway.

The novel is about two women - Aurora the mother and Emma the daughter - and how they effect each other and how their lives entertwine. Aurora is headstrong and selfish and hard to get along with, but her daughter loves her anyway. Emma never puts herself ahead of others and is easily taken advantage of at times, but Aurora still loves her as well.

This doesn’t mean, however, that their relationship is smooth. They have many issues with each other, but at the end of the novel, it’s obvious that they have gotten to a point where none of that matters - only their love for each other does.

I mentioned earlier that this is a book where plot just doesn’t seem to matter. The whole novel seemed to be about character development, if that makes any sense. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the book seemed to exist to further the personalities, not to reach any kind of a resolution, though that does happen.

I would highly recommend this novel and can’t wait to try the rest of McMurtry’s work as well.

April 27, 2003
City of Light by Lauren Belfer

City of Light by Lauren Belfer: a stunning debut novel set in Buffalo, New York in the spring of 1901.

This is both a murder mystery and a study in relationships and how the things we ignore can change our lives forever. I was absolutely entranced by this book and found it one of the best books that I have read all year. It’s simply a must read.

April 02, 2003
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman: this is the second time that I’ve read this book and it’s still as wonderful as the first time I read it about three years ago.

Practical Magic is set in our time and in our world, but also in a world where a lover’s passion is so strong that butter melts in their house. Where the ticking of a beetle can signify death for someone that you love. I think we all used to have some of this magic in our world, but we lose it as we get older and reality takes a stronger hold on us. Reading this book is a wonderful way to recapture the amazing in the every day.

The story revolves around sets of sisters in the Owens family - the aunts, Gillian and Sally, and Sally’s girls. All of the women in the Owens family are beguiling and they also happen to be witches. This aspect seemed more focused on in movie (very highly recommended) than in the book, but it’s an important element nonetheless. The relationships between the family is both one of love and one that is convoluted through choices that are made.

While it may sound like a sappy book, the way it is handled makes it anything but. The characters are deep and interesting and you can’t help but experience their longing, their worry, and their love. This book is simply lovely and has become one of my favorites of all time, always staying with me. I can not recommend it enough.

January 25, 2003
American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman: I cannot rave about this book enough. The book revolves around one premise: old gods (such as Odin) don’t just stop existing when they begin to lose their followers, rather they become, in a strange way, like the rest of us. They take jobs, they become grifters; the do whatever it is to survive. There is going to be a war between these old gods and the newer gods (those of tv, the Internet, credit cards), but there is so much more to the book than that. It’s filled with interesting characters and a storyline that is always moving and reshaping itself. There was a hypnotic, dream-like quality to the writing and I loved feeling like I was being sucked in every time I opened it. While I liked Neverwhere, this book was so much better and has hooked me as a Gaiman fan.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: this book was so very Alice in Wonderland on crack, but I really liked it. I’ve read Gaiman’s short stories in several anthologies before, but since this was his first full-length novel, I wasn’t sure how good it would be. While it will never be one of my favorite books of all time, it was very entertaining and enjoyable. I look forward to starting his newest novel, American Gods

Cross Dressing by Bill Fitzhugh

Cross Dressing by Bill Fitzhugh: wonderful book. The story is about an ad executive who’s twin brother, a priest, pretends to be him to receive the ad exec’s insurance, but dies. The ad exec must then avoid the various and assorted people that are after him while trying to be a priest and falling in love with a nun. Fitzhugh’s books are always hysterical and fun to read and this one provides the same sarcastic humor and wit that I look forward to in his books.

Night of the Avenging Blowfish: A Novel of Covert Operations, Love, and Luncheon Meat by John Welter

Night of the Avenging Blowfish: A Novel of Covert Operations, Love, and Luncheon Meat by John Welter: very funny book about a love-sick, caustic secret service agent. Several parts of the book were just laugh-out-loud funny and I just found Doyle so endearing. The style reminded me a lot of Christopher Moore. I am going to take a look at getting his other books too.

Freezer Burn by Joe R. Lansdale

Freezer Burn by Joe R. Lansdale: interesting book. Lansdale has one of the most distinctive voices with some of the most interesting phrases. Moral dilemnas abound and the story is always captivating.

The Poet by Michael Connelly

The Poet by Michael Connelly: great, edge-of-your-seat thriller involving a reporter and a serial killer. I need to read the rest of his books.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant: absolutely amazing book about Dinah from The Bible. It’s a fictional account and has nothing to do with religion. Instead, it’s about the relationship between Dinah, her mother, and her aunts. It’s both fascinating and touching and I feel completely in love with this book.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) by J.K. Rowling: latest book in the wonderful Harry Potter series. This book had a darker, more adult feel to it. The relationships between the characters are becoming more complex as well. Wonderful book and I can’t wait for the next one.

The Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle

The Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle: very tounge-in-cheek tale about a bear that finds a manuscript and takes off to New York to get in published where no one notices he’s a bear. Totally loved it.

Shopgirl by Steve Martin

Shopgirl by Steve Martin was quick little read about a shopgirl and her relationship with two men. It was a touching book and I really liked it.