Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
Last week, in a moment of panic when I ran out of audio books on my iPod, I did an emergency run to the local library to find something entertaining. Now, this method of book selection is usually haphazard at best, but these were desperate times. I found "Pride and Prejudice" (an exciting morsel) and this book, Tell No One. I'm not sure I've read Harlan Coban before, but the title tickled a memory. TBR list? No, I later discovered that the movie came out recently and was very well reviewed...it is on my Netflix Q. The movie was actually directed by a French fellow, Guillaume Cadet, and takes place in France, but otherwise seems to have retained the general storyline. I remembered that several studios started bidding on the rights to the book before it was even finished, so I was extremely encouraged to read the book.
The premise may sound slightly familiar to you. A doctor's wife mysteriously disappears and is found several days later, murdered and branded, an M.O. connected with a serial killer. Eight years later, two bodies are found that seem to be related with this murder. The case is reopened and new evidence points to the doctor (Alex Beck) as the murderer of his wife. At the same time, the doctor receives haunting e-mails with hidden messages that only his wife would know about, with a plea to "tell no one". Is she alive, or is it a set up? Is he grasping at the few threads of hope still alive in his heart? Authorities launch a city-wide manhunt of Beck, and Beck attempts to chase down evidence to prove his innocence using any means possible. The deceptions and betrayals run up and down the ladder, and chasing the twists and turns leave you breathless and guessing right up to the very end.
So is it me, or does this have strains of The Fugitive in it? That's OK, though. I loved the Fugitive, and this story very quickly distinguishes itself from other familiar plotlines. It is INSANELY fast-paced with unpredictable twists - you won't be able to put this book down so don't start it before you go to bed. At the same time, however, it is a gentle, bittersweet story of a man losing his soul mate, and not getting over it. Even the subplots are satisfying with great character development and easy, flowing prose. I detected not an ounce of anything corny or cliche. And it posed to me some questions to ponder. How far would you go to save the ones you love? If you saw the line between good and evil, would you recognize it? Would you cross that line for the greater good?
Saturday, December 27, 2008
#2. The Book of Dahlia - Elisa Albert. Spoiled LA slacker with a doting father and self-absorbed mother lays around smoking pot and eating Cheerios and waits for her life to begin. She contracts terminal cancer, and what starts out as a novel with dark humor turns into a tragedy...one unlike any you've read before.
#3. Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout. Linked stories that capture the ebb and flow of life in a small coastal Maine town. At the center of the stories is a retired schoolteacher who has taught her students life lessons that they carry with them forever, but at the same time she is frank, childish and resentful to her family members. This stout, impossible, wonderful woman is the year's most riveting fictional character. Not to be confused with Kit Kitteridge of American Girl, which is what I thought it was at first.
#4. Lush Life - Richard Price. I did read this one via audio book, and I finished it within two days. This is a colorful, gritty, dense crime novel that takes us into the boiling melting pot of downtown New York. This is not a whodunit - we know the answer to that one. It is more of a street-level view of wannabe artists in a cafe society along with African-American kids coming of age in the housing projects next door.
#5. Bottomless Belly Button - Dash Shaw. Cartoonist Shaw sketches the Looney family, whose parents are divorcing after decades of marriage. Shaw unspools the entertwined sagas - romance, neurosis, sexual awakening, and deadpan comedy that build to a bleak, haunting finale.
#6. The House on Fortune Street - Margot Livesey. The lives of four men and women who come and go from a London flat are explored in Livesey's sixth novel. The common literary motif of families that are strangers to one another is affectingly dramatized in this extraordinary book.
#7. Disquiet - Julia Leigh. A creepy, potent, moody novella whose characters are totally askew...a woman turns up at her estranged family's estate covered in bruises, her elderly mother lives in a bedroom strewn with raw chicken wings for her cats, a sister-in-law arrives with the corpse of a stillborn baby who is put to bed each night in the freezer. Huh?
#8. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle - David Wroblewski. One of the best books I have read this year. Loosely modeled on the plot of Hamlet, a mute Edgar Sawtelle assists his parents in raising and training a special breed of dog. Everything is turned upside down when his mysterious uncle arrives, his father dies suddenly, and Edgar begins harboring suspicions and seeing ghosts. This novel haunted me long after I finished it.
#9. American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld. About the inner life of a First Lady, who has a secret abortion, a lesbian grandmother, and doubt about her husband's ability to do his job. We are also treated with lively sex scenes and wicked caricatures of a political dynasty. I wonder who this could be a parody of?
#10. What Happened to Anna K. - Irina Reyn. Reyn uses her talent and cojones to re-write Tolstoy's Anna Karenina into something more modern. Hmmm...
#1. Beautiful Boy - David Sheff. Written by the father of a boy addicted to crystal meth, and is a statement about parental love and its limitations.
#2. Nixonland - Rick Peristein. This book was on Stephen King's list as well. It is deemed an amusing analysis of Richard Nixon's pivotal role in contemporary American politics.
#3. The Forever War - Dexter Filkins. War correspondent Filkins provides a harrowing backstory to his front-page reportage on Afghanistan and Iraq.
#4. Pictures at a Revolution - Mark Harris. In this engrossing history, Harris uses stories of how five films nominated for 1967 Best Picture were made to chronicle changes in Hollywood and culture.
#5. The Bin Ladens - Steve Coll. Coll approaches the catastrophe of 9/11 as one more crisis within a big, dysfunctional family.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Being a relatively new blogger, this is another first for me...a reading challenge! I know they are going on everywhere, but have restrained myself simply because of the volume of books on my shelf that I want to read. However, I stumbled across this one and the premise of the book series intrigued me. The rules of the challenge (see them here) allow audio tape, so that gives me a half a chance to accomplish my goal!
The challenge revolves around the Outlander Series, written by Diana Gabaldon. The specific books are:
- Dragonfly in Amber
- Drums of Autumn
- The Fiery Cross
- A Breath of Snow and Ashes
There is a seventh book in the series coming out in the fall of 2009, which prompted the challenge to re-read and prepare for its launch. Based on what I have read, the premise of the books is this: A WWII combat nurse vacations in Scotland with her husband and accidently launches herself back to the 1700's. Circumstances throw her in the path of a gallant young soldier, Jamie (quite the dude I'm told), and their love affair becomes the centerpiece of the series, which delves into Scottish history (where my ancestors are from). I expect I will learn something, as one does from historical novels. I also expect to be entertained by love, tragedy, scandal and the fantasy of time travel.
However, here is the kicker, friends. I checked my library to see if they carry the series on audio tape, and they do. I also did a little math, and in sum, there are 228 discs in the series. Gulp. And I was intimidated by "World Without End" that had 36 discs? Holy moly. Good thing I have six or seven months to accomplish this one...
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The White Tiger was this year's recipient of the Man Booker Award for fiction. There has been some buzz among the literary critics that the quality of novels nominated for this award has steadily decreased, and complete disbelief that this particular book won. On the other hand, among the blogging community, it has been positively embraced, and I wanted to give it a chance.
The book is written as a first-person narrative by a successful, self-proclaimed Indian entrepreneur, who is telling his life story to a Chinese premier about to visit India for the first time. The voice of the narrator is cynical, callous and crude, yet has a hilarious, dry sense of humor. He describes his life as a poor son of a rickshaw driver, who was never given a name by his parents but was dubbed "The White Tiger" by his teacher because of his unique intellect and potential in a village of the downtrodden. The government later names him "Balram", and provides him a birthdate so that he can vote for the local, corrupt landlord. Balram goes on to paint a vivid picture of life in India...one of light and darkness, rich and poor, corrupt and virtuous, materialistic and loyal. Balram learns how to drive and becomes a driver for a family of corrupt landlords, and learns much, despite very little schooling, from his habit of eavesdropping. He yearns to break free of his servitude and become "a big-bellied man". As his master becomes more and more debased, so does Balram. Once loyal and law-abiding to a fault, Balram now becomes angry, begins to use the master and he has been used, hire prostitutes, drink, and ultimately, plan to rob and kill the master. Balram's life originates in poverty and "darkness", but in his quest to live in the India of Light, perhaps finds himself in the darkest place of all. At the end of the book, however, we find our narrator has clawed his way back to moral ground and is at peace with the circumstances by which he made his break for freedom.
Adiga provides rich prose in describing the un-navigatable chasm between the haves and the have-nots. One of most entertaining analogies used was the "rooster coop", which, as the narrator described, is what India is known for:
"Go to Old Delhi ...and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. Hundreds of pale hens and brightly coloured roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages...They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they're next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop. The very same thing is done with human beings in this country."
This may not have made my TBR list had it not been for its recent popularity, and I am glad it was brought to my attention. I'm not sure where the critics are coming from, but I believe the award was well-deserved.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
2. What is a book that reminds me of something specific in my life? Pillars of the Earth was my first experience in Historical Fiction. I picked the book up in London while I was over there for a couple of months on an assignment for work, about 15 years ago. On the weekends, a colleague of mine and I traveled by train, bus and bicycle through the countryside of England, taking in the rolling hills, little bed and breakfasts, the friendly locals, and of course, the magnificent cathedrals that take away your breath and make you cry. It was surreal to be reading this book, which accounts the building of a cathedral, the development of Gothic architecture, the political power of the priory, the ambitions of the townsfolk involved in the construction, all taking place in the 12th century and interwoven with factual historical events. It was such an experience of immersion, and I will never forget it.
3. What is a book I acquired in an interesting way? This was a tough one. Most of my books have been acquired the normal way...gifts, purchases, etc. Even buying a book on Ebay really isn't that interesting. After standing and staring at my bookshelf for awhile, I decided it must be "Night Over Water" by Ken Follett. This was a book I purchased for my bibliophile grandfather, in large print. Not long after he received the gift and read it, he passed away, and I got the book back. I put a rose from his funeral in the book and, to this day, still have not read it.
4. What is the book that has been with me the most places? As some of you may or may not know, my husband was born and raised in Poland. We travel there every other summer to see his family. Last year, I decided I needed to re-read all of the Harry Potter books in preparation for the release of the Deathly Hallows, which was coming out the evening we arrived back from our Polish trip. So, much to the dismay of my husband, and the dudes that weigh the luggage at the airport, I brought all six hardcover books with me. The books had a layover in Washington and Munich, spent some time in Wroclaw, went to the Baltic Sea and back home again.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Monday, December 1, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
When fellow blogger C.B. James (who has an amazing book blog that features his book-eating dog Dakota) asked me to review Larousse Gastronomique as one of his Wednesday Wonders, I instantly got sweaty palms. You see, reviewing my favorite culinary tome of all times could be likened to reviewing the Bible, or War and Peace. How to do it justice? But with a glass of Bordeaux in hand, I pledge to try.
In the spirit of the holidays and gift-giving, this is perfect timing. If you know someone that has a passion for cooking, and equally a passion for literature, look no further for the ultimate gift. Originally written in 1938 in the French language, with 8,500 recipes and over a thousand pages, Larousse is THE world authority on anything remotely related to the culinary arts. It is almost beyond comprehension that this much information could be contained in one book. In 1961, it was translated to English for the first time, which is the edition that I own, and is the picture shown at the left. I found this edition on EBay for less than $20, but trust me that it would be one of the first things I grabbed if my house caught on fire. I received the book with yellowed pages and large splatters on it (wine? sauce? blood?) which even made it more precious to me. Today, Larousse can be found in any superior restaurant and owned by any culinary expert worth his salt.
Larousse would officially be named an encyclopedia/cookbook. To describe it this way, however, is sacriledge. What subject of cooking do you dream of knowing more about? How about agaric fungi, its number of species, where to find them, which are edible, and how to prepare and with which sauce best complements its flavor? Maybe you need to know about alcoholism and all its forms, just to make sure you're OK. A bit of poetry, perhaps, by the French poet Berchoux who prefers to write about gastronomy. And what kind of French reference guide would it be without all things vino? You can take a trip through any of France's divisions and regions, Guyenne, Champagne, Provence, Marche, etc., learn about the culinary specialties of each, as well its wine production. Like eggs? Larousse has over 400 ways to prepare them. You want to butcher your own cow, pig or lamb, or at the very least understand all the cuts? Look no further. If you have any leftover parts, like a pig leg, you will have wonderful advice on how to make good use. Maybe you are a history buff, and would like to better appreciate the evolution of cooking over the ages, from prehistoric times through the present day. Nothing is missed in this little treasure.
One downside of Larousse, if I were pushed to come up with one, would be that it assumes the reader knows something about cooking. Recipes are not laid out in step-by-step detail like you might find in a common cookbook. I also feel that later editions (which you can find anywhere from Barnes and Noble to Williams Sonoma), each one just a little more modern and pristine, loses a little of that shameless passion that you see in the 1961 edition. And to me, that is what cooking is all about.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
1. Lighthouse hunting. There are four of them within a twenty mile drive from us (one is right next door!). This is a relative new hobby for us, but we are into it.
2. The day after Thanksgiving celebration in Apalachicola. This is an annual event for us, but it is always a favorite. We see Santa arrive in a shrimp boat to crazed, wild-eyed, screaming little kids, all the stores decorate and stay open late and serve wine and cider.
3. Feeding the kittens that live behind the St. George Inn. We couldn't help it. They seemed a little skinny, and they were very friendly. We wished we could take them all home.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Lee Child - Jack Reacher series: This is one of my favorites, even though it packs alot of testosterone. Ex-military dude, hard-bodied, attracts women like flies but is a commitment-phobe, only carries a toothbrush with him and has no address. Wanders all over the country sleeping with women and kicking the ass of anybody making bad choices. Love it, love it, love it. Stephen King calls this "manfiction".
Janet Evanovich - Stephanie Plum series: OK, so sue me. It's bubblegum and cotton candy reading, very little substance, but reading it is like catching up with an old college friend in your old sweats with a glass of wine. Perky, goofy, clumsy girl is a bond enforcer who is in love with both an Italian cop and a mysterious half-Cuban hard-bodied fellow bond enforcer named Ranger (yeah baby). She frequently chases trouble with her sidekick, ex-ho Lula. Good for a belly laugh when you are feeling down.
Sue Grafton - Kinsey Millhone (alphabet) series: I am afraid Ms. Grafton is going to die before she gets to Z (I think she is on T right now). About a single, middle-aged private investigator, a commitment-phobe, best friend is her landlord that is in his 80's. Half humorous, half serious, always a good read.
Lawrence Block - Matthew Scudder series and Bernie Rhodenbarr series: I haven't even scratched the surface of these series. I started with Matthew Scudder, who is damaged ex-cop, and the books are dark. Loved the few I read. Ambled into the Bernie "Burglar" series, and love it even more. These are very light (ala Stephanie Plum) about a bookstore owner by day, burglar by night. Oh by the way, he only burgles people who deserve it.
Kathy Reichs - Tempe Brennan series: Ms. Reichs also writes for the TV show Bones, which is loosely based on the Tempe Brennan novels. Tempe is a forensic anthropologist (bone chic), is a recovering alcoholic, and has an on again, off again relationship with a homicide detective Andrew Ryan. You learn something in each of these novels. I like that.
Barry Eisler - John Rain series: Badass assassin that wants out of the business to nurture his relationship with fellow female assassin, but keeps getting pulled back in. Lots of butt kicking if you're in the mood. More manfiction.
James Lee Burke - Dave Robicheaux series: New Orleans cop and his friend Cletus chase down bad guys. Both men are quite damaged but have good hearts. Very gritty novels.
John Sandford - Lucas Davenport (prey) series: Independantly wealthy due to starting his own online gaming company, he is a homicide cop that breaks a few rules, has a temper and kicks butt. Was a habitual lady-killer, but finally settled down with his doctor wife and had kids. Didn't settle him down too much, which is good. I think Lucas and Jack Reacher would find alot in common, or maybe they would beat each other to a pulp.
Stuart Woods - Stone Barrington series: Stone is a lawyer in private practice that hands the cases his buddies don't want. This man is the king of all sleezebags when it comes to women. A number of these novels will give you your dose of steamy sex.
Perri O'Shaunessy - Nina Reilly series: Author is actually two sisters collaberating. About a single mom attorney in private practice that always ends up in the thick of things. She has an ex-husband, a fiance that was killed by a bad guy in one of the books, and an on again, off again relationship with her investigator. Lately I've had a hard time getting into these novels...don't know what is happening.
Michael Connelly - Harry Bosch series: A private investigator that has personal demons. Usually very excited and gritty. Never lets me down.
Robert Crais - Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series: Elvis and Joe are investigators, and the series focuses on one or the other, but they are both in each other's adventures. Elvis is a nice guy, Joe is a stone-faced badass that doesn't say much. I like him best.
Jonathan Kellerman - Alex Delaware series: Alex is a child psychiatrist that always gets in harms way. He gets help from his best friend Milo, who is a gay policeman. I am always entertained by these books, but about halfway through the series I started accurately predicting who the bad guy was, when there would be a discovery of a dead body, etc. I don't like to be able to figure this stuff out so easy!
Patricia Cornwell - Kay Scarpetta: I considered not mentioning this series because I am so disenchanted with it. She hooked me in early, and I loved every book, but lately I feel has gone to hell in a handbasket. Kay is a forensic pathologist that chases murderers, has a neice in Quantico, and a long-term affair with an FBI dude.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
The intensity is still there, with Bella riding motorcycles, cliff-diving and talking to strange men in dark alleys to rebel against Edward's abandonment. Edward tries to commit vampire suicide when he thinks Bella has died from a cliff-diving escapade. I feel that the story line also took a fairly ridiculous turn with the werewolf rival, but what do you want from a book geared towards adolescents? I still read it, didn't I? I was quite entertained actually and look forward to the little treat of the third installment...