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.