It's a good book, but it's not my Typee...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern will leave you reeling.

Enter, if you dare, the black and white world of the circus where only the illusions are real. Meet the mysterious, tattooed contortionist and the twins with hair like fire. Meet the sad, quiet fortune teller and the beautiful illusionist. But you may only enter at night. During the light of day, trespassers will be exsanguinated...

Monday, November 28, 2011


The day has come. I'm picking out the eReader I want for Christmas.

I adore physical books. Technology can never replace paper for those of us with souls.

But I love books in all their forms: brand new from Barnes and Noble, old and dusty from used book stores, downloaded for free from, or recorded on CD and nestled snugly in my car's 6-disc changer.

And if a Kindle or NOOK can make it possible to read in even more places, at more times than I can now...then bring it on. I am, however, also shopping for a cover for the contraption that will make it look like an actual book.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Wake of the Bounty

In reading about the Bounty mutiny, I came across a reference to the book The Wake of the Bounty by C.S. Wilkinson. It describes a conspiracy involving Wordsworth which rescued Fletcher Christian from Pitcairn Island and returned him to England.

The theory sounds quite ridiculous, but fascinating nonetheless. It appears The Wake of the Bounty is a rather rare book, so I'll have do some looking around to find a copy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gift from the Sea

Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea is one of those books you're supposed to love. As a woman, I'm supposed to melt at the thought of it. It's soothing and inspiring, right?

I'm only a few chapters in, but so far the statements are vague and I'm more concerned about the sand fleas that must be crawling out of Mrs. Lindbergh's marine decor than I am about gleaning advice from seashells. The only complaint I've heard from others seems to be that the book is outdated and not feminist enough. I have no problem with things that are outdated, but I fear I'll finish this "inspiring" book without gaining any useful insights.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Age of Comfort

The Age of Comfort by Joan DeJean is packed with information about the place where surroundings and intellect intersect. DeJean takes the reader on a tour of French history by way of its furniture.

Does comfortable furniture make a man more civilized? The French certainly thought so; and most of Europe agreed with them during the 1700s, a time when everyone but the English wanted to be as French as possible. Does indoor plumbing affect a person's mental state? Undoubtedly. These questions arise as we see the change in the way people express themselves and even view their own bodies depending on the furniture they sit on.

Occasionally dry, but unfailingly interesting, The Age of Comfort is a treat.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Michael S. Hart, creator of Project Gutenberg

Click here for the obituary of Michael S. Hart, creator of This site is one of my favorites as it provides free ebooks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reading as leisure

According to The Age of Comfort by Joan DeJean, reading was not something people did for enjoyment until comfortable furniture was invented. Once there was upholstered furniture large enough for people to stretch out on, they grabbed their books and letters and began to read them for pleasure, not just for the purposes of study or business. This change began in France around 1700 and is one of the many ways furniture affects our life.

If you have any interest in France, the modern home, and the way our surroundings affect us, I recommend The Age of Comfort.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Why Read Moby Dick?

Nathaniel Philbrick has already made a gigantic contribution to Melville studies by providing us with In the Heart of the Sea, about the whaleship Essex. The story of the Essex provided Melville with a real-life basis for some of the fantastic events in Moby Dick.

Soon, Philbrick's new book, Why Read Moby-Dick?, will give us more of his valuable insight into this great American novel.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Uncommon: A Book Review Haiku

Uncommon finds truth
in lives lived well, paths straightened.
God and football themes.

Uncommon by Tony Dungy is a book aimed at helping men and boys be the best they can, but most of its lessons apply with equal simplicity and depth to anyone who cares to read it. Dungy draws on the lessons learned coaching professional football and seeing
what effect a life of privilege can have without a strong moral compass.

The Constantine Codex

The Constantine Codex is one of the most dreadful books I've read in quite a while. The plot would have been fascinating in the hands of a more skilled author. But Paul L. Maier manages to squeeze all the entertainment out of the story with his insipid dialogue.

The two main characters are a married couple--Jon, a Harvard professor and Shannon, an archaeologist--who talk to each other in bad jokes and long-winded explanations of things both of them should already know. Maier is clearly trying to get his readers up to speed on all the history they need to know in order to understand the story, but he doesn't seem to understand that not all factual information has to come out of a character's mouth. A few well-placed paragraphs of historical background would do wonders. Instead, readers will start to wonder how the main characters manage to hold down such prestigious jobs when they are clearly both morons. Jon and Shannon spend page after page trading information back and forth that should be so obvious to them that it need not be stated.

It would be like having the following conversation with your spouse:

Husband: I'm hungry, love of my life. What's that thing called where you combine bread and meat?
Wife: I believe you're thinking of the sandwich.
Husband: I think you're right! Did you know bread is considered a carbohydrate?
Wife: That's right! How could I have forgotten?
Husband: There, there. We can't all be as brilliant as I does the bread go on the inside or the outside?

I'm only exaggerating very slightly. Read the book for yourself if you don't believe me, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Craving Grace

Craving Grace is the second book by Lisa Velhouse, author of Saving My First Kiss. Velthouse takes readers through about three years of her life in this memoir and details her attempts to find Christian perfection, professional perfection, and a relationship that lasts longer than the second date.

The chapters jump back and forth in time and, though well labeled, are still likely to leave the reader confused by all the similar emotions and situations described again and again. Velthouse's thoughts also jump around quite a bit, but not in a displeasing way. Her style is personable and endearing.

I found myself wanting very much to meet this charmingly flawed young woman who strives so hard to be so many wonderful things. By the end of the story, readers with any heart will find themselves silently cheering at the hint of romantic success in Velthouse's future.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Left Behind

Left Behind. What to say? I'd heard of it, of course. My opinion was as yet unformed when I picked up the book, which is for the best. My only concrete thought was 'Why is there a Christian book about all the people who failed at being Christians? Why do we want to hear their story?'

But it turns out the whole idea of the book is that the people who missed their chance to follow Jesus before the Rapture begin to search for answers. Many of them become devout Christians after seeing Biblical prophecy come to life. So, the story itself if intriguing and well thought out.

However, the writing itself leaves something to be desired. The authors seem to have no idea how college students talk, leaving one of the main characters (college student Chloe) sounding stilted and even ridiculous at times. Most of the characters aren't terribly interesting. The aforementioned Chloe is probably the most compelling and charming, but the strange dialogue she's given drains some of her credibility as a character.

Some characters are completely one-dimensional, almost painfully so. Flight attendant Hattie Durham is depicted as a morally inept girl whose shallowness is pointed out so many times, readers may begin to suspect the authors aren't sure we've gotten it.

Overall, Left Behind turned out to be a decent read. The plot became fairly interesting in the last quarter of the book and I don't regret having read it. Not exactly great praise, but more than I can say for some books. I may read more of the series at some point, but I don't feel any great need to find out what happens to these people.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Scars of a Chef

Rick Tramonto has lived a pretty exciting life, as chronicled in Scars of a Chef. Rick's father was jailed for embezzling from the Union he worked for. His mother was an unstable, violent woman who sometimes terrified her son without ever laying a hand on him. Rick's behavior sent him spiraling down the school system as he was sent to ever-worsening high schools in an effort to straighten him out. Eventually he dropped out. To escape from the chaos of his life, he threw himself into drugs and cooking.

He worked his way up from a cook at Wendy's to his own acclaimed restaurants. Along the way he lost himself too often in drugs and partying or just working too many hours a day. He floundered for years, sometimes gravitating toward Christianity, but always delving again into self-destruction and the pursuit of culinary skill over all else.

When Rick finally found something to truly bring him comfort and peace, he gave himself over to it with the same single-minded focus he had previously directed at cooking. He had finally established a relationship with God. Now, Rick balances his love of food with his devotion to Christ. He and his family attend church several times a week and Rick turns to prayer instead of drugs.

Rick Tramonto's story is very readable and it's easy to see that his new-found inner peace has now healed over much of a past that would drag some people down forever. His journey to maturity has been full of potholes, mostly of his own creation. But the basic message of Scars of a Chef is that if someone like Rick can salvage a life marked by family problems and personal darkness, anyone can find their way to success and spirituality.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Inside the Revolution

Joel C. Rosenberg has pulled together an enormous amount of information to create his book Inside the Revolution: How the Followers of Jihad, Jefferson & Jesus Are Battling to Dominate the Middle East and Transform the World. But while the book is interesting and packed with information, it's not very cohesive.

Revolution is a seemingly interminable litany of political facts and religious miracles. If the information had been handled better, it might have made for a more satisfactory read. Part of the problem is that, as Rosenberg points out, he is showing us a side of the Middle East conflict we don't often hear about. We don't get too many news stories about former Muslims who are now wholeheartedly and enthusiastically Christian. As a result, Rosenberg has to provide his own background information. This task is undertaken with so much energy that the reader is left drowning in a sea of tidbits, dates, and backstory.

Rosenberg's own stance on Islam is never made clear. He has dear friends who are Muslims, but he indicates that their peaceful interpretation of Islam is admirable, but possibly misguided. It appears that he would like to see Muslims convert not only because he personally believes in the salvation Jesus offers, but also because he sees Islam as a religion that easily leads people to hatred and violence against their enemies.

In Revolution, we are told that Christianity is becoming wildly popular in the Middle East because its message of loving enemies and friends alike is the polar opposite of Islam's exhausting message of Jihad and conquest. Christianity is said to appeal to Muslims who are tired of being told to hate and retaliate.

Despite the many fascinating stories of almost instantaneous conversion, the reader is left wondering how widespread the changes really are. Statistics in the book point toward the possibility that in the foreseeable future, Christianity could become the dominant religion of the Middle East. But the information seems anecdotal at best, considering that many of the converts can't admit to their beliefs publicly without fear of violence. Rosenberg ties in so much information that in the end it seems a blur of shifting alliances and hidden agendas, which for many Americans, it already is.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mile marker

I was elated today to look at my Goodreads account and find that my list of books I've read now has 500 titles on it. I know there are still books I haven't added to my list, but just seeing the number made me feel very accomplished. Here's to many more to come.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Am I Really a Christian?

Mike McKinley's recently published work Am I Really a Christian? is a simple, but thought-provoking guide to determining where you stand in your relationship with Christ.

McKinley deals with the most serious topics in Christianity without taking himself too seriously. There is a sense of humor evident in his descriptions of the many traps Christians fall into while trying to attain an impossible spiritual perfection.

The book is designed for those who know they are on the right path as well as those struggling to find it. It is strongly recommended for use with fellow church members who can keep you accountable when the going gets tough.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hoopskirts, Union Blues, and Confederate Grays

Hoopskirts, Union Blues, and Confederate Grays by Kate Havelin is a complete look at what Americans were wearing during the Civil War. It's a book intended for youngsters, but is capable of holding the attention of history buffs and fashionistas of all ages.

Illustrated with period photos punctuated with bright backgrounds, Hoopskirts is as visually pleasing as it is informative. From underwear to parasols, every conceivable item worn by men, women, children, soldiers and slaves is covered in full, but easy to understand, detail. The reader will learn about fashion in the days leading up to the Civil War, as well as the ingenuity it required just to create clothing during wartime privations. In the years following the war, American fashion was greatly influenced by England and France, something still true to some extent today.

Havelin's descriptions only occasionally dip below an adult level of understanding, but for most of us not accustomed to wearing pantelets or crinolines, the explanations are necessary and helpful to an understanding of what our ancestors wore.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

While the World Watched

While the World Watched, by Carolyn Maull McKinstry, is the story of the author's remarkable experiences during the Civil Rights movement. Her march under the leadership of Martin Luther King and her later experiences as a speaker about the fight for racial equality pale in comparison to the place in history she never asked for.

On a Sunday morning in September, 1963, Carolyn stuck her head into the girl's bathroom at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. After chatting for a moment with the girls inside, including her best friend, she continued with her usual task of compiling Sunday School reports. If she had stayed in the room three minutes longer, she would likely have shared the fate of her friends. Local men had planted a bomb which went off shortly before worship was to begin that day, killing the four girls Carolyn had just been talking to. Another girl, farther away from the blast, was blinded and badly injured.

For years, Carolyn was haunted by survivor's guilt, something no one talked about in the 1960s. She grew to adulthood shadowed by the deaths of her friends and convinced she would one day be killed by the same hate-filled people who were continuing to plant bombs in homes and businesses around town. Any black citizen who stepped beyond the accepted limits could expect delivery of a bomb, a beating, or a fire in short order. Authorities did little or nothing to discourage these crimes. Even if a suspect was arrested, the all-white jury often found them not guilty despite overwhelming evidence.

When Carolyn reached adulthood, she found herself descending into a depression she didn't understand. Having been discouraged from talking about the violence around her and the people she had lost, she wasn't aware of the effect that years of terror and silent grief had had upon her. She hit rock bottom (or as close to rock bottom as someone with a loving family and supportive husband can) and then turned her life around. She went from drinking all day to divinity school. Since then she has devoted her life to speaking to others around the world about God and about racial conflicts that still continue.

While the World Watched
is not a polished book. It reads like a journal, or a personal message written to be shared with a daughter or granddaughter. McKinstry's words are interspersed with excerpts from Martin Luther King's speeches and letters. King spoke at Sixteenth Street Baptist and had a profound effect on McKinstry. His words give shape and context to the story of a young girl's struggle to find justice and peace in a world that often lacks any.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hoopskirts, Union Blues, and Confederate Grays

You learn something new every day.

Today, while reading a galley of Hoopskirts, Union Blues, and Confederate Grays by Kate Havelin, I found out that the Paisley pattern is named for Paisley, Scotland. During the Civil War era, the town became known for the distinctive design on their popular shawls.

Havelin's book is due out in October of 2011 and will keep the attention of kids and adults with its attractive pictures and descriptions of what anyone who was anyone was wearing in the 1860s.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Tyndale House has a great summer reading program in place. I've joined and started reading their books, which means I'm also working my way toward FREE books. Just read 5 of their books and post about them online. For each five 5 you read and review, you earn a free book. There's quite a list to choose from, both fiction and non-fiction.

Click here to check it out and join.

Let me know if you join--I'd love to hear what you think of the books.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven

The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven is the story of father and son, Kevin and Alex (whose last name, unfortunately, is Malarkey). Both were involved in a terrible car accident, leaving Alex in a coma. Upon awakening two months later, Alex began to tell his family about meeting God and visiting Heaven. Unsure at first how to take this news, Kevin continued to listen to Alex's tales and eventually embraced what he was saying as truth.

Children are heavily influenced by their parents, so it should be no surprise to anyone that the child of devoutly Christian parents would return from a brush with death speaking of seeing angels, Heaven, and God Himself. But if the Malarkeys' account is true, Alex also watched the events taking place at the accident site after he himself was airlifted to the hospital. This would suggest that he actually did have experiences while separated from his body. If he could watch his father being loaded into an ambulance while his own body was miles away, is a visit to Heaven any more far-fetched?

The book really reveals very few details about Alex's conversations with God and his knowledge of Heaven. It's a story more about the fact that the visit to Heaven took place rather than a meticulous account of all that happened there.

If you want to read this book to learn all the secrets of Heaven, don't bother. If you think reading this book will turn someone into a Christian, it won't. But if you want to see how faith can flourish in the worst of circumstances and catch a glimpse of the wondrous effect a strong Christian background can have on even a young child, this is a book you should read.

There is, of course, no way to prove Alex has seen all the things he claims. But for anyone who feels the presence of God in their life, this story will ring true on many levels.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Looking over books I've read this year, I can't help but notice the wide variation in my chosen reading material.

I've read plays: Shakespeare to Beckett,
Mysteries: Jill Paton Walsh to Peter James
Weighty fiction: Fitzgerald to Nabokov
Frothy fiction: Confessions of a Shopaholic to Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters
Nonfiction: The World is Flat to Secret Lives of Great Filmmakers

My reading choices fall into three major categories: Fiction about women, religious books, and vampire literature. Needless to say, Anne Rice is one of my favorite authors. Her books almost invariably involve all three of my favorite topics. Even though her main characters are often male, her fiction is written in a lush, ornately feminine voice.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Book shopping

On Memorial Day I did some successful used book shopping. My parents and I visited Pinehurst, NC and found stacks of used books for great prices at The Given Book Store.

I've been pacing my reading of Anne Rice's many books, which means I need to read Blackwood Farm next, even though it came out years ago. I can't find my copy, but picked one up at The Given Books Store for $1.

My other favorite find of the day was a beautiful copy of one of my favorite books, Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda.

I'd like to thank my darling daddy for buying me such lovely books on our day trip and for constantly picking up books he knows I'd like.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

R.I.P., Ishmael

Today my goldfish Ishmael died. He was one of three Moby Dick themed goldfish living in a tank in my living room. He started out the same size as Ahab, but was quickly outgrown by his tankmate. Moby, the tiny white fantail goldfish, was added later on and is now Ahab's only companion, which is quite fitting. What is not fitting is that Moby is about one fifth the size of Ahab. Who's got the upper fin now, eh?

Anyway, Ishmael started out orange and white, with a cute little pattern on one side that made him look sort of like a cow. Over the course of the year and a half I had him, he turned completely white (which threw off the concept that Moby was supposed to be the only white fish in the tank, but I can't blame him). He was nothing spectacular, but he will be missed. And I will always be glad I rescued him from the feeder fish tank at a local pet store.

So now, Ahab swims around, gobbling everything in sight. And Moby wiggles his little back end for all he's worth (a fantail goldfish's only means of locomotion, once again lessening his terrifyingness). But there's an empty space in the tank tonight. Maybe I'll add another fish sometime. I have always wanted to find a little goldfish with a black pattern on his face and name him Queequeg...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Advent of Childhood

Reading The Age of Comfort by Joan DeJean, I came across the fascinating fact that the concept of childhood as we know it today began in the eighteenth century and was part of the same movement that brought comfort and privacy to the home.

DeJean's book chronicles the development of comfort, starting with its origins in Paris. Before the "age of comfort", homes were designed to display and impress, not to give their residents any sense of privacy or comfortable living conditions.

When architects began to develop rooms specifically for the family, children began to get their own bedrooms, school rooms, and space to exercise. They no longer had to be sent away to boarding school at a young age to prevent them from spoiling the grand effect of the enormous, stuffy rooms that had dominated palatial homes in ages past. When children were given their own space, they became a real part of the family for the first time in French memory. These innovations spread from Paris to the rest of Europe and continue to influence the way we live today.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Good Earth

Pearl Buck's The Good Earth is one of those books I seem to have avoided during my school years. It's either no longer used often in curricula or my particular school path (public school followed by home-schooling and then private school) simply meandered around it.

Wang Lung is a simple Chinese farmer who's greatest ambition is to marry, have sons and work his land. During the course of his life he achieves great success as defined by land ownership and wealth. As with many people of sub-par character, Wang Lung's success makes him forgetful of minor details, like his wife's damaged pride and failing health.

O-lan came to her husband from a wealthy household where she had been raised as a kitchen slave. Per his father's request, she is not beautiful. Wang Lung's father is afraid that if his son's wife is beautiful she won't be a good laborer and will have been spoiled (physically and temperamentally) by the attention of the young men in the household where she was raised.

O-lan is as plain as can be and her training in the great house makes her an ideal mate for a poor farmer. She is uncomplaining and hard-working, birthing her numerous children alone, quietly and with a minimum of fuss. Her householding skills impress Wang Lung and save the family on more than one occasion.

Clearly, Buck knows that women who have been oppressed and overlooked often develop greater inner resources than women who are lavished with gifts and attention. O-lan and her rival, Lotus, are at opposite ends of the spectrum. O-lan is a silent workhorse who reflects on her tragedies and triumphs while rarely revealing her inner thoughts, even to the man who shares her bed. Lotus is the whore we love to hate. She is petite and beautiful, with only enough inner depth to plot for her own gain.

Even though The Good Earth is Wang Lung's story, I find that O-lan stands out in my mind as the most astonishing character. There have been millions of women like her throughout time and around the world. She is a woman who is able to survive the worst and drag her family into better times, often through sacrifices her husband and children will barely notice or understand.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I just bought a bag of groceries for $1.27, but I think I could do even better. I like the Coupon Mom's website and through Goodreads I found she has a couple of books.

The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Help: Book Wanted

I'm trying to find a book I once read and would be grateful for any help.

It's a book for kids or young adults that was probably published prior to 1990. I don't know the title, author, or any of the characters' names. A search for keywords on various book websites has turned up nothing.

The main character is a young girl who moves out of her family's house and into a structure in the woods. I think it was a small windmill, but it might have just been a tower. She wasn't running away, just sort of packed up some things and said she'd be living in the tower for a while.

She has fun cooking her own meals in the tiny kitchen and keeping everything tidy. The only part that really stands out to me is a scene in which a mouse gets trapped in a bottle. The girl had left an empty soda bottle in the sink and a mouse crawled in to get at the last drops of soda. The mouse is stuck and when the girl sees this, she's very concerned and tries to free it. She realizes that breaking the bottle would hurt the mouse, so I think she ended up figuring out some other way to release it.

I don't think I finished reading the book, but the concept of running away without running away has always stuck with me. I've found echoes of it in Virginia Woolf and other works of art in which women set themselves apart for their own reasons.

So if anyone knows what book I'm talking about, please let me know.

1/8/14 Update: I'm still trying to find this book. I've searched online again and come up with nothing. Help!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Shame of Lolita

Last week I looked for Lolita on the shelf at the public library.

I had also looked the week before. And a few weeks before that.

It was never there.

I began to wonder if maybe the Wake County Public Library system just didn't have any copies. I wondered if it were banned or something. So I went online and found that the library did, indeed, have copies of Lolita. Not very many. Some are lost and some are checked out to book clubs, but there were a few floating around the system. I placed a hold on one.

During lunch today I went to pick up the Lolita they were holding for me. Claiming it from the hold shelf, I handed it to the lady behind the desk, along with my library card. In the time it took me to put my card back in my wallet, she had checked the book out. It was when I reached for Lolita that I noticed the look she was giving me.

I'm still not sure what the look meant, but it was no longer the friendly, quiet, library-lady smile I'd gotten from her when I first walked up. My first instinct was to interpret her look as disapproving, maybe even offended. Later, I thought that maybe she was looking at me thinking, "Poor thing, she probably doesn't even know what it's about."

Whatever she was thinking, she wasn't happy with me.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Middlesex is a fantastic work of literature. Every page is packed with details, both factual and fictional, about the strange events that make Calliope Stephanides such a remarkable individual.

This is a book about how genes, families, surroundings, and those little twists of fate make us the people we are.

Jeffrey Eugenides effortlessly envelopes
the hard edges of science and industrialization in diaphanous myths and miracles.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Isn't it strange when you run across something obscure in two sources at the same time? It's sort of like learning a new word and then suddenly hearing it everywhere.

I often jump from book to book a lot, reading a bit in each one. And tonight I was reading Middlesex and Secret Lives of Great Filmmakers when I came across two mentions of "the Obscure Object". The first mention was in Secret Lives in the entry about Luis Bu
ñuel and his film, The Obscure Object of Desire. Not long after, I was reading Middlesex and the narrator used the phrase "the Obscure Object". As far as I can recall, tonight is the first time I've heard of the film or any other mention of that particular phrase. It gave me quite a jolt.

I don't know yet what the phrase means in the context of Middlesex, but it sometimes seems that these little coincidences are placed there, just waiting for me.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


I've realized I use the word "gripping" entirely too much when describing books. It's a great word and it really applies to a lot of my favorite books, but I think I need to consult the thesaurus before I write a review of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I'm only on page 31 and I can already tell it's going to be grippi--um...compelling.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reasons to Be Pretty

Reasons to Be Pretty by Neil LaBute is a play full of unlikeable characters.

There are only four characters in the play and Greg, the main character, is the only bearable one. He manages to elicit neutral feelings in the reader rather than active annoyance. Greg protests throughout the entire play that the insulting remark he made about his girlfriend was meant to be a compliment. I want to believe him, but considering what a jerk his best friend and even girlfriend are, it's hard to imagine that birds of a feather aren't flocking together.

I'm sure this play would make for great theatre with the right cast, but after reading the script I was left feeling like I'd missed something. Something that might not be there after all.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dead Like You

Dead Like You (Roy Grace Series #6)Dead Like You by Peter James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating, gripping mystery that keeps you guessing with every chapter. The reader is kept on pins and needles as more and more details are revealed about each of three likely suspects.

I highly recommend Dead Like You to fans of mysteries, especially the British variety.

View all my reviews

An odd trio

Director Howard Hawks once went on a hunting trip with actor Clark Gable and author William Faulkner.
He said of his companions: "I don't think Gable ever read a book, and I don't think Faulkner ever went to see a movie."

According to Secret Lives of Great Filmmakers by Rob Schnakenberg, later in the trip "Gable asked Faulkner who his favorite authors were, 'Thomas Mann, Willa Cather, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, and myself,' Faulkner replied, with characteristic modesty. Gable was taken aback. 'Oh, do you write, Mr. Faulkner?' he asked. 'Yeah,' retorted Faulkner. 'What do you do, Mr. Gable?"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

David Sedaris

I wonder sometimes what makes people write the things they do.

I just finished reading Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris, one of my favorite authors. In my mind, the Sedaris clan can do no wrong. David's sister, Amy, is highly entertaining in an incredibly eccentric way. David himself is the soul of dry wit.

But Squirrel is a disturbing collection of stories about anthropomorphic animals in which the moral seems to always be that every last one of us is; at best--passive-aggressively selfish to a terrifying degree; and at worst--prepared to murder, cheat and demonize everyone who gets in our way.

I was lulled by the first few stories into thinking this would just be a book about the foibles of humanity and the silly things we do. As I went along though, each story seemed to get darker and more cynical.

I'd much rather read about David Sedaris living in France and asking his local butcher, "Is thems the thoughts of cows?" while pointing to the cow brains on the counter. But I guess some people might find that just as disturbing as baby animals getting their eyes pecked out by talking birds.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Awesome quotation I found on

"There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it." — Bertrand Russell

The whole reason I read Moby Dick (which more than lived up to all the hype) in the first place was so I could say I had done it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory

Big Wheel at the Cracker FactoryBig Wheel at the Cracker Factory by Mickey Hess

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mickey Hess alternates between descriptions of slackerism so deep as to be tragic and truly touching scenes, like a moment of deep spiritual connection with a pet iguana. I had no idea what to expect when the book began, but by the end I was fully drawn into the quirky worldview Hess espouses.

My actual rating is more like 3 1/2 stars.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 28, 2011

Twenties Girl

Twenties GirlTwenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of those books that gets much better as it goes along. The characters are sometimes nerve-wracking, but Kinsella turns them into people you can care about.

The story is pretty weird, even if you ignore the ghost aspect, but it's nothing if not entertaining.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters

Confessions of the Sullivan SistersConfessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't usually read YA books, but this one sounded so entertaining. It didn't disappoint.

Each of the three sections is written from the perspective of a different sister. But it's not until the second section that connections start coming together and things start really making sense. I finally found myself racing through the pages, eager to find out all the secrets and which one would set the family free from its dire fate.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011


I love it when the experts back me up. The censorship of Huck Finn continues to be criticized.

According to a recent People magazine, Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary says, "The use of [the N-word] is one way Twain condemns the prejudicial attitudes of the South."

In other words, taking out the offensive words takes the bite out of the book and its stance against racism.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Help

I'm thinking about reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I've heard nothing but good things from the people I know who have read it and the reviews I've looked at have been good.

My college has an alumnae book club which reads a book a month, and The Help will be the book they discuss a couple of months from now. I'm trying to persuade some of my fellow alums in the Clancy Circle Book Club to attend with me.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vanity Fair

On my last visit to London, I took a walking tour of Kensington. The guide stopped us in front of a house and told us that it was the location where William Makepeace Thackeray wrote the greatest book in the English language: Vanity Fair.

To an unfortunately large percentage of today's youth, the words Vanity Fair probably mean nothing more than a fashion magazine. But once upon a time, it was THE novel about female connivance.

Becky Sharp rises and falls through society and fortune powered by nothing more than her own ability to manipulate people and circumstances. Her name has become a byword for the kind of woman we don't want to leave our men alone with. She was Scarlet O'Hara before there was Scarlet O'Hara. And no soap opera or CW teen drama is complete without at least one character who operates in the Becky Sharp school of getting what you want.

The full title of the book is Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero. And the subtitle, which doesn't even appear on most modern editions, proves true in more than one way. It is a novel without a hero in the sense that the character with which the story is most concerned, and also most remembered by readers, is a woman. It is without a hero in the sense that Becky is not likable enough to be considered the hero of the story. And it is heroless because there are entire chapters where we don't see Becky at all. The focus shifts to her 'friend' Amelia and on to other characters, giving a full description of the experiences of many interconnected people during the years leading up to and winding down from the Battle of Waterloo.

In so many ways, Thackeray's masterpiece seems modern. Becky seems made for something like Gossip Girl, or even a reality show. And the practice of following multiple characters is popular these days, as in the movie Crash or the book A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks. In 2004 Resse Witherspoon starred in a film version of Vanity Fair that turned Becky into a heroine. She becomes less calculating and controlling in the film and is instead a high-spirited girl who is just trying to get along on very little. She is the victim of circumstance rather than the mistress of it. The book which, at the the time of its publication, shocked people with its sarcastic take on society and depiction of Becky's moral depravity, had to be toned down for its last film adaptation. A version truer to the actual story would have left us too disgusted with Becky and possibly ourselves.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Like my beloved, LibraryThing is a website that helps you keep track of your books and connect with other readers.

While I prefer Goodreads because its format is easier to use, LibraryThing is another great way of finding new books and discussing favorites.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Secret Life of Bees: The Movie vs. The Book

I do not expect a movie to be as good as the book on which it's based. Some movies fall far short. Others are reasonably good representations of the themes and characters found in the source material.

Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees is a very well-written book. Aside from a few minor plot problems, it is solid and well put together. The characters are fully formed, even if the reader has to get almost to the end before finding that out.

The movie is...ok. It's fairly well cast, especially when it comes to Sophie Okonedo, the actress who plays the unstable and tender-hearted May Boatwright. Alicia Keys is also nearly perfect as the aloof June Boatwright.

But I found myself wanting Queen Latifah to be a little less Queen Latifah, Paul Bettany to be a little less look-I'm-a-British-man-playing-a-southern-hick, Jennifer Hudson to be more of a force of nature the way Rosaleen seems in the book, and Dakota Fanning to be a more tortured Lily.

The main problem I have with the movie is not in the casting, though. It's in the glossing over of some of the book's major themes.
-The Virgin Mary is like another character in the book, one that the others interact with and know personally. In the movie, she basically just a statue in the living room to be dusted and occasionally prayed to.
-Lily does not wonder for a second if she actually caused her mother's death, something that simmers quietly under her other traumas in Kidd's work.
-And most disappointing of all, the film doesn't even begin to explore Lily's awakening to new ideas about race.

Lily is a girl who has been raised with the racial tension prevalent in mid-century South Carolina. She loves her black nanny, Rosaleen and bravely tries to defend her when things get ugly with some local white supremacists, but she still doesn't see how similar she and her black neighbors really are. It takes living with the Boatwright sisters and meeting their friends to make Lily see race is not always the thing that makes people different. It is a revelation to her to find that the Boatwright sisters are cultured and highly intelligent. It is even more of a revelation to find that Zach, the boy who helps with August Boatwright's honey business, is very attractive to her.

Lily's discoveries about race and her own feelings regarding it are often sudden and clearly expressed in her own mind. Others take longer to set in and only appear gradually. It's sad that this wasn't brought out in the film. To watch it is to have an idea of some of the broad strokes of the novel, but not the beauty and depth that make is such a good book.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Can I take your order?

Ever wonder why the voice taking your order at McDonald's doesn't match the person who takes your money or hands you your food when you get up to the window? That's probably because your order was taken by someone at an über efficient call center thousands of miles away and then transmitted back to the store before you even pull up to the window.

Find out about this and more freaky doings at the intersection of technology and business. The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tequila Mockingbird

For my book club I like to have themed drinks. My friend Patricia comes up with the recipes.

When we read To Kill a Mockingbird, I found a recipe for a Tequila Mockingbird online and she modified it a bit for us.

Check out the original recipe here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Secret Life of Bees

I've started reading The Secret Life of Bees. It started out rather To Kill a Mockingbird and now seems to be heading towards Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Movie vs. Book

Why is it that the book is almost always better than the movie? I just spent twenty minutes talking to my roommate Joan about The Lovely Bones. She has read and loves the book, but has not seen the movie. I have not read the book, but have seen--and not loved--the movie.

I've had the book on my to-read list for years. She's been putting off watching the movie because she feels like she'd have to reread the book just to erase the movie from her mind.

We agreed that I will read the book and tell her whether or not she should watch the movie.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lady of the Butterflies

The first book I have finished reading this year is Lady of the Butterflies.

It took me over six months to read because from the very beginning, the reader knows Eleanor's life will not be a happy one. That's something easy to accept when a book is just beginning and the characters are strangers.

But Eleanor Glanville is an enchanting and vibrant woman who draws the reader into her life with ease. I began to like her so much that I only wanted the best for her. I wanted the book to trail off into a boring account of her daily happiness. But I knew from the first pages that she would be victimized by fate, her fellow man, and her own fierce independence.

Eleanor chases butterflies all her life, even at the risk of her way of life. She keeps and treasures them as if they are precious gems. Like a butterfly, she finds new life through the threat of death. Her love story is full of tragedy and loss of every kind, but a woman so ahead of her time cannot ignore the capacity for life she holds.

Historical fiction is difficult to do well, but Fiona Mountain provides us with a jewel set in a historically sound world.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Huckleberry F***

NewSouth Books is coming out with an edition of Huckleberry Finn sans the dreaded "N" word. The idea behind it is that the word prevents the book from being taught in today's classrooms.

Yes, the word is offensive. But its derogatory nature is not a recent development. Twain used the word to mock people who thought of black Americans as less than human. The people who used that word in the antebellum South
most often were prejudiced, under-educated and insecure.

We covered Huck Finn in high school and I got to hear choice passages read aloud by my awesome English teacher, complete with character voices. I honestly can't remember how he even got around the "N" word. I think he used a less offensive word or just skipped it all together. I don't remember because no one made a big deal about it. He didn't spend an hour explaining to us why Twain used the word. He didn't have to.

We all knew that it was one of many words that was acceptable at one point in history. These days, it's not ok to go around calling people N***** Jim. People are categorized by their race less and less often in our relatively enlightened society. This is in large part because of authors and activists like Twain who threw bigotry in peoples' faces in order to show them how wrong it was.

But go ahead and mangle literature because people are too weak to deal with a dead writer's opinions or our nation's history. If you're too stupid to skip a word when reading aloud or replace it with another one (which is the only thing this new edition is good for), you probably shouldn't be teaching our children anyway.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Books for Free

As I pursue my ongoing life goal to make my way through as many books as humanly possible, I find it's best to not pay for them.

Naturally, I get books from the public library fairly often. When I do buy books, I always buy them used, usually spending no more than $3 even for hardbacks. But the library is one of my favorite sources because not only do I get to read for free, but when I'm done with a book I get to return it rather than find a bookshelf on which to squeeze it. My local library offers both paper books and audio books. I check out three or four books on CD at the time and listen to them on my commute.

When I want to listen to an audio book on my iPod, I don't buy one or even transfer it from CD to the mp3 player, which would be horribly time-consuming. I go to and download pretty much any classic book I care to listen to. There is no cost and Librivox offers over 4,000 recordings, all of works in the public domain. The only downside is that anyone can sign up to read a chapter or even an entire book. Not everyone who reads is a native English speaker and even those who are often mangle words they're not familiar with. For the most part, I really enjoy the recordings and have even found some that are excellently read.

For text copies of public domain works, is a great choice. Their ebooks can be read on a computer as well as a Kindle or other reading device.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Elmore Leonard-Rules of Writing

Elmore Leonard, author of the Carl Webster books as well as Get Shorty and Be Cool, has ten rules of writing:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

"My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
Elmore Leonard

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Best and Worst of 2010

My goal for 2010 was to read 100 books. I joined the group "100 books + in 2010". I didn't meet my goal, but did read 86 books last year. Here's a run-down of the best and worst:



Portrait of a Killer by Cornwell
Spook by Roach
Killer Colt by Schechter
The Turk by Standage
Pulitzer by Morris

The first three listed are all about death and murder--fascinating subjects. Cornwell and Schechter explore murderers of the distant past and not only dig up new facts, but place before the reader a complete picture of the time and place in which the crimes were committed. Roach's work is a search for proof of the afterlife. She travels across the world to speak to the family of a reincarnated boy and then to my own North Carolina to see the descendants of a man whose ghost informed his heirs of a hidden will. But it's not Roach's experiences and research that provide most of the entertainment; it's her own sharp and hilarious wit. Nearly every page seems to have an outrageous footnote of what she was thinking while researching or writing that particular chapter.

The Turk is the story of a chess playing machine built long before he days of robots and computers. But
everything is not as it seems.

Pulitzer is an excellent biography of--you guessed it--Joseph Pulitzer, the man who changed America with his manipulation of the press.


Hypothermia by Indridason
Water for Elephants by Gruen
The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Grant
Ethan Frome by Wharton
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Chevalier
White Oleander by Fitch
An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Clarke

Other than Ethan Frome, the best fiction I read this year was all modern. Gruen, Grant, Chevalier and Fitch are all female writers who create worlds full of mystery and vivid characters. Hypothermia is a dark, chilly Nordic crime book. Arsonist's Guide is an ironic, strange work about a man who just can't get a break.


The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by le Carre
The Murder of King Tut by Patterson
The Brief History of the Dead by Brockmeier
The "Dark Side" of American Politics by Half-Lady Lisa
The Gods of Newport by Jakes

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is, of course, THE spy novel. That must mean that spy novels make you want to tear your hair out with boredom. There was not a single character I cared about or wanted to understand more deeply, which is good because they were all one-dimensional and there simply wasn't anything under the surface for me to delve into.

The other four books on the Worst list don't even merit an individual description. They are simply either badly written or very badly written.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tracy Chevalier

My favorite literary discovery of 2010 was Tracy Chevalier. Her books are unfailingly beautiful and packed with meaning.
Chevalier's books are always two specific things (but she is such a truly talented author that these things are not necessarily apparent even after reading a few of her books). Each of her books is both historical fiction and feminist.

She is not an author who jumps from genre to genre as if trying to find her niche. She has found it. The historical elements in the books are well researched and brought vividly to life with seemingly no effort on Chevalier's part. And the stories are not feminist in the extreme sense of women abandoning men simply for the sake of exerting their independence, but rather they are the stories of girls and women who find the courage to make their own way in the world. Some do this quietly, like Griet in
Girl with a Pearl Earring. Some do it loudly and outrageously like Mrs. Coleman in Falling Angels.
But these books are not so focused on women as to exclude well-drawn male characters. There are fascinating young boys in both Falling Angels and Burning Bright. There are famous painters and poets brought to life for us. And there are noble and good men who come to love the heroines, sometimes too late, but never too little.
I'm an audio book addict and listened to Falling Angels, Burning Bright, and Girl with a Pearl Earring while driving around. I sat down and read The Virgin Blue after inheriting it from a friend who was moving to California. And the thing that strikes me about Chevalier is that her books are magical both in paper and audio form. That's something that can't be said for every author.

Any way you experience them, her characters rip you apart with their tragedies and heartaches.
Many people probably know Chevalier's work only through the movie version of Girl with a Pearl Earring. It's a decent movie and a fair attempt at capturing the spirit of the book, but as with most film adaptations, it just doesn't do the original work justice. Griet's struggles with her employer's family and friends seem to be barely touched upon in the film, while in the book the constant encroachments upon her property and even body are enough to wrack the nerves with sympathy.
I look forward to reading the two Tracy Chevalier books I haven't yet gotten to: The Lady and the Unicorn and her latest--Remarkable Creatures. For more information on Ms. Chevalier and any of her books, visit her website.