Sunday, January 31, 2010

January In Review

January has been a great month to start off my book blog. I technically started in December just to get the hang of it, but it really took off during this month. The books I read this month included:

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I've never been a particularly fast reader and like to take my time with my books, so five in one month is actually quite a lot for me. I realized all my books were fiction, which is the genre I enjoy the most, but I'm hoping to put a few more non-fiction choices in my list in the upcoming months.

My favorite books this month were The Post-Birthday World and The Help. I think I might be the last book blogger out there to read The Help, but I'm so glad I finally got to it. Expect a review soon!

My February picks will include:
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese- This book was highly recommended by several friends.
Love is a Mix Tape (Life and Loss One Song at a Time)(audio version) by Rob Sheffield- Another book blogger, although I can't remember who, made me aware of this book and it combines reading and music, my two favorite things. I was able to download this for free from my public library.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows- This is my Book Club's February pick
There will be more, I just haven't decided what yet.

This month, today actually, I won my first book giveaway. I am going to receive Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult from Nadia at A Bookish Way of Life. I am glad she is feeling better and off of her medications! Congrats Nadia and thanks for the book!

I am really enjoying my book blogging experience and am looking forward to continuing!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Book: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Author: Junot Diaz

Short Summary:

This book is about a boy named Oscar who, despite his very early success at the age of seven, was not a boy who was lucky in love. Oscar was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to New Jersey with his mother and sister early in life. As a teenager he was overweight and seen as very uncool for his awkwardness and love of all things science fiction. The book not only describes Oscar's trials and tribulations in love throughout his short life, but also those of his family's. It is believed his family's streak of bad luck is due to the fuku, a Dominican curse said to be brought on by the dictator Trujillo.

My Thoughts:
When I finished this book I could only ask myself one question, "What am I missing?" This book one the Pulitzer Prize and earned itself much critical acclaim. I feel I must have missed something because to me it was just a story, and a mediocre one at best.

Diaz did incorporate a few original concepts in the book. For example, much of the book was written in English and Spanish, many times using both languages in the same sentence. At first I was intrigued by this and was excited to test my Spanish knowledge. However, the novelty soon wore off and I found the Spanish slang to be highly annoying. Another part of the book I was excited about at first was the use of foot notes. These were included throughout the book to help give background about the history of the Dominican Republic. I honestly knew next to nothing about the country and thought these notes would give me deeper insight. Like the Spanglish, however, I soon found these to be annoying and distracting and by the end I pretty much skipped them altogether.

I found I enjoyed the parts of the book that focused more on Oscar's mother, sister, and grandmother than I did on the parts he was in. I related a little bit more to the female characters of Beli, Lola, and La Inca then I did to the male characters of Oscar, Yunior, and Ablelard. I somewhat enjoyed hearing the history of the women in the family, but still didn't totally connect with their characters.

I found the narration in this book strange. I'm still not quite sure why Yunior, who was the ever cheating love interest to Lola and roommate to Oscar, narrated the story. He knew Oscar and Lola well, but had little or no interaction with the other main characters of the book. I found it to be somewhat odd.

This book wasn't horrible, but I closed it feeling very little. I was hoping for a great epic novel but was left uninspired. I found little in the pages I could really relate to and characters I felt no emotion for. Again, I ask, "What am I missing?"

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday "Stuff"

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at ‘Breaking The Spine’, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

The book whose release I am anticipating is Stuff by Randy Frost.

Release Date: April 20, 2010

I have recently become slightly obsessed with the show "Hoarders" on A&E. This show looks into the lives of people who are hoarders. Some are just on the verge of having a serious problem while others are so far gone they can barely walk in their own homes. On the last episode I saw, a woman was confined to one bedroom where she brought up a mini fridge and microwave because there was no place else to move. She had stuff occupying every other room in the five bedroom house.

The hoarders work with psychologists to discover why they are hoarding and organizers to attempt to remove some of their things so that their homes are once again livable.

Why does this fascinate me? Really, I'm not sure. Everyone has their quirks and weird things about them. Everyone has things they don't want to give up. I know I do. I'm sure there are plenty of book hoarders out in the blogosphere.

I want to read this book to get into the minds of some of these people and get a better understanding of why throwing an empty plastic bottle or a rolled up ball of paper away is so difficult. I've been on a big fiction book kick, so a non-fiction choice could be a good change of pace.

Anyone else out there watch Hoarders?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Reliable Wife

Book: A Reliable Wife

Author: Robert Goolrick

Short Summary:

In the early 1900's, Ralph Truitt, a middle-aged, bitter, lonely, yet very successful man places an ad in a newspaper looking for a reliable wife. Catherine Land, the woman who answers the ad, makes her way to Wisconsin to marry Ralph, with the intention of killing him for his money.

My Thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book, but it took a little while for me to get into. About halfway through, the book takes a turn that got me captivated during the entire second half. From that point on I had a hard time putting it down.

I really enjoyed Goolrick's writing style. I felt like I got right into the minds of the characters and were experiencing their emotions and ramblings in their heads with them. The characters were constantly changing and I felt I was learning something new about them all the time. I can see how some may find the characters inconsistent throughout the book. I did see this a little, but mostly I saw them changing in terms of what they were experiencing at the time. I'm not sure that I have a firm grasp on who any of the people in this book truly are, but trying to figure it out was one aspect of the book I found so intriguing. I also found the idea of "true identity" to be a theme throughout the story.

There is a lot of sex in this book and a plethora of sexual thoughts. While some people may not enjoy this book because of the amount of sex, it did not bother me. I thought the topic was dealt with in a tasteful way.

This is the second book I've read the past months that takes place in Wisconsin during the early 1900's. I lived in Wisconsin for 5 years and know all to well about the snow and bitter cold that fills days all winter long. I found this to be a really good setting for this book, especially since Ralph and Catherine lived way out in the country and had little else to do but interact with each other. It also showed the social contrast between life out in the country and in the booming city of St. Louis.

The phrase "Such things happen." is used througout this book to describe situations, usually unfortunate or bad ones. With every event in life you can easily say "Such things happen." This is the way of the world and I found this to work well with the story.

It's hard to say too much about the plot of this book without giving things away. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it. I think it would spark some great discussions in book clubs or among friends.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Birthday Girl

Today the Birthday Girl is me. 29! I'm feeling very old! Only one more year til the big 3-0. I got many Happy Birthday comments on my facebook page, but my favorite one said "Happy Birthday Julie. I hope you get many great books!" I guess a few of my almost 600 facebook friends really know me.

In other reading news, I finished A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick and hope to write a review soon. I am now reading The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. I'm not quite sure how I feel about it yet, but I still have about 150 pages to go.

Our next two book club picks are The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society and The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. I've heard great things about both these books and can't wait to read them!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mountains Beyond Mountains

With all that is going on in Haiti, I wanted to inform everyone about a book that deals with this country. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is actually a book I read for graduate school. I'm very glad my professor made me aware of this book because it was something I otherwise never would have picked up.

This book is about a man named Paul Farmer who has given his life to improving health care in poor countries like Haiti. It was very well written, very inspirational, and made me thankful for all I have. I learned a lot about Haiti and the living conditions there through this story. Mountains Beyond Mountains informed me about the creation of Partners in Health, an organization that has been helping Haiti for years and now needs more help than ever. You can learn more about Partners In Health here.

Here is a summary of Mountains Beyond Mountains from

In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Pulitzer Prize—winning author Tracy Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who loves the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.

In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Kidder’s magnificent account takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.” At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”–as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

“Mountains Beyond Mountains unfolds with a force of gathering revelation,” says Annie Dillard, and Jonathan Harr notes, “[Paul Farmer] wants to change the world. Certainly this luminous and powerful book will change the way you see it.”

This is a great non-fiction read that I would highly recommend.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Fortune

I went out for Chinese food last night and as always, got a fortune cookie at the end of my meal. This one really made me smile.

"Expand your horizons by reading a new book"

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Tudors

I just received the third season of the Showtime series The Tudors. Watching it is reminding me just how much I am interested in that time period. I have read all of the 16th Century Phillipa Gregory books except the Other Queen and The Wise Woman. I love her books and have learned a lot about this time period through them. Can anyone suggest any other authors who write about this time period? Are the Alison Weir books any good? I have so many books on my TBR list that I'm not sure when I will get to them, but I am interested and curious.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Waiting On Wednesday "So Much For That"

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at ‘Breaking The Spine’, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Okay, here's my first Waiting on Wednesday Post!

The book whose release I am anticipating is So Much For That by Lionel Shriver.

Release Date: March 9, 2010

Harper Collins says: From New York Times bestselling author Lionel Shriver (The Post-Birthday World, We Need to Talk About Kevin), comes a searing, deeply humane novel about a crumbling marriage resurrected in the face of illness, and a family’s struggle to come to terms with disease, dying, and the obscene cost of medical care in modern America.

I really liked We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Post-Birthday World. I'm looking forward to what I hope will be another excellent novel from this talented writer! I think the health care system debate should play an interesting role in this new book.

What books are you waiting for?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Post-Birthday World

Book: The Post-Birthday World

Author: Lionel Shriver

Short Summary:
This novel takes us into the life of Irina McGovern, a forty-something American children’s book illustrator living in London, at a time where she must make a possible life changing choice. She lives happily with her longtime loyal and intelligent, although sometimes dull, boyfriend, Lawrence. Each year, Lawrence and Irina go to dinner with a friend named Ramsey, a famous snooker player, on his birthday. This year, Lawrence is out of town on business and Irina hesitantly goes to dinner with Ramsey alone, worried they will have nothing to talk about. As the evening progresses, however, she finds herself helplessly attracted to Ramsey and has the desire to kiss him. The book continues on two alternate realities; one in which Irina gives in to her desires and one in which she resists. The chapters alternate between the two lives she leads based on the choice she made that fateful night.

My thoughts:
I absolutely loved this book. I’m not even sure where to start because there is just so much I can praise about it.

I’ll begin with the concept itself. I loved the alternating chapters showing what happens if Irina is faithful to Lawrence and if she chooses Ramsey instead. There was no either/or, we got to see both. We all have wondered “what if?” This book lets you explore the “what if” of Irina, seeing how both futures will unfold. You never get that chance in real life, so it was such a treat to have it through the pages of this book. Each chapter had many parallels including the amount of time that was covered and events that took place, but the reader got to see them in two totally different ways. Even the dialogue from the alternating chapters was often parallel, although different characters were speaking and it was often in a completely different context. Somewhat similar to the concept of Sliding Doors, but much more clever, I thought the idea of the two futures unfolding throughout the book was nothing short of brilliant.

Next, I’ll move on to the characters. Shriver developed each character so well, showing how they reacted in many important situations, like experiencing the fall of the twin towers on 9/11, to the smaller everyday situations such as the ritual of eating popcorn before dinner every night. Although I didn’t always love all the characters, they all had their flaws, I was truly invested in them throughout the book and very much cared what would happen to them next. Shriver brings you so deep into Irina’s head that I found it impossible not to like her.

This book had me questioning which version of Irina’s life was the right one, or was there a right one. I’ve tried to ask which one would I have chosen for myself. There really is no correct answer, and that was the point of the book. There will be ups and downs no matter what choices we make. Nobody is perfect. We can say ask ourselves “what if?” but even if we had chosen a different path there is no guarantee it would be any better than the one we are on now.

There are a few nit picky things I could say about this book, but I was so impressed with it overall, that I don’t even think they are worth mentioning. This book would make a fabulous choice for any book club, as there are endless possibilities of topics to discuss. This is the second book I’ve read by Shriver, and after this one, I can’t wait to get my hands on more.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Loving Frank

Book: Loving Frank

Author: Nancy Horan

Short Summary:
Loving Frank is the story of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a woman devoted to the women’s rights, and her love affair with the well known architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. After Mamah and her husband Edwin hire Frank to build their hour in Oak Park, IL, Mamah and Frank quickly find they are attracted to each other. Mamah is unsatisfied with her relationship with her loyal husband and admits she mainly agreed to marry him because of his persistence and the fact that she wanted children. It is not long before Mamah and Frank start an affair, leading Mamah to leave her husband and children to travel to Europe with Frank. Mamah is not the only one to leave her family, as Frank has also left his devoted wife and former friend of Mamah’s, Catherine. This piece of historical fiction weaves factual characters and events into the story of Mamah and Frank throughout the time of their affair.

My Thoughts:
There were aspects of this book I really enjoyed and admired in the writing and others I could have done without. I had a difficult time with the characters, unable to find too many redeeming qualities in them. Mamah was in an unhappy marriage, and while I understood her reasoning for leaving her husband to be with the person she truly loved, I had a hard time with the fact that she left her kids to go to Europe with Frank. It wasn’t even that she left her kids that I found truly hard to swallow, but the disappointment she felt when seeing her kids again. She was hurt that they did not instantly bond with her or things weren’t as she remembered them. She left them for a significant amount of time. How could she not expect things to be different or strained between them? Frank was even less of a likable character. He was selfish, rude, and extremely unappreciative of others, not to mention a compulsive liar.

I realize that Horan was writing about real people and events, not just fictional characters, which to me would be an extremely difficult task. I did admire her writing style and telling of the story. She incorporated real newspaper articles and throughout the story to describe the scandal of Frank and Mamah’s affair.

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed was the building of Frank and Mamah’s home in Wisconsin, Taliesin. I’ve actually visited and toured Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, Frank’s successful attempt to build a home out in the desert. When thinking about what I witnessed at Taliesen West, it matched closely to the detailed descriptions of Wright’s work throughout the book.

While I don’t want to give away the ending, this was also a part of the book I enjoyed because it was very unexpected if you know little about this couple.

In conclusion, I would say this book was good, but not great. If you are interested in the life of Frank Lloyd Wright or his architecture it is worth reading.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Saturday, January 2, 2010

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Book: We Need To Talk About Kevin

Author: Lionel Shriver

Short Summary:
In a series of letters written to her estranged husband, Franklin, the narrator, Eva, describes her thoughts, fears, and relationship with Kevin, their son. At fifteen years old, Kevin is in jail for the murder of several classmates and a teacher at his high school. Eva describes to Franklyn things she has told him in the past and fears and feelings she had never revealed about their son. Eva always saw a dark side to Kevin and struggled with feeling love for him, while it seemed to come easily to Franklin, who was clearly in denial. The book starts with Eva and Franklyn deciding to have children and follows Kevin’s growth through the incident Eva refers to as “Thursday”. This is the infamous day that Kevin performs the school massacre. The book also describes the aftermath and how everyone deals with the tragic events of the day.

My Thoughts:
It is difficult to say I liked this book because it was extremely disturbing and is without question one of the most haunting books I’ve ever read. I will never forget the character of Kevin and the way in which he murdered so many. That being said, I did find this book almost impossible to put down. Despite the difficult vocabulary, which could be distracting and unnecessary, I found myself turning page after page, unable to wait to find out what happened next. And when I did find out, no matter how hard it was to read, the build up did not disappoint.

This story also left the reader with some questions to ponder, which is always the sign of a good book. I wondered who really was to blame for the murders. Could Eva have done something to stop them? Is it possible to love a child if you can not find one thing about them you actually like? The questions could go on and on. This book, too, would make for a great book club discussion.

I am not a mother or married, which makes me think I most likely approached this book differently than people with dissimilar life experience. I think it was easy for me to look at this book from an outsiders view because I have not had to deal with the issues that mother’s must face. I do not know a mother’s love or lack thereof as described by Eva. This book did almost scare me into not wanting children, although I know it is a work of fiction. Although the writing was pretty convincing, I still have a hard time believing any child can be as apathetic or evil as Kevin appeared to be. He was an extreme.

This book, in my opinion, is definitely worth reading, but expect to be disturbed and haunted. Love it or hate it, We Need to Talk About Kevin is not a book that you will soon forget.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone out in the blogosphere. I hope 2010 brings many great things to you all.

I look forward to reading many great books this year and seeing what others are reading.

The first book I'm reading this year is Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. I'm about 130 pages into it so far. It's moving a little bit slowly, but it's still a decent read. There are many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings near Chicago and I've been to his house in Arizona. There is also a beautiful building on the lake in Madison I would always walk by during college that was based on his work. It's interesting to get to know more about his life and his architecture.

Can't wait to see what you are all reading!