Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

I'm ashamed to say it, but during and in the aftermath of Katrina, I ignored the coverage--all of it. I didn't watch the news, I didn't read the newspaper; in fact, I purposefully avoided it. It wasn't until a galley copy of this title (which doesn't come out until August of this year) landed on my desk, that I read ANYTHING about Katrina.
I'm ashamed about that. I truly am.
It's no defense, but the truth is that I couldn't handle it. I was shell-shocked after 9/11, and any grief that wasn't mine was just too hard to take. Sometimes we're selfish in our sadness, and I definitely was for what seems like forever. Now, years later, I guess I'm finally ready to understand. Or to try to understand. Because who can truly understand someone else's trauma, someone else's heartbreaking sadness? I couldn't even understand mine for a long time, and I still can't fully get it.
This book is, in one word, astounding. It's written for young adults, but it's one of my coveted genre-crossers, the books closest to my heart. And if ever I've read a book that so gets inside it's main character's head, so gets inside fear, grief, power, love, I've forgotten it, and I can only remember this one.
Pre-order this one. And thanks to the publicity person at Little, Brown for helping me step out of my New York-9/11 bubble. It's time for that guy to pop already.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

So I know that this book's been out awhile (okay, two years), and that it's received an enormous amount of hype (it's even soon to be a movie with Julia Roberts), but Eat, Pray, Love is truly is Something Else. Something Else meaning utterly, and eminently, readable. Perhaps it's where I'm at in my life, or my own questions about spirituality and this whole "God" idea, or both, but I read this book in one big gasp--not one big breath, but one big gasp. Like oh-my-god-I-need-to-read-every-sentence-or-I'm-going-to-miss-something-wise-and-amazing.  And it's not written in a way that thinks it's beautiful either--it's written in a way that's so natural, so flawed, even, that you know that this is someone's magnum opus--his or her Life's Work. Perhaps I'm getting too significant here, using all these capital letters and important words. But sometimes when you stumble upon a book (or when it's been pushed in front of you a dozen times, like this book was to me before I read it) that makes you gasp, you suddenly realize "Oh. So this is what I'm supposed to be reading." It's about love, it's about God and spirituality, it's about travel, it's about food, it's about depression. But what it's really about is just the fun of reading a brilliantly executed story--it's not perfect, no--but it's perfect in it's imperfection. It's perfectly Eat, Pray, Love. As Tina Fey's character on 30 Rock says, "I want to go to there." Read it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson

I know the translation could be better on this one--okay, a lot better--but the story is amazingly good. I'll admit it--I was surprised. Thrillers and mysteries always seemed cheap to me...easy bestsellers, played out plots, cheap thrills. How judgmental can you get, right? All my talk about genres and their idiocy, about how important it is to read a book without it's marketing category in mind, eschewing generalizations for the sake of good books. Yikes. I was wrong. I love thrillers. I love mysteries. And there's a reason books are bestsellers, right? And the more I think about it, I think the rough translation is actually kind of endearing--making the sometimes sordid tale of evil doings in Sweden quite readable. What am I saying? Really readable. Eminently readable. And what's even better about this book is that there's a SEQUEL. And it's just as good. Same translator but much cleaner, more edited. And guess what? There's going to be a THIRD one.
Just read it. When's the last time you read a Swedish thriller? Here's your chance.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane

As a matter of course, I always skip over introductions, prefaces, forewords, and epigraphs, and hunker down into whatever I'm reading. Sometimes I do it merely to make the book shorter and thus more approachable; other times I do it because I'm afraid that the front matter will ruin the story for me, will make me interpret it a certain way, or even know major plot twists before they actually occur.  In the case of The Girl Who Threw Butterflies, I did the same thing. I skipped right over the table of contents (same deal--the chapters headings will be dead giveaways, I thought to myself) and the three epigraphs (I did pause long enough to count them, but then I thought, as always, on to the story!), and jumped right into the book. But once I finished this incredibly moving, supremely visual (almost intoxicatingly so), and mesmerizing young adult novel, I flipped back to the epigraphs and read them again. How beautiful they were! How I wished that I read them before I started the book! What clues they give to this delicate discussion of loss, grief, sport, and love. It was alas, too late. But not, thankfully, for the second, third, and fourth readings.  And now I know--I've learned my lesson. Like Molly, who learns to let go, maybe next time, next book, I'll let go too. For your next great read, this is one that I can't recommend highly enough. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time by Moira Hodgson

I have to admit, I picked this book up first for its cover, second for its publishing imprint (Nan A. Talese, one of my favorites), and third for it's awesome subtitle: My Adventures in Life and Food. I thought to myself, "I want to have adventures in life and food!" And then I did what I always do with books (well, not always, but sometimes), which is to think, "I want to be Moira Hodgson!" or Laura Ingalls Wilder or Katherine get the picture. And actually, she does have an awesome story, as well as an awesome life. So there you go. It's a great book, really, and it even has a picture insert (I have a love of picture inserts that's a remnant of reading chapters only to get to the picture at the end of the chapter). It's really a love story of Moira and her family, and of Moira with food--and perhaps that's why it's so readable and likable, and why it doesn't bother me when she stops telling stories so much and starts talking about people I should know about. Because really, at the heart of her story isn't who she knows and who she's met and who she's cooked dinner for and eaten dinner with, but who she is in her family, the most fundamental aspect of our lives. And that's why I like this book. Because I'm not sure that Moira knew that until she wrote it. And that's pretty beautiful.

Heart of a Shepherd by Roseanne Parry

What an amazing book! It's short, sweet, and perfectly to the point. And what a point. I began reading this on my lunch break at work as a last resort, seeing that it was about a boy whose dad's in Iraq. I thought it wouldn't appeal to me at all--what could I have in common with a little boy on a ranch out West, with a father in the army, a Quaker grandpa, and a Catholic grandma?  It turns out that not only do we have some things in common, but I wish we had MORE in common. In fact, I wish I knew him like the author knows him, and could see what he looks like, what he'll become, and how he'll see the world. And I hope, I truly hope, that some of his pure spirituality rubbed off on me. Check it out. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Thornspell by Helen Lowe

I'm usually not so into fairy tales, but this book has me rethinking that prejudice of's a re-telling of the story of Sleeping Beauty, but told through the life of the prince--THE prince, the one who rescues Sleeping Beauty. And it's a YA novel--a genre that I love because it's almost a non-genre. The author did an amazing job of just telling her story, rather than telling it for a specific audience--because, after all, isn't that really the most important thing? It's what I look for, anyways--a kind of authenticity of approach that doesn't limit the author, and thereby creates a picture of the world that the reader can apply their own life to, and relate to in their own way.

That's how I felt about Thornspell. The story is definitely fantastic, with fairies (good and bad), shifting realities of real and unreal (that s comes up again and again), and, of course, a magical, powerful sword. But what's truly great about this book is that it's not ABOUT all those elements--they just happen to make the story more enjoyable to read.  Check it out. You'll be surprised how much you like it, especially if you think you don't like fairy tales.