Monday, July 23, 2007

I haven't posted in awhile, with the job hunt and interviews in full control of my life right now I just haven't felt like posting book reviews. That doesn't mean I haven't been reading, cause I'm always reading, but I just haven't been able to put together a nice concise well written review. My brain is thinking about grant writing, data management and "what do you consider your biggest weakness, biggest strengths?" Last week I blew through two James Elroy essay collections, great mix of short story and magazine non fiction stories. Enjoyed them but I think I burned myself out on his style and topic choices for a bit. I need a break from LA and the unsolved murders of young damaged women. Then over the weekend I read 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult. Not a bad book, but not a great book. I get a little tired of her forced twist endings, always in the courtroom, always with the last minute self incriminating confessions. She is a very talented writer, but I think she falls back on some trite stereotypical characters, some convoluted plot points and too much pop culture referencing. The portions of the book that describe the school shooting are very compelling, and she does manage to create some characters that you care about but in general it wasn't my favorite book. It was missing something for me. Maybe I'm too much of a critic and unable to just sit back and shut off the editor in my brain, but there were too many cheesy descriptions and line choices that just stuck out for me.

Unlike Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows which I started last night. That book is perfection, so seamless, and apparently effortless in its writing, plotting and superb character development. I'll write more later for my avid readers, ok, reader.

Monday, July 09, 2007

I flew through another book this weekend. I read The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunnant yesterday. Picked it up from the library, hoping it would be one of those fast, light, exciting, fluffy reads and it was exactly that. Set in Florence in the 1500's it follows the life of a wealthy textile merchant's precocious, intelligent tomboy artist daughter. Political intrigue, forbidden loves, fabulous art, clothes and side characters, just an entertaining trifle of a novel. The ending fell a bit flat for me and didn't seem to quite reflect the main character's previous actions but a delightful way to spend a couple of hours. It really makes me want to go to Florence again. It takes place in all the amazing spots we had a chance to visit, so I could really picture where the action was taking place. A beach read for my Midwestern deck! Now I'm ready for the gritty, noir storytelling of James Ellroy again.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

I'm not sure what I'm reading next. I said a couple of posts ago that I was going to read the Mitford sisters biography, I started it but I couldn't stick with it. Just not in the mood. But I have so many choices! Its exciting, and yes, I'm a book dork. Went to the library today, grabbed a couple of James Ellroy short story and essay collections, a Margaret Atwood short story collection, and a little light art/love story The Birth of Venus, something summery and fun, I can sit on the deck, read it and pretend that I'm at the beach! Or, I have another pile of Kristen books and books of my own that are calling me from their cabinet. Too many choices and not enough time. Stay tuned....
I had time for two books this week, so awesome with the 4th of July holiday! The first book was A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore. Wonderful! So funny and droll, heartbreaking and ridiculous. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. I got a big kick out of one of his previous books, Lamb, and this one was just as good. It follows the story of Charlie Asher and his daughter Sophie. After a tragedy in their family, Charlie discovers a bizarre set of changes happening in his life, while he first suspects that he is going crazy, he is shocked by something even worse, he's now working for Death. This book is by turns silly, bizarre and really sweet, plus it's set in San Fransisco, one of my favorite cities. I kept laughing out loud while reading it and stopping to read lines out loud to Joe, which I'm sure amused (and distracted) him from Tom Clancy. Anyway, great, goofy, absurd, dark, and sad little book. (I particularly loved the goth teenager Lily! Her goth name is perfection.)

The second book I read this week was All The Finest Girls by Alexandra Styron. A beautifully written book. A bit sparse and it left me wanting more description, more background and just more information in general about the characters. The basic story jumps between present day on St. Clair an island in the Caribbean, where Adelaide is attending the funeral and wake of her former nanny, Lou, and then the story swings back to the 1970's when Lou is working for Adelaide's parents as her nanny, in their wealthy New England home. Adelaide is an out of control, neglected and rather troubled child. She has an alter ego she calls Cat who seems to arrive while Adelaide is under extreme stress, while her parents argue yet again, when her fragile actress mother leaves for months on end to film her movies, and while her arrogant cold father disappears to complete his next book. Lou is the only stable parent figure that Addy has and yet when Lou leaves to return to her own family back in St. Clair, Addy loses touch with her and doesn't see her again, until she attend's Lou's funeral in the 1990's. I liked this book and yet I feel a bit let down by it, not much resolution or change in the main character and just a general malaise at reading about Addy's lonely and isolated adult life. Styron captures loss, loneliness and isolation so well that is actually felt uncomfortable to read.

It's funny that between these two books, A Dirty Job and All the Finest Girls, I find myself writing more about the book that I didn't like as much. With Christopher Moore's book, I enjoyed it so much that I almost don't want to write about it and ruin its lovely suprises and humor. All the Finest Girls was skillfully written but just felt like more of a chore to read, with its focus on death, grief and childhood traumas. Read A Dirty Job, read it today!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Finished Basilica yesterday. Great book, I feel smarter just holding it my hand. The book follows the history behind the construction, design and creation of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome (technically Vatican City). The author does an excellent job of bringing the reader into the excitement and challenge of undertaking such an enormous building project, especially in the 1500's. And talk about drama, this book has poisonings, backstabbings, illegitimate children, rape and plundering and solid gold plates being tossed in the Tiber for sheer amusement!
St. Peter's was originally an ancient church built by Constantine after he first legalized Christianity and when it was becoming a hugely popular new religion. So Pope Julius II's idea, in the early 1500's, to tear down the old St. Peter's in order to build an enormous expensive new St. Peter's was met with outrage, anger and disbelief by the citizens of Rome and by Catholics across Europe. The books essentially follows each of the popes, who are essentially the money and control behind the project, that are involved in the century long process of building St. Peter's, and the architects and artists who lead the design and construction teams, with thousands of artisans, craftsmen and laborers. The building of the church, with the numerous changes in leadership, changes in artistic vision, and financial and political intrigues, took over 100 years to be completed. Through the sacking of Rome, through the deaths of numerous popes, the death of lead architects Sangallo, Michaelangelo, Raphael and countless other struggles, St. Peter's was born, born to be one of the largest churches in history and heart of the Catholic church for centuries to come. Reading this book makes me want to visit Rome again! The next book I'm starting tonight is the Mitford Sisters, non fiction but a complete departure from Basilica, I'll miss it.