Monday, November 07, 2011

30 Second Book Review: Thanks for all the Books Edition

Ready for the Thanksgiving edition of the 30 Second Book Review? Well, I know it's not quite Thanksgiving yet. We have a few weeks to prepare and look for old family recipes and make centerpieces and place cards, people do all that, right? I mean, not me, because I'm a lucky guest this year instead. Oh, I might do dishes, and bring something small (I'm thinking homemade caramels,) and assist as needed but no pressure for me, that's all on the other Mrs. Sands this year. But I'm in the right month for this Thanks for the Books post at least. My contribution to the table I suppose, and at least it will give me plenty of fascinating conversation topics entertaining out of town family. Oh we could discuss French serial killers, the history of the Jimmy Fund, sage advice for when the zombie hordes attack, yes, lively conversation.

Hopefully something in this list will amuse you over the holidays plus it might help you provide stimulating conversation while avoiding discussions of Herman Cain's misunderstood "sense of humor." Wanting to stick with my thankful theme, I think I'm obvious today, and really everyday, that I'm thankful for the books. I'll just dive right in, working backwards from most recently read first, simply because I don't want to wait to review this book until the end! It deserves to be first.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell: Ah, I love this book. I highlighted so many funny, sweet and spot on lines that Joe is complaining about all of the yellow in our Kindle copy now that he's reading it. Oops, sorry, honey, blame Rainbow. This book is the perfect version of that demeaningly titled "chick lit." It is a romance but the structure and style of the book is adorably unconventional. Much like the author herself. As I said to Rainbow, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of weeks ago through our mutual friend Bethany, this book has dialogue that rings so true it's like listening to smarter, funnier, kinder versions of everyone I love. Rainbow said that Say Anything was an inspiration for this "true but more entertaining version of true" style and if that's the case, then she nailed it.

Written with two connected but separate story lines, each chapter alternates between following the life of the male protagonist Lincoln, as he works the night shift running computer security at an Omaha newspaper, then cut with the other chapters that are an ongoing email conversation between two friends Beth and Jennifer who also both work at a fictional newspaper in Omaha. Do you see where this might be going? Lincoln has to check any red flagged emails for questionable content, and whose emails continue to pop up? There are so many things to love about this book. The flawed characters who are so open and vulnerable and yet frightened of change. The comedy which runs naturally throughout the book and only serves to enhance the story line instead of sticking out awkwardly as funny lines often can in less skillful hands. I know having met Rainbow, she attended the same high school as my husband, that I'm a bit biased because I liked her so much in person. But this book deserves high praise. I'm certain that the age of the characters, very close to my own in 1999/2000 when the book is set, the setting of Omaha, and the familiar and welcome pop culture references make certain that this book is aimed right at my exact type of Midwestern, college educated, pop culture fanatic with a husband and many friends from Omaha. But the power of a book like this is that I think nearly anyone could fall in love with it. And fall in love with Lincoln and Beth too. Can't wait to read Rainbow's next book sometime next year.

Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg: Gorgeously written, painful with every turn of the page, and a deeply insightful journey into the impact of mental illness on a family. This memoir follows the severe psychotic break of Greenberg's teenage daughter in New York City. His writing is raw, meticulous and exposed, unflattering and enlightening. Worth reading.

Full Dark, No Stars by Steven King: I've loved Stephen King for a long time. His books are fast, well crafted and creepy as hell. This one is no exception. Made up of four novellas, push past the first story that went on too long for my taste and start off with the revenge tale, Big Driver. Don't read this at home alone.

The Gingerbread Girl by Stephen King: This is one of my favorite King short stories. I don't want to say too much about it other than it's terrifying and it makes me wish I was a runner. A fast runner.

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein: This was one of the deeply discounted books I bought from Pixel of Ink. If you have an e-reader device, Pixel of Ink is a great way to buy cheap books from new authors with very little risk. I'm glad this one was only a dollar. Too slow, too much bland build up, too much pompous self righteous father character and once the big finale is revealed I'd slogged through so much set up that I didn't even care. Skip it.

I Am America (and so can you!) by Stephen T. Colbert: I love the conservative pomposity of Stephen Colbert and I found this audiobook to be an amusing diversion on my daily commute. I like the Colbert Report and should watch it more often. Colbert is a sublime be-suited political satire.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton: I liked this story set in an isolated castle in England. There are convoluted literary back stories, long lost letters, family secrets and romance. And yet this book was bloated. At over 500 pages it needed more editing. The over the top ending was a long time coming and only the last forty pages clipped along as quickly as they should have. I skipped more than I like to. Stick with Morton's Forgotten Garden instead.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal: Clark Rockefeller, or should I say the imposter Christan Gerhartsreiter, is a troubled, rather arrogantly brilliant scam artist/chameleon, possibly a murderer and certainly a kidnapper. And the charade he was able to pull off, pretending to be a member of the prominent Rockefeller family for more than 20 years, is staggering. This book went into a bit more detail than I needed but it was a intriguing story and made me think about the assumptions we make about people in general, and the wealthy in particular. The man had some gall. A serious pair of galls.

Death in the City of Light by David King: Much like Erik Larson's books, this book took the true story of a serial killer and laid it out in a more narrative form. Following the brutal and terrifying crimes of a Dr. Petiot, as he lies, misleads and pretends to help Jewish and other vulnerable citizens of France escape Nazi Occupied Paris in the 1940's. No one escapes with Dr. Petiot's help. This is a long, detailed and thoroughly researched book that with strong voice over work, made an excellent audio book. If you like true crime, a peak inside the seriously strange French legal system and a clearer picture of Paris during Nazi occupation, pick this one up. But be warned, it is filled with violence, and some descriptions of depraved and sick crimes, both from the Nazis and Dr. Petiot, though not in a gratuitous way.

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman: Again a real 3.5 not 3 stars. This novel skillfully captures the uncertainty of youthful lust and obsession. Set in Italy it reminded me of the movie Stealing Beauty in that it takes place in a similar setting and extends the theme of youth exploring their sexuality. A little boring and narcissistic in parts like all good new romances can be. It's sexy, but not graphic.

The Imperfectionist by Tom Rachman: I liked this book a lot. It was a little harder to get into at first because each chapter follows a different person who works at a American run newspaper set in Italy. And instead of sitting and reading long chunks of the book I read it in dribs and drabs, 5 or 10 pages here and there. This books needs your time. Sit and immerse yourself in Italy, in the life of a newspaper from its first publication in the 1960's up to it's inevitable close in the 2000's. This books is filled with complex, funny, intelligent and challenging characters. And the behind the scenes atmosphere of the newspaper are educational and captivating.

World War Z by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks, seriously!): If World War Z has taught me anything, it's that my one story ranch house will not make a good stronghold against the zombie hordes. I may need to go with a two or three story steel door reinforced house on stilts with an acid bath moat. I'm not sure which subdivision is offering these types of amenities currently. The horrors on display in this novel, while fictional, are enough to give me nightmares, if not actually cause me to relocate. I loved the formal oral interview government document format and thought this was a gory, yet detached little zombie novel.

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee: This "biography" of cancer is dense, encyclopedic and deeply engaging. Following the first "discovery" of tumors and cancer up through the brutal surgeries, dangerous radiation and chemotherapy trials and everything in between, this book is an excellent if challenging read for non-medical types, like myself. It took me awhile, in audiobook form, to listen to the whole tome, but it was worth it.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs: I love peculiar children. I love the creepy shelled out old house on an island, the entire first half of this book and the author's ingenious usage of found vintage photographs, but the last half of the book felt much more like the first installment in a young adult fantasy series, which this will certainly become. The likable characters and genuine twists and turns kept me engaged until the end despite the fact that I don't know that there is enough story here to stretch out into several books. Or maybe I just don't care enough to see what happens next. Worth getting from the library or buying on sales just for the photos and first half of the book alone.

Small Changes Big Results by Ellie Krieger: I like Ellie Krieger. This book is simple, direct, reasonable, has recipes that include carbs and is a little basic but not in a bad way. Who wants to review diet books? Not me, but she is very much like the Weight Watchers of diet books. Safe, helpful and great if you can stick to it.

Up next on my reading list, A Winter Sea, which is a historical novel set in Scotland in 1708 and 2008, it's excellent so far, then Sea Change for the Blogher Book Club, followed by in no certain order David Rakoff's Half Empty, The Girl Who Couldn't Say No and Pearl of China (more Pixel of Ink books, they are evil, evil I tell you!) So what are you reading lately? And yes, if you say People Magazine that counts too, (especially the cross word puzzle, those always make me feel so smart.)


bethany actually said...

Re-reading Jane Austen's Emma for the first time in years.

Anonymous said...

Um. I'm reading most of what you posted above. Haha. Although I promised my British friend a book by Harlan Coben, so I am going to quickly read another by him that I have and ship them both to her. I like Coben; crime thrillers that are super quick reads.

Kristendom said...

Reading Sea Change now, too. I can't believe I haven't read ANY of the books in your review. I feel so out of sync. I am in a book funk right now, I have to admit. Kinda wishing I didn't have these BlogHer books to read so I could try and find that spectacular, knock-your-socks-off awesome book to get me out of it. Guess I'll go play a computer game instead.