Saturday, May 12, 2007

I've Moved

52 Books or Bust has grown restless sitting in one place and has moved to a new location. I'll be leaving this up for a few more weeks before I delete it. I hope that you follow me to my new pad.


Saturday, May 5, 2007


The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
After reading both of her Boleyn books, I was very excited to read this book about Katherine of Aragon, even though it was out of chronological order so to speak. She was such a wonderful character seen through the eyes of Mary Boleyn. This book was good and provided some interesting insights on King Henry as a boy and young man. Still, I liked Katherine of Aragon much better from another person's point of view. Her continuous references to herself as chosen and favored by God drove me nuts. It was very much in her character to believe that all that she wanted for her life were due to her. She was raised that way and that did appear to be the royal mindset of the day. It was very annoying to read. I would have loved to smack her silly.
This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the book. It was well written and hard to put down. The scenes following the birth of Katherine and Henry's son were beautiful. Of the three books I've read thus far, I could re-read those scenes over many times. Still, reading books about self-righteous people in the first person drive me to madness. King Henry had to start his downhill slide somewhere, right? How appropriate.

Monday, April 30, 2007


The Mistress's Daughter by A.M. Homes

After reading a review of this book, I was eager to read it. It is the story of A.M. (Amy) Homes, an author and an adopted child. This memoir explores her experiences as she learns that her biological mother would like to contact her and her journey through reunion. As an adoptive parent, I am interested in reading about the world of adoption, especially from the perspective of adoptees. I hope that buy reading their stories in print or online that I can be a better parent to Emma as she grows older.

The Mistress’s Daughter is a well written memoir. You experience the roller coaster of emotions that go along with the reunion experience. It’s especially heartbreaking because it doesn’t come with the fairytale, TV movie ending that always seems to be expected to make the book worthwhile. There is honesty found in this book that is painful to read.

My initial reaction to the book was lukewarm. After Amy decides to go through the boxes she took from her birthmother’s house after her death, it seemed to me to lose focus. I appreciated her interest in her biological and adoptive genealogies, but her need to the stories of ancestors took away from her story. I was enraged as she was when her birthfather for not being recognizing her. His stubborn refusal to provide this simple information kept her from being a member of the Daughters of the Americas, where she hoped to learn more about her heritage. Still, pages upon pages of legal questions written by her lawyers to be asked to her father about his life were a mistake to have in the book. The accusations were not answered and it wasn’t clear if she took the man to court. It felt like reading a book that didn’t know where to end and didn’t want to end.

As I think further about her story and the way in which it is told in The Mistress’s Daughter, I like it better. Just as she wrote honestly about her adoptive mother and her reactions to this situation, Amy was honest about herself. It wasn’t explicitly written, but she did not hide the fact that she frequently met with her birthfather and even subjected herself to a blood test in hopes of meeting his “family.” She kept putting off a face-to-face meeting her birthmother. Then, she met with her for lunch only once. Amy held her birthmother to a higher standard. Her mother had to live up to all the mental pictures and stories Amy had created for her and she miserably missed the mark. Her birthfather had nothing to live up to. She bristled when she didn’t seem to live up to his expectations, but that made her want to be more of what he wanted her to be. It didn’t stop her from treating her mother in the same way. It was only after her death that Amy regretted not spending more time with her, even if the woman seemed so needy all of the time.

Adoption is as unique as each adoptive relationship. In the same manner, a book is unique each time it is read by a new person. If you have read this book, please leave a comment. I would be interested to know how others have reacted to her story.


The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
I was so excited to begin reading this book. I loved The Other Boleyn Girl so much that I had to force myself to read other types of books before buying this one. The Boleyn Inheritance did not disappoint me. It is the continuation of the Boleyn family story after the beheading of Anne Boleyn and is told from the perspective of three different women who cannot avoid Henry the 8th’s dangerous court: Jane Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, and Katherine Howard.

Jane Boleyn, Ann Boleyn’s sister-in-law who sent the Queen and her own husband to their deaths, has been taken into the confidence of the Duke of Norfolk. He is the Howard family patriarch who bailed out on his niece and nephew to secure his place in King Henry’s court and to save his own life. He brought Jane back to court to be his loyal informant when Henry married Anne of Cleves.

We meet Anne of Cleves posing for a portrait to be sent to King Henry. He was to use the portraits to select his fourth wife. His third wife, Jane Seymour, had died from an infection brought about by the birth of his only legitimate son, Edward. Anne desperately wanted to Henry to select her so that she could flee the land of her birth and be rid of her family. Her brother was the Duke of Cleves. He locked his own father away because of the loss of his mental faculties. Anne feared for own sanity if fate kept her in her brother’s household under her mother’s suspicious eye.

Katherine Howard is a young, selfish girl. Although she was not raised in prosperity, she believed that she was meant only for luxury. While living in her grandmother’s house at the tender age of 14, she does not choose her friends carefully. She also didn’t guard her “maidenhood” or see any reason to refrain from anything that was fun or could advance herself financially. In her naiveté, she agrees to marry a young man and even exchanges vows with him in church in secret. In that day, doing such constituted marriage just as much as a ceremony with a priest. After her “groom” leaves to make their fortune in Ireland, she jumps at the Duke of Norfolk, her uncle’s offer to join the court as a maiden-in-waiting for Anne of Cleves. Little does she suspect that the Duke of Norfolk was only interested in her good looks as it might provide a way to get a Howard woman back into King Henry’s bed.

Much is known about the life and monarchy of Henry the 8th. In this book, the stories of his marriages of Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard to Henry the 8th are told from the perspective of each of these women as well as Jane Boleyn. Although her books are works of fiction, Philippa Gregory brings the women in his life to life for the reader. It doesn’t matter if you know their fate before you read this book. The voices of these women are engaging. They become more than just Henry’s wives or members of court. The reader becomes interested in their lives and their dreams. Just because you know who will lose her head doesn’t mean you don’t want to yell out to her to stop as she makes the wrong turn that leads her to the scaffold.
Once again, upon finishing this book, I had to force myself to read something that had nothing to do with Henry the 8th, his wives, England, or anything old enough to be considered historical. It was difficult. I find that my interests are pointing me more and more to these books. It could be said that I’m giving in to “chick lit,” but I don’t believe that is true. This was a novel, but it was based upon facts that were researched by the author. I did not know what was to become of any of the three narrators when I started this book. I learned some history as a result. I may not have learned dates but I can now give an overview of five of Henry’s six marriages and explain how they took place and what brought them to an end. It’s not all about the women, either. I am anxiously awaiting the moment when I begin The Autobiography of Henry the 8th. He was a fascinating man. I’d like to learn more about him from his perspective, even if it is from another work of fiction.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Notice to My Gentle Readers

I am currently three reviews behind of what I'm reading. I promise to publish my reviews ASAP. I hope that flood this blog with posts by the end of the week.

Getting Notice IRL

Usually once a week I take my daughters to the same Golden Aches for dinner. There is a playland there so I get a few moments of down time. It's a very nice diversion for all of us. I usually use this time to get a little reading in. Apparently this has not gone unnoticed. When I went up to the counter to make our order, the young man behind the counter said, "You always have a book in your hands. What are you reading now?" I was a little taken aback. I hadn't realized anyone would pay attention to something like that or that holding a book made me stand out from the crowd that way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007



Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is an amazing book about the lives of women in 16th century China. I selected the book for this very reason. I have two Chinese/American nieces and I wanted to learn more about the culture that has been permanently joined with my family. I am so very glad that I did. I enjoyed every moment reading this book. I hated to put it down.

This is the story of Lily, a young girl born to a lower middle-class family. In her society, male children were prized above all other treasures in life. In fact, a mother’s worth is dependent upon them. A female child was seen as a dead branch. All of the time, energy, and resources used to raise a daughter are “wasted,” because her husband’s family will reap the rewards. Although Lily’s family was prosperous enough that the women did not have to work (that their feet could be bound, which very much limited their physical abilities), her outlook in life was not exciting. When Lily’s mother contacted a local soothsayer about the best time to bind Lily’s feet, he noticed a special quality to Lily and made a match between the family and a matchmaker from a much larger and more prosperous area. Assuming that Lily’s foot binding created the perfect “golden lilies” that the matchmaker believed were possible, Lily could be married to wealthy family. This relationship would serve to prosper Lily’s family as well. Although everyone hoped for a good match, Lily was also punished for the additional financial burden that went along with her upward mobility. Lily also seemed so special that the matchmaker proposed a “old same” match for Lily. If she could find an “old same” for Lily, this would add to her value as a wife. Old sames were two young women whose lives matched eight qualities exactly. The most basic and important are the girls’ birth month, day, and year. It is through this relationship that Lily first meets and then grows to love Snow Flower.

At the heart of this book is the quest for love and survival in a world where both are elusive. Lily’s mother was a cold-hearted woman who cared only for her two sons. Lily attempts to be obedient and pleasing to this woman in every way she can. Although tender moments seem to be shared during Lily’s foot binding, her mother sees her only as a liability. She does not rejoice in her daughter’s potential or even in the extra prosperity it will bring her own household. Instead, she punishes her daughter for the extra money that the family must spend on her behalf. Survival is even harder for a woman to attain. Although foot binding is essential to be matched in marriage, the process can prove deadly. Assuming that a young woman survives to marry, her husband, his family, and especially his mother own her outright. Little was done or said on a woman’s behalf to stop abuse. If a young woman survived her foot binding, she had to live the remainder of her life physically impaired. If an emergency took place, this handicap imposed by society through the hands of the girls’ family made it almost impossible to escape on foot.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is an intriguing book. Although a beautiful love story between two friends, this book gave me cause to think about the society in which I live.
The concept behind foot binding and being inadequate in all ways because I am a woman has never entered my mind. Sure, there are situations were it may be more advantageous to be a man, but never once have I been made to feel like a “dead branch” by anyone. I have received a good education and have the opportunity to make my own way in this world. I can’t imagine being physically handicapped by my family in order to meet society’s demands for beauty and acceptability. That magic sway in their hips as they walked those so aroused men meant that they couldn’t leave; they didn’t have the stamina to implement change, and they had no choice but live a life of obedience and subservience.

Lily’s only true source of comfort is her relationship with Snow Flower. Although she found her married life and mother-in-law a much more pleasant experience than most women she knew, she prized Snow Flower above it all. When the girls first meet in the company of their matchmaker, they vow to be true to each other to the death. In her culture, the relationship between two old sames was meant to be stronger and more intimate than a marital relationship. In fact, when sleeping under one household, the husband was to sleep elsewhere to allow the women to sleep together. If a woman was not lucky enough to be matched with an old same, women could not hope to experience this type of intimate friendship with another woman until she became a widow.
I would highly recommend this book. Very few bring tears to my eyes at any point. As I read the last sections, I had to wipe my eyes to see what I was reading. I am very thankful that I didn’t live in that day and age and that my nieces won’t be subjected to such humiliation. Still, women have the ability to survive some of the deepest hardships in human life and can emerge on the other side with the most beautiful and meaningful friendships.


Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books by Maureen Corrigan

I cannot say enough about this book. Although my posts here will not show it, I am so inspired to keep reading and to develop my skills as a book reviewer. The first section of this book, which deals with female extreme adventure novels, is absolutely brilliant. The sections on hard boiled detective and Catholic secular martyr novels were interesting and I think that I would have enjoyed them more had I not been reading them during the days of the Virginia Tech Massacre and its aftermath. Maureen mentions how people use books to escape from their lives or as a defense mechanism in uncertain times. I agree with her. Unfortunately, this book didn't really work for me. This is not her fault. Once my challenge is over, I plan to reread this book and further explore Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.


The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls, her brother, and her two sisters grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who resented any part of the responsibility that goes hand in hand with parenting. Her memoir is a beautiful testiment to the resilience of the human heart and soul. As depressing as the details were about her experiences with poverty, squaller, and absolute hunger could be, I couldn't think of a better book to read. It made me happy that I had loving parents who enjoyed their children and worked hard to provide for us. It made me happy to be human, like each and every member of Jeannette's family. Most of all, it made me happy that Jeannette was willing to share her story. In light of recent events at Virginia Tech, it is a relief to know that an underpriviledged childhood full of empty promises and hardship does not have to end in violence.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Imagine meeting your husband for the first time at the age of six. Imagine also that he does not know you when you meet him as an adult because he, at his current age, had not met you via time travel. Imagine waiting for good and terrible events to happen because you know about them ahead of time. Since you cannot alter the future, you can’t stop things like car crashes, fatal accidents, or September 11, 2001. Is the joy received by knowing about the love you will experience in the future worth the heartache that comes from being unable to prevent those you love from being hurt?

The book begins with Henry’s earliest experiences with time travel, it moves on to Clare’s experiences with Henry as she grew up, and then continued in time from the day they first “met” as adults. After they become a couple, you read about more of Henry’s adventures from the perspective of when they happen in “real time.” At first, Henry does not tell Clare that they will someday be married. It wasn’t until she asked him point blank that he told her the truth from his perspective from the future. From then, Clare only imagines her life with Henry. Although she has ample opportunity, she doesn’t date. She’s focused on her art studies and the man she believes is her destiny. Henry, on the other hand, does not know she exists until he is 28. Prior to that, he sowed quite a few wild oats.

It is the disparity in what young Clare knows versus what young Henry does not that seems controlling to me. At their last meeting as a result of Henry’s time travel, a 43 year old Henry tells Clare to live her life to the fullest and be confident that they will meet again and be together forever. Clare says that she will do nothing but wait for him. Henry again tells her to experience all the life that she can, but mentions that he doesn’t want her to date other men. That fact that Henry told her what he would prefer made her decision to wait that much more concrete. Henry is a fine and loving partner for Clare, but he also got exactly what he wanted. It goes back to the double-standard that men are almost expected to explore the world and its women before settling down while it is preferable to them that their wives are found by them to be naïve and innocent. While I found this irritating, it is not out of place or character. This isn’t your typical life experience, but Clare’s decision to be with Henry and with Henry alone is what I would imagine most young women would do. I wonder what would have happened had it been Clare who was the time traveler?

The Time Traveler’s Wife flowed well and maintained my interest throughout. I did find the ending somewhat hokie, but the theme of waiting was followed through to the end. One aspect about Ms. Niffenegger’s writing did pull me out of the book from time to time. I’m sure that writing sexual scenes is not easy. How do you put what is without words into words without sounding too harsh or too flowery? In general, I don’t have hang-ups when reading explicit writing; but, when hard core words are used, they should at least fit the character. When it doesn’t, it gets in the way of my reading enjoyment. For example, there is a scene in which Clare uses the word c#nt. I will be the first to admit that I wish that word didn’t exist at all. Beyond my own personal preferences, it just wasn’t believable that Clare would use that word, and especially not in the situation in which she did. Henry’s use of the word c#ck came across the same way. When those types of words are used for shock value, I wonder if the author doesn’t trust her writing or her ability to shape her characters.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is interesting to read and the book is well written. Other fiction I’ve written that dealt with the complications that arise from time travel have not been contained within the confines of time traveler’s potential life span. This made that concept more realistic to me. I enjoyed tagging along with Henry and Clare on their adventures. I think that you will, too.
** You can buy my copy of this book. Click on the My Offerings link at the top of the page to access my inventory. **

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Of the 13 books that have preceded this, The Cider House Rules has been by far the hardest to read. The first 100 pages were more difficult than I had imagined. I never wanted to know what the inside of a uterus feels/sounds like when a D&C is completed successfully. I would imagine no one really does. At one point during Dr. Wilbur Larch’s journey from OB/GYN to OB/GYN and abortionist, I wanted to stop reading it. I decided that to honestly meet the challenge I had to finish every book I start. This isn’t about reading 52 books I will enjoy. For me, as a fast reader, there’s no challenge in that. So, I finished it. It’s a sad, sad book.

The protagonist, Homer Wells, begins life as an orphan as St. Cloud’s in Maine in the early mid-1900s. This is the orphanage in which Dr. Larch practices medicine. Attempts to adopt Homer failed. Homer preferred to be at St. Cloud’s. In order to be “of use,” Dr. Larch makes Homer his apprentice. Homer has a natural talent for medicine and successfully delivers a women suffering from sever eclampsia. During the course of his studies of Grey’s Anatomy and through dissecting adult female and infant cadavers, Homer comes to believe that the unborn have souls. He confronts Dr. Larch and refuses to be “of use” to him when he’s performing those procedures. Shortly thereafter, he leaves St. Cloud’s with Wally and Candy, a rich couple who traveled from the coast to get an abortion.

While living at Ocean View Orchards, Homer quickly falls in love with Candy and becomes an expert in farming an apple orchard. Dr. Larch, on the other hand, planned for the day that Homer would return and take over all aspects of “the Lord’s work.” St. Cloud’s Board of Directors was increasingly unhappy with him and as he grows older, the pressure to add staff to oversee all aspects of the orphanage continues to strengthen. He took the name of a deceased orphan and manipulated college and medical school records to make him a doctor. It’s is Dr. Larch’s hope that life experience will lead him back to St. Cloud’s and, if his beliefs cannot be changed, he will feel compelled to provide abortion services in a day and age when it is illegal.

This book is decidedly pro-choice. Still, there is no glorification of the procedure or those who perform them. Abortion is a consequence of the human condition and those who provide those services have their own weaknesses and crosses to bear. Irving took great effort to describe the procedures and its affects accurately. Women carrying the burden of an unplanned pregnancy do not leave the orphanage relieved of their burdens. In fact, Homer observes that their posture makes them look more weighted down. Dr. Larch uses the phrase “products of conception.” Eventually, Homer confronts him about this oversimplification. There is no sugar coating.

I believe that this story took place during World War II purposefully. It illustrated that there are forms of murder deemed as necessary and good by American society. There is no shame in killing the enemy or in losing a child to war. In fact, both may even be considered a duty and an honor. Many states in this country support the death penalty as a means for punishing its most heinous criminals. In both situations, keeping our society safe is found more important than the lives of individuals. Both sides of the abortion debate oversimplify or sugar coat the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Why are we afraid to address this issue head on and decide, as a society, whether abortion serves the greater good?

Although I believe that Irving intended to end this book with hope, I felt quite the opposite. It seems sad that the best our society has to offer women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy is an abortion, an adoption, or a life as a single parent. Ensuring that all three of those options are available to women does not change the fact that - apparent rewards aside - they all bring about their own pain, feelings of loss, and heartache for everyone involved.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides

You are in for an interesting ride if you choose to read this book. It is written from the point of view of a hermaphrodite of Greek ancestry who was raised as a female until the age of 14, when his condition was finally discovered. In order to make sense of what has happened, he tells the story of the choices made by his grandparents and parents that eventually led to his deformity.

Cal/Calliope/Callie is an interesting individual. He spins the web of his grandparents’ incestuous marriage and the subsequent marriage of his parents (second cousins) as if he was present and knew the truth of their lives. As he spends much of the book understanding who he is and why this has happened to him, it’s hard to know if the stories that predate Callie’s memories are accurate or pieced together to help him make sense of his family.

As Callie grows into adolescence, she is deeply concerned with why her body is not developing like her classmates. Her anxiety is reminiscent of Are you there God, It’s Me, Margaret with the exception that you, as the reader, know that she will never see her breasts fill out or start menstruating. Her sexual interest in women was also a concern of hers and later helped her determine how she wanted to live the rest of her life.

As the reader is unsure of how Cal’s genital deformity would be discovered, there are several places where you think to yourself, “No! Not this way!” When Callie finds out that she is genetically male, you feel the pain in her heart and can empathize with his parents. Had they not used an elderly doctor from the Old World, this would have been discovered at birth and “corrected” without anyone being the wiser ~ including Cal. His parents’ regrets are really a freedom to him. What he does with knowledge of his identity is terrifying and surprising.

I enjoyed this book, even though it did not read quickly. This book is just as much about family dynamics as it is about the way in which genetic deformities are passed down and finally manifested in the younger generations. You will enjoy the flawed grandparents, parents, and siblings. You will enjoy the journey you take with young immigrants and how their children assimilate themselves into the great melting pot.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

You Choose #14

#13 is well underway, but I'd like to mix things up a little bit if I can. I would like you to decide which book will be #14. Just leave a comment and indicate which of the following tickles your fancy:

1) Cider House Rules by John Irving
2) The Constant Princess by Phillipa Gregory
3) The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
4) Your suggestion

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite current authors. This book did not disappoint me at all. It was very interesting to get a full view of a school shooting ~ from the perpetrator, from the students, from the parents, and from the community. You usually don't know what makes someone do what they do. Knowing doesn't change the way you feel about the act itself, but it humanizes the murderer. It's easy to brush things off as simply evil, but life is much more complex. In the end, it was everyone brushing Peter's life and humiliations off that set this book into motion.

This book centers around two characters: Peter Houghton and Josie Cromier. They grew up as best friends. This friendship superseded the end of the friendships their mothers shared (not the most convincing scene in the book). It did not, however, last through junior high. The pull of popularity was too much for Josie. Peter was "different" and he would never be accepted by the in crowd. As they entered high school, Josie witnessed her friends make fun of Peter. She felt guilty. She was so unsure of herself and her place in life that she participated. When the two were alone, they were able to slip back into a friendship. It's when that friendship developed into something more that their lives were turned upside down.

After reading my last Picoult book, I was concerned that I had caught on to her literary patterns and could guess what was coming up ahead. There were several occasions while reading this book that I did the same thing. Each time, I was ~ thankfully ~ wrong. Perhaps Keeping Faith just wasn't one of Picoult's best.

I would highly recommend Nineteen Minutes. It gives you a feeling of what it's like to live in a community devastated by school violence.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

When I picked up this book to begin reading, I thought I would never finish it. 650+ pages? I have been keeping pace with my book a week goal. I was certain that this would take much longer to read. I was completely wrong. I finished it in less than three days. I couldn't bear to put it down. It was an interesting and fast paced book. It was not at all what I had expected.

This book tells the story of Mary Boleyn, Anne's younger sister and the first of the Boleyn girls to become Henry the VIII's lover. Mary's family, caring only for the advancement of the family and nothing for what Mary wants, pushes her to Henry's bed. She eventually bares him a daughter and a son. Unfortunately for the Howard family, Mary was much more interested in her children than in the royal court. Her depression after they took her son Henry from her put an end to her affair with the king. While she was "unclean," Anne stepped in and caught the Henry's interest. From there, she connives to rid him of his first wife, Katherine, so that he can marry her. Only after her own marriage to the king does Anne understand the bed she had made for herself. Despite being treated harshly by Anne, Mary remains by her side until she marries a commoner. Mary's marriage to William makes Anne even more spiteful because her sister has the happiness she can never have. The rest is history. Anne bore a daughter named Elizabeth, but she never carried another child to term. The last pregnancy resulted in a still birth to a child full of birth defects. That was all the ammunition that Henry needed to rid himself of Anne forever.

Knowing what ultimately happened to Anne did not in any way affect the enjoyment of this book. If anything, it enhanced it. Mary struggled with what her family wanted and finally found happiness. Anne did everything she could to obtain a powerful position for herself foremost and the reader knows all along that she will regret where her ambition brought her in the end.

I cannot wait to read another of Ms. Gregory's books. I immediately ordered 6 more from I will be waiting anxiously for my packages to arrive.


Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

I cannot say that I liked this book very much. It was a let down after Wicked, that's for sure. Nothing in this book made me care about Liir; and, so it seems, what happened to the Land of Oz after Dorothy killed the witch. Two burning questions that Liir had throughout this book were answered at the end, but they never seemed like mysteries to me. What occurred is what I believed all along. It seemed to me that Liir is the only person in this world or the other that couldn't figure it out for himself. One question that I did have ~ what happened to Nor ~ was never answered concretely and that was the only storyline I had any real interest in. Oh well... Macguire must be saving that for the next book. If anyone ever reads it, please let me know. I can't say that I'm interested enough to find out for myself.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

Wow! What a wild ride this book is. I agree with what my sister has said: Gregory Maguire is a genius for coming up with this concept. Unlike with Gone with the Wind, you can revisit a popular world and expand upon it in a meaningful way. I did get a little lost at times in the politics of Maguire’s Oz, but I completely enjoyed this book. Even though I knew from the beginning that she was going to die at the hands of Dorothy, I was constantly in anticipation of what was coming next.

Some of my favorite courses in college and grad school dealt with the discussion of narrators. Can you trust them in general? Can you trust the current one in particular? What are the narrator’s motivations? What, if anything, does this narrator have to gain from telling this story? When you stop to consider the narrator, the way in which you interpret the story can completely change. At the same time, I find that I often accept narrators at face value. Truthfully, most novels aren’t crafted in such a way to even make this an issue. Most authors are telling a story and the narrator is their voice. There are, however, authors that are as interested if not more interested in providing readers with a puzzle beyond the story at hand. Sometime that puzzle distracts the reader purposefully from the truth. This novel reminded me of the power of the narrator.

From a very early age I watched The Wizard of Oz on television once a year. The night it aired felt like a holiday (for those of you who do not understand what I'm talking about, remember that there was a time without VCRs, DVDs, Blockbuster, and NetFlix). In all my life it has never occurred to me to question Dorothy’s tale. She was pure and good. The Witch was pure evil. After all, it was just a dream, right? Hmm… After reading Wicked, I’m looking at the movie with a little more skepticism. It’s hard to forget that there are two sides to every story. I will have to read L. Frank Baum’s original novels. I am interested to see how my opinions are shaped further.

In addition to shedding some light on a beloved story, this book had me contemplating on the true nature of evil. Is evil something that can be pinned down and quantified? Is it, like beauty, entirely in the eyes of the beholder? Is evil judged solely upon its nature, intentions, and actions? Or are those things subordinate to the way they are interpreted by others? These are not new questions. The concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, and God and Satan are the backbone of mythology and religion. Would there be myths and faiths if humans weren’t continually trying to understand or explain why bad things happen? Where would the art of storytelling be were it not for such things?

Before I my thoughts on the power of narration and the nature of evil scares anyone off, Wicked is only as “heady” as you allow it to be. Mostly it is just a lot of fun to walk in the steps of Elphaba as she grows from a little girl tortured by her green skin, to a student who is ultimately befriended by Galinda/Glinda, the society girl, and finally to become the powerful Wicked Witch of the West

Thursday, February 22, 2007


The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

It took me a long while to read this book. Like the Life of Pi, it is heady. Many of the other books I’ve read recently have been so as well. Comparitively, the Janet Evanovich novels are fun and soap opera-ish. I much preferred to read those. In fact, I read the second and third installments of the Stephanie Plum novels in the middle of The Namesake. I can’t say if my hesitance to read this book was because of timing or because the book didn’t hold my interest. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to tell.

The Namesake is the story of an American born Bangladeshi. Due to a letter from India that was lost in the mail, his parents named him Gogol, after one of the father’s favorite Russian writers. Over time, Gogol grows up and begins to despise his name. He has it legally changed. This change and his attempts to free himself from his parent’s culture are futile. He cannot be happy for long immersed in his American-Indian life or in a more fully American life.

There is a great deal of detail about his parents early marriage and about three of Gogol’s romances. The ending, by comparison, was glossed over and encapsulated in his mother’s final Christmas Eve party for the Bangladeshi family she created for herself in the United States. It seems as though Gogol’s mother and sister finally come to terms with their lives and how their cultural identity helps to form their journeys. Gogol finds a book of his namesake’s writing in his room. The book was given to him by his father. He rescues it from being donated and begins to read the book. Does he begin his journey toward acceptance of his life and what he cannot control? That is the impression given. I’m mostly glad that I’ve not been invited to take that journey with him.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time by Mark Haddon

This book is incredible. It is the story of a high functioning autistic teenage boy who decides to write a book about his attempt to detect who really killed his neighbors dog. The entire book was written from Christopher's perspective. His narration is poignant and is the perfect way to put you in the mind of an autistic person. Christopher does not like to be touched. To show that they love each other, they open their hands like palming a basketball and touch fingertips. When I think of all the time I spend cuddling my children, I can't fathom how big a hole parents must feel in their hearts when they can't be physically affectionate.

It is also interesting to read what non-autistic behavior is interpreted by Christopher. He goes into explanations of white lies and other commonalities of life that will first crack you up and then make you think about what you are subconsciously telling other people.

Christopher gives you full and entirely factual accounts throughout the book. His level of honesty is refreshing and heartbreaking, especially when he is talking about a subject that would tear another child up inside. He just doesn't understand. Is that good? It definitely has an impact on how Christopher looks at the world.

This book is funny, realistic, and thoroughly enjoyable. I did read quickly through the math equations he worked on to calm himself down in uncomfortable situations. Still, it was interesting that there are people for whom working out such problems makes them feel better. I wish that I knew exactly what I needed to do to relax the way that Christopher does. This book should definitely be on your "to read" list if you haven't already done so.
** You can buy my copy of this book. Click on the My Offerings link at the top of the page to access my inventory. **

Wednesday, February 7, 2007


One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

A co-worker of mine asked me if I’ve ever read any of Janet Evanovich’s books. I told her that I hadn’t. She went on and on about how hilarious her books were. The next day, she dropped a huge Barnes & Noble’s bag full of Janet Evanovich’s books at my desk. I really had no intention of reading those books.

This all happened before I started reading Life of Pi. As wonderful as that book was, I didn’t feel like jumping back into anything heavy. “What the heck,” I thought, “It wouldn’t kill me to give it a try.” I don’t typically read detective/mystery books, but after skimming through a few pages I decided that at worst it would be a quick read. I can honestly say that I’m glad that I did.

Stephanie Plum begins working as a bounty hunter because she had been out of work for six months and didn’t have enough left to hawk to make her bills. Stephanie is a sum of Dog the Bounty Hunter and Charles Chaplin. She constantly bumbles but manages to get the guy every time. I was ready to pick up the second book in the series the second I finished.

This book is not insightful or thought provoking. It’s just damn fun. I got interested in the main characters and couldn’t pull myself away from the last few chapters. Still, I don’t feel that these books are books that I have to physically read (if that makes any sense). This book was like a paper equivalent to Guiding Light. A new “guilty” pleasure. One that I can easily enjoy listening to in mp3 format while I’m at work or in the car.

Monday, February 5, 2007


Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I had been excited about reading this book for quite some time. I was worth the wait. I did find the middle two thirds of this book to be slow and boring. Upon finishing it, I’m could be convinced that this was intentional. How slow and boring would it feel to spend 225 days as a castaway in a lifeboat? It is a brilliant book.

Pi’s family is a secular family. Pi himself, on the other hand, is a Hindu, Muslim, Christian. He has incorporated many of the rituals from each tradition. It’s not so much that he is creating his own faith. He actively participates in all three. It feels perfectly natural for him to find God as He reveals Himself to other people. His views on faith, religion, and God are interesting and thought provoking.

I don’t feel that I can really say much about this book without it spoiling it for other readers. This is the story of Pi, a teenaged Indian boy, who is the son of a zookeeper. In order to make a new life for themselves, the family sells off the animals to North American zoos. They travel together with these animals on a boat that has set sail for Canada. There would begin their new life. Unfortunately, the ship sinks quickly. Only, Pi and three of the zoo animals make it on the lifeboat. The remainder of the story details how Pi survived his ordeal. As the book is told in an interview type of style, we was get glimpses of Pi’s life after reaching shore in Mexico.

After completing this book, I know that I will have to read it again at some point. I want to go back and pick up pieces that I missed or misinterpreted. It is a book that I could learn something from with each read.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

I love Jodi Picoult. The last time I finished one of her books I suffered withdrawal symptoms because I didn’t have another one waiting in the wings. So it was surprising to me as I began this book that I was growing tired of her. I actually was wishing I’d chosen another book. This happened a couple times before while I was in high school. I read so many Steven King and Danielle Steele books that I began to recognize patterns and just couldn’t read them anymore. At one point I swore that if I ever read another book that mentioned Carmel, CA that I would throw it against the wall. Thankfully, as I read further into the story, I got hooked and couldn’t put it down.

This is the story of a messy divorce and custody battle and its effects on an only child named Faith. Mariah, Faith’s mother, suffers from a lack of self esteem. From the moment that Colin shows interest in her in college, she allows him to mold her into the type of wife he wanted. She loses her identity. Colin’s first infidelity drove Mariah to suicide. He had her institutionalized against her will and it was in the hospital that he discovered her pregnancy. That was the only thing that kept their marriage together. The book begins when Mariah and Faith come home to retrieve a lost ballet leotard; they find Colin getting ready to take a shower with another woman. In the aftermath, Colin leaves, Mariah calls in her mother to take care of Faith while she gets herself straightened out, and Faith begins to see and talk to God.

Mariah takes Faith to psychiatrists, doctors, rabies, and even allows interviews with Catholic priests in order to get to the bottom of Faith’s visions. Faith was found by all to be mentally stable, but no one was brave enough to believe that Faith’s visions were actually contacts with the divine. That is, until her touch brings her grandmother back to life after being clinically dead for an hour. Once that story hits the press, people begin to congregate outside of Mariah’s home. The story is spread even further by an atheist televangelist name Ian. He has made it his life’s work to debunk religion and especially the miracles. When Colin returns home from his honeymoon with his pregnant wife, he discovers what is going on and decides to sue for full custody of Faith, using a renowned cutthroat lawyer. Not only does Mariah need to find the inner strength to handle the situation with Faith, she then has to fight to keep custody of her daughter.

Some of the relationships that develop seem too convenient and predictable. As with many other of Picoult’s lead female characters, Mariah is not alone for long. On the other hand, I enjoyed the way in which Mariah interacted with her mother. They have a truly special relationship. Still, the most interesting thing about this particular Picoult novel is the way in which visions, religion, faith, and God are handled by each of the characters. I believe that the book covered this topic and all sides with respect.

This was not one of my favorite Picoult books, but I would recommend the book to others. It provides the opportunity to explore your beliefs about the extraordinary. What would you do if your child began seeing visions of God?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

I was excited to begin this book because I loved her previous novel, The Secret Lives of Bees so much. In a word, I am disappointed with this book. This book was sluggish. There were sections that I had force myself to sit down and read. There are numerous paragraphs of descriptions of food, flora, and fauna that I used speed reading to get my way through. For a while I wasn’t sure what was lacking in The Mermaid Chair. I thought perhaps it was because of my state of mind or other changes in my life. By the end, I know that it was a lack of substance and a forced narrative that made the experience of reading this book almost intolerable. Ask Danny. I even stuck my tongue out at the book last night.

This book begins with Jessie basically having a mid-life crisis. She’s married to a psychiatrist and her only daughter has moved away to college. She herself is an artist, but it has become more of a hobby and less of a vocation over the years. She doesn’t know who she is outside of her relationships, even going back to her late father. When her crazy, Roman Catholic fanatic mother chops off her right index finger, Jessie has her opportunity to escape her life, even if that means that she’ll have to come face to face with the mother she’s distanced herself from because of the lunatic Nelle evolved into after her husband’s death 33 years prior.

Her mother lives on an island off of the South Carolina coast near Charleston. Also located on this island is a Benedictine monastery whose patron saint is St. Senara, a mermaid who became human and then converted to Catholicism. One of the key tourist attractions is the Mermaid Chair that is located in the chapel. This Mermaid Chair was thought to have spiritual powers. Nelle was burying her finger next to St. Senara’s statue when Jessie arrives. While helping her dig the finger’s grave, Jessie meets Brother Thomas. From here, she is consumed with this man.

The remainder of the novel follows Jessie as she investigates why her mother mutilated herself, begins a formal separation from her husband, Hugh, explores a new relationship with Brother Thomas, and finds herself. She spends much more time and energy on the men in her life and herself than she does on her mother. The entire thing with her mother felt like a cheap narrative device. The resolution of that storyline was anticlimactic to me. It only served to make me dread finishing the novel even more.

The fact that Jessie pursues an affair with a monk did not help to endear me to either character. It’s not that I can’t let myself go and get lost in the romance of two individuals risking and giving up all that is important to them to be together. People make and break vows every day. I guess in light of the current state of the priesthood and my own experiences with trusted clergymen, I don’t find this spectacular in anyway. Perhaps older or more traditional Catholic readers would find this aspect of the storyline more interesting or thought provoking. Maybe this is why over the course of the book the reader discovers that it takes place in the late 1980s. I just believe that Whit’s (Brother Thomas) vows to the Catholic Church are no more or no less holy than Jessie’s marriage vows to Hugh. Certainly, clergy make a vow to Christ as well. According to Catholic theology, so do married couples. That makes those vows of equal import to me.

In the end, issues of self, marriage, and faith all work out exactly as I had anticipated from the beginning. I can’t help but think that it was a waste of my time to read it. Still, you can’t always read great books. Reading the duds helps you to appreciate those that you enjoy. It also helps you define the qualities of literature and other writings that make this life come alive in your imagination. Through the process or reading you become a better reader and learn things about yourself that you may not otherwise have known. That might not have all of the sex and spectacle the author added to Jessie’s journey into self, but it’s honest.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Blood Orange by Drusilla Campbell

Blood Orange takes place in San Diego, CA and is the story of how a middle-class couple deals with the abduction of their young daughter, Bailey. Bailey was born with some mental deficiencies that manifest itself through late development and learning disabilities. Dana is her stay-at-home mother. She is bored and resentful of the amount of care Bailey requires. She feels that motherhood is interfering with her academic life. She can’t seem to finish her thesis. David is a former professional football player who later became a defense attorney. He is working on the defense of a man who is accused of murdering a neighbor girl. When Bailey disappears, David devotes his waking hours to his work. Dana spends every waking moment mourning her missing daughter. The couple is growing apart, but that fissure was already in place before the abduction. It grows even wider when Bailey appears on their doorstep out of no where.

This book has some interesting characters whose experiences, thoughts, and fears are similar to mine. Dana spends her life doing things of which she feels everyone else would approve. She is shocked when the assumptions she’s made about other people and how they feel about her and her family are completely off base. She doesn’t even know what she wants, making it hard to even please herself. There lives with a lot of resentment and guilt in her heart. Lexy, an Episcopalian priest, definitely has the same spiritual issues that I have. At one point in the book, she even mentions that she has trouble distinguishing God and her mother. I hear that, sister.

Although I can relate to some of the struggles faced by the main characters, I felt that there was a lot added simply for shock value. It jumped out at me because it either made a character a cliché or it went totally against the make up of the character. The two examples that I keep thinking about this morning deal with David and Marsha, the wife of the man he is defending.

David is supposed to be a super-supportive and sensitive husband and father. His belief, which could be shot down by anyone else who cared to look, that his wife had it “easy” because she only had to care for her child and work a few hours at a local bookstore was confusing. With all that was going on, he should have known better. On top of that, he never seemed to understand why their sex life was lacking. Hmm… Perhaps that is because what he really wanted was a bl@w j@b just before he fell asleep. It was difficult for me to buy him as a sympathetic character.

Marsha is one messed up woman. She’s extremely pregnant while her husband is awaiting trial. She’s a chain smoker and a heavy drinker. She’s clearly in a stressful and confusing situation, but her lack of concern for her unborn child (or much of anything else) is over the top. At one point, after telling Dana that she is carrying a daughter, she calls the baby a “poor c*nt.” Not everyone is maternal, but WTF? That goes way beyond stressed out and under the influence if you ask me. It makes you wonder if she has a soul.

I read this book in two days. I was interested in how the story ended. I just can’t tell you why. I didn’t care about any of the characters - not even Bailey - on an emotional level. It was an interesting study on how childhood affects adult lives; but I can’t say that I loved this book. I’m not even sure that I would be interested in reading another book by this author. Still, staying up until 2am this morning to finish it must say something.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Moorland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel

This is a memoir of Haven’s early childhood in a small Indiana town. I was originally interested in the book because of the silly looking baby on the cover. Turns out that silly looking baby was the author. She was born small and somewhat funny looking. She barely managed to fight a bout of sepsis in her ear as a young infant. She about died before a young doctor, with a box full of anti-biotic samples happened to reach in and select the only vial of anti-biotic that could have saved her. Although she herself does not believe in God, or at least the God of her mother’s faith, she is a living miracle.

Zippy, as Haven’s father called her, is quite a character. She’s a Calvin meets Pippy Longstocking for the Heartland. Her adventures cracked me up. At one point her much older sister informs her that she is adopted. Zippy runs to her mother for the truth. Her mother invents a story that she swapped a wonderful blanket for her from some gypsies. She not only bought the story, but she embraced her gypsy heritage. She had spunk and charisma. I would very much like my daughters to have some of those traits.

I enjoyed the glimpses she gave of family life in the late 60s and early 70s. Her parents were far different than mine and actually more like my own marriage and family. I will be the mother reading on the couch and taking the children to church (although not to a Quaker service I’m sure) while Danny will be the father full of adventure. The only personality swaps are that Danny would read the science fiction and I’d be more likely to smoke, drink, and gamble.

This book was enjoyable to read. Reading about a pleasant childhood is too rare of a commodity. What didn’t kill her only made Zippy more resilient. Who says a runt can’t win?

52 Books in 2007

I may be nuts, but I thought I might present myself with a little challenge this year. I would like to read 52 books this year. That’s an average of one per week and I’m already three weeks behind. Oh well…