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 half.com. 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