Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Monster of Florence: A True Story
by Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi
(4 Scoops)

I was tempted to give this book a five, but like many true stories it doesn't have the sort of neat resolution that I wish it had. Of course, it seems the purpose of this book is not to let us all sigh a satisfied sigh that the monster has been caught and that all is right in the world, instead, it seems intent on showing how the Italian legal system is deeply flawed and itself a monster.

The Monster of Florence is a work of non-fiction that presents information about a serial killer on the loose in Florence. The first part describes these atrocities in I-can't-read-this-while-eating-or-when-it-is-time-to-go-to-sleep detail; the second tells of the ways in which the two authors find themselves ensnared in the criminal investigation. I picked this book up because my neighbors were having noisy sex and I needed a distraction. This was the wrong book for that! I stayed up until sunrise, too terrified to sleep. I thought for sure the Monster was going murder my neighbors and then I'd be stuck as a witness in a long drawn out court case!

Ultimately, the read was well worth the loss of sleep because what we have here is a deeply engaging set of facts and an excellent piece of writing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, But Could Not Hold My Attention

by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
(2 scoops)

This is a classic example of a great story, but a bad book.

If I hadn't agreed to read it in order to help a lovely young lady with her summer assignment I would have never made it through the first few chapters. The writing is clunky, cliche-filled, and just drags on and on and on. And on.

Sure, there is a quality pay off at the end, but if I'm going to read a book instead of watching a feel good segment on YouTube, then the book-reading-experience should be a pleasurable one. Yes,
I understand that the authors want their readers to understand the cultural context in which Kamkwamba exists, but a few well constructed and well placed anecdotes could have done that a lot better than page after page of rambling. In fact, there is a great bit about boiling goat poop and an exacerbated mother that does just that!

Kamkwamba is truly an inspirational young man and I am glad that I now know a bit more about his homeland and his story. I just wish that the book, which I'm sure will be used in Middle School and High School Science and Humanities courses for years to come, was as inspiringly well written.

Not So Bright

"This Side of Brightness weaves historical fact with fictional truth, creating a remarkable tale of death, racism, homelessness--and yes, love--spanning four generations. Two characters dominate Colum McCann's narrative: Treefrog, a homeless man with a dark and shameful secret, and Nathan Walker, a black man who came north in the early years of the century to work as a "sandhog," digging the subway tunnels beneath Manhattan. Walker's tale is told in alternating chapters with Treefrog's, who, before his slide into homelessness, chose a hazardous profession- a construction worker building skyscrapers." -- from Review

This Side of Brightness
by Colum McCann
(3 Scoops)

While I loved Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, I had a hard time engaging with one of his older novels, This Side of Brightness. I read this book over the course of a week or so, one or two chapters before bed. Now, I know this is how most folks read, but it is atypical of my reading habits which border on obsessive. I usually consume a book in an evening, sacrificing sleep until I've finished. If I really love a book and I want the experience of reading it to last I will spread my reading out to three or four days, but that can start to drive an (impatient) girl crazy.

So, it was strange to find myself content with just a chapter or two. At first it was because the chapters were rich with characterization and lovely prose and seemed to stand alone, like well written short stories. Soon though I realized that it was because I was sort of bored.

By the time I got to the ending I realized that I didn't particularly care about one of the protagonists and the lyrical prose was more confusing than illuminating. I don't think I understood the ending- either from a practical this-is-what-happened point-of-view, or a more thematic understanding of the take away message McCann was aiming at. The beginning of the book was reallyinteresting though, when the story centered around the "sandhogs" and their work digging the tunnels underneath Manhattan and its surrounding waterways. I felt transported to another time and was fascinated by the historical fiction that helped produce this place where I work and live. When it switches to the modern tale of Treefrog's experience with homelessness and mental illness I was less intrigued.

As the two stories began to weave together, a McCann structural staple, I was annoyed by the heavy-handedness of the tunnel metaphor and the "meaning" implied by the contrast between the generations. Maybe all of that is there in Let the Great World Spin too, but it is way better written, with sentences so gorgeous they just filled me up with joy and possibility.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Where Have all the Great Books Gone?

I'm having some focusing issues.

This seems to happen whenever I read an amazing book or, God forbid, multiple amazing books in a row! After reading something brilliant it is so hard to read something that is merely good. And if the book is boring or bad in any way, ugh, that's just the pits.

I've started maybe three books in the last few weeks and, it's not that I want to disparage them, I'm sure they are perfectly fine works, but they aren't amazing. Sans amazingness, I'm finding that I'd rather play Bomboozle on Facebook or stare into space on the subway then take out a book and start reading.

Usually when I read a book I devour it in as few sittings as possible. The characters invade my mind and set up camp, demanding that I think of them and discover all that there is to discover about them in a timely fashion. I'm the girl who walks off the train and up the stairs with eyes still glued to the page and leans against a wall by the exit until I come to the end of the chapter- yesterday I rode the train to the end of the line and back to my stop so I could finish writing the piece I had started (well, it didn't hurt that the train has AC and my apartment does not, but that is not the point right now). The point is, that if I am invested in something I am all in. So it pains me now that I have three quarter-read books littering my home and, despite stacks and stacks of books to be read, no real desire to commit to a new text for fear that it too will suffer from a lack of amazingness. I'm not in the mood to be disappointed again.*

*This is obviously a metaphor for my love life. Analyze as you see fit.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I'm a Winner at the Game of Life!

A while back I entered a contest at the fantastic website GREEN House of Fashion and, guess what, I WON!!!!!!!!! Nothing like the thrill of victory to get you through the long, hot days of summer.

Today, when I left my dreary apartment to go get the mail, there was a little package with my name on it (and we all know that [except for men] good things come in small packages). I tell ya, it was better than Ed McMahon (RIP, good sir.) himself ringing my doorbell and handing me a giant cardboard check. I mean, you don't get to unwrap a check.

I cut open the bubble wrap and inside was a chartreuse (one of my favorite colors and, for that matter, words) bag and a beautiful, handmade, red, pulpy-paper card with a bit of gold-painted greenery affixed.
(Hmmm, perhaps I should have ironed my sheets before I used them as the backdrop for this photo shoot....)

I opened the chartreuse bag and voila, green gorgeousness. Green because the folks at "Moonlight Glistening Jewelry" made this necklace and earring set with recycled sterling silver, amazonite, and lead-free crystals, and gorgeousness becuase, well, duh! Look at it!

I put it on and felt instantly glamourous. Well, as glamourous as any one in an Old Navy tank top, flip-flops, and frumpy shorts two sizes too big can feel.

(Hmmm, perhaps I should have done my hair or make-up or, you know, bathed before I took pictures of myself destined for the web...)

I am really grateful to Bree and Zanna over at GREEN House of Fashion and the folks at Bel Esprit and Bitch Boss for organizing this contest and for picking lil ole me as the WINNER!

All in all, winning rocks. This jewelry rocks.
And I am going to rock whilst rockin'
these rocks that I got.

"Play is a Good Thing"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fun in the Sun

My dear friend and colleague gave me a very generous gift card (that I tried to graciously refuse on the grounds that it was far to generous and I had done nothing to deserve such generosity, but she was extremely insistent that I take it, so I acquiesced!) and so, of course, I did what anybody would do: I bought a shit-ton of books. But, because I shopped on Better World Books (an awesome used book site that never charges shipping and donates part of the proceeds to literacy charities) when they were having a sale, I managed to get all 15 of these beauties for a grand total of$45.99. That is $3.06 a book. Woot-woot! I now have reading material for at least a month! And, since I used the remaining value of the gift card to buy some vitamins and organic food on VitaCost, I'll have plenty of energy to write you plenty of new reviews! Woot-woot-woot!

Men, Women and Children

I love the profane. I love being shocked.
And a good first sentence makes me giddy.
Enter Men, Women & Children by Chad Kultgen.
Here is what I opened to today on the subway:
"Don Truby thought about Kelly Ripa's anus."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bees are Better

I'm about a hundred pages in to The Time Traveler's Wife and I gotta say, it's pretty terrible. This is why I never read the BIG book of the season, the one all the ladies-who-lunch propel to greatness. Those books are usually pretty terrible. Sure, there are some exceptions, like Olive Kittredge, or Little Bee. Though, truth be told, Little Bee was simply a compelling story, not an exceptionally well written book.

Anyway, I think I'm done with The Time Traveler's Wife. I mean, I wasn't enjoying it and then I found a few typos and some sentences that made no sense and that just pushed me over the edge. Things like this: "Dad was resplendent in dark blue pants and a white short sleeved shirt, providing a quiet background for Mom's flamboyance." Resplendent? Really? And in the same sentence you say his resplendence is a quiet background. Nope. Not buying this.

And what about this strangely punctuated paragraph? "This room is full of birds. Birds in simulated flight, birds perched eternally on branches, bird heads, bird skins. I open one of the hundreds of drawers; it contains a dozen glass tubes, each holding a tiny gold and black bird with its name wrapped around a foot."

Why the short declarative sentences then the random list of descriptive phrases disguised as a sentence and then the two clauses joined by a semicolon? I'd like to be so engrossed in the story that I don't get distracted by the strange punctuation. The punctuation and structure should serve the story. Like a well laid out buffet or silently passed hors devours, I should notice the arrangement but only in as much as it contributes to my overall appreciation. I don't want to spend all my time analyzing the presentation of the food when I could actually be enjoying my food. You feel me?

And, writing style aside, the story creeps me out. Particularly the sexual tension between the old man and the young girl. And the fact that he knows so much that she can't know and the inherent power disparity in such a relationship and yet they are supposed to be in love. Yuck.

Maybe it gets better, but I don't really care. If there weren't so many other amazing books in the world I may have stuck with it, but since I received two new titles from Harper Perennial in my mailbox I tossed TTTW to the curb and instead read The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus, which is a damn good book. It provides tons of information and manages to have interesting characters and a compelling narrative arc. I never knew I cared about bees, but now I do. I care and I know that I care. And I now want to go on a honey tasting tour of America. (And while I'm on that honey tour I'm going to read the other book that arrived in my mailbox, Men, Women & Children by Chad Kultgen!)

Hannah Nordhaus is not necessarily an objective reporter of facts; she becomes a character in the story and presents her material with a strong, clear and concerned voice. She is obviously fond of John Miller, the beekeeper at the center of this narrative, but does not seem blind to his flaws. I never felt like I was being preached too, though it is clear that Nordhaus, like anyone who actually pays attention to where our food is coming from, is troubled by the state of American agriculture.

For obvious reasons, this is my favorite passage in the book.

"But the attention to beekeepers has also wrought some long overdue recognition- of the hard work required to keep bees alive these days; of the superhuman sacrifices required to make their living; of the quixotic delight beekeepers take in pursuing a difficult professional path. Perhaps that's why I was drawn to Miller. Though I had long been exceedingly fond of honey, I had no particular affection for bees. Beekeepers, though, are a different story. They are heroic characters, tragic characters, anomalous characters. They do the hard thing. I could appreciate that. I had alit on a profession that's even less commonsensical, even more economically obtuse, even lonelier than being a writer. Beekeepers deserve a little recognition for that."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Summer Reading List

Lately I have been on a non-fiction kick. I discovered Mary Roach and promptly fell in love with her brilliant wit and quirky content. Bonk was laugh out loud funny and Stiff was amusingly cringeworthy. I also read and fell in love with Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This summer I hope to continue this love affair with quality non-fiction with these three titles:

Thunderstruck by Eric Larsen
In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson tells the interwoven stories of two men—Hawley Crippen, a very unlikely murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, the obsessive creator of a seemingly supernatural means of communication—whose lives intersect during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time.

Priscilla Gilman had the greatest expectations for the birth of her first child. Growing up in New York City amongst writers, artists, and actors, Gilman experienced childhood as a whirlwind of imagination, creativity, and spontaneity. As a Wordsworth scholar, she celebrated and embraced the poet's romantic view of children—and eagerly anticipated her son's birth, certain that he, too, would come "trailing clouds of glory." But her romantic vision would not be fulfilled in the ways she dreamed. Though Benjamin was an extraordinary child, the signs of his precocity—dazzling displays of memory and intelligence—were also manifestations of a developmental disorder that would require intensive therapies and special schooling, and would dramatically alter the course Priscilla had imagined for her family.

SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin

Less than half a year after sniper school, he was fighting for his life. The mission: capture or kill Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. From rooftops, helicopters and alleys, Wasdin hunted Aidid and killed his men whenever possible. But everything went quickly to hell when his small band of soldiers found themselves fighting for their lives, cut off from help, and desperately trying to rescue downed comrades during a routine mission. The Battle of Mogadishu, as it become known, left 18 American soldiers dead and 73 wounded. Howard Wasdin had both of his legs nearly blown off while engaging the enemy. His dramatic combat tales combined with inside details of becoming one of the world’s deadliest snipers make this one of the most explosive military memoirs in years.

Any other books you think I might like?

Friday, May 6, 2011


Nothing like being quarantined in an airplane seat for 6 hours to get some quality reading done! And that is exactly what I did on my last JetBlue flight from California to New York. I had just received the Harper Perenial ARC of
QUARANTINE, a new short story collection by Rahul Mehta, and was eager to read it. So, I fastened my seatbelt, turned off the TV monitor in front of me, and settled in to eat my Munchies and get to reading!

The flap copy states:

With buoyant humor and incisive, cunning prose, Rahul Mehta sets off into uncharted literary territory. The characters in Quarantine—openly gay Indian-American men—are Westernized in some ways, with cosmopolitan views on friendship and sex, while struggling to maintain relationships with their families and cultural traditions. Grappling with the issues that concern all gay men—social acceptance, the right to pursue happiness, and the heavy toll of listening to their hearts and bodies—they confront an elder generation's attachment to old-country ways. Estranged from their cultural in-group and still set apart from larger society, the young men in these lyrical, provocative, emotionally wrenching, yet frequently funny stories find themselves quarantined.

Already a runaway success in India, Quarantine marks the debut of a unique literary talent.

I find it off-putting when a book that deals with a particular population seems to be solely marketed to that singular population, when in fact this book, as most quality literature does, speaks to universal themes. Quarantine addresses topics that we all can relate to: love, lost love, longing, and feeling torn between one's true self and societal or familial expectations.

My favorite stories were "The Better Person," "What We Mean," and "A Better Life." I liked how they explored how we use, or don't use, language in our lives. My main takeaway was that if we don't tell the full truth of our hardships we are not protecting the next generation, but rather making it harder for those who come after us.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Please Don't Read This Book

Head on over to Please Don't Read This Book and check out my guest review of Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. And don't forget to leave a comment so you can win a copy of this gorgeous work of historical fiction.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thought of the day!

"All art is just
problem solving."