Monday, December 28, 2009

Nanny Returns, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Well done sequel to The Nanny Diaries- Nan returns to New York, and troubled Greyer X, who she nannied immediately after college is 16 now, reaches out to her when his family faces a crisis. Good but surprisingly depressing book!

The Big Steal, by Emyl Jenkins

Highly bleh antiques based cosy mystery.

English as She is Spoke, by José da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino

Amazing! This has to be the one of the strangest things I've read this year. It was written in 1853, and was intended to be an English to Portugese dictionary, with useful phrases, but the tragic thing is that the authors did not speak English, and used a Portuguese to French dictionary, and then a French to English dictionary to create this astonishing little book.
I wish people would say these things to me:

That pond it seems me many multiplied of fishes. Let us amuse rather to the fishing.

Take that boy and whip him to much.

He do the devil at four.

I have trinked too much.

The rose-trees begin to button.

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President, by Josh Lieb

Ridiculously funny YA book.

Desert Wives, by Betty Webb

Another really good and disturbing mystery set amidst polygamist compounds in Utah and on the Arizona border.

Prada and Prejudice, by Mandy Hubbard

Exceptionally senseless Jane Austen-themed YA fluff, but it was fun and fast. Callie trips in her new high heels while on a trip to London, and wakes in 1815, and well, I think that's all I need to say. It was kind of charming though, and, as I said, very fast.

Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris

Well, I never really get why people think he's so funny, he always vaguely depresses me, and this book was no exception. Short little bittersweet or just bitter stories about the holidays.

John Currin

Excellent art book with the paintings of John Currin, my favorite contemporary artist.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Monster in the Box, by Ruth Rendell

Another great Inspector Wexford novel by Ruth Rendell, le grande dame of UK psychological suspense. So good. I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I actually cried in parts of this. I think a great deal of the strength of some of the series fiction, as opposed to stand alone titles, is that growing with a character over years and years makes them so familiar, and you have an existing emotional relationship with them. As with Martha Grimes' Richard Jury, I feel that Wexford is (ok, an imaginary) friend, and to see him so vulnerable and looking back through the years made me kind of achy. The Wexford series has been going since 1964, I think I found them in about 1997 or so, and I've read all 22, so I feel like I've seen Wexford grow up faster than I did. It's a funny feeling. Anyone who cried reading Curtain by Agatha Christie will know what I mean. (no, not that!!! Just, you know, hard to read.)

The Actor and The Housewife, by Shannon Hale

Stupid, stupid book. Mormon Utah housewife Becky (gag) sells a screenplay (without an agent, no less), goes to Hollywood, and hits it off (in a friendly way only, because, see above, Mormon, housewife, Utah) with a handsome movie star. They become best friends. It only gets more improbable and pathetic from there. This was the worst kind of schlock.

The Broken Teaglass, by Emily Arsenault

Wonderful, literate and intricate mystery. Lexicographers Mona and Billy discover a long ago murder mystery buried in the citation files where they work for America's oldest dictionary company. Aside from the unique nature of their jobs, the way the story came together in so many little pieces was great- this was very different, and very good. There was a kind of bildungsroman feel to it as well, which is so rare in a mystery.

Up the Amazon Without A Paddle, by Doug Lansky

Very funny collection of travel essays. My favorite was definitely the Jordanian Border Control story, but all were interesting and thought provoking, especially the Disney one. I'd like to read more of him. Reminded me (vaguely) of Bill Bryson and J. Maartin van Troost.

Desert Lost, by Betty Webb

Fascinating mystery. The story takes place in Scottsdale, Arizona, all too close to some of the notorious Utah polygamist compounds. Private Investigator Lena gets a little too involved in helping some sister-wives escape, and boom. The book was remarkably well written, and gave a horrifying look at what lives are like in, as the author states, America's own Taliban.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ivy and Bean Doomed to Dance, by Annie Barrows

Children's book that reminded me why I don't read more of them- or at least more recent ones. Ivy and Bean were wily, sly, manipulative, sarcastic, clever, and unpleasant. I appreciate that ballet is not for everyone (it wasn't for me) but overly demanding brats is not what I want to read about, and I can't help but think that children's books like this only add to The Problem.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest, by Stieg Larsson

Absolutely fantastic book, the last of the Millenium Trilogy, which breaks my heart. Lisbeth Salander, one of the most original characters I've encountered, and Mikael Blomqvist feel so real, I'd know them if I saw them walking down the street. This book had so much going on in it that it's swirling around in my head like confetti, amazing dialogue, incredible tight plot, great fight scenes, less sex than the other two books, but given the plot, which I don't want to give away a drop of, it had to be that way. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Thank you so much mom!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

We'll Always Have Parrots, by Donna Andrews

Very funny Meg Lanslow mystery, this one set at a convention for fans of a fantasy show that her boyfriend, actor and drama professor Michael is on.

Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938, by R.A. Scotti

Re-read for book group, still fantastic non-fiction that reads like a thriller, still made me cry in parts. Hard to believe the devastation that happened right here in Rhode Island.

The Unseen, by Alexandra Sokoloff

Pretty damn good horror/ghost story/paranormal thriller. Psych professor Laurel moves to North Carolina to take a position at Duke, where sealed files from the Rhine paranormal study labs have just been unsealed. She gets caught up in a spiral of HORROR, etc, it was impossible to put down!

The Atlantis Code, by Charles Brokaw

Fast paced international conspiracy thriller. Well done, much snappier than The Lost Symbol.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How to Sell, by Clancy Martin

Amazing first novel. Bobby Clark leaves Canada at 16 to go work with his brother at a jewelry store in Dallas, and the process by which he learns to sell (watches, jewelry, his integrity) was painful and fascinating to read. Precise details about the shadier sides of the jewelry industry read so right, it's left me feeling wary of the entire sector.

Monday, November 30, 2009

American Teen

Interesting 2008 documentary about the senior year of high school for 5 students in Warsaw, Indiana. High school looks so much worse now than even I remember it- the texts, the online humiliation seem to add a new level to the lord of the flies nature of high school.

How It Ended: New and Collected Stories, by Jay McInerney

Superb collection of short stories from one of my favorite writers. Revisiting much of the same ground (NYC, Tennessee) as his novels, and in some cases revisiting familiar characters like Russell and Corrinne from Brightness Falls, and of course, inevitably, Alison Poole from Story of My Life (who was also used as a character in Ellis's American Psycho), McInerney brings his stories and characters to life, thwarted as some of them may be. Some find some wisdom, 9/11 has happened, there are wars and protests and middle age and past middle age- new territory for a writer who wrote so incandescently about being young in New York, before some buildings blew up and everything got different. Favorite stories: My Public Service, How It Ended, Getting In Touch With Lonnie, I Love You, Honey, Penelope on the Pond (the Allison Poole/Rielle Hunter/John Edward's mistress character), and The Last Bachelor.

American Salvage, by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Phenomenal collection of short stories. Nominated for the National Book Award, each story in this collection was set in rural Michigan, which, to be honest, sounds a bit of a depressing place, but the stories themselves were incredibly powerful. My "favorite", if you could call it that, was The Solutions to Brian's Problem- the title alone hints that Brian has a hell of a problem.
Rough and inspiring.

Family Album, by Penelope Lively

Interesting and well written, if slow paced novel about a family of 6 children and their parents, and their relationships with each other, with Ingrid the au pair who never quite moves on, and with the family home, Allersmead, which was more of a character than some of the children. Feminism and femininity, memory and myth, and whether truth is in the head of the thinker are all kind of addressed in a dreamy, very polite style.

The Sunday Philosophy Club, by Alexander McCall Smith

Well, I've finally read one of this absurdly prolific writer's books, and can't say I loved it. Can't say I hated it either, it was well written, made Edinburgh seem very civilized and appealing, but it was also 1. incredibly slowly paced 2. frustratingly and unnecessarily high-falutin', and 3, I COULD NOT STAND the 'heroine' of the book, which makes me suspect I would not like the rest of the books in the series. Isabel Dalhousie, I want to smack you for your unforgivable nosiness, judgemental ways, condescension, laziness, pride, snobbery, and probably for the way you dress. Also, you are no Nancy Drew - the lack of a satisfying conclusion made me long for a good fast thriller where everyone swears and everything blows up.

Blackwork, by Monica Ferris

Needlework-themed cozy mystery, with a solid plot and interesting characters.

Viola in Reel Life, by Adriana Trigiani

Ok enough YA. Brooklyn native Viola is a fish out of water when her documentary-maker parents send her to a midwestern boarding school for a year while they cover the war in Afghanistan, but (surprise) she finds that making new friends and becoming more accepting is A Good Thing.

Alphas, by Lisi Harrison

This may have been the worst book ever. Lisi Harrison's manipulative and misogynistic tween writing has hit a new and exceptionally low low. I felt brain cells leaping off cliffs to get away from this drivel as I read it. Wildly depressing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

In A Perfect World, by Laura Kasischke

Phenomenal book. This was so good.
Flight attendant Jiselle marries Captain Dorn, and settles down to take care of his 3 children. A strain of flu, known as the Phoenix Flu, with a kill rate of about 1 in 3 spreads over America, and the world, and Jiselle and the children inhabit a world in which electricity becomes unreliable, cars useless without gas, the whole unsustainable life thing, coupled with rage from the rest of the world...
Haunting, and I've read a LOT of near-future disaster scenarios. So quietly done, this had all the impact of the noisiest.

But Not For Long, by Michelle Wildgen

Well, this was very good, and interesting, but as I read it immediately after the absolutely fantastic In A Perfect World, which dealt with much of the same ideas and issues, it paled in comparison.
Hal, Karin, and Greta live in a co-op kind of living situation, in which they agree to eat locally, cook for each other, etc, and this enables Hal and Karin to work at non-profits and feel good about themselves, while Greta has left her alcoholic husband and is kind of drifting. The power goes out- and stays out. There's an air of confusion throughout the book, which makes sense in that the characters themselves are isolated from news, but it was frustrating as a reader to have no explanation for what finally crashed the grid.
Good read, but for a near-near-future take on crashed grids and unsustainable lifestyles, read In A Perfect World by Laura Kasischke.

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton

Perfection. What else is there to say.

Big Easy To Big Empty

Short but powerful documentary about government failures (and worse) leading up to and after Hurricane Katrina.

Pebble Mosaics, by Deborah Schneebeli-Morel

No idea why I took this out, and i certainly have no urge to make pebble mosaics, but if I did have such an urge, this was definitely a well done craft book.

Bad Apple, by Laura Ruby

Interesting, well written YA. Tola is the focus of a rumor storm after her art teacher is dismissed after accusations of an inappropriate relationship, so it's a little suburban trauma-porn, but her character was unique enough to make the book stand out.

Bought, by Anna David

Although it looks like straight up chick-lit, this was actually pretty serious, and it was a good book. Emma wants to be a serious journalist, but her job just has her covering press lines at Hollywood events. She ends up looking into the world of modern day courtesans in L.A., and realizes how easily lines can blur. Good read.

Dream House, by Valerie Laken

Re-read, and even better on the second reading. Really, one hell of a good book.

Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?, by Louise Rennison

The latest (and last?) in the Georgia Nicholson series. I loved the first ones so much, the middle was a bit iffy, and while I enjoyed this, I'm kind of glad it's over. Still love Angus the cat though.

I Love You Miss Huddleston, by Philip Gulley

Sweet and funny memoir of growing up in Indiana- much of a Bill Bryson's Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid flavor. Very nice.

Monday, November 2, 2009

False Impression, by Jeffrey Archer

Clever art theft/fraud thriller set during and immediately after 9/11, which might be a bit of a crass plot device, but it was pretty well done.

Murder at Longbourn, by Tracy Kiely

Absolutely fantastic locked door mystery/Jane Austen tribute thing. I usually get very annoyed with the Jane Austen take-offs, but this was so well done, and the mystery itself was fair play, I can't wait for her next book.

Scary Stuff, by Sharon Fiffer

A Jane Wheel cozy mystery, antiques and family secrets and Halloween- ok.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter, by Lisa Patton

Fun book! Leelee's husband suddenly gets the urge to move from Memphis to Vermont to run a bed and breakfast, but when Leelee is left to face Vermont winters and to run an inn on her own, she finds she's much more competent and capable than she had ever thought. I usually don't enjoy books that twang on about Southern-ness, but this was an enjoyable light read.

Much Ado About Anne, by Heather Vogel Frederick

Very sweet YA/Children's book. A sequel to The Mother Daughter Book Club, this time the girls read Anne of Green Gables, and the plot of the book vaguely mirrors the plot of Anne. Lovely.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Box 21, by Roslund-Hellstrom

Disturbing but well done Swedish noir. Corrupt police? check. Illegal immigrants and human trafficking? check. A dark and awful twist at the end? check. Fantastic, I'm sold.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, by Jeff Kinney

More of the same, but Greg is definitely growing up. Very funny.

And Another Thing, by Eoin Colfer

This was lovely, funny, and fit right into the series. I'm never sure about a new writer finishing a dead writer's work, but supposedly Douglas Adams was sad about where he'd left Arthur, Trillian, Ford, Random, etc, and Colfer definitely tried to follow the magic formula.

I Never Fancied Him Anyway, by Claudia Carrol

Standard psychic Irish chick lit. fun.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


A really lovely movie version of Emma (Jane Austen). This was lovely, I liked it a lot more than the Gwyneth Paltrow version.

George Bush Dark Prince of Love, by Lydia Millet

One of the strangest books I have ever read. Ex-con Rosemary fallis in love with George Bush during his inaugural speech, worships him from afar, builds altars and effigies, writes to him and gets secret service visits, and in the end, transfers her insane affections to Bill Clinton. Kind of fabulous, very depressing, wonderful writing.

If I Stay, by Gail Forman

Trauma-porny YA. After a horrific car crash that kills her parents and her little brother, Mia floats around the hospital in some kind of out-of-body coma and decides whether to 'stay' or go.