Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney

One of my all time favorites. Re-read, for a book club, snd all I can say is that I respect it more now than ever. Tour de force second person narration, fantastic voice- astonishing every time.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mrs. Tim Flies Home, by D.E. Stevenson

The last of the Mrs. Tim Christie series, and let me just say that I was weeping like a baby at the end, not because it was sad, but because I was that sorry to be done with them. These 4 books were all wonderful, in different ways, but the growth of the characters over the years was so beautifully done with such a light touch, and I only wish there were dozens more.

Mrs Tim Gets A Job, by D.E. Stevenson

The third in the Mrs. Tim series finds Mrs. Tim at loose ends. With Betsy and Bryan both at school, and Tim away in Egypt, she is talked into taking a position helping run a country-house hotel. Very funny, and hugely enjoyable, but after Mrs. Tim Carries On, it felt light. Still, so well done, and as the series goes on, I fall more in love with all the characters.

The Provincial Lady In America, by E.M. Delafield

As I've mentioned before, I love E.M Delafied's Provincial Lady series. The copy I have here, however, is attributed to E.M. De La Pasture, which Wikipedia explains away with "Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood, née de la Pasture (9 June 1890 – 2 December 1943), commonly known as E. M. Delafield"
This one, which I don't think I'd read before, has The Provincial Lady touring America, giving Talks to Groups of Cultivated People, and is as funny as I remember the other books to be. Great voice, but I've been so fixated on reading D.E. Stevenson that for some reason I felt slightly disappointed with my old friend The Provincial Lady for not being Hester Christie.

America's Report Card, by John McNally

Another seriously cynical and funny book by John McNally. Iowa City alternates as a kind of a black hole/paradise in his books, it seems. This one has recent college graduates and lovers Charlie and Petra take low-wage jobs ("just for the summer") scoring National Test Center essays, but when Charlie begins to feel that more is being tested than students' ability to write a coherent sentence, his life goes off the rails. Wild subplots and great characters, including Jainey, an 18 year old green-haired cartoonist who keeps her dead art teacher's Osama Bin Laden/George Bush statue in her room, kept me eating this up. Strange flavor, but powerful good.

Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town, by Elissa East

Interesting but uneven nonfiction about an area of Glocester, Mass. known as Dogtown. A mix of the story of a recent murder in the woods, the story of how the original colonial settlement came to be abandoned, and a lot about an artist called Marsden Hartley who was obsessed with the unusual rock formations in the area made for a bit of a messy, choppy book, but it was still enjoyable. I had never heard of the place before (or the artist) so I did like it for that.

Off Ramp - Adventures and Heartache in the American Elsewhere, by Hank Stuever

After reading and enjoying Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present, I wanted to read more of Stuever's writing. I liked this collection of short pieces very much, but without the greater theme to bind them together, it was easy to put down and so it took me ages to finish it. Still, I love his curious and unjaded eye, and thought all the pieces were interesting, but I'll still be looking forward to him writing a book all about one topic again. He reminds me of Jake Halpern, able to take a random topic and grow it, and I hope he does, soon.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Things That Keep Us Here, by Carla Buckley

The best and most disturbing yet of the recent wave of flu pandemic fiction I've read. Ann, a school art teacher, and Peter, an animal disease researcher, separated about a year before H5N1 begins mutating. Their daughters, Kate and Libby, and one of Peter's grad students, Egyptian Shazia, hole up in what had been the family home, before the separation. As the pandemic reaches level 4, and then 5, the gradual sense of claustrophobia and panic creeps up, and the moral choices that people in these situations are presented with are illustrated in their full horror, while still showing the hope that humans can, even under the worst conditions, act on the side of the angels, risking all to help.
This was fantastic, and absolutely haunting- has me checking the CDC all over again.
Wonderful- even better than Laura Kasiscke's In A Perfect World and much more solidly plotted and imagined than Michelle Wildgen's But Not For Long.

Fashionable Food, by Sylvia Lovegren

Absolutely fascinating look at American food trends from the 1920's to the 1990's. While there were many recipes, this was not a cookbook in any real sense, it was more a sociological study examining how the impacts or technology, politics, and the economy have changed and re-invented American eating habits. From the 1920's "icebox cooking" to the 1930's "Betty Coed Surprise Cake" (Sandwiches disguised as cakes), women's changing roles in American life are illustrated through the dishes that they traditionally made. During WWII, many spices couldn't be imported, and olive oil cost $11 a gallon, again changing American eating. Just fascinating.

The Daughters, by Joanna Philbin

The cover art hasn't been finalized yet, and I don't have the time to scan in the ARC, so no pic!
This breezy, quick YA book (the first in a series, of course- no one bothers to write a stand-alone title anymore, apparently) by Joanna Philbin (yes, Regis' daughter) is about 3 teen friends, all daughters of celebrities. As trite as that may sound, the book was actually fun. Philbin obviously knows the lay of the land in this scenario, and while the girls' situations (dealing with a supermodel mother, a pop star mother, and a tycoon dad) are extreme, the characters were well written and was a neat peek into that world. Blurbed by Jen Calonita, the author of the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series, I think this would appeal to teens who miss Gossip Girl.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


FANTASTIC disaster movie (if you like disaster movies). EVERYTHING blows up.

Secrets of My Hollywood Life: Paparazzi Princess, by Jen Calonita

Fun YA. In this 5th book in the series Secrets of My Hollywood Life, actress Kaitlin Burke's long running television series is going off the air, after 13 years. She's not ready to face the changes coming up, and turns to party girls Ava and Lauren to shop away the blues. These books are fun, if ludicrously clean and frothy, and I have to say, when the next one comes out, I'll probably read it too.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

House Rules, by Jodi Picoult

Well, I've been feeling guilty for ages for not having read any Jodi Picoult, so I snagged her newest off the Book Express wall and read it up.
I guess now I've read one, I don't need to do it again.
It was readable, but I feel VERY cheated by the plot, and found the ripped-from-the-headlines thing annoying and stale. The desperate (but gorgeous, natch) single mother, struggling to fight for the rights of her Asperger's Syndrome 18 year old son accused of murder- really? Are we honestly, as readers, expected to believe that with all of her activism, research, and awareness wouldn't have designated herself as a legal guardian of him at 18? Plot holes you could fly a 747 through.

The Writing Class, by Jincy Willet

Another clever, snarky novel by Jincy Willet. A blocked novelist coaching wanna-bes is horrified and fascinated when one of the class members becomes increasingly and anonymously sociopathic, eventually leading to a body count that would do a traditional thriller proud. Great writing, strong characters- this was no Winner of the National Book Award, but it was a great ride.

Up In The Air

Absolutely amazing, very adult movie. Set mostly in corporate hotels and airports, this was incredibly good. I feel very inarticulate. I loved this movie.

Where The Wild Things Are

Beautiful, wonderful, dreamy, and heartbreaking somehow. Wept all the way through it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Posh and Prejudice, by Grace Dent

Fun and breezy sequel to the hilarious Diary of a Chav. Shiraz Bailey Wood (named for the drinks her parents enjoyed the night she was conceived) astounds her parents, her school, her boyfriend, and herself by doing really well on her GSCEs, and is given the opportunity to study for her A-levels in the 6th form at what is derogatively known in the press as "SuperChav Academy."
This was still a funny witty set piece, but Shiraz's intellectual growth is taken seriously, and her gradual realization of opportunities beyond what she has thought of before reads as genuine, and her fears are understandable, as is her growing excitement and confidence. I love this series, and really hope to see Shazzer take on University.
Happily for me, the Posh and Prejudice in the title does not mean it's another Austen take-off- although Shiraz does have to read Pride and Prejudice, it really does refer to the prejudice some of the more posh students display to Shiraz and her language, clothes, and earrings. So that was refreshing! (Unlike, Scones and Sensibility, Prada and Prejudice, and so on.)

Animal Vegetable Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

I can't believe I almost forgot to add this to the list.
This is a tricky one for me. It was, I thought, beautifully written, but it reeked terribly of smug to me, which is my least favorite reek.
Books about radical lifestyle change for a reason (to build and live in a green home ( Almost Green: How I Saved 1/6th of a Billionth of the Planet, by Tim Glave), to not shop for a year (Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine), or even not to buy items made in China for a year (A Year Without Made In China by Sara Bongiorni), seem like they can be a tricky thing to pull off. Without a great sense of humor (which Glave and Bongiorni have and share), the final product can read very preachy and reek of smuggery, which, sad to say, this one did for me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Hole We're In, by Gabrielle Zevin

Impossible to put down. Fantastically well-done look at the varied holes we climb in, climb out of, dig for ourselves, and find ourselves in. This searing family-dysfunction/credit-based-society-critique/study of religious fundamentalism left the earth pretty scorched, but breathing, bleeding believable characters kept me turning pages as fast as I could read.
Roger, trying to finish his PhD, leaves his wife Georgia to take care of family finances while he focuses on his dissertation- which he hopes will become a book that will save their family. Georgia, however, is struggling with his drop in income since he returned to school, and with the pressure to stage an elaborate back-yard wedding for oldest daughter Helen, who unthinkingly keeps increasing her wish-list (repaint the house, add a pond? professionally printed invitations, at the very least). Son Vinnie has already left Texas for New York, where his film school ambitions prove more costly than he could have known, and youngest daughter Patsy is left, in the cruelest twist, to bear the brunt of Roger and Georgia's failings, and she is essentially cast out of the family to serve as a sacrificial lamb. Patsy, however, is a powerful and strong character, and one of the best characters I've read all year.
This was really seriously good fiction. So impressed.

I'll Mature When I'm Dead, by Dave Barry

Absurd and hilarious collection of pieces by Dave Barry, who I truly enjoy. Ranging from somewhat sincere meditations on growing older to a dead funny take off of the Vampire-Book-I-Couldn't-Make-Myself-Read, this was a fun and fast read that had me LOLing alone in the house, and did, unlike the wretched "funny" movie Dance Flick, make me forget my hideous toothache and impending dentist horror-show, which is a hell of a trick!

Mrs. Tim Carries On, by D.E. Stevenson

As wonderful and light in tone as Mrs. Tim Christie was, this book took the diary of Mrs. Tim to a much deeper level. This one is set during WWII, and while Hester is still very amusing, life is much more serious now. Tim himself is on the French front, and becomes involved in the retreat at Dunkirk, while other familiar characters are similarly serving in active duty. The courage to face each day with bombs raining down and even more, to be able to make light of the damn bombs fills me with awe.
As good as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was, what it's really left me with is a new and massive appreciation for the women who really did what the fictional Juliet in Guernsey did- write amusing columns to keep up spirits in wartime. D.E. Stevenson has my heart at her feet, as does Joyce Dennis. I've just ordered Joyce Dennis' Henrietta's War, and am waiting for a copy of Mrs. Tim Gets a Job. Can't say how much I enjoy these, and how I admire them for being able to write them.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Wow, still so, so good. Minimal use of sets and costumes, and amazing performances keep this feeling startlingly modern.

District 9

Amazing, powerful, and painful movie. This is, so far, the only one of this year's Oscar nominated movies I've seen, but I can't imagine any of the others being better than this, or more disturbing. Outside of Johannesburg, in District 9, aliens whose ship broke down have been kept, in scenes deliberately horribly reminiscent of Apartheid, in squalorous and heavily militarized slums. Through the eyes of one of the workers of the contracted "peace-keeping" companies who administrate the goings on and the planned forced relocation of the district, the story goes to the worst places and motivations of humans, and yet manages the almost impossible feat of leaving the viewer with a strand of hope for redemption. Absolutely searing, and very, very hard to watch. Reminded me of Children of Men, the last really good recent movie I've seen.

The Penny Pinchers Club, by Sarah Strohmeyer

This was surprisingly fun, despite the terrible cover! Total recessionista chick-lit, this book finds Jersey girl compulsive-shopper Kat suddenly realizing that her husband Griff has become distant and seems to be keeping a lot of secrets, that her daughter is almost ready for college and they've saved nothing for it, and that she spends $240 a month at Starbucks. By joining a radical group of freecyclers and coupon fanatics, she finds a new circle of friends and a new way of looking at life. Breezy, non-preachy fun.

The Crazy School, by Cornelia Read

Fantastic chiller/thriller featuring Read's intriguing heroine Madeline Dare. Accepting, out of desperate circumstances, a position as a teacher at a boarding school for troubled teens, Madeline finds herself accused of involvement in an incident that left two students dead. As she tries to find out what is really going on, the schools' authoritarian and cultlike feel become more and more disturbing, and it goes to a meserisingly dark place. Really excellent psychological horror stuff here.

Lucky Chica, by Berta Platas

Uneven but fun chick lit. Rosie wins the lotto, shares it with her family, and doesn't know where to start enjoying her luck. Having grown up in poverty, and having recently lost her parents (she still has her cousin Cheeto and her Abuela), Rosie feels adrift as her grandmother sets off boldly on a cruise and Cheeto buys a party house. She heads to New York, to see what life is like outside of Atlanta, and runs into movie star Brad Merrit at the hotel she stays at. This is, unfortunately, where the book ran into trouble, but Rosie's pluck and the strong secondary characters kept me to the (all too predictable) ending.

Kendra, by Booth Coe

Serious, gritty, and really good urban YA book. Very issue driven, and definitely for more mature readers, but this book had so much going for it. Kendra's decisions and motivations are well defined, and while she makes some tough choices, the voices were very real.

Violet in Private, by Melissa Walker

3rd book in the Violet series, it took me a long time to remember to look for it, but it was as fun and fast as the first two, and Violet remains one of the stronger series heroines around.

Girl of the Moment, by Lizbeth Zindel

Unsatisfactory YA. Not much else to say about this. Nepotism?

Project Sweet Life, by Brent Hartinger

Really fun young teen guy book, about 3 guys who, when told by their parents to get their first summer jobs, decide to somehow come up with a grand plan to make the equivalent cash, without the steady work. Through a series of increasingly improbably adventures (think Carl Hiassen or Dave Barry, with a bit of a surprisingly earnest Hardy Boys twist) they learn a lot about Tacoma local history, make some friends, and have the best summer of their lives. This was the last RITBA book I read for the season, and I'm so glad it was a fun one, after all the trauma-drama ones.

Scones and Sensibility, by Lindsay Eland

Well, as weary as I am of the Jane-Austen-tribute books, this was well done, and really cute for about a 5th grader. Some very funny bits- the main character,Polly Madassa, worships Anne of Green Gables, Elizabeth Bennet, the whole classic crew, and tries so hard to speak like them, but it makes her almost incomprehensible to everyone around her. I would definitely recommend this to kids at the library who are looking to read up but aren't looking for heavy issue books.

Dance Flick

Unbelievably awful movie I watched to forget about my toothache. It worked in that it hurt worse than the tooth. Yay.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Love You Beth Cooper

Terrible, terrible teen movie, featuring just about every single bad high-school graduation night cliche there is. This made American Pie look like high art.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dialogues of the Dead, by Reginald Hill

Well written and wildly intricate mystery- what at first seems like a standard (but very good) police procedural turns into an intense psychological switcheroo thriller. Excellent Yorkshire dialect, too.

Confessions of a Beauty Addict, by Nadine Haobsh

Terrible fluff. It wasn't bad because it was fluff, I have a great appreciation of well done fluff, but this was too awful to even be a guilty pleasure. I did finish it though, which says something (I'm not sure what.)