Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Lonely Polygamist, by Brady Udall

Phenomenally told story of a polygamist family in the late 1970's. Golden Richards and his 4 wives and 28 children have the most awkward social dynamics EVER in this book, which walks a fine line between humor and tragedy, and lands safely at a kind of grace. Golden is a character I haven't seen before- he is not the oppressed wife, the forced-into-marriage teen, the outcast son- he is, in theory, the lion of the pride, but he is beset on all sides by familial obligations and financial responsibilities that take him further and further, physically and psychically, from home. He, improbably, even falls in love with yet another woman, causing further complications that leave the entire family wounded. This was so incredibly well done.

61 Hours, by Lee Child,

Electrifying Jack Reacher thriller, with a tight, chilly North Dakota setting, and a heart-in-the-mouth ending that leaves some worrisome questions for fans of the series! I was so excited to read this, and read it in one great gulp.

American Taliban, by Pearl Abraham

This was interesting, but hard for me. I think after the astonishingly good American Subversive, by David Goodwillie, it was maybe too soon to read a book that even came close to a similar topic. This book, as different in premise as it was, failed to convince me, like American Subversive did. I did actually cry at one point reading it, but it just wasn't that strong.
John Jude Parish, 19 year old surfer, breaks his leg skateboarding, and becomes involved in Sufi studies, and his indulgent parents agree to let him defer admission to Brown for a year while he studies Islam and Classical Arabic in Brooklyn. For reasons that are never really clear or believable of a character who initially comes across as as deep as a saucer, he falls deeper and deeper into his studies, eventually going to a language immersion school in Pakistan. There, he teaches local kids to skateboard (and annoyingly calls them groms- lots of bad stereotypical surfer/skater talk in this one, and while I might only know East Coast surfers or skaters, if anyone talked like as much of an ass as this guy, he'd probably get kicked for his efforts), has random and surprising sexual encounters with his fellow students, who assure him that Allah has no problem with homosexuality, and naturally joins the Taliban ahead of 9/11.
It was kind of a hot mess of a book actually.

Oscar Season, by Mary McNamara

Fantastic mystery with a great setting- elegant Hollywood hotel leading up to Oscar night. Lots of funny little celebrity cameos and some really great character development in this, I'm really looking forward to the next Juliette Greyson mystery, coming out in July, called The Starlet.

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, by A.J. Jacobs

Again, a very funny book by A.J. Jacobs, this time tracking his quest to read the Encyclopaedia Brittanica over the course of a year. Filled with trivia.

The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang, by Amy Ignatow

Very funny and well drawn young YA/older elementary level book. Lydia and Julie decide to observe what the popular girls at school do, to try to draw a blue print for social success. Field hockey, drama club, and secret keeping feature largely. This was really kind of charming, a girlie version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Small Change, by Sheila Roberts

Ah, more recession chick-lit. There is something amazing, epic, haunting, and large-scale going on in following fiction trends, it's like seeing the delayed ghost of our national psyche dancing around in dreams or something. You have to take the time it took to write it, get it sold, get it published, cover art, reviews, then you have it in your hand, and it's what was in someone's head (probably many people's heads) 2 years ago or so. I can only imagine there's a lot more where this came from.
Much like The Penny Pinchers' Club, this novel follows a group of suburban housewife friends trying to wean themselves off retail therapy. Much like The Penny Pinchers' Club, there is a lot of rue over waste and excess. Unlike Penny Pinchers', this one had more than a sprinkle of God, etc, like so much nutra-sweet, but for the sociological impact of its very existance, this kind of mid-list, Christian-lite, "recessionista", finding-the-good-in-the-free-things book is worth its weight in gold.
Forswear Starbucks, and you too will find harmony! Avoid the Pottery Barn to find true freedom! Grow rhubarb and know thyself!
And so on.
Man, we are DOOMED.

Ghosts from the Past, by Glen Ebisch

Very solvable murder mystery. While that may sound like damning with faint praise, it was an enjoyable and fast read, but I know when I guess the killer upon first meeting, it's a bad sign for the mystery aspect of a book, given that I get surprised upon re-reads of many mysteries. (For mysteries, at least, I am a goldfish- every time I turn around, I'm astounded- oh, look, a castle! oh, look, a castle!)

Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding

Again! For a book group, this time, to be fair! In fact, this was a blast, we had it for the Jane Austen Book Club (with only 6 novels and some unfinished works and juvenalia, there's a very finite amount of genuine Austen!) so I've been trying to branch out (see Bride and Prejudice, etc). We had fun with this one, but the general concensus was that
1. Elizabeth Bennet would never make blue soup.
2. The best thing about any Mr. Darcy is his real-estate.

Easy to Kill and Sleeping Murder, by Agatha Christie

Another two fantastic Agatha Christies that I haven't read in ages, so don't judge me! I love Agatha Christie, and, most importantly, I own these paperbacks, and read them in the bath, and find them incredibly soothing.
Sleeping Murder, an odd rather real-estate-porn-y one for her, turned out to be the last Miss Marple book Christie wrote, and Easy to Kill is an especially fun one, as it has neither Miss Marple or Poirot, so it's up to the hero and heroine (both very attractive and unfortunately dim) to save themselves.

Home Land, by Sam Lipsyte

Well, kitties, this was a strange one. Written in the form of letters to update the high school alumni newsletter, this was another ragingly angry, masterfully written rant about American Life Now. It was fantastic, in its own way, but it was no The Ask, Lipsyte's latest (and highly praised) novel. You can see the writer sharpening his claws here, but in The Ask, he doesn't need the kind of Oliver Stone-y (Oliver Stone-r?) machinations he uses in this book, he just feeds on the raw meat of today. In this one you see a little too much of the excercise that made the giant.

Eaarth, by Bill McKibben

Wildly depressing, horribly insightful and hideously timely book about how humans have so altered the planet that it is really no longer the planet we have called Earth.
From water wars to resource wars, to mass migrations, diasporas, and forced resettlements, from agribusiness' reliance on genetic modification to sustanance farmers with dead topsoil and disappearing rainfall, McKibben relentlessly and clearly points to DOOM. What with all the current epic DOOM, I should have been more into this, but I've been on a fiction kick. It was a really well written and accessable look at our upcoming DOOM, though.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

American Subversive, by David Goodwillie

Best book I've read this year.
After a terrorist bombing at Barneys, Aidan Cole, a NYC based blogger, who works for a thinly-veiled Nick Denton of Gawker media fame, receives an anonymous email with a photo of a beatiful girl, claiming that the girl, Paige Roderick, is responsible for the attack.
A page-turning, thoughtful, careful study on what patriotism means in post-9/11 America, this is the book I've been waiting for for a long time.

Second Time Around, by Beth Kendrick

Fast, formulaic, but sweet chick lit. 5 friends, all English majors, meet up every summer, until one of them dies. She leaves them a million dollars, with the stipulation that they go forth and chase their dreams, which, strangely, involve all living together and making a B+B out of their old off-campus house, and meeting 4 wonderful men. Happy endings all around, except for the dead one.

Seeing Stars, by Diane Hammond

Fast and interesting read. Ruth is convinced that her daughter, Bethany, has what it takes to become a star, so Ruth and Bethany move to LA to join the crowds of child actors at auditions and go-sees, all hoping for a lucky break. Circling a small but well-drawn group of adolescents and their parents/managers, the book takes a good look at what these dreams mean and why some of these kids make it and why some return home.

The Man from Beijing, by Henning Mankel

Bleak, dark, depressing, and violent Scandanavian noir with very little to redeem it. I am really surprised that this got such rave reviews, but there it is. Implausibly tying together Swedish immigrants and Chinese railroad workers in 1800s America, horrible people doing horrible things to each other lead to a slaughter in a tiny Swedish village in the present day. Judge Birgitta Roslin, who is related by adoption to one of the victims, improbably pieces together the mystery of who was behind all the killing, and odd set pieces in Copenhagen, Zimbabwe, and Beijing suggest that Mankell believes that China is about to set to exporting people to Zimbabwe (?) which, for all I know, they might be. This book didn't make me care.

The Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs

A. J. Jacobs spent a year trying to live obeying the 720 rules he found when reading about 10 different versions of the bible. From the 10 commandments to the wildly obscure, his quest to find out how relevant ancient moral and ritual law is in the 21st century is definitely entertaining, and surprisingly thought provoking. He is, of course, a trivia fountain, but about halfway through the book, he seems to take what started as a jokey experiment much more seriously, and really tries to find out what his own faith means. Good, fun read.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie

Fantastic Agatha Christie, with Miss Marple.

Poirot Investigates, by Agatha Christie

Collection of 11 short Poirot mysteries, which I hadn't read before, and thoroughly enjoyed.

Five Little Pigs, by Agatha Christie

Classic Agatha Christie. Poirot is consulted by Carla Lemarchant, who is worried about the story that her mother killed her father, the artist Amyas Crale. Poirot investigates, twirls his moustaches, etc, and it is lovely. I adore Agatha Christie.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Code of The Woosters, by P.G. Wodehouse

Re-read, bath book, and all the comfort and charm that suggests. I love Wodehouse's ridiculous pre-war country house world, with all the houseguests creeping around in the night trying to pinch sterling cow-creamers and fiesty fiances and Aunt Dahlias.
On a related note, when I have a tremendous, ludicrous fortune, I fully intend to collect cow-creamers. LOVELY!!! Should anyone fancy one, here's a nice one:

N3711 English Sterling Cow Creamer Circa 1900

An English sterling silver cow creamer dated 1900, London by Maurice Freeman. Good weight and nice detail.

Weight: 7.1 troy ounces. Length: 6 5/8"

Price: $2,900.00

The Clue of the Velvet Mask, by Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew, you are such a bossy girl! I love the way she gets everyone in town to do her bidding. And always ready for a costume ball. I want to be Nancy Drew.

The Moving Target, by Ross MacDonald

Classic LA tough-guy noir crime fiction, very much in the Dashiel Hammett/Chinatown flavor.

The Guinea Pig Diaries, by A.J. Jacobs

Very funny book by A.J. Jacobs, his out-sourced assistants, and his long-suffering wife Julie, who has put up with the year he read the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, and, more stressful, the year he attempted to obey every single rule in the bible.
In this one, he tries a smorgasbord of things- he tries to live as George Washington would have, he tries to outsourse his life, he tries to focus on one task at a time, radical honesty, and more with funny and profound insights. Good read.