Thursday, October 21, 2010

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson

At Home: A Short History of Private Life
Fantastic Bill Bryson book about home, the rooms in a home, somehow including hundreds of years of domestic history and an insane amount of trivia about architecture, design, human lives, victorian sexual mores, and more. He is such a wonderful writer- every time I wish he'd write faster, I realize how much might be lost if he did.

Knack Fish & Seafood Cookbook: Delicious Recipes for All Seasons, by Doug DuCap

Knack Fish & Seafood Cookbook: Delicious Recipes for All Seasons (Knack: Make It easy)
Pretty dreadful cookbook. When you make a cookbook of fish and seafood, which are my favorite things to eat, and there isn't a single recipe that I think sounds worth a go, that's pretty sad.

A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly

A Northern Light This was a wonderful re-telling of the Chester Gillette murder that was also the basis for Dreiser's An American Tragedy. Told form the point of view of Mattie, a teenager working at a summer resort hoping to save enough for either college or marriage, depending on how the summer goes, the essential story of Grace Brown's murder by her lover is at the heart of the novel, but Mattie is also a fully developed character and her ambitions are notable. This was just so good.

Last Night at Chateau Marmont, by Lauren Weisberger

Last Night at Chateau Marmont: A Novel Exceptionally stupid chick lit.  Girl marries guy, supports him through years of him trying to make it as a musician, and then bitches endlessly once he does.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Retail Hell, by Freeman Hall

Retail Hell: How I Sold My Soul to the Store Confessions of a Tortured Sales Associate Annoying book about Freeman Hall's years working as a handbag salesperson at a shop in LA he calls the Big Fancy, but is obviously Nordstrom's.
Dude needs a kick, as does everyone else who appeared in the book, customers and salespeople alike.

Hex Hall, by Rachel Hawkins

Hex Hall (Book 1)YA- Sophie Mercer, 16, has used her witchcraft powers once too often in the outside world, and is sent to Hecate Hall, a reform school for Prodigium- children with supernatural powers. Shenanigans ensue.
 have to say, I really don't get the paranormal *thing*- and also, I am not 14, so I am *not* the target audience for this, but for all that, it was a fun and quick read.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Whicharts, by Noel Streatfeild

My world has been shaken to its foundatons by this. Published in 1930, it is an earlier, but incredibly similar, precursor to Ballet Shoes (1936)- but with a difference. It is an adult book, intended for an adult, understanding, audience. If I had read this first, would Ballet Shoes be my favorite book? Maybe.
This has left me a mess, spiritually (and that's not a word I ever use), emotionally, physically- I want to "take to my bed" after reading this. I fought with friends, for no reason, after reading this book, I am devastated.
Pauline-Maimie- oh sweetie!
Oh, god. I think I have maybe always loved these characters too much- to see them through Streatfeild's 'adult' eyes- reality is too much to bear.

Housewife, 49

This was a wonderfully done movie. Based on Great Britains' Mass Observation Project, wherein which Britons were asked to keep diaries of their experiences from 1939 onwards, this was a look at Nella Last- a brave, loyal, fantastically good woman who found strength during the war through her war work through the WVS, and whose experience in some ways informed the London staff of the project of what life was like during the war in quasi-rural, ship-building areas like Barrow-in-Furness, where Nella lived.
This was so good, it can't be explained why it isn't better known- apparently, it did win things:
"It won two British Academy Television Awards in 2007: "Best Single Drama", and Victoria Wood won "Best Actress" for her portrayal of Nella Last."
Beautifully done, and heartbreaking.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Saplings, by Noel Streatfeild

It has been said that Noel Streatfeild's genius is in understanding a child's perspective on the world, and this seriously adult novel exhibits that exact magic. Unlike her books for children, however, Saplings (1945)  paints a much darker view of the world than in the strive-and-you-shall-succeed Shoes books- this book could, in fact, be (vulgarly) summarized by Philip Larkin's 1971 poem "This Be The Verse":

This be the verse

They fuck you up, your mom and dad

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-stylen hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can

And don't have any kids yourself.

A look at the disintegration of a middle-class family through WWII, the book contains references to sex, drinking, drug use, infidelity, sex out of marriage- a blistering variety of topics that come as startling to a reader used to the camping-holidays everying-is-jolly tone of her childrens' books, but her voice is in no way diminished, and in fact, the domestic horrors are all the more shocking for the simple, affectless narraration. The 4 children at the heart of the book, the saplings of the title, grow into a world that stunts them, and the ending pages have an almost clumsy ironic weight- maybe a tiny bit heavy handed, but for a writer who had intended to write for adults, and then found herself a star of childrens' literature, maybe the chance to make a point was irrisistable.

Circus Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild

One of Streatfeild's weaker books. Peter and Santa have to go live with their Uncle Gus after their aunt dies, and learn the ins and outs of circus life while travelling with him.

The Rapture, by Liz Jensen

The Rapture Re-read for book group, vivid and dizzying near-future ecological nightmare, with timely references to evangelical Christianity, deep sea drilling gone wrong, and broken weather.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Still one of the best titles ever, and the stories are just harrowing. "Why don't you dance?" is, I think, my favorite from the collection, or maybe "So much water so close to home", but they are all shattering little things. Reading them, I was very much aware that Bonnie Jo Campbell's 2009 National Book Award finalist collection , American Salvage, seems to inhabit the same the raggedy vinyl-sided America as Carver's characters.

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean, by Susan Casey

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean

Really excellent non-fiction- Casey mixes shipping reports, extreme surfers, physicists, and what must have been a ton of research into an un-put-down-able book. I can't believe the access she got to so many of who must be very busy people- Lloyd's of London meteorologists, surfer Laird Hamilton, ship captains, and more. The 100 foot waves are out there, and she made the chase of them seem like the most exciting thing in the world. One funny thing, too- in a surprising find, the book release party for this made the back page of W magazine- and while Hamilton is front and center in the photos, along with Ralph Lauren (why?) and a smattering of socialites, neither the author or the physicists are photographed, or even mentioned. :(

Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes, by Daniel Kehlmann

Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes
Strange and wonderful interlinked stories, examining identity, and a cross between fantastically funny, in a very kind of German way, and incredibly sad. This is a hard book to summarize, but it all starts when a movie star's cell phone number is accidentally assigned to an IT guy. The movie star doesn't know why suddenly, no one is calling- the IT guy, quickly tiring of trying to tell people they've reached the 'wrong' number, begins to interact with the voices on the phone, planning trysts that are never kept, cancelling meetings, and so on. As the stories switch perspectives, they verge into darker territory, and then into madness. Lots of funky little tricks, breaking the 4th wall and directly addressing the reader, breaking a wall I don't know the name of, by directly addressing the characters, oh, it was powerful strange and very, very good.

The I Hate To Cook Book, by Peg Bracken

The I Hate to Cook Book: 50th Anniversary Edition
Ok, I do get that this is kind of a joke, right, but still- I would hate to eat anything from this. This was a compilation of all the worst things Americans have done to food. This was a cookbook that suggested it was ok to use Montery Jack in lasagne. This might, actually, be fantastic if you were trying to diet- a quick flip through this book would kill anyone's appetite for at least hours, if not days.

The Fall, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuch Hogan

The Fall: Book Two of the Strain Trilogy
Book 2 of the epic vampire The Strain series, and so vivid and gory that I actually had book-related nightmares the night I finished it for the first time in my life (that I know of, at least!) So, not for the faint of heart, but I can't wait for book 3, just the same. Graphic, interestingly plotted horror.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

When The Sirens Wailed, by Noel Streatfeild

Another wonderful Noel Streatfeild, this one about a family separated when the children are evacuated from London during bombings. Beautifully written, tragic losses but with such a sense of love and humanity and a glimpse into something that was such a common experience but is hard to find books about.

Portobello, by Ruth Rendell

Portobello: A Novel
Always reliably creepy Ruth Rendell delivers another look at different London lives intersecting in ways that will make them all sorry to have met, along with a very, very, very strange character addicted to sugar-free candies. That part was a little odd. Solid, though.

Russian Winter, by Daphne Kalotay

Russian Winter: A Novel Interesting and well written historical fiction about a  Bolshoi ballerina who defected to the West in the early '60s. When Nina Revskaya, known in ballet circles as "The Butterfly" decides to auction off her famous jewelry collection, the researcher assigned to get background on each piece uncovers hidden histories thought left behind the Berlin Wall. Made me very much want to go look at amber with inclusions.

Mini Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella

Mini Shopaholic: A Novel Oh so sad! Shopaholic does *not* move smoothly inot a recession economy, and this was pretty terrible. Becky hasn't changed, Luke hasn't changed, Suze and Tarquin are untouched by the recession, and Becky's daughter Minnie is an unholy nightmare of a child. Standard shenanigans ensue.

The Last Child, by John Hart

The Last Child
Very good mystery/thriller. After his twin sister goes missing from their small southern town, 13 year old Johnny's mother falls apart, his father leaves, and he goes searching for who took Alyssa. In a tightly written creeping horror, suspicion and small town claustrophobia create a very nasty and oppressive vibe, and the impressively twisty plot was solid.

Ballet Fever, by Betty Cavanna

Really random YA book for 1978, but it read more like 1968, or possible even 1958. Nice though, that Teddi followed her ballet dreams rather than giving in to pressure to date and play field hockey? Really odd book.