Saturday, June 30, 2007

Not even a sparrow...

It has been difficult to figure out what to say about The Sparrow because it made me question so many things. The story of Mary Doria Russell's novel is not so complicated: Life is detected on a relatively nearby planet, and a group is sent to investigate. The book intertwines the story of the mission with the story of the inquiry into how and why there was only one survivor. I don't usually choose science fiction, but the writing and the plot sucked me in very quickly.

The book is really about faith, and that's where the questioning comes in. Are our lives guided by God, good and bad? Is there a reason for the horrible things that happen, or is God simply not part of the world and its workings? Does God even exist? The book doesn't have answers, which is both appropriate and unsatisfying.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fantasy, royalty, hilarity

Freddy and Fredericka drew me in from page one because it's just plain hilarious, but with fathoms of depth beneath all the quirks. Mark Helprin's wordplay made me laugh out loud enough times to make the husband think I was crazy. It's one of the few books that leads me to want to read everything else this author has ever written, immediately and feverishly. More than being about a prince and princess, Freddy and Fredericka is about love and dignity, truth and beauty, and all that is right with the world amidst everything that is wrong.

Helprin's website, by the way, is also quite endearing. If you've read F and F, don't miss his correspondence with a California dental hygienist regarding the moments of dentistry in the book.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Mmm, food.

I want to hang out with Julie Powell. I'd enjoy sitting and watching Buffy with her sure-to-be witty commentary, while waiting for some luscious dessert to bake. I could pass on the entrees, though. French main dishes apparently aren't my thing.

Julie and Julia is Powell's chronicle of cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It's very funny, very light-hearted, and very likable. Some of the oh-no-I'm-30 moments resonated a little too much with me, but Powell never sits and feels sorry for herself (she cooks, of course). Really, even her self-deprecating humor isn't wallowing; Powell has too firm a grasp on reality for that.

It's rare for me to have a Holden moment and want to call and author up and talk, but Julie and Julia makes me want to do just that. Powell comes across as a regular human who happened to have an idea and happened to have the skill and humor to write about it. Is it stalkerish to say I wish her all the best?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I'm not so clever with post titles, but this one fits both the book and the fact that I forgot to write about it (I read this before The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop). But indeed, Once in a Promised Land has characters feeling misplaced, though not so much forgotten. The book tells the story of Selwa and Jassim, a married couple from Jordan who have been living in Arizona for quite some time when the World Trade Center attacks happen. Laila Halaby depicts the turmoil in their lives from the new (unfounded) suspicions surrounding them as well as their own personal struggles. It feels like their problems would have happened anyway, but the attacks simply force things to happen more quickly. Halaby uses an old folktale as a frame, directing our attention to the monsters we must fight and the cleverness required to defeat them.

This isn't so much a story about America or September 11 or the Middle East as it is a story of people and how life is so easily altered by the world around us.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A book person's book

I loved reading The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. Lewis Buzbee takes the reader on a tour of his experience as a "book luster", reader, bookseller, and publisher's rep. Intertwined with this is a fascinating history of book publishing and selling, from the ancients to modern-day big-box chains. My only complaint is that the book desperately needed a proofreader -- way too many little typos and bizarre transitions. In talking about the Great Library of Alexandria, for instance, he explains how they went about amassing such a huge collection of books and then says "Still, it was the largest library in the world" (that's from memory, not an exact quote except for the still). I so often complain about the editing (or lack thereof) in books lately, but a small press and a rather short book really have no excuse.

Monday, June 11, 2007

One nicely detailed; another disappointly bland

The Mercy of Thin Air, by the intriguingly named Ronlyn Domingue, is a love story and a (somewhat predictable) mystery combined. The characters, even minor ones, were developed clearly, unlike in so many things I've read lately. I appreciated the mystery aspects even though I solved it very early, and I loved the intertwining past, present, and past-present.

I should have known by the gimmicky parenthetic title: Ann Brashare's The Last Summer (of You and Me) was a disappointment. I love the Traveling Pants books -- such lovable, realistic characters, despite occasionally unrealistic situations, and an excellent grasp of what it is to be a teenager. The Last Summer does not, unfortunately, grasp what it is to be 20-something. The characters barely have personality, let alone speak for a generation. The plot was just silly -- problems that weren't really problems, with overly dramatic twists to further complicate the non-problems. I liked the descriptions of the beach. That was about it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Rereading, part II

I love the characters in this book, in addition to the fact that it's just a great story. The people feel real and well-developed. The situation is so unrealistic, yet the characters make it feel real and possible. I wouldn't call it philosophical, but it does make you think about the nature of time, free will, destiny, how our actions and choices ripple throughout the lives of those around us.