Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Deliciously old fashioned

In the author blurbs on the back of Matrimony, Brian Morton, whose fiction I've enjoyed in the past, is quoted as saying: "Joshua Henkin's Matrimony is a deliciously old-fashioned novel. With no gimmicks, no tricks, Henkin gives us a cast of complex, flawed, utterly real characters, exploring their inner lives with an astonishing sureness of touch." I think this is a beautifully stated summation of the novel, which is filled with the quiet lyricism of everyday life. The story traces a couple's life beginning with their meeting in college, while also incorporating such challenges to friendships as time, class, and just plain life. I read several reviews complaining that the novel was too quiet, too focused on inner lives, but this (along with Henkin's elegant writing style) is what I found most appealing about it.

Friday, February 22, 2008


I've never read Dean Koontz before, but I wanted to read The Darkest Evening of the Year when I heard the main character worked in dog rescue. Unfortunately, the book annoyed me from the very first overwritten sentence: "Behind the wheel of the Ford Expedition, Amy Redwing drove as if she were immortal and therefore safe at any speed." (Yes, I would have figured out she was speeding if you'd quit before the conjunction. Do Koontz's readers really require things to be spelled out so much?) I continued with the book -- despite its not-so-wonderful writing, misused semicolons, and bizarrely short paragraphs -- because of the dogs, and I really only enjoyed the parts with the dogs. Those sections were lovely and descriptive, with excellent detail of the dogs' behavior (indeed, the dogs were better characterized than many of the humans). The rest of the book I pretty much skimmed, and I still got the whole story, which left me entirely underwhelmed.

I do highly commend Koontz for all of the information in the book about dog rescue and puppy mills. He clearly loves dogs and is doing a great service to the rescue world by getting the message out this way. It's not at all preachy, but he makes sure his readers see how important it is to choose rescue and shelter dogs, or at least to go with reputable breeders rather than the backyard breeders or puppy-mill sellers. For that alone, I wish great success for this book.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Brighten my northern skies

I didn't really know anything about Vendela Vida's newest novel before I picked it up. I was wandering around the bookstore (I'm a library girl, so this is not a usual pastime for me), looking for another paperback with which to travel, and the pretty blue and white cover caught my eye. (The sale price helped too.) Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, in addition to having a lovely and fitting title, was an excellent purchase. The story is told in very short chapters, which made me think of those indie movies where the scenes fade to black frequently and pick up a few seconds later. It gave the book a quietness that melded nicely with the snow-covered Lapland setting. I enjoyed the plot, and Clarissa's story definitely kept me reading, but the writing style was what most appealed to me about this book.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Stolen sense of comprehension

I finished The Soul Thief on an airplane, and after I read the last page, I closed the book, handed it to my husband, and said, "Here, read this and explain it to me." That's not to say I didn't enjoy reading the book, but Charles Baxter's novel left me more than a little bewildered. The first half of the book introduces a small contingency of grad students, including Jerome Coolberg, who enters as a strange cross between friend and nemesis to the main character, Nathaniel. I never quite grasped their relationship, though I think perhaps that was the point. The second half of the book takes place much later, with Coolberg re-entering Nathaniel's life. I appreciated Baxter's writing style -- observational and lyrical -- but the plot? To put it simply, I just didn't get it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bookworms carnival

I participated in my first Bookworms Carnival, hosted by the very witty Renay. The theme was The Geography of Make-Believe: a fantastic voyage through the magical, mythical and magical, and the results are fabulous. She even created a map -- ever so appropriate for the genre! What an amazing host and such creativity in the presentation. I'm quite thrilled to be included.

The next Bookworms Carnival has the theme of Women in Literature, and it's hosted by The Armenian Odar. Entries are due by March 14th and should be sent to armenianodar at

For the record, I'm actually a she. Of course, that's a logical confusion when one steals and posts with the identity of one's dog. The real Charlie is indeed a he -- and a very cute one, even in the mist:

Friday, February 8, 2008

Things remembered

As an adventure/fantasy/fairy tale, The Book of Lost Things does its job well. John Connolly tells the story of David, who, after the death of his mother, finds himself lost both figuratively and literally. His quest takes him through the darkest of fairy tale worlds, where he battles challenge after challenge (finding help along the way, in typical epic form). What perplexed me about this book was the setting. David's real life is set in England during World War II, which seemed like it ought to have an allegorical purpose. Perhaps I missed it, but without a more distinctive parallel, the setting struck me as a little too arbitrary. Indeed, it had usefulness to the plot, but that plot point could have been handled just as smoothly in another setting. I also found the ending unsatisfying -- without giving anything away, the end was too commonplace for such a fantastical story. If you're willing to overlook the problems in reality, David's travels through the stories and fairy tales are captivating enough to make this a worthwhile read.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Parting is such sweet sorrow

Ah, Harry Potter. In truth, I love the series as it is too much to mourn its ending. Sure, there are flaws, but nothing that popular can please all its fans. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a perfect conclusion, and I appreciated it more the second time through. At some point this year, I want to reread the whole series in order, just because I can. If you've not read the books (seriously, how would that be possible?), pretend you don't know all the hype and give them a chance.


I'm signing up for another challenge -- we'll see how it goes. I tend to be wary of signing myself up because I dislike scheduling my reading. I like to just pick up a few books and read the one that catches my fancy. However, all of these are books I was planning to read anyway, so I think I can mange it. The Eponymous Challenge runs from the beginning of March to the end of May, and it asks participants to read four books whose titles are the name of one or more of the characters (e.g. Evelina, Oscar and Lucinda) or a description of one or more of the characters (e.g. The Merchant of Venice, Sylvia’s Lovers). Check out Between the Covers to sign up.

My list:
1. Kyra, by Carol Gilligan
2. Lady Macbeth, by Susan Fraser King
3. The Senator's Wife, by Sue Miller
4. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, by Joshilyn Jackson

I think, to cover my bases, I'll make rereading the Harry Potter series my alternate choices. (That might be cheating just a little.) Most of these will also qualify for The Pub challenge, since overlaps are allowed.

ETA 2/28/08: My first two choices aren't turning out to be as appealing to me as I had hoped, so I'm adding two more alternates: Mary Modern by Camille DeAngelis and I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


My first abandoned book of 2008: An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England. I gave Brock Clarke's novel 116 pages, and my bookmark is still waiting if I decide to go back. The writing style is strange, though appropriate for the socially inept narrator. At first I enjoyed the quirky narrator, and I realize the book's not meant to be realistic, but the strangeness became too much -- too overdone and forced.