Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Vacation roundup

A much busier vacation than usual, which meant less time for sitting and reading. Still a respectable book count, though:

1. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. I expected to like this much more than I did. It wasn't bad, but after all the fabulous critical reviews, I thought there would be more to it. It was quite plot driven, without a lot of depth to the characters, and it often felt like she wasn't sure whether she was writing a novel or nonfiction -- it really would have been more effective had she been able to choose one or the other.

2. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. Yet another where my expectations were a bit too high. I really like most of Hornby's fiction, but this one felt a little slow to me. I might have liked it better if I had read it closer to when it was originally published.

3. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Best of the bunch. Yates examines the lives of a young, suburban married couple who realize their lives aren't as extraordinary as they had planned. All of the characters here, even minor ones, were so clearly developed and heartbreakingly real There's a movie version coming out in December, I've learned (which explains why this was on display at the library), with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as the main characters. I think Kate Winslet is just right for the part, but I'm not as sure about DiCaprio. The stills on look good so far, though.

4. The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie. It's not vacation without an Agatha Christie in the mix. This wasn't one of the best, but still satisfying. (As usual, I can't find an cover image of the actual copy I read -- her books have had way too many covers! Perhaps I'll start taking my own pictures eventually.)

5. What I Was by Meg Rosoff. The best part about this book? It only took me an afternoon to read it. Dull, anticlimactic, just bleh.

6. The Summer of Naked Swim Parties by Jessica Anya Blau. A 1970s coming-of-age story, but it lacked any real insight into the main character. Cute, but not much more to it than that.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Racing pace

I had to rush to finish this one, as it was due yesterday with no option to renew. We leave for vacation today, and I didn't really want 10+ days worth of fines. But I managed it without too much trouble -- I Capture the Castle is a relatively quick read. Cassandra, the likable and realistic narrator of Dodie Smith's novel, tells of her quirky family's troubles and successes in the 1930s English countryside. The descriptions of their home and its surroundings are gorgeous, and the plot moves swiftly but unhurriedly. I had seen the recent movie first, and though I didn't remember it clearly, I think it stayed fairly close to the book. (And as always, the book is most definitely better.) An excellent pre-vacation summer read.

(I confess this picture isn't actually the cover image from the version I read, but it's so much prettier. Movie tie-in covers aren't any fun.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Literary meatloaf

I enjoy meatloaf -- flavorful, infinitely variable yet predictable, good as leftovers, filling, warming... What's not to like? I wouldn't want it every day, but it still makes for a good meal. The appropriately titled Comfort Food is much like meatloaf. Kate Jacobs' novel is a light and funny look at Gus, the middle-aged host of a well-known tv cooking show, and her flock of family, friends, and competitors. The book is rather predictable, but the characters are endearing (save Carmen, who I never quite cared about, and Sabrina, whose motivations never really made sense) and draw the reader into their stories. It's a tasty, quick, unchallenging read -- chick-lit with the twist of a slightly older than usual heroine, but otherwise your average take on the genre.

ETA: Blogger seems to be having difficulty with pictures. Will get that fixed soon, I hope. Pictures are working -- yay!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Happy to be ... where?

It's a sociological journey of sorts in Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss. On a quest to figure out what makes some places happy and others not so, he travels to some of the countries with the statistically happiest people (with one stopover in one of the most miserable places as well). I enjoyed Weiner's style -- I've seen him compared to Bill Bryson, which I don't think is quite right, though there are some similarities. I really liked all of the information on the science of happiness, which is quite a fascinating field. At points, the book felt a bit slow and redundant; certainly all the places were different, but some dragged a bit. Still quite a fun and interesting read -- Weiner nicely blends his own observations with research and facts about each place, making it both informative and introspective.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Challenge wrap-up

Officially, I've completed The Pub (2008) Challenge, since I've read 12 18 toward the minimum of 8 books published this year. There's still time to sign up, if you're interested -- it's been good to push myself to find and finish more newer books. I'll keep adding to the list as the year until the challenge ends, but so far I've read:

1. The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter
2. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson
3. The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller
4. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
5. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
6. The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer
7. The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir
8. The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
9. The English American by Alison Larkin
10. The Heroines by Eileen Favorite
11. Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos
12. The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block
13. The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
14. Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs
15. The Summer of Naked Swim Parties by Jessica Anya Blau
16. Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch
17. Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont
18. How Far is the Ocean from Here by Amy Shearn

So far, The Story of Forgetting and The Monsters of Templeton have been the two I absolutely loved -- I'd highly recommend both of them. How Far is the Ocean from Here is another I'd recommend -- not as highly as the other two, but still very good.

Greater than the sum

Weirdly, I didn't like this book all that much, but it made me want to read more of Kate Christensen's writing. In The Great Man, she looks at the women who surrounded and supported a famous New York artist, who (five years after his death) has two biographers trying to analyze his life and find his secrets. The meetings with the writers allow the women (the artist's wife, mistress, and sister) to explore their own feelings about the man. The characters and story were interesting, but it wasn't the sort of book that made me want to keep reading it. Christensen's writing style is rather nice, though, and the characters were certainly vivid and well-developed, if a bit stereotypical at times.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Roses in December

It's hard to find words for why I loved this book so much and for a way to describe it without ruining it. The Story of Forgetting, by Stefan Merrill Block, alternates between two narrators: one an old man looking back on his life, the other a teenage boy trying to figure out his. Block's writing exquisitely weaves the two stories together, as well as a third tale of an imaginary world called Isidora. There are moments where you simply have to pause and notice how beautiful the words are, not to mention the story itself. This book deserves every bit of praise that has been heaped upon it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The bonds that tie

Belong to Me felt very chick-lit at the beginning, but that perception faded as quickly as it came. While I suppose it qualifies as "women's fiction" (what with having female protagonists, the horror), it's not fluff. Marisa de los Santos explores suburbia and its dwellers without reducing them to stereotypes. At first, I thought there was no way the character of Piper could ever be redeemed and become even remotely human -- she's so unpleasant that you think she can't possibly exist, until you realize you know someone just like her. But the author rather skillfully allows her to grow, without changing what makes her interesting. I wasn't sure I liked where the ending was going when I got to the last third, but I realize in retrospect it couldn't have possibly gone anywhere else -- I don't think it's giving anything away to say that it fit perfectly, without being remotely predictable. Belong to Me examines the way our lives come together in unexpected ways, and how deeply one tiny moment can force us to be intertwined.