Friday, February 6, 2009

Brief Intermission

Hello Readers!
I apologize for the lapse in book reviews in the past 2 months. Moving and job searching took precedence.
But I have been reading as much as ever & I will start posting some reviews shortly. In fact, today alone I started & finished another book. So I do have a lot to post.
Thanks for sticking with me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Books

I thought I would put some of my favorite Christmas books here. You may want to pick them up for yourself or give them as gifts!

Of course there are an abundance of kids books for Christmas. In addition to the "usuals" of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Twas the Night Before Christmas, and Olive the Other Reindeer, here are some other kid books that are great Christmas gifts!

Anything by Robert Sabuda! He is an amazing cut paper artist who creates intricate pop-up books of some of our favorite stories. There are tons of Sabuda cut paper books out there. These books are very delicate and would not last long in the hands of children under 4 or 5 years old. But they make gorgeous gifts!

For adults there are many books also with Christmas themes. One of my absolute favorite Christmas books is Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris. It's a very thin book with about 6 stories in it (there's a re-released hard cover of this book out now with 6 more stories - I have to get that now too!).

One of Sedaris's most notorious stories, The SantaLand Diaries, is in this collection. It's based on his Christmas spent as an elf in Macy's in NYC. He explains the elf ranks and some of the hysterical things he would tell kids if they weren't good. Another great essay is called, Dinah, The Christmas Whore, and it's about a Christmas when he (and his sister) "saved" a prostitute from an abusive boyfriend and brought her home for dinner.

I haven't read a bad book by David Sedaris. They are extremely funny and satirical. And the sad thing is that I can relate to some of them a little too well! Holidays on Ice is a perfect stocking stuffer too!

A great writer, Elizabeth Berg, has many wonderful books out. But she has also written, The Handmaid and the Carpenter, a fictional account of Mary and Joseph. Berg is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is so lyrical and smooth. This book is no exception.

Expanding on the story of Mary and Joseph, Berg delves into what they would have faced in that time. Why did Joseph stay with Mary when he could have had her killed? What was going through their minds and hearts facing this news of the Son of God as their son?

It is an amazingly well written story that puts you right there in the midst of the true meaning of Christmas. I reread it every Christmas because it is so perfect.
There are many other Christmas books out there, but these are definitely the best. Feel free to send me an email if you are looking to give a book as a gift but aren't sure what to get. I'm pretty good at finding the perfect books for people.
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sunday List of Dreams

We all have that list. Well, we all have many lists. But there is one list that is always bigger than all the others. That list of things we want to do...this year...before we die...eventually. In The Sunday List of Dreams, the main character, Connie writes and rewrites her list of dreams but has never done one of the items on that list. Now, facing retirement from a wonderful nursing career, Connie feels she can maybe tackle one or two of those items. The list of dreams contains things such as not setting an alarm clock to reconnecting with daughter Jessica, from buying a convertible - preferably red - to maybe, possibly having sex!

When Connie heads out to NYC from small town Indiana to reconnect with her oldest daughter Jessica, a whole other world is opened to her. She learns that Jessica is the founder and CEO of one of the most successful sex toy stores in the US! Connie, who can barely say the words "sex toys" ends up becoming a successful saleswoman at Jessica's store. And as you can imagine, there are some funny tales in that. But a mother-daughter bond is rekindled and items start getting crossed off her list at an amazing rate.

Kris Radish writes what women want to read and what women can relate to. I love her books. They stray from the average, cookie-cutter, women's fiction books out there. If I had money, I would buy a set of her books for all of my women friends & all of their women friends & so on. Underneath all the lists and sex toys in this book is a real story we all know - the mother-daughter bonds. But also finding yourself in that bond. It's not a mother-little girl bond and that may be the hardest thing for mothers to realize. The little girls grow up and become independent, strong women who can be nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and even CEOs of sex toy empires.

Wicked (and others)

Of course by now Wicked is a household name due mostly to the Broadway musical. But as in movies of books - the Broadway play, as amazing and captivating as it is, is just a small piece of what is actually covered in the book. Gregory Maguire is a modern day Grimm's Brother. He is an expert at taking all too familiar stories and giving them a twist here and a stretch there creating something entirely unique and original.

Since Wicked rose to such high acclaim, a sequel, Son of A Witch, was born. And now the third installment of what is now called the Wicked Years Series, A Lion Among Men, has come out. Will each of the other characters get their say too? I sure hope so. Not only are these books fun to read but they are very intelligent reads. Many fairy tales have underlying messages and Maguire's books have political, social, and economic stories underneath the talking animals and witches. (Hey - it worked for Orwell with Animal Farm!)

If you are like me, you become attached to good writers and want to read everything they have written. Maguire has more than the tales of Oz out there. So if you loved Wicked - peruse the rest of his novels.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is a reworking of Cinderella through her stepsister. As in Wicked, where we learn how Elphaba became the Wicked Witch of the West, in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister we see the reasons why Cinderella's stepsisters & stepmother are so mean & ugly toward her. There is always more than one side to every story. Maybe we judged them too harshly.

Mirror, Mirror is Maguire's retelling of Snow White. Rather than just your garden variety evil witch, Maguire decides to include the Borgias as the evil in the story. And there are no Disney dwarfs in this story! It's a quick read that pulls in some history of Tuscany in the 16th century. Just don't expect it to be like Snow White at all.

What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy is another short novel by Maguire. It's part children's book, part adult book, but completely unique. It's actually a story inside a story. The book is narrated by Gage, an English teacher who is telling the story of What-the-Dickens to his cousins during a storm. What-the-Dickens is a skibberee, or as we call them - a tooth fairy. He soon finds others like himself in colonies hidden from human sight. There are even wars between opposing colonies of these tooth fairies. I liked this book, not only because it was a quick read, but because it gave an answer to the question I've always wondered: What does the tooth fairy do with all those teeth??

So, in this Christmas season, if you have friends who like fairy tales and fantasy, pick up any of Gregory Maguire's books. The short skip away from reality is a fun trip with any of these novels.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Made in the U.S.A.

Billie Letts is one of those can't-put-down-the-book authors. There aren't many out there. Her latest novel, Made-in-the-USA, solidified her place on my "favorite author" list. One of the greatest things about Letts's books is that you don't have to be an avid reader to like her books. Some authors write as though they are elite and writing to elite readers. But not Letts. Her books speak to everyone who picks them up.

Made in the U.S.A. is about a young teen girl, Luttie, and her brother, Fate. I feel it's a coming-of-age story for both characters. Luttie & Fate's mother died when Fate was young so they moved in with their father - well - really they moved in with his girlfriend of the moment. And while they were living with Floy, their father abandons them and says he's moving to Las Vegas (from their South Dakota home). When Floy has a heart attack and dies in Walmart, who is going to take care of Luttie and Fate now?

Luttie loads up Floy's old car with Fate and their few belongings and sets off on a quest to find their father in Vegas. Living out of the car amidst shady characters and eating meals at a soup kitchen are not exactly the dreams they had in mind. Soon Luttie gets involved with drugs, porn, and broken bones before she is saved by an unlikely hero, Juan.

Juan takes Luttie and Fate to his family's home in Oklahoma. There we learn about his past as a circus performer in his family's circus. A whole other world opens up for the three of them as Luttie heals from her ordeals.

I don't want to give too much away. This is such a great, heart-warming, sad, hopeful book. You truly fall in love with the characters and want to help them out of their situations. It is a quick read because you just HAVE to know what happens! Billie Letts has a way of writing that makes difficult and traumatic situations - rape, abuse, homelessness - a part of the journey toward healing. Even though her characters suffer horrendous acts of violence - they are still strong and continue to fight throughout the book.

Billie Letts's first novel, Where the Heart Is, had some similar themes. It too was a book you could not put down. In fact, that is a book I have always recommended to people who are not "big" readers but want to get into reading. My sister, who had never read a book in her life, asked me for a book suggestion. It was around the time Where the Heart Is came out in paperback. I bought it for her. She not only read it - she loved it! Now I will pass along Made in the U.S.A. to her and expect the same reaction. Put this on your Christmas list!

The Confessions of Max Tivoli

I read The Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer nearly a year ago. I liked it; it was different. And now I'm seeing commercials for a movie that has the same theme but I found out it is based on an entirely different book. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short story called, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in 1922. Although no mention of Fitzgerald's work is in either Greer's acknowledgements or in any of the publicity blurbs, there are too many similarities for it to be a coincidence that these books are so alike.

Max Tivoli is born as an old man in appearance. However his mind is that of a newborn. So although he is physically aging backwards throughout his life, his mind is progressing the same as everyone else.

In Fitzgerald's story, Benjamin Button is born as an old man in body and in mind. As he ages backwards, so does his mind. So that when he dies - he looks & thinks as an infant. I guess that makes for a better movie than Max Tivoli. But that is what makes Greer's book so enticing - the dichotomy between Max's appearance & his thoughts. While he looked 70 years old, his mind was equal to that of a 10-12 year old.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli is written as though it is his diary & letters to his love. It is a deeply romantic novel set in San Francisco in the early 1900s. I would have loved to see this as a movie. But I'll still go see The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons. (With Cate Blanchett in it - it can't be bad!)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Knitting Circle

Knitting and novels about knitting are the hot trend right now. There are more new fiction books about knitting than I ever thought possible. I know - I have several of them. The Knitting Circle, by Ann Hood is the first knitting novel I've read so far and I was not disappointed. If you are a knitter - you will enjoy this book & if you have never picked up a ball of yarn in your life - you will love this book!

After the suddenly, unexpected death of her 5 year old daughter, Mary Baxter's world is torn apart. Though at first she refuses to start knitting as her distant mother has suggested, Mary does find her way into the Sit & Knit - a yarn shop with a knitting circle. Mary feels at ease among these strangers as she learns the basics of the stitches and starts making a scarf. They don't know her past and her problems and she doesn't know theirs. And that works for Mary.

However, as she becomes a "regular" and is knitting sweaters and socks and hats, the lives of these other women (and men) are shown. The different reasons they all started knitting, their stories of grief, strength, sadness, and celebration unfurl into a blanket of support and love. As one of the characters says, "You knit to save your life."

The story of friendship and support is overwhelming. As I read this book I caught myself tearing up at times while laughing at others. I, too, learned to knit to save my life. I had always wanted to knit in order to make blankets for Project Linus. But I'd make excuses. Lame excuses too: that's an old lady thing to do, I'll look stupid carrying yarn and needles, how could that possibly be fun. A friend sat me down and showed me how to knit and purl when I was in the midst of a depression. And just focusing on those stitches and the desire to make them come out perfectly really did lift my spirits. It's a calming, repetitive, and soothing process. And once you know the basics you can create anything!

Knitting with a group is another level. All over the country, for centuries, women have come together to knit and sew. It's a different kind of bond created than going to coffee with a friend. You come in with nothing but yourself and your issues; you leave with a calm spirit and something that you created - a finished product! And I completely understand it now! This novel, The Knitting Circle, captures it exactly.