Monday, July 31, 2006

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

A surprisingly uplifting, unsentimental and gripping book about a young girl's struggle to survive in the 1500s when the Black Plague comes to her village.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

We all know that Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall and had a big fall... but what if the reason he fell was that someone shot him? This is a clever, funny mystery with lots of references to nursery rhyme characters who are alive, well, and quirky in Fforde's imaginary England where literary characters are just as alive as we are. A very fun read. If you enjoy this, I would also recommend The Eyre Affair, also by Fforde.

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

What a fun read! Crusie's books are always fun, zippy and entertaining, with snappy dialogue. This is a great book if you need an escape from the humdrum of everyday life.

Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness by Richard M. Cohen

Cohen was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in his mid-20s. He is married to television personality Meredith Vieira. This is an interesting and honest book about his struggle to come to terms with his illness and the limitations it puts on him, and his quest to live as normal a life as he can. I really enjoyed it.

Expecting Adam by Martha Beck

Martha Beck is one of my favorite authors -- funny, spiritual and wise. She's written several great self-help books that I've enjoyed, including The Joy Diet and Finding Your Own North Star. This book, Expecting Adam, is a memoir that talks about her pregnancy, her decision to keep the baby when she learned that he had Down syndrome, and how her decision affected her life as a high-powered Harvard grad student with a thesis to write, a traveling husband and a two-year-old daughter.
I felt that this was a really magical book. I highly recommend it.

Seventy-Seven Clocks by Christopher Fowler

Any book that describes one of the main characters as looking "like a jumble-sale on a stick" is okay with me. I loved this mystery (part of a series) featuring a pair of elderly London detectives, Bryant and May, whose job is to figure out the peculiar crimes that no one else can.  At times this reads very much like a well-written British procedural mystery, but then Fowler throws in something like the description above, which makes me laugh so unexpectedly that I love it. The action in the book does move rather slowly, but the writing is so rich that I don't mind slowing myself down to savor it rather than gulp it. I've also read, and would recommend, The Water Room by the same author. Looking forward to savoring the rest of the books in the series!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person by Miriam Engelberg

The subtitle of this book is "A memoir in comics," and it's yet another excellent example of the recent trend of autobiographical comics. (A couple of other good examples are Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies, winner of the 2005 Eisner Award for best digital comic, and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.)

I really enjoyed this book. It is refreshing to read about someone who freely admits that adversity and pain does not make her a better person. She writes about how she whines and complains a lot, and escapes into the world of TV crossword puzzles to avoid thinking about the cruddy hand she's been dealt.

A great book. I highly recommend it. You can also check out the author's web site at, where you can see the Comic of the Week!

An Affair With A House by Bunny Williams

I admit, I only skimmed this book. It's full of sumptuous pictures of this glorious house (with lots of outbuildings) in New England. I was trying to read it in bed, but it's a really large, heavy coffee-table book, so that didn't work out so well. The style of decoration was also not really for me -- it was very ornate, the rooms were filled with lots of stuff, and most of it didn't look like anyone actually sat on it or used it. I must admit that I did spend some time peering at the pictures in which the author's bookshelves were shown. I love seeing what's on other people's bookshelves. I'm not the only one, apparently... there is an entire Bookshelf Project on Flickr!

Who lives like this? I wondered to myself, as I paged through the author's discussion of her decorating scheme for the house, guest house, barn, pool house, formal garden, kitchen garden, etc. When I finished the book, I felt a bit guilty, like I'd just been caught looking at decorating porn. Then I read an article in a news magazine about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Talk about the dichotomy between haves and have-nots!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

This is a great book about a twelve-year-old boy who is trying to cope with his older sister's autism and their family's recent move to Alkatraz (where his father is an electrician and a prison guard). I read this for our teen book group and we had quite a nice discussion about the book. It's one of those books that I liked the first time I read it, but I loved it the second time around.

Brother and Sister by Joanna Trollope

The first book I picked up by Joanna Trollope was Marrying the Mistress, which I thought by the title would be a frothy romance. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a richly layered story of a family torn apart by change and trying to put itself back together again. Brother and Sister is the latest book I've read by Trollope, and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed her others. Her writing is quiet and beautiful, and she sketches her characters so well that I end up rooting for them all to overcome their difficulties (which they do, at the end of the book).

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

What a neat book! It is the first of four books. The third one just came out and I read it first, accidentally. Although this series may be shelved in the children's room, it is actually quite dark and violent, and I think teens and adults would enjoy it as well. The series takes place in the far distant future, long after the "Sixty Minute War" in which the inhabitants of Earth pretty much wiped each other out with weapons of mass destruction. Now, most cities and towns are mobile, and the world is ruled by "Municipal Darwinism," which takes survival of the fittest to the next level. Tom Natsworthy, an apprentice of the Historian's Guild of London, gets swept up in some big adventures in this book. I actually liked the third book (which I read first) a bit better-- it's called Infernal Devices and tells the story of Tom's daughter Wren, sixteen years later.

I Am Not Esther by Fleur Beale

I read this book because it's the first book our library's teen reading group will be discussing. It grabbed me from the start and wouldn't let go. Kirby is a teenager whose mother leaves her with her uncle's family -- who are members of a very religious community, some might say a cult -- with very little warning. Her uncle's family renames her Esther and begins to try and convert her to their ways. Meanwhile she is wondering what the heck happened to her mother and why this is happening to her. I found the descriptions of the way the community worked to be fascinating. But I was disappointed in the ending. It felt like the author had grown tired of the book and just slapped an ending together without putting as much thought into it as she did the rest of the book.

The Woman at the Washington Zoo by Marjorie Williams

I really enjoyed this collection of essays, though I must admit I skipped some of the profiles of politicians and Washington insiders about whom I know nothing. I especially liked her "Portrait of a Marriage," which talks about the relationship between Clinton and Gore. Her essays about family life and about her struggle with cancer (a battle she lost in 2005) are also great. She had a good eye for life and a good way of putting things.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Still Life with Chickens

Still Life with Chickens: Starting Over in a House by the Sea is a memoir by Catherine Goldhammer that talks about the year after her divorce, her move to a smaller house, and the adjustments that she and her daughter make. The blurb on the back indicates that Goldhammer is a poet, and I can see that in the way she uses words. This is a small, quiet book, and I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Broker by John Grisham

I always enjoy a good John Grisham novel, but this one was even better than I'd hoped. Instead of being set in a courtroom, it's mainly set in Italy, where a guy who'd been sent to prison and then pardoned by the President is sent to live. What's really going on is the CIA wants to let him loose and then see who will come to kill him -- they hope that will give them some information they need -- but he proves wilier than they expect and, of course, lives.

What I enjoyed about the book was not the thriller stuff, but the information about how the main character was learning a new language, how the Italian culture is different from the American culture, and that sort of thing. I love reading books where you pick up random bits of knowledge almost without realizing it. I read this book on an airplane and didn't even notice the time "flying" by.

Promise Me by Harlan Coben

This was a high-action thriller that was hard to put down. Coben lives in Ridgewood, NJ, and he writes about areas of New Jersey that I am familiar with. It's fun when I'm reading along and all of a sudden I realize I know exactly what intersection he is talking about. This is the first Myron Bolitar novel I've read -- although I have read several of his earlier standalone thrillers -- and I enjoyed it quite a bit, though as usual with books of this type, I found myself skipping over the really violent bits.

Daughter's Keeper by Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman recently felt the scorn of millions of women when she declared on Oprah that she loves her husband more than her children. For more, check out Oprah's site. Waldman writes the fluffy and entertaining "Mommy Track" mysteries -- Nursery Crimes is the first -- but she also writes more serious fiction, and that's what Daughter's Keeper is. I enjoyed it -- it's a story of the relationship between a daughter and her reluctant mother. Am looking forward to reading Waldman's latest book, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.

Fun fact: Waldman is married to Michael Chabon, author of several books. She also reportedly grew up near Glen Rock, where I work.