Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Read in 2007 Recap: Part Five

Hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. We went to Serena's for a BBQ, played a hilarious game of croquet, and we even got a little writing time when the hubbies took The Girl to the splash park for a couple hours. I was the life of the party, though, when I dozed off while everyone watched the Celtics game. (Let's see if I ever get invited back! LOL)

Still no knitting, but Dawn has helped to motivate me. If I can only get myself to put the stitches on the needles, I'll carry a sock in my bag for when the mood hits. I'm at the point now where I'm not sure if I'm not knitting because I haven't found the right project or I'm not knitting because I'm more interested in writing these days.

Anyway...here are my thoughts on the last of the books I read last year. (Blame Serena! She actually wanted me to finish it!)

Don't forget my rating system:

**** Wish I’d written it myself
*** Made the commute fly by
** Worth considering
* I can’t recommend it, but that’s just me

And don't forget there could be some **spoilers** in here, so if there's a book you really want to read, you might want to skip over that one...

44. You've Been Warned by James Patterson and Howard Roughan ***

This was the best Patterson book I've read in awhile, and I think it's because You've Been Warned isn't his usual crime mystery. There's a supernatural element to this novel about budding photographer and nanny Kristin Burns, and it seems to be connected to her cliche affair with the children's father. Though I'd love to say more, I don't want to give too much away, but I can tell you that the book went by so fast because I wanted to know why Kristin was constantly drawn to a particular hotel, why she kept seeing bodybags on stretchers being rolled out the door and one of the bodybags opening from inside, and why she kept seeing her dead father on the streets. Kristin's photos turn up some weird things as well, forcing her and the reader to question her sanity and what is real. I like the twist at the end, but I wish Patterson would've shortened the middle a bit and focused on what I perceived to be the book's main theme: Will we really pay for the mistakes we make? Don't get me wrong, this is no masterpiece, but from an author releasing several books per year that are average at best, I thought this one stood out.

ETA: Serena's also reviewed You've Been Warned. Check it out!

45. The Choice by Nicholas Sparks ***

I've read all of Nicholas Sparks' books, and this certainly isn't his best, but there's something about a male author who can write a romance that isn't completely cheesy. He seems to have a good grasp of female characters, and any man who writes romantic dedications to his wife of many years deserves some kudos in my book. In The Choice, it takes Travis Parker a little while to win the affections of his new neighbor Gabby Holland, mainly because she's already involved with someone and they got off on the wrong foot when she points the finger at Travis' dog for getting her dog pregnant. But just like in Sparks' other books, when they fall in love, they fall hard. The choice that must be made occurs 11 years after their first meeting, and Sparks doesn't tell the reader what the choice is right away. My guess was completely wrong, and when I learned what choice Travis actually had to make, I didn't envy him one bit. Sparks really gets you thinking about the good things you have in life and how you should never take them for granted.

46. Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs **

There's much controversy about whether this book is really a memoir, how much is true, how much is exaggerated. We can save all that talk for another day. However, as I read this book about a young man left to live with his mother's eccentric psychologist while she's off being crazy somewhere, I kept hoping that none of it was true. The one thing I said over and over to myself while reading this is "this family is f-ed up!" Here's just a bit about the Finch family: one of the sisters is big into "Bible dipping" (I think that's what they called it), in which a question is asked and you open the Bible, put your finger down anywhere on the page, and you get your answer; the father, Dr. Finch, reads his poop like some people read tea leaves; another sister was legally adopted by her much older lover; and Mrs. Finch sits on the couch eating dry dog food out of the bag like you or I would eat cereal. Augusten and Natalie decide they want a skylight, so they start tearing apart the ceiling and Dr. and Mrs. Finch don't say a word. This book gives a new definition to crazy and messed up, but it certainly made me feel better about my little dysfunctional family, that's for sure. If you're not offended by a young boy running around naked and pooping on the living room floor, or Augusten's sexual relationship with one of Dr. Finch's pedophile patients, or Dr. Finch and Augusten's mother allowing him to attempt suicide to get out of having to go to school, then go ahead, attempt this book. I will say that the book was a bazillion times better than the movie. If I'd seen the movie without reading the book, I'd still be sitting there scratching my head wondering what it was all about.

47. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak ****

Yet another book set in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger and Death personified. The book shows Death following her and her loved ones from the passing of her younger brother to her own death years later. What is unique about this book is that Death speaks in the first person, shows a bit of humanity and compassion amid so much human suffering. But the book is about so much more than death. Liesel literally is a book thief, since the time she stole a gravedigger's manual at her brother's burial until she breaks into the mayor's home and steals books from his wife's library. These books offer a diversion and some sanity for Liesel, her foster parents, the Jewish man (Max) living in their basement, and their neighbors huddled in the basement during air raids. These books also help Liesel to bond with her foster father, Hans, as he teachers her to read. The Book Thief explores the power of words (in the books Liesel steals, the Nazi propaganda, and the book written by Max on painted-over pages from Hilter's Mein Kampf) and the power of death. Though long, at more than 500 pages, it was quick read that kept me up late waiting to see what happened when Death, who came for so many of Liesel's loved ones when she was just a child, finally came for her.

48. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer ***
49. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer ***
50. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer ***

Serena introduced me to the Twilight saga by telling me bits and pieces of the first book while we waited for the bus every afternoon. At first I was hesitant as usual when it comes to books billed as young adult novels, but I happily discovered they are similar to the Harry Potter series in that they attract people of all ages. (I read an interview with Meyer recently in which she mentioned writing them for her "29-year-old self.") The books tell the passionate love story of Edward Cullen, a teenage vampire who's actually more like my grandmother's age but thankfully much sexier (sorry, Gram!) and Bella Swan, who spends much of the series either trying to get Edward to sleep with her or turn her into a vampire so she won't get older than him and they can live together for eternity. This causes a lot of tension between them because he doesn't want to physically hurt her. Things also get complicated when Bella's father doesn't want her to see Edward, other not-so-nice vampires stalk Bella so that they can kill her as revenge against the Cullen clan, and Bella's best friend, the werewolf Jacob Black, falls in love with her. Meyer does a great job showing the intense love and attraction between Bella and Edward (it actually made me think having a vampire lover isn't such a bad thing), the tension between Edward and Jacob, and the confusion Bella feels about Jacob. She created a cast of compelling characters in the Cullen clan, each with their own unique issues, powers, and back stories. The last book in the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn, will be released in August. I can't wait to find out if Bella and Edward's happy ever after involves her becoming a vampire. There's so much potential in that storyline. (Hey, Serena, we have a date for the Twilight movie, right??)

ETA: Serena's also reviewed Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse. Check them out!

51. Woman Made of Sand: A Novel in Stories by Joann Kobin **

I was intrigued by Woman Made of Sand because I write short stories and have been working on a novel, and I wanted to see what could happen when you combine the two. Kobin tells the story of Harriet and Philip Stedman, their daughter Matina, their son Eric, and Philip's parents in a series of stories. One story shows Harriet in love with a friend dying of lung cancer, another shows the pressure Eric feels as a dancer. Overall, the stories chronicle the breakup of a marriage, and I think they flowed well from one to another, but I really didn't feel that any of the characters stood out. Also, I'm not sure whether calling it "A Novel in Stories" was accurate, as I personally think only a few of the stories could stand alone. Still, it was an interesting experiment.

52. The Parting by Beverly Lewis ***

In Lewis' latest series, The Courtship of Nellie Fisher, she once again focus on the Amish and the tensions that pop up within their community. In The Parting, she generates curiosity by introducing us to Nellie Fisher, a girl grieving for her sister who drowned under suspicious circumstances. Nellie finds Suzy's diary in the hopes that it will provide some clues as to who her sister really was. In the meantime, Nellie falls in love with Caleb Yoder, but their relationship is tested when Nellie's father and Caleb's father butt heads over Mr. Fisher's reading of forbidden scriptures. Nellie's dad is excited about passages from the Bible that discuss salvation by grace, as it means Suzy is not lost somewhere in the afterlife. However, the Old Order Amish do not subscribe to such scriptures, and the church is divided, with Nellie on one side and Caleb on the other. If this storyline wasn't interesting enough, Lewis introduces us to Nellie's best friend, Rosanna, who is unable to conceive but is preparing for motherhood after another women in the community with numerous children offers to let Rosanna have the baby she is about to birth. As usual, Lewis provides a glimpse of an often misunderstood people, offering interesting information about their beliefs and culture.

53. Crazy Aunt Purl's Drunk, Divorced and Covered in Cat Hair: The True-Life Misadventures of a 30-Something Who Learned to Knit After He Split by Laurie Perry ***

Like many in the knitting community, I've been a long-time reader (lurker) of the Crazy Aunt Purl blog. There's just something genuine about Laurie; she'll talk about anything, and she tells it like it is. She's not afraid to talk about embarrassing situations at work or, as in the book, something as personal as her divorce. She's willing to admit that the breakup of her marriage blindsided her and sent her into a depression. But this book is about hope and recovery and becoming independent and finding strength within yourself that you didn't know was there until you had to use it. She was a mess (literally) after the divorce (as anyone in her position would've been), but it became a learning experience. It wasn't long before she was traveling overseas with friends (and later solo) and spilling her heart out to hundreds of readers on the Internet. The fact that she was offered a book deal shows you that something horrible can become one of the best things that ever happened to you. Her inspirational story is better than the free knitting patterns, though those are a plus! It just goes to show you that what doesn't kill you makes your stronger and how any situation can produce something good.

54. The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold **

I loved The Lovely Bones. I say that upfront because if you think The Almost Moon is anything like it, you will be disappointed. I really wanted to like The Almost Moon, but I couldn't. I hated the main character, Helen, from the beginning. I don't care how dysfunctional your childhood was, how the heck do you justify killing your elderly mother because you don't want to clean up after her bathroom accident and you don't feel like calling the ambulance and putting her in a nursing home? And after you kill your mother, how can you justify cutting off her braid and keeping it or dragging the body to the cellar and putting it in a freezer? Can you say SICK and TWISTED?? And on top of all that, how can you think it's a good idea to sleep with your best friend's son?? Shifting from the present to the past and showing her father's mental breakdown and eventual suicide and her mother's agoraphobia didn't make me feel sorry for her. Was it Sebold's intention for us to feel sorry for Helen, or did she make Helen over-the-top because we weren't supposed to feel sorry for her? I don't know, but because I couldn't feel sorry for Helen, not in the slightest, I spent the entire book waiting for it to be over, for Helen to be caught by the police and put in jail. Sebold wrote an intriguing story, but I like to have some sort of feeling for the main character; I need to care about them, about what they're doing, and I just didn't care about Helen at all.
Serena also reviewed The Almost Moon. Check it out!

55. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk ***

Haunted is like one of those horror movies where you want to see what happens but you don't actually want to SEE it and you cover your eyes with your hands but peek through your fingers. I think this is the only book that's ever made me nauseated and made me want to keep reading at the same time. The book focuses on 17 people who are on their way to a writer's retreat that turns out to be nothing like they'd expected. They're locked in an abandoned theater, and the organizer of the event says they'll be staying there for three months. Not an ideal scenario, but at least they have all the essentials...that is until they decide that making it seem as though they suffered while they were taken hostage will make a great story once they are found. Each intent on becoming famous when their story goes public, they go to great lengths to be sure they suffer: flushing food down the toilet, chopping off fingers to feed to one participant's cat, even chopping off a certain body part men take great pride in. Yes, the book is THAT disgusting, but you have to keep reading to find out how much farther these people will take their desire to be famous and tally the final body count. The book also includes stories about each of the characters, chronicling their twisted lives up until the writer's retreat (including a man who needs a bowel resectioning after a weird masterbation incident; a woman who kills people with foot massages for the Russian Mafia; a wealthy woman who, with her husband and friends, poses as a homeless woman and witnesses a murder; and a woman who was being held by the government, monitored for some incurable disease, and eventually escapes) and a piece of writing by each character. To be honest, despite being nauseated and having to shut the book and close my eyes from time to time, Palahniuk is a brilliant writer. I don't know another writer who could have created such characters, put them together in the same room, and made it work. I recommend this book, but only if you have an iron stomach.

56. Sea Glass by Anita Shreve ****

I began and ended 2007 with Anita Shreve. She has long been one of my favorite writers--good grasp of characters, description, scene--basically she writes like I wish I could. She definitely didn't disappoint with Sea Glass; I love all of her books, but I think this was my favorite so far. I love how Shreve tells a story within a larger story of a historical time or event. Sea Glass is set on the New Hampshire coast during the Great Depression in the same beach house featured in The Pilot's Wife, Fortune's Rocks, and Body Surfing. Shreve tells the story of Honora Beecher, whose new husband, Sexton, goes from being a successful typewriter salesman to working in the mills after the stock market crash. He leaves Honora in the beach house, where she collects sea glass and becomes friends with wealthy Vivian Burton, who is transformed from a spoiled socialite to a social activist of sorts, handing out food to beggars who show up at their doors. When Sexton gets involved in efforts to unionize the mill workers, Honora meets a mill worker, McDermott, and Francis, a young boy without a father who has been befriended by McDermott. Honora eventually discovers Sexton is not the man she thought he was, and she and McDermott develop feelings for one another. Shreve knocked me off my feet with the twist at the end of The Last Time They Met, but I was more upset at the end of Sea Glass. I won't give it away because I highly recommend this book, but I will say that I was floored and then upset and then depressed and then resigned to the way things had to be.


Well, even though I don't having any new knitting to speak of, I still have several projects I haven't posted, which will provide enough blogging material until I pick up the needles again. I also have to get caught up in reviewing the books I read this year; writing about the books I read last year not only helped me keep track, but it also got me excited about my own writing. I wish I could say I haven't slacked in my one-hour-per-day goal, but at least I'm trying.

Disclosure:  All of the books reviewed in this post were either borrowed from the library, borrowed from a friend, or purchased by me.


Serena said...

Ah, what a great set of reviews....I think I just added a couple other books to my list of upcoming reads....lol I won't tell you what they are because you will have to check out my reviews later on!

This will help with the review challenge!

I hated Helen in Almost Moon as well. I loved the Patterson book too. Sea Glass is one of my favorites as you know. The Choice is in my book pile already...so maybe I will get to that soon. I just have to finish up some books I have out of the library first.

Dawn said...

I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who has trouble getting through certain books at times! ;O)I hate putting something down once I've started it so it has to be REALLY bad for me to not finish. I applaud you for getting through some of those! Ew!! :P LOL! I don't think I could have!!

Just a sock girlfriend! Keep things simple when all else fails :) If writing is anything like knitting, it's got to be something that speaks to you to get you to jump in feet first like you said. The "project" itself can be it's own driving force. Keep good thoughts and don't be so hard on yourself!! ((Hugs!))

PS I know what you're watching right now! hahahahha!

Anna said...

Serena, I hope you enjoy those books you put on hold. Can't wait to see what you think of them. :)

Dawn, thanks for your motivation. I plan on bringing my knitting to The Girl's baseball game tomorrow. Maybe that'll help me get back in it. :D