Category Archives: Book Reviews

Someone Not Really Her Mother

It seems like ages since my last book review but it hasn’t even been a month. This one I just finished was a purely recreational read – meaning not assigned as a book club book. One of my fellow book clubbers recommended and loaned it to me and what an incredible little book by Harriett Scott Chessman. It is a novel of a woman with Alzheimer’s and her family. It kind of drove me crazy how all the details of the main character’s life are all jumbled and seem to be hiding just out of reach or just beyond the next corner but it is the story told mostly from her point of view that gives the novel such great depth and uniqueness. And I was SO mad about the ending…. until I’d had a day to think about it. It ended exactly the only way it could and in hindsight I love even how it ends. The characters are beautifully depicted through the shadows of the woman with Alzheimer’s and what a heart-wrenching portrayal of a story that is lived in reality by thousands of people every single day. I highly recommend this book. It is a short little book but at times not such an easy read; but what a great glimpse into life with such a horrible disease.


The Screwtape Letters

Two words… hated it. OK, perhaps that is a bit unfair but it was exactly how I was feeling before I headed off to book club last night to discuss one of my least favorite reads to date. I thought it was going to be a preachy little discussion where all the very-steeped-in-their-chosen-organized-religion women would feed off one another and devolve into a Sunday school discussion. Of course, I went armed with my more obscure (and what turned out to be thought provoking) quotes from the book and my insistence on religious tolerance for all. The book is written by C.S. Lewis who, I was surprised to find out after only knowing him from my childhood love of the Chronicles of Narnia, wrote more religious books on Christianity in his later years than anything. The book is a collection of letters written by an upper-level demon in Hell to his nephew, Wormwood, who is assigned to temp a human man and secure his soul for the Devil. Written very satirically, it is very hard to read. Each letter can stand on its own as a study of an aspect of the human nature. And, there is no return correspondence to round out the one-sided commentary. Very anti-climactic ending that I almost missed entirely at the end of the last letter. I found myself identifying with the poor devil more than what the author was apparently trying to get me to care about in his religious rhetoric of “thou shalt not”. Several of the quotes I collected through my reading of this work almost make me wonder if the joke wasn’t on those readers who read it superficially and assume they know exactly what Lewis was trying to convey. My favorite quote was this: “Leave them to discuss whether ‘Love’, or patriotism, or celibacy, or candles on altars, or teetotalism, or education, are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Can’t you see there’s no answer?” If you’re looking for proper Oxford English and satire where God is labeled “the Enemy”, pick up this book. But, I don’t recommend it too highly. Much kudos and affection to my fellow book-clubbers who put up with my innate argumentativeness and never allowing them to get away with blanket stereotype comments on the subject of religion. In other words, thanks for putting up with all my shit and loving me anyway girls!


Twilight… Need I say more?

I know, I know… what a cliche that I’m reading the Twilight Saga but I’m telling you don’t knock ’em until you try ’em! I just devoured the 756 glorious pages of the fourth and (supposedly) final installment of the series by Stephenie Meyers in 4 days. I resisted like any mature fiction reader would when told that “you just have to read” a novel written for the teen market. It took my sister and several others several months of hounding me last summer and I finally gave in and took the first one on loan from my sister last October. It started out a bit slow but after 50 pages it grabbed me and I haven’t been able to put them down – more often than not having to force myself to stop in the wee hours of the morning so I’m not a zombie at work. (Thank GAWD for coffee!!!) I read “Twilight” and immediately opened “New Moon” because I couldn’t wait to see how it continued. I ended up getting my own copies because after the first one I couldn’t wait to be next in line on the rotation list for loans within the little circle of readers who were passing it around. I had “Eclipse” on hand already when I finished the second and then had to wait an agonizing 9 months for the fourth, “Breaking Dawn” to be released. And, I have to say that (other than Stephen King’s conclusion of The Dark Tower Series) this is the one book I’ve known the release date of and actually purchased it ON that date as a premeditated act. If you’re looking for Pulitzer Prize level writing, you won’t get it. But, if you’re looking for a new twist on an old theme (vampires – could it get any older than the undead?) that is so fresh and interesting then this is the series for you. Can’t wait for the movie… although we all KNOW that the book is always better than the movie!


In Defense of Food

Seven simple words: Eat food, not a lot, mostly plants. That’s Michael Pollan’s Eater’s Manifesto and the premise of this remarkable little book about getting back to eating real food and solving the health problems that plague the American culture. So, I loved Pollan’s previous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and couldn’t wait to read this follow-up which was touted as taking his vast research and putting it in more personal terms of how we eat. I was amazed at what a great book this was. Easy to read, sensible and sane concepts and very easy to manage suggestions of how to be more healthy Americans. Ever wonder why every other culture on the planet eats contrary to what our “experts” say we should eat and yet don’t have the problems with obesity and diabetes and heart disease that we do in America? Well, this little book will open your eyes. Did you know that most of what we purchase in the grocery stores couldn’t even be labeled as food until the ’70’s when the FDA and Congress overturned a rule that said if it was imitation food products that it had to be labeled as such? The first part, Eat Food, of his manifesto is amazingly simple in concept and yet pretty hard to do if you don’t pay attention to what you are really eating. The second part, Not A Lot, is also pretty simple in concept until you take a real look at food portions and compare our eating habits as a nation with other cultures. There’s something to be said about quality not quantity that will have lasting health benefits. And finally, Mostly Plants, shows how what we eat and how it has changed over time has become so different than what our bodies really have the capacity to handle – which explains why so many of us are fat and why so many of us get sick. He wraps it up with some great AND EASY rules of thumb to navigate our plethora of food choices and hopefully put people on a road back to the health we enjoyed before industrialization of food without having to leaving civilization to do it. If you’ve ever wanted to get a glimpse of the topic but didn’t want all the science, this is a great place to start! You’ll be hitting the farmers market and screaming “no high fructose corn syrup” with the best of us in no time…


Elantris

What a fabulous writer Brandon Sanderson is! This was July’s book club selection and from the announcement of the pick last month I was stoked since I love fantasy fiction. If you haven’t read a single fantasy book and you’re looking to expand your horizons on the genre then this is a great book to start with! There was depth to the characters, developed cultures that were diverse and compelling and a great story with enough twists to keep you guessing. The premise is that Elantris is the city of the Gods where the Gods used to be ordinary men and women (and children too!) who are randomly transformed into glowing-skinned beings who could perform powerful magic and live together in the city. However, 10 years before the opening of the book, the magic suddenly ended and the Elantrian’s are now miserable and pathetic creatures that the people who had been worshipping them now consider damned. Now when the transformation occurs, the people go through the ceremony of burial cleansing and are thrown into the city gates and locked inside. There are three main characters – Raoden, prince of Arelon, who was loved by all, including the princess he’d never met; Hrathen, high priest of Fjordell, who will convert the people of Arelon or kill them; and Sarene, princess of Teod, who was a widow before she was ever married. All three characters lives are entwined together and the story is told from their points of view. The most appealing thing about this book is that it is a complete story in the one volume. So many fantasy novels are in a series that you have to then wait for the resolution of the cliffhanger for another year until the next book comes out. (And hope the author doesn’t die before he’s done writing the entire saga like Robert Jordan did with his Wheel Of Time series.) While this book could have another written to explain elements of the world that Sanderson creates, the story in itself is complete at the end. Even the girls at the book club gathering couldn’t quit talking about this book and I think there are only 2 or 3 of us who have ever read fantasy before. Pick it up – you won’t be sorry!


Gone With The Wind

OH… MY…. GOD…., I loved this book for so many reasons!! I see why she won the Pulitzer when Margaret Mitchell wrote this phenomenal book. So, there’s a little history here… I grew up with a Mom who loved the movie and her and I and my sister would designate once a month as “girl’s night” and watch “Gone With The Wind” and “Somewhere In Time” and cry and be girls. Then, years later (OK, a least a decade) after marrying and no longer able to do the monthly movie night with Mom, it is a book club pick and I find myself reading the book from a beloved movie for the first time. Let me just say that as much as I LOVE the movie, it is the same with all the rest…. the book is ALWAYS better! I learned so much about the South and the Confederacy and the Civil War era than I had ever gleaned from history books or classes and even the movie. I even see the KKK in a different light and understand why and how it came into existence back in those times. Could you imagine as a state leaving the Union and fighting a war to be allowed to continue with your way of life and then spend years after you lost the war having to put up with corruption and not having a vote in your own governance? The book itself is a bit intimidating at almost 1000 pages but it is so worth the read! The best part for me? Realizing that all those girl’s nights with Mom watching Scarlett O’Hara be the strong woman she was and not caring what others thought of her actions might have had something to do with molding me into the headstrong and fearless woman I am today.


The Other Boleyn Girl

This was my latest pick for the neighborhood book club – consisting of very conservative ladies from the neighborhood with very strick rules about the kinds of books we choose to read. These rules include (in no particular order) no swearing, no sex, no violence. Needless to say I am hard-pressed typically to find a book that I like, that presents options for discussion AND that fit into the nice little rule box. This time I had to pick a book that I had not read yet after finding that a couple of recommendations from others didn’t pan out due to violence and sex. So, I pulled my latest “hey, I want to read that!” impulse buy out of the stack of books waiting to be cracked open and started in. When time was up on making a choice, I was about 90 pages in, it not only grabbed my attention but it had not an ounce of forbidden topics. WOOHOO! So, I announced it to the ladies with the disclaimer that I had not finished it. I went home after bookclub and the next day continued reading so I could complete it before the end of the month. To my horror – well, enjoyment really – the sex started! And it never ended the rest of the book. I spent the next 5 weeks until we met to discuss worried that everyone in the neighborhood would think I had broken the rules (who, me?!?) and done it on purpose, which of course I hadn’t. Other than the fact that all the sex that Henry VIII was having during the Ann Boleyn era took on the role of another character in the book, it was a very interesting and entertaining look at the infamous time in English history. We had a very rousing discussion and even the ladies in the neighborhood had lots to talk about… without touching on the sex! One of the points that several folks had disagreement on was the author’s portrayal of the King in the book. He was a very powerful historical figure who was described in this book as a very stumbling King who was easily manipulated by his court. There was also some intrigue as to the relationship of Anne Boleyn to certain members of her family that left much to discuss. For someone who’s only knowledge of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII was that they were married and he cut off her head, it was a very enlightening read. Enjoyable reading with a little bit o’history mixed in! I recommend it… We are watching the movie tomorrow and we’ll see if the movie is better than the book. What am I saying? The movie is NEVER as good as the book!