Archive for the Book Review Category

Bitter is the New Black – Review

Jul 29th, 2010 Posted in Book Review | no comment »

Ugh. I think I’m done with memoirs. I was hesitant to try again after reading the pitiful Eat, Pray, Love for the Lit Ladies Book Club (though I have to admit the movie previews look pretty good). But, hey, even I can be a follower in book club, so I read our July pick, Jen Lancaster’s Bitter is the New Black. It’s supposed to be “hilarious” and the author is “like that friend who always says what you think — only 1,000 times funnier.” Hmmm.

Jen is funny and clever and mean and shallow and nasty and mean and mean and mean. Her rise to excess and subsequent fall to near poverty is interesting. But, really all she learns from her trials is to take it easy on the handbags. She still thinks she’s queen of all that’s right with the world and that it’s her responsibility to insult and point out the flaws with everyone else. She gets a better perspective on belongings – but then turns to insulting and degrading all those who don’t follow her profound revelations. She gets fat – but somehow turns the health conscience world into evil-out-of-touch freaks. There are moments where she actually admits to her flaws and mistakes. Moments when she shows feeling and tenderness toward her dogs and her spouse. But, you guessed it, just when you think she’s getting it, she quickly turns to judging others again.

I love sarcasm as much as the next person, but Jen is just cruel.

I talked over my ban of memoirs with Brian and his perspective was right on. I’m paraphrasing, “well, duh, you have to be an egomaniac to write a memoir.” So true. Though I believe that Maya Angelou’s autobiographies are the exception. They are beautiful and inspiring. Some people really do have a story to tell and thankfully raise the bar too high for someone like Jen to reach.

Note: Some people love Bitter is the New Black. Even if you appreciate the humor it does get a bit boring after awhile in book format. All the little anecdotes are fun at first, then just distracting. Try out her blog for a few days first. Then decide if you can really handle a whole book of it.

The Red Tent – Review

Jul 3rd, 2010 Posted in Book Review | 2 comments »

A friend of mine once named The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant, as one of her favorite books of all time. So of course I was very excited to learn that she convinced the Lit Ladies Book Club to make it the June selection.

What a powerful and wonderful story for women to read. Diamant takes the life story of Dinah, the daughter barely mentioned in the story of the Bible’s Jacob, and tells it from Dinah’s perspective. Though it is a work of historical fiction, the insights and details uncover the humanity and truth of a woman’s life so long ago.  Many say that it fills in the gaps left by the biblical text and gives women a much needed piece of biblical history.  All I know, is that I loved it.  I felt reassured by the bond between the women and their strength and intelligence in times when men seemed to control it all. Dinah lives, loves, suffers, heals and finds a beautiful peace.  The story moves the mind and heart.

I loved how the women knew their worth as “life givers” and embraced it fully.  The literal red tents of the time were a place for women to gather during menses and birth and illness without the presence of men.  They rested and shared stories and sang songs. An interesting note is that after giving birth to a boy, the mother stayed in the tent for one month. After a girl birth, the mother stayed for two months. Some would say that is because girl babies made the mother “unclean.”   A better theory, in the spirit of this story, is that giving birth to a birth-giver was more sacred and the extra month was a reward.

Many thanks to my girlfriend for introducing me to The Red Tent.  The story was a wonderful gift that I hope to share and pass on to all of my women friends.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest – Review

May 25th, 2010 Posted in Book Review | no comment »

I had a love/hate relationship with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, by Stieg Larsson.  There was no question that I was absolutely compelled to read and finish the 3rd installment of the series. I loved the first two.  But, I stalled out several times on this 600 pager. I actually stopped reading at one point, read a different book and then came back to it. I would have never considered doing that with the others.

While I love the story and the main characters who remained constant through all three books, Larsson frequently got lost in his background and bios when introducing new characters. I found myself growing impatient and speed-reading or (I hate to admit it) completely skipping pages to get back to Lizbeth and Mikael.  Granted, some of it was necessary to fully understand what Lizbeth is up against in this story of her trial and retribution in Stockholm. But, there was some serious deadweight in the mid-200’s of the book.

If you’ve read the first two installments from Stieg you MUST read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. Be ready to power through a few spots and you should be satisfied at the end of the journey.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Review

May 5th, 2010 Posted in Book Review | no comment »

Odd title. Lovely book.

The Guernsey  Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow, topped my “to read” list for many, many months.  Finally, I won over the Lit Ladies Book Club and it became our April selection. Oh my, this is a fantastic book and so deserving of all of the praise it’s received.

I thought I new what to expect. I knew it was a fictional collection of letters describing the German occupation of the Channel Islands (Guernsey specifically) during WWII.  While I did learn about the German occupation and the horrible sadness and aftermath for the people and lands of Europe, I also was given a great story.  For me, the book was about a woman finding where she truly belonged in the post-War world and how to find happiness after all of the destruction. Very romantic in the discovery of a new home, new friends, new family and love.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is written entirely in correspondence letters and telegrams.  Writer Juliet receives a letter from a Guernsey native, Dawsey, who’s found one of her old books and her address. He writes to her inquiring about the book and sets the Guernsey story in motion. I loved reading the letters. How wonderful it would have been to receive them and write them.  We are so used to instant gratification with our emails and Internet and iPhones. The anticipation of the post must have been incapacitating! And, the content must have been so much more rewarding for have waited.

I plan to pass this book on to my son (age 13). I think he’ll enjoy the story and the clear and personal portrayal of WWII. I know it gave me such a sharper picture than the bombs and trenches we see in movies. I had never really considered all of the little details that made enduring and recovering from war so difficult. I don’t want to spoil them for you though 🙂 Go read it for yourself.

Oh, and don’t skip over the acknowledgement and afterward sections at the end. Both are great and the afterward almost made  me cry.

The Help – Book Club Report

Apr 8th, 2010 Posted in Book Review | no comment »

It was unanimous. All of the Lit Ladies Book Club members LOVED The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  Any complaints? Well,  yes. We all wanted more. We became so attached to Skeeter, Minny, Aibeleen, etc that we would love the story to carry on. She brought each character to a satisfying conclusion, but like life, the story wouldn’t end there.  Doubtful we’ll get our wishes granted.

For May we’ve selected the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: “The letters comprising this small charming novel begin in 1946, when single, 30-something author Juliet Ashton (nom de plume Izzy Bickerstaff) writes to her publisher to say she is tired of covering the sunny side of war and its aftermath. When Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams finds Juliet’s name in a used book and invites articulate—and not-so-articulate—neighbors to write Juliet with their stories, the book’s epistolary circle widens, putting Juliet back in the path of war stories.”   I’ve been wanting to read this one for a long time. Yay!  But first, I must finish The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest.

The Help – Review

Apr 5th, 2010 Posted in Book Review | no comment »

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, is quite simply the best book I’ve read from the Lit Ladies Book Club. In fact, it sits right up there on my pedestal of favorites of all time. I loved the writing style, the story and the message.

The novel takes place in 1960’s Mississippi. At the center is a young college graduate and wanna-be-writer nick-named Skeeter. She returns home to the pressures of a mother and friends bent on marrying her off and to the puzzle of her missing, beloved maid Constantine. The story weaves into the lives of Minny and Abileen (the help) and unites all three of them in a secret project that will changes and potentially risks their lives.  Each of them is trying to break free of the stereotypes and segregation and “rules” that limit them at every turn. It digs deep and gets very personal. I really became attached to and cared about each of the characters.

The Help is fantastic. Read it.

Goodreads for Lit Ladies

Apr 1st, 2010 Posted in Book Review, Fun Things to Do | one comment »

The Lit Ladies Book Club has been going strong for over a year. We’ve had fun at our meetings whether the books were good or oh-so-bad. The discussions about the “bad” books are usually the most entertaining 🙂

Most of us Lit Ladies read more than just our monthly assignment and are always looking for the next book. I recently passed along the idea of the group joining Goodreads.  I’ve really enjoyed my experience with this virtual book club. And with more friends joining, I’ll have an even better source of reading material.

On Goodreads member share a list of the books they’ve read, rated and reviewed. It’s pretty easy to do and you can make the reviews as long or short as you want or just click how many stars you’d give the book. In just a few minutes, I can find dozens of books that sound great and have a personal recommendation from someone I know.  You can also search reviews on thousands of other books that other folks have read (just like Amazon). I’ve even used Goodreads to find book ideas for my kids.

Another fun feature of Goodreads just popped up this week. The author of one of my favorite books The Little Giant of Aberdeen County was available for question and answer session online through Goodreads. It was pretty cool to submit a question to her as well as see the discussions between her and other readers. Can’t wait for her next book!

Goodreads has hooks into Facebook as well. I’ve built up my reading list with both Lit Ladies and miscellaneous Facebook friends. If you are a reader or want to be, this is a great way to expand your to-read list. Another perk? You could possibly even save some money on books with some organized borrowing from your Goodreads “library” of friends.

The 19th Wife – Review

Mar 26th, 2010 Posted in Book Review | 4 comments »

I love reading historic fiction. It’s so satisfying to learn while being entertained. Literary perfection for the multi-tasker 🙂

So when a friend passed along The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff, I eagerly snapped it up.  I’m happy to report, the novel delivered an amazing story wrapped in an intimate picture of lives of both the early day Latter Day Saints and those who currently live in the aftermath of polygamy.

Ebershoff delivers two entwined stories. The first is the historically -based story of Ann Eliza Young. We see how her family came to be followers of Joseph Smith and made the journey to Utah. We get to see how the message of celestial marriage was introduced to the Latter Day Saints and then how it morphed and became a dominating force in the church. Ann Eliza was a catalyst to ending polygamy after she eventually escaped her role as the 19th wife to Brigham Young.  She toured the country beginning in 1875 telling her story, writing a book and fanning the flames that eventually led the Mormon church to denounce polygamy.

The second story is in present day, Mesadale, Utah.  Imagine that you are the husband to 15 or even 20 wives and father to some 40 children. Now your church says, “oops, no more polygamy.” What do you do with the mess you’ve made? Some chose to clean it up and others chose to hide out in Mesadale and keep on living what they believed to be the true doctrine of Joseph Smith. The story in Mesadale erupts with a gun shot. A 19th wife has been accused of shooting her husband and this ignites her excommunicated son to return and find out what really happened.

I was completely engrossed in both story lines. I was able to feel the power of faith in these characters and better understand what faith allows the mind to overlook.  The sacrifices women (and even men) made during this period are amazing. I believe that all religions have darkness in their histories. What man has done in the name of “God” is both inspiring and horrific at times. The LDS church is no better or worse in that respect. True religious leaders need to embrace and confront those mistakes and triumphs. Don’t hide them. Share them. Learn from them.

The Girl Who Played with Fire – Review

Mar 14th, 2010 Posted in Book Review | no comment »

After reading The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, by Stieg Larsson, the Lit Ladies Book Club enthusiastically picked its sequel for the next month.

The Girl Who Played with Fire is even better than Dragon Tatoo. It jumps right in to the fascinating life of Lisbeth Salander and gives readers a much better look into what makes our heroine tick. The story winds nicely back into the life of Mikael Blomkvist though his role is much less pivotal this go around.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Many of the Lit Ladies pointed out that Dragon Tattoo started a bit slow and the Swedish street names and locations made for cumbersome reading at times. We were definitely over those minor complaints in The Girl Who Played with Fire. The story is engrossing for page one and by the end, I was hiding in a quiet corner of my house devouring every word. I cannot wait to get my hands on the The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest when it is released in the United States on May 25th.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Review

Feb 3rd, 2010 Posted in Book Review | one comment »

The Lit Ladies Book Club picked a murder mystery for January and I loved it. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an extremely fun read filled with juicy characters, family drama, corporate corruption and, of course, the mysterious disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a 16-year-old corporate heiress that disappeared 40 years ago. Was she murdered, was it an accident, was it suicide or is she even really dead?

Our flawed heroes in the story are Mikael Blomkvist, a dashing journalist trying to recover from a story that blew up and landed him with a libel conviction, and Lisbeth Salander, a very dysfunctional, hard-edged young woman with a sharp brain and even sharper attitude.  Funded by the patriarch of the Vanger clan, they join forces to solve the mystery of Harriet Vanger and get a whole lot more than they bargained for.  The story is almost entirely set in Sweden, as that is the origin of the author.  Some of the Swedish names and phrases can slow the pace at first, but you get used to it fairly quickly.

Should be a great discussion at Book Club tonight. I’ll be very surprised if The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo failed to hook anyone in the group.  This is the first book in the Millennium trilogy. Brian is reading #3 and has enjoyed them all. Guess I know what I want to read next 🙂

I’ll be sure to also discuss tonight that the author has his own interesting story. Larsson was himself a journalist like the main character and many say these are kind of like fantasy novels for him. Sadly, Larsson died just two months before the first book of the trilogy was released to the public. We’ll never get to dig further into the author’s mind.

And, for a bit of intrigue, you can visit the Steig Larsson website and dig into the controversy surrounding a potential fourth book in the series. It’s also interesting to read about his background which explains the anti-fascism and Nazi elements to the story.