Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mini Review: The 19th Wife

My neighborhood book group read The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff for our 100th book and met at a restaurant last week to celebrate and discuss it. This is one of those books I never would have read if it wasn't for my book group, but I'm glad I did.

This novel is really two interwoven stories: the story of Brigham Young's so-called 19th wife who divorced him in the late 1800's and helped to outlaw polygamy and a modern murder mystery set in an isolated religious compound where polygamy is still practiced today.

The novel goes back and forth between the two stories and relies heavily on historical fact. In fact, about a quarter of the way through, I skipped ahead to the Afterword to read about how much of it was fact and how much was fiction. The historical context is fascinating (much more so than I expected) and the modern mystery is filled with unexpected twists. After I described the book to my husband, he started reading it himself!

This must be a hot topic because on the Today show last week, I saw an interview with a modern-day polygamist and his four wives who are starring in a new reality series on TLC, Sister Wives.

Mini Review: The Shipping News

Even though I don't have the time or energy to write full reviews here right now, I decided to post the mini reviews that I write on Goodreads for the adult books I read.  I post full reviews of kids' and teens' books at my other blog, Great Books for Kids and Teens.  So, my mini review of The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx:

I just finished this award-winning novel (it won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award) for one of my book groups. I saw the movie starring Kevin Spacey years ago and have wanted to read the book for a long time.

The author has a strange writing style, filled with odd little sentence fragments, but it grew on me after a while. It's a quirky novel, about a misfit man who's been through some terrible tragedies and moves to his ancestors' home in cold, barren Newfoundland with his two young daughters. Life there is challenging, but he slowly finds his way and feels like he belongs for the first time in his life. It's a warm, tender story, filled with unusual characters.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Title Meme

I saw this over at The Little Bookworm, and I loved it!

What To Do: Using only books you have read this year (2010), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title. It’s a lot harder than you think!

(I limited my answers here to just the adult books I read this year so far - to see my answers for the kids' and teen/YA  books I've read, hop over to Great Books for Kids and Teens.  I found it was a lot harder with the adult titles!)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?  Shutter Island (yikes, not really!)

Your favorite form of transportation: Sea Trails

Your best friend is: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

You and your friends are: Her Fearful Symmetry

What’s the weather like:  Mudbound

You fear:  The Sweet Hereafter

What is the best advice you have to give:  Let the Great World Spin

Thought for the day:  How To Be Sick

How I would like to die: The Soloist

My soul’s present condition:  Love Walked In

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

What I Read In August

I read some great books in August, so I thought I'd give you a quick summary.  I've linked to reviews, where I wrote one, or included my mini review from Goodreads.  And I finally figured out how to add my Goodreads links to my blog (I'm slow with this techie stuff!), so you can find that in the right-hand column. This month, I read and enjoyed:

Memoirs of a Geisha:
This book is a great example of why I love book groups so much. Of course, I read all the great reviews of this best-seller and heard friends recommend it, but it just didn't sound interesting to me. I finally read it this week for my library's book discussion, and I'm so glad I did! Within the first few pages, I was hooked.

This is one of those books that transports you to a faraway time and place. It is amazingly well-written (especially since the male author does such an incredible job of writing from the perspective of a girl and woman) and so compelling. Besides the intricate setting and descriptions of a culture far different than ours, I was fascinated by the moral complexities presented. The world of the geishas is one of contradictions - where orphans are basically sold into a form of slavery but also where prominent families may choose to train their daughters as geisha from a very early age. The geishas are thoroughly trained in the arts, respected, and even honored, yet they have almost no control over their own lives.

It's a fascinating, absorbing book. I can't believe I waited so long to read it!

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest:
I very much enjoyed this third and final book in Stieg Larsson's popular series. It was a bit slow at the start, with lots of details on Swedish politics and history, but I was pulled in right from the first page because I couldn't wait to find out what happened to my favorite characters.

This was a satisfying end to an excellent series!

Elvis & Olive by Stephanie Watson, a sweet middle-grade novel about friendship.

First Light by Rebecca Stead, a middle-grade audio book set in Antarctica.

The Little Book:
I never know how to categorize books with a time-travel theme...I suppose the theme alone makes it science fiction, but that never seems to fit quite right in a book like this.

I really enjoyed this novel about a well-known rock star in 1988 who suddenly finds himself in 1897 Vienna. As with all great time travel stories, it is very thought-provoking, as the man encounters both famous people - like Sigmund Freud and Mark Twain - as well as his own family members as young adults. I find the questions these encounters provoke endlessly fascinating: Can he change the future? If he interferes with his own ancestors, could he affect his own modern life? And in this book...if you could alter history for the better, should you? What unforeseen effects could result?

In addition to these fascinating plot elements, the story's setting in turn-of-the-century Vienna is interesting - I had no idea this time and place had such a profound effect on so many aspects of our modern life.

All in all, a very satisfying read.

Boom! by Mark Haddon, a hilarious British middle-grade audio book.

And now it's September - hard to believe!  I hope you all had a great summer!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Authors Featured on NPR Today

NPR's Radio Times featured a book lover's double-header today! 

The first hour was devoted to a discussion of the phenomenon of Stieg Larsson's wildly popular trilogy, starting with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.   The guests were the editor of the American editions and a mystery/thriller columnist and blogger.  I enjoyed the show so much that I sat in my car in the shopping center parking lot for a half hour!

The second hour of Radio Times featured an interview with Anna Quindlen, author (most recently) of the novel Every Last One.  This was a rebroadcast, and I had heard most of it before, but it's an excellent show.

From the links I've included here you can either download a podcast or listen on your computer.