Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

Iyengar is a professor at Columbia University who studies human patterns of choice. She uses her training in social psychology as a base for examining choice in a variety of religions and societies. In The Art of Choosing she explains various studies, including her own, that address the topics of choice and freedom. Her in-depth insight on the multiple factors that influence human decision making are unveiled in this eye-opening and fascinating look into human psychology.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Lost Saints of Tennessee by Amy Franklin-Willis

There is much to like about The Lost Saints of Tennessee by Amy Franklin-Willis. The main character is a 42-year-old man contemplating suicide, still grieving over the mysterious death of his twin brother ten years before and now an unhappily divorced father. Ezekiel Cooper is a flawed protagonist but an eloquent one.

Ezekiel has three sisters in addition to his dead twin, Carter, who suffered brain damage as a toddler and died as an adult under mysterious circumstances. Ezekiel is the child his mother, Lillian, expected to make something of himself and get out of Clayton, the small Tennessee town she has always felt stuck in. When Ezekiel left for college in 1960 and went to live in Virginia with his mother’s cousin, his mother made decisions that changed lives and that still form a barrier between Ezekiel and Lillian 25 years later.

Ezekiel’s flight from Clayton in 1985 to fulfill his vaguely formed suicide plan ends instead at that same Virginia farm of his college days. His brother’s ancient dog, Tucker, keeps him company on the trip. His troubled relationship with his mother is reflected in his awkward parenting of his own two teenaged daughters.

As seems to be a requirement of novels these days, the book jumps around in time, from the 1980s to the 1940s and various dates in between. The book is broken into three parts. The first and third are told by Ezekiel; the middle is told by his mother. (Oddly, her section does not have the date headlines that Ezekiel’s sections do.) Fortunately, the timeline jumps are pretty straightforward and I did not find them confusing.

Despite the title, the quotes from the Bible that appear before each part, and the biblical name of the main character, The Lost Saints of Tennessee is not an overly religious novel. The religious themes are not wielded like a club to make points throughout the story, which I found refreshing.

The author often turns a nice phrase. For example, when the mother is trying to justify an affair with her brother-in-law, she says, “I needed to believe someone still saw a spark in me, something that didn’t have to do with [my husband] or the children. Maybe that’s why most married people have affairs. Because the affair is separate from the family; it’s just about you. Of course, in the end, it winds up right back with the family.”

However, the book is not without its flaws. I found a romance between two of the characters unbelievable, unnecessary and indeed a drag on the plot; the book would have been better if the events could have played out without the romance. I also found the “big reveal” of the mysterious secret from the past to be very anticlimactic.

Still, The Lost Saints of Tennessee is well written, and it kept my interest to the end. If you enjoy novels that are more about character development than plot, I recommend The Lost Saints of Tennessee. It is scheduled to be released in February 2012.

Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh

Well, first off this book ought to come with a warning. It should be stated that anyone with a tender heart, who literally gets sick to their stomach when hearing or reading about child abuse in every form imaginable, they need to know that when they get to the end of the book, they will be inspired. The most difficult read for me to date, I found this book heart-wrenching, disturbing (on many levels) and quite sickening. Having said that, I also found this book to be inspiring in a way I have never seen before, and that is because it is a true story, written by the man who survived. And survive he did.

This is a story about Mikey Walsh (not his real name) and he tells the tale of his life growing up in a Romany Gypsy camp. His writing style is matter-of-fact, which is perfect for this kind of a story. He is literally surrounded by people who, at one time or another, do him harm. His mother is really the only one in the family who shows him any love whatsover, and even she can't keep him safe from her abusive husband. Mikey also mentions a teacher who really tried to help him, and I am hoping that she gets a chance to read this book so she will know how much she meant to him. This gypsy culture is so different from anything I have ever known, and I found myself wondering why those living in the camp would knowingly allow these things to happen. It was quite sad.

But again, after all the disappointments in his life, and the struggles he faced in trying to live up to what his father wanted, and the total isolation he must have felt living with this family, Mikey came out on top. He endured so much in his young life and it didn't scar his heart.

This was a tough book to get through. I admire Mikey for his strength, his character and his courage to write these things down on paper so that the whole world can know what his life was truly like.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

Well I really enjoyed this book. Set in England in the 1980's, this story is written in a parallel-style and is about a Private Investigator (Ray Lovell), who is quite likeable by the way, and a young gypsy boy named JJ. Our fearless investigator has some personal issues, what with a divorce in the making and his stalking of the ex wife, plus he might have a bit of a drinking problem, but other than that he seems quite competent. He is also half-gypsy, which is why he got this job in the first place, looking for a missing gypsy woman named Rose who just disappeared, literally, without a trace. I have never read anything at all about the gypsy way of life, so it was quite interesting to read this book and learn a few things.

I love the parallel writing style, seeing the story from two different points of view. I loved all of the characters and the writing was expressive and well done. Stef Penney is a fabulous writer and she has another book called The Tenderness of Wolves which I am going to run right out and get.

If you like a well-written mystery, books about unusual subject matter or books that you might not be able to put down, then this book is for you.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Big Year by Mark Obmascik

I really wanted to like the Big Year. It follows three men as they participate in a "Big Year" - a year in which they try to see as many bird species in North America as can be seen. I am a birder and thought it would be very interesting. It was not. The author is not a birder himself, and in some ways it feels like a book written by a nonbirder for nonbirders. In addition, I didn't much like one of the main participants, and I don't really admire someone who spends thousands and thousands of dollars to put a tickmark next to a bird species. Most of the birders involved didn't particularly seem to care about the birds themselves. I'm not really sure who the intended audience is for this book, or who I'd recommend it to. I've yet to see the movie, which comes out on DVD at the end of January. I hope it is better than the book!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott

Set in 1912 and starting off in Cherbourg, France, this book is about one particular girl and her desire to quit being a servant and start being a seamstress. She decides to run away from her horrible job, and packs the few belongings she has in a canvas sack and then heads out to the dock where she has heard that a huge ship is supposed to be sailing to New York. The name of the ship? The Titanic.

So the story unfolds, and we follow our young gal Tess through all of her adventures. The first thing we notice is that she has some kind of nerve, practically sassing the woman who is literally her only chance of getting on the ship. I liked her immediately.

The Titanic was an amazing ship, and Alcott describes it incredibly well, and it is quite lovely to be seen through the eyes of Tess. You practically feel like you are there, and then of course when the ship sinks you are thankful you are not. It was horrifying, and you will learn things, and think about things that you had not thought about before. This book really opened my eyes.

This book is well written and quite historic. A lot of the testimony in the book came from transcripts of the U.S. Senate hearings. Some of the passengers Alcott included were people that were actually on the ship. I found it fascinating and had trouble putting it down.

For anyone who enjoys historical novels, romance novels or just a well-written novel that will transport you to another time, this is the book for you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud

Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star is yet another modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Darcy is the lead singer for the popular rock band Slurry. Band members include his good friend Charles Bingley and his cousin Richard Fitzwilliam. In need of an opening act, they book the girl band Long Borne Suffering, with musicians Elizabeth Bennett, her sister Jane, and their friend Charlotte Lucas.

The book started out very well. The author found ways to bring in many familiar characters and situations from Pride and Prejudice, but the story is also original and funny. However, the novelty wore off after a couple hundred pages. The book is over 400 pages long and would have been much better if it had been closer to 300. Still, overall I enjoyed reading it.

If you like revisiting the characters of Jane Austen and are looking for something to read, I recommend Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star. However, be warned that although this romance is inspired by the works of Jane Austen, it is not written in the style of Jane Austen. There is plenty of sex and liberal use of the F word.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

One of the great books of American literature, The Catcher in the Rye defies classification. You'll have to read it for yourself if you haven't already. Published 60 years ago, it is still among the most challenged books in schools and libraries.

I just read it again, for the library's adult book club discussions. At the first discussion last night, it was interesting to see how everyone referred to the book's narrator as if he was a real person. Holden Caulfield gets inside your head. I highly recommend The Catcher in the Rye.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling cries when she listens to Paul Simon's "Graceland," is perpetually baffled by men's collective inability to efficiently tie their shoes, and recognizes Christopher Moltisanti's intervention scene on The Sopranos to be one of the funniest television moments of all time. These 3 things confirm what I, and many women my age, firmly believe to be true: Mindy Kaling is meant to be my BFF.

This collection of memoir-esque essays by Kaling, a writer, producer, and actor on NBC's "The Office," is everything I wanted it to be: offbeat, hilarious, sweet, and honest. Kaling opens up about her childhood (her parents were immigrants), her early experiences with comedy at Dartmouth and off-Broadway, and how she came to write for television. The chapters are short and topical, making this an easy and very enjoyable read. If you like the style of humor featured on "the Office" or are interested in female comedians in general, give this book a try.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Affair by Lee Child

Posted for reader Annette Q:

If you are a Jack Reacher fan, you will love this book. If you are NOT a Jack Reacher fan (which just means that you haven't had the opportunity to read any of these novels) then you should start right now. Seriously, go down to the library and check out any one of his books and start reading. The first book I read was Bad Luck and Trouble, which falls somewhere in the middle of the series, and I have since read every single novel Lee Child has written about Jack Reacher.

I think if I had to do it all over again I would read the books in order, and then read The Affair, which is a prequel, coming after Worth Dying For, which I believe is the last book before The Affair. But there is no reason in the world why you couldn't read this book first, and then the rest of the series later. This is the first I have heard of an author writing a novel that takes place in time before an established series, but it really did answer a lot of questions I had thought about while reading this series. I think it was a brilliant idea and Lee Child did an amazing job of showing us how Reacher became the man he is today. You can sum up Reacher by this one paragraph in The Affair:

he was walking down a dark road, deciding what to do when a stranger in a car drove up and blocked his way, the stranger rolling down the window and sticking his elbow outside so Reacher couldn't pass:
Three choices.
First, stop and chat.
Second, step into the weeds between the pavement and the ditch, and pass by him.
Third, break his arm.

I actually laughed out loud on that one. Lee Child is a great writer, and I love his sense of humor. He brings Reacher to life, showing us a man who is strong, smart, handsome (I imagine he is handsome) but who is also human, and who makes mistakes. Not many mistakes, but when he does he admits it and moves on.

If you like mysteries, action, humor and a little bit of romance, you will love this book. It is perfectly fine to read this as your first Jack Reacher novel, and then you can start at the top of the list and work your way down. You will not be disappointed!