Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bristol House

My goal is to read 100 book by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 33.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Penguin Group Viking for the opportunity to read this book.

Bristol House by Beverly Swerling

A blend of historical fiction and supernatural mystery, this book is told from three alternating viewpoints in two time periods.
In modern-day London, architectural historian and recovering alcoholic Annie Kendall hopes to turn her life around and restart her career by locating several long-missing pieces of ancient Judaica.  Geoff Harris, an investigative reporter, is soon drawn into her quest, both by romantic interest and suspicions about the head of the Shalom Foundation, the organization sponsoring her work.  He's also a dead ringer for the ghost of a monk Annie believes she has seen at the flat she is subletting in Bristol House.
In 1535, Tudor London is a very different city, one in which monks are being executed by Henry VIII and Jews are banished.  In this treacherous environment of religious persecution, Dom Justin, a Carthusian monk, and a goldsmith known as the Jew of Holborn must navigate a shadowy world of intrigue involving Thomas Cromwell, Jewish treasure, and sexual secrets.  Their struggles shed light on the mysteries Annie and Geoff aim to solve - at their own peril.

My opinion:
I figured out very early in the book that I wouldn't be able to predict what would happen, mainly because I didn't know enough about the subjects to see the significance of clues before it was laid out for me.  A lack of knowledge didn't take anything away from the book for me, thanks to the writing style of the author.  Although she rightly assumed most readers would need things spelled out pretty clearly to follow the plot, she was able to keep the reveals surprising by presenting the information organically throughout the story.  

I would call this book a "thinking man's mystery" (along the same lines as books by Dan Brown), and recommend it if you like mysteries with heft.  I enjoyed it and will definitely look for other books by this author.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Kitchen Daughter

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 32.

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

This fiction novel is told from the point of view of Ginny, a 26 year old woman who recently lost her parents in an accident.  Although the reader can tell Ginny is on the autism spectrum, it's not something she knows about herself (she was extremely sheltered by her parents; she knows she's different but was always told it was "personality").  She withdraws and falls back on her comforting ritual:  cooking.  But her cooking brings unexpected surprises - the ghosts of her relatives, giving her cryptic warnings that she must unravel as she learns to cope with the many changes in her life.

My opinion:
This was our book club selection this month, and I had no idea what to expect when I started this very quick read.  The description doesn't capture the essence of the book for me, which was a young woman trying to make sense of her life when everything she knew and depended on was gone.  That aspect of the story was absorbing; living the interactions through Ginny's eyes made my heart break a little, and I just wanted to shake her sister and tell her to stop trying to "normalize" Ginny.  My strong reaction was definitely shaped by my personal experiences with "quirky" people and the overwhelming sadness I feel when people aren't accepted for who they are.
The ghosts and the mystery added interest and were necessary to move the story along.  For me, what pulled me out of the story and caused me to like but not love the book was the self-discovery Ginny made over the course of the book.  Can I suspend disbelief for ghosts?  Sure.  Can I suspend disbelief for the amount of progress and awareness Ginny gained?  Apparently not.  Strange, but it's how I feel.

Quote from the book:
"Difficult, but not impossible.  I am not impossible." ~ Ginny

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mentally Incontinent

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 31.

Mentally Incontinent (that time I burned down a Hooters, that time my stalker crashed on my couch, and nine other stories from my weird life) by Joe Peacock

Joe Peacock has many strange life stories, and he began posting those stories on the website he founded,  Labelled a biography (although it's presented with a wink at the seemingly blurred line between reality and embellishment), visitors to his website voted on their favorite stories and the winners are the stories in this book.

My opinion:
I didn't know anything about Joe or the website when I saw this at the library, but I enjoy short stories and that was enough for this random reader to give it a try.  He's an engaging, interesting writer.  Most of the stories were about stupid things he's done, and I liked them in the "wow, I'm glad I don't have to deal with him in real life" kind of way.  But the last story ("The Walmart Story") made me cringe - it involved humiliation of others on a grand scale and I'm too softhearted to find the humor in that.

Overall, it was a quick, mostly enjoyable read, but I'm not going to run to his website and read everything he's ever written.

My favorite story:
"The Hospital is No Place to Spend Your Birthday"

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Dinner

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 30.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

Summary (copied from Goodreads):
It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
     Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

My opinion:
This book made me so uncomfortable, and the only way I can write this review is through points and counterpoints that reflect how I can like and hate it at the same time. 

Point:  the book was well-written, and I had no trouble feeling the underlying tension throughout the entire thing.
Counterpoint:  there was so much tension that I had a constant feeling of anxious nausea while reading it.

Point:  it made me think about what I would do if faced with a similar situation (answer: the complete opposite of what was done in the book).
Counterpoint:  the only way I can sleep tonight is by reminding myself this is a work of fiction and pretending that there aren't humans out there who really behave this way.

Point: it is definitely a book to talk about, and I look forward to discussing it with my fabulous posse (read what they had to say about this book and many others here: Lindsey's Book BlogThe Insomniac Bibliophile, and My Posse Book Blog).
Counterpoint:  I can't talk about it without my skin crawling.

Yes, this book has all the qualities of a good book (grabbed my attention, made me think, and touched me emotionally).  No, I didn't like it.  How's that for a clear-as-mud review?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Best of Us

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 29.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.  The expected publication date is April 9, 2013.

The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen

To celebrate Dwight's 35th birthday, his wife Pauline organizes an extravagant vacation in Jamaica and invites his three closest friends from college - Tina (with her husband Gio), Allie (with her husband Ryan), and Savannah (with her husband Gary).  All 4 women jump at the chance to escape reality, all for different reasons (Tina is losing herself as she parents young children, Allie has learned of genetic illness in her family, Savannah hasn't admitted she's separated from her husband, and Pauline feels her marriage is strained because she hasn't gotten pregnant yet).  But as the week progresses, reality creeps in and each woman must examine their lives and decide what they truly want in life and love.

My opinion:
I'm so frustrated because it's impossible for me to say anything about the book without spoilers.  I thought I knew the general direction of the story before I started based on the description...I was wrong.  I thought the first plot twist would be the most outrageous part of the book...I was wrong.  I thought my discomfort was due to one particular character...I was wrong.  As the plot twists continued, I thought there was no way the story would continue in a certain direction...I was wrong.  The ending came and I thought that can't possibly be the resolution...I was wrong.
Compulsively readable but not necessarily likable (that may only make sense in my mind).  I would love to discuss it with someone that has read it!

Quote from the book:
"Want to know the first thing that pops into my mind almost every morning after opening my eyes?  I start anticipating being able to go to bed at night.  I'm just so tired all the time." ~ Tina (the character I identified with the most)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 28.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to read this book.

If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother by Julia Sweeney

This book is a collection of short stories about motherhood by Julia Sweeney, a comedianne best known for her work on Saturday Night Live and her one-woman show God Said Ha!

My Opinion:
Julia is a natural storyteller, and this book was an absolute delight to read.  I would describe this book as deeply funny - the perfect blend of depth and humor.  Although her stories were light enough to read quickly (and I did; this book was completed in one sitting), they were also revealing, personal, and touching.

Highly recommended.

My Favorite Story:
The incredibly random story of how she met her husband.