Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Earlier this week I finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

This was one of the more enjoyable books I'd read in a long time.
Early in the book one of the characters writes:
"Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true."
I love this sentiment and was happy that this book found me.

Even if this book had been awful I probably would have enjoyed it because it contains a few of my weaknesses - novels in epistolary form, and a book about readers who love books. As it was I found the story captivating and really fell for the characters, and wished it had been just a bit longer!

The book is about a literary society that forms in an unlikely way on the Guernsey islands during World War II when the Germans occupied the islands. After the war, an islander connects with a Londoner, an author, over a book and a pen pal type relationship is formed. The novel is set up with letters among various people and my poor description isn't quite capturing it, but I would certainly recommend this one.

The novel has two authors, and it was originally created by Mary Ann Shaffer, when her health began to fail her niece took part in the writing. I was sad to read online that Mary Ann Shaffer did not live to see her book published. I did find an interesting interview with Annie Barrows if you are interesting in reading more.

Peaknit is reading this as well so I'd be interested to hear her thoughts.

I'll close with another quote from the book that captures one element of reading:
"Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle :: David Wroblewski


I finished reading this today. When I closed the book I laid back on my bed and just thought of Edgar Sawtelle. Edgar, the 14-year-old main character in the story - a unique, tragic hero. Lost in thought I flipped the book over to look at the back cover - strangely realizing I hadn't even noticed before. Here is what I read:

"I flat-out love The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I closed this book with the regret readers feel only after experiencing the best stories: It's over, you think and I won't read another one this good for a long, long time"....Stephen King

Woa, I felt like looking over my shoulder - did Stephen King siphon that right off of my brain? It is exactly how I was feeling. Terrible remorse that my adventure with Edgar was over. I will miss my young friend. More than once I felt like ruffling Edgar's hair or giving him the honest maternal squeeze he needed to get through his next obstacle.

Another goodie for me - the scenes in this book. This author does a tremendous job of helping me conjure visual images through his rich words. My senses were truly tickled throughout this book. I may need to go back and review some portions of the book to really tie everything together - it was expertly woven in my lay-man's opinion.

The story starts with a couple. A young couple who run a dog kennel - not an ordinary kennel - these people eat, sleep and breathe canine. They train the dogs so thoroughly that it leaves the reader wondering if the dogs are thinking. And some chapters are indeed told from a dog's perspective - she is Almondine (isn't that a charming name for a loyal friend?). The couple desperately wants a child. Finally they are blessed with Edgar - healthy and normal in every way except that he cannot speak. The story follows his relationship with Almondine, his gifts with the dogs - and tragedy. I don't want to hint at anything further - but my heart broke for Edgar. Yet he impressed me with his strength, patience and intelligence. I would be proud to have a son like Edgar.

Lastly, I must admit I have been looking at my own dog with new eyes as I have been reading. I think the strong bonds in the book have made my hand drop off the side of the couch more than once to let Rugby know hey pal, you're pretty special to me. Sounds corny, but really - he has gotten more way treats and conversation - thanks to Edgar.

**Oprah is having a webcast featuring the author Monday night. You have to go to her site to RSVP - this book might be worth the extra efforts. promise.

**ETA: I just listened to Oprah's live webcast with the author of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski - listening absolutely added to the richness of this moving book for me. It made even deeper sense of things for me. Just an FYI, the webcast will be available on tomorrow and the podcast on ITunes.:)

You're Not You: Michelle Wildgen

I'll admit it, I totally judge a book by its cover. That's not to say I won't read a book that sounded good if I don't like the cover, but if I like the cover I'm more likely to dive right in. My most recent read was no exception to this rule; I loved the rich colors and interesting angle that the cover art illustrated

Peaknit recently mailed me You're Not You by Michelle Wildgen, along with her hearty recommendation. After a few recent lackluster reads I was excited to begin this novel, and it did not disappoint.

The novel follows Bec, a college student, as she starts a summer job caring for Kate a woman with ALS. One word that kept popping into my head as I read this book was intimacy, as Bec helps Kate with all of her daily tasks from showering to applying her makeup and even speaking for her during public outings. However, Wildgen often turns that notion on its head and shows that despite how close a caregiver can be there is no way for them to know everything about the person they care for. Wildgen took a story that could have been overly sentimental and wrote it in such a way that I felt I was in the room with the characters. I was totally emerged and engaged in the story and went to bed a bit earlier a few nights just to read for a bit longer.

I think a mark of a good story is if you find yourself thinking of the characters after you finish the book, and I did continue to think of both Bec and Kate. While it’s impossible to know, I do wish you did get a glimpse what happened after the story ended. Bec had such a life changing experience working with Kate that I wanted to know who she was a year later or even two years later. Who did she become?

Another quirk about me, which I discovered when I read The Geography of Love by Glenda Burgess last year, is that if I read a book with a serious ill person I want to get through it as quickly as possible so the person in the book doesn’t suffer. I found myself starting to do this with You’re Not You and I forced myself, as much as possible to slow down and take in all the details and it was well worth the effort! I would certainly recommend this book.

Paula left a comment on Peaknit’s last post asking if I ever listen to audio books. I definitely read a lot less now that I’m constantly knitting. However, I do make time to read every night before I go to sleep and during the summer I read a lot more at the beach. However I haven’t had much luck knitting and reading at the same time. I will sometimes listen to audio books while driving, but my taste in audio books is different from my taste in paper books.

As a total side note I just saw on Amazon that You're Not You is only $5!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Revolutionary Road :: Richard Yates


I wrapped up Revolutionary Road this morning. It's a little numbing. I enjoyed the book but the subject could hit close to home for any middle class American who lets occasional doubt slip in. The story follows a "regular joe" 1950's couple going through the motions of enjoying suburbia when in truth they are deeply unsatisfied with the bland, sameness of it all. The constant thread is "how did I get here?" In my opinion, it's kind of like wondering when you will begin to feel like a grown-up and realizing, this is it. Wow. anti-climactic kind of.

The book read like Death of a Salesman to me - lots of delusion, lots of internal "pep-talks" - but overall I enjoyed the book. Beware, it is not a feel good book - so if you are tired of your job or your relationships, save this one. I confess, I wasn't going to bed early to get to this book. I might have even dreaded the depressing tone of it a bit - but I was curious - I wanted to know where the story was headed, what was going to come of them.

Frank and April Wheeler, the main characters really try to make a worthy go of having a family and owning the house with the picket fence - but they are so inately distracted by their self-important. I kind of wanted to pull them off the page and shake their shoulders a bit. The ending was potent for me - a bit surprising, but perhaps the only "good" (if not entirely selfish) answer to this mess. You would expect nothing less of these two. I was left wondering what happens next. Their children will be in therapy, at least.

I admit - I imagined Frank and April to be Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio - it was too easy with the film right around the corner. I can't wait to see it - I will have to see it at the Sundance where I can have a drink in the theater. I can pretend I am one of the Wheeler's friends, coming in for a cocktail, nodding like a bobble head about the wonder of it all.

Read it, or maybe you have, let me know what you think.

Paula by Isabel Allende

It took awhile to get to book #2 of 2009; I had a few false starts while working through that book sale pile. I felt like Goldilocks, the first was a novel written so poorly I can't believe it was actually published, and the second book I tried but I just couldn’t get into, so book three was Paula by Isabel Allende.

I originally picked up this book because I knew I’d read works by Allende, and enjoyed them, so I didn’t have a clue what it was about until I opened the first pages. The previous Allende works I’d read (Zorro, Daughter of Fortune, and Portrait in Sepia) were rich deep stories typically following one character through their life, or grand stories of families. This book was no exception, however it was a memoir rather then a novel.

Allende writes this book to her gravely ill daughter Paula as she lays in a coma first in Spain and then in California. Reading the book felt like you were reading over Allende’s shoulder as she wrote to her daughter. The book has two parts equally interwoven. One aspect is her biography, stretching back to her parents and grandparents up until her most recent marriage. The other side of the story is Paula, her untimely illness, and how it is impacting Allende and her family.

I can never imagine suffering through the death of a child, and Allende seemed to capture this despair and grief very well, often making this side of the story difficult and slow to get through. The familial history was often times just as gut wrenching, but like her other books I was swept along to see what happened to her and her family.

After finishing this book I looked up what Allende had most recently written, and in 2008 she continued her writing to Paula in a new memoir The Sum of Our Days. This will certainly be a book added to my “list” of books I want to read.

Next up a book recommended and sent by Peaknit herself.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Hour I First Believed

wally lamb

I'm sad to report that I am utterly disappointed in Wally Lamb's latest book. Lamb is a favorite - I loved She's Come Undone and almost identified with the glass half-empty Dominick Birdsey in This Much I Know Is True. This book is described well in this review - "densely populated" and "bogged down with details". I have never been so sticken over a book. I think I looked too forward to it. But really, I think I have to suggest that you pass this one by dear readers. I feel almost irrational with disappointment - like Wally Lamb couldn't have written this book. Could he?

As a curious side note - I think we learned Dominick is now a wealthy casino owner. He's moving on up from the poor sap he was in his own book. The main character Caelum ran into Dominick at the psychologist's office lobby. I knew Dr. Patel was familiar, Lamb used this character in his last book as well.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I Should Have Gone Out

A couple of times a year my local library has a used book sale. Books are usually under two dollars, and often times only cost a dollar. For the past few years I've gone and bought books during each sale. Proceeds of the sale go back to the library. In December I decided to pull all the books out of my shelves and bring them next to my bedside table (where the to be read pile lives). To my surprise the pile was probably three feet tall. One of my goals is to work through this pile this year.

With that in mind I just finished Girls' Night In edited by Lauren Henderson, Chris Manby and Sarah Mlynowski. Original sales of this book are supposed to benefit War Child.

My overall rating of this book is "meh." I will admit I have a bit of a weakness for "chic lit," and so I knew what I was getting into. However, story after story of this got a little old after awhile. There were certainly a few stories I enjoyed, but I think it was just too much after awhile.

I hate to begin a year of reading with a lackluster book, but I think it was perfect for the holiday season. I didn't have to really commit to a long story, I could just read a quick story before bed.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Christine reads

Well believe it or not “blogless Christine” is actually blogging. Peaknit and I thought it might be fun to co-blog our year of reading. In addition to a love (or um, obsession) with yarn, we also share a love for a good story.

While I don’t always get a book a week done there’s nothing I enjoy more then getting totally sucked into a story. My philosophy of reading is to read what you enjoy and so this list is mostly made up of contemporary fiction with a dash of nonfiction thrown in every once in awhile.

Looking over my 2008 list, it was obviously a year with some fluff, whether it was the Twilight series or a few books from the Gossip Girl series. With two one week beach vacations I really was able to plow through a ton which allowed me to read more then I did 2007 (55 books). I copied Peaknit by bolding the books I’d recommend, and like her I’m rather judicious in my recommendations. It's too bad I didn't have 8 recommendations, my mosaic would have looked much better!

1. Life on the Refrigerator Door : Alice Kuipers
2. Paint it Black : Janet Fitch
3. Basic Black : Cathie Black
4. Other People’s Love Letters : Bill Shapiro
5. Songs Without Words : Ann Packer
6. Her Last Death : Susanna Sonnenberg
7. Lost and Found : Jacqueline Sheehan
8. Gossip Girl #1: Cecily Von Ziegesar
9. Before I Die : Jenny Downham
10. The Other Boleyn Girl : Philippa Gregory
11. Freddy and Fredericka : Mark Helprin
12. You Know You Love Me : Cecily Von Ziegesar
13. All I Want Is Everything : Cecily Von Ziegesar
14. Curse of the Spellmans : Lisa Lutz
15. Gatsby’s Girl : Caroline Preston
16. Because I’m Worth It : Cecily Von Ziegesar
17. I Like It Like That : Cecily von Ziegesar
18. The Cure for Modern Life : Lisa Tucker
19. Belong to Me : Marisa de los Santos
20. The Geography of Bliss : Eric Weiner

21. Change of Heart – Jodi Picoult
22. The Constant Princess – Philippa Gregory
23. The Secret Between Us : Barbara Delinsky
24. I was Told There’d Be Cake : Sloane Crosley
25. Certain Girls : Jennifer Weiner
26. The Divorce Party : Laura Dave
27. Twilight : Stephanie Meyer
28. Fieldwork : Mischa Berlinski
29. Everyone Else’s Girl : Megan Crane
30. New Moon : Stephanie Meyer
31. Eclipse : Stephanie Meyer
32. Bookends : Jane Green
33. Queen of Babble In The Big City : Meg Cabot
34. One Good Turn : Kate Atkinson
35. A Thousand Splendid Suns : Khalid Hosseini
36. Free Food for Millionaires : Min Jin Lee
37. Suddenly : Barbara Delinsky
38. Comfort Food : Kate Jacob
39. Whistling in the Dark : Kesley Kagen
40. The Opposite of Love : Julie Buxbaum
41. Rachel’s Holiday : Marian Keyes
42. Breaking Dawn : Stephanie Meyer
43. Beginner’s Greek : James Collins
44. Earthly Pleasures : Karen Neches
45. The Department of Lost and Found : Allison Winn Scotch
46. The Host : Stephanie Meyer
47. Where is the Mango Princess? : Cathy Crimmins
48. If You Lived There : Dana Sachs
49. A Good Distance : Sarah Willis
50. Antonio’s Wife : Jacqueline Dejohn
51. The Dud Avocado : Elaine Dundy
52. The Geography of Love : Glenda Burges
53. All We Ever Wanted Was Everything : Janelle Brown
54. Here If You Need me : Kate Brasetrup
55. This Charming man : Marian Keyes
56. Three Cups of Tea : Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
57. The Whole World Over : Julia Glass
58. Sing them Home : Stephanie Kallos
59. The Thirteenth Tale : Diane Setterfield
60. Second Thyme Around : Katie Fforde
61. Queen of Babble Gets Hitched : Meg Cabot
62. Salem Falls : Jodi Picoult
63. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict : Laurie Viera Rigler

And we’re off on our way to reading through 2009. Are there any books that are on your must read list for the New Year?
….phew I survived my first post….