Dec 31, 2010

some things

I've changed my plans a bit for starting off 2011's reading. I was going to do James' TBR Dare all the way thru April, but then realized I've really been wanting to read all the pregnancy/childbirth books off my TBR list. And if I wait until April to read them, there's only a month left before my baby's due. So... I've decided to take the Dare solidly for the month of January, and after that mix in the pregnancy books. I've a list ready- quite a few from browsing my library's collection online (since I've discovered the best books are never actually on the shelves, but in someone's hand!) Here's the titles I have lined up to start reading in Feb:

The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna
Belly Laughs by Jenny McCarthy
The Midwife by Jennifer Worth
The Birth House by Ami McKay
The Immaculate Deception by Suzanne Arms
What I Though I Knew by Alice Cohen
Birth Day by Mark Sloan
Homebirth in the Hospital by Stacy Marie Kerr
Great with Child by Debra Rienstra
Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin

On a completely different note, I've been dissatisfied lately with the appearance of my blog and fiddling around with different designs. So don't be surprised if it changes every time you visit for a while, until I find the right look!

Oh, and Happy New Year everybody!

Dec 30, 2010

year's end

Here's a look back at my reading in 2010!

Total books read this year: 119

Fiction: 32
Nonfiction: 87

Further breakdown (the numbers don't add up exactly because some books fit into more than one category):

Animals Nonfiction- 55
Nature- 4
Gardening/Food- 9
other Nonfiction- 9
Fiction (3 Historical)- 4
Animals Fiction - 9
YA- 3
Fantasy- 14
Graphic Novels (fantasy)- 2
Memoirs- 10
Short Stories- 2

Male authors- 68
Female authors- 43
Co-authored- 8

Abandoned books: 9
Re-reads: 9

Borrowed from the library: 50
from my own shelves: 69
review copies: 0

Favorite book?
So hard to choose! Looking back, there wasn't any fiction that really wowed me. Which is kind of sad. (I keep thinking of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but that one was read at the end of 2009). I read a lot of great non-fiction, though. Fatu-Hiva was a most intriguing, curious adventure story. All the Oliver Sacks books really had me thinking. And by far the most beautiful, for prose and gorgeous imagery, was The Galapagos. Wonderful books.

Most fun read: How to Train Your Dragon. It was delightfully clever and kept me laughing.

Most inspiring: Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Beautiful little book.

Least favorite?
The House on Mango Street. I just didn't get why this book is so popular, I found it very dissatisfying.

Oldest titles:
Two Years Before the Mast- first published in 1840! The next-oldest book I read was A Treasury of Flower Fairies, from 1923. Then several books written in the forties, and on up to closer times.

Newest titles:
I read four books that were published in 2010. How Animals Work by David Burnie, Plenitude by Juliet Schor, Dewey's Nine Lives by Vicki Myron and The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving by Jeffrey Moussaief Masson

Longest book I read was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, 566 pages. A close second was The Amber Spyglass, 518 pages. Shortest were the juvenile non-fiction animal books I read with my daughter, especially Little Cats, 32 pages.

Most-read author of the year:
I can't name a single one. Most authors I read only one or two books by them, but these three authors I read four of each: Stephen Budiansky, Cressida Cowell and Glenn Balch.

Countries visited during my reading year:
Afghanistan, Nepal, France, Kenya, Pakistan, England, Borneo, Siberia, Australia, Germany, Rwanda, the Galapagos Islands (part of Ecuador) and Greenland. Quite some armchair traveling!

Books read only because of a specific recommendation:
The Dancing Plague. I never even would have heard of this book were it not for C.B. James! (Who so kindly sent me his copy to read).

New authors I want to read more of: definitely Shaun Tan, Eva Hornung and Markus Zusak.

Compared to last year, I've continued my trend of reading more and more non-fiction. I used the library a lot more, but also read just as much off my own shelves. I didn't abandon as many books, and went through more re-reads.

Dec 28, 2010

incomplete

It seems very unlikely now that I will actually finish the TBR Challenge this year. And I was so close, having read eleven books (twelve are required)! Unfortunately, the majority of the titles I had in both my original list and my alternates list ended up being books I didn't care for and never finished. (I guess I need to get better at screening books to put on my TBR; although the ones I picked for this challenge I wrote down so long ago I wasn't even keeping track of where I first heard of them yet, so maybe I just wasn't as discriminating to my own reading tastes back then, if that makes sense.) The books I did manage to read were:

Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario
No One Thinks of Greenland by John Griesemer
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
The Moon by Whale Light by Diane Ackerman
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

Not all of the books I gave up on got abandoned posts written about them; those that did were The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, Rules for Old Men Waiting, Beautiful Swimmers and Inkheart. If you're curious what the other titles were, you can refer back to my original challenge list. In all, I finished eleven books and abandoned ten, leaving three yet to cross off my list. Walden I tried to start several times and just got bogged down. I do want to try it again later. Pale Fire I still have on library hold, but don't know if it will show up in time for me to read it in the week that's left! And for some reason my library only has The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint in audio and electronic format, not an actual paper book. So I probably won't be reading that one either. O well.

The good thing about this challenge is that I've actually wiped twenty-one titles off my TBR list!

Dec 27, 2010

New Authors complete!

I think I've just squeaked by in finishing the New Authors Challenge. I thought at first I hadn't read enough books because I wasn't keeping good track of them. Most of my reading seems to have been non-fiction and memoirs this year and all these new-authors are supposed to be novels, but some of these are juvenile fiction, YA or fantasy, so I'm not sure if they count? Others are written by authors that only have one book published; but I'm eager to read what they write next!

The new authors I read were (links to the books I read by them):

Susanna Clarke
Cormac McCarthy
Cressida Crowell (four books by her)
Shaun Tan (two titles)
Alexander McCall Smith
David Wroblewski
T.C. Boyle
Sandra Cisneros
Neil Gaiman
Philippe Lechermeier
Harriet Scott Chessman
Eva Hornung
Paige Dixon
Alan Garner
Markus Zusak

Which of these authors have you read? Which do think I ought to try more of, even though they didn't thrill me on the first read? My favorites were Susanna Clarke, Cressida Crowell (can you tell?), Shaun Tan, Eva Hornung and Markus Zusak. I definitely want to read more by them!

Edit on 12/29/10: I made a mistake in my tally here. I actually read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell at the end of 2009, thus the Susanna Clarke doesn't count and is crossed off my list. So I guess I didn't really finish this challenge after all. Blah.

Dec 26, 2010

Rules for Old Men Waiting

by Peter Pouncey

In a little old summer cottage near a pond, an elderly man lives out his final days. Even though winter is approaching and the cabin falling into disrepair, he is unable to find any motivation to leave or fix things up, hampered by his own progressing illness and weakness, and grief at loosing his wife. Originally he moved into the cabin to give his wife some peace in her final days, but now that she's gone he can't seem to do anything. Until one day he makes a list of rules to keep himself going, and starts to write a fictional story about a group of men in WWI. Rules for Old Men Waiting is woven of the daily struggles he faces with old age and sorrow, his construction of a narrative, and his actual memories of the war the writings are based on. I thought it had good promise, but a third of the way through found myself unable to continue.

I've never really been fond of war stories; for some reason fighting scenes actually bore me (this happens when I'm watching films too. Action movies put me to sleep, oddly enough!) None of the characters felt very real to me, neither the old man himself, the characters he created on paper, or the people who inhabited his memories. And so eventually I just didn't care. There was also the issue of format. The only copy my public library has of this book was in large print. Which didn't bother me so much, I soon got used to the oversize font, but every time I encountered a word that normally would be in italics, like the title of a book, a piece of music, or a foreign word, instead it was in bold. (And when a bold word is also in large print, it really jumps out at you!) This unsettled me for some reason. I don't know if it's part of how this book was originally printed, or has something to do with the large-print format? But it distracted my attention every time.

This is another of those cases where I feel slightly guilty for not liking a book, as if I'm really missing something. All the other reviews I could find online praised this one, and it's received several awards. But it just didn't work for me.

Abandoned ........ 401 pages, 2005

more opinions at:
Geezers Book Club
ANZ Litlovers Litblog
The DEBlog

Dec 23, 2010

Neverwhere

by Neil Gaiman

Lurking beneath the streets of London is another world: the London Below. A maze of dark sewer tunnels and rough caverns, of hidden pockets and damp corners. Full of unsavory people who have "slipped through the cracks." Our unlikely hero, Richard, is totally oblivious to this underground London until one day he stops on the sidewalk to help an injured girl, and suddenly his life changes. Simply by assisting the strange girl called Door, he finds himself involved in her quest to avenge her murdered family. It entails a long journey through dark passages under the ground, meeting strange characters and dodging all sorts of dangers. There are thieves and assassins, musicians and shabby courts, people who speak to rats, even monks and angels. And of course, a monster to face at the end. Richard finds he's made of sterner stuff than he or anyone else imagined, and when the adventure is all over, although he begs to return to his former placid home in "London Above", he's not quite sure if he wants it anymore.

Neverwhere is the first book I've read by Gaiman. I've seen praise of it all over the book blogs. It's some pretty gripping fantasy. Even though I never really cared about any of the characters -they just didn't quite come alive for me- I still wanted to keep reading and find out what happened. There are several unexpected turns in the plot that took me by surprise, especially who the traitors turned out to be, and who the assassins were working for! I think my favorite part of the story was when Richard had to face his Ordeal, that was interesting. But for the rest of it, I just wasn't drawn in very much. Not sure why. Maybe because the whole murder-and-dangerous-mission aspect of the story isn't my usual thing. Perhaps there's another Neil Gaiman I should try? Any suggestions?

Rating: 3/5 ........ 337 pages, 1996

more opinions at:
You Can Never Have Too Many Books
Ace and Hooser Blook
written insight
A Bookaholic's Review
Novel Ladies

Dec 21, 2010

more for the list!

Reading The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving made me add all these books to my TBR list. Some were mentioned in the text, others I found combing through the endnotes and sources. It's only a fraction of the long list of titles he used. And this is only two-thirds of what I first jotted down- looking up other reviews online has helped me cull somewhat. They are mostly (but not all) about dogs. Have you read any of these books?

These all by Jeffrey Moussaief Masson:
Raising the Peaceable Kingdom
The Pig Who Sang to the Moon
The Emperor's Embrace
The Face on Your Plate
Altruistic Armadillos Zenlike Zebras
The Cat Who Came in From the Cold


and these by other authors:
Animals and Why They Matter by Mary Midgley
Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy
One Nation Under Dog by Michael Schaffer
New Perspectives on Our Lives with Companion Animals by Barbara Jones
The Lost Wolves of Japan by Brett Walker
Dingo Makes Us Human by DB Rose
Decade of the Wolf by Douglas Smith
Among Cannibals by Carl Lumholtz
The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery by Marjorie Spiegel
King: a Street Story by John Berger
The Dingo in Australia and Asia by Laurie Corbett
If Dogs Could Talk by Vilmos Csanyi
The Pit Bull Placebo by Karen Delise
When Dogs Run Wild by Christine Gentry
Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog by Vicki Hearne
The Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz
If You Tame Me by Leslie Irvine
Planet of the Blind by Stephen Kuusisto
Dog (Animal) by Susan McHugh
Adventures with Ari by Kathryn Miles
Dog Man by Martha Sherrill
Bear Attacks by Stephen Herrero
Reading Zoos by Randy Malamud

Dec 20, 2010

The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving

by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Another book about the relationships we have with dogs. Masson's family adopted Benjy, a labrador who was raised to be a guide for the blind but failed his schooling. As Masson sees it, Benjy is a very lovable dog but simply doesn't want to follow commands, preferring to do his own thing. (In that regard, he was lucky to find a home with the author's family, because Masson doesn't believe in being dominant over dogs but instead treating them as equals.) But the book is not just about Benjy his beloved dog, it's more about why we have closer relationships with our dogs than any other domestic animal.

His book The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving is pretty much a complete opposite of Budiansky's The Truth About Dogs, which asserts that dogs have evolved to take advantage of our species and all their begging and fawning is just to get something out of us. Masson sees it differently. He believes that most dogs have an amazing capacity for unconditional love, and moreover, that we as humans have learned to be more loving, altruistic, kind, etc because we evolved alongside dogs. I thought at first his theory was pretty far-fetched, particularly because there's no way he can look back so far into prehistory to prove any of it, and because I kept thinking: what about dogs that aren't loving? what about people who hate animals, or are afraid of dogs? Masson says near the beginning of the book "There is hardly a human on earth who has not at some point in his or her life felt close to an animal from a different species- and not just a dog. And almost every dog has at some point felt friendly feelings not just for us or for other dogs, but for other animals as well." I'm not sure how much I believe such a blanket statement, but the further I read in his book the more stuff he came up with for his theory. Even things like aggressive dogs, cultures that revile dogs, proof of other animals making friends with different species (how many clips on the internet can you find of a cat snuggling with the family bunny, or something similar?) were all addressed. Masson states that dogs and people have a lot in common that they don't share with any other species- retaining playfulness into adulthood, helping others in need, considering another species to be part of their family- and keeps going back to the idea that this is because we evolved alongside one another for so many thousands of years. He compares the behavior and human-animal connection of dogs to that of wolves, dingoes, horses, pigs, cats and other domestic animals. Dogs always come out on top (although he thinks pigs could be just as close to people, given the chance!)

I did feel a bit annoyed at some of his statements about cats, especially seeing that the author himself lived with five cats at one time and wrote an excellent book about them. So I was a bit surprised when he points out how his dog Benjy always gravitates to people who like dogs. Cats, he says, do the opposite: walking into a room they will pick the person who hates or fears cats and sit on their lap- "Perverse," he says, "and we don't know why they do it." I thought this was simply because of the different way cats communicate- to a cat, a stranger staring at them is a threat, so the person who is giving the cat the least amount of direct attention is the one who will appear most friendly. Masson even talks about how cats and dogs use eye contact differently in another part of the book, so I don't know why he found this so strange.

Well, even if I didn't agree with everything the author said here, the book was a very interesting read. It flows easily and seems to be well-researched; there are extensive notes and references in the back. (Which, incidentally, have added a dozen more titles to my TBR!) Recommended to dog-lovers; even if you don't agree with the author's theory, you will find this interesting reading!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 249 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Animal Person
Girls Gone Reading

Dec 17, 2010

the dare shelves

In anticipation of dedicating the first several months of 2011 to reading off my TBR shelves alone, I've gone and organized them all more or less by subject. Sometimes I just like sorting books. It makes me feel pleased. Here's what I've got.

The small two-shelf piece in my bedroom now holds all the adult fiction. In no particular order. Bottom right corner has what I think of as the "heavy books"- a few classics and chunksters I've failed to get through before or just been feeling intimidated by! (Starting with the orange spine of Dubliners and going over to the red-bound Dickens novel).
Out in the living room I have a tall bookcase that only holds TBR books. The top shelf here has all the memoirs. (If you click on any of these photos to enlarge you should be able to read some titles, although some are a bit blurry). At the end there they run into adventure stories (mostly of seafaring types) and the second shelf is non-fiction on various subjects, from earthquakes, global warming and writing to cooking, gardening and plant care. There's a few slim volumes of poetry in there too.
The next shelf down finishes up the plants and has nature and animal books. Bottom shelf starting at the left has juvenile books about animals (mostly fiction) then some YA and a few fantasy books, ending with Catching Fire (I don't have the first one in the series so I probably won't get to read that one or I'd be breaking the Dare by visiting the library!). The last eleven books on that shelf don't count; I've actually read them before. The only reason they're sitting in the TBR is that it's been so long since I last read them I'm not sure if they're ones I want to keep. So I plan on giving them a new read before I decide to shelve them with the collection or hand on.
I almost forgot to include the oversize books off my "coffee-table" shelf, in the other bookcase that holds all my permanent collection. Most of these are nature/animal books, with a few on gardening/food and art.

And that's it! Now I feel like I'll easier be able to zero in on what I'm in the mood for, when searching for a read during the Dare. My Library Thing says I've got 121 unread books but when I try to count them on the actual shelves it's more like 184; I must've forgotten to enter a few titles when they came into the house. Still, plenty to choose from!

Dec 16, 2010

Dewey's Nine Lives

by Viki Myron and Bret Witter

The past week I've gone through a string of frustratingly uninteresting (to me) books. The latest ones I borrowed from the library to finish up my TBR challenge just were not grabbing my interest: Split Estate, Last of Her Kind, The God of Small Things, Sweetness in the Belly. All failed me before fifty pages. Even Walden, which I've wanted to read forever, was so difficult to get into I gave up. So it was nice to find something that looked familiar and friendly on the shelf: Dewey the famous library cat.

Dewey's Nine Lives isn't all about Dewey, although there are several stories of him in there. Mostly it's a collection of stories about other cats; their owners were inspired to share after their hearts were touched by reading about Dewey. I really enjoyed reading the first part of this book. The cats and their people are all such individuals. There are snuggly affectionate cats and bold, independent cats. Cats that came into the lives of people who sorely needed them, and others that made their way into someone's life who never wanted pets or cats before. My favorite story was about the cat that healed the heart of a veteran with PTSD, and the cat who amazed me was the one that spent his days roaming the wild only to come running when his owner called. That cat at different times in his life, survived an owl attack, being bitten by a coyote, and swiped by a bear! There are stories of cats who are the sole animal soaking up their owners' love, and then there's the Florida resort that was practically overrun by cats when the kind-hearted owners started feeding strays. What ties these stories all together is the deep bond each cat has with its human family, and the difference the cats made in each person's life. Very heartwarming stuff.

There were only a few things about the book that lessened my enjoyment of it. Some of the chapters drag at first; you get a lot of backstory about the people involved (and the history of different towns) before the cat ever comes along. The author kept interjecting her own Dewey experiences into other people's stories, as well. It did show how she sympathized with the other characters (sometimes people she'd never even met) but at other times it just felt like an interruption, or filler for a story that didn't have enough detail. And I lost count of how many times she re-told snippets from the first Dewey book, especially finding him in the book drop. The last chapter really started to loose my interest. The first eighteen pages were all about this man's life before a cat made an appearance, and even then the cat had a minor role. It wasn't until the end when the story dovetailed with Viki's own that I realized why. It was more about the author's own personal life and just kinda lost focus for me. In the end, a new kitty comes into Viki's life- never one that could replace Dewey (having such an opposite personality, too!) but one that brought her new love.

If you liked Dewey, or like cats, I recommend this read! Otherwise, it might be of little interest.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 306 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Bookfoolery and Babble
Ace and Hooser Blook
Lesa's Book Critiques

Dec 13, 2010

reading plans

I've decided to take on CB Jame's TBR Dare for 2011.

I'm going the whole way. Only reading books off my TBR pile until April. I'm actually pretty eager to see how far I can get. I might join a few other small challenges during the year, as long as the books are ones already on my shelves, so I won't be breaking the dare.

It will make me sad not to bring anything home from the library for a while, but I've also been feeling sad at not allowing myself go on book-buying binges (even the cheapest sale ones!) until my shelves have been lightened to make room. So if this dare helps me clear off some shelves, then I'll be very happy to finally go book hunting and fill them up again!

Dec 10, 2010

The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

Through a series of brief vignettes, Cisneros tells the story of a young Latino girl growing up in a poor city neighborhood. She mentions her siblings, how she hates her shabby little house, all the various characters in the neighborhood- those she's afraid of, admires, thinks are crazy, whatever. How women are oppressed, men often abusive, love and security something everyone searches for in their own way. She talks about how she doesn't want to belong there, wants to leave and find something more. The short book is like a collective snapshot of her neighborhood and some thoughts, all slapped together like a collage. One you wouldn't get much from unless you already knew the stories behind the pictures. Because, even though so many readers have loved this book (and apparently it's taught in schools across the country!) I have to agree with Amanda on this one.

While I did sometimes like the imagery Cisneros used (other times it just made no sense) it all ran through my head like water through a sieve. Most of the characters in the book are mentioned once and hardly again, so it's difficult to get a sense of any of them as people. Even when some of them showed up again, I hardly recognized them. Each little chapter is so short- barely more than a single page- I never felt like I got much meat out of them. The story doesn't really progress, it's just a collection of moments- which works okay sometimes, but didn't here for me. I got to the end and wondered what I'd just read. Nothing stuck. I didn't even get a sense of place at all. Turned back through the pages and not once did I see it mentioned that the neighborhood was in Chicago, like the back cover says. Where does it say that?

I feel like a dissenter here, but I just don't get what's so great about this book. Maybe I read it too fast. Maybe it's better in the original Spanish- although my copy doesn't mention a translator, so I wonder if the author wrote this version into English herself? Anyhow, my disappointment with The House on Mango Street certainly doesn't encourage me to try anything else by this author.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 110 pages, 1984

more opinions at:
Fizzy Thoughts
The Zen Leaf 
A Book Blog. Period.
Aelia Reads
Kyusi Reader 
Ready When You Are, C.B.

Dec 9, 2010

Dogear Challenge ends

The end of this month wraps up my Dogeared Reading Challenge. The last book I read for it was Christmas Horse. It was an old used paperback with the cover chipped and worn, and half-separated from the rest of the book.

The other titles I read were:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Making Things Grow by Thalassa Cruso
Animal Orphanage by Ric Garvey
Popular Flowering Plants by H.L.V Fletcher
The Owl Service by Alan Garner
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Golden Book of Wild Animal Pets by Roy Pinney
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
and Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I have a giveaway of books and bookmarks available for someone who's finished the challenge! Simply leave a link to your wrap-up post in order to be entered in the drawing. I'll wait until the end of the month, and randomly select a winner from the names the week after. There's also a contest going on for who's read the Most Battered Book- do you think yours qualifies? Leave a link to show us photos of what sorry shape your book is in, and you can be entered! I'm planning on selecting the winner of that one by popular vote- more details forthcoming.

Dec 8, 2010

The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein

by Theodore Roszak

Roszak retells the story of Frankenstein from the viewpoint of Victor's unfortunate bride, Elizabeth. An inquisitive and intelligent young woman, she is taught by tutors in the household, and more particularly, by her adoptive mother the Lady Caroline. Her closeness to Victor is encouraged; more than just brother and sister, they are destined to marry and their union is (apparently) also part of some great experiment (which I could not make head or tails of, as you shall see). So... as part of her education Elizabeth learns to take no shame in her body and gets initiated into a secret cult of women which reveals to her all kinds of ancient female knowledge. I was blasting through the book, enjoying the writing and intrigued by the story until it got to a certain point. Elizabeth's gradual awareness of her sexuality was not repugnant to me, but things started to get really weird when Victor was included in some of the secret rites, which started to combine alchemy with eroticism. It was so bizarre. I thought alchemy had to do with turning stuff into gold? what does that have to do with sex? and all the obscure symbolism made no sense either and I got weary of trying to figure it out. The more interesting part of the story was the constant contrast between Victor's hunger for scientific knowledge- dissection, mathematics, the new discovery of electricity (we all know to what use he put that!)- and Elizabeth's blossoming understanding of the strengths of women- founded in the wonders of nature. But all that alchemy/mystic sex stuff was just too bewildering. It actually started to bore me. Who else has picked up this book? what did you make of it?

I am remember now and have no idea how this book got onto my TBR list. I think I read a review of it somewhere online that sparked my interest, but can't find that now. For a few other reader's opinions, check out the links below.

Abandoned........ 425 pages, 1995

more opinions at:
Las Risas
somewhere i have never travelled
The Actress and the Bishop

Dec 7, 2010

The Tortilla Curtain

by T.C. Boyle

Set in Southern California, The Tortilla Curtain tells the story of two couples from very disparate circumstances. One is white, well-to-do, living in a gated community, fretting over their safety and security. The other couple is desperately poor, illegal immigrants from Mexico trying to better their lives in this new country. The lives of the two couples intersect when the white guy accidentally hits the Mexican with his car, then just hands him twenty bucks as the injured man flees into the bushes, terrified of being taken to a doctor and then deported. Now unable to work, Candido holes up in the brush at the bottom of a canyon while his young pregnant wife struggles to find work. Everything seems stacked against them, and things just seem to go from bad to worse. Every time they manage to save a little money and hope for a decent place to live, something happens to wipe them out again. Meanwhile, the white couple are at odds with each other: the husband, a nature-lover, enjoys his free access to the hills straight from his backyard; his wife, paranoid about gangs and illegals stealing and spraying graffiti (not to mention her terror of the coyote that threatens her small dogs) is pushing to build a wall around the entire community. All sorts of issues roil around here, and none of the characters are portrayed as black-and-white; they all have their flaws, their sympathies. Even when I hated what the rich folks were doing, I could see why they felt the way they did. This book really packs a punch. Near the end I was smiling when something good finally happened to the poor couple but then everything suddenly spirals into disaster again. It leaves the reader kind of shocked at the end.

But finally, a good read! I simply could not put this one down. Every time a chapter ended I was anxious to continue its thread and find out what happened next. Especially with the Mexican characters. I felt so much more for them, horrified at the depravities they lived through, moved at the final scene which although terribly sad, illuminated the humanity and compassion Candido still had, even while the whole world (it seemed) trod him down.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 355 pages, 1995

More opinions at:
Caribousmom
Savidge Reads
The Hays Crew
I Read, I Knit, I Am

Dec 6, 2010

it never ends

the additions to the ever-growing TBR list. Here's a list of the titles that caught my eye the past week or so, thanks to all the wonderful bloggers linked to below.


Where the Wild Things Were by William Stolzenburg- Things Mean a Lot 
Tell Me Another Morning by Zdena Berger- At Home with Books
Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski- Bookfoolery and Babble 
Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer-this one's actually already on my TBR, but So Many Books made it grab my eye yet again.
Old School by Tobias Wolff- Jenny's Books
My Masai Life by Robin Wiszowaty- Book Addiction
The Story of Sushi by Trevor Corson- Stay at Home Bookworm
Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charleson- Caribousmom
The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace- Ready When You Are, CB
The Night Shift by Brian Goldman- Ace and Hooser Blook

I've also added to my list This Organic Life and Growing Older by Joan Gussow, thanks to reading some gardening blogs, but I forgot to make a note of who pointed me to them.

Dec 5, 2010

winner!

Patty is the winner of my recent giveaway.
To claim your prize Patty, just email me and I'll send your book and bookmarks soon!

Dec 4, 2010

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper

by Harriet Scott Chessman

A quiet, musing sort of novel that I liked well enough, but didn't feel any deep connection to or admiration for. O dear. Seems like I'm starting lots of posts off that way lately.... I can't remember what first landed Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper on my TBR list, but I recently borrowed it from the library to read for my last challenge of the year (wondering if I can get four more books done before the month's over!)

The little book is written from the viewpoint of Mary Cassatt's sister, who sits as a model for several paintings. It gives an intimate look into the daily life of the artist's family, in a particularly painful time of their lives. Because Lydia had just been diagnosed with Bright's disease, and was facing her inevitable death. Her musings presented here are broken, wandering from childhood memories to painful moments of illness and death among family and friends (some of which I never quite sorted out) to her desires to comfort her sister who felt bereft at the idea of loosing her sister. It was hard for me to keep track of the family or really feel close to them- I don't know much about Mary Cassatt's life and this book just felt like a brief snapshot, so I was confused by the mention of names and places left unexplained. A few things did become clear to me- the story of Mary Cassatt's relationship with Edgar Degas, and also of the family's friendship with May Alcott (sister to the writer Louisa). I did like very much to read of Mary's paintings, what inspired them, the creative process she took, her family's reactions to them, criticisms Degas made, etc. But much of the rest of the book, although presented quite tenderly, somehow did not touch me. I think because I spent so much time puzzling over who was who and lived where when... I felt like I should go look up wiki to read more about her life so it would be clear to me, but was too tired to bother.

I've been feeling kind of dissatisfied with my reading lately. I can't tell if it's the books, or just me! Because most other readers were very charmed with this book (see a few samples below).

Rating: 3/5 ....... 164 pages, 2001

More opinions at:
A Fondness for Reading
The Captive Reader
Bermudaonion's Weblog

Dec 2, 2010

The Lady and the Unicorn

by Tracy Chevalier

Have you ever seen the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries? I've only viewed reproductions of them in books, but I'd love to see them in person someday.

Tracy Chevalier here has woven a story about what inspired the creation of the tapestries- unknown to history. It's certainly not what I expected. In the very first pages the reader encounters the unsavory character of Nicolas des Innocents, the arrogant artist who designed the tapestries. He seems to only think of himself- how great his work is, or how much the ladies like him (even when they don't). Everywhere he goes, from the house of the nobleman who commissioned him to create the tapestry designs, or the workshop that wove the tapestries in Brussels, he's trying to seduce young women (and constantly causing problems). The story is told through the eyes of several different characters- the artist Nicolas, the wife of the nobleman (who convinced him to make unicorns, not a battle scene as her husband originally wanted), the daughter of Georges de la Chapelle who runs the tapestry workshop, and many other minor characters. It gives the reader a nice look at all the different types of people who were involved in the making of the tapestries, and the layers of social classes at the time. But it also kept me from really connecting to any of the characters, like I had in Girl with a Pearl Earring (which was told from one character's point of view and thus felt more intimate). Added to that the fact that I didn't really like any of the characters I mostly read the story with an idle curiosity to see what would happen, and out of interest in the tapestry work itself. Although that was hard to picture. At least one diagram of the loom described in the book would have made it easier to understand. So for me The Lady and the Unicorn was an nice enough read, interesting in some respects but in the end rather unsatisfying.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 250 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
Shelf Love
Ace and Hooser Blook
The Maiden's Court
NovelWhore's Blog
Jane on Books