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November 13, 2008

Book for October

Yes, I only managed to finish one. (Have I mentioned how many articles about politics I read?) We're going for at least two in November. Sigh.

City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau
Genre: Science fiction, young adult
Pages: 288
Rating: 4.5

I read this just because my book buddy at the school where I volunteer wanted to read it, so I went into it with no expectations of being particularly impressed. Boy, was I wrong. This was great. I'd recommend it to practically anyone - it's sci fi for people who don't like sci fi, and YA for people who have never really thought about reading a YA book. I don't want to say much about the plot because I don't want to ruin anything. But it was extremely good, especially from a world-building perspective. Duprau has his totally alien world clearly all mapped out, but she does a great job of dropping in hints of how the world works within the dialogue and plot rather than describing it all. There's a sequel and I can't wait to read it. There's also a movie - anyone seen it? Is it any good?

Posted by Kat at 09:41 AM | Comments (1)

October 21, 2008

September Books

Oops. I just realized that this post has been sitting here half-written since October 1. So I guess I should just finish it, huh?

Tippy-Toe Murder by Leslie Meier
Genre: Mystery (cozy)
Pages: 227
Rating: 4.1

See my review here.

Getting Things Done by David Allen
Genre: Business, productivity
Pages: 267
Rating: 4.5

It's a bit early to say that this book was life-changing, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it ends up being so. Allen has developed a system of dealing with work - and pretty much everything you do falls into his definition of "work" - that really makes sense, at least to the way my brain works. I haven't had time to completely implement his system yet (because there's some initial set-up that takes a while but doesn't need to be redone), but I've been slowly adopting his various tips and that has already helped a lot. I just wish he had provided some more cohesive, long examples - maybe a few days or a week in the life of a few people using his system - to better show how it all works together.

God's Harvard by Hanna Rosin
Genre: Religion, sociology
Pages: 296
Rating: 4.7

I have to say that I'm a) a big fan of Rosin in general and b) extremely interested in the sociology of religion, so it was pretty likely that I'd like this book. But really, it was great. Rosin spent a few years researching a prestigious evangelical Christian college, complete with tons of interviews with students, parents, professors, and staff. And the results are fascinating. Rosin presents a relatively balanced and fair (I thought) portrait of the college and the people involved with it. This college focuses on politics and many of its graduates end up working in the field in various capacities, so if you have any interest in what the future of American politics will look like, God's Harvard is definitely worth a read.

Posted by Kat at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2008

Review: Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

(I am way behind on book reviews. Sorry! I'm going to try to catch up within the next few weeks and then keep up with them more or less as I read.)

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery (classic)
Pages: 231
Rating: 4.3

I decided to go through and try to read all of Christie, at least in series order if not totally chronological order. I'm starting with Miss Marple, because it's completely ridiculous that I think I'd only ever read one of this series (years ago) before this one, especially as I love most of the TV adaptations. I was delighted to find that my library has a bunch of that black hardcover series of Christie that was coming out (as some sort of book club, maybe?) in the late eighties or early nineties - my mom has them, so in my head that's the way Christie is supposed to be.

Murder at the Vicarage was the first Miss Marple novel that Christie wrote, and it's clear that she hadn't quite decided what she wanted to do with the character yet. Miss Marple isn't as nice or as sympathetic a character in this novel as in the later ones. Her sleuthing abilities are recognized and respected by a few of her neighbors, but she is also sometimes resented as a busybody. I was also surprised to discover that the novel is narrated by a different character, the town vicar, Mr. Clement. I ended up really liking the vicar, and I hope that he shows up in later books. The mystery was intricately and practically perfectly plotted, as you'd expect from Christie, but as a novel, this early one was a bit rough. I did love the setting and atmosphere - a village in England between the wars.

Posted by Kat at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

July 30, 2008

Review: The Village Bride of Beverly Hills by Kavita Daswani

The Village Bride of Beverly Hills by Kavita Daswani
Genre: Chick lit
Pages: 271
Rating: 4.4
Finished: July 5

Priya, who grew up in India, agrees to an arranged marriage with an Indian-American named Sanjay. Soon she's living in LA with Sanjay and his parents - and her new mother-in-law makes her get a job, in addition to doing all the housework and cooking. As Priya advances in her career at an entertainment magazine (and tries to hide the true nature of her job from her family), she finds it harder to keep up with her two separate lives and eventually makes some changes. While I thought that several aspects of the plot were a bit too far-fetched, and while the ending seemed to wrap up too quickly and neatly, this was a good read and hard to put down - I read it in a day. It also provided an interesting look at Indian and Indian-American life.

Posted by Kat at 04:16 PM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2008

Review: Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs

Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 379
Rating: 4.3

As I mentioned in my recent review of Bones to Ashes, I decided to go back to the beginning and read this series in order. Since I had read the first one last year, I started with this, the second. It was a great read. As usual, Temperance Brennan investigates several murder cases, and some of them are connected but some aren't - a feature I enjoy, because everything can't be connected all the time. This one was mostly set in North Carolina, but there were some nice Canadian winter scenes. The main mystery revolves around murders connected to a new religious movement, and there's some interesting stuff about cults, etc. There's also some nice supporting material about Brennan's daughter and Brennan's long, drawn-out semi-relationship with Detective Andrew Ryan, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that develops over the course of the series. My one main problem with the book was that it seems unlikely that there are so many cases that have ties to both of Brennan's homes (Montreal and North Carolina), so I'm hoping that later books in the series focus on one or the other.

Posted by Kat at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2008

Review: The Sewing Machine Guide by John Giordano

The Sewing Machine Guide by John Giordano
Genre: Sewing
Pages: 105
Rating: 3.4

I am thinking about buying a sewing machine (advice welcome!), so this book's subtitle of "Tips on Choosing, Buying, and Refurbishing" made me very hopeful that it would be a good resource to help me through the process. It wasn't. Somewhat inexplicably, I thought, the book was written only for people who already had at least one sewing machine and were considering buying a new one. I guess that's a pretty big market, but it seemed weird that first-time buyers were not even mentioned. Giordano assumes that his readers know a lot about sewing machines and nothing about computers, so much of the book is devoted to explaining this newfangled computerized stuff that machines have these days. But my problem is the opposite - I know a fair amount about computers, but next to nothing about sewing machines. So I guess what I'm saying is that this book isn't necessarily bad, but I was not its proper audience, and I didn't think the target audience was properly telegraphed by the title/cover/etc. There were also a few general life philosophy-type statements that the author assumed all his readers agreed with that bothered me, but of course at the moment I can't remember any examples. Something about his attitude toward the use of leisure time and/or money. Yeah, I know, that's very specific and helpful of me. Oh, and he also pretty much said that if you don't have $1000 to spend on a machine, just don't bother, so that was disheartening (and, I'm hoping, not quite true?), since I can't spend that much right now.

Posted by Kat at 05:19 PM | Comments (2)

Review: Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs

Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 388
Rating: 4.6

Kathy Reichs is the inspiration for (and one of the producers of) the show Bones, about a forensic anthropologist who works with the FBI solving crimes. Since I love the show, I picked up the first in the book series last year. It was fine, but I wasn't thrilled with it - possibly just because it was so different from the show. But a few days ago, I was at an airport shop looking for something to read, and the most recent Kathy Reichs seemed like the best among the (very limited) options. And I'm so glad I picked it up, because I loved this one! I liked the main character, Temperance Brennan, much better in this installment, although that is probably partially because I had had some time to get over the fact that the character in the book is completely different from the character on the show. Brennan is working with the police department in Montreal when an officer brings her bones that just might belong to her childhood friend who went missing forty or so years before. At the same time, her sometime lover Ryan (also a detective) enlists her help with a string of murders of teenage girls. A few other cases are involved as well, and there are various subplots involving Brennan's friends and family. The book also provide an interesting glimpse into traditional Acadian culture. The plot is quite complex, and it's definitely a page-turner. I thought the major flaw in the book was that one of the big twists at the end seemed pretty obvious way before the characters realized it, and I got frustrated that they were being so dense. Other than that, though, I loved it, and I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

Posted by Kat at 05:00 PM | Comments (1)

Review: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Genre: Young adult
Pages: 371
Rating: 4.9

As you can see from my rating, I love love loved this book. I am a Sarah Dessen fan in general, but I think this was one of her best. It's the story of Annabel, who finds her life falling apart after a traumatic incident that she finds she can't talk about. She tries to hold herself and her family together by denying her feelings and acting as though everything is fine. But then she meets Owen, a well-known "bad boy" who always tells the truth, and finds that she can't keep all her secrets any longer. As with most of Dessen's novels, Annabel's story combines personal growth, family issues, and a great love story. Owen is passionate about music, and his attempts to widen Annabel's musical horizons provide an interesting element to the story. Dessen writes great complex male leads, and Owen is no exception. The secondary characters are unusually well-drawn in this one, too, and Dessen has several characters and locations from her previous novel make cameos in this one. My only issue with the book was that I thought Annabel's big secret was a little too obvious from the beginning. But all in all, it was a great read.

Posted by Kat at 03:12 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2008

Review: The Joys of Love by Madeleine L'Engle

The Joys of Love by Madeleine L'Engle
Genre: Young adult, coming of age
Pages: 255
Rating: 4.2

This is actually one of L'Engle's first novels, set in the 1940s and written in the 1950s or so, but it was just published this year. It's a bit rough - perhaps because it was edited for publication after her death - and certainly not one of her best novels, but it was still very good, and it provides an interesting look at her early development as a writer. It's the story of Elizabeth Jerrold, a young woman who is trying to pursue acting while not completely disobeying her aunt/guardian, who disapproves of the theater for various reasons. She is an apprentice at a summer theater company, and learns a lot about acting and about herself while also falling in love for the first time. She falls for a flashy young director, but by the end of the novel has pretty much figured out that another apprentice is actually the right match for her. It's interesting to look at these men as prototypes for some of L'Engle's later male leads, such as Zachary Grey and Adam Eddington. And as always, L'Engle manages to create a romantic interest who is complex and realistic while simultaneously seeming pretty much perfect for her heroine. Joys of Love is somewhat dated at this point, but it's a must-read for any L'Engle fan.

Posted by Kat at 09:41 AM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2008

March Books

I just realized I didn't really read any adult novels in March. Huh.

Dolphins at Daybreak, Magic Tree House #9, by Mary Pope Osborne
Genre: Early readers, adventure
Pages: 67
Rating: 3.8
Comments: This was the choice of my book buddy at the elementary school where I volunteer. I'd never read a Magic Tree House book before, and I was pleasantly surprised. The main characters were likeable, and the book was educational without making it too obvious. I enjoyed it!

Moving Day, Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls #1, by Meg Cabot
Genre: Juvenile
Pages: 232
Rating: 4.5
Comments: This is Meg Cabot's first book for younger readers. I wasn't sure how well her signature tone would transfer to this genre, but I was impressed. This, the firs of a series, is about a 9-year-old who is trying to prevent her family from moving to a new neighborhood. Allie is a great character - she's an individual, but Cabot doesn't belabor the "Oh, look how special she is" point the way some writers for children do. Allie stands up for what she believes in, and is willing to recognize when she's wrong and learn from her mistakes. And, of course, like all of Cabot's books, it's hilarious.

Freedom for the Thought that We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment by Anthony Lewis
Genre: Law, history
Pages: 221
Rating: 4.3
Comments: This is a fascinating look at the history of the First Amendment (freedom of speech and the press) and its interpretation. It was extremely informative and surprisingly readable, and it made me want to learn more about several of the topics it touched upon. I only had a few quibbles. Lewis interjected his own views every once in a while, and the sudden switch into first person from third person was jarring. And many of the chapter titles were fairly subtle, so it sometimes took a while to figure out the subject of a particular chapter. I also wish he had given more citations for some things he mentioned. Other than that, though, I thought this was great for anyone interested in issues of freedom of speech, or in the Constitution in general.

It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh
Genre: Home, organization
Pages: 230
Rating: 3.6
Comments: This book sounded interesting because it promised to talk about underlying factors in society, etc. that lead people to have so much stuff. Unfortunately, that section was pretty short, and the rest of the book was pretty standard decluttering/organizational stuff. It was okay, but you can get that anywhere, and I was more interested in the sociological/economic perspective, so I was disappointed in this book overall. It does have some good ideas, though - just not what I was expecting.

Arthur and the Sword by Robert Sabuda
Genre: Picture book, mythology
Pages: 30
Rating: 4.2
Comments: This is a beautiful picture book version of the traditional sword in the stone part of the Arthur legend. I've been a fan of Sabuda's pop-up books for a while, but this book has illustrations made to look like stained glass - also gorgeous. I got it from the library to read to my book buddy, because Merlin, Camelot, etc. were mentioned in her Magic Tree House book (see above) and she had never heard of them. This was a nice introduction to Arthurian legend.

Things I Learned from Knitting by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Genre: Knitting, humor
Pages: 160
Rating: 4.6
Comments: This is the new book by our beloved Yarn Harlot. It takes the form of short essays connecting various sayings ("Birds of a feather flock together," etc.) to the knitting life. As always, she's hilarious, but this one had a nice amount of more serious philosophy type stuff too. I liked this better than her last one.

Posted by Kat at 10:27 AM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2008

February Books

Fair Game by Valerie Plame Wilson
Genre: Politics, memoir
Pages: 411
Rating: 4.5
Comments: Wilson was the CIA agent outed after her husband, Joe Wilson, was seen as opposing the Bush administration. It was fascinating to read her side of the story, and I understand what happened with the whole convoluted affair much better now. It was very difficult to read parts of the book, though, because of the CIA editing - instead of trying to rewrite her book, Wilson published the original manuscript with lines blacked out by CIA censors. There's an afterword written by someone else that fills in much of the deleted information, as most of it is on the public record.

Behind My Eyes by Li-Young Lee
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 106
Rating: 4.8
Comments: I first discovered Lee's work back in high school, so I was thrilled to find this new book of his in the library. The main theme of the book is ostensibly immigration, but recurring themes include family, religion, language, and identity. As always, Lee's poems are haunting and lyrical. Highly recommended.

Doesn't She Look Natural? by Angela Hunt
Genre: Christian fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 349
Rating: 3.8
Comments: After a tough divorce and job loss, a woman unexpectedly inherits a funeral home. She takes her mother and two young sons to the small Florida town where the home is located, planning to just fix it up and sell it. I'm sure you can figure out where the plot goes from there. It was a nice feel-good read, and I'll probably look for by this author. One thing I particularly liked was the way the characters' beliefs and faith were woven into the story in a natural way - the reader isn't hit over the head with it as happens in much "Christian fiction."

They Did It with Love by Kate Morgenroth
Genre: Mystery, literary
Pages: 317
Rating: 4.6
Comments: This literary mystery is set amongst a book club in hoity-toity Greenwich, CT. It revolves in point of view between many characters, focusing on Sofie, a recent transplant from New York. Various secrets and complications are revealed as the characters try to figure out what happened to one of their book club members. Some of the characterization was a bit superficial and facile, but overall the book was quite good. And it had my favorite kind of ending for a mystery: it almost completely surprised me, but when I looked back at the plot, I realized it was cleverly set up all along.

The Cult of Perfection by Cooper Lawrence
Genre: Self-help
Pages: 247
Rating: 3.2
Comments: Lawrence discusses various aspects of the perfectionist "lifestyle," trying to take the stigma away from the idea. She provides some pop-psychology reasons why one might be a perfectionist, and some strategies for making these tendencies work to your advantage. Some of it was interesting, but overall it was pretty blah.

Posted by Kat at 03:17 PM | Comments (1)

January 31, 2008

Books for January

Apparently I only finished two this month. Ah well; it's been a crazy busy month, and I'm currently in the middle of about four books, so February's list should be longer!

Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah
Genre: Mystery, women's fic
Pages: 469
Rating: 4.5
Ellie is a small town police chief who is totally out of her league when a potentially feral child wanders out of the forest into her town. Her sister, Julia, is a top child psychiatrist whose glittering career is disrupted when one of her patients kills several other children and then herself. She returns to her hometown in disgrace to try to help Ellie and the child. Along the way, both Julia and Ellie are transformed. Some of the small-town characters are cutesy and cliched, but the main characters are all surprisingly complex, and the story of the child is riveting. This one gets extra points for making me cry - something that doesn't often happen with books. But don't worry, the ending is perfect.

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Genre: Juvenile, fantasy
Pages: 202
Rating: 4.3
I'd actually never read this one before. I read three or four of the Narnia books as a kid, and liked them, but lost interest somehow and never finished the series. I recently decided to read/reread them all. The edition my library has start with The Magician's Nephew as the beginning of the series (anyone want to weigh in on that debate?), so I started with that this time. (I'd started with Lion, Witch last time.) I don't think this novel was Lewis's best, but it was definitely very good. I think reading these books as an adult makes the humor even better - I loved the running commentary about what a great day the housemaid was having, for one thing. And, of course, it was very interesting to read about the creation of Narnia.

Posted by Kat at 09:26 AM | Comments (1)

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