Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Friendship that Stands the Test of Time--Kristin Hannah's "Firefly Lane"

Kristin Hannah's "Firefly Lane" begins in 1974, when two fourteen year old girls meet because of chance. Tully, a beautiful, outgoing girl, has moved to a small town outside of Seattle to try to reconcile with her estranged mother. Kate, an awkward girl who has lived in the town her whole life, is struggling to find herself in the middle school hierarchy. After a night of tragedy, Tully and Kate are thrown together and become fast friends. Through high school and college they are inseparable. After school, their lives start to take different shapes, as Tully becomes a successful newscaster and Kate marries and starts a family. Eventually, the difference in their lives comes between them--but when tragedy strikes again, will they be able to call on their shared pasts to build a future together. 

I really enjoyed "Firefly Lane"--it's a coming of age and best friends story all wrapped into one--and it does it all without feeling forced or fake. Hannah does a great job of capturing the lives of these two very different women, including the challenges and emotions that fill their lives. By the end of the novel, you feel like these women are your friends too and you feel their struggles. The end of the book is very emotional--have your tissues at the ready--but the book leaves you feeling happy to have met these women and shared in their life journey. 

This was the first book I read by Kristin Hannah, but I think I will be seeking out more, because I enjoyed her style and the way she connects the reader to her characters. I would recommend this book to any woman looking for a great book about ordinary women.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I normally can resist these, but this one was about books!

"The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?"

Copy, paste, put an 'x' after those you have read.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (X)
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien ()
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (X)
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling ()
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (X)
6 The Bible (X)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (X)
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (X)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman () 
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens(X)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott (X)
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (X )
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller(X)
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I think everything except for Lear)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier ()
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien ()
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk ()
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (X)
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger(X )
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot ( X)
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (X)
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (X)
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens ( i tried and failed)
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy ()
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams ( )
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh ( )
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (X)
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (X)
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll ()
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame ()
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (X)
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens ()
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis ()
34 Emma - Jane Austen (X)
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen (X )
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis ()
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini ( X)
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres ()
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden (X)
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (X)
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell-(X)
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (X)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (X)
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving (X)
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins ()
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (X)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy ()
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood (X)
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (X)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan (X)
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel (X)
52 Dune - Frank Herbert ()
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons ()
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (X)
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth ()
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon ()
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (X) I think i'm the only person in America who love this book
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (X)
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon ()
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (X)
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (X)
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov ()
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt ()
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold (X)
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas ()
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac ()
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy ()
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding (X)
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie ()
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (X)
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens (X)
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker ()
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (X)
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson ()
75 Ulysses - James Joyce ()
76 The Inferno - Dante (X)
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome ()
78 Germinal - Emile Zola (X)
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray (X)
80 Possession - AS Byatt (X)
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (X)
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell ()
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker ()
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro ()
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert (X)
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry ()
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White (X)
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom ()
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ()
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton ()
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad ()
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery ()
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks ()
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams ()
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole ()
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute ()
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas ()
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (X)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (X)
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (X)

53!! Not bad at all!  Although I do think I was forced to read half of these in Great Works (a full year's worth) in college....

okay, now back to reviewing!

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Wonderful Collection of Varied Stories about Women--Lauren Groff's "Delicate Edible Birds"

Lauren Groff's "Delicate Edible Birds" is a collection of nine short stories that deal with the intimate details of women's lives in the face of adversity. Unlike many story collections, each of Groff's stories is unique--they are all told by women of different ages, perspectives, and stations in life--so you don't feel like you are reading the same short story retold multiple times in a single volume. Groff gives each of her women a strong narrative voice, rich with the emotions attached to their situations. 

My favorite stories in this volume included Lucky Chow Fun, in which a small town ripped apart by a sex scandal is chronicled by a high school girl; Majorette, which traces the life of an under-appreciated young woman as she uses baton twirling to aid her growth into a capable woman who raises a confident daughter; and Watershed, the story of a reckless love affair that ends in tragedy. All of the stories in this volume are as different and rich as these three, and they each leave you wishing for just a little bit longer glimpse into these women's lives. 

I would recommend this volume of short stories to anyone who enjoys reading stories about strong women in the face of adversity. These stories are rich and memorable. I can't wait to see what is next from the obviously talented Groff.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Chit Lit that Tries To Be Sex And The City--But Falls Short--Sarah Dunn's "Secrets to Happiness"

Secrets to Happiness follows a year in the life of a group of thirty and forty something New Yorkers. The group is connected through Holly Frick, a woman in her late 30s who works as a writer on a kids tv show. Holly is certain her life is on the decline--she's recently divorced with no relationship prospects, her career is wanning, and she's lost out on much of the promise NYC holds for young people. Soon Holly's life begins to look up. But just as all of her friends lives also start to look up, Holly's falls apart again. Will these loses help her to figure out the secrets to happiness? 

Secrets to Happiness is a mixed bag of a book. There are parts of the book that are laugh-out-loud funny, but then there are parts that are completely unnecessary that drag down the whole rest of the narrative. The strongest parts of the novel are the segments that deal with Holly, and those that deal with her ex-boyfriend Spence. Other sections, that focus on Holly's writing partner Leonard and her distant friend Betsy, just feel forced. The first part of the book is pretty slow, and it only picks up when the narrative focuses more tightly on Holly in the second half of the book. I think Dunn has obvious talent as a comic writer, but she should stick to writing what she knows--the experience of a 30 something woman--instead of trying to broaden her story to other characters like gay men. 

This was okay chit lit, but definitely not the best out there. I would suggest this to someone looking for a casual read if they've exhausted some of the better chit lit options.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Jumpy Plot and Dense Reading--Nicole Helget's The Turtle Catcher

The Turtle Catcher follows the Richter family in New Germany, Minnesota, from the late 19th century to 1920. The novel begins with a terrible event--in 1920 the three Richter brothers drown their handicapped neighbor, Lester, after they believe he has violated their sister, Liesel. The rest of the novel is a flashback--from the mother of the boys, Magdalena, leaving Germany as a young unwed pregnant woman, to her eventual birthing and raising of five children, including the one who eventually kills her, the coming of age of those children in the early years of World War I, and the eventual tragedies of the Great War that rip the family, and the town of New Germany apart. Throughout the novel, Liesel conceals what she believes is a terrible secret--she's a hermaphrodite--and she convinces herself that Lester, handicapped from his father's relentless beatings--is the only man who could ever love her. As the events surrounding Lester's death come to the surface, the reader discovers the demons of the Richter family and their small town. 

Although the story in The Turtle Catcher was rich--I enjoyed all of its detail, its complicated levels--the execution and writing style of the novel really killed the story for me. There were times where the language was so dense, and the story so convoluted, that I was ready to give up on this book--something that I almost never do. This book had a lot of potential, and I do think it did a good job of capturing farm life in rural Minnesota at the turn of the century, as well as the political conflict between the German immigrants in the town and the other residents. 

If I could give half stars, this would really be a two and a half star review, because the book did have some good things going for it. But I don't know if I would recommend this unless someone was really interested in America before/during WWI or in turn of the century life in the Midwest.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

January Recap

So January was quite the reading month for me.  I read a total of seven books (well above my normal pace of about 5 a month).  I'm going to attribute my faster than usual pace to the brutally cold weather we've been having here in Baltimore--when you really don't want to go outside, there's definitely extra time to spend curled up with a book!  

There were a couple of good ones in the mix, but I had a hands down favorite this month, which is odd for me, since I can  never seem to commit to one thing (I can't even pick a favorite color for crying out loud).  So January's book of the month was "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett.  I read this 400+ page book in about 3 days and I was very sad there wasn't more when I reached the end.  This is an ARC I'll be passing around, so if you want to read it, let me know!