Monday, August 31, 2009

The Year of Living Biblically - AJ Jacobs

the year of living biblically
aj jacobs
c. 2007
400 pages
completed 8/23/2009

read for: tbr challenge

*may contain spoilers*

I think the subtitle really sums this books up the best way possible: "One man's humble quest to follow the bible as literally as possible."

I had heard of this book and been interested in it for a while. But I was a little skeptical about reading it. I was worried the author would come across as an extreme, that he would either spend the whole book force feeding the reader the word of God or, on the other hand, he would spend the whole book mocking religion and those who are religious. As it turns out, he did neither of these things. He stayed pleasantly in the middle, trying to follow the bible and really discover the meanings behind each commandment in the bible. And not just the main ten, but every command. He met with leaders and followers of as many different denominations of Abrahamic religion as possible to see different ways of worshiping and interpreting the bible. This was not just an interesting book to read, it was also extremely funny which I think is important in a book like this. You always need a little humor.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Girls in Trucks - Katie Crouch

girls in trucks
katie crouch
c. 2008
256 pages
completed 8/15/2009

read for: southern reading challenge

*may contain spoilers*

Sarah and her three friends, Charlotte, Bitsy, and Annie have known each other since their days of Cotillion training during grade school. Even as they grow into different people and move away to different lives, they stay connected through the bonds of the Camellias, a social club they were born into back in Charleston.

I had mixed feelings about this book. Of the things I did enjoy, what stands out is the writing style. The book was kind of written episodically, where each chapter had it's own mini story line that had a beginning, middle, and end. And then the next chapter didn't necessarily pick up where the last one left off. For example, the first chapter introduces us to Sarah and her friends and the importance of the Camellias. We're also introduced to Sarah's cousin and we see the relationship between Sarah and her cousin (I wanna say his name was Ted...I don't have the book in front of me so I'm not 100% positive) evolve until it ends with his untimely death during Sarah's first year of college. Chapter two, which introduces us to Sarah's sister Eloise begins when she and Sarah are still in high school together. So there were some time jumps that I found interesting.

I also really enjoyed the humor infused in the prose of the books. Not necessarily the humor of the story (I think there were several events I was supposed to find funny, but really they just caused me to decide I didn't think I would be friends with this girl), but the humor of the writing. My favorite line describes Sarah and her friends' move to New York for college, "It took us a while to shed our Southern ways, but after a few months we figured out that one's natural height should not be enhanced by one's bangs." I just wish I enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed the author's voice.

I had high expectations for some reason, and they were never really met. Things started off well. I enjoyed the description of Cotillion training, and Sarah and her sister Eloise's relationship in high school, but once Sarah got to college things started deteriorating. For one thing, these four "friends" didn't really like each other. They only stayed connected because of the power of the Camellias, but they never managed to really make any other real friends. Sarah turned into the epitome of our stereotypically apathetic generation, seemingly caring about nothing except finding a man to make her feel worthwhile. I know this is a common complaint of mine, lack of likable characters. And I know that likable people aren't the only ones who deserve to have their stories told, but I feel that a protagonist needs to have at least something about them that causes me to root for them. And on this front, Sarah was severely lacking.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy

the black dahlia
james ellroy
c. 1987
325 pages
completed 8/9/2009

read for: read your own books challenge, 1001 books

*may contain spoilers*

In a vacant lot in LA, 1947, Elizabeth Short is found murdered and mutilated. The LAPD is turned upside down looking for her murderer. Two cops, Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert and his partner Lee Blanchard, find themselves pulled from their normal beat and thrust into the heart of the investigation. The two cops become obsessed with Betty Short, known in the media as 'the Black Dahlia,' and their lives begin to unravel as they dig deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding her death.

Okay, that synopsis didn't come out quite intelligently but hopefully you get the idea. This book is complicated! There is a LOT going on. I had some trouble keeping track of everybody and everything that was going on, but that just kept me more and more intrigued. There were so many false turns and faulty leads that just came to nothing, but everything came together in the end.


Pretty in Plaid - Jen Lancaster

pretty in plaid
jen lancaster 
c. 2009
384 pages
completed 8/3/2009

*may contain spoilers*

Memoirs of Jen Lancaster.

I will be the first to admit that this is so not a book I would ever have picked out for myself to read. I don't normally enjoy too much chick-lit, especially when the heroine's (it's hard for me to use that word in this context) most noted characteristic is her love of SHOPPING. I don't mean to offend (seeing as I'm basically cutting out an entire genre), but I prefer reading about people with slightly more substance. However I was given this book as a gift from a friend at my office's going away party for me. She knew I liked to read and she knew I liked outrageously colorful/tacky/ugly things and so these socks looked right up my alley (for the record I would totally wear them). I had packed pretty much all my other books so this got to be read during the drive from Mexico to Canada.

I will also be the first to admit that I thought this book was hilarious. Some of the scrapes Jen found herself in reminded me of myself. I most enjoyed her stories from her childhood, brownie days and lobster birthdays. As she got older, the stories were still funny, but it was that child perspective I liked the best.


The Woman in Black - Susan Hill

the woman in black
susan hill
c. 1989
144 pages
completed 7/28/2009

read for: themed reading challenge

*may contain spoilers*

As a young attorney, Arthur Kipps travels to the north of England following the death of a Mrs. Drablaw. As a representative of his firm, he attends Mrs. Drablaw's funeral and moves into her old house for a few days to go through her papers and attend to any outstanding legal affairs. The other inhabitants of Mrs. Drablaw's town refuse to go near her house and even to speak much of her. And Arthur soon discovers why.

I saw the play that was based on the novella when my family took a Christmas trip to London in 2002. We managed to squeeze in five shows during our week long trip. In case anyone cares, the other four were Les Miserables, HMS Pinafore, 125th Street, and The Lion King. So this was the only non musical. And I have to say, the play was much scarier than the book. I had nightmares for months which, at 17 years old, was somewhat embarrassing.

This is not to say the book was bad, far from it in fact. Even though I'd seen the play, it was years ago and I remembered next to nothing about the actual mystery. So I was just as intrigued as poor Arthur. Just the emotion the book was able to elicit was more one of sadness than of terror. The book was definitely creepy, old house and rising mists and ghosts in the graveyard and all that, but I never felt the terror I think I was supposed to feel.


Laughter is just a smile that burst...

Before I type this list I want to make it very clear that I'm well aware that these monthly goals are growing more and more ridiculous. WELL AWARE. And with that in mind...

To Be Read by the End of August
Girls in Trucks - Katie Crouch
The Year of Living Biblically - AJ Jacobs
The Aleph and Other Stories - Jorge Borges
Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Meaning of Night - Michael Cox
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemmingway
The Virgin of Small Plains - Nancy Pickford
To Siberia - Per Petterson
American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld
The Good German - Joesph Kanon
Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury
The Crusade - Michael Alexander Eisner
An Artist of the Floating World - Kazua Ishiguro

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

To be read...

The Tricking of Freya - Christina Sunley
Lucky Jim - Kingsley Amis
The Time of Singing - Elizabeth Chadwick
The Devil's Company - David Liss (book 4 of a series)
The Great Stink - Clare Clark
Water Ghosts - Shawna Yang Ryan
Sacred Hearts - Sarah Dunant
Little Bee - Chris Cleave
Broken Hero - Anne Whitfield
City of Thieves - David Benioff
Benny and Shrimp - Katarina Mazetti
The Jewel Box - Anna Davis
The Anatomy of Deception - Lawrence Goldstone
The Quiet Gentleman - Georgette Heyer
Bound South - Susan Rebecca White
The Thing Around Your Neck - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns - Elizabeth Leiknes
Four Queens: the Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe - Nancy Goldstone
The Devil's Queen - Jeanne Kalogridis
The Vanishing of Katarina Linden - Helen Grant
Lady of Quality - Georgette Heyer
I'm the King of the Castle - Susan Hill
All Other Nights - Dara Horn
The Yellow Lighted Bookshop - Lewis Buzbee
Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout
And Only to Deceive - Tasha Alexander
The Angel's Game - Carloz Ruiz Zafon
The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway
1939 into the Dark - Paula Phelan (2nd in a series)
Godmother: the Secret Cinderella Story - Carolyn Turgeon
Hugh and Bess - Susan Higginbotham
The Spies of Warsaw - Alan Furst
Pope Joan - Donna Wolfolk Cross
Liar - Justine Larbalestier
The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears - Dinaw Mengestu
No One You Know - Michelle Richmond
In the Company of the Courtesan - Sarah Dunant
Unless - Carol Shields

38 new books, including two that are both part of a series. My TBR list is going to be the death of me.

An honorable defeat...

It's highly possible I've bit off more than I can chew. The Themed Reading Challenge will be the second challenge this year that I didn't complete in time. How sad for me. I blame my move (from Mexico to Canada basically, except I never left the US). Though I suppose there's not point in blame. I will just put it behind and move onto what's next...I have a LOT of catching up to do.