Thursday, September 28, 2006

Le Portrait de Petite Cossette

Based on an anime series, this manga follows the story of an art student and his obsession with a cursed portrait. It’s a dark story supported by equally dreary artwork. While sharing some quirks commonly found in manga – unexplained character motivations and an odd preoccupation with scattered, hidden objects, for example – this title is also surprisingly erudite, tossing in bits of philosophy, literary theory and art history. It will likely find a strong audience in fans of gothic and horror comics.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ghost Writer

John Harwood’s first novel follows the classic model of a gothic Victorian ghost tale. There’s the odd family history, the abandoned house and the general tone of creepiness that have made the literary influence long outlive its time period. It’s a wonderful, thoroughly enjoyable book … until the end. Sadly, the end is utterly stupid. This is one of those rare books, though, in which that hardly matters. The rest of the book is clever, witty and gripping -- good enough to make up for the deficiencies of the closing pages without making the whole book feel like a waste of time.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Kim Edwards' bestselling book takes a much different direction than what I had first thought by reading the initial chapter. The premise is that a doctor, David, and his pregnant wife, Norah, are on their way to the hospital during a snow storm to deliver their first child. They don't make it and he delivers the child in a local doctor's office. Unbeknownst to her a second child, a twin, is delivered but has Down's syndrome. David asks the nurse assisting the delivery to quietly take the child to an institution. What happens to this child and to the relationships resulting from the concealment are what drives the remainder of the book. Edwards weaves several story lines in the years that follow and takes some suprising turns along the way. The question you will keep asking, of course, is: When and how will Norah find out about this child? I thought the book could have been edited down a bit as it dragged some in the middle. All and all, however, it was engaging and makes a great book discussion choice judging by its popularity with book groups.


Written by Egyptian writer Soheir Khashoggi, Mosaic takes place mostly in Jordan. Jordanian husband, Karim, of Lebanese-American wife, Dina, 'kidnaps' their youngest children, twins, in order to remove them from life in the U.S. His reason being that since 9/11 he feels that Arab-Americans in general are looked at skeptically and even suspiciously simply because they look Arab. Khashoggi keeps the story moving as she blends suspense with family relationships and Jordanian culture. Toward the end of the book, I thought an attraction between Dina and a private investigator was a little far-fetched but for the most part the story was believable. Interesting insight into Jordanian culture and family. I read this for a book group and wouldn't normally have picked it up but I'm glad I did. Now I'm on to reading Leap of Faith by Queen Noor.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

David Sedaris has a unique gift for being simultaneously outrageously funny and deadly serious. His latest collection of essays displays more of that talent that has built him such an enthusiastic following. I listened to this one on CD, read by Sedaris, who also happens to be a great speaker. This collection includes Sedaris’s thoughts on Dutch Christmas, his accounts of problem neighbors, and more tales of his colorful brother. "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim" is a must for those who are already Sedaris fans, and a great pick for those who enjoy a keen social eye and a wicked sense of humor.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy From Napoleon to Al-Qaeda

I listened to this in audio form, read by a narrator with one of those aged British voices that always seems to accompany all things martial. Author John Keegan traces military intelligence through history. There’s a definite Anglo centric tendency, with a great deal of attention paid to Admiral Nelson and pals. Keegan makes the case that while the public and policymakers alike see military intelligence as a pursuit of supreme importance, the cold reality of war is that might nearly always wins regardless of what each side knows. Oh, and luck plays a large role, too. Military intelligence plays, at best, a secondary role. Keegan’s arguments may or may not be compelling. Fans of military history or those interested in the theory behind espionage, though, will likely find the exploration of his chosen case studies interesting.

Blade of the Immortal -- Dreamsong

Feudal Japan has inspired a host of manga titles, and this series is one of the best I’ve seen in that genre. Makie Otono-Tachibana is a geisha who also happens to be one of the deadliest assassins in Japan. She detests her lot in life, but seeks to kill in an attempt to please her lover. In this book, Makie crosses swords with the immortal ronin Manji. It’s an interesting take on gender roles, duty and vengeance.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

This is a memoir of Frey's time in rehab for severe alcohol and drug addiction. OK, so it's controversial due to Frey's admittance that he embellished the truth and changed some details. Oprah really laid into him on her show after Frey was outed by The Smoking Gun. In my humble opinion, the publisher was to blame. Frey tried to publish this originally as fiction. I think he was probably guided to the nonfiction category. Don't they have fact checkers? Anyway, I found the book to be totally compelling. I liked his style of writing and found it to be rather poetic in places. My book group read this or I might not have picked it up but I'm glad I did. It does not feel false to me and I guess it doesn't matter to me if some details have been changed. This book is not for the faint of heart. The language and descriptions are very graphic.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Things We Once Held Dear

Basic story. Man moved to the big city (NYC) from small town 20+ years ago. His wife has died and he decides to go back home to help a cousin renovate the family home into a bed and breakfast. Once back you find that there is still a mystery surrounding the murder of a family member and the reemergence of a love interest.

I read this book for a discussion group and I wasn't impressed. Not that it's a bad book but it just didn't capture me. It's categorized as Inspirational Fiction or a Gentle Read or whatever name a library or bookstore gives to Christian Fiction; although the author, Ann Tatlock, does not have any heavy handed messages. Truth is an overiding theme not treated within any particular religious context. The only "religious" theme is 'life' after death which enters more toward the end of the book.
All of that aside, I just wasn't grabbed by any of the characters or their stories. It's part historical novel with some mystery and a little bit of a love story thrown in. It takes place in Mason, Ohio, which is interesting if you're familiar with the southeastern part of the state.

This one is better for a quick-reading story rather than an indepth book discussion.