Friday, October 26, 2007

Strange Skies

by Matt Marinovich

I never thought I would despise a main character so much and yet be unable to stop reading. Paul Mauro, said character, fakes developing cancer after his doctor finds a suspicious lump on his arm. His motivation is to put off starting a family with his wife. If that weren't bad enough, he ends up having an affair with a young woman with serious cancer, who ends the affair and her life by committing suicide. Does this deter the self-absorbed main character? Nope. He takes a mini vacation, without his wife, and "befriends" a young mother, Barb, that he meets in the airport and her young son, Jack. The hitch: Jack has cancer. Finally, you think that Paul will have some sympathy for the kid and not try to get in the sack with his mom, but you're wrong.

My motivation for finishing the book was to find out if Paul learns his lesson. I did get a sick satisfaction when he gets knocked down a peg or two by his wife, but since he didn't really learn anything from that experience, I kept reading.

Paul is a jerk, but he's the kind of jerk (like some celebrities) that you are addicted to. Although I felt utterly repulsed by some of his actions and never once felt sorry for him, I couldn't help chuckling at some of the dialog and scenery that Marinovich describes. Pretty good read, and ultimately different than anything I have ever read.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited

There's something fascinating about twins. Those of us who aren't twins can only imagine what it's like to have an identical double, someone who could be closer than a spouse or partner. In most cases, twins grow up together, and they can't imagine life without each other. But in this memoir, Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, separated and adopted several months after birth, find out that they have always had a double somewhere on the planet. Two singles become a pair, just like that. Their story is compelling; they tell it in each of their voices, both smooth and honest, yet each an individual. In addition to their story, Schein and Bernstein give many interesting facts about twins, comparing their separated life to those entwined lives around the world. Twinsburg is also mentioned several times, as the home of Twins Days. This is an excellent book, and I imagine it be a perennial favorite.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Winning Nice: How to Succeed in Business and Life Without Waging War

This book was written by the winner of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, Dawna Stone. I didn't watch that show, and I've never actually worked in corporate America, but I was intrigued by the title. Also, I think libraries could benefit from some business advice. I was really pleased with what I read. Dawna Stone's book is a complete, simple business primer, with an uplifting, positive attitude throughout. She encourages workers to believe in themselves, their teams and their customers. I learned a lot about business that I didn't already know, and I learned a lot of ideas and concepts I could easily translate to my librarian life.

The Flawless Skin of Ugly People

This debut novel by Doug Crandell is one of those trade paperbacks that often doesn't get much press; however, it was reviewed in People Weekly, which got me to notice it. I'm so glad I did, because it was a beautiful, sad, yet also uplifting novel. Leonard Hobbie and his girlfriend, Kari, travel the country, working in menial jobs as bank tellers. Together since they were in high school, they've always felt on the outside of society, since Kari is overweight and Hobbie has very bad acne. But at the start of the book, Kari has left Hobbie to go to "fat camp," and the story follows his life without her. They haven't ended their relationship, but Kari doesn't want to have any e-mail or phone conversation with him--she only writes him letters. This is the story of Hobbie's journey without her, this part of him he's always had and is now missing. I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

This graphic memoir by Peter Sis follows the author through his childhood and teenage years in what is now the Czech Republic. It's been long enough since the fall of the Berlin Wall, now, that it's easy to forget how very different life was for those on the other side. Sis's artwork leaves a little to be desired, but the story he tells of everyday life under Soviet rule is thoroughly engrossing.

God Save the Queen

Mike Carey -- the author behind many of the highly respected Hellblazer books -- and artist John Bolton haved teamed up to produce an engrossing graphic novel. The story focuses on a London teen experimenting with drugs, and follows her through a voyage into the faerie realm. It's dark, certainly, but also one of the best combinations of quality writing and high-powered art out there (Bolton's illustrations seem to be converted oil paintings, and convey a level of realism rarely seen in the genre).

The Gum Thief

Douglas Coupland is one of my favorite authors--I always look forward to a new one from him. He writes literary fiction, although it's not always mainstream (lots of references to pop culture, current society, etc.) But it's literary in the sense that it's not always cut and dry. In his new novel, The Gum Thief, we have metafiction going on--there's a story within a story. The main character, Roger, is writing a novel, and much of the book is composed of excerpts from the novel--which is actually written by Coupland, of course. To make things even more complicated, two of the characters in Roger's novel are also writing novels. At one point, we even see an excerpt from the novel within the novel within the novel. Confused yet? If this type of thing is your cup of tea, pick this one up. And while you're at it, pick up Hey Nostradamus!, my absolute favorite by Coupland.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lean Mean Thirteen

I don't feel as special posting review #201, but I had to review the latest Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum novel. For those of you who aren't familiar with this series, it is about Stephanie Plum, a bounty hunter, whose misadventures are funny and suspenseful. The characters in this series are what make it so appealing: there's Lula, a reformed ho who now works in the bond office doing filing and traipsing around with Stephanie catching FTAs (failure to appear). Connie is the secretary, a feisty Italian woman who loves all the Burg (New Jersey) gossip. Grandma Mazer is Stephanie's spunky, gun wielding grandma who also likes to tag along with Stephanie and get her in all kinds of trouble.

Stephanie has two loves in her life: Joe Morelli, an Italian cop whose down-to-earth nature and knee-weakening good looks make Stephanie want to be a better woman; and Ranger, a Cuban bounty hunter who lives in the mysterious bat cave and is very good at everything he does, makes being good even more difficult.

Among the main characters, who appear in every novel, there are a variety of sick twisted bad guys who are constantly trying to make Stephanie's life a nightmare. In this book, Stephanie has to put up with her cheating ex husband and his stalker girlfriend, Joyce, a psychopath with a flame thrower, and a taxidermist FTA who specializes in road kill bombs.

The Stephanie Plum series is hilarious to listen to. I find myself laughing out loud every time. I recommend listening to the audio version narrated by Lorelei King. She is so good you forget that when Ranger speaks, its a woman narrating!

*200th Post!*

I am honored to be making the 200th post in A Librarian Told Me So!

I recently finished Practically Perfect In Every Way by Jennifer Niesslein. This book was interesting because it was about Niesslein's foray into the world of self-help--and there is an upcoming book from Beth Lisick about this exact topic. So I'm curious to see how they will compare to each other. In this book, Niesslein discusses in each chapter the experiments she did, following the advice of self-help "experts" like Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, etc. She attempted to improve her life one aspect at a time, from housecleaning to spirituality. There were points where I felt a little bogged down by all the revelations, but overall, I really loved this book. It made me feel better that I don't always follow the advice I'm given. Also, reading Jennifer Niesslein's story was a joy in itself--her voice is wry and funny.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library

By Don Borchert

I received an advanced copy of this book at a library conference recently, and it will be released November 13, 2007. Even though it isn't on the library and bookstore shelves yet, I couldn't wait to review it. I consider this book to be library concentrate, an intense flavor of what its like "on the inside". As a librarian, this book greatly appeals to me; however, I know the general population would enjoy this book because it gives a sneak peak into the lives of librarians, and the incredible stories they have to share, which the general population is definitely unaware of. You'd be amazed!

Don Borchert tried many different professions before entering into the library domain, many of which are unrelated. This sets him apart from the typical librarian because many of us have known for a long time that we belonged in the company of books and people who love to read them. I know from experience.

Although he didn't get his calling until later in life, his experiences are much the same as the average librarian. The difference is, we are accustomed to the abnormal behavior of human beings, yet he was shocked by some the every day out-of-the-ordinary occurrences, whereas, many of us librarians would say, "it happens all the time." It inspired him to write this book detailing his life as a librarian, including working with books and people who love to read them,yet he also dealt with unusual and disgusting objects found in the book drop, racial wars in the parking lot, drug dealers using the library bathroom to hide their stash, people who check out hundreds of dollars of materials and magically disappear, and a specific reclusive, grumpy, retired patron who spends hours at the library doing crossword puzzles. A must read for librarians and patrons alike!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature

This is a big book by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker: big in terms of size and scope. It's 499 pages (although many are composed of notes) and covers two huge topics, language and human nature. Pinker scrutinizes the many different aspects of language, as he has in his other books. Here, he speculates that our languages' structures may be inherently changed by the ways we are innately designed to act. It's very deep and intricate material. It took me five days to read it, and I'm normally a pretty quick reader. Pinker writes well--I can't say he makes it easy for the layperson to understand the concepts, but it's certainly not jargon. Worth a read if you're interested in high-concept psychology and brain science.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini

I was tempted to forgo reading this book because I was worried that it would not be as good as his first novel, The Kite Runner. Yet, after reading many good reviews, I decided to give it a try and loved it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of two women, Miriam and Laila, living in a tumultuous Afghanistan, and how their lives intertwine. Miriam was the illegitimate daughter of Jalil, a weathly business man. She lived with her mother in a kalib, or hut, outside of the village with her mother until her mother's death and then was given away in marriage at a very young age to a brutal man and widower named Rasheed. Her life is a lonely one, unable to bear children, and suffering under the abusive hand of her husband, until Laila comes into her life as Rasheed's second wife. Rasheed had rescued Laila after her house was bombed, killing her family. Laila bore a son, and although Miriam resented Laila at first, they band together to escape their husband.

The book is full of twists and turns and unexpected surprises. I found myself in tears, and in other parts, enraged. Yet, in the end, I was satisfied. I thought the ending was done very well. The book was a quick read and kept me engrossed in its pages from start to finish.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Amphigorey Again

Edward Gorey was an iconic cartoonist. His drawings have a unique flavor, a touching mix of creepiness and fun. This book is a good collection of many of his pen and ink works. A solid introduction to a respected artist.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Briar Rose

by Jane Yolen

The story of Sleeping Beauty is one we have all heard of, yet Jane Yolen takes on a different perspective, incorporating the holocaust into this beloved fairy tale. Becca and her two sisters have listened to their Gemma tell the story of Briar Rose throughout their childhood and into adulthood. Although the two older sisters grow tired of the story, Becca, the youngest granddaughter, still remains fond of the story even until herGemma's dieing day. As she listens to her Gemma tell the story one last time, she finds herself promising to find the prince that kissed her awake and the castle where she was once aKseizniczka, which in Polish means "Princess". Becca discovers a box carved with a rose that her grandmother had hidden, containing pictures and papers from around the time of the holocaust. After some investigating, she discovers that her grandmother might have been telling more than a fairy tale, and in fact, revealing her past in the only story she knew how. I found this book to be immensely fascinating. After reading the description, I had to read it to find out if the author was able to pull off this difficult correlation. I am pleased to say that it was believable and enticing. I definitely recommend this book.

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell

Author Mark Kurlansky embarks on a history of New York from the unique perspective of an oyster. As it turns out, oysters have been key to a surprising amount of that area's history. The Indians loved them. The Dutch were crazy for them. The English pined for them. And the growing American city was no different. Now, of course, it's unheard of to dip into the East River and eat anything one might retrieve. Kurlansky makes the interesting observation that for a maritime colony, New York City has come surprisingly out-of-touch with the sea. The book drags a little in the middle, and perhaps has more recipes than most readers of a history book might really want, but overall it's quite enjoyable. I listened to this one on MP3, and the voice narration was very good.