Thursday, May 29, 2008

Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir

Jennette Fulda, who writes the blog Half of Me, presents this candid memoir of going from 372 pounds and morbidly obese to 160 pounds and fit. I loved this book from the first page. I picked it up because I was curious about how someone could lose so much weight simply through diet and exercise. But this is not a how-to book. Fulda admits that the way she did it isn't going to be the same way anyone else does it. Rather, she explores her psyche throughout the weight loss, expounds on the role of her blog in the process, and talks about the joy she found in learning to cook healthily and exercising. She's an inspiration not because of what she could potentially tell others to do, but because she has told us what she did--she took responsibility for her own health, and doing it made her feel good. It's an honest, true reason. This book made me feel good about myself, and it made me want to cheer Fulda on in her future efforts. I'm subscribing to her blog for more!

Stolen Innocence

Elissa Wall's memoir is long--over 400 pages--but I finished it in under 24 hours. I couldn't stop reading this true story. Wall was a member of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, a polygamous sect that broke off from the mainstream Mormon church. When she was fourteen, the leader of the sect, Warren Jeffs, arranged her marriage to her first cousin, who was nineteen at the time. Although Wall herself was not in a polygamous marriage, she was essentially forced into becoming a child bride. The story is not yet over, as Jeffs still awaits trial on a number of counts of aiding and abetting child marriage. News of the sect is still a very current issue. Wall herself has a strong personality and a compelling voice, so it's not just the subject matter that kept me reading. However, I'm looking forward to beginning another book by former FLDS member Carolyn Jessop. I'm interested to see another side of the story.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Great and Terrible Beauty

by Libba Bray (YA Audiobook)

Set in the late 1800's, sixteen year old Gemma Doyle is sent to live at a boarding school in England after her mother is murdered. Her family is devastated by the loss, yet, they blind themselves to the dark and mysterious circumstances surrounding her mother's death.

As Gemma begins her new life at school, the mystery follows her in the form of a cloaked man, a ghost girl, and a diary that holds the key to the past and the future. Yet, she still has to try and make friends and fit in among the girls at Spence.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is a fast read full of adventure, magic, and the every day drama surrounding teenage girls. I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Tain

Who doesn't love a good epic poem?
Well, OK, it's not the lightest reading in the world. But as epic poems go, The Tain is pretty good. This eighth-century poem from Ireland has all the elements so standard to the genre. Strapping warriors, blood feuds, gods and mortals, grievous injuries, comically exaggerated feats and more. The thing is, in this case, it's all done in a Celtic flavor that's surprisingly distinct from, say, Beowulf or The Odyssey. One example is the hero, Cu Chulainn's, ability to hold whole armies at bay with scrawled runes on wooden hoops tossed over a stone pillar. There's a sense of unquestioned magic, complete with druids and seers, and faeries and goblins that lurk in the background but never enter the plot.
It's good stuff if you're into that kind of thing.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Idiot's Guide to Sign Language

I've been meaning to learn at least a little sign language for a long time. This book has been an excellent gateway to that skill. In the accessible manner that's made the "Idiot's" series famous, the book goes through the alphabet, numerical system and basic grammar of American Sign Language.
It also highlights some of the unique qualities of ASL; it's not just signed English, for example, nor is it finger-spelling. It's a robust language all its own, complete with history, regionalisms, quirks and puns. It will by no means make one fluent, but it's an excellent introduction to ASL.

Monday, May 19, 2008

This Will All End in Tears

This is a collection in graphic form of a series of short stories written and drawn by Joe Ollman. The artwork, like the stories, is offbeat and a little dark. They tend towards takes on everyday life from a rather counterculture perspective, and are overall quite good.

Black and Blue

by Anna Quindlen (Oprah Book)

Fran Benedetto decided to leave her abusive husband, Bobby, a New York City cop, and get away, taking their son Robert with her. After living for years with bruises and broken bones, and finally a broken jaw, she contacts an agency that helps women escape from domestic violence in the home. She takes her son and they are relocated in Florida under the name Crenshaw. Fran lives day to day in fear of her husband returning, meanwhile trying to develop friendships and creating a normal life for Robert. It is an edge-of-your-seat, emotional tearjerker. It displays the thoughts and emotions of a battered woman and what a half million women go through each year.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey

This is another good noir novel. It has the short clipped sentences of Raymond Chandler, with a manly detective (an ex-cop) and a mysterious woman. It's set in modern day Chicago and a great read for hard-boiled mystery fans.

You Suck: A Love Story

by Christopher Moore (audiobook)

You Suck is just as quirky and funny as Moore's The Stupidest Angel, if not funnier.

Jodi and Tommy are newly turned vampires learning about the pros and cons of being foul dead creatures of the night. Things turn sour for the two vamps when Tommy's friends, nicknamed The Animals, get turned into vampires by a vampire ho. Then, Jodi's creator and mentor Elijah comes back to hunt them down. Along with Abby Normal and Jared, their loyal minion, Jodi and Tommy are up for the fight.

The audio version of this book, done by Susan Bennett, is fantastic. Her interpretation of Abby Normal is hysterical in her teenage, know-it-all, over dramatic tone. I definitely recommend this one!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Book Thief

by Mark Zusak (Audiobook)

Death, the voice of Allan Corduner, tells a story set in World War II, Nazi Germany. A nine-year-old girl, Liesel Meminger, is taken to live with a family on 31 Himmel Street. Death is fascinated by this wild, imaginative, and lively girl and the journey of her youth during such a tumultuous time. She comes to love her gruff and foul-mouthed foster mother, Rosa, and her accordion-playing foster father, Hans, who teaches her how to roll cigarettes, how to read and how to write. Despite economic hardship and air raids, Leisel spends her life happily among her friends: Rudy, the yellow-haired thieving accomplice, Max, the hide-away Jew in their basement, and even the mayor's wife, who turns a blind eye to her stealing. It is a story of love and loss, of a child's realization of the cruelty and beauty of the world around her. Her story is punctuated by the stories she steals, until finally she writes her own. Emotional, heartwrenching, and beautiful.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Miracle at Speedy Motors

I'm always pleased to see a new book in McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and this one is no disappointment. The attraction of these books is the strong sense of place. It is obvious, at least to this tour guide-browsing writer, that the series has caused a wave of interest in travel to Botswana in recent years, and has put rooibos tea on the shelf of every American grocery store. Also an attraction is the small town feel and the friendly, courteous Botswanan discourse, which combines with the exotic locale and unusual speech cadences in a most charming way. As always, detective Precious Ramotswe solves her gentle mysteries with candidness and common sense. And, in this installment, leaves us wondering about the fate her tiny white van and the motives of the orphanage matron--to be discovered in the next book, no doubt. I'll be waiting with my cup of red bush tea.