Some of My Favorite Books

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Extraordinary Ordinary Life by Sissy Spacek with Maryanne Vollers

I love reading memoirs.  When I saw this one by Sissy Spacek, I snapped it right up and read it in two days.

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Did you know:

~ Spacek is really pronounced "spot check"? Sissy's Spacek's father changed the pronunciation when everyone pronounced it "spay sik" and he grew tired of correcting them.

~ Sissy Spacek had two older brothers but one died of leukemia.

~ Rip Torn is Sissy's older cousin.

~ She wanted to be a singer/songwriter and began acting instead when her music career stuttered.

~ Sissy Spacek has two grown daughters and lives on a farm in Virginia.

~ She recently recorded the audio book of To Kill A Mockingbird.

Now you know! And there's a million other little tid bits like those in this great book!

Book Read:  My Extraordinary Ordinary Life

Author: Sissy Spacek with Maryanne Vollers

ISBN:  978-1-4013-2436-0

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

I finished reading And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman the other night. Out of 10, I'd give this novel a 7. It was entertaining but as far as mystery/crime novels go, it felt a little light. The main character, Helen/Heloise was a madam who runs a prostitution business from her suburban home. That could have been interesting but it just wasn't. 

The character wasn't all the likeable (or developed). The story line alternated between then and now, which is fine when done well but I just never really became invested in the story. The ending was the most satisfying but then trickled off to be sort of unbelievable. 

If you're looking for an easy read with no big surprises or mystery, here you go.

Book Read:  And When She Was Good

Author: Laura Lippman

ISBN:  978-0-06-170687-5

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

I'd seen the book The Stone Diaries for years on shelves at bookstores, the library, and thrift stores, but I'd never read it. I decided to check it out and started reading it last week.

I just finished it this afternoon on a gray day here in Arizona. We rarely get gray days here, even in the winter, so it felt like a good time to read the last 30 or so pages of this Pulitzer Prize-winning book. What a gem!

Daisy Goodwill is born in 1905 in Canada, and her mother dies in childbirth. Her life starts there and is lived more than 80 years in the U.S. and Canada. Husbands, children, grandchildren, gardening, a job, and hobbies fill her days. The story is both unremarkable and remarkable, just like a real life. 

If you've never read The Stone Diaries, set aside the time and do. It's subtle and beautiful and toward the end, perfectly thoughtful and insightful.
Book Read:  The Stone Diaries

Author: Carol Shields

ISBN:  978-0-14-310550-3

Friday, December 7, 2012

Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Okay, for whatever reason I didn't post about reading Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark when I finally finished
reading it. In fact, the book is mostly forgotten. The book was interesting but too damn long (and not that interesting, I guess. Not to me.). 

I agree with a review I read where the reviewer said something like "if they'd cut out the smoking parts, the book would have been a quarter as long." Seriously. The main character smoked. A lot.

 At 481 pages, this book took me more than 2 weeks to finish.  Way too long and uninteresting.

Book Read: Beautiful Lies

Author:  Clare Clark

ISBN:  978-0-15-101467-5


And then I picked up Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn to read. Wow! What a difference! I'd been hearing about Gone Girl for months but didn't really know anything about it. I could guess from the title that it was about a girl (woman) who was missing.

Yessir, it is. And so much more! This is the best book I've read in ages. Run to the store, the library, wherever you can find it and start reading Gone Girl. It's
captivating and thrilling!

At 411 pages, I read this book in 3 days. Fabulous!

Book Read:  Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
ISBN:  978-0-307-58836-4

Monday, November 19, 2012

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

Well, I finished this book but was tormented all the way through it by the bad characters. They weren't written badly; they were, for the most part just bad people. Unlikeable. Shallow. Self-obsessed. Rich snobs who I wouldn't hang around with for longer than it took to drink one of their drinks then high tail it outta there.

But I guess that made the book what it was. The setting is an island over a weekend. Daphne, seven-months pregnant, and Greyson are getting married and the entire wedding party is made up of shallow people except for Dominique who seemed to me to be the only one of the lot who had any good sense and couldn't wait to get back to her life with real people in it.

Book Read: Seating Arrangements
Author:  Maggie Shipstead 
ISBN:  978-0307599469

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace

I loved this book. I picked it up by chance at the library and when I started reading The Painted Bridge, I knew right away it was a winner.

Anna Palmer is sent to a private asylum outside London by her preacher husband. The reason? Because of a trip she takes to help victims of a shipwreck. This is 1859 so of course that act was considered to be wildly unladylike. Phooey. I would have been locked up for sure!

The struggle for her to convince her jailors (doctors and the owner of the large house) that she shouldn't be there is a central theme. When the owner's daughter, who is anorexic, wants to go to the fair to see the Fasting Girl, all hell breaks loose.

Book Read:The Painted Bridge
Author:  Wendy Wallace
ISBN:   978-1-4516-6082-1

Monday, November 5, 2012

Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir by Doron Weber

I finished this book a few days ago and even though it was not the best memoir I've ever read, it certainly was heartfelt and an important story.

Doron Weber is a father of three children. This book mainly deals with his oldest son Damon who was born with a heart defect. He lives to 13 with few troubles after several open heart operations, but then he develops problems that eventually require a heart transplant. This sad, sad story is told several years after Damon dies from an infection that his doctors misdiagnose as rejection of his new heart. This book should be required reading for medical doctors in training as well as seasoned ones to learn about health care from the family's perspective.

Like a too-spicy meal, this book will stay with me longer than I'd like.  Damon's short life was full but ended way too soon.

Book Read: Immortal Bird
Author:  Doron Weber
ISBN:   978-1451618068

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Okay, I have to say that The Chaperone is the best book I've read in quite awhile. I love Laura Moriarty's books (she also wrote The Center of Everything, The Rest of Her Life, and While I'm Falling), and this one was her best.

The Chaperone is Cora Carlisle, who lives in Wichita, Kansas in the 1920s. She decides to chaperone the teenage Louise Brooks to New York City so she can attend dance school there. This book is historical fiction:  Louise Brooks was a real person who went on to be a silent film star. The photo on the cover of the book is a real photo of Louis Brooks.

But, back to Cora, because the book is titled The Chaperone after all. Cora is married and has two almost grown sons, who will go off to college in the fall, when she decides to take the train across the country one summer. She has her own reasons for wanting to go to New York.

I tell ya, this book is surprising but believable without being over the top. Cora turns out to be a fascinating character who is ahead of her time in small town middle America.

Book Read: The Chaperone
Author:  Laura Moriarty
ISBN:   978-1-59448-701-9

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

I love Jodi Picoult's novels and this one was just as good as the rest. I was pleasantly surprised that it ended on a positive note, a rarity in her writing.

The themes of this book include infertility, music and music therapy, lesbians, divorce, and the ethics of in vitro/frozen embryos.

I always find it amazing that Picoult can get into the minds of the characters to bring them to life in such a believable way. Read it? Did you love it? If you haven't read it, it's a winner!

Book Read: Sing You Home
Author:  Jodi Picoult
ISBN:   978-1-4391-0272-5

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

I finished reading The Age of Miracles night before last. I liked it, sort of. This novel is fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, whatever you want to call it but it could really happen (maybe). I like it and I didn't. I liked the reactions of people to the "slowing"(the days getting longer, as long as a week toward the end of the book), but it was too out there for me.

But I think that's just me. I'm not a fan of science fiction usually so it's all a little hard to believe. This is worth the read though.

Book Read: The Age of Miracles
Author:  Karen Thompson Walker
ISBN:   978-0-8129-9297-7

Thursday, October 4, 2012

When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood

This memoir turned out to have next to nothing to do with the Kennedys but was wonderful! The name comes from the fact that in the same year Kennedy was assassinated (1963), the author's father died of a heart attack. 

When the president was killed, this family watched along with the rest of the country, the television coverage of Jackie Kennedy and the aftermath of JFK's death. The Wood family could relate.

Set in Mexico, Maine, this true story tells a little more than a year in the life of a pre-teen girl who lost her father. The themes of Catholicism, growing up in a small town and leading a sheltered life, the town's paper mill, and of course, death.
Read my choice of the top 10 memoirs on Squidoo.

Book Read: When We Were the Kennedys
Author:  Monica Wood
ISBN:   978-0-547-63014-4

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Last night I finished reading The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. I somehow missed this book when it came out in 2011. Have you read it? Did it scare you? It scared me! I guess I'm getting soft because man, this book creeped me out.

A pilot has to make an emergency landing putting his plane down in a lake, and it doesn't go well. He survives, but is traumatized and stops flying. To make a fresh start, he moves with his wife and twin daughters from Pennsylvania to a small town in New Hampshire that has an inordinate number of greenhouses and women who call themselves herbalists. Herbalists, my foot.

When some of the passengers begin visiting the pilot (called the captain by the herbalists), his grip on sanity starts slipping. The happenings are just too creepy and bizarre for my liking, but I kept reading it. It was really good, just scary!

Book Read: The Night Strangers
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
ISBN:   978-0-307-39499-6

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

I finished Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd this morning. Yes, it was a good book and with really good ones, I like to read the end during the day while I'm alert. This one was good but the ending left me wondering. It seems like Boyd was messing with me (the reader, not just me) a little with the ending. But I still liked it. A lot.

I had heard of William Boyd but never read any of his books. One of my favorite movies Any Human Heart is based on his book by the same name. I think I'll have to read it now. I like his writing style and have read reviews saying Any Human Heart is one of his best books. I know the movie is fabulous!

This book began in Vienna and ended in England, and chronicles the life of Lysander Rief, an actor turned soldier turned spy. 

Like I said, the ending left me wondering though.

Book Read: Waiting for Sunrise
Author:  William Boyd
ISBN:   978-0-06-187676-9

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Girl Giant by Kristen den Hartog

The Girl Giant
was originally published in Canada under the title And Me Among Them. That title would have worked too. Ruth, the girl giant, looks at her life as being totally separate from everyone around her. After all, she is more than 7 feet tall.

I loved this book. It's short (in length) but long in compassion about a terrible condition that Ruth had to endure.

I've also read The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken about a man who is a giant. Both den Hartog and McCracken are such good writers who show how this fluke of nature affected the "giant's" lives.

Check out my Squidoo article for more books about giants.

Book Read: The Girl Giant
Author:  Kristen den Hartog
ISBN:   978-1-4516-5617-6

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

I love Chris Bohjalian's books, usually. This one, The Sandcastle Girls, was good but I didn't love it. For some reason, I had trouble relating to it and getting into the story. It seemed more like a history lesson in places than a novel. 

This book deals with the little-known (at least to me) Armenian genocide during World War I. Shoot, I didn't even know where Armenia is. (It's a tiny country in Eastern Europe nestled next to Turkey and Iran and Asia). The book mainly takes place in Syria.

The history portion of this book was interesting but like I said, it was totally unknown to me. The terrible killing and marching through the desert of more than 1 million Armenians is horrible to read about but of course necessary for the story.

His writing as women (the two main characters are Elizabeth Endicott in 1915 and Laura Petrosian in 2012) seems a bit off to me. Some of the language in the narrative seems more like what a man would think or say.

I did love this passage near the end of the book:

"In any case, the short answer to that first question--How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing?--is really very simple. You kill them in the middle of nowhere."
Chris Bohjalian has written 15 books and most are wonderful. I loved Skeletons at the Feast and most all of his other novels. I know that writing this book was a labor of love for him since he is Armenian and he used many facts from his own life story to set the stage. It is a powerful book, just not my favorite of his.
Book Read: The Sandcastle Girls
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
ISBN:   978-0-385-53479-6

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son by Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott

I haven't read Anne Lamott's book, Operating Instructions, the journal of her son's first year. But this book, her first year as a grandmother, was nice to read as a grandmother. When she talks about needing a grandchild fix, I can totally relate. When she wrote of loving every minute she spends with her grandson, I can relate. And when she said when he went home with his parents and that she was exhausted, I can totally relate!

This book was a tad heavy on religion and all that gobbedly goop that she is also famous for writing about, but it was tolerable. My eyes did glaze over a few times, but that's okay.  There were plenty of great passages.

I especially liked her November 27 entry, a letter to Jax, her grandson, on the Secret of Life. She sets it up as that he'll probably think there is a day in second grade when he's absent from school when he'll think the teacher tells everyone the secret of life. Then she writes: 

"But there was not such a day in school. No one got the instructions. That is the secret of life. Everyone is flailing around, winging it most of the time, trying to find the way out, or through, or up, without a map. This lack of instruction manual is how most people develop compassion, and how they figure out to show up, care, help and serve, as the only way of filling up and being free. Otherwise, you grow up to be someone who needs to dominate and shame others, so no one will know that you weren't there the day the instructions were passed out."

That and a few other remarkable passages make this a wonderful book. If I hadn't already read it, I'd read it.

Book Read: Some Assembly Required:  A Journal of My Son's First Son
Author:  Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott
ISBN:   78-1-59448-841-2

Monday, August 27, 2012

Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult

Perfect Match
is one of Jodi Picoult's older books, her third novel published in 2002, and in some ways it shows. The writing is still good but not as good as her later stuff. And that's understandable. 

In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers:  The Story of Success, he says that to get really good at something you have spend 10,000 hours practicing it. I'm sure this applies to novel writing just like playing the piano or playing a sport.

I was trying to figure out the title, Perfect Match, of this from the get-go and finally found it about three-quarters of the way through the book. This novel deals with a 5-year-old boy who was sexually abused and becomes mute. His mother is an assistant district attorney so knows what the court system does to young abuse victims. Some very interesting twists and turns are revealed making this a compelling (though highly improbable) story.

Book Read: Perfect Match
Author:  Jodi Picoult
ISBN:   0-7434-1872-7

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I just finished reading The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler. Wonderful story! Fabulous writing! A winner all around. Oh, well, I do have one complaint:  this book was too short.

Like all of Anne Tyler's novels, this one had rich characters with oddball monkey wrenches thrown into their lives. The Beginner's Goodbye starts off with Aaron, a thirty-something year old, describing how his newly dead wife shows up unexpectedly, always outside, which is counter to how she lived her life. 

Aaron works for his family's vanity press. They publish, for a fee, beginner's guides to doing just about anything. Aaron is a beginner in many ways himself.

The story is a sweet tale of grief and dealing with someone's passing, then reflecting on a life together when there's some distance to do so.

Book Read: The Beginner's Goodbye
Author: Anne Tyler
ISBN: 978-0-307-95727-6

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The New Republic by Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver is one of the smartest writers I know. That's also one reason I like her books but feel like I'm swimming upstream against the current in deep water when I read them. I take a breath when I'm done and say to myself, "Whew. That was fun, but I'm glad I survived that!"

The New Republic did not disappoint. Lionel Shriver (she's a woman, by the way, in case this is your first introduction to this writer) delves deep in her characters and the plot. This one was set in the fictional setting of Barba, a penisula off the lower tip of Portugal. She even includes a map with it visible, right there. There it is. Clever, clever.

A lawyer turned journalist, Edgar Kellogg takes a freelance journalist post in the windblown hell hole that is Barba. He replaces a mysterious missing journalist who comes to play a mighty big role in the terrorism claims that hound the contingent of journalists braving the new republic.

Read it. I think you'll like it. Have you read any of Lionel Shriver's books?

Book Read: The New Republic
Author: Lionel Shriver
ISBN: 978-0-06-210332-1

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

All That I Am by Anna Funder

Wow, I am so glad I finished this book. In the beginning, it sorted of was slow and I wasn't sure if I wanted to invest the time reading it. Ends up, it was really a good story. I think one thing that confused me at first was the flip flopping between "now" and "then."

All That I Am is based on some true events of Jewish refuges from Germany who went to England before World War II. This group worked to raise awareness of crazy Hitler's doings with some surprising twists. The writing is excellent and the story as well.

One line that really was lovely:   "a vessel of memories in a world of forgetting" and toward the end of the book when Ruth, one of the narrators is having lucid dreams:  "Sometimes I would give Dora another life, one with a different ending. The human brain cannot encompass total absence. Like infinity, it is simply not something that the organ runs to. The space someone leaves must be filled, so we dream forever of those who are no longer here. Our minds make them live again. They try, God bless them, to account fro the gap which the brain itself cannot fathom."

Book Read: All That I Am
Author: Anna Funder
ISBN: 978-0-06-207756-1


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