Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ornament of the World- Menocal (Book #48)

I'm heading to Spain and wanted to read this book to get a better idea of the history of medieval Spain. This is a very interesting book about the culture of tolerance that once existed in Spain as the three major world religions worked side by side. I enjoyed the vignettes of different historical figures, and felt devastated when I read how the Jews and Muslims were ultimately expelled by Queen Isabella. The book is told with snippets of stories of different historical people and major events. The author jumps around a bit with flashbacks that left me a bit confused from time to time, but over all it is a very good book that leaves me better informed for my trip.

My favorite was a poem by Abd al-Rahman, the man who began the Muslim Empire in Spain:

A palm tree stands in the middle of Rusafa,
Born in the West, far from the land of palms.
I said to it: How like me you are, far away and in exile,
In long separation from family and friends.
You have sprung from soil in which you are a stranger,
And I like you, am far from home.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Annie's Ghosts- Luxenberg (Book#47)

What a fascinating read! This was a book I got completely lost in. I love it when that happens with a book. Steve grew up thinking his mother was an only child. She told him stories of being an only child, and the picture of her childhood showed just her with her parents. Decades later, as his mother was on her death bed, he finds out from a social worker that his mother mentioned she had a sister. Who was this sister? Why did his mother never mention her before? These are questions Steve never gets to ask her for she passes away before they can be asked. This is a story about Steve's quest to find out what happened to the aunt he never knew. Steve uses his investigative journalist skills and learns that his aunt was handicapped since childbirth and institutionalized at 21 for mental illness. This story is more than just about his aunt though, it is also about the other ghosts he digs up along the way. Through his journey he describes how mental illness was handled in the past, and explores not just what Annie went through but what many others like her went through before there was greater understanding of mental illness and intellectual disabilities. Although I did feel the story could have been shortened by a chapter or two, I found it to be an easy read.

I first heard of this story through NPR. To read his interview and read an excerpt click here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Get Off Your 'But'- Stephenson (Book#46)

This book is a very inspiring and easy read about ditching your excuses and making the most of your life. Stephenson is a motivational speaker and a psychotherapist. He also has a rare condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta also known as brittle bone disorder. As a result he has always been in a wheelchair and dealt with a lot in his life. However, in his book, Stephenson talks about how he never let his disability become an excuse for him not to make a good life for himself. The book has seven topics to motivate you to better you life and let go of the fears and inhibitions holding you back. I found it an interesting read and I know I will certainly be re-reading this book again.

Pain is inevitable. Eventually, it touches us all. Suffering, however, is optional. -Stephenson

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Divorce Party- Dave (Book #45)

This is a well written novel about the nature of trust and of course, about divorce. The story follows two women. Gwyn is having a divorce party honoring her 35 year marriage with her husband and trying to let go gracefully. Her husband told her he decided to become Buddhist and wants to live a different life. She accepts this while she battles with a painful truth. The other woman is Maggie who is engaged to Nick, Gwyn's son. She is going with Nick to Mountauk, NY to attend the party and meet his family for the first time. Along the way she realizes that her fiancee is harboring quite a few secrets. The story moves at a suspenseful clip and makes for an easy read. I enjoyed the book for the most part but towards the end I felt the story was getting a little hokey. Still, I would recommend it to readers.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Confetti Girl- Lopez (Book #44)

I finished this book wanting to give it a standing ovation. This book was beautiful, flawless. This is a YA novel about Lina, and her life after losing her mother. She lives with her father, a book aficianado who is coping with his wife's loss by turning to his books and fumbling with all sincerity to be a good father and mother. Her best friend lives across the street with a single mother who begins the novel hating men and making confetti eggs. This is a snapshot of the life of a middle schooler dealing with love and loss. I wept at least three times reading this book. The writer has a gift with words, and I plan to buy this book one day.

I've tasted tears before. They're salty, just like the water below, and I wonder if the ocean is made of tears from all the peple and all the animals that have lost their mothers. After a while my dad comes and sits beside me. "I miss her," I say. "He says, I miss her too, m'ija." Then he puts his arm around me and we spend a few minutes filling the ocean together.

On Hearts: real hearts are reddish purple -- like bruises. No wonder it hurts to love.

B as in Beauty- Ferreras (Book #43)

They say don't judge a book by its cover, I also should add you must not judge a book by its title either. B as in Beauty on title alone struck me as potentially an ultra uppity perky chick lit novel, but since Tee recommended it and it arrived on my doorstep thanks to a contest I won on her site, I had the perfect incentive to pick up and read it.

This book is about a fat girl (self proclaimed) who hates herself and is losing at love and work but along the way learns what it is to be proud of who she is. She learns this in the most unlikeliest of manners but the book sucks you in that you suspend disbelief and you float along.

I love books where I can lose myself. Doing the 100 book challenge means that sometimes I feel the need to read quickly and get frustrated with too much detail. Not this book A good book makes you forget you are reading, you feel you are experiencing the tale as it unfolds. B as in Beauty did that. I know after I complete my challenge this will be a book I will certainly re-read.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Shopgirl- Martin (Book #42)

I've heard good things about this book but I always hesitated because Steve Martin was the author and he's an actor. I pictured it a foray of an egocentric actor thinking, writing? How hard could it be? I borrowed it from the library because I saw good reviews and it was short. I've been reading some doozy long books lately and I needed a breezy short one. I read Shopgirl in one sitting and though I expected to dislike it because the main character was one of those depressed wanderers and I thought oh great, its just going to be a bunch o kids experiencing agnst. Yawn. But the book rocked! This is a novella about a girl and her relationships but its more than that. It's about loneliness and what loneliness can drive us to, misunderstandings, jealousy, feeling lost in ones life, and the differences between men and women. All of that in a short little book. I really found Martin insightful and I know I will be reading other work by him now.

It's Pain That Changes Our Lives- Martin

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hungry Woman in Paris- Lopez (Book #41)

I was super psyched to read this book about a woman in Paris searching for herself and what she wants. Canela leaves the US for Paris after breaking up with her fiancee and the tragic suicide of her beloved cousin. She attends cooking school and learns about herself and life. I thought this would be the perfect chick lit novel to get lost in but instead what I got was a poorly written novel with strange obscenity. But let's leave the obscenity to the side for a moment. As an aspiring writer the number one rule I hear is "SHOW don't TELL". This novel was all telling telling telling. There was very little expanding on any character other than Canela, the main character. Huge issues like her helping a woman escape an abusive relationship were explained in two pages with a paragraph summary of "she found a job and there were promises of more to come." I have heard that her screen play "Real Women Have Curves" was excellent and I still want to see it, but I think I'd leave the novel writing for another day.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

For Writers Only- Burnham (Book #40)

This is a book for writers who need a bit of encouragement. Burnham has quotes on every page from different writers on the art of writing and she talks about different aspects of writing and provides some of her own personal reflections on the topics. Her writing is gentle and soft. I think the second half was better than the first half but this could be because the second half resonated more with me at where I'm at as a writer. The first half is about finding the proper space, finding time, etc. The second half is fear of rejection, re-writing, etc. Those apply to me more. It was a nice book, not a book to get real advice though, its along the lines of a "quotable quotes" book or "words of wisdom" gift books that help inspire you but won't take you past the gate. Good for what it is.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Portland Noir- (Book #39)

This is an anthology of dark short stories about characters residing in Portland. The Noir series take place in many cities and countries around the world. I picked this one up since I'd just come from Portland and wanted to get a flavor of the town through the eyes of certain writers. Some of the short stories are very good. My favorite was Virgo about a newspaper editor who messes with an ex by fixing her horoscope. My least favorite was by Luciana Lopez about a woman who lives in a house where a murder took place and she wants to know what happened. The stories vary in quality of writing and they are too heavily focused on stalkers told from a stalkers point of view. It got kind of old by the last story. Not a heavy thinking type of read, just okay.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

What I talk about when I talk about running- Marukami (Book #38)

I read a portion of this book at the fabulous Powell's bookstore in Portland, OR and immediately checked it out from my local library. This is a book by a writer who became a marathon runner. The author is from Japan and this book is translated so I don't know if I can disparage the author's style of writing since its translated. The book is about running and how he prepares and how he thinks about running. It feels like you are reading a diary. I think runners may appreciate the story more than I did.