Friday, January 30, 2009

2009 book 25

Charlie Huston's The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death
This book started off really promisingly--a young man takes a job cleaning up the scenes of violent deaths after a tragedy in his own life--but halfway through veers into the ridiculous as he gets caught up with a bunch of idiots doing illegal things. The kind of noir feel couldn't save it. B-/C+.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

more fun stuff i've shared

I really like this print--it is excellent advice!

Is there a new Kindle coming out? I'm still not sure whether or not I want one.

Here's a great analysis of Neil Gaiman's Newbery win.

Does high-fructose corn syrup contain mercury? Guess it's not as natural as sugar after all, despite what those goofy commercials say.

5 reasons to watch the Puppy Bowl instead of the Super Bowl. Sorry, fellow Pittsburghers, but I'm leaning toward the puppies.

Speaking of Pittsburgh--check out what got caught in Google street view. Haha. I really do get a lot of Pittsburgh-related content in Google Reader for someone who doesn't subscribe to any Pittsburgh-related blogs.

2009 book 24

Jetta Carleton's The Moonflower Vine
If I hadn't known this was a reissued book that was first published in 1962, I'd never have guessed--it has a very funny, contemporary feel. It starts with three sisters visiting their aging parents on their small Missouri farm, and flashes back to tell the family's whole story. I totally loved it, though had mixed feelings about the end, which force me to give it an A-. Has anyone else read it? I'm dying to discuss it!

Monday, January 26, 2009

2009 book 23

Zoe Heller's The Believers
Heller's followup to the bestselling Notes on a Scandal will probably do pretty well, sales-wise, though I didn't think it was that great of a book. It's about what happens to a politically active family after their patriarch, a well-known lawyer, suffers stroke, and secrets emerge, and whatnot. The problem is that most of the characters are kind of assholes (save for insecure, unhappily married daughter Karla) and the youngest daughter's exploration of Orthodox Judaism really annoyed me (maybe b/c I've read too many books on the topic, or maybe b/c it feels like a writer trying to figure out how someone exploring a religion might feel--it seems inauthentic to a large degree). Now that I think about it, I didn't really like her last book much either. B/B-.

2009 book 22

Marjorie Kernan's The Ballad of West Tenth Street
I'm going to say flat-out that this is a strong contender for my best of 2009 list (I stayed up super late to read it all in one sitting). It's about an eccentric family in Manhattan--the widow of a famous rock star and her two children (technically three, but one is institutionalized)--and what happens to them when a mysterious and kindly man moves in next door. The characters in this book are just amazing and the majority of it is totally heartwarming, but not in a cheesy or treacly way. I will say that something very sad happens toward the end--I cried and cried, and it's been a long time since a book made me sob like that--but somehow the ending is hopeful and happy. This book scores a nearly unprecedented A+.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2009 book 21

Ann Brashares' 3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows
I actually enjoyed those books about the magic pants, so figured I'd give Brashares' newest series a try. It skews a little younger, though mentions the original girls more than a few times to pander to the fans. Anyway, there are three girls and it's summer, blah blah. One girl is basically exactly the same as the Blake Lively character, one is a very likable girl who gets stuck going on a summer hiking adventure camp trip when she wanted to go to an academic camp, and the third has the most pathetic (as in attempting to go for the pathos) storyline, with am eccentric, distant mother and a budding eating disorder. Things pretty much go as you might predict, which isn't a good thing in this case. I'd recommend going back and rereading the originals and skipping this one entirely. C.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

2009 book 20

Dara Horn's All Other Nights
I loved Dara Horn's last novel, but I guess it was a little too esoteric to get a lot of widespread acclaim. I think this one might do a little better--it's kind of a Civil War epic, focusing on a young Jewish man who ends up becoming a spy for the Union. His first task is to thwart a Lincoln assassination plot--his second, to infiltrate a Confederate spy ring by marrying its ringleader. Totally awesome and exciting. Horn clearly did some research and even unearthed facts I've never heard before--like that Grant expelled Jews from the Tennessee Territories (Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi). What a jerkward! Anyway, this book was great. A.

Friday, January 23, 2009

2009 book 19

Heather McElhatton's Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Single
The description of this book--a body-conscious thirty-something becomes slightly obsessive about marriage after her younger sister gets engaged, etc etc--sounded a lot like most generic chick lit (and not my cup of tea), but McElhatton's Pretty Little Mistakes (a hilarious and excellent choose-your-own-adventure book) was one of my favorite books of 2007 and I thought maybe this book would turn out to be awesome. Well, parts of it were very funny, but I found a lot of it to be totally depressing. I think it could be considered a sort of satire of chick lit, maybe, or maybe not. I have some super mixed feelings about it, but I guess I'll give it a B/B-.

2009 book 18

Rachel Cusk's The Country Life
I remembered totally loving this book--about a woman who flees her life in London to care for a wheelchair-bound boy in the country and has to deal w/ his eccentric family, her own past, etc--and especially adoring the character of the boy. I didn't totally love it on this reread, but it was still a damn good book. Here is my original review (back in the day when I was too lazy to use the shift key, haha).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2009 book 17

Irene Pepperberg's Alex & Me
Sigh. I wanted to love this book, all about the famously smart parrot, but it was hard. The problem is that Pepperberg is really annoying and self-involved. I didn't care about her lonely childhood and her troubles getting a job (understandable, considering her Ph.D. is in chemistry and she decided to study birds on a whim). This book felt on some level like an excuse to get back at the scientific establishment that took so long to accept her research, whereas I was hoping for more stories about the birds. This story would have been much better served had it been written by a journalist and not an embittered scientist. B-/C+.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2009 book 16

Barbara Trapido's Brother of the More Famous Jack
Some book blog or another mentioned Trapido favorably recently, and since I'd never heard of her, I checked out one of her books. Anyway, it was a lovely novel, though very British and very 1982, but just great, funny stuff. Maybe a little too much of the ol' eccentric people harping at their relatives, but lovable anyway. Just what I needed right now. A.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Multimedia message

Multimedia message
Originally uploaded by wordnerdy
I keep starting books and then putting them down in disinterest, hence the lack of book blogging.

Here's a picture of Jimmy in his favorite spot to tide you over while I try to think of something interesting to post.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

i know what i'm doing on february 1st . . .

That's right, it's time for my favorite sporting event of the year . . . the Puppy Bowl!!!! It's Puppy Bowl V!!! (Here is a history of the Puppy Bowl for those of you who prefer football.) I've watched every year, and every year, I spend three straight hours cooing over puppies (and the kittens of the halftime show). New this year: a parrot singing the national anthem, and apparently it'll be twittered live, which is useless w/o pictures! Just a couple of weeks away--yay!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

2009 book 15

Tiffany Baker's The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
A generally moving novel about an abnormally large woman and her life in small town New York in the 50s-70s. B+.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

2009 book 14

Carol O'Connell's Bone by Bone
Good lord, was this not a good book. A guy returns to his childhood home when his dead brother's bones start getting delivered to their father's house . . . the mystery itself isn't bad, but the writing was atrociously clumsy and hamhanded and the end was ridiculously melodramatic. C.

2009 book 13

Julia Glass' Three Junes
I first read this so long ago that I didn't even have a book blog--can you imagine such a time ever existed?? Anyway, I didn't remember anything about it except "it's good" so it seemed overdue for a reread. Guess what, it's good. It's the story of a family told over three summers, and it's really a moving one. This was Glass' first novel and I enjoyed her next two just as much-she's really becoming a powerhouse of a novelist. A.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

2009 book 12

Diane Hammond's Hannah's Dream
I really like elephants, so was predisposed to like this novel about an elephant in a small-town zoo and her loyal keeper. Though some of the characters border on caricatures, I generally found this to be a moving story. B.

doctor who

Sorry for the lack of book posts this weekend--I spent yesterday holed up on the couch under an afghan watching the last seven episodes of Doctor Who season 4--which I loved! It was definitely my favorite season (especially after so many one-off episodes of "oooh alien danger averted at the last minute" which it felt like happened every single time). I'm so bummed David Tennant is leaving the show--it did take me till like season 3 to fully accept him, but I was just so won over by the Doctor and Donna in season 4 that I'm almost considering buying it on DVD.

Really, the only false note for me was the episode The Doctor's Daughter, and that's just b/c the end was so predictable. I really wanted to see Jenny romping around space with the Doctor and Donna! Oh well. Still a great bunch of episodes and I'm officially totally into the show. (Just in time to have to wait for new ones, of course!)

Friday, January 09, 2009

2009 book 11

Marilynne Robinson's Home
This was my third attempt at reading this book--not b/c it wasn't good, it's just that circumstances kept getting in my way. Anyway, it's a a sequel to Gilead, which I didn't bother rereading and maybe I will now, and it involved the youngest daughter of a family caring for her dying father when the black sheep of the family comes home. I think the ending was supposed to be a shocker but I figured most of it out early on. Still a good book. A-.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

2009 book 10

Diana Wynne Jones' House of Many Ways
This companion/sequel to Howl's Moving Castle isn't as good as the original, but is a fairly entertaining story centering on a sheltered, bookish young girl who goes to housesit for her great-uncle, a wizard. Adventures ensue, as they are wont to do. B+/B.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

2009 book 9

Jane Austen's Persuasion
Man, it's weird to be back in single digits, book-number-wise. Anyway, this book was still good. I didn't like it quite as much this reread--I guess I'm kind of on Captain Wentworth's side--but maybe that's b/c I'm still sick and cranky.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

2009 book 8

Jon MvGregor's If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
I'm feeling too blah from a cold to write a real review. This book was still good.

Monday, January 05, 2009

2009 book 7

Diana Wynne Jones' Castle in the Air
I decided to reread this companion to Howl's Moving Castle b/c a third book in the series just came out (I'm hoping to get it from the library soon). I remembered not really liking it, but this time found it a very fun take on Arabian Nights-style stories. This author really does fairy-type tales well.

2009 book 6

Jeremy Jackson's Life at these Speeds
I reread most of this while waiting at the DMV today--good times, good times. This is probably one of the most incredible novels I've ever read and I read it the first time solely by chance--I still have no idea why the publisher was giving away free copies at ALA a couple of years after it first came out, but I'm extremely grateful. For those who haven't read it, it's about a high school track star who's struggling to move on after his entire middle-school team (including his girlfriend) was killed in an accident. A+.

2009 book 5

Kate Atkinson's Case Histories
The first Jackson Brodie book is still the best (though When Will There Be Good News? was also pretty great)--three interesting cold cases, storylines all enmeshed, great characters, etc. One thing I particularly noticed on this reread is the many ways parents are depicted--book groups could have a field day hashing all that out.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

2009 book 4

Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife
It's 1907 and a rich guy in Wisconsin advertises for "a reliable wife", but what he gets is a woman planning to poison him and take all his money. Of course things don't go quite according to plan . . . this was another advance copy from Algonquin and I'm still trying to decide what I think about it. It should be a book group book since there's a lot of ways discussion could go . . . I dunno, B+? I certainly couldn't put it down, and was surprised at parts, but I'm still not sure if I liked it. I'd definitely recommend it, though, so you can decide for yourselves.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

2009 books 1, 2, and 3

Since I don't have a local library card yet, I'm rereading various selections from my own bookshelves, starting with some classic literature:

Eleanor Porter's Pollyanna
It's been many years since I had read this, and I've seen the movie many times (I always spend the last ten minutes sobbing)--I was amazed to see how much Disney added to a story that was already pretty Disney-fied. The movie also adds more of the God stuff than is in the book (or at least makes those bits more dramatic). My edition, from 1987, has an afterword by Lois Lowry--which I imagine kids might not have found too appealing, but makes for a nice wrap-up when reading it as an adult.

Roald Dahl's Matilda
This is one of my favorite Dahl books--maybe b/c it came out when I was a kid, or is really the only one of his books about a girl. This is another one with weird changes to the movie version (though I've never seen that one the whole way through--it just doesn't come close to the book).

Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden
I think this is one of those books that's good no matter how many times you read it! I love the transformative power of nature and cute animals on the cranky little Mary, though on this reread I noticed that once Colin becomes prominent to the story, Mary totally disappears. The last few chapters aren't really her story at all, anymore. Though I guess she'd already had her catharsis and didn't need it at that point. Since I'm talking about movie versions, I guess I'll note here that we watched some movie version of this in elementary school after we read the book--it had some ridiculous tacked-on end where the three kids, all grown-up, come back to the garden. Mary had married one of the boys, but I forget which one (I'm hoping Dickon--Colin was her first cousin, after all).

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Originally uploaded by wordnerdy
Happy 2009!

I rang in the new year with the Wusses, who put on an amazing show as always. 2009 is already far superior to 2008--and my resolution for this year is not to let any more cars hit me. :)