Friday, December 31, 2010

The Best of 2010

The Best of 2010
It's that time again! Time to sum up my reading for 2010.
It's been an interesting year. While packing to move this spring, I set aside a stack of favorite books and did some rereading. The quandary is if I include them on the list for the best of the year, other new-to-me books will be left out, so to settle this dilemma I'm including a separate category of favorite books I've read again.

Top 10 of 2010:
8. Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler
11. The Bay of Love and Sorrows by David Adams Richards
15. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
22. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
62. The Passage by Justin Cronin
64. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
71.- 72. Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card,
85.- 88. Otherland Series by Tad Williams, Otherland: City of Golden Shadow , Otherland: River of Blue Fire, Otherland: Mountain of Black Glass, and Otherland: Sea of Silver Light
103. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
123. Room by Emma Donoghue

Top 3 Non-fiction:
9. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
42. Lucky by Alice Sebold
96. Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally (based on fact)

All time favorite books I've read and read again, including this year:
27.- 30. The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
35. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
37. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
38. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, with Curt Gentry
39. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
43. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
46. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
52. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
112.- 113. The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

Most Dissappointing book of 2010:
82. Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost

2010 Books:

126 books; 50,643 pages,
* denotes very highly recommended books
(book, author, pages, date reviewed, rating)

January -14 books, 5120 pages
1. Plague Zone by Jeff Carlson, 318 pages, 1/2/10, no rating
2. Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton, 312 pages, 1/3/10, highly recommended
3. Defense for the Devil by Kate Wilhelm, 443 pages, 1/4/10, highly recommended
4. Skeletons by Kate Wilhelm, 378 pages, 1/5/10, highly recommended
5. The Unbidden Truth by Kate Wilhelm , 366 pages, 1/6/10, highly recommended
6. The Price of Silence by Kate Wilhelm, 412 pages, 1/7/10, highly recommended
*7. Impact by Douglas Preston, 364 pages, 1/8/10, very highly recommended
*8. Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler, 277 pages, 1/13/10, very highly recommended
*9. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand, 401 pages, 1/17/10, very highly recommended
10. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, 498 pages, 1/19/10, no rating
*11. The Bay of Love and Sorrows by David Adams Richards, 307 pages, 1/21/10, very highly recommended
*12. The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan, 358 pages, 1/25/10, very highly recommended
13. In the Country of the Blind by Michael Flynn, 377 pages, 1/30/10, highly recommended
*14. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, 309 pages, 1/31/10, very highly recommended

February - 7 books, 2965
*15. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, 973 pages, 2/6/10 very highly recommended
16. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger, 432 pages, 2/20/10, recommended
17. Legend by David L. Golemon, 490 pages, 2/23/10, highly recommended
18. Primitive by Mark Nykanen, 186 pages, 2/24/10, not recommended
19. Orbis by Scott MacKay, 408 pages, 2/26/10, recommended
20. Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke, 237 pages, 2/28/10 highly recommended
21. Love's Enduring Promise by Janette Oke, 239 pages, 2/28/10 no rating

March - 10 books, 3631 pages
*22. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, 624 pages, 3/3/10, very highly recommended
23. Double Fault by Lionel Shriver, 317 pages, 3/5/10, recommended
24. Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis, 384 pages, 3/10/10, highly recommended
25. The Nanny Diaries by Emma Mclaughlin, Nicola Kraus, 306 pages, 3/11/10, highly recommended
26. Ya-Yas in Bloom by Rebecca Wells, 272 pages, 3/14/10, recommended for fans
*27. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, 288 pages, 3/16/10, very highly recommended
*28. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien, 432 pages, 3/20/10, very highly recommended
*29. The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien, 352 pages, 3/23/10, very highly recommended
*30. The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien, 432 pages, 3/25/10, very highly recommended
31. The Outlaws of Mesquite by Louis L'Amour, 224, 3/26/10, no rating

April - 10, 3648 pages
32. The Likeness by Tana French, 466 pages, 4/1/10, highly recommended
33. The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett, 357 pages, 4/4/10, highly recommended
34. Disobedience by Jane Hamilton, 273 pages, 4/5/10, highly recommended
*35. Lord of the Flies by William Golding, 192 pages, reread, very highly recommended
36. Pincher Martin by William Golding, 208 pages, 4/9/10, highly recommended
*37. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, 384 pages, 4/13/10, reread, very highly recommended
*38. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, with Curt Gentry, 676 pages, 4/19/10, reread, very highly recommended
*39. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler, 310 pages, 4/22/10, reread, very highly recommended
40. By the Light of the Moon by Dean Koontz, 460 pages, 4/26/10, highly recommended
41. I Feel Earthquakes More Often than They Happen by Amy Wilentz, 322 pages, 4/30/10 recommended

May - 5 books, 2515 pages
*42. Lucky by Alice Sebold, 258 pages, 5/2/10, very higly recommended
*43. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, 402 pages, 5/4/10, very highly recommended
*44. Fever Dream by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, 405 pages, 5/7/10, very highly recommended
45. The Science Fiction Century by David G. Hartwell (Editor), 1005 pages, 5/19/10, highly recommended
*46. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood, 445 pages, 5/31/10, reread, very highly recommended

June - 14 books, 4950 pages
47. House Rules by Jodi Picoult, 532 pages, 6/4/10, recommended
48. The War after Armageddon by Ralph Peters, 384 pages, 6/6/10, highly recommended
49. Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson, 218 pages, 6/7/10, highly recommended
*50. Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson, 324 pages, 6/9/10, very highly recommended
51. Fierce: A Memoir by Barbara Robinette Moss, 256 pages, 6/11/10 highly recommended
*52. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, 396 pages, 6/12/10 very highly recommended, reread
53. Four-Star Movies: The 101 Greatest Films of All Time by Gail Kinn and Jim Piazza, 324 pages, 6/14/10, highly recommended
54. The Movie Book, Phaidon Press, 512 pages, 6/16/10, highly recommended
55. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007 by Tim Folger (Editor), Richard Preston (Editor), 300 pages, 6/20/10, highly recommended
56. Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons, 357 pages, 6/21/10, recommended
57. Edith's War by Andrew Smith, 380 pages, 6/24/10, highly recommended
58. Halting State by Charles Stross, 351 pages, 6/27/10, highly recommended
59. Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon... and Beyond by Beverly Gray, 336 pages, 6/29/10, highly recommended
60. Flying Sparks: Growing up on the Edge of Las Vegas by Odette Larson, 280 pages, 6/30/10, highly recommended

July - 8 books, 3887 pages
61. In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke, 320 pages, 7/6/10, recommended
*62. The Passage by Justin Cronin, 766 pages, 7/10/10, very highly recommended
63. The Last Ship by William Brinkley, 616 pages, 7/13/10, so/so
*64. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, 509 pages, 7/16/10, very highly recommended
65. The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson, 301 pages, 7/18/10, highly recommended
66. Omega by Jack McDevitt, 438 pages, 7/21/10, highly recommended
*67. Ancestor by Scott Sigler, 425 pages, 7/24/10, very highly recommended
*68. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, 512 pages, 7/28/10, very highly recommended

August - 12 books, 4572 pages
*69. Altar of Eden by James Rollins, 398 pages, 8/1/10, very highly recommended
*70. This Must Be the Place by Kate Racculia, 368 pages, 8/4/10, very highly recommended
*71. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, 384 pages, 8/6/10, very highly recommended
*72. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card, 416 pages, 8/8/10, very highly recommended
*73. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson, 288 pages, 8/14/10, very highly recommended
74. Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris, 464 pages, 8/18/10, highly recommended
75. Phytosphere by Scott Mackay, 376 pages, 8/22/10, highly recommended
76. The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean, 311 pages, 8/24/10, highly recommended
*77. A Simple Plan by Scott Smith, 335 pages, 8/25/10, very highly recommended
78. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, 400 pages, 8/28/10, highly recommended
79. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah, 528 pages, 8/29/10, recommended
*80. Beyond the Body Farm by Dr. Bill Bass & Jon Jefferson, 304 pages, 8/30/10, very highly recommended

September - 11 books, 5628 pages
81. Children of the Flames by Lucette Matalon Lagnado, Sheila Dekel, 320 pages, 9/4/10, highly recommended
82. Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost, 400 pages, 9/6/10, not recommended
83. Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger, 374 pages, 9/9/10, highly recommended
*84. Still Missing by Chevy Stevens, 352 pages, 9/10/10, very highly recommended
*85. Otherland: City of Golden Shadow by Tad Williams, 770 pages, 9/13/10, very highly recommended
*86. Otherland: River of Blue Fire by Tad Williams, 634 pages, 9/17/10, very highly recommended
*87. Otherland: Mountain of Black Glass by Tad Williams, 784 pages, 9/20/10, very highly recommended
*88. Otherland: Sea of Silver Light by Tad Williams, 922 pages, 9/25/10, very highly recommended
89. Everything's Eventual by Stephen King, 464 pages, 9/27/10, highly recommended
*90. Just after Sunset by Stephen King, 384 pages, 9/28/10, very highly recommended
*91. Adventures from the Technology Underground by William Gurstelle, 224 pages, 9/30/10, very highly recommended

October - 15 books, 5709 pages
92. Intruders by Budd Hopkins, 319 pages, 10/1/10 not recommended
*93. I Am Legend (and Other Stories) by Richard Matheson, 320 pages, 10/2/10, very highly recommended
*94. One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz, 681 pages, 10/4/10, very highly recommended
95. Our Little Secret by Kevin Flynn, Rebecca Lavoie, 304 pages, 10/5/10, recommended
*96. Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally, 398 pages, 10/8/10, very highly recommended
97. The Dead Boys by Royce Buckingham, 208 pages, 10/9/10, highly recommended (ages 9-12)
*98. The Children's War by Monique Charlesworth, 367 pages, 10/11/10, very highly recommended
99. Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke, 528 pages, 10/15/10, highly recommended
100. L. A. Nuts: A Collection of the Cult-Hit Columns by Joe Dungan, 268 pages, 10/17/10, highly recommended
101. The Human Stain by Philip Roth, 361 pages, 10/20/10, highly recommended
102. Pandora by Alan Rodgers, 371 pages, 10/23/10, recommended
*103. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, 256 pages, 10/24/10, very highly recommended
104. Fragment by Warren Fahy, 528 pages, 10/27/10, highly recommended
*105. Talk Talk by T. C. Boyle, 416 pages, 10/29/10, very highly recommended
106. Brain Plague by Joan Slonczewski, 384 pages, 10/31/10, highly recommended

November - 8 books, 2902 pages
107. Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer, 304 pages, 11/3/10, highly recommended
108. Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons, 296 pages, 11/6/10, highly recommended
109. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett, 288 pages, 11/8/10, highly recommended
110.Trespassing: Dirt Stories and Field Notes by Janet Kauffman, 165 pages, 11/10/10, highly recommended
111. The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons, 293 pages, 11/11/10, highly recommended
*112. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, 430 pages, 11/15/10, very highly recommended
*113. Children of God by Mary Doria Russell, 454 pages, 11/20/10, very highly recommended
114. Shadowmarch by Tad Williams, 672 pages, 11/27/10, highly recommended

December - 12 books, 5116 pages
115. Shadowplay by Tad Williams, 672 pages, 12/2/10, highly recommended
*116. Shadowrise by Tad Williams, 564 pages, 12/7/10, very highly recommended
*117. Shadowheart by Tad Williams, 730 pages, 12/12/10, very highly recommended
*118. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris, 159 pages, 12/13/10, very highly recommended
*119. The Best American Short Stories 2007, 448 pages, 12/16/10, very highly recommended
120. The Zero Game by Brad Meltzer, 480 pages, 12/19/10, recommended
121. Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones, 320 pages, 12/20/10, highly recommended
*122. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, 254 pages, 12/23/10, very highly recommended
*123. Room by Emma Donoghue, 321 pages, 12/25/10, very highly recommended
*124. The Help by Kathryn Stockett, 464 pages, 12/26/10, very highly recommended
*125. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson. 320 pages, 12/28/10, very highly recommended
126. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, 384 pages, 12/30/10, highly recommended

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Random House Publishing Group, 2009
Hardcover, 384 pages
Flavia de Luce Series #1
ISBN-13: 9780385342308
highly recommended

In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950 and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia's family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life. (pg. 29)

My Thoughts:

In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley eleven year old Flavia Sabina de Luce solves a murder mystery in the 1950's English countryside. Flavia is a precocious child, already an accomplished chemist and seemingly very well read. This seems to follow the template of a classic mystery with a cute little girl leading the investigation.

I'm going to have to admit that I wasn't sure if this book was intended for adults or for a younger audience. It would certainly be appropriate for younger readers since it features a young girl, there is no swearing, and the murder is not violent or bloody. On the other hand there are literary references and information about chemistry, that may be boring and/or go over the heads of younger readers.

While I enjoyed The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and found it delightful and humorous in many ways, I wasn't quite so accepting that a protagonist as intelligent, knowledgeable, and fearless as Flavia would only be eleven years old. I also found her precociousness a bit annoying after awhile. I would have been more accepting if she were a little older, perhaps thirteen. Additionally, with the exception of Flavia, all the characters felt one dimensional and, to be honest, I personally never really cared who dunnit.

I'm not an aficionado of cozy mysteries or British mysteries, but I believe The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie would fit into the cozy category. If you read this series, read it for the clever writing and references.
highly recommended


It was as black in the closet as old blood. they had shoved me in and locked the door. I breathed heavily through my nose, fighting desperately to remain calm. I tried counting to ten on every intake of breath, and to eight as I released each one slowly into the darkness. Luckily for me, they had pulled the gag so tightly into my open mouth that my nostrils were left unobstructed, and I was able to draw in one slow lungful after another of the stale, musty air. opening

"Ophelia and Daphne not down yet, Flavia?" he asked peevishly, looking up from the latest issue of The British Philatelist, which lay open beside his meat and potatoes.
"I haven't seen them in ages," I said.
It was true. I hadn't seen them—not since they had gagged and blindfolded me, then lugged me hog-tied up the attic stairs and locked me in the 2-3

Uncle Tar's laboratory had been locked up and preserved in airless silence, down through the dusty years until what Father called my "strange talents" had begun to manifest themselves, and I had been able to claim it for my own.
I still shivered with joy whenever I thought of the rainy autumn day that Chemistry had fallen into my life. pg. 8

My particular passion was poison. pg. 10

It was a bird, a jack snipe - and it was dead. It lay on its back on the doorstep, its stiff wings extended like a little pterodactyl, is eyes rather unpleasantly filmed over, the long needle of its bill pointing straight up into the air. Something impaled upon it shifted in he morning breeze - a tiny scrap of paper.
No, not a scrap of paper, a postage stamp. pg. 15

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson
Grand Central Publishing, 2008
Hardcover , 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780446579650
very highly recommended

Lauren Gray Hawthorne needs to make things pretty, whether she's helping her mother keep family skeletons in the closet or sewing her acclaimed art quilts. Her estranged sister, Thalia, is her opposite, an impoverished actress who prides herself on exposing the lurid truths lurking behind middle class niceties.
While Laurel's life seems neatly on track- a passionate marriage, a treasured daughter, a lovely suburban home- everything she holds dear is threatened the night she is visited by the ghost of her 13-year-old neighbor Molly. The ghost leads Laurel to the real Molly, floating lifelessly in the Hawthorne's backyard pool. Molly's death is an unseemly mystery that no one in her whitewashed neighborhood is up to solving. Laurel enlists Thalia's help, even though she knows it comes with a high price tag.
Together, they set out on a life-altering journey that triggers startling revelations about their family's haunted past, the true state of Laurel's marriage, and the girl who stopped swimming.
My Thoughts:

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming is Joshilyn Jackson's third novel. For some reason, after her first two novels, which I enjoyed immensely, and as a loyal reader of her blog, Faster than Kudzu, I never read TGWSS. Shame on me. I do believe it may very well be may favorite of her four novels to date. It also feels very different from her other three novels.

The ghost of a drowned girl, Molly, awakens Laurel right at the beginning of the story, and leads Laurel to the dead body, floating in the pool. This starts the action, both physically and psychologically. And there are secrets - some old, some new, some are calling out, some hiding, but all of them want to be revealed. As the layers of the story are peeled back, hidden truths are revealed.

Joshilyn Jackson herself said that, "At its heart, this is a book about poverty." Poverty both materially and emotionally. It's also about repression and denial. She does an excellent job handling the complexities of families and marriage.

Although the mystery of the drowned girl is solved, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming is not just a mystery novel. It is a family drama, including sisters clashing, family discord, and marriage questions, that also has several mysteries that need to be solved and secrets that need to be revealed.

Jackson is a fine, accomplished wordsmith and creates totally believable, complex characters. Using the Watership Downs character Cowslip as a verb, cowslipping, was brilliant. Her descriptions are always memorable. But most of all, she knows how to tell a story and make us care about what happens to her characters.
Very Highly Recommended


Until he drowned girl came to Laurel's bedroom, ghosts had never walked in Victorianna. The houses were only twenty years old, with no accumulated history to put creaks in the hardwood floors or rattle at the pipes. opening.

"Seriously? This is what you want? This house, this husband, a baby at nineteen?" Laurel nodded, and Thalia let her go. But Laurel heard her mutter under her breath, "It's like you're living inside a lobotomy." pg. 3

David was working fifteen-hour days, adapting simulator code he'd written for the navy into a PC game for a company out in California. He'd probably spoken ten complete sentences to her in the last week. all the pieces of him that she thought of as her husband had moved down to live in his brain stem, while coding took his higher functions. pg. 5

The girl glowed, too, as if she had her own light. She swept her right arm down in a smooth and graceful arc, like a game-show hostess modeling the water. Laurel's gaze followed the gesture, and at first she couldn't make sense of what she saw. The drowned girl was resting facedown in he center of the pool, her skirt opening like wings under the water. pg. 7

She was one of The Folks; that was Laurel's name for her mother's family in DeLop, though Thalia, colder and more dramatic, called them The Squalid People. pg. 18

David didn't notice her sister's good visits, but he kept a running tally of the days when Thalia had left Laurel exhausted of furious or crying. pg. 32

...and for the rest of high school, even after her sister had graduated, Laurel was known as "Thalia Gray's sister, poor thing." pg. 44

"But her house did not feel normal. It was silent and too large around her, as if it had been hollowed out. The wrongness in her yard had it's nose pressed against her glass doors, and she felt something small and feral scrabbling in her belly. Every time she thought she'd lose herself in her work, the something would run one spiky tooth along her stomach lining. It was too quiet, as if Daddy had herded everyone together and they had crept out of the house and driven away, leaving Laurel alone with her ghosts. pg. 86"

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Penguin Group, 2009
Hardcover , 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399155345
very highly recommended

Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women:
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
My Thoughts:

Kathryn Stockett's debut novel, The Help, is set in segregated Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960's. The chapters are told from the point of view of three characters: two black maids, Aibileen and Minny, and one wealthy young white woman, Skeeter, who is a recent college graduate.

Aibileen is an intelligent black woman in her early 50's who happens to work for one of Skeeter's best friends. Minny is in her 30's and Aibileen's best friend. She has trouble not sassing the white women she has worked for and has angered one of Skeeter's most racist friends. Skeeter is a naive, aspiring writer who stumbles onto the idea of secretly interviewing local black maids about their work for white employers for a book. Even though the interviews are going to be published anonymously with names changed, the risk is great.

The Help is an entertaining book with several tension filled moments and seemingly portrays to a great extent what life was like for the black maids in the 60's. Stockett is to be commended for including some incidents of the violence done to others during that time period and attempting to make the risk everyone was taking feel real. I very much enjoyed the alternating viewpoint between the three characters and was totally engrossed in the story. Sockett's focusing on women from different backgrounds was effective, as was her portrayal of how an angry white woman displays her destructive wrath.

I found a few parts that just didn't ring true to me. For example, I found it difficult to believe in the beginning that Skeeter could be so naive regarding the racism of her friends and it was annoying. How could she be living in Mississippi in the 60's and not realize that there were lynchings, beatings, and examples of violent racism all around her? It also seemed unlikely that woman with such unequal power (Skeeter and Aibileen) would become friends. The ending, while it ties almost everything up nicely, also was a bit far fetched.

However, it does succeed in showing that we are all more alike than different. I thought it was a well written, thought provoking novel and I'm glad I read it.
very highly recommended


Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with the cooking and the cleaning. opening

Fact, her whole body be so full a sharp knobs and corners, it's no wonder she can't soothe that baby. Babies like fat. Like to bury they face up in you armpit and go to sleep. They like big fat legs too. That I know. pg. 2

But it weren't too long before I seen something in me had changed. A bitter seed was planted inside me. And I just didn't feel so accepting anymore. pg. 3

But the help always know. pg. 4

"Minny," I say last Sunday, "why Bertrina ask me to pray for her?"
We walking home from the one o'clock service. Minny say, "Rumor is you got some kind a power prayer, gets better results than just the regular variety." pg. 23

Which reminds me a what I don't want a think about, that Miss Leefolt's building me a bathroom cause she think I'm diseased. And Miss Skeeter asking don't I want to change things, like changing Jackson, Mississippi, gone be like changing a lightbulb. pg. 24


Standing on that white lady's back porch, I tell myself, Tuck it in, Minny. Tuck in whatever might fly out my mouth and tuck in my behind too. Look like a maid who does what she's told. Truth is, I'm so nervous right now, I'd never backtalk again if it meant I'd get this job. pg. 30

Minny's mama's rules for working for a white lady:
"Rule Number One for working for a white lady, Minny: it is nobody's business. You keep your nose out of your White Lady's problems,you don't go crying to her with yours....Remember one thing: white people are not your friends....
Rule Number Two: don't you ever let that White Lady find you sitting on her toilet....
Rule Number Three: when you're cooking white people's food, you taste it with a different spoon....
Rule Number Four: You use the same cup, same fork, same plate every day. Keep it in a separate cupboard and tell that white woman that's the one you'll use from here on out.
Rule Number Five: you eat in the kitchen.
Rule Number Six: you don't hit on her children. White people like to do their own spanking.
Rule Number Seven: ....No sass-mouthing. pg. 38-39


I drive my mama's Cadillac fast on the gravel road, headed home. Patsy Cline can't even be heard on the radio anymore, for all the rocks banging on the side of the car. Mother would be furious, but I just drive faster. I can't stop thinking about what Hilly said to me today at bridge club. pg. 54

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Room by Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown & Company, September 2010

Hardcover, 321 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316098335
very highly recommended

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

My Thoughts:

For me, Room by Emma Donoghue certainly lived up to all the accolades. At the start of the novel Jack and his mother are celebrating his fifth birthday. They live in the only home Jack has ever known: Room, a tiny, 11-foot-square soundproofed cell in a converted shed. Jack's mother was kidnapped seven years earlier when she was a 19-year-old college student and Jack was born in this cell. The entire novel is narrated by Jack and seen through his eyes. Jack's entire existence and everything he knows about the world is from living in Room.

I really think it is best to leave it at that for anyone who has not yet read Room. While some have had difficulties with a child narrating the story, I didn't. In fact, I thought it made Room a more powerful novel. If it does bother you, keep reading and treat it like a child is telling you about his day. Pay careful attention to what he is telling you about his life with his mother - their world and routine. I need to note the fact that I was so engrossed in the story that I completely lost track of time when reading this novel.

Room would make a wonderful book club selection. There are so many different aspects of this novel that I would love to discuss with someone who has read it but I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't. Room will easily make the list of my top books of the year.
Very Highly Recommended

Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five. abracadabra. opening

I don't think he came last night after nine, the air's always different if he came. I don't ask because she doesn't like saying about him. pg. 4

I count one hundred cereal and waterfall the milk that's nearly the same white as the bowls, no splashing, we thank Baby Jesus. I choose Meltedy Spoon with the white all blobby on his handle when he leaned on the pan of boiling pasta by accident. Ma doesn't like Meltedy Spoon but he's my favorite because he's not the same. pg. 6

"You should have asked for candles for Sundaytreat."
"Well, last week we needed painkillers."
"I didn't need any, just you," I shouted.
Ma looks at me like I have a new face she's never seen. Then she says, "Anyway, remember, we have to choose things he can get easily."
"But he can get anything."
"Well, yeah," she says, "if he went to the trouble - "
"Why he went to trouble?"
"I just mean, he might have to go to two or three stores, and that would make him cranky. And what if he didn't find the impossible thing, then we probably wouldn't get Sunday treat at all."
"But Ma." I laugh. "He doesn't go in stores. Stores are in TV." pg. 23

There's light flashing at me, it stabs my eyes. I look out of Duvet but squinting. Ma standing beside Lamp and everything bright, then snap and dark again. Light again, she makes it last three seconds then dark, then light for just a second. Ma's staring up at Skylight. Dark again. She does this in the night, I think it helps her get to sleep again. pg. 27

After nap we do Scream every day but not on Saturdays or Sundays. We clear out our throats and climb up on Table to be nearer Skylight, holding hands not to fall. We say "On your mark, get set, go," then we open wide our teeth and shout holler howl yowl shriek screech scream the loudest possible. pg. 40

How can TV be pictures of real things?
I think about them all floating around in Outside Space outside the walls, the couch and the necklaces and the bread and the killers and the airplanes and all the shes and hes, the boxers and the man with one leg and the puffy-hair woman, they're floating past Skylight. I wave to them, but there's skyscrapers as well and cows and ships and trucks, it's crammed out there, I count all the stuff that might crash into Room. I can't breathe right, I have to count my teeth instead, left to right on the top then right to left on the bottom, then backwards, twenty every time but I still think maybe I'm counting wrong. pg. 61-62

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm

Tom Doherty Associates, copyright 1976

Trade Paperback, 254 pages
ISBN-13: 9780312866150

very highly recommended

Before becoming one of today's most intriguing and innovative mystery writers, Kate Wilhelm was a leading writer of science fiction, acclaimed for classics like The Infinity Box and The Clewiston Test.
Now one of her most famous novels returns to print, the spellbinding story of an isolated post-holocaust community determined to preserve itself, through a perilous experiment in cloning. Sweeping, dramatic, rich with humanity, and rigorous in its science, Where Later the Sweet Birds Sang is widely regarded as a high point of both humanistic and "hard" SF, and won SF's Hugo Award and Locus Award on its first publication. It is as compelling today as it was then.

My Thoughts:
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, winner of the 1977 Hugo, is a post-apocalyptic novel that deals with the implications of a culture of clones where creativity and individuality are in peril. In many ways I felt the story was more allegorical than hard science fiction. The mid-seventies, when Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang was written, was a time of gas shortages and talk of a coming ice age. Vehement proponents of zero-population growth abounded. Having lived through those times, the first part of the novel felt very much a product of the times but I felt it also held up well today.

The novel itself is divided into three parts, each section dealing with a different generation living in the isolated compound the Sumner family created before the apocalypse. Although the apocalypse was over quickly, the results left everyone sterile so cloning was the only way for mankind to survive, with the goal being that the clones would be able to have children in the future. The clones had other thoughts. With the dependence on reproducing through cloning, other human traits and characteristics are lost - including the very abilities and talents that allowed the clones to be created.

I don't want to say too much more and risk spoiling the story, but let me note that Wilhelm's story is certainly worth reading today. There are also other important themes beyond the importance of individuality and creativity, including encouraging development of instinctual behavior, adaptation, exploration of new horizons, and a sense of comfort with the natural world.

While Wilhelm is a very accomplished writer, there are problems with the believability of the science. However, I felt any problems were easily overlooked because the science wasn't the point of the novel. Suspend disbelief and read Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm for the ideas.
Very Highly Recommended


What David always hated most about the Sumner family dinners was the way everyone talked about him as if he were not there. opening

"It's going to be a research hospital," Walt said. "Genetic diseases, hereditary defects, that sort of thing. Two hundred beds." pg. 17

"You think you're being asked to give up a lifetime career for a pipe dream." here was no trace of a smile when he added, "But, David, we believe that lifetime won't be more than two to four years at the very most." pg. 18

The government had to admit the seriousness of the coming catastrophe, had to take strict measures to avert it, or at least alleviate it, but instead, the government chose to paint glowing pictures of the coming upturn that would be apparent by fall. During the next six months those with sense and money would buy everything they could to see them through, because after that period of grace there would be nothing to buy. pg. 25-26

In October the first wave of flu swept the country, worse than the outbreak of 1917-1918. In November a new illness appeared, and here and there it was whispered that it was the plague, but the government Bureau of Information said it was the flu. pg. 27

In December the members of the family began to arrive, leaving the towns and villages and cities scattered throughout the valley to take up residence in the hospital and staff the buildings. Rationing, black markets, inflation, and looting had turned the cities into battle grounds. pg. 27

There was no child left under eight years of age when the spring rains came, and the original 319 people who had come to the upper valley had dwindled to 201. In the cities the toll had been much higher. pg. 27

Walt began testing the men for fertility, and reported to David and Vlasic that no man in the valley was fertile.
"So," Vlasic said softly, "we now see the significance of David's work." pg. 30

"We're finished, aren't we, David? You, I, all of us?"
He thought, Walt be damned, promises be damned, secrecy be damned. And he told her about the clones developing under the mountain, in the laboratory deep in the cave. pg. 39

If a new structure is to rise, it must start at the ground, not on top of what has been built during the centuries past. pg. 237

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hand Me Down World

Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones
John Murray Publishers (November 2010)
Paperback, limited edition, 320 pages
highly recommended

This is a story about a woman. And the truck driver who mistook her for a prostitute. The old man she robbed and the hunters who smuggled her across the border. The woman whose name she stole, the wife who turned a blind eye. This is the story of a mother searching for her child.
My Thoughts:

My copy of Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones is one of 100 limited editions. Readers of these copies are asked to register their copy online using the unique code written on the first page, and then hand down the book to someone else after they have finished reading it.

From the book's website: "Hand Me Down World follows the changing fortunes of an African woman, Ines, an illegal migrant, who must find her way to Berlin. Her fate and indeed her story are in the hands of others. Like Ines, we want these books to be carried by the people who read them and journey, as they are passed on from reader to reader. They are Hand Me Down books."

Ines is on a quest, traveling from Tunisia in North Africa to Berlin, in search of her abducted son. Her son was stolen from her when he was just days old by his father and taken to Berlin. She has nothing but her maid's uniform and a knife stashed in a plastic bag, so she must rely on strangers to guide her to Berlin and her son.

Even before Ines started her journey she is like a ghost who strives to blend into the background. She continues as a ghost in the marginal life she is living as an illegal. She tries to be invisible as she travels to Berlin and lives there. She is purposefully silent, noiseless in much of the novel.

We know early on, with the parrot incident, that Ines will do whatever is necessary to achieve outcome she desires. Her one and only goal is to find her son. She has no plans beyond that one task. And she will do anything to make it possible. While Ines is certainly taken advantage of while on her mission, she has also used people to her advantage.

Hand Me Down World is told through first person accounts. The first two-thirds of the novel consist of the testimony of various people and their encounter with Ines on her journey to Berlin. We don't hear Ines' point of view until the last third of the book.

As the story is handed on from one person to the next, we are ostensibly following Ines' story and travels, but we are actually only seeing fragments of her and the truth. It's all about our perception of what is happening. When Ines tells her view of the events, it becomes abundantly clear that all the narrators are unreliable. There truly are two sides to every story, and the truth, perhaps, lies somewhere in the middle of the different versions of her story.

While I enjoyed the novel, it did lose some of its sense of purposefulness when Ines was in Berlin, working for Ralf, and Defoe is the narrator. Once Ines tells her story the novel recovers nicely. Hand Me Down World proclaims a mother’s love for her child but it is also a novel about displacement.
Highly Recommended


I was with her at the first hotel on the Arabian Sea. That was for two years. Then at the hotel in Tunisia for three years. At the first hotel we slept in the same room. I knew her name, but that is all. opening

She told me once that as soon as you know you are smart you just keep getting smarter. For me that hasn't happened yet. That's not to say it won't. When the Bible speaks of eternity I see one long line of surprises. It's not to say that particular surprise won't come my way. I'm just saying I'm still waiting. But she got there first when she was promoted to staff supervisor.. pg. 8

She walks to the window. Maybe she will see Jermayne and the baby, and she does. There they are - well, the top of Jermayne's head. There is also a taxi. The back door opens and a woman gets out. Jermayne hands over the baby and the woman cradles the baby in her arms, rocks the baby, looks at its face for a long time, then lowers her face into the bundle. pg. 16

She begins to doubt the words of the crew. Or else something had happened. That was more believable because something always happened. Whatever was supposed to happen rarely did. pg. 22

The barmen look like barmen, raised from birth to become barmen. They have the same large faces, lower jawbones that weigh the face down beneath folds of flesh that enclose secrets. They have been trained to listen in such a way that they do not remember. They are like the elected representatives of ghosts. pg 27-28

She was African. Did I say? She wasn't carrying any luggage. Which made him think she was a prostitute. She wore a coat. A scarf around her neck. When she climbed up to the cab she unwound the scarf and put it in her coat pocket. pg. 31

I collect snails like others collect vintage model train sets. I am a collector. I collect the Roman snail and the larger Helix aperta. They are remarkable. The shell is so delicate. What creature would create its work of art out of the very fragility that condemns it? pg. 37-38

The other ghosts - the real ghosts if I may call them that - are simply those whom we choose not to see. pg. 63

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Zero Game

The Zero Game by Brad Meltzer
Grand Central Publishing, 2004
Hardcover, 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780446530989

The New York Times bestselling author of The Millionaires and The First Counsel returns to Washington, D.C., with the story of an insider's game that turns deadly. Matthew Mercer and Harris Sandler are best friends who have plum jobs as senior staffers to well-respected congressmen. But after a decade in Washington, idealism has faded to disillusionment, and they're bored. Then one of them finds out about the clandestine Zero Game. It starts out as good fun-a simple wager between friends. But when someone... ends up dead, Harris realize[s] the game is far more sinister than [he] ever imagined-and that [he's] about to be the game's next victims. On the run, [he] turn[s] to the only person [he] can trust: a 16-year-old Senate page who can move around the Capitol undetected. As a ruthless killer creeps closer, this idealistic page not only holds the key to saving their lives, but is also determined to redeem them in the process. Come play The Zero Game-you can bet your life on it.
My Thoughts:

The first thing you need to know about The Zero Game by Brad Meltzer is that the cover synopsis did not match the book. For my review I edited the synopsis to make it closer to the reality.

While the game Matthew and Harris are playing is intriguing premise, it is not well developed. Most of the book encompasses one chase scene after another, including numerous narrow escapes and attacks by a professional killer. Add to these failings the implausibility that a Congressional staffer would turn to a teenage Senate page for help and also decide to travel across the country with the page while a killer pursues them, and you have an unbelievable plot.

But it gets worse. Sending his protagonists flying on a private plane to check out an old abandoned mine in South Dakota, they go to the Homestake mine. The Homestake Mine, in Lead not Meltzer's "Leed" in the book, is actually, as I thought, not abandoned. For all the research Meltzer supposedly did this is an easy fact to check.
I have a free tip: If you need an abandoned mine for a fictional novel make one up rather than using a real mine. You're welcome.

Now, the good part of The Zero Game is that it's a good vacation/airplane book. All you'll need to do is suspend disbelief and don't expect any great character development. Keep your expectations low and just enjoy the action - or you'll spend your time finding problems with it.
Recommended - with conditions


I don't belong here. I haven't for years. When I first came to Capitol Hill to work for Congressman Nelson Cordell, it was different. But even Mario Andretti eventually gets bored driving two hundred miles an hour every single day. Especially when you're going in a circle. I've been going in circles for eight years. Time to finally leave the loop. opening

Still standing at the urinal, Harris stops. His green eyes narrow, and he studies me with that same mischievous look that once got me thrown in the back of a police car when we were undergrads at Duke. "C'mon, Matthew, this is Washington, D.C.-fun and games are being played everywhere," he teases. "You just have to know where to find them." pg. 3-4

"You wanted to bring the fun back, right?"
"Depends what kinda fun you're talking about."
Pushing himself off the wall, Harris grins and heads for the door. "Trust me, it'll be more fun than you've had in your entire life. No lie." pg. 9

In quiet rooms around the Capitol, the scene is the same. Forget the image of fat-cat Congressmen horse-trading in cigar-smoke-filled backrooms. This is how the sausage is made, and this is how America's bank account is actually spent: by four staffers sitting around a well-lit conference table without a Congressman in sight. Your tax dollars at work. Like Harris always says: The real shadow government is staff. pg. 17-18

In fact, as Harris explained it when he first extended the invitation, the game itself started years ago as a practical joke. pg. 19

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Best American Short Stories 2007

The Best American Short Stories 2007
Stephen King (Editor), Heidi Pitlor (Editor)
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2007
Trade Paperback , 448 pages
Best American Short Stories Series
ISBN-13: 9780618713486
Very Highly Recommended

Wonderfully eclectic, The Best American Short Stories 2007 collects stories by writers of undeniable talent, both newcomers and favorites. These stories examine the turning points in life when we, as children or parents, lovers
or friends or colleagues, must break certain rules in order to remain true to ourselves. In T. C. Boyle's heartbreaking "Balto," a thirteen-year-old girl provides devastating courtroom testimony in her father's trial. Aryn
Kyle's charming story "Allegiance" shows a young girl caught between her despairing British mother and motherly American father. In "The Bris," Eileen Pollack brilliantly writes of a son struggling to fulfill his filial
obligations, even when they require a breach of morality and religion. Kate Walbert's stunning "Do Something" portrays one mother's impassioned and revolutionary refusal to accept her son's death. And in Richard Russo's
graceful "Horseman," an English professor comes to understand that plagiarism reveals more about a student than original work can.

My Thoughts:

The Best American Short Stories 2007 is a wonderful collection of 20 short stories. The stories are arranged by author in alphabetical order. After the stories you will find "Contributors' Notes" by the authors, a list of "100 Other Distinguished Stories of 2006" and a list of the addresses of American and Canadian Magazines that publish short stories.

There were some real stand-outs for me, like T.C. Boyle's "Balto" and Joseph Epstein's "My Brother Eli," but, truly, I found the collection outstanding. I really enjoyed all but one of the stories - and I'm not telling which one I didn't like as well as the others. On top of the gift of reading some amazing short stories, I am really gaining an appreciation for the art of short stories.

Before this year I would have said that I didn't enjoy short stories, but after this collection and the previous science fiction collection, I may have just changed my mind. I found these collections (as well as several others that I may just start reading now) back in the clearance section of my local used book store. I now think I need to look for other books in The Best American Short Stories series.
Very Highly Recommended

Louis Auchincloss, "Pa's Darling" from The Yale Review
John Barth, "Toga Party" from Fiction
Ann Beattie, "Solid Wood" from Boulevard
T. C. Boyle, "Balto" from The Paris Review
Randy Devita, "Riding the Doghouse" from West Branch
Joseph Epstein, "My Brother Eli" from The Hudson Review
William Gay, "Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You?" from Tin House
Mary Gordon, "Eleanor's Music" from Ploughshares
Lauren Groff, "L. DeBard and Aliette: A Love Story" from The Atlantic Monthly
Beverly Jensen, "Wake" from New England Review
Roy Kesey, "Wait" from The Kenyon Review
Stellar Kim, "Findings & Impressions" from The Iowa Review
Aryn Kyle, "Allegiance" from Ploughshares
Bruce McAllister, "The Boy in Zaquitos" from Fantasy and Science Fiction
Alice Munro, "Dimension" from The New Yorker
Eileen Pollack, "The Bris" from Subtropics
Karen Russell, "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves" from Granta
Richard Russo, "Horseman" from The Atlantic Monthly
Jim Shepard, "Sans Farine" from Harper's Magazine
Kate Walbert, "Do Something" from Ploughshares


Pa's death, in the cold winter of 1960, at the age of eighty-seven, was a crucial event in the lives of his two daughters, but particularly for myself, the supposedly most loved, the adored Kate, the eldest. opening, Louis Auchincloss' "Pa's Darling"

If "Doc Sam" Bailey - Dick Felton's long-time tennis buddy from over in Oyster Cove - were telling this Toga Party story, the old ex-professor would most likely have kicked it off with one of those lefty-liberal rants that he used to lay on his Heron Bay friends and neighbors at the drop of any hat. opening, John Barth's "Toga Party"

The year Wright Kemzell published his book about my former colleague, friend, and mentor, Jacob Foxx Greer, I found myself with my sister in Key West. opening, Ann Beattie's "Solid Wood"

There are two kinds of truths, good truths and hurtful ones. opening, T. C. Boyle's "Balto"

Never let it be said that my kid brother Eli failed to give me anything: he gave me five ex-sisters-in-law and seven (I think I have the number right) nephews and nieces, three of whom I met for the first time at his funeral. opening Joseph Epstein's "My Brother Eli"

"Good God Almighty. We've lost the damned body." opening, Beverly Jensen's "Wake"

When Marcus packed for Florida, he harbored no illusions about what would happen when he got there. opening, Eileen Pollack's "The Bris"

At first, our pack was all hair and snarl and floor-thumping joy. opening, Karen Russell's "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves"

Monday, December 13, 2010

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
Little, Brown & Company, September 2010
Hardcover, 159 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316038393
very highly recommended

From the Publisher
Featuring David Sedaris's unique blend of hilarity and heart, this new collection of keen-eyed animal-themed tales is an utter delight. Though the characters may not be human, the situations in these stories bear an uncanny resemblance to the insanity of everyday life.
In "The Toad, the Turtle, and the Duck," three strangers commiserate about animal bureaucracy while waiting in a complaint line. In "Hello Kitty," a cynical feline struggles to sit through his prison-mandated AA meetings. In "The Squirrel and the Chipmunk," a pair of star-crossed lovers is separated by prejudiced family members.
My Thoughts:

The very first fact you need to understand is that Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris is NOT a children's book. Forget the cute illustration on the cover. While, admittedly, the book does feature short allegorical fables told by animals, be forewarned that the subject matter and lessons here are very much adult in nature. Also note that you wouldn't want children to see several of the illustarations.

The topics covered in the stories include some harsh realities (and language), including a toad, turtle, and duck in line at some bureaucratic agency, a dying lab rat, a cat attending AA meetings in prison, a dog discussing cheating spouses, and a mouse with a pet snake. These stories feature dark satire as the animals in the stories display universal human foibles. As Christopher Muther in the Boston Globe said, Sedaris is "a connoisseur of human nature at its worst."

Table of Contents:
The Cat and the Baboon
The Migrating Warblers
The Squirrel and the Chipmunk
The Toad, the Turtle, and the Duck
The Motherless Bear
The Mouse and the Snake
The Parenting Storks
The Faithful Setter
The Crow and the Lamb
The Sick Rat and the Healthy Rat
The Cow and the Turkey
The Vigilant Rabbit
The Judicious Brown Chicken
The Parrot and the Potbellied Pig
Hello Kitty
The Grieving Owl

Sedaris' black humor may not be for everyone. This collection is Aesop's Fables for grown-ups.
Very Highly Recommended

Thanks to Hachette books for sending me this won-in-a-give-away copy.


Friends had warned them that their romance could not possibly work out, and such moments convinced them that the skeptics were not just wrong but jealous. pg. 16

"This is my second time in this line, can you believe it?" groused the duck. "First they told me I wouldn't need any ID, then, after I waited almost three hours, this ball-busting river rat goes, 'I'm sorry, sir, but if you don't have some form of identification, there's nothing I can do.' " pg. 24

Plenty of animals had pets, but few were more devoted than the mouse, who owned a baby corn snake - "A rescue snake," she'd be quick to inform you. pg. 41

The stork flew off, and her sister, shaken, watched her go. They'd both had the same parents and had both left the nest at roughly the same time. They lived in the same town and drank the same water, so how was it that she herself had turned out to be so smart, while her poor sister was so confused? pg. 54

On top of that, birds had to be homeschooled, not like sheep or cows, who learned junk from one another. pg. 75

A she-rat I had as a roomie
said illness just strikes if you're gloomy.
Since she was injected
with AIDS, I've detected
an outlook a lot less perfumy. pg. 89

It was the stupidest thing the cat had ever heard of, an AA program in prison. pg. 131

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Shadowheart by Tad Williams
DAW, Penguin Group; November 2010
Hardcover , 730 pages
Shadowmarch Series , #4
ISBN-13: 9780756406400
Very Highly Recommended

Synopsis from cover:
Thousands of years ago the gods fought and fell in the deeps beneath what is now Southmarch Castle, then were banished into eternal sleep. Now at least one of them is stirring again, dreaming of vengeance against humankind.
Southmarch haunts the dreams of men as well as gods. Royal twins Barrick and Briony Eddon, the heirs of Southmarch’s ruling family, are hurrying back home as well: Barrick now carries the heritage of the immortal Qar inside him, and Briony has a small army at her back and a fiery determination to recover her father’s throne and revenge herself on the usurpers.
The cruel and powerful southern ruler known as the Autarch of Xis wants the power of the gods for his own, a power he can only gain if he conquers Southmarch.
And nobody knows what the Qar want, only that the mysterious fairy - folk are prepared to die for it — or to kill every living thing in Southmarch Castle and in all the lands around.
It will come to an apocalyptic conclusion on Midsummer Night, when the spirits of the haunted past and the desperate struggles of the present come together in one great final battle. Many will die. Many more will be transformed out of all recognition, and the world will be forever changed.
My Thoughts:

Shadowheart by Tad Williams is the fourth and final book in the Shadowmarch series. This volume includes five maps, two appendixes (the new one is of the gods), and synopses of the three previous Southmarch novels at the beginning. At 730 pages, the final volume is a hefty conclusion to the series. And may I add: Whew... I've been reading a whole lot of Tad Williams this year!

The Shadowmarch novels together are a huge, epic fantasy series depicting good against evil. They encompass an enormous cast of characters, a large, well developed world, and numerous story lines that all converge in the end. Williams' skillfully handles all the various plots and subplots without losing track of his ultimate ending.

The characters are all well developed (and after so many pages, they had better be!) and I was pleased to see some personal growth displayed by all the major characters. Since the plot is full of action, but really character driven, this is essential. In Shadowheart all the characters and their storylines converge at Southmarch on Midsummer Night. The action takes place in a long series of climactic events as Williams skillfully brings the series to a very satisfying conclusion.

Ultimately, Tad Williams' writing and ability to continuously develop his characters and plot made the Shadowmarch series a success. I think the final two concluding volumes were stronger than the first two books in the series, but perhaps part of that assessment is due to simply the investment I had in the characters and the story by the time I reached the third book.

While I was determined to read all four volumes back to back, in hindsight it might have been better if I had taken a short break between novels. By the end of the fourth novel, Shadowheart, I was becoming a bit tired of the series. Since I was still highly interested in what was happening, I totally think this was my own fault. I should have taken a break between the four volumes, perhaps reading the first two followed by a break before tackling the two concluding volumes. (Also, for future reference, this time of year may not be the perfect time for me to undertake a long, complicated series without feeling somewhat distracted anyway.)

Finally, the whole Shadowmarch series does not have any objectionable language or adult situations so I'd feel quit comfortable recommending the whole series to a younger reader who felt ready to tackle a saga of this length. (I actually have one in mind.) very highly recommended

As a whole, I'd have to say that the Shadowmarch series is very highly recommended.
However, I think between the two, I personally like the Otherland series more.

Special thanks to Deborah Beale and Tad Williams for sending me a copy of Shadowheart. There are witnesses that saw me do a little dance of joy when it arrived.


It was all he could do not to scream at the unending storm of thoughts. He clenched his teeth and curled his hands into fists as he struggled to hold onto the Barrick Eddon at the center of it all. pg. 3

"We will see. If the Fireflower leads you to share our fate, you will be able to judge for yourself what kind of immortality our gift gives to us." pg. 9

"You saw what a court is like. You heard them whispering about you.You saw what they did to you, because you are from a quieter, smaller place and not used to their ways." pg. 16

"And just like that, it all goes. You think it will never change but that's a lie. Things can change in a day." pg. 19

Here, Nature squandered its blessings without discrimination, as if to say, "The way you and your people live is small and sad. See here, how for my own amusement I shower my riches on mere beasts and savages!" pg. 21

"....but there is no escaping it - this man's danger must be faced. For he comes here to wake a god on the night of Midsummer, but down in the place you call the Mysteries there is more than one god waiting to be awakened, and many more of them are angry with all the living." pg. 44

"Ah, yes, the gods may hate the Qar," Saqri said, an invisible shape in the darkness beside him, "but I cannot help wondering how they feel about your folk?" pg 54

"For a long time I did not know whether to hate or forget. I have come now to believe hate is useless... but so is forgetting. Those who forget too easily are the toys of fate." pg. 366

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Shadowrise by Tad Williams
DAW Books, The Penguin Group, March 2010
Hardcover , 564 pages
Shadowmarch Series #3
ISBN-13: 9780756405496
very highly recommended

Southmarch Castle is about to be caught between two enemies, the ancient, immortal Qar and the insane god-king, the Autarch of Xis. Meanwhile, its two young defenders, the king's children Princess Briony and Prince Barrick, are both trapped far away from home and fighting for their lives.
Barrick is lost behind the Shadowline, facing all the terrible dangers and mysteries of that magical twilight land. Briony is alone in a treacherous foreign court, struggling to survive with no weapon left to her but her wits. And in the midst of all this, something unbelievable is awakening underneath Southmarch, something powerful and terrible that the world has not seen for thousands of years.
In this third volume Barrick and Briony, along with Qinnitan – the Autarch’s desperate, escaped slave – a loyal soldier named Ferras Vansen, and a tiny handful of other folk, ordinary and extraordinary, must find a way to save their world, or else witness the rise of a terrible new age – an age of unending darkness.

My Thoughts:

Shadowrise, the third book in the Shadowmarch series by Tad Williams, picks up right where the second volume, Shadowplay, left off. Williams includes a synopsis of Shadowmarch and Shadowplay (if you choose not to read them back to back, but trust me, it will be better if you do), as well as several maps and an appendix of people, places, things and animals, all of which can be very helpful in keeping track of the many characters and their travels.

Let me start off saying that I feel Shadowrise is the best book in the series so far. There is no middle of the series slump here, which is a great comfort when you are this many pages into a huge, epic series. All the characters are in place, and the action and intrigue felt non-stop. And let me reiterate, there are a lot of characters, mythology, plots, and subplots to keep track of in the complex world Williams has created.

What has helped keep all the various plots and subplots interesting is Williams ability to fully develop all his characters while intensifying the revelations as his complex story unfolds. In this third book, we can begin to see the true monumental struggle all the characters face and at the end we see where the various characters are heading and have a good idea where the final battle is going to take place. However, since the fourth and final volume, Shadowheart, is over 700 pages I have a feeling that there are still several twists and turns left before I reach the conclusion.
Very Highly Recommended (based on the series - you have to read the first two books before Shadowrise)


"Tell me the rest of the story, bird." opening, prelude

Briony would have been one of the first to admit that the throne room back in Southmarch might be dignified, even impressive, but it was not awesome. The ceiling was full of fine old carvings but they were hard to see in the dark chamber except on festival days when all the candles were set blazing. The ceiling itself was high, but only in comparison to most of the rest of the rooms – there were higher ceilings within many of the great houses of the March Kingdoms. And the colored windows that in her childhood had formed her strongest idea of heaven were not even as nice as those in the great Trigonate temple in the outer keep beyond the Raven’s Gate. Still, Briony had always thought that there could not be much difference between her home and the other royal palaces of Eion. Her father was a king, after all, and his father and grandfather had been kings before him — a line that went back generations. Surely the monarchs of Syan and Brenland and Perikal did not live much more grandly, she had thought. But since she had come to famous Broadhall Palace, Briony had quickly lost her illusions. pg. 7

It was another reminder that Briony was at best a distraction for these Syannese, but more likely an annoying problem. Either way, she had no power here, nor any friends she could count on. She let herself be led back across the gleaming, echoing throne room, through groups of staring courtiers and the more discreet but just as interested servants, already thinking about how that balance might be changed for the better. pg. 12

Alone. It was a thought he had not dwelled on, for fear of it overwhelming him. He had spent his entire childhood as half of "the twins," and entity his father and older brother and the servants had spoken of as though they were not two children but one tremendously difficult, two-headed child. pg. 30

"You see, I know what is beneath your castle, Olin of Southmarch. I know the curse that has bedeviled your family for generations, and I know what caused it. But unlike you, I will shape that power to my own will. Unlike you, I will not let heaven rule me with ancient tales and infantile warnings! The power of the gods will be mine - and then I will punish heaven itself for trying to deny me!" pg. 48

"The master of the Great Tent, our blessed autarch, is going to wake the gods themselves from their long sleep." The priest drained his tea and held out the bowl until the slave could come and take it from him. "And all it will cost is the northern king's life. A trivial price to pay to bring heaven to our corrupted earth, dear Paramount Minister Vash, don't you agree...?" pg. 95