- Fizzy Thoughts: March 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me."

from The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak


In the Castle of the Flynns

Saturday, March 28, 2009

In the Castle of the Flynns
Michael Raleigh
358 pages

Long on characterization, short on plot, this is a coming of age story set in Chicago during the 1950s. Young Daniel Dorsey loses his parents in an automobile accident and goes to live with his maternal grandparents, the Flynns. Also in the home are his young Aunt Anne, the eldest son Uncle Mike, and everyone's favorite, Uncle Tom. What follows is the story of the next year...the troubles Danny faces as he struggles with grief and the fear everyone he loves will leave, the declining health of his grandfather, his misdeeds with his troubled Dorsey cousin, Matt, and the trials of his uncles' love lives.

This book actually reminds me a lot of Whistling in the Dark, which was set in Milwaukee in 1959. Only that book has a young girl as the narrator...and there's actually a mystery she's trying to solve. But both books have that post-WWII, small community within a big city, kids running around freely in the summertime, feel to them. Do you know what I mean?


Lies My Teacher Told Me

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lies My Teacher Told Me (audio book)
James Loewen
Narrated by Brian Keeler
book published in 1995
14.75 hours

To be fair, I was expecting something different from this book. I thought it would focus on, well, on lies my teacher told me. And it did talk about lies. In fact, the beginning of the book was quite interesting (Helen Keller was a socialist! And Woodrow Wilson was racist!). But then, the author digressed into a long (and I do mean long) rant about everything that is wrong with how American history is taught in high schools. Thing is, I mostly agree with him. But see, I didn't buy the book (which I never read) and then the audio book only to hear him drone on and on and on. And okay, Loewen wasn't the narrator, but Brian Keeler did such a fantastic job of sounding like these were his own ideas that the two will forever be linked in my mind. Oh, and Keeler had a really bad case of Alex Trebek disease (you know, over-pronunciation of foreign words?). Although he said Oregon wrong, which was enough to make me to yell back the correct pronunciation (Ore-uh-gun), which I'm sure was entertaining if you happened to be driving next to me at the time.

So, I'm rambling. Are you still with me? Here are a few more irritants:

  • Over-use of the word heroification. I got it the first time.
  • This phrase: "Steadfast reader, we are about to do something no high school American history class has ever accomplished in the annals of American education: reach the end of the textbook." First, how do you know no one has never done it? And second, don't say something like this when there are three (3!) more chapters left in your own book. Plus an afterword. It gives a reader false hope that the end is near. And that's just mean.
  • Taking the African concept of living dead (sasha) (and that does not mean zombie, btw) and applying it to your own idea and then using the word sasha 99 bajillion times in the course of a chapter. Just say living dead. Did you learn nothing from beating heroification into the ground?
  • Speaking of beating things into the ground. Columbus was not a hero. Yes, I got it the first time. And the second. And the third. After that, it's hella boring.
  • You're a sociologist. You should say that. Because making people think you're a historian is wrong. Especially when you harp on the education system that I do believe you never taught in (college doesn't count). Then when they find out you're a sociologist, you lose credibility. And then they start picking on your book.

Okay, as mentioned earlier, I did learn some interesting things, but the book turned out to be a big disappointment, mostly for the reasons (rants?) listed above.

This has been sitting on my bookshelf for 3 years, so I decided that even though it's about American history, I'm using it towards the World Citizen Challenge. Because there should be a reward for torture, right?


Weekly Geeks 2009-11 - Historical Fiction

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

This week's Weekly Geeks is all about historical fiction. Our assignment:

Let's take a magical history tour this week, with a focus on Historical Fiction. That is, contemporary novels with a historical setting. I like to give choices, so here they are, pick the question(s) that appeal to you:

Is there a particular era that you love reading about? Tell us about it--give us a book list, if you'd like. Include pictures or some fun facts from that time period, maybe link to a website that focuses on that time. Educate us.

Do you have a favorite book that really pulled you back in time, or perhaps gave you a special interest in that period? Include a link to a review of it on another book blog if you can find one (doesn't have to be a Weekly Geek participant).

A member of your book group, Ashley, mentions that she almost never reads Historical Fiction because it can be so boring. It's your turn to pick the book for next month and you feel it's your duty to prove her wrong. What book do you pick?

If you're in agreement with Ashley on this one (or even if you're not): Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to browse through this week's WG posts, and by the end of the week, pick a book from one of the posts to read. Report on which book you picked, linking to the Weekly Geeks post where you found it.

I think I've told this story two or three or ten times before, but oh well. You get to read it again.

Historical fiction holds a special place in my heart (really, there's a little corner marked historical fiction). Although I don't read a lot of it, I have read some amazing books in the genre.

Let's start with The Devil in the White City. I read this way before I ever knew what a blog was. I thought the author found a fascinating way to weave together the story of a serial killer and the Chicago World's Fair. It made the history not so boring.

So fast forward a few years to when I was taking my first (and only) class as a history grad student. One of our (many) assignments was to discuss a favorite historical book. Because I had been out of school for 13 years, and out of teaching for 9 years, I was a little out of the history book loop. So I used The Devil in the White City as my example of a favorite book, because it blended education and entertainment (and it was the only thing I had read in recent memory that worked for the assignment). My god, you would think I had mooned the Queen of England. Along with the brave guy who used Maus as his topic, I was practically run out of town. Okay, I exaggerate. Although I did feel like I was under attack for a few minutes, and that I had committed some giant faux pas by choosing a book that was *gasp* entertaining, and written by someone other than an accredited historian. It was obvious that others didn't consider our choices worthy of the word "History."

It was a rough quarter. I read a lot of incredibly dry, boring Historical Works. And I spent too much time with a bunch of dry, boring wanna-be historians who took themselves and the study of history way too seriously. After one quarter (and an A-...hah!), I quit.

The first book I read after I made the decision to be a grad school drop-out was Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. And I learned more about Chinese history from that one book than I had in 6 years plus 1 quarter of college. Because I've come to believe that the feeling you get about an era or place can be more important than rote memorization of names, dates and places. Or bowing down in honor of the stuffy history that academicians consider to be superior to anything gleaned from the pages of historical fiction.

I've gone a bit astray from Ali's original questions. I'll finish with four recommendations for Ashley. These books are anything but boring:

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larsen - As mentioned above, this book tells the story of both the Chicago World's Fair and the serial killer H. H. Holmes. Littered with historical figures, the book uses murder to spice up an otherwise dry topic. Reviewed at Used Books Blog and Ex Libris Book Reviews.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See - Set in 19th century China, this book offers a glimpse into the lives of women...the pain of foot-binding, the seclusion, and the secret language that some women developed as a way to communicate with others. Reviewed at A Novel Menagerie and Tiny Reading Room.

The Last Queen, by C.W. Gortner - This is the story of Juana la loca, the mad queen of Spain. What I love about this book is that while it is a fictional account of Juana's life, there is enough fact mixed in to make the revisionist history entirely plausible. Reviewed at The Literate Housewife and Books on the Brain.

The Heretic's Daughter - Probably the bleakest of the four books I've listed, the author does an amazing job of conjuring the mood of the Salem Witch Trials and the harsh reality of life in the colonial period. Reviewed at Wendi's Book Corner and The Boston Bibliophile.


The Laws of Harmony

The Laws of Harmony
Judith Ryan Hendricks
February 2009
496 pages

When I read Bread Alone I wanted so bad to go to Seattle. With The Laws of Harmony, once again I want to return to Washington. This time to the San Juan Islands. And I'm not picky, I'll take any of 'em.

Soleil, aka Sunny, Cooper grew up on a commune in New Mexico. Longing for normalcy, she flees to college in Albuquerque as soon as she can. Years later, she's doing voice-over work and baking brownies for living. When her boyfriend Michael dies in mysterious circumstances, Sunny finds herself under siege from angry investors and curious cops. Spurred on by bad memories and the I Ching, she flees to San Miguel Island, Washington. There, in the tiny town of Harmony, Sunny learns to accept help from kindly people and rebuilds her life.

Hendricks intersperses Sunny's current story with important memories of her childhood at Armonia, the commune where she was born and raised. A commune that had a five-seater outhouse! We only had a two-seater. No, I didn't grow up on a commune, but I did live in a barn and use an outhouse for awhile. And my mom cooked on a wood-cook stove. So while my childhood in no way resembled Sunny's, there were a few things that vaguely reminiscent of growing up in the wilds of Oregon with wanna-be hippies for parents.

Okay, enough about outhouses. I loved this book, but I also loved Bread Alone. If you are a fan of Hendricks, I'd say run out and grab this one.


the Beastie Boys have spoken

Monday, March 23, 2009

So Cthulhu and The Beast and I just had a little meeting about the giveaway they're hosting. And boy, they must be in a good mood, because they said I should just take the first three commenters, because they all posted before the cutoff of midnight, Pacific time. Which means congratulations to...

Beth Fish

Just let me know your choice of book from the book closet, and your address, and I'll have they boys personally deliver your book. :-D

PS to Joanne: Cthulhu totally digs the song.


Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room
James Baldwin
176 pages

It's incredible to think that this book was written in 1956, considering the weighty sexual issues that it tackles. David, our protagonist, is a young white American whiling away his time in Paris, fending off inquiries from his dad as to when he's going to come home and settle down. David has taken the first step towards pleasing his father and society by becoming engaged to the apparently perfect Hella, who is away exploring Spain. However, David is also struggling with his attraction for Giovanni, an Italian bartender. Eventually, he ends up moving into Giovanni's squalid little room, and the two seem to play a waiting game. When Hella returns, David must choose between conformity and happiness (okay, it's not really happiness he experiences with Giovanni...more like acknowledgement of what he really wants).

This was the first James Baldwin novel I've read, and while I knew he was African-American, I did not know he was homosexual. As a black American in the 1950's, it must have taken a lot of guts to put a novel about a white bisexual man out there.

Besides the story, which is interesting because it is unlike anything I have read, Baldwin has a wonderful style. I especially liked his use of repetition. An example from the beginning of the book:

I stand at the window of this great house in the south of France as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life. I have a drink in my hand, the bottle is at my elbow. I watch my reflection in the darkening gleam of the window pane. My reflection is tall, perhaps rather like an arrow, my blond hair gleams. My face is like a face you have seen many times. My ancestors conquered a continent, pushing across death-laden plains, until they came to an ocean which faced away from Europe into a darker past.

I may be drunk by morning, but that will not do any good. I shall take the train to Paris anyway. The train will be the same, the people, struggling for comfort and, even, dignity on the straight-backed, wooden, third-class seats will be the same, and I will be the same.

Isn't that just lovely? Normally, I don't get all gushy over the actually prose, but there's just something about Baldwin's writing that makes me gush. At 176 pages, this is a short novel, but it packs a punch in a number of different ways.


666th post

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Today's post is brought to you by Cthulhu:

And the number 666:

In honor of this excellent event, Cthulhu and Mr. Beast would each like to give away a book. I haven't done a book closet post in a long time, so the boys will each pick a name from today's commenters (meaning this is over at midnight Pacific time) and the winners will get to choose a book from the book closet.

May the beast commenters win! (Sorry, the guys took over the keyboard for a minute.)


We have a winner

Saturday, March 21, 2009

So far, only 9 people have signed up for the mini-challenge I'm hosting this month for the Dewey's Books Reading Challenge, which means the odds are currently pretty good. As promised, I chose one participant today...and they get their choice of a book from the freshly stocked book closet. Ali? Name your poison!

There is still time to join, if you're interested in the final prize of a brand spankin' new copy of 13 Reasons Why. Winner will be drawn on April 1st...go here to check out all the details.


Dream Homes

Dream Homes
Joyce Zonana
August 2008
160 pages

Chris very kindly sent me this book. It's a favorite of his, and you should read his lovely review here.

Here is the B&N synopsis:

After the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, newlyweds Felix and Nellie Zonana flee Cairo with their infant daughter Joyce, ending up in Brooklyn. Growing up, Joyce swiftly realizes that her Jewish family and their Egyptian culture are neither typically American nor typically American-Jewish; they eat kobeba instead of kugel and speak French instead of Yiddish. Struggling with her feelings of isolation from other Americans and frustrated by never getting full access to Egyptian-Jewish culture, Zonana strikes out on a life-long journey to find her place in the world.

She meets her extended family living in Colombia and Brazil and travels to Cairo to get a glimpse of her parents' past. After she and her mother survive the devastation of Katrina, Zonana comes to see that "home" is not a location, but a spiritual state of mind. Zonana's heritage and quest are also evoked in numerous photos and family recipes.

While I'm not as big of a fan as Chris, it's definitely not a book that I regret reading. I especially liked the first part of the book, in which Dr. Zonana talks about growing up in New York as the child of Egyptian Jewish immigrants. The descriptions of the food her mother cooked were amazing. I also enjoyed reading about her trip to Cairo in search of her past. Because this book focuses on Dr. Zonana's search for her identity, more than her heritage, I think I started to fade a bit. I'm not a very introspective person...I'd much rather read about places and heritage rather than spiritual quests. However, it's still interesting and I'm grateful to Chris for introducing me to something different.


Did someone say books?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Don't forget that I'm hosting a mini-challenge for the Dewey's Books Reading Challenge this month! Details are here. And tomorrow I'm going to draw a random name from those who have signed Mr Linky...the winner gets their choice of a book from my book closet. Just a little incentive to get your butts in gear!


And if you're not into lists, check back next week for a special contest hosted by two gentlemen (well, sort of) who will strike fear into your hearts.


Paper Towns

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Paper Towns
John Green
October 2008
320 pages

Awesome. And that is all you need to know. Because I believe John Green books are best if you know nothing about them before you start reading.


The Monsters of Templeton

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Monsters of Templeton
Lauren Groff
February 2008
384 pages

From Publishers Weekly

At the start of Groff's lyrical debut, 28-year-old Wilhelmina "Willie" Upton returns to her picturesque hometown of Templeton, N.Y., after a disastrous affair with her graduate school professor during an archaeological dig in Alaska. In Templeton, Willie's shocked to find that her once-bohemian mother, Vi, has found religion. Vi also reveals to Willie that her father wasn't a nameless hippie from Vi's commune days, but a man living in Templeton. With only the scantiest of clues from Vi, Willie is determined to untangle the roots of the town's greatest families and discover her father's identity. Brilliantly incorporating accounts from generations of Templetonians—as well as characters borrowed from the works of James Fenimore Cooper, who named an upstate New York town Templeton in The Pioneers—Groff paints a rich picture of Willie's current predicaments and those of her ancestors. Readers will delight in Willie's sharp wit and Groff's creation of an entire world, complete with a lake monster and illegitimate children.

I have to say, that is a most excellent synopsis. Short, and to the point.

I've never read any of James Fenimore Cooper's works, and I think that makes the book a little inaccessible in parts. Because there are some pretty important characters later in the book that I know came from Cooper, but I didn't know how. So color me clueless. I generally don't like books that incorporate aspects of older novels...and this is why.

I thought the story got off to a rough start, but once Willie started investigating her family's past, it smoothed out and picked up. But then, about 3/4 of the way through, I was ready for the end. This was about the time some of Cooper's characters started cluttering up the pages. I know this book was (is?) pretty popular, and I can see why, but I think it's suffering in comparison to some really wonderful books that I've read lately. And plus, there's that whole Cooper thing...I don't think I can get past that.


Reading in the Dark

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reading in the Dark
Seamus Deane
224 pages

From the Random House website:

Reading in the Dark's unnamed narrator looks back on his childhood and adolescence in the 1940s and 50s in the Bogside neighborhood of Derry, a troubled town on the border of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Members of the boy's family have been involved in the IRA, whose guerrilla war for Irish independence continued in the North when the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 left six northern counties in the control of Great Britain. In towns like Derry, the IRA continued to find willing recruits among the Catholic minority, which faced discrimination in both employment and housing and was routinely harassed by the police.

Ireland's history of political violence is the ostensible cause of a web of betrayals that is the family secret--a secret that the narrator feels compelled to unearth. The older brother of the boy's father, his uncle Eddie, has disappeared on the night of an IRA shootout with British forces in a local distillery in November 1922. To the family's great shame, Eddie is widely believed to have been an informer, that perennial bad seed in Ireland's history of failed uprisings, but no one knows for sure what happened to him. The mystery only deepens when, on his deathbed, the boy's grandfather tells the boy's mother something about Eddie that pitches her into a vortex of grief and guilt--something that she refuses to divulge.

Another of the boy's uncles, Tony McIlhenny, has disappeared as well, suddenly leaving his pregnant wife, and is rumored to be living in Chicago. The boy's mother knows something about Tony's fate too. She shares this knowledge with a half-mad local character called Crazy Joe but keeps it from her husband, her son, and her sister, who was abandoned by McIlhenny.

Once the boy begins to piece together the fragments of his family's tortured history, he cannot leave it alone--he pursues the truth until it turns his mother against him and ultimately drives him away from home, despite his painful love for his parents. This is the story of a family laboring under a crushing past, suffering from its own guilty secrets--and of a boy who refuses to adhere to the family's unspoken pact of silence. Told in a poetic language that is dense with the felt immediacy of daily life, it is a coming-of-age story that is searing and unforgettable.

So there you have it...a description so long you no longer need to read the book. :-)

I enjoyed reading the book, although it was a little puzzling at times. Told in a linear fashion, it still skips months and years, so it can be a bit jarring at times, even if the year was generously provided at the beginning of each chapter. And somehow, by the end of the book, the torturous secret wasn't so dramatic. It just was.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Cold Rock River

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cold Rock River
Jackie Lee Miles
September 2006
320 pages

Synopsis (from B&N, only minus the sections that give the story away)

In 1963 rural Georgia, with the Vietnam War cranking up, pregnant seventeen-year-old Adie Jenkins discovers (note from softdrink: ummm, no...she doesn't discover it...it's lent to her...geesh!) the diary of pregnant seventeen-year-old Tempe Jordan, a slave girl, begun as the Civil War wound down. Adie is haunted by the memory of her dead sister; Tempe is overcome with grief over the sale of her three children sired by her master. Adie—married to Buck, her baby’s skirt-chasing father—is unprepared for marriage and motherhood. She spends her days with new baby Grace. Buck spends his with the conniving Imelda Jane.

Adie welcomes the friendship of midwife Willa Mae Satterfield. Having grown close to her after Grace’s birth, she confides that her baby sister, Annie, survived choking on a jelly bean only to drown in Cold Rock River a few month later. Willa Mae says, “My two little chillins Georgia and Calvin drowns in that river too.” What she won’t say is how and why.

Adie takes refuge in Tempe’s journal. It tells an amazing (amazing? really??) tale:

When “the freedom” comes, Tempe sets out to find her children but never finds them, and she settles in Macon, Georgia, where she meets Tom Barber, a former slave from a Savannah plantation. They marry and have a daughter nicknamed Heart, and though she’s a “bit slow in the head,” they adore her. Tom is good to Tempe, and she remains by his side, ever faithful, until she discovers something she can’t live with—a truth so devastating she vows never to speak of it again.

Adie continues to pore over Tempe’s diary, which seems to raise more questions than it answers. (And this is where I deleted a whole paragraph of spoilers.)

As Cold Rock River comes to its surprising, shocking ending (oh please...you can see it coming a mile away), questions of family, race, love, loss, and longing are loosed from the mysterious secrets that have been kept for too long—and the depth of the mysterious connection between two women united by place and separated by race and a hundred years is revealed.

So. I think the strength in this book is the voice of Adie. Reading Adie's words and about her actions was like listening to my own granny talk and watching her cook. Although my grandmother was born and raised in rural Mississippi, not Georgia, the structure and syntax of Adie's speech was just so evocative of Granny, who was raised taken in by her sister and treated like the family cook/maid until she married my grandfather...after which she spent her years cooking and cleaning for her husband and three children. Granny was an amazing baker and canner and cook, and reading about Adie's and her mom's and even her sister's, stints in the kitchen brought back memories of when Granny cooked. It also made me hungry.

As for the story itself...well, it was good, but not knock my socks off good. The story of Tempe should come as no surprise, and the happy-ever-after after months and months and months of heartbreak for Adie is also no surprise. In fact, it made for a little too tidy of an ending.


Company of Liars

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Company of Liars
Karen Maitland
September 2008
480 pages

This book is faintly reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales. Although it's been over 20 years since I've read the Canterbury Tales, so I could be totally off with that statement. But they're both medieval, and involve travellers and stories. And lies. There were lies in The Canterbury Tales, right?

In Company of Liars, we've got nine travellers wandering the English countryside in an attempt to avoid the plague (and their own demons). The cast of characters:

  • Camelot - a disfigured peddler of relics, Camelot intuits some of his fellow travellers secrets. He also attempts to keep the peace, although when it comes to Narigorm, he is totally freaked out.
  • Zophiel - a magician and con man, with an absurd attachment to an embalmed mermaid. Tolerated because he has a horse and wagon. This is pretty much his only redeeming quality.
  • Adela and Osmond - a married couple expecting their first child. Osmond is a painter who no longer paints, although he won't say why.
  • Venetian minstrel Rodrigo and his apprentice Jofre. Jofre is a talented yet troubled youth, and Rodrigo is too tolerant of his misdeeds.
  • Cygnus - a storyteller who longs to be a swan.
  • Pleasance - the quiet midwife/healer, who has taken Narigorm under her wing.
  • Narigorm - a creepy young girl who casts runes, and usually predicts doom and gloom.
Everyone has secrets, and most of the party are quite cagey about their past. As the group travels together and struggles to survive, their secrets are either slowly divulged or discovered. Narigorm lurks in the background and foretells bad shit. And to top it all off, the not so merry band picks up a stalker, in the form of a wolf. This just adds to the creep factor and completely wigs everyone out. So...good times abound.

I really enjoyed this book. The author did a fantastic job of describing the harshness of life in medieval England. Also, each chapter reads like a separate story (although you couldn't read them separately, or out of order). But I liked how when I reached the end of each chapter, it felt like I had just finished a short tale. There is also just a hint of magic going on...or maybe I should say a hint of the possibility of magic. It's enough to make you think you're not quite in England, even though you are. It's just an England ruled by fear and superstition and plague and hunger.

Another also - this is a great cover. Each little picture is representative of something in the story, and it's not as readily apparent as you might think. Mostly it is, but I was lead astray a few times.

While checking out the author's website, I discovered she has another book coming out in September (earlier if you're lucky enough to live in Engalnd). Her next one is titled The Owl-Killers, and I can't wait!


The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Muriel Barbery
September 2008
325 pages

Note: You may have noticed that I'm suddenly pasting quite a few book blurbs into my reviews. That's because I'm horribly behind on my write-ups (well, behind by my standards), and also because last month I read quite a few "meh" books. So until I'm caught up and/or inspired to write more original reviews, this is what you get.

Publisher Comments for The Elegance of the Hedgehog:

The enthralling international bestseller.
We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.
Then there's Paloma, a 12-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the 16th of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.
Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.

And a review from Publishers Weekly:

This dark but redemptive novel, an international bestseller, marks the debut in English of Normandy philosophy professor Barbery. Renee Michel, 54 and widowed, is the stolid concierge in an elegant Paris hotel particulier. Though 'short, ugly, and plump,' Renee has, as she says, 'always been poor,' but she has a secret: she's a ferocious autodidact who's better versed in literature and the arts than any of the building's snobby residents. Meanwhile, 'supersmart' 12-year-old Paloma Josse, who switches off narration with Renee, lives in the building with her wealthy, liberal family. Having grasped life's futility early on, Paloma plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. The arrival of a new tenant, Kakuro Ozu, who befriends both the young pessimist and the concierge alike, sets up their possible transformations. By turns very funny (particularly in Paloma's sections) and heartbreaking, Barbery never allows either of her dour narrators to get too cerebral or too sentimental. Her simple plot and sudden denouement add up to a great deal more than the sum of their parts.

Enthralling? I don't think I'd go quite that far. More like fair, with some foggy episodes. I added the second review because until I read it, I had no idea that the author was a professor of philosophy. Which totally makes sense, because this book is way heavy on the philosophy (that would be the foggy episodes). And I will confess that I only made it through college philosophy with the help of Cliff Notes (and that's the only time I resorted to using those little taxi-cab colored books, I swear). In fact, I've never managed to finish Sophie's World due to the philosophy. So philosophy and I aren't exactly the best of buds.

Which would explain why I'm not doing cartwheels over this one. I did like the story, but it made me feel a bit dense at times. Okay, a lot dense. And while I especially enjoyed Renee's sections, Paloma never engaged me. Also, I definitely didn't see the ending coming, that's for sure.

So, if you like philosophy and want a taste of French literature, I'd definitely pick this one up. If the idea of phenomenology and Kant bores you to tears, then I'd just move along.


Teaser Tuesday

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

"Yeah. I'm a big believer in random capitalization. The rules of capitalization are so unfair to words in the middle."

from Paper Towns, by John Green


a boy of good breeding

Monday, March 09, 2009

a boy of good breeding
Miriam Toews
248 pages
From Publishers Weekly:

In the tradition of Lake Wobegon, Toews (A Complicated Kindness) gives us Algren, Manitoba, a town noteworthy because, with 1,500 colorful residents (give or take), it ranks as Canada's smallest town. For the town's painfully shy mayor, Hosea Funk, Algren's small population spurs both pride and constant anxiety. He tallies births, deaths and all other arrivals and departures to make sure the population hews to the magic number 1,500 — less than that, and the town diminishes to a mere village, but more than that and Algren might outgrow its title. Funk's obsession isn't motivated just by bragging rights, but also by a family secret: on her deathbed, Funk's mother told him that the prime minister of Canada is his long-lost father, and that same prime minister has pledged to visit the smallest Canadian town. When single mother Knute McCloud and her kinetic young daughter return to Algren and Funk's own long-distance romance threatens to catch up with him, Funk's compulsive people-counting tests his already awkward human relationships. First published in Canada in 1998, this is a sweet, funny novel full of memorable, picaresque characters and unexpected drama.
So I read A Complicated Kindness, and I liked it. But this one was a bit of a disappointment. Because honestly? I thought Funk was going to start offing residents in order to keep the population of his town at an even 1500. And what does it say about it me that I think it would have been a much better book if Toews had gone that route?


Mrs. Dalloway

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Mrs. Dalloway
Virginia Woolf
first published 1925
216 pages

This is what I was supposed to feel:

"Mrs. Dalloway was the first novel to split the atom. If the novel before Mrs. Dalloway aspired to immensities of scope and scale, to heroic journeys across vast landscapes, with Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf insisted that it could also locate the enormous within the everyday; that a life of errands and party-giving was every bit as viable a subject as any life lived anywhere; and that should any human act in any novel seem unimportant, it has merely been inadequately observed. The novel as an art form has not been the same since. Mrs. Dalloway also contains some of the most beautiful, complex, incisive and idiosyncratic sentences ever written in English, and that alone would be reason enough to read it. It is one of the most moving, revolutionary artworks of the twentieth century." -Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours

This is how I really felt:



The Book You've Never Read

Thursday, March 05, 2009

We’ve all seen the lists, we’ve all thought, “I should really read that someday,” but for all of us, there are still books on “The List” that we haven’t actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they’re fabulous. Even though we know that we’ll like them. Or that we’ll learn from them. Or just that they’re supposed to be worthy. We just … haven’t gotten around to them yet.

What’s the best book that YOU haven’t read yet?

There are many books that are considered must reads that I never plan to read. Gone With the Wind and most anything by Jane Austen spring to mind. However, these are the books that I would like to read. Someday.
  • Lolita - just because the name Lolita holds so much meaning.
  • Dracula - I actually bought a copy a few months ago, so he's made himself at home in the bookshelf. Maybe I'll wait 'til Halloween and really creep myself out.
  • Half of a Yellow Sun - I will be reading this one sometime this year, as it is on my list for the Dewey's Books Challenge. So is The Book Thief, which I've noticed on plenty of other BTT lists this week.
  • Never Let Me Go - because I need to know the secret!

Given more time (an an earlier start to this post) I could go on, but if I keep going this will turn into Booking Through Friday.


Public Service Announcement

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Evidently, I got a little cocky.

Currently, my blog is not redirecting (and I blame it all on &^$*!@ blogger). So, if you're reading this in a feed reader, you'll need to update the feed settings for my blog. I'm now just www.fizzythoughts.com. Or I will be again after I switch back over. I'm so confused, it wouldn't surprise me if neither url works after this post.

Sorry for any hassle.


Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key
Tatiana de Rosnay
320 pages

This book wasn't quite what I was expecting. Which doesn't mean that I didn't like it, because I did. I just anticipated hearing more from Sarah, and when her voice disappeared from the book I was disappointed.

On July 16, 1942 the French police were instructed to round up the Jews in Paris. Over 12,000 men, women and children were arrested, and most were taken to the Velodrome d'Hiver (or Vel d'Hiv'), an indoor cycling track. After five days in appalling conditions, the prisoners were then sent to concentration camps, where most were killed.

Sarah, our title character, was a young girl living with her family in Paris when she was taken to the Vel' d'Hiv' with her mother. Left behind was her little brother, locked in a closet for safe-keeping. Sarah believed that her father would be able to free her brother. Unfortunately, he ended up at the Vel' d'Hiv' as well. The fate of her little brother would haunt Sarah for the rest of her life.

Interspersed with Sarah's tale is the story of Julia, an American journalist who has made a life for herself in Paris. As Julia begins to uncover the story of both the Vel d'Hiv' and Sarah, she finds her life heading in unexpected directions.

As I said before, I really expected to read more about Sarah. Through Julia's research, we do discover what happens to her, but it is second hand (or maybe third or fourth hand). About halfway through the book, Sarah's point of view disappears and the remainder of the story focuses on Julia and the changes that researching Sarah brings to her life.

Still, the story of the Vel d'Hiv is powerful, a little known but powerful slice of French history. I thought I was the last person in blog-land to read this one, but it seems to be making a return this week. Lisa's book club is reading it, and lucky them, the author will be answering some of their questions. I'm looking forward to her write-up for that meeting!


The School of Essential Ingredients

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The School of Essential Ingredients
Erica Bauermeister
January 2009
256 pages

From the publisher:
The School of Essential Ingredients follows the lives of eight students who gather in Lillian’s Restaurant every Monday night for cooking class. It soon becomes clear, however, that each one seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. Students include Claire, a young mother struggling with the demands of her family; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer learning to adapt to life in America; and Tom, a widower mourning the loss of his wife to breast cancer. Chef Lillian, a woman whose connection with food is both soulful and exacting, helps them to create dishes whose flavor and techniques expand beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of her students’ lives. One by one the students are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of Lillian’s food, including a white-on-white cake that prompts wistful reflections on the sweet fragility of love and a peppery heirloom tomato sauce that seems to spark one romance but end another. Brought together by the power of food and companionship, the lives of the characters mingle and intertwine, united by the revealing nature of what can be created in the kitchen.
First, a whoopingly huge thank you to Dar for sending me her copy of this book. This book was a delight to read. I really like the layout...introduced by Lillian, with each subsequent chapter focusing on one of the cooking classes and its impact on a student. Through the influence of the dishes being prepared, the student recalls memories and experiences from their life. Then we return to Lillian for the conclusion.

Also, the language in this book is gorgeous.
"The beef bourguignon was bubbling in the oven, the smells of meat and red wine, onions and bay leaf and thyme murmuring like travelers on a late-night train. The kitchen was damp from the heat of cooking; Ian opened the window above the sink and the scent of the basil and oregano plants on the windowsill awoke with the breeze."
This book is about relationships...between people and food and memories. Yet, it's not at all complicated (and I mean that in the nicest possible way). It's a comforting, descriptive read that will leave you feeling good (and maybe just a little bit hungry).


The Uncommon Reader

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Uncommon Reader
Alan Bennett
128 measly pages

Last night I read The Uncommon Reader (and yes, I have 9 other books to review, 8 from February, but I figure I might as well work backwards).

I'm not really sure what to say about this little book. It's short, so I blew threw it in what seemed like no time. At times, I disliked it. But then, there would be passages like this:

"The next morning she had a little sniffle and, having no engagements, stayed in bed saying she felt she might be getting flu. This was uncharacteristic and also not true; it was actually so that she could get on with her book."
I know many of you love this book. And I'll admit that I found most of the observations about reading pretty darn accurate (I mean really, how many of us have pulled that call in sick trick?). But. There's just something I can't quite put my finger on. There's a word to describe the book that I can't think of (and that's driving me mildly crazy). And the end! WTF was up with the end??

Here's the synopsis, for those of you who haven't read it:

From Publishers Weekly
Briskly original and subversively funny, this novella from popular British writer Bennett (Untold Stories; Tony-winning play The History Boys) sends Queen Elizabeth II into a mobile library van in pursuit of her runaway corgis and into the reflective, observant life of an avid reader. Guided by Norman, a former kitchen boy and enthusiast of gay authors, the queen gradually loses interest in her endless succession of official duties and learns the pleasure of such a common activity. With the dawn of her sensibility... mistaken for the onset of senility, plots are hatched by the prime minister and the queen's staff to dispatch Norman and discourage the queen's preoccupation with books. Ultimately, it is her own growing self-awareness that leads her away from reading and toward writing, with astonishing results. Bennett has fun with the proper behavior and protocol at the palace, and the few instances of mild coarseness seem almost scandalous. There are lessons packed in here, but Bennett doesn't wallop readers with them. It's a fun little book.

Okay, I'll admit. It was fun (at times). But it kind of reminds me a bit of The Five People You Meet in Heaven, or The Alchemist. I'm not a big fan of little moral lessons in my books, especially if said book is short. It bothers me. I feel like I paid money for a sermon, and considering I don't even do free sermons, that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I think I read this for the Dewey's Books Challenge. Yup, I did. Since I had to go look for my original list, now would be a good time to remind myself of what I pledged to read:

Looking for Alaska by John Green - finished
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi - finished
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett - finished
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie


March Mini-Challenge for the Dewey's Books Reading Challenge

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Are you participating in the Dewey's Books Reading Challenge? If so, than this post is for you. If not, go join and then come back and this post can be for you, too. :-D

The most important list of all

During the last Read-A-Thon, I hosted a mini challenge that involved lists. And last year, I posted my review of Thirteen Reasons Why in the form of a list. Both posts turned out to be surprisingly popular, leading me to this highly scientific conclusion:

People like lists.

Therefore, this mini-challenge is all about lists. Write a review (of one of your challenge books) in the form of a list. Or list interesting facts about one of your challenge authors. Or…think outside the box and come up with some other type of list that somehow relates to the Dewey’s Books Challenge.

And that’s it…simple, no? Just remember to leave the link to your post with Mr. Linky.

On April 1st (no, I’m not joking) I’ll draw a winner from all of the entries. The winner will receive a (signed!) copy of the book that inspired this challenge: Thirteen Reasons Why. And I might also periodically give away a book from my book closet a few times during the month, as added incentive to join the fun.


Spring Cleaning

Not that it's spring. In fact, it seems to be waffling between winter and summer around here. However, I'm not here to talk about the weather today (but it's 71 degrees with a chance of rain, if you were wondering).

If you're like me, you're reading this in a feed reader and you won't be noticing anything different. But if you just happen to click through to my blog, you'll notice a few changes. As usual, I was bored with the header and color scheme, so I did a little redecorating. I know, you're saying "but she just did that!" This time, though, I went all out. And despite the almost Miami Vice-ish color scheme, I'm enjoying my new look. However, I feel I must point out that I don't have brown eyes. But do you know how hard it is to find stock images of blondes with short hair?? I gave up on finding a blonde with short hair who was actually reading a book. I also realize that my favicon looks like crap, but it is what it is.

Along with the remodel, I decided I was tired of typing what felt like (but probably isn't) the longest blog url in the history of blog urls. So I'm now just http://www.fizzythoughts.com/. But don't worry, everything seems to be redirecting nicely, so there's no need to update anything unless you want to.

Now if I could just get motivated to start working on all those reviews from February that I seem to have flaked on...


test post

This is a test post for Google Reader.

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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