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  book blog      
         
      Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks (1996)

I got this as a Christmas gift but didn't get around to reading it until July.  What was I waiting for?  This is a well-written reportage by the author of the book about the plague, Years of Wonder.  She is meticulous in her interviewing and extremely careful to be respectful of the women she talks with who range from Jordan's Queen Noor to a Palestinian woman living in a hut.  What I found most interesting was the historical look into Mohammed's life and his treatment of and pronouncements about women, what the Qu'ran actually says and the many   contradictions in what is practiced today like FGM. 

 

    Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua

That maid in Opatija is going to have the start of quite a little library. Publishers Weekly said, "With exceptional insight, she creates a mosaic of the marginal person: a person, like herself, who exists in a state of transition, of ambivalence, of conflict; someone who is infused with many cultures yet cannot claim a single one wholly for herself. Her journal is written in earth tones, like an Aztec design, tones that are both engaging and striking." Oh how I wished it were so.

      Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel (1999)

I think I bought this before a trip to Italy but never got around to reading it until my recent trip to Croatia and the Adriatic.  It made the passage to Europe twice but never made it home to my library again.  I hope the maid at The Four Flowers hotel in Opatija likes it better than I did.  I gave it 100 pages because The New York Times raved about it and I hate to disappoint the reviewers by not finishing the book but on this one, I just had to leave it.  It is more about Galileo than anyone would have reason to know.

 

    Happiness Sold Separately by Lollie Winston (2006)

This is a tightly-written, wry small novel that I just loved.  The husband and wife protagonists are trying desperately to have children (three years of trying everything including three  in vitro fertilization attempts) while watching their marriage unravel.  They are attractive characters who try mightily not to hurt each other but they do.  This may be my best read of the summer so far.

 

    When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It's Time to go Home by Erma Bombeck (1992)

This little gem, written a few years before her death, is laugh-out-loud funny as would be expected from the quintessential comic writer.  The fact that it also has to do with travel was made it a keeper for me.  I picked it up at my son's house one weekend because I was bored to death the the book I had brought along, Ha Jin's War Trash.  While the grandchildren watched "Madagascar" for the third time, I just sat and read.  They thought I was laughing at the movie which, by the way, is adorable...the first time.

      A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (2006)

I'm so very glad he wasn't a one hit wonder with The Curious incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  This adventure takes us into the psyche of George, an aging (ahem, he's my age) Englishman with a host of problem: cancer (not really), a wife who is having an affair, kids who are a mess, I think there's even something wrong with the dog but you laugh.  Laughing is good.

      The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival by Stanley Alpert (2007)

This is a true story of an assistant US attorney who is kidnapped on his birthday.  You know the ending -- he made it out alive or you wouldn't be reading his book   -- but, ah, the journey.  This book is not for everyone; he's a lawyer, not a writer but it should be mandatory reading for prosecutors.

 

      Leap! What Will we do with the Rest of Our Lives? by Sarah Davidson (2007)

Call me grumpy but I found the author to be way too whiney and I wasn't all that interested in the folks she chose to interview.  What should we do with the rest of our lives?  Get on with them with passion.  Don't read this book; you don't have time!

 

    The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2006)

Although this may at first seem like just another novel about India, it's so much more.  You have to peel the onion to get to the tender heart of this book.  There is no masking of misery or poverty but it is somehow not depressing.  It's worth a read.

      Sun After Dark: Flights Into the Foreign by Pico Iyer (2005)

Oh, my can he write!  This is a travel book covering some places I've been and some I haven't but you'll want to visit every one after reading this book -- Bali, Easter Island, Oman. Leonard Cohen and the Dalai Lama also appear.  He is an artist.

 

    Mr. Bridge: A Novel by Evan S. Connell (2005)

I had no plans to read this but when you're at the Jerusalem YMCA and your luggage is still in Boston, what can you do but visit the library and check out the most promising book they have in English? Mr. & Mrs. Bridge was the Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward movie that was underrated but one of my favorites.  This is one of the novels from which it sprung.  It has the same, tight controlled character study of Mr. Bridge and was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

 

    In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar (2006)

Okay, I was on a Booker Prize reading orgy and got to this story about Kaddafi's takeover of Libya told through a child's eye.  Unless you're keen to know more about that country or that time, skip this book.  I didn't hate it but, then again, life is too short for books you don't love.

 

   

What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller (2003)

After seeing the movie with Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett I just had to read the book.  It was even better for sharp-tongued dialogue and laugh-out-loud narrative.  Heller's book was short listed for both a Booker and the Orange Prize.  Barbara's first impression of Sheba: "Her hair was arranged in one of those artfully disheveled up-dos: a lot of stray tendrils framing the jaw and something like a chopstick piercing a rough bun at the back....Sheba's outfits tend to be very complicated--lots of floaty layers....I know she was wearing purple shoes....When she dismounted [from her bicycle]--with a lithe, rather irritating little skip--I saw that the skirt was made of some diaphanous material.  Fey was the word that swam into my mind."  Yum.

 

    Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee (2006)

Coetzee is a South African writer whom I discovered in my research before I went to Capetown in 1999.  He's been a favorite ever since and in 2003 he won the Nobel for literature. His writing reminds me of Ian McEwan, another first class writer.  Coetzee's protagonist is in a life-changing bicycle/automobile accident which requires him to find a new vision of the world.  Sharp, precise writing makes this a masterpiece.

 

    Last Night by James Salter (2006)

This short story collection is sharply written and features really smart, interesting people you would like to have at a dinner party.  But watch out; they can be a bit viperous. The writing is delicious and you can't help yourself in rooting for some of the protagonists even if they're not heroes in a classic sense.  Absolutely worth a read.

 

    Paint it Black by Janet Fitch (2006)

I loved White Oleander, Fitch's first novel about a girl caught in the foster care system.  I did not love this one.  The characters are not nearly as compelling although the depressing parts equal Oleander.  Just as I was losing interest in the protagonist Fitch seemed to as well as the last third of the book simply fizzled out.  Skip this one and hope that the third time's a charm.  Either that or she was a one hit wonder.

 

    The Lost Years: Surviving a Mother's and Daughter's Worst Nightmare by Kristina Wandzilak and Constance Curry (2006)

This is a brave memoir co-written by a mother and daughter about methamphetamine addiction, co-dependency, childhood emotional abuse and recovery.  It is not for the faint of hear as it is brutally honest without any sugar coating.  It does prove, yet again, that recovery from addiction is not only possible but healing for the whole family.

 

    All the Numbers by Judy Merrill Larsen (2006)

This is a magnificent first novel reminiscent of Jacqueline Michard and Jane Hamilton about mothers and sons.  It has everything -- a tragedy, courtroom scenes and ultimately, redemption and forgiveness.  I couldn't lend it to Linda, my English teacher daughter-in-law, because of the subject matter but I know she and her book group would have loved, loved, loved it.  I look for great things from Larsen.

 

      

    The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (2005)

This is not a perfect novel but it does raise some interesting questions about our perceptions of children with disabilities.  Everyone wants a perfect baby but what happens when you don't get one?  Is it better to mourn the loss of a child than accept one with limitations?  This would make for a good discussion in a book group.

 

    I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron (2006)

My friend, Cydney, pre-ordered this for me so I was among the first to read it.  I flew from SFO to Washington, D.C. laughing all the way.  Other travelers asked what the heck I was reading that was making me laugh out loud.  If you have ever stood in front of a mirror and pulled your skin back to your ears (come on, admit it; you have), you're going to laugh yourself silly.

 

    Hillbilly Gothic by Adrienne Martini (2006)

If you've read every mad mother, depressing, how-did-this-child-ever-grow-up-to-be-"normal" memoir, as I have, you can skip this one.  No insights even though the author was the one who was "mad."  An opportunity missed.

 

    The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (2006)

This memoir is everything Hillbilly Gothic is not.  It's insightful, inspiring without being insipid and makes you appreciate the spirit of Ms. Walls.  If anyone ever deserved to be described as pulling herself up by her own bootstraps, this is her.  Read it!

 

    I'll Go To Bed at Noon by Gerard Woodward (2005)

This London family put the fun in dysfunctional alcoholics.  Oh, my, where to begin.  It's not the best of this genre of literature although it was a finalist for the Booker Prize.  It's worth a read if you're near the bottom of your "to read" pile but don't run out to buy it. 

 

    A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (2001)

This fine novel is set in the mid-70's with the political backdrop of India's most recent upheaval.  It follows four people through journeys to survive in particularly hard circumstances.  This is not an uplifting novel; it's down to earth and probably great preparation for a trip to India.  The beautiful and the profane co-existing with eons of historical backdrop.  Settle in with a cup of tea and get ready for a great read.

 

   

The Grace that Keeps this World by Tom Bailey (2006)

In many ways this is a "man's novel" with way more information about deer hunting and strong but silent men that you may want to know and yet, I found it absolutely compelling.  This is a simple story about family and what counts -- loyalty, values and trust.  I would love to hear what a women's book group would say about it.

 

 

 

 

 

         
         
         
         
 

    In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar (2006)

Okay, I was on a Booker Prize reading orgy and got to this story about Kaddafi's takeover of Libya told through a child's eye.  Unless you're keen to know more about that country or that time, skip this book.  I didn't hate it but, then again, life is too short for books you don't love.

 

   

What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller (2003)

After seeing the movie with Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett I just had to read the book.  It was even better for sharp-tongued dialogue and laugh-out-loud narrative.  Heller's book was short listed for both a Booker and the Orange Prize.  Barbara's first impression of Sheba: "Her hair was arranged in one of those artfully disheveled up-dos: a lot of stray tendrils framing the jaw and something like a chopstick piercing a rough bun at the back....Sheba's outfits tend to be very complicated--lots of floaty layers....I know she was wearing purple shoes....When she dismounted [from her bicycle]--with a lithe, rather irritating little skip--I saw that the skirt was made of some diaphanous material.  Fey was the word that swam into my mind."  Yum.

 

    Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee (2006)

Coetzee is a South African writer whom I discovered in my research before I went to Capetown in 1999.  He's been a favorite ever since and in 2003 he won the Nobel for literature. His writing reminds me of Ian McEwan, another first class writer.  Coetzee's protagonist is in a life-changing bicycle/automobile accident which requires him to find a new vision of the world.  Sharp, precise writing makes this a masterpiece.

 

    Last Night by James Salter (2006)

This short story collection is sharply written and features really smart, interesting people you would like to have at a dinner party.  But watch out; they can be a bit viperous. The writing is delicious and you can't help yourself in rooting for some of the protagonists even if they're not heroes in a classic sense.  Absolutely worth a read.

 

    Paint it Black by Janet Fitch (2006)

I loved White Oleander, Fitch's first novel about a girl caught in the foster care system.  I did not love this one.  The characters are not nearly as compelling although the depressing parts equal Oleander.  Just as I was losing interest in the protagonist Fitch seemed to as well as the last third of the book simply fizzled out.  Skip this one and hope that the third time's a charm.  Either that or she was a one hit wonder.

 

    The Lost Years: Surviving a Mother's and Daughter's Worst Nightmare by Kristina Wandzilak and Constance Curry (2006)

This is a brave memoir co-written by a mother and daughter about methamphetamine addiction, co-dependency, childhood emotional abuse and recovery.  It is not for the faint of hear as it is brutally honest without any sugar coating.  It does prove, yet again, that recovery from addiction is not only possible but healing for the whole family.

 

    All the Numbers by Judy Merrill Larsen (2006)

This is a magnificent first novel reminiscent of Jacqueline Michard and Jane Hamilton about mothers and sons.  It has everything -- a tragedy, courtroom scenes and ultimately, redemption and forgiveness.  I couldn't lend it to Linda, my English teacher daughter-in-law, because of the subject matter but I know she and her book group would have loved, loved, loved it.  I look for great things from Larsen.

 

      

    The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (2005)

This is not a perfect novel but it does raise some interesting questions about our perceptions of children with disabilities.  Everyone wants a perfect baby but what happens when you don't get one?  Is it better to mourn the loss of a child than accept one with limitations?  This would make for a good discussion in a book group.

 

    I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron (2006)

My friend, Cydney, pre-ordered this for me so I was among the first to read it.  I flew from SFO to Washington, D.C. laughing all the way.  Other travelers asked what the heck I was reading that was making me laugh out loud.  If you have ever stood in front of a mirror and pulled your skin back to your ears (come on, admit it; you have), you're going to laugh yourself silly.

 

    Hillbilly Gothic by Adrienne Martini (2006)

If you've read every mad mother, depressing, how-did-this-child-ever-grow-up-to-be-"normal" memoir, as I have, you can skip this one.  No insights even though the author was the one who was "mad."  An opportunity missed.

 

    The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (2006)

This memoir is everything Hillbilly Gothic is not.  It's insightful, inspiring without being insipid and makes you appreciate the spirit of Ms. Walls.  If anyone ever deserved to be described as pulling herself up by her own bootstraps, this is her.  Read it!

 

    I'll Go To Bed at Noon by Gerard Woodward (2005)

This London family put the fun in dysfunctional alcoholics.  Oh, my, where to begin.  It's not the best of this genre of literature although it was a finalist for the Booker Prize.  It's worth a read if you're near the bottom of your "to read" pile but don't run out to buy it. 

 

    A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (2001)

This fine novel is set in the mid-70's with the political backdrop of India's most recent upheaval.  It follows four people through journeys to survive in particularly hard circumstances.  This is not an uplifting novel; it's down to earth and probably great preparation for a trip to India.  The beautiful and the profane co-existing with eons of historical backdrop.  Settle in with a cup of tea and get ready for a great read.

 

   

The Grace that Keeps this World by Tom Bailey (2006)

In many ways this is a "man's novel" with way more information about deer hunting and strong but silent men that you may want to know and yet, I found it absolutely compelling.  This is a simple story about family and what counts -- loyalty, values and trust.  I would love to hear what a women's book group would say about it.