Category Archives: Book Club

The Kingmaker’s Daughter is finally out!

Book 4 in the Cousin’s War is out! If you’re a historic fiction/romance reader and you don’t read Philippa Gregory novels yet, you should! Philippa Gregory writes well-researched, engaging first-person novels about prominent historic figures, particularly those in high positions in the British Monarchy. You can check out my last review of her stuff (I skipped blogging Lady of the River, even though I read it and loved it). I bought The Kingmaker’s Daughter today and will write more about it after I get through a bit more of it. Meanwhile, you can get it here. Happy reading!

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Books Oprah Wasn’t Wrong About

I’m not anti-Oprah. I’m not an Oprah groupie, either. I can think of several bombs on her book club list (I’m pointing at you, James Frey and Billie Letts!), but that doesn’t mean all of them were. She has very eclectic taste, covering a wide variety of styles and plotlines. The only common denominator I can see is that all of the novels she recommends are depressing.

Since Oprah’s Book Club has returned as 2.0, here is my timeline of books she was right-on about (IMHO) the first time around:

1999 White Oleander 

What Oprah Says: “Page after page, I fell in love with a story that deeply moved me, and vivid passages that described the sky as the color of peaches and compared sorrow to the taste of a copper penny.”

What I say: The movie really sucked, but the book is prose that reads like poetry.

The Santa Anas blew in hot from the desert that fall. Only the oleanders thrived…”

2000 Open House, by Elizabeth Berg

What Oprah says: “In this superb novel by the beloved author of Talk Before Sleep, The Pull of the Moon, and Until the Real Thing Comes Along, a woman re-creates her life after divorce by opening up her house and her heart. Open House is a love story about what can blossom between a man and a woman, and within a woman herself.”

What I say: Elizabeth Berg brilliantly captures the emotions involved with losing someone.

You know before you know, of course. You are bending over the dryer, pulling out the still-warm sheets, and the knowledge walks up your backbone. You stare at the man you love and you are staring at nothing: he is gone before he is gone.”

2001 Stolen Lives, by Malika Oufkir

What Oprah says: “…People read the book and they are changed by it—enlightened by it —opened up by it.”

What I say: This book is an emotionally evocative account of Malika’s political imprisonment in turbulent Morocco, and it is well worth reading for educational and entertainment purposes.

Finally the trucks slowed to a halt. We were blindfolded and led through one door and then through another. The blindfolds were removed, and we found ourselves in the small courtyard of what seemed to be a former farmhouse-now converted to a prison. The walls of the enclosure were so high that we couldn’t see the sky. Soldiers stood at arms in each corner…”

2004 Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

What Oprah says: From Stiva’s debts and infidelity to Levin’s idealized dream of a wife and family—from Nikolai’s drunken Communist rants to Kitty’s naive and passionate heart—Tolstoy weaves an extravagant web.”

What I say: Not being fluent in Russian (or knowing any at all), I can’t enumerate the merits of the new translation Oprah chose for her book club. I did read it, though, and enjoyed it quite a lot. There aren’t a lot of grabby lines in Russian literature, in general- things tend to be a bit dry and long-winded, so I won’t give you an excerpt. The plot is really the point of this story.

2004 One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

What Oprah says: “Brace yourselves—One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is as steamy, dense and sensual as the jungle that surrounds the surreal town of Macondo!”

What I say: An intricate, fanciful, truly epic, all-encompassing novel.

“He dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her. Petra Cotes, for her part, loved him more and more as she felt his love increasing, and that was how in the ripeness of autumn she began to believe once more in the youthful superstition that poverty was the servitude of love. Both looked back then on the wild revelry, the gaudy wealth, and the unbridled fornication as an annoyance and they lamented that it had cost them so much of their lives to find the paradise of shared solitude. Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out people they kept on blooming like little children and playing together like dogs.”

2008 A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle

What Oprah says: “This is one of the most important subjects and presented by one of the most important books of our time, A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose. I don’t think there’s anything more important than awakening and also knowing what your purpose is.”

What I say: This book will blow your ego.

“So the single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn to disidentify from your mind. Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.”


Twilight Past Midnight

So, I just finished reading Twilight. It might be because I was so riveted by the book and I couldn’t put it down, so I stayed up until 2am reading. Then again, it might be that I’m grappling with a bout of insomnia the past few nights. Actually, it’s market research. I’m fairly certain that I’m going to write a vampire novel to contribute to the gross oversaturation of the market. (If you’ve walked around a Barnes & Noble in the past three years, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

How some readers feel about Twilight

If you’ve already read Twilight, you know that you read the book from Bella’s perspective, hopefully identifying with her as the “every-girl” that doesn’t know how special she is until enough strangers affirm it for her. Her affirmation comes from Edward, a 90 year-old vampire in a 17 year-old body. We all know that vampires are inexplicably rich and drive fast cars (in a variety of expensive makes and models), are handsome to a fault, and have charisma coming out the yin-yang. Thanks to this book, the entire female population of North America (with the possible exception of the Amish) knows that vampires sparkle. 

The first half of the book was slooooow. Then, the vampires start playing baseball. That’s when things get interesting, because that’s when the bad vampire that wants to eat Bella shows up.

I’m not going to say awful, nasty things about this book. I’m a 20-something, and not a big romance reader, but this book managed to keep me up until 2am reading. I’m not sure if I’ll bother with any of the others or not, but I’m not ruling it out. However, I found Edward’s repeated talk of how “dangerous” he is as off-putting as if any teenage boy were saying it. If you ARE dangerous, shut up about it already, and do something dangerous. Like be an actual vampire, instead of an animal-hunting emo sissy. 

If I was thirteen I’d have loved the book, hands down. I know gals in their 30s that love the book, so it’s certainly readable.  Odds are good that if you’re a guy, you won’t like it. If you read a lot of books that are not romance or Young Adult novels, you probably will not like it. If you don’t believe in love at first sight, you probably aren’t gonna like it. If you’re a big vampire/romance novel/creepy vampire-human crossbreed/unicorns and princess fan, this book is for you.

Sample:

We sat silently, looking into each other’s eyes – trying to read each other’s thoughts.  

He broke the silence first.

“Maybe that’s not the right comparison. Maybe it would be too easy to turn down the brandy. Perhaps I should have made our alcoholic a heroin addict instead.”

“So what you’re saying is, I’m your brand of heroin,” I teased, trying to lighten the mood.

He smiled swiftly, seeming to appreciate my effort. “Yes, you are exactly my brand of heroin.”

“Does that happen often?” I asked.

(It’s apparently not odd to this teen that her sweetie is talking about alcoholism and heroin; all she wants to know is, how many “brands” he takes up with.)

If you haven’t read it and you want to, get it here.



The Book of Air and Shadows

I didn’t pick this book up because it was on the New York Times Bestseller’s list.

I picked it up because in search of picnic reading, I was walking around a local bookstore willing something to jump out at me and take me off of my rotation of the same writers, and this book did. Encouraged by USA Today’s assertion that the book was “Breathtakingly engaging… brilliant… Few [thrillers] will surpass The Book of Air and Shadows when it comes to energetic writing, compellingly flawed characters, literary scholarship, and mathematical conundrums. Air and Shadows is also incredibly smart… unpredictable… We never had this much fun reading the Da Vinci Code”, I grabbed the book and headed for the river.

Sure enough, this book is considerably more thrilling than The Da Vinci Code. At over 460 pages, it reads something like a cross between James Bond (the new ones) and Shakespeare for Dummies: easy but engaging. (I know, some of you are saying easy is engaging. Stay with me, here. The plot-line is tiered, and requires your attention.)

Opening scene: A bodybuilding IP (Intellectual Property) attorney (Mishkin) is in hiding, waiting for the mob to come and get him. He begins writing a letter to his estranged family to pass the time.

Now, rewind. Albert Crosetti is middle-age-ish and working at a bookshop. He loves greasy food and old movies, and he lives in his mother’s basement. He spends his spare time obsessing over another bookstore employee: Carolyn Rolly. Lucky for him, there’s a fire in the shop. This means he gets to spend a night at her place (an abandoned warehouse), helping her try to restore a valuable book for unlawful gain. In this classically bohemian evening, they find a surprising series of pages padding the covers of the book. Pages that might possibly lead to the discovery of a heretofore unknown Shakespeare manuscript.

Crosetti begins investigatng, but compromises on selling a letter to a previously dethroned Shakespeare expert, who, then being chased by mysterious and dangerous men, carries his discovery to Mishkin (the attorney). The circle isn’t complete with this, but I won’t confuse you with further details from this point.

Murder, intrigue, ciphers, grills, IP law, speculation on Shakespeare’s life, plenty of action-packed fights and a few juicy sex scenes (not to mention the mafia and religion bits) make this book  worth a read, if you’re intrigued by what you’ve read so far. This is an excellent read for the lazy intellectual that would never read Shakespeare but might like to sound knowledgeable in conversations with more literary folks.My personal opinion: pretty good. I’m passing my copy along to my grandmother; she reads a lot of James Patterson and historical fiction, so this interesting combination piece might be right up her alley.

Firefly Lane, by Kristin Hannah

People might say “Never judge a book by its cover”, but we all do it- it’s why they make illustrated covers. This book’s airy blue cover with a jar of fireflies and a pair of gals strolling the beach certainly belied its weighty theme. When I picked this book up for a book club I kind of invited myself to, I was really expecting a beach read. Boy, was I wrong. Beach reading always ends with a happily-ever-after.This book weaves two separate stories into one: the first, a story of a young girl (Tully) living with her grandparents with intermittent stints with her drug-addicted mother; the second (Kate), a bookish and slightly boring girl in a loving home. They have little in common but a fierce love for one another and their many hours together. As time marches on, their differences grow with them. Tully chooses a life in the spotlight at the expense of love; Kate drops out of the rest of her life to live for love. This books moves from a nostalgic but not rose-colored revisit of the 70s into a sparkly and glamorously reckless depiction of the 80s, a grown-up take on the 90s, and a modern-day middle-aged meta. The author apparently had a good time revisiting trends and products from decades gone by (TaB, anyone?), which might be fun for readers that remember the same things.

The bulk of the book explores the dichotomy between stay-at-home-mothers and career women, resulting in something of a clichéd caricature. Being a working mother myself, I found it a little hard to relate to either of the star heroines- but I had a lot of time to invest this weekend, and a vested interest in not having read the book everyone else at the book club I forced myself on will be talking about, so I trucked through it. Despite the thematic disconnect I had from the story, because it covers so much ground (and so many decades) at least some of the experiences and emotions contained in it are bound to reach any woman.  The girls’ friendship is realistically punctuated with fall-outs and heart-warming reconciliations. Kristin Hannah’s writing is engaging and reader-friendly. By the end of the book, you might not have fallen in love with her characters, but you’ll probably feel like you could easily be friends with the author.

Spoiler alert: from about page 400 on, you might want to read in a place where no one will judge you, because whether you consider the characters relatable or not they will tug at your heartstrings toward the end of the book. Keep a box of Kleenex handy. The emotional upheaval is what saves this book from falling into the beach-read category. As a side note- the constant cocktails, the pot-smoking, the swearing,  and the promiscuity may turn off moral majority readers.

If you’re a tech-savvy, tree-saving kind of girl, you might consider downloading the e-book; or, you can just have my copy. This book is a quick, satisfying one-read wonder, so if you buy a paper copy, plan to pass it along instead of letting it collect dust on your shelf. Seriously, if you would like to have my copy, leave me a comment.