Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire

The second book in the Millennium trilogy picks up a year after Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist pulled off their various coups. Lisbeth has been traveling, but suddenly a dangerous thug seems to be trailing her. Through a strange course of events, Lisbeth is wanted by the police for murder.

I enjoyed this second installment in the trilogy significantly more than the first one. This book deals more with Lisbeth than with Mikael, and she is by far the more interesting character. Mikael, after all, is a man who liked going to prison because he found it "restful." This book delves into some of the issues of Lisbeth's past, especially a devastating event that is mysteriously absent from her social services file.

This book is absolutely bursting with suspense, and this was a book I literally couldn't stop reading. I was desperate to see how all of the pieces fit together. Who is the mysterious giant? What happened in Lisbeth's past? Finishing this book made me want to start the next one immediately.

Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Played with Fire (Vintage, 2010) ISBN: 030745455X 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: In Search of the Rose Notes

This retrospective novel follows Nora and her childhood friend, Charlotte, as they revisit the unsolved disappearance of their babysitter, Rose. As children Nora and Charlotte were fascinated by their teenage babysitter. Rose had all the cache of adolescence, but one day on her way home from Charlotte's house she disappeared.

In the wake of the disappearance Nora and Charlotte try all sorts of paranormal methods to divine Rose's location. Much of this centers on their fascination with the Time-Life series of books on the supernatural, the ones that were constantly advertised on television in the early-1990s. Nora is disturbed by their forays into the supernatural, but Charlotte is older, wealthier, and bossier, so they continue.

As adults Charlotte is still annoying. I couldn't figure out why Nora was so willing to spend time with her and share her secrets. It's understandable as children, but it made little sense as adults. We do ultimately discover what happened to Rose, but not before coming to the conclusion that Charlotte really needs to go away.

Emily Arsenault, In Search of the Rose Notes (William Morrow, 2011) ISBN: 0062012320 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Clara and Mr. Tiffany

This novel is a fictionalization of the life of Clara Driscoll, the head of the women's division at Tiffany Studios. The novel looks at a broad swath of Clara's life, from the point at which she develops the design for the iconic Tiffany lamp, through her career with the company. Much of the book is about Clara's relationship to her artwork. Glass is her life, many will tell her to a fault. So much work means little time for relationships, and Clara always seems to put work ahead of love. Tiffany Studios had a policy excluding married women, and after a brief and devastating marriage Clara finds it hard to trust another relationship. Gender issues also shape Clara's work life, as the men's department at Tiffany is constantly trying to exert its superiority over the women, and desperately wants to see the women's division closed.

There were definitely things I enjoyed about this book. I loved reading about how Tiffany glass is made, and I had no idea that women were so involved in its production. It was also interesting to get a glimpse of New York City at the turn of the century.

That said, there were also problems. I began to tire of Clara's constant discussion of the meaning of art in her life. It becomes tiresomely repetitive. I also found the book's format distracting. The book is divided into a number of sections that jump across the decades, each section consisting of only a few chapters. I felt like I was always reorienting myself to a different point in Clara's life.

Susan Vreeland, Clara and Mr. Tiffany (Random House, 2011) ISBN: 1400068169 

Reading Challenge: 50 States

I didn't quite finish this challenge last year, but I had quite a bit of fun attempting, so I'm going to try the 50 States Reading Challenge again.  The goal is to read a book set in each of the fifty states.  One thing I learned last year is that I read a shocking number of books set in Massachusetts and California.

Interested in joining?  Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: Mount TBR

I like to say that I have more of a TBR black hole than a mountain.  It's a swirling vortex that sucks in everything around it.  In aid of reducing it to something slightly less daunting, I am joining the Mount TBR reading challenge.  The attempt is to read 50 of my own books by year's end.

Interested in joining?  Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: Off the Shelf

Those who have followed my posts here will be well acquainted with the fact that I have Too Many Books.  In an effort to get through them, I am joining the Off the Shelves reading challenge for 2012.  The goal is simply to read the books I acquired before 2012.  Fair enough.  I am going to aim for 50 books off the shelf.  We'll see how that goes.

Interested in signing up?  Click on the image!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Review: Married to Bhutan

If anyone should ever need proof that some people have a spiritual home, a place where they feel fully comfortable and at peace, they need look no further than Linda Leaming in Bhutan. After a trip to the remote, mountainous country of Bhutan Leaming decided that she had to move there permanently. And move there she did. This memoir details Leaming's life in Bhutan, from her early days in the country to marrying a Bhutanese husband. Life is certainly different in Bhutan; values, material goods, and the pace of life are all completely anathema to those in the United States. The pace of life in Bhutan is slow, and the most important things are happiness and spiritual enlightenment. Life is physically difficult, but people seem happier than many of those in other places.

Bhutan is certainly an interesting place. Its size and terrain have led to significant isolation from the rest of the world. I definitely go the the sense the life in Bhutan would not be everyone. It likely would not suit me very well. Still, I appreciated the chance to learn about a place about which I knew almost nothing. Leaming's love for the place infuses every page of this memoir, and that is really what makes it a pleasure to read.

Linda Leaming, Married to Bhutan: How One Woman Got Lost, Said 'I Do,' and Found Bliss (Hay House, 2011) ISBN: 1401928463 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: Pretty

Bebe is a recovering drug addict mourning the death of her boyfriend. In the space of a year Bebe's life has gone from looking towards a promising future to marking time in a rehab facility and slacking her way through cosmetology school.

While the book is really about Bebe's efforts to come to terms with her boyfriend's death in an accident that left her with significant physical scars too, I found Bebe's efforts to recover from drug addiction more interesting. I am not especially interested in the music industry, and Bebe's boyfriend, Aaron, was a musician. The parts of the book that look at life before the accident seemed to be wound up in music industry stuff that simply wasn't very interesting to a reader who was not similarly invested.

I had previously read Lauren's memoir, Some Girls, and I can say that I definitely preferred her non-fiction to her fiction. I never managed to care all that much about the characters in this book. Bebe, and particularly Aaron, bored me.

Jillian Lauren, Pretty (Plume, 2011) ISBN: 0452297346 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: Dry

This is Burroughs's memoir of getting sober, of giving up alcohol and learning to live with alcoholism. Treatment comes to Burroughs when he is given an ultimatum- go to treatment or lose his job. And the job is a significant source of the addiction. Burroughs worked in advertising, an industry that he portrays as high-ego, high-stress, alcohol-soaked, and drug-addicted.

As with anyone else, Burroughs finds sobriety to be a difficult process. His efforts to stay dry are complicated by the fact that one of his close friends is dying, and one of his more obnoxious colleagues continues to try and tempt him to drink.

The book offers a gritty look at the day-to-day process of sobriety. This is not a book about rehab, it's a book about what happens after rehab. There's definitely suspense laced throughout this book- will Augusten fall off the wagon or won't he? This book also offers a rather interesting look at the over-the-top world of New York advertising. If you didn't already find advertising loathsome, you probably will after reading this book.

Augusten Burroughs, Dry (Picador, 2004) ISBN: 0312423799

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan made educated and independent women prisoners in their own households. Aside from grave human rights abuses, the Taliban also created an immediate practical problem for thousands of women who could no longer work to support their families. One Kabul woman, Kamela Sediqui, tacked the problem by creating her own sewing business. When the Taliban came to power Kamela Sediqui was a student who traveled independently around Kabul and who was looking forward to a career. But Taliban occupation led Kamela's parents to flee to the countryside, and left the Sediqui sisters to try and support the family from the confines of their home. Kamela lacked sewing skills, but she saw a need for stylish women's clothes that fit within Taliban restrictions. This small enterprise grew into a veritable workshop that employed numerous girls in the neighborhood. This is certainly an inspiring story. Kamela's business was fraught with danger. She and her employees constantly risked being caught by the Taliban. I learned quite a bit about Kabul before the rise of the Taliban, and it made the regime's corruption all the more striking.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (Harper, 2011) ISBN: 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know

Heather Sellers has a rare neurological condition that leaves her unable to recognize faces. This is her memoir of trying to live an adult life with this disorder. I expected that the memoir would begin with Heather having a diagnosis, but that is not the case. For most of her adult life Sellers had no idea why she couldn't recognize people, and she had to try and compensate. Much of the memoir chronicles Heather's search for a diagnosis. This book is also a story about childhood. Sellers grew up with mentally ill and negligent parents. Her parents had little time for Heather's problems; they were consumed by their own. This helps to explain how Sellers could grow into adulthood unaware that she had a neurological problem. I learned a great deal from this book. I had never heard of this particular disorder, prosopagnosia. Indeed, it is rare. In a world in which everyone seems to claim that they have problems recognizing faces, it is hard to recognize, and get recognition, for such a disorder. It is also difficult to get a diagnosis. Really, there's enough material for two memoirs here: one on childhood, and one on face-blindness. The jumping back and forth from childhood to adulthood was sometimes distracting. Like many other children of troubled parents Heather is still searching for their approval and love as an adult, which leads to problems with attachment and commitment. The best example of this is Sellers's unwillingness to share a home with her husband. Sometimes I found myself feeling the most empathy for Heather's husband. He seems to have put up with quite a bit, both in regard to his wife's commitment issues, and with his troublesome in-laws. This is not necessarily the best memoir I have ever read, but it does tackle interesting and rare subject matter, and I have certainly developed a new appreciation of how difficult it must be not to recognize others' faces.

Heather Sellers, You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know (Riverhead, 2010) ISBN: 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: The Case of the Gilded Fly

A wildly unpopular actress is murdered in Oxford. No one is especially sorry that Yseut Haskell is dead, and no one seems all that willing to track down her killer. Everyone is happy to profess their hatred of Yseut. Literature professor Gervase Fen knows immediately who the killer is, but that will stay under wraps until the end of the book. The mystery is a closed-room case. It seems like no one could have gotten into the room to shoot Yseut. This is not necessarily a remarkably unique closed-room case. It relies heavily on the characters to carry it along. I rather enjoyed the university setting of the book. Fen is certainly not my favorite literary academic, but he's well-drawn enough to keep me entertained. I was less interested in the world of the theater. Actors can be very tiresome. I'm hoping that the later installments in this series dispense with the theater and focus on the university.

Edmund Crispin, The Case of the Gilded Fly (Felony and Mayhem, 2005, orig. 1944) ISBN: 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reading Challenge: Dewey Decimal

One of my goals is to read my way through the Dewey Decimal System.  My interest was sparked by Librarything, and I'm slowly working my way through.  To help the process I'm joining the Dewey Decimal Challenge.  My goal is to read 16-20 non-fiction books.  I will be the Dewey Decimal Master!

Interested in joining?  Click on the image!  

Reading Challenge: Historical Fiction

I'm going to be joining the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2012, hosted by The Historical Tapestry.  My goal is to read 10 historical fiction books.

Interested in joining?  Click on the image!

Review: Death at Bishop's Keep

This book introduces Kathryn Ardleigh, a nineteenth-century New Yorker who writes mysteries under a pseudonym. Just as she is looking for her next commission, Ardleigh finds herself summoned to England by a previously unknown aunt to serve as secretary for a mystical society, the Order of the Golden Dawn. When Kate arrives at her aunt's estate, Bishop's Keep, she finds a second aunt who spends her days terrorizing the servants. She also discovers ample material for her next murder mystery. An unidentified dead body suggest possible connections to the Order of the Golden Dawn. Throughout the story Kate must balance her interest in crime with all of the Victorian proscriptions on ladies engaging in unsavory activities. This book was certainly an entertaining read. This is the book that has to send Ardleigh to England to perpetuate the series. I found Kate to be more charming than usual in this book. Her friend Charles Sheridan, on the other hand, was more simpering and pathetic than usual. I did manage to figure out who the murderer was, but there were enough twists and turns to make me doubt myself. All in all, a satisfying and entertaining mystery. 

Robin Paige, Death at Bishop's Keep (Berkley, 1998) ISBN:  0425164357