Monday, January 19, 2009

Best Book (so far) of 2009

I just finished my book group choice for February, "Big Stone Gap" by Adriana Trigiani.
I was delighted and enthralled by this book from the first page, when Ave Maria, the main character, describes her love of the local bookmobile and the town tramp,(with a heart of gold) Iva Lou, who runs it. The story follows Ave through memories of her childhood growing up as a 'ferriner' in the 50s, 60s and 70s among Virginia coal miners, because her mother emigrated to Virginia from Northern Italy. Ave is now the town pharmacist, and discovers after her mothers death that the cold and cruel man she called father for many years was just a man who married her mother out of pity because she arrived in America pregnant and alone as a teenager.
Ave has never married because she has never learned to trust, and yet she has two suitors, Theodore, a high school teacher and her best friend, and Jack Mac, a shy man who tries to court her by asking her to marry him outright. She refuses, assuming that he's making fun of her status as the town spinster. A whole come-here-get-away dance between Theodore, Jack Mac and Ave ensues, and its hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.
Meanwhile, many town characters emerge, whole and robust, from the pages, including the town lawyers gossipy wife, the snobby cheerleader who gets pregnant by the quarterback of the football team, the crazy aunt, the chain-smoking, wise-cracking drugstore clerk and the impoverished but brilliant teenager who ends up owning the pharmacy. When Elizabeth Taylor comes to town to help her husbands political career, chaos ensues as the town prepares dramatic presentations and a special fried chicken dinner as a library fundraiser. Unfortunately, Taylor chokes on a chicken bone and ends up in the hospital. The other big plot surprise is Ave meeting all her relatives (who fly in from Italy thanks to Jack Mac and a bizarre travel agent from Jersey)and discovering that she knew her true love all long, she just needed to see things from her hearts perspective.
The prose in this novel reminded me of Fannie Flagg, Dorothea Benton Frank and Jan Karon, all warm Southern drawls and quirky characters in hilarious situations with dramatic gothic overtones. The plot was swift and sure and the characters marvelous and real. I honestly couldn't put Big Stone Gap down, and ended up reading it in 8 hours. Though I wanted to slap Ave Maria for being so indecisive, I came to understand her waffling and fear, so it wasn't so bad, especially when everything ended up so well, with a happily ever after that left me smiling. The author, who actually grew up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, has an obvious affection for the town and Virginians in general, and it shows in this loving rendition of small town life.
A very satisfying read, I am calling this book the best book of the year so far. I recommend it to all those who enjoy sweet and funny novels with good characters and interesting premises. There is romance, an HEA and sexual discussions, but nothing overt, so I would also recommend it for older teenagers. I want to thank Ann the librarian for recommending this book for our book group, as it washed away the lingering oily residue of the horrible "Life of Pi" out of my head.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Another Book for the Wish List/ Life Of Pi Review

I'd like to add "The Ladies Lending Library" by Janice Keefer to my wish list, as it sounds like a book that is right up my alley. Bookish women dealing with a variety of issues with a sense of humor.
I'm reading a book loaned to me by my friend Kathleen, called "I Was Told There'd Be Cake" by Sloane Crosley, and it struck me that everything I was doing yesterday was somehow related to someone who seems to be what Eli Stone calls "A Wackadoo." Not that Kathleen is crazy, actually, far from it, but Crosley's first essay in the book is about her wierd plastic toy pony collection, and the fact that she'd be mortified if anyone found it after her death. I happened to get a package of newspaper clippings from my mother yesterday that were all about how religion is for idiots, a mother in Iowa is getting a new trial after drowning her infant due to postpartum depression (and my mother was solidly in favor of this woman getting out of jail...yikes) and other assorted wierd underlined articles, like one in which an Iowan spent a month or so in Florida and discovered that its a wretched place to live, full of crime, car accidents, monster bugs and unpleasant people (duh, I could have told him that) and that Iowa is so much better for lacking these things. Sheez. Having spent years in Florida, I already know that it isn't a wonderful place to live. I do not need to read about it. Nor do I need to read about women who kill their children (I didn't kill mine, and don't plan on it anytime soon) or religious nutball pharmacists who won't fill prescriptions for birth control, or atheists who snarl and growl about anyone who has any faith at all, lumping the fanatic wierdos in with the rest of us who just want to have a private spiritual life and be left alone. So mom's a total wackadoo, mailing me loads of underlined articles that have me scratching my head, wondering why she'd waste postage on this crap. Then my husband informs me he wants to give our son $10 a week allowance for doing nothing. Huh? When I was a kid and wanted more than a dollar for anything, I had to babysit or work as a CNA to get money. My parents didn't hand me money 'just to get me used to the responsibility' of handling cash. They would have laughed me out of the house had I suggested such a thing. So hubby landed in the wackadoo file yesterday, too.
Then I finished reading Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" which won the Mann Booker Prize a couple of years back. One would think that would guarentee a wackadoo-free read, but one would be wrong.
The book starts out well, delineating the life of a boy who grew up in Pondicherry, India surrounded by his fathers zoo. This boy, Piscene called Pi, decides to take up with the three major religions in town, Hindu, Christianity and Muslim, and believes that they're not mutually exclusive because all point to worship of God. Though this is a bit strange to his parents, who are mostly indifferent to religion, Pi is allowed to do as he pleases as long as he's not hurting anyone. Things go well until the family decides to move to Canada, and take a leaky Japanese ship to get there. The ship sinks, and Pi ends up in the lifeboat with an orangutan,a hyena, a zebra and a 450-pound tiger. Things go downhill from there, and Pi survives by training the tiger, and by fishing for turtles and larger fish to feed the tiger after he has eaten all the other animals aboard. Pi ends up on a carniverous island full of meerkats, and eventually lands on the shores of Mexico, starved and dehydrated after 7 months at sea. Two insurance agents from Japan come to the hospital to see Pi and ask if he can enlighten them as to the cause of the shipwreak. Pi tells them his story, and when they disbelieve him, he tells them the truth, which is grim, horrible and nauseating. We were told earlier in the book that Pi goes to the University in Toronto, marries and has two children and a happy life in Canada, so we know he ends up fine, but what we are not told is how he can live with himself after such a horrific episode of murder and cannibalism that he rationalizes away by making up the story about the animals in the lifeboat. How horrible to end the book in such a fashion, fooling the reader and then leaving them with the ugliness of the real tale as the ending. I can't imagine what the Booker Prize people found to love about this book, enough to reward Martel for writing such grotesque fiction. I would not recommend this book to anyone. Horror fiction doesn't have this much rambling on and on about religion, so it wouldn't even appeal to that crowd.
But it did add another wackadoo to my already wackadoo filled day.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Such a Pretty Fat and My 2009 Wish List

I acquired my copy of Such A Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster from Costco (thanks, Marilee!) and wolfed it down in two days (it would have been one day, but my weekends are always busy). It was, as promised, very funny, but I wasn't prepared for the bitterness and immature selfishness that motivated the authors every move in the book. She is, to be blunt, a mean bitch, and though she admits this, Lancaster doesn't seem to think its a character flaw, or even a bad thing. Her complete disregard, and often outright contempt for anyone other than herself left me wanting to toss this book more than once in disgust. That kind of vanity and conceit make me ill, as a rule. However, Lancaster had such a hilarious take on the popular diets of the day, from Atkins to Weight Watchers, that I soldiered on, curious to see if she'd ever realize that only exercise and eating right were the path to real results with weight. After many failures, Lancaster signs up with a personal trainer named Bambi who has nerves of steel, and manages to whip her sorry tuchas into some semblance of shape, as Lancaster learns to eat in moderation through the Weight Watchers web site and their points program. The writing is modern and bloggy, but it moves at a smart pace and though I am not a fan of reprinted emails, they are used to good effect here. I'd recommend this book to others who are in the process of trying to diet and exercise, but only if they also have an appreciation for dark comedy and mean, conceited people. I'd imagine that people who love the TV show "House" (and Greg House's insane character) would find this book quite fun. As I believe in all things in moderation, however, I am not motivated to read any more of Lancasters sarcastic and rude rantings from the Windy City.

My Wish List for books this year is longer than normal because I didn't get any Barnes and Nobel Gift Certificates this year, alas!
But there's always Valentines Day, hint, hubby, hint.

Wish List (abbreviated, as there are always more books I find I want!)

1) An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor

2) Up and Down in the Dales and
3) In the Heart of the Dales by Gervase Phinn

4) Muse of Fire by Dan Simmons
5) Dewey, the Small Town Library Cat...
6) Hope's Folly by Linnea Sinclair
7) Longeye by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
8) Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear
9) Dead And Gone by Charlaine Harris
10) Backup by Jim Butcher
11) The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
12) Anasasi Boys By Neil Gaiman
13) Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
14) Love Rosie and There's No Place Like Here by Cecelia Ahern
15) Fools Run and To Weave a Web of Magic by Patricia McKillip
16) King of Sword and Sky by CL Wilson
17) Runemarks by Joanne Harris
18) A butterfly and roses calendar
19) The Treasure Keeper by Shana Abe
20) Princess of the Sword by Lynn Kurland

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A Funny Book About Weight Loss

I need a copy of this book ASAP!
It really speaks to what I am going through right now...ah, if only I had a Costco membership, or better yet, Penny's job!

Pennie Picks: Such a Pretty Fat

Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has picked Such a Pretty
Fat: One Narcissist's Quest to Discover If Her Life Makes Her Ass Look
Big, Or Why Pie Is Not the Answer by Jen Lancaster (NAL, $14,
9780451223890/0451223896) as her pick of the month for January. In
Costco Connection, which goes to many of the warehouse club's members,
she wrote:

"If 15 minutes of laughing burns 10 to 40 calories, I recommend Jen
Lancaster's Such a Pretty Fat as a New Year must-have weight-loss tool.
The memoir, Lancaster's third, chronicles her quest to lose weight. She
succeeds, but not without some swearing, body aches and a few
late-night, Ambien-induced online purchases.

"Lancaster's sometimes caustic wit had me laughing out loud--and nearly
falling out of my chair. I imagine I'm not alone in relating all too
well to her experiences with gyms, weight-loss programs and wavering
self-control. Whether Lancaster's words hit home or not, I dare anyone
to read this book and not laugh."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Steinbeck's Ghost by Lewis Buzbee

Though I read a lot of books, I don't consider myself a literary snob who refuses to read any particular genre because it is beneath me or not targeted to my particular age range. In fact, I've often found, over the years, that some of the best fiction and glorious prose can be found in young adult and childrens books. That was certainly true for CS Lewis' Narnia, Tolkiens Lord of the Rings, all of Jean Russell Larsons marvelous children's books, Jane Yolens books, TH Whites Merlin and JK Rowlings Harry Potter series. John Steinbeck is my favorite classic literature author, and I am always on the prowl for books written by the master or about him, as bard of the American soul.
Thus when I stumbled upon a review in Locus Magazine of Steinbeck's Ghost, I was immediately taken by the idea of a young adult book set in Salinas, John Steinbecks home town.
Lewis Buzbee doesn't disappoint,with this marvelously written tale of a 13-year-old boy named Travis who has just moved to a new housing complex, but soon discovers that there are ghosts of Steinbeck characters lurking around every corner. Then when the local John Steinbeck library is threatened with closure, Travis and his buddy Hilario start all kinds of projects (with the guidance of their friendly local librarian, of course) to raise money and save their precious palace of books and the other worlds within them. Along the way they meet an author of a book about Steinbecks valley, and the three amigos end up in all sorts of fascinating adventures.
This was a wonderful book that was thrilling to Steinbeck fans and kids alike. The prose was gold, the plot swift and sure, and the characters riveting. I was seriously sad when I finished the book, because I was having such a marvelous time in Mr Buzbees world. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the world of John Steinbeck and to those who love books and libraries and all the treasures they contain.