Monday, November 30, 2009

jumping on the bandwagon

Over the last several months, I have placed requests on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer for hundreds of people. As a matter of principle, I avoid the really popular books like the plague. Then one evening, CW (one of my favorite library customers ever) talked me into listening to the book on CD because of the delightful narrators (which includes Juliet Mills, elder sister of the adored Hayley). I listened to the first disk as I was sewing and knew immediately that this was a book I needed to hold in my hands and read myself. I returned the CDs and, with great determination and devotion, checked the "Lucky U" shelf for a copy of the book. Just before Thanksgiving, a copy was returned and I grabbed it.

I loved this book! I want to be friends with every single character! I want to move to Guernsey and live in a cottage by the sea!

Juliet Ashton is 32 years old and on a book tour through England and Scotland, promoting her book--a collection of newspaper columns she wrote during World War II. She spends her free moments writing letters to her publisher, her best friend and, eventually, many members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. At the end of her tour, she is casting around for a subject for her next book while also working on an article about the effects of reading during the war--she is writing about the Guernsey Literary.... Of course, their letters pique her interest and a trip to the island is arranged where an odd and varied welcoming committee awaits her arrival.

Each character has a distinct voice and personality and each is definitely quirky. Run, do not walk, to your library and check out this book--I guarantee you will enjoy it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

good reading

After a rather lengthy famine in the reading area, I have been enjoying the bounty of new fall releases.

First up, was Derek Landy's third Skulduggery Pleasant book The faceless ones. I had forgotten how funny (sarcastic? biting? witty?) Skulduggery can be and he had ample opportunity to let the sarcasm fly in this book. Skulduggery is a well-dressed, well-spoken, intelligent detective who just happens to be a skeleton. He and his teen-aged sidekick, Valkyrie Cain, are fighting the of forces of evil (often in the guise of the gods and goddesses of Irish mythology) and this time, the results are not in their favor. The long-feared Faceless Ones are threatening to invade our dimension and the only thing standing between them and the invasion of the world as we know it is an idiotic, egotistical teleporter who doesn't want to play by the rules. I must admit I let out a loud gasp and an anguished "oh, no" at the end of this book. How many days must I wait for the sequel? (Even if the next book came out tomorrow, the wait would be too long!)

Next was Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society and the prisoner's dilemma where Reynie, Sticky, Katie and the ever-so-aggravating (in an endearing way) Constance Contraire again aid Mr. Benedict in saving the world as we know it (are you noticing a theme here?). Mr. Benedict's evil twin brother, Mr. Curtain, is once again trying to steal the Whisperer (a mind-controlling computer application) for his own nefarious reasons. Again, the incredibly intelligent, resourceful and contrary (dear Constance, of course) children use all the resources (and when they act as a group, that is a formidable amount of brain power) available to foil his plans. This is the last in a trilogy, though I sense a tiny ray of light that may mean another volume in the future, and the least satisfying of the three volumes. A bit too violent, a bit too long in getting to the point but a necessary read, nonetheless.

In a completely different vein, I am currently reading Born round: the secret history of a full-time eater by Frank Bruni. Bruni is the restaurant critic for the New York Times and has spent a lifetime enjoying food...and regretting the physical effects of his enjoyment. His descriptions of holiday meals with his family (turkey, ham (in case someone does not like turkey), lasagne, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, baked sweet potatoes, 3 kinds of pies, cannolis (in case someone does not feel like eating pie) and on and on) made by jaw drop in awe. Bruni ate it all and struggled with yo-yoing wait throughout his teens and twenties. He was just starting to gain control of his food obsession when he was offered the restaurant critic's column. What to do, what to do.

I just started a new by-the-bed book last night, a birthday present from cherished friend FF, and it has revved by feelings of longing to travel in England into high gear! It is Bill Bryson's Notes from a small island and is off to a delightful start. He starts with a visit to a pub where he innocently asks one of the local for directions to an area landmark. The conversation is off...and I was laughing and laughing, wishing I were there (instead of reading about it while snuggled up in my bed). I can't wait for tonight's installment!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

unrelenting gloom

I try to be an eclectic reader, often requesting books after a review piques my interest. The last book I read was so completely, totally and absolutely devoid of any happiness that I am thinking I need to revise my strategy!

The book was small (only 119 pages) with a lovely photograph of a Chinese opera singer's face, made up with the traditional white and red make-up. Physically, it was a beautiful book. But the story....

The moon opera by Bi Feiyu was translated from Chinese and the translator did a lovely job with the poetry and rhythm of the author's writing. Xiao Yanqui is an opera singer, singing the lead female part in a new opera. Though she insists she felt no jealousy, in a moment of anger she disfigured the face of her understudy by throwing hot/boiling water at her. Her career ruined, Xiao Yanqui went on to teach music, marry a man she did not love and have a child for whom she feels little or no affection. Twenty years pass and a wealthy businessman offers to fund a production of The Moon Opera with the stipulation that Xiao Yanqui, now in her 40s and past her prime in looks, sing the lead. Since her voice is still lovely and supple, Xiao Yanqui agrees to sing, taking one of her students as an understudy (doesn't that girl know about Xiao Yanqui's past problems with understudies?). Severe weight loss, an unwise and unprotected affair with the businessman, an abortion all lead to Xiao Yanqui's downfall and her failure in the opera.

By the end of the book, I was as limp as a wet handkerchief. There was not one moment of real happiness or contentment in this book. It was beautifully written and an emotional wasteland. Sad, sad, sad.