Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (Vintage Books)

This book was a huge surprise. I picked it up at the store expecting it find it silly because it was an old fashion detective novel. At first, it seemed like it too. The set up seemed cliche, the characters a little flat and predictable. But I read on determinedly. I wanted to finish and read something different. As I read more I found it harder to put the book down. Once the plot started unraveling, the layers did as well. It became clear the plot was more complicated than I thought and so were each of the characters. If you are looking for surprise, I would give this one a try. I think it shows well why this mystery has become a classic. In this case, as with much literature, newer is not better. Not to mention at only 217 pages in Vintage Books edition a perfect quick read that will keep you intrigued.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Top Picks From Outside

Hey! To further help in your search for your next book choice I'm adding and will be adding each week new top picks from various sources. I hope this help and whenever possible I will add my own reviews to give another opinion. Remember always to let me know what you thought of a book so I can spread the word!

This weeks top picks:

CAUGHT, by Harlan Coben. (Dutton, $27.95.)

THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett. (Amy Einhorn/Putnam, $24.95.)

HOUSE RULES, by Jodi Picoult. (Atria, $28.

Borders Staff Picks:
Your Next-Door Neighbor is a Dragon by Zack Parsons (Kensington Publishing Corporation)

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (HarperCollins)

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper (Simon & Schuster)

The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J Jacobs (Simon &Schuster)

Ristorante Paradiso by Nantsume Ono (Viz Media)

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson (Penguin Group)

Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin (Little Brown & Company)

Little Bee by Chris Cleave (Simon and Schuster)

The Last Child by John Hart (St. Martin's Press)

BN Top Picks for the Week:
The Black Cat by Martha Grimes (Penguin Group)

Kingdom Keepers III: Disney in Shadow by Ridley Pearson (Hyperion Books for Children)

The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller (Knopf Doubleday Publishing)

A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters (HarperCollins)

Changes By Jim Butcher (Penguin Group)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts (Harper Perennial)

This book provides a unique historical perspective that I'm not sure many people have read about or heard about before. It tells the the story of the first four presidents through the words of their wives and other influential women of the period. Its a great find for anyone with an interest in women's or US history. It can be a little long and detailed for someone without this interest. But even if you skim there are great interesting facts to pick up because it's not written in an overly difficult language. Maybe not the best choice for something like a light read or beach book but still interesting background information on early American history.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Rescue by Nicholas Sparks

If Nicholas Sparks' books can seem sometimes a little slow or focus to an older audience, this book is a nice relief from that. It has more action as the title implies and is a little less sappy, though let's remember it's still a romance novel. It follows the relationship of a woman with an autistic son who is rescued from a severe car accident by a handsome firefighter (shocking for romance novel I know) and the difficulties they encounter. It's a perfect book to relax in the evening that you can finish in a couple of days, but you won't feel dumb reading it because sappy or not, Nicholas Sparks is a good writer.

July's People by Nadine Gordimer

This is a book a I read in a South African Literature class that is something I think is interesting enough and accessible enough still for any person to pick up and read. It is set during the apartheid in South Africa and because of the violence from uprisings, a black servant for a liberal upper class white family helps them flee and keeps them safe in his village. However, this is not a simple rescue by a dramatic hero or a simpleton who gets pat on the head after. When the white family enters the village, all of the sudden, they are on the bottom of social ladder and their servant, July, is on top. This reversal of fortune provides much drama to the story and much insight in the minds of people by turning their world upside down. This book is a very interesting read for anyone interested in other regions of the world or human nature in general.


I'll go for a general recommendation since forays into Shakespeare's plays require similar amount dedication. While any of these plays will be well worth the effort, there are a few helpful hints I think you should try to make the plays more accessible. First and foremost, read the SparkNotes ahead of time! The biggest challenge with any books or plays from this time, especially Shakespeare, is the language barrier. Reading the plot and act summaries, and even scene summaries, will help you keep track of everything that is happening. And I promise this won't ruin the experience of reading the story. A second option is to watch a film version first. There are tons of adaptations, old and modern, (i.e ten things I hate about you) which can give you a great point of comparison. Then you can decide which version you like better. As with most books though, I generally thing the plays are the best the way they are.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Many people are often put off by Austen because they think that it will be too difficult because she wrote in the 1800's. Yes, there are some language differences but not enough to make it impossible to understand for the average person. It does take a little bit more effort than the average contemporary novel, but it's well worth your time. Think of it as a precursor to the romance novels of today, but significantly more well-written. For those who love romance it is definitely a good in to more classic literature. Any Jane Austen novel is. I know it's cliche for girls to like Jane Austen but, hey, it became a cliche for a reason right? Give it a try and I think you'll be surprised. I know my mom was.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

For those feeling they are up to some literary adventures one book that would be great to try, though, maybe not first is Mrs. Dalloway. Though confusing and difficult on the first and sometimes second read, it contains interesting bits and pieces if you can put them together. There are little stories woven through the larger story of the novel which are like mini episodes which are part of the whole. If you are in the mood for piecing together a puzzle, its definitely a good pick or even if you just want to feel smart. Either I would keep it in mind because Virginia Woolf is definitely a writer studied in English classes around the world for good reason.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (The Dial Press)

This book is one of my hands down favorites. It really made me interested in reading again after years of being buried in serious literature in college for years. It has a playful light-hearted tone that makes it a joy to read. It is told through letters written among the various characters. Everything is revealed this way. At first the main character writes only to her best friend Sophie and her publisher, Sophie's brother Sidney. However one day she receives a letter from a man the Isle of Guernsey who bought one of her old books wanted to know if she could help him find some more by this author and this begins correspondence that guides the rest of the story. I won't say more because I don't want to ruin it for anyone who chooses to read it. But as the encouragement its another surprising easy read, ignore any misleading hints from the title that make it sound complicated. And if the letter format sounds like something odd or weird it actually allows you to get closer to the characters and makes them more real. It also allows you to think about reading and think about WWII in distanced way because its written placed in the years immediately after the war in England. And oddly enough shows you the value of letters, which almost no one writes anymore. Overall, you won't be able to put it down. You'll laugh, you'll cry and in the end wish you could go meet these people too. I'm even asking, begging you to give this one a try and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner (Ballatine Books)

This book is a fantastic easy to read historical fiction. It chronicles the life of Juana, the daughter of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain and sister to Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry the 8th of England. It is a perfect example of why I love historical fiction about European monarchies. There is so much political intrigue, suspense, and secret passion its better than any trashy show on MTV or gossip magazine, mostly because everything really did happen for the most part. While historical fiction novels are just that fiction, they are based on the very complicated world of monarchies which were full of all these plots and romances. This particular novel is definitely a page turner with a dramatic and slightly surprising ending, especially the historical notes that the author gives at the end. Definitely save that for after because it provides a different perspective to the events than how the reader sees them unfold through the eyes of Juana. A must easy read.

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (Back Bay Books)

I have always been interested in the Salem witch trials and American history in general so when I saw this cover at the bookstore, I immediately wanted to read it. And I must say, I was not disappointed with it. I would definitely recommend it to pretty much any type of reader. It is a fairly easy read, and an extremely compelling tale of girl who was the daughter of one of the many women killed during the hysteria of the Salem witch trials. It tells the story through the perspective of the child Sarah Carrier who watches this horrific event unfold and tear apart her family. The novel follows the accusations, the trials and through this shows how irrational the whole process was. Though the beginning drags a little, mostly do the great amount of detail which helps set up the story, by the end you won't be able to put it down. Definitely a good read for a free weekend afternoon.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Starting Out

I have been juggling a couple of different books lately (don't tell them I have been cheating on them) and I don't seem to be able to get anywhere with either of them. I find myself longing for the days back in middle school in high school when I seemed to be able to fly through books with ease racking up numbers left and right. Now it takes me weeks to get through a book. Not only do I seem to be reading more slowly but I don't seem to be able to concentrate on a book for as long as a time as I used to be able to. I think this stems from having to read too much "serious" literature in English classes for the last 4 years. Now that I am finally crawling out from under the rock that has been college and exploring what has been added to world of literature since I went into hiding. It got really bad in the middle of my college years. There was a period of time where I couldn't even read anything more challenging than a gossip magazine or a trashy novel on my free time. I'm hoping with increased free time I'll be able to get back to those days of carefree hours of reading. Baby steps. We'll see how much longer it takes me to finish what is currently on my bookshelf: The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates and Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts. Two weeks in, hopefully it won't take two weeks more.