Oh the pleasure of a book that takes you completely by surprise. You go in with few expectations and come out with much more than you bargained for. Blind Submission is just such a book. I hadn't heard much about it and picked it up because it looked light and fun. It made good on the those counts, but it was also funny and suspenseful, with quirky characters and many plot twists and turns. Plus, it takes place in a literary agency, so there is much juicy goodness about the publishing world. It's been called "The Devil Wears Prada" of the literati. I would agree, but with one exception - it's actually good. And it has a plot. So, a fun, amusing page-turner set in the book world - call me happy.
As a grammar geek, I found this book about the lost art of diagramming sentences quite charming. It drags at times and is pretentious in places, but it rises in others to be downright funny. Case in point: Burns Florey takes issue with whether sentence diagramming actually improves one's grammar. She argues that even bad sentences can be diagrammed and puts forward (among others) two of former President George W. Bush's as an example. The sentences: "(W)e want our teachers to be trained so they can meet the obligations, their obligations as teachers. We want them to know how to teach the science of reading in order to make sure there's not this kind of federal -- federal cufflink," can indeed be diagrammed. She goes on to say "...although diagramming a sentence can sometimes expose its structural problems, it doesn't touch the deeper issues. A diagram can't ferret out a lie, correct a lapse in logic, or explain a foray into sheer lunacy." Now ain't that the truth!For language lovers, it's worth it to pick up this book just to see the diagrams of sentences from some famous authors, including the verbose Henry James and Proust.
It seems I am in the minority here, but I thought this book was just okay. It was billed as a story about a cat's ability to sense when dementia patients in a nursing home were approaching death and his dedication to remaining with them during their final hours. The real focus of the book, however, was on Dr. Dosa's experience treating his patients with dementia. That subject is certainly important and interesting, but the approach of revealing almost the entire story through dialogue between himself and the nursing staff and/or family members of the patients (most of which seemed stilted and manufactured) wore thin after a while. He brought up some serious issues in his own life, including a chronic health condition, but then left them as loose ends, making me wonder why he brought them up in the first place. Dr. Dosa started the book by admitting that he is not a cat person, but that he wanted to understand more about how Oscar knew to do what he did. Aside from that initial curiosity, there was no real understanding of why he was so interested, nor any major conclusions revealed through his experience. Although technically a dog person, I love all animals, and anyone who spends any amount of time with them would not be at all surprised by Oscar's gift. I wish the book had focused more specifically on the patients' families perspectives on Oscar rather than the doctor's.Finally, the book went on for too long. The story was initially published in a medical journal. The story would have been better served by taking that essay, putting it into lay terms and publishing it as a magazine article.Nonetheless, I learned quite a bit about the disease of dementia, and the book was an easy and quick read. Not great, but not horrible.
I almost didn't make it through this book, and as it is I skimmed through the last fifty pages or so. This is the first book in a trilogy based upon a Victorian-age teenager who discovers her mystical powers while attending a boarding school near London. A small bookseller recommended this book to me on the basis that I enjoy historical fiction, which is astonishing because this book bastardizes the historical period to such an extent you can't even suspend your disbelief. Gemma and her three "frenemies" from school think, talk and behave like modern-day teenagers in corsets. None of the characters are believable or likable in any way. The backdrop of the magical realms into which Gemma and her friends visit and the danger lurking there is not compelling enough to make up for the dismal character development.I read the book to preview it as a possible gift for my seventh-grade niece. I will pass. Perhaps the author felt her characters had to have modern sensibilities in order to engage young adult readers, but I think it's condescending to assume that a girl of one era can't relate to a girl of another, especially once they understand the difference between the cultures and expectations of the historical period and the modern day. Books should both entertain and educate. This one falls short on both counts.
Reading a book by the same author as another book that you loved can be a terrifying experience. So great is the chance of disappointment. The Shadow of the Wind was one of my all-time favorite books, so it was with equal parts excitement and trepidation that I cracked the spine and began The Angel's Game. By the end of the first paragraph, I relaxed, knowing I was back in Ruiz Zafon's masterful hands. The book begins thus:"A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price."So we enter the world of our protagonist, the doomed writer David Martin. We are fortunate to be permitted to revisit some of our favorite haunts in Barcelona - most notably the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and the Sempere and Sonss bookshop. Because this story predates "Shadow," here we meet the elder Sempere, Daniel's grandfather. As in Shadow, Zafon's descriptions of Barcelona are so alive she becomes a character. A sinister presence constantly nips at your heels, forcing you to pick up the pace of your reading. Fortunately there are bursts of levity, for Zafon has blessed David Martin with a biting and unrelenting sense of humor. I'd love to be able to tell you all about the plot but I don't want to spoil all your fun, and besides, I'm not sure I even know what happened in the end. It's amazing to finish a book and think, 'what just happened here?' and yet not really care. It is a difficult feat indeed for a writer to make the journey so enjoyable that the destination is beside the point. I'm almost convinced that Ruiz Zafon himself doesn't even know for sure who is villain, who is hero, who is alive and who is dead and what the hell happened anyway?Also, our friend Stephen King would be very proud of this line: "Don Basilio was a forbidding-looking man with a bushy moustache who did not suffer fools and who subscribed to the theory that the liberal use of adverbs and adjectives was the mark of a pervert or someone with a vitamin deficiency."I suppose the only reason I gave the book 4.5 stars instead of 5 is simply because the majesty of Shadow was so wholly unexpected it practically knocked the wind of out me. The Angel's Game falls just a touch short, but I doubt it will disappoint the legions of Shadow fans out there.My thanks to Carlos Ruiz Zafon for making this book well worth the wait.
Everything you ever wanted to know about chile peppers coupled with sumptuous photography. First, you learn about the top 100 (yes, you read that number correctly) peppers to grow in the garden. Next up is the proper cultivation, from hydroponic, to in the ground, to containers, for the various types of peppers. Finally - gloriously - come the recipes. Here is where the book really shines. Not only are there the expected recipes for using peppers in foods, but there are also recipes for canning, pickling, drying, smoking and even making custom chile powder blends. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go get ingredients for the Kahlua, Ancho and Chocolate Fondue...
This book fell completely flat for me. The story strings together a whole series of implausible events bound by characters that are at best, skeletal and at worst, downright unlikeable. So much went wrong here it's hard to know where to begin. Let's begin with implausible events. One of the main characters, Benjamin, serves in Afghanistan with his lifelong best friend, Stephen. Would the armed forces allow lifelong friends to serve together in the same unit? I doubt it. Ben returns scarred physically and shattered emotionally to his pacifist, vegan wife. Needless to say, there are problems. So it seems plausible that he would, in the line of his detective duty, find an abandoned newborn baby in the woods and bring it home to raise with the wife that he hasn't really spoken to in months. Oh, and having a NEWBORN in the home would begin to make things better between the couple!!So much is left unexplained with threads that never come together. Abbi comes from a supposedly privileged but emotionally barren family. She's liberal and vegan but we don't know how she came upon those views. She can't have children, and the author only hints that the reason is because she led a promiscuous life prior to meeting Ben (offensive message, in my view). Meanwhile, Ben comes from an immigrant family with parents whose marriage was arranged. The significance of that and how it shaped Ben's views about life, family or marriage is never explained. Nor do we truly understand why it is he wanted to serve in the military. While the author leaves gaping holes in developing the characters, she smacks us upside the head with a brick with near constant references to Abbi's vegan-ness. Okay, we GET it, that she's unconventional and crunchy without constant reminders. Abbi has a nose ring, wears recycled sari skirts, uses baking soda for deodorant, cloth diapers for the baby, eats carob and cranberry bars, her friend drives a Toyota Prius, she drinks soy milk, and on and on and on and on. What would have been FAR more interesting was understanding WHY she did those things. There are vague references to her views being outside the norm in her church. Why? We don't have any idea, but we DO know what she ate for breakfast.Then, there are complete contradictions in the story. Abbi's friend Lauren, for example, comes to bail her out of a breakdown. Abbi asks why she's there, and Lauren responds (paraphrasing), "That's the church. We're called to help one another in a time of need. Where else would I be?" This after refusing to speak to Abbi for 13 months because Abbi's husband survived Afghanistan and hers didn't. Seems a pretty sanctimonious statement given their history. It's not that I don't think people can be contradictory, but we don't know how Lauren came to her change of heart because the author only provides a trite explanation during an "all-of-a-sudden" reconciliation scene. I could go on, but I won't. You get the idea. I didn't like the book. If you read it, I hope you will. There are a whole set of other characters and story lines, including that of the baby, that are more interesting than Abbi and Ben. I won't go into it here so as to avoid spoilers. Those other characters were what enabled me to finish the book.
Superb writing and yet not Pulitzer caliber, imho. It really seemed more like a series of short stories rather than "a novel in short stories" as it is billed. Yet, I love Olive as the character. An irascible, overweight, aging, small-town woman is not usually given so much depth and attention in literature. If Olive's "story" hadn't been interrupted by other vignettes of townsfolk who were only barely touched by her, I'm sure I would have enjoyed the book more.
Not my favorite Kingsolver, but so brilliantly written it's impossible not to be amazed. You really have to read to the end before the book can be fully appreciated - both for the story and the masterful storytelling.
I really struggled with the rating on this book. On the one hand, I didn't like the story at all. On the other, the author didn't intend for readers to like the story and therefore was very effective. The writing is pure brilliance, without a doubt. However, I could have lived without the images that will now haunt the rest of my days for having read this book. If I were rating the book on enjoyment alone, the rating would be at least one star fewer. In the end, McEwan's mastery of the craft of writing won out for me, and I had to give it four stars. This is quite a compliment of McEwan's artistry, since writing seldom trumps enjoyment in my rating and reviewing.