Saturday, February 28, 2009

16. The Believers by Zoë Heller

#16

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Title: The Believers
Author(s): Zoë Heller
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 335
Format: ARC from B&N First Look
Available: March, 2009
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 2-28-09

I received Zoë Heller's The Believers through Barnes & Noble's First Look program, and not knowing what to expect from the book, I can safely say that I was pleasantly surprised. Heller creates an incredibly interesting, if not a little strained at times, family dynamic and writes a compelling story about belief and what can happen to a family as those beliefs begin to be torn down.

The book opens with the meeting of Audrey and Joel at a party in London in 1962. Audrey catches Joel's attention, and after a second meeting between the two when Joel invites himself along to meet Audrey's parents one day and then what appears to be a subsequent one night stand, they decide to travel back to New York and get married, all on a whim. Jump forty years in the future to New York City in 2002 and we find Audrey and Joel happily (unhappily?) married with two daughters and one adopted son. Joel is a radical lawyer who has made a name for himself as he takes cases that he feels upholds justice in its truest form, even when these cases can cast him in a bad light. Both raised as Jews but now casting off all religious ties, Audrey and Joel have raised their children with the same beliefs. When Joel suffers a massive stroke, Audrey is left to pick up the pieces and deal with her life the best that she can. As her daughter Rosa turns to Orthodox Judaism, her other daughter Karla's marriage seems to be at odds and her adopted son Lenny's drug habits spin out of control, a secret is revealed to Audrey that will test not only her belief in her husband, but also that of her children's beliefs in their father and family as a whole.

The book has some witty moments to it too. I don't want to call them comical, but in a way they are. The one scene that particularly stood out for me, where Heller really shows how dysfunctional this family can be at times because they are so wrapped up in themselves and what they each deem as being their own personal importance is Audrey's birthday party. On the one hand I kept wondering if the scene was ever going to end because everyone was just so sarcastic, or angry, or indifferent; but at the same time, I think this is exactly why this scene stuck with me so well. Heller took each character to the extreme of their personality, and did it so well, that the scene looped around from being a farce to actually making me feel sorry for everyone in the family.

Another aspect that I found very interesting is the information that Heller included about Orthodox Judaism. I admit a great degree of ignorance when it comes to most religion and its customs, and it was very interesting to read about some of the customs that the Orthodox Jews adhere to for their religion, and Heller does an admirable job of including this information. It appears to me to take a great amount of self-discipline to accept these sort of changes in your life, as it also appeared to Rosa, and that was them main crux of her characters growth in the book; discovering whether or not she had that discipline and was willing to give herself entirely to her beliefs or not.

The Believers is an interesting study as each member of the Litvinoff family comes to terms with the beliefs that they have held on to over the years, the beliefs that are challenged in each other as their lives begin to take on their own shapes and the beliefs that they will need to hold on to in the future. The story takes place over the course of eight months, and we watch as each character de-constructs and reconstructs their entire belief system, be it either their religious, family or social beliefs. Sometimes their actions seem a little too dramatic, but overall the characters are believable and their struggles seem genuine.

Zoë Heller's The Believers will be released in March and can be preordered at the link below or from your favorite local bookseller.

15. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

#15

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Title: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Brontë
Copyright: 1847 (2006)
Pages: 560
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 2-28-09

OK, I'm not going to review this as I can't add anything to what's already been said. I understand the historical significance behind the book and whatnot, but I couldn't help thinking the entire time that I was listening to Jane Eyre that every character around her was such a caricature of themselves and that their characters were so dramatically presented just to make Jane herself seem overtly normal that the story seemed to lose itself for me.

Monday, February 23, 2009

14. Within the Fairy Castle: Colleen Moore's Doll House at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago by Terry Ann R. Neff, photographs by Barbara Karant

#14

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Title: Within the Fairy Castle: Colleen Moore's Doll House at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
Authors: Terry Ann R. Neff, photographs by Barbara Karant
Copyright: 1997
Pages: 127
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 2-23-09

Within the Fairy Castle is a pictorial book about the Fairy Castle exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. As described on the postcard that I also picked up at the Museum when I visited:
The renowned Fairy Castle is one of the most beloved, permanent displays at the Museum of Science and Industry. A gift to the museum from silent-film star Colleen Moore, the castle has appealed to people's imaginations since 1949. The castle was constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot and measures 10 x 8 x 7 feet and features fourteen elaborately decorated rooms.

The book is a simple photographic keepsake, talking about the layout of the castle and including over 100 up-close photographs of the details of each room as well as most of the small artifacts from the castle. It also includes a history of the construction of the Castle, as well as a short biography of Colleen Moore.

It's a nicely designed book, the photographs are clear and the descriptions are well written. A nice keepsake or a great idea for anyone that enjoys doll houses.

Free Books! Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost

My friend Irish is doing a book giveaway on her blog right now. She has recently developed a little obsession with the Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost, and now wants to share the love! She will be giving away an entire set of books on her blog. You have the opportunity to get up to 4 entries in the contest. Stop by her blog for all the details. In fact, just stop by her blog in general. She always has some great books to talk about over there.

Book Release! James Dashner's The 13th Reality, Book 2: The Hunt for Dark Infinity

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Today is the official release date for the next book in James Dashner's The 13th Reality series called The Hunt for Dark Infinity (even though Amazon has it listed as March 4). Last year, I was lucky enough to receive an early reviewer copy of his first book in the series, The Journal of Curious Letters and loved it! You can read my review of that book here. It's a great series and James is one of those authors that I think people should be watching, so use the handy-dandy Amazon links below to order yourself a copy of both books, or help support your local book store and stop by and pick up your copies today! You won't be sorry!!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

13. Getting Along Famously by Melissa Hellstern

#13

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Title: Getting Along Famously
Author: Melissa Hellstern
Copyright: 2008
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 2-19-09

To be perfectly honest, the only reason that I picked up this book is because it had Audrey Hepburn on the cover. I think she is fabulous, and I decided that maybe since the book featured Audrey Hepburn on the cover, it couldn't be all that bad, right? Well, luckily I was right. Getting Along Famously is a collection of vignettes about famous friendships. Audrey Hepburn & Sofia Lauren; Julie Andrews & Carol Burnett; Lucille Ball & Vivian Vance to name a few. Each vignette gives a little history on the friendship and each person and includes photos and additional quotes and anecdotes from their lives. A fun little volume, not hard to read at all, but informative all the same.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

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Title: The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 416
ISBN: 9780743298025
Publisher: Atria Books
Twitter: @AtriaBooks
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5/5 stars

The Thirteenth Tale is one of those rare books that come along, grabs you from the first page, won't let go until the very end, and then leaves you wanting more. Harkening back to Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre, The Thirteenth Tale weaves an incredible spell in its telling, leaving you feeling slightly dazed at its conclusion.

When Margaret Lea receives a mysterious note one day from England's premier storyteller, Vida Winter, little does she know that what will commence will be a story unlike any that she has ever heard before. Vida Winter is the consummate storyteller of her day, providing no less than 19 version of her life's story. Margaret Lea is a biographer who deals in only facts. When Vida Winter finally decides to tell the truth to Margaret, Margaret can only be suspicious. She asks for 3 verifiable details from Miss Winter's life, and Miss Winter offers those up, she knows that she will be given the truth. The truth is a story so compelling and well-written that she becomes lost in its telling and the fabric of Miss Winter's life.

For the reader, Diane Setterfield has created an amazingly haunting ghost story. There are so many twists and turns that I didn't even realize were occurring that when I discovered them, I would backtrack just to see how cleverly she placed them in the story. Compared to some of the greatest works of Gothic romance and mystery, you'll find a little bit of everything here: secrets, mysteries, murder, madness, obsession, ghosts. Setterfield brings all the elements familiar to the genre together into her own masterfully written tale, creating a book that is both spellbinding and unforgettable. This is one of those books that I would place at the top of my all time favorites and can read and reread over again. If you are looking for a great paced, well-written Gothic adventure, then this book is for you!


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

11. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

#11

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Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 208
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 2/5 stars
Finished: 2-11-09

I downloaded this for free from iTunes awhile back as I had read Coelho's The Witch of Portobello and had really enjoyed it. The Alchemist is the story of a boy's journey of discovery, following omens and spiritual messages to discover his destiny. Maybe I'm just reading this at the wrong time, but I didn't get as much from this story as I thought I would. It has had such a grand following, I was feeling really good going into it, but I felt the message was presented a little too up front. Not a bad book, just a bit too didactic for my liking.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

10. The Common Bond by Donigan Merritt

LibraryThing Early Reviewers

#10

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Title: The Common Bond
Author: Donigan Merritt
Copyright: 2008
Pages: 392
Format: ARC from publisher through LTER program
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 2-11-09

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot to say about Donigan Merritt's The Common Bond. The story is well constructed and the characters fleshed out nicely, but I had to trudge through this book. The prose in the first chapter was so heavy (I have no other way to describe it) that I almost gave up there, as I was afraid the rest of the book would be the same way. Luckily, I was wrong, but it was still a difficult read for me.

The book revolves around Morgan and Victoria's relationship, or at least the impact their relationship has had on Morgan, as the book opens with Morgan grieving in an alcoholic stupor for the death of Victoria. Victoria did not have a happy childhood and found in Morgan the stability that she needed, but he still wasn't enough for her. After she takes her own life, Morgan returns to Hawaii, to recover and try to reconnect with himself. By the end of the book, he has come around and is beginning to find a new life for himself. However, with such an enigmatic ending, who knows how Morgan's story really ends. And maybe that's the point, but I guess I just like my stories to have something more of a concrete ending to them.

The book is an interesting character study on so many levels; grief, doubt, guilt, love. All in all, I think there are too many conflicting emotions present throughout the book, which I think is what contributed to bogging down the story for me. However, it is still a well written book, and I think for the right reader, this would be a great book.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

9. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

#9

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Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Copyright: 2002 (2006)
Pages: 162
Twitter: @neilhimself
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 2-7-09

A quick little read, Coraline is Neil Gaiman's first book for children. The book opens with Coraline's family moving into a new home. The house itself is very large, and has been separated into several flats, and in Coraline's she discovers a door that leads to a brick wall. Being an inquisitive child, she's curious about what lies on the other side of the door, but accepts that it's probably just the other side of the house that was closed off to make the flats. How wrong she is.

It turns out that the door actually leads to her other house, identical in almost every way to her real house. In the other house, she discovers her other mother and other father, who are identical to her real mother and real father except for the fact that in place of their eyes, they have black buttons sewn in place. Everything in her other house is perfect; the food is better, and her other mother is willing to give her anything she wants. But deep down, Coraline realizes that this is wrong, that if she can have anything her heart desires, anything at all, but without earning it, then it means nothing, and she would be living a lie.

It's a creepy little book, and in typical Gaiman fashion, he gives us very little background on what is happening, but writes the story in such a way that you just accept what is happening in the story. The stark illustrations by Dave McKean really add to the ambiance of the story. Not challenging, but thought provoking all the same.