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« July, 2006 »

Turning Angel   book icon  
by Greg Iles (2005)

read: 27 July 2006
rating: [0]
category: fiction

Iles always walks the line between stuff that is a bit too icky for me to read and stuff that is compelling and intriguing. This book straddles that line. It’s a story about a murdered girl who had been having a relationship with her doctor. Apparently she has also been having various types of relationships with other people as well. Since the dead girl was seventeen, this has a lot of repercussions, legally and socially, for those around her as the criminal investigation proceeds.

I’m not averse to reading about the weird world of teenage sex, but Iles saves a super graphic and disturbing rape scene for the very very end of this book, the last few pages really, tacked on to what was otherwise a sexy but not violently sexy (mostly) story. I found this hard to stomach and it made me much less likely to pick up another one of his books until I can get it vetted for sexual sadism. This is just my own personal preference as fasr as reading thriller/mysteries goes, but unlike some of his other stories which I felt were more cerebral, this one achieves a lot of its impact through beingtruly shocking, which was of less inteerst to me.

The Bookseller of Kabul   book icon  
by Asne Seierstad (2003)

read: 27 July 2006
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

The librarian has been pushign this book into my hands for months and I’ve been resisting. This is a really serious reading week so I relented. I’m sorry I waited so long. This is a story -- a non-fiction account but written in a literary style -- of what it’s like to be a middle class family in post-War Afghanistan, specifically Kabul. And you know what it’s like? It’s sucks. It’s lousy. It’s pretty easy to be sort of value-relative about all this and discuss the ideas that you can’t really compare cultures. However, the woman who wrote this book, who lived with the bookseller’s family for some time, doesn’t say “this is good” or “this is bad” she just describes.

She describes how women are basically the property of their fathers and then, once they’re married off, the property of their husbands who they have barely met before their wedding night. She describes the culture of illiteracy, how many people can’t read and this means that they are less likely to be able to critically approach the ideas foisted on them from the religious fundamentalists like the Taliban. She describes how even the middle class families live in dirt houses with no furniture and often no electricity or running water in a city that has been largely destroyed through a combination of Taliban repression combined with the destruction wrought by American forces post-9/11. She talks abotu how Afghanistan was not always such a beaten down country and explains a little bit about the political upheavals that signalled a return to extremely traditional cultural practices that were unusual even for Afghanistan.

It’s a hard book to read. The women are simply wretched in many cases, beaten down by lifetimes of doing other people’s laundry, cooking and domestic work and husbands who take multiple wives. The outlook for everyone is bleak. It’s so hard to raise enough money to change your status that even the future looks grim. Even given this, Seierstad manages to find some high points, some stories of almost-romance, or strong-willled women, or something that worked, for once. However these are the exceptions in the overarching culture that has been destroyed by poverty and fundamentalism and what has been essentially a total infrastructure collapse.

Firebirds Rising   book icon  
by Sharyn November, ed. (2006)

read: 24 July 2006
rating: [+]
categories: collection, fiction

It’s really unusual to get a book that is a collection of short stories by various authors and have the collection be uniformly good. There was, towards the end, one story that I didn’t like as well as the others, but this collection is basically uniformly excellent. I’m sure this is because Sharyn November, who is a friend of mine, is a genius. However, it may also be because she’s especially clever at choosing fiction and cultivating authors to write what they might not otherwise have written. This book has the added bonus of little blurbs by the authors at the end of every story which include web addresses for easy lookup if you’d like to find more by them. It also has the authors describing why they wrote the stories, what inspired them and what they were thinking about. Some of the pieces in this collection are clearly parts of larger works which was good news if I really liked the story/characters but bad news if I felt that I was coming in to a story partway through. People who read YA or just enjoy a good compliation of fantasy/scifi are sure to enjoy this thick book of good stories.

The Single Girl’s Manifesta: Living in a Stupendously Superior Single State of Mind   book icon  
by Jerusha Stewart (2005)

read: 16 July 2006
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

This will likely be the last book I read about how to be awesomely single. Since I’m newly single, I was sort of curious if the world of “single and loving it” had changed significantly since the last time I’d checked in. The answer is mostly not. The author of this book is a previously-married single gal in her mid-forties. She has a lot of energy and seems to be one of those people who the adjective vivacious fits to a T. She’s been single since her marriage broke up and enjoys it, a lot. She has plenty of advice which is a combination of “You go girl” tips to stay in the game as well as ways to be comfortable with yourself out of the construct of being a couple. She includes lots of anecdotes about other middle-aged singles and keeps a steady upbeat attitude throughout. You really can’t help but like her.

However, there were a few things that I didn’t like about the book. First off, the book is pink, shockingly pink. While I’ll be the first to admit that the girly girl approach to topics like this (lots of chocolate and shopping suggestions on how to ease the worried mind) isn’t my first take, this book was so pink it was hard to read. The chatty tone is great, but there are stretches where you actually want to settle in and read. However, the main text is so consistently split up by sidebars, tips, helpful hints and other ancillary content that it’s hard to start reading and stay reading. After all, the book is a handbook, not a novel. Lastly, Stewart is clearly a fun interesting woman with a stable fulfilling well-paying career. She also reveals in the book that she has a regular lover who is available to her pretty much whenever she picks up the phone. I’m sure many women in her situation would also have no qualms about being single, which sometimes makes her advice less than helpful. This is a great inspirational book for the fun-loving urban single woman who is not concerned about her own looks, status or future, others might not get as much out of it.

The earth, my butt, and other big round things   book icon  
by Carolyn Mackler (2005)

read: 10 July 2006
rating: [+]
category: ya

You can sort of guess what this book is like. It’s another one of those weird kid YA stories, but I love them all just the same. In this version, our protagonist is an overweight smart girl who lives in New York City and her best friend has moved across the country. She’s stuck starting school with the dreaded Lunchroom Problem. To add to this, her sister has left to join the Peace Corps and her superstar older brother -- to whom she is often unfavorably compared -- has gone away to college where he seems to be continuing to be awesome as she wallows miserably in high school. She’s also been spending some time making out with another nerdish high school guy and makes a set of rules for herself as to how fat girls are supposed to behave when shown attention from the opposite sex. The book actually opens with a racy scene that is nto at alll indicative of the tone of the rest of the book.

Even though our heroine is a bit on the mopey side, her family is irritating enough that you read a lot of the book thinking “wow, kid, I feel your pain” She has a Mom who constantly pressures her and, as a child psychologist, thinks she has her all figured out. She has a Dad who talks about her weight all the time. Her brother eventually has a fall from grace and her sister turns out to be fairly supportive albeit far away. It wraps up a bit neatly compared to some of the other gloom and doom YA titles but the whole thing is an interesting romp with a likeable character whose high school trials ring true.

The Green Glass Sea   book icon  
by Ellen Klages (2006)

read: 3 July 2006
rating: [+]
category: fiction

I read this as a prepub bound galley. The book is based on a short story written by Klages a few years ago. It’s a YA novel about a nerdy young girl and the weird situation she finds herself in when her Dad goes towork at Los Alamos. It’s a fascinating read, just to learn about what day to day life was like there, all the secrecy involved and how hard it must have been just to be a kid there, with all the other tough parts of being a kid. Klages has a real ear for kid dialogue and all the characters have some sort of redeeming quality except for possibly the two-dimensional girl bully we meet early on.

There’s a hint of historical fiction in this book which I found to be a bit of a distraction. Once Oppenheimer was mentioned, I started to wonder which other characters were based on real ones (the author mentions this and answers this question in the back) and it distracted from the idea of the characters to me and felt a bit name-droppy. However, that was a really minor blip in an otherwise strong first novel.

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