Monday, June 04, 2007

May Reading Review

Well, thanks to a couple of audiobooks (is that cheating? I don't think so, but some might), I got up to 10 books this month instead of 6. Also, I miscounted before leaving for SC, so I was at 8 books when I left home, not 6.

As always, there is a risk of SPOILERS in every last one of these books I'm reviewing. Please consider skipping a review if it's a book you plan to read and don't want the surprises ruined.

1. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. This is my ultimate guilty pleasure, beach book piece of fluff, and consequently I read it in its entirety while I was at the beach this weekend. Whenever I'm in the dumps, there are 2 books I pick up, and this piece of hardcover romantic comedy is one of them. When I broke my leg, I probably read it 5 times in those 3 months.

Bet Me is the story of Min Dobbs, insurance actuarial at large. She is "chubby" by her mother's standards, has a fetish for fun shoes, has lousy luck picking men, adores her sister and her two best friends, and is a die hard Elvis Presley fan. As the story opens, Min is being dumped by her "I-oughta-love-him" boyfriend, David, a sleazy software developer who dumps Min in a bar, as she won't "put out" for him after 3 months.

Cal Morrissey is a risk taking golden boy, gorgeous, rich, self assured, and afraid of commitment. He happens to be at the same bar that Min and David are at. On a bet from David, he takes Min to dinner. The bet is altogether more complicated than that, but I don't want to give too much away.

Min knows Cal's reputation as a playboy, and upon overhearing the bet being made, decides she'll string him along for 3 weeks and get him to take her to her sister Diana's wedding. But can she?

Despite their best efforts, they fall for each other. Min struggles as much to reject Cal as he does to come to terms with the feelings that he's finally met the woman of his dreams. But the bet may very well come back to haunt them.

Yeah right. It's a romantic comedy, not a tragedy.

2. One For the Money by Janet Evanovich. I love Janet Evanovich's numbers series. They are light, fun reading, very New Jersey, and I've been trying to get the General to read them for some time now. I had him as a captive audience in the car this weekend, and picked up the first 3 numbers books on CD for our car ride home from Myrtle Beach. Though he tried to resist and get me to read a James Patterson novel, I won out. Nyah Nyah.

One for the Money is, obviously, the first in the Stephanie Plum novels, and I haven't read it in ages, so I truly did not remember it. It opens with Stephanie broke after losing her latest job as a lingerie buyer and her car is repossessed. She's in danger of eviction, has sold off her furniture and needs a job. Her father hears that her cousin Vinnie is hiring in his bail bonds office, and though Stephanie arrives to get a job filing papers, Connie the Secretary convinces her to track down skips instead. Her first target? Joe Morelli, who we know from later books will become one of two of Stephanie's love interests.

The book is great. It sets up everything for the rest of the series--from Stephanie's car being blown up to the evil Benito Ramirez, to Grandma Mazur and Stephanie's mom, to Lula, Connie, Ranger, Vinnie, and Joe. And let's not forget Rex the Hamster.

If you have never read Janet Evanovich, you should. I love her. The only books that make me laugh out loud every time I read them. I'll leave it at that.

3. The Brethren by John Grisham. Where I selected Janet Evanovich, Michael picked Grisham. The Brethren is the compelling story of 3 federal judges, now sitting in a minimum security prison after being convicted of varying degrees of felonies. They reign over their fellow prisoners and are busy with a mail scam they've devised, when they hook a very big fish indeed. Aaron Lake, frontrunning presidential candidate, responds to a personal ad the judges plant in a gay men's magazine. And once they figure out who they've got, they're not willing to let go without a little bargaining. Only they have no idea who they are trying to bargain with, and those boys play for keeps.

This was a very suspenseful book. Two apparently divergent story lines, the one of the judges and the one of Aaron Lake's run for the presidency, continue on for some time, and we were wondering how it would all come together. Classic Grisham, of course the plots became intertwined and there is a good bit of murder and mayhem thrown in to keep you on the edge of your seat. Great read, although not my favorite of his books. (That honor belongs to The Chamber.)

4. My Life by Bill Clinton. It is truly a testament to the number of miles I clock every month for work that I was able to read Bill Clinton's autobiography in my car in one week. I suspect that most people know about this book, as it was a huge splash when it was released several years ago. In it, Clinton recounts his life from his humble beginnings in Arkansas (where he not only shares his own memories, but those the family has passed down) to his rise to power in the Oval Office to the scandal of the Monica Lewinsky mess and the hope that Hillary's senate run brought with it.

Frankly, I thought that this was all a little bit glossy and a little bit slick. While I personally think that Clinton was one of the finer presidents we've had, albeit that he disappointed us greatly, when I moved to Arkansas, I discovered that the people there had voted for him to get him the hell out of their state. Upon talking to Tal, I learned more about all this.

The book, as with any autobiography, is a bit self aggrandizing, glosses over the scandals that beset him throughout his political career, and gives way to bragging about his achievements as an attorney, attorney general, governor, and President.

I'm glad I read it, but at the end of the day, it was definitely a little too slick for me to say I LOVE IT. Still, if you're stuck in the car for prolonged periods of time and want something to listen to, it beats War and Peace -- or so I presume.

5. The Runaway Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini. DAMN HER.

Judy brought me the first Elm Creek Quilters novel and I was kind of disgusted with it in the beginning, but the story turned gripping and I couldn't help myself. I wound up liking it.

This has been the story with every single freakin' Elm Creek Quilts book I've read consequently, and number four was no different. I approached it with a "Here we go again" attitude, and yet couldn't help myself from reading it.

In this novel, Sylvia Compson is approached at a lecture by a woman who has an antique quilt which she claims has significance to Elm Creek Manor. She claims that the quilt was passed down through her family and legend has it that it served as a signal that Elm Creek Manor served as a station on the Underground Railroad. Sylvia is disturbed and goes home to root through her attic, wherein she stumbles upon her grandmother's sister's diaries and 3 more quilts. As Sylvia reads through the diary, she learns about a troubling period in her family's past and comes to question her very existence.

Ok, I must admit, this was my least favorite of the Elm Creek Quilt books so far. The best part of the book was the diary of Sylvia's relative. In this book, the dignified and revered Sylvia devolves into a needy, self absorbed idiot. The twist at the end, when it is revealed that Sylvia herself may in fact be 1/8th African-American, and wherein she calls the apparently one A-A person she knows, who responds with a tepid, "Welcome to my world" was just plain stupid. Sylvia meanwhile ignores and/or fights with her friends, ignores the campers, and ignores love interest Andrew. What's worse is that apparently at one point in the book, my favorite characters from the last book were at the camp and scarcely get a mention. This, to me, would have been a great time to provide a little series continuity, but instead, Chiaverini glosses over their attendance and focuses on Sylvia's despair over her family sellouts. UGH!!

Not her best. I already hate myself for wanting to read #5, and it better be better than #4.

6. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. This was my biggest disappointment of a book this year. I had been wanting to read this for a while and finally got a copy via PBS. The book description tells of a group of women who defy the Iranian regime by holding weekly meetings in their beloved literature professor's home in Tehran. Having read Princess by Jean Sasson (and if you haven't yet read it, what the heck are you waiting for?!) and loved it, I thought I would enjoy Reading Lolita a whole lot more than I did.

In fact, the story does begin with the literature club, but devolves into Nafisi's overall memoir of teaching literature in Iran, living through the revolution, the war with Iraq and eventually meanders back to her women's literature club, just before she emigrates to the US.

By the time I realized how seriously I hated this book, I was 200 pages into it. With only 150 to go, it seemed stupid to quit, so I finished it. I did consult with Lesley, who I consider my reading guru, and she confirmed reading a whole 20 pages before giving up. So I don't feel alone in hating it, and that makes me happy. Yes, I know, I have zero self-esteem about my own opinions, but deal.

7. Gods in Alabama by Joshilynn Jackson. Arlene Fleet makes a deal with God. She will never lie, fornicate, or return home to Alabama, so long as He agrees never to reveal where the body is hidden. After 9 years living in Chicago as a celibate, honest literature lovin' professional, an unexpected visitor arrives to find out what happened to the person Arlene has killed and vows to find out. So Arlene packs up her long suffering boyfriend and hauls ass to Alabama to make sure her biggest secret remains so.

God what a book. While stereotypical about the residents of Dixie, the characters were funny, engaging, and Arlene's pain and fear about her secret are palpable in every page. I made myself go slow and savor it. I'm so glad I did.

8. Sleeping Arrangements by Laura Shaine Cunningham. This wonderful little gem is Cunningham's autobiography about an unusual upbringing in the Bronx. As a child, she and her mother moved to an apartment at AnaMor Towers in the Bronx. She runs wild with another child in the neighborhood and becomes rather unrestrained herself. Sadly, her mother passes away, and her two bachelor uncles arrive on the scene, with their own idiosyncracies. They move their mother in and thus begins Laura's new life as an orphan.

If you loved the movie "Unstrung Heroes" or even just liked it, you will definitely enjoy this book. This was another of those "force myself to slow down and savor it" type of things. I loved it. There were parts when Laura is running around with her friend Diana that were profoundly disturbing, dont' get me wrong. But when her uncles arrive on the scene, it's so much fun. She's depressed and angry about school and hates her teacher, so her uncle packs her up and they travel to Cuba. Returning home, he asks, "Doesn't this put it all in perspective?" as they reflect on the beggars and others they've met on their journey. This is a must read. I absolutely loved it.

9. Remember Me to Harold Square by Paula Danziger. This was a favorite when I was a kid. Kendra Kaye is a 14 year old Manhattanite, facing a summer in the city alone while her BFF's escape to summer camps and family homes in the Hamptons. Kendra dreads day after day, stuck at home with her annoying little brother, Oscar. But Mom and Dad have other plans. Their friends, the Lees, are sending their son, Frank, to NYC for the summer, and together, the 4 parents have put together a city-wide scavenger hunt for the 3 kids to complete. They will travel all over NYC and learn history, culture, language, food... And if they complete their mission? They will win a trip to England.

I know, it already sounds like pretty much the greatest kids' book ever written, doesn't it? I thought so then, I think so now. And I love Paula Danziger, I love every book she ever wrote. So even better.

10. The Note by Angela Hunt. Not as bad as Lolita, but I have to tell you, the fact that I finished this one is a testament to the sheer power of human determination.

En route to Tampa from NYC, a flight crashes into the Gulf of Mexico, killing all on board. Several days later, a note reading "T, All is forgiven, I love you. Dad" washes up on a beach and a woman gives the note to struggling journalist Peyton MacGruder, who uses the note to jumpstart her failing career as "The Heart Healer", a sort-of-advice columnist. MacGruder finds three survivors of plane crash victims who potentially fit the bill to be the recipients of the note. Word gets out and a TV journalist wants in. So not only is MacGruder struggling--you know what? I'm bored writing this synopsis. This book sucked. Plain and simple sucked. At the end, the absolutely ridiculous twist in which Peyton's family struggles are revealed just make the whole thing insipid and dumb. Don't bother with this one. Really. I'm saving you a lot of time.

So that's my May list. If I can read four in June, I'm still on track. But frankly, reading 100 is not really as much of a passion for me as it was in January. I'm enjoying the different books I've read and the selection has been fun, but the numbers are becoming meaningless. Plus, you'll note I didn't read this month's book club selection. I feel really bad about that, but what can I do? I just didn't have time. :-(

In summary:

The Great: Bet Me, Sleeping Arrangements, One for the Money, Gods in Alabama, Remember Me to Harold Square

The Good: The Brethren

The OK: My Life, The Runaway Quilt

The Awful: Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Note

Totals for May:

Books Read: 10
Pages Read: 3972

Totals for 2007:

Books Read: 46
Pages Read: 15,052

4 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Seraphim9 said...

Got "Bet Me" on audio at the library this week. I might listen to that on my way over to Albany tomorrow (4-hr drive!) and back. Gonna have Tiger w/me on the way back but knowing him he'll be passed out before we exit the city limits. At least I'll have control over the radio.

Oh....and the Janet Evanovich numbers series sounded interesting, so I am starting with "One". Thanks for the recommendations - I haven't been reading much lately and you've gotten me back into it! :)

Kate/Susan said...

Let me know how you like them! I hope you like them as much as I did! :-)

Seraphim9 said...

"One" is pretty good so far. I ended up not listening to "Bet Me" but another Crusie audio book "Don't Look Down". I had gotten this one a few weeks ago at the library along with a few others. Talmadge is converting most of them to MP3 for me so I can listen to them on my player while on the treadmill. "Don't Look Down" was one that had too many little tracks that it was difficult to transfer, so I ended up just listening to it on my CD player in the car.

It's pretty good, and so cool that the location of the book is centered around a movie shoot taking place at the Talmadge Bridge in Savannah. I can so picture where everything is as it is mentioned!

-S.G.

luckynicki said...

I'm so glad that you read "Gods in Alabama!" And I'm even more excited that you loved it! I did too.

I love this blog series of yours... it keeps me stocked with a well-rounded, Susan-Approved book list for my library visits!