Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a strange book. It is classic Southern Gothic, and it is with a heavy heart that you read on, page after page. The story takes place around the beginnings of World War II in a small Georgia town. The main characters are the deaf mute Mr. Singer, and the four people who all befriends him, because in him they have found a person who will listen to them. There is the young girl Mick, who has so much music in her head and who dreams of writing a symphony and move to a place where it snows. There is the café-owner Biff, whose wife recently died and left him alone with the café and his thoughts and newspapers. And there is the leftwing activist Jake Blount and the black doctor mr. Benedict. All four of them visits Mr. Singer, and tells him about their thoughts and dreams. Whatever Mr. Singer thinks about them, we are never told. Mr. Singer only dreams of his sick friend, who was taken away from him and put in a home. There is no real plot in this story, and it moves slowly along. It is even boring at some points, but on every page you can feel the loneliness and some of the despair the characters feel, and that makes this story hard to forget.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

In this funny book you get an extraordinary look into what really goes on in the professional kitchens around USA, mostly New York. The author is the present chef of the New York-restaurant Les Halles, and he tells you everything. From his beginning in humble and small restaurants and cafés to the present day as chef in a famous restaurant. There are gross details in this book, making you think twice about ever eating out again, and sometimes it is hard to believe that this is the truth. Does the fine and elegant food really come from the hands of tattooed and dirty scumbags, fighting and drinking out back or does the author exaggerate a bit here and there? I don't know, but the book and the writing definitely has an honest feel to it, and it is possible that is really is like this. We follow the chef's ups and downs through his cooking and private life, but mostly through his cooking life. We learn about what it is like to work in a greasy café as well as in a huge establishment, and we also get a good look into the business side of running a restaurant as well as some great tips, like not ordering fish in a restaurant during the weekend, and I am also thinking twice about the whole brunch-concept after having read the book, brunch being a mix of a whole week's leftovers. The book is well written, and the language is never too much, even though it may seem brutal and brutally honest in some passages.

Dreaming Southern by Linda Bruckheimer

Linda Bruckheimer's novel about Lila Mae and her kids is a weird little tale. It is a road movie in book form, and from page one you are not quite sure if you like the characters or not. Lila Mae is on her way to California from Kentucky, which she and her family has to flee, because of some business ventures gone wrong. The husband is already in California, waiting for the rest of the family to come. But Lila make some strange detours, and depending on the detour, the kids are either annoyed or happy. You will wonder what this trip is about, and you are not likely to get any answers, because Lila herself does not really know what it is all about. When she offers to drive a woman and her criminal son to a hospital so they can visit the sick daughter/sister, the kids sort of give up and goes with the flow. All through the story you may feel slightly annoyed with specially Lila Mae, but she also come across as vulnerable, unhappy and utterly confused, maybe even a bit dumb. The big question is of course if you can run from your past (and present) or if the wise thing is to face the music with all it's consequences.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner

This was definitely not one of Jennifer Weiner's best books. I have never been a total fan, but have enjoyed her previous well written and witty novels. This murder mystery meets chick lit meets love story was kind of boring, and Weiner did not succeed. The whole story feels half hearted, and it took me ages to get through it. Kate is a bored housewife who suddenly finds herself in suburban New York with 3 small kids and an almost non-existent husband. A husband, we learn, that she cannot be that crazy about. She still dreams about a friend from New York whom she had a secret crush on. Her boring life get spiced up a bit when one of the 'super-moms' of Suburbia gets killed, and Kate takes it upon herself to solve the murder. The grounds has been laid to develop a fun and exciting mystery, but we never really get to the bottom of things, and at last, when things are wrapped up, you are left with a feeling of 'was that it?'. The book is still well written, and Weiner has a knack for fun dialogues, and that is what makes this book earn two stars and not just one.

House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

I read The House of The Spirits more than 10 years ago, and found it a fantastic read back then. A book that made me borh laugh and cry. I just finished the re-reading, and must say that it is still a fantastic book, so full of emotions that it is hard to forget the story and the persons in the story.
It is the patriarch, Esteban Trueba and his granddaughter, Alba, who tells us the story of the Trueba family, from the beginnings of the last century until the days of the miltary coup in the 1970'es.
Esteban is a powerful and extremely temperamental man, and his temper is like a red line through this story. He marries the almost angelic Clara, who can speak with the dead and move things without touching them. His love is so deep that he has trouble showing it, and his rage so extreme, that it make him do fatal mistakes again and again. He manages to estrange himself from Clara and their children, and things does not fall into place before the country has been overtaken by the military junta, and nothing is like it should be in Esteban's mind.
The language in this book is beautiful, and although the story is difficult to read at times, it is a pageturner. You have to know what happens to the persons you have become to love or hate through this story. It has to be considered a modern classic, and it is highly recommendable to all.

Blessings by Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen's Blessings is a touching story about love, family secrets, coming to terms with them and how life can change through the smallest discoveries.Skip Cuddy lives above the garage at the estate Blessings, owned by Lydia Blessings, an 80 year old society "recluse". Mrs. Blessings knows how things ought to be done, and Skip, being on parole for a crime he did not commit, does what he is being told. He is not sure that life holds anything for him, as well as Mrs. Blessings in her old age tries to come to terms with her own, somewhat "wasted" life. There is not much joy in this book's first pages, where a teenage couple leaves a newborn baby girl to on the steps to the garage. Skip finds the baby girl next morning, and decides to keep her. He also decides to keep it a secret from Mrs. Blessings and the nosy housekeeper Nadine. Mrs. Blessings figures something out by accident, and for some reason she decides to help Skip with the baby. During the book we go back and forth between the present day, Mrs. Blessings past, and we also get a look into Skip's past. The language of this book is masterly done, and the going back and forth in time never becomes confusing. Both Skip's and Mrs. Blessing's lives are described with feelings, and you will feel that you know those people. It is hard not to be touched by this story, although it sometimes seems a tiny bit far-fetched. But then again, this book is fiction, and far-fetched things are supposed to happen in fiction

The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell

This is the story of 13 year old Shug, who grows up in the Ozarks in a poor family, consisting of him, his drunk but sweet mother Glenda, and his violent drug-using (step)father Red. Shug is overweight, and is being teased mercilessly by Red, who also forces him to do break-ins in order to provide Red and his friends with drugs. We follow Shug through some hard months in his life. He has mixed feelings towards his mother, who flirts both with him and with other men, and he hates his (step)father. You know things are bound to go desperately wrong in this sad and violent tale about life on the other side. A very well written tale, short and easily read and one I recommend highly.

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster

I have always liked Paul Austers novels, and the sometimes weird way they go. The Brooklyn Follies is almost Auster-light, because the novel is more fun and not so 'dark' as many of Paul Auster's other works. It is about Nathan Glass, cancer-patient, moving back to Brooklyn after his divorce. Here in Brooklyn Nathan prepares to die, and doesn't think life has more in store for him. He develops a small crush on a waitress and he starts writing stories about his own and other people's follies. And he is prepared to die. But very soon his routines are somewhat disturbed, and Nathan becomes involved in other people's lives. He meets Tom, the failed literate who is his nephew, Harry, who owns the bookstore where Tom works, and other people who cross Nathan and his friend's paths in Brooklyn. As usual in a Paul Auster novel, it looks like it is the coincidences controlling which way the persons move and which roads they do not travel. Highly recommendable.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark is the first book in the Southern Vampire Mysteries, and the main character is Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress. She is a pretty young girl, but she is not happy. She has a disability, and people often think she is both naive and a little dumb. But Sookie is neither. She can read people's minds, and in order to keep people's thoughts out of her head, she has to put up a mental guard every day. This takes so much of her concentration that she often seems slow. One night, Sookie serves the vampire Bill a glass of red wine, and she is immediately attracted to him, as she cannot read his thoughts at all. Shortly after Sookie and Bill first meet, a murder happen in their quiet little Louisiana-town Bon Temps, where Bill is trying to mainstream, which is vampire-slang for trying to live among humans again. For reasons not to be revealed here, our heroine and our vampire gets involved in solving this murder, and the story starts to get going. Other vampires start to show up, Bill and Sookie tries to date, and Sookie also, for the first time in her life, has men running around her, finding her pretty and desirable. Halfway through the story, the characters start to do weird things, and the story get confusing. It is like the author wants to tell too much on too few pages, and it becomes a little hard to follow the storyline, there are a lot of why's and why not's. We learn about Sookie's past, and certain things in her past is unsettling, but absolutely un-neccesary for the story. But then the story seems to get onto the right track again, and the rest of the book is a funny and exciting read. It is not the best vampire-mystery ever, but it is definitely a series worth reading, and you will want to see the characters again.

Trisha from Eclectic / Eccentric also read this one.
GalleySmith reviewed the book here.

Spelling Mississippi by Marnie Woodrow

The story is about Cleo, but not only about Cleo. It is also about Madeline, who has this thing with jumping into the Mississippi and try to swim there. Cleo witnesses Madeline's first (actually, we find out later that it is her second) attempt to swim the river. Cleo becomes obsessed trying to find out what happened to Madeline, after she finds out that Madeline did not die from her swimming. In her quest to find Madeline, Cleo tours around The French Quarter in New Orleans, and the author has done a nice job descriping the city, the streets and the bars. While Cleo is searching, we also follow the life of Madeline, and via flasbacks we learn about their past and their families. Spelling Mississippi is a good book, but it moves a little slow, and is in some parts rather predictable. There are many cliches in the book, and that becomes a bit annoying, but there are small surprises here and there. All in all a nice, but somewhat average, read.

Fall on your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Maybe it is a question of reading a certain book at the right time. Maybe this is just a masterly written good and dark story. Maybe a combination. Fall On Your Knees is definitely no walk in the park. It is a difficult, complex and thought-provoking story about an unfortunate and very dysfunctional family in the early 1900's. One is led to believe, from the first pages, that this could be a sweet lovestory, but this belief is shattered almost at once, and the story about this family's deranged life starts. There is no love lost between the father and the mother, who, in the beginning of the story is no more than a child of 13 years. Her family will not know of her anymore, and his family is dead. Their daughters grow up to become 4 very different women, and while this is not only their story, the main-plot circles around them and their lives. Fall On Your Knees is not a happy book, but it is not unhappy either, and there is a lot of dark humour between the lines all through the story. It can be difficult to grasp the hidden agenda in the story from the beginning, but it will become clear along the way. A very good piece of literary work, which deserves to become a modern classic.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe has been a favorite movie for many years. Earlier this year I finally got around to read the book as well, and was not disappointed at all. The story is similar, of course, to the movie, but the book gives lots of moving, touching and funny details which are lost in the movie. Evelyn is a sad middleaged woman, who feels her life is empty and dull, and she is not impressed at first when she meets the old Ninny in a nursing home. Ninny starts telling Evelyn about her life in a small rural Southern town, and while Evelyn does not care at first, she soon becomes interested in all the people Ninny tells her about. The story goes back and forth in time, from the early 1930'es to our day. We hear about the friendship between two very strong women, Idgie and Ruth, and all the people they know in the little town Whistlestop. Idgie and Ruth owns the town cafe, and more than once it is subtly hinted that they have a [...] relationship. A detail, by the way, left out of the movie. The story also touches and deals with other subjects like slavery, racism, poverty but also love, faith, friendship. It is a wonderful history that will make you both laugh and cry, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

It cannot possibly be worse than to grow up like Bone, a young girl from a poor Southern family, where both drinking and fighting are usual ways to spend your time. It is not her immediate family, however, who are the worst. The Boatwright family sticks together, poverty, alcoholism and violence aside. Bone is loved and, in a way, also protected by her family. But it is still a rough life, also for Bone's mother, Anney. When Anney marries Glen, things to seems to look brighter, but after a tragic event, Glen starts to take out his frustrations on Bone. It gets worse and worse, and the story is heartbreaking and very difficult to digest and understand. It is also a very fine piece of literature, and I cannot recommend this book enough.

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

After finishing this novel, you may ask yourself: "where on earth is the kindness in this story?" It is a complicated tale about the mennonite teenage girl Nomi, who lives in a strict religious community in Canada. All members of the community has to follow the rules of the founder of the mennonite religion, but Nomi cannot accept that.
All through the book there it feels like Nomi does not know herself, that she does many things against the religious rules. The story is full of 'weird' characters, but they are never described as weird, it seems like 'weird' characters in the small town are pretty normal. The kindness part does materialize itself after giving the book's ending a few thoughts, and I strongly recommend this book. It is a very interesting story.

The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman

A lake, a boarding school, teenage girls......Well, that can only mean things will happen and that things has happened. The mysterious Heart Lake, close to a boarding school for teenage girls, is what everything circles around in this wonderful and dark story. From the first pages we learn that Jane Hudson has returned to her old boarding school, now in a Latin teacher's position. We also quickly get the feeling that something dark and terrible happened when Jane herself was a student there. And that it had to do with the lake, a certain Latin teacher and Jane's friends. The language in the book flows easily, the chapters are never too long, most of the characters are interesting, the mystery very interesting (although not that hard to figure out, about half way into the book) and the looming presence of the lake is felt on all pages of the book. No, it is not sensational literature, but this book makes for a very good read, perfect for a lazy summer's day or a cosy winter day.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

This book was recommended to me by a book club friend, and I purchased it right away. However, it took me some months to actually sit down and read it, because to begin with, I was afraid the story did not sound appealing at all and like nothing I'd like to read. How wrong I was! The story about Laban's four daughters and Dinah, "their" daughter, is an amazing story about growing up, becoming a woman, about love and hate, about men and women, about sex, child births, triupmhs and tragedies. This book has it all, and even though it is build on biblical characters, it doesn't become "too biblical" in any way. The story is well developed and the characters easy to associate with, even though the story takes place thousands of years ago.
It is definitely a book for female readers, and I am not sure all men will enjoy it as much as the women will.
I would have rated this a 5-star read if the last part of the book had moved just a bit quicker and if the editors had cut maybe 20 or 30 pages out, but all in all this is a hugely recommendable book.

The Laughing Corpse: Second book about Anita Blake, vampirehunter

Anita is back, she is tough, she works hard, she raises the dead for a living, she is not easily scared...or is she?In this book two about Anita's adventures she is hunting a killer zombie, and this hunt brings her close to a master voodoo-queen, way too close for comfort. At the same time, a mobster with a taste for disabled girls in wheelchairs, wants her to raise a very old zombie. Somthing she has denied doing, as it requires human sacrifice to raise such an old zombie. The mobster is not overly happy by being turned down by Anita, and she also has to fight her growing lust towards Jean-Claude, master vampire of St. Louis. She is, after all, known among vampires as the Executioner, and then she cannot be Jean-Claude's human servant....Anita has a lot going on, there are zombies on the loose, hunky vampires, ghouls, blood, gore and also some humor. A very exciting and funny read, highly entertaining.

Guilty Pleasures: First book about Anita Blake, vampirehunter

Anita Blake is our heroine in this first book in a series by Laurell K. Hamilton. Anita lives in St. Louis in a world where where vampires and an array of otherworldly creatures interact with humans. Vampires and humans has equal rights in this society. Anita is an animator, she can raise the dead. She does not believe that vampires should have equal rights, she believes that they are a menace to society, and she hunts them. In "Guilty Pleasures", the first book in a series of 14 books so far, she is hired, against her will, to find out who is murdering some of the city's prominent vampires.This challenge takes her places she has never been before, and she is going to see things she never dreamed of. It is a very easy read, and very entertaining. The set up of the book; vampires/humans with equal rights, is very clever, and I am looking forward to read the other books in this series.