Twilight! (Stephenie Meyer: Twilight; New Moon; Eclipse; Breaking Dawn)

Posted by nybookworm on July 18, 2010

Hi, my name is NY Bookworm and I am an adult who loves the Twilight series.  Ok, love may be too strong but I would lend them to you  if you told me you were looking for a gripping commute read (discreetly, of course or perhaps even using a kindle).   The Twilight books, like the Harry Potter books and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, are children’s/teen books that have found a wider audience among adults for a good reason – they are well-written, imaginative and entertaining.  As I’m sure many of you know by now, the books tell the story of the “forbidden” romance between a seventeen-year old girl, Bella, and her strikingly handsome vampire classmate Edward.  The romance  is drawn out over four books that introduce the reader to the world of good and bad vampires, werewolves and the rainy northwest.  I have not met anyone who read Twilight but managed to restrain themselves from buying the other three books- New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.  If you manage(d) to read only one I’d like to hear from you in the comments. 

You can buy all four Twilight books at:  http://www.amazon.com/Twilight-Saga-Collection-Stephenie-Meyer/dp/0316031844

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Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger

Posted by nybookworm on December 3, 2009

In an interview with Aravind Adiga that appears in the back of the paperback edition Adiga says that the three writers that most influenced him in writing The White Tiger were Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Richard Wright.  If you’ve ever read any of these writers you know they wrote about the black American experience in a segregated post-war America.  The White Tiger, a fitting addition to the legacy of this group of writers, takes place in modern-day India and illustrates the inequality between wealthy westernized Indians and the uneducated poor they employ as their servants.   The narrator, a driver to a wealthy family from a small village, tells his story of desperation and poverty against the backdrop of a rapidly developing and rigidly stratified India in which greed and ambition is prized above humanity and a shadow class of servants and laborers buttresses a corrupt and wealthy few.  The story is not a new one as Adiga himself admits in his reference to a past generation of American writers but Adiga’s narrator is an important voice and one that is crucial to understanding modern India and the often overlooked price of rapid development. 

The White Tiger won the Booker Prize in 2008 and has been widely lauded by book reviewers on several continents but I will just add my small voice to those that have already spoken to say that this is well worth reading and in my opinion one of the most powerful books of this generation of post-colonial writers.

Amazon Link to The White Tiger here: http://www.amazon.com/White-Tiger-Novel-Aravind-Adiga/dp/1416562591

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Jim Ferguson: One Thousand White Women- The Journals of May Dodd

Posted by nybookworm on November 23, 2009

One Thousand White Women was another book club selection and a very quick read.  This novel is set in 1875 and imagines what it would be like if an obscure  and true historical event – the request by a Cheyenne chief to be sent 1000 white women for intermarriage with his tribe to further cultural harmony- were actually fulfilled rather than ignored by an outraged US government.  The story is told through the fictional journals of May Dodd, a woman from Chicago who was one of the initial troop of women volunteers sent out to become Cheyenne wives.  The motley crew of volunteers described in Dodd’s journals includes women released from insane asylums and prisons in exchange for their service as well as women abandoned by their families and generally down on their luck.  The journals are mostly about Dodd and the other women’s personal struggles integrating into the nomadic Cheyenne lifestyle but also includes vague historical references to the establishment of reservations and the ongoing conflict between the Native American tribes and the white settlers.   I enjoyed this book because it was a quick read with an offbeat topic, though frankly a little more salacious than I think it needed to be.   This may not be an entirely fair comparison but I am a huge fan of James Fenimore Cooper and so can’t help but compare all novels on this topic and set around this time to his novels.  While One Thousand White Women was enjoyable it does not hold a candle to the Cooper books and if anything I think it made me long to reread the Leatherstocking Tales to remember how a great frontier story of Native American life is told. 

Amazon Link to One Thousand White Women here: http://www.amazon.com/One-Thousand-White-Women-Journals/dp/0312199430

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Nancy Milford: Savage Beauty- The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Posted by nybookworm on October 17, 2009

millayI should begin this review by disclosing that the author, Nancy Milford, is a family friend.  It is because I know her personally that I first picked up this book but Nancy is a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist and a  best-selling biographer so there is plenty of reasons to read her writing.  Nancy’s most famous biography is probably “Zelda” about Zelda Fitzgerald, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s troubled wife but it was her biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) that most attracted me at the bookstore.  Edna St. Vincent Millay, known to her friends as Vincent, was a Pulitzer prize winning poet whose poetry and lifestyle became a symbol of the jazz age.  She began writing at a very early age and impressed much older critics and authors with a maturity of writing that no one expected from a teenage girl.  Both as a result of her early start and her youthful look even as  middle-aged woman, she became known as the girl poet and for much of her career impressed a mostly male critics circle with her femininity as much as her talent.  Millay’s talent, beauty and charm made her one of the most sought after women of her time and though she did eventually marry it was an open marriage that allowed Millay the freedom to continue to have affairs with both men and women for much of her life.  Milford does a superb job of describing Millay’s life and personality in the context of her extraordinary talent, her gender and the age in which she lived.  This was one of the best biographies I’ve read in a long time both because it introduced me to the life of an incredible woman and artist and because it was well-written, thoroughly researched and perfectly distilled by Milford.

Link to the book here:  http://www.amazon.com/Savage-Beauty-Life-Vincent-Millay/dp/039457589X

Posted in Biography/Autobiography, Nonfiction | Leave a Comment »

Janet Wallach: Desert Queen- The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell

Posted by nybookworm on September 21, 2009

bellI always like to read but I’m sure I’m not alone in that I read a bit less during the summer months when the weather is beautiful and I’m more likely to spend time outdoors.  Still, I have been reading so I owe you some reviews, which I will try to catch-up on in the next couple of days.

One of my recent reads was Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach.  I know that’s a long title and the reason I insist on repeating it is because I think the title is generally indicative of the content of the book- ie, Wallach had some difficulties editing content.  One of the most important talents of a skilled biographer is to be able to spend years researching her subject and then distill that research into a readable text that pieces together a life without dwelling too much on the mundane and importing just enough of the context of the time.  It is often apparent from a biography (as it is from this one) that the author has become so entangled in the life of her subject that she feels compelled to include details that are probably better left in her notes.  The result is a long, somewhat dry and at times confusing book that leaves the reader slightly unsatisfied (if she is able to finish). 

The flaws of the book aside, I do think Desert Queenis a fascinating read that could have been even more so with a little more aggressive editing.  Its subject, Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) was a Victorian British woman (and anti-suffragette) who became one of the key political figures in the formation of the Middle East prior to and after WWI.  She traveled the Arabian desert alone, meeting with tribal leaders and mapping the territory until the British government was forced, despite her sex, to give her a political appointment in its foreign service because no one knew the area or its leaders better than her.   After WWI, she became one of King Faisal’s most trusted political advisers and a key figure in the formation of modern day Iraq. 

I would recommend this if you’re interested in the formation of the modern Middle East (and have some background knowledge already) or if you are interested in history generally or the history of women in political life.  Because it is a little dry and long, I probably would not recommend it broadly and particularly not for those who don’t often read nonfiction or history. 

Amazon Link here: http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Queen-Extraordinary-Gertrude-Adventurer/dp/0385495757

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Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin: Three Cups of Tea

Posted by nybookworm on June 17, 2009

3 cupsThree Cups of Tea has become incredibly famous and widely-read so I won’t bother with too much background.  It’s a book about one man’s (Greg Mortenson) efforts to build schools throughout rural Pakistan and eventually Afghanistan. Mortenson was an avid mountain climber, which is how he ended up in rural Pakistan in the first place (trying to climb K2) so the book is packed with references to climbers and the climber lifestyle. This is obviously a timely book that is well-written with a lot of powerful images of the poverty and lifestyle of Pakistan’s rural mountain people. It’s also entertaining and enlightening but it is obviously by no means an impartial look at Mortenson’s work and his Central Asia Institute (CAI). It’s basically a promotional pamphlet for CAI turned into a book and it should be read as such.

Link to the book’s website: www.threecupsoftea.com

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Joyce Carol Oates: The Falls

Posted by nybookworm on June 9, 2009

JoyceCarolOatesJoyce Carol Oates is one of most prolific authors of our time.  At my last count she has written over 38 novels, 11 novellas, 34 collections of short stories and many other novels under various pseudonyms she uses.  I have read many of her novels, have heard her speak and think she is one of the greatest writers of her generation (she disagrees, BTW).   But it has been a little while since I last picked up one of her books so when I saw The Falls at my local bookstore I had the urge to dive back into the Oates library.

Having said all that, I don’t think The Falls is her greatest novel I have read.   The novel begins around the late 1940s in Niagara falls where Ariah’s new husband commits suicide on their honeymoon. The novel progresses through the 40s and 50s as Ariah meets and falls in love with an influential Niagara falls lawyer who is attracted to Ariah’s tragic story and her frailty in the wake of her husband’s suicide.  The story follows Ariah and her family through the birth and adulthood of her three children with the falls figuring as a prominent character throughout.  Although Oates is known for her portrayal of tragic heroines, Ariah is not her best or most sympathetic character.   She is certainly a product of her time and her experiences and the reader is never allowed to forget that but her frailty and distrust of life make her very difficult to relate to and a hard character to digest.  I generally think it’s admirable to write unsympathetic characters as leads in a story but I think Oates takes Ariah’s melodrama a tad too far in this novel and it infects the rest of the characters and the story in a way befitting of a soap opera not an Oates novel. 

In any event, the last thing I would like of this review is to discourage readers from Oates’ excellent works.  I highly recommend the following of her novels which I have read: them (National Book Award winner 1970); Marya (1998); You Must Remember This (1998); Because it is Bitter, and Because it is my Heart (1991)

This is the Amazon link to the “Joyce Carol Oates page” on which you can find all of her novels:  http://www.amazon.com/Joyce-Carol-Oates/e/B000APT3DK/ref=ep_sprkl_at_B000APT3DK?pf_rd_p=478269791&pf_rd_s=auto-sparkle&pf_rd_t=301&pf_rd_i=joyce%20carol%20oates&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1BYEXHV5QZSJGS8G3XCF

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Marina Lewycka: Strawberry Fields

Posted by nybookworm on May 28, 2009

9780143113553Strawberry Fields is the second novel for Lewycka, whose very successful debut novel, A Short History of Ukranian Tractors was nominated for a Booker Prize and generated a lot of favorable buzz when it was first published.  So naturally when I arrived at the house we rented for Memorial Day weekend and found Strawberry Fields, I knew I would have to make it my mission to read it over the long weekend.  Despite serious competition for my attention, including several beer pong games, 9 mile hikes and barbeques, I was able to finish Strawberry Fields and can actually remember enough of it to write this review.  I liked this book- it has the charming immigrant who speaks imperfect English meets the West angle which if done well can be hilarious.  As an added bonus, there is a message there, though, not subtle,about the downside of globalization.  The main characters are migrant workers who come to the UK to pick strawberries from various former Eastern-block countries and end up travelling through the UK through a series of Chaucerian adventures that all go to demonstrate how much it sucks to be part of the shadow economy of a westernized democracy.   I liked this a lot- I don’t think it was too preachy or depressing but it certainly got the message across.

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Strawberry-Fields-Novel-Marina-Lewycka/dp/1594201374#

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Giulia Melucci: I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti

Posted by nybookworm on May 17, 2009

I_Loved_I_Lost_I_Made_SpaghettiI wanted to like this book and its author, Giulia Melucci, because she was self aware enough to write this book and to honestly reflect on her failed relationships but I had a hard time.  This book is Melucci’s story of her adult dating life from approximately aged 22 to 40 with recipes she cooked during relationships and at transformational moments sprinkled throughout.  Truthfully, the recipes (almost all of which looked so good I stopped dog earring pages because I realized I was marking every page) were the best part of this book.  It was difficult to read through Melucci’s failed lover affairs precisely because she is self-aware enough to chronicle all of her doubts and hesitations, almost all of which surfaced almost immediately into relationships, some of which she ended up carrying on for years.  She is someone who clearly wants love and a family but who gets in her own way so much through the choices she makes and the way she approaches dating that it is hearbreaking and because she knows precisely what she’s doing, it is difficult reading.  But since this book probably has more recipes that I’d love to make than most of my cookbooks, I recommend it and think it is actually worth owning.

Link to the book here: http://www.amazon.com/I-Loved-Lost-Made-Spaghetti/dp/0446534420

Posted in Beach Reading, Biography/Autobiography, Chefs/Food, Nonfiction | Leave a Comment »

Gail Tsukiyama: The Street of a Thousand Blossoms

Posted by nybookworm on May 11, 2009

fuji-japan-cherry-blossoms-and-mountGail Tsukiyama is actually a fairly prolific author, whose  novels frequently involve Japanese characters and focus on Japanese culture and traditions.  This was my first exposure to her work and I was not disappointed.  In Street of A Thousand Blossoms Tsukiyama explores two ancient Japanese traditions, sumo wrestling and mask making.  The novel spans twenty odd years and takes place before, during and after World War II with two orphaned brothers who are being raised by their grandparents,  Hiroshi and Kenji, as the main characters.   At its heart, this novel is about Hiroshi and Kenji but woven throughout stories of their everyday lives are details of Japanese history, food, sport and culture that enrich the novel without rendering it dry and making it appear self-indulgent on the part of Tsukiyama.   If you are already a connoisseur of Japanese culture, I think you will still appreciate Tsukiyama’s  excellent prose and attention to detail.  I enjoyed this book and it has opened up a whole world of Tsukiyama’s work for me, which I expect to be exploring in the future.

The Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Street-Thousand-Blossoms-Gail-Tsukiyama/dp/0312274823

PS: I believe it is actually cherry blossom season right now, at least in some parts of the world, making this one of those rare timely posts.

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