Thursday, December 30, 2010

Where Men Win Glory:The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer

Where Men Win Glory is the third of my "military kick" books. This is the story of Pat Tillman, a man who gave up an NFL contract to join the Army Rangers after September 11th. Krakauer gives a lot of background into Tillman's career in the NFL before he joined the Army as well as background about events leading up to the current political climate of the middle east. The heart of the story though, is about Tillman's time in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger and his untimely death, first said to be from enemy combatants but later revealed to be from friendly fire. Krakauer investigates how the story was covered up but later exposed.

Of the three military books I've read this year (including Generation Kill and Lone Survivor), this is my least favorite. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy it. It just had drier moments and a bit more of a reporting feel to it, versus a story-telling feel. But like the other books, it's an important tale from modern history and another way to try and understand why our military is in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

While trying to find an image of the book, I found a really good review (much better than mine). So if you want to know more about this book, check out this reader's blog.

The Hubs' take: "It's a good story that told the truth." While he found it "inspirational," he said it makes you mad at the military.

Reviewed by Cathy

Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

When I wrote about Generation Kill, I mentioned it started a military reading kick. Well, this is one of those books. Unlike Generation Kill, which is about Marines, Lone Survivor is about the Navy Seals.

Marcus Luttrell knew he wanted to be a Seal as a child. He even started training as a teenager and eventually became a sniper for the Seals. In 2005, Luttrell was deployed to Afghanistan on a mission to capture...or kill...Ahmad Shah, a taliban leader. Luttrell and his team, consisting of three other Seals, were ambushed by the Taliban and all, except Luttrell, eventually died. Not only was Luttrell's tale of survival amazing, but the tale of his teammate's deaths is equally memorable.

This book was quite a change from Generation Kill, not only because it was about a different branch of the military, but also because Luttrell's perspective is very different from Wright's (hmmm, Rolling Stone writer vs. hard core Texan...). But like Generation Kill, I found things tangential to the main story really riveting, like the SEAL training Luttrell went through at Coronado and the hell those guys are put through.

My impression overall, a great book. Again, not a big military buff but I'd recommend this book. And not just because it's got a great story. It really opened my eyes to what our military forces have been doing for us and gave me a better understanding of the situation in the middle east.

The Hubs' take: "I liked that story, it was well-written, humorous, very right-wing. Entertaining"

Reviewed by Cathy

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

This is the second book of the Hunger Games Trilogy and a great sequel. Collins picks up right where she left off - after Katness and Peeta win the Hunger Games. Now, they must visit every district in a victory tour. Before the tour, President Snow visits Katniss. He explains how her and Peeta's suicide attempt at the end of the Hunger Games could be interpreted as an act of defiance, instead of one of love. President Snow threatens Katniss' loved ones unless she can convince him that she truly was motivated by her love for Peeta. The citizens of the twelve districts, however, want to believe that Katniss has other motivations, and Katniss isn't quite sure how to respond to the pressure from both sides.

I hate to admit this, but I read the book months ago and can't quite remember how I felt about it except that I liked it. But if you read the Hunger Games, you already know that you have to read this and the third book as well. There's just no question about that.

One thing I DO remember and was excited about is that Catching Fire alluded to the fact that the 13th district might not be extinct after all...of course the murmurs of a rebellion are also forming, so there is a lot to look forward to in Mockingjay (which I STILL haven't read because there is such a long line for it at the library...).

The Hubs' take: The book was "alright but not as good as the first one."

Reviewed by Cathy

The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

This sequel to Ryan's first book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, started off strongly but overall fell short of the first book. But let me begin with the reasons why I liked the book.

First of all, you quickly learn that Ryan sets her book years into the future from when the last book left off. And the perspective has changed from Mary to her daughter, Gabry, which brings me to the main reason I liked the book. Because the book is written in Gabry's voice, it's not necessary to read the first book to understand what is going on. There are many things from the first book Gabry doesn't know because she doesn't know a lot about her mother's past. She isn't aware of the Sisterhood, which was so central to the first book, for instance. But Gabry's story continues despite this. And that is the perspective the reader takes on if he/she hasn't read the first book. Gabry will say things like, "my mother has a habit of writing on the door thresholds and I never understood why." Well, if someone hasn't read the first book, then they would simply not understand this as well, just like Gabry. If someone HAS read the first book, like me, you'd understand,. This is because you're going into the second book with the mother's perspective.

In a strange way, this made me feel aged. The traditions and customs I was "used" to based on the first book, now seemed years in the past and obsolete. It made me wonder how much of this feeling happens with my parents, or my grandparents, or even with me when I compare myself to people younger than me. I felt like this gave me perspective into how one generation sees another. For that reason alone, I am happy to have read the book.

Now for the reasons why it didn't measure up to the first...There were times when I read the book that I was reminded it's a young adult book. For me, that's a good way to separate good YA books from great ones. For example, there were a lot of teenage angsty moments that didn't seem to quite fit. For example, Gabry can't decide which boy she likes better even though there are greater things happening as far as people dying and being hunted. I guess these moments were in the first book too but Ryan seemed to blend them a bit better. Also, I liked Mary's character better than Gabry's. Mary was a lot stronger and didn't seem as whiney (as my husband put it) as Gabry. Finally, I was disappointed that the second half of the book was basically a replay of the first one - the characters are left wandering between fences in the forest. I was hoping for something new and different, which was offered in the first half of the book only.

Despite these disappointments, I will definitely read the next book in the hopes that Ryan will wow me with something new.

The Hubs' Take: "whiney...really whiney...not as exciting as the Hunger Games. Very lifetime story-ish."

Reviewed by Cathy

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

How cool would it be to work at a food psychology lab where you could perform experiments like making people eat soup out of bowls that keep refilling themselves? This and a host of other eye-opening experiments actually happened at the Cornell Food and Brand lab in which Brian Wansink, PhD works.

Wansink explores how details like packaging, plate size, lighting, labeling, and a host of other things affect our food choices. He details a lot of interesting and funny experiments performed at his lab, and explains how people mindlessly eat and make food choices they aren't even aware of every day.

What I like most about this book is that it has some real simple and practical tips you can start using right away to change your food habits. It also has a great chapter on kids and eating including some creative tips on how to get kids to eat vegetables!

But even if you aren't looking to change the way you think about food, the experiments themselves are worth the read. Do people eat more chicken wings if the bones are left on the table or if they're cleared away? Why would being told a wine is from California or North Dakota affect how much food a person ate or how much they enjoyed their meal? Does plate size affect how much a person eats? These and other experiments have helped Wansink consult with various players in the food industry, particularly in packaging and marketing, which Wansink discusses.

This book is not only really entertaining, it will change the way you think about food. I highly recommend it. For more information about Wansink's work, click here.

Reviewed by Cathy

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline is a quick read but definitely worth it! Neil Gaiman writes about a young girl who moved with her parents into a new and mysterious home. In the home she finds a small door that opens to a brick wall. One night, however, curious about the door, Coraline opens it to find the brick wall gone and a long passageway in its place. She crawls through the passageway to find it leads to a copy of her house with copies of her mother and father. Everything in this other world seems better to Coraline at first, but she soon finds not everything is as it seems.

What struck me most about this book is how incredibly creepy it is. And not only creepy, but just outright scary. The imagery is dark, the characters sinister, and the story itself is somewhat gruesome. With that said I absolutely loved the book! It's a great work of fantasy with a good dose of darkness. And I would definitely recommend the movie as well. Although there are plot elements in the movie that aren't significant parts of the book, it's a great film and really captures the essence of the book.

Reviewed by Cathy

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

If you haven't heard of Neil Gaiman, perhaps you have heard of his other book, Coraline, which was made into a fantastic movie in 2009. The Graveyard Book was written after Coraline and is about a boy named Nobody Owens, or Bod. Bod's family is killed when he is a baby and he ends up living in a graveyard raised by adoptive parents, who happen to be ghosts.

Because Bod lives in a graveyard, he is privy to the world of ghosts, goblins, and other things. He even possesses some supernatural abilities. The book follows Bod as he grows up, detailing his adventures which eventually culminate in meeting those responsible for his family's murder.

I enjoyed The Graveyard Book, but as far as young adult books go, although wildly creative, this one is relatively tame - despite the potentially scary themes. But it's a fun and easy read and a great companion to Coraline.

Reviewed by Cathy

Generation Kill by Evan Wright

Let me begin by explaining that I had no interest in military anything before I read this book. Not movies, not books, not men, nothing. The only reason I read it is because I saw the HBO miniseries Generation Kill and actually liked it. And the only reason I saw the miniseries is because my husband was watching it. And the only reason he was watching it is because he read the book and liked it. And he read the book because, well, he likes military stuff (let's keep that down to the movies and books categories though).

Anywho, back to the book. It is written by a Rolling Stones journalist (Evan Wright) who thought it would be fun to spend a couple of months with some reconnaissance Marines during the Iraq invasion in 2003. It sounds like, at least in theory, the recon Marines go ahead of the fighting units and, well, do reconnaissance. They aren't supposed to be seen or heard and shouldn't have any interactions with the locals, if all goes well. You can probably guess, however, that things didn't go as planned. In fact, the Marines of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion ended up on the front lines of fighting a lot of the time.

There are a lot of things that amazed me about this book. First of all, my eyes were opened to the day to day life of these marines, and I was amazed at how wrong my pre-conceived notions of the military actually were. I found the smallest details interesting, like what they ate and wore, and where they slept. Second, I was dumbstruck by the danger Wright was actually in by riding along with this battalion. And not just Wright, but the Marines he was with. This unit, sometimes the first to enter hostile territory, had nothing more than humvees that sounded relatively lacking in the armor department. Then there were issues of there not being enough ammunition or other supplies that ensured their weapons worked properly. Of course, there's also the small fact that the book is based on actual events, many of which we've all heard about in the news (remember the whole Jessica Lynch thing? That's in there.). If all that isn't enough, the Marines Wright encounters and writes about are really interesting and entertaining to read about.

If all that hasn't convinced you, let me remind you that the book was so good, HBO made a mini-series about it. And there's the fact that reading it actually set me on a military kick - after I read this book, I went on to read two more true-life military books. But to be perfectly clear, let me just say plainly, I highly recommend this book. It was eye-opening, entertaining, current, and shocking. It's one of my tops books for 2010.

The Hubs' take: "It was good, entertaining."

Posted by: Cathy

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell

This book, like Gladwell's Outliers, is provocative and thoughtful. Unlike Outliers, however, it's a collection of articles that Gladwell wrote, so each chapter is its own independent unit. This is probably, at least in part, why it took me several months to read. I'd read a chapter or two while I was between books. The good news about that is that I didn't need to remember what I had previously read, I could just pick it up a week later and start a new chapter.

Like Outliers, Gladwell picks a topic and makes you think about it in a completely new way. You'll learn a lot about ketchup, for instance, and why there aren't more varieties of it (and what the hell umami is). One of my favorite chapters explores the issue of homelessness and whether or not cities should provide free housing to the most chronically homeless. Other topics include things like hair dye, birth control, and even Caesar Milan.

Overall, I recommend the book. But it goes in the think-y category, which I know isn't for everyone. But then again, maybe it should be...? I guess if you're reading anything, you're ahead of the game.

Reviewed by Cathy

Friday, September 10, 2010

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Have you ever wondered why certain people are successful and others aren't? Is there a formula to success? Or are people simply in the right place at the right time?

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell,is a book that looks at successful people and analyzes what has set them apart from the rest of us. Gladwell begins with a hockey example. Consider NHL hockey players. Does a person make the NHL because he is supernaturally talented at hockey or are there other factors at work? Gladwell demonstrates that a look at NHL birthdays may hold a clue to a budding hockey player's success, as many NHL players are born in the first three months of the year. A careful analysis of how young hockey players are groomed and how the hockey calendar operates gives credence to Gladwell's theory that it matters (in terms of being a hockey player) when a child is born. NHL players' birthdays, along with talent, he surmises, are a contributing factor in their entry into the NHL.

Similarly, Gladwell asks the question, why do Asians seem to excel in math? His answer delves into several factors including language differences between Asian languages and English and how this may affect a child's learning of math. He postulates that if a child can learn math more easily than another, he may enjoy it more in school, which may lead to him studying more and performing better. This is a sort of snowball effect which began with the language the child spoke.

Gladwell also explains why 10,000 is a special number in terms of becoming an expert at anything, and applies his theory to people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and the Beatles. Were they successful because they were natural prodigies in their respective fields? Or were they in the right places at the right times, with an unusual opportunity to put in their 10,000 hours relatively early in their careers?

In addition to these examples, Gladwell also talks about airline crashes - does a pilot's culture play a role in an airline's unusual amount of crashes? Family feuds in Appalachia - Why were settlers in this region of America inclined to feuds? Jewish Immigration - Why did the grandchildren of so many Jewish immigrants to the US become doctors and lawyers while their predecessors were garment makers?

Like Freakonimics, this book has changed the way I look at certain things. And it has opened my eyes to things I didn't even realize existed, like the perfect time in history to create an entrepreneur or software giant. In a way, it offers hope that even though there are people clearly smarter or more talented than others, most people, if given the right opportunities and a bit of luck, can become outliers themselves.

I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading Gladwell's other books: Blink, The Tipping Point, and What the Dog Saw.

Reviewed by Cathy

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

I wasn't more than two pages into this book before I knew I was going to love it. And it wasn't because of the plot line, not yet at least. There is just something about the way Carrie Ryan writes that suites me. Her book is introspective, but not too intellectual; smoothly written, but not rushed.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is the first in a trilogy of zombie novels. At some point in time was the Event, in which people were infected with a virus that killed them, and then turned them into zombies. But Mary's village was created with a fence that separated the healthy from the sick. The zombies live on one side, in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, while the people live on the other side. The village is run by the Sisterhood, women who know secrets about the Event, the Zombies, and the creation of the village. But they run the village tight lipped about these things, and espouse a strange brand of religion that involves traditional beliefs in God but also new customs created by the Sisterhood.

Despite these extraordinary circumstances, Mary struggles with normal things like who she is going to marry, and what she is going to do with her life. And like the rest of her town, she also lives with the threat of a breach of the fence hanging over her head. One day, when the town alarm is raised, Mary realizes this is no drill. The zombies have entered the town and she and her friends must now run away, into the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Having learned her whole life that there is nothing beyond the fence, Mary travels with her companions to discover what lies beyond her village and beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

For me, this book was a cross between Suzanne Collin's "The Hunger Games" and M. Night Shymalan's "The Village" with the romanticism of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" mixed in there. It can be a quick read; with a library deadline on the horizon, I read it in two days (and had vivid dreams both of those nights!). I wouldn't describe the book as scary, but Ryan's imagery can be dark and chilling. And she explores subjects like religion, evil, indoctination, and death in a fascinating way. She really makes you think about reality and how much of it is created by life events and what you've been taught. She makes you wonder, how much of my life is like Mary's? And even without the zombies in that equation, the answer to that can be what's truly scary about this book.

Reviewed by Cathy

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Close your eyes for a moment, okay, don't, since you're reading this. But puh-tend (as my 5 year old niece would say) and see what comes to mind when you think of things like "economic theory" and "regression analysis." Are you getting sleepy? Is your brain glazing over? Do you want to stab yourself in the throat with a spoon? Well, Freakonomics takes these things and actually makes them interesting.

Have you ever wondered why drug dealers live with their parents if they make so much money? Or if the name you give your child will affect his outcome in life? This book explores those topics and other ones like whether or not sumo wrestlers cheat and how the KKK runs its organization.

And to raise the ante, Levitt and Dubner aren't very politically correct about it. Don't get me wrong, they're not racist or vulgar but their ideas are provocative and require an open mind. They make it clear that if morals describe an ideal world, then economics describe a realistic world. So prepare yourself to delve into topics like abortion, race, and parenting. Maybe you'll learn a thing or two to keep that kid on the right path in his life (and out of your home once he's an adult!).

Reviewed by Cathy

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Bedwetter, Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman

If you know anything about Sarah Silverman, it's that she loves to joke about farts, penises, and vaginas. But if you don't categorize her comedy as TMI, feel free to pick up her book and learn a buttload more about this young comidenne.

Surprisingly, the book starts off on a somewhat depressing tone, as Silverman talks about her tortured childhood. Teased, insecure, and depressed, Silverman as a child is more tragedy than comedy. But if you can get past the first 75 pages or so, the book picks up with Silverman talking about moving to New York and how she started doing open mics at comedy clubs. She works into her singular season at SNL in the early 90's and progresses to her move to LA where she works on her own show, The Sarah Silverman Program.

Is there inspiration in this book? Perhaps (I DID use the word "vagina" on my facebook page the day I finished reading it...) The fact that her life intersects with a lot of great comedians and writers before any of them really became successful is interesting. And her reflections on her childhood are relatable. But I'm not sure there are any real life lessons to be learned from this book, but it's a good read if you just want something easy and entertaining. And yeah, the crotch humor is a plus.

The Hubs' take: "I don't really care for her humor." Crotch humor? Really? Who doesn't like crotch humor?

Reviewed by Cathy

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Have you ever heard of the Appalachian Trail? I hadn't. The AT and I don't have much in common. Unlike me, the AT lives on the east coast. And while I enjoy an occasional brisk walk, the AT is a career walker, at about 2200 miles and traversing 14 states. While the history and geography of the AT is interesting, that's not why I picked up A Walk in the Woods. I really had no idea the book was about the AT; I just heard it was funny.

Bill Bryson recounts his attempt at hiking the AT with his friend Stephen Katz. His stories on the trail are indeed funny, but few and far between. He intersperses these stories with a lot of history about how the trail was founded and how it is maintained. Based on a couple recommendations, I was expecting the book to be more comedy and less eduction, but it was really the other way around. I'm actually a bit embarrased to realize how little I knew about the geography of the region surrounding the AT.

I'm a bit of a book whore and will pretty much read anything. But my husband gave the book a go and didn't finish it. So the jury's still out on this one. I think the book has something to offer, but it's somewhat of a niche topic. If you need ideas of what does or does not work while hiking and camping, or you just want to learn more about one of the country's most historic trails, then this book's for you. And yeah, some parts are funny.

Reviewed by Cathy

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins

If you're in the mood for something completely different (Monty Python fan or not), this is a good starting place. This book was recommended to me by a high school teacher. And like a lot of books I read in high school, this book is rife with symbolism, word play, and literary allusions. However, this book is more suited to a college crowd than high schoolers (IMHO).

Cowgirls is the story of Sissy Hankshaw, a girl born with unusually large thumbs. You learn about her life as a child, her proclivities for hitchhiking, and her occasional work as a model for the Countess, a homosexual entrepreneur dedicated to making women smell better, if you know what I mean.

We follow Sissy, who is not inclined to stay in one place too long, as she ends up on an all-girl ranch, meets a wise Japanese hermit, learns about the mysterious Clock people, and finds her life somehow entangled with that of the whooping crane and the FBI. (Don't think like I did, however, that the FBI is a big part of the plot, "oh, a crime mystery!" It's not.)

This book follows Sissy's life from sometime in the 1940's to sometime in the 1970's. After I read it, I wasn't surprised to learn it was written in 1976 since, as wikipedia puts it, this book was a "favorite of the late 1970's anarchist hippie counterculture."

What I like about this book is that the author has a very stylized way of writing. He writes in first person and is aware that you're reading the book. He'll take time out of telling the story to write interludes and philosophize. He will also describe things in a way you would never image but, when described, seems to be the best way to get his point across. He'll talk about characters you haven't formally met yet which created, for me, a bit of mystery, And then, when I finally understand each character, a bit of an "ah-hah" moment (so THAT's what he was talking about...).

A word of advice, this book probably isn't for everyone. You have to pay attention as you read it. There's no zoning out allowed. The mystery isn't in the story that's told, it's really in the way it's told - in the images and pictures the author uses. And reading becomes more than just learning about Sissy. It's about taking time to think about things that may be directly related or only partially related to the story at hand. But don't worry, the author helps you through all of that.

Apparently, in 1993, this book was made into a movie with a cast including Uma Thurman, Roseanne Arnold, Pat Morita, Keau Reaves, and even William Burroughs (a poet and author from the beat generation with a colorful life, to say the least). Like the book, this offers to be something completely different, but based on its reviews, I'd recommend you just stick to the reading the book.

Reviewed by Cathy

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

This is the second book in a series of three, following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which Cathy so eloquently reviewed earlier. The Girl who Played with Fire picks up with Salander exploring the world with her ‘earned’ billions and researching complex mathematical equations as a hobby. Stieg jumps into the action, much quicker than in the first book, with Salander observing a man who is violent to his wife in the room next door. This beginning conflict is unrelated to anything else in the book; however, it serves to display that Salander is the ‘woman who hates men who hate women’, a throwback to the original title of the first book.

Shortly after her return to Sweden, Salander finds herself as the main suspect in a triple homicide. Blomkvist steps forward to prove her innocence and pay his debt to her saving his life the previous year. Several other unexpected allies join to clear her name as Salander faces her past to solve the murders.

While the first book seriously lagged for the first 100 pages of the story, ‘Fire’ jumps off with a bang but then crawls to a near stop about two-thirds of the way through. Every part of it is important to the storyline, but at times I found my mind wandering and was forced to read the page over again to stay on track. The last 100 pages picked back up and the ending was exciting, if not a little unrealistic. But I guess that’s why this is fiction.

What I enjoyed most about ‘Fire’ was Salander’s character development. We find out that in addition to having a photographic memory and talent with computers, that she is much more than an awkward, brooding goth girl with a mysterious upbringing. She heavily weighs every decision before carrying out actions. And her actions, although not conformed to public opinion, are strong and morally grounded. I enjoyed this book and gained a great deal of respect for Salander. Not to mention the relief it was to root for a heroine whose only conflict is isn't a choice of two men in her life*.

*My bitterness towards that type of heroine has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with my lack of men. Not one bit. I swear.

Posted by Kil...who is pushing 30, shares a one bedroom apartment with her dog, and divides her time between knitting, running, and being a slut with a heart of gold.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This book was recommended to me so I kept the title in the back of my head for awhile. Then a friend of mine mentioned she took it with her on a trip to New York and thought an afternoon reading in Central Park would be nice. She sat on a bench and noticed that there were girls to her left and right and they were both reading this book! I decided it was time to jump on the bandwagon and check it out at the library. Problem was, the wait list was so long, there were 345 people ahead of me in line. With a 3 week check out period, that's almost 20 years of waiting to get this book. So I borrowed it from my work library, of all places. Apparently, this book is everywhere.

The story follows a year in the life of journalist Mikael Blomkvist. After losing a court battle and facing jail time, Blomkvist decides to take a leave from his magazine and accept a temporary work assignement from Henrik Vanger. Vanger wants him to ostensibly write a family chronicle but his real assignment is to investigate a 36 year old family mystery of the disappearance of his grand-niece. In the course of his investigation, Blomkvist meets Lisbeth Salander, a troubled young woman with a knack for investigation. Together they delve into the Vanger family history as well as some other mysteries involving Salander and Blomkvist's personal lives.

In a nutshell, I think the book is overrated. Most people I've talked to agree that the book is slow to start and picks up after about a hundred pages or so. As you read on, the book continually picks up steam until I found myself not wanting to put it down for the last hundred pages or so. At 590 pages though, that's a lot to get through before I can't put a book down.

Honestly, I think reading about the author himself is more interesting. Steig Larsson was a journalist, as well as a political activist. He was considered an expert in Swedish extreme right and racist organizations. A quick online search will reveal a lot of interesting stories and rumors about his life - too many to go into here. When Larrson died of a heart attack in 2004, he left behind three unpublished manuscripts, of which The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first. It was published in 2005 in Sweden and translated several years later into English. The original title in Swedish is Men Who Hate Women. I wished I knew that before I started reading the book. It really is a better title. Maybe knowing that would have made the book better too?

My recommendation? Everyone's talking about it anyway, so you might as well read it. Hell, it's summer and this is one of those reads. Just don't buy it or borrow it from the library. Ask a friend for it, chances are, you know someone who has read it.

Reviewed by Cathy

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Death With Interruptions by Jose Saramago

I don’t care what you say about Portuguese communists, they write good books. Having heard of the passing of Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago earlier this month I thought I would kick things off with a review of his book about…well, death. That, and because we’re all going to die. Unless I’m wrong, and we end up living forever…but historically speaking it doesn’t look good for us.

For those of you not familiar with Saramago’s work, he is famous for exploring dark themes and human responses to the unimaginable. In Death With Interruptions, death (that’s with a lowercase “d” to you – she’s picky) takes a holiday and no one dies for a year. How do you face the possibility of not being able to die long after you’ve lost the ability to live? Is death doing us a favor by letting us linger at her door? And if there was a way to die, what price would you pay to make it happen?

There are not just personal consequences. Life insurance companies and funeral homes fear the collapse of their businesses. Hospitals scramble to cope as people continue to age and become terminally ill. Religion is hit hard. How can faith strongly steeped in the idea of death and resurrection exist when death is taken away?

In the second half of the book, death returns with a new plan. She resumes her duties, first by eliminating her backlog of overdue deaths and then by implementing the one-week warning. If you are slated to die in the next week, she will send you a lovely notice in a purple envelope so you can get your affairs in order. Is this really helpful? Is death again trying to do us a favor by giving us a head’s up before we die?

And from death’s POV, what happens when the living refuse to die? What does it mean when the purple envelope is returned unopened? And what, ultimately can cause death to discontinue her work to begin with?

A note about style: It will become very obvious very quickly that Saramago did not grow up with Schoolhouse Rocks. The book is marred by lack of appropriate punctuation, run-on sentences, and missing capitalization. Saramago is part of the Pulitzer club that likes to test the boundaries of proper writing style, not to mention the patience of his readers.

To conclude, this is a book I’m not likely to forget soon. Given our fascination with dying, Death With Interruptions makes for an interesting, compelling read if you can get past the author’s writing style. You will not be the first to think “Great story, but would it kill this guy (pun intended) to write normally?”

Posted by: Anne-Marie

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is a Young Adult book about a world called Panem, believed to be North America. Panem consists of The Capital, which governs twelves districts. At some point in the past, the districts rebelled against The Capital. The Capital squashed the rebellion and as a reminder of the failed act of defiance, they hold the Hunger Games. This is an event in which each of the twelve districts sends a boy and a girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, to compete in a battle to the death. Only one survivor remains and the winner's district receives enough food for the rest of the year.

The book has a Big Brother feel to it with a little bit of Running Man and even Alice in Wonderland mixed in. I felt at times that I was (along with the protagonist Katniss) the only sane person in a world of madness. Collins is able to weave contrasting images such as taking an event that revolves around violent death and mixing in extreme makeovers and romance without a second thought.

This book confused my sensibilities. In a way, it's a lot like a bad accident. I felt guilty for enjoying it but couldn't help but read on with morbid interest. Suzanne Collins created an entirely new world with its own customs, rules, and even animals. Her characters are colorful and her herione, Katniss, is a strong and complicated person. Using these things, Collins makes strong statements about war, violence, power, and humanity.

A great thing about this book is that it's the first in a three part series. So read the Hunger Games now, then the sequel Catching Fire, and you'll be just in time for the Mockingjay release in August!

Reviewed by Cathy

Monday, June 21, 2010

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Many, MANY people told me to read this book. For some reason I avoided it like the plague because it just seemed like it would be boring. But I will tell you now, I have never been so happy to be proven so wrong. Coming from me, that says a lot.

This book is slightly like The Notebook in the sense that it switches between past and present and is told through the eyes of 90 year old (or 92…or 93…he's not sure) Jacob Jankowski. When he was 21 Jacob's parents were killed in an auto accident the week of his final exams for Veterinary School. Like it would with anyone, this tragic event changed the course of Jacob's life. After the accident, he ran away and joined the Depression Era Circus (The year is 1931). I am a total sucker for historically accurate details, and it is clear that Sara Gruen has spent her time researching the way animals were kept, treated, and the general atmosphere of working in a circus during this time period. At times you will smile, but at many other times it will break your heart. You listen to Jacob's journey and the characters he meets along the way. While reading this, I got such a vivid picture from Gruen's details that you will start to get strong feelings (whether good or bad) about each person. I completely fell in love with Jacob as a character. He fights for the good of the animals and the performers in the show, especially an elephant named Rosie that the circus acquires along the way and her eventual human sidekick performer, Marlena.

I get a lot of people who ask me for book suggestions, and this is always at the top of my list. Whenever someone reads this they always come back to me to say they love it, and what a great suggestion it was. Believe me when I tell you that like me, you will not be disappointed by this book.

Posted by Amy

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer

Ok, let me start this by saying I'm a huge Twilight Saga fan, so it was going to be hard for this book to disappoint me. That being said, while it is not the best of the Series (They can't all have Edward's, Bella's, and Jacob's) it is still worth reading before Eclipse if you have the time. Being only 178 pages, that's probably doable for most people.

The biggest difference between this book and the others, is that it's written from Bree's point of view. In a way that was a breath of fresh air. As much as I love Bella (believe me I do) it was nice to not hear a character constantly putting themselves down. Bree is independent and had a lot more spunk. Because Bree was such a small character in Eclipse I was surprised that Stephenie Meyer devoted an entire Novella to her, but she was really the perfect character to learn how the newborns work. Stephenie Meyer created such a different type of vampire compared to the typical vampire folklore (burns in the sun, can be staked in the heart), you want to learn about how these vampires work. You will learn the back story of how she and Riley met, how she became a vampire, and how Riley trained the newborn army for the eventual showdown in Eclipse. While you learn about a few more vampires along the way, there aren't many characters you care to remember besides Bree, Riley, and Victoria (possibly one other depending on your preference, but I won't give the other characters away).

I think the only thing that bothered me is that I wanted to know more! I thought it would go more into the Battle scene and interaction with the Cullens and Volturi. You spend all of the Twilight books seeing through Bella's eyes, and when you finally get to see it from a different perspective the details come up short. Overall, it was a fun quick read that will prepare you for the movie Eclipse. But real Twilight fans will be waiting for the holy grail of the Twilight Saga to be released….Midnight Sun.

Posted by Amy

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

This is my all-time favorite book. I've read it four times. I know that's probably pathetic to a lot of people, especially Stephen King who said he doesn't reread many books because life's too short. Yet he'd reread The Story of Edgar Sawtelle which I haven't been able to get into after 179 pages (about 79 pages longer than I give most books). Of course, this is the man who goes on chapter long digressions in his own books, whereas I only digress for a sentence or two...

Anywho, this book is written by the man who prosecuted Manson and his co-defendants so there is a lot of detail and background information about the legalities of the case and how it was prosecuted. I recommended this book to a friend and she thought there was too much detail to hold her interest so I guess it just depends.

But the book has it all, drugs, sex, serial killers, creepy-crawling, cults, swastikas, Hollywood, and even The Beatles. I don't know how anyone couldn't love this book but if you read it based on this review and don't like it, don't worry, I'll finish it for you.

Reviewed by Cathy

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Book I'd Love To Read...

Pajiba asked its readers if you could recommend one book, what would it be? Along with a great list of books is this, my personal favorite:

Sisterhood of the Traveling Whatchamafrick - by Me. I'm writing it right now.

It's got everything a book needs - story stuff, sexy words, pages, people doing stuff, screaming people, cars, a Yeti, a relaxing canoe ride, two dudes talking about some things while their wives kiss each other, a wisecracking cow, explosions, a kind-hearted amputee, some stuff about morals, and a poem about a tire swing being a metaphor for Communism. Once I get a typewriter, all other books can take a goddam hike - this baby's gonna win one of them Prulizers or whatever...

Posted by: Skitz at June 14, 2010 4:13 PM

I wish I could be that inspired sometimes. Check out Pajiba to read more.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls had an eccentric life. Some would say her childhood was one of neglect, others might say what she endured was child abuse. And still others might see how a family tried to make the best of a bad situation, in which they might say the book is about a strange brand of hope. I think the book is about perspective, and how it can change depending on your attitude, your age, what you're told, or a million other things.

I am glad to say, I can relate little to Jeannette's upbringing. My family didn't constantly move in the middle of the night, my parents didn't let me cook when I was three, we never adopted a wild buzzard, I never ate the same food for weeks at a time (heavily spicing it when it started going bad), and I never had to worry about sleeping in a cardboard box or using a tarp as a cover because the roof leaked so badly. But what I like about the book is that because I cannot relate to much in it, I'm educated through Jeannette's narrative of a world I knew little about. I feel like my perspective on poverty, homelessness, and mental illness is a little bit different now.

This is one of the best books I've read lately. Jeannette Walls' upbringing is amazing, tragic, and funny at the same time. And it brings up a lot of interesting questions whose answers would be controversial at best; Do some people choose to be homeless? Is it better for a child to live on the brink of starvation in poverty with loving parents or to be in foster care? Can parents who treat their children the way they treated Jeannette and her siblings really love them?

You know you've read a great book when you want to learn more about it and find yourself searching the internet for more info. There's a lot online but here's one interview I found interesting: Jeannette Walls interview on

Reviewed by Cathy