Friday, January 10, 2014

Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler

First sentence:

"On Waverly Street, everybody knew everybody else."

Description:

In 1965, the happy Bedloe family is living an ideal, apple-pie existence in Baltimore. Then, in the blink of an eye, a single tragic event occurs that will transform their lives forever--particularly that of 17-year-old Ian Bedloe, the youngest son, who blames himself for the sudden "accidental" death of his older brother.

Depressed and depleted, Ian is almost crushed under the weight of an unbearable, secret guilt. Then one crisp January evening, he catches sight of a window with glowing yellow neon, the CHURCH OF THE SECOND CHANCE. He enters and soon discovers that forgiveness must be earned, through a bit of sacrifice and a lot of love." -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this book about family relationships, both good and bad. I especially liked the interactions between Caleb and Daphne.

Date read: 1/9/2014
Book #: 3
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0449911608
ISBN-13: 978044991600
Publisher: Random House
Year: 1996
# of pages: 337
Binding: Trade Paperback
LibraryThing page

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

First sentence:

"As a child in the early 1980s, I tended to talk with things in my mouth - food, dentist's tubes, balloons that would fly away, whatever - and if no one else was around, I'd talk anyway."

Description:

"Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium (Cd, 48)? How did radium (Ra, 88) ruin Marie Curie’s reputation? And why did tellurium (Te, 52) lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

The periodic table is one of our crowning scientific achievements, but it’s also a treasure trove of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, gold, and every single element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.

Why did a little lithium (Li, 3) help cure poet Robert Lowell of his madness? And how did gallium (Ga, 31) become the go-to element for laboratory pranksters? The Disappearing Spoon has the answers, fusing science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, discovery, and alchemy, from the big bang through the end of time." -- from the book jacket

My thoughts:

This is a fascinating book about the elements placed in the context of their discovery and their impact on everything. I liked how Kean groups the elements in varous contexts, such as medicine and money.

Date read: 1/7/2014
Book #: 2
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Nonfiction

ISBN-10: 0316051640
ISBN-13: 9780316051644
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Year: 2010
# of pages: 346
Binding: Hardcover
LibraryThing page

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

First sentence:

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

Description:

"Last Night I Dreamt I Went To Manderley Again."

"So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past the beeches, white and naked, to the isolated gray stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten...her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant -- the sinister Mrs. Danvers -- still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca...for the secrets of Manderley." -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

This was a gripping book about identity as the nameless new wife tries to make sense of her place at Manderley, believing that she could never replace the memory of Rebecca. I enjoyed reading this book and seeing the 1940 Hitchcock film version starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson.

Date read: 1/3/2014
Book #: 1
Rating: 4*/5 = great
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0812416503
ISBN-13: 9780812416503
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Year: ?; 2006 [this edition]
# of pages: 416
Binding: Mass Market Paperback
LibraryThing page

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

First sentence:

"The dangerously high level of the stupidity surplus was once again the lead story in The Owl that morning."

Description:

"Beloved for his prodigious imagination, his satirical gifts, his literate humor, and sheer silliness, Jasper Fforde has delighted book lovers since Thursday Next first appeared in The Eyre Affair, a genre send-up hailed as an instant classic. Since the no-nonsense literary detective from Swindon made her debut, literature has never been quite the same. Neither have nursery rhymes, for that matter. With two successful books of the Nursery Crime series under his belt, Fforde takes up once again the brilliant adventures of his signature creation in the highly anticipated fifth installment of the Thursday Next series. And it’s better than ever.

It’s been fourteen years since Thursday pegged out at the 1988 SuperHoop, and Friday is now a difficult sixteen year old. However, Thursday’s got bigger problems. Sherlock Holmes is killed at the Rheinback Falls and his series is stopped in its tracks. And before this can be corrected, Miss Marple dies suddenly in a car accident, bringing her series to a close as well. When Thursday receives a death threat clearly intended for her written self, she realizes what’s going on—there is a serial killer on the loose in the Bookworld. And that’s not all—The Goliath Corporation is trying to deregulate book travel. Naturally, Thursday must travel to the outer limits of acceptable narrative possibilities to triumph against increasing odds.

Packed with word play, bizarre and entertaining subplots, and old-fashioned suspense, Thursday’s return is sure to be celebrated by Jasper’s fanatical fans and the critics who have loved him since the beginning." -- from Amazon.com

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this latest installment in the Thursday Next series. I especially liked the interactions between Thursday and her previous incarnations, Thursday5 and Thursday1-4. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, One of Our Thursdays is Missing.

Date read: 12/20/2013
Book #: 37
Series: Thursday Next, #5
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0143113569
ISBN-13: 9780143113560
Publisher: Penguin
Year: 2008
# of pages: 384
Binding: Hardcover
LibraryThing page

Friday, November 22, 2013

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

First sentence:

"He is coming on the Lord's Day."

Description:

In her new novel Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks once again takes a shard of little known history and brings it vividly to life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American graduate of Harvard College. From the few facts that survive of this extraordinary life, Brooks creates a luminous tale of passion and belief, magic and adventure.

The voice of Caleb's Crossing belongs to Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny island settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneering English Puritans. Posses of a restless spirit and a curious mind, Bethia slips the bounds of her rigid society to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native inhabitants. At twelve, she meets Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a secret bond that draws each into the alien world of the other.

Bethia's father is Great Harbor's minister, who feels called to convert the Wampanoag to his own strict Calvinism. He awakens the wrath of the medicine men, against whose magic he must test his faith in a high stakes battle that may cost his life and his very soul. Caleb becomes a prize in this contest between old ways and new, eventually taking his place at Harvard, studying Latin and Greek alongside the sons of the colonial elite. Bethia also finds herself in Cambridge at the behest of her imperious elder brother. As she fights for a voice in a society that requires her silence, she also becomes entangled in Caleb's struggle to navigate the intellectual and cultural shoals that divide their two cultures..

What becomes of these characters--the triumphs and turmoil they endure in embracing their new destinies--is the subject of this riveting and intensely observed novel. Like Brooks's beloved narrator Anna in Year of Wonders, Bethia proves and emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha's Vineyard and to the intimate spaces of the human heart. The narrative travels from the sparkling harbors of Martha's Vineyard to the mean, drafty dormitories of early Harvard and, as ever, Brooks buttresses her richly imagined fiction with the fascinating and meticulously researched detail that has brought her legions of readers and a Pulitzer Prize." -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

This was a fascinating book about the European-Native American encounters in 17th century New England. Brooks does a great job fleshing out the characters and giving a sense of what could have been if Caleb had survived.

Date read: 11/21/2013
Book #: 36
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Historical Fiction

ISBN-10: 0670021040
ISBN-13: 9780670021048
Publisher: Viking
Year: 2011
# of pages: 300
Binding: Hardcover
LibraryThing page

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows

First sentence:

"Dear Sidney, Susan Scott is a wonder."

Description:

"'I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.' January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways." -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

I loved this book about finding new friends in a new home while learning about their shared history of German occupation during World War II. I especially liked the way it was written through letters.

Book #: 35
Date read: 11/15/2013
Rating: 4*/5 = great
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0385341008
ISBN-13: 9780385341004
Publisher: Dell Press
Year: 2009
# of pages: 290
Binding: Trade Paperback
LibraryThing page

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

First sentence:

"A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes."

Description:

"Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne's concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided. As Nina Baym writes in her introduction, The Scarlet Letter was not written as realistic, historical fiction, but as a 'romance," a creation of the imagination that discloses the truth of the human heart." -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

I liked this book about Puritan ethics and hypocrisy. I found the reactions of the townspeople to Hester interesting as time goes by.

Date read: 11/10/2013
Book #: 34
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0142437263
ISBN-13: 9780142437261
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Year: 1850; 2003 (this edition)
# of pages: 228
Binding: Mass Market Paperback
LibraryThing page