Saturday, March 29, 2008

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

First sentence:

"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."


"Middlesex tells the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family, who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of 1967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic." -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

This beautifully written book is more than a story of a hermaphrodite. It is a rich family history interwoven with the history of Greek immigrants, as well as a history of life in the Detroit area from the early auto industry through the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. I liked all the characters from the grandparents Desdemona and Lefty through the narrator, Cal/Callie.

Date read: 3/15/2008
Book #: 17
Challenges: Book Awards Challenge
Rating: 4*/5 = great
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0312422156
ISBN-13: 9780312422158
Publisher: Picador
Year: 2002
# of Pages: 529
Binding: Trade Paperback
LibraryThing Page

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Winter Reading Challenge - Wrap-up

As spring has just begun, it's time to reflect on the books I read for the Winter Reading Challenge. I began on the high seas with Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in Patrick O'Brian's The Mauritius Command. Then, Nicci French led me on a dark and twisted mystery in The Red Room. Isaac Asimov's book Naked Sun taught me lessons in facing one's fears while Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan taught me lessons in friendship. Next, I return to the oceans in Pete Goss's memoir Close to the Wind. I then spent a long time with Simon and his friends in the Osten Ard as told by Tad Williams in The Dragonbone Chair. And finally, I visited late 19th century San Francisco in Karen Joy Fowler's Sister Noon.

I discovered many new authors for this challenge. They are: Nicci French, Lisa See, Pete Goss, and Karen Joy Fowler. I look forward to reading more books by them.

Of the eight books I read, my favorite was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I liked the descriptions and the characters. While Sister Noon was historically interesting, I didn't connect well with the main character, so that book was my least favorite.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Reading My Name Challenge

When: February 1 - May 1, 2008
Hosted by: Callista
What: Read at least two books either by authors who have your name (first or last - any version) or that feature characters with your name.

My choices:

Karen J. Fowler. Sister Noon -- finished 2/29/2008
Laurie R. King. Locked Rooms -- finished 3/11/2008
Stephen King. Cell

Friday, March 21, 2008

Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King

First sentence:

"The dreams began when we left Bombay."


"Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes are back in Laurie R. King’s highly acclaimed New York Times bestselling mystery series. And this time the first couple of detection pair up to unlock the buried memory of a shocking crime with the power to kill again–lost somewhere in Russell’s own past.

After departing Bombay by ship, Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes are en route to the bustling modern city of San Francisco. There, Mary will settle some legal affairs surrounding the inheritance of her family’s old estate. But the closer they get to port, the more Mary finds herself prey to troubling dreams and irrational behavior–a point not lost on Holmes, much to Russell’s annoyance.

In 1906, when Mary was six, San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake and a raging fire that reduced the city to rubble. For years, Mary has denied any memory of the catastrophe that for days turned the fabled streets into hell on earth. But Holmes suspects that some hidden trauma connected with the “unforgettable” catastrophe may be the real culprit responsible for Mary’s memory lapse. And no sooner do they begin to familiarize themselves with the particulars of the Russell estate than it becomes apparent that whatever unpleasantness Mary has forgotten, it hasn’t forgotten her. Why does her father’s will forbid access to the house except in the presence of immediate family? Why did someone break in, then take nothing of any value? And why is Russell herself targeted for assassination?

The more questions they ask of Mary’s past, the more people from that past turn out to have died violent, unexplained deaths. Now, with the aid of a hard-boiled young detective and crime writer named Hammett, Russell and Holmes find themselves embroiled in a mystery that leads them through the winding streets of Chinatown to the unspoken secrets of a parent’s marriage and the tragic car “accident” that a fourteen-year-old Mary alone survived–an accident that may not have been an accident at all. What Russell is about to discover is that even a forgotten past never dies…and it can kill again." -- from back cover

My thoughts:

This was a good mystery set in post-earthquake San Francisco in the 1920s. I liked the alternating viewpoints between Holmes and Russell as well as the interactions between Holmes and Dashiell Hammett.

Date read: 3/11/2008
Book #: 16
Series: Mary Russell #8
Challenge: Reading My Name Challenge
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Mystery

ISBN-10: 0553583417
ISBN-13: 9780553583410
Publisher: Bantam
Year: 2006
# of Pages: 485
Binding: Mass Market Paperback
LibraryThing Page

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Winter Reading Challenge

Winter Reading Challenge

Hosted by: Karlene
When: December 22, 2007 - March 19, 2008
What: Read any number of books during that time. See link above for further details.

I will read seven books for this challenge (in no particular order):

Patrick O'Brian. The Mauritius Command - finished 1/12/2008
Nicci French. The Red Room -- finished 1/12/2008
Isaac Asimov. Naked Sun -- finished 1/19/2008
Lisa See. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan -- finished 1/21/2008
Pete Goss. Close to the Wind -- finished 1/30/2008
Tad Williams. The Dragonbone Chair -- finished 2/9/2008
Karen Joy Fowler. Sister Noon -- finished 2/29/2008

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

First sentence:

"A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks."


"In the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, prose magician Michael Chabon conjured up the golden age of comic books -- intertwining history, legend, and storytelling verve. In The Final Solution, he has condensed his boundless vision to craft a short, suspenseful tale of compassion and wit that reimagines the classic nineteenth-century detective story.

In deep retirement in the English country-side, an eighty-nine-year-old man, vaguely recollected by locals as a once-famous detective, is more concerned with his beekeeping than with his fellow man. Into his life wanders Linus Steinman, nine years old and mute, who has escaped from Nazi Germany with his sole companion: an African gray parrot. What is the meaning of the mysterious strings of German numbers the bird spews out -- a top-secret SS code? The keys to a series of Swiss bank accounts perhaps? Or something more sinister? Is the solution to this last case -- the real explanation of the mysterious boy and his parrot -- beyond even the reach of the once-famed sleuth?

Subtle revelations lead the reader to a wrenching resolution. This brilliant homage, which won the 2004 Aga Khan Prize for fiction, is the work of a master storyteller at the height of his powers." -- from inside flap

My thoughts:

This was a quiet, contemplative mystery regarding a missing parrot who may know some secret information. While the mystery itself was not that engaging, I did enjoy reading about Sherlock Holmes in his retirement years and how taking care of bees became a solace to him after years of detection.

Date read: 3/10/2008
Book #: 15
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Mystery

ISBN-10: 006076340X
ISBN-13: 9780060763404
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Year: 2004
# of Pages: 131
Binding: Hardcover
LibraryThing Page

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

First sentence:

"At the age of fifteen my grandmother became the concubine of a warlord general, the police chief of a tenuous national government of China."


"Blending the intimacy of memoir and the panoramic sweep of eyewitness history, Wild Swans has become a bestselling classic in thirty languages, with more than ten million copies sold. The story of three generations in twentieth-century China, it is an engrossing record of Mao's impact on China, an unusual window on the female experience in the modern world, and an inspiring tale of courage and love.

Jung Chang describes the life of her grandmother, a warlord's concubine; her mother's struggles as a young idealistic Communist; and her parents' experience as members of the Communist elite and their ordeal during the Cultural Revolution. Chang was a Red Guard briefly at the age of fourteen, then worked as a peasant, a "barefoot doctor," a steelworker, and an electrician. As the story of each generation unfolds, Chang captures in gripping, moving -- and ultimately uplifting -- detail the cycles of violent drama visited on her own family and millions of others caught in the whirlwind of history."

My thoughts:

While I've read about China in bits and pieces in fiction, this is the first comprehensive nonfiction book I read on China's history in the twentieth century as told through a family's harrowing ordeal. What struck me the most is how the shifting political alliances meant that anyone could be an "enemy" at any time. I also came to admire Jung's parents for sticking to their principles even when it meant exile and harsh punishment.

Date read: 3/8/2008
Book #: 14
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Nonfiction: History/Biography/Autobiography

ISBN-10: 0385425473
ISBN-13: 9780385425476
Publisher: Anchor Books
Year: 1991
# of Pages: 508
Binding: Trade Paperback
LibraryThing Page

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Series Challenge

For this challenge, hosted by Kathrin at Crazy Cozy Murders, I picked three series to finish before May 31, 2008. Titles in red are the ones I need to read.

Lewis Cole mystery series by Brendan Dubois:
  1. Dead Sand
  2. Black Tide
  3. The Shattered Shell
  4. Killer Waves
  5. Buried Dreams
  6. Primary Storm
Aisling Grey, Guardian fantasy series by Katie MacAlister:
  1. You Slay Me
  2. Fire Me Up -- finished 2/25/2008
  3. Light My Fire
  4. Holy Smokes
Black Magician fantasy trilogy by Trudi Canavan:
  1. The Magicians' Guild
  2. The Novice
  3. The High Lord

Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler

First sentence:

"In 1894, Mrs. Putnam took Lizzie Hayes to the Mid-winter Exhibition in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, where they both used a telephone for the very first time."


"San Francisco in the Gilded Age: great fortunes are being made and family dynasties established as new money erases the often unsavory pasts and shady dealings of their founders. It is a city bursting at its seams - each day bringing new monuments to unbridled ego and ostentatious bad taste - a city ruled by a self-selected elite grounded in gentility and fueled by gossip and greed.

By dint of birth, Lizzie Hayes is part of this elite. But Lizzie, seemingly so docile, hides within her a passionate heart. All she needs is the spark that will liberate her from the ruling conventions. And that spark is Mary Ellen Pleasant. With her appearance on Lizzie's doorstep, she brings not only mystery and a whiff of disrepute, but also the key that will unlock Lizzie's rebellious nature. 'You can do anything you want,' she tells Lizzie. 'You don't have to be the same person your whole life.'" -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

This book was an interesting historical fiction set in late 19th century San Francisco. Appearances, both real and imagined, are important as well as maintaining one's reputation. I liked how Lizzie gradually broke away from convention to find her own path without relying on the opinions of others.

Date read: 2/29/2008
Book #: 13
Series: Winter Reading Challenge, Reading My Name Challenge, Celebrate the Author Challenge
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Historical Fiction

ISBN-10: 0399147500
ISBN-13: 9780399147500
Publisher: Putnam
Year: 2001
# of Pages: 321
Binding: Hardcover
LibraryThing Page