Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Story of Edgar Sawtell

by David Wroblewski

This was an unusual story and I have mixed feelings about it. Basically, it was a rather steady paced, gloomy story all the way throughout, which for the characters, didn't seem to fit. There were also a number of story lines that were started and strung along very far, and then just dropped, which is troublesome: relationship between brothers, the wild dog "Forte," the fortune-telling lady, and the letters between grandfather and dog breeding friend.... then the whole deal with the rain ghost of the father?  

I think this author just kept having all of these ideas and didn't want to edit any of them, but couldn't actually tie them together either. When he realized it, the book went up in flames..... kind of like some of Stephen King's :)

One personal issue, way too much brain-power is given to dogs. Maybe the entire book is written for them?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Go-Giver: A Little Story About Power

by Bob Burg and John David Mann

Ok, a guy, we'll call him Joe (he really is called Joe) is struggling with being successful in his business and he wants the "secret to success"... isn't that what everyone wants! Well, he gets introduced to just the man to give him the answers in 5 easy steps! Yeah, you've heard that before, well, here they are:
1. The Law of Value: Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than      you take in payment.
2. The Law of Compensation: Your income is determined by how many people you serve and      how well you serve them.
3. The Law of Influence: Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other            people's interests first.
4. The Law of Authenticity: The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.
5. The Law of Receptivity: The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.

Now if he does these five things in five days he'll be a success... BINGO! He wins....
really, these are practices of ways to treat people that might just be reworded from scripture; do to others as you'd have them do to you, look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others, serve others before yourself. How can you argue with that? 

The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

by Patrick Lencioni
The first half of the book is a short story contrasting two business owners and how they differ in running their same companies. Both are in the same business, have similar backgrounds, and for all practical purposes appear the same, however, one of the companies has content employees with low turnover, and continued growth, while the other is struggling to maintain it's top talent and keep business.
The second half of of the book goes into detail explaining the four principles Mr. Success used to make his company great to work for:
1. Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team
2. Create organizational clarity
3. Over-communicate organizational clarity
4. Reinforce organizational clarity through human systems

These are all things done from CEO down, beginning with hiring and new employee orientation. 

The Secret Scripture

by Sebastian Barry

Roseanne Clear (McNulty) is 100 years old and has spent the majority of her life in a mental institution that is now getting ready to be torn down. The new facility cannot hold as many patients so it is going about determining who to release, based on records.... but no one has the admitting records for Roseanne. There seems to be no reason why she is there, and now the search is on.... Let's just say her life was a mess! Most of this is discovered from her own personal journal written for her child. To me, a lot of her history smacks of The Scarlett Letter, in updated English, never the less it is an intriguing tragedy. 
The narration flips perspective between Roseanne and Dr. Green, the attending physician who is researching her case, so that between his findings and her diary you piece together her disastrous life. At times you wonder if she remembers things correctly, as his findings contradict her retelling, but all things settle in the end.
For me, the "surprise ending" came as no surprise, so I'd wonder if it was for others.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


by Patricia Wood

Ok, I am foregoing the normal routine here and heading straight to the thoughts. Perry L. Crandall might not technically be retarded, but I found it frustrating to read a book written from the perspective of someone who almost is!  And he might think L. stands for "lucky", but I'd say it stands for lame (as in unconvincing, implausible). Really, this was just Forest Gump wins the lottery..... "life is just a big... lottery" as stated by Perry's gram. He also has many obstacles, ends up becoming an amazing businessman by proposing some clever ideas to his employer, blah, blah... 
Granted, there are some nice thoughts on the importance of valuing relationships over money, and how to treat all people; slow, handicapped, overweight, etc. However, these were forced on the reader as opposed to a conclusion the reader might draw from experiences presented. 

It is a fast read, and if you are prone to like Hallmark movies of the week, you might like this book.  

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Prayer For Owen Meany

by John Irving

General: John Wheelwright just can't seem to get over Vietnam; even after 20 years, even after moving to Canada, he is still haunted, and yet, he never served a single day! John grew up in small town New Hampshire with his best friend Owen Meany.  Owen was never just a normal boy, for starters, he was small (barely 5'), and he was light (his friends played a game of lifting him), but the strangest thing about Owen was his VOICE. Owen's voice was in a permanent high pitch, near scream. Another thing that was different about Owen was that he believed he was an instrument of God, put on this earth to serve a specific purpose. None of Owen's friends understood or believed him, but Owen stuck to this belief with unswerving faith. 
The story tells of the friendship of these boys, struggling through their teen years, with school, girls, religion, and naturally politics and war. This was the generation of JFK, Vietnam, hippies and draft dodgers. John and Owen find a way to get through these years, but not all the way through.

Thoughts: This was my book club selection. Although I had read this book before and really liked it, I decided to re-read it and see if I still felt so. YES! This is a very well thought out, well planned book. All of the details, which at times you wonder about, are so seamlessly tied together at the end! It all makes sense, the VOICE, the constant practicing of the shot, the dream, the baseball; each piece was needed to form this tidy end package. I like the symbolism: the armadillo, baseball, the nativity, the dressmakers dummy, even the Christmas Carol. I like all of the controversial thoughts: the struggles with religion and predestination, the struggles with war and decisions of government, and the constant reminder of our (Americans) short memory for history. I liked Owen's solid faith (it's a story, I might question what I think about him knowing, but that's a different issue). Owen said, "FAITH TAKES PRACTICE." 
If there was one thing I could say negative, it might be that the diary narration of the present day was sometimes a bit distracting. For me, I can see that it remained within John's character,  but it didn't lend to developing the plot. Regardless, that can be overlooked; it's well worth reading.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Ballad of Castle Reef

by Honor Tracy

General: The Barraclough's of Ireland, have been soldiers for centuries. Until the latest boy, Francis, decides to buck the tradition, and go "find himself" in Paris! this causes his orderly father quite a disturbance, so in order to teach his son a lesson and give him some respect for hard work and responsibility, he decides to turn their family home over to his trusted servant upon his death, until that fellow would die, then it would go back to the family. the father thinking his death would be far off, and his son would possibly come to his senses prior to these events ever occurring. However, Major Arthur meets an untimely death, and chaos ensues. Castle Reef, in the hands of Maguire, goes to the dogs. The remaining servants leave in a huff, Francis returns with his new bride in order to teach him how to maintain order, meanwhile, Maguire mistakenly is kidnapped by some group trying to extort a ransom. 

Thoughts: Nothing special. This whole book seemed written to give a message of don't use your will to try teaching a lesson that you'd like taught in your lifetime, because you might not live to see that lesson taught. It makes me wonder if there was a personal circumstance in this woman's life which was the springboard for this book, perhaps she (or a family member) had been written out of a will, just because she did something to upset a parent when she was young..... 

Friday, January 30, 2009

Too Close to the Falls

by Catherine Gildiner


General: This is the story of a girl coming of age in the 50's on a boarder town in Upper New York. The small town in which she lived was called Lewiston, located very near Niagara Falls. Her father was owner/pharmacist of a drug store in Niagara. This was an idyllic small town where families knew one another, mother's stayed home and baked cookies for the kids, and no one divorced. However, Catherine's life was anything but "normal". Although she had happily married parents, her father's work kept him away from home from dawn until night six days a week. By the age of four, Cathy was working full time delivery for the pharmacy, and continued to work throughout her childhood, and before and after school. We are introduced to many of the townspeople who impacted Catherine's life in special ways, Roy, Mad Bear, Warty and Mother Agnese to name a few. Catherine's mother was eccentric, not holding Cathy to any rules and never cooking or cleaning.  However, she taught Catherine to read by the age of four and constantly instilled history lessons in their talks. She has a great memory for detail. 

Thoughts: Catherine was ahead of her time in a town in which she was a fish out of water. For a girl growing up in the 50's she was definitely not being brought up as Betty Crocker, but as a career woman. Although the story ends when she is a preteen so you don't really know what happens, you can imagine because of her nature; she just couldn't sit still. 
Funny that if she were in school today, the doctor would be medicating her for ADD, not prescribing her to work in her father's store to burn off her excess energy. What a different world!
Catherine is a good story teller, and many times her stories made me laugh out loud. 
I will say, I didn't like the ending. Not because it left so much unsaid, but because of the whole situation with the priest. Throughout the book, it is apparent that she struggled with religion (the Catholic church) her entire life, however I think you can take your "bashing" too far, and in this case I think she did. That entire story about her and the priest, and her friend Miranda with him, didn't ring true, just seemed another way to make the church look bad. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

by Muriel Barbery

French Contemporary Fiction

General: In central Paris, in a very exclusive apartment, live two extremely intelligent people, both of them on a mission to keep their genius under wraps. Unbeknown to the other, or to most of  the world around them, their secret self is slowly seeping out. Under normal circumstances, their worlds would not collide, one of them being a lowly, fifty-four year old concierge, and the other the twelve year old daughter of wealthy tenants. However, these two begin to suspect the other's gift, and forge an unlikely friendship with the help of a new Japanese tenant, Kakuro Ozu.
Renee, the crusty old concierge, is a self-taught product of peasant farmers, who believes that each class must remain where they are and do what is expected of them. 
Paloma, is frustrated with her life, and her place in it, and is striving to find purpose and a reason to continue living. She begins writing two journals, in order to determine whether she should commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. The Journal of Profound Thoughts and The Journal of the Movement of the World.

Thoughts: This is a very unique book that speaks more through philosophical ideas than a major plot. However, there is a story and relationship with these characters that pull you quickly through the story. There are many thoughts dealing with finding beauty in life through art, music, poetry and literature. There are also many "profound thoughts" about the ways in which we deal with others. "We never look beyond our assumptions and, what's worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves."  
I'll leave you with just one more thought, "...if you dread tomorrow, it's because you don't know how to build the present,... Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity."
I like books that challenge your positions about life and relationships. I really enjoyed the language in this book as well, it was just beautifully written. (You might need your dictionary though.) You should read this.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

by Lauren Willig

Historical Fiction /Romantic Fiction

General: This novel is taking place in two time periods, today and 1803, as Napoleon is plotting to invade England. In the storyline of today, the main character, Eloise, is in search of information for completion of her dissertation on some British spies during the Napoleonic time period. She comes into a bit of complication with a particularly stubborn family member who would like certain dairies to remain private which would reveal the identity of one of the long unknown spies. In the storyline of 1803, Richard Selwick is the Purple Gentian, a daring British spy saving many from Bonaparte's guillotine. Two British young ladies travel to Paris, wishing to join his league, which creates many difficulties for all involved. This leads to the necessity of creating yet another spy, the Pink Carnation, whose identity remains undisclosed.

Thoughts: The story was very predictable, despite the author's obvious attempts to lead readers down primrose paths. As for labeling the book an historical novel, I'd say that is a stretch, unless just by citing Napoleon and his doings in the correct time period classifies a book as historical fiction, because that really is all I could see this story can claim. One other issue I had with the "historical" aspect, was the intelligent assumptions the characters made, which I don't think were very realistic given people of that generation. Otherwise, I might send it to "Romance", which is not really my type of book. Typical of other romance novels I have been persuaded to read, I found the dialogue a bit silly and I do not care for the very sappy descriptive love scenes (which I skip over). This was the selection of the month from my book club (I'll rate it a 4).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Book of Lost Things

by John Connolly

British Contemporary Fiction

General: A young boy, in trying to overcome the recent death of his mother, becomes bitter when his father remarries and the new wife quickly gives birth to a baby boy. As David struggles to come to terms with his position in this new family arrangement, his imagination begins to get the better of him and he starts hearing his books talk. Then the voice of his dead mother lures him into an enchanted world where a woodsman and a knight agree to lead him to see the king. In this world, ruled by a crooked man who places David through a series of warped and frankly, gory fairy tales (think Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Billy Goats Gruff on crack) he finally reaches the castle. David learns some valuable life lessons along the way.....
does he get back home, or does he become king of this new world? The choice is left to him...

Thoughts: This was a quick fun read. I liked the idea of books talking, because I think books are generally written to give a message to people, and I'd tend to think a kid would be one who would hear books speaking. The warping of the fairy tales did go a bit overboard at times in the gruesomeness. I'm also wondering if Connolly might have some problems against women, as he did some pretty ugly portrayals of them here (this is my devil's advocate self). That huntress, the fat and sassy Snow White, those ugly harpies, the seductress Red Riding Hood, sleeping "beauty", even the mean stepmother! 
Despite those issues, it was a good adventure with a clever concept. There were valuable life lessons contemplated and personal growth.  Also, I typically enjoy a well written good vs. evil story. 


Online Book Club

I am in a monthly book club with a group of ladies where we read one book per month and then meet together to discuss and rate said book. The books are selected on a rotating basis by each member of the group. We each then give the book a number rating between 1-10. Because we are all friends, the meetings tend to be short on book discussion, quickly veering off to other life happenings. At one point, in an attempt to try and extend our discussion of these books, I began to challenge the group with questions (mainly negative, or opposite the general group reaction to the story).  In my mind I was doing this for fun and for us to spend more time discussing the books we all read. After all, we were a BOOK club. However, the reactions from my opposing opinions of the books were not well received. Many of them were upset that I was challenging their ideas, and more were upset that I was rating the books so low. I realized rather quickly that these ladies really weren't gathering for a book discussion at all, but that the book reading was an underlying excuse for a get together..... I have since stopped pushing the envelope..... however once you set yourself as that person, I guess that is how everyone views you. Even though I only did that for about 6 months (and I have been now going to this book club for about 2 years) I still have people apologizing to me about their book selection BEFORE they even reveal their choice to the group! 

So, here I am posting my own online book club, with no members (except me). I can say what I think about the book, and perhaps ask a few questions, post a few great quotes from the book, maybe who I know that might like to read it..... or not..... give it a rating (using the 5 star method) and hopefully, I won't offend myself :)