Monday, December 27, 2010

Week 51: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson (358 pages)

A story about a 68-year-old retired British Major and a 58-year-old Pakistani shopkeeper does not, on the surface, seem like it would be an enjoyable read. You would be wrong. This delightful book was a great read for this holiday week. Reading this story was like taking a leisurely stroll in your favorite park or savoring that last bit of your favorite meal. It definitely was not to be rushed. For a super-fast reader like myself with very little patience to spare - this was initially a tough book for me to settle down and enjoy. Once I did, though - it was fantastically worth it.

Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali are drawn together by loneliness and literature (Rudyard Kipling) in particular. Each have their own family obligations that keep them at arm's length - but each have an inner strength that compels them forward. Both characters have lost their spouses and hold very particular positions a sleepy English village. As they develop feelings for one another, the small town of gossips begin to impart their subtle prejudices toward the two. This book does a great job of covering multicultural issues, village politics, good manners and family dynamics. The village is such a throwback to the past that I often had to remind myself that it was set in modern day Britain. The Major often fussed about mobile phones, the internet and the general lack of decorum of the young generation (including his son Roger).

The writing-style that Ms. Simonson employs in this debut novel is witty and reminiscent of Austen. If you are interested in a story filled with colorful characters that drink lots of tea, this is the book for you. A fantastic read.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Week 50: Goodnight Tweetheart - Teresa Medeiros (240 pages)

I am in love with love and always have been. This week’s book “Goodnight Tweetheart” is a lovely romantic novel set in 2010 NYC (the most romantic American city??). Very timely and quirky this book was an incredibly fast read. As a matter of fact I finished it in one day over the span of 6 hours. 

In my teen years I would spend hours reading romance novels. Danielle Steel, Johanna Lindsey and Catherine Coulter were my friends who wrote love stories that unfortunately helped to form my misbegotten knowledge of men! Sometimes the “members” did throb – other times, not so much. And sometimes the coming together was so sadly un-romantic that I was sure I had done something wrong. As I grew older and my pleasure in reading these books was deemed “guilty” I started to back away from the genre. But – lingering in my mind – was a love. I could read “Outlander” by Gabaldon – not outwardly romantic, but epic in scope and breadth and thank goodness for Philippa Gregory and her tales of “The Other Boleyn Sister” (steamy stuff with history thrown in)! So when I came across this book at Borders, I was intrigued. I got a love story with pop culture references thrown in – bonus!

The story is about author Abby Donovan who was the literary “it” girl when her debut novel was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club. We find her four years after the fact with a colossal case of writer’s block and a book deadline that looms in front of her like the Grand Canyon. She “meets” Mark on Twitter and embarks on a fantastic ride. This book is very different from those classic romance books that I was a big fan of in my younger years. There was no sex in this book, no bodices ripping, no members – throbbing or otherwise and very little “language”. The story is told in 90% Tweets (those lovely conversations using 140 characters or less). The correspondence is perfect and genuine and quite fitting. Since it is a romantic novel – things go sideways and there is a push to set things straight, but I must say that although I had a hope as to how the book would end – I was surprised at the path the author took us down to reach the conclusion.

I love reading and I love escapist reading. Sometimes I like to learn new things, but often when I read, I want to suspend disbelief and enter someone else’s world. I can’t say how much I loved this book and how lovely it was to enter the world of Abby and Mark – it was all I could do not to look them up on Twitter and join in their conversation. This is a perfect book to read on a cold (ish) winter night. It definitely warmed my heart. My pleasure is my pleasure – others can call it guilty, I call it fun to read!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Week 49: Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert (334 pages)

This week I chose to re-visit a book that I was not a fan of when I initially picked it up in 2007. Whenever people talked about this book they would gush and say that it changed their lives and would wax poetically about the wisdom that the author Elizabeth Gilbert put forth in this memoir. In 2007 I was in a dark place (going through a separation, figuring out my life) and I was not that invested in Ms. Gilbert's platitudes. A friend of mine picked up this book and was such a great fan, I thought maybe I should pick it up and try again. I mean, it had been three years since I had last tried it out, I had grown (up!!) and I was more mature...

Getting into was pretty easy, but then I found myself having my same old issues with memoirs that I often have - I DON'T CARE!! So I put the book down, walked away and read a magazine or two. When I picked the book up again I realized that I really did care and I put the book down because I read something that hit a little too close to home. Here is the passage:

"I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men. I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism." 

Well dammit Elizabeth!! I could have written that statement. I make decisions, about life, men, shoes, finances, etc. very quickly. While I can deal with the outcomes of most all of them - that man decision sometimes lands me in a quandary. So, I kept reading this book and I learned some things and I made some more decisions and I decided that I still did not love this book, but I can respect Ms. Gilbert and I appreciate the journey that she took. She stated things that were of course known to me, but that I would lock away and choose not to think about. 

I am happy that I read this book again, and that I picked it up so near the end of an incredibly trying year. I will remember what Ms. Gilbert spoke about, I will try to remember that "I think I deserve something beautiful"...that can be a pair of shoes, a new house, a beautiful relationship, or a wonderful book. 

Week 48: Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins (398 pages)

This is the final chapter of the Hunger Games Trilogy and it ended with a bang. Ms. Collins is an adept author that made this a thrilling series that was difficult to turn away from or even to stop thinking about it (too many nights had Katniss and gang swirling through my dreams)!!

In this book we find that Katniss is the face of the revolution that hopes to give the power back to the people of the districts and to override the power of the Capitol. There were many exciting turns in this story, some I could predict and some that blew my mind! 

With all of that being said, I don't know if I can truthfully say that I loved this novel. It was a fantastic novel and I cannot think of a better way for a trilogy to come to a close. Collins hits the perfect note of sadness and sweetness and pain and healing all rolled into one big jumble. This was a much more severe book than the first two, it was much harder to read (though I read it in almost one sitting) with more emotional depth. It was a bittersweet book and it still makes me think. I am not disappointed with the way the book ended, I think that I am just disappointed that the story has ended. That is why I can't say that I loved it - I think I was just too sad that it was over. 

Bravo Ms. Collins - you captured me with your post-apocalyptic YA madness. Thank you!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Week 47: Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) - Suzanne Collins (391 pages)

Catching Fire starts up not far from where The Hunger Games ended. Katniss is living in the Victors Village with her family. You'd think that she'd finally be able to relax and live the cushy life. Well that wouldn't make a good book. There are rumors of rebellion and since Katniss and Peeta won the Hunger Games in defiance they have become the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol, particularly President Snow, is not happy with them. Now Katniss has to worry about looking as in love with Peeta as possible to quiet down the rebellion, but is that what she really wants? 

This is an intense book, I found it difficult to put it down. The threats, betrayal, actions, and compassion just seem to be deeper in this book. I am sure that all of these qualities lend to the addictive nature of this series. Suzanne Collins is genius at turning a phrase in just a way that pulls a gasp from the reader. 

I wasn't sure what was going to happen in this book and it took about 40 pages for me to fully commit, but the twist came pretty quickly and amazingly and I was in and hanging on for the ride. I find it hard to fully review this book without giving too much away. Catching Fire is a great second book and moves the story along quite nicely. We get some more development of the main characters and meet some new people who's intentions are not immediately easy to determine.

This is a great series of books and number two is well worth your time. Next week I will complete the trilogy!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Week 46: The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (374 pages)

I have been having a tough time writing this review, though I finished this book early this week. I have been contemplating what it all means and how Suzanne Collins told such a wonderfully compelling story through the eyes of a young protagonist, Katniss Everdeen without introducing vampires or werewolves! Trust me - I am first in line for a vampire story, but we all need a break. I know I have been all over the YA genre throughout this project and I was beginning to wonder if I was digressing into a more juvenile mindset - but as I pondered more, I think not. The YA genre is telling stories now in a much deeper fashion than when I was a kid. They are tackling subjects like the environment and world peace as well as love and whimsy. The fact that they use young people to tell these stories makes it more compelling. Maybe it's because my grown-up self is just too consumed in the day to day, or maybe it's because I have become too jaded to think that I can change anything. The heroes and heroines in these stories have balls and they are steadily kicking ass.

Katniss lives in the ruins that was once North America. She is a resident of District 12, known for mining coal and nothing else. They are a very poor people, as are everyone in the nation and they live under the rule of The Capitol. The Capitol is pretty hardcore and the way they keep citizens in line is by forcing all districts to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games. Unfortunately - this is not much of a game, since the participants are forced to fight to the death while it is all being televised. Talk about reality TV!!

Katniss' twelve-year-old sister, Prim, was pulled to represent District 12, but Katniss steps in to take her place. Thus begins this amazing adventure. This book captured me from page heart raced and I was yelling along with the crowd. Katniss is a wily young woman and uses her wit and skill to survive and to try to outwit the Capitol. Against all odds, she becomes a contender and this puts her in an even more vulnerable position. She has to make decisions that will affect her and the citizens of the nation.

Lots of adventure and a little bit of romance this is an engrossing tale. I was both saddened and encouraged. I couldn't help but wonder if this was a future that could happen to us all...maybe not in such a grotesque manner, but in smaller more subtle ways. I can't get this book out of my head and in the next two weeks, I will be reading the remainder of the trilogy.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Week 45: Tinkers - Paul Harding (191 pages)

This book opens on George Washington Crosby laying in his living room in a hospital bed preparing to die. A very heavy topic. George sees the walls cave in around him and he starts the process of moving back and forth in time remembering and re-living seven decades of his life. 

Though this is a beautifully written book - I found myself reading some sentences over and over again to get at the author's meaning. This is Paul Harding's first novel (bravo on the Pulitzer) and it was great effort, I think it was a bit too dull for me at times to fully commit. I don't need a book to have bells and whistles, but this one was almost too laid back and somewhat contrived. I felt that the book was oftentimes trying to prove that it was much smarter than I could ever be. That is unfortunate, because the premise was intriguing. 

Many of George's memories were witty and there were many lessons to be learned - but Harding wrapped so much "other" around those stories that oftentimes I no longer cared. Many, many people love this book and offer rave reviews - I am not one of those people, but there were some moments of greatness here, too bad there weren't enough to sustain me. 

Week 44: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares - Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (260 pages)

“I’ve left some clues for you. 
If you want them, turn the page. 
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.” 

What a great way to start a book and what a great way to capture the reader. I was hooked from that quote and I am so glad that I took the journey. 

Lily leaves this first dare in a red notebook in a favorite bookstore in NYC and Dash is the recipient. Dash - a brooding young man (sometimes called "snarl") that prefers to spend most of his time alone...going so far as to lie to each of his parents so that he can spend Christmas home alone. Lily loves, loves, loves the holidays and is saddened by the fact that her parents decide to spend Christmas in Fiji while she is left home alone with her older brother. The notebook is her chance to break out of her protective shell and learn some things about herself.

Through a series of dares the two develop a relationship and though the dares are an integral part of this book - this is a very character-driven story. Written for those that are 13 and up, this book uses above average vocabulary and seems deeper than what is "typical" behavior from today's teens (but what is typical). The authors trade off writing chapters (Levithan is Dash's voice and Cohn Lily's) and even the font slightly varies for each of the characters. What the book turns out to be is a love story, not the typical kind, but a love story to New York and to Christmas and to language. 

This was a beautifully written book and I was truly sad when I reached the last page. From the cover to the gorgeous words to the last sentence, this was an absolute pleasure to read. This is the third book from writing partners Cohn and Levithan ("Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" and "Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List"). This is the first book that I have read written by this duo, but I did see the movie adaptation of "Nick and Norah..." and was smitten. I heard this book has already been optioned for the Hollywood treatment - I am hoping  they do it justice. Run and pick this one up sooner rather than later. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Week 43: Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch (Montana Mystique) - B.J. Daniels (250 pages)

We have all heard about "guilty pleasures" and apparently we all have them. I have all types of pleasures but I am not a fan of calling them "guilty". I love what I love and I don't feel any shame in that. I mean, don't let there be a cheerleader competition on ESPN because I will camp out all day and watch the flips, the dances and the cheers! It is great fun. I am also a sucker for a silly romance novel. Yes - I know how they are going to end, yes - the language is often so silly that it is laughable and yes - I know that life doesn't happen this what? Part of the fun of reading, is being able to escape into a story that is just fun and light. This book met this criteria.

A friend of mine let me borrow this book and initially I pooh-poohed it. Not because it was a Harlequin Romance (although- come on) but because I am not a big lover of stories set on ranches, etc. She stated that it was a fun and light read (my pre-requisite this week) and that it was a fast read. So - I dipped in.

I'm not going to reiterate the story but suffice to say, there was a jilted lover, a kooky old lady, a body found in a well, a past lover returning and a happy ending. These stories work because they stick to a pretty tried and true formula and they have millions of readers every year. 

Instead of turning your nose up at these "silly" books - pick one up. If nothing else, your mood can be lifted for a few moments.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Week 42: Smile - Raina Telgemeier (224 pages)

I may have misspoke earlier in this book project when I declared my dislike of memoirs. Generally - I still am not a big fan, but I find that if the memoir is in the form of a graphic novel, I can be engaged and really like what is being said. SMILE is just the kind of memoir that I can get into!

Set in 1989 in San Francisco, author and illustrator Raina Telegmeier tells the tale of the awkward time in a tween's life when they have to get braces. She wants so badly to be a normal teenager, but after an unfortunate fall she has to  get braces! Thus starts the tale of Raina. This lovingly illustrated gem is just as rich in story-telling as it is visually. My daughter raved about the book and devoured it in one sitting (it took me 2)!

Whether you had braces in your youth or not - Raina is very relatable. We all had some awkward moments growing up. The angst and excitement is deftly managed by the author. I am sure the fact that it is her life that we were reading about lent itself to the close editing. Nice touches about the past popped up throughout the book (Nintendo, San Francisco earthquake and even a reference from the 80s show Silver Spoons). They were nice reference points, but did not distract from the overall storytelling.

This is a great book to share with a tween in your life, or even read alone. I got a great chuckle from the story and would gladly read it again!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Week 41: Beat The Reaper - Josh Bazell (295 pages)

This is a book that is an atypical read for me. I have an extremely overactive imagination and this type of crime fiction feeds directly to the crazy in me!! But when a trusted reader friend of mine (Heather M.) suggested this book - I figured I would take a look. I am so glad that I did because this turned out to be one of the best books I have read in this entire project!

The book chronicles a day in the life of Dr. Peter Brown. It opens at 5a with Peter watching a pigeon and a rat fight... Welcome to Manhattan Catholic Hospital, where we find that Dr. Peter Brown was not exactly born with that name. He was born Pietro Brwna (Browna) and he was an assassin (known as "Bearclaw") for the mob. He was placed in Witness Protection (WITSEC) and went to medical school and was placed at the worst hospital in NYC.

In this mind-bogglingly fast day (8 hours) we skip from past to present (with a very witty use of footnotes) to learn how Peter got to here from there. We learn Peter was essentially an orphan - born to young hippie parents and turned over to grandparents who were murdered when he was 15 years old. Through some research (and an affair with a female cop) Peter finds out that the murder was a mob hit. This heinous act and the information that he learns, sets him on his path of revenge and retribution. He connects with a young man (Adam "Skinflick" Locano) who's father has strong mob connections and he becomes a fixture in the family; down the slippery slope he goes.

Without giving away too many spoilers, Dr. Brown runs into a former associate in the hospital. When the patient sees "Bearclaw" he immediate freaks out and calls for a hit. He informs the doctor that if he does not survive his surgery - men will come to kill him! This is problematic on so many levels - the first being that the former associate has signet cell (hardcore) cancer and the survival rate is very low, the second being Dr. Brown has been compromised in the hospital that was specifically chosen for the fact that mob guys do not go there, and the final and the scariest is the fact that the person the associate calls to place the hit is the very person that Dr. Brown had to give up in order to make it into the WITSEC program! Let the race begin - it is now time to "Beat The Reaper"!

I had a hard time putting this book down - as a matter a fact, I completed a staggeringly large portion of the book in one 5-hour sitting! It is not particularly strong literature and there are some gory bits (and profane moments) - but Bazell (a doctor himself) creates a compelling protagonist you oftentimes hate more than you like. It is a mapcap thriller and at times I was laughing out loud at the absolute absurdity of the situations! If you don't like to suspend your disbelief - this one might not be the book for you, but if you can suspend it just a bit, pick this one up!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Week 40: It's Kind of a Funny Story - Ned Vizzini (448 pages)

As a mother, I often wonder how my child is going to "stack up" in school, in society, etc. I give her all of the tools I can and I try to make sure she has a well-balanced life - but at some point I have to say, "I've done all I can". This book focuses on 15-year-old Craig Gilner. He is a young man who is put under so much pressure to succeed (much of it self-induced) he feels the only way to escape is suicide. The title is "It's Kind of a Funny Story" and at times it is, laugh out loud funny, but then there are the quieter times that are filled with despair that make your heart just break for Craig. Ned Vizzini does a brilliant job of bringing all of the emotions of this story together in a nice cohesive blend.

Craig, realizing his issues speaks with his family and they get him the help he needs. He sees a therapist, Dr. Minerva, and is placed on medication. These steps seem to work until Craig starts feeling so good he decides to stop taking the meds. He spirals down and eventually he is on the phone with a suicide prevention hotline (a sadly funny incident). They suggest he checks himself into the hospital and that is what he does. In my opinion, this is where the story packs its punch. Craig stays in the facility for five days (on the adult floor since the juvenile floor is undergoing renovations) and he interacts with folks that have more severe issues than he does. He meets people that have been in and out of the system for years, people that have no support system. His eyes are opened and it is the learning experience of his young life.

This book tackles topics that plague many of today's teens. They are working so hard to achieve a goal (get into the right school, meet the right partner, be in the right organizations, etc.) that they often forget how to be kids. Being in the hospital not only saved Craig's life, it taught him how to live life.

The author brings some nice insight to the story as well. Though this is not a memoir - he spent sometime in mental facility and was placed on the adult ward when he was a teen. He began writing this novel after being discharged. Clearly, this was a cathartic experience for him and we are lucky to be able to live through this tense time with Craig. A great read, I would highly recommend it to parents and students alike.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Week 39: Getting To Happy - Terry McMillan (375 pages)

Though I knew this book was the sequel to best-selling novel "Waiting To Exhale", I believe I still would have picked up this book. The title "Getting To Happy" is so compelling. I know I am trying to get there and a lot of my friends are in similar situations. So what better way to spend a week, than with four familiar characters all trying to figure out how to breathe 15 years after exhaling?

I was nervous when starting this book, I had a hard time getting into it and I was concerned that it was going to be a disappointment - but I persevered. I am glad I did - once I got pass page 100, it was hard to put the book down.

We meet up with Savannah, Gloria, Bernadine and Robin 15 years after Waiting to Exhale ended. They are in their early 50s and they are dealing with various issues (death, divorce, children, and jobs). Sometimes I found it difficult to remember which character was which because their "voices" were all so similar. I found myself re-reading paragraphs to make sure that I was connecting the story to the correct character. Once the pattern was established and the characters were a little more developed, it was easier to follow along and in turn it was easier to care about each of these women.

Though I don't know that this sequel was wholly necessary, it was fun to look into the lives of some of the most beloved characters in African-American literature to see what happened to them. They are a loving group of friends that we would all be pleased to have. They have each other's backs in good times and in bad and they each help one another to find the "happy" that can be so elusive for some of us. If you don't read this book - at least reach out to your friends! Schedule lunch, see a movie, or just giggle - this will be a big step for you to get to happy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Week 38: I Am What I Am - John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman (256 pages)

Another memoir?? Yep - I am sure it will be the final one for me in this project. This is another book given to me by my pal Lara . She asked if it would be a book that I would be interested in checking out because she knew that I am a sci-fi fan overall and a Torchwood fan specifically. See, for the uninitiated, John Barrowman plays Captain Jack Harkness on the Doctor Who and Torchwood franchises. He is a Scottish-born actor who grew up in the US. He is flamboyant and funny and brilliant at his craft. He is also a little bit crazy - as evidenced in the opening of his book. He invites us, the reader, into his home. Pointing out what we see on the walls and in the foyer, introducing us to his dogs and using at least two footnotes on page one. He is a lover of a footnote - I am not...but I soldiered on.

One of the many things I dislike about the memoir format is at equal turns, it seems both self-indulgent and self-effacing. I got plenty of both from this book, but I also found out some great insight about this man. He spends a lot of time talking about Torchwood and the way the show ended. He talks about his 15-year relationship with his partner Scott Gill. He talks about his childhood and his unending love of his Mum and Dad. There were good stories and bad ones. Some went on for too long, some I wish hadn't ended.

For folks not familiar with Barrowman, I am not sure how enjoyable this book would be. I am a pretty big fan and even I was frustrated from time to time. It is very well-written with great humor and honesty - he really holds nothing back. There were definitely parts that made me laugh out loud and there were also some pretty moving stories. But - it is not a linear tale and he jumps from story to story and that sapped some of my enjoyment. Overall Barrowman is a fun guy, and I will watch him in anything, but I'm not sure I need to read anything more about him. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Week 37: Sammy's Hill - Kristin Gore (400 pages)

I love to fly. I love to go to new and old places, I love hotels and I love trying foods from different parts of the country. But the main reason I love to fly is because I can get 3-5 hours of uninterrupted reading time. In that time I can complete an entire book! My project partner Lara, larasreadingroom.blogspot.comlent this book to me and when I saw it, I immediately felt like it would be a good book for the airplane and I was not disappointed. 

This book is written by the daughter of former Vice President, Al Gore. Kristin pens a fun debut novel that follows the life of a congressional staffer Sammy. Sammy is an idealistic young woman that works on Capitol Hill for the junior senator from Ohio. Though I call the book fun, there were times that it was difficult to get through. Sammy is an obsessive worrier who often plans how to survive alligator attacks, loss of limbs, and various other healthcare issues for fun. Though sometimes cute - there are so many instances of these quirks throughout the book that they grew wearisome. 

Working as a domestic policy advisor for a U.S. Senator is by no means easy, but Sammy adores her boss and works her butt off to make sure that he has the best information possible to make decisions about health care policy. Sammy is on a quest to make health care affordable for all Americans, and she will do whatever it takes to pass the necessary legislation. Pulling all-nighters fueled only by coffee and calling in weed-addled senior citizens to give testimony at Senate committee hearings are par for the course. 

When she starts dating a staff member of a rival Senator, Sammy's professional and personal lives intertwine, with occasionally disastrous consequences. With her quirky and klutzy character, Sammy is at times adorable and irritating. Who hasn't been conned into buying far-too-expensive Japanese fighting fish from a secret agent of the North Korean regime? 

The book has many chick-lit qualities, but the storyline is often too complex to fall directly into chick-lit territory. This is a solid debut effort. I understand that there is a follow up book called Sammy's House. When I am heading on my next trip, maybe I'll pick up Sammy's House to see what is happening in Sammy's world. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Week 36: It's A Bird - Steven A. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen (Illustrator) (pages 138)

This week's book presented an interesting challenge for me. At first blush, it is a graphic novel tackling the Superman story - very appealing even though I am not a Superman fan. After getting into the story a bit, I find that it is a memoir...UGH! Memoirs are tough for me. I have friends that say I am just too self-centered to care and others that say I am not the least bit empathetic, making it difficult to relate. Whatever the case - reading a memoir is a less than ideal way for me me to spend my reading time. IT'S A BIRD had a lot of work to do in order to keep me engaged.

Generally I do some pretty good vetting of the books that I read for this project so that I don't run into this problem, but this book was given to me by a friend that knew that I enjoyed graphic novels, but had no knowledge of my dislike of memoirs. So, I cautiously tucked into the book and by the time I reached page four of the gorgeously illustrated (TEDDY KRISTIANSEN) novel I was sucked in and the realization that it was a memoir loomed only slightly in my peripheral vision.

IT'S A BIRD is Steve's story. Told in a mixture of flashbacks and present day, Steve is conflicted about being offered the Superman story. He has never liked the Superman story and feels as if he cannot bring anything to the story. He tries to process all of the things that Superman is supposed to represent - but all he gets is an oppressive super hero that is hiding in plain sight. Not a man to be put up on a pedestal.

Steve is also going through some very personal issues while trying to make this decision. He has a family history of Huntington's Disease and the family does not speak about it. He is obsessed with the thought that he may have the disease, but he keeps it from his friends and his live-in girlfriend. He lives in his head, creating silly scenarios and running away from his issues.

This book has many layers and there is an actual Superman story in here as well. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and I would highly recommend it to anyone that loves either memoirs or graphic novels.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Week 35: Ms. Hempel Chronicles - Sarah Shun-lien Bynum (208 pages)

This was a week where I had no idea what I was going to read. Then I happened upon this article where author Jonathan Franzen (THE CORRECTIONS) recommended four ovelooked books. I love when instances like this occur, since I was truly drawing a blank as to which book would be the winner this week.

What this "novel" winds up being is a series of short stories featuring Ms. Hempel. She is a 7th grade teacher that tries to impress on her students that the words that they use to define one another and themselves can stick. She also delves into stories of her past that have shaped her into the person and teacher that she is today. The book is at times cohesive and scattered...I find it interesting that we don't find out that the main character is Chinese until almost halfway in. It does nothing to propel or change the story, but it is interesting how we picture a character if we are given no descriptions from the author.

I believe that teachers (middle school in particular) would truly appreciate this book and those of us not in the profession can find some value in it as well. This is a well-written book that is a quick and interesting read.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Week 34: Forever... - Judy Blume (224 pages)

This project has been quite a journey. I have discovered new authors, new genres, and new outlooks. But I have also revisited some books from my past - just to see how they hold up. Sometimes a book makes such an impact on you that you are afraid to go back and re-read it for fear that it may mean something entirely different, or worse - you realize that your young brain did not realize that it was just a poorly written book. So, after receiving a book recommendation from favorite author Judy Blume a few weeks back - I decided to go back to my youth and check out FOREVER...

This book, written in 1975 when I was a mere 4 years old, was a controversial one from the start. It is a frequent target of censors and it appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 at number eight! So to get your hands on this book as a teen or even a pre-teen was a coup. Alot of my friends had to sneak to read this one. I was lucky to grow up in a house where we were able to read pretty much what we wanted. I thank my parents for that gift and it is one that I am trying to pass to my daughter.

The story follows Michael and Katherine making sense of young love and their first sexual encounters. Katherine is adamant that she wants the act of losing her virginity to mean something - she doesn't want to lose it purely for the sake of physical satisfaction or for curiosity. The thing that drew my attention then and got my attention again as I read the book was how much Katherine and Michael discussed their decision. They talked to each other, they talked to friends, their friends talked to each other. There was so much communication. When the decision is finally made to go forward - Katherine quickly learns that her idea of "Forever" would quickly fade.

If you didn't read this one as teen, please take a few hours to get absorbed in this world. If you have a daughter over the age of 14 - suggest that they check it out as well. This is a book from my youth that definitely stood the test of time.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Week 33: Dead As A Doornail - Charlaine Harris (295 pages)

There is something about the vampire genre, it should be studied by scholars to understand just what appeals to the modern American woman and why. Truly, it is totally ridiculous that I and hundreds of thousands of others not only bought this book but have made the entire series into best sellers and are riveted by the HBO series. I heard an interview with the series creator who said something along the lines of: they're about the conjunction of sex and death, of course everyone's obsessed with them. 

The book is fine.The plot is crazy (someone is shooting shape shifters, Sookie is saved again by her fairy godmother, her ex-boyfriend(s) are still after her, and there is a battle to the death for pack mastership). The characters are the same ones you saw before. Sometimes you laugh out loud (Sookie wonders if her hot boss's shirt really needs all those buttons). Sometimes you cringe (Sookie matched her nail polish to her coat in one scene and her lipstick to her earrings in another). And sometimes you wish the author would keep her opinions to herself (no, Ms. Harris, staking a vampire should not be used as an analogy for lynching; the first is cartoon-ish, the second a deep and painful American tragedy that should never be made light of by anyone who doesn't understand it). 

This is not the best book I have ever read. It's not even the best in the series. But it's funny and engaging and not terribly insulting and I am not going to feel embarrassed about reading it. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Week 32: Dead To The World - Charlaine Harris (291 pages)

So this is the fourth Sookie Stackhouse book that I have read and this is the best of the series so my opinion. Sookie finds herself in the position of protecting Area Five Sheriff (vampire) Eric Northman as he has somehow lost his memory and forgotten that he is generally an ass. He is being hidden at Sookie's for a fee (negotiated by her wily brother, Jason) and they become close.

At the end of book three, Sookie was so upset with the vampires and their issues that she had banished her then boyfriend Bill and Eric from her home. But finding Eric by the side of the road brings out the compassion in Sookie. This book is interesting in that some of what goes on in this book is happening currently in the TV Series, but other - more compelling stories have not been told and may not ever be told.

Jason's story is an attention-grabber and looks as if it may lead to new and different complications for him and the residents of Bon Temps. These stories are relatively well-written and are fun to read in the summer months. Next week I will be reading number five in the series - not because I want to read back to back vampire stories, but because the way this one ended...I can't wait to see what happens. These books are like the best potato chips - though less fattening!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Week 31: This Is Where I Leave You - Jonathan Tropper (352 pages)

This project leads me to many different sources when choosing books. I get recommendations from friends, from websites and from articles. But this book recommendation came from a social networking site - TWITTER. I follow many people on Twitter, athletes, entertainers, musicians and even authors. Favorite author, Judy Blume, raved about this book when she was travelling this summer. She tweeted that this was a truly laugh out loud book that had some weight and depth as well. With such a glowing recommendation from a wonderful author - how could I not pick this one up?

This story is told from the point of view of main character Judd Foxman. He is at a crossroads in his life, his wife is sleeping with his boss and his father has just passed away. If that is not enough to deal with, his father's last request was for the family "sit shiva" (a seven day mourning period that begins immediately after the funeral of a loved one). This was going to put Judd in direct proximity with his three siblings Paul, Phillip and Wendy and his famous mother Hillary - people that he works his hardest to spend as little time as possible. 

Judd is in a dark place and the last place he wants to be is in his mother's home while going through his issues. The book is broken up by days with chapters broken up by hours within those days. The author really evokes the time spent in the shiva situation and you can feel tensions between family members. As you can imagine, going back to your home town - old friends are re-introduced, secrets are revealed and self-discovery is gained.

This could have been a downer of a book, but Tropper is genius at making us laugh at situations we would not traditionally call laughable. Judd is not wholly lovable and I really liked that about the character. He has a sarcasm that borders on the hilarious, but really he is just trying his best to be the best man that he can be. This book follows his journey. 

The language in the book is harsh and their are some surprising situations, but it is so worth the time that you put into it. I highly recommend it. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Week 30: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants - Ann Brashares (352 pages)

This is a book that has been sitting on my bookcase since about 2002. I am not even sure where it came from, since I am pretty sure I didn't purchase it. I would glance at it and think to myself that I should pick it up, but I never did. Then for a while in 2008, HBO showed the movie nearly everyday and I wound up seeing various bits and pieces - so I thought there was no need to read it as I had basically pieced the whole story together. This week was a busy one, with my daughter's 10th birthday celebration and lots of extra work activity...I had a book lined up - but I thought that it might be too heavy for this week. I scanned the bookshelves and I saw this book staring me in the face. I decided to roll the dice. I am glad I did - this was a fun coming-of-age story.

Intially this was a hard book for me to get into - it took a while to determine the narrator of the story and the story of the traveling pants and how they came to be was a little rushed, but once that was sorted out - it was fun to take the ride with these four 15-year-old girls and their summer antics. Each girl has a distinct personality, Lena (aloof), Bridget (implusive), Carmen (thoughtful), and Tibby (rebellious and snarky) - and as each comes into possession of these magic jeans that fits each one of the fabulously (even though some are larger than others) we explore their adventures.

The jeans travel across the world from Greece, to Baja California to South Carolina and even to their home state of Washington, DC. Each of the girls have a life-changing encounter in this summer of the pants and the reader is invited on the journey.

Brashares does a fine job of character development, although I felt that the Bridget character was the weakest of all of the girls. This was a lovely story and when I looked up the author online, I noticed that there were four of these books, narrated by each member of the group, I assume. I am not sure that I am compelled to run out and buy subsequent books, but this first book was a great summer read.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Week 29: Bite Me (Love Story #3) - Christopher Moore (309 pages)

Don't moan, this is yet another vampire story. I think I mentioned a few books back that I really have been interested in the genre for quite some time. This was a very interesting book with a lot of kooky characters. This is the third book in the series, a series that I have never read, but was still able to get into.

The basic premise of this book is that the city of San Francisco is being terrorized by vampire cats! I was intrigued and a little scared. Though this was a funnier vampire book, it also had more elements that creeped me out and slipped into my dreams. Compared to the Twilight (2 on a 1-10 fear scale) and the Sookie Stackhouse (6 on the same scale) series of books, this one book rates about an 8. This is also a much more "modern" book. The main character, Abby Normal, is a typical teenager that speaks in text speech (OMG, TTYL, and more explicit varietals) and is blatantly disrespectful of authority figures (mom and police specifically). 

Abby is the narrator for most of the story and I will say that it took a little bit of time to get into the story because I had to adjust my reading voice to that of Abby's. So much slang, so much chatter - sometimes, so much distraction. Once I was able to get into the rhythm of her speech, I was able to enjoy the book.

Having not read the two books preceding this one, I did not feel at all out of the loop. Moore does a handy job at giving a bit of background without re-telling the previous story. I liked this book enough that I will likely pick up another of Moore's novels. He has an irreverent point of view that I find intriguing. 

This is not a book for everyone - but if you enjoy a bit of gore and some raucous sexual humor, this may be the book for you. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Week 28: Robert Frost's Poems - Robert Frost (288 pages)

I was introduced to poetry by my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Tom Reichert. He was my toughest teacher and he was my favorite. We were in a hybrid honors class so we had social studies, English and other topics in one class and then we traveled to another class for math and science. Mr. Reichert was a Vietnam vet and looked the part. He was also very intelligent and expected lots from us as students. He taught us discipline and fun. He could quote Chaucer, then slip into his version of "Cat Scratch Fever"! Clearly the man left an impression. Early in the school year he told us that, amongst all of the other things that were required for his class, we would be memorizing a poem a week and reciting them in front of the class!! This struck fear in the heart of most of the 12 an 13 year olds in this class. We freaked out! What type of poems? Do we choose? What if we get stage fright? We all thought that this was some form of torture - that Mr. Reichert thrilled in the torture of youngsters. Little did we know, he had bigger plans for us.

How does this story tie into my choice for reading this book this week? Well - the first poem that we had to memorize was ROBERT FROST's "Fire and Ice". I still remember this poem, some 27 years later. I am going to write it out for you - and of course there is no way of knowing whether I copied this from a book or not - but I didn't! If you know me - call me and ask for an impromptu recitation.

Fire and Ice - Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire
some say in ice
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those that favor fire
But if I had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
is also great
And would suffice

At 12 years old I had a vague idea what I was reciting, but it was later revealed to me as an adult, that Mr. Reichert was not so concerned about us knowing the meaning of what we were reciting. He wanted us to face our fears and get up in front of people with confidence. He wanted us to take this skill with us as we grew up and went to high school and college and our future careers. He felt that making us get up in front of our generally rude peers (God help you if you forgot or stumbled - we were merciless) would give us the skills to face anyone and anything. I have to say that he was right, at least for me, he was. I can comfortably speak in front of a crowd with little to no prep, because - the people in the audience can never be as horrible as we 6th graders were!

Of course this book of poems has all of Mr. Frost's poems both obscure and well known - I decided to speak about this one since it holds so much meaning to me. Maybe there is a special one for you in this collection. Check it out.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Week 27: Club Dead - Charlaine Harris (320 pages)

Vampires, vampires, vampires...our culture is and has been intrigued with vampires for some time, now. I count myself as one of the many fans. I read Bram Stoker's Dracula when I was about 14 or 15 years old and I have been taken with the genre ever since. I devoured Ann Rice's vampire series in record time and when Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series came out - I was on that train as well. So - for one so intrigued with vampires, I have no idea how I missed the existence of this entire series. So far Charlaine Harris has written 10 Sookie Stackhouse novels and is scheduled to write at least 3 more. It seems that I have some catching up to do - but I have 25 more books to read in this project and if the author's writing continues to be this engaging, it will be hard for me to pass up an opportunity to continue on.

The fun thing about this book is that it mirrors the current season of True Blood, the television series based on the books. This third book finds Sookie's vampire boyfriend, Bill, missing. Thus starts the adventure of the search. The regulars: Eric and Pam and Chow (vampires) and Sam (shape-shifter) are here and some new characters are introduced as well...werewolves. 

The journey to find Bill takes Sookie to Jackson, Mississippi with a companion that also happens to be a werewolf! Alcide is strong and handsome and oh so tempting to Miss Sookie. Book three turns out to be an engrossing tale and once I truly got into the story, I found it pretty hard to put down.

There will be no spoilers here, but try to read it if you are a fan of the show, and if you are not a fan of the show - check out this series of books.  

Monday, July 5, 2010

Week 26: Finishing Touches - Hester Browne (411 pages)

I have always been a fan of etiquette. I love knowing which fork to use and how to send the appropriate thank you gift or note. So when I saw this book at Barnes a few weeks ago, I was compelled to check it out. 

The story of orphan, Betsy Phillimore, who was left on the steps of a prominent finishing school on High Street in London. Betsy was raised by Lord and Lady Phillimore in and around the school in the 1980s. The story takes place 27 years after being left on the steps when Betsy returns to the school for the memorial service of her adopted mother.

While trying to maintain the elegance and manners that she has been raised with, Betsy gets thrown into trying to save the school as well. It seems in the 21st century a finishing school is not really that necessary. Betsy adds cool classes such as managing a budget and still looking like a fashsionista, taking great driver license and passport photos, when texting is appropriate and the like. All the while she is searching for her true purpose and for her real parents.

The novel is amusing and Hester Browne does a clever job in alternating the plot lines so that we are always looking forward to what is coming around the bend. A lovely summer read.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Week 25: One Day – David Nicholls (448 pages)

If I had any forethought at all, I would have waited 4 weeks to read this book. July 15, 1988 is the day that main characters Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew meet on their last day of college in Scotland. It is also the day that the author chooses to give us a snapshot (in chapter form) of Emma and Dexter over the next 20 years.

This compelling novel grasped me from page one. We find Dexter and Emma in bed and we aren’t sure whether they have or haven’t “done it”. The conversation that builds between the two of them is intense and teasing as they talk about what each of their futures will hold for them. Emma is an idealist, with FIGHT THE POWER values. Dexter is from money and has no idea what he is going to do with his life. They seem both wrong and right for each other – the yin to the other’s yang.

The author is brilliant in the way that he catches both the significant and the insignificant of each July 15th that passes. Dexter goes into “media” a job that he does not need much talent to do, but his great good looks lead him to be a success. Emma takes longer to figure out what to do with her life and shuffles from meaningless job to meaningless job before she settles on becoming a teacher. Each year the pair often meet up and oftentimes Dexter is insufferable and Emma is pathetic – they are the greatest of friends and they see the good intentions inside of each other, but since they know each other so well – they often hurt each other the most.

This book carries one along with its well-drawn characters and non-straight forward appeal. Each chapter moves us along and we see the two maintaining a friendship, but the book also shows the missed opportunities, the poor behavior, the sulking – all things that a 20 year friendship often goes through. The will they or won’t they aspect of the novel is also quite engaging. Author Nick Hornby calls it the perfect beach read for people who are normally repelled by the very idea of beach reads. To call this a beach read, or chick lit or lad lit – diminishes this novel. It is just a super book.

I am not at all sure who would hate this book; it is one of the few for this project that I was able to read in a mere 2.5 days time. I want everyone to read it, it was just that good.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Week 24: Spidergirl - Too Many Spiders Vol 6 - Tom DeFalco, Pat Olliffe and Ron Frenz (144 pages)

I know that this may be a surprising choice for my book this week, but when I was a child I was a huge fan of comic books (now often known as graphic novels). So - my daughter and I were out and about a couple of weeks ago and I took her to Atomic Comics where we picked up a copy of the comic version of "The Wizard of Oz". She tore through it in one sitting. I was so excited that she had taken  to the format as I had at her age. When I was her age - I read the "Archie" comics as well as the ones produced by Marvel. "Spiderman" was a huge favorite of mine and the young man at the bookstore suggested that this "Spidergirl" book and others in the series might be a good fit for my daughter. What he neglected to tell me was that I would also enjoy the story.

This is not going to be a book that many of you would choose, so I am not going to describe the story, the design, etc. What I will say is this - I love when a book can bring a family together and that is just what this book did for my daughter and I. If you have a child, find something fun that you can both read together, especially if they are older! It is a great bonding experience.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Week 23: The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella - Stephenie Meyer (178 pages)

It is highly likely that if you enjoyed the TWILIGHT series, then you will enjoy this book. In this novella, Meyer does something that I can't recall very many authors doing - she decides to tell the story of a very minor character from this series of books. 

Bree Tanner appears near the end of Chapter 25 in ECLIPSE in a brief but moving scene. She is a mere blip on the radar, we recognize her and she moves the story along, but once we turn the page she is almost instantly erased from memory - at least she was erased from mine. Meyer had a tougher time shaking this character from her mind. She decided to write this short story to give the reader a background and motivation for Bree and some of the other vampires in her coven. 

The TWILIGHT books focus mostly on "good" vampires, we are told that there are other 'bad" vampires around but since the TWILIGHT series is essentially BELLA SWAN's love story - we are blind to elements other than those that don't directly affect her world. What we get in this book is the tale of a young girl turned into a vampire and the subsequent manipulation of that girl. There are flashes of happiness for Bree, when she seems more like a 15-year-old girl - a crush on a boy vampire...but for the most part, MEYER lays it out in the title, it is to be a short life for Bree. 

The story is intense and it captures you right away. I found, as with most of MEYER's books, it was hard to put down. As a stand alone book - it wouldn't work, but it is a well-written companion piece about a character I didn't know I would care about.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Week 22: Boys and Girls Like You and Me: Stories - Aryn Kyle (240 pages)

I am a big fan of short stories. They are a fast read and you are able to get into someone's story very quickly and just as quickly get out. I was intrigued when I saw this book in the bookstore, it looked like something that I would really enjoy. Unfortunately, I did not love the book as a whole collection. There were a few outstanding stories (Nine, Captain's Club and A Lot Like Fun) while the other were fair to middling at best. 

This is the second book for author Aryn Kyle and I was hoping for better since I had heard that her highly lauded debut novel, THE GOD OF ANIMALS, was an expanded short story. Sadly, I could not see any one of these stories, even my favorites, expanded past the 10-30 pages in which they existed. 

The book tells stories of females from age 8 on up to their mid-20s. Some of the stories seemed haphazardly thrown together, while those few others were brilliantly written. I would check this book out at the library and read the stories that are most highly-rated or borrow it from a friend.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Week 21: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See (269 pages)

This project has introduced me to many great new books and this week, I will say that it also introduced me to some new technology. I read this book on the Kindle, by Amazon My good friend Claudia let me test-drive her Kindle to see if it was something that I might want to purchase. I must say that I enjoyed the book more than I enjoyed the device that I used to read it. 

This book takes place in 19th century China, in the inner realm of the women of the country. The story focuses primarily on Lily and Snow Flower, two young ladies from the Hunan province. The story takes us from their lives as young children to the mothers that they become.

This is an interesting book because it deals very little with men. This story took us into the brutal world of foot binding. It taught us about the secret language, Nu Shu, that women used to communicate with their female relatives and friends once they were married out to their husband's homes and this book also spotlights the laotong friendship between girls. The laotong is a lifelong friendship that is sometimes even more sacred and special than a marriage. 

The author made this story of fiction read as if it were the events of an actual woman's life. Lily, our narrator, is so real - you feel as if you can Google her or look her up on Wikipedia and this whole story would be corroborated. The conditions for women were brutal and they weren't expected to live past the age of 40. Women we told that they were useless and that the best that they could do was to marry out to someone respectable and bring in gifts and money for their family.

I found that, though Lily had a tough life, I sometimes didn't like her. I understood her reaction to many situations, but her intense need to be loved put her in precarious situations and in the end lead to a miscommunication. I am never a fan of 'the miscommunication' as a plot point, but LISA SEE handled this miscommunication relatively well. 

This is an excellent novel, if you enjoy the Kindle - check it out on that medium. I will go back to the old standard for next week's offering.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Week 20: The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald (180 pages)

The fun thing about this project is that I can re whatever I want to. I am not in a book club, so I don't have books that I am required to read - but I have many friends that give me great suggestions. I also have a bookcase full of favorite books that have made an impression on me over my lifetime  of reading. One such book is THE GREAT GATSBY. This was required reading in my sophomore or junior year in high school. I don't remember the paper that I wrote or the grade that I got on the test, but these characters resonated with me years after my initial discovery of them.

I chose to re-read this classic to see if the story stood up and to see if it affected me the same way as it had those 20 plus years ago. F. Scott Fitzgerald is a genius and the way that he used words and a turn of phrase to draw the reader in was brilliant. Jay Gatsby, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, and Nick Carraway are just as pretentious and elusively slick as ever. Reading again, I thought that I might want to skip bits that weren't exciting - but I didn't. From page one, I was sucked in to the showy world that is a facade for a world much darker than it appears. 

This is a book about deception, but I am not telling a lie when I said that this was a great book to re-visit. If you haven't picked up this book since high school, it may be time to check it out again. I don't think you will regret it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Week 19: Living Dead In Dallas - Charlaine Harris (320 pages)

This is the second in the Sookie Stackhouse series. I find that these books are easy and fun vampire tales that will be nice to read in the spring and summer nights. This is by no means a literary marvel, but not everything we read has to be. Reading is fundamental, but reading should also be fun!

This second novel finds Sookie and Bill being sent to Dallas to use Sookie's telepathic talent to find out what happened to a missing vampire. Not as well-written as the first novel, but it was a clever read. I cannot say that it was predictable either, the book managed to surprise me a few times. 

If you are a fan of the paranormal - this is a great series. But if you enjoyed the relative "chastity" of the Twilight series, this is not the series for you. Charlaine Harris delves deeply into sexuality between vampires and other paranormal entities! Proceed with caution if you are particularly sensitive.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Week 18: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1) - Alan Bradley (370 pages)

Set in England in 1950, we are introduced to Flavia de Luce. Flavia is a precocious young girl, aged 11, who is fascinated with Chemistry. Flave (as she is called by family) is the youngest of three children. Older sisters Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy) tend to pick on or ignore Flave and her eccentricities. 

Mysteries are not generally a genre that I enjoy, but this book was quite the exception. Flavia is an engaging character and her curiosity gets her in and out of scrapes. The mystery at the center of this novel involves a body found in the garden of Buckshaw (Flavia's family home). Flavia, being the fearless and strong-willed person that she is, goes forth in solving the murder. Flavia confounds the local police and has a helper in the family "jack of all trades" Dogger. 

So as not to spoil the story, I will forgo anymore plot points. I will say that this is a great debut novel by Alan Bradley. Bradley is 70 years old and has five books planned with Flavia as the protagonist. He was about 11 years old in 1950 and the book may be a bit autobiographical - whatever the circumstance, this was an engaging novel and I am looking forward to picking up #2, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag. I highly suggest this book, especially if mysteries aren't your thing - you may find yourself rooting out loud for Flavia!