What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading Now

She’s In a Better PlaceAngela Hunt

An easy read about a woman working in a funeral home in FL.  Its the third in a series that I haven’t read, but its not hard to understand what happened previously.

What I’ve Recently Read

The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown

Formulaic and a bit confusing, but still a good story.  It amazes me how deeply Brown understands symbolism and the topics he writes about.  He must do an astounding amount of research.

The Queen’s Fool – Philippa Gregory

One of my favorites.  I was a bit confused about how this story fit into history, but quickly figured it out, and really enjoyed learning about what happened in post-Henry England, especially from the point of view of a Jewish girl from Spain in Christian England.


The Poisonwood BibleBarbara Kingsolver

I grabbed this out of the Young Adult section of the library the other day, even though I think I had tried to read it a while ago and gave up.  I’m very happy I gave it another shot, because I’m really enjoying it.  The novel starts in 1959, and is about a family of six (a Southern Baptist minister, his wife, and four daughters) who go on a missionary trip to the Belgian Congo.  Written from the point of view of the mother and her daughters, you see them faced with not only struggling to live in the Congo on meager supplies, but also to deal with an angry father and the declaration of the Congo’s independence.  Its awesome, so far.

The Virgin’s Lover – Phillippa Gregory

My least favorite Gregory book, by far.  This one is about Queen Elizabeth and her relationship with Robert Dudley, her Master of the Horse.  It dragged a bit, and was a little hard to follow, although I did enjoy the parts about Robert’s wife, Amy.

The Constant Princess– Phillippa Gregory

This is the first in Gregory’s series of the Tudors, but the third I read.  Its the story of Katherine of Aragon (the Infanta Catalina, Princess of Spain) and her rise to the throne.  I think its my favorite so far.  Its more history than soap opera, but its great.

Last Night in Montreal – Emily St. John Mandel

I liked this, but I didn’t love it.  It was a decent story, it just seemed to fall flat and not quite make it to the great level.  I wonder if part of my problem was that I read it on my Kindle app on my iPod, and the formatting was horrid.  It was really frustrating.  One day I might check out the regular book version and see if that helps.

The Boleyn Inheritance — Phillippa Gregory

This is the story about Henry’s fourth and fifth Queens– Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard (Gregory kind of glosses over Jane Seymour, even though she gave Henry his male heir) and is written from their points of view, as well as that of Lady Rochford (Jane Boleyn).  This book was very soap opera-ish, but an excellent read from all of the different points of view.

The Hour I First Believed — Wally Lamb

I love Wally Lamb, despite the fact he writes books that are too large to drag on the train.  I loved the story of this novel.  In its simplest state, its a story about a couple who were teachers at Columbine the day of the shootings.  But Lamb delves so deeply into their histories that the book gets bogged down at times.  It became a bit tedious, but still worth the effort.

The Other Boleyn Girl— Phillippa Gregory

I admit, I went into this book with a bad attitude.  It didn’t even make the vacation cut for Jamaica.  I don’t even know why I picked it up at the library.   I usually don’t like historical novels, I tend to get lost and bored.  This book, however, has pleasantly surprised me.  It is totally keeping my attention, not hard to follow, and I am planning on reading the remainder of Gregory’s novels as soon as I can.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven— Susan Jane Gilman

I loved Gilman’s Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress (see below for review), so I jumped at the opportunity to try out her new novel.  Temple isn’t as funny as Hypocrite, but I wasn’t the least bit disappointed.  Its a true story from the eighties, when Gilman and a college friend backpack around the world, starting in the recently-open-to-visitors  People’s Republic of China.  Their travels are nothing less than unforgettable and a little crazy.

Atonement — Ian McEwen

This one took a while to get into, and was kind of hard to stay into.  I did like the story itself, but it was hard to follow.  Maybe because I was distracted by pina coladas?  Nah, it was just boring.

The Book ThiefMarcus Zasak

This book came highly recommended, so I was almost afraid to start it, thinking it wouldn’t live up to the hype.  Its a story about a young girl in Nazi Germany who lives with foster parents and develops a love of reading.  I’m about halfway through, and I enjoy the story and the history of the time.  However, I hate the writing style.  I’m not clear who the narrator is supposed to be, but he interjects things about himself that don’t seem to tie into the rest of the novel.  Plus, he adds odd bold parts as explanations, which I find odd and distracting.  I hope the remainder of the story makes up for the annoying writing style.

***So, I just finished this, and feel really stupid for not knowing who the narrator is.  I re-read the first few chapters after I finished and thought I knew who it was.  I think I just wasn’t paying attention in the beginning because I was so agitated with the writing style.

The bottom line still stands — I liked the story, but not the style.  Yet part of me wants to read it again.

Change of Heart — Jodi Picoult

As a general rule, I find many of Jodi Picoult’s books to be formulaic drivel, but sometimes you need that in life.  I can almost always predict the endings, yet the stories still keep me entertained.  This book was a bit deeper than others, and really got in depth about religion.  I found that part fairly interesting, considering I’m quite the Lapsed Catholic.  But the end really failed to deliver, and I was pretty disappointed, especially considering the length of the book.  Basically, a long set up for a flat ending.

Prisoner of Tehran — Marina Nemat

This book was recommended to me by a friend (hi Morgan!) and I really enjoyed it.  The author was a prisoner in Tehran’s Evin prison, and was one of the lucky ones to live to tell the tale.  Her time there was full of devastating experiences, so the book is graphic and depressing at points, but an excellent story.  Well written, and you learn a bit of history at the same time.

Testimony — Anita Shreve

I got this book at the library last weekend (I feel like I real resident now).  Its about kids at a private school who are charged with sexual assault.  Its written from a lot of different perspectives, which can be a little confusing, but it was well done.  Parts were graphic, but tasteful, and the book came together well at the end.

BloodstreamTess Gerritson

Gory, gross, graphic and good.  Gerritson writes medical mysteries, and, while I think I liked The Bone Garden a bit more, since it had a bit more depth to the story, this was still a good read, though not for the squeamish.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames — David Sedaris

I think I’ve mentioned previously how much I love David Sedaris, and his latest book did not disappoint at all.  I was laughing out loud on the train, and loved every story in this collection.  He has so much great material about his life that he almost never repeats his experience throughout his books.  Really awesome.

The Memory of Running— Ron McLarty

I just started this.  So far, its okay.  Its based in RI, so you have to like it!  Its a bit hard to get into, but I’m going to stick it out for now.

I ended up really enjoying this.  The main character rides his bike cross country, in kind of a mid-life crisis, and reflects on his past.  It had nothing to do with running, but was entertaining.

The Year of the Fog — Michelle Richmond
Eh.  The story was decent, but predictable, and there were some odd little chapters about memory that didn’t really add value to the book.  Chick lit, but not so great that Oprah would recommend it.

The Twilight series: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn –Stephenie Meyer

I turned into a thirteen year old girl for a week.  These books aren’t the best things ever written, but they suck you right in.  I had dreams about vampires and werewolves.  I even asked J if he was a vampire and I wasn’t, would he bite me so I could live forever with him?  He replied: Forever is a long time.  That’s true love, my friends.  The bottom line is that this series won’t win any Nobel Prizes, and it’s a far cry from Harry Potter, but its definitely worth a shot and an excellent read.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard — JK Rowling

Beedle the Bard is the wizarding world’s Brothers Grimm, and Rowling tells his stories, translated by Hermoine Granger, with commentary from Albus Dumbledore.  Its a cute book, but short (I read it in one train ride home!) and a good read for Harry Potter lovers.

The Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized  and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century Howie Carr

Whitey Bulger is probably Boston’s biggest mobster, and his brother Billy, a public figure, ain’t no angel either.  This book was very interesting, but a little confusing.  Lots of details, lots of nickname.  For example: Jimmy The Fish Sullivan killed Billy Skins Smith, whose brother Tommy (aka Tommy TwoTimes) was killed by Whitey in Southie ten years before.  It was a little hard to get through, but I’m glad I read it.

In Defense of Food— Michael Pollan

Read this!

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress — Susan Jane Gilman

Another great book of short stories.  Hilarious and well written.  It brought back lovely memories of awkwardness as a child.  And the wedding chapter was laugh out loud funny.

Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Caged Whale Sings — Christopher Moore

I read Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal a while ago, and howled throughout it.  I was hoping for the same from Fluke.  The first part was a bit disappointing, but Part Two is proving to be much more entertaining, and pretty crazy.  So far, so good, and though I’m not in love with it yet, I have high hopes.

Bottom line: A good read, but doesn’t hold a candle to Lamb.

The Pig Did It — Joseph Caldwell

Blech.  I got this book out of the library because it looked different than the stuff I usually read.   I don’t like it, but I want to see how it ends.  I don’t like the story or the writing.  I find the whole thing odd, and I’m actually getting mad at the book, because I don’t want to read it anymore, but I do.   (I finished it.  It sucked).

I Was Told There’d Be Cake — Sloane Crosley

I have to be honest.  I bought this book for two main reasons: It was cheap & needed one small item to get free shipping, and I like cake.  Come on, you’d buy it for the same reasons.

This is a book of short stories/essays, and all so far have been entertaining & funny.  Its been awhile since I read a book of short stories, but I remember there were always a few I hated, and some I loved.  So far, the author is batting a thousand.  The cover compares Crosley’s writing to David Sedaris, and while I don’t think she’s quite gained that stature, she’s pretty good.

Update: I just finished this, and I think the stories got better & better as the book went on.  I was laughing out loud on the train a few times.  I can see myself reading this over and over again.

Baby Proof Emily Griffin

The back of this book reads something like — what happens if you & your husband agree you don’t want children, and one of you changes your mind?  (It reads way better than that, I’m too lazy to find the book).  And that pretty much sums the book up: one person wants kids, the other on doesn’.  What happens next?  Its not one of those profound self help books or anything, just a story about figuring out whats important to you in life, and about making sacrifices.  It was well written and easy to read, funny & a little sad.  Chick lit, but cute chick lit).

I should add that J was horrified that I was reading this, as he’s convinced that I don’t want kids (which is not true at all.  I just don’t want one right now).  I think he thought it was a book to teach me how to convince him not to want kids with me.  I might let him keep thinking that, just to watch him squirm a bit.  (I know that’s mean — I’m kidding!)

A Wolf at the Table— Augusten Burroughs

I’m a big Burroughs fan.  I think I’ve read everything he’s written so far, so I pre-ordered his latest and just got it yesterday.  Its good so far (20 pages in), but I swear I’ve heard these stories in another one of his books.  I hope it takes a different turn and turns into more of a story soon.

Updated: the only similarities to Burrough’s other books were only in the beginning.  The rest was really very good, a chilling tale of another side of his childhood he hasn’t written much about.  I love his writing style, and he really did an excellent job depicting his life with his father and the trauma involved.

The Friday Night Knitting ClubKate Jacobs

Overall, pretty good.  This is a nice easy read about a group of women who come together in NYC to knit & chat.  You learn a lot about the women’s lives and what brings them to the club each week.  I’d probably call this chick lit, but its just what I’m in the mood for now.  Light & easy to read.  A little mushy & a bit predictable, and certainly not mind opening or altering, but decent.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics — Marisha Pessl

Update:  I finished this book today, and it just got weirder towards the end.  Too  much information for my little brain, but it definitely had a twist I never saw coming.  Overall, I’d say this book is a struggle, but worth it.

I’m about halfway done, and on the fence.  The story itself is good, and attention grabbing.  The writing style is not.  The author drops vague literary references everywhere, and cites random things.  For example, if she’s describing someone with droopy eyes, she’ll add (see Book of Dogs, pg 39, Basset Hound).  The book could also be a lot shorter if it didn’t have a million metaphors.

Amazon says it best: But hunkering down for 514 pages of frantic literary exhibitionism turns into a weary business for the reader, who after much patient effort deserves to feel something stronger than appreciation for a lot of clever name-dropping and a rush of metaphors.

Still, I’m a bit fascinated by this girl’s life story, the strange people she hangs out with, and where its going from here.  I’ll keep you posted.

The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini

Fabulous.  I laughed, I cried.  Seriously.  This book is amazingly well written, sad & powerful.  I had read A Thousand Splendid Suns a while ago, and its kind of amazing that a male author can write so well from both a male and a female perspective.

Three Cups of Tea— Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin

Another very powerful book about the Middle East.  Greg Mortenson fails his attempt to summit K2, and decides to build a school for the girls in a nearby village that takes him in.  That was just the start of his incredible work in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I don’t know of a better candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

(On a side note, while reading this book I had incredible cravings for tea.)

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5 Responses to “What I’m Reading”

  1. Melanie April 27, 2008 at 8:26 pm #

    I liked A Thousand Splendid Suns better than The Kite Runner, probably because it’s a love story, though they’re both excellent. I can’t wait to see what else shows up on your list!

  2. monnik April 30, 2008 at 7:37 pm #

    oooh, this is a great addition to your blog. I LOVE seeing what others are reading! I picked A Thousand Splendid Suns for my book club (I think we read my title in June) because I loved The Kite Runner so much…

  3. fabat40 May 5, 2008 at 8:36 am #

    Terrific addition to the blog. I can’t believe how long its been since I’ve visited the site. Was great to catch up today. Okay, so my most recent favorite read is: “Eat, Pray, Love” — or maybe the other way around. I feel like I see it everywhere now, but when I bought it it was under the radar. Great for philosophical thinkers and travelers.
    OH! And I just read “Charlotte’s Web” for the first time — I’m doing a book group w/ my 9 year old neice. A great way to spend to spend quality time with a kid in your life.

  4. LP January 14, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    I’m surprised that The Poisonwood Bible is classified as YA fiction. Really? I thought it was pretty heavy. I loved it!

  5. Debbie Merlino January 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    Julie —
    So happy I checked out your blog again! Just saw that you read two books by Susan Jane Gilman. I love her! I just finished re-reading “Hypocrite in a Poufy White Dress” and will pick up “Undress me in the Temple of Heaven” on your recommendation. Did you read her book “Kiss My Tiara?” I haven’t but would like to. I want to get back into writing myself and am reading her for inspiration.

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