Monday, August 25, 2008

The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck

This is a collection of short stories about the residents of Las Pasturas del Cielo (The Pastures of Heaven). Each story focuses on a different family or individual living in the community. Some of the stories seem to be interrelated, but mostly not. However, after I finished reading the book and read some other reviews, I learned that it's not until the second, third, or fourth readings that the interrelatedness becomes clear. Also, I read that this book should be read very slowly.

This book ranks among the few that I will keep in my personal library and re-read some time in the future. I think there's details that I missed during this first read, so I'm going to put this back on the shelf and pick it up again later. Overall, this book made for pleasant reading...and I always find Steinbeck's characters fascinating.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell

The premise of this book sounds great: Julie Powell is determined to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. Sounded interesting to me!

But I am here to tell you to not read this book. It's more about Powell's year of work, friends, and politics than it is about cooking. It's like she just threw in some paragraphs about cooking into the story of her year. And the year was not even that interesting. Powell comes off as a very unpleasant, angsty woman with a potty mouth.

The cover of the book is nice though, isn't it?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell

This was the 2008 book choice of Silicon Valley Reads, a program that promotes literacy and community by encouraging residents to all read and discuss the same book. My university also chose this book as the Winter 2008 Book of the Quarter. Well, all of the author readings and discussion groups on this book are long over, so I'm a bit late in reading it, but I finally read it.

This is a fictional memoir of a white family living in pre-World War II Shanghai. When the Japanese take over, the narrator and her mother flee to Los Angeles, but the father stays behind thinking that he'll be safe. The story switches between Shanghai and Los Angeles as the family deals with separation, war, betrayal, and heartache.

I found this story to be engrossing, but there were some gaps in the story that made me think, "Huh?" These gaps were distracting and kept the story from being fully believable and cohesive. The reconciliation at the end seemed a bit too sugary and unrealistic. I did appreciate the descriptions of Shanghai and what life might have looked like under Japanese-occupation and later, the Communist government. Overall, a pretty good read, but not a book that I'll re-read or need to keep in my personal library.

I do look forward to seeing what the 2009 Silicon Valley Reads selection will be. I like that whole idea of lots of people reading the same book. =D

Friday, August 15, 2008

Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff

"It is still so easy to forget that addiction is not curable. It is a lifelong disease that can go into remission, that is manageable if the one who is stricken does the hard, hard work, but it is incurable." --David Sheff

This book is the true story of a father dealing with his son's drug addiction. We read about the son's attempts at recovery and his many relapses.

I found myself very engaged in the lives of both the father, David, and son, Nic, and rooting for both of them - that Nic would stay sober, but also that his father would keep his boundaries when Nic relapsed and called for money.

I know very little about drug addiction and the recovery process, but this book gave me a very accessible introduction into the reality of addiction. An intriguing, heartwrenching, and honest book.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Vianne Rocher and her daughter, Anouk, move to the little French town of Lansquenet and open up a chocolate shop. They are welcomed by some and shunned by others. As villagers begin indulging in the sweets and hot cocoas of Vianne's shop, we learn of their secrets and problems. There is change in the air, and the town is never the same.

This book was magical and whimsical, but I considered it just average. It wasn't so bad that I didn't finish it, but not so good either that I want to rave about it. It was okay. I haven't seen the movie, but I've heard that it is better than the book. Can anyone confirm that for me?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

This is a young adult fiction novel about Annabel who is in her junior year of high school. Annabel is dealing with family issues (her sister's eating disorder and wanting to tell her mom that she no longer wants to work as a model) and friend issues (estrangement from her closest friends, including Sophie, who thinks Annabel slept with Sophie's boyfriend). Annabel starts hanging out with Owen Armstrong who is the loner at school. He encourages her to get in touch with her feelings and to speak the truth about how she feels and what she wants.

I really enjoyed this book. The characters are complex and there's a lot of deeper themes throughout the book. I wish that I had had Dessen's books to read when I was in junior high and high school. I think that they would have helped me put more words to my experiences and opened my mind to other ways of dealing with things. Alas, I still enjoy Dessen's books now because they still speak to me about the importance of being true to myself.

Some quotes from the book:

" the very least, you should tell yourself the truth. If you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?"

"There comes a time in every life when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you'd better learn to know the sound of it. Otherwise you'll never understand what it's saying."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

This is the story of fifteen-year-old Craig Gilson who gets accepted to his dream high school. He thinks that after getting accepted, his life will be great! In other words, he believes that this acceptance is just the prelude to getting into a prestigious university, graduate program, finding an excellent job, and having a happy family.

On the contrary, Craig's life begins to fall apart. Diagnosed with clinical depression, Craig is on antidepressives for awhile and starts to feel better. He then stops taking them and is soon thinking about suicide. He calls a Suicide Hotline and checks himself into a psychiatric hospital where he spends five days.

I found this book to be very readable, quirky, and real. There were a couple of sketchy parts that I could have done without. But overall, I think the book did a good job of tackling depression and raising the question of whether of not the so-called good life is really the life we should all be aiming for.