Friday, August 31, 2012

Paris in Love by Eloisa James

Eloisa James and her husband both took sabbaticals during 2009 and moved their family to Paris for a year. She posted about her experience on Facebook, and then expanded those posts into this book. So each chapter consists of very short paragraphs about different things she's observes about French culture and her family's adjustment. It took me a little bit to get used to the format, but I ended up liking it. There are several longer essays interspersed throughout which throw off the rhythm of the writing, but I like her writing, so I tolerated it.

Overall, this is a funny, and thoughtful book. Her daughter is especially funny. This book made me want to go to Paris even though I was just there in July. Sigh. I will have to return.

The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

Ugh. I really don't like writing reviews for books that I didn't like. I try to keep my posts short and to-the-point, so you know pretty clearly if I'm recommending a book or not. When I don't like a book, I hate writing out a synopsis because I don't want to waste any more time thinking about the book.

Well, let me muster up some energy...

I did not like this book. It's about mental healthy, the competition between two ballerina sisters, and the bond between sisters. I found the characters to be one dimensional. The writing was rambly like a rough draft. The only interesting aspect was the look into the world of competitive dancing.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

I'm noting that I just finished reading Harry Potter #2 again. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. When I first read this one, I was working at the local Chamber of Commerce, so my sister kept calling this book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Commerce. I would exclaim, "Chamber of Secrets! not Commerce!" Big sisters, boy, do they know how to push buttons.

Pre-ordered! The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Another book by J.K. Rowling! It will be out on September 27th, and I just pre-ordered a copy! I hope it's good.

I remember waiting for the postman to deliver Harry Potter #6. When I heard his footsteps, I ran outside, and said, "Is that my Harry Potter?" He was holding an Amazon box with the Harry Potter stars and squiggles on it, and said, "Looks like it!" I said, "Thank you!!!" Oh, by the way, this was in my twenties.

I'm looking forward to reading some more J.K. Rowling.

Here is the description on amazon.com:
When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty fa├žade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…. Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I remember trying to read this as a kid, but never finished it, so I picked it up again.

It's a mystery. A millionaire by the name of Sam Westing dies and sixteen unrelated people are asked to the reading of his will. They are paired up to work together to figure out who murdered Mr. Westing.

I was overwhelmed and confused by so many characters that I lost interest in the story. I finished the book, but didn't find it that enjoyable.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said by Charles Wheelan

This is a quick, little read based on Wheelan's 2011 Class Day speech at Dartmouth College. Some of his points include: Some of your worst days lies ahead of you, Read obituaries, Take time off, Don't try to be great, and Your parents don't want what is best for you.

As you can see, the title of the book is fitting. This book does not contain advice typically heard in the run-of-the-mill commencement speech.

Wheelan's advice is helpful and centered around what's important in life and how to follow your heart. He challenges the students (and us) to live consciously and to know what they are going after and why.

I especially appreciated his point about not trying to be great. Instead, he quotes something a news program host told him about being on live television: "Don't try to be great. Just be solid."

You can easily read this book in less than an hour, and I recommend that you check it out.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China's Other Billion by Michael Levy + A Guest Review

Welcome back to Notorious MLE! She's written a guest review of this awesome book! You'll see that we've both given it a big thumbs up!

Elaine says:
Levy lives in Guiyang, China as a Peace Corps volunteer where he teaches English at a university for two years. The "other billion" in the title refers to the Chinese people who don't live in the most well-known coastal cities of China.

Levy describes his journey from the moment he steps off the plane in desperate need of a WC. His recounting of using a squat toilet for the first is really funny. So funny that I read it out loud. =D

The book is also serious though with great descriptions of Chinese culture and explanations of how life and relationships work there. What struck me most about this author is that he has a really good heart. Despite some of his difficulty with aspects of the culture, he really establishes some great friendships and really cares about his students and colleagues.

If you've spent any time in China, I think you'll appreciate this book. And if you've never been to China, but are curious about how another culture works, this is a very easy read.

P.S.: This book reminded me of River Town by Peter Hessler (also an excellent read) who also spent time teaching with the Peace Corps in China.

Notorious MLE says:
There is a scene in Kosher Chinese where the protagonist is unsuccessfully trying to order at a McDonald’s only to have a conversation (entirely in Chinese) in which he’s repeatedly told he doesn’t speak Chinese. I had almost the exact same conversation in a Chilean post office while studying abroad.  It seems that arguing in a foreign language about whether you speak a foreign language is both a unique and universal experience of being a foreigner.

Capturing these hilarious, frustrating and touching moments is where Dan Levy really excels.  He describes the experience of both losing and discovering your own identity by immersing yourself in a foreign country with a generosity, humility and humor that I loved. On this merit alone I would recommend his book but I felt this memoir was actually at another level due to how well he captures the more unknown parts of China during a unique time in that countries history.  I definitely recommend this book.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

An Unexpected Guest by Anne Korkeakivi

This story occurs in the course of one day as Clare Moorhouse plans a last-minute dinner that she will host that evening with her ambassador husband. As she makes calls and runs errands around Paris, she has a run-in with her past as well as an unexpected houseguest show up: her son, recently kicked out of boarding school. She's kept secrets from her husband about her past. As he is now up for a promotion, will her past leak out to haunt her?

Please skip this book. The plot twist is so silly, and the writing is like a rough draft. I think you can do better.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen

The author of this memoir gets injured in a car accident and faces a long recovery, and then her husband of 15 years leaves her for a man that he met online. Needing to rest and heal from all of this, she heads home to California and her Mennonite family.

Her parents, especially her mom, are hilarious, and I loved her descriptions of them. As for the recovery process, the book didn't really seem to follow any sort of timeline. Her stories bounced around, and although they were amusing, the book didn't seem cohesive to me.

Somewhat enjoyable, definitely funny, but confusing.

Friday, August 17, 2012

One Day by David Nicholls

Emma and Dexter are college classmates who only start getting to know each other on graduation day. There is chemistry, attraction, and the possibility for something more than friendship, but it's graduation day, and they're both headed off to do different things.

So we check in with them in a year, and then in two years, etc. That's how this book is formatted - we read a snapshot of each of them each year on July 15th, starting in 1988 and every year thereafter. We read how they are each doing individually, and what's happening between the two of them.

I could not put this book down. It was a fun read. It was also heartfelt and realistic, but so realistic it was sometimes painful. It made me think about aging, the choices we make, and the dreams that we've forgotten. Life doesn't always turn out how we think it's gonna turn out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

You'll Never Nanny in This Town Again: The True Adventures of a Hollywood Nanny by Suzanne Hansen

I write a post here about every book that I read. If you've been reading with me for awhile now, you know that I read serious stuff, but also some very light stuff (have you read my posts on Tori Spelling's books??).

I thought that this one would be a light read, and it definitely is fun and entertaining. But there is also a depth to it. The writer undergoes her own transformation as she works as a nanny and is aware of what she's feeling and going through. I like memoirs in which the writer grows and changes, and this is one of them.

Suzanne was 18 years old and fresh out of high school, when she attends a Nanny certification school. She moves from a small town in Oregon to Los Angeles to find a job as a nanny. She ends up working for Hollywood agent and bigwig Michael Ovitz and quickly finds out that working as a nanny to the wealthy and/or famous may not be all that great. She works long days and is on-call 24 hours/day. She also gets a peek into the lifestyles and trivialities of the rich and famous.

I really liked this book! It would be a great read for the end of summer!

PS: Thanks for the recommendation, Karen!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior's Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany by Boyd Lemon

At 70-years-old, the author decided to move from the United States to Paris for two years. He writes about his initial adjustment, the difficulties he faced while learning French, the food he ate, and side trips he took.

I liked the author's honesty about how difficult it was to adjust to life in France. He was also honest about how lonely he was for awhile.

There were a couple of drawbacks to this book. First, there were many misspellings which were very distracting and unprofessional. Did he have an editor? Secondly, there was a lack of transition words and sentences, so the paragraphs seemed to jump around from topic to topic. This was jarring.

I can't recommend this book for the above reasons.

I have to add that it was an interesting book to read though because I read it on a flight from Paris to the United States. Reading about a place after having just spent some time there is a very fun experience. The names of places and neighborhoods and the language were still fresh in my head, so it gave me some good closure. I may make that a travel policy now - to read a book about the place while traveling there to build up anticipation, and to read a book about the place while returning. It seems appropriate.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Lion is In by Delia Ephron

The plot of this book is pretty random. Three women are thrown together working in a bar with a lion. Yes, with a lion.

The beginning started out okay, but it went downhill from there until I didn't really have an idea of what exactly was going on and why. The characters were not distinct, so I had trouble remembering who was who.

Skip!

Monday, August 6, 2012

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

After enjoying Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence so much, I thought that I might really like The House of Mirth. Boy, was I wrong!

Lily Bart has no money, but she is plenty pretty and very smart. It would be easy for her to marry for money (and she needs money because hers is running out, and she's in debt), but she won't, or doesn't.

Throughout the entire novel, I never really liked Lily Bart. Or any of the characters in the book as well. Maybe I'm missing something brilliant about this book, but reading it for pleasure was no pleasure at all.

If you want to read some Edith Wharton, go for The Age of Innocence, and skip this one.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie by Beth M. Howard

Just hours before the author's husband was going to sign their divorce papers (a divorce which the author had initiated), he suddenly died. So, to work through her grief (and guilt), she does what she knows best: she makes pie.

At the beginning of the book, I wasn't really sure if I liked the author. Actually, at one point, I wasn't even sure if I was going to continue reading because the author seemed quite narcissistic. As the book went on, she grew on me some, but only some. However, overall the book was entertaining, well-written, and it flowed well. I'm giving it a lukewarm recommendation.