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Sunday Salon: the Extended Post

February 22, 2009

The Sunday Salon.comSince I missed last Sunday’s Salon due to an evil, evil cold, this time around I’ll be discussing two weeks’ worth of books! Don’t worry, though: even though I was stuck in the house, there were many days I couldn’t even look at a book due to the cold (instead, I had marathon TV-on-DVD viewings!).

At the end of last week’s post, I mentioned that I was in the middle of John Conroy’s Belfast Diary. I finished that one up, and I was quite impressed with his discussion of 80s North Ireland. I’ll be doing a full review post for this one, since it was a World Citizen challenge read, but for now let’s just say that I’m so glad peace has since been reached in Belfast; it made the sad events of the book more bearable to know the future was better. Know what I mean?

Shop Your ClosetAfter that, I quickly read Shop Your Closetby Melanie Charlton Fascitelli. I feel kind of silly even including this in ‘books read,’ but I did read it cover-to-cover, so there you go! Its goal is to help people figure out how to best use their closet space and clothes (which, as I said in the Library Loot post, if you saw my closet…and floor…you’d understand why I checked this one out!). However, it was much less helpful than I expected, and I ended up pretty disappointed. In addition to physical closet advice, Fascitelli dispenses style advice that I found superficial and basic to the point of useless. Since the book is short to begin with, that means there were only a few chapters that even addressed what I needed, and even those didn’t usually provide the detailed help I wanted. I would recommend this one.

Trap for CinderellaThen, I turned to a novel I was very excited about reading: Bernadine Evaristo’s Blonde Roots. While the premise was fascinating (an alternative-history in which Africans enslave Europeans), I thought the execution left something to be desired, so it only ended up with three stars. I’ll say more in my full eview! Next up was the slim novel A Trap For Cinderellaby Sebastian Japrisot. I first read his A Very Long Engagement last year and was disappointed (I think because I saw the movie first and loved it), but Litlove suggested I try this one, and I always listen to her! As my first Lost in Translation selection, I can honestly say I really enjoyed it. :D It’s a very cleverly constructed crime novel; the narrator is a young woman who has suffered complete amnesia after a house fire killed her companion. But as she learns more about who she was, and what happened that night, things become more confused. Was she the victim or the perpetrator? The plot’s the main focus of the novel, and it drew me on completely. The style is simple, but supports the story perfectly, and while the characters are rather stereotypical (overbearing employee-slash-mother figure, spoiled heiress, poor friend who wants to be rich, etc.), it doesn’t seem to matter. I recommend this one!

Meanwhile, I finished President Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, a book that combines his political philosophy with life stories. You’ll definitely be getting a full post about this one, but I’ll just say that I really liked it. Obama has a great writing style, and he deftly mixes the personal and political. I think it would be a good read even if you don’t agree with his politics, because he’s such an intelligent person. And he doesn’t demonise Republicans, which was refreshing.

I then turned to The Yacabouin Building by Alaa Al Aswany. This was my first read for the What’s in a Name? 2 challenge, so it’ll get its own review, but I’ll just say for now it was everything I expected! Aswany brought modern-day Egypt to life with a deftness and humanity that was incredible. Also, it was shorter than I had thought: only 262 pages in hardcover. I’m used to big fat Egyptian books, so I thought I’d point out its length in case anyone was hesitating to read it over that. ;) Another challlenge book that thus receives its own full post is Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home, read for the Dewey’s Books challenge. Both Dewey and Emily told me I should read it, and they were right! :)

After all of these short books, I was craving a chunkster to really sink into and No Name by Wilkie Collins fit the bill. I had written a nice paragraph reviewing it, but WordPress has decided to delete it, and my cold’s acting up again, so I guess I’ll just write an individual review later. But I loved this one and highly recommend it!

In between Collins, I also read another World Citizen Book: Bad Samaritansby Ha-Joon Chang. It was a resfreshing, intelligent analysis of why current IMF/World Bank/Flat World-er recommendations to developing countries aren’t working. I have so many passages I want to quote, that this will definitely be getting its own review! Basically, it’s everything I expected and more! And I finally finished listening to Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, a book-on-CD that’s kept me occupied since January (I only listened to it before falling asleep at night, so of course it took awhile!). It was a reread for me, and I’m not sure it stood up to it all that well-I found myself much more annoyed with the narrator’s hysterics over her childhood tragedy this time (staying vague to prevent spoilers). Or maybe just the audio form made me pay more attention to the melodrama, instead of skimming it. But you can read my original review, of the print book, here.

Original SinAt this point, my cold worsened, so I spent the next few days slowly reading an Adam Dagliesh mystery from my shelves: Original Sin. I love P.D. James’ style, and while so far I’ve been reading the Dalgliesh books in random order, it hasn’t affected my enjoyment. As usual, this was a complex and slow-building (over 500 pages) mystery, this time set in a modern publishing house that sits on the Thames. I loved this for all the reasons I always love James: the cerebral style, the class-consciousness, Dalgleish and his assistants, and an ending that makes perfect sense but is far from predictable. If you enjoy intelligent mysteries and haven’t read P.D. James yet, you should fix that soon! :)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and ClayMy cold lightened up a little, so it was time to read the book selected for me by my readers. Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Claywon by a landslide, which really surprised me. I put this in the ‘strange’ category of 9 for ’09, because I was very nervous about reading such a long novel about comic books. It turns out, it’s not really about comic books, although they’re definitely an integral part of the plot! It’s really about struggling to grow up, and make the right decisions, and come to terms with who you are, and get through really touch times. I was planning on writing a whole review of this one, but Christina of Stacked (I love her blog name so much!) pretty much took the words out of my mouth with her recent review. So I’m going to wimp out and tell you to go read her review, as well as Litlove’s and Raych’s and Nymeth’s and and Karen’s. Look at how different that group of bloggers is-and this book impressed them all. All I have to say is there’s a reason it won the Pulitzer. And if you read the first couple chapters, you’ll be totally sucked in. Oh, that and I really have to start having my readers tell me what to read more often! Great job y’all!

Whew-I’m at 1400 words, but I promise we’re entering the home stretch! :) After reading the good but intense Kavalier and Clay, I ended up in the middle of the good but intense A Lesson Before Dyingby Earnest Gaines. Although on the surface the subject matter of these books couldn’t be more different (the Jewish community in NYC during WWII and the creation of the comic book business vs. an African American people in small-town Louisiana in the 1950s and a young man who is going to be executed), there are definitely underlying similarities. Both feauture young men in the face of gross injustice, who are trying to figure out who they are and how best to help their communities. That being said, for me the big difference was that I liked Kavalier and Clay, while I didn’t like Grant Wiggins, the narrator of A Lesson Before Dying. This is one of those books I wish I had a professor to discuss it with, so I’m going to right an individual review of it and hope for discussion. Until then, let’s just say that I’m glad I read this one, even if I didn’t love it.

A Monstrous Regiment of WomenThen my cold started acting up again, so I retreated into the land of comfort mysteries by rereading the second of Laurie King’s Mary Russell series: A Monstrous Regiment of Women. I had actually forgotten a lot of the book (including the culprit! lol), so it was neat to revisit it. This will never be my favourite of the series, but it was still a solid four-star read. Russell turns 21 and comes into her inheritance, which she’s very excited about. She’s also coming in to her own at Oxford, with a planned presentation of a paper on Hebrew word choices in the Old Testament. However, her relationship with Holmes has become a bit strained, so she goes to London as a distraction. She soon meets an old college friend and becomes involved in a suffragette-slash-social-works-slash-feminist-theology organisation called The Temple. There’s a mystery in it that Russell wants to solve, with a bit of help from Holmes of course. Russell’s internal experience, her further growing from adolescence to adulthood is really the focus of this one. All of the things I loved about King’s writing in The Beekeeper’s Apprenticeare still here (I think the reason I don’t enjoy this one quite as much is the lack of many of the secondary characters from the first one, like Mycroft). And the way King handles Russell and Holmes’ shifting relationship is great, especially the final scene! I enjoyed being back in that world, and I’m sure I’ll reread the third in the series soon. :)

Finally, I finished two nonfiction books: Tracy Kidder’s biography of Dr. Paul Farmer Mountains Beyond Mountainsfor the World Citizenship challenge and Pascal Khoo Thwe’s memoir From the Land of Green Ghostsfor the Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge. The Kidder book was really good, while Thwe’s memoir was incredible! Expect full reviews of both!

So there you have it: two weeks in the reading life of an invalid (I say that lightly; it’s just people lately have been saying they don’t know how I read so much…the answer is, I’m too sick to go to school right now or even drive, so I can’t have a job or go a lot places…so I have a lot of time on my hands). Now I’m off to visit other Sunday Saloners! :) (Later, I’ll add notable passages from the books I reviewed in this post-right now I’m feeling tired, so I want to just get this published.)

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40 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2009 10:55 am

    I also loved A Very Long Engagement, the movie. I didn’t know it was a book when I watched it. If I did, I would’ve gone and read the book first, which is what I usually do. I haven’t gotten around to reading the book at all, even if I’ve been meaning to for sometime now. I might try it though, as it’s been years since I’ve seen the movie and don’t remember much of the details. I’ll keep an eye on his other book, too.

    Glad to know you’re better.. :)

  2. February 22, 2009 11:19 am

    Poor you, not feeling well! I sympathise – we’ve had a cold here for weeks now that we keep passing backwards and forwards between us, and that really drags me down, the way I know it does you. Rest up and take the very best care of yourself. So glad you enjoyed the Japrisot and the Chabon! Yay! I must read Laurie King (I keep meaning to) and I’m also a fan of P D James. And you remind me to finish Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Fathers, which I was loving before it somehow got put to oneside. You know how it is….. Do take care – thinking of you!

  3. February 22, 2009 11:25 am

    I’ll be waiting for your full post on A Lesson Before Dying, but I did want to chime in and say that I didn’t care much for Grant either. I think it was because of that that I was so moved by his befriending of Jefferson. Here were two men with two very different reasons for their frustration at the world, one somewhat self-inflicted and one not, who opened themselves and found strength in the other.

    Lezlie

  4. February 22, 2009 11:28 am

    My goodness, I’m tired just reading through your whirlwind of a post! I’ll look forward to full reviews on several of these, and I’ve already jotted down some titles. Get plenty of rest! :)

  5. February 22, 2009 11:37 am

    I’m definitely interested in hearing more of your thoughts from A Lesson In Dying. It has been awhile since I read it but I still want to hear your thoughts. On a different note, I think that it is nice that you get to read a lot and good for you. I can only wish that I was able to read more than I do. I hope you are feeling better soon though and I will be looking forward to all of these reviews!

  6. February 22, 2009 11:57 am

    Eva, maybe there is something more explicit you can point to which was not covered int he book, or helpful advice you were looking for in the book which wasn’t addressed? I’d love to either help you or in fact point out int he book where it was addressed.

  7. February 22, 2009 12:21 pm

    What a great varied reading selection! I have The Audacity of Hope on my TBR list so it will be great to hear what you thought of it. I haven’t heard a bad thing about it so far so looking forward to finally picking it up.

  8. February 22, 2009 2:42 pm

    I love PD James…I have her newest one on my radar, but I still love reading the old ones. They’re classics in that genre.

    I just picked up the first volume of the Mary Russell series (after reading your reivew and interview with Laurie King). I’ll be diving in after dinner :)

    Glad you’re feeling better!

  9. February 22, 2009 2:42 pm

    Claire, isn’t it a wonderful movie?! I think the problem with seeing the movie first, in this case (beacuse normally that’s what I prefer), is that the book depends on the plot suspense factor for most of its momentum. And since I’d seen the movie, I already knew the plot. I’d be curious to see what you think, though.

    Litlove, I’m sorry you’ve been sick as well! I’m in my library queue for Dreams From My Fathers, but I think it’ll be awhile before I get it. :)

    Lezlie, I think Gaines knew he was making Grant unlikeable. I’m just not sure *why* he made that decision, as an author. I’m mulling, lol.

    Priscilla, I always write too much, especially on Sunday Salons! :)

    Samantha, thanks-I hope when I post the review you’ll chime in comments!

    Melanie, thanks for the visit. I think I just expected the book to be different than what it was. It was a library book, and I’ve had to return it, so I can’t offer you specific details.

    Karen, it is quite varied, now that I think of it! lol

  10. February 22, 2009 2:48 pm

    Now there is a well-spent illness! Is that a new cover design on A Monstrous Regiment of Women? Very appealing. Enjoyed your Laurie King posts earlier this week also as I soooooooo love the Russell books. It looks like you persuaded more than a few people to give them a read too!

  11. February 22, 2009 2:55 pm

    I’m sorry to hear you haven’t been feeling well, but it does sound as though you got a lot of great reading done! I also need to conquer my fear regarding Kavalier and Clay and read it, as it’s sitting on my shelf just waiting for me! And I’m definitely going to check out the Mary Russell series, as it sounds like a lot of fun and exactly the kind of mystery read I would enjoy. Oh, and I have “The Woman In White” by Wilkie Collins as well… So many books to get to!

  12. February 22, 2009 4:09 pm

    I’m glad to hear you enjoyed Kavalier & Clay. It’s on my TBR too, and I’m hoping to get to it in the next couple of months.

    It’s too bad about Blonde Roots. The premise sounds fascinating!

  13. February 22, 2009 4:38 pm

    I am interested to hear what you thought about Blonde Root. It did sound quite good, and I started to read it but then put it off to finish later. I plan on tackling the whole thing in March, but from what I read I was confused and definitely underwhelmed so I guess we will see.

    I have read The Children of Men by P.D. James, and I really enjoyed her writing. I am looking to try out on of her mysteries to see if I like them as well. Maybe I will start with Original Sin.

  14. February 22, 2009 4:47 pm

    Eva ~ Another fleeting thought I had after I posted my last comment was that Grant was sent to help Jefferson become more of a man, but I think it really worked out the other way around. Jefferson helped Grant. We’ll have to discuss this all further after your review. I’m not trying to make you love it. I like the different feelings we took away from it!

    Lezlie

  15. February 22, 2009 5:29 pm

    Great post and so many books that sound good. I’ve heard good things about P.D. James and will be reading on his soon. Hope you are feeling better. Thanks for visiting.

  16. February 22, 2009 6:15 pm

    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is based on real events in the lives of several early comic book creators including Jerry Siegel, who created Superman. I liked the the cultural elements of pre-WWII America, the war and its effects, and the changes in comic book style and content.

  17. February 22, 2009 6:26 pm

    What a whirlwind tour of books! :D

    I read A Lesson Before Dying quite some time ago and don’t remember it too well, but I do remember that I didn’t like it all that much because I didn’t feel like I “got” it. Mountains Beyond Mountains is on my wish list (and I once interviewed for a job at Partners in Health which that guy founded – no dice on the job, but I’d still like to read his story!), looking forward to your review!

  18. February 22, 2009 6:52 pm

    What a post! Hope you’re feeling better. I’m glad you enjoyed Kavalier and Clay. I was put off by the “novel about comics” theme as well but, after reading Chabon’s Summerland, and having a good friend tell me I had to read K&C I went for it, and loved it.

    I read and enjoyed A Lesson Before Dying some time ago but have never read From the Land of the Green Ghosts. Another one for my pile!

  19. February 22, 2009 7:13 pm

    Well there is one good thing about being too sick to go to class and not so sick that you don’t even want to read! Only rarely have I been so sick I couldn’t even read and that was with stomach flu.

    Glad you were so productive with your reading!

  20. February 22, 2009 7:33 pm

    Tell that cold I said to go away! Or else!! ;-)

    You’re tempting me to pick Kavalier and Clay back up…I’m glad that was your “Reader’s Choice.”

  21. February 22, 2009 8:24 pm

    I hope you feel better soon! I have Chabon and Gaines on my bookshelves just waiting to be read. Maybe one day. Get some rest!

  22. February 22, 2009 9:40 pm

    That’s so funny! One of my roommates wanted to be a werehousecat and then she realized that she could not lay around in the sun as a cat because she would turn out of being a cat.

    Sounds like you’ve read some pretty good books!

  23. February 22, 2009 10:14 pm

    What a nice long post! Kavalier and Clay is one of my all-time favorites (I had the same initial reaction as you, and then fell head-over-heels for it)….

  24. February 22, 2009 10:43 pm

    Oh my goodness that was a lot of reading that you did! The only title in your post that I have read is The Audacity of Hope.

  25. February 22, 2009 10:59 pm

    Wow! You DO read a lot lol. I just checked out a book from the library this weekend that is getting me out of my year long (even though the year has only been 2 months so far) reading slump. Different seasons of life, right?

    Hopefully next month I’ll have a list as long as yours.

  26. February 23, 2009 4:19 am

    Hope that dang cold has hit the road by now!

    Oh my, you just wreaked havoc on my poor wish list! Seriously, I just filled up a whole page in my mini notebook that sits beside the computer for just this purpose! A whole page! I’m really looking forward to your longer reviews. And I can’t wait to get my hands on Bad Samaritans…I’m so glad it turned out to be a winner!

    May you have a week of feeling fabulous, sweetie!

  27. February 23, 2009 8:05 am

    I too am kind of hesitant to read Michael Chabon’s book, but it seems like everyone just loves it.

  28. February 23, 2009 9:47 am

    Frances, that is the new cover design-isn’t it pretty?! I have the mass market paperbacks, and the new trades ar emaking me very envious, lol.

    Steph, K&C is a really fast read. I was averaging 100 pages an hour, which is at the top of my normal range. So don’t fear it! ;)

    Memory, yeah-I was really disappointed by Blonde Roots. :/

    Nicole, underwhelmed is a good word for it! I’ve only read James’ mysteries, but Children of Men is on my wishlist! The first Dalgleish one is Cover Her Face, in case you want to start in order. ;)

    Lezlie, I agree that Jefferson helped Grant more than vice versa! And just because I don’t love it doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about it! :)

    Robin, James is a girl. ;) Thanks for the good wishes!

    JenClair, it definitely felt like it was grounded in reality-thanks for letting me know. I liked the historical parts of it too. :)

    Megan, that’s so neat you interviewed with PiH! I think you’ll definitely enjoy this book then. :)

    Gavin, Green Ghosts is *awesome*. It really is one of the very best memoirs I’ve ever read.

    Kim, I couldn’t read for a few days-my inner ear got messed up, so I constantly felt off balance. Ugh.

    Softdrink, hehe-I will!

    Vasilly, thank you!

    Lu, are were things not allowed in the sun?! I have no knowledge of them, lol.

    Daphne, funny how K&C seems to have that effect on people!

    Alyce, did you like Audacity of Hope? I was really impressed!

    Nik, definitely different seasons of life. Hope the book does the trick! :)

    Debi, lol-thanks for the good wishes. And sorry about that wishlist…but not really. ;)

    Stephanie, it was a much faster read than I expected, so if you’re worried about being bogged down (I was), you shouldn’t be!

  29. February 23, 2009 2:34 pm

    Ok, I still think that was a whole lot of reading even if you were sick :)

    I’m adding the Japisrot book to my radar. See, I did love A Very Long Engagement but I still haven’t seen the movie.

    And, yay, so glad you enjoyed The Yacoubian Building. Wasn’t that great? Actually, I understand there was also a movie made about it. It’d be curious to see how that turned out.

  30. February 24, 2009 12:12 pm

    Wow – thanks for linking to my blog! Kavalier & Clay is definitely now one of my favorite books – it really does just capture the dissatisfactions and moments of bliss in our humanity well. Loved being able to see the different review styles all together.

    And for those of you concerned about the novel about comics – it’s so not, but it can open your mind to comics – I’ve begun to read quite a few since finishing K&C and am floored repeatedly by their depth.

  31. February 24, 2009 9:07 pm

    Iliana, I’m curious to find out what people who read the book first think of the movie! :) The Yacoubian Building was definitely great. Loved it! :D

    Christina, no problem with the linking. :) Isn’t it a big variety of reviews all basically saying ‘the book is awesome’?! lol

  32. February 26, 2009 4:45 pm

    Kavalier and Clay – this is one of those books I know I should read, am pretty sure I would like and yet there is something stopping me. I just ordered the King novel you mentioned! What are your favorites in the series??

  33. February 28, 2009 4:10 pm

    I really liked Trap for Cinderella as well. I hope to read No Name this year (or something by Wilkie Collins). So glad to hear you liked it!

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