Welcome to my bookshelf

I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Sweet Life

Currently Reading: The Chocolate Money

Tabitha "Babs" Ballentyne is at once the most lamentable and deplorably character I have come across in years.  Heiress to the Ballentyne Chocolate fortune, Babs lives life by her own set of rules irregardless of the consequences.  In fact, I highly doubt she recognizes the consequences of her actions at all.  Four pages in and you will want to throw her under a bus (the irony of that statement becomes clear towards the end of the book).

The worst part about Babs and her life of luxury is not so much the effects on herself, but those that befall upon her young and lonely daughter Bettina.  Bettina grows up in a world so far from the norm that she has no idea how to deal with the reality she must face when she is finally shipped off to boarding school.  I know you are thinking, boarding school and reality, what?  But the lifestyle afforded by the Chocolate Money is that ridiculous.  As she wades her way through school, Bettina regrettably finds herself following in her mother's footsteps, callously stomping upon her fellow students' feelings and leaving carnage in her wake.  Bettina's saving grace is that she is aware of the hurt she causes and feels an inordinate amount of guilt over it.

After a series of truly unfortunate events, Bettina eventually finds some sense of normalcy and proceeds to (mostly) reverse the effects of growing up in her mother's "aparthouse".  In the end, she is still a flawed young woman, but one who will not squander the Chocolate Money in such a callous way as Babs did.  You will want to alternately laugh and cry throughout this entire novel and if nothing else, may come away from it all with a far higher appreciation for your own humble world.

I have been reading quite a bit of fluff lately too and one thing that keeps popping up is the idea of socialites and heiresses.  These rare beauties are completely foreign to me.  I have no idea what motivates them and how they can live with themselves as they continue to move through life with only themselves first and foremost in their minds.  Are they for real or just fairy tale creatures?  I'm not talking about starlets and pop princesses.  These are honest to god young ladies who have no source of income other than the family coffers.  Completely bizarre.  I guess that's why they show up so often in these fictional tales.  Why do we read?  When it comes to fiction, it is most often to escape and live life vicariously through the characters for a bit.  These enigmatic women certainly give one a chance to forget your present woes and experience a whole new world.  Of course the good news is that we can all wake up again after the final page and return back to Earth where things make sense.  Sorta...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Life in the Hood

Currently Reading: Triburbia

I'm sorry for the long hiatus between posts.  I have excuses such as business and a fancy new Wii, but still that is no excuse because I have continued to read as much as possible!!  Onto the tale...

There are countless novels out there about dissatisfied housewives and challenges faced by career women whose husbands just don't understand them and all that, but what about the dudes??  Triburbia brings us a series of tales revolving around a group of men who are connected only by the fact that their children attend the same elementary school in Tribeca.  Ranging from aspiring puppeteers to connected gangsters, this disparate group of husbands (or ex-husbands) share breakfast after the morning drop-off at least once a week.  While personal details are still kept close to the chest, these men find this regular gathering to be a calming source of continuity in their increasingly complicated lives.  One constant throughout the group though is that they each reached their prime in the nineties and now find themselves floundering in the changed world of the new millenium.  Where once nightclubs and sex ruled their minds, playground bullies and babysitting fees now clutter their thinking.  At once sad and hilarious  Triburbia is a compelling glimpse into the lives of typical dads.  Or at least the typical kind of dad who can be found in Tribeca.

The chapters are each titled by an address, the coveted spaces owned or occupied by the father whose viewpoint we get to experience.  Each of the the men's sections are interspersed between with chapters devoted to the occasional wife, daughter or even babysitter, but the entire novel is still driven by the dads.  This style makes the reading more suspenseful as we get to know each man from both the inside and an outsider's perspective.  Will he ever find out his wife is sleeping with the seedy producer?  Does the gangster's daughter ever stop getting bullied by the sound editor's eldest girl?

This novel, or really series of stories, manages to evoke a felling of neighborhood in a city whose size is almost unfathomable for those of us who reside outside it.  In fact, the burgs are so closely knit that as someone living in the burbs myself, I am in awe of how people so thoroughly identify with the place in which they reside.  While I know the old adage, never judge a book by its cover, I must admit that I did originally pick up Karl Taro Greenfeld's novel due to the inviting cover illustrated by Harry Campbell.  His comic-esce portrayal of the Tribeca neighborhood cleverly depicts scenes from within the jacket while still conjuring that overall city feel inherent in any book occurring in New York.  In this case, the cover will not fool, but actually add to the incredibly feelings derived from the reading.  Here's a peek.

Book Cover by Harry Campbell from his site

So until next time, happy reading!!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Currently Reading: Sutton

Pg 119: "Everything in life is a safe, he thinks.  His parents, his brothers, Mr. Endner - if only he'd known the combination."

Pg 238: "It's people I have trouble believing in."

Willie "The Actor" Sutton is released from prison on Christmas eve in 1969.  Having spent the past couple of decades incarcerated, Willie finds himself in a world fully different on the exterior, but hauntingly familiar when it comes to people and their motives.  Sutton follows along with Willie and a reporter as they retrace his life from beginning to end and gives a unique perspective on the man behind the legend.

Sutton is written alternatively in the past and present, providing haunting glimpses into Willie's mind while conveying his poor health and regret in his present state.  The format is an incredibly powerful way emerge readers into the story, one which I thoroughly enjoy.  A fun little twist is that often times the reader ends up knowing more behing each stop on the "tour" than the reporter himself.  Willie can be miserly when it comes to giving up his secrets.  He comes across as a likable guy, one you wouldn't mind having a beer with as you shoot the breeze in a neighborhood bar.  How can he be bad?  Why on Earth was he locked up for so long?  Who could blame him for doing the things he did?

J.R. Moehringer has clearly done his research and the story is remarkably believable.  I even checked up with some of the facts.  Yep.  He is solid.  But of course, one needs to take a step back and remember that even though based in fact, Sutton is still a work of fiction.  A story created in the mind of someone other than the main character himself.

While I try to read nonfiction in addition to the plethora of fictional tales I consume, there is always that draw back towards the make-believe.  It's one of the reasons I enjoy historical fiction (and even some hard science fiction) so much.  It is based ever so loosely on fact, but the story is still engaging and thought provoking.  You are given the chance to live another life as in any novel, yet the concreteness of the characters provides you with a foundation from which to imagine their experiences.  Only a few nonfiction authors have ever truly entertained and intrigued me as much.  Part of me feels embarrassed by my lack of passion for the real, but why do we read in the first place?  To escape!  Just like going to the movies or attending the opera, novels allow one the chance to live another life.  One oh so cleverly conveyed by artists and masters of their field.

I think that will be all for now.  I am not quite finished with the book and am anxious to follow the final leg of their journey of remembrance.  This is one book club meeting I am definitely looking forward too!!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Perfect Fit

Currently Reading: Insurgent

I was oh so excited the other day when I finally received this latest installment in the Divergent trilogy and was eager to get started reading.  Thankfully enough, unlike many series, this one just got better with time.  The main characters are ever evolving in robust ways and the plot remains engaging.  One of the things I dislike about all these series though is that I have to wait so long for the next one!

This weekend I also had on hand the last of the Matched series.  This one is not quite the same as Divergent, but still involves a dystopian future with young adults as the main characters.  The story ended mostly how I expected, with a few twists here and there, giving readers a unique perspective on the role of government in their lives.

So with these two books on my mind, it gets me thinking about the whole subject of series in writing.  What is so compelling about three books?  It seems that so many authors are churning out these trilogies these days and so it gets me thinking.  Is three the best number?  What about books with more?  Or even the rare case of a duo of novels involving the same characters, connected by a common plot.  With this in mind, I reached back into the caverns of my mind and revisited some of the series I have read and whether or not their length (in terms of number of books) had much to do with why I did or did not enjoy them.

So let's start with series that are more than three.  Harry Potter is of course the first one that comes to mind.  For me, I also thought of several Star Wars series that involved many books.  I know you are all thinking that since they are Star Wars, they must all be one giant series, but that's not the case.  It is a giant series made up of many smaller groupings, and even some stand alones.  But I digress.  The Star Wars sets I am thinking of at the moment are the Fate of the Jedi and Legacy of the Force books, and of course the Yuuzhan Vong saga.  Also getting a nod in the > 3 category would have to be the Twilight books and of course, The Wheel of Time, Hitchhiker's, Dune and the Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark.  What is it all these sets have in common?  They got predictable, the characters grew stale and by the time you were finally finished, your first though is "they could have done that with less books".  I will make an exception for Harry Potter though.  As she found her way as a writer, JK Rowling generally managed to step up her game with each installment.  Although you do have to admit, they could have been pared down a bit.  So conclusion, more than three is too much.  (Please don't hate me for a few of the examples above, yes Dune is awesome and so are the Space Odyssey books, but alas, they did get a bit long...)

Now onto those duos we find (albeit few and far between).  This gets a bit tricky, but the Hand of Thrawn duo is one of a few Star Wars sets and of course Winnie-the-Pooh and Bridget Jones are another pair of pairs.  And to be honest, I can't really think of too many more than that.  Even when doing some searching on the internets, all I can find are some odd fantasy sets and other not so intriguing tales.  I guess the lack of evidence can be seen as telling.  They are too short and really don't do the job in terms of giving us a story and set of characters that will last overtime.  In fact, while the set itself might be good, you still can't help but think that they could have spared some details and gotten it done in one book.  Oh!  I just thought of a good counterexample (because no one wants to read a 2000 page tome), The Pillars of the Earth.  Still though, I think that may be an outlier.

Yep.  Three seems to be the perfect number.  Think of all the great trilogies out there.  Recently, The Hunger Games, reaching into the Star Wars universe you get Heir to the Empire, The Jedi Academy and The Bounty Hunter Wars.  Then there are the Lord of the Rings, the Foundation Trilogy and the Millenium series (The Girl Who...).  I could go on, but know you all have lots to do so will conclude with the fact that well, three just seems to work.  Not too big.  Not too small.  Just right.  You get to know the characters without getting annoyed by them and the plot is robust enough to stand for the published set without needing to be drawn out any longer.

I'd love to hear of some series I missed (because I know I missed a lot) in the comments section as well as any counter arguments you have for my musings.  I will make one addition to my thinking though, there are a few sets of four that have managed to be quite awesome too.  The Rama series and Ender's books.  OK.  I'm going to stop looking now because I keep coming up with more and more sets of books I have read and it is getting a bit daunting.