Wow.  This was a hard book to read - not because it was a difficult subject, but because this author's vocabulary is quite extensive.  I had to look up a word or more on almost every single page.  And I consider myself quite the word maven. It was also difficult to read because the author wrote quite a few sentences in other languages - and I didn't know those languages - so I felt like I was missing part of the story.  There was also a lot of existential arguments between the characters which were sometimes hard to follow.

Having said all of that,  the book was actually more than OK.  I know that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement - but if you are up for the challenge, I'd say read it.

The story is about Roberto Della Griva who in the 1600s, found himself afloat tied to a board after his ship went down.  After floating for quite some time, he comes across a ship and with the last bit of strength he can muster, he climbs aboard the ship.

He soon comes to realize that the ship has been abandoned and he is the only one on board.  He also figures out that the small boat that should be lashed to the side of the ship is not there and because he can't swim to the island that is nearby, he is stuck on the ship.  It is here that the author spends some time on the back story of Roberto and tells about Roberto's stint in the military.

Roberto begins to believe that there is someone else on the boat and he starts hunting in all of the corners of the boat to try and find the person.  Meanwhile, the author tells about how Roberto has a running commentary on life where a fictitious brother does all of the things that Roberto wishes he could do.  This fictitious brother wins the heart of the lady Roberto loves and is a spy, fared better in the military than Roberto did, etc.

The book is a little strange because of this fictitious brother - you keep wondering when Roberto is going to stand up and fight for what he wants instead of making up all of these stories about his fictitious brother.

So that should be enough info about the storyline to maybe spark your interest. 

Note: My rating is maybe a little lower than I would have normally given it because of how difficult the book was to read.

Rating: 6 / 10  
ISBN: 0151001510
Publisher: Harcourt Brace and Co.
Edition: 1st  Edition 

These short stories are Joyce Carol Oates at her best.  She somehow takes normalcy and turns it on it's side for a supreme creep-fest feel.  These stories aren't of dream-monsters or vampires or other evil beasts.  Instead they are stories of normal life turned wrong.  It is the human in the story that is the monster in the most normal of ways. 

If you've never read a Joyce Carol Oates book, then this might be a good one to start on. 

Disclaimer:  I am a huge Joyce Carol Oates fan.  I have been known to write a bad review on her books though - so I feel I am more than fair.

Now go read this book!

Rating: 9 / 10  
ISBN: 9781848875647
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Edition: 1st  British Edition 

Marie-Laure is six years old and she has lost her sight.  Her loving father builds her a miniature neighborhood that mimics her own neighborhood so she can learn by touch how to get around.

Marie-Laure's father is the locksmith at the Natural History Museum. When the Nazi's come to Paris, he is trusted with the most valuable item the museum owns.  He and Marie-Laure run away to her Uncle Etienne's house.  She thinks it is to get away from the Nazi's because only her father knows the secret of what he holds.

Marie-Laure and her Uncle Etienne start to send messages on radios to the resistance while her father is sent to a Nazi prison for espionage.

Meanwhile, there is a young boy named Warner who lives in an orphanage with his sister in Germany.  He becomes fascinated with radios and becomes an expert on building and repairing them.  This earns him a spot in Hitler's Youth and from there an appointment to the military where he devises a way to triangulate on a resistance signal so the military can go in and shut them down.

The author's amazing prose and detail of the environment surrounding the characters is beautiful to read.  Definitely a book to put on your read list!

Rating: 10 / 10 
ISBN: 9781476746586
Publisher:  Scribner
Edition:  1st Edition 6th printing

The author, Ivan Doig was shaped early on by the death of his mother.  She died of an asthma attack in the days when there were no such things as inhalers or other types of medications to help with asthma.

This book is primarily about Doig's growing up years and his relationship with his father and other members of his family and community.

Unfortunately, I don't think Doig told this story as well as he has told some of his fiction books. (For example, here are two that I wrote reviews on: Sweet Thunder and The Whistling Season.)

I got easily bored with his narrative and only stuck with it because I liked his other books. I did become more interested in it as I got closer to the end of the book, but that didn't help the beginning of the book!

If you've read anything else by Ivan Doig and liked it, you might want to give it a try just because it was written by him.  If you've never read a Doig book before, I would definitely steer you to the other two I mentioned earlier.

Rating: 5 / 10 
ISBN: 978015603180
Publisher:  Harcourt Inc.

The McPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond have lived together all their lives in their parents ranch on a farm in Colorado.  Neither ever married but they found companionship in their brotherhood and lived a fairly solitary life.  That is until they ran across Victoria, a young pregnant woman in need of a place to stay.  So they let her live with them.  She stayed with them for several years and became a member of the brother's family as did her young daughter.  But soon Victoria realized she wanted to go to college so she left the brothers and moved to a town where she could.  The brothers were very sad to see her go, but kept in touch with her.

Luther Wallace and Betty June Wallace are both mentally disabled to some degree.  However, they are married and have two children.  Neither has a job and they live off of welfare. Betty June loves her children fiercely and laments that her oldest child is in foster care.  Their lives are made up with trips to their social worker's office and to the grocery store.  Betty June's uncle comes to live with them and terrorizes the family by beating the children - which neither Luther or Betty June seem capable of stopping. 

DJ Kephart lives with his grandfather Walter and is eleven years old.  DJ is responsible for the cooking and what little cleaning there is.  He is a silent boy far more mature than his eleven years.  Walter gets sick and DJ manages through some help of a neighbor to get Walter to the hospital where they find out he has pneumonia.

This is one of those books where the stories seem really disparate and then it isn't till the end that you see how they all connect.  I love stories like this.  The author is especially good at getting you inside the characters  and really involved with the book.

Rating: 8 / 10 
ISBN: 0375411585
Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf
Edition:  1st Edition

Percy is 76 years old and has a family full of love and flaws to spend his days with.  His wife died years ago, so really her death is not at issue in this book.  Instead it is a good story about a man, his children and grandchildren and how they all try to get along in their world.

Robert is Percy's grandson and he is closest to Percy as they spend a lot of time together.  Robert seems like a fairly straight up kid, but he unknowingly gets mixed up with some local eco-terrorists.  Percy and family stand by Robert through the whole mess and Robert learns from his mistakes.

Then there is Clover.  She is Robert's aunt and Percy's daughter.  She is an absolute mess from the get-go.  She is going through a very acrimonious divorce and it looks like her husband will get the kids, even though she wants them.  Clover is the daughter that Percy has the hardest time with.  He wants to tell her what she should be doing, but knows Clover won't listen.

Percy's other daughter Trudy, is an oncologist and is Robert's mother.  True to most doctor's lives, she is very busy with her practice.  Finally, there is Sarah.  She is Percy's love interest.  She is much younger than Percy - but really likes him.

There it is - a normal family for the most part.  And that is what you get from this book - peaceful normalcy in the characters. Frankly, It was quite refreshing to read and as I read the book, I really cheered those characters on.  I think that is what I liked the most about the book - how I got behind the characters.  You should read it too, and let me know what you think!

Rating: 8 / 10 
ISBN: 97803007377920
Publisher:  Pantheon Books
Edition:  1st Edition

It is the early 1900's and Jessie has just been released from prison.  She was a horse rustler - someone who stole horses.  And now as part of a 'work release' program she has been given to Fitz,, a local farmer in the area, to work his farm.

She cleans for him, cooks, plows the land, tends to the various animals on the property and unfortunately for all of this - Fitz beats and rapes her.

Desperate to get away from Fitz, she hashes a plan to kill him and run away.  This book is mostly about how she killed him and got away.

I found this book interesting to read - especially because it was written from the perspective of Jessie's dead child.  However, there wasn't a lot in the book that made me think - and I like books that make me think!  So if you are into an easy read - than go for it.  Otherwise I'd skip it.

Rating: 6 / 10 
ISBN: 9780307272195
Publisher:  G.P. Putnam's Sons
Edition:  1st American Edition

The novel opens with Hattie Kong a retired schoolteacher who's life has been interrupted by a family of Khmer Rouge refugees that have moved next door to her.  Hattie watches them through binoculars and soon becomes concerned about them as they are poverty-stricken.

Hattie goes over to visit them and relatively quickly forges a relationship with the teenage daughter Sophy (pronounced So-pee).  Sophy is sometimes reluctant to continue in the relationship with Hattie, but Hattie is adamant in her quest to help Sophy.

Hattie continues to be worried about the family as Sophy's father is an alcoholic and her brother is mixed up in a gang.  Also, two of Sophy's sisters are with foster families.

This book was as good as the other Gish Jen book I read, Mona in the Promised Land.   Definitely worth the read.

Rating: 8 / 10
ISBN: 9780307272195
Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf
Edition:  1st Edition

Dreamers of the Day is historical fiction from the early 20s when the middle east was in a state of flux and a handful of British and middle easterners got together to form the countries in the middle east that we know today.

Primarily it is about Agnes, who is a spinster and is left with a lot of money after all of her family dies from the flu epidemic that has swept the country.  She decides to go to Egypt and there falls in with the likes of Lawrence of Arabia and Gertrude Bell.

While in Egypt, she falls in love with Karl a German traveler (and possible spy) and ends up having an affair with him.

There isn't a heck of a lot to the story and I didn't think it was realistic at times. (For example, Agnes, despite being a spinster from Cleveland in the 20s is somehow literate in middle eastern politics when even the people in the know barely understood the ins and outs of middle eastern politics.)

Plus an overly large section of the book was taken up with her time in Jerusalem where she soaked up all of the touristy things.  I got tired of reading about all of the places Jesus touched.  Finally, what I didn't know about the book when I bought it was that it was a love story - and I'm not overly fond of those.

I think the most irritating thing was how the author portrayed Gertrude Bell.  I am currently reading Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations and she is a much more regal and kind person in the biography than is portrayed in Dreamers of the Day.  Maybe neither version is the real version, maybe it is a mix between the two, but I much prefer the Gertrude Bell of Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations.

Rating: 6 / 10  
ISBN: 9781400064717
Publisher: Random House
Edition: 1st Edition

Sigh.  I'm never reading an Orhan Pamuk book again.  This is the 2nd one I've read and I didn't have any luck understanding how the writer wrote with either novel.

This story was about 4 grand kids that go to visit their grandmother for a summer vacation.  All of the grand kids are in the early 20s and are obsessed with themselves.  Not one of them bothers to visit with their grandmother until it is time to leave and then they poo-poo what she has to say, kiss her hand and leave.

Of course lots of things happened between the beginning and the end of the book with the grandkid.  For example, Nilgun, the granddaughter is followed repeatedly by Hasan who is in love with her.  Or Metin, Nilgun and Faruk go partying.

Each chapter is told from the view of one of the grandkids, the Grandmother or Recep who is the son from an affair the grandfather had before he died.  The most frustrating chapters were from the grandmother who often repeated conversations from long ago in her head with her dead husband.  You could never tell when she was talking, or her husband and it was very frustrating to read.

So for me, I'm done with Mr. Pamuk.  You can go read him if you want and tell me what you thought.

Rating: 5 / 10  
Publisher: Alfred A. Knoph
Edition: 1st American Edition