Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

This was my second Jane Austen novel and it was a little slow at times, but still full of satire and wit.  Mansfield Park is the story of poor Fanny Price who grows up in the shadow of her rich cousins.  In true Austen form, the plot - and the love triangle - twists around several times.  I got a little bit tired of Fanny being overly passive and shy, but overall the novel was worth reading.
Summary from Amazon:

In Mansfield Park, Austen gives us Fanny Price, a poor young woman who has grown up in her wealthy relatives' household without ever being accepted as an equal. The only one who has truly been kind to Fanny is Edmund Bertram, the younger of the family's two sons.  Into this Cinderella existence comes Henry Crawford and his sister, Mary, who are visiting relatives in the neighborhood. Soon Mansfield Park is given over to all kinds of gaiety, including a daring interlude spent dabbling in theatricals. Young Edmund is smitten with Mary, and Henry Crawford woos Fanny. Yet these two charming, gifted, and attractive siblings gradually reveal themselves to be lacking in one essential Austenian quality: principle. Without good principles to temper passion, the results can be disastrous, and indeed, Mansfield Park is rife with adultery, betrayal, social ruin, and ruptured friendships. But this is a comedy, after all, so there is also a requisite happy ending and plenty of Austen's patented gentle satire along the way.
Read: November 2011 (on my iPad)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (by Gayle Lemmon)

I thought this was a great true story.  When the Taliban take over, a woman in Afghanistan starts a dressmaking business with her sisters in her home in order to support her family.  I enjoyed learning about a different aspect of life in Afghanistan.  The author is a journalist who has covered the region and felt compelled to share this story.

From Amazon:

The life Kamila Sidiqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war—a rare achievement for any Afghan woman—Kamila was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamila became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings. Armed only with grit and determination, she picked up a needle and thread and created a thriving business of her own.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the incredible true story of this unlikely entrepreneur who mobilized her community under the Taliban. Former ABC News reporter Gayle Tzemach Lemmon spent years on the ground reporting Kamila's story, and the result is an unusually intimate and unsanitized look at the daily lives of women in Afghanistan. These women are not victims; they are the glue that holds families together; they are the backbone and the heart of their nation. Afghanistan's future remains uncertain as debates over withdrawal timelines dominate the news. 

Read: October 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Exile by Richard North Patterson

Oooo, this one is good!  It felt like a throwback to the good old John Grisham books - part tense investigation, part courtroom drama.  

Here's the summary from Barnes & Noble:  

David Wolfe is a successful American lawyer being primed for a run for Congress. But when the phone rings and he hears the voice of Hana Arif--the Palestinian woman with whom he had a secret affair in law school--he begins a completely unexpected journey.
The next day, the prime minister of Israel is assassinated by a suicide bomber while visiting San Francisco. Soon, Hana is accused of being the mastermind behind the murder. Now David faces an agonizing choice: Will he, a Jew, represent her?
The most challenging case of David's career requires that he delve deep into the lives of Hana and her militant Palestinian husband, all the way back to Israel and the West Bank. There he uncovers the couple's dangerous connections…culminating in an explosive trial where the stakes are Hana's life--and the future of two peoples.

I really enjoyed this one, especially because we just got back from Israel where we studied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Part of the story takes place in Israel which was neat to read about.  The book is a long, but I thought it was good to read, especially if you like legal thrillers or have an interest in the Middle East.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Philosopher's Apprentice by James Morrow

Oh my.  How to describe this very bizarre book?  This is by far one of the strangest stories ever.  I tried to write a summary but gave up because it was way too complicated - cloning, conscience, abortion, hijacking and murder.  All cloaked in philosophy terms.  Ugh.  For example, these crazy right wing people find a way to use DNA from aborted fetuses, create clones of the would-be children, and send the clones to stalk/harass the would-be parents.  I mean, REALLY?

I read this at the recommendation of my Mimi and I cannot wait to see her to ask WHY on EARTH she liked this book?  It was just so weird!  Don't read it unless you are really desperate.  And even then just don't read it.

Read: September/October 2011

A Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

This is Brian's favorite book.  Or at least one of them.  Written by an Egyptian novelist and set in Cairo during World War I, this novel examines the life of a tyrannical shop merchant, his subservient wife, the exploits of their three sons and two daughters.  The chapters follow each of the family members by turn, giving insight into their thoughts and motivations.  It was really well written and pretty interesting to get a glimpse at Egyptian society during the revolution against the British occupation.  The hard part was adjusting to the names of people and places and trying to remember who was who, especially if I put the book down for more than a few days.  It took me a while to read because I got distracted with other things and it was pretty long!

Read: April - September 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

We picked Northanger Abbey for book club this month mainly because we couldn't think of anything else and it sounded very book clubby to read an Austen novel.  I expected to slog through heavy Austen language and be slightly entertained by a semi-predictable love story.  I did not expect to find that Jane had such a sense of humor!  I literally laughed out loud in certain parts and made Brian listen while I read the particular paragraph to him.  In Northanger Abbey, our heroine is the slightly naive Catherine, who has read one too many gothic novels for her own good.  She goes to Bathe for the season meeting new friends and potential suitors.  Complications and misconceptions ensue.  I highly recommend this one - it was entertaining and you can pat yourself on the back for reading a classic!  Win/win, people.

Read: August 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I don't know about you, but I LOVED The Time Traveler's Wife and I couldn't wait to read (listen to) the second book by Audrey Niffenegger. Her Fearful Symmetry follows twins Julia and Valentina as they move from America to London to live in their Aunt Ellspeth's apartment near Highgate Cemetary after Ellspeth dies. Ellspeth and their mother were twins too - with a secret that Julia and Valentina are desperate to know. When they get to London, they meet Ellspeth's agoraphobic neighbor Martin and her lover Robert. And eventually, they meet Ellspeth a ghost! The story was intriguing (not at all scary) and I couldn't wait to get in my car so that I could listen to a little bit more. I recommend this if you're in the mood for something unusual and unpredictable!

Read: August, 2011

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Leap of Faith by Queen Noor

I read Queen Noor's memoir at my mom's recommendation in preparation for our trip to Israel and it was really fascinating! Born as an American, Queen Noor grew up in California and DC. Her dad was head of the FAA and president of PanAm, so she got to travel a lot. She was one of the first women admitted to Brown University in the 1960s and then worked in Iran as a community planner. In her early twenties, she met King Hussein of Jordan and he pursued her. Just like a fairy tale, they fell in love and got married and she became Queen of Jordan. Her memoir weaves history and personal events - meeting dignataries from all over, having kids, adjusting to royal life, her efforts to improve Jordan. For example, it was partly due to Queen Noor's efforts that Steven Spielberg chose to film part of Indiana Jones in Petra! How cool is that?

I also appreciated learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from her point of view as an American married to the head of an Arab state. So interesting! Plus, who doesn't love the story of an ordinary girl marrying a king for love? If you have any interest in the Middle East, I highly recommend this book because Queen Noor's story is fascinating.

Read: June/July 2011
Disclaimer: I listened to this on CD and it took me about a month. I have no idea how long the actual book is, but it's worth it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls

I really liked this book! Em and Dexter meet on the last day of college, spending a day together and forming a relationship. Each chapter of the book provides a glimpse at where they are - together or apart - on the same day each year. Although that sounds like a chick flick love story, the book has much more depth and deals with some tough topics. The narrative structure is unique and I liked how the author developed the characters and wove their story together. Definitely read this book - but hurry because they are making it into a movie with Anne Hathaway that comes out later this month!

Read: October(ish) 2010 (I'm a little behind on my reviews)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I really enjoyed this book! I heard from a friend that this was the next Hunger Games series, and I completely agree. I read this book on the flight back from Israel and was entralled. Couldn't stop reading to take the nap that I needed! This will be a trilogy, but the next book is not out yet. Here is the summary from Amazon:

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her.

Read: July 2011

Next Up: Northanger Abbey (How's that for a change?)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

Did you read Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? What about the other three Traveling Pants books? Did you at least see the movie? Even though I was too old for them, I loved the Traveling Pants books and movies about four girls, their friendship and their crazy traveling pants.

Sisterhood Everlasting picks up with Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bee 10 years later, as they are approaching 30. Each of the original books had a few heavy topics woven through the plot - heartbreak, death, divorce - so I shouldn't have been surprised that Sisterhood Everlasting had that too. It was pretty heavy, particularly since I thought it would be summer fluff. I don't want to give anything away, but it was good to see where the girls ended up. Mistakes they made, how they grew apart and how they came back together. In the end, it is a touching re-affirmation of friendship and what it really means. Oh, and it makes you want to call your BFFs for coffee asap.

Read: July 2011 in Israel
Next up: Divergent

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris

City of Veils is a semi-sequel to Finding Nouf - same main characters with a new mystery to solve. Here is the summary from the author's website:

When the body of a brutally murdered and severely disfigured woman is found on the beach in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Detective Osama Ibrahim dreads investigating another unsolvable housemaid murder—unpleasantly common in a city where the veils of conservative Islam keep women as anonymous in life as the victim is in death. Digging deeper, however, an ambitious lab-tech named Katya discovers that the body is not that of a disobedient servant, but Leila Nawar, a rebellious young filmmaker who has made more than a few enemies with her probing documentaries on religious hypocrisy and sexuality.

This book was just as good, maybe better, than Finding Nouf. I really enjoyed the plot, which twists and turns a lot. I also like learning more about Saudi Arabia and how society is over there. The author is an American who married a Saudi Arabian man and lived over there for about a year, so it seemed like a pretty true portrayal. Definitely a good read!

Read: May/June 2011 (on CD)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

My mom recommended this book to me and, although I was skeptical at first, I thoroughly enjoyed it! Here is the summary from the author's website:

When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, her prominent family calls on Nayir Sharqi, a pious desert guide, to lead the search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up in frustration, her body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers. When the coroner's office determines that Nouf died not of dehydration but from drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what really happened.

The story is set in Saudi Arabia and the author does a good job of bringing in various details from that society and culture. More than just a good murder mystery, the novel has great character development and a love interest. And even better - I did not figure out who the killer was before the end!

Read: May 2011 (on CD in my car)
Next up: City of Veils, a sequel of sorts

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Hunger Games series (Suzanne Collins)

OMG. Please read these books now. Move them to the top of your list. Please. Trust me. I should have listened to my friends who read them last year. My sister-in-law let me borrow her set and once I picked them up I could not stop. I just had to know what was happening to Katniss Everdeen. I would even go so far as to put this series on the same playing field as Harry Potter and that is saying a lot!

I don't want to give anything away so I won't try to summarize. Plus trying to explain the plot just makes the books sound weird. They are set in a futuristic world where the Capital City controls/opresses twelve Districts. In order to remind the Districts of their control, the Capital requires each District to send two children to an arena every year to fight to the death. Katniss, a young girl, takes her sister's place in the arena and unintentionally sets a revolution in motion. Sounds bizarre (and it is) but it is just so good!

Read: March/April 2011

Bonus: They are making the books into movies!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Black Heels to Tractor Wheels (Pioneer Woman)

I love, love, loved this book! If you drool over PW's food blog on a weekly basis, then you will love her account of how she met and married Marlboro Man. How she gave up plans for a big city life when a cowboy swept her off her feet. Such a sweet love story and a good romantic read. Almost made me want to live on a ranch. Almost. Definitely made me grateful for my own love story.

Read: March 2011

Bonus: I got an autographed copy at Border's during their store closing sale!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Red Queen (Philippa Gregory)

You know I love the British monarchy and historical fiction, so I knew I would like this book. The Red Queen is the story of Margaret Beaufort, a lady of the House of Lancaster, during the War of the Roses. She spends her life fighting to secure the throne for her son - the future King Henry VII. The White Queen is Margaret's primary adversary as the two royal houses of England battle it out.

Not a book that everyone would love (I recommend the Tudor books first), but I still enjoyed it!

Read: February/March 2011
Bonus: got this from the library!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)

We read this for Book Club in February and I really enjoyed it. I listened to it in the car (is that cheating?) on a drive to visit Sara in Houston. The Red Tent tells the biblical story of Jacob's four wives - Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah - and his daughter Dinah. In the Bible, you read about the rape of Dinah and how Jacob took revenge by requiring the Canaanite tribe to be circumcised and then slaughtering them all in their sleep. This fictional interpretation re-creates the life of Dinah and describes the events from her point of view. This was the second time for me to read this book and I really enjoyed imaging the story behind the short biblical account. It also inspired me to study Genesis again to compare. Highly recommend!

Read: February/March 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

I finally finished the last book in this trilogy! I started reading it in October and never really got into it. But I can't leave books unfinished! And I generally have to read every book in a series once I start, so this one has been hanging over my head. I finally picked it back up last weekend and knocked it out. I'm glad I did because it was a satisfying ending to the series. It had thrills and mystery, but I liked the way it ended. My only complaint with the series is all of the names and the many many many confusing characters. It is hard to keep track!

Now the question is whether to watch the movies? And if I do, should I watch the Swedish ones or wait for the American versions?

Read: October 2010 and February 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Happy Ever After (Nora Roberts)

This is the fourth book in the Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts and it was as cheesy and good as the others. In this one, Parker Brown falls in love with the car mechanic, who turns out to be perfect for her. Everyone finds their guy and will live happily ever after. Sappy, predictable chick lit at its best.

Read: February 2011

Mini Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)

Oh, I just love Becky Brandon nee Bloomwood. I know she's ditzy. I know she does dumb things. But I just love her. I love her antics and schemes and crazy solutions. Although I was annoyed with her out-of-control daughter, I really loved this sixth installment in the Shopaholic series. It was a fun read as Becky plans an over the top surprise party for Luke. It was classic Becky.

I hope there will be another Shopaholic book someday!

Read: January 2010

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Heart of the Matter (Emily Giffin)

Its hard to say exactly how I feel about this book. Its about infidelity from the perspective of the wife and the other woman. The chapters alternate between the two women so that you see both sides. Guilt, insecurity, worry, suspicion. Lots of emotions in this one! I wanted to know what happened - whether the wife found out, how she handled it, what the other woman did, etc. And it was very quick to read. But at the same time, reading about infidelity is hard because I just don't want to think about it. So read at your own risk! Emily Giffin's first two books were her best (Something Borrowed and Something Blue). I haven't loved any of the others. Not sure I'll try again.

Read: December 2010