Friday, December 31, 2010

ANATOMY OF GHOSTS by Andrew Taylor

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I like a good period mystery. Especially if there are ghosts involved.  ANATOMY OF GHOSTS seemed to offer the perfect vehicle to entice my interest. Set in Cambridge in 1786, the story follows John Holdsworth, a down-on-his-luck bookseller who recently suffered the losses of both his wife and young son.  His anger at the charlatans who prey on the grieving leads Holdsworth to publish a pamphlet called THE ANATOMY OF GHOSTS which claims that ghosts do not exist. The pamphlet comes to the attention of Lady Anne Oldershaw whose son, a fellow at Jersusalem College, has been driven mad as he claims to have seen a ghost. Lady Anne sends Holdsworth to Cambridge to investigate and see if he can find the truth while restoring her son's reason.

The book was a little slow to get started. I had a hard time getting engaged with the story. However, the mystery ended up working well for me.  The book is filled with details about period college life, secret societies and blackmail. I enjoyed the mystery part of the book but the rest was a little slow. I did like the fact that I didn't figure out the mystery right away but the book was missing something for me.  I can't quite put my finger on it, though.  It's a short book but I find it hard to get through.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended only if you are a fan of period mysteries.  This one can be a little slow but the mystery itself is ultimately rewarding.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I don't read a lot of nonfiction. I sometimes find it difficult to get lost in a nonfiction book the way that I do with a fiction book. In the case of Laura Hillenbrand's latest book, UNBROKEN, this wasn't a problem.  UNBROKEN follows the story of Olympian and WWII Pacific POW Louie Zamperini.  Really, this book could be broken into four distinct stories and each one would be compelling by itself. 


The book begins with Louie's life as a troubled difficult youth who found purpose in running. This newfound purpose brought him all the way to the Olympics.  Story #2 would follow Louie's entry into the military, the challenges facing him and the rest of our airmen during WWII and the subsequent plane crash that left him and fellow crewmates adrift in the Pacific for weeks.  Story #3 would be Louie's "rescue" from the ocean and his horrific days as a Japanese POW.  Story #4 follows Louie's life upon returning from the war as he struggled with his demons including alcoholism before finding renewed purpose in the work of Billy Graham.


Even though this book is a bit of a chunkster, I couldn't put it down. I had to know what would happen next.  It is a truly unbelievable story and opened my eyes to so many things about WWII and the fight in the Pacific arena that I never realized before. Hillenbrand has a real gift in identifying key individuals to interview who stories help to develop a well-rounded picture of events.  It's a  really wonderful and compelling work.

BOTTOM LINE: HIGHLY recommended. One of my favorites this year.  Great for history buffs but also for people who love a good human story about the triumph of the human spirit and the importance of maintaining one's dignity and humanity.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

THE RED GARDEN by Alice Hoffman

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

THE RED GARDEN follows the lives of the inhabitants of Blackwell, Massachusetts, from its founding in 1750 to the present. The reader is swept up in three hundred years of stories from this small town.  Some of the stories are driven by fate and some of the individuals make their own destiny. There is even a little magical realism woven into the tales.  The book begins with the founders of the town who came by wagon train to the far side of Hightop Mountain and struggled to survive.  Were it not for young Hallie Brady, they wouldn't have made it.  Hallie faces her own series of tragedies and the garden she builds behind her home is a testament to those losses.  Everything planted in the garden turns red. The garden makes an appearance in most if not all of the tales in the book.

I admit that I got swept up in these stories.  It is a truly wonderful to peek into the lives of the inhabitants of this town over so many years. Each chapter offers a brief tale in a specific moment in time and then moves forward.  After encountering an individual in one story, you may later find the child or grandchild or great-grandchild of that individual in another story. Everyone is interconnected and affected by Blackwell. My one complaint is that just when I found myself caught up in a tale, it would end.  You do not get to find out what happens to each individual.  You only get a brief moment in time.  I wish Hoffman had offered these stories in an 800-page book like Santmyers' "...AND LADIES OF THE CLUB" so that we could follow each thread to its end. One of the most fascinating mysteries in the book is never resolved!!!  Each story offers a tantalizing peek into the lives of these people but nothing more.  Hoffman does capture these linked and interwoven lives skillfully, however.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended.  Hoffman is a great storyteller.  I found myself frustrated, however, from wanting more.  It seemed as if there was so much more to tell.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

SUNSET PARK by Paul Auster

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Auster's latest book follows the lives of a number of eccentric characters linked together by the mysterious Miles Heller during the economic collapse of 2008.  Miles works as a trash-out worker in southern California where he sifts through the detritus of evicted families.  His saving grace is his teenaged girlfriend Pilar.  When Pilar's sister threatens to expose their illegal love affair, Miles must escape to Sunset Park in Brooklyn where he joins a group of unusual squatters in an abandoned house.  The squatters are a motley crew including an emotionally damaged real estate agent, a woman working on her PhD and an eccentric man who specializes in repairing the artifacts of a vanished world. Each of these individuals must come to terms with their past in order to create any kind of a future.

Auster is very gifted writer and comes up with truly imaginative characters and situations.  I love how he managed to bring together these different people into one cohesive story. Each individual is damaged in his/her own way and they are all using their time as squatters to regroup and figure out what directions their lives will take. The abandoned house becomes a kind of waiting room for the next chapter in their lives.  Miles is an especially poignant character and probably the most interesting of all of them. He has been running from his past for years and must now confront it.

Although I enjoyed this book, it felt too short. I wanted more.  I felt as if I was just getting into the characters when the book ended. Each individual only gets a short amount of focus in the story with the exception of Miles and possibly his father. I think Auster manages to capture the strangeness of 2008 and the effects of the economic downturn on individuals very well. I sometimes found myself puzzled by the inclusion of some of their characters and questioned their importance in the storyline.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This is a well-written book with excellent characters. However, I'm not sure that it is a book that will stay with you for a long time.  It is more of a book that captures a moment in time and how it affected a particular group of people.

Monday, December 27, 2010


I hope you all had a wonderful and blessed Christmas. New Year's is right around the corner!!! I am looking forward to saying goodbye to 2010.

My friend and former pastor always sends lovely Christmas cards and the sentiment he included with this year's card really moved me. I would like to share his words with you:

"Please let us use this occasion to put in a good word for silence--an appropriate word to hear again at Christmas. We have felt this year that our society has been noisier, with, we think, shameless incivility on both sides of the aisle, with growing evidence of explosive anger and increasing decibels of loudness. Isn't this then the perfect time to remember "Let all mortal flesh keep silence?" Shouldn't we softly sing "Silent Night, Holy Night" and " silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!"? Can't we all find at least a few moments to "be still, and know that God is God"? Can't we find times in the next days for calmness, serenity, silence, remembering the challenge of the Prophet Isaiah, " quietness and in trust shall be your strength"? We're working on these questions, and we hope that you will join us, too.

In addition to "Silent Night " -- we're singing "Joy to the World"! May the gifts of silence and joy be yours now and in the coming year."

I want to take this moment to wish all of you a very Happy New Year!!! I'm working on my review for SUNSET PARK and UNBROKEN and I will also have a review for THE RED GARDEN by Alice Hoffman.  I'll be back to blogging next Monday!

Friday, December 24, 2010


THE FAT MAN is a spoof of traditional Christmas stories and songs along with a dash of noir featuring one of Santa's elves, Gumdrop Coal.  Gumdrop Coal, head of the infamous Coal patrol, gets canned right before Christmas.  Rumor has it that he not only took his job too far but that he was also physically threatening naughty children and their parents. As Gumdrop seeks to clear his name, he uncovers a plot to get rid of Santa Claus that may extend all the way to the Misfit Mafia on the Island of Misfit Toys. Will Gumdrop find the perpetrators before Santa gets it?

Fans of classic holiday tales will find much to enjoy in this book.  Harmon spares no one from Rudolph to George Bailey to the characters from A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  While the noir-nods can be a bit heavy-handed at times, I still liked the tone of the book. There really wasn't much to the story but that wasn't really the point. I enjoyed seeing how Harmon wove together all the different Christmas stories and songs. There were even some excellent references to the Christ child and the true meaning of Christmas. And I can tell you I will never hear the 12 Days of Christmas the same way.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended for fans of the Christmas genre.  Others might find the book a little irritating. Lots of funny lines and references here, though.  Good for a holiday laugh!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Reviews coming soon:

SUNSET PARK by Paul Auster

Currently reading:

UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand

I have so many galleys to tell you about!  I'm glad my bedside table is full again. Right now, I am thinking about what books will make my Best of 2010 list.  So many good ones this year. What is on your list?

Friday, December 03, 2010


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I have been a fan of Steve Martin for a long time. He is truly a Renaissance man with his successful forays in acting, music and writing.  I really enjoyed SHOPGIRL and I was intrigued to hear about his latest literary offering.  Especially since it deals with the art world and I minored in art history in college.

AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY is told from the point of view of young art journalist Daniel Franks who feels compelled to write and unburden himself about his charismatic friend Lacey Yeager. The story is really Lacey's and the narrator doesn't appear very often in the story. Lacey is the quintessential New York Girl. The story begins in the late 1990's when Lacey is 28 and working in the bowels of Sotheby's. She soaks up as much knowledge about art as she can while angling to get ahead.  Her ambition drives her to use any means at her disposal to achieve her goals.  She climbs her way to the top through sheer talent and manipulation and manages to become an art dealer in her own right.  However, she does so in very turbulent times for the New York art world that include 9/11 and the financial loan crisis.

I really enjoyed this book because I love art and art history and I find the New York art world fascinating. If you have little to no interest on this subject, you may find the plot a little boring and hard to understand. Although my review copy did not have many pictures, it appears the final copy will include reproductions of many of the works mentioned in the story. This is a nice touch and helps the reader to better understand why the art affects the characters.  Although Lacey's tactics are often questionable, she somehow finds a way to be likeable.  I think this is one of the points the narrator tries to make. In spite of Lacey's shortcomings, she has a charisma and charm that keep the people in her life coming back for more.

My one complaint with the book would be that the ending seemed rushed and abrupt.  Everything wrapped up too quickly and I felt that the story was left hanging a bit. I did, however, think that the book gave an excellent snapshot of a specific place and time in the closed off rarified art world of New York City.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  Lovers of art and art history will find much to like here.  Martin delves into the ugly side of art collecting while recognizing why art is so compelling and drives so many to extremes. Lacey is a fascinating character who both repels and charms and I only wish we could have had a little more to the story so we aren't left hanging.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Please Stand By...

Piles of galleys have been arriving on my doorstep and I am woefully behind in my reading.  I am currently finishing up SUNSET PARK by Paul Auster and AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY by Steve Martin. I hope to have new reviews for you in a few days.

I have no real excuse except for this

I'm thinking I may need to set all my galleys aside and do some classic holiday reading instead.
Sorry for the delay!!!