Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

If you don't read anything else from this blog, you have to read this book. Wally Lamb is my favorite author. I read She's Come Undone and thought it was good. I then read I Know This Much Is True which became my favorite book of all time. I waited ten years for Wally's new book to come out and it was well worth the wait. It is 700 pages plus of story telling at its finest. It is about Caelum Quirk and his wife Maureen. Maureen was trapped at Columbine during the school shootings in 1999. The book then follows them as they try to recover from this tragic event. As no one can do, Wally then incorporates Caelum's past and ancestors into the present day story. I don't want to give too much away, but it is a whirlwind of a read. I could have read it in a few days, but wanted to take my time because I knew it might be years before Wally comes out with another book. This is a must read!!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

I found this book by surfing around on Amazon one day. I checked it out at Barnes and Noble and decided to buy it. I finished it in about a week so I guess that means it was a pretty good read. It was both a novel with a character story and also a mystery. The story had three sub-plots within the book. Each of the three stories contained a mystery. The first mystery was about the youngest of four girls that disappeared one night and years later her sisters want to find out what happened to her. The second mystery is about a young woman that was killed in her father's place of business. Her father wants to find out who the killer is. The third mystery is about a woman who is overwhelmed with her life and new baby and can't take it anymore. The woman's sister wants to find out where the young baby ended up after her mother went to prison. All three of these stories are brought together by an investigator named Jackson Brodie. By the end of the book you find out how all of these mysteries are tied together.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff

This was a powerful memoir written by a father about is son's addiction. David is a divorced father of Nic and they lived in the San Francisco area. David remarried and had two children with his new wife. Nic started to experiment with drugs when he was in junior high. His father found out about it, but didn't really know what to do. Nic told him it was a one time thing. This was the beginning of ten year drug addition that Nic couldn' stop. David began his own addiction with his son's drug use and became obsessed about helping his son and getting him to quit. Nic was in and out of rehab many times during the ten years and just couldn't stop no matter how hard he tried and how hard his dad tried to help him stop. This book was quite powerful and an inside look at what meth can do to a person. It also told the story of addiction and what it can do to the person using drugs and the people around them. David's son Nic also write a memoir called Tweak which I plan on reading in the future.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman

This was a different pick for me, but I had seen it written up in a couple of different places and thought I would give it a try. I'm glad I read it. I didn't love it, but I certainly didn't hate it. It was an interesting read and quite different from most of the books I read. The story takes place in a small town called "Owl" in North Dakota. The book focuses on three people who live in the town. One is a high school student trying to fit in. One is an elderly man living a simple life waiting to join his wife in heaven. One is a new young female teacher who has just moved to Owl and doesn't know what she has gotten herself into. For the most part the three character's stories do not cross. Each chapter is about one of the characters and their life in Owl. It is probably more of a character book, than a plot book, but I'm pretty picky when it comes to plot and the story did hold my interest. Towards the end of the book there is a major storm that hits Owl and I was a bit surprised by the ending. I'm glad I read it, but wouldn't put it at the top of my must read list. Some books are just like that I guess.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Wow! What a book. I read all 465 pages in one week's time. This was one of those "unputdownable" books. I must admit it was a bit of a slow start. As I read the first 50 pages or so I was wondering what all the praise about this book was about? But once I hit around page 50, I couldn't put this book down. It was a great story and had it all. I suppose it would be classified as a mystery, but it was so much more than that. I'm also surprised with the title of this book because it was more about Mikael Blomkvist than it was about Lisbeth Salander who was the girl with the tattoo. Mikael has been hired by the Vanger family to solve a family mystery that happened over 40 years ago. The Vanger family is a very powerful family in Sweden. Harriet Vanger disappeared over 40 years ago and her uncle has spent all those years trying to find out who murdered her. Once Mikael starts digging into the family history, he finds out more than he bargained for. With the help of Lisbeth, they crack the mystery and uncover many dark family secrets. Mikael is a journalist that co-owns a magazine and a second story of his reporting, his magazine, and a scandal is also being told. This book had it all. An excellent mystery, a family saga, international business, and a love story of sorts. I think any reader would enjoy this book.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

It was time for another memoir. This was a very touching story of a boy, Ishmael Beah, growing up in Sierra Leone in the 1990's. When he was twelve his country was invaded by soldiers. He was separated from his family and he had to survive on his own. Ishmael writes about his life on his own and what he had to do in order to live. Many boys his age ended up being forced to join an army to fight against the rebels in the country. Life changed very quickly for Ishmael. He was with weapons and killing people in order to save his life and those lives around him. He saw and experienced more at the young age than most do in a lifetime. He was exposed to drugs and became hooked. He was finally rescued and spent quite a bit of time in a rehabilitation center. Through this center he met some very important people who changed his life. This was a shocking and uplifting story.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger

I had read both books by Lin's brother, Leif Enger, and really enjoyed them. This book was recommended to me by a co-worker, and I thought I would give it a try. I truly enjoyed the story and found it a quick read. The story takes place right here in Minnesota so that was kind of fun to read about. The story is about Jesse who is in high school. At the beginning of the book, Jesse and his dad are hunting and his dad is shot and dies. They rule it as a suicide. Jesse knows in his heart that his dad didn't kill himself. He turns toward the one man he knows is responsible who happens to be his dad's brother Clay. No one but Jesse believes this to be true, including his mother, so it is up to Jesse to prove Clay's guilt. The story moves along smoothly and works toward an interesting and satisfying conclusion. Both Lin and Leif Enger are talented writers and I know you will enjoy all of their books.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress

This was my last read of summer 2008. I actually finished it at the beginning of September. I had read another book by this author called One Mississippi and really enjoyed it. I thought I would try another book by Mark Childress. I was not disappointed. The two books were very different, but both equally good. This was a bit on the bizarre side, but I truly enjoyed the whole story. It is actually two stories in the one book. The first story is about a young boy named Peejoe. He is living in Alabama first with his grandma and then his uncle. It is during the 1960's during the time of Dr. Martin Luther King. Peejoe and his community find themselves dealing with the issue of segregation. The second story is about Peejoe's Aunt Lucille. She has just killed her husband, has his head, and is heading to California to audition for a part on a popular television show. Yes, odd, but oddly interesting! The two stories are separate for the most part, but by the end of the book, come together quite nicely. This book has lots of humor, interesting and unique characters (especially Lucille), but also has a great and touching message.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn

This was definitely a hard book to put down. Once you start, plan on spending some time to finish it because you will want to know how it ends. The book starts out with a young girl who is a loner type child. In her mind she is a detective and tries to solve mysteries in her neighborhood and at the local mall. She then ends up disappearing and the story jumps forward about ten years. The story is still at the mall and revolves around two employees. They begin to form a friendship and the little girl's disappearance comes back for both of them. This is when the story really goes into motion. It is a great mystery while also telling an intriguing story. This was a quick read at 240 pages, and very enjoyable!

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is one of my favorite authors. My favorite book of his is probably The Buffalo Soldier. I enjoyed reading his new book during the summer of 2008. I had read that he took a real life story and wrote a fiction account of it. This story takes place during World War II. It is about a family that has to leave their home and cross the country to safety. The family takes a POW with them. This is where the love story begins. As the family and the POW journey across the country another soldier joins their group. They face many hardships along the way and struggle to survive. It was a different type of focus than most stories about WW II survival. This book had a great plot and character development. Bohjalian is a talented writer and I look forward to more of his books.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

This book had been on my list to read all summer. I finally started it on Wednesday, August 20th and finished it on Sunday, August 24th. Just in time before I head back for another school year. This was an amazing book. It starts out nice and slow and gains momentum as it heads toward an explosive ending. I absolutely loved this book and enjoyed every page. It was an interesting book because each chapter was told from the point of view of a different character. When one chapter would end with one character the story would continue in the next chapter with another character. It was an interesting way to tell the story. Mudbound takes place during World War II in Mississippi. The McAllan family moves to a rural cotton farm. The Jackson family begins working for the McAllan's. They each have a family member that fought in the war. The two families collide with conflict and everyone in both families are effected. This book has a great story line, amazing characters, and is the perfect page turner.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Carry Me Home by Sandra Kring

I can't remember how I came upon this title, but I'm glad I did. This book had one of the most memorable characters I have ever read about. His name was Earl, but had the nickname of "Earwig." The story takes place during the 1940's and during World War II. Earwig's older brother Jimmy gets drunk one night and signs up for the National Guard. The next thing the family knows is he is being shipped out and fighting in the War. The story is about how his absence effects the family members and others in a small town in Wisconsin. Earwig is simpleminded, but what is wonderful about his character is that he can sometimes see and know more than the others around him. The book was well written and just a great story about family, friendship, and survival during difficult times in our lives. This was a great little find!

The Night of the Gun by David Carr

I took a break from my fiction reading and read this memoir. I do enjoy reading memoirs, but often wonder how they can remember all the details they write about. This memoir had a little different take. In order for David to write his book he went back and interviewed people from his past to get the "true" story of what happened during the 1980's and 1990's. He grew up in Hopkins and worked his way to become a writer. Along the way, he got into drinking, some light drugs, and ultimately heavy drugs. His life took a downward spiral and he knew he hit rock bottom when he left his twin girls in the car on a winter Minnesota night and went into a crack house and couldn't remember how long he had been in the house. The book was told in two parts. Part one was about his life leading up to the drug use and the drug use itself. Part two was his work in rehab and rebuilding his life afterward. Even after rehab he hit several stumbling blocks. It was interesting how he would write about an event he remembered and then go interview a person who was there. Sometimes they had the same memory of the event and sometimes they didn't. This was a great memoir because it wasn't your standard "drug use/rehab" story.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III

If you read "The House of Sand and Fog" by this author, you know what a great writer he is. He does write a bit on the dark side, but writes a wonderful page turner. The same is true of his new book. This was the first book I read on my summer break and it was a great way to start off my summer. This story takes place over the weekend right before 9/11. The main setting of the book is in a Miami strip club. One of the dancers has to bring her child to work with her because she is a single parent and her babysitter backed out on her at the last minute. She doesn't want to bring her to her workplace, but has no other choice. On that same night, one of the "highjackers-to-be" is in the club. There is also another man in the club who is down on his luck and trying to escape his problems. As the night wears on; the dancer, the child, the foreigner, and the young man all cross paths and the night goes from bad to worse real quick. Again, this story was on the dark side, but I couldn't put it down. Dubus sure can write a page turner.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

America America by Ethan Canin

This was another title I kept seeing on many different lists of books to read during the summer of 2008. When I saw it on the "BN Recommends" table, I thought it was time to buy it and read it. I was not disappointed. The story takes place during the 1970's and present day with flashbacks alternating between chapters. Corey Sifter comes from a working class family. He is an honest and hardworking kid who gets a lawn job at the Metarey Estate and his life is forever changed. The Metarey family is backing a political candidate that will run against Nixon. As Corey becomes more and more a member of the family, he realizes how different his life is from the rich and powerful. When political scandal erupts, Corey has to decide between making the right choice and living with a wrong decision that will effect the rest of his life. This was another book that I could not put down. The writing was very strong and it was just a plain good story.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

What a book! This is 562 pages of wonderful storytelling. When Edgar was born he couldn't talk. This remains true for the rest of his life. He lives on a Wisconsin dog farm with his parents. They raise a very special type of dog. When Edgar's uncle appears on their doorstop, he brings trouble with him. After a tradegy strikes the family, Edgar leaves the farm with several dogs and begins the adventure of his lifetime. Wroblewski is an excellent writer. I found this to be a quick read even though it is 562 pages. This book is going to become a classic on my bookshelf!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

I had seen this book on many "must read" lists for summer 2008. When I see a book on 2-3 different lists, then I figure it must be worth reading. This book was worth reading. At first I wasn't sure if I would like this book because it is told from the point of view of Enzo who is a dog. After a few pages of reading I forgot that the story was being told from a dog. It is the story of Denny and Enzo and their life together. Things start to change when Denny gets married and he and his wife have a child. The story really gets going when Denny's wife gets sick and her parents come into the picture. Denny is a race car driver, but the lessons he learns about racing (Which he shares with Enzo) can be applied to real life and the life you live. Even if you aren't a dog lover or a racing lover, I know you will enjoy this book. Also check out the author's other book called "How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets."

How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets by Garth Stein

I loved this story. I had read his current book, "The Art of Racing in the Rain" earlier this summer. Look for that review soon. I decided to try another of his books and I'm so glad I did. This is the story about Evan who is a struggling rock band member trying to make it out in Seattle. Evan finds out he has a son from 14 years earlier. Once he meets his son things are never the same. While the story of Evan and his son is being told, you also learn about Evan's childhood, upbringing, and disfunctional family. This was a fast paced book and I found myself not being able to put it down. You need to read both this book and "The Art of Racing in the Rain."

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

I had followed Randy Pausch's journey via television and magazine articles. Everytime I went to BN to get a book I would see his bestseller on the shelf. I finally bought it yesterday and read the whole thing today. What a great message to send to not only his three children, but to the rest of the world. I will definitely be taking some of his advice and applying it to my own life. I also know I will be teaching my students some of the same life lessons he taught his students. This is both a motivational and emotional read that I know any reader will enjoy.

A Long Time Coming...

More times than not when I finish a book I will say "That was the best book I've ever read!" Both of my kids look at me and say "You say that about every book." I guess that means I'm enjoying the books I'm reading. And isn't that the whole point? I always tell my students that good readers share the books they are reading. I have always enjoyed sharing the titles of the books I've read with my family and friends. After reading "The Last Lecture", I decided to take this sharing to the next level and try out the "blog" land. We will see where it takes me. I hope you enjoy the site and the books that are listed here. They are "The Best Books I've Ever Read!"