Monthly Archives: October 2011

Moneyball (Michael Lewis) – Review

Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair gameMoneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction / Sports / Economics – Statistics
Publisher: Norton
ISBN 9780393338393
301 pages

Find this book at your local library 

I wrote this book because I fell in love with a story. The story concerned a small group of undervalued professional baseball players and executives, many of whom had been rejected as unfit for the big leagues, who had turned themselves into one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball….It began, really, with an innocent question: how did one of the poorest teams in baseball, the Oakland athletics, win so many games?

Thus the premise of Moneyball is laid out in a simple but direct first paragraph in the preface of the book. By now the concept behind Moneyball is pretty well-known thanks to the movie based on this look into the behind-the-scenes of the Oakland A’s. Lewis accomplishes his investigation by interviewing players, following Billy Beane around the clubhouse, studying the statistics of Bill James that laid out the foundational groundwork for Beane’s drastic overhaul of the major league draft system.

Lewis includes mini biographies of quite a few of the players: Scott Hatterberg, Chad Bradford, Billy Beane, etc. I really enjoyed these chapters because it added another element to the book. Despite all the numbers and formula’s Beane applies to his players, they are still human with human-interest stories.

Lewis doesn’t dwell on any topic for too long. He gives a little background history, makes his point then moves on. I really like this method. I understood what he was talking about without feeling bored. You don’t necessarily have to be a baseball fan to appreciate this book, although it helps to know at least some of the terminology and or stats currently used to rate the professional players. I had to reference my husband quite a bit with this book, as he is the biggest baseball fan I know.

Billy Beane is an incredibly odd, intelligent, likable, yet frustrating person. At least his representation his. A man, with a tremendous amount of energy that usually results in chairs being thrown across the room, manages to lead the A’s into winning 20 straight games (setting a new MLB record).

I enjoyed this book because of the quality writing, the location (Bay Area!), the personalities and the blend of biography and statistical analysis in an upbeat and enticing tone. This is also one of those books where you can appreciate both the book and the movie and not get too upset by the changes in the film rendition.

Book 61 of 2011

READ A LIKES

  1. Fair ball : a fan's case for baseball  Working at the ballpark : the fascinating lives of baseball people-- from peanut vendors and broadcasters to players and managers
  1. Fair Ball by Bob Costas
  2. The Bill James Historical Abstract
  3. Working at the Ballpark by Tom Jones

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A Year in Provence (Peter Mayle) – Review

A year in Provence A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir, travel
Format: Audio CD
Publisher: Books on CD, inc, 1992
7 discs
Find this book at your local library

Back cover synopsis:

Peter Mayle and his wife cherished the dream of someday living in Provence. Then it happened. They bought a two-centuries-old farmhouse and began the exhilarating, frustrating, joyful and satisfying task of restoration.

It was total immersion. From coping with freezing weather, to dealing with disarming and procrastinating local craftsmen, Mayle shares his strategies for survival and relishes the growing camaraderie with his country neighbors.

One of my first reasons for picking up this book was the vague hope that Mayle would talk about the city of Arles, where I spent a good portion of my honeymoon in April. Alas, he did not. But that is pretty much the only fault I found with this book. Its hilarious, its witty, and all the country neighbors Mayle meets and acquires are some of the most colorful people I have read about in ages.

I listened to the audio cd, read by David Case. I loved David Case’s narration. He was snarky when necessary and was able to get across the irony and befuddlement of certain scenes better than it would have been in print. I actually have the print copy of his book at home, but I could never read past the first chapter, despite my interest in the story.

The Mayles and their two dogs moved into a centuries old farmhouse in the Luberon of Provence in the late 1980s. Most people compare this book to Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. If you have to choose between the two, go with A Year in Provence. Mayle is able to poke fun at himself, at family and friends and pestering acquaintances who over stay their visit. Mayle is wonderfully descriptive. Frances Mayes spent too much time in her own head, and not enough time focusing on the people around her. What I liked about this book/CD is that it really felt more like a conversation, a story with Peter Mayle. David Case definitely brought that across in his reading, which made the mood of the book more intimate. I only wish there were pictures of the his Provincal neighbors and all the wonderfully delicious food that he ate. Oh, the food. My mouth watered at his descriptions.

Book 60 of 2011

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The Flaneur (Edmund White) – Review

The flaneur : a stroll through the paradoxes of ParisThe Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction / History / Social Groups
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2001
ISBN: 1582341354
210 pages
Find this book at your local library

A flaneur is a person who explores, examines and watches life as an idle bystander. Flaneurs can be found sipping coffee at a cafe, watching the people stroll down the street. The flaneur will aimlessly walk about town, with no destination in mind, but always on the lookout for something new.

Using the flaneur as a vehicle, author Edmund White takes us through six distinct sections and social groups of Paris:  the acceptance of black Americans, the position of Jews, Baudelaire and Gustave Moreau, homosexuals, and monarchists.

To be honest, I had a difficult time seeing how the flaneur fit into all these different chapters. The flaneur I learned about in college did nothing other than watch other people. This is often proclaimed as a French past time, sitting in cafe’s watching the world pass you by. Nearly each chapter begins with the flaneur walking this way, or that way, so I suppose the flaneur’s walks about town lead us into the vast history of social strifes and successes in Paris.

I did enjoy learning about the history of each group. I loved the literary history chapter, discussing Colette, Baudelaire, & Balzac. I enjoyed the chapter on the acceptance of blacks, especially in contrast to the lack of acceptance in America during the same time frame of the 1920s. This book reminded me a lot of Parisians by Graham Robb because of the bits of trivia in each chapter. Although at 210 pages, the book is small, its 4″ x 8″. Each chapter is a quick read, and although White discusses the history and the social context heavily, he does infuse his own experiences in each chapter, giving this a bit of a memoir feel.

Book 59 of 2011

Read A Likes

book jacket book jacket Book Cover

  1. Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb
  2. The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter
  3. The Flaneur and his City by Richard D.E. Burton

Geek Girls Unite (Leslie Simon) – Review

Geek girls unite : how fangirls, bookworms, indie chicks, and Other misfits are taking over the worldGeek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon
Age: Tween / Teen
Genre: Nonfiction / Pop Culture / Women
Source: Publisher
Publisher: It Books,  2011
ISBN: 9780062002730
193 pages

Find this book at your local library 

I think the full title of this book explains the entire concept:

Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks and Other Misfits Are Taking Over The World.

In this book by author and music journalist Leslie Simon, we explore the world of girl-geekdom. This book is a representation of the cultural progression towards a new identity, that of the geek. Particularly the variety of geek that is no longer relegated to the world of awkward boys. Being a geek is now cool, and its something that women around the globe are embracing and being celebrated for.

The book focuses primarily on 6 types of geek: Fangirl Geek, Literary Geek, Film Geek, Music Geek, Funny-Girl Geek, and Domestic Goddess Geek. There is also a chapter at the end that runs through a number of other geek varieties: tech geek, fashionista geek, athlete geek, etc.

Each chapter has a specific format, a certain breakdown of the geek in question. The format goes as follows (with my general review and thoughts in parenthesis):

  • Pop quiz to gauge how well-versed the reader is in this field. (The questions were something similar to a Seventeen Magazine teen quiz, and Simon probably could have varied the answers in each chapter, as the answer was always the same letter for each quiz).
  • Character Sketch (a quick run-down of what makes up this certain type of geek)
  • Say What? (the lingo most associated with this subset of geek)
  • Geek Mythology (a deeper look into the start of this geek movement, and who was involved in its evolution over time.)
  • Geek Goddesses (notable names of contemporary icons and figures in the media that best reflect this subset of geek)
  • Frenemies (Posers, frauds or phonies. People who think they fit into this geek category, but really don’t because of a series of bullet point, overly broad generalizations as listed and created by Simon).
  • Geek Love (another series of overly broad generalizations and ideas that do more to propagate the stereotypes associated with this level of geek, this time in regards to romantic matches.)
  • Required Reading / Web Bookmarks, Movies / Playlist (this part is actually my favorite of each chapter. I think Simon did a great job assembling a selection of resources for young girls to further learn about their desired geek-topic. Although there were a few links and notable names that I found missing in the book, I think this end summary did a good job of getting young girls started on their path of development.)

Had I known from the get-go that this book was aimed at the tween/teen age range, I would have approached it with a different frame of mind. As a 28-year-old, this book really didn’t appeal to me, or reach me on any volume, even though I am a self-proclaimed literary/domestic goddess geek married to a music geek. I think young girls will fully embrace this book and relate to the notable names (Tina Fey, Natalie Portman, etc). Although I did find the requirements for each type of geek to be restrictive, Simon does make a point to mention that geeks can be anyone who embraces a level of cultural with a passion and intensity and one type of geek is not better than the rest. This book is full of resources for anyone interested in learning more, or even just learning about the different subsets in this book. I’ve already jotted down a number of books to read, movies to watch and CDs to explore.

Book 58 of 2011

Read A Likes

book jacket book jacket  book jacket

  1. Geektastic by Holly Black
  2. She’s Such a Geek! by Annalee Newitz
  3. How to be a Geek Goddess by Christina Tynan-Wood

 

Uncommon Criminals (Ally Carter) – Review

Uncommon criminalsUncommon Criminals by Ally Carter
Age: YA
Genre: Heist / Fiction
Format: Audio CD
Brilliance Audio, 6 discs (6 hours: 47 minutes)
Hyperion, 2011

Find this book at your local library 

Fifteen year old Katerina Bishop and her crew are back in another high stakes heist adventure in this sequel to Heist Society. This time, its Katerina who has been conned into stealing a precious and rare gem, the reputed cursed Cleopatra emerald. Now, it’s up to Kat and her friends follow the Cleopatra gem around the world, and create a new set of rules in order to get the gem back to its rightful owner.

The sequel to the fantastically amusing Heist Society did not disappoint. This book maintained the same level of witty word-play and globe-trotting luxury, in a world where money is no object and high stake risks are a natural part of life. In this book, we see a lot of character development in Kat. The remaining colorful cast of characters are stationary, static in their same personas as the first novel. Its only in Kat where we really see a change of character. Kat is still clueless about boys, more focused on getting the job done, than about comforting friends and family. She is focused, naive, and highly innovative all at the same time. We see her let down her guard and really start to open up to her family and the idea of having a group of friends that she can trust.

I loved the story progression of this novel more than Heist Society. The twists and turns were equally unexpected, but much more intricate in this book. In this world. Kat and her crew got to invent their own rules, while breaking others, in order to get to the Cleopatra emerald. This book takes place not too long after Heist Society ended, so the characters are still the same ages. This series is fun, and witty. I enjoyed listening to it on audio, all because of Angela Dawe’s fantastic narration. Her accents are flawless, the characters are full of life. It really felt like I was listening to a movie in another room.

Again, I would recommend this for a family road trip, its age appropriate for pretty much all members of the family, although there is more development between the romance of Kat and Hale, but I would still give this book a G-rating.

Book 57 of 2011

READ-A-LIKES

Books like the Heist Society series:

book jacket book jacket book jacket book jacket

  1. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
  2. The White Cat by Holly Black
  3. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
  4. Black Taxi by James Maloney

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The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) – Review

The night circus : a novelThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Age: Adult
Genre: Magical Realism / Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday, 2011
ISBN: 9780385534635
387 pages

Find this book at your local library

The circus appears without warning, mysteriously arriving in cities around the world for a span of 13 years starting in 1886. As the circus travels, it grows and develops more tents of illusionary magic to amaze all the viewers. Open from midnight to dawn, the circus is filled with an aura of magic that leaves the reveurs wanting more. At the center of the Cirque de Reves (Circus of Dreams) are Celia and Marco. Bound by a binding spell from their youth, Celia and Marco engage in a challenge, a show-off of skills and talents using the circus as the venue for their feats.

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it as other readers and bloggers have. As her debut novel, I think Erin Morgenstern did an amazing job creating this magical world and I look forward to her future endeavors. She created intricate and detailed characters in a world equally complex. There was a lot of character development over the course of the novel, which I always look for in books. The pacing was fantastic. Although a lot happened in each chapter, I never felt as if the story was rushed. This book was the perfect read for a rainy day, it definitely has that dreary and dark atmosphere throughout the entire novel. Perhaps because almost all the scenes take place in the middle of the night.

The setting was unique, but also reminiscent of Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I loved the struggle between the magicians, as well as seeing Celia’s and Marco’s relationship develop and evolve over time. I even found the ending to be appropriate, given the restraints and the anticipated outcome of the battle of skills between Celia and Marco. I loved Celia’s character for her strength, her vulnerability and her persona. Marco…I didn’t like as much. I found him manipulative, and not very trustworthy. The twins were a joy to read about, I wish there had been more time spent on them…perhaps in a future sequel to the novel?

What kept me from loving this book? Bailey, for one. I never understood his role in the novel. Why was he so special? Each chapter had a date and time, and the novel jumps back and forth in time before finally meeting together at the end. I found that confusing at times, because it often paused the flow of the novel while I skipped back chapters to check facts and make sure everything was still aligned (which it always was). The last thing that prevented me from loving this book was the vagueness of the rules of the challenge. The whole point of the challenge was revealed slowly over the course of the dozen or so years of the circus. It was frustrating for both Celia and Marco as they were kept in the dark as much as the reader.

I’ve heard rumors of this novel already being optioned for the big screen. I would love to see Edward Norton pick up the role of Marco, although I’m not sure who should play Celia.

Book 56 of 2011

I have a fondness for magical realism books, especially those involving magic and magicians. I’ve put together a list of titles that have a similar mood/theme as the Night Circus for those that want more of this genre:

BOOKS

Water for elephants : a novel  Vaclav & Lena : a novel  Swamplandia!

The autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb  Prospero lost   The man from beyond : a novel

Carter beats the Devil : a novel  Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell  The art of disappearing

  1. Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
  2. Vaclav & Lena – Haley Tanner
  3. Swamplandia – Karen Russell
  4. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb – Melanie Benjamin
  5. Prospero Trilogy – L. Jagi Lamplighter
  6. The Man From Beyond – Gabriel Brownstone
  7. Carter Beats the Devil – Glen Gold
  8. Jonathon. Strange & Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke
  9. The Art of Disappearing – Ivy Pochoda
  10. The Tempest – William Shakespeare

Franny and Zooey (JD Salinger) – Review

Franny and Zooey.Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Little Brown Books, 1955
ISBN: 0316769495
202 pages
Find this book at your local library 

College student Franny Glass un-expectantly drops out of college and moves back home with her parents and older brother Zooey in the midst of an emotional and religious breakdown. Under the pressure of his mother, as well as his innate brotherly affection, Zooey steps in and tries to make sense of Franny’s religious upheaval.

I think for people who loved the pomposity in A Confederacy of Dunces, this book will be a welcome addition to the bookshelf. I’m still not quite sure where I stand. This is the first thing of Salinger’s I’ve read sans Catcher in the Rye. From my research, Salinger’s collection of shorts, Nine Stories, primarily centered around the Glass family. The Glass family is a rather large collection of incredibly brainy children who make repeated, if not constant, appearances on a radio show, It’s A Wise Child. Franny and Zooey is a further extraction of those characters from Nine Stories.

Franny has gotten her hands on a religious book, and is seeking to find ultimate spiritual fulfillment, but the road she travels leads her away from her family, her friends, and her interests and hobbies. Zooey steps in to try to help her make sense of the process, and put her transformation in perspective.

I found both Franny and Zooey to be annoying, and pompous in the “I’m better than you and everything and everyone else is below me and far too boring to retain my interest” vein. I could see why Salinger created characters like this. The brainy children who can see through the mundane norms of everyday life. This self-proclaimed elevated status was a drudge to read through, particularly the scene with Zooey and his mother chatting in the bathroom. I was very tempted to just stop reading the book, I was so frustrated with the mother for not getting a hint. I was also frustrated with Zooey for his rude demeanor with his mother. I just found the entire character list to be unlikable, from Franny’s ordinary boyfriend, to Zooey’s child-actor ego, and their father’s obliviousness to anything negative in their lives. For me, there was nothing to balance this skewed view on society. The commentary seemed too one-sided with nothing to counteract the Glass children’s view on society.

Book 55 of 2011

This book was a selection from the Rory Gilmore Reading List

L’amante Anglaise (Marguerite Duras) – Review

L'Amante Anglaise by Marguerite DurasL’amante Anglaise by Marguerite Duras
Age: Adult
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Pantheon Books, 1967
ISBN 0394750225
122 pages

Find this book at your local library 

A grisly murder takes place in a small town in France. A body is dismembered and pieces of the body are dropped off a railway viaduct onto the passing trains below. Told through three individual interrogation sessions, we learn about the murderer, and try to figure out why the murder took place.

I wavered on this book. Despite its small size (only 122 pages), it took me a while to get through this book. Mostly, it took me a while to pick up after I set it back down. The interrogation sessions involved four people: the nameless questioner; the owner of the bar where the arrest/confession took place, Robert Lamy; the husband of the murderer and the murderer herself, Pierre Lasnes and Claire Bousquet.

The format of the book is written more as a play than as an actual novel. The questioner’s lines are written in italics to differentiate the two identities. The characters remain faceless, with no descriptive features. All we know about the characters are what they tell us. This definitely makes for an interesting psychological novel. Claire is the most interesting and complex character, but she meant to be the most mysterious one. Solitary, quiet, introverted, and yet somehow pathological at the same time. What’s scary is the setting of the small town, of the precise measures Claire took to dispose of the body and how easily she could have managed to escape and never be caught had it not been for a slip of the tongue.

I found out after finishing this book that it was based on a true story of a murder that took place in rural France. Duras originally wrote a play based on the story, and then later a book based on the play. Perhaps that’s why this book reads more like a play than an actual novel. It’s a quick read, but definitely calls for a lot of afterthought and retrospection.

Book 54 of 2011

Blankets (Craig Thompson) – Review

BlanketsBlankets by Craig Thompson
Age: Adult
Genre: Graphic Novel / Graphic Memoir
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions, 2003
ISBN: 1891830430
582 pages 
 
 
Find this book at your local library

Told in nine chapters, Craig Thompson’s beautifully illustrated graphic memoir tells the story of a young man finding love, questioning his faith, losing his love and losing his faith.

Despite the hefty size of the book, a whopping 582 pages, the story is told through black and white illustrations, many of which add so much more to the story than mere words ever could. The story centers around Craig’s two-week visit with his friend, Raina. Craig met Raina at a Christian summer camp, and the two exchanged letters frequently before setting up the visit.

Told through flashbacks of Craig’s life, and through the present state of Raina’s deteriorating family life, Blankets is about Craig’s journey of self-discovery, focusing on his relationship with 3 specific people. First, his younger brother. Second, Raina, and third, his relationship and struggle with his faith. Craig learns the painful lessons of family pains and heartaches, joys and quiet moments of bonding.

Neil Gaiman’s quote on the inside cover perhaps sums it up the best:

moving, tender, beautifully drawn, painfully honest…

Book 53 of 2011

Evil Plans (Hugh McLeod) – Review

Evil plans : having fun on the road to world dominationEvil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination by Hugh McLeod
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction /Business-self help
Publisher: Penguin, 2011
ISBN: 9781591843849
179 pages

Successful entrepreneur and cartoonist Hugh McLeod writes this simple guide for escaping the cubicle claustrophobia of everyday work and promoting the branching out and making a success out of home-grown interests, hobbies and activities.

Had this not been a selection for my book club, I would probably not have picked up this book. I’m not really not the target audience for Evil Plans. I believe the target audience is anyone working in a stereotypical rat-race workforce and hates their current job. The audience is someone needing a little encouragement and nod towards starting their own company.  The audience also includes fans of McLeod’s cartoons and website gapingvoid.com. I didn’t really find much useful information in this book, and many of McLeod’s work ethics and habit differ sharply from my own. I don’t like to work on 10 individual projects at a time, I like to work on 2 maybe 3, all of which are related and overlap.

Although McLeod offers some clever tips and includes a number of his own illustrations throughout the book, I just found this book to be lacking in applicable advice. McLeod wrote over 2 dozen chapters, each of which is roughly 1 – 5 pages. Short and full of quips and personal anecdotes, I think current fans of McLeod and his work will get a real kick out of this book. For me, I didn’t know his website or his work, so I never really understood why I should care.

Despite my reservations about the book, I have been reading his blog/website GapingVoid and I find myself really enjoying his writing. I think maybe because it’s not as condensed and bullet-pointy as the book? He’s an active member of the art community and is the CEO of Stormhoek USA, which markets South African wine in the States.

Find this book at your local library 

B00k 52 of 2011