Monthly Archives: February 2012

Underground Time (Delphine de Vigan)

Underground time : a novelUnderground Time by Delphine de Vigan
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source:  Bloomsbury Books via LibraryThing Early Reviewers
ISBN: 9781608197125 / 257 pages
Find this book at your local library 

For more than six months, Mathilde has been battling a deep depression spurred by the unwarranted and unexplained anger displayed by her supervisor at work. Every day she goes to work, she feels increasingly isolated, neglected and miserable. Thibault is a paramedic driving around Paris making house calls for the sick and needy, for some providing the only company they’ll have until his next visit. Both Mathilde and Thibault are tired and live a routine that wears on their hearts. Would they be able to save each other’s lives?

That is the main premise of de Vigan’s novel Underground Time. Although I loved No and Me, I felt that Underground Time was very much lacking. I felt that it was jumpy, disjointed, and somewhat muddled. The entire book follows the routine and events of Mathilde and Thibault on May 20th. But throughout the book, the author jumps back in time to previous events without warning, which left me wondering what was going on and when it was going on.

Both Mathilde and Thibault are likeable characters. Jacques is one of the best written jerk bosses, but even his change in feeling towards Mathilde isn’t well explained. He just shifted and she felt the wrath of his anger for months before hitting her boiling point.

It is an interesting look at what everyday life in Paris can be like. It can be like the everyday drudgery in every major city. de Vigan takes the reader through Paris’ back streets and underground metro in a distinct way that made me feel as if I was along for the ride with Thibault and Mathilde. Mathilde is a widow, single mother of three suffering at the figurative abuse at the hands of her boss. Thibault lives a very routine life and decides to break-up with his very aloof girlfriend Lila. Mathilde’s narrative and story is much more interesting and more developed than Thibaults. There are more chapters dedicated to Mathilde and her struggles at work and with her depression that with Thibault and his emotions.

Although the premise is interesting, the book doesn’t follow through on the promise of the synopsis. Mathilde and Thibault don’t interact until very late in the book, even then, it is quickly forgotten. I suppose that’s the meaning, that they can’t save each other.

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February Rewind

Somehow this month flew by with only a few scant reviews from me. I have been reading books, I promise. Not all of them have been picture books either. Until I get a chance to write the full reviews, here is a sneak peek at what I’m reading and what I’ve read this month.

Currently reading:

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckermaren

I had this book on my radar when I found out it was about French parenting. I’m neither pregnant, nor have a child, but I think its clear that my obsession with France and French life justifies this read.

First impressions of the book are terrible. The author is a self-hating American. She projects her own bad parenting skills onto the rest of America. Its very obnoxious. There is a lot of good information in this book, but it requires a heavy filter to weed out Druckerman’s neurotic whining and antagonism towards American parenting. I would like to say that I observe & interact with a lot of parents at the library where I work. I see a slew of parenting of skills and what Druckerman calls French parenting is more like common-sense parenting. I should save this rant for the formal book review, but I  might give up on the book due to the author’s overly inflated sense of self.

Finished titles:

  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: Meh. Wonderfully crafted characters in a book with no plot and predictably ending.
  • The History of the World in 6 Glasses: Informative, almost like a textbook, but full of fun facts.
  • In Pursuit of Silence by Greorge Prochnik: An informative look at noise in modern American society. A bit haphazard in terms of what he choose to research, but it is well written and well paced.

Literacy Love Sunday – Mister Bookseller

via Bigger Than Sliced Bread.

CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

This is a very touching short comic by Croatian writer Dark Macan that every bibliophile will appreciate.


Why We Broke Up (Daniel Handler) – Review

Why we broke upWhy We Broke Up by Daniel Handler 
Art by Maira Kalman
Age: Teen
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co, 2011
ISBN: 97803161272557 / 354 pages
Find this book at your local library

Written as a long letter detailing their tumultuous 2 month relationship, Min (short for Minerva) Green explains in excruciating detail why she and the popular co-captain of the basketball team, Ed Slaterton, broke up. The letter begins with Min explaining the box of contents that have been plunked down on Ed’s front porch. In the box are a series of elements and trinkets that Min had collected and stored while they dated. Each chapter starts with a beautiful illustration of one of the items from the box, along with a story of that item, and Min’s hindsight into why they should have broken up earlier.

Daniel Handler has always been one of my authors ever since I first discovered his as Lemony Snicket of the Series of Unfortunate Events. Although I wasn’t a big fan of his adult book, Adverbs, I did devour The Basic Eight with a childlike glee. Pared with Maira Kalman’s amazing artwork, this book is a fantastic read for both teens and adults. Anyone who has ever suffered a terrible first love turned first breakup. This is the second book Kalman and Handler collaborated on. They also worked on a rather morbid children’s book titled 13 Words.

Handler writes with an ease of language that reminded me of when I was in high school, and the high schoolers I come into contact with now. Min is a part of the “arty” kids, although don’t be caught calling her arty. She loves movies, especially noir, classic flicks, and has high hopes of being a film director when she gets older. Her character is like the every-woman. She’s clever, she’s insecure, she has a fantastic group of loyal friends. By all accounts, Min Green and Ed Slaterton belong in two different spheres in their small town. Somehow, they meet at a Bitter Birthday Party, and a relationship soon sparks.

In a sec you’ll hear a thunk. At your front door, the one nobody uses. It’ll rattle the hinges a bit when it lands, because its so weighty and important, a little jangle along with the thunk, and Joan will look up from whatever she’s cooking.

The thunk is the box, Ed. This is what I’m leaving you. I found it down in the basement, just grabbed the box when all of our things were too much for my bed stand drawer. Plus I thought my mom would find some of the things because she’s a snoop for my secrets. … Every last souvenir of the love we had, the prizes and the debris of this relationship, like the glitter in the gutter when the parade has passed, all the everything and whatnot kicked to the curb, I’m dumping the whole box back into your life, Ed, every item of you and me.

For more fun & amusement, follow the Why We Broke Up Project on Tumblr, where Daniel Handler & Maira Kalman post letters and break-up stories people have submitted to them.

Librarian Lore

Yes? No? Maybe So?

Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver) – Review

Before I Fall
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Read by Sarah Drew
Age: Teen
Genre: Fiction
Format: Audio Book
12 hours 26 minutes = 10 discs
Harper Collins, 2010
Find this book at your local library 

Samantha Kingston has the seemingly perfect life. She’s one of the most popular girls at her high school, and dating the guy any girl would kill to go out with. Waking up on Cupid Day (Feb 12th) is supposed to go like any other ordinary day. Except on this day, Samantha Kingston and her three best friends die in a car crash. In an odd stroke of luck, Samantha is given seven chances to re-live the last day of her life in an attempt to right the wrongs she left behind.

This is one of the best written/best read books I’ve come across in a long, long time. Although it is a teen book, Lauren Oliver has a way with words that just makes you feel like you’re floating through the story, absorbing every detail and description without even realizing it. I think adults will get into this book as much as teens will. My first experience with Oliver was the children’s book Liesl and Po. Her brilliance and writing skill were seeping out of that book, and I am really glad that this book did not disappoint. It’s a very strong testament to her ability to get into the minds of young people and be able to bring it to light without coming across as patronizing or fake.

This book in particular is exceptionally emotional as Sam Kingston re-lives the same day of her death 7 times. I became quite clingy and appreciative of my family and husband over the course of listening to this book on audio. There is nothing like listening to the story of someone lose everything they cherish in life 7 days in a row to really make one appreciate what they have in their own life.

The book is filled with talk of: drinking, sex, drugs, bullying, rumors, suicide and peer pressure. It feels true to high school without trying too hard, or seeming patronizing or scolding. It does a great job of dealing with the realities of not only bullies, but of the friends of bullies who go along with the crowd without exactly knowing why. I think any teens reading this book will find somebody to relate to, whether it’s the bully, bullied, jock or other archetypal figure in high school.

Oh, I have to discuss Sarah Drew. She is an amazing narrator and I feel very spoiled when I listen to her audio books. She was fantastic with giving each character their own voice and personality. It really brought the book alive. 

soundbytes picture

Lipstick Jihad (Azadeh Moaveni) – Review

Lipstick jihad : a memoir of growing up Iranian in America and American in IranLipstick Jihad by Azadeb Moaveni
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
Source: My copy
Publisher: Public Affairs, 2005
ISBN: 9781586483784 / 260 pages
Find this book at your local library

Azadeh Moaveni was born and raised in San Jose, CA into an Iranian culture that felt forced to leave Iran after the 1979 revolution. Growing up Iranian in the US came with its awkward, where do I fit in, moments. Once Azadeh went to college, the need to be in Iran was so great that she found herself living in Cairo, before making her way to live in Iran, working as a journalist for Time magazine.

I was really disappointed with this book. I though that Moaveni could be someone I could relate to, but that is far from the case. I found Moaveni’s prose to be verbose, repetitive and at times boring and boastful at the same time. Armed with the protection of being a journalist, and the wealthy family to send her to elite gyms  and ski resorts, the author presented herself as self-involved, and shallow. It seemed like she didn’t care for anybody else’s opinions, especially if they conflicted with her views. She treated many family members  there rudely, and it was just really annoying to read. I found myself skimming large portions of the book just in an attempt to get it over with sooner.

Lipstick Jihad didn’t have the humor and wasn’t as insightful and approachable  as Firoozeh Dumas’ Laughing Without an Accent & Funny in Farsi. I would also recommend Shirin Ebadi’s memoir, Iran Awakening, as a better account of living in Iran before and after  the 1979 Iran revolution. I especially recommend the graphic novel memoir Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi as a better representation of life post-revolution for the same age-group as Moaveni. For a fiction slant, I would highly suggest Septembers of Shiraz by Dahlia Sofer for a look at managing a culture in two worlds (Iran & the US). Basically, I really did not like Lipstick Jihad, not when there are a number of less egocentric stories out there.

Her entire view of Iran is centered on Tehran, and as far as I could tell, she didn’t travel to any other cities in Iran. I stopped reading 20 pages from the end because I couldn’t handle listening to her narration and in all fairness, this should be considered a half-read book for all the attention I was able to give it before getting frustrated.

It’s a real shame too, because she did point out a lot of interesting elements of culture, politics and life in Iran that I wanted to know more about. They were just drowned out by her “poor me, I don’t speak perfect Farsi” paragraphs, which got old really quickly. I think with more editing and about 100 fewer pages, this could have been an amazing memoir of living in Iran.

Literacy Love Sundays – Put your face in a book

Thanks to the Milwaukee Public Library for this great message.

The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway) – Review

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: My copy
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 0684800713 / 251 pages
Find this book at your local library 

From the back cover:

Featuring Left Bank Paris in the 1920s and brutally realistic descriptions of bullfighting in Spain, the story is about the flamboyant Lady Brett Ashley and the hapless Jake Barnes. In an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions, this is the Lost Generation.

Despite his reputation and the reputation of this book, I really did not enjoy it as much as I had hoped. I loved The Old Man and the Sea and although I read In Our Time in high school 11 years ago, I still have fond memories of that collection of stories.

The Sun Also Rises fell flat for me. I think it was the wrong book at the wrong time. I don’t think it helped that at the time I was reading this book, I was listening to Lauren Oliver’s overly descriptive Before I Fall. It was hard for me pick up this book and go with the less fluid and more choppy pace. It also didn’t help that I have been reading a plethora of picture books for my baby storytimes at the library, and I started to read Hemingway in a sing-song voice because of his short and pointed sentences.

The characters didn’t appeal to me either. I though Lady Brett Ashley was a flirt, I was indifferent to Jake Barnes and I found the rest of their crew to be obnoxious. I did love the scenes in Paris and Spain. Hemingway’s descriptions of the bull fighting scenes were beautifully written for something so horrific. He gave the entire event a grace and elegance I wouldn’t have thought of. Those passages, I really enjoyed reading. The last half of the book was better than the first half, I’ll admit. I did start to feel something for the characters towards the last fourth of the novel.