Thursday, February 04, 2010

Calmer, Nicer, with a Bandaid On It...

Thanks for letting me vent about my issues, LOL. Just in case you thought I was all birds and unicorns and Africa and sh*t. I have my problems too, but that little issue, it's better, and blogging it out, helped a bit. Mind you, not all the elements are fixed, but the most important ones are, thank goodness. So I'm calm today. Feeling serene. And craving a red velvet cupcake for some reason.

So since that's out of the way, and it's already February, I thought I'd do a little book review, the Top Fiction and Non-Fiction of 2009.

Here goes (in no particular order)

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa - a novel by Nicholas Drayson
If it takes place in Kenya, I am mostly likely going to eat it up, so I am biased. If it has birds as a main theme, I am going to eat it up. Kenyan birds and a sweet story about two aging men competing for a date with Rose Mbikwa by having a bird competition? Fantastic. It was a quick and pleasant read, it brought back a TON of fond birding memories, and I loved every second of it. Thanks for giving it to me, Rach!

The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott
This was a very entertaining read, taking place in post-Napoleonic France. There were a lot of botany/ecological specimen references as the work is narrated by a young Englishman, fresh out of medical school, and pretty damn naive. He gets wrapped up in a plot with a famous female thief and the police inspector who wants to take her down. Tangled web, mystery, cat and mouse game ensues, etc. And Napolean is in it too, on his way to exile.

The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner
Fun read. Takes place in Boston, is very mysterious and has a twist at the end. Great great great summer/pool/beach/vacation read. I'll probably read some more of her books this year when I'm looknig for something fun.

The Russian Concubine
and The Girl from Junchow by Kate Furnivall
I totes got sucked into these. Loved the historical fiction (though it's probably riddled with flaws that I am too dumb/oblivious to to detect, which I have learned from partaking in book club for the last five years. BUT THAT'S OK!!) I love love the scrappiness of Lydia and her fight to survive...then there's her illicit affair with Chang An Lo....hells yes, I loved every second and stayed up all night to finish The Girl from Junchow. I just hope there's more to come!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The best book I read in 2009, hands down. It's hard to believe that this is Stockett's debut novel, it's so well-written and cohesive and the characters are fantastically developed. I found it hard to put down and the story riveting - revolving around black maids in Mississippi (the "help") in the 1960's, and how the white children they basically raise grow up to be just as overbearing and racist as their parents. I admired the main character, "Skeeter" Phelan, who boldy decides to write a tell-all book about the life of a black maid, for her determination to bring awareness and incite change in the community, as well as the maids who bravely step forward to help with her project. I hope that if I had been born in a different time and different place, I would've been a Skeeter Phelan...

Eclipse by Stephanie Meyers
Yes yes I know that the Twilight series is poorly-written (in my opinion) and that the teen craze is more than a little nauseating. I also know that the Twilight series was freakin' CANDY for my brain, amazing, delicious candy. I was so into this book that I almost missed my train stop. It was pure, delightful entertainment, and I love that I barely needed my brain to read this, LOL. It was also the first book where Bella wasn't an insipid little beast, full of whining pathos. If you haven't read these and want to, I suggest seeing the movies first - Kristen Stewart makes Bella likeable, and it's easier to read the first two books thinking of likeable K-Stew, rather than annoying written-page Bella.

Olive Kittredge by Elizabeth Strout
Normally I try and avoid short stories because they irritate me (I don't know why, they just do). This was a great collection of interwoven stories set in Crosby (woot woot) Maine. Olive is a mean ol' lady.....and I love her for it. She is totally cranky and grating, but that's what makes Olive, Olive. I hope when I'm old, I'm a lot like her!

Tethered by Amy MacKinnon
Ok. This book was freaky as HELL. It's about an undertaker, and it took a lot for me to stick with it because there are a lot of work details in there....draining things and sewing things (and by "things" I mean "dead bodies" ew ew ew scary freaky). It also involves solving the murder of "Precious Doe," an unidentified child and murder victim that came through the funeral home. The book is set south of Boston, which made it additionally entertaining, but also disturbing - the imagination didn't have to take such a big leap to envisions certain things happening in the communities mentioned...


A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
It made me like Ernest Hemingway. Which was kind of surprising.

by Dave Cullen
Best non-fiction of 2009. This book is gets down to the root of what happened before, during and after Columbine. It's sad, it's disturbing, it's terrifying, but it's real and it's true. There's nothing I like better than the cold hard facts and this book delivers them.

Life List by Olivia Gentile
This is a fantastic biography of Phoebe Snetsinger, an amateur birder, who at the time of her death (and maybe now, still?) had more birds on her life list than any other person in the world. It really illustrates the fine line between passion and obsession (Phoebe missed her mother's funeral because she refused to cut a birding expedition short), Gentile delivers the details in a non-judgmental way, leaving the reader to form his/her own opinions.

A Pearl in the Storm
: How I Found my Heart in the Middle of the Ocean by Tori Murden
Now I'm a Smith alumna, so naturally I am going to favor my fellow alumnae (ok maybe not, after all, do you see Commencement on this list??!) - Tori Murden's account of her solo row across the Atlantic was riveting. One of those "strength of the human spirit" books.

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
I hated this book...or rather, hated the author's tone. She was judging the Puritans, she mocked the Massachusetts Bay Colony! Sure, I'm only a third-generation American on both maternal and paternal sides, but HELL I am a New Englander, moreover I am from Massa-f*cking-chusetts, where we are proud of our history and our founding fathers/mothers dammit! Stop mocking John Winthrop! Do not make fun of the Merrymount folk! Luckily I went to an author's talk at the BPL to hear what she had to say (and I was all 'you're at the BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY Sarah Vowell, how do you feel now? Do you feel the SPIRITS of the Mass Bay Colony hanging over your head, cursing you for your mockery! To the STOCKS!) Then I realized Vowell wrote the book from an entirely different perspective. She sees the link between current-day America/ns and the Puritans...and totally identifies the hardship facing the colonists. While Vowell is funny about a lot of things, she forces the reader (or maybe just me) to put a little more thought into our Puritanical roots...

Wildflower: And Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa by Mark Seal
This book. So tragic. It's sad because it really captures an ugly side of Kenya. I love to focus on the vibrant people, the parks, the animals, rather than the problems that completely plague the country: pollution, corruption, murder. Joan Root was a wildlife filmmaker turned conservationist, working to stop the illegal activities (fishing, draining, etc) around Lake Naivasha (my most favorite place in Kenya). She was found shot to death on her estate on the shores of Naivasha, some calling it simple robbery, others, a contract killing for her conservation efforts. I think the peak of Joan Root's influence in Kenya had not yet been felt, and that's the true tragedy of it all.

Tell Me Where It Hurts by Nick Trout
Written by a vet from Angell Memorial in JP. A great read for any animal lover, full of funny and heartwarming anecdotes. Yes, animals have souls and emotions, people. Duh.

Central Park in the Dark by Marie Winn
I had no idea what kind of things went on after hours in Central Park....well not of the animal-variety at least. This book chronicles the lives of Central Park's animal inhabitants: moths, owls, birds, butterflies, etc. Great fun.

What I want to read in 2010:

Usually I pick someone's list and try to read "literature." It has served me well in the past, and without Oprah's list, I never would've read something like A Moveable Feast. This year, however, I'm taking it easy. I've just finished re-reading and reading the Jade del Cameron series. God, I freakin' love it. It's set, of course, in 1920's Kenya, and our heroine, Jade del Cameron, is an American WWI ambulance driver now working for a travel magazine, having wild adventures wherever she goes. Sure 1920's Kenya's colonial set is notorious, but Jade is all the more loveable for rejecting British society for her motorcycle, pet cheetah, the darkroom on her friend Beverly's estate, and Sam Featherstone, the dashing war vet/pilot with wooden leg. YES! It sounds ridiculous when I write it here, but oh, the fun of it all. I adore the adventure, I adore Jade - hell, I want to BE JADE! She's very Emma Fitzgerald in The Heat of the Sun - actually, they're probably friends ;) I finished the fifth in the series today on the train and was shocked with a cliffhanger ending - surprise surprise - and was seized with panic that the author, Suzanne Arruda, had chosen to end her series that way. NOOO! I was relieved to find, after a visit to her website, that I only have to wait until fall for more. Umm maybe it'll be out in time for the honeymoon?!! Or maybe it's best if it isn't, Jam might resent the attention I give Jade and her friends, i.e. be annoyed when I don't come out of our hotel room because my nose is buried in a book.

Anyways, during my book research, I discovered that amazon had some recommendations for me (the whole "people who liked "The Leopard's Prey" also bought, blah blah blah" section). Um WELL apparently there are tons of lady detective-ish books set in the 1920's, just waiting for me to read! BRILLIANT! I put my name in for a few at the library, and plan to spend the next couple of months being delighted by independent-minded ladies. I'm suddenly excited to hit the library again...I haven't been there since 2009, lol, 'too busy' or 'too tired.' Now I can't wait! YAY FOR BOOKS!


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Elizabeth said...

I miss you. Want to get a late lunch today? I could be at your office by 3:30ish. LOVE YOU! E

Al said...

Sorry, EE, just noticing the comment now....:P

Suzanne Arruda said...

Thanks for the lovely comments on my Jade del Cameron series. Wow. I'm inspired now to finish my proposal for a book 7 (set on Zanzibar island). Suzanne Arruda

Al said...

Jade is such a rockstar :) I've picked up some more "adventure woman"-type books, but no female character can compare to my Jade del Cameron!

everything and nothing said...

So, like a month later:

So glad you liked the book!
I'm reading Wordy Shipmates now. (Christmas gift). I think it's probably better history than Assassination Vacation, but I just don't like it as much. In part it's the subject matter, but I think AV was also more of a memoir-- personal rather than intellectual and analytical.

Al said...

I did, Rach, I just loved it to pieces. I read another Africa book recently (Baking Cakes in Kigali) and though it mentioned all things East African I once loved (ie blue band margarine and fanta) it was not as great as "A Guide...etc" I have to check out AV!