Friday, August 31, 2007

The Copper Beech

By Maeve Binchy

In the Irish village of Shancarrig the little school house is dominated by a huge copper beech. Generations of children have passed through the little school. When they leave the school it’s a tradition to carve their initials into the trees trunk before they go off to start their lives. Some will move on to higher education, some immigrate to England in search of work, others come up with different plans all their own. The story is broken up almost into novellas with each one telling the story of a different resident of Shancarrig. Most characters are in search of love but they’re also looking for financial success, freedom from family and freedom from the opinions of others.
The Cooper Beech is a very comfortable read. It’s not fast, nor is it slow. The characters are gently flawed and easy to like. With each characters tale, the village and its occupants became more colorful. The story ends up just right. This is not an exciting story but it’s not meant to be. It’s an enjoyable read. To see what else Binchy has written, go to

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


By Bob Flaherty

A blizzard of massive proportions has descended on 70’s suburban Boston. The roads have been closed to all civilian vehicles. It’s a good time to just settle in and take it easy. But if you’ve got extremely important business to attend to in Braintree, like say the acquisition of “one exceedingly fine ounce of Dominican Sin”, then you need to form a plan. The Gullivan brothers, John and Gully, both in their early twenties, are out of weed and if they can just get to Braintree, their problems will be solved. Well, not all their problems, there is their mother dying in the final stages of cancer at the local hospital. So, they, of course, do the logical thing. They borrow some big magnetic Red Cross insignias and Red Cross arm bands from their friend, Doody. With their deceased father’s old delivery truck emblazed with the insignias and their arm bands in place, they make their way out onto wintry streets. But looking like a rescue worker can attract some attention in a snow locked city, mainly from people in need of rescue. Thus they embark on goofy adventure that includes the cops, the terrifying priest from their childhood, old school friends, an injured pet and a crazed knife wielding sociopath looking for his ex-girlfriend.
It took me a couple of chapters to get into the flow of this book. I, for some reason, kept expecting John to become the voice of reason against his brother’s wild plans. Once I realized that there was no voice of reason between the two, I just got comfy and enjoyed the ride. All the little details, the gas station food, their taste in music, stories about old childhood friends, local tragedies, help to create the Gullivan brothers’ neighborhood which is pretty much their world. While not really a laugh out loud type book, it is an occasionally giggle out loud type book. The tale is sad at times, heart warming at others and always very human. It’s a coming of age story in its own small way with a love story thrown in.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Big Box

By Toni Morrison with Slade Morrison
Illustrated By Giselle Potter

The Big Box is the story three children, Patty, Mickey and Liza Sue, who are energetic and imaginative. Their parents, teachers and neighbors think they’re too energetic and imaginative and can’t handle their freedom. So, they put them in a big box that has a door with three big locks. Their parent visit once a week and drop off all sorts of candy and toys. But none of the materialistic things makes the kids happy. They need their freedom to be happy.
This is a delightful book for adults but I’m not sure how well kids would like it. The locking up kids just for being kids might be a little worrying. Some of the concepts are little cerebral. I found the childlike illustration charming, but I’m not sure what I would have made of them as a kid. I do think it would make a lovely gift to any young adult or adult.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination

By Helen Fielding

Meet Olivia Joules. She’s a thin attractive freelance fashion journalist who desperately wants to be taken seriously. But her looks and her overactive imagination have kept her firmly in the land of fluff. When sent to cover a face cream launch in Miami, she becomes convinced that an attractive exotic playboy is really an al-Qaeda operative on a terrible mission.
I would love to tell you more about the story line, but that would ruin a rather entertaining read. Part of the fun of this book is trying to figure out if Olivia Joules is right or just a nut.
I don’t dig too many chick lit books. They’re frequently shallow, uninteresting and completely lacking in humor. Although wildly improbable, this book is entertaining, fresh and it does not take itself seriously. Things do become a little odd in the later chapters of the book. Olivia's love interest suddenly starts calling her "Baby" every other paragraph which gets a little embarrasing. And the plot gets a little too absurd, but still enjoyable. It is cross between a romantic comedy and an international spy thriller. It’s a great book to read on vacation.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Big Over Easy

By Jasper Fforde

Here’s the deal. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off his wall. Humpty Dumpty has had a great fall. But was there foul play involved? That is what Detective Inspector Jack Spratt must figure out. Jack works for the NCD, Nursery Crimes Division, of Reading along with his Detective Sergeant Mary Mary, who really is quite contrary. Spinning gold into straw scams, pipers kidnapping children and psychotic gingerbread men fall under their jurisdiction. The investigation into Humpy’s death leads to discovery of a huge conspiracy.
I adore this book. Fford has created a fabulous alternate world that is easy to fall into. For a tale so full of nursery rhyme characters and plots, the story line is deliciously complicated. It’s as intricate as any crime drama and has a distinct noir feel to it. I couldn’t stop giggling at Fford’s cleverness and word play. Reading this book is like taking a vacation from reality.
Check out his rather amusing home page at

Friday, August 17, 2007

Memoirs of a Geisha

By Arthur Golden

The setting is Gion, a geisha district in Japan, in the 1930s. It’s story of Chiyo, the daughter of a poor fisherman. Due to the impending death of her mother, Chiyo is sold to an okiya, a house for geisha and her sister is sold to a house of prostitution. Hatsumomo, the only geisha presently active in the okiya, sees that Chiyo is attractive with unusual gray eyes and may someday be competition. Hatsumomo does everything within her power to sabotage Chiyo’s chances of becoming a geisha. She remains a maid until she is taken under the wing of a very successful geisha by the name of Mameha. Through Mameha’s careful plotting, she does become the geisha Sayuri. The story follows her rise to becoming a successful geisha, her search for love and the effects WWII has on her world.What I liked about this book was not so much the story line, but the way it sucked me into Chiyo’s world. I felt like I could see the streets of Gion. I felt like I could hear the rustle of silk as the geisha rushed from one tea house to another. It can be a bit slow at times, but overall, a truly lovely read.

The Count of Monte Cristo

By Alexandre Dumas

This is the tale of the sailor Edmond Dantes, who, when right on the brink of becoming the captain of a ship and about to marry a woman with whom he is madly in love with, has the bad luck to betrayed by multiple individuals and thrown in jail. He then has worse luck and is sent to the uber scary Chateau d’if, a giant fortress-of-doom type prison. There he meets a fellow prisoner who teaches him all about math, physics, history and the existence of a giant treasure. After the death of his teacher and a dramatic escape, he seeks out the big beyond belief treasure and learns that one of his betrayers has married the love of his life, his father is dead and everyone believes him to be dead. Dantes, using his new found vast wealth, creates a new identity as a count and goes about wreaking havoc in the lives of all those who betrayed him.
I found this book to be a surprisingly fast read. My only stumbling point was when I was introduced to rather large cast of characters when Dantes reenters society as the count. I had to flip back and forth a little to figure out who was married to whom and who was whose kid and where everyone’s place was in society. After I figured that out, the story sped back up again. I truly enjoyed this tale of revenge and occasionally caught myself giggling manically. I was left a little lukewarm by the ending, but the journey was an absolute hoot.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Geek Love

By Katherine Dunn

Geek Love is the story of a carnival family by the name of Binewski. The mother, Crystal Lil, and the father, Al, decided that the best gift to bestow upon their children is the ability to make money simply by being themselves. Therefore Lil takes all manner of drugs, poisons and even radioisotopes during her pregnancies to produce freaks. Whether the children are born alive or dead, they still become part of the show. The living ones perform various acts depending on their deformities, the dead ones floating in jars. That’s not the story, it’s just the framework.
The story is told from the perspective of Olympia “Oly”, an albino, hunchbacked dwarf and third child to be born alive. The family also includes Arturo “Arty”, born with flippers and an evil disposition, Iphigenia and Electra “Iphy and Elly”, Siamese twins with two separate upper bodies but sharing one set of legs starting at the hips, and Fortunato “Chick”, who was born with remarkable gifts rather than deformities. The story is as unusual its characters. It includes massive sibling rivalry, cults, self amputation, mutilation and just a dash of incest.
Geek Love was a National Book Award finalist and, in my opinion, definitely deserved it. The story is as intriguing as it is bizarre. The Binewski children view normal people as freaks and themselves as normal. I was so drawn into their world that a few times when I stopped reading, I was startled to find myself a normal person living a relatively normal life. This is not a tale for the squeamish, but I highly recommend it. It is a truly unique book with fascinating characters.