Vanessa L. (VanessaL) - Reviews

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Animal Sounds (Golden Sturdy Book)
Animal Sounds (Golden Sturdy Book)
Author: Aurelius Battaglia (Illustrator)
Book Type: Board book
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 15
Review Date: 2/7/2007


Both of my kids loved this book as toddlers!


The Bells
The Bells
Author: Richard Harvell
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 2/9/2012


This was one if the most enjoyable books I've read in a while. It has its flaws -- the plot lines and characterizations were sometimes preposterous -- but all the drama made it an exciting read. It was educational for me, too, as I had never heard of a "musico" and my heart broke not only for the book's main character, Moses, but also for all the real-life musicos of centuries past. There's one surviving recording of a musico and any interested readers of this book can hear it free online.


Brooklyn
Brooklyn
Author: Colm Toibin
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 41
Review Date: 12/22/2011
Helpful Score: 3


This book brought me back to my own late teenage/early 20s years because Toibin so beautifully captured the mindset of a young woman entering adulthood. It amazed me that the book had been written by a man because the female characterization was spot on. Brooklyn doesn't have an intense, fast-paced plot line, but what I enjoyed was that it was a snapshot of a fairly ordinary young woman's life. She could be you or me, and I could relate to her emotional struggles, ambivalence and torn loyalties. The first half of the book was slow and I had difficulty making progress, but the second half took off and by the end, I was rushing through every page to find out what choices she'd made.


Devotion: A Memoir
Devotion: A Memoir
Author: Dani Shapiro
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 2/11/2015
Helpful Score: 2


Toward the end of this book, the author describes having tea with a friend who asks her, Why would you take on such a thing? I mean, is this something youve thought a lot about? Youre not a religious scholar. Thats pretty much exactly what I wanted to ask her, too. I felt that this book was nothing more than a not particularly enlightened womans random thoughts on spirituality. I was hoping shed done some exploration, beyond a yoga retreat, and had some interesting insights to offer. When I read a book, especially one on spiritual exploration, I want to learn something, not follow the boring stream of consciousness of someone no more enlightened than myself.


Donuthead
Donuthead
Author: Sue Stauffacher
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 11/21/2010


This is one of those children's books that adults would enjoy as much as the kids. I read it with my nine-year-old daughter, then I had my 11-year-old son read it, too. The main character, Donuthead, is the neurotic only child of a laid back single mom. He makes an unlikely friend who helps him lighten up, while he and his mom end up helping the friend out as well. I tend to be a worrier myself, so I cracked up at the lengthy descriptions of how Donuthead's safety-obsessed mind works.


Euphoria
Euphoria
Author: Lily King
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 15
Review Date: 4/21/2015
Helpful Score: 2


I have to confess that I almost abandoned this book a few times, but stuck with it because of the stellar critical and popular reviews. I was bored to tears until about two-thirds of the way through. At one point, to try to pique my interest, I looked up Margaret Mead, whom the central character, Nell Stone, is based on. That only made things worse. I could not picture Margaret Mead at the center of a steamy (literally -- it's set in the tropics!) love triangle. Although I was impressed from page 1 by the stellar, painfully realistic character development, I didn't like any of the three characters enough to care. However, after struggling through more than half the book, Nell and Bankson finally started to grow on me and Fen became so unlikable that I could finally engage. By the last third, the book became a page turner with some plot twists that were plausible but completely unexpected. I stayed up late last night to finish it and after sleeping on it, I give it a very solid 4 stars. I'm glad I hung in!


George Washington Carver : The Peanut Wizard (Smart About...)
George Washington Carver : The Peanut Wizard (Smart About...)
Author: Laura Driscoll, Jill Weber (Illustrator)
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 4.8/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 3/8/2010
Helpful Score: 1


Written as if it's a young girl's school report, this book has a fun, chatty tone that makes all the information enjoyable and memorable for kids. Even as an adult reading it with my 8-year-old, I learned a lot and was so impressed with George Washington Carver that I made my husband read the book as well.


Gone Girl
Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 755
Review Date: 3/13/2013
Helpful Score: 3


I think Gillian Flynn is super-smart and talented, but this book was not my cup of tea.

A few pluses: it's very well written, with a high level of complexity that I respect and admire, and the author has a dry, ironic sense of humor that comes through occasionally.

The minuses reflect my personal preference. First, if I don't like the main characters, I don't enjoy the book -- and I did not like the main characters! I also don't like an unreliable narrator. It's a technique that grates on my nerves. And without using spoilers, I'll just say that the beginning of the book definitely uses that technique.

Finally, I found the ending to be very frustrating. I forced myself to finish the book even though I wasn't enjoying it because several friends had recommended it and assured me that "it gets better." After investing my time, I was hoping to get some satisfaction out of the final outcome, but I was disappointed.


Good Dog, Carl
Good Dog, Carl
Author: Alexandra Day
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 4/21/2007


This is a hilarious picture book about a dog who babysits for the day. My kids loved it! Because most of the pages have no words, they were able to use their imaginations to tell the story.


Good Night, Gorilla
Good Night, Gorilla
Author: Peggy Rathmann
Book Type: Board book
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 44
Review Date: 2/7/2007
Helpful Score: 3


My kids wanted to read this every night! It's a hilarious little book about a gorilla who steals the zookeeper's keys and lets all the other animals out. It has no words, so we all got creative with telling the story in our own words.


The Gourmet Gazelle Cookbook
The Gourmet Gazelle Cookbook
Author: Ellen Brown
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 2/7/2007


This book is subtitled "Delicious Eating for a Lifetime of Good Health" and that's appropriate since the recipes are designed for people who are concerned about eating healthfully but who love great food. Special features include wine recommendations and a nutritional breakdown for each recipe.


If I Told You Once
If I Told You Once
Author: Judy Budnitz
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 4
Review Date: 2/3/2007
Helpful Score: 1


Set in an unnamed Eastern European country, the first part of this book is an amalgam of fairy tale imagery, with elements of Hansel & Gretel, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood. The book follows the main character, Ilana, through her journey to the United States and her consequent life as an immigrant. Eventually, Ilana's stories are interwoven with those of her daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter and the men who come into their lives too briefly. A fascinating and unique book.


If I Told You Once
If I Told You Once
Author: Judy Budnitz
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 3/7/2007
Helpful Score: 1


This beautifully written book follows the life of a young girl in "The Old Country" (an unnamed area of Eastern Europe) who eventually emigrates to America and has children, grandchildren and a great grandchild of her own. When told from the main character's perspective, it reads like a fairy tale for grownups, with subplots evocative of Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and Rapunzel. I couldn't put it down!


Interpreter of Maladies
Interpreter of Maladies
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 710
Review Date: 3/22/2007


A magical collection of short stories from a gifted writer. It's no wonder she won the Pulitzer Prize for this.


The Maltese Falcon
The Maltese Falcon
Author: Dashiell Hammett
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 122
Review Date: 4/22/2015


I struggled with how to rate this because 1. I don't want to cast shade on an undisputed classic detective novel that many consider to be one of the best books of the 20th century, especially since 2. The "hard boiled" detective novel isn't a genre that appeals to me. In fact, I only read this because Erik Larson, an author I admire, told the New York Times it's his favorite book.

With that said, however, I feel that any great book is simply a great book, regardless of the genre, and I didn't think this one was great. Here's why:
1. Stilted, awkward prose: I initially chalked it up to the fact that sentence structure and word usage were different in 1929 than they are today, but why can I read Tolstoy from 1877 and feel like he's a close personal friend whose train of thought is just like mine?
2. Insulting sexism: Today, Sam Spade would never have gotten mixed up in the whole Maltese falcon debacle because he would have lost his business years earlier as a result of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Apparently, any woman will sleep with him; he's completely irresistible; and they are very easy to manipulate, so they all do his bidding regardless of how he treats them.
3. Lack of character development: The characters all seemed one-dimensional, not fully formed. I would have liked little glimpses into how they ended up in the situations/lives they were in. They seem to have dropped onto the earth as full grown amoral adults with no families or home bases. They just travel around looking for the falcon and killing anyone who gets in the way with no remorse.
4. Disappointing ending: The ending fizzled for me. It was all for nothing. The falcon was fake. Lots of people died and no one even remotely seemed to care. No one, least of all Sam Spade, seemed to have learned or grown from the experience.


Mary Engelbreit Cross-Stitch
Mary Engelbreit Cross-Stitch
Author: Mary Engelbreit
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 14
Review Date: 2/3/2007
Helpful Score: 2


This gorgeous book is filled with absolutely beautiful designs, all shown in full color with incredible photography and detailed full-color charts.


The Memory Box
The Memory Box
Author: Eva Lesko Natiello
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.2/5 Stars.
 9
Review Date: 3/30/2016


I found the first half a little monotonous, but things start moving along in the second half. It gets even more interesting near the end as multiple surprise twists are revealed.


Mudbound
Mudbound
Author: Hillary Jordan
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 67
Review Date: 11/5/2010


I devoured this book within 24 hours. I haven't read a book that grabbed me that way in years. Hillary Jordan is a fantastic storyteller. I hope she's working on another book!


The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
Author: Michael Chabon
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.2/5 Stars.
 10
Review Date: 8/4/2012


We recently moved to Pittsburgh and I was excited to read a book that takes place here by the super-talented Michael Chabon. In a nutshell, it's about a college grad floating through the summer after his senior year before thinking about a career. Even though I graduated from college more than 20 years ago, it took me right back to that 21-year-old perspective. I was fascinated and repelled as the narrator worked his way through a series of bad romantic choices and questionable situations, but it was a fun and different kind of read for me. This was Michael Chabon's first novel, written when he was in his twenties, but his stylistic and emotional maturity were beyond his years.


The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Bk 1)
Review Date: 2/3/2007
Helpful Score: 1


The first in a popular series, this book follows Precious Ramotswe, whose father's death and her subsequent inheritance offer her the opportunity for independence as she starts her own detective agency. Though it deals with some heavy subject matter, it's overall light and upbeat reading. Her attitude, so pragmatic yet optimistic, make her very likable.


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