Monday, January 01, 2007

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

This is another book that was recommended to me by my students. This book is so captivating that I read it in one day while waiting for delayed flights from Chicago. The book opens with a teenager named Charlie who is dealing with the suicidal death of a close friend. We go on to read that Charlie has experienced another death in his lifetime when he was seven years old; that death traumatized him so much that he was placed into a psychiatric hospital. As we continue reading, we find out about how there is something a little off about Charlie and it seems that he is a little unstable. The book allows us to experience high school through Charlie's perspective; the loneliness, the stereotypes, new friendships, broken hearts. We also learn about Charlie's unstable mind and the cause of his emotional issues.

I can see why my students recommended this to me and plan to recommend it to future students. If you like emotional stories, or stories about teenage "issues," you'll enjoy The Perks of Being A Wallflower.

A trite coming-of-age novel that could easily appeal to a YA readership, filmmaker Chbosky's debut broadcasts its intentions with the publisher's announcement that ads will run on MTV. Charlie, the wallflower of the title, goes through a veritable bath of bathos in his 10th grade year, 1991. The novel is formatted as a series of letters to an unnamed "friend," the first of which reveals the suicide of Charlie's pal Michael. Charlie's response--valid enough--is to cry. The crying soon gets out of hand, though--in subsequent letters, his father, his aunt, his sister and his sister's boyfriend all become lachrymose. Charlie has the usual dire adolescent problems--sex, drugs, the thuggish football team--and they perplex him in the usual teen TV ways. [...] Into these standard teenage issues Chbosky infuses a droning insistence on Charlie's supersensitive disposition. Charlie's English teacher and others have a disconcerting tendency to rhapsodize over Charlie's giftedness, which seems to consist of Charlie's unquestioning assimilation of the teacher's taste in books. In the end we learn the root of Charlie's psychological problems, and we confront, with him, the coming rigors of 11th grade, ever hopeful that he'll find a suitable girlfriend and increase his vocabulary. --Publishers Weekly

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Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Running with Scissors is a memoir that was recommended to me by some of my students at the start of this school year. I had no idea what the book was about, but was intrigued when I saw that it was made into a movie. I decided to read it while flying to Chicago a few weeks ago. I could not put this book down! It so quirky, weird and awkward, and at times that I found myself asking, "My students have read this?"

It is about the early life of Augusten Burrough, the son of a withdrawn, alcoholic father and a mentally unstable mother. Augusten's guardianship is turned over to his mother's therapist, a wildly insane man with a family full of mental patients (literally). As we read, we learn about Augusten's distaste for school, his loneliness, his realization of being gay, his first romantic relationship, and the friendships he has with his adopted family members.

This book is very entertaining, funny, yet disturbing all at the same time. I highly recommend it to everyone.

There is a passage early in Augusten Burroughs's harrowing and highly entertaining memoir, Running with Scissors, that speaks volumes about the author. While going to the garbage dump with his father, young Augusten spots a chipped, glass-top coffee table that he longs to bring home. "I knew I could hide the chip by fanning a display of magazines on the surface, like in a doctor's office," he writes, "And it certainly wouldn't be dirty after I polished it with Windex for three hours." There were certainly numerous chips in the childhood Burroughs describes: an alcoholic father, an unstable mother who gives him up for adoption to her therapist, and an adolescence spent as part of the therapist's eccentric extended family, gobbling prescription meds and fooling around with both an old electroshock machine and a pedophile who lives in a shed out back. But just as he dreamed of doing with that old table, Burroughs employs a vigorous program of decoration and fervent polishing to a life that many would have simply thrown in a landfill. Despite her abandonment, he never gives up on his increasingly unbalanced mother. And rather than despair about his lot, he glamorizes it: planning a "beauty empire" and performing an a capella version of "You Light Up My Life" at a local mental ward. Burroughs's perspective achieves a crucial balance for a memoir: emotional but not self-involved, observant but not clinical, funny but not deliberately comic. And it's ultimately a feel-good story: as he steers through a challenging childhood, there's always a sense that Burroughs's survivor mentality will guide him through and that the coffee table will be salvaged after all. --John Moe

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The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I have been wanting to read The Joy Luck Club for a few years, and I was finally able to. It is the story of four Chinese women who come to America to escape their war-torn country and thier American-born daughter who struggle with thier families' heritage and assimilation into American culture.

It starts out with June, the daughter of the recently passed founder of the Joy Luck Club, contemplating her mother's life and her new position in this group of women. Since her mother's death, the other members of the club have asked June to take her mother's place at the mah jong table. The women request that June travel to China to learn about her mother's past and to meet her orphaned half-sisters to tell them about their mother's death. The book continues on telling the story of each woman's childhood and then later, adulthood. The Joy Luck Club is a beautifully written book that I highly recommend to anyone, but think women will relate to more than men.

Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who's "saying" the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. "To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable." Forty years later the stories and history continue.

With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

My Friend Leonard by James Frey

My Friend Leonard is the sequel to A Million Little Pieces. I started it a few months ago, but put it down to get some academic reading done. I picked it back up two days ago and just couldn't put it down. I stayed up into the wee hours last night reading this book. As I read the last 20 pages or so, I had tears streaming down my face. I had made some predictions about the outcome of Leonard's life based on the first book, but my predictions were wrong. Way wrong!

My Friend Leonard picks up where A Million Little Pieces left off. It opens with James Frey serving his [controversial] jail sentence, takes us back to Lilly, but is mostly about Leonard's life. We read about Leonard's "job", James' life and interaction with Leonard, and finally feel the resoluation we've been waiting for. The narration written makes Leonard a very quick read; the plot is captivating, but the style of writing takes a little while to get used to. If you liked A Million Little Pieces, you'll enjoy My Friend Leonard as well. I highly recommend it.

"In the bold and heartbreaking My Friend Leonard, James Frey picks up the story of his extraordinary life pretty much where things left off in his breakout bestseller and Best Book of 2003, A Million Little Pieces, the fierce, in-your-face memoir about Frey's kamikaze run of self-destruction and his days in rehab. Fresh from a stint in jail from pre-rehab-related charges ('On my first day in jail, a three hundred pound man named Porterhouse hit me in the back of the head with a metal tray.'), clean-living Frey returns to Chicago and gets sucker-punched with a cruel blow that will leave readers ducking for cover in anticipation of the blinding bender that's sure to come. But then the titular Leonard, the larger-than-life Vegas mobster ('West Coast Director of a large Italian finance firm') whom James befriended in rehab, steps into the story and serves equal parts unlikely life coach, guardian angel, and father figure for the grief-stricken author, adopting him as his 'son' and schooling him in the fine art of 'living boldly': 'Be not bold, be f-cking BOLD. Every time you meet someone, make a f-cking impression. Make them think you're the hottest shit in the world. Make them think they're gonna lose their job if they don't give you one. Look 'em in the eye, and never look away. Be confident and calm, be f-cking bold.'

Hurricane Leonard storms into James's life, showering his young charge with multi-course feasts at steakhouses and Italian restaurants, courtside seats at Bulls' games, Cuban cigars, and an elaborate Super Bowl party in Los Angeles, all the while doling out wisdom on life and love and motivating James to stick to his burgeoning writing career. James even has a brief stint as an employee of Leonard's, though occupational hazards--like having a nine millimeter shoved in his face--prove too much for the novice bag man (though he does make enough to invest his earnings in a Picasso drawing). When Leonard drops out of sight for an extended period, his absence leaves readers aching to hear the familiar refrain of 'My Son!' just one more time.

Frey sticks to the taut, staccato style that shot through A Million Little Pieces with such raw electricity. Surprisingly, the tone feels equally at home with this book's focus on friendship and extreme loyalty, and works to intensify the always-looming, adrenaline-rush threat of violence and the lure of the Fury that courses like a riptide throughout the book. Ultimately, it's a sense of hope, and humor even, that prevails and makes My Friend Leonard a stand-alone success. Despite his shady pedigree, you'll long to have a friend like Leonard just a phone call away." --Brad Thomas Parsons.

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Good In Bed by Jennifer Weiner

Ok, before you jump to conclusions about this book based purely on the title, here me out. Good In Bed is a story about Cannie, a twenty-something who is a writer and deals with an ongoing weight problem, ultimately causing self-esteem issues. The title comes from a sex column, "Good In Bed," that her ex-boyfriends writes for a Cosmo-esque magazine. The story opens with Cannie reading the latest issue of this column in which she is the subject. The story is humorous, but drags at times. The ending made me smile and at numerous times I found myself relating to Cannie's weight and esteem issues. If you are looking for something to read at the beach, this is the book for you.

"Weiner's first novel should satisfy readers from older teens and above. Cannie Shapiro is in her late twenties, funny, independent, and a talented reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. After a 'temporary' break-up with her boyfriend of three years, she reads his debut column, 'Good in Bed' in the women's magazine, Moxie. Titled 'Loving a Larger Woman,' this very personal piece triggers events that completely transform her and those around her. Cannie's adventures will strike a chord with all young women struggling to find their place in the world, especially those larger than a size eight. Despite some events that stretch credulity and a few unresolved issues at the end, this novel follows the classic format of chasing the wrong man when the right one is there all along. Veteran storyteller Maeve Binchy gave us Bennie in Circle of Friends; now Jennifer Weiner gives us Cannie. Look for more books from Weiner." -Rebecca Sturm Kelm,

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom

After years and years of people telling me I need to read Tuesdays With Morrie, I finally found the time to do so. Now that I am done, I know why. What a touching story! It's very sad because you grow to love Morrie, but at the same time, he truly teaches you important life lessons. The story is very short and easy to read, but even from page one you are captivated by this man's charm.

Tuesdays With Morrie is the true story about a professor, Morrie, and a student, Mitch. SIxteen years after Mitch graduates from the college Morrie teaches at, Morrie contracts Lou Gehrig's disease. Mitch, who has lost touch with Morrie, sees an interview between Ted Koppel and Morrie and decided that it is time for him to go visit his former professor and friend. While there, they decide to turn this visit into a weekly thing; every Tuesday Mitch will make a visit and Morrie will share with him the experience of dying. The book brings us not only through these Tuesday visits, but also Morrie's, and ultimately Mitch's, experience with death.

This is a must read for everyone!

"This true story about the love between a spiritual mentor and his pupil has soared to the bestseller list for many reasons. For starters: it reminds us of the affection and gratitude that many of us still feel for the significant mentors of our past. It also plays out a fantasy many of us have entertained: what would it be like to look those people up again, tell them how much they meant to us, maybe even resume the mentorship? Plus, we meet Morrie Schwartz--a one of a kind professor, whom the author describes as looking like a cross between a biblical prophet and Christmas elf. And finally we are privy to intimate moments of Morrie's final days as he lies dying from a terminal illness. Even on his deathbed, this twinkling-eyed mensch manages to teach us all about living robustly and fully. Kudos to author and acclaimed sports columnist Mitch Albom for telling this universally touching story with such grace and humility." --Gail Hudson,

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Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Crank has been recommended to me a few times by students. I packed it in my suitcase for my trip to Dallas, knowing that I would have some free time to get some of my summer reading done. The best way to describe this book is a more recent Go Ask Alice. This book is a story about a teenager's addiction to drugs, the "monster." It is loosly based on the author's daughter and people in her life. It is written in poetry form so even though it is 537 pages long, I was able to finish it in a few hours.

After only a few pages, I was able to see why my students have been captivated by this story. I have experience with addictions in my family, and was able to relate to the main character's description of her personality on and away from drugs as two separate people. I know some of my students have dealt with situations like this, so I hope it scares them enough to never play with the effects of drugs.

"Ellen Hopkins's semi-autobiographical verse novel, Crank, reads like a Go Ask Alice for the 21st century. In it, she chronicles the turbulent and often disturbing relationship between Kristina, a character based on her own daughter, and the "monster," the highly addictive drug crystal meth, or "crank." Kristina is introduced to the drug while visiting her largely absent and ne'er-do-well father. While under the influence of the monster, Kristina discovers her sexy alter-ego, Bree: 'there is no perfect daughter, / no gifted high school junior, / no Kristina Georgia Snow. / There is only Bree.' Bree will do all the things good girl Kristina won't, including attracting the attention of dangerous boys who can provide her with a steady flow of crank. Soon, her grades plummet, her relationships with family and friends deteriorate, and she needs more and more of the monster just to get through the day. Kristina hits her lowest point when she is raped by one of her drug dealers and becomes pregnant as a result. Her decision to keep the baby slows her drug use, but doesn't stop it, and the author leaves the reader with the distinct impression that Kristina/Bree may never be free from her addiction. In the author's note, Hopkins warns 'nothing in this story is impossible,' but when Kristina's controlled, high-powered mother allows her teenage daughter to visit her biological father (a nearly homeless known drug user), the story feels unbelievable. Still, the descriptions of crystal meth use and its consequences are powerful, and will horrify and transfix older teenage readers, just as Alice did over 20 years ago." --Jennifer Hubert,

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

After reading a heavy novel, The Kite Runner, I felt I needed something easy. Sadly, I chose Prep. This novel was not an easy read, but I think it's because I wasn't really interested in it. Once I got about half-way through, I felt that I had made too much of a time investment, so I figured I would finish it.

The story line is quite basic: a young, white, middle class girl from the Mid-West decided that public high school is just not good enough for her, so she begs her parents to allow her to attend a boarding school in the Northeast. Lee chooses the best school, Ault. Only the children of the best-of-the-best attend Ault; the wealtiest, most reputable families from around the country. Prep follows the changes that Lee goes through, her outlook on life, and how she deals with normal teenage issues, all while living at a boarding school.

I found this story to be very immature. The critics love this book, but I am just not seeing the same substance. It could possibly be because I just finished a very intense book, or because I am getting tired of the same predicatable teenage story line. If you are looking for an easy to read, coming-of-age story, Prep is the book for you.

"Curtis Sittenfeld's poignant and occassionally angst-ridden debut novel Prep is the story of Lee Fiora, a South Bend, Indiana, teenager who wins a scholarship to the prestigious Ault school, an East Coast institution where 'money was everywhere on campus, but it was usually invisible.' As we follow Lee through boarding school, we witness firsthand the triumphs and tragedies that shape our heroine's coming-of-age. Yet while Sittenfeld may be a skilled storyteller, her real gift lies in her ability to expertly give voice to what is often described as the most alienating period in a young person's life: high school.

True to its genre, Prep is filled with boarding school stereotypes--from the alienated gay student to the picture perfect blond girl; the achingly earnest first-year English teacher and the dreamy star basketball player who never mentions the fact that he's Jewish. Lee's status as an outsider is further affirmed after her parents drive 18 hours in their beat-up Datsun to attend Parent's Weekend, where most of the kids 'got trashed and ended up skinny-dipping in the indoor pool' at their parents' fancy hotel. Yet even as the weekend deteriorates into disaster and ends with a heartbreaking slap across the face, Sittenfeld never blames or excuses anyone; rather, she simply incorporates the experience into Lee's sense of self. ('How was I supposed to understand, when I applied at the age of thirteen, that you have your whole life to leave your family?')

By the time Lee graduates from Ault, some readers may tire of her constant worrying and self-doubting obsessions. However, every time we feel close to giving up on her, Sittenfeld reels us back in and makes us root for Lee. In doing so, perhaps we are rooting for every high school student who's ever wanted nothing more than to belong." --Gisele Toueg,

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Let me start out by saying The Kite Runner is my new favorite book. It has taken the place of Wicked in my top five books. I have been hearing about this book all year; it is a required text for UCF's freshmen comp classes, and many of my students have been suggesting it to me. Once I began this book, I could not put it down.

This is the story of Amir, a young boy growing up in Afghanistan before, during, and after tyranical political shifts. The Kite Runner describes Amir's transformation throughout the drastic change of his country and family. It is beautifully written, descriptive enough for you to envision your position in the story. This is a fiction novel, but at times, it feels very real. When I finished this book, I put it down and just wept. I wept for Amir, for the atonement of his sins, for his life, but then for the people who actually live/lived in this country. This is a must read for everyone!

"In his debut novel, The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini accomplishes what very few contemporary novelists are able to do. He manages to provide an educational and eye-opening account of a country's political turmoil--in this case, Afghanistan--while also developing characters whose heartbreaking struggles and emotional triumphs resonate with readers long after the last page has been turned over. And he does this on his first try.

The Kite Runner follows the story of Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, and Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant. As children in the relatively stable Afghanistan of the early 1970s, the boys are inseparable. They spend idyllic days running kites and telling stories of mystical places and powerful warriors until an unspeakable event changes the nature of their relationship forever, and eventually cements their bond in ways neither boy could have ever predicted. Even after Amir and his father flee to America, Amir remains haunted by his cowardly actions and disloyalty. In part, it is these demons and the sometimes impossible quest for forgiveness that bring him back to his war-torn native land after it comes under Taliban rule. ('...I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.')

Some of the plot's turns and twists may be somewhat implausible, but Hosseini has created characters that seem so real that one almost forgets that The Kite Runner is a novel and not a memoir. At a time when Afghanistan has been thrust into the forefront of America's collective consciousness ('people sipping lattes at Starbucks were talking about the battle for Kunduz'), Hosseini offers an honest, sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, but always heartfelt view of a fascinating land. Perhaps the only true flaw in this extraordinary novel is that it ends all too soon." --Gisele Toueg

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Lucky by Alice Sebold

I read Sebold's book The Lovely Bones a few years ago, and really connected with her genuine writing style. Once I finished Lucky, I realized why she writes the way she does. Lucky is the true story of Alice Sebold.

Lucky starts out with the very detailed, very gruesome description of Sebold's rape when she was a freshman in college in the early 1980s. The reader is then taken on Sebold's journey through the healing, the trial, and the depiction of rape victims. This story is a very heavy story, it not light-hearted at all, yet it is very captivating. When I finished reading, I put the book down and contemplated on the way I handle things in life. Sebold's message is a message of inspiring strength. I highly recommend this book.

"When Sebold was a college freshman at Syracuse University, she was attacked and raped on the last night of school, forced onto the ground in a tunnel 'among the dead leaves and broken beer bottles.' In a ham-handed attempt to mollify her, a policeman later told her that a young woman had been murdered there and, by comparison, Sebold should consider herself lucky. That dubious 'luck' is the focus of this fiercely observed memoir about how an incident of such profound violence can change the course of one's life. Sebold launches her memoir headlong into the rape itself, laying out its visceral physical as well as mental violence, and from there spins a narrative of her life before and after the incident, weaving memories of parental alcoholism together with her post-rape addiction to heroin. In the midst of each wrenching episode, from the initial attack to the ensuing courtroom drama, Sebold's wit is as powerful as her searing candor, as she describes her emotional denial, her addiction and even the rape (her first 'real' sexual experience). She skillfully captures evocative moments, such as, during her girlhood, luring one of her family's basset hounds onto a blue silk sofa (strictly off-limits to both kids and pets) to nettle her father. Addressing rape as a larger social issue, Sebold's account reveals that there are clear emotional boundaries between those who have been victims of violence and those who have not, though the author attempts to blur these lines as much as possible to show that violence touches many more lives than solely the victim's." Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

After reading the action-packed, technical Da Vinci Code, I decided that I needed some brain candy to ease into my summer reading. Since I have already read The Wedding, and watched the movie numerous times, I decided to read The Notebook.

If you are looking for an easy, romance novel, this is the book for you. It is a very sweet story of two lovers separated by circumstances such as war, parents, and the human body. If you have already seen the movie, don't read this expecting the movie (like I did). There are enough similarities to ruin the picture in your head, but there are planty of differences to keep you on your toes.

"In 1932, two North Carolina teenagers from opposite sides of the tracks fall in love. Spending one idyllic summer together in the small town of New Bern, Noah Calhoun and Allie Nelson do not meet again for 14 years. Noah has returned from WWII to restore the house of his dreams, having inherited a large sum of money. Allie, programmed by family and the 'caste system of the South' to marry an ambitious, prosperous man, has become engaged to powerful attorney Lon Hammond. When she reads a newspaper story about Noah's restoration project, she shows up on his porch step, re-entering his life for two days. Will Allie leave Lon for Noah? The book's slim dimensions and cliche-ridden prose will make comparisons to The Bridges of Madison County inevitable. What renders Sparks's sentimental story somewhat distinctive are two chapters, which take place in a nursing home in the '90s, that frame the central story. The first sets the stage for the reading of the eponymous notebook, while the later one takes the characters into the land beyond happily ever after, a future rarely examined in books of this nature. Early on, Noah claims that theirs may be either a tragedy or a love story, depending on the perspective. Ultimately, the judgment is up to readers, be they cynics or romantics. For the latter, this will be a weeper." Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I recently read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and really enjoyed it. I have had students recommending this book to me for the past three years, and have wanted to read it, but was turned off by all the media hype that has surronded this book. Finally, after getting caught-up by one of the movie trailers, I decided that i wanted to read the book so that I can go see the movie. My students were correct: this is a fabulous book! I don't normally like action/adventure/mystery-type books, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

This is an intelligently written story. The reader does not need to know all of the history of the countries and artwork prior to reading the story, but after reading the book, one finds themself desiring to visit each country and do conduct research on each painting. The way the book opens is what grabbed my attention. I read the prologue, and couldn't put the book down after that. Some of the characters are difficult to identify with, but there is enough to keep you intrigued by their every movement. Personally, I saw the big surprise at the end coming about 100 pages in, but was genueienly surprised by the revealing of two other secrets.

Many people have asked me how I can read this book, knowing that I am a Christian. Honestly, I read this book knowing that it is a work of fiction. Dan Brwon does a good job intermingling fact and fictionm, but I am secure enough in my faith to know the difference between the truth and a good read.

"With The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown masterfully concocts an intelligent and lucid thriller that marries the gusto of an international murder mystery with a collection of fascinating esoteria culled from 2,000 years of Western history. A murder in the silent after-hour halls of the Louvre museum reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected by a clandestine society since the days of Christ. The victim is a high-ranking agent of this ancient society who, in the moments before his death, manages to leave gruesome clues at the scene that only his granddaughter, noted cryptographer Sophie Neveu, and Robert Langdon, a famed symbologist, can untangle. The duo become both suspects and detectives searching for not only Neveu's grandfather's murderer but also the stunning secret of the ages he was charged to protect. Mere steps ahead of the authorities and the deadly competition, the mystery leads Neveu and Langdon on a breathless flight through France, England, and history itself. Brown has created a page-turning thriller that also provides an amazing interpretation of Western history. Brown's hero and heroine embark on a lofty and intriguing exploration of some of Western culture's greatest mysteries--from the nature of the Mona Lisa's smile to the secret of the Holy Grail. Though some will quibble with the veracity of Brown's conjectures, therein lies the fun. The Da Vinci Code is an enthralling read that provides rich food for thought." --Jeremy Pugh,

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If you read The Da Vinci Code and enjoy it, check out the prequel, Angels and Demons.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

This is the second book I read over the holidays, and I would've written about it sooner, but life got in the way. I read this after a friend highly recommended it to me. You may have heard about it in the news lately because there is some controversy over the validity of some of the information within.

A Million Little Pieces is the memoir of James Frey's stay in a rehab clinic when he was 23 years old. It opens with Frey waking up on a plane: bloody, bruised, and swollen. His front four teeth are knocked out, there is a hole in his cheek, and he can barely see out of his eyes because they are so swollen. He has no idea how he got on the plane or where he is going. He is obviously suffering from alcohol and drug use. He gets off the plane where he find his parents waiting for him. They put him in their car and take him to a rehab clinic where he makes some life-altering decisions.

The rest of the memoir is his physical, mental, and emotional journey through his addiction. It is a vivid description of the thought processes an addict goes through. At times it is very grotesque, but very real. As a daughter of a parent who has struggled with addiction, this story gave me a new insight into the thoughts running through an addict's mind and the reasons a person does the things they do. When I put this book down, I wept. Not only for James Frey, but also for anyone struggling with any type of addiction.

I don't care if anyone is challenging the validity of this book. I don't care if some of the information included within the story is found to be false. No one can deny that this is a well-written, life-impacting story. I am adding this to my top ten list of books!

"The electrifying opening of James Frey's debut memoir, A Million Little Pieces, smash-cuts to the then 23-year-old author on a Chicago-bound plane "covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood." Wanted by authorities in three states, without ID or any money, his face mangled and missing four front teeth, Frey is on a steep descent from a dark marathon of drug abuse. His stunned family checks him into a famed Minnesota drug treatment center where a doctor promises "he will be dead within a few days" if he starts to use again, and where Frey spends two agonizing months of detox confronting "The Fury" head on: I want a drink. I want fifty drinks. I want a bottle of the purest, strongest, most destructive, most poisonous alcohol on Earth. I want fifty bottles of it. I want crack, dirty and yellow and filled with formaldehyde. I want a pile of powder meth, five hundred hits of acid, a garbage bag filled with mushrooms, a tube of glue bigger than a truck, a pool of gas large enough to drown in. I want something anything whatever however as much as I can.
One of the more harrowing sections is when Frey submits to major dental surgery without the benefit of anesthesia or painkillers (he fights the mind-blowing waves of "bayonet" pain by digging his fingers into two old tennis balls until his nails crack). His fellow patients include a damaged crack addict with whom Frey wades into an ill-fated relationship, a federal judge, a former championship boxer, and a mobster (who, upon his release, throws a hilarious surf-and-turf bacchanal, complete with pay-per-view boxing). In the book's epilogue, when Frey ticks off a terse update on everyone, you can almost hear the Jim Carroll Band's brutal survivor's lament "People Who Died" kicking in on the soundtrack of the inevitable film adaptation.
The rage-fueled memoir is kept in check by Frey's cool, minimalist style. Like his steady mantra, "I am an Alcoholic and I am a drug Addict and I am a Criminal," Frey's use of repetition takes on a crisp, lyrical quality which lends itself to the surreal experience. The book could have benefited from being a bit leaner. Nearly 400 pages is a long time to spend under Frey's influence, and the stylistic acrobatics (no quotation marks, random capitalization, left-aligned text, wild paragraph breaks) may seem too self-conscious for some readers, but beyond the literary fireworks lurks a fierce debut."--Brad Thomas Parsons,

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If you read this and enjoy it, check out the sequel, My Friend Leonard.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks

I literally just finished reading The Wedding ten minutes ago. All I can say is that I put the book down with a tear in my eye, a smile on my face, and a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart. The Wedding is the sequel to the book The Notebook. I have not read The Notebook, but saw the movie last year and loved it. It is an easy read, written from the point of view of Wilson, the son-in-law of Noah Calhoun (the main character from The Notebook), and even though I have not read the first book, I was able to follow along just fine.

The book opens with a retrospective Wilson talking about the things he has learned over the past thirty years of marriage and explains to the reader that it has been a difficult, but rewarding journey. This retrospective attitude is brought upon by the fact that Wilson has forgotten his 29th wedding anniversary, and begins questioning why his wife married him in the first place.

The novel then shifts to a year later, eight days before his 30th wedding anniversary, and a visit from his eldest daughter in which she exclaims that she is getting married, but wants to get married on her parents' wedding anniversary. Reluctantly Wilson's wife agrees to this and begins helping her daughter plan this harried wedding. The novel takes us through the life of Wilson and his wife, the present and the past, the good times and the bad, leading us up to their daughter's wedding. I cannot say much more without giving away the ending, but if you enjoy romantic stories, The Wedding is the book for you!

"Sparks' 1996 debut novel, The Notebook, was a fast and easy read that sold millions upon millions of copies. Other bestselling love stories followed (Message in a Bottle; A Walk to Remember; The Guardian), but Sparks's fans have from the very beginning eagerly anticipated a sequel to the romantic tale of Allie and Noah Calhoun. The wait is now over. Attorney Wilson Lewis has been married to Noah and Allie's daughter, Jane, for 30 years. Wilson and Jane have raised three children and lived a satisfying and prosperous life in the bucolic town of New Bern, N.C. After forgetting his anniversary, Wilson realizes that the passion and romance have gone out of his marriage and fears his wife no longer loves him. Being a methodical man, he decides to embark on a yearlong program to renew his romantic ties to his wife, seeking out the advice of Noah, who now spends his days in a retirement home feeding a swan he is sure is the reincarnation of his beloved Allie. In the midst of Wilson's machinations, his daughter Anna announces she is getting married. The upcoming wedding provides Wilson with the opportunity to bring his elaborate plan to fruition. Sparks tells his sweet story competently, without sinking too deeply into the mire of sentiment; a gasp-inducing twist comes at the very end. Satisfied female readers will close the covers with a sigh and a wish that a little of the earnest, too-good-to-be-true Wilson might rub off on their own bedmates." --From Publishers Weekly Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Read a few pages:

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Push by Sapphire

About a month ago, I went on a car trip to Tallahassee. I was the passenger so I was able to get a little reading done. I was in the middle of a book I had been reading, Push by Sapphire. When I was done, I had tears streaming down my face. I felt so thankful for everything and was inspired to be a light in someone's life.

Push is a story about a teenage girl named Precious. She cannot read or write and knows that she is uneducated. She has been sexually abused by her father, and verbally and mentally abused by her mother for as long as she can remember. At 16, she is pregnant with her father's second child. Because of her lack of book smarts, she lashes out during school to avoid being made fun of. After being held back two years and getting pregnant, her middle school principal suspends her from school but encourages her to enroll in an alternative school. Precious takes this advice and her life begins to turn around. Her reading teacher challenges her to think for herself. She starts to see the world around her in a different light. She begins to realize the home in which she lives is not a good place and begins to act independently. She turns to writing to work through her emotions and puts together amazing poetry.

This book is written in a very unique way--from the point of view of Precious. She cannot read or write when we first begin her story so the text is written phonetically. As Precious' reading and writing abilities develop, the text gets easier to read. It is actually quite interesting the way the author draws us into Precious' world. The language is quite graphic but is appropriate for the context. If you can remember the life that Precious lives, and get beyond the language and sexual situations, I promise you will be inspired when you read this book.

"Claireece Precious Jones endures unimaginable hardships in her young life. Abused by her mother, raped by her father, she grows up poor, angry, illiterate, fat, unloved and generally unnoticed. So what better way to learn about her than through her own, halting dialect. That is the device deployed in the first novel by poet and singer Sapphire. "Sometimes I wish I was not alive," Precious says. "But I don't know how to die. Ain' no plug to pull out. 'N no matter how bad I feel my heart don't stop beating and my eyes open in the morning." An intense story of adversity and the mechanisms to cope with it."

Here are a few pages from