Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The White Tiger [Adiga]

Book: The White Tiger
Author: Aravind Adiga
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Fiction
Summary: (from the New Yorker): ...set in India, Balram, a chauffeur, murders his employer, justifying his crime as the act of a "social entrepreneur." In a series of letters to the Premier of China, in anticipation of the leader’s upcoming visit to Balram’s homeland, the chauffeur recounts his transformation from an honest, hardworking boy growing up in "the Darkness"—those areas of rural India where education and electricity are equally scarce, and where villagers banter about local elections "like eunuchs discussing the Kama Sutra"—to a determined killer. He places the blame for his rage squarely on the avarice of the Indian √©lite, among whom bribes are commonplace, and who perpetuate a system in which many are sacrificed to the whims of a few.
Christine's Review: This book is excellent. Born in a small village encased with corruption, Balram knows from an early age what is expected of him. He is not supposed to question or challenge his destiny-he should take the path that is in front of him, regardless of the fact that his opportunities in life with be limited. Balram's dream is to break free of this life and become what he perceives as a symbol of strength, power and freedom-a white tiger. But as he learns soon enough that even white tigers have constraints too.

This book is dark, humorous and chilling at times. After reading about Balram's struggles, the social inequities in India and the overall corruption, I am appreciative of growing up in the USA and the opportunities that we each have.

Book Junkie's Grade: A-

Secrets of Surrender [Hunter]

Book: Secrets of Surrender
Author: Madeline Hunter
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Romance - Historical
Summary: (amazon.com) He catches her eye across the dining room–a handsome stranger who stands out among the lewd noblemen and bawdy painted women. But their worlds are about to collide in a way Roselyn Longworth could never have imagined. For before the night is out, she will be auctioned off to the highest bidder…and Kyle Bradwell will lead her from one kind of hell to another. Yet from the moment he wins her, Kyle treats Rose with a gentleness she hasn’t known since a family scandal destroyed her reputation. And when she finally learns what is really driving Kyle, it’s too late. For Rose has fallen for the man who knows her most intimate secrets. Now he has stunned her with a proposal of marriage–the first step in a seduction that will demand nothing less than her complete surrender.…
Christine's Review: First, let me start off by saying that I LOVE amazon.com's summary of romance novel plots. I could write my own but I can't capture the cheesiness like amazon. Okay...back to the review at hand.

This was my third book in the '...sin' series. Unlike the male leads in Hunter's previous works, Bradwell is a self-made man and this was a welcome change. The heroine, Rose, fits the mold of previous romantic leads..not a virgin, but still innocent in the language of love. Characters from previous books make an appearance, such as Phaedra Blair and her husband Elliott Rothwell. While I did not care for Phaedra in the book focused on her, I enjoyed her presense in this.

Rose's family is financially ruined after her brother swindles people out of a lot of money. Although a family friend pays off the debts, the family name is ruined. Thinking she is in love, Rose becomes the mistress of a well-known man, only to discover he is a mean, vicious man who thinks she is a whore. After forcing her to attend an illicit party, she rebukes her boyfriend's advances and in retaliation, he sells her to the highest bidder. Lucky for Rose-Kyle Bradwell, a self-made man who is appalled at the situation at hand, bids for her. They end up married and battle a number of issues, including her brother's trial and finding love with each other.

Overall, this was a fun, easy read.

Book Junkie's Grade: B

The Middle Place [Corrigan]

Book: The Middle Place
Author: Kelly Corrigan
Reason for Reading: Book Club
Genre: Nonfiction
Summary: Kelly Corrigan is a happily married mother of 2 young girls when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. While undergoing treatment, she learns that her father, a survivor of prostate cancer, now has bladder cancer. Told in alternating chapters of past and present, we look at Corrigan's life growing up and her present life dealing with cancer.
Christine's Review: I chose this memoir based on the positive reviews on Amazon and I wasn't disappointed. This is a story where two of the main characters are battling cancer and although the reviews said it was not a depressing book, I still thought it would be. I am happy to report that while there are sad moments, the overall tone is humorous.

We learn about Corrigan's life growing up in PA with her vivacious, happy-go-lucky father, stern mother and 2 older brothers. The cast of characters are so vividly described you feel like you are an extended member of the family. Many of her stories are relatable (and had me thinking about my own childhood): the hardships of middle school, picking fights with her mother, being overly concerned about hair and fashion. Kelly is the baby in the family and needy-in some ways, she reminds of me Vicki from the Real Housewives of Orange County, she is an attention seeker and always needs affirmation from those around her. Part of that has to do with her father-a man with a big personality who always made her feel special.

In the present day chapters, Corrigan tells us right away that she is in the middle place-a parent herself but still a child to her parents. When she is diagnosed with breast cancer, she tries to tackle it head on with a positive attitude. When her father is diagnosed with bladder cancer, Kelly is forced to grow up and mature.

This book is honest, wry and filled with heart.

Book Junkie's Grade: B+

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Tender Bar [Moehringer]

Book: The Tender Bar
Author: J.R. Moehringer
Reason for Reading: Book Club
Genre: Nonfiction
Summary: (amazon.com) A Pulitzer-Prize winning writer for the Los Angeles Times, Moehringer grew up fatherless in pub-heavy Manhasset, New York, in a ramshackle house crammed with cousins and ruled by an eccentric, unkind grandfather. Desperate for a paternal figure, he turns first to his father, a DJ whom he can only access via the radio (Moehringer calls him The Voice and pictures him as "talking smoke"). When The Voice suddenly disappears from the airwaves, Moehringer turns to his hairless Uncle Charlie, and subsequently, Uncle Charlie's place of employment--a bar called Dickens that soon takes center stage.

Christine's Review: Dickens-a bar where people of all classes interact, talk politics, literature and befriend each other. Sound familiar? If you've ever seen the tv show Cheers, you have the idea. Picture Sam with a nephew that hung out at the bar throughout his teen years and early 20s and you catch the drift. Moehringer is a product of divorced parents and seeks father figures at the bar. He drinks to celebrate his successes (getting into Yale, getting a new job, etc) and he drinks away his sorrows (struggling at Yale, losing his job, women troubles).

I kept reading anticipating a big 'event' that would catapult Moehringer forward in life but it never happened. The climax at the end of the book was not really a climax. I never connected with the characters and didn't care about them. After reading The Glass Castle and Running with Scissors this memoir was boring. Moehringer's life wasn't that interesting and while he tried to be introspective in certain sections, I felt it was lacking (does he consider himself an alcoholic? he doesn't really say). Additionally, the writing style, while witty at times, read like a long newspaper article. The flow was 'off.'

Overall, this is a boring read and the story doesn't provide any insight on anything we don't already know.

Recommend: NO

Book Junkie's Grade: C

Running with Scissors [Burroughs]

Book: Running with Scissors
Author: Augusten Burroughs
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Nonfiction
Summary: Augusten Burroughs has an alcoholic father and unstable mother. After his parents get divorced, Burroughs lives with his mother's therapist's eccentric family, after she signs over parental rights (to the therapist). This is a memoir about Burroughs relationship with his parents and his time with the Finch family.

Christine's Review: This memoir is smartly written, highly entertaining and very provocative. The cast of characters is both colorful and harrowing at times. Burroughs writing style is witty and funny. Much like Madonna aims to shock audiences through her music and risque videos, Burroughs aims to shock readers with explicit sexual language and graphic sexual situations. This is not a book for everyone (especially if you consider yourself conservative in any way or are prudish).

I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the book when Burroughs is living with his parents and first goes to live with the Finch family. His outside view into their world (dirty house, no rules, family members snacking on dog kibble) is eye opening. His transformation from a neat freak into a slob (like the rest of the Finch's) is quick and told in a forthcoming, humorous manner. Burrough's engages in a sexual relationship with a 30-year man and while this alone is disturbing, the fact that both her mother and the doctor encouraged the relationship is unfathomable.

The latter part of the book lagged a little and the conclusion seemed rushed. I would have like to keep reading about this young man's journey after the Finch household, as well as more details regarding the family (Dr. Finch did have his medical license revoked eventually).

Burrough's, a self described compulsive liar, has been criticized for embellishing "facts" in this memoir and the real life 'Finch' family sued him after this was published. Whether or not certain parts are complete fact, I was entertained throughout the story.

Recommend? If you are conservative in any way: NO, if not, YES

Book Junkie's Grade: B

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America [Larson]

Book: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
Author: Erik Larson
Reason for Reading: book club
Genre: Nonfiction
Summary: This is the story of two men told in alternating chapters: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the 1893 Chicago World's fair construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor who lured his victims to his hotel (complete with gas chamber) near the fairgrounds.

Christine's Review: This was an interesting read. It is not a "page-turner" and often reads like a history textbook, but overall I learned a lot. The sections on the fair were extremely detailed (Larson seemed to describe every minute detail) and the cast of characters were interesting. However, there were so many people that he described I often forgot who was who. The most interesting aspect of these sections weren't the obstacles that Burnham met (his partner dying, weather concerns, strikes, among others) but the impact of the fair on life as we know it today (for example, the ferris wheel, pledge of allegiance, Chicago being known as the 'windy city').

Intertwined with the fair sections were chapters on H.H. Holmes, American's first serial killer. Larson had limited resources to write this section (some newspaper articles and an autobiography that Holmes wrote himself, which historians have proven to be filled with falsehoods). I did some research on Holmes myself after reading the book and found well documented behavior of sexual deviance that wasn't really explored in the writing. The killings were not explained in detail, and whether this was an attempt to keep the book 'less dark' or because Larson didn't want to speculate, I think added some more details about Holmes sinister behavior would have added to the overall book. Larson does his best to get into Holmes' mind, but I was left feeling like we (readers) never really knew him.

Overall, this was an interesting read. This is the kind of book you can read a chapter, put down for a week, and then pick up and read again (I doubt anyone would stay awake reading because 'they just have to know what happens.' Although the book was too detailed in terms of every aspect of the fair and not detailed enough when it came to Holmes, it is still worth reading.

Book Junkie's Grade: B+

Open House [Berg]

Book: Open House
Author: Elizabeth Berg
Reason for Reading: book club
Genre: Nonfiction
Summary: When her husband leaves her after almost 20 years of marriage, 42-year old Samantha faces life after divorce with her 11 year old son, Travis. She takes on a series of roommates in an effort to keep the house and is forced to work outside the home for the first time since she became a mother. This is a book about healing and self discovery.
Christine's Review: This was a quick, easy read. In general, Sam is a likeable heroine. She rides an emotional rollercoaster following her husbands departure and seeks comfort in new friends and various roommates. Which each relationship, she discovers something within herself (trust, ability to love again, etc). She is also able to look at previous relationships (i.e., her mother) and have a new perspective on life. By the end of the book, Sam comes to terms with being divorced, her feelings for her ex and finds new love.

Overall, although a fast read, I found this book a tad boring and predictable. Sam also eats A LOT throughout the book. As I am someone who does not gorge myself in times of stress, I felt almost sick reading about all the calories she was consuming. Additionally, I found her love interest an unrealistic match for her.

Book Junkie's Grade: C