Thursday, April 30, 2009

the know-it all one man's humble quest to be the smartest person in the world by a.j. jacobs

part memoir and part education (or lack thereof), the know-it all chronicles NPR contributor a.j. jacobs hilarious, enlightening, and seemingly impossible quest to read the encyclopedia britannica from A to Z.

to fill the ever-widening gaps in his ivy league education, a.j. jacobs sets for himself the daunting task of reading all thirty-two volumes. his wife, julie, tells him it's a waste of time, he friends believe he's losing his mind, his father, a brilliant attorney who once attempted the feat and quit somewhere around borneo, is encouraging, but, shall we say, unconvinced.

your book folded into my life quite nicely, in an unexpected way. i always wanted to read your other title, my year of biblical living but thought i should start with your first book. the know-it all is a bit long, but then again, so are thirty-two volumes of the encyclopedia, and this was a pleasant read. at times you were a little too WASPy and self-indulgent, and i am forced to wonder if your wife is charming, unflappable, mildly neurotic, and well-balanced as you portray her. regardless, i didn't roll my eyes that often and i was amused. it was the right book to be reading when i read it. if you're having a rough week, your book was an easy distraction.

in short, you amuse me so i'll seek out your other titles.

dutifully yours,
a lone reader

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

the dud avocado by elaine dundy

the dud avocado follows the romantic and comedic adventures of a young american who heads overseas to conquer Paris in the late 1950s. edith wharton and henry james wrote about the american girl abroad, but it was elaine dundy’s sally jay gorce who told us what she was really thinking. charming, sexy, and hilarious, the dud avocado gained instant cult status when it was first published and it remains a timeless portrait of a woman hell-bent on living.

dear elaine dundy,

where have you been all my life? i adored the dud avocado. this book is witty, charming, nostalgic. if the hepburns  (audrey or katherine) ever starred in a book, not a movie, this would be the book. sally is gracefully awkward, clumsily charming, and adorable. it's literally like reading a romp of an old classic movie. your characters are wonderful, surreal, and highly entertaining. i cannot rave about this book enough. you are the list of great books for 2009. bravo!

i'm thrilled to know your titles are coming back into print in the upcoming months. in the meantime, i have the ever reliable and amazing new york public library to keep me swimming in your writing.

dutifully yours,
a lone reader

post script: i love your book's cover. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

kick me by paul feig

written in side-splitting and often cringe-inducing detail, paul feig takes you in a time machine to a world of bombardment by dodge balls, ill-fated prom dates, and other aspects of public school life that will keep you laughing in recognition and occasionally sighing in relief that you aren't him. kick me is a nostalgic trip for the inner geek in all of us.

dear paul feig,

cute. there are some great moments in your book. my personal favorite? the elf scene. done. i giggled. loved it. and i do like you. just not for this book. i'll take a episode of freaks and geeks over kick me any afternoon. no offense. i don't think it's your fault. i swear, it's not you. it's me. totally me. okay, and george tabb. his books playing right field was everything you wanted your book to be, but compared to him . . . well, yours fell a little short.  i'm sorry. i read his book first and loved it. i laughed. his memoirs were larger than life and hilarious and embarrassing and completely geeked out. yours were silly and charming, but not as engaging. i'll admit, i was skimming by the end. and i hoped you'd end on a really funny or brilliant note, but it quietly faded. i wanted george and instead i got paul. i'll know better for next time.

dutifully yours,
a lone reader

Thursday, April 16, 2009

the gargoyle by andrew davidson

the narrator of the gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. as the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. he crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. as he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide—for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul. 


a beautiful and compelling, but clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of marianne engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval germany. in her telling, he was a badly injured mercenary and she was a nun and scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal who nursed him back to health. as she spins their tale in scheherazade fashion and relates equally mesmerizing stories of deathless love in japan, iceland, italy, and england, he finds himself drawn back to life—and, finally, in love. he is released into marianne's care and takes up residence in her huge stone house. but all is not well. for one thing, the pull of his past sins becomes ever more powerful as the morphine he is prescribed becomes ever more addictive. for another, marianne receives word from god that she has only twenty-seven sculptures left to complete—and her time on earth will be finished. 


dear andrew davidson,

a gorgeous cover inspired me to pick up your novel in the bookstore. it was haunting enough that i remember to add it to my library queue when i got home. your story is a unique one with familiar elements. you've spun something that's captivating and mesmerizing. yet, i applaud you for never making it cheesy. never once did i roll my eyes and think, cue bad movie music here. there is something about marianne that kept me turing the pages. your narrator was engaging enough as well, but sometimes he felt too heavy handed. or perhaps it was the way he seemed so detached from his history in the adult film industry. or maybe it was just that it kept coming up. he brought up porn one too many times. you've woven a plot the unwinds at a pace that pulls a reader along with just enough tension to keep me wondering how marianne is going to explain their relationship. i didn't stay up and devour it in one night, but it was solid and tantalizing enough. either way, simply a great debut and i look forward to your next book. 


dutifully yours,

a lone reader


Monday, April 6, 2009

the guernsey literary and potato peel society by mary ann shaffer and annie barrows

january 1946: london is emerging from the shadow of WWII, and writer juliet ashton is looking for her next book subject. who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she's never met, a native of the island of guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by charles lamb. . . . 

as juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends -- and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. the guernsey literary and potato peel pie society -- born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the germans occupying their island -- boasts a charming, funny, and deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

what a charming little book! this was a delightful way to spend my evening. i enjoyed drowning in a nostalgic and whimsical story. and i even loved the bow you wrapped it all up in. i adore letters, and something about your collection was heartwarming and endearing. i was even tempted to sit down at my underwood and dash off a piece of proper correspondence to you. (perhaps this seems a bit ironic or strange coming from a girl who writes letters she never mails -- i prefer to leave them on the internet and wait for others to discover them. but i assure you that i truly own a gorgeous, shiny, black underwood.) 

i simply adored the title 84 charing cross road by helene hanff and your novel has a lot in common with it. granted, ms. hanff's collection of letters was pulled from her own correspondence, but the atmosphere of both books is similar. and it tugs at my heart, which craves pen and papers. which craves finding letters in my mailbox. if you need an evening to whisk you off your feet with romance and words, either of these books will do the trick quite nicely.

dutifully yours,
a lone reader

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

the sandman -- two volumes by neil gaiman

the sandman, volume 1: preludes & nocturnes introduces readers to a dark and enchanting world of dreams and nightmares -- the home of the sandman, master of dreams, and his kin, the endless. this first collection of neil gaiman's multi-award-winning title introduces key themes and characters, combining myth, magic and black humor.

in the sandman, volume 2: the doll's house rose walker finds more than she bargained for -- long lost relatives, a serial killers' convention, and, ultimately, her true identity. the mast of dreams attempts to unravel the mystery, unaware that the hand of another, far closer to home, is pulling the strings.

dear neil gaiman

before i begin, let's first give a huge round of applause for your illustrators -- dave mckean (perhaps the only artist who i feel depicts the madness in my head), mike dringenberg, malcom jones III, chris bachalo, michael zulli, steve parkhouse, and sam keith. bravo!

the first two volumes are utterly awesome. truly. i never thought i'd be a "comic" reader. sure graphic novels can be fun, but it's like a new thing for a reader like me. and i never thought i'd go seek out "graphic novels" that were actually comics when they first came out. but oh. my. god. this series is fabulous. the queue at the new york public library is long, so it's going to take me quite some time to finish it. i devoured the first two volumes in three days. somehow the insane art and the story and the characters -- it works. and i don't know how or why. but it does.

the art is a wild blend of color and style and forms. you'd think it would be rough, confusing, a mess. except, it's not. i love when the panes slowly morph into some new style of illustration and it so perfectly fitting. i think i literally mumbled, "damn!" a number of times while reading these two collections.

i am in awe. i have no idea how one goes about writing a comic/graphic novel. call me and tell me how you do it. the only thing i can nitpick in the series is the grammatical errors in the text. but! i get it. this is from the 1990s, i doubt vertigo wasn't up to making sure the grammar was up to the top notch standards. and the time constraint of turning out a monthly comic (akk!). and let's add in the hand lettering and it's cool. it does inspire me to want to see if i can go copyedit for vertigo. put in a good word for me, would you? 

i'm almost tempted to leave my current cushy publishing gig to become a graphic novel/comic book editor. if anyone could get me to do it, it's you neil. the suspense for volume 3 is killing me. i'll die in sweet anticipation. anything for you and your books.

dutifully yours,
a lone reader

post script: it's pretty obvious that i have a wicked crush on you, right? 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

sharp teeth by toby barlow

an ancient race of lycanthropes has survived to the present day, and its numbers are growing as the initiated convince L.A.'s down and out to join their pack. paying no heed to moons, full or otherwise, they change from human to canine at will -- and they're bent on domination at any cost.

caught in the middle are anthony, a kind-hearted, besotted dogcatcher, and the girl he loves, a female werewolf who has abandoned her pack. anthony has no idea that she's more than she seems, and she wants to keep it that way. but her efforts to protect her secret lead to murderous results.

why free verse is my first reaction. i thought perhaps this wasn't necessary. but now i find i am okay with it. i don't entirely understand the use of the format for this story -- but it sort of works. it keeps your story from becoming to silly. it keeps it serious and engaging. once i got into the flow and ebb of your writing, it just moved along.

i was entertained by this story. i've read a lot of werewolves stories in the past few years -- okay, who hasn't? and this was a good one. i was a bit disappointed by the ending. it wrapped up too cleanly, too nicely. these are bloodthirsy characters with no mercy and i wish i could say the same for you as an author. still, i'll keep you on the list of authors to read list. you earned enough gold stars with this debut to warrant keeping an eye on. 

dutifully yours,
a lone reader