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Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A really fun page turner.  Don't let the fact that this book is classified as for Grades 7 and Up and Young Adult turn you off.  Big in the UK, this trilogy also has many fans in the U.S., such as Stephen King (who called it addictive) and Stephenie Meyer (who said she was obsessed with it).  If modern pop culture is any indication, it seems we are slightly obsessed with post-apocalyptic society; with books and movies such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Book of EliAn older novel on the subject is The World Ends in Hickory Hollow   by  Ardath Mayhar.  So, back to The Hunger Games by  Suzanne CollinsLionsgate has bought the movie rights and the third book in the trilogy will be released on August 24, 2010.  I've only read the first book, but will probably read the other two.  I'm really glad I did not read any reviews before reading this book, because then as I read, the details were more surprising than I anticipated.  Spoiler Alert:  I WOULD STOP READING HERE IF YOU ARE GOING TO READ THIS BOOK.  In a nutshell, The Capitol is an evil monopoly who takes children from the outer districts and throws them into a HUGE high-tech arena and makes them fight for their lives.  The last one standing is the victor.  To make it doubly vicious, there are two kids from each district, so it's quite possible that some will have to kill their own friend or neighbor.  Whereas the outer districts are fraught with hunger and starvation, the Capitol will remind you of the wealthy Roman Empire who watched the gladiators with blood lust for sport.  I won't tell you any more, because even the smaller details are surprising and entertaining in the book.  Here's the official web site.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

This is kind of a hot new book right now, and I was intrigued by the reviews on  I listened to a free library download, so don't have a good photo.  I do see on amazon, however, that there are illustrations inside this book that really add to the character of the hard cover.  Beginning in 1799, on a tiny island in Nagasaki Harbor, we meet our main character Jacob (pronounced yak-ob).  He seems to be a mid-level clerk in the Dutch navy.  Young, red-haired and freckled with green eyes, he's quite the oddity among both the Japanese citizens and the salty older sailors all around him.  If you enjoyed the book Shogun  by James Clavell back in the 1970's, you will probably like this one too.  To me, it's a shorter, lighter version of that theme, complete with the evil Lord, the lovely young Japanese midwife, and a cast of other characters.  It's really a fun armchair adventure, with colorful observations of the time, and a poignant ending.

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier

This is a fun read that will appeal to many women.  As the title suggests, our protagonist Joy Harkness is starting a new life, in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Joy is a loner, an accomplished college professor of a certain age who moves to a new town, buys an old wreck of a Victorian house, and begins to slowly open up her life and heart.  There is a Dickinsonian air about Joy, in that she is a  poetess who holds herself aloof from others, but that begins to change in myriad ways.  Enter Teddy, a genius remodeling contractor who begins to transform Joy's old house into a lovely home.  The author, Diane Meier, is a style guru, and the colorful descriptions of the home's new decor sprinkled throughout will make any woman's heart go pitter pat.  Don't we all want someone to come in and fix things for us?  Of course, the more people Joy lets into her life, the more complicated her life becomes, and therein lies the story.  Not an overly deep book, but funny and smart, and not prissy--this really is a good read that kept me turning pages when I should have been asleep.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Reviews for this book on are great.  It's a longer book at about 700 pages.  But, I'm convinced this is a modern-day classic, right up there with The Poisonwood Bible, etc.   Perhaps it is the author's own multi-cultural background that makes this book so real.  At the same time, there are faint hints of spirituality infused by the varying religions and beliefs of the characters.  The author Abraham Verghese is of Indian descent, but was raised in Ethiopia.  He previously wrote a memoir about his time as a doctor in Eastern Tennessee during the early years of the AIDS epidemic when there were very little resources for treatment.  He's a professor of medicine at Stanford, and also has a masters in fine arts and went to the Iowa Writers Workshop.  And all these disparate parts of him come to bear in this epic novel that begins in a mission hospital in Addis Ababa, staffed by Indian doctors, indispensable locals, and formidable nuns.  Born into this environment are twins; Marion and Shiva, who although almost one body and soul, are also very different.  Marion is the main voice and you will strongly identify with him.  Shiva is akin to his namesake, a bit mystical, a dancer, with a mark on his head.  Shiva is seemingly a bit aloof but all compassion when need arises.  As you read this book, you'll be swirled along through decades and political regimes, and lots and lots of medical procedures.  You see, Ghosh and Hema, the two Indian doctors who are the lifeblood of this microcosm, are doctors who rise to every occasion, and teach as they go, because they must.  Resources are so low, that Ghosh must teach another doctor how to do vasectomies, so he can have his own done.  I am not fond of surgery, or blood or sickness, and that speaks to the power of this book to keep me reading.  In this volatile country, Missing Hospital becomes an oasis of family and love, a lifeboat that many cling to.  No one element is overdone, in my opinion.  The third-world airline flights, the clinical rigor of medical school, , it all became so vivid.  I learned a lot of history along the way too.  Who knew that Eritrea had such Italian influence, or that Haile Selassie was such a small man?  I listened to this book through a free library download and the slightly clipped British/Indian accents really made it come alive.   I kept thinking that if I were medically inclined, this would be even better, but it didn't detract from the book for me, as the teachings were often sprinkled with humor.   A great gift for anyone medically inclined, and an amazing tour de force for this author.