Friday, December 28, 2007

The Best of 2007

Before taking a brief break for the New Year, I have to post my own "best of" list.

Unfortunately, my best of 2007 will not compare to The New York Times'. Since I lack the Times’ resources, my list won’t be the best books published in 2007. Instead, it includes the best books I’ve read in 2007.

As of today, I've read 82 books this year. Here are my favorite ten:

10. Death of a Maid/The Good Husband of Zebra Drive/Love is a Many Trousered Thing: These may not be the most literary or well-written books. However, they were all published in 2007, and I enjoyed reading them more than any other books during the year.

9. The Shadows of Ghadames: I read Joelle Stoltz’s award-winning book before starting this blog. The book gives a glimpse into nineteenth-century Libya as a young girl conspires with her mothers—and defies societal rules—to hide an injured man on her rooftop.

8. Into the Wild: I may not agree with Chris McCandless's choices, but his life fascinates me almost as much as it does Jon Krakauer.

7. A Room with a View: Lucy Honeychurch is no feminist ideal. But she and George Emerson have a delightful love story.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: I am not a Harry Potter fanatic, but I wanted to read this final installment as much as the next person. I just hope J.K. Rowling can finally put the series to rest and let the books speak for themselves.

5. Fieldwork: For a debut novel, Fieldwork is charming. Berlinski is truly talented if he can make a book about murder and cultural imperialism so delightful.

4. Over a Thousand Hills I Walk with You: I bombarded myself with books about genocide this year. Over a Thousand Hills stands out from the rest because this biography of the Rwandan genocide actually took place. It is a disturbing memorial to humanity's failure.

3. North and South: I am still in love with John Thornton, even three months after finishing North and South. I will definitely be reading more Elizabeth Gaskell in 2008.

2. Deogratias: Few books affect me the way Deogratias does. Graphic novels may not appeal to most readers. However, the format is key to making this story about the Rwandan genocide the most emotionally-shattering book I read this year.

1. The Book Thief: I actually made this list so I could once again sing The Book Thief’s praises. I recommend this book without hesitation to any reader. It is by far the best book I read in 2007.

Now that I’ve shared my list, what books are on your top ten?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Assumptions and Misunderstandings

As I mentioned yesterday, I was absolutely intrigued by the title of Anne Bates Linden’s book Assumptions and Misunderstandings: Memoir of an Unwitting Spy. Unfortunately, Linden and I have different definitions of the word “spy.” Basically, she suggests to Ukrainians in the early 1990s, all Americans were spies. This may be an accurate observation, but it doesn’t make for an enthralling read.

Instead of an exciting memoir, Assumptions reads like a middle-aged woman’s journal—which is basically what it is. In fact, even the book’s publication is far from professional. The text is littered with errors and entire sections appear to be missing.

Linden shares a few experiences she had as one of the first members of the United States Peace Corps in newly independent Ukraine. Having lived in Ukraine, I could relate to many of her experiences: long lines, erratic water and electricity, “KGB” interference. However, we approached them in very different manners, which made me lose sympathy for her. She seems to be shocked and appalled by the “inconveniences” of living in Ukraine (and Europe, in general). Talk about cultural imperialism.

Ultimately, though, because of my interest in Ukraine, I wanted to read Linden’s memoir. I was disappointed that it ends after she has been in Ukraine for a year and has lost her interpreter (she gives no explanation as to why) and her job with the local government.

Yet, she states earlier that she spent three years in the country. So what did she do for the next two years? Where did she work? Did she ever learn the language? The book is less than stellar, but I wanted to know what happened and wish Linden had been willing to tell me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Booty

One of the best things about Christmas and birthdays is asking for books I want to read—and not having to spend my own money on them (I can admit to a bit of frugality/cheapness in my nature).

Yesterday, I received four books:

  • Assumptions and Misunderstandings: Memoir of an Unwitting Spy: I heard about this book in a promotional email from Yevshan. How could I resist such a title? Plus, it takes place in Ukraine. I had to have it.
  • The Ladies’ Lending Library: The more I think about The Green Library, the more I like it. This book is also about Ukrainian-Canadians. Unfortunately for my mother (the gift giver), it was only available from the Canadian Amazon. She spoiled me. This book better be worth her effort.
  • Ambassador of the Dead: I rediscovered this book by Askold Melnyczuk on my “to read” list. Clearly, I need also to write down where I heard about a book, but I suspect it may have been from a New York Times book review years ago. The characters in this book are Ukrainian-American—can you sense a theme in my requests? Maybe what I really need is a trip back to Ukraine to get the country out of my system. If only I’d thought to ask for that for Christmas.
  • Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories: I am a huge L.M. Montgomery fan and a great lover of all things Anne. I didn’t ask for this book—because I had no idea it even existed—but I can hardly wait to read the Christmas-themed short stories. In the introduction, the editor mentions collecting a list of over 500 short stories published by Montgomery. Now that’s a collection that needs to be published.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from Book Rater's Literature Reviews. I hope you all receive oodles of books this Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Due to catching the vomitous illness referenced yesterday, the Book Rater will not be posting today. Guest blogs, however, are always welcomed and encouraged.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Scarlet Letterman

Despite spending the day with four vomitous children (okay, one was an adult), I managed to finish Cara Lockwood’s sequel to Wuthering HighThe Scarlet Letterman.

Clearly, the young adult novel held my interest. More than anything, I wanted to know what happened between Miranda and her two suitors: Ryan (the basketball player) and Heathcliff (the brooding Brit). How would she choose between them? (Though, for me, the answer is clear.)

Of course, in addition to balancing her love life, Miranda must solve the mysterious disappearance of Coach H (Ernest Hemingway) and Ms. W (Virginia Woolf), track down a hooded attacker, and battle a vicious tiger. If only my life as a high school sophomore were an iota this exciting.

Although I enjoyed the sequel more than the original, I am still incredibly disturbed that famous literary figures have been blasphemed as the books’ villains. I can't imagine, as an author, taking such liberties.

I also could have done without multiple references to MTV programs in a book published by MTV Books. Yet, I am hooked on Miranda and her saga. Do I really have to wait until March for Moby Clique?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

American Born Chinese

I’ve been hearing about Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese for months. The book won the Printz Award, was a National Book Award finalist, and was chosen the best book of the year by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, etcetera, etcetera. This book has amazing credentials.

Considering all the buzz, all the acclaim, my expectations were so high that perhaps I could not help but be disappointed. The book is good, but is really great?

This is only the fourth graphic novel I’ve read this year, so I am far from an expert on the genre. However, I find both Deogratias and Persepolis far superior in both story and content.

In American Born Chinese, Yang interweaves three seemingly unconnected stories: the main plot about a young Chinese-American boy, Jin Wang; a subplot about an exaggeratedly-Anglo teenager, Danny, and his extra-exaggeratedly-Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee; and the legend of the Monkey King.

The graphic novel is ambitious, addressing identity struggles, racism, and learning to accept one’s heritage. All the topics are important and worth discussing. However, the book lacks subtlety and the ending feels flat. Those two flaws keep a good novel from being a great one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

House of Meetings

I've just finished Martin Amis’s House of Meetings, and I am a bit confused by my reaction to it.

The story is absolutely bleak—the tale of two Russian brothers who “love” the same woman and are sent to the Gulag—and the main character completely detestable (he confesses to being both a serial rapist and murderer). Yet, I don’t feel depressed, nor do I despise the narrator.

I suspect my mild reaction is based on the notion that such bleakness and brutality is authentically Russian (or at least is consistent with what I, as an American, imagine Russianness to be).

In fact, only one aspect of the novel truly disturbs me. The book is written as a letter to the narrator’s American daughter. The idea that the narrator confesses his crimes and sexual exploits to his daughter feels totally inappropriate and uncomfortable. As a literary devise, the format rings false, and I wish Amis had simply presented the tale in memoir form.

Although Amis tends to tell not show (completely breaking the cardinal rule of all creative writing courses), he is a skilled writer. However, because of the subject matter, I would only recommend the book to fellow Russophiles.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Goose Girl

Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl is one of those books I’ve seen at the library dozens of times and always meant to read. I finally did this weekend. Although the book is rather hefty at almost 400 pages, I had a hard time putting it down.

The Goose Girl is certainly not a masterpiece, but I’ve always been a sucker for fairy tales. I’ve read just about everything Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine have written, and The Goose Girl fits well into the genre.

Ani, the crown princess, is used as a bargaining chip to keep peace between two kingdoms. On her way to be married off, however, everything goes awry and Ani ends up tending the king’s geese instead of marrying his son.

I’ve found most contemporary fairy tales contain too many fantastical elements for my comfort and interest, and I could have done without Ani’s magical abilities to speak with nature and her great love for her horse.

However, Ani is a strong female, yet her attitude, actions, and speech do not feel anachronistic (another problem with many contemporary fairy tales). She is a fine example for any young reader.

And, of course, Ani has a rather enchanting Prince Charming—the kind only found in fairy tales.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The China Garden

I need to stop reading worthless books. I wasted a whole day with Liz Berry’s The China Garden and will make this review short because I don’t want to waste your time.

Once again, Berry has an interesting premise. Clare moves with her mother to an old English estate and discovers both the people and the land have secrets.

However, the book can’t decide what it wants to be: a mystery, a romance, a treastise on ecological responsibility, or a guide to paganism. One moment Clare wants to save the planet; the next she’s frolicking in the grass with her boyfriend Mark. I was surprised by several rather graphic sex scenes in an otherwise tame young adult novel.

I found this book because it was on Amazon’s bestsellers list, so someone is reading it. I just wish I’d spent my time on something a little more worthwhile.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I’ve developed a really bad habit: book cheating.

Until recently, I’ve had impeccable reading etiquette. I never flip to the end of the book. I don’t cheat to see if the lovers reconcile or to discover who the murderer is. Instead, I read from cover to cover. It’s only right.

But lately I’ve found myself cheating. I can’t help it—it’s those pesky young adult serials I’ve been reading. They simply aren’t good enough to justify reading the whole series, but they are interesting enough that I want to know what happens. So I’ve started looking online to discover how the series end. I know, shameful.

I never should have started three YA series in one week. Such an overdose could only be dangerous. The latest culprit: Meg Cabot’s The Mediator series. I just finished the first book, Shadowland, and I had to know what happened to the protagonist, Suze, so I cheated.

Suze is a “mediator.” Basically, she is a teen Ghost Whisperer. I confess I have watched—and even enjoyed—the TV series, so I was a bit intrigued by the idea of a teenage girl who both sees ghosts and helps them “cross” to the other side.

The premise is interesting, and the book is a fairly entertaining read. However, it is not entertaining enough to persuade me to read the other five books in the series.

On the other hand, Suze happens to share her bedroom with a nineteenth-century-hottie-cowboy ghost. How could I not cheat to find out how the ghost and the teenage girl progress romantically?

Clearly, the cure to my problem is no more young adult serials.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nursery Crimes

After finishing Fforde’s Nursery Crime Division novel, I couldn’t resist picking up Arthur Geisert’s picture book Nursery Crimes.

In this case, the word nursery refers to a place where plants grow. A couple, Jambo and Marva, moves from France to Iowa to start a tree nursery. Unfortunately for the couple, and their twelve children, someone keeps stealing their topiaries. Jambo and Marva fret over money and plot to catch the thieves.

The storyline is rather serious—particularly when the couple expresses money woes—but the illustrations save the book from absolute dreariness. Without the pictures, I would never have known that Jambo, Marva, and their children are pigs. I also wouldn’t know they live in a railroad station/school bus.

Despite the charming illustrations, and they are charming, the story just might cause both children and parents financial nightmares.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Big Over Easy

It took me years to do it, but I finally finished Jasper Fforde’s The Big Over Easy. However, there is no correlation between my failure as a reader and the quality of the novel.

The Big Over Easy is the first book in the Nursery Crime Division series. Jack Spratt, and his new partner Mary Mary, investigate the death of Humpty Dumpty.

I am a huge Fforde fan, and he has one of the most brilliant imaginations I’ve ever encountered. I am constantly amazed by what he comes up with.

For example, the late Humpty Dumpty was a renowned lover. Imagining a giant egg as a lothario can only bring a smile to my face.

The book is clever from start to finish, with references to nursery rhymes and fairy tales throughout. Rapunzel, the Three Little Pigs, and Rumpelstiltskin are only a few characters who make appearances in the book. Despite the source material, the novel is anything but juvenile.

I’ll admit I was a tidge disappointed by the ending—it felt a bit too Jurassic Park for my taste—and the series isn’t nearly as literary or ambitious as Fforde’s Tuesday Next, but the writing and wit are still absolutely masterful.

As a writer, Jasper Fforde can do little wrong in my book.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Body Bags

Christopher Golden’s Body Bags is another of my Amazon bestseller choices. Jenna Blake is a college freshman. She starts working at the medical examiner’s office and gets involved in a political intrigue and assassination plots.

My summary sounds much more exciting than the actual book. The story is slow to build. Golden dwells on many details that I simply find uninteresting. For example, he practically gives a play-by-play of Jenna’s first day on campus as she sets up her dorm room and buys textbooks. I was bored by those events during my own freshman year; I had no desire to read about them in a young adult thriller.

Because I’m a sucker for love, I was mostly interested in Jenna’s mini-romance with Detective Mariano. I’m not sure what to make of the romance. She is a college freshman (i.e., 18 years old), and he is in his 30s. I find it both repellant and intriguing.

Body Bags is the first in a series. Despite my love for serials, I found the book too slow to read the next installment. Instead, I cheated to find out what happens in Jenna and Mariano’s romance. Got to love the internet age.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Guest Blog--The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

I recently read yet another Caldecott-award winner, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. The story is a fascinating tale, far more fascinating than the illustrations.

The book tells the story of Philippe Petit who accomplished the amazing feat of walking between the World Trade Center towers in the 1970s. The book recounts Petit's inspiration for the feat, his planning, and his execution. An interesting note is that the book was written in 2003. The book ends with the news that most children might not know--the site of this amazing stunt no longer exists.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wuthering High

Now that I’m back in the United States, I had to hit the local public library. But what to choose? I feel a bit out of the reading loop, so I decided to check out what the kids are reading—literally. I browsed through the Amazon bestsellers list and somehow ended up in the teen section. I compiled a huge list of “to reads” and started with Cara Lockwood’s Wuthering High.

As a Brontë fanatic, I couldn’t resist the title. And the blurb sounds interesting—a boarding school run by the ghosts of dead authors.

The premise is intriguing, but I’m not yet sold on the execution. Lockwood seems a bit confused about her audience—is it teeny boppers or English majors?

The book is drenched in pop culture references—dooming it to obscurity in a few years. Miranda, the heroine, references iPods, MySpace, Juicy Couture, and Ricki Lake (Ricki Lake, seriously?).

Yet, at the same time, the teachers at the school are Coach H, Ms. W, and Headmaster B. I could figure out the teachers were Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and Charlotte Brontë. But how would a preteen reader (or teen, for that matter) have a clue? even after Lockwood reveals their identities at the end of the novel?

I was also rather disturbed by Lockwood’s characterizations of these literary greats. Charlotte Brontë is a harpy, and Emily Brontë is an insane villainess. Granted, I didn’t know either woman personally, and I am sure each had her flaws, but I found these characterizations practically libelous. (And the disclaimer "[a]ny resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental" is an absolute farce.)

Of course, I am a sucker for a series. And Miranda is having a romance with Heathcliff (the Heathcliff), so despite my less-than-stellar review, I will have to head back to the library for Lockwood’s sequel.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Modern Magi

I read The Modern Magi by Carol Lynn Pearson simply because it was there. I don’t normally indulge in sappy Christmas novels, but I desperately needed a reading fix, and it was my only available option (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration).

This book is a perfect example of why I don’t read Christmas novels. Annabelle Perkins dreams of going to the “Holy Land.” She is poor and sick and saves to buy her ticket. Naturally, as the title suggests, when the time comes to travel, she is faced with a situation where she can help someone with her travel funds.

Annabelle is simply too good to be true. I believe in goodness and charity, but Annabelle’s level of kindness lacks authenticity. The entire book, in fact, feels a bit disingenuous. I sensed that Pearson’s sole goal was to make her readers cry. Now, I love to cry in books, but I don’t want to be manipulated into tears (and I didn’t shed any).

The Christmas novel is a specific genre. You know what you’re going to get before you read it (like many other genres), so if you want sickly sweetness mixed with tear-wrenching tragedy, feel free to indulge.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Encyclopedia Brown

I bought four Encyclopedia Brown books off eBay, including Donald Sobol’s original Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective. The best thing about these children’s books, of course, is that I could read all four in one sitting.

Even as an adult, I find the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries stimulating. Sure, some of the solutions are incredibly elementary, and some are far from common knowledge (“A left-handed man will almost always cut his left sideburn higher (shorter) than his right sideburn when he shaves.”).

And there is one solution I simply do not understand. “[T]wo words could be read in the normal way – and upside down and backward! . . . They were CHOICE COD.” What is CHOICE COD upside down and backward? I need help.

In general, though, I find myself looking for the clues to figure out “whodunit.” I felt smart as a child reading the books, and I feel even smarter as an adult.

One of the books was Encyclopedia Brown’s 3rd Record Book of Weird & Wonderful Facts. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to read this book—and some facts are either boring or hard to believe—but there are a few tidbits I find interesting. Some favorites:

  • "When sipping a drink, a man is more apt to peer into the glass or cup, a woman to look above the rim.” Is this true? I look above the rim, but do men actually look inside the glass? And why would they do this? Are liquids terribly interesting to look at?
  • “[T]here-fourths of adult women brush their teeth at least twice a day. Only half the adult men do.” Eww.
  • “Men have been noted to fall out of hospital beds twice as often as women.” I had no idea this was such a rampant problem.

If you want to feel smarter—or even get smarter—I highly recommend a dose of Encyclopedia Brown.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Guest Blog--Christmas Stories

I recently read Richard Paul Evan's 2006 novel, Finding Noel. Noel is the story of a young man who finds a saving angel just as he contemplates ending his own life. He, in turn, plays the role of angel as he helps his savior, Macy, deal with her past and find her lost sister, Noel.

In some senses, this isn't a typical Christmas novel. It's not all roses and cheer. The main characters are poor and have tragic pasts. But Evans pulls through with the essentials of a Christmas story--hope, tears of joy, and a happy ending.

The novel is sometimes disturbing, sometimes sweet, and not a bad read if you want a short novel. However, it's also a pretty forgettable story that you likely won't have on your coffee table for years to come.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Guest Blog--Daddy's Climbing Tree by C.S. Adler

While the bookrater is busy interviewing for a job, I thought I would add a review of a children's book that I just finished. I am not sure why I was attracted to this story of a young girl whose father dies while jogging in a hit and run accident. Is there a morbid side to me? And I am not sure that I remember very much about being a child. After reading the story, I have a tendency to think I am far more like the grieving mother/widow who keeps saying to her angry, bewildered child, "Don't do this to me!" How centered on my own world am I? Can I not see the grief and the struggles of even those who I think are closest to me? I am not sure if Adler has the vision of the world from a child's perspective right or not, but she certainly understands the grief and anger that we feel when we lose someone or something vital to our personal lives. I wept buckets over Jessica's quest to find her father because she is convinced that he would never leave her. I am just uncertain whether the tears were for Jessica's loss or the wish that I had a father like Jessica's. I wonder if children reading this story think the same thing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Anglo-American Literature Presentation, Part II

In the current political environment, Americans abroad are equally as unpopular as they were 135 years ago. An article in the London Telegraph describes Americans as:

“Loud and brash, in gawdy [sic] garb and baseball hats, more than three million of them flock to our shores every year. Shuffling between tourist sites or preparing to negotiate a business deal, they bemoan the failings of the world outside the United States. The reputation of the “Ugly American” abroad is not, however, just some cruel stereotype, but – according to the American government itself – worryingly accurate.”
-Sherwell, P. (2006, April 16). Speak softly, don’t argue and slow down. Telegraph.

Americans themselves remain incredibly unpopular abroad, but does literature still reflect this unpopularity? Or has the literary American abroad changed in the last 135 years?

Along these lines, I also have an interest in Levinas’s theory of otherness. Because Levinas can be rather dense,

“the simplest definition of Otherness [is] anyone or anything that is not me. . . . [O]therness is defined by difference, typically difference marked by outward signs like race and gender. As such, otherness has also been associated predominantly with marginalized people, those who by virtue of their difference from the dominant group, have been disempowered, robbed of a voice in the social, religious, and political world.”
- Onbelet, L. (2000). Imagining the Other: The use of narrative as an empowering practice. McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry.

To explore this topic, I will reference three contemporary, award-winning novels: Fieldwork, Everything is Illuminated, and The Red Passport. Many other novels would work equally as well, but I have limited the scope of this presentation because of time limitations.

Using these three novels (please link to my reviews of each for more information on the novels themselves), I came to several conclusions about the contemporary American abroad. The literature has:

  • An awareness of American cultural imperialism. Although cultural imperialism continues (e.g., the American missionaries in Fieldwork), the literature is aware of both its existence and its damaging effects.
  • American characters who emphasize the otherness of the local characters. For example, Jonathan Safran Foer in Everything is Illuminated tells Alex, his Ukrainian guide, that he should follow his dreams. Alex feels acutely aware that dreams are a possibility for Americans and not Ukrainians.
  • American characters who sense they do not belong in the local culture but blame the indigenous culture for not conforming to American standards. Ironically, it is Fieldwork’s anthropologist—Martiya—who despises the Dyalo tribe she is researching. She lies and manipulates the people into conforming to her American ideals.
  • Some American characters who have a sense of not belonging to the local culture, a sense of otherness. Leslie, an American with Russian heritage in The Red Passport, wants desperately to be accepted by the locals when she moves to Russia. She constantly reminds them of her Russian heritage, that she is one of them. However, the Russians see her only as an American who can never understand what it is like to be Russian. Although American, Leslie feels disempowered by her Russian neighbors.

If anyone actually made it through this excruciatingly long two-part presentation, I would appreciate any suggestions or comments you may have on the topic.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Anglo-American Literature Presentation, Part I

The time has finally come to make my presentation on Anglo-American literature. As I mentioned before, I have chosen to talk about literature relating to the American abroad. I have come to a few conclusions that I will now share:

First, there is a long tradition of literature about the American abroad. In the nineteenth century, authors such as Henry James (The American), Edith Wharton (The Buccaneers), and Mark Twain (The Innocents Abroad) wrote on the topic.

Even in the 1870s, Americans were far from popular abroad. Note this excerpt from the London Saturday Review of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, October 10, 1870:

"Every traveler on the continent has met the American tourist and formed some opinion of his merits . . . They are the people who do Europe in six weeks . . . They are gloriously ignorant of every language but their own, supremely contemptuous of every country that had no interest in the Declaration of Independence and occasionally, it must be admitted, as offensive as the worst kind of Cockney tourist. . . . The American is generally the noisier and more actively disagreeable . . . He is vulgar, and even ostentatiously and atrociously vulgar, but the vulgarity is mixed with a real shrewdness which rescues it from simple insipidity. We laugh at him, and we would rather not have too much of his company, but we do not feel altogether safe in despising him."

In general, in the literature about Americans abroad, there is

  • A contempt of Americans by the local population;
  • The suggestion that Americans are good hearted yet bumbling socially and notoriously “close minded”;
  • An underlying sense of American cultural imperialism. (By cultural imperialism, I mean a powerful nation dominating indigenous cultures and languages with its own culture and language.)

If this was the attitude towards Americans abroad in nineteenth-century literature, what is the attitude in contemporary literature? (See Part II)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Deadly Game of Magic

The only reason I read A Deadly Game of Magic by Joan Lowery Nixon is because it was free. Granted, most of the books I read are free—from the library. But I was actually able to take this book on an overseas flight.

I read other Joan Lowery Nixon books as a teenager—and I enjoyed them. Either I had no taste in books at the time or Deadly Game is just a stinker. (Since Lowery Nixon is an Edgar Award winner, I hope it’s the latter.)

In the book, four high school students are trapped in a rainstorm. Although the plot—about a demented magician—is unbelievable, the real problem with the book is the dialogue.

The teenagers simply do not sound like teenagers. Teena, in particular, spouts platitudes and clichés like a middle-aged woman: “You got guilt all over your face like jam” and “Looking at you is like staring at a window with the shade pulled down” are my favorites. I have never heard anyone talk this way—especially not a teenager.

The book’s romantic” scenes are equally as uncomfortable. Lisa, the narrator, describes her crush, saying, “I watched him leave the room, his long, slender body moving easily, and I wanted to follow him, to touch him.” Is this really how teenage girls think?

Deadly Game is a fast and harmless read. But with so many other books out there, it is also a waste of time.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I am easily distracted by working in a library. Rather than actually work, I could spend hours flipping through books—particularly those on display. That’s how I found Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski.

In the novel a fictional Mischa Berlinski, a freelance writer living in Thailand, researches the story of an American anthropologist convicted of murdering an American missionary in Chang Mai. Much of the story recounts what Berlinski learns during his research—both about Martiya van der Leun, the anthropologist, and David Walker, her victim.

The author Berlinski, who worked as a journalist in Thailand, has a clear appreciation for the country. His descriptions of the landscape, people, and language feel authentic, including a particularly humorous and realistic description of learning to speak Thai.

Although the subject matter—murder—is surely depressing, the overall tone of the book is not. Berlinski does an excellent job of keeping a balanced tone and melding the plot with descriptions of Thailand and the work of American missionaries.

This book was nominated for this year’s National Book Award, and it deserves the distinction. Although the book is not outstanding, it is an interesting, well-written read.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Guest Blog--New Moon and Eclipse

I bought New Moon last week, hoping for an engaging read since I haven't read a really addictive book lately. Unfortunately, New Moon was so engaging (or left me with such a cliffhanger) that I paid full price for Eclipse because I had to find out what happens to the three main characters.

Even though I was compelled to read these two books, I can't say I was thrilled with them. Meyer takes a lot of pages to get her story out. I also find Bella, the girl who every male loves, to be a weak female--no self confidence, fainting spells, lots of whining. Maybe Bella is really Meyer, and Meyer is writing about the teenage life that she wishes she had? Just a theory.

I also find the love lead, Edward, to be very flat. He is perfect--in every way. Patient, controlled, always loving. He's so perfect that he's not real for me.

Even with those criticisms, the books kept me glued. I wanted to know what would happen between Bella, Edward, and Jacob. I can't say I am entirely satisfied.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Guest Blog--Lone Survivor

Posted on behalf of GenuineClass

Lone Survivor by Marcuss Luttrell is the worst book ever written about American military heroics. Luttrell and four other Navy Seals are caught in the mountains of Afghanistan. The other Seals are killed by the Taliban, but a Taliban village takes Luttrell in and helps him until he can be rescued by the army.

Luttrell spends 200+ pages writing what he could have explained in 20. This is not to diminish the sacrifice of our men and women in the armed forces, but the narcissism and obvious bias against liberals and other members of the American public make the author sound like he sacrifices for only those who agree with him and his politics, forgetting that American ideals include free speech and freedom to choose. Luttrell suggests that only red-blooded Texans are worthy enough to call themselves Americans. According to the author, all others should be executed.

Honestly, I did not read the whole thing because I was too busy skimming through Luttrell’s nonsense to get to the parts that mattered.

I would recommend this book to any of America’s enemies—both foreign and domestic—because it is perfect propaganda for the polarization of American political ideologies, suggesting that it is either all or nothing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Train to Potevka

During a weekend trip, and a long drive, I caught the tail end of an interview with Mike Ramsdell about his book A Train to Potevka.

According to the interview, Ramsdell was an American spy in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and decided to tell his story. He discovered, though, that he couldn’t get his manuscript past the CIA censors so self-published A Train to Potevka as a work of fiction.

Several months later, I saw the book for sale at Costco and couldn’t resist the opportunity to read it. Ramsdell’s story sounded absolutely intriguing.

However, a good book requires more than just a good story. A Train to Potevka has potential. It has the plot, the adventure, and the intrigue. What it doesn’t have is a seasoned storyteller. There is a reason this book is self-published.

I must also confess there were times when I felt very alarmed for Ramsdell and for the CIA for recruiting him. He makes several elementary mistakes that absolutely shocked me.

First, he leaves his belongings unattended on a Soviet train and seems bewildered that someone stole them. Really?

Second, he gives a Soviet man a large bill to buy him bread and is surprised when the man absconds with the money. Again, really? I would imagine that anyone with an ounce of commonsense—let alone a CIA agent—would know better than to do either.

I admire Ramsdell's willingness to expose his flaws. I admire his ambition for writing the book. However, as a work of literature, A Train to Potevka leaves much to be desired.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bel Canto

I mentioned several titles in my book list that I have not reviewed on this site. Now seems like the perfect opportunity.

When people ask me for book recommendations, I always mention Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. This PEN/Faulkner Award winner well deserves the recognition.

I read Patchett’s The Patron Saint of Liars several years ago. A good friend gifted the book to me, and she obviously liked it. I was interested in the story—a married, pregnant woman leaves her husband and enters a home for unwed, pregnant girls—but I felt a distance between me and the characters. I simply could neither relate to nor care for any of them.

Bel Canto suffers from none of Patron Saint’s issues. Although Bel Canto has a large and diverse cast of characters, I cared for them all.

The book takes place during a hostage crisis in an unnamed Latin American country (a thinly-veiled reference to a similar event that took place in Peru). A mishmash of people gather at the vice president’s mansion to hear a well-known soprano perform, and a group of terrorists/revolutionaries (depending on your perspective) takes them hostage. As such, the characters include diplomats, businesspeople, interpreters, negotiators, and revolutionaries. Patchett magically makes all these characters appear both real and sympathetic.

Not only is Bel Canto a good read, but it also raises many ethical questions. Although the book was published in mid-2001, its discussion of terrorism is prescient. As a reader, I felt conflicted over the act of “terrorism.” Are the characters really terrorist? Are their actions justifiable? Can I label someone a terrorist when I know her story? when she is a person and not just an act?

Simply put, Bel Canto is a must-read book.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Book List

First, I must express my sincerest gratitude to my readers for book suggestions. They will be invaluable to my research.

Below is a list of books I have read in the last several years about Americans abroad. This list does include books that fall into the category of creative nonfiction. I have not yet decided whether to include this genre. In addition, I must also mention that some of these books are far from literary masterpieces (i.e., The Train to Potevka).

Once again, I would appreciate any feedback on this list (presented in alphabetical order):

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Guest Blog--"The Pied Piper" by Nevil Shute

Since we were going to be traveling for three days, I looked on the free book cart at the American Library for a paperback to take with me. I found an older edition of a novel by Nevil Shute. The Pied Piper is the story of an elderly Englishman who gets caught in the flight of refuges as Germany invades France in 1940. Mr. Howard has agreed to take two young children back to England with him. As he struggles to reach Paris and la Manche/the English Channel, he acquires more stray children under his protective wing. I do not think that I have read the story before or seen a movie version and yet the images in Shute’s story were very clear. I found Shute’s style of telling the story in retrospect reassuring since as a reader I knew from the outset that Mr. Howard had successfully made it out of war-torn France. Perhaps part of my enjoyment in reading this novel is that we have been living in Paris and have recently visited the D Day beaches. This is not a great novel but one with unexpected heros who captured my heart.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Call to Readers

I will be presenting in a few weeks on Anglo-American literature. This is a dauntingly broad topic, and I have debated and contemplated and bent my brain deciding how to approach it.

Finally, I decided to focus on my ongoing interest in the American experience abroad. How do Americans cope outside of their natural habitat? And how does this experience compare to those had by non-Americans in the United States? I have a few thoughts on these questions, but I will keep those for the presentation.

However, I do have a request for both my loyal readers. What books have you read (or heard of) that relate to this topic (an American abroad)? Any suggestions or thoughts on this topic would be much appreciated.

I have compiled a list of books, and originally planned to post them here, but I will leave that for a later date because I don’t want to influence any of your ideas. I look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

London Calling

For a person who hates shopping, I spent a lot of time in London’s shopping districts last week. Suddenly, I wished I’d paid much more attention to Becky Bloomwood’s bad habit in the Shopaholic books. Because of Becky, shopping at Marks & Spencer (M&S to those in the know) actually meant something to me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember any of her other favorite haunts.

Reading and travel go hand-in-hand. Not only do I love to read as I travel, but actually visiting the setting of many books (not to mention movies and television programs) makes a city mean even more. Here are a few other “literary” spots I hit last week:

Of course, now that I’ve had a taste of London, I need to read a few other classics like The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. If only I could visit the settings of every book I read.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

First of all, much thanks to notaconnoisseur for taking over the blog while I vacationed in London for the week. I credit notaconnoisseur for my reading fanaticism—though I will never achieve her level of voracity.

As a self-proclaimed reader, one of my favorite stops in London was the British Library. I was particularly drawn to the special collections area that includes many rare texts, including Thomas Hardy’s handwritten manuscript of Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

The first time I encountered Tess was in a high school English class. My immediate reaction to the book was dislike. Everything goes wrong in Tess’s life, and I found her troubles depressing and self-fulfilling.

My English teacher insisted Alec raped Tess, but I was a teenage-know-it-all and knew the relationship was consensual. Why, I reasoned, would Tess return to Alec if he raped her? And what was so bad about him in the first place?

As I’ve mentioned before, I always root for the wrong man, and no matter how despicably Alec acted, I wanted Tess and Alec to be together. I found Angel insipid and hypocritical. He was much better suited to Tess’s younger sister, Liza Lu.

I thoroughly disliked the book and placed it on my most-hated list.

Fortunately, I have read the book several more times since leaving adolescence. Age does wonders for perspective (though Jane Eyre insists that wisdom is not a result of age alone but “depends on the use you have made of your time and experience”).

I now realize that Tess is not just foolhardy, and Alec is not a charming rake. She is young and impressionable. Regardless of what she feels for Alec, he has power and control over her.

Angel, on the other hand, is still insipid and hypocritical.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Guest Blog--"Death in the Truffle Wood" by Pierre Magnan

On my most recent stab into crime, I picked up a new book published in 2007. It is written by French author Pierre Magnan and very recently was translated into English by Patricia Clancy. Since I am currently living in Paris, it seemed like a natural choice. Death in the Truffle Wood was originally published in 1978. Now I remember 1978 very well. However, this novel feels as if it was written in rural France many years earlier than that. It felt as if it was not just a different culture and country but a whole different time period. Is it just that rural France is stuck in another century? Well, I guess that doesn’t quite work because this is a different century. When I checked out truffles online I discovered that truffles are still apparently dug up by pigs. And are a luxury most of us cannot afford. However, despite the references to the Resistance in WW II and tractors in the fields this still felt otherworldly to me and a little as if I was reading about the 19th century. If you are into witches and superstition this might be a book you would enjoy. At least the people in this novel took murder very seriously and felt grief for the loss of the victims.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Guest Blog--"Dead Kilt" by Kaitlyn Dunnett

My fifth attempt at crime solving brought me across the Atlantic to Maine. Dead Kilt by Kaitlyn Dunnett is an okay read but I figured out who the murderer was before the crime was committed. It just had to be the really annoying character who so obviously disliked the heroine. And sure enough it was. When I checked Ms. Dunnett online I discovered that she has written several children’s books. I am not too surprised. This was about that level of sophistication.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Guest Blog--Two mysteries by Anthony Berkeley

After reading Gwen Moffat, I tried Anthony Berkeley. I read two of his Roger Sheringham mysteries. They were originally written in the 1920s and have been republished since 2000. Murder in the Basement and The Layton Court Mystery both baffle the British police force but are solved without too much problem by author and gentleman Roger Sheringham. Sheringham finds it unnecessary to let the law enforcement arm of Britain know who the villains are. I am tempted to try a third novel by Berkeley just to see if he always is so willing to let murderers go without facing responsibility for their crimes. He doesn't seem the least bit concerned that the murderer might decide to get rid of someone else who is standing in his/her way. I miss Hercules Poirot who never approved of murder.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Guest Blog--Two Mysteries by Gwen Moffat

During the past few weeks, I have read several mystery novels. This has been definitely a dry spell in my mystery reading. I am a fan of the cozy mystery and am always cautious of current writers who seem to feel that sex and bad language are needed to sell their novels. However, I have hit a low with the recent books I have read. I tried two novels written by Gwen Moffat: Miss Pink at the Edge of the World and Lady with a Cool Eye. Gwen Moffat is an expert mountain climber and her heroine is an older woman who still is spry enough to climb. Both of these novels are set around murders committed with climbing as a background. The stories themselves were not too bad, but I discovered that I simply could not see the setting of the books in my mind. Are the cliffs off Scotland and Cornwall just too unfamiliar to me or is the author just unskilled? I am not sure which. I have read books where I felt I was there and could see everything. All of the elements I usually appreciate in a mystery seem apparent and yet I really did not enjoy either of these works by Ms. Moffat.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Room with a View

First, I must be clear that I started reading A Room with a View before this week’s episode of The Office. Although I would gladly join the Finer Things Club, it did not inspire me.

Instead, I found this book at my apartment and decided it was high time I read it. I started it as a teenager, but when I discovered the film version—which I adore—was so faithful to the book, I didn’t see the purpose.

I enjoyed A Room with a View, but this is a case of the film spoiling the book. The Merchant-Ivory production is so good that the book has to pale in comparison. Of course, if I had read the book first, I might feel differently.

For example, one of the most breathtaking, beautiful, and romantic scenes in all cinema is when Lucy Honeychurch stumbles into a field of violets, in Italy, with Puccini swelling in the background, and George Emerson kisses her. Sigh.

According to the book, “George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her." The images are lovely, but the film clip has shaped all my romantic ideals.

I was also struck by the portrayal of women in the book. Cousin Charlotte and Eleanor Lavish are pathetic, Mrs. Honeychurch doesn’t believe females are capable of writing books, and even Lucy is described as vapid and empty headed. Lucy breaks off her engagement to Cecil Vise under the pretext of embracing her freedom, of maintaining her individuality as a female. Yet, she really ends the engagement because she is in love with another man.

I can only hope that Forster is commenting on female stereotypes and not simply contributing to them.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Play Dirty

I chose several books today from the library for my “weekend” reading. Not surprisingly, they were all serious and potentially depressing. While I was browsing, though, I came across Sandra Brown’s latest romantic-thriller Play Dirty.

I felt torn. Depressing v. mindless. Heavy v. froth. Ultimately, I remembered my promise to myself to lighten up. I checked out Play Dirty.

The book is certainly a light read. I am a slow reader, but I’ve already finished it. It is also a page turner since I read it in one sitting. However, it is also one of those books I’m just plain embarrassed to admit I read. (That I’m writing about it shows how much respect and trust I have in my few readers.)

Griff Burkett (talk about a name) is a former quarterback and ex-convict. Laura Speakman is a rich and married woman. Naturally, the book has murder, misunderstandings, and romance (if you find lust romantic).

Like I said, Play Dirty is a quick and mindless read. It’s not the kind of book I would ever recommend to anyone else. However, I can understand why someone else would read it. It takes no time, brains, or emotional commitment.

And I’m just wishing I checked out the other books from the library. Sigh.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Paperbag Princess

I spent the day visiting French chateaux. I noticed several young women getting all goo-goo at the idea of being a princess. Imagine living in such opulence? Imagine having a room to sleep in, another to dress in, and a third just to store clothes.

I have never wanted to be a princess (or queen, for that matter). Just imagine all the responsibility, the public appearances, the scrutiny of my looks. I could not handle being royalty.

However, if I were a princess, I hope I would be just like Robert Munsch’s The Paperbag Princess.

This children’s book is one of the most empowering stories I have ever read. Elizabeth is a princess, but she is not defined by her princess-ness. She is clever, intelligent, and self possessed. She does not need Prince Charming, or any man, to take care of her, to rescue her. She can handle things herself.

This is one book I not only plan to read to my children (knock-on-wood) but one I will insist on reading.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Almost Moon

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones is a disappointing and overrated book. Imagine my pleasure and delight (I always like to feel justified) when I read several reviews (The New York Times Sunday Book Review and USA Today) absolutely trashing her latest book The Almost Moon. However, Almost Moon sounded so bad that I just had to find out how bad it is for myself.

First, do not read this book. The protagonist (if I dare use that word), Helen, kills her mother. I am not giving away any plot details since Helen announces the murder in the book’s first sentence.

I am not sure what Sebold intends with Helen and her plot. Are we meant to sympathize with her? Should we feel murder is justified because her mother was not nurturing? Or is the book intended to be a glimpse inside the mind of a murderer? I suspect the first. However, I have absolutely no sympathy for Helen.

The rest of the book is a mishmash of events from Helen’s life: meeting her husband, divorcing her husband, the death of a neighbor. All these episodes, I’m sure, are meant to illuminate Helen’s psyche. Personally, they just leave me bored.

Sebold seems to delight in shocking her reader. Helen is a murderer, she uses the “f”-word as if it is sexy, she seduces her best friend’s son. Yet none of these actions is really shocking. Instead, they read like clichés.

Like I said, do not read this book. But I will also say it was not as terrible as the book reviews made it out to be. Or maybe it is, but reading the reviews took away much of the pleasure of discovering for myself how earth-shakingly awful the book really is.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shopaholic & Baby

I started reading Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic & Baby several months ago and gave up in disgust. I had simply overdosed on Becky Bloomwood. I could not handle her shopping, flippancy, and lies anymore.

However, after basically drowning myself in depressing books for the last several weeks, I needed something light and humorous—I needed a dose of Becky Bloomwood.

This time around, I found Becky’s foibles entertaining and endearing—rather than irritating and annoying. She does deal with serious issues—problems with work and worries about her husband’s fidelity when he reunites with an ex-girlfriend.

However, readers can rest easy, knowing that all Becky’s problems will magically resolve themselves due to her cleverness and good luck. As such, not even the threat of an affair gave me anxiety or produced a single tear.

I have been a bit hard on Becky Bloomwood in the past. I am now discovering there is a time and a season for all reading. It simply is not healthy to consume too many frivolous books at one time, nor is it wise to bombard myself with depressing tomes. From now on, I commit to alternating fluff with substance.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sports Books

I spent my day watching tennis matches. Naturally, my thoughts turned to sports-themed books. Despite working for a sports website, despite enjoying tennis, despite considering myself a wide (not a commentary on my physical appearance) reader, I cannot think of a single sports-themed book I’ve actually read from cover-to-cover.

  • It’s Not About the Bike: I started this book while waiting for someone at the library. The story was interesting, and at the time I was a huge Lance Armstrong fan. However, one problem with autobiographies—especially those written early in a subject’s life—is the subject has plenty of time to disappoint and disillusion his readers. The moment I heard Armstrong was chasing Paris Hilton (and I believe every bit of gossip), I lost all respect for anything he may have accomplished at any point in his life.
  • The Moves Make the Man: As a child, I had a rabid crush on a basketball player. I started this book to prove my devotion (to whom, I am unsure). However, although I remember starting it, I can’t remember finishing it. I suppose I didn’t adore him enough to finish a basketball-themed book. (Yet, in high school, I read a horrible Edgar Rice Burrows’s book to impress a boy. Don’t I have any self respect? And it did not work.) The Moves Make the Man is a Newbery Honor book, though, which should be recommendation enough.
  • The Legend of Bagger Vance: I lied. I read this book from cover-to-cover. Not only did I read this book about golf, but I actually enjoyed it. (The movie version is not nearly as good.) The story takes place in the early 1930s and has the feel of other books actually written during the era (think The Great Gatsby).

My sports reading is clearly anorexic. However, I’m not so sure I need to remedy the situation.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Lost

My cousin, who I have never been close to, lent me The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million on her recent visit to France. At the time, she had no idea how interested in this book I would be.

The memoir recounts Daniel Mendelsohn’s search for information about the lives and deaths of his great uncle and his family. His journey starts with only one sure fact: his Uncle Shmiel and family were killed during the Nazi occupation of eastern Poland (now Ukraine).

As a Ukraine-phile, I was particularly interested that from his childhood, Mendelsohn’s grandfather (Uncle Shmiel’s brother) teaches him that Ukrainians are the worst people alive—much worse than the Nazis themselves. Yet, when he returns to his family’s ancestral village, Mendelsohn discovers the Ukrainians there are kind and gracious.

These sections resonate with me as I, too, struggle with similar feelings (though, of course, not on such a personal level as Mendelsohn). How can I love Ukraine so much knowing many Ukrainians collaborated with the Nazis?

I had an epiphany as I read Mendelsohn’s hypothesis that both Ukrainians and Jews, at this time, are at the bottom of the food chain. As such, the two groups struggle to gain ground on each other. For example, when the Russians are in power, the Jewish community is relieved because they alleviate some of its suffering. Yet, the Ukrainians are tortured at the Russian’s hands. Conversely, when the Germans take over, the Ukrainians are happy, while the Jews suffer unimaginably.

I read this section, had my epiphany, on a flight from Slovakia to France and wept furtively on the plane.

Yet, the book also includes graphic accounts of Ukrainian abuse that is simply irreconcilable. I found myself constantly shaking my head as I read descriptions of torture—of children smashed against rocks and men’s eyes cut out. I instinctively tried to shake these images from my mind.

Although the book is long, over 500 pages, and often meanders and is repetitive, I was completely invested in knowing for myself what happens to Uncle Shmiel, his wife, and four daughters.

Yet, I also sense that Mendelsohn is disingenuous in some of his writing. For example, he shares a family narrative about his great aunt being sold into marriage. In an earlier book, Mendelsohn writes about discovering this family story is not true. Yet, he never shares this fact with the readers of The Lost. I finished the book wondering if what Mendelsohn leaves out of the book is just as important as what he includes.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Guest Blog--Caldecott Again

Our latest Caldecott read was So You Want to Be President by Judith St. George and David Small.

This is a fascinating, non-fiction winner from 2000 (pre-George W.) that looks at those who have served as U.S. president. The great thing about the book is that it does so in a very non-boring way. For example, the authors cover several characterisitics shared by past presidents. For example, many past Commanders in Chief share common first names (William, John), common professions (lawyers, military men), common birth places, namely being born in a log cabin (obviously a claim of early presidents rather than later), etc.

My sister could not believe I was reading such a dry book to my girls, but it really wasn't bad. We read the book in two sittings as it is rather hearty; but I think my girls paid enough attention to learn a few things about past U.S. presidents. I know I did.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Somehow—I’m still trying to figure out how—I became the “editor-in-chief” of a website. I enjoy editing, it fits my extra-anal personality, but the ironic (I hope I’m using this word correctly) part of my “job” is that I work for a sports website. Let’s just say, I am not an expert on the topic. However, I am trying to become an expert on editing.

Unfortunately, reading about things like grammar and punctuation is almost as boring as reading about Heisman trophy candidates. The one book, as most everyone knows, that broke the snore factor is Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

I was excited to read this book when it first came out. I’d read great reviews in the New York Times, saw it was on the bestseller list, and wanted to know how Lynne Truss could make grammar sexy.

And she does a fine job. The book is entertaining—at least as entertaining as grammar can be. But Truss has a huge flaw: she’s British.

Okay, that is a bold and prejudiced statement. I don’t dislike Truss for her Britishness, but because of her nationality, her book is potentially dangerous. Another bold statement.

An American audience should only read Eat, Shoots & Leaves for entertainment—and not for educational—purposes. I read it for enjoyment and for punctuation insights, which drove me absolutely crazy. British English and American English simply are not the same. And neither are British punctuation rules and American. I almost lost my mind as Truss kept reinforcing rules like placing punctuation outside quotation marks. I cringe to think of it.

I am not blaming Truss for being British. But I do wonder how many American readers learned “improper” punctuation rules from her book. That being said, if you see any errors on the website I edit, or this one, blame it on Eats, Shoots & Leaves.