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I miss you!

I’ve been reading all sorts of good books lately and haven’t even had the chance to update my spreadsheet (nerd alert) and have been trying to keep track via my cell phone.  I owe you reviews for the following, which are the books I felt most strongly about one way or another:

KNIT THE SEASON (Kate Jacobs)

(though check out some great KNIT THE SEASON reviews and interviews with Kate Jacobs at Nat’s Book, Like, and Sinker and Susan’s Suko’s Notebook)

CERTAIN PREY, WICKED PREY, ROUGH COUNTRY (John Sandford)

LITTLE WOMEN (Louisa May Alcott)

HIGH FIDELITY, JULIET, NAKED (Nick Hornby)

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG ASS (Jen Lancaster)

DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM (David Sedaris)

And I stayed up way too late last night reading THE SCARPETTA FACTOR (Patricia Cornwell)

Me and my friend Maggi enjoying a glorious autumn in Central Park!So you see, it’s not actually that I’m not reading, I just haven’t been reviewing.  I’ll do my best to rectify this situation shortly… but most likely after the weekend, as it should be a busy one!

In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying the season as much as I am.  It’s my first time witnessing the leaves turning in NYC and it’s a glorious sight!

 

Love,

Lydia

 

 

 

 

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When I think of a jungle, I imagine a happy place with abundant greenery, tigers roaming the underbrush and monkeys swinging through the massive trees on leafy vines.  Obviously I’ve totally bought into the Disney jungle vision depicted in “Tarzan”.

jungle3I had thought all my imaginings of jungles to be far away from Chicago, thinking I would have to travel by land and sea before reaching one.  Until, that is, I devoured Upton Sinclair’s groundbreaking novel The Jungle.  I hate to even use the word “devour” when discussing this novel, since so much of it deals with contaminated meat, blue milk and inhumane conditions that completely quell any appetite.

The year is 1905, and immigrants scramble to Chicago to begin a new, better life with the promises of secure jobs and wealth within the Stockyards.  Following Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis as he strives to support his new wife, son and her family, it is a true tale of survival that is hard to digest.  From the gruesome work conditions to the utter squalor at home, this is a story based on a truth that was debilitating and deathly to many.

Jurgis begins as an optimistic young man, newly married and naive, yet physically and mentally strong.  In the beginning he embraces his demanding life at the Stockyards, ignorant to the politics and corruption.   As his awareness is raised, his life becomes harder.  Through injury and circumstance, the family’s situation at home worsens, and food and heat are both harder to come by.  While I’m not a fan of Chicago Winters (you should all know how desperately I’m waiting for spring!), I’ve never had to worry about freezing to death stuck in a snowdrift, literally having my ears break off from the cold (poor little Stansilova) or freezing in my sleep.

More than just a bleak story of one poor family, it is a political piece looking at work conditions and the quality of meat packaged for the United States.  Sinclair actually went undercover in Packingtown as the Stockyards were called, so experienced the conditions of the workers and the meat first hand.

“It seemed that they must have agencies all over the country, to hunt out old and crippled and diseased cattle to be canned.  (they would come in) Covered with boils.  It was a nasty job killing these, for when you plunged the knife into them they would burst and splash foul-smelling stuff into your face… It was stuff such as this that made the ’embalmed beef’ that had killed several times as many United States soldiers as all the bullets of the Spaniards…”

In addition to the spoiled meat, Sinclair tells about workers falling into vats, and when they were discovered all that was left of the human is a pile of bones, since every other body part had gone out packaged as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard (as in, human parts consumed by other people).  Minor injuries often meant death, directly or indirectly through blood disease or no money to buy food.  Never have I appreciated health insurance so much.

As I read this book I questioned if I would have been strong enough to have survived in this time period.  The life depicted is so tough I was depressed while reading it.  It seemed to me the people had very little to live for.  There was no end in sight to their squalor; they weren’t working to get ahead and have time to relax and enjoy their effort, they were working to stay alive.  There as no real home life to speak of, as they were so exhausted from working so long with little nourishment people climbed right into bed upon walking in the door.  As a parent, it’s hard to feel right about sending your child to work the streets or in the factories, knowing they don’t have a future but you need their meager contributions to keep the family alive.  My mom says hope springs eternal, and throughout this book I’m inclined to agree.

I think everyone should read this book.  I wouldn’t even say it’s inspirational exactly, but more a realistic view at how life could be, and how it has been for people in the past and how far we’ve come.  It also may make you chuckle at how germaphobic a society we’ve become, since people survived (of course, many did not) on spoiled milk and infected meat.  I made a point to eat my asparagus that fell off the side of my plate onto the coffee table today, telling myself it will only toughen me up!

jungle-coverMy main complaint is the Socialist rally cry that takes up the last few chapters of this novel.  I understand Sinclair considered himself a Socialist, but I thought the political propaganda could have been discarded and a very strong novel would have remained without any stated biases. Just be sure to not eat canned meat when reading!  Good news though: this book inspired the Pure Food Act passed in 1906, shortly after the book became a success after it’s book publication in February of the same year.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A-
  • Title: The Jungle
  • Author: Upton Sinclair
  • Publisher: Doubleday in 1906, originally run as segments in “Appeal to Reason” magazine 1905

northern_lightsMy Dad went on a fishing trip to Alaska last year, which completely surprised me since my dad had never fished in his life, much less being some huge sportsman that travels some 3,500 miles to what I always imagined as some white, frozen piece of tundra, replete with polar bears (cute, but supposedly dangerous), Sarah Palin shooting wolves, and not much else.  But every morning when I received a picture message I had to admit it was of a gorgeous scene.

So, with my interest in Alaska piqued, when I came across Nora Robert’s Northern Lights novel priced at a very affordable $1 at the Newberry Library book fair I had to snatch it up.  While not a huge Nora Roberts fan, I admit her books are a fat-free indulgence every once in awhile, and I dare to say Northern Lights is one of her better titles.

Complete with murder, small-town intrigue and (surprise, surprise) a steamy love affair, Lunacy, Alaska is brought to life through the sexy cop recently transplanted from Baltimore (due to a traumatic experience, read it to discover why he ran away), and the equally mysterious female bush pilot who is also the daughter of a man missing 15 years soon to be found murdered in the mountains.  Whew what a story.  Through family issues, affairs, and secrets past and present, the tale is twisted through a town where everyone knows each other, and one of them is a murderer.  It’s up to the “outsider” Police Chief and his sexy hometown hunny (sorry, couldn’t resist) to separate the disgruntled rednecks (are rednecks in AK?) from the real threats.

Scene from the movie, also real life?

Scene from the movie, also real life?

Brought alive by a newly aired Lifetime movie (another guilty pleasure, though I swear I only imbibe with roomies present, never alone) graced with the acting of country singer LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian (apparently with a past role in “Baywatch Nights” – who knew), the 562 page book is condensed into a two hour movie, commercials included.  Needless to say, much of the quality, community feeling and character development that makes the book a success is lost in the movie translation.

As you may or may not have heard, the movie may be somewhat of a success due to the publicity of a supposed real-life affair (strategic move or true infidelity?) between Rimes and Cibrian, both of whom are married.

While I would never suggest that anyone go out and purchase this book, if the Nora Roberts genre appeals to you than give Northern Lights a chance.  It offers twists and turns outside the bedroom (ha), and the ending, while expected, isn’t boring.

And just in case you’re wondering, my dad will never feel the need to read this book to relive his Alaskan experience, since we still have delicious smoked salmon in the deep freezer waiting to be enjoyed.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade, Book: B-
    NovelWhore’s Grade, Movie: D
  • Title: Northern Lights
  • Author: Nora Roberts
  • Publisher: Jove

One of the joys of not being employed full-time is the freedom I have with my days… Sunday, Monday, Thursday – they tend to be more open for me (of course I have my” blogations”, the news, keeping up on the latest trends, yoga…), and this freedom is really convenient in the event of a monumental event, like the birth of my new baby nephew, Alton Isaac! So, blessed that I am, I was able to travel a couple states away to meet the little critter yesterday.

That little set up is just to give you some perspective on my emotional state when I read the book I’m about to review (not just for you all to congratulate me on being an AUNT!), but I think I was feeling a little less stoic than usual.

Since Randy Pausch delivered his “Last Lecture” presentation on September

The Pausch family

The Pausch family

18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon, his advice and adages have swept the media, leading to a best-selling book.  Presented after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, his focus is on “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”

First off, I am very impressed that he really did achieve his childhood dreams – from the Nasa-esque “zero gravity” to working for Disney.  It’s hard for me to even remember what I used to “dream”, other than living in a big city so I guess at least I accomplished something (along with the other 9.5MM people so I guess I’m not all that special).  Regardless, in this book of advice on how to lead my life, the things that hit home with me were the more family-oriented musings, from winning the “parent lottery” (I completely relate to this one, as Pausch says, “I already had this incredible leg up in life because I had a mother and father who got so many things right.”) to his worry of how to convey his love to his young children after his death.

I found this book interesting, but wasn’t nearly as enamored with the message as I had planned to be.  I harbor no doubts that Randy Pausch was a good man and a beloved husband and father (and teared up many times, but please refer back to paragraph 1 on my emotional state!), but I don’t think his advice was ground-breaking and doubt the impact would have been nearly the same had he not been terminally ill.  He seemed a little full of himself (to be fair, he does acknowledge he tends to be a know-it-all), and mentions his salary more than I thought was appropriate, but he also seemed like an optimistic, friendly guy who was making the most of an awful death sentence.

Read this if: You’re in the “family” sort of mood, and are looking for a reminder to appreciate the people who love you and you love in return, and the time you have together.

Avoid this if: You have no interest in yet another “life lesson” book.  In my opinion, “The Little Prince” is much more valuable.the-last-lecture2

  • Title: The Last Lecture
  • Author: Randy Pausch
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B-

RIP Randy Pausch, July 25, 2008

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