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paisleymonsoon (Tulsa, Oklahoma)

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To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
207 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars There's a Reason This Book is a Classic!, July 13 2003
I can't believe that I never read this in high school. Then again, I don't think that the people in my Alabama hometown have changed their mind much about black people since the 1930s when this book was set. The parents of my classmates would have wanted to censor this book for its cuss words and references to sex. Small town Alabama has changed a lot since this book was written in many ways but not at all in others. To quote from the book: "You're not gonna change any of them by talkin' right, they've got to want to learn themselves, and when they don't want to learn there's nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language." My personal choice was to keep my mouth shut and to get out of there!
Harper Lee paints a portrait of small town Alabama with its varying social classes. Below even the class that lives on the outskirts of the city dump is the class of the black people in the town. To Kill A Mockingbird is a story told from the viewpoint of children who had not been tainted with this social phobia and who had learned from their father, Aticus, to view each of these groups equally. Still, their curiosity about these different groups lead them beyond their own imaginations into the real world as they encounter people from each of these social classes. They invite a boy home for lunch who has no lunch of his own, they visit a black church with their housekeeper when their father is away on business, and they try to make contact with the next door neighbor who hasn't been seen for 20 years.
Then the children are unexpectedly plunged into world of intolerance where the town's adults live when a black man is accused of a crime he didn't commit. Their father is appointed as the black man's lawyer and the children hide in the balcony to witness the trial first-hand. They are shocked and dismayed by the townspeople's inability to see past the man's skin color to aquit him for his alleged crime. In response to the children's reaction, their black housekeeper says, "They've done it before and they'll do it again and when they do it -- seems that only the children weep." How amazingly profound!
What a wonderful book!

Lying Awake: A Novel
Lying Awake: A Novel
by Mark Salzman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
92 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Prose & Philosophy to Ponder, July 6 2003
This review is from: Lying Awake: A Novel (Paperback)
Lying Awake tells the story of Helen, known to her fellow nuns as Sister John. In the tradition of Saint Teresa of Avila, Sister John is caught up in an ecstatic whirlwind of visions and closeness with her Maker that cause a touch of jealousy among her fellow nuns. However, the sell of her prose and poetry which comes prolithicly with her miraculous experiences helps to support their small Carmelite monastery. Unfortunately, these experiences are accompanied by tremendous and debilitating headaches. With the possibility that the two may be related, Sister John must decide if it's more selfish to rid herself of the headaches or more selfish to keep her ecstatic world intact.
I've never met a nun in person. But through the beautiful prose in this novel, I feel as if I've lived among them. I do, however, wonder about the accuracy of the life of the nun as well as the theology that Mark Salzman puts forth in his novel. Some of the things that Sister John feels about the nature of God almost seem Gnostic in nature: "In the fire of his embrace, all that was her ceased to exist. Only what was God remained. 'I AM.' The cloister bell, the voice of Christ. He spoke again: 'I AM.' She tried to obey but was frozen in beauty, like a fly trapped in amber. She could not move. 'NOTHING EXISTS APART FROM ME.' Self had been an illusion, a dream. God dreaming." Are these thoughts simply a product of Sister John's feeling of union with God or are these thoughts a product of the teachings of the Catholic Church?
I did enjoy some of the other thoughts put forth in the novel. I can tell that Mark Salzman is a thinker and a philosopher, and I admire the thought processes that he relays throughout the novel. I especially liked this ponderance from Sister John as she struggles with the possibility of losing her closeness to God if she loses her "Miracle": "What if I have it all upside down? What if I'm the one who knows nothing of God, & the people in the world are actually interceding on my behalf with their ordinary, daily struggles?"
Despite the beauty and depth of this novel on one level, there were three things that were dissatisfactory about this novel. First of all, the author doesn't make it clear enough that Helen and Sister John are the same person. Also, the other nuns' characters are not very well-developed. Lastly, the storyline is easily guessed from the beginning (especially if one knows anything about Saint Teresa of Avila).

Heat and Dust
Heat and Dust
by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.00
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Sensually Tantalizing, June 22 2003
This review is from: Heat and Dust (Paperback)
The cover of this book is a little deceptive. The cover artist has painted a colorful picture of an Indian market place, complete with lots of nice green grass. This is definitely a romanticized and wishful picture of India while the real picture of India lies in the name of the book: HEAT AND DUST. If you're planning a trip to India, expect heat and dust.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has written this book with the most beautiful prose. She doesn't just tell a story; she becomes a part of her story and brings the reader along with her.
This short novel takes place mainly in British imperialist India. Olivia is an English wife which is wooed and seduced by a very charasmatic Indian prince during the boring heat of the day while her husband is away at work. The Indian prince, Nawab, seems to cast a spell on everyone around him. People shirk their responsibilities and forsake the ones they love in order to bask in his adoration.
When Olivia's step-granddaughter learns of Olivia's romantic adventures in India through old letters, she is determined to go to India and find out all she can about Prince Nawab and the whirlwind affair he had with Olivia. The novel is written from the viewpoint of the step- granddaughter during her time in modern India.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala tempts when she writes. She sets the reader up with a hint of sensual suspense that drives the novel to the end. The reader finishes the novel, satisfied.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
68 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Zany and Unlikely Adventure, June 22 2003
When I was in elementary school, this was a common series read by the male nerds and geeks in my school. After reading it, I can now see how much it shaped their speech patterns and writing styles. I found myself smiling as clouds of nostalgia unexpectedly overtook me while reading the series. I was also surprised to find phrases original to this series that have worked their way into the American culture. For example, in order to understand people who speak other languages, the characters in this series simply put a "Babelfish" in their ear. In real life, Babel Fish is a language translation program available on the internet. Since the book it appears in was published in 1979, there's no question of which came first.
THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY
We find out that the earth was actually created as an organic supercomputer with the sole purpose of determining the answer to life, the universe and everything. Arthur Dent finds himself whisked away from the earth only moments before the earth is destroyed to make way for a intergalactic bypass highway. Unfortunately, this is right before the earth was to have computed the answer to the question. He and Ford (an alien that has been marooned on earth) hitch a ride on the unsuspecting spacecraft that has just caused the destruction of the earth. They continue their hitchhiking journey throughout the galaxy to a ship called the Heart of Gold (which is actually a stolen vehicle). There, they meet with a series of unlikely coincidences thanks to the ship's Infinite Improbability Drive.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ends as the Heart of Gold heads for a bite to eat at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
This series is bizarre comic sarcasm at its best. A smile automatically paints itself on your face as you begin to read. The series reads like a highly improbable dream sequence. I sort of wonder if the author had any conclusion in mind when he wrote it or if he just let the story write itself (not unlike a dream).

London Transports
London Transports
by Maeve Binchy
Edition: Audio Cassette

5.0 out of 5 stars This Work Has Made Me Into a Binchy Fan Overnight, June 8 2003
This review is from: London Transports (Audio Cassette)
I had never read anything by Maeve Binchy before this. After I had Lasik surgery on my eyes, I couldn't read for the first week, so I checked out this book-on-tape from the library thinking that if I didn't like her writing, I could just turn off the tape and return it to the library. However, this collection of stories was brilliant. Also, Kate Binchy is a wonderful reader. She pauses at all the right moments to allow you to ponder what you've just heard.
LONDON TRANSPORTS is a collection of 22 stories that you'll want to ravenously devour. The stories seem to be just a page in someone's life. However, they leave a lasting impression on your mind. The twist in the stories are not the conventional type; the twist is the way that the character thinks and handles the situations that are thrown at them.
Some of the more memorable stories includes a 28-year-old virgin who goes to a sex shop to find a manual for people who've never had sex. Because she's embarrassed, she says that she's a nun looking for information for her 28-year-old virgin neice. Another story has a young woman looking for an apartment and finding an amazing apartment belonging to Marigold, a wheelchair-ridden gold-digger. But the apartment is so amazing that the young woman doesn't care that Marigold may take everything that has ever belonged to her.
Maeve Binchy has a gift for painfully realistic character creation. I imagine her sitting on park benches and making up stories about the people who walk by her. One thing that struck me as odd is that almost every story assumes that everyone in London is having an extra-marital affair. Maybe I'm naive to think and hope that this isn't based in reality. However, according to an Irish co-worker who happens to be a distant cousin of Maeve Binchy, Maeve and her husband live in separate countries. What does this mean about their own fidelity? I can only guess.
I'll definitely be reading more of Binchy's works after this. I can hardly wait to start.

The Palace Thief: Stories
The Palace Thief: Stories
by Ethan Canin
Edition: Paperback
38 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Only one gem in the palace, June 8 2003
This book contains 4 short stories that are good, but not terribly memorable (even though the back cover calls them "unforgetable"). I read this book only a couple of weeks ago and can only remember one of the stories very well: The Palace Thief.
The Palace Thief has nothing to do with a palace or a conventional thief. It was also used as the basis of the movie, The Emperor's Club. The story has the same feel as Dead Poet's Society with a professor that gets his students to dress in togas as they study Greek history and literature. The story is good but, in my opinion, the only true gem in the palace of this book.
Ethan Canin likes to infuse his stories with baseball and other diversions enjoyed by men. I suppose these are the types of things he himself enjoys when he's not writing books or working as a doctor.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum: A Novel
Behind the Scenes at the Museum: A Novel
by Kate Atkinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
149 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Exhibit A: Family Secrets, May 18 2003
When you see the title of this book, you immediately come to the conclusion that this book must be about a little girl who's family owns a museum.
This museum turns out to be just like the museum that YOUR OWN family owns.
Exhibits at the "Lennox family museum" include:
A. A pink, daisy-shaped, glass button
B. A lucky rabbit's foot
C. A George VI coronation teaspoon
D. A bright, artificial smile
E. Bunty's unbearably sad childhood
F. Rabbit-shaped clouds hanging in the sky like zepplins
G. "Mind your boots, Lily"
H. A plane in a death spin
I. Your sister says not to worry
J. The silver locket
K. Thinking about home
Strange exhibits for a museum, don't you think?
These "exhibits" are simply items and memories belonging to several generations of the Lennox family. Each "exhibit" carries with it a history and a memory that the casual onlooker cannot fathom. Some people, like Ruby Lennox, feel that "the past is what you leave behind in life". However, others, like Patricia Lennox, feel that "the past is what you take with you". You decide. Can you really understand the past by simply viewing an object or are most museums (the real type and the kind you might have in your home) full of objects that are unable to tell their stories without an all-knowing narrator?
This book follows the life of Ruby Lennox from conception onward: "I exist! I am conceived to the chimes of midnight on the mantelpiece in the room across the hall." From this intriguing beginning, the book draws you in. You immediately fall in love with Ruby, her flustered mother Bunty, and her quirky English family. Each chapter that takes place in the present generation of the Lennox family mentions an "exhibit" item from the "Lennox family museum." These are listed as footnotes. However, the footnote takes you to the next chapter where you learn a bit of Lennox family history surrounding the exhibit item. For example, the pink daisy-shaped button (the above Exhibit A) popped off of Alice Barker's dress only a few days before she "died giving birth" to Ruby's grandmother. It was later found and kept in a button box for years before Ruby's sister found it.
A lot of family secrets are bound up in the exhibits of the "Lennox family museum". One in particular deals with the death of Ruby's mysteriously unmentioned sister. Another deals with the father of an unmarried family member's child. Still another deals with the identity of the mysterious late-night phone caller that never says a word. Every family has its secrets and the author is careful not to give enough hints to give away the family secrets until the end of the book.
I simply loved this book. A fellow book-lover suggested that I read it. I was not disappointed. The characters were colorful and the author keeps up a certain level of suspense throughout the novel. I was surprised to learn that this is the author's first novel since it is written in such an original format. And it makes me wonder what "exhibits" belong to my own family's "museum".

Coraline
Coraline
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 15.33
38 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars I Should Read Children's Books More Often, May 15 2003
This review is from: Coraline (Hardcover)
Everybody wants to read CORALINE. And why do they? Because the story is absolutely wonderful. CORALINE has a magical and whimsical quality that makes it absolutely scrumptious. I love the way that I was able to pick up this book, be finished reading it in an hour, and feel absolutely satisfied afterwards. Although this is a book written with children in mind, it is quite enjoyable for adults. I think that the allure of children's books is that they take you to a world outside of the hum-drum of everyday life. While CORALINE is a little on the scarey and weird side, it definitely does take you to a strange world behind a curious door in Coraline's new house. At first, everything behind the door seems to be a mirror of the life on the other side of the door. However, there are just a few changes that tempt her to stay in the other world rather than in her own. For example, in the other world, her other mother can actually cook a decent meal. Her other room is painted beautiful colors and her other toys seem to be alive. Of course, it was too good to be true and Coraline's escape from the other world of button-eyed people takes quite a bit of courage.
Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller. He has written a story in our own time that is destined to be a classic for years to come. Luckily, he writes books for adults as well. This is the type of book that I absolutely must hold on to so that I can read it to my children oneday (when I finally every do have children).

Black Water
Black Water
by Joyce Carol Oates
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.83
54 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars Why All the High Ratings? I Was Just Happy it Was so Short!, May 13 2003
This review is from: Black Water (Paperback)
I had heard a lot of good things about Joyce Carol Oates' books. So, I tried one of her shortest ones first. Boy, was I disappointed. Each chapter of this book tells the same story over and over, occasionally adding a tad of insignificant detail that wasn't there before. The basic story could have been (and was) told in one chapter rather than 154 pages. Well, really, the whole story is on the back cover. Isn't that just pitiful?! A senator is driving a girl that he's just met down "a shortcut" to reach the island ferry in time. He takes a turn too fast and their car ends up in a creek filled with what appears to be black sewage water. The story is told in a series of flashbacks (the same ones over and over). The only thing that keeps you turning the pages is the thought that there has to be SOME point to the story other than finding out if the girl lives or dies. Obviously, there isn't. And, if you are the type to read the last page first and already know whether she lives or dies, don't bother starting the book from the beginning after you've read the ending.

Black Water
Black Water
by Joyce Carol Oates
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.83
54 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Why All the High Ratings? I Was Just Happy it Was so Short!, May 13 2003
This review is from: Black Water (Paperback)
I had heard a lot of good things about Joyce Carol Oates' books. So, I tried one of her shortest ones first. Boy, was I disappointed. Each chapter of this book tells the same story over and over, occasionally adding a tad of insignificant detail that wasn't there before. The basic story could have been (and was) told in one chapter rather than 154 pages. Well, really, the whole story is on the back cover. Isn't that just pitiful?! A senator is driving a girl that he's just met down "a shortcut" to reach the island ferry in time. He takes a turn too fast and their car ends up in a creek filled with what appears to be black sewage water. The story is told in a series of flashbacks (the same ones over and over). The only thing that keeps you turning the pages is the thought that there has to be SOME point to the story other than finding out if the girl lives or dies. Obviously, there isn't. And, if you are the type to read the last page first and already know whether she lives or dies, don't bother starting the book from the beginning after you've read the ending.

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