Tag Archives: book review

Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

ManWhoLovesBooks_JKTF.inddTitle: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Author: Allison Hoover Bartlett

Genre/Pages: Nonfiction/288

Publication: Riverhead Books; September 17, 2009

Rating: 4 BOOKMARKS

A riveting account of one man’s obsession with rare books, another man’s unrelenting efforts to catch him, and the woman who documented it all.

Persistent lying and stealing.  Check. Superficial charm.  Check. Lack of remorse or inability to care about hurting others.  Check. Narcissism and sense of extreme entitlement.  Check and CHECK.

John Charles Gilkey could be the poster child for Antisocial Personality Disorder and he’s fixated on rare books.  In him, Allison Hoover Bartlett finds an inconsistent and unreliable source who acts as her guide on a literary odyssey through the world of rare books and his obsession with possessing them through acts of fraud and theft.

Spending whole years researching Gilkey and Ken Sanders, the book dealer who made it his personal mission to catch him, Bartlett finds herself, at times, walking the fine line between right and wrong to get her story.  This conflict actually made the work all the more authentic and exciting.  Gilkey confides in her about crimes past and Bartlett wrangles with her conscience–should she report him and risk scaring him off, ending their professional relationship (and her research)?

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much details the world of rare books, making it seem enticing and almost seductive.  Each collector’s hunt for the book, the crowning jewel of his or her collection, keeps the dealers in business.  What used to be a rich, white man’s game is now seeing an influx of younger, more diverse collectors.

With colorful characters, steady pacing, tales of deception and illicit behavior, and dogged efforts to catch a criminal,  The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is an exciting, educational, and thoroughly entertaining read.  If you’re looking for a great nonfiction book for a challenge or just want a change of pace, I would recommend this book without hesitation.  Many thanks to Lydia at Riverhead for this review copy!

Do you collect rare or first edition books?  How about signed editions?  I have a few signed books–Jodi Picoult came to my local library a few years ago and signed two books for me and I went to Megan McCafferty’s book signing a few years ago at B&N.  I don’t have any rare or first edition books–the only old books I have are ones from my childhood that I keep for nostalgic reasons.

Review AND Giveaway: Up For Renewal by Cathy Alter

WIN A COPY OF UP FOR RENEWAL!  See the review for details. CONGRATS to JESS of Book Reviews by Jess; She’s the winner!

renewalTitle: Up For Renewal

Author: Cathy Alter

Genre/Pages: Memoir/336

Publication: Atria Books; July 2008/Washington Square Press (re-release); July 2009

Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS

A year in the life of a woman who has committed herself to change, taking advice from glossy magazines on the big Fs: fashion, fitness, food, finance, and, ultimately, FINDING herself.

I’m a huge fan of essays and memoirs–Jen Lancaster, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris–are some of my favorite nonfiction writers.  I have laughed my way through so many memoirs that deciding to review Up For Renewal was a no-brainer–it was a memoir AND the premise hooked me!

At the age of 37, Cathy Alter’s life wasn’t exactly going according to plan.  Recently divorced and spiraling down a bleak pathlittered with sexual conquests and take-out food containers, Alter commits herself…to change.

Over the course of one year, Alter focuses on improving herself.  Each month she tackles a different aspect of her life–fitness, finance, fashion, relationships.  Using the magazines as her holy grail and life map, she charts a new course for herself and learns that sometimes it’s necessary to cross choppy seas to get to a safe harbor. 

An entertaining read, Alter doesn’t sugarcoat her bad behavior, nor does she apologize.  She takes responsibility for her actions–good and bad–and is able to learn and move on.  Though I had difficulty relating to some of Alter’sbehaviors, I enjoyed the memoir and found her writing to be witty and easy to read.  Her tirades against Saran wrap had me snorting with laughter.

That said (and since there is a giveaway associated with this review), some readers with more Victorian sensibilities might be a bit put off by profanity and adult situations.  Consider this fair warning.  For the rest of you corrupt little scoundrels, carry on!

For a chance to win a  copy of Up For Renewal, simply leave a comment and tell me which magazines you love to read.  Contest ends Friday, September 4th at 8pm EST. 

Thanks to Minjae Ormes for the review copy!

Review: The Texicans by Nina Vida

texicansTitle: The Texicans

Author: Nina Vida

Genre/Pages: Historical Western Fiction/296

Publication: Soho Press; October 1, 2007

Rating: 3 BOOKMARKS

The wide open skies and sweeping plains of Texas are the backdrop for this Western fiction saga that tells of one man’s journey through life and the impact of those he meets along the way.

In an effort to diversify my literary diet, I recently accepted Nina Vida’s seventh novel, The Texicans, for review.  I’d never read much, if anything, in this genre and had some misgivings.  My tally sheet of Western History authors was skimpy at best–one Louis L’Amour novel–The Last of the Breed–which was set in Siberia and had nothing to do with the wild American frontiers of the 1800s, and no Larry McMurtry (of Lonesome Dove fame).  Happily, this book was a pleasant surprise!

The Texicans  tells the story of Joseph Kimmel, former trapper and school teacher, traveling from Missouri to Texas during the 1830s to settle his recently deceased brother’s affairs.  Along the way, Kimmel is waylaid by myriad obstacles.  After an escaped slave rides off on his horse, Kimmel struggles to survive, eventually finding himself caught up in the development of a new settlement. 

Perceiving mismanagement in Castroville, a restless Kimmel sets off without a true course, encumbered by a new (and unwanted) bride.  As they travel, the wagon fills with a cast of disenfranchised characters.  Kimmel is helpless to resist the tears of one young Mexican woman who is rumored to have a bit of magic in her.  Aurelia and her young daughter ride along with Kimmel’s wife Katrin, and three adult slaves and their two children.  The motley crew continues on, under constant threat of attacks by Indians  and rogue Texas Rangers.

Finally, the group finds a parcel of land and they create their own ranch.  Before long, conflicts with Comanches and Rangers shatter their peace.  The second part of the novel focuses on Kimmel’s internal conflicts–his unrequited obsession with Aurelia and his desire for revenge on a Texas Ranger who brought pain and suffering to his front door. 

Character development was strong and even minor characters were well-developed.  The characters were realistic because of their flaws, but I had trouble with the Kimmel-Aurelia angle of the story.  Kimmel’s wife was desperate to please her husband but he was so enraptured by mere thought of Aurelia that he couldn’t appreciate what he had.  Additionally, a large cast of minor characters were a bit challenging to keep straight.

Nina Vida’s use of language helped provide vivid imagery and the struggles of early settlers came to life.  Her attention to detail helped me picture a world that I knew little about.  If you’re looking for an introduction to the Western Historical fiction genre, this might just be the book for you.

Are you a Western Historical fiction reader?  Have you read any L’Amour or McMurtry? 

Review: The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi

wishmakerTitle: The Wish Maker

Author: Ali Sethi

Genre/Pages: Fiction/432

Publication: Riverhead Books; June 11, 2009

Rating: 2.5 BOOKMARKS

A sweeping saga told in lyrical prose about one Pakistani boy’s coming of age during a climate of political and social change.

Ali Sethi’s debut novel, The Wish Maker, is an ambitious novel–almost an epic–spanning two decades (plus flashbacks), several governments, and much social and political unrest.  Make no mistake, Sethi is a masterful storyteller with a mature voice that belies his young years–he was in his early 20s when he wrote this novel–but I felt that the story suffered from information and sensory overload.

The Wish Maker tells the story of Zaki Shirazi, a young boy growing up in a house filled with women.  Zaki’s mother is a journalist who writes for a magazine and leans toward the liberal left, while his grandmother is more of an old-fashioned conservative.  Zaki’s cousin also lives in the house and struggles to find herself throughout the novel.

The pages were filled with scores of secondary characters and it was challenging to keep everyone straight.  Additionally, unfamiliar terms and foreign phrases were peppered throughout and  I looked up several to give myself a more solid understanding of the story and dialogue.   

This book could very well go on to receive much critical acclaim–the writing is wonderful–but for me it had too much going on and ambled along accounting for all the daily minutia of Zaki’s days.  I appreciated the imagery and characterization but felt that there was no real resolution with some characters and that some of the secondary story lines just petered out.

Thanks to Matt at Penguin Books (Riverhead) for this review copy!

How about you?  Have you read this novel?  Am I way out in left field with my review?   What’s your take?  

Review: Summer House by Nancy Thayer

summer houseTitle: Summer House

Author: Nancy Thayer

Genre/Pages: Fiction/368

Publication: Ballantine Books; 6/23/09

Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS

On a few acres of her Nona’s beachfront property in Nantucket, Charlotte Wheelwright operates an organic garden and farm stand, self-imposed exile for a transgression that comes to light at the end of this thoroughly enjoyable read.

Nancy Thayer’s honest and captivating novel examines the family dynamic over several generations.  From the first page, I was hooked.  Told from the third person omniscient point of view, we are able to see into the minds of the three main women characters–Charlotte, Nona, and Helen, Nona’s daughter-in-law and Charlotte’s mother.  We are also given a window to Nona’s past, through stategic flashbacks.  This narrative style helps to give readers and understanding of motivations and behaviors.

Summer House examines the relationships between the extended members of the Wheelwright clan, a well-to-do banking family with roots in Boston and Nantucket.  Thayer develops her characters and the conflicts–both internal and external–that they face are realistic and I could relate to them.

The group gathers on Nantucket three times during the course of the summer—once to usher in matriarch Anne ‘Nona’ Wheelwright’s 90th birthday, once for Charlotte’s brother’s wedding, and once for the annual Family Meeting.

Nona, as she is known to her children and grandchildren, has lately taken to spending most of her time in the comforting bubble of her memories, while her son and daughter and their children and grandchildren, struggle with infidelity, divorce, children, dating, petty jealousy, and all the other things that families deal with.  Nona survived her own personal struggles and is now left to reminisce and reap the goodness that family brings.

As with all families, there are a few secrets that come to light as the novel progresses.  Why has Charlotte abruptly left the family banking business to do hard, manual labor in an organic garden?  What is Charlotte’s father hiding from her mother?  Is Charlotte’s brother, Teddy, able to get his act together to take on the new responsibility?  What secret is Nona keeping?

Summer House is a relatively quick read with good pacing and an entertaining story line.  It’s meatier than a standard chick-lit novel, and for that I was thankful.  It really is a story about families and coming to terms with the fact that different people, even though they may be related, can have different ideas and opinions.  Being family is the glue that holds the variety of personalities together.

Nancy Thayer is an accomplished author with scores of published works to her name.  I look forward to picking up some of her earlier works and am interested in reading her daughter’s new book.

Thanks to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to read this book!

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Review: Don’t Call Me a Crook! by Bob Moore

crookTitle: Don’t Call Me a Crook!

Author: Bob Moore

Genre/Pages: Memoir; 255 pages

Publication: Originally published 1935; republished by Dissident Books, Ltd. 2009

Rating: 2.5 BOOKMARKS

Originally published over 70 years ago, Bob Moore’s memoir, Don’t Call Me a Crook! is part sensation, part confession. 

Bob Moore lived a wild and wicked life–he was a cad and a scoundrel and who tried to rationalize his criminal hi-jinx. 

“…I thought of the guy waiting in the Shellman Hotel for me, and I thought how he had meant to fool me nicely by making me take all the risk, and then paying me off with a paltry hundred dollars while he made thousands of pounds (on loose, stolen diamonds).  I reckon he deserved to lose those diamonds…”  (Moore, 28)

He explained that when opportunity presented itself, he didn’t have to think twice about stealing.  I imagined him as a moustache-twirling villain who managed to charm most everyone–and was I ever right! 

I’m no Puritan over here, but even I was a tad scandalized by the blase manner in which Moore glibly told of swindling, bootlegging, and murder.  He amazed me by dodging one proverbial bullet after another.  He traveled the globe, often at a moment’s notice–especially when fleeing from the scene of a crime, something he did with alarming frequency.

The direction of Bob Moore’s life was led by the Grand Theft Auto moral compass–theft, adultery, and cheating were his cardinal directions.  Despite his shortcomings and criminal lifestyle (or maybe because of them), the book is an entertaining read.  As he goes from one improbable adventure to the next, the reader is left questioning how one person could live so many lifetimes in one life.

This book was not widely received after its original publishing in 1935 and was recently re-released with an introduction, afterword, and footnotes–some  superfluous and distracting.  There were many nautical references footnoted (crow’s nest, galley, stateroom, purser, list) and though I’ve never captained a ship, I’ve watched enough episodes of The Love Boat to understand the lingo.  Other footnotes, however, were necessary and helpful.

Perhaps because this book was penned so long ago (or because Moore just didn’t give a damn), prejudice is evident in a few of his interactions.  I understand that they aren’t themes of the novel, but intolerance turns me off.

Overall, Don’t Call Me a Crook! is an entertaining, albeit scandalous, read.  Moore can really tell a story–and he has the details to support his tales.  People who enjoy this genre and are interested in reading about the life and times of this Glaswegian shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this book! 

Thanks to Lisa from Online Publicist for sending me this memoir!

Review: Cutting Loose by Nadine Dajani

*Win a copy of Cutting Loose by clicking here.  Entry deadline is Monday, 6/8/09–international friends welcome!*

looseTitle: Cutting Loose

Author: Nadine Dajani

Genre/Pages: Fiction; 384

Publication: Forge Books; September 2008

Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS

Take a peek into the lives of three diverse women and see how their culture and life choices have brought them together.

Told from multiple points of view, Cutting Loose weaves the lives of three women into an entertaining novel with solid characters and plenty of conflict.  Offering more than just the standard ‘chick-lit’ fare, Nadine Dajani draws on her own her own exotic life experiences to create characters who struggle to reconcile their culture with life in sultry, hedonistic Miami.

Ranya, Zahra, and Rio each arrive in Miami with baggage from their other lives.  Ranya escapes Montreal and her sham of a marriage, Zahra leaves Boston and a career-ending disaster which was precipitated by a one night stand with an unrequited love, and Rio runs from the slums of Honduras and manages to climb her way to the top of a niche magazine.

From the cover, I figured the book would follow a predictable path and that the women would become fast friends despite their differences.  How wrong I was!  Each character grapples with her own internal and external conflicts but the friendships I predicted never materialized.  Instead, mutual respect and camaraderie developed. 

Ranya struggles with the deeply ingrained rules of her Muslim upbringing, while Zahra buries her emotions and feelings for her boss in work and comfort food, and Rio tries hard to stay emotionally unattached in a 5-year ‘fling’ with her boss’s younger brother. 

Religion, relationships, and personal growth are strong themes throughout the novel.  The three women try to supress parts of themselves but ultimately realize that in order to find true love and personal happiness they have to embrace their whole selves.  They are dynamic characters who change and develop with every experience.

Overall, this book was an entertaining and interesting read–perfect to get me in the mood for summer!  I enjoyed the multicultural angle, characters, and Miami backdrop.  

Thank you to Nadine Dajani for the review and giveaway copies of this novel.