The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John BuchanThis book was nothing more than a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book without the choices. Buchan details too precisely each step his hero takes to elude his would-be capturers.

The plot? Cliché-city! Richard Hannay: an out-of-work soldier. A mysterious American appears, begging for help, fearing for his life. The man is killed and Richard–unable to turn to the police as he is the prime suspect–flees with the American’s coded diary, assuming various disguises to outwit the murderers, a faceless group called Black Stone.

Hannay is an early version of all our spy heros, but one-dimensional, a bit too capable and a mite too lucky. Forgettable.

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The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara KingsolverAt the cusp of the Congo Crisis, an oblivious missionary family arrives in the village of Kilanga.

Nathan Price, the father, is aggressive and unbending, confident he is bringing enlightenment to Africa. The rest of the family is pulled along in his wake: an overshadowed wife and four daughters, each one different. Rachel, the superficial highschooler, Leah, the idealistic and strong twin, Ada, the cynical and crippled twin, and Ruth, the baby. The story follows each family member as they meet Africa (a thriving, cruel, smothering, surviving and liberating entity). Africa erodes Nathan’s power but does it really set his family free?

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Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

A recipe book for disaster, this fable tells of Tita, born and raised in the hot comfort of a kitchen. But Tita’s mother denies her the liberty of marrying Pedro. Only through her cooking can Tita express her passion: a love as dangerous as a hot stove. One meal causes her sister’s clothing to spontaneously combust!

I didn’t connect with any of the characters because they were so exaggerated. I didn’t want to care about them because the author seemed to take their fates so lightly. Magic realism? Not sure I like it. Not sure about the recipes in this book either.

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Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Sue Trinder was raised in a warren of thieves. Gentleman recruits her in an ambitious scheme to deceive an heiress, but once she replaces the victim’s maid, Sue is plagued with feelings of compassion. Will cold feet prevail?

The book’s atmosphere is like Oliver Twist meets Jane Eyre–complete with pickpockets, madhouses and murderers.

The cast of villains go about duping each other for selfish reasons, but Waters has a knack for making you root for the most fault-ridden humans.

The storytelling was so engrossing that at two points, I actually reacted out loud: “What?” and “Drama, drama!” The plot is twisted and fully enjoyable!

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And another one for good measure

Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis

Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis

Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis

“Hey Baby, what’s the story?” says Victor Ward, It Boy of the moment. “Never mind, spare me.”

It’s so cold that frost is creeping along the walls as Victor brushes confetti off the sleeve of his Comme des garçons tux.  Later in the script, Victor will be recruited by models-slash-terrorists and eased into senseless violence. For now, he’s oblivious.

“It’s what you don’t know that matters the most.”

As Victor flirts inattentively, from somewhere, an ominously relevant song from the 90s begins to play.

I am faux-freaked out by this book.

It’s the same plot as Zoolander but it’s hardly funny.

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The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

My brother gave me number 641 on the list for Christmas.

This is another novel in the detective genre, so I compared it as always to my benchmark: Agatha Christie novels. It was enjoyable but the “whodunnit” revelation was less satisfying than one of Poirot’s mise-en-scènes. Its focus seemed to be on recreating an environment (foggy and ominous) and a culture (wee British parish with a love for bellringing), in which a murder takes place, almost incidentally. What seems more important is a strained relationship between man and nature.

Note: Tailors are not “hemmers of pants,” but bells!

And Bunter rocks.

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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Born in a backwards fishing village, Sayuri was sold when her mother died and sent to an okiya in Kyoto. She longs for escape, since the resident geisha mistreats her, but the only path is to become a geisha. A blue-eyed beauty in a city of dark eyes, she soon becomes famous. But love?

Sayuri wonders if she has any control over her destiny. Is she a pebble in a stream, tumbled and pulled by the current of her circumstances? Or is she a fish, using the current to swim toward the destiny she desires?

Loved it. Slightly disappointed by Sayuri’s final choice.

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The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

William of Baskervilles is an English monk visiting a rich Italian abbey on a political mission. Adso, the narrator, plays his Dr. Watson as William is asked to investigate a murder in the abbey. The monastery’s pious veneer is peeled back to reveal the dishonest and greedy motives beneath.

Eco’s slogan: “God is in the details.” He uses long lists to describe. Instead of writing “Adelmo’s illustrations portrayed imaginary creatures such as men with tooth-filled mouths in their bellies,” he tells us exactly what was on the page, in a sentence 207 words long.

Themes: loss of ideals, hypocrisy, possessions, poverty, temporality.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Christopher John Francis Boone is a 15-year-old with high-functioning autism.

Christopher likes: dogs, detecting, the colour red, math, murder mystery novels, prime numbers, the police, the fact that the universe is constantly expanding, things in a logical order, orange squash, his pet rat Toby and The Hound of Baskervilles.

Christopher doesn’t like: people touching him, real novels, metaphors, the colours brown and yellow, France, people moving the furniture around, strangers, information overload and holidays.

I liked: Getting to know Christopher, who seemed real. Mark Haddon gave me plenty of details. There were no simple sugar-coated solutions. But it wasn’t depressing either.

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The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

A photo of The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas PynchonOedipa Maas wanders into a quasi-invisible conspiracy to desert the U.S. Postal Service. Is it apophenia?

This book is the awakening from a dream. A dream in which you saw meaning in every detail and every event was related and was PROOF. But now you are awake and all the strands of your dream are slipping away and you are left with half-memories of urgent searchings and your dream companions (those specific strangers whom you knew surprisingly well). You feel a desperate triumphant urge to make sense of things. You can’t.

I felt like Oedipa at the deaf-mute dance. Bogged down.

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