Saturday, March 10, 2012


We all know about books by obscure (yea, even completely unknown) authors that became sensations.  Here are 5 of 10 that I have read along with my ever so insightful (hopefully not inciteful) insights.  The other 5 will be coming soon thereafter.

1.  Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese.  Everybody knows the premise.  A British surgeon practicing medicine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, impregnates an Indian nun, producing twins.  Verghese had already written a couple of non-fiction before embarking on this, his first work of fiction.  Of course, the rest is history.  It won numerous independent book awards.  Joni and I saw him in San Rafael about a year ago.  There were 800 people in the auditorium.  It was nuts.  This was definitely a book popularized by book clubs (as so many of them are).  I liked it.  I thought it was well-done.  I didn't go crazy for it like so many other people did.
Letter Grade - B+

2.  Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini.  This book starts in Afghanistan and ends up in the Bay Area.  It was certainly one of the first books that gave us a flavor of what life in Afghanistan was like during the Soviet occupation (The Bookseller of Kabul, non-fiction, was another).  Hosseini, who was born in Afghanistan, was actually a practicing doctor before he began writing Kite Runner.
Letter Grade - A
P.S.  His second book, One Thousand Splendid Suns, which focused on the woman's role in Afghani society, was almost as good - Letter Grade - A-.

3.  Bel Canto - Ann Patchett.  She has written about 7 novels.  This is by far her biggest one.  I have read them all and have enjoyed them all (her latest, State of Wonder, not as much).  But this is her best one - except for the ending.  So, the premise is that terrorists take over an embassy party in a South American country.  The story works on two sets of relationships.  The first is the multiple connections between captors and captives.  And the second focuses on the various captives and how they communicate and get along despite being from different countries and different cultures.  It's a great concept.  It's very well-written and extremely engrossing.  I've had discussions with people about the ending.  Some agree with me that the ending is way too neat, and others (how dare they!) disagree.  It reminds me a little bit of John Grisham's The Firm.  I really liked the book, but the ending was so messed up that I swore I would never read him again.  I have lived by that except for a couple of novellas.  This ending was not that bad.  Luckily for Patchett(!), I have continued to read her novels.
Letter Grade - A-

4.  Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen.  We all saw Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in the movie.  No synopsis is necessary.  But there is a major difference between the book and the movie.  In the book, the chapters alternate between the protagonist as a youth and much later as an elderly man in an assisted living facility.  And I have to tell you, I liked the chapters about the circus but really loved the chapters when he is old.  In the movie, there are small parts in the beginning and end showing him old.  Everything else was circus.  I thought that was too bad.  Gruen wrote 2 novels before Water for Elephants.  They didn't do too much for her career.  She has written 1 book since Water for Elephants.  It is called The Ape House.  I was really excited to read it.  Wow, was I disappointed.  I not only thought the story line was lame, but I also thought it was NOT well-written - at all.  DON'T READ IT!  If I had read this first, there's no way I would have read anything else by her.
Letter Grade - A-

5.  Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger.  This book is too confusing to explain.  I've not only read the book but I've seen the movie that Lifetime put out.  I still don't get it.  This guy keeps time traveling.  He meets his future wife when he's an adult, and she's a young girl.  It goes back and forth in what seemed to me to be an endless loop.  In fact, the book seemed endless.  Niffenegger is a visual artist who took 6 years to write the book.  I think she should have spent more time on her chosen career.  But what do I know.  Lots of people like this book a lot.  Perhaps I'm guilty of wanting my books to actually make sense.  She has written 1 book since Time Traveler's Wife.  I have not read it.
Letter Grade - C+

Don't forget - Harlan Coben is coming to Kepler's on Sunday, March 25, at 2:00.

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