My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki

My Year of Meats
Now that Michael Pollan's New York Times bestsellers have opened up a national dialogue about where food really comes from, conscientious readers everywhere will want to devour My Year of Meats. When documentarian Jane Takagi-Little finally lands a job producing a Japanese television show that just happens to be sponsored by the American meat-exporting industry, she begins to uncover some unsavory truths about love, fertility, and a very dangerous hormone called DES. A modern-day take on Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, veteran filmmaker Ruth Ozeki's novel has been hailed as "rare and provocative" (USA Today) and "up-to-the-minute" (Chicago Tribune).

4.5 Stars
I think this book was VERY good, despite my distaste for postmodern fiction. The main character was believable and fierce and I wanted her to round-house a million scheming meat industry idiots in about two chapters. Besides that, the novel really touches on the universal humanity we all share and the injustices we are suffering because we are unaware of what the meat industry is doing to our foods (hormones... MANNYY hormones). Ozeki emphasizes the point that there is SO much debilitating ignorance; this ignorance paralyzes the people that would mobilize protests against unfair practices in business. She based the novel's facts on valid research, so I had a bit of trouble eating beef after reading this novel.

Final Verdict: Fresh-Ground Goodness

Mona in the Promised Land by Gish Jen

Mona in the Promised Land
In this ebullient and inventive novel, Gish Jen restores multiculturalism from high concept to a fact of life. At least that's what it becomes for teenaged Mona Chang, who in 1968 moves with her newly prosperous family to Scarshill, New York, where the Chinese have become "the new Jews." What could be more natural than for Mona to take this literally--even to the point of converting? As Mona attends temple "rap" sessions and falls in love (with a nice Jewish boy who lives in a tepee), Jen introduces us to one of the most charming and sweet-spirited heroines in recent fiction, a girl who can wisecrack with perfect aplomb even when she's organizing the help in her father's pancake house. On every page of Mona in the Promised Land, Gish Jen sets our received notions spinning with a wit as dry as a latter-day Jane Austen's.

4 Stars: This book was quite good. Though this was a book I read for class, I would have read it on my own. The main character, Mona, has a brilliant sardonic wit and is a hoot - if you can keep up with her. The characters are well-formed and purposeful and the dynamics of different ethnic communities are distinguished in a clever and distinct way. I really enjoyed the story line as well - a Chinese-American trying to convert to Judaism is not your usual novel topic. Mona makes you feel like you aren't alone in your search for yourself and her coming-of-age leads you quickly and splashingly into the search for your identity. If you're a girl, read this.

Final Verdict: Classic Coming-of-age

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles is a 1950 science fiction short story collection by Ray Bradbury that chronicles the colonization of Mars by humans fleeing from a troubled Earth, and the conflict between aboriginal Martians and the new colonists. The book lies somewhere between a short story collection and an episodic novel, containing stories Bradbury originally published in the late 1940s in science fiction magazines.

5 Stars - This is THAT book for me. It is the book that changed the way I see the world and makes me realize that its all worth it. Needless to say, Bradbury is a literary genius; his turn of phrase and wonderfully crafted short stories make this collection worth a read. I probably really enjoy it because there are a lot of allusions to other pieces of literature. If you aren't into symbolism, if you like having a central character to follow - still try reading it! I assure you, you won't regret it. My favorite book of all time.

The Final Verdict : Martian Masterpiece


The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon follows the stuggle of Morgaine, a priestess of the Mother Goddess, in her struggle against the encroachment of Christianity during the reigns of Uther Pendragon and his son (and her own half-brother), Arthur. When Arthur and Morgaine, neither knowing their relationship to one another, conceive a son, Modred, the seeds of conflict between Avalon and Camelot are sown. Eventually, the battle between Arthur and Modred leaves no one but Morgaine alive to tell the tale.

4 Stars - Though this book isn't necessarily a page-turner at all points in time, it's a great story from some wonderful and crisp perspectives. Personally, I love arthurian novels. I loved this one especially because it twists the story - making the women the protagonists. It's long, but completely worth the time. I almost thought of it as a trilogy put into one book. The main character is wonderful and independent - she doesn't need you to like her or support her, but you do anyway. I deeply appreciated reading this book.

The Final Verdict : Arthurian Artisanship


The Confessions of an Ugly Step-sister

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

The story follows Iris as she takes care of her mentally-challenged older sister Ruth and her stepsister Clara. Having fled from England to Haarlem, Iris often contemplates the value of beauty and ugliness. While caring for her sisters and keeping the peace between Clara and Margarethe, her mother, Iris spends time apprenticing with a local painter known as The Master, and his apprentice, Caspar. On the verge of losing everything after a sudden drop in their stock market, Margarethe devises a plan for Iris and Ruth to attend the ball. She leaves out Clara because she knows full well that if the girl wed the prince, she would abandon her family and they'd end up in the poorhouse.That night the fairy tale of Cinderella and her pumpkin carriage is spun, and the next morning her prince comes to collect her.

1 Star - This book was quite a disappointment. The premise is very interesting and I was looking forward to reading the book. Unfortunately the book moved at a glacial pace and was only interesting every once in a while. This doesn't seem like an ideal quality for a book to me. Few of the characters were very likable. The way the story unfolded was very jolted and inconsistent in pace. I would not recommend it.

The Final Verdict : A Fairytale Failure


Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants
The novel, told in flashback by nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski, recounts the wild and wonderful period he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus he joined during the Great Depression. When 23-year-old Jankowski learns that his parents have been killed in a car crash, leaving him penniless, he drops out of Cornell veterinary school and parlays his expertise with animals into a job with the circus, where he cares for a menagerie of exotic creatures[...] He also falls in love with Marlena, one of the show's star performers—a romance complicated by Marlena's husband, the unbalanced, sadistic circus boss who beats both his wife and the animals Jankowski cares for.

5 Stars - This is a spectacular book. It's easy to read, the characters are interesting and original, and you MUST read it. It's told entirely from the perspective of an old man in a nursing home that traveled with The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth after his parents die and he drops out of Cornell vet school. The animals in the book are my favorite characters by far and it was fascinating to see into the world of circuses when they were in their prime. I really enjoyed the glimpse back in time. The animals made everything more interesting and vivid - a perfect backdrop for mystery, romance, and a struggling business. Ah, I can't say enough about this book. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me really appreciate the time I have on earth and the adventures that I might end up living in the future. It also made me think that it might be fun to love one person your whole life - a grand adventure. Really - Life is a grand adventure in this book.

The Final Verdict : A Spectacular Adventure (arguably the best on earth =))


The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader
When he falls ill on his way home from school, 15 year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. The two begin an unexpected and passionate affair only for Hanna to suddenly and inexplicably disappear. Eight years later, Michael, now a young law student observing Nazi war trials, meets his former lover again, under very different circumstances. Hanna is on trial for a hideous crime, and as she refuses to defend herself, Michael gradually realizes his boyhood love may be guarding a secret she considers to be more shameful than murder.

4 Stars - I gobbled this book up on a single plane ride from Greece to America (Yes, the airplane food IS that bad). Kidding. ANYWAY, though this book is a little tragic and frustrating, it effectively allows you to form your own opinion about who is 'the bad guy' and who is 'the good guy'. This is definitely not for kids... because of the contents, but the story is interesting and easy to follow. Also, the main character is very believable.

The Final Verdict: A Good Quick Read