Review of An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, by Brock Clarke


An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England

by Brock Clarke

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007.  303 pages.

Sam Pulsifer is a bumbler.  He’s a lovable bumbler, but he’s undeniably a bumbler.

Sam spent ten years of his life in prison because when he was eighteen, he accidentally burned down the Emily Dickinson House and killed two people.

While he was in prison, people wrote to him, asking him to burn down other writers’ houses for them.  His father saved the letters in a shoebox.

When he gets out, he’s on his way to a happy life, with a career, a beautiful wife and two children.  But circumstances come against him, and Sam inevitably bumbles his reactions.

This book is humorous, but in a deeply sad way.  This is not the typical feel-good novel I read, and I almost didn’t finish it.  Readers with a cynical bent will find the book quite hilarious.  I found it terribly sad.  If I had known one of the issues it deals with is marital happiness and unfaithfulness, I probably never would have picked it up.  Overall, it has an exceedingly pessimistic outlook on life, and love, and literature.

In the end, I finished the book because I cared about Sam Pulsifer.  Yes, he’s a bumbler, but he has a good, noble heart.  I still find myself hoping that, after the book finishes, perhaps events in his life will, somehow, take a turn for the better.

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Review of The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith


The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, by Alexander McCall Smith

Pantheon Books, New York, 2007.  213 pages.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008.  #5 Fiction: Romance

This book, the eighth in the series about The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency, is extra special, because my copy is signed by the author.  I got to hear Alexander McCall Smith speak at George Mason University.  His talk was every bit as funny and delightful as his books.  I was completely enchanted.  Of course, that didn’t surprise me at all, since his books never fail to delight me.

I continue to strongly recommend this series to library patrons.  I do urge you to begin at the beginning, with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  I think you will probably want to read the rest, and eagerly read each next installment.

In The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, will Mma Makutsi really leave the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency?  The pleasant ups and downs of day to day life, as usual, are peppered with interesting cases.  Another delightful book.

I will give a taste of the pleasant wisdom found in these books by listing some quotations I highlighted:

“If there’s bad behaviour, the quickest way of stopping it is to give more love.  That always works, you know.  People say that we must punish when there is wrongdoing, but if you punish you’re only punishing yourself.  And what’s the point of that?”

“And that stopped the stealing.  Trust did it.  We trusted him, and he knew it.  So he stopped stealing.”

” ‘What we are trying to do with these children,’ said Mma Potokwane suddenly, ‘is to give them good things to remember.  We want to make so many good memories for them that the bad ones are pushed into a corner and forgotten.'”

“There was no point in telling somebody not to cry, she had always thought; indeed there were times when you should do exactly the opposite, when you should urge people to cry, to start the healing that sometimes only tears can bring.”

” ‘That engine I’ve been working on will run so sweetly,’ he remarked as he poured his tea.

‘Like life,’ she said.”

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Review of Italian Lessons, by Peter Pezzelli


Italian Lessons, by Peter Pezzelli

Kensington Books, New York, 2007.  346 pages.

This is the second book by Peter Pezzelli that I’ve read.  I found both books warm and wonderful.  With both, I felt transported back to Italy.

In Italian Lessons, Carter Quinn, newly graduated from college, has fallen in love with a girl who lives in a village in Italy.  He can’t stop thinking about her.  So he decides to spend his summer learning Italian and then go to find her.

Carter learns that a music professor often gives private Italian lessons.  This professor, Giancarlo Rosa, has not been back to his childhood home in Italy for decades.

Italian Lessons covers the summer’s lessons together, what Carter learns about Italy and about life, and then what he finds in Italy — and how his discoveries touch Professor Rosa permanently, and allow him to finally make peace with his past.

This is a feel-good novel that is also thought-provoking, covering issues of life like forgiveness and destiny and opportunities.

I definitely need to look for more of Peter Pezzelli’s novels.  So far, they always leave me with a smile.

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Stand-outs 2007 are posted!

I’ve finally chosen the 2007 Sonderbooks Stand-outs!

These are the best books I read in 2006, reviewed between March 2006, and September 18, 2007.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to feature the Stand-outs on the main page and convert their reviews to the new format. Then I’ll post new reviews again.

Stand-outs are the books that stick out as exceptional when I look back over a year of reading. The sort of books I want all my friends to read, too!

Happy reading!