Julia Sneden Reviews
Revisiting Favorite Books and Authors: Kristin Lavransdatter
Culture Watch: March 7, 2001 - Book reviews: Ahdaf Soueif's novel, The Map of Love and Shop Girl by Steve Martin
April 10, 2001 - Book Reviews: We Were The Mulvaneys and Galileo's Daughter
April 20, 2002 - Book review: Thoughts From a Queen-Sized Bed by Mimi Schwartz
October 29, 2002 - Book review: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
March 17, 2003 - Book Review, Suburban Nation by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Jeff Speck
April 24, 2003 - Book Review, In My Mother's Closet by Eugenia Zukerman
May 21, 2003: Book Review, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
June 21, 2003: Book Reviews, Oryx and Crake, Isaac Newton, My Father Had a Daughter: Judith Shakespeare's Tale
July 22, 2003: A review of Getting Along (almost) With Your Adult Kids by Lois and Joel R. Davitz
April 20th, 2004 CultureWatch: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd,
Regional Museums: The Mint Museums in Charlotte, NC
May 21st, 2004 Culture Watch: The Life of Pi
July 20th, 2004 Culture Watch: Good Grief: Julia Glass’s 2002 National Book Award winner, Three Junes
October 27th, 2004 Culture Watch: The Opposite of Fate - A Book Of Musings andThe Rule of Four
January 2005 CultureWatch: Anita Shreve's Light on Snow, David Guterson's Our Lady of the Forest and Susan Vreeland's The Forest Lover
February 2005: CultureWatch: Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters and Age-Proof Your Mind
March 2005 CultureWatch: The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies
April 2005 CultureWatch: Democratic Capitalism and Jane Fonda's autobiography, My Life So Far
June 2005 CultureWatch: Will in the World and A Great Improvisation; Franklin, France, and the Birth of America
July 2005 CultureWatch: Brunelleschi’s Dome and Mourning Ruby
August 2005 CultureWatch: Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft and Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince is a rattling good story, one that entertains but also explores moral dilemmas.
October 2005 CultureWatch: The Mermaid Chair and a trio of mysteries by Kay Scarpetta, Bailey Weggins and partners Leaphorn and Chee
November 2005 CultureWatch: 1491 by Charles Mann; Robert Hicks' historical novel, The Widow of the South; Andrew Weil's good advice in Healthy Aging
January 2006 CultureWatch: In Our Endangered Values, America ’s Moral Crisis, Jimmy Carter sounds a clarion cry for change in the future. Toyin Falola writes with humor, truth, and purpose in A Mouth Sweeter Than Salt; Simi Linton’s memoir, My Body Politic, is a summon to the necessity for “affirmative actions of a new and as yet unwritten form to make inclusion, integration, and participation a given of the 21st century”
CultureWatch — P.D. James' The Lighthouse: A masterful plotter, a creator of believable and fascinating characters that makes reading her an unmitigated joy; Linda Fairstein's Death Dance: Fairstein’s workmanlike writing serves her chosen genre well, but don’t look for great literature in this series; Patricia Cornwell's Predator crawls without any instances of positive interaction between characters
CultureWatch: A Special Education: One Family’s Journey Through the Maze of Learning Disabilities is a brave book by Dana Buchman, in which the author looks back at herself with amazing candor. Gilead is Marilynne Robinson's first novel since Housekeeping and is well worth the wait. The standard of writing in Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules is satisfyingly high, with authors well-known to those of us who admire the short story
CultureWatch: Digging to America by Ann Tyler is an engaging read, even if it is fairly slim stuff. She is an exceptionally accessible writer, one who has the modern idiom down pat. Roger Angel introducing Let Me Finish writes “The title of this book ... isn’t about wrapping up a life or a time of life but should only evoke a garrulous gent at the end of the table holding up one hand while he tries to remember the great last line of his monologue”
CultureWatch: Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, with its impeccable research and lively text, should be a mandatory read for anyone who loves history and a delightful surprise for those who do not. Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin — An American Life has found its way into a place of honor on my long shelf of Frankliniana and should find its way into the hands of any American interested in our country’s beginnings, or for that matter into the hands of anyone interested in good historical writing. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen manages to be engaging, touching, scary, and just plain fun to read, all at once
CultureWatch: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards is emotionally engaging and thought-provoking in its exploration of the ramifications an initial falsehood can cause. What could be a better end-of-summer read than a romp with Fannie Flagg, author of Can't Wait To Get To Heaven, an upbeat, on-the-nose novel to make you laugh out loud. Judith Viorst, writing in I'm Too Young To Be Seventy And Other Delusions, supplies the kind of good laughter that finds you shaking your head in agreement
CultureWatch: In I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron, has let fly with her own trenchant thoughts on things like wrinkles and graying hair but alas, The Man Who Loved Jane Austin by Sally Smith O’Rourke is full of unfortunate examples of dreadful writing. Morels by Michael Kuo is a beautiful book of particular interest to mycologists and mushroom hunters.
CultureWatch: Daniel Woodrell in Winter's Bone delves deeply into the brutality and the tenderness of people in a marginalized segment of our society. Deceit by James Siegel will inspire conspiracy theorists to be drawn to this book like flies to honey. The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos is a beautifully written and constructed crime novel. John Ehle's The Land Breakers, reissued in paperback offers a chance for new readers to discover this quiet, authoritative novelist
CultureWatch: It is Elizabeth Edwards's kindness and honesty and common sense that shine through every chapter of Saving Graces. In Imperium, Robert Harris has given us more than just the life of a great orator and politician; he has also given us the voice, mind and soul of his narrator. If you want a sweet escape and some fun re-living the decades from 1962 to the present, you’ll like Spring and Fall. Hidden Kitchens is high in entertainment value, as well as being informative for those of us who enjoy kitchen talk and action
CultureWatch: Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons is a fascinating look at nineteenth century mountain life, and an introduction to the place of the Cherokee therein. Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale begins with a paean to the published word, an almost sensual appreciation for literature. Tony Hillerman's Shape Shifter involves a case that has continued to haunt Lt. Joe Leaphorn since his retirement.
CultureWatch: A Needle in the Right Hand of God is an analysis of the Bayeux Tapestry's creation, its importance, and its purpose. The Crimson Portrait is about a WWI group of doctors, scientists, nurses, and an artist who cared for soldiers with severe facial wounds, becoming developers of a new branch of medicine: plastic surgery. What is the What is a paean to the human spirit which can grow and thrive in the face of incredible deprivation
CultureWatch: The Foundation by Joel Fleishman: Anyone interested in the world of foundations and the dispersal of private wealth for common good will find this book enlightening and often surprising. Step on a Crack by James Patterson doesn’t just ramp up your adrenaline; it also tries to rip out your heartstrings.
CultureWatch: Afternoons With Emily: The characters, for the most part, ring true, and whether or not you’re interested in a new interpretation of Emily Dickinson, this book is fun to read. If anyone can keep the reader glued to page after grim page, Cormac McCarthy does in The Road. In the Naming of the Dead, female characters also have depth and dimension, something the male writers of thrillers often overlook
Culture Watch, Three for the Beach: Our reviewer confesses she read straight through North River, caught up in Pete Hamill’s lovely writing and the yarn he has spun. For a read that will make you laugh at the same time you’re shaking your head in recognition, JoeAnn Hart's Addled is it. If you’re looking for a lively mystery involving a grandmother who still has all her faculties including her sex drive, Relative Danger by June Shaw is for you
CultureWatch: The Blood of Flowers is set in 17th century Persia, a complex and fascinating tale written in the voice of a young woman from a small village; Still Summer is not the story to read before embarking on a cruise in anything smaller than a liner; Barefoot, a take on the interactions of siblings, as well as the anguish of a mother facing her mortality; The Empty Nest, a series of meditations on the fact that being a good parent demands the strength to let go of the job
CultureWatch: A Thousand Splendid Suns speaks deeply to the universal human spirit and the values of patience and loyalty and hope and honesty in the face of overwhelming odds. The Rest of Her Life is an event-driven novel about a family’s reaction to tragedy. Getting Rid of Matthew is a fun read that manages also to be quite touching
CultureWatch: By George is an engaging and sometimes confusing little novel. That’s not surprising, inasmuch as it is told in the voice of a ventriloquist’s dummy named George. If you love romances where everyone talks at length (o, endlessly) about feelings, The Choice is the book for you. Also, Books About Health and Retirement Concerns
CultureWatch: John Donne is an eminently readable book for the layman, especially for those of us who have read and loved John Donne’s poetry or sermons; Loving Frank is a remarkable piece of research, a novel, if you will, built on truth, and in the hands of a first-rate writer; The Italian Lover is about an American book conservator/restorer, who discovers a unique copy of Renaissance erotic drawings, Pietro Aretino’sI Modi
CultureWatch: Signed, Mata Hari by Yannick Murphy is a complex, brilliant, fascinating book; John Lithgow's Poets’ Corner would make a fine gift for any teenager or poetry-loving adult; Best Choices from the People's Pharmacy by Joe and Terry Graedon is a collection of common sense and effective self-care remedies covering hundreds of common medical conditions
CultureWatch — People of the Book: Our reviewer didn’t get out of her chair for a very long time, and when she did, she made the move with regret; Beginner's Greek is a comedy of manners; it’s a cynic’s delight; it’s a social satire; it’s a paean to love at first sight. And If a high-class, feel-good tale is your cup of tea, you will love World Without End
CultureWatch: An Irish Country Village recalls Patrick Taylor’s firm grip on how to spin a wild Irish tale, full of very real (although often eccentric) folk, and the lively times in the life of the village of Ballybucklebo. Firefly Lane displays some good writing but its soap opera ways turns off our reviewer. Where Did I Leave My Glasses; The What, When, and Why of Normal Memory Loss demonstrates easy style and humor, along with the author's impressive research making this new book a must-have for anyone concerned about lapses of memo
CultureWatch — In The Thing About Life is That One Day You'll Be Dead the author's relationship to his father is full of love and laughter, but he reveals old wolf/young wolf competition; The Blue Star is more than evocative of the early days of World War II. It rings true in every way; The Life of the Skies links our desire to watch birds as from a time when apprehending the natural world was a matter of life and death
CultureWatch: In After Dark, Haruki Murakami’s virtuosity draws you in even as it puzzles and dazzles. Jhumpa Lahiri's writing in Unaccustomed Earth has a resonance that is rare in so young an author: every layer of it is full of rich intention. The Alzheimer's Action Plan is rich in medical and practical advice; run, don't walk to your bookstore for a copy
CultureWatch: Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts has quality gossip. Even at its meanest, it's well-articulated and pertinent. Patricia Cornwell's prose in The Front moves fast and furiously, like the noire novels of the ‘30’s. The First 30 Days and Just Who Will You Be? represent books review-worthy in the self-help category
CultureWatch: Stand The Storm is the brave tale of a family's rise from slavery. Settling is an engaging romance for those who have lived through a few heartbreaks
CultureWatch: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a clear winner on the side of delightful; A Voyage Long and Strange is an interesting history of exploration and settlement of the Americas
CultureWatch in Paperback: The final part of Musicophilia covers both illusive connections and evocations that music brings to minds consumed by melancholia and the healing powers that music can have as the mind deals with loss and sorrow; A pre-Holiday review of three children’s books involving SWW's author Ferida Wolff
CultureWatch: Heartbeat for Horses will speak to anybody who has ever loved horses, either in reality or in literature
CultureWatch: The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard keeps one foot planted on the ground and the other tapping away in the world of the early motion picture industry
CultureWatch: The Private Patient by Baroness P.D. James holds our interest by the discovery of not just the who-dun-it, but the complex motives behind the actions. Anyone who loves dogs and brilliant descriptive writing will find Sawtelle rewarding
CultureWatch: Henry Alford is witty and literate, but somehow he has allowed his talents to be diffused, by mixing the intensely personal with the reportorial in How to Live; A Search for Wisdom from Old People
CultureWatch: Serena, a tale of ambition and intrigue of the rape of thousands of Smoky Mountains' acres. Fat Rose & Squeaky on DVD will resonate with those who are determined to stay in control of their lives, and to protect what they have
Health, Fitness and Parenting: Mother Warriors by Jenny McCarthy is an eloquent and persuasive voice for autistic children. Cancer: 50 Essential Things to Do (third edition) are clear, practical strategies for dealing with a diagnosis of cancer, and taking charge of the management of one’s health
CultureWatch: Frank Lloyd Wright chose spirited, intelligent women to share his larger-than-life life but he dominated and used his wives relentlessly as seen in The Women. It is Rita Dove's poetic imagination and imagery that makes Sonata Mulattica such a rewarding read.
CultureWatch: A Gate at the Top of the Stairs is about loss, cruelty of others and prejudice, dishonesty, and betrayals that combines humor with heartbreak. The Locust and the Bird will send those who aren’t familiar with Hanan Al-Shaykh's earlier books rushing to the library.
CultureWatch: Olive Kitteridge, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel now in paperback, gives a deep sense of the connectedness of the small town and its inhabitants and Olive’s place in the scheme of things.
CultureWatch: P.D. James, in Talking About Detective Fiction, writes "if it is true, as the evidence suggests, that the detective story flourishes best in the most difficult of times, we may well be at the beginning of a new Golden Age." The Museum of Innocence Orhan Pamuk is from the outset a book arranged by artifice. It is the first book I’ve read where the author inserts himself so directly.
CultureWatch: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God was a ground-breaker; with great intelligence and truth she used her gift for telling a story to reach into our hearts and minds.
CultureWatch: In these days of bodice-rippers and cliff-hangers, there are few books best experienced in short dips. Thomas Mallon's Yours Ever: People and Their Letters is a prime example of the latter
On Looking Forward to Summer and Good Beach Reads requires beach reads be of a stop-and-start, interruptible nature, because one never knows when others in the group might want to take a dip, or go to the ice cream store, or pile into cars to hit the local cinema
CultureWatch Beach Reads: The Three Weismanns of Westport, a tale of the dissolution of a long marriage that is a dead-on look at the emotional, financial, irretrievable cost of the husband's words and actions
CultureWatch: For anyone enamored of English literature in general and its romantic poets in particular, Young Romantics is a treasure. The New York Times Practical Guide to Practically Everything is a treat for all who enjoy trivia; a fine resource for straightforward and authoritative information.
CultureWatch: When I had finally finished Sigrid Undset's The Master of Hestviken, I could hardly bear the realization that it wouldn’t be waiting by my chair of an evening, with yet another chapter to read. Great books are like great loves — delicious while they last, but when they’re done, they leave an empty room in your heart.
CultureWatch: 13 Words by Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman is a great grandparent/grandchild read. Terry Pratchett, the author of Nation is a profoundly moral writer, consistently playful and often just delicious. And there's a caveat about Theodore Boone - Kid Lawyer by John Grisham
Book Review: The Hare With Amber Eyes - This reflection on the story-telling inherent in the handing-down of objects will strike a chord in anyone who has inherited family treasures, no matter how small and un-dramatic their story
CultureWatch: In the Pursuit of Happiness — To call Maria Kalman's work idiosyncratic isn’t nearly powerful enough to describe what she has produced. It is an explosion of such brilliance that one scarcely knows where to start
CultureWatch: The Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy: Julia was suspicious and too stubborn to believe that anything so popular could be so good; she finds otherwise
CultureWatch: The power and intricacy of The Tiger’s Wife mark the beginning of what, if Téa Obreht keeps writing, should become a distinguished literary career
CultureWatch: Don’t let the extra pages of notes and bibliography put you off Founding Gardeners, a remarkable book. Neither dull nor pedantic, nor beyond the grasp of anyone who likes history or loves growing things
CultureWatch: The author of Carthage Must Be Destroyed takes a close look at our preconceived notions of Carthage, colored as they are by the accounts of Greek and Roman writers who had a vested interest in presenting Carthaginians as cruel and duplicitous
CultureWatch Review: Pause and batten down the hatches before you plunge in!: Would 1493 by Charles Mann come up to the standard Mann had set so high with 1491? She writes, "The answer, dear reader, is a resounding 'Yes!' That answer does not, however, come without a few caveats."
CultureWatch: Dr. Mukherjee, author of Emperor of All Maladies, explains with great clarity just exactly what cancer is, how much we know about it at this point, and possible new directions in which the world of science might proceed to deal with it
CultureWatch's Four Gift Book Suggestions That Involve Murder, Assassination, Racial Hatred and Ageism: Margolick has written a profile of Elizabeth and Hazel, who appeared in an iconic photograph at Little Rock’s High School. How they have handled both friendship and distancing is a long and complex tale. Millard's Destiny of a Republic is a sensitive, detailed account of President Garfield’s murder and on Ms. Sneden's highly recommended list
CultureWatch Reviews: P.D. James has written not just a sequel to the action of Pride and Prejudice: she has somehow absorbed Jane Austen’s style whole in Death Comes to Pemberley, elegant proof that Baroness James deserves her extraordinary literary reputation
CultureWatch Reviews, City of Fortune: Anyone interested in the history of the Mediterranean will find this book, with its detailed recounting of the political, economic, and religious power struggles during a period of about five hundred years (c. 1000 AD to the 1500’s), quite fascinating. So will anyone who has ever fallen in love with Venice, and has wondered about the history of that amazing, improbable city
CultureWatch Reviews: Daniel Handler specializes in a light-semi-irreverent tone that manages also to be perceptive and truthful, even as it entertains, in Why We Broke Up, a story of teenage love gone awry
CultureWatch, An Asperger's Puzzle, A Fine New Short Story Author and a Lady Spy Thrills: Nilla Childs has framed Puzzled: 100 pieces of Autism in what she terms the 8 steps to completing a jigsaw puzzle and learning how to give up "what does not work." Megan Bergman’s fine collection of short stories, Birds of a Lesser Paradise, have both moral profundity and light-hearted humor. If you're looking for the next big page-turner, it's in The Expats. Chris Pavone is a dab hand at both mayhem and domesticity
CultureWatch Review, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power — The next time you wonder where your taxes are going, I recommend reading Rachel Maddow's book. You may also want to take an aspirin or a Xantac, or at least a glass of wine before reading this section of Drift, to dull the pain