Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 books, 101-150

By popular demand... my books read in 2006...

Part III

150. Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going
149. Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan
148. Mister Monday by Garth Nix
147. The Whole World Over by Julia Glass
146. Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman
145. The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster
144. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
143. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones
142. Thirty-three Swoons by Martha Cooley
141. Shopgirl by Steve Martin
140. Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
139. The Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo
138. Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear
137. Melancholy by Jon Fosse
136. Undead and Unemployed by MaryJanice Davidson
135. Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates
134. Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson
133. The Last Fine Time by Verlyn Klinkenborg
132. The Blue Taxi by N.S. Koeenings
131. The Man of my Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld
130. Lying in Bed by M.J. Rose
129. Max and the Cats by Moacyr Scliar
128. Fordlandia by Eduardo Sguiglia
127. Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
126. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith
125. Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay
124. The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
123. Sweet Magnolia by Norma Jarrett
122. Blood Money by Thomas Perry
121. Vanishing Act by Thomas Perry
120. White Time by Margo Lanagan
119. Last virgin in paradise by Vilsoni Hereniko and Teresia Teaiwa
118. Blindness by Jose Saramago
117. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
116. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
115. My Name is Bosnia by Madeleine Gagnon
114. The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
113. Sanctified Blues by Mable John and David Ritz
112. Ambiguous Adventure by Cheikh Hamidou Kane
111. The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey
110. Ursula's Maiden Army by Philip Griffin
109. Bollywood Confidential by Sonia Singh
108. Sammy Keyes and the Hollywood Mummy by Wendelin Van Draanen
107. Literary Trivia by Aubrey Malone
106. The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra
105. Summer in Termuren by Louis Paul Boon
104. Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman
103. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
102. Goddess of the Night by Lynne Ewing
101. The Olympic Conspiracy by Katherine Roberts

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Rhythm of the Road

The Rhythm of the Road by Albyn Leah Hall

Albyn Leah Hall's American debut is the story of one young woman and her search for self.

Josephine Pickering grew up on the roads of England. Raised by her father Bobby, a commercial trucker who instilled in her a love of the road and of country music, she always felt more at home in the cab of their Scania than in their small London apartment.

Despite the fact that he suffers from severe depression, Bobby is a loving father and Jo's best friend. When Bobby takes his life during her seventeenth year, Jo is lost at sea. With nowhere else to turn, she becomes obsessed with Cosima Stewart, a successful alternative country singer whom she and Bobby first met as a hitchhiker five years earlier. Her life spiraling out of control, Jo travels to America on a self-destructive quest.

While Jo does in the end find redemption, it is a long path that we, as readers, must travel with her. It is only when Jo comes to terms with her own true self that she can live a life out of the shadow of Cosima and her seemingly charmed life.

Much of what Hall explores in The Rhythm of the Road can be summed up by this one conversation between Bobby and Jo, age 12:
"Jo," he said, "did you ever wonder if your life could be stolen, the way a wallet could? Did you ever wake up and think, 'Someone might have nicked my life, and now they are walking around living it'?"
"Whose life would you have, then?"
"A borrowed one."
"But if your life was borrowed, who would have your real life?"
"There might be no real life. The real Bobby could be no Bobby, just a grain in a handful of sand at the bottom of the sea."
"If you weren't really you, would I still be really me?"
"You'll always be you." (19-20)
Hall's characters are well-wrought. The novel's plot, however, does at times seem to play second fiddle to the mood Hall is trying (very successfully) to set. The first half of the novel, which jumps between Bobby and Jo during her early teens and flashbacks of Bobby tumultuous relationship with Jo's mother, is undoubtably stronger than its second.

On a side note: The Rhythm of the Road seems to be informed by Hall's earlier work. In fact, Deliria, Hall's first novel, sounds very much like the story of Jo's mom and her time in England.

Friday, December 29, 2006

2006 books, 51-100

By popular demand... my books read in 2006...

Part II

100. Drowned Ammet by Diana Wynne Jones
99. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
98. Trevor's Song [draft] by Susan Helene Gottfried
97. The Amazon Temple Quest by Katherine Roberts
96. Every Visible Thing by Lisa Carey
95. Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
94. The Babylon Game by Katherine Roberts
93. Goodbye Lemon by Adam Davies
92. The Great Pyramid Robbery by Katherine Roberts
91. Seven Houses by Alev Lytle Croutier
90. The Why Cafe by John Strelecky
89. Games at Twilight by Anita Desai
88. Viking Warrior by Judson Roberts
87. Jump at the Sun by Kim McLarin
86. A Spectacle of Corruption by David Liss
85. I'll Steal You Away by Niccolo Ammaniti
84. Indigo by Alice Hoffman
83. The Bulgari Connection by Fay Weldon
82. The Alchemist's Daughter by Katharine Mcmahon
81. The Real Thing by Kay Hooper
80. Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
79. Snow Fire Sword by Sophie Masson
78. The Colossus Crisis by Katherine Roberts
77. The Mausoleum Murder by Katherine Roberts
76. The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea
75. Ruby by Francesca Lia Block & Carmen Staton
74. The Queen's Soprano by Carol Dines
73. Specials by Scott Westerfeld
72. Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones
71. The Ethical Assassin by David Liss
70. Black Maria by Diana Wynne Jones
69. Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde
68. The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
67. A Bell for Adano by John Hersey
66. Revenge of the Wrought-Iron Flamingos by Donna Andrews
65. Dog Days: an animal chronicle by Patrice Nganang
64. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
63. Eternally Bad: Goddess with Attitude by Trina Robbins
62. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
61. Green Angel by Alice Hoffman
60. Girls' Night In (Red Dress Ink) multiple authors
59. The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
58. Parineeta by Saratchandra Chattopadhyay
57. Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter by Blaize Clement
56. Stroke of Midnight by Phillips, Denison, and D'Alessandro
55. Pest Control by Bill Fitzhugh
54. Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan
53. In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
52. One Hit Wonderland by Tony Hawks
51. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

2006 books, 1-50

By popular demand... my books read in 2006...

Part I

50. Echoes of the Ozarks, Vol 1 by Ozarks Writers League
49. The Food of Love by Anthony Capella
48. The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman
47. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
46. In the Electric Eden by Nick Arvin
45. My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain
44. Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell
43. In the Wake by Per Petterson
42. The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde
41. The Work of Writing by Elizabeth Rankin
40. No News at Throat Lake: in search of Ireland by Lawrence Donegan
39. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
38. Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
37. Gypsy Masala by Preethi Nair
36. Mafia Chic by Erica Orloff
35. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
34. Orsinian Tales: Stories by Ursula Le Guin
33. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
32. Love Most Foolish, Love Most Kind by Charlotte Ann Smith
31. Changing Habits by Debbie Macomber
30. The Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss
29. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
28. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas
27. Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
26. Rapids by Tim Parks
25. Wild Robert by Diana Wynne Jones
24. Real Life in Castro's Cuba by Catherine Moses
23. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
22. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
21. The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde
20. Everything I'm Cracked Up to Be by Jen Trynin
19. City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende
18. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
17. When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head
16. The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman
15. Passage by Connie Willis
14. The Pact by Jodi Picoult
13. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
12. There Will Never Be Another You by Carolyn See
11. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
10. Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
9. The Victoria's Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming: And Other Lessons I Learned from Breast Cancer by Jennie Nash
8. Stopping for a Spell by Diana Wynne Jones
7. My Lucky Star by Joe Keenan
6. The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
5. Women on the Edge II by Maitena
4. Women on the Edge I by Maitena
3. Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice
2. The Chess Garden by Brooks Hansen
1. Archer's Goon by Diana Wynne Jones

Thursday, December 28, 2006

200 books

Despite my recent lack of reading, I have reached my two hundred book goal for this year. I'm not sure how many other books I'll be able to finish before January 1st, but at least I can say that I've read two hundred in 2006.
I was thinking about including the list here, but it is quite long...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Books for Boxing Day

Here are the books I got from my wonderful Boxing Day exchange partner:
~ Garbo Laughs by Elizabeth Hay
~ Memories of Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
~ Mr. Cat by George Freedley
~ Nadia's Song by Soheir Khashoggi

Books for Christmas

Because books make the best gifts...

Here are the books that I got for Christmas:
~ The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk
~ The Black Tulip: A Novel of War in Afghanistan by Milt Bearden
~ The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint
~ The Coffee-House: A Cultural History by Markman Ellis
~ The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket
~ The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
~ The Princess Bride by William Goldman
~ Trader by Charles de Lint

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Can you keep a secret?

Can you keep a secret? by Sophie Kinsella

Emma is a nervous flyer and she can't help but tell the man next to her - quite a dishy American, but she's too frightened to notice - all her innermost secrets. She survives the flight, but when the American boss of the whole corporation visits the company, he seems strangely familiar.

When my coworker realized that I hadn't read Can you keep a secret? , she brought me her extra copy and insisted that I read it (It's her favorite Kinsella). So, when I needed something light to read before the stress of holiday get-togethers, I decided to give it a shot.

A quick, easy read; I tackled it in one afternoon. Emma is a realistic protagonist, quirky, but not too quirky. The interaction between the two main characters is entertaing and fairly believable. I found the story itself enjoyable even though the plot was pretty predictable (it seemed like I guessed Jack's secret very early on).

Thursday, December 21, 2006


I've been pretty involved in BookMooch, a new book trading site, since it launched this summer. (OK, "pretty involved" is probably an understatement since I was just granted admin priviledges, but...)

Anyway John Buckman, the creater, posted more promotional photos and I just had to share this one ;)

Photo credit Diana Elliot

To learn more about BookMooch, read this post...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I heard the owl call my name

I heard the owl call my name by Margaret Craven

Amid the grandeur of the remote Pacific Northwest stands Kingcome, a village so ancient that, according to Kwakiutl myth, it was founded by the two brothers left on earth after the great flood. The Native Americans who still live there call it Quee, a place of such incredible natural richness that hunting and fishing remain primary food sources. But the old culture of totems and potlatch is being replaces by a new culture of prefab housing and alcoholism. Kingcome's younger generation is disenchanted and alienated from its heritage. And now, coming upriver is a young vicar, Mark Brian, on a journey of discovery that can teach him -- and us -- about life, death, and the transforming power of love.

I just finished this lovely little book.
While I did not find I heard the owl call my name to be life-changing, I did appreciate Craven's sensitive descriptions and the simplicity of the book as a whole.

As a side note: it's really interesting to read the customer reviews of this book on because the majority of the reviewers are kids who were "forced" to read the book for school.

selected holiday shopping (3)

Because books are the best presents...

(Scroll down for the first and second of these little teasers)

The other kids in my family are getting Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke and Kirsten Meyer (illus.), and Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen respectively:

My dad is getting a few books from his wishlist, including Charles de Lint's The Blue Girl:

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Margarettown by Gabrielle Zevin

Margarettown is one of those wonderfully innovative novels that defies simple explanation. While it is essentially a reinvention of the old boy-meets-girl story, it is aptly described in promotional material as “part fable, part memoir, part journey through the many worlds of one woman.” More than the story of one man and his relationship with the enigmatic Maggie Towne, this novel is an exploration of love and of identity.

The novel is divided into six books, each of which focuses on a different aspect of Maggie and her life. Although the majority of the novel is in the form of a letter written by Maggie’s husband N. (we never learn his full name) to their young daughter, Zevin does not restrict herself to one narrative technique. While this can be disorienting for the reader, it is usually quite effective. “Susurrus,” arguably the most moving section, is also its most discordant, consisting entirely of a dialog between two not-quite-real characters.

Reading Margarettown is quite literally a journey of discovery. We begin the novel curious and confused, but, by the novel’s final pages, we realize that we’ve gained something just by reading it...

Read the full review at Curled Up.

The Oxford Murders

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martínez
translated from the Spanish by Sonia Soto

This very mathematical mystery is Argentine author Guillermo Martínez's third novel (after Regarding Roderer and The Woman of the Master, which has not yet been translated into English).

The story begins in 1993 with the narrator recalling events the recents surrounding a series of murders that took place in Oxfordshire many years earlier. At the time of the murders, he was a post-graduate fellow at the Mathematics Institute at Oxford.

After the first murder (that of the narrator's landlady), the killer leaves a cryptic note in the mailbox of Arthur Seldom, a prominent mathematician who included a chapter on serial killers in his latest book. The killer seems to be poking fun at Seldom and, at the same time, issuing a challenge.

Each murder is represented by a symbol and, added together, the symbols form a series. If the narrator, Seldom, and the police find the solution to the series, it seems, the murders will stop. Martínez, however, uses Gödel’s incompleteness theorem and Wittgenstein's finite rule paradox to illustrate the uncertainty of mathematics and the impossibility of there being only one correct solution to the series.
"Do you really believe he'll stop if we find the solution?" asked Petersen [the detective] doubtfully.
But there was no such thing as the solutioon, I thought. That was the most exasperating things. [...] I wondered how he'd explain minds that took big leaps, Wittgenstein, rule-following paradoxes and the movements of normal bell-curves to Petersen. But Seldom needed only on sentence:
"He'll stop," he said slowly, "if it's the solution that he has in mind." (86-87)
The fact that Martínez is also a professor of mathematics at the Universidad de Buenos Aires can explain the appearance of higher mathematics in The Oxford Murders. Mathematical theory, however, is just one aspect of the novel. The plot is well-constructed and the narrator is a believable character who has many interesting insights as an outsider to British society.

While some readers may lose patience with all the mathematical jargon contained in the dialogue, The Oxford Murders is definitely worth a read. The book is brimming with potential killers (from the narrator's new girlfriend with her interest in crime, to another Mathematics Institute fellow who closely matches the psychological profile of the killer) and has enough twists and turns toward the end for readers to feel satisfied when they reach the final page.

God's Mountain

God's Mountain by Erri de Luca
translated from the Italian by Michael Moore

A quick easy read. Telling the story of boy's coming of age, God's Mountain a sweet little novella infused with the magical real.

As a reviewer for L'Unitá says, "The language of De Luca's narrator is extraordinary, capable of recounting the most cruel tragedies, the most complicated thoughts, the most profound feelings, using the simplest of our daily expressions, yet avoiding easy sentimentalism."

Book Description:
This is a story told by a boy in his thirteenth year, recorded in his secret diary. His life is about to change; his world, about to open.

He lives in Montedidio--God's Mountain--a cluster of alleys in the heart of Naples. He brings a paycheck home every Saturday from Mast'Errico's carpentry workshop where he sweeps the floor. He is on his way to becoming a man-his boy's voice is abandoning him. His wooden boomerang is neither toy nor tool, but something in between. Then there is Maria, the thirteen-year-old girl who lives above him and, like so many girls, is wiser than he. She carries the burden of a secret life herself. She'll speak to him for the first time this summer. There is also his friendship with a cobbler named Rafaniello, a Jewish refugee who has escaped the horrors of the Holocaust, who has no idea how long he's been on this earth, and who is said to sprout wings for a blessed few.

It is 1960, a young man's summer of discovery. A time for a boy with innocent hands and a pure heart to look beyond the ordinary in everyday things to see the far-reaching landscape, and all of its possibilities, from a rooftop terrace on God's Mountain.

Friday, December 15, 2006

selected holiday shopping (2)

Because books are the best presents...

(Scroll down for the first of these little teasers)

My mom is getting the three books in Susan Carroll's "sweeping historical trilogy," The Dark Queen, The Courtesan, and The Silver Rose:
I haven't read them yet, but hopefully she'll let me borrow them.

My nieces are getting the first two Magic Tree House Box sets:

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I, Mona Lisa

I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis

Note: this book was originally published under the title Painting Mona Lisa.

Florence, April 1478: The handsome Giuliano de’ Medici is brutally assassinated in Florence’s magnificent Duomo. The shock of the murder ripples throughout the great city, from the most renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, to a wealthy wool merchant and his extraordinarily beautiful daughter, Madonna Lisa.
More than a decade later, Florence falls under the dark spell of the preacher Savonarola, a fanatic who burns paintings and books as easily as he sends men to their deaths. Lisa, now grown into an alluring woman, captures the heart of Giuliano’s nephew and namesake. But when Guiliano, her love, meets a tragic end, Lisa must gather all her courage and cunning to untangle a sinister web of illicit love, treachery, and dangerous secrets that threatens her life.
Set against the drama of 15th Century Florence, I, Mona Lisa is painted in many layers of fact and fiction, with each intricately drawn twist told through the captivating voice of Mona Lisa herself.

I just finished reading this book, which I picked up at the bookstore on a whim earlier this month. I thought it was wonderful. This vividly-drawn picture of 15th century Florence over five hundred pages long, but it never lagged. I was intrigued by and invested in Lisa from the beginning.

I haven't studied enough about Renaissance Italy to say whether the book was historically acurate or not, but I can say that there was nothing in it that struck me as being out of place (as sometimes happens in historical novels).

The book's plot is dramatic and well-paced. Kalogridis' take on the identity of the subject of Leonardo's Mona Lisa and her connection to him is interesting. Most importantly, though, the author does a wonderful job bringing her characters to life.

I have The Borgia Bride on Mt. TBR and I'm thinking that I might just have to bump it up the queue. I also requested The Burning Times through BookMooch. If I like both of those I might even try reading her Dracula books.

book clubbing in December

This month my book club read The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. (I picked a short book because December is always so hectic).

Subtitled ‘A Fable About Following Your Dream,’ the book is:
the story of an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasures found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.

It received a pretty mixed response from our book club members: some loved it, some hated it, some were indifferent. I liked it, but probably just because I thought it was so much better than The Why Cafe, another one of these fable-about-following-your-dreams books.

I honestly don't really have much to say about it, for me it was forgettable. However, reading the book did make me wonder what Coelho's other work is like so I guess it did succeed in being a good introduction to the author.

Monday, December 11, 2006

selected holiday shopping (1)

As you can imagine, lots of people on my list get books. Here's the first taste of my holiday shopping so far...
and, no, I'm not worried about spoiling surprises as none of these people actually read my blog ;)

One of my coworkers is getting Naomi Novik's Temeraire trilogy

My nephew is getting Jolly Roger and the Pirates of Captain Abdul and Captain Abdul's Pirate School by Colin McNaughton

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Last night I finished reading this book, which has received much critical acclaim.

Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother's lonliness. Believing she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man named Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the lost love that sixty years ago in Poland inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn't know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives...

Krauss' characters are vivid and real (though Alma's brother Bird does seem unnecessary quirky). Having the story told from different perspectives can be a bit jarring, but it is very effective. We start the novel wondering at the connection between Alma and Leo and then slowly watch the story beautifully unravel to a very satisfying ending.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Recent reading

Despite my lack of posts recently, I have been reading. Here's what:

Adam Haberberg by Yasmina Reza
I reviewed this portrait of a mid-life crisis for Library Journal.
Forty-seven year old Adam Haberberg is a washed-up novelist. Depressed at the death of his loyal publisher, his loveless marriage, and his recently-diagnosed macular degeneration, Haberberg is slumped on a bench at the zoo when he is recognized by an old classmate. Despite the fact that he hasn’t seen this woman in thirty years, the hapless protagonist agrees to spend the evening with her. Although an interesting character, Haberberg’s over-the-top neuroses take away from readers’ ability to relate to him and distract from the nuggets of wisdom hidden in his stream of consciousness.

Bad Boys in Kilts by Donna Kaufmann
A contemporary romance collection featuring a trio of Scotsmen.
The one problem with reading these three stories in such quick succession is that the similarities between them were way too obvious. I liked the Chisholm brothers (at least the three that we "meet" in this collection) and their respective leading ladies. I also enjoyed the fact that "Night Watch" had an epilogue that was really an epilogue for all three stories.
"Bottoms Up" is the story that I liked best. In the other two, in my personal opinion, the relationships didn't have sufficient build-up. I know that this is fiction and that there are built-in happily-ever-afters, but I was a bit unhappy that both Daisy and Bree just fell into bed with their Chisholm.

Holy Fools by Joanne Harris
Set in 17th-century France against a backdrop of terror and religious frenzy. Juliette seeks refuge in a remote abbey - and reinvents herself as Soeur Auguste. Then her past turns up to haunt her in the guise of a man she has every reason to fear.
I listed to the audio version of this book and I have to admit that I just wasn't crazy about it. I found it a bit tedious, especially in the middle. I think I may have liked it better in print, but I'm not sure.
One thing that really bothered me is that at a certain point it seems like Juliet almost forgets about Fleur in the midst of all the drama at the abbey and that just seemed completely out of character for her.

Tamarind Mem by Anita Rau Badami
Set in the exotic railway colonies of India, this bestselling Canadian novel tells a story of the ties of love and resentment that bind a mother and daughter.
This book was a slow read for me. I enjoyed the different perspectives, but it definitely seemed like there was less of the amma's prespective than of Kamini's (though I didn't check the page count to see if that was actually the case). I do wish we could have learned more about Paul da Costa; his presence was an undercurrent throughout the book, but we really never learn enough about him and about his relationship to the family (at least one of the things I thought was hinted at earlier in the book didn't seem to be true at all); and, what we do learn in Saroja's section of the book seems inconsistent (the women in the train seem to be reacting to a different story that the one we are getting from her).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I just realized...

that HarperCollins is publishing the American edition of Milan Kundera's latest work next month:

The Curtain: an essay in seven parts

This one is going straight to the top of my wishlist. I adore Kundera. I've read everything he's written that's been translated into English... in fact, when I was in college, I took a whole class just on his work (the joys of being a comparative literature major!). The novels are great and his nonfiction is amazing.

Kundera's not for everyone, but if you haven't read him, you should give him a try. If I remember correctly, Nancy Pearl even has a whole section on him in one of her Book Lust books (or maybe it's a section on Czech writers in which he features prominently; I'll double-check this evening).

Immortality might be a good place to start ... or maybe Laughable Loves (a collection of short stories).

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Undomestic Goddess

I needed something light to read last night so I decided to pick up Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess.

Workaholic attorney Samantha Sweeting has just done the unthinkable. She's made a mistake so huge, it'll wreck any chance of a partnership. Going into utter meltdown, she walks out of her London office, gets on a train, and ends up in the middle of nowhere. Asking for directions at a big, beautiful house, she's mistaken for an interviewee and finds herself being offered a job as housekeeper. Her employers have no idea they've hired a lawyer — and Samantha has no idea how to work the oven. She can't sew on a button, bake a potato, or get the #@%# ironing board to open. How she takes a deep breath and begins to cope — and finds love — is a story as delicious as the bread she learns to bake. But will her old life ever catch up with her? And if it does, will she want it back?

A quick, easy read, this book was a perfect choice for reading after a long day at work.

The Undomestic Goddess was my first experience with Kinsella (in all honesty, I don't read a lot of chick lit).
I thought Samantha was an interesting character and a good protagonist, quirky without being over the top. The story was good, though it did get a bit annoying toward the end (what I mean is that her indecisiveness at the end started to get on my nerves).

At the moment I'm on my lunch break and I just wild-released this book over in the law school ;)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Book clubbing in November

It's that time of the month again...

My book club's November selection was To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.

Winner of the 1999 Hugo Award for Best Novel, To Say Nothing of the Dog is a time travel story set in England, primarily during the 21st Century and the Victorian era.

Publishers Weekly says of it: "Willis effortlessly juggles comedy of manners, chaos theory and a wide range of literary allusions [with a] near flawlessness of plot, character and prose." Personally, I thought the novel was overly long. I think some editing to make it shorter and more concise would yielded a much better endproduct.

I was a little disappointed in the romance between the two main characters (I liked how it concluded, but I think that there wasn't as much build up as I would have liked). One the other hand, I did enjoy the story and its premise. The time-lag was an especially good touch (so amusing to see its effect on the characters). And, being a cat lover, I appreciated the role that Princess Arjumand played in the comedy of errors.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Geisha by Liza Dalby

This is an interesting book that is about more than just geisha. In writing about geisha and their role, Dalby delves into the intricacies of Japanese culture and society.

This book gets a lot of press because Dalby is the only non-Japanese ever to have trained as a geisha. Despite the fact that the UK edition that I read is classified as "autobiography," the book --though informed by Dalby's experiences studying the geisha-- is not a memoir of her time spent as a geisha. Dalby is an anthropologist first and foremost and the book reflects that.

I enjoyed the book, but not near as much as I thought I would. I do have to say that to some extent the book feels like an academic text repackaged for the general public.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Book of Illusions

The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster

This novel plunges the reader into a universe in which the comic, the tragic, the real and the imagined dissolve into one another. One man's obsession with the mysterious life of a silent film star takes him on a journey into a shadow world of lies, illusions and unexpected love.

I've been listening to the audio version of this book on my daily commute. I just finished it and I have to say that I loved it. Auster is an amazing reader (you never know what you're going to get when you have an author reading his or her own book) and is very believable as narrator David Zimmer.

David's own storyline is interesting in and of itself, but Auster augments it, intertwining it to splendid effect with that of Hector Mann, a silent film star who mysteriously disappeared in 1929, and (to a lesser extent) with that of 19th Century French writer François-René de Chateaubriand.

There was a moment when I thought that the ending would ruin the book for me, but at the last minute Auster ties things up marvelously producing an ending that is both realistic and satisfying for the reader.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Fever 1793

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

A quick, but satisfying read. Fever 1793 is a coming-of-age tale set during Philadelphia's 1793 yellow fever epidemic. Anderson does a wonderful job evoking post-Independence Philadelphia. Beyond that, the book is well-plotted and filled with fullbodied, believable characters. Written for the young adult audience, the book is nevertheless a good read for adults. I have no doubt that one of the reasons Fever 1793 has won so many honors is that teens will have no problem relating to Anderson's spunky protagonist.

During the summer of 1793, Mattie Cook lives above the family coffee shop with her widowed mother and grandfather. Mattie spends her days avoiding chores and making plans to turn the family business into the finest Philadelphia has ever seen. But then the fever breaks out.
Disease sweeps the streets, destroying everything in its path and turning Mattie's world upside down. At her feverish mother's insistence, Mattie flees the city with her grandfather. But she soon discovers that the sickness is everywhere, and Mattie must learn quickly how to survive in a city turned frantic with disease.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Recent reading

It's the time of year when thing start becoming more hectic. It seems that there are fewer hours in each day and infinitely more things to do especially as the holidays draw nearer.

Despite my lack of posts, I have been getting some reading done (some being the operative word here).

I've read
Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix
(the 2nd book in his wonderful 'Keys of the Kingdom' series),
Goddess for Hire by Sonia Singh
(Singh combines chick lit with Indian culture to great effect, I did, however, like Bollywood Confidential better), and
Local Girls by Alice Hoffman
(a wonderful collection of short stories that combine themselves into a full-bodied picture of one girl and her family).

I've also been listening to the audio version of The Book of Illusions read by the author and wandering my way through The Book of Imaginary Beings.

And, I've been working (oh so very slowly) on my review of Margarettown by Gabrielle Zevin.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

All for Love

All for Love by Dan Jacobson

In his latest novel, Dan Jacobson melds historical fact and fiction in a compelling tale of love, lust, mania, sorrow, and isolation that chronicles two very real characters and the impossible situation they get themselves into.

All for Love is the story of Princess Louise, daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium (the subject of another book I'm eager to read), and her disastrous love affair with Géza Mattachich, a low-ranking Croatian cavalryman.

Using contemporary sources, including but not limited to Louise and Mattachich's memoirs, as well as Gerd Holler's 1991 biography of Louise (Louise von Sachsen-Coburg: Ihr Kampf Liebe und Glück), Jacobson begins to piece together Louise and Mattachich's story. He then uses his skills as a novelist to flesh the story out, weaving fictions and half-truths to create a fullbodied account of those pre-World War I years.
The novel's author's note is a must read.

If anything Jacobson may err on the side of being too true to fact (he peppers the novel with references to his sources and historical footnotes). However, despite the somewhat staid academic nature of the novel, it is full of gems including this passage which stuck me quite forcefully:
People are what they do. They are what they say. They are what they want. They are what they remember and what they have forgotten; the motives they reveal and the motives they try to hide. They are their bodies, their voices, the movements of their eyes and hands. Beneath these and other such manifestations of selfhood, it is impossible to go. The 'reasons' why people are as they are will always remain hidden, not only from outsiders but from themselves too. (5)
All for Love was long-listed for the 2005 Man Booker Prize. The first American edition was released in September.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

The year is 1964. David Henry is a happily married orthopedic surgeon. When his wife, Norah, goes into labor in the middle of a snowstorm, David realizes that the birth will have to take place in his own office instead of at the hospital as planned. Unbeknownst to the couple, Norah is carrying twins, a boy and a girl. When David delivers the second baby, he is hypnotized by the “unmistakable features, the eyes turned up as if with laughter, the epicanthal fold across their lids, the flattened nose” (16), “the gap between her big toes and the others, [...] Brushfield spots, as tiny and distinct as flecks of snow in the irises” (17).

David, unable to bear the idea of causing his wife the pain that he knows comes with a Down’s syndrome child, asks his nurse Caroline to bring the girl to a home and then tells Norah that the baby died. After seeing the conditions at the “home for the feebleminded,” Caroline cannot bear to leave the baby there. She leaves town determined to raise the child on her own.

So the twins begin their lives, separated at birth. So also begins a quarter century of secret keeping and hidden loss. Phoebe is raised lovingly by Caroline, who must struggle against societal prejudices in order to give Phoebe the same opportunities as other children, while Paul grows up in a household filled with unexplained tension, ever touched by the shadow of the sister he never knew.

A powerful novel, The Memory Keeper's Daughter is both an exploration of grief and loss and a meditation on the power of love. Most importantly, though, it is a study of humanity...

Read my full review on Curled up with a good book.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Miss Understanding

Miss Understanding by Stephanie Lessing

Issues magazine is populated by a number of interesting characters: the ditzy "mental health editor" (read: advice columnist), the clueless fifty-year-old editor who dresses like she's twenty, and the classic evil-to-the-core boss, just to name a few. One of the country's premier women's magazines, Issues focuses on fashion, beauty, and all things superficial. Owner and managing editor, Dan Princely brings Zoe Rose, formerly of The Radical Mind, on board as deputy editor because he knows the magazine is ready for a change. His staff, on the other hand, disagree.

Miss Understanding chronicles Zoe's quest to change the way women relate to each other – to, as she puts it, "raid the locker room of the female psyche and rip open the frilly façade of femininity once and for all" – using Issues (newly renamed Miss Understanding: A Girls Guide to Girls) as her platform.

The clash between feminism and the desire to be feminine is at the heart of this zany novel. Through Zoe, Lessing asks a number of difficult questions about what it means to be a woman today and why exactly women fight among themselves instead of helping each other to reach the top. The novel, while entertaining, does little to provide solutions to those problems. And, even more unfortunately, Zoe's over-the-top hypochondria and other neuroses take away both from her ability to affect solutions in that fictional world and from readers' ability to relate to her as a protagonist.

Read my full review at Armchair Interviews.

I love picking out books for people!

A couple of months ago I came across this book that I thought would be perfect for my friend Susan. I was right! Check out her journal entry and blog post.

It's such a lovely feeling when you find out that someone really likes a book that you picked out for them.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Artistic License

Artistic License by Katie Fforde

(I actually posted on this book yesterday, but for some reason that post magically disappeared during blogger maintenance)

Fed up with being mother to a houseful of students, Thea accepts her bossy friend Molly's offer of an art appreciation holiday in Provence. While there, Thea meets gorgeous Rory, an artist who, despite being several years younger, is as attracted to her as she is to him.
So, when Thea hears that her student lodgers have had a party and her house is a tip, she decides to extend her holiday and accept Rory's invitation to his house in Ireland, where she discovers a studio full of wonderful painting. But her home life won't leave her alone. Molly, her annoying niece Petal, not to mention their enigmatic cousin Ben and his son Toby, all appear on the doorstep, just as Rory's dog is about to have puppies. And then everyone is roped into helping when Thea decides to open an art gallery to show Rory's work. But will she end up with Rory, who wants her, or with Ben, who, maddeningly, doesn't seem to?

I had a stressful day at work on Friday so I just wanted to read something light with a happy ending. I saw this book on my TBR bookcase and it looked like it fit the bill.

An enjoyable, relatively quick read. It was a bit hard to get into the book at first, but then the story seemed to flow quite well. Thea was a very sympathetic character (even though she has way more gumption than I ever will).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Tenth Circle

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

Trixie Stone is fourteen years old and in love for the first time. She's also the light of her father's life — a straight-A student; a freshman in high school who is pretty and popular; a girl who's always looked up to Daniel Stone as a hero. Until, that is, her world is turned upside down with a single act of violence...and suddenly everything Trixie has believed about her family — and herself — seems to be a lie.
The Tenth Circle looks at that delicate moment when a child learns that her parents don't know all of the answers and when being a good parent means letting go of your child. It asks whether you can reinvent yourself in the course of a lifetime or if your mistakes are carried forever — if life is, as in any good comic book, a struggle to control good and evil, or if good and evil control you.

I've read quite a few of Picoult's books -- Keeping Faith, Mercy, My Sister's Keeper, The Pact, Plain Truth -- and I have to say that The Tenth Circle is pretty typical of her work. There's a family filled with fairly well-drawn characters, there's stress and strain within that family, and there's an issue (I like to call Picoult's work "issue fiction").

What makes the book stand out from the other books in her oeuvre is the integration of the graphic novel into the story. The artwork by Dustin Weaver fits well into the novel, a segment at the beginning of each chapter, masquerading as a graphic novel that the father is working on during this tumultuous time in his life.

I liked Picoult's use of Dante and native culture in this book, but I wasn't terribly surprised by it because she's done something along those lines in some of her other books (most notably in Plain Truth and Mercy).

The quick and dirty review: One of her better books, but I wasn't blown away by it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween

As I've mentioned before, I take part in "secret santa" exchanges all year long. Halloween, of course, is a perfect excuse for an exchange... bring on the wishlist books!

My secret spook (my friend Milan!) sent me some wonderful stuff:
~ The History of Danish Dreams by Peter Hoeg,
~ Snow by Orhan Pamuk, and
~ The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa,
as well as a few other goodies including The Blue Day Book by Bradley Trevor Greive.

I sent my partner (my friend Rhonda)
~ The Samurai by Shusaku Endo,
~ The Spring Tone by Kazumi Yumoto, and
~ Strange Bedfellows, Jeff Gelb and Michael Garrett (eds.)
as well as a few other goodies.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Myths series

Reading a post in one of the forums I frequent I came to the realization that not everyone knows about Canongate's wonderful Myth series.

The brainchild of Canongate's Jamie Byng, the series was launched in October 2005 and hailed as "the most ambitious simultaneous world-wide publication ever undertaken". Thirty-seven international publishing houses are now involved.

Basically well-known contemporary authors have been invited to write their own versions of classical myths. While many of the titles currently available focus on Greek mythology, the series is by no means restricted to that arena and I expect that we'll be seeing many more non-Western myths as the series progresses.

This is one of the most exciting literary projects in recent memory so if you've never heard of this series, you have to check it out!

Here is a list of titles currently available: Apparently Su Tong has also penned an installment, Binu: The myth of Meng Jiangnu, which has yet to be translated.

Some of the other authors we'll be seeing Myths titles from are Chinua Achebe, A.S. Byatt, David Grossman, Milton Hatoum, and Donna Tartt.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Song Quest

Song Quest by Katherine Roberts

My first introduction to Roberts came when I stumbled across one of her Seven Fabulous Wonders books at the book store. 'Fabulous' is definitely the right word for this series of books inspired by the seven wonders of the ancient world: a mix of adventure, fantasy, and historical fiction. Though the books haven't been published in the US, I've managed to read all but the most recent one (which came out in the UK in July).

The first volume of the Echorium Sequence, Song Quest is a wonderful adventure very much in Roberts' unique style. A coming-of-age story with both a male and female protagonist, the novel is full of fantasy, but also grounded.
Welcome to a world from another time -- where legendary half-creatures still exist. A world where nature itself can be controlled by unearthly music. A world where the forces of good and evil are held in harmony by the Singers who have mastered the secret Songs of Power. A world on the brink of destruction, threatened by a dark lord whose evil knows no bounds. Rialle and Kherron, two novice Singers, are all that's left to stand in the enemy's way. Stranded in a strange land with only one another to rely on, these former rivals must work together if they are to survive. In a timeless coming-of-age journey, Rialle and Kherron discover the strength of spirit that lies within them in their quest to help good triumph over evil.
If you like young adult fiction, check out Katherine Roberts.
You will not be disappointed!
Okay, I know that's a bit of a pronouncement given the fact that I haven't read all of her books, but I figure that if seven of them are good, there's a pretty good chance that the rest of them are too. ;)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

book clubbing in October

Today my book club discussed Sorrel Wilby's travelogue, Journey Across Tibet (subtitled "a young woman's trek across the rooftop of the world"). During the voting for the year's book club selections Dalai Lama fever, as I called it, was in full swing here in Buffalo (His Holiness visited in September) and I am fairly certain that is precisely why this book received so many votes.
To start, I have to say that I was disappointed by the much-touted foreword by H.H. the Dalai Lama. The half-page forward said very little of substance.

As for the book itself, it was OK. I expected more photographs since Wilby is supposed to be a photojournalist. The story of her trip across Tibet is a very personal story. It focuses more on her and how she grew and changed throughout the trip than on the nation itself. Wilby definitely has a lot of gumption. I can’t even fathom doing what she did. However, I do have to admit, that I found her grating after a while, but that may also be because I read the book in more-or-less one sitting so I never really got a break from her monologue.

Monday, October 23, 2006


1. Ill-temper, sullenness, brooding, anger. [...]
3. a. Sadness, dejection, esp. of a pensive nature; gloominess; pensiveness or introspection; an inclination or tendency to this. Also: perturbation (obs.). [...]
4. Sullenness, anger, or sadness personified. [...]
5. A short literary composition (usually poetical) of a sad or mournful character.
(Oxford English Dictionary)

Melancholy by Jon Fosse
trans. by Grethe Kvernes and Damion Searls

This latest installment from Dalkey Archive Press' Scandinavian Literature series lives up to its name. The novel is nothing if not melancholic. Moody and episodic, Melancholy showcases the author's understanding of human psyche and its flaws. Because of its unique structure--divided into three chapters, each shorter than the last--the novel will be best appreciated if it can be read all in one sitting. While the book's final chapter takes place in the recent past, the majority of the novel is set in the mid-1850s and focuses on Norwegian artist Lars Hertervig. The author's use of the stream-of-consciousness style in this section allows readers an inside look deep within the mind of the neurotic and deeply troubled protagonist. Known primarily as a playwright (and favorably compared to Ibsen), Jon Fosse has produced over thirty literary works in the past twenty years. First published in Norway in 1995, Melancholy is Fosse's first novel to be translated into English.

My review appears in the latest edition of Library Journal.