Tuesday, August 29, 2006

reviewing, slowly but surely

As I've mentioned quite a few times before, August has been a pretty slow month for me. For some reason I just haven't been as productive as I usually am. Reviews are taking me much longer than usual.
In any case, I'm happy to report that I'll be turning in two reviews tomorrow:
one for Melancholy by Jon Fosse to Library Journal and the other for The Blue Taxi by N. S. Köenings to Armchair Interviews.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Messenger of Truth

Messenger of Truth
A Maisie Dobbs Novel
By Jacqueline Winspear

I jumped at the chance to review this book because I love historical fiction and because I haven’t reviewed any mysteries even though I've been reading a lot more of them since I started BookCrossing.

Psychologist and private investigator Maisie Dobbs is a strong, independent women living in London during the interwar years. After splitting with her mentor Maurice Blanche, Maisie sets up her own practice using her intuitive skills to help her clients and concluding her cases only "when those affected by [her] work are at peace with the outcome" (287). . .

In December 1930, artist Nicholas Bassington-Hope falls to his death from scaffolding as he prepares an installation of his most significant exhibition. Scotland Yard investigators rules the death an accident, but his sister Georgina has lingering doubts. With no evidence, no motive, and no potential suspects, the police are growing tired of her and are more than happy when Georgina announces her intention of enlisting the help of private investigator Maisie Dobbs.

Remembered as "an interpreter of both the human and natural landscape" (303), Nick Bassington-Hope was an artist on the rise who did not shy away from anything in his work. In order to find out who would want to silence the "messenger of truth" and why, Maisie must immerse herself in the world of art and those who can afford to collect it.

Maisie Dobbs is a wonderfully full-bodied character. Her backstory includes the loss of the love of her life as well as time working "in service" (periodspeak for being a servant in a wealthy household) and as an army nurse during World War I. I was so taken when I read this quote from Alexander McCall Smith (featured on the back of the book’s dust jacket) that I can’t help but include it here: "In Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear has given us a real gift. Maisie Dobbs has not been created—she has been discovered. Such people are always there among us, waiting for somebody like Ms. Winspear to come along and reveal them. And what a revelation it is!"

Although the book is a mystery novel, Messenger of Truth is less a page-turning whodunit than a well-crafted period piece that happens to be a mystery, something that I find immensely appealing. Throughout the book, Winspear displays her knowledge of the historical backdrop and social milieu of the interwar years. A perfect example is when Winspear writes of how important owning her own home is to Maisie: "Indeed, the number of young women whose chance at marriage ended with the war—almost two million according to the census in 1921—meant that the adverse attitude toward women and the ownership of property had been suspended, just a little, and just for a while" (48). Additionally, a subplot featuring Maisie's assistant Billy Beale takes the story out of the environs of the well-to-do and into the less prosperous areas of London where tragedy strikes every day.

Messenger of Truth is Winspear's fourth Maisie Dobbs book—following Maisie Dobbs (2003), Birds of a Feather (2004), and Pardonable Lies (2005)—but, not having read any of the previous books, I can assure readers that it does stand alone. Of course that doesn't mean that I'm not going to put all of the earlier books on my wishlist ;)

I'll end my comments with a passage that caught my attention while reading:
When [Maisie] was young, when the urge to learn gnawed at her as if it were the hunger that followed a fast, there was a game that Maurice, her teacher and mentor, had introduced to their lessons [...] He would hand her a novel, always a novel, with the instruction to read a sentence or a paragraph at random, and to see what might lie therein for her to consider. "The words and thoughts of characters borne of the author’s imagination can speak to us, Maisie. Now, come on, just open a book and place your finger on the page. Let's see what you’ve drawn." Sometimes she found nothing much at all, sometimes dialogue of note. Then, once in a while, a short passage chosen moved her in such a way that the words would remain with her for days. (52-53)
So relevant to my own life and my own reading. . .

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Undead and ...

I needed a little light reading in between all the stuff I've been reading and reviewing lately so I decided to read the first two books in MaryJanice Davidson's Undead series, Undead and Unwed and Undead and Unemployed. The series is a blend of chick lit (which I rarely read because I have little patience for most of it) and paranormal romance (which I've never read before).

I don't have terribly strong feelings about the books. They were light, quick reads. It was a little hard for me to relate to Betsy because her character is a little over-the-top. For me, she fluctuated from being sympathetic to completely unsympathetic. I won't include my main complaint about Betsey here, because I can't explain it without including a spoiler for book 1. I definitely think that the supporting characters are the best part of the books.

I wouldn't be against reading the other books in the series (as fluffy, down-time reads), but I'm not going to run out and buy them.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

future book club selections

I'm coordinating the book club at work. After compiling the results of our massive ballot, here's what I came up with as a schedule.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
to be discussed September 27th (my b-day)

Journey Across Tibet: A Young Woman's Trek Across the Rooftop of the World by Sorrel Wilby
to be discussed October 25th

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
to be discussed November 29th

The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream by Paulo Coelho
to be discussed December 2006

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
to be discussed January 2007

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Dubner & Levitt
to be discussed February 2007

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1) by Phillip Pullman
to be discussed March 2007

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
to be discussed April 2007

Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
to be discussed May 2007

Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
to be discussed June 2007

Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson
to be discussed July 2007

Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips
to be discussed August 2007

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
to be discussed September 2007

The Poet and the Murderer: A True Story of Literary Crime and the Art of Forgery by Simon Worrall
to be discussed October 2007

The Stolen Child by Keith Donahue
to be discussed November 2007

one book meme

My friend Janelle tagged me for this meme last month. This summer has been crazy for me, but finally I've managed to follow up on it.

Because I'd never heard of a meme before (I know, so behind the times), here's a definition.

1. One book that changed your life:
I honestly don't know what to say here.

2. One book you have read more than once?
This is hard…
ok, one of the many, chosen at random:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
I try to reread all the Harry Potter books whenever a new one comes out.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?
Ok, something that would keep my busy for a while...
The Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by David Bevington

4. One book that made you cry?
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
I have a long history with this book.

5. One book that made you laugh?
Silk by Alessandro Baricco. OK, I haven't actually read this book yet, but I was cracking up last night when I was talking to my mom about it. I loaned it to her and apparently there is a section in it that is quite pornographic. My mom wasn't sure what she should write in her journal entry.

6. One book you wish had been written?
Another novel by Arundhati Roy

7. One book you wish had never had been written?
Um... Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler

8. One book you are currently reading?
The Egyptian by Mika Waltari. I'm actually working on a few different books, but this one will take the longest because hubby and I are listening to it on audio.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?
Only one?!
Here's one I've been meaning to read recently:
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Luckily I scheduled it for our September book club selection so I'll be able to read it soon.

10. Now tag five people
I have no idea whether any of these people have already done this or not :) ...
Enza, Helly, PepperVL, WestofMars, and zzz (even though he doesn't have a blog because I'd be interested in seeing what he has to say)

book clubbing this August

I just got back from my book club meeting. Our August book club selection was The Last Fine Time by Verlyn Klinkenborg.

I have to say that I really didn't care for this book. It wasn't at all what I expected and I grew tired of the author's long-winded tangents. I wanted to read about the family and it's bar/restaurant, but somehow that story got lost within the sea of Klinkenborg's research.

I don't know if this is good news or not, but no one else in my book club liked it very much either. We agreed wholeheartedly with reader Denise Prince, who wrote, "I love Buffalo and I love to read. I hated this book. Kept waiting for it to get interesting, and it never did. I couldn't even finish it" (Buffalo News, January 4, 2005).

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

first review for Curled Up

A couple weeks ago I mentioned reading Zahrah and the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu and how much I loved it.

Here's my review posted on the Curled Up with A Good Book's sister site, Curled Up with a Good Kids Book.

As I write this post, my review is featured on the site's front page :D

Sunday, August 20, 2006

busy weekend

For some reason reading has been slow going for me this month. I don't really know why... but then again maybe I've been spending too much time on the computer. LOL

Anyway, I had a busy weekend.

Saturday I went to St. Catharines, Ontario for a meetup extravaganza with my local BookCrossing friends.
We started out at the Book Depot (the Book Closeouts retail outlet). I spent $102 and got lots of goodies. Here's a little sampling:
~ I & Claudius by Clare de Vries (my friend Janelle told me about this one, it sounds so cute)
~ King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild (this one has been on my wishlist for a long time)
~ The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall (I'm going to need this one for my book club)
~ The Secret River by Kate Grenville (longlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize)
~ Wicked Women of the Raj by Coralie Younger (I'd never heard of this before, but when I saw this on the shelf in the clearance section, I just had to buy it)

Then we went out to dinner at Spice of Life in Port Dalhousie: great food, amazingly slow service. I'm interested to see what Lauren writes about it in her review blog, ResToronto Reviews.

Today I managed to finish reading The Blue Taxi by N.S. Koeenings (the name is spelled Koenings with an umlaut over the o, but I'm too lazy to look up the proper way to code that character), a book I'm reviewing for Armchair Interviews. I also read The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld from start to finish. That puts me at 7 books read this month.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday treat

Every Friday archivist and photographer Sonny Carter sends "Friday Flowers" to the Archives Listserv, a special treat for all of us on Fridays.

Today, I thought I'd give you all a special treat:

"The Cat in the Library" © 2004 Marcio Melo

I stumbled across artist Marcio Melo's website one day while doing a web search. I liked his work so much that I sent him and email telling him so and suggesting that he consider designing a bookplate label for BookCrossing.

The best part of the email correspondence was that he gave me permission to post an image as long as I gave him credit.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this one as much as I do.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Reader's Jury

Last year I applied to be part of Elle magazine's Readers Jury and I was tickled pink when I was assigned to the September jury.

I received the three September books quite a while ago and had to turn in the reviews in the middle of June. The September issue came in the mail today (with a blurb from me in it!) so I figure I can share my thoughts on the books.

Here are my reviews:

Every Visible Thing by Lisa Carey

Five years after eldest son Hugh's disappearance, the Furey family has still not come to terms with his loss. Parents Elizabeth and Henry ignore their other children and drown themselves in their work. After spending two years in bed, Elizabeth decides to go to medical school. While she lavishes TLC on AIDS patient David, she manages to miss all of her own children's thinly-veiled calls for help. Always a bit of an absentminded professor, Henry becomes even more distant when he loses his job at the University and gives up on his own scholarly work.

Told alternatively from the perspectives of 15-year-old Lena and 10-year-old Owen, Every Visible Thing is a portrait of grief. Each secretly excavating the basement for fragments of the family's past, Lena and Owen follow different paths in their search for closure. As Owen struggles with problems in school and his emerging homosexuality, he becomes obsessed with Henry's erstwhile academic specialty, angels; casting Hugh in the role of his guardian angel. Lena tries to understand Hugh by reconstructing his life. She develops his photos, immerses herself in the local punk scene, and eventually leaves home herself in hopes of finding answers.

Raw and emotional, Every Visible Thing is an engrossing read. Carey has created a brilliant and brutally honest portrayal of adolescence and loss.

Goodbye Lemon by Adam Davies

Adam Davies follows his debut novel, Frog King (2002), with a gut-wrenching story about love, loss, and family. In Goodbye Lemon, Davies takes a clichéd story line -- grown child returns home to confront the past he left behind and finds redemption -- and injects it with smart, dark humor and well-conceived characters to create a novel that is fresh and amazingly honest.

Washed up academic Jack Tennant is still reeling from the loss of his brother Dexter (nicknamed Lemon) twenty-seven years ago. For fifteen years, he's been estranged from the alcoholic father he blames for both Dexter's death and his own failings in life. After his father suffers a stroke, Jack succumbs to pressure from his mother and girlfriend Hahva (who knows nothing about his past) to go home and help care for his father.

The stress of coming home will bring Jack to his breaking point. There is much he must realize about himself and his family before he can come to terms with the past. The question is: will he self destruct first?

Narrative tricks -- like the running score of Jack vs. the house -- make Goodbye Lemon a joy to read. And, Jack is such a sympathetic character, despite his flaws, that readers will be engaged through every bit of Jack's turbulent reunion.

Rise & Shine by Anna Quindlen

Host of network morning show Rise and Shine, Meghan Fitzmaurice is one of the most famous people in the country. She also has a perfect life: a happy marriage to her childhood sweetheart, a well-adjusted son off at a good college, a multi-million dollar apartment in Manhattan. Her unmarried younger sister Bridget is a social worker who works with homeless women in the Bronx. Though they live two very different lives, the sisters are close. One morning when Meghan accidentally
lets her guard down while the camera is still on, the sisters' world is turned upside down.

Anna Quindlen's latest novel, Rise and Shine, is the story of two sisters and how they each deal with adversity. It is also an exploration of the meaning of success and the importance of being true to oneself. Quindlen has a real understanding of human nature and in her hands even celebrity Meghan is accessible to the reader.

While this book doesn't challenge the reader as much as Goodbye Lemon and Every Visible Thing, it is a perfect selection for summer reading.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

wishlist fodder

Yesterday the longlist for the 2006 Man Booker Prize was announced. Check here for the press release (you'll have to scroll down).
The only one of these I've read so far is Kiran Desai's Inheritance of Loss.

These are the ones that are definitely going on my wishlist:
Be Near Me by Andrew O'Hagan
The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud
In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
The Perfect Man by Naeem Murr
The Ruby in her Navel by Barry Unsworth
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

I was planning a post entitled "wishlist fodder" even before the longlist was announced yesterday. The timing was just a happy coincidence. :)

Here are the books I added to my wishlist after the historical fiction swap:
The Gilded Chamber by Rebecca Kohn
The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger
Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth
The Serpent in the Garden by Janet Gleeson
The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

Monday, August 14, 2006

bookish memoirs

So, today is kind of a catch-up day at work. As I was cleaning out my work email, specifically the folders for my professional listservs, I starting reading through a huge (and hugely interesting) discussion that occurred last month on the Exlibris listerserv (an electronic news and discussion group for those interested in rare books, manuscripts, special collections, and librarianship in special collections).

It all started with a listserv member asking for summer reading recommendations, specifically for "the best" memoirs of book collectors and dealers. There were lots of good suggestions, so I started compiling a list. Luckily, before my list got too long, I happened to notice that another listserv member had already compiled one.

Here's a link. Take a look if you're interested.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Historical Fiction Swap

Today's the first day of the 4th Historical Fiction Swap. I was definitely chomping at the bit because it is my all-time favorite swap.

I did, however, decide to offer something a little different that our traditional swap fare (our offerings usually tend toward more "girly" historical fiction)--Fordlandia by Eduardo Sguiglia--mostly because I wanted an excuse to move it up the TBR (to be read) queue. I started it last night and I'm enjoying it so far. I'm interested to see how it goes over with the swappers. It hasn't been stolen yet, but the swap is still young...

Fordlandia is a haunting, evocative novel at whose core lies a nuggest of fact: In 1929, Henry Ford, presiding in divine authority over his automobile empire, grew tired of the British monopoloy on Brazilian rubber. So, with signature hubris, Ford decided he would produce his own rubber and set about colonizing the Amazon, ultimately investing millions and founding an entire city around his rubber plantation. The name of the city was Fordlandia.

Surrounding this historical curiosity is a rich, captivating tale that explores the fundamental struggle between man and the natural world. Eduardo Sguiglia's exquisitely imagined Fordlandia is a town of characters by turns engaging and enigmatic, who draw the reader into their various worlds so effortlessly and ingenuously that their dreams, discoveries, and downfalls begin to seem as immediate and piercing as one's own.

Quote featured on front cover:
"[A] fine novel, whihc rescues Ford's folly from the most obscure pages of history and imbues it not merely with many new layers of meaning but also with its own mythology" --The Washington Post

Thursday, August 10, 2006

book buying

I'm not really supposed to be buying books for myself because I am swimming in TBR (to be read) books, but (being the bibliophile and bookaholic that I am) it's kind of impossible for me not to slip every once in a while.

Yesterday I ordered Andy Pruitt's Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists.
It's gotten rave reviews over on the Team Estrogen forums and, well, I can't begrudge myself a reference book, can I? :)

I also ordered another book along with it,
but I won't give the details here because I'm planning on using it in an upcoming themed book swap (again, if you don't know what a swap is, check out the SWAP FAQ).

zahrah and other reading

I finished the loveliest book yesterday, Zahrah the Windseeker.
I'll be working on a full review this weekend for Curled Up With a Good Book (my first review for them!).
Anyway, I thought it was fantastic. The book is targeted toward the 10-13 year-old age group, but is definitely appropriate for readers of all ages.

In other news... with the conference and everything else I'm really behind in my reading for this month. I've only completed 2 books. : o

I'm finishing up a review for FrontStreet as we speak (not really, but you know what I mean). For Sweet Magnolia by Norma Jarrett. It was good, but a little too Christian-fictiony for my taste.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Happiness Day

Over on the bookrelay site we have secret santa exchanges all year long. For August, we have the 'Happiness Day' exchange and August 8th is Happiness Day!

LadyJanet, my wonderful exchange partner, sent me some wonderful goodies:
~ The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas,
~ The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (unabridged!),
~ Martin Sloane by Michael Redhill,
~ A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell,
~ a bookmark that she cross-stitched just for me,
~ lots of Haribo gummies and salt water taffy, and
~ some neat flamingo stuff (stickers, a magnet, etc)

My exchange partner was xallroyx.
I hope she enjoys the goodies I packed for her:
~ Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde,
~ Zen Attitude by Sujata Massey,
~ a signed copy of Harlequin Valentine from Neil Gaiman's online store,
~ some whole bean coffee from Blue Mountain Coffee, our favorite coffee place, and
~ a fruit tree for a Haitian family donated in her name through Food for the Poor, a nondemominational Christian charity that works to "provide food, housing, health care, education, water projects, micro-enterprise development assistance and emergency relief to the poorest of the poor".

Monday, August 07, 2006

Non-genre Fiction Swap

Today is the first day of the first Non-Genre Fiction Swap. (If you don't know what a swap is, check out the SWAP FAQ)

Since I've already been revealed, I have no qualms about posting my reveal here:

My Name is Bosnia by Madeleine Gagnon.

I reviewed the book for Library Journal and thought it was wonderful.

"Leaving is dying a little, dying to oneself. And it is living fully as that other person one has so often dreamed of becoming. While one has to leave for elsewhere in order to achieve this, it is at home that the dream is first imagined" (19).

My Name is Bosnia is the story of one girl's experience of war and exile told with a poet's gift for language and observation.

When war breaks out in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sabaheta, a non-practicing Muslim who renames herself "Bosnia" when she first begins to imagine the possibility of leaving her homeland, is a university student. Unlike many of her loved ones, Bosnia survives the conflict, first in the forest with her father and the Bosnian guerrillas and then in Sarajevo where she and her friends are forced to burn their books for fuel.

My Name is Bosnia is written with an understanding unimaginable in a person who has not lived through war. Clearly informed by Gagnon's work on Women in a World at War (Talonbooks, 2003), the novel is beautifully-wrought treatise on war, suffering, recovery, and the world today.

Author Nancy Huston has described Madeleine Gagnon as "someone in whom the boundary between inner and outer life is porous, her words are poetry and her ear for the words of others is poetry too. Everything she takes in from the world is filtered, processed, transformed by the insistent rhythms of the songs within her" (publisher's website).

While I was gone...

I only managed to read one book: Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

I got to meet up with relayer krin511. She's an archivist too!
Since krin is Miss August for the Bookaholics exchange group, I gave her this wishlist book: Winner of the National Book Award: A Novel of Fame, Honor, and Really Bad Weather by Jincy Willett

My review for I'll Steal You Away by Niccolò Ammaniti appeared in Library Journal. (You can read most of my review: here)
ETA: ok, it may not actually be in print yet. I thought it was supposed to appear in the first August issue, but it's not appearing on the website and the library's copy hasn't arrived yet so I can't double-check.

My review for Sanctifed Blues by Mable John and David Ritz was posted on FrontStreetReviews.com.
Love the cover art! (click on the image for a more detailed look)

No books arrived in the mail :(

Friday, August 04, 2006


I'm in hot hot hot Washington, DC at the Society of American Archivists conference...
and I have to pay for internet access... so... don't expect another post until Sunday evening.