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.