Sunday, December 30, 2007

some recent reading

I really and truly and trying to get back into blogging regularly. As I mentioned in my last post, I'll be posting my lists of books read in 2007 at the beginning of the new year, in the meantime I thought I'd share a bit of what I have been reading lately.

A Good Yarn by Debbie Macomber
My mom picked up this book from the take-a-book-leave-a-book shelf at a hotel she stayed out while on vacation in Hawaii. It is the sequel to A Shop on Blossom Street, a book I read and enjoyed before I started knitting. These books are really feel-good reads; things always seem to turn out OK in the end. And, sometimes that's exactly the kind of book you need to read. I have to say that I liked this book even more than the first and I am sure it is because I am a knitter now. The narrative focuses on four women who are all involved in a beginner sock knitting class (I started my first sock only 2 days ago - it's going really well, though I think it'll end up pretty baggy). I found Courtney, the teenager, particularly sympathetic and how she was able to deal with her weight problem inspired me to be better about exercising myself.

How I Fell in Love with a Librarian and Lived to Tell about It by Rhett Ellis
Russell and I happened across this book and were intrigued by the title. Russell read it quite a while ago and was not impressed, but he made me hold on to it to read for myself anyway. I picked it up at one point and gave up pretty quickly, but my second attempt was successful. I didn't really care for the book though. I think the author was trying a little too hard to be quirky and I really disliked the ending: the main characters live happily-ever-after, but there is no real resolution to the issue that was keeping them apart.

Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear
I read and reviewed the 4th book in the series, Messenger of Truth (see review), last year and am finally catching up on the earlier episodes in the series in preparation for book 5. This month I've read Maisie Dobbs and Birds of a Feather, and I'm currently reading Pardonable Lies. I really like Maisie as a character (even though her rise from servitude seems a bit implausible) and her adventures in psychological crime-solving. Winspear does a good job of incorporating period detail and through the novels I've learned a good deal about WWI and post-war Britain.

The Silent Raga by Ameen Merchant
I picked up this debut novel last summer at BookExpo Canada. It tells the story of two sisters and the event that splits their family in two. I liked how Merchant juggles the past and present and keeps the reader guessing about exactly how certain things came to pass until close to the end. I also appreciated how he incorporated aspects of South Indian music into the narrative especially since it is such a big part of Janaki's life and character. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but I will say that the proper Brahmin family disapproving of the marriage of the older sister hit a bit too close to home for me.

Zorro by Isabel Allende
I listened to the unabridged audio version, read by Blair Brown (audio books are great for knitting). I love Allende's writing and young Zorro's story was compelling, though listening to the audio it did seem at times like the book was going on endlessly.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Highlights

It’s an old question, but a good one... What were your favorite books this year?
List as many as you like - fiction, non-fiction, mystery, romance, science-fiction, business, travel, cookbooks - whatever the category. But, really, we’re all dying to know. What books were the highlight of your reading year in 2007?

In the beginning of the new year I'll be posting my list of books read in 2007 and discussing whether I've met my reading goals, but I am more than happy to "talk" about some of my favorite books from the past year right now.

I'll focus on fiction because that's what I read most.

Best fluffy read
The Royal Treatment by MaryJanice Davidson. I thought this was just a cute, fun read. I liked the alternate history aspect of it and that it didn't take itself too seriously.
My second choice would be the Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) series by Charlaine Harris. So far I've read Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, and Dead as a Doornail (you can read some comments here). Apparently they are making a television series based on the novels. I'm not sure that I'll want to watch it.

Best new installment in a series
First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde, the 5th book in the Thursday Next series. I love how this book illuminates Thursday's character and explains so much about how she acts in the earlier books. Fforde, and his seemingly boundless imagination, never fails to delight me.
Many a reader would choose Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling for this honor, but not me (you can read my comments on book 7 here).

Best audio
The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani, read by Shohreh Aghdashloo. I loved this book and I thought the audio version was absolutely fantastic (read my review).
My second choice would be The Witch's Boy by Michael Gruber, read by Dennis O'Hare. I thought the book was enchanting and probably would have liked it just as much on paper. I have a hardcover copy on my wishlist.

Best adult fiction
I'm not going to try to pick one favorite. Here are some books that stuck out this year:
- Oracle Night by Paul Auster
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
- The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Audrey Niffenegger
- Torch by Cheryl Strayed (I read this one for WestofMars' Debut a Debut contest; read my review)

Best young adult fiction
Same as above.
- His Dark Materials series (The Golden Compass et al) by Philip Pullman (yes, I hadn't read this series before last March)
- LionBoy by Zizou Corder
- Magyk (Septimus Heap, book 1) by Angie Sage (a great start to the series, the other books thus far haven't been quite as good)

I also wanted to highlight some wonderful authors I discovered in 2007:
  • Shannon Hale, author of Goose Girl, Enna Burning, Princess Academy, River Secrets (read my review), Austenland, and The Book of a Thousand Days.

  • Nalo Hopkinson, author of Brown Girl in the Ring, Midnight Robber, The Salt Roads, The New Moon's Arms (read my review), and numerous works of short fiction.
This was a wonderful question. I'm really looking forward to seeing what everyone else has to recommend.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas and Boxing Day Books

I received a lovely bunch of books over the past few days. In fact, I feel like I'm swimming in knitting books - not that that's a bad thing ;)

Some wishlist books for Christmas:
  • Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles by Jeanette Winterson (I've been trying to collect all the books in The Myths series);

  • The Best of Interweave Knits: Our Favorite Designs from the First Ten Years (I think I'm going to use some of my Christmas money to get a subscription to Interweave Knits);

  • Fitted Knits: 25 Designs for the Fashionable Knitter by Stefanie Japel (I particularly like that this book is supposed to show readers how to customize each project to his/her own unique body);

  • Knitspeak: An A to Z Guide to the Language of Knitting Patterns by Andrea Berman Price (my friend Janelle told me that this was a must-have);

  • One-Skein Wonders by Judith Durant (full of patterns that only use one ball/skein of yarn, how very practical); and

  • preordered More Big Girl Knits: 25 Designs Full of Color and Texture for Curvy Women by Jillian Moreno (I'm going to be very happy to get this next spring).
Two more knitting books that Russell picked out all on his own:I also got four books from my Boxing Day exchange partner:
  • The 3rd and 4th books in Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series: Chill Factor and Windfall (now I need book 2 lol);

  • The Royal Pain, the 2nd book in MaryJanice Davidson's Alaskan Royals series (I thought the first book was cute and have had a hard time getting my hands on the other books in the series); and

  • The Love Season by Elin Hilderbrand.
Wishing you all the very best this holiday season...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - And, the Nominees Are...

1. What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?
2. What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?
3. And, do "best of" lists influence your reading?

This post is a day late because when I started to answer this week's questions yesterday I realized that I haven't really read enough 2007 titles to answer the first two questions properly. I've decided to stick with number three.

"Best of" lists don't influence my reading too much. I do like to look at them to see what books made the cut and sometimes I do get ideas from them, but lists ("best of" or not) definitely don't dictate my reading schedule. That seems like such a short answer, but there it is.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

book clubbing in December

Because the Libraries' holiday party was scheduled for today, our book club meeting was rescheduled for Thursday of last week. Voting for our 2008 and 2009 selections is going on right now - so exciting - so expect that list to be posted sometime in the middle of next month (the results of our last round of voting are listed in this post).

In any case, our selection for this month was Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi.
Persepolis is Satrapi's wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.
I was excited to read the book because I've had Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (rescued from the bargain bin at a local independent bookstore) on my shelves for a while without a good excuse to pick up the first book.

Persepolis was a relatively quick read, but one that bears re-reading. I really appreciated how Satrapi's drawing style complimented the subject matter (expressive, but spare so as to not overwhelm the actual story she was telling). Probably my favorite part of the book was Marji's relationship with God and how it is depicted.

For some of the people in our book club, this was their first experience with graphic novels. A librarian who specializes in graphic novels was in attendance so he ended up leading the discussion. And, while there is much to discuss in the book itself, we ended up talking mostly about graphic novels in general.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Catalog

Do you use any of the online book-cataloguing sites, like LibraryThing or Shelfari? Why or why not? (Or... do you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking to?? (grin))
If not an online catalog, do you use any other method to catalog your book collection? Excel spreadsheets, index cards, a notebook, anything?

Yes, I use LibraryThing.

It really is a fun thing to do, "cataloging" your books (especially since you don't actually have to remember your MARC codes to do it). My LT library is definitely still a work in progress. I add new books as they come in, but I haven't been able to get the base collection completely entered yet.

Russell's started entering his books as well. He has his own LT library and gets a huge kick out of being the only person to own a particular book.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Scholastic warehouse sale

So, yesterday after work I got wrangled into going to the Scholastic warehouse sale. I didn't want to go. Last time I went I spent lots of money and our place is overflowing with books as it is. But, I did end up going and I was actually very good. I only bought five books (strangely enough they had computer games, though, and I ended up buying three of those for Russell).

The Artemis Fowl Files by Eoin Colfer.
I've actually read this book (a library copy), but I picked it up in order to complete our collection of Artemis Fowl books.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.
After reviewing River Secrets, I really wanted to read more of Hale's fiction so I was tickled to be able to pick up this book yesterday.

The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu.
This book, the first installment in a new fantasy series (the Cronus Chronicles), looked so good I just had to pick it up. It was my impulse buy.

Skippyjon Jones by Judith B. Schachner.
With Simi and Maaji at home I couldn't pass up this story of a Siamese kitten with an overactive imagination. I keep seeing it featured (accompanied by a cute plush) in the children's catalogs we've been receiving lately.

Stravaganza: City of Masks, the first book in a YA trilogy by Mary Hoffman.
I've heard good things about this series (good enough to get the books on my BookCrossing wishlist) so I picked up this book just before I reached the check-out counter.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - OOP

Do you have a favourite book, now out of print, that you would like to see become available again?

At first I was racking my mind trying to come up with something to write in response to this week's question - then a lightbulb went off. There is indeed one out-of-print book that I've been trying to get my hands on for quite some time - Arlo and Janis: Bop 'Til You Drop (currently available used for $195). I wouldn't consider it a favorite, but it is definitely a title I wish was still in print.

Friday, November 30, 2007

book clubbing in November

It's the end of November, I can hardly believe it. Where has this year gone?

Like I mentioned yesterday, my book club met on Wednesday. This time we discussed The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue, a book inspired by the W.B. Yeats poem of the same title. Of course, I left my copy of the book at work so I don't have it with me to reference as I write this post (but, c'est la vie).

I first heard of The Stolen Child when a read my friend Janelle's review of the book. A number of us wanted to read the book, but I scheduled it far in advance in hopes that it'd be more readily available after it came out in paperback. Because of that time lag, I didn't remember much about the book. In fact, I didn't remember the most important thing about the book, which is that the faeries/hobgoblins/changelings in the story are creatures who were originally human children (in all the other changeling stories I've read -- most recently The Moorchild by Eloise Mcgraw -- the human children are stolen by beings of a completely distinct fantastical race). That twist on the changeling myth gives the novel much more weight. [I got pulled away to watch a movie on TCM]

In any case, my response to the book fell pretty much in line with the response of my other book club members. I (we) found the book compelling, but quite disturbing at times (it's hard to discuss details without including spoilers). The book was a challenging read, but definitely worth it (though I probably would not recommend it to parents of young children). There is so much detail, that the novel makes great discussion fodder for a book club. My one criticism of the book is that there are some completely unnecessary coincidences (two big ones), which made (at least for me) the story a little less believable.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Booking Through Thurday - Rolling (and apologies)

Yes, I haven't been posting. Things have been crazy here with catching up after jury duty and the Thanksgiving holiday. I'm sorry for neglecting the blog. I really am going to try to get back on track. Tomorrow I'll have the monthly book club report (we met yesterday) and with any luck I'll be able to eek out another post over the weekend. Thanks for being patient with me.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...
Do you get on a roll when you read, so that one book leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on and so on?
I don’t so much mean something like reading a series from beginning to end, but, say, a string of books that all take place in Paris. Or that have anthropologists as the main character. Or were written in the same year. Something like that... Something that strings them together in your head, and yet, otherwise could be different genres, different authors...

Yes, I guess this does happen to me sometimes. In fact I have been know to read a bunch of books from a series in a row (though not from beginning to end, or at least not that I remember). Other times I get in the mood for a type of book: I'll feel an urge to read only mysteries for a week or two or have a real hankering for historical fiction (though I won't usually restrict myself to a particular time period). Usually, though, I try to mix it up. I do read a lot (last year I hit 200) so I find that when I read a bunch of the same kind of books in a row they tend to run together in my mind and I can have a hard time making distinctions between them.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Preservatives

Re. writing notes in our books: Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

When I was in college, I took great joy in underlining and jotting notes in the margins of my books, but I don't really do that much anymore. Now (when I'm reading a book to review) I tend to take notes on a pad of paper and sometimes use little Post-it flags to mark particular words or lines.

While my college books were not disposable (I always planned to keep them all in my library), they were to some extent "working" copies. My highlighting and note-taking were part of my close reading of the texts and preparation for class discussions.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

jury duty

Yes, that's why I haven't been posting lately. I just haven't had much time to be on the computer (and I've been too worn out do much more than catch up on email when I have snuck onto the computer at home). The trial I'm on should be done by next Thursday so things should get back to normal at the end of next week.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Oh, Horror!

What with yesterday being Halloween, and all... do you read horror? Stories of things that go bump in the night and keep you from sleeping?

I don't tend to read horror (though I did go through a phase in middle/high school where I did). Of course I do come across books that keep me up at night, but they don't necessarily belong to the horror genre. Sometimes things that happen in literary fiction (for example) can be just as if not more disturbing than things that happen in horror.

Speaking of Halloween, I did receive a couple spooky books this week as part of a secret exchange: My Haunted House and The Sword in the Grotto by Angie Sage. They're not horror, but they're still perfect fit for a Halloween exchange. Because I've been thinking of getting this series for my niece (she's a voracious reader and I've really enjoyed Sage's Septimus Heap books so far), I actually read them both right away so I can assure you all that they are wonderful little books for younger readers (they're targeted toward 7-10 year-olds, I think).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Nineteen Minutes

I recently read Jodi Picoult's most recent novel, Nineteen Minutes.

Note: This blog post does not contain any spoilers, but it also doesn't include my full reaction to the book. If you'd like to read it all, check out my BookCrossing journal entry.

Picoult writes what I call issue fiction. At this point I've read quite a number of her books (Keeping Faith, Mercy, My Sister's Keeper, The Pact, Plain Truth, The Tenth Circle), but the first one I read (Plain Truth) remains my favorite though I'm not sure why (my first taste of her? the Amish angle? the twist? the quasi-happy ending, which I mention a little later in this paragraph, actually making sense in the story?). Some of her books (and this one in particular) are just so depressing reading them is almost unbearable at times. The disconnect is how she always manages to come up with a quasi-happy ending.

I wasn't in high school at the time of the Columbine shootings, but I was in my 2nd year of college and I remember being glued to the television set. This isn't an easy subject and I guess Picoult handled it well in Nineteen Minutes. The twist was a bit much, but I guess it is in keeping with her style. Yes, things are never black-and-white, but I think sometimes Picoult blurs things overly much to get her point across.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Read with Abandon?

The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So... what books have you abandoned and why?

Most recently I abandoned No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod. I'm sure that it's not a bad book (in fact I've heard many good things about it), but I just couldn't get into it. I just wasn't in the right mindset for it so I decided to send it on to it's next reader instead of letting it collect dust around the house.

I also have a book that's currently languishing. I started reading it, but haven't yet finished. I think I'm about a third of the way through. The problem with this one is that it just wasn't what I was expecting. I fully intend to finish it though - maybe I'll try to pick up again this weekend.

I used never to give up on books because I'd feel so guilty about it, but I've started to be more open to starting, but not finishing after joining BookCrossing since I have so many books coming in (there some days I'm sure that our postal carrier curses my name). There are so many books out there that I really shouldn't be spending time reading books I really don't want to read. Of course I still feel guilty about it, but when I do I try to remember Nancy Pearl's Rule of 50.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

book clubbing in October

This month's book club pick was The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall. I find that fact that our other nonfiction title for 2007 was The Professor and the Madman kind of amusing. I'm sure that the two were chosen because of subject matter, but it does seem that we respond in some way to that title format.

Voting for our 2008 selections will happen next month and I'll be posting our reading list for next year in early December at the latest. A list of our 2007 (and late 2006) selections is available here if you are interested.

Anyway, about the book: First of all, it really wasn't what I expected. Because of the title I assumed there would be a more even handling of Dickinson and Hofmann. As it was, Dickinson seemed pretty tangential to the story the author was trying to tell. We learn all about Hofmann and his personal history, the LDS Church (historic and contemporary), the rare book and manuscript trade, auction houses, early American printing, and forgery techniques, but very little about Miss Dickinson (beyond little tidbits and theories tossed into the narrative journalistically). Hofmann's story is compelling in and of itself and I'd almost rather that Worrall didn't try to merge it with Dickinson's.

You can tell that The Poet and the Murderer was Worrall's first book and that his background is in journalism. The narrative is very episodic with an emphasis on the more exciting or salacious details (for example, it seemed like Worrall rushed through the murders and what let up to them, but he was very explicit about what happened to the female victim, explicit enough to turn your stomach).

All this isn't to say that we didn't like the book. I think most of us did (or at least found it quite interesting). We liked that the tale began from the perspective of a librarian. And, I think we all learned more about Mormonism and forgery than we'd known before. But, we didn't like the typographical errors or that fact that Worrall didn't really reference his sources.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Typography

What’s the worst typographical error you’ve ever found in (or on) a book?

You know what? I really don't know. Many books put out these days are very poorly edited. I usually try to put those typographical errors out of my mind. Recently, though, I picked up a book where the protagonist's name was mentioned a number of times in the back-cover synopsis and misspelled one of those times.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

a couple more birthday books

Two more birthday books arrived in the mail yesterday:

- Go to Sleep, Russell the Sheep by Rob Scotton
I happened across this book by accident and put it on my wishlist because it was just too cute.

- Domiknitrix: Whip Your Knitting Into Shape by Jennifer Stafford
Very cool book. There's a hat in here that I really want to knit.

Monday, October 15, 2007

recent reading

I've been really hard to please lately, so I guess that's why I'm so backlogged with my real reviews. So, here's my critical look at some of the books I've read recently.

Glass Houses by Rachel Caine
Glass Houses is book one of Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampires series. I liked the first book in the Weather Warden series (Ill Wind), but so far I'm not really crazy about the Morganville Vampires. That's not to say that I won't read other books in the series, but I'm not going to actively search them out.

It's refreshing to have the vampires be evil (I actually have been reading paranormal novels lately and it seems that most all of them with vampires have either a benign or positive take on them), but the book was darker than I expected or was in the mood for.

Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard
by Kiran Desai

I have to admit that I expected so much more from this novel. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations after hearing so much good press and maybe I just wasn't in the right mindset for it when I read it, but I thought it was just OK. I like Desai's writing, but I didn't find the story nearly as enchanting as I was expecting to.

In the Country of Men
by Hisham Matar

I think this is one of those books that I just wasn't in the correct mindset for when it came into my life. I read it, but I wasn't terribly impressed. The book isn't long, but it took me a while to read it because I didn't find it particularly compelling. I mean, the book is depressing (in addition to being well-written) and that's exactly not what I needed to be reading at the moment.

Oh My Goth by Gena Showalter
This was a VERY quick read. The concept was definitely interesting (talk about a scared straight program!), but the story itself was pretty predictable. It's almost as if the author was so pleased with herself for coming up with such a good concept that she didn't feel she had to try particularly hard with the rest. I don't regret reading the book, but it would have been nice if it's story had been a bit more substantial (though I'm not really part of the intended audience of the book so I can afford to be critical).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Live and In-person

* Have you ever met one of your favorite authors? Gotten their autograph?
* How about an author you felt only so-so about, but got their autograph anyway? Like, say, at a book-signing a friend dragged you to?
* How about stumbling across a book signing or reading and being so captivated, you bought the book?

The quick answers: Sort of. Yes. No.

When I was in 9th grade (I think) I ran into Jennings Michael Burch (author of They Cage the Animals at Night) at a Chinese restaurant in Chappaqua, NY. I had just read (or was then reading) that moving book so the timing was really fortuitous. He inscribed my copy of the book in such a meaningful way that I really felt a connection with him. My short answer was "sort of" only because I'm not sure I'd consider Burch one of my favorite authors. They Cage the Animals at Night, however, is very good reading; I recommend it.

I got tons of books signed at BookExpo Canada this year (see this post) by authors I'd never heard of before. Some of the books look really fantastic and I plan to read them (if I haven't already), but others look only so-so.

Strangely enough, I don't think I've ever really stumbled across a reading or book signing. Or, if I have, I haven't really been paying attention. I tend to avoid crowds so maybe that's the reason.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Eating Up Italy

Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa by Matthew Fort

A travelogue cum cookbook, Eating Up Italy chronicles British food writer and critic Matthew Fort's culinary exploration of Italy from Melito Di Porto Salvo in Calabria to Turin.

Each of the book's twelve chapters begins with a blurb pulled from the chapter text to set the scene and ends with recipes for dishes featured in that chapter. The recipes highlight everything from the relatively tame dishes like pasta al forno (baked pasta, 28) and puré di patate (mashed potato, 240) to the adventurous anguilla in umido alla comacchiese (stewed eel Comacchio style, 216) and trippa Napoletana (Neapolitan tripe, 104).

Fort is a sympathetic character, a kind of everyman with a well-trained palette. He describes himself a balding middle-aged man with a slight paunch. He's almost a comic character, experiencing a kind of mid-life crisis, which has left him with the desire to take to the road. The Italians think Fort is crazy for riding a vespa on the highway, but they warm to him and his obvious love of food and he in turn gets them to open up to him about their own love of all things culinary.

Eating Up Italy is a book that will appeal to all foodies. Descriptions of Italian landscape and gastronomic delights are peppered with reflections on Italian culture, agritourism, artisanal food production, and the Slow Food movement. Fort delights in the simplicity of a perfectly ripe peach, bemoans the fact that the British have lost their taste for offal, and is not afraid to admit that before the trip he thought bergamot was a flower.

The end, however, left me a bit dissatisfied. After all this talk of Fort stuffing himself at every meal, I wanted to know how much weight he gained during his trip. Beyond that, I have few complaints. There is a certain disjointedness in the narrative, but that I suppose is to be expected given the book's origins as a travel diary. One thing that Fort and his editors did not take into consideration when producing the American edition is exactly how parochial we Americans are. Not only does Fort pepper his narrative with foreign words, he rarely gives the English version of an Italian word after its first appearance in the book. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but with the proliferation of Italian food items it becomes impossible to keep them all straight (especially when a word was first mentioned only in passing fifty pages earlier). Despite the fact that the book has an index, this may put off some readers.

The success of Eating Up Italy is tied up in Fort's evident love and appreciation of Italian food and culture, which is perfectly illustrated by this passage: "This was what I had come for. Each mouthful was a reminder of the essential plainness, and grace, of Italian food. There were no extraneous sauces, no distracting garnishes, no mint sprigs or dashes of fancy oils. The flavours were clean and clear. The beauty of each dish lay in the quality of the ingredients, and in the understanding with which they were cooked" (10).

As an aside - I like the cover (gotta love Botticelli's Birth of Venus) except for those horrid little fish.

Read my review at Front Street Reviews...

knitting books!

Two books I ordered for my birthday arrived yesterday.

Big Girl Knits by Jillian Moreno.
Subtitled "25 Big, Bold Projects Shaped for Real Women with Real Curves," the book is filled with figure-flattering patterns (the first top I plan to make is the Cherry Bomb tank from this book) and has what looks to be an amazingly helpful style guide. I've wanted this book since before I learned how to knit. My friend Janelle (who, incidentally, is the one who taught me to knit) wrote a great review of the book last year (read it on her blog).

Romantic Hand Knits by Annie Modesitt.
Russell actually happened across this book in the store when he was trying to buy Big Girl Knits (which was out of stock). With a subtitle like "26 Flirtatious Designs That Flatter Your Figure" (and the sexy skirt on the cover) of course he thought the book was a must-have. When he told me about it, the first thing I did was check out Janelle's blog to see what she thought of the book.

Needless to say, I'm very excited about these two new additions to my library. As my knitting skills increase I hope to make a number of the patterns for myself.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Decorum

Yesterday was so crazy that I completely forgot about Booking Through Thursday. Well, better late than never...

Do you have "issues" with too much profanity or overly explicit (ahem) "romantic" scenes in books? Or do you take them in stride? Have issues like these ever caused you to close a book? Or do you go looking for more exactly like them?

Personally, I actually have more issues with explicit violence in books. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't appreciate a juicy romance novel as much as the next woman. However, I think that sometimes those scenes are unnecessary and overdone (like in MaryJanice Davidson's Undead series). Right now I can't think of a book I've started to read lately that I put down because I was offended about this kind of stuff. Even if I don't particularly like something I usually push through because it is rare for me to give up on a book once I've actually gotten into it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Day of Battle

Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-44 by Rick Atkinson

The Day of Battle is divided in to four parts. In the first part, Atkinson covers the Sicily campaign. In part two, he covers the British 8th Army invasion of Italy at the toe, the invasion of the American 5th Army at Salerno, and the Allies' battles at the Bernhardt Line centred around the town San Pietro. In the part three, he covers the failed attacks to capture of the town of Cassino and the abbey on Monte Cassino as well as the Anzio invasion and the German counter attacks on the beachhead. Finally, Atkinson covers the breakout at Cassino and the Anzio beachhead as well as the capture of Rome.

It is not necessary to have read the first book in the Liberation Trilogy, An Army at Dawn, to understand this second volume. If a person appears in the first volume, Atkinson reintroduces him in the second (though the information given at the introduction is not exactly the same).

When Atkinson writes about the battles, his descriptions are like better-written, less dry after action reports. He focuses the history on the command personal, the Allied and German generals (who he criticizes and praises equally); but he peppers that narrative with personal experiences from the enlisted ranks, lower ranked officers, and reporters showing how they viewed the events around them.

Atkinson ends the book at the traditional ending point of histories on the Italian campaign, with the fall of Rome. Only in the epilogue does he briefly cover the rest of the campaign until the war ends. This makes me wonder whether he will write about it the upcoming third volume. Atkinson already has a lot to cover in the third volume, starting with the preparations for D-Day, the Normandy campaign, the race across France, invasion of southern France, the Battle of Bulge and the fall of Germany; more, perhaps, that can be contained in one book.

This book is a great for what I call good general history, by which I mean that it gives a good overall history, but also has a bibliography that readers be used to learn more about the topic.

There are a couple small errors I noticed while reading The Day of Battle. On page 439, when Atkinson writes about monks of the Abbey of Monte Cassino contemplating the mysteries of the rosary, he includes the luminous mysteries, which were introduced Pope John Paul II. Additionally, on page 536, Atkinson refers to a historical battle occurring in the First Punic War with Hannibal, but Hannibal fought in Italy only in the Second Punic War.

My only other criticism is on how the references were handled in this book. Atkinson uses endnotes, which are grouped by page and marked by the first three words of sentences they are supporting. This made checking references slow and tedious; the reader can not see quickly the where the references are placed in the text. However, I really like the maps that are being used so far in this series.
On a small note, I finished this book on June 5th, the anniversary of the fall of Rome to the US 5th Army, the same point at which the book's narrative ends.

Reviewed by Russell Morse
I expect to be featuring Russell's reviews periodically on the blog (I've convinced him to start writing reviews), which should mix things up a bit as he tends to read different genres than I do.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Series Swap

Right now I'm taking part in a series swap on This is like a normal swap (explained in the swap FAQ), but with an offering of three books from a series (preferably the first three books in the series).

I'm offering Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun Mysteries:
1. The Coroner's Lunch (2004)
2. Thirty-Three Teeth (2005)
3. Disco for the Departed (2006)

I'm just finishing Thirty-Three Teeth and I have to say that I'm really enjoying the series so far. The books are different and I really just love the setting and the supernatural elements that appear throughout the stories and within the lives of the characters.

Here's the description of The Coroner's Lunch:
Laos, 1975. The Communist Pathet Lao has taken over this former French colony. Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old Paris-trained doctor, is appointed national coroner. Although he has no training for the job, there is no one else; the rest of the educated class has fled.

He is expected to come up with the answers the party wants. But crafty and charming Dr.Siri is immune to bureaucratic pressure. At his age, he reasons, what can they do to him? And he knows he cannot fail the dead who come into his care without risk of incurring their boundless displeasure. Eternity could be a long time to have the spirits mad at you.

"A wonderfully fresh and exotic mystery. [...] If Cotterill [...] had done nothing more than treat us to Siri's views on the dramatic, even comic crises that mark periods of government upheaval, his debut mystery would still be fascinating. But the multiple cases spread out on Siri's examining table [...] are not cozy entertainments, but substantial crimes that take us into the thick of political intrigue." – The New York Times Book Review

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Friendship

This week's Booking Through Thursday question is actually inspired by Buy a Friend a Book Week. If you don't know anything about Buy a Friend a Book Week definitely check out the program's website (or read about it in this post).

Anyway, here's the question:
What book would you choose to give to a friend and why?

The easiest thing for me to answer this question would be to link to my BAFABW posts from last year, but I will behave myself and actually write out an answer here.

It seems to me that I have two different ways of gifting books. I'll either send something from a person's wishlist (but 9 times out of 10 it'll be a book that I think I'd also like reading) or I'll pick out something I think they'll like (I really only do this with children and people I know relatively well). Someone like a brother-in-law would get a book following the first method. Someone like my mom would get a book following the second method. And, when I'm gifting books to someone like my dad, I'll do a bit of both.

After posting this, something else occurred to me so I'm jumping in here again. Sometimes I'll like a book so much that I'll pick up multiple copies and gift them to everyone that I think might remotely like it. Most recently I've done this with Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu.

Happy Birthday

Today may be Google's 9th birthday, but September 27th was mine long before.

I haven't received all my presents yet, but I have gotten a few books so far.

My sister also got me the Love of Learning Willow Tree figurine to celebrate my love of books.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

book clubbing in September

It's that time of the month again. My book club met today and we discussed Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

Richard Mayhew is a young businessman with a good heart and a dull job. When he stops one day to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk, his life is forever altered, for he finds himself propelled into an alternate reality that exists in a subterranean labyrinth of sewer canals and abandoned subway stations below the city. He has fallen through the cracks of reality and has landed somewhere different, somewhere that is Neverwhere.

Neverwhere received a pretty positive response from the book club. We all liked it, some more than others, and because of that (as is typical for us) our discussion about the book itself wasn't that in depth. That's not to say we didn't have a good discussion, we just got off track a bit talking about graphic novels and the Millennials and movie adaptations and ...

Personally I liked the book, but found it a bit slow. Though that's probably because (as usual) I waited until the last minute to read the book so I couldn't put it down in favor of something that was better suited to my mood.

My impressions of the book, however, we're definitely affected by the fact that I'd read China Mieville's Un Lun Dun relatively recently. The concept behind Un Lun Dun and Neverwhere is similar, with an alternate world existing beneath our feet. Un Lun Dun's un-London is a bit more fantastical (and the novel a bit more playful as it is geared toward a different audience). I enjoyed Un Lun Dun, but after reading Neverwhere I know exactly how much Mieville is indebted to Gaiman

The Blacksmith's Daughter

The Blacksmith's Daughter by Suzanne Adair

Suzanne Adair follows up her award-winning debut with another, subtler, high-stakes adventure tale.

Set against the backdrop of the American Revolution, The Blacksmith's Daughter is the story of seventeen-year-old Betsy Sheridan, a neutral who can’t help getting involved in rebel intrigues. Happily married to a successful cobbler, Betsey is pregnant with her first child when her seemingly-perfect life starts to fall apart.

Her uncle and both her parents are on the run after being incorrectly labeled as rebel spies. Betsey is implicated in their activities when her uncle drops by to assure her of their safety. With British officers of her case, Betsey discovers that her husband has been keeping secrets from her and, though posing as a loyalist, is involved in a rebel spy ring. When her house is first vandalized and then burned to the ground, Betsey realizes how tenuous her safety in Camden is. Knowing that she must do whatever it takes to keep her unborn child safe, Betsey is determined to leave town. Torn between a desire to reunite with her parents and her duty to her husband, it seems like there are no simple decisions in this time of war.

Filled with adventure, romance, and abundant historical detail, The Blacksmith's Daughter is a page-turner. What sets it apart from most historical thrillers, however, is its cast of substantive characters. Protagonist Betsey is sympathetic, if a bit impetuous. The secondary characters--from the villainous Lieutenant Fairfax to minor actor Josiah Carter--are all carefully drawn and fully realized. Additionally Adair puts her novel in context with a historical afterword and bibliography.

While The Blacksmith’s Daughter follows Adair’s first novel, Paper Woman, it does stand on its own. Paper Woman takes place immediately before the action of The Blacksmith's Daughter, but it focuses on Betsy’s mother Sophie Barton, who is only a minor character in The Blacksmith's Daughter. The novels are also written in such a way that if readers encounter the second novel first, they can go back and enjoy Paper Woman without fear of knowing too much about the plot of the first novel.

Suzanne Adair is a colonial and Revolutionary War reenactor. Her first novel, Paper Woman, won the 2007 Patrick D. Smith Literature Award, given by the Florida Historical Society.

Read my review at Front Street Reviews...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Sunshine & Roses

Imagine that everything is going just swimmingly. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and all’s right with the world. You’re practically bouncing from health and have money in your pocket. The kids are playing and laughing, the puppy is chewing in the cutest possible manner on an officially-sanctioned chew toy, and in between moments of laughter for pure joy, you pick up a book to read...
What is it?

This question is the reverse of last week's and, if anything, I think my answer is even more nebulous this week. If I'm content, I'm not sure that it matters what I read. Though, thinking about both of these questions, it occurs to me that I may read less when I'm at both extremes than I do usually (too depressed/out of it to read, too bouncy to want to sit still).

That being said, today has been a crazy day and I'm looking forward to curling up on the couch and doing a little reading and a little knitting and just relaxing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

I have to admit that I started this one without the faintest idea what it was about (beyond "three secrets, two women, one grail," which couldn't be ignored on the front cover; I didn't read the back cover text). Obviously I knew something about it when I added it to my wishlist (right after it was first published), but since then I'd managed to forget whatever it is that I knew. Kate Mosse was one of the co-founders of the Orange Prize and, honestly, I'd give her a try just because of that.

Set both in modern day France and 13th century Languedoc, Labyrinth is a historical thriller revolving around the mystery of the Grail. What sets it apart from the other bestsellers with which it will be inevitably grouped is Mosse's understanding and evident love of the area in which the story is set (as well as her writing).

The one thing that was a bit annoying about the book was that (justifiably for plot reasons) Mosse holds out on explaining what the Cathar's truly believed until fairly late in the narrative. This probably wouldn't be a problem for readers familiar with the period, but for me I had a hard time understanding the justification for the crusade (which is the backdrop of the historical part of the novel) without knowing the extent of the heresy.

In any case, Labyrinth may be the best kind of historical fiction, the kind that makes you want to learn more about the period in which it was set. I'm actually kind of interested in reading Greg Mosse's Secrets of the Labyrinth despite the fact that I don't particularly care for spin-off books. Though I'll probably just see if Russell has anything on the period kicking around in his book collection.

Though this is really only tangentially related, I have to say that reading this book (in which the city of Carcassonne features prominently) made me want to break out Carcassonne, a fantastic euro board game...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Comfort Food

Okay . . . picture this (really) worst-case scenario: It’s cold and raining, your boyfriend/girlfriend has just dumped you, you’ve just been fired, the pile of unpaid bills is sky-high, your beloved pet has recently died, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. All you want to do (other than hiding under the covers) is to curl up with a good book, something warm and comforting that will make you feel better.
What do you read?

Ideally I'd head for something that is really untaxing and has a happy ending. I haven't been doing a lot of rereading lately - I'll just browse my BookCrossing bookcase (yes, I have a whole bookcase devoted to BookCrossing books) and pick out a YA or chick lit title that doesn't look too annoying or a cozy mystery. Sometimes I'll choose fantasy or historical fiction just to get away from myself and the situation.

As for specific titles...
Cecilia Ahern's PS, I love you really helped me through the aftermath of my cousin's unexpected death. I've also found Katie Schneider's All we know of love particularly comforting.

Monday, September 10, 2007


It's probably quite obvious that I haven't been getting a lot of serious (read: assigned) reading done lately. I've been a bit of an escapist and I've been drowning myself in quick, untaxing reads many of them series books. So here's a look at what I've been reading lately.

Maggie Sefton's Knitting Mysteries.
So far I've read the first three: Knit One, Kill Two, Needled to Death, and A Deadly Yarn. The fourth book in the series, A Killer Stitch, is next on my list (I'm going to start it right after I publish this post).
I don't typically read a lot of cozies, but I do like this series. I can really relate to its protagonist, a young professional who is addicted to coffee and just learning to knit. After the second book I was worried that the series would end up being unforgivably formulaic (there were too many similarities between the crimes in the first two books), but I'm pleased to report that A Deadly Yarn deviated a bit.

Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris
My coworker and I are actually both reading this series now. So far I've read Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, and Dead as a Doornail.
I like this series much better than most of the other paranormal series I've picked up. Sookie is pretty down-to-earth, the author is inventive, the secondary characters are pretty well-drawn, and there isn't an unnecessary amount of sex. The overarching story, however, is a bit of a mystery to me. Just today my coworker and I were arguing over the identity of Sookie's intended love interest. Though my coworker has cast the role, I'm not altogether sure. We both agree, however, that it's not Bill.
I'm not going to run out and purchase the other books in the series (so far Definitely Dead and All Together Dead), but I'll read them when they come my way.

I also just finished the first of Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie mysteries, The Sunday Philosophy Club.
When I was in Chicago, my aunt gave me the audio version, which we started listening to on the way home. Russell didn't care much for Isabel and her internal monologues on ethics and philosophy. I will say that she grew on me. Yes, the monologues got a bit tiresome, but I found Isabel to be an interesting character (and I liked McCall Smith's inclusion of what my dad would call SAT-words).
One thing that occurred to me as I was listening to the book is how different Isabel is from Precious Rambotswe (star of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency books). Not that I expected them to be similar, but I found it interesting that while McCall Smith's core audience probably has the least in common with Precious, she may very well be his most sympathetic protagonist (I don't know anything about the 44 Scotland Street series, though, so I could be completely off base).
So far there are three others in the series: Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, The Right Attitude to Rain, and The Careful Use of Compliments. I won't go out and buy the books, but I did put them on my BookMooch wishlist so hopefully I'll be able to snag them if they are listed. In the meantime I'll probably give the Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld books a go. They've been hanging around my bookshelf for a while now.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Goldilocks

Are you a Goldilocks kind of reader?
Do you need the light just right, the background noise just so loud but not too loud, the chair just right, the distractions at a minimum?
Or can you open a book at any time and dip right in, whether it’s for twenty seconds, while waiting for the kettle to boil, or indefinitely, like while waiting interminably at the hospital–as long as the book is open in front of your nose, you’re happy to read?

Hmmmm... this is a really interesting question and I'm not sure that I have a direct answer. Usually I'm not, but sometimes I am. There are times when it feels like I am just too distracted to read -- I'm antsy, I get up, walk around, disturb the cats, thinking of a million unimportant things I *need* to do at the moment -- but usually I can just set myself down and get into my book, provided it's something I want to read (though I will admit that I sometimes have a hard time in public places when it is very noisy). Then again, with stuff that I have to read (like certain boring articles when I was in school), I get into Goldilocks mode. So, like I said, no direct answer.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I had my mail held while I was away in Chicago last week.
Today, when the mail was delivered, I had the most wonderful little mound of parcels some of which included books (of course).

I received two BookCrossing books:
I also received two wishlist books (which have just been added to my LibraryThing collection) that I'd requested through BookMooch:I just had to share.

Friday, August 31, 2007

SAA Publications

Here are a couple of new titles that I wanted to pick up from the Society of American Archivists Publications booth:

- Architectural Records: Managing Design and Construction Records by Tawny Ryan Nelb and Waverly B. Lowell
- Archives and Justice: A South African Perspective by Verne Harris

I'll have the boss order the architectural records book for our book collection at work, but the Harris volume is going to have to go on the wishlist.

(Belated) Booking Through Thursday - Statistics

Ok, I'm a bit late with my Booking Through Thursday entry this week. I've been in Chicago and so busy conferencing and meeting up with family and friends that it slipped my mind yesterday.

There was a widely bruited-about statistic reported last week, stating that 1 in 4 Americans did not read a single book last year. Clearly, we don’t fall into that category, but... how many of our friends do? Do you have friends/family who read as much as you do? Or are you the only person you know who has a serious reading habit?

Russell actually sent me the article in question when it first appeared. I was horrified. I read 200 books in 2006 and have read 130 books so far this year (see my BookCrossing bookshelf for a list).

Now, as to this week's question: Russell is a voracious reader (though he reads primarily nonfiction; I just queried him, he thinks he reads at least 100 a year). My parents both read a lot (as I discussed last week). My sister doesn't read much (her strain of dyslexia makes reading hard), but she does read at least one book a year. One of my nieces, who is in 2nd grade, gets in trouble for reading during lessons. The rest of my inlaws are a mixed bag: a couple don't read at all, a couple read voraciously, and everyone else falls in the middle.

Most of my friends read, a few as much as I do (but those are people I met through BookCrossing and are true book addicts). In fact, I can only think of two friends who've professed a dislike of reading - one is doing his medical residency and probably wouldn't have time to read even if he wanted to and the other definitely read a book in the last year because I found one I thought he'd like and had it sent to him (I nagged him until he read it and he did actually like it).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Indoctrination

When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading?

I was definitely indoctrinated as a child. My parents are both big readers. My dad reads primarily fantasy and science fiction. My mom loves historical fiction and books set in far-off lands, but also reads mysteries and a variety of other genres. I was a frequent visitor to my local library. I actually remember quite vividly getting my first library card when I was in kindergarten (though that's not particularly family-oriented).

When I moved out, every time I came home to visit I'd find a couple little piles of books in my room, titles that my mom and dad thought I'd enjoy. Now that I'm out of school with more time for leisure reading (and because I'm so involved in BookCrossing), things seem to be switched. I'm constantly recommending books to my parents and every time I see my mom I hand over a huge shopping bag full of books for her to read (I'm like her own personal lending library!).