Wednesday, June 27, 2007

book clubbing in June

When developing the reading list for my book club, one of my primary concerns was on variety - both to challenge us to read outside of our usual genres and encourage pop-ins who might only come to a meeting because we were reading their favorite genre that month (though now that I think of it, we did manage to miss some pretty big genres like romance and horror). In any case, June turned out to be a science fiction month with us reading Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card.

In one of the most powerful and thought-provoking novels of his remarkable career, Orson Scott Card interweaves a compelling portrait of Christopher Columbus with the story of a future scientist who believes she can alter human history from a tragedy of bloodshed and brutality to a world filled with hope and healing.

Even though I was raised on fantasy, I never really got into science fiction. While I do read science fiction occasionally, the operative word there really is "occasionally." Even though I'd heard murmurings about Pastwatch I probably would never have gotten around to reading if it hadn't ended up on our book club reading list. I'm glad that I did though because I did quite like it, particularly its unique combination of historical fiction (one of my favorite genres) and science fiction. I decided that I was going to like Card (who I'd never read before) and Pastwatch, when I read in his acknowledgments: "A complaint to Sid Meier, for the game Civilization, which seriously interfered with my ability to concentrate on productive labor".

Though a number of us found the book to be slow going at the onset, those of us who finished it found that Pastwatch got much better toward the end and that at a certain point we became very invested in the story and needed to find out what happened.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Blood of Flowers

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

Unabridged audio book, read by Shohreh Aghdashloo

After the unexpected death of her father, a fourteen-year-old village girl is forced to sell the carpet intended to finance her dowry. Faced with the very real threat of starvation, the girl and her mother travel to the city of Isfahan where they are taken into the home of their only living relative, a carpet-maker to the shah. Though she was the best knotter in her village, the girl realizes that she has much to learn. She prevails upon her uncle, who sees in her echoes of himself as a young man, to teach her his craft.

Completely reliant on the goodwill of the uncle and his wife, the girl and her mother are treated as servants. Much to her chagrin, both the girl's carpets and her virginity are used as bargaining chips and traded against future commissions. When the girl fails to see the precariousness of her situation and makes one too many costly mistakes, the damage is irreparable and she must finally take responsibility for her own fate and that of her mother.

The Blood of Flowers is a novel to be savored. Amirrezvani’s writing is sensual and her seventeenth century Persia vividly realized. She blends traditional Iranian folktales seamlessly into a first-person narrative, which is peppered with details on the art and business of carpet-making. The novel’s unnamed protagonist is naïve and headstrong, but eminently likeable. Despite making any number of impetuous and ill-advised decisions, readers can't help but sympathize with her.

Unlike many historical debuts, The Blood of Flowers' narrative is well-balanced: while the historical detail is integral to the plot, it never threatens to overwhelm the story itself.

Actress Shohreh Aghdashloo’s narration never detracts from Amirrezvani’s finely-wrought novel. In fact, her accent imbues the text with authenticity and her voice has a mesmeric quality that draws listeners completely into the story.

The audio version (a sample clip is available on the publisher's webpage) also includes an interview with the author, in which Amirrezvani answers a number of questions about the novel, her background, and her writing process. Of particular interest is the segment about Amirrezvani's decision to not to name her protagonist.
Read my review at Armchair Interviews...

This fabulous novel is on the suggested reading list for the Hidden Treasures read-and-review contest. Pick up a copy to read this summer!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hidden Treasures Contest

My friend Susan over at West of Mars is hosting another read-and-review contest. This time, the name of the game is Hidden Treasures.

Here are the basics:

1. Find a book that's a "hidden treasure". That means a book that hasn't made it to a best-seller list anywhere that you can find. A suggested reading list is available at (some of you will recognize two of my suggestions right away, the other is one that I haven't mentioned here before). Feel free to find your own treasure, though.

2. The book MUST be from a royalty-paying publisher. If in doubt, ask.

3. Read it.

4. Post a review somewhere on the Internet between July 15 and August 15.

5. Sign the Mr. Linky at West of Mars. Include the permalink for your review.

6. Yes, you can use a Hidden Treasure book that fulfills another contest or reading challenge.

7. Yes, you can review more than one book.

8. If, for some reason, you don't want to win a prize, let Susan know.

9. If you have suggestions for the Hidden Treasures Suggested Reading List, or a prize for the winners, drop Susan an e-mail.

10. Prizes will be awarded August 20. Winners will be contacted and winning list will be posted no later than 22 August; be sure to have a way for us to contact you!

For more information, check out this post.

If you have any questions about the contest, feel free to ask me. I look forward to seeing what you decide to read-and-review and you can bet that I'll be playing along as well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

BookExpo Canada 2007

My back is sore, my arms are sore. I came back with two huge bags of publishers' catalogs (I'll be posting about exciting fall titles after I've had a chance to read through them) and tons of galleys.

BookExpo was, in a word, overwhelming. Luckily my friend Janelle (reviewer extraordinaire) knew the lay of the land and kept me from wandering aimlessly though the convention center.

I really don't know how to sum up the experience, so here are some of the tidbits:
- I am now the proud owner of a signed copy of The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi, who is both beautiful and "cool" and has written two wonderful novels despite being five years younger than me.
- I needed a whole bag just to carry Penguin's catalogs.
- I can't wait to try out some recipes from I Love Coffee!: Over 100 Easy and Delicious Coffee Drinks by Susan Zimmer.
- I kept far away from James Patterson and all the super big name people signing.
- I heard a great interview with Laura Byrn Paquet about Wanderlust: A Social History of Travel, which sounds like an amazing book.
- I ran into a mystery bookstore owner who recommended picking up a copy of The Faceless Fiend by Howard Whitehouse (they were giving out ARCs at the Kids Can Press booth), saying it looked like a winning combination of Artemis Fowl and Victorian England.
- I drool over the Raincoast Books catalogs.
- I shared a lunch table with Rebecca Upjohn. Her first children's book, Lily and the Paper Man, which will be published by Second Story Press this fall. I'm definitely going to buy a copy for my nieces.
- I just finished reading one of the books I picked up at BookExpo, Villa Serena by Domenica de Rosa (expect a little review later this week).

Keep an eye on my library once LibraryThing is up and running again. There'll be some interesting new additions.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

BookExpo Canada

That's where I'll be this weekend. Expect a full report on Tuesday.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Matters of the Blood

Matters of the Blood by Maria Lima

Rio Seco, Texas isn’t your average small town and Keira Kelly isn’t your average small-town girl. She born into a family of necromancers and at thirty-seven, has not yet come into her powers. Tired of her controlling family, Keira opts to stay in Texas when the family migrates to Canada, even though it means keeping an eye on her annoying human cousin Marty and his mortuary business.

Keira relishes her independence for two years before strange things start happening in Texas Hill Country. Horribly mutilated animals start appearing after a mysterious stranger purchases Wild Moon, a ranch outside of town, and converts it to an exclusive inn. When Marty is found dead on his embalming table with bite marks in his neck, Keira can't explain her true suspicious to the county sheriff because he knows nothing of the supernatural. It's up to Keira to figure out the cause of the recent spate of deaths while fighting off the advances of the sheriff, a former fling. If that wasn't enough, Keira has to deal with an onslaught of vivid and disturbing nightmares, which she recognizes as the first symptom of "the change," her supernatural coming-of-age.

Matters of the Blood starts out with a bang -- “I know the dead and the dead know me" is an intriguing first line if there ever was one -- and maintains a strong pace throughout. The novel has mystery, intrigue, and a number of unexpected twists. There is also plenty of sexual tension. Beyond a satisfying storyline, the novel is buoyed by a strong cast of supporting characters. They include Keira's brother Tucker, a sexy bisexual hellhound; Beatriz Ruiz, Keira's spunky best friend who owns the local café; Adam Walker, an enigmatic love interest; and Boris and Greta Nagy, a pair of Holocaust survivors; as well as a variety of vampires and other paranormals.

One of the things that makes this book stand out is how Lima leaves room for a sequel while still tying things up nicely at the end. Unlike some other paranormal series, this one seems to have been conceived with intent. While the mystery is resolved, the core story remains unfinished. Additionally there are plenty of interesting characters that deserve attention and a whole cast of family members at which readers have only had a peek.

My one complaint about the book is that, especially in the beginning, I really felt like I was grasping at thin air when it came to understanding Keira and her back-story. Upon reflection, however, I've determined that my initial response was a result of the fact that Lima was trying to create in Keira a more full-bodied character that could unfold in future books (something of which I wholeheartedly approve). In short, some readers (like me) will be disoriented at the onset, but if they persevere they will find Matters of the Blood compulsively readable and close its covers hoping for a sequel.

Read the review at Front Street Reviews...

Saturday, June 02, 2007


My review of Greed by Elfride Jelinek (translated from the German by Martin Chalmers) appeared in the May 1 edition of Library Journal.

Jelinek's latest novel (published in German four years before she won the Nobel prize) is one that will appeal to her fans and most likely infuriate her detractors as well as casual readers previously unfamiliar with her writing.

Set in southern Austria, Greed tells the story of a country policeman with a mania for property acquisition and an appetite for rough sex that leads to the murder of a 16-year-old girl. The storyline, however, is not the important element of this novel. Its driving force is Jelinek's inimitable style of commentary on relationships between men and women, the struggles of the writer and of aging, the state of the environment, and Jelinek's love-hate relationship with her native Austria, among other things. The stream-of-consciousness musings of the novel's unidentifiable female narrator may drive some readers to distraction, with their repetition, lack of plot progression, and often incomprehensible wordplays. Like her or not, this "extraordinary linguistic zeal" is why Jelinek is a Nobel laureate.

Read the proper review at Library Journal...