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!).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

book clubbing in August

I simply can not believe that it is almost the end of August. Where has this summer gone?

In any case, we had another book club meeting today during which we discussed Arthur Phillips' The Egyptologist.

Set in primarily in 1920s Boston and Egypt, The Egyptologist is the tale of a fanatical Egyptologist searching for the tomb of an apocryphal pharaoh against the backdrop of Howard Carter's famous exploits in the Valley of the Kings.

I came to The Egyptologist warily. I liked the concept behind the novel, but I was expecting not to like it because I had a lot of trouble his first novel, Prague (I started it on four different occasions, but never managed to get through it, which is very rare for me). I am, however, happy to report that I did enjoy The Egyptologist though I did end up rushing through it since a huge ARC arrived along with a very short deadline.

In any case, we all liked the book though we were a bit confounded by it. Half of us who'd finished it (myself included) had figured out the "mystery" early on, but we did not think that detracted from the book. We loved the combination of unreliable narrators and experience of hearing various versions of the same story and having to sort out the "truth" for ourselves.

I'd definitely recommend this one and I know exactly who I'm going to pass my copy to next.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Until I Find You

Until I find you by John Irving

I've been listening to the audio version of this book (unabridged on 28 CDs, 35.5 hours, read by Arthur Morey) for quite some time now. I just finished it this afternoon.

Skipping the plot summary since this isn't a full review, it's hard for me to say what I think about this book. The writing, as expected, is very good, the characters are well-drawn, and there are many things that I liked about it. For long stretches of time, however, I really hated the book and only kept listening because I was invested in it, thinking all the while that maybe this particular book would have been better abridged (that's a very bad sign for me since I really dislike abridged books).

Jack's school years were really hard on me, I hated hearing about everything that happens to him and all the various ways that he is compromised sexually. And I have to say that there is altogether too much sexual disfunction in this book. Even after Jack survives being molested in various ways by various people it continued to feel like Until I find you was simply a history of Jack's sexual disfunction. However after a certain point things seemed to shift, I felt like I could handle Jack and his life, and I really started liking the story and at the end I was left wanting more. Irving makes us suffer through all the not-so-good parts of Jack's life and then leaves us hanging right when all that suffering begins to seem worthwhile.

I can definitely say that Arthur Morey renders the book wonderfully, but beyond my feelings are very mixed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - Monogomy

Since I've been lax about updating my blog lately (and because I really like the idea behind this meme), I thought I'd start participating in Booking Through Thursday.

This week's question is -
One book at a time? Or more than one? If more, are they different types/genres? Or similar?

I used to be much more strict about only reading one book at a time, but now I'm regularly balancing at least three. However I try to make sure they are of different genres or have different enough plots that I don't confuse them. Right now I'm reading a paranormal romance, a literary novel, a cozy mystery, and listening to an audio book. I've started a couple others, but I'm not actively reading them at the moment.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Villa Serena

Keeping with what seems to be my theme for this summer, I offer you today a very overdue review. The timing, however, isn't completely horrible because this book fits perfectly into WestofMars' Hidden Treasures Contest (read more about it here).

Villa Serena by Domenica de Rosa

First of all, I love the cover design, although I have to say that the subtitle-looking text "falling in love Italian-style" isn't exactly an accurate description of the book. Villa Serena is less about the protagonist falling in love than about her dealing with and overcoming various heartbreaks.

Emily Robertson seems to have a perfect life. She's living her dream in a restored villa in Tuscany, writing a weekly column on Italian life for a British paper. It all seems like an illusion, though, when her husband of many years dumps her - by text message! Suddenly she feels stranded. She can't really speak Italian, she has no money, and her three children are running her ragged, each in a completely different way. It's only when Emily begins to open up to the locals that she is able to really inhabit their home and find herself along the way.

While I enjoyed the novel overall, I have two criticisms. The first (and most important, in my opinion at least) is about how de Rosa handles the youngest daughter's eating disorder. Despite the alternate view of the situation shown in another character, the resolution of the problem seemed too simple and Emily's lack of action distressed me. The second is that the small thriller aspect of the story isn't fully realized so its climax seems a bit out of place in the novel. That being said, that atmosphere, setting, and well-drawn characters make up for these inadequacies.

De Rosa's third novel (after The Italian Quarter and The Eternal City) is written with a clear love of Italy and all things Italian. Villa Serena is a great summer read, perfect for those who daydream of Tuscany and not recommended only to readers who are suffering from (or have loved ones suffering from) eating disorders.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Stay Out of the Kitchen!

Stay Out of the Kitchen! by Mable John and David Ritz

Stay Out of the Kitchen! is the second novel in a series featuring Albertina Merci, a 70-something R&B singer-turned-minister. John and Ritz's sympathetic protagonist is the driving force behind the novels and what will keep readers coming back for more.

Albertina may be a senior, she may be African-American, and she may be a minister, but there's just something about her that transcends those descriptors. She's written in a way that makes her accessible to all readers. She's not perfect: she does lose patience, she does get mad, and she doesn't always have the right answers, but that's what makes her come alive on the page. She has an abundance of fortitude and generosity, and, while Albertina is devout, she is open-minded in a way that keeps the authors from alienating non-Christian readers.

The action of Stay Out of the Kitchen! revolves around two main dramas. First, Albertina (in her innocent way) is involved in a love triangle with two very different men, a Shakespeare-quoting diner owner and an upstanding parishioner who shares her taste in music. Both are pushing her to commit, but she's not sure romance is in God's plan for her. Second, a mega-church is muscling its way into area. They want the land her church stands on and they won't take "no" for an answer. Of course, that isn't the half of it: her single-minded nephew Patrick and sex-crazed neighbor Justine are up to their usual tricks, her son's marriage is on shaky ground, her flock is divided, and it's up to Albertina to sort things out or to "let go and let God."

While Stay Out of the Kitchen! stands alone, readers of Sanctified Blues (read my review) may enjoy it just a bit more because of their previous experience with the characters. All in all, Stay Out of the Kitchen! is a strong addition to the series; better than the first.

Read my review on Front Street Reviews...

Sanctified Blues and Stay Out of the Kitchen! are Hidden Treasures, why don't you check them out?

The Next Thing on My List

The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski

When 34-year-old June Parker sets off for her first Weight Watchers meeting, her biggest complaints in life are the ten pounds she wants to lose and a relationship that’s on its last legs. Everything changes when she survives a car accident that left her passenger, 24-year-old Marissa Jones, dead. Tucked in Marissa’s purse, June discovers a list entitled “20 Things to Do by My 25th Birthday” and is crushed to see that only two of the items had been completed at the time of Marissa’s death. A chance encounter with Marissa’s brother spurs June to complete Marissa’s list... in the six months left before her birthday. What begins as an errand undertaken to save face quickly becomes a noble quest that gives June’s life new meaning.

With entries as simple as “Watch a sunrise”, as difficult as “Change someone’s life”, and as confounding as “Make Buddy Fitch pay”, Marissa’s to-do list is compelling. Told by an endearing first person narrator, The Next Thing on My List is the story of June and her struggle to cross off the items on the list before Marissa’s birthday. Readers can keep track on June's progress by the increasingly stricken-through lists that appear throughout the book.

The Next Thing on My List is a very much a typical chick lit story with a typical chick lit protagonist. A twenty- or thirty-something (in this case, thirty-something) city girl is bumbling through life, career and love, to triumph in the end. In this case, June works at a ride share program in Los Angeles, where she's been passed over for a managerial position. She's single, depressed, and in need of a change. The catalyst for that change is a to-do list written by someone else. However, while completing the list is transformative for June, Smolinski's delivery falls flat. While the subtleties of some list items are thoroughly explored, others are glossed over (much like Marissa's death itself). In the end, though June proclaims herself changed, there doesn't seem to be enough evidence to prove any
lost-lasting effects.

The Next Thing on My List lacks that depth and sensitivity of Cecilia Ahern's debut PS, I love you (a novel this reader recommends on a similar theme). Nevertheless, fans of the genre will rush to pick up Smolinski's second novel and many will be charmed by her relatable heroine.

Read my review at Front Street Reviews...