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