Sunday, December 28, 2008

holiday books

Happy holidays, everyone! Things are starting to calm down a bit so I thought today would be a good time for a post.

As I mentioned in a recent Booking Through Thursday post, I do like giving books as gifts.

The Haunted Tea CosyRussell received Gorey's The Haunted Tea-cosy (see this post) with a tea cozy that I knit especially for the occasion (I used this pattern; project on Ravelry). He also received Eyewitness to a Genocide from his wishlist as well as a few other non-wishlist books (A Tale of Two Valleys, which he's already reading, Cryptonomicon, and Quicksilver).*

I gave my sister Super Happy, Crochet Cute. It's a good introduction to Amigurumi-style crochet, something I knew she'd love once she tried it. She was really inspired by one of the advanced projects from the book so I helped her get started on it. She's already nearly done (project on Ravelry)!

I gave my mom Daughter of China by Meihong Xu and my dad Hood, book one of the Raven King trilogy, by Stephen Lawhead. I also snuck a copy of Definitely Dead into my sister-in-law Karina's package since I know she's working her way through the Sookie Stackhouse books.

Lucky me, I also got some wishlist books from various gift givers:
- The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu (I adored her Zahrah the Windseeker)
- Stravaganza: City of Secrets, the 4th Stravaganza book, by Mary Hoffman (love this series!)
- Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (yum!)
- Yarn Play: Colorful Techniques and Projects for the Creative Knitter by Lisa Shobhana Mason (I need to go through this one more thoroughly, but I think there's a must-knit sweater in it)

* Buying used books is a great way to stick to a budget, provided your giftees aren't the type to get upset/offended by used items.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

the right book

Lately I've found myself starting books and then quickly putting them down (a sampling listed below) and struggling when trying to select books from our shelves to start reading. This seems to have more to do with my mood that with the books themselves. Any dark, depressing, or heavy books are out as is much serious, literary fiction, but I've also found myself losing patience with YA fantasy.

Is it the stress of the season (or my life in general)? Is it the dark, dreariness of the weather and winter's short days? Am I just too impatient these days? I don't know, maybe I just need a vacation.

Recently abandoned books:
- The Dead Fathers Club - punctuation (no quotation marks) makes reading difficult, feel horrible for the protagonist
- Nadia's Song - starts with funeral
- Norwegian Wood - slow, hopeless love
- The Passion - begins with character committing suicide
- Search of the Moon King's Daughter - opium addiction, industrial revolution, not going to be a cheery read

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Keturah and Lord Death

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
Read by Alyssa Bresnahan

Martine Leavitt offers a spellbinding story, interweaving elements of classic fantasy and high romance. Keturah follows a legendary hart into the king's forest, where she becomes hopelessly lost. Her strength diminishes until, finally, she realizes that death is near. Little does she know that he is a young, handsome lord, melancholy and stern. Renowned for her storytelling, Keturah is able to charm Lord Death with a story and thereby gain a reprieve — but only for twenty-four hours. She must find her one true love within that time, or all is lost. Keturah searches desperately while the village prepares for an unexpected visit from the king, and Keturah is thrust into a prominent role as mysterious happenings alarm her friends and neighbors. Lord Death's presence hovers over all until Keturah confronts him one last time in the harrowing climax.

I've been listening to the audio version of this book that I received from a BookCrossing friend. I enjoyed the story and Alyssa Bresnahan's reading, but I'd definitely encourage people to read the book themselves before giving or suggesting it to a teen. The ending may make the book quite inappropriate for certain teens. I can't really say more without giving too much away about the plot.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Generosity

Do you give books as gifts?

To everyone? Or only to select people?
Not to everyone, but I do tend to give books at one time or another to most people on my gift-giving lists. I don't give books to people who I know don't like to read or people I don't know well enough to have an idea of their taste in books.

How do you feel about receiving books as gifts?
I like receiving books as gifts, particularly ones on my wishlist, but even more so books that I may not have heard about that people know me (and my reading tastes) well think that I'll really enjoy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

book clubbing in December

For this round of book club selections, we decided to include some riskier, more literary titles. Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude was scheduled for December, mostly because it is short and wouldn't be too daunting a read in the midst of all the holiday craziness. I was looking forward to rereading it, but had no idea how it'd go over with the other members of the book club.

Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim

Too Loud a Solitude is a short, but powerful book. It is the story of Hanta, a man who has spent his entire working life compacting wastepaper. Though he saves books when he can (his apartment is packed with three tons of books), he's weighed down by the loss of knowledge and the innocent lives of the mice he's accidentally compacted, but also by the hopelessness of his (and their collective) life.

Hrabal's rhythmic, repetitive prose offers vivid descriptions of the world in which our protagonist lives. A world where the heavens are not humane, where academics clean the sewers and loved ones can disappear without a trace.

But, in as much as Too Loud a Solitude is the story of a love affair with the written word, it is filled with eloquent descriptions of reading, the first of which appears on the novella's very first page: "Because when I read, I don't really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel" (1-2).

The dark worldview and lack of plot were the turn-offs for some book club members. That being said, I do think that Too Loud a Solitude generated a very good discussion. We discussed how the book is typical of central/eastern European literature of this period, what we as Western readers may have lost in context, how we related to the protagonist, what appealed to and repulsed us about the narrative, and how the protagonist quietly rebelled through his work.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Haunted Tea-cosy

Seasonally-appropriate fiction for the student services blog this month...

The Haunted Tea-cosy by Edward Gorey*

The Haunted Tea-cosy is classic Gorey and perfect for the holiday season. It is essentially a retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The story begins with protagonist Edward Gravel is interrupted from his correspondence and fruitcake by a human-sized cockroach that seems to have jumped out from underneath his tea cosy. This is the Bahhum Bug** who will introduce Gravel to Gorey’s versions of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

Gorey has a macabre and wonderfully eccentric sense of humor that makes reading his books quite an experience. While the drawings in The Haunted Tea-cosy are less detailed than Gorey’s usual work, they will no doubt intrigue readers new to Gorey and hopefully inspire them to check out some of Gorey’s other work.

* Expect to see this book here again a little later this month ;)
**This type of wordplay is typical Gorey

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Time is of the Essence

1. Do you get to read as much as you WANT to read?
(I’m guessing #1 is an easy question for everyone?)

Not really, especially this time of year.

2. If you had (magically) more time to read, what would you read? Something educational? Classic? Comfort Reading? Escapism? Magazines?
Well, I have a bunch of educational books on my need-to-read-soon to-be-read pile, but right now some comfort and escapist reading sounds wonderful.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Divas Don't Knit

Divas Don't Knit by Gil McNeil
(It looks like this book'll be published stateside as The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club in March 2009)

Jo Mackenzie needs a new start. Newly widowed with two young sons and a perilous bank balance, she has to leave London to take over her grandmother's wool shop. They arrive in the pouring rain and Broadgate Bay is the kind of Kentish seaside town where the tide went out a long time ago and the dusty old shop is full of peach four-ply. Marmalade mohair, an A-list actress moving into the local mansion and a 'Stitch and Bitch' group will help, but it's not going to be easy. Very large dogs, celebrity, small town intrigues, packed lunches and romance all loom large in Gil McNeil's funny and uplifting novel. Divas Don't Knit turns prejudices and assumptions upside down and tells it how it really is in the world of knit-one, purl-one. Knitting has never been so much fun.

I enjoyed this book very much and I don't think that you need to be a knitter to enjoy it (though if you don't like "women's fiction", you may want to steer clear of it).

Divas Don't Knit is a heartwarming tale. Our protagonist overcomes the loss of her husband and way of life, but in the end rediscovers herself and in the process creates a life filled with family, friends, and community, completely different than her old life, but better.

I'd definitely be interested in reading the sequel, Needles and Purls.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

After reading Margarettown (see this post) I was keen on reading more of Zevin's work. I appreciate her perspective and enjoy her writing.

Elsewhere is less complex than Margarettown (this is a good thing especially because the target audience is younger), but no less profound. Its focus is the afterlife, specifically the afterlife of a teenage girl who was killed in a traffic accident.

Zevin seems to deliberately shy away from the issue of religion. The protagonist's admissions counselor informs her that "God's there in the same way He, She, or It was before to you. Nothing has changed" (78). While she is taking the path of least resistance by doing so, I think it makes the book more universally approachable (and ultimately, I think, that's the most important thing).

I really like Zevin's view of the afterlife (though I won't spoil it here for those who haven't yet read the book) and I've been trying to figure out how I would have responded to this book if I'd read it when I was younger (my best friend died when we were nine). I think that I would have responded positively to Elsewhere. I think that I would have found this alternate afterlife comforting, particularly the ways that the dead are able to continue living while in Elsewhere. But I also know that each of us grieves differently and responds to things like this book in different ways so when it comes down to it I can't say for sure that this would be a good book for someone who has recently experienced the loss of a friend or family member. I would easily recommend to those who are not grieving though.

Booking Through Thursday - 5 for Favorites

1. Do you have a favorite author?
I have a few, but for the purposes of this post I'll stick with Milan Kundera.

2. Have you read everything he or she has written?
Nearly, I haven't yet read The Curtain.

3. Did you LIKE everything?
Yes. There are some books that I like better than others, but there are none that I truly dislike.

4. How about a least favorite author?
I've never really thought about this. I just steer clear of authors I don't like and leave it at that.

5. An author you wanted to like, but didn’t?
Hmm... again, another difficult one. There are definitely books that I wanted to like but didn't (Carnevale and Prague come to mind). I'm sure that there are authors I didn't like even though I wanted to, but it seems that I've put them out of my mind.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Cheney Sisters

Cheney of Faire Isle Trilogy by Susan Carroll

The Cheney sisters trilogy--The Dark Queen, The Courtesan, The Silver Rose--follows three "daughters of the Earth" who live during the time of Catherine de Medici. The books are a mix of historical fiction and romance with a touch of the paranormal.

The Dark Queen is the story of oldest sister Ariane, who inherited the title of "Lady of Faire Isle" along with a cache of priceless magical and medical texts are the ire of the Dark Queen Catherine de Medici from her mother.

In The Courtesan, middle sister Gabrielle becomes a famous Parisian courtesan and must decide whether she can risk nearly everything to save the one man she loves.

The series concludes with The Silver Rose, in which the youngest sister Miribelle helps vanquish the great evil that is known as the Silver Rose.

The Cheneys are well-drawn and sympathetic, as are their heroes. The books are engaging, enthralling, and have enough seriousness and historical detail to make them more historical fiction than historical romance (in my opinion).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Half Moon Investigations

Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer

I picked up this book because I like Colfer. I've been reading his Artemis Fowl books for years. I'm also always in the market for audio books. I love listening to them in the car or while doing mindless computer stuff.

One of the things that I love about Colfer is how he's able to write for a younger audience (middle readers, I think), but produce books that are equally appropriate for adults. Half Moon Investigations is no exception. It features a pint-sized detective named Fletcher Moon whose playground cases quickly lead him to a city-wide crime wave and get him into more trouble than he could have possibly imagined.

Half Moon Investigations was a fun read. Of course, I'd figured out the culprit long before Fletcher did, but that really didn't detract from my enjoyment since Colfer throws in a couple of extra curve balls.

Rounding out the novel, reader Sean Patrick Reilly does a wonderful job with the voices, hitting the perfect combination between hard-boiled detective and precocious child.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sue Monk Kidd

Lately I've been listening to an audio version of The Mermaid Chair, a book I first read in 2005. My reaction to the book at that time is pasted at the bottom of this post (skip it if you don't want to see any spoilers).

Suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed both The Mermaid Chair and The Secret Life of Bees (comments also below), which is receiving so much press right now with the movie coming out. Between listening to my audio book and seeing movie commercials, Sue Monk Kidd has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

I'd love to read another of her novels, because her writing seems like what would speak to me right now, and I was sad when I looked her up to look up find that she hasn't written any more. She's written a number of nonfiction title, most notably The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, but I'm steering away from them. I'm sure that they are fine (and interesting), but that's not what I want from her as an author.

As a reader I respond much more strongly to fiction than I do to nonfiction. I'm also much more likely to loose patience or to skim nonfiction writings. I do like nonfiction, but I don't assume that I'll like an author's nonfiction writings just because I like their fiction.

For Sue Monk Kidd, I think I'll hold off for another novel. I want her imagined worlds rather than her real one. From her, I think that I'm much more likely to be inspired by her subtly through her story-weaving. But, that's just me.

My reaction to The Mermaid Chair, circa December 2005:
I enjoyed this book. It was a quick read. I loved the island and the monastery (although I am not sure that Kidd’s depiction of monastic life is accurate). The combination of myth, legend, and religion in the book is quite wonderful. I also liked how things came together with the explanation of the mother's madness and the father's death. The ending was perfect, although the romantic in me wishes there had been a happily-ever-after for the lovers.
My reaction to The Secret Life of Bees, circa February 2006:
What a lovely book!
Beautifully written and easy to read.
I loved the strong female characters in this book and the "dream world" Lily is able to make for herself with the "calendar sisters".

Friday, November 21, 2008


With Thanksgiving upon us, I thought it might be nice to have something food related for the student services blog's book of the month.

Spice: The History of Temptation by Jack Turner

In Spice: The History of Temptation, Turner chooses "a more intimate, human focus" for his study of spices and their role in history. He posits that:
It is only by viewing spices in terms of [the] complex overlap of desires and distaste that the intensity of the appetite can be adequately accounted for--why, in other words, the discovers [...] found themselves on foreign shores demanding cinnamon and pepper with the cannons and galleons of Christendom at their backs. (xvii)
This premise--and Turner's gift for anecdote--results to an informative and endlessly interesting book on the place spice has held in human imagination.

Peppered throughout the text are images (photographs of spice-related museum artifacts, maps, and drawings both botanically accurate and imaginatively fallacious) and quotations mostly from contemporaries of the spice age. Also included is an index and copious endnotes, the former making the text more accessible and the latter attesting to the scholarship behind the book.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nearest Book

A meme that's been doing the rounds on FaceBook this week:
* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence along with these instructions.

"What special conditions?" - The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig

Booking Through Thursday - Honesty

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.
Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?

This question was suggested by another BTTer, JM who blogs at The Book Stacks. On the blog (this post) she explains what inspired the question. Interesting stuff...

Authors have to understand that by publishing their work, they are inviting others to read and critique it (irregardless of whether they are sending out review copies). Even successful authors get negative reviews, it's in the job description (so to speak). They need to learn to take the criticism and learn from it, use it to help improve their writing.

In any case, I guess that I do my fair share of book reviews (formal and informal). I make an effort not to lie in my reviews, but to be honest and to give each book a chance. That's not to say that I sometimes don't feel guilted (mostly by myself) into softening up some of my critiques.

When I do write negative things about a book, I try also to write something about some aspect of the book that I liked or thought was particularly strong, just so there's at least something positive and it doesn't seem that I'm just trashing the book.

I do think that reviewers--as well as people who publish reviews--feel pressure not to post negative reviews. I know that I've had my reviews (one in particular) edited for harshness. To some extent, though, I think that having a known readership keeps you honest. You're less likely to say glowing things about a book that you didn't let when you know people you know may go get that book on your advice.

I also think that reviewers should be able to choose not to review a book, whether because they didn't like it or don't have anything to say. I know I haven't reviewed all of the advanced reader copies that I've received (but that's mostly because I got overwhelmed by them, having overextended myself, and got indepth-review-specific writers block). I also don't even post informal comments on all the books that I read. Sometimes that's because I didn't like the book. Sometimes it's because I don't think it's worth commenting on. Sometimes it's just because I get lazy or have too many other things happening.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

book clubbing in November

I feel like this post should be titled "Why We Hated Saturn". Not that we (meaning the book club) hated Why I Hate Saturn. Hate is really much too strong of a word for our reaction to the graphic novel, it just makes a wonderful play on the title.

In any case, this month was another graphic novel month for my book club. Kyle Baker's Why I Hate Saturn was our topic and we were generally not crazy about the book.

Personally I liked the idea of the crazy sister from Saturn, but thought that Baker could have done more with that aspect of his story. And, I think the cover is fantastic. I just wish that the novel itself was more like what I expect from seeing the cover.

Overall we thought the story was a bit lacking with regard to the plot. We also found it jarringly disjointed (would we have liked it better if we'd read each section as a snippet like serial cartoons?). We also thought that the author - in this book - did not take full advantage of the genre. One of the attendees hit it on the head, I think, when he said that the panels were mostly "talking heads". Additionally, we thought that the protagonist wasn't a very convincing woman (a classic example of a man creating a female character and just not quite getting "it").

We did, however, universally like the section titles. The book also engendered a good conversation about the genre in general and about specific titles that individual attendees thought were good examples (or thought others would like).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Karma Girl

Karma Girl by Jennifer Estep

Carmen Cole is a reporter for a small-time newspaper in a Southern town until she catches her fiance and best friend in flagrante delicto on her wedding day. In their passion they let slip that they are also the town's resident superhero and supervillain and Carmen gets her revenge by unmasking them in the media, an act that immediately transforms her career.

Exposing the secret identities of superheros and villains becomes Carmen's calling. She knows she's truly hit the big time when she's hired by Expose, the biggest paper in Bigtime, New York. Unmasking Bigtime's Fearless Five and Terrible Triad and will be Carmen's most difficult job yet...

Karma Girl is a light, but engrossing read. It combines chick lit with comic-book-style super heroes in a very entertaining way. While some of the plot twists are pretty obvious to the reader early on, others are a bit more surprising.

This book could have easily been over-the-top, but is is grounded by Carmen's character, which is both sympathetic and down-to-earth.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Tattooed Map

The Tattooed Map by Barbara Hodgson

Reading The Tattooed Map is a sensory experience (much like reading Nick Bantock's novels). It's a novel presented as a travel diary, in which its authors (our protagonists) paste tidbits much like a scrapbook. Surrounding the main text of the story are hand-written annotations as well as pasted-in maps, photographs, and other ephemeral material. Because of that, the reader lingers on each page, making sure to soak up all the details and all of the various meanings that are hidden in it.

I'm not going to try to include a synopsis. Even the ones given by the publisher seem to include too much in the way of spoilers. Suffice it to say that The Tattooed Map is a mystery that both inspires and repels wanderlust. It is remarkably evocative and a joy to read.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Why Buy?

I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?
Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at least one book. So... why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?
If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?

While I do like libraries (I work in one), I have to admit that I do buy books quite a bit. I was raised by one super-library-patron and one book-buyer so that may be the reason for my being conflicted.

I guess I like to own copies of certain books for a number of different reasons. I like to have my own copies of books that I know that I'll want to read again (my favorite novels, for example). Knitting books are also must-buys if I like a number of the patterns in the book. I guess the main issue is ready access. There are certain books that I like to be able to get my hands on whenever I want without having to make a trip to the library or place an interlibrary-loan request.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

some quick reads

Cube Chic by Kelley Moore

Cube Chic is supposed to help you "take your office from drab to fab." Russell and I happened across this book quite a while ago and were intrigued by it. Recently I received a copy through BookMooch so now we've had a chance to go through it properly.

The book is primarily pictures of Moore's fully executed "cubes," basic cubicals done up in crazy thematic decorating schemes, with instructions on how to create those same looks. It's cool to look at (as a coffee-table book), but not particularly practical as almost all of the cubes are completely over-the-top and Moore doesn't really give much general advice about decorating small spaces.

Russell's favorite was the Library Cube. I like it, but think it is a tad too dark. My favorites are the Cubism Cube, the Indian Cube, and the Ice Cube (just 'cause it's cheeky). I also liked the idea of the Nap Cube.

Witch's Business by Diana Wynne Jones

Also published under the title "Wilkins' Teeth," Witch's Business is Jones' first children's novel. I liked it, but it's definitely not my favorite of hers.

The basic premise: our two main characters need to earn some money as their allowances have been docked so they start a business that specializes in "own back" (Britishism for revenge). Soon they realize that they are encroaching on an already-established own-back business run by a local witch. Chaos ensues and the children must defeat the witch in order to get things right.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tulip Fever

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach

This book appealed to me on a number of different levels. First, it is art historical fiction, a subgenre that I find particularly interesting. Second, it is set in a 17th century Amsterdam in the midst of tulipomania, a time period and socio-economic phenomenon that I find fascinating. I love tulips and coffee shops, but find the speculation of that time mind-boggling.

In Tulip Fever, Moggach does a wonderful job illustrating the mania. She manages to portray all the different perspectives and show just how someone might become overcome by the mania. Also, by focusing the narrative on diverse characters, she ends up with a wonderfully well-drawn picture of early-mid 17th century Amsterdam.

Moggah uses historical personage Jan van Loos as one of her protagonists, but her writing diverges from other art historical fiction (like Girl with a Pearl Earring, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, etc.) because she does not focus on the artist's work. His work is simply a jumping off point, a means to introduce her two main characters. Her novel is really about their relationship and what their adulterous love for each other leads them to do. And, of course, the tulips, the novel is also about flower and the passions that it inspired during that period.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Remember Me

It's November 7th and so far I've only finished one book this month. I have mixed feelings about Sophie Kinsella - I really dislike her Shopaholic books for a number of different reasons* but I have enjoyed a few of her others - but when a friend foisted this book off on me during her move I took it and kept it aside for when I needed a light read.

Remember Me by Sophie Kinsella

In Remember Me, 28-year-old protagonist Lexi Smart has an accident and when she wakes from a coma in the hospital she has lost all memory of the last three years of her life. Her life changed drastically in those three years. She remembers herself as overweight with frizzy hair and bad teeth, a low-level worker in a flooring company. She awakes fit and toned with perfect hair and teeth, a gorgeous millionaire husband, a job at the top of the food chain at that same company, and a reputation for being unapologetically ambitious.

Readers follow Lexi as she tries to understand her new life and what caused the drastic changes of the past few years. In typical Kinsella style there are some zany things that happen, particularly at work. There are twists and turns and we really don't know the full picture until the very end of the novel.

* Mainly because I know how easy it is to get in debt and the books really seem to trivialize the problem (yes, I know it's chick lit, but a little realism wouldn't hurt... with Becky's spending habits she should be much more in debt than she is in the book).

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Presents

What, if any, memorable or special book have you ever gotten as a present? Birthday or otherwise. What made it so notable? The person who gave it? The book itself? The "gift aura?"

This is really a difficult question. Because I am a reader, I get books as gifts all the time. I'm always happy to receive a book that I've been looking forward to reading. It's also nice when you are gifted a book that you've never heard about before from someone who knows you tastes and thinks you'll like it.

My only problem is that I'm not coming up with any good examples for this post. I guess I must not have a most memorable book gift.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Getting Started Knitting Socks

Getting Started Knitting Socks by Ann Budd

From cast-on stitches to binding off, this handbook details the simple steps needed to turn seemingly complicated sock knitting projects into easy and enjoyable activities. Helpful photographs and instructional drawings ensure that even inexperienced knitters will be able to produce high-quality socks and handle more complicated techniques, such as the Kitchener stitch at the toe. Using instructions for five different sizes—from child through adult large—at five different gauges, knitters can produce styles ranging from delicate dress socks to thick and furry slipper socks. More adventurous knitters can add variety and flair by following one of 16 unique designs or trying one of the dozens of rib, cable, and lace patterns provided. With plenty of tips and a handy stitch dictionary, this guide unleashes the creativity and fun of sock knitting.

I received Getting Started Knitting Socks as a gift when I was embarking on my quest to knit socks. Having used it since March I can report that it is a good choice for novice sock knitters, combining patterns with technique tutorials.

While I had difficulties with its instructions for the Kitchener stitch the first time around, its instructions for picking up stitches are fantastic (the illustrations are particularly helpful).

Though the book focuses exclusively on cuff-down socks (as opposed to toe-up socks), it has enough variety -- between instructions for different gauges and how to adapt the basic patterns to include color changes and different textured patterns -- to make it a viable pattern book.

My first project from this book was the "8 Stitches per Inch Sock," which I knit with KnitPicks Felici in the Hummingbird Colorway. I'll probably knit up a few other patterns from the book, but the book's main role in my library will be as a reference book.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Conditioning

Are you a spine breaker? Or a dog-earer? Do you expect to keep your books in pristine condition even after you have read them? Does watching other readers bend the cover all the way round make you flinch or squeal in pain?

I usually use bookmarks. I am not above dog-earing (actually Russell caught me at this the other day and was horrified), but I really only do it to certain types of books: books I receive from my dad who is a dog-earer, BookCrossing books that are already pretty beat-up. If I'm reading a clean/new/nice copy of a book and I don't have a bookmark handy, I just try to remember what page I was on (or what chapter or section I was beginning).

I'm very careful with library books (nothing annoys me more than getting a book from the library and seeing it marked up with someone's underlining and notes) and books loaned to me by others. I think you should treat other people's books with respect.

I remove the dust jackets before read hardcovers (unless the book in question is a library book with the dust jacket firmly attached). I find that dust jackets get in the way when I'm reading and they just end up getting banged up.

Books I buy for classes get marked up as necessary while I am reading, underlining, some marginalia. For me they are working copies and I treat them as such.

I'm more disrespectful with mass markets. Sometimes you just have to break the spine in other to read them (and, honestly, they aren't made to last). I hate reading borrowed copies of mass markets for just this reason. I'm fine if the owner has already broken the spine, otherwise I go crazy trying to read while keeping the book in good condition.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

100 Shades of White

100 Shades of White by Preethi Nair

Maya, her mother Nalini, and her brother Satchin have left a carefree life in India to come to England. But when Maya's father disappears, leaving only deceit and debt behind, they are left to fend for themselves in a strange, damp land. Maya, though, doesn't know of her father's betrayal. Nalini, determined to preserve her children's pride, tells them that their father died in an accident and, as their struggle to make a life begins, whole realities are built on this lie. But even a white lie cannot remain hidden forever—and when the truth resurfaces, it changes everything.

I read Nair's first book, Gypsy Masala, and enjoyed it (though I thought the writing was a bit disjointed at times) so I was looking forward to reading this one.

I enjoyed 100 Shades of White despite the fact that it reminded me a bit too much of Roopa Farooki's Bitter Sweets (a book I haven't got around to posting about). Apparently 100 Shades of White was published first so I suppose I should feel down on Bitter Sweets because the two novels are so similar and it was published second, but I can't. I supposed that is because I feel that Bitter Sweets is a much stronger novel.

In any case, I liked the story being told from multiple perspectives. I also liked the role that food (and creativity in general) has in 100 Shades of White. Unfortunately I do think that the novel could have been better. There were times reading it when I noticed a missing connection things that I think an editor could have picked up on and helped the author to fix in order to make the book stronger.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fabulous Nobodies

Fabulous Nobodies by Lee Tulloch

Reality Nirvana Tuttle knows what fabulous is. Being fabulous is her life. She is devoted to dressing up. Her frocks - Gina, Dolores, Tallulah, Petula and Blanche, to name but a few - are her best friends, her closest confidantes. In her role as the doorgirl at the hip, Downtown New York nightclub, Less is More, Reality sees herself as the ultimate arbiter of taste, a goddess who stands above the crowd selecting fabulous nobodies from the waiting hopefuls below. When she and her English drag-queen friend Freddie open what they're sure will be New York's most fabulous club in their tiny apartment, Reality becomes really fabulous, and her new fame brings complications, not least among them Hugo Falk, the gossip columnist. She now must face a true dilemma: can people be more important than frocks?

A friend of mine loaned me this book. It's early chick lit (before people used the term "chick lit") written by an Australian author, but set in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

I've been struggling to put my feelings about the book into words. Fabulous Nobodies was a nice break from some of the more serious books I've read lately (like The Road), but I really can't say that I enjoyed reading it. Reality grated on my nerves, the Manhattan in the novel didn't seem quite right, and I didn't think that an American girl -- even a fashionista -- would refer to her dresses as frocks.

The funny thing is that when I finished the books I liked it. The ending was very satisfying. I'm not sure if that really should have been enough to redeem the novel for me, but it did leave a good taste in my mouth.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

And Only to Deceive

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

For Emily, accepting the proposal of Philip, the Viscount Ashton, was an easy way to escape her overbearing mother, who was set on a grand society match. So when Emily's dashing husband died on safari soon after their wedding, she felt little grief. After all, she barely knew him. Now, nearly two years later, she discovers that Philip was a far different man from the one she had married so cavalierly. His journals reveal him to have been a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who, to her surprise, was deeply in love with his wife. Emily becomes fascinated with this new image of her dead husband and she immerses herself in all things ancient and begins to study Greek.

Emily's intellectual pursuits and her desire to learn more about Philip take her to the quiet corridors of the British Museum, one of her husband's favorite places. There, amid priceless ancient statues, she uncovers a dark, dangerous secret involving stolen artifacts from the Greco-Roman galleries. And to complicate matters, she's juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond the marrying kind. As she sets out to solve the crime, her search leads to more surprises about Philip and causes her to question the role in Victorian society to which she, as a woman, is relegated.

I finished this book last night and really enjoyed it. Well-researched, it seemed historically accurate without being burdened with excessive detail as some historical novels are. The mystery was not overdone and Alexander does a good job of keeping the reader guessing about what is really going on.

Protagonist Emily is sympathetic and well-drawn. It is particularly interesting to watch her navigate Victorian society. Her status as widow (and eccentric) affords her certain liberties, but even then the rules of society (for the upper class) are extremely restrictive.

Overall, it was neither too light nor too heavy. Engrossing.

A quote on the back of the book says, "had Jane Austen written The Da Vinci Code, she may well have come up with this elegant novel" (Martha O'Connor). I'm not sure that I agree with the statement - mostly because the mystery is more subtle and the overall effect much less provocative than that of The Da Vinci Code - but it does give you a bit of an idea what the novel is like.

Now I need to track down the second book in the series.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Road

Fiction again this month for the student services blog...

The Road is not an easy read (and probably the exact wrong sort of book for me to be reading in the mood I've been in lately), but it came highly recommended by a number of different people and it's in the libraries' collection.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
"Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world" (3)
The Road is a spare, but powerful book. In a post-apocalyptic future (in the post-apocalyptic near future?), a father and son are traveling through a ravaged American landscape -- "barren, silent, godless" -- trying to reach the coast. What, if anything, remains there is unknown. It is only the journey, and their love for each other, that keeps the two alive.

As depressing and hard to read as it is, the novel strangely compelling. McCarthy's writing is poetic, his observations on human nature insightful and profound. Despairing, but at the same time hopeful, The Road is a book that you won't soon forget.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Coupling

Got this idea from Literary Feline during her recent contest:
"Name a favorite literary couple and tell me why they are a favorite. If you cannot choose just one, that is okay too. Name as many as you like–sometimes narrowing down a list can be extremely difficult and painful. Or maybe that’s just me."

Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Time and Again

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Russell and I listened to this book on a recent car trip. The version we had was abridged to 4.5 hours. I'm not sure how much was cut out, but there weren't any glaring gaps just relationships progressing more quickly than expected and it not being obvious that the problems with Si's time were a result of Vietnam War era disillusionment until the very end of the book (I didn't know anything about the book before we started it).

Time and Again is a very interesting book and I can tell why people have been so captivated by it (the publisher tells us that the novel "has become a truly timeless cult classic with a vast and loyal following"). It combines a sympathetic protagonist, historical detail, and a dash of romance, making the science fiction aspect of the novel approachable even for those who tend to shy away from the genre because of their preconceived notions.

We both liked the novel, particularly Finney's humor and way of articulating things. The concept was interesting, the story was engaging, and the conclusion (both to the plot and the mystery within the novel) was satisfying. However, as I mentioned above, I did feel that a lot was missing when it came to the development of Si's relationship with one of the other characters. I'm assuming that lack of character development is a result of the abridgment.

I believe there is a sequel and I'd definitely be interested in reading it at some point, just to see how things turn out for Si.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It Itches

This past weekend I took a trip to Rhinebeck, NY to go to the New York Sheep and Wool Festival. Yes, I wanted to buy some yarn, see the vendors, and have a nice fall festival experience, but really I wanted to see Franklin Habit. Franklin is a photographer, cartoonist, and knitter who blogs at The Panopticon. Interweave Press just published his first book, It Itches, and Franklin was signing copies at Rhinebeck.

I'd procrastinated about pre-ordering the book so I was happy when I'd heard that there'd be a signing at Rhinebeck. So on Saturday I picked up a copy of the book and got to meet Franklin in the flesh. He was super-nice (as expected) and he drew Harry (my favorite character from the blog) for me when he signed my book, which made me unbelievably happy.

It Itches by Franklin Habit

The book itself is fantastic. Full of Franklin's fantastic wit, it includes knitting-themed cartoons as well as a number of essays. Yarn may be inherently funny as he says, but it takes a special sort of person to remind us of that fact. I've been through the book a few times enjoying the cartoons (giggling over them with my mom), but I'm savoring the essays. I don't want my experience reading this book to end too soon.

Here's a Knitting Daily post that will give you a taste of Franklin. You can also see a few of the cartoons on the Interweave Press site (check "about the book" and "table of contents").

I really do think that It Itches might be the perfect gift for all the yarn-lovers on your list.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - What’s Sitting on Your Shelf?

Okay - here was an interesting article by Christopher Schoppa in the Washington Post.
Avid readers know all too well how easy it is to acquire books — it’s the letting go that’s the difficult part. … During the past 20 years, in which books have played a significant role in both my personal and professional lives, I’ve certainly had my fair share of them (and some might say several others’ shares) in my library. Many were read and saved for posterity, others eventually, but still reluctantly, sent back out into the world.
But there is also a category of titles that I’ve clung to for years, as they survived numerous purges, frequent library donations and countless changes of residence. I’ve yet to read them, but am absolutely certain I will. And should. When, I’m not sure, as I’m constantly distracted by the recent, just published and soon to be published works.
So, the question is his: "What tomes are waiting patiently on your shelves?"

So many and most of them have really accumulated in the five years that I've been living here. Before that I was a student and pretty mobile, so I didn't have too many books taking up residence. Now they are taking over the house.

Here are some examples:
I've managed to pick up copies of almost all of Philippa Gregory's books (there are 20 in total), but I haven't even read half of them.
I have unread copies of Clive Barker's Arabat books.
I've been slowly acquiring Orhan Pamuk's books, but I've still only read My Name is Red.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

book clubbing in October

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Austenland ended up on our book club voting lists as an entry in the romance category. This time around we were trying to hit on more of the genres, though we still wanted books that would be appealing and good discussion fodder.

I'd read Hale before (in fact I really love her books), but Austenland really is a complete departure from her usual. Her first adult offering is chick lit with a dose of Austen. In it, protagonist Jane is obsessed with Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy to the point where she cannot have a healthy romantic relationship. In order to cure her, a wealthy aunt gives her to an all-expenses-paid trip to Pemberley Hall, an English reenactment resort catering to Austen-lovers.

The book club members were pretty split on this one. Personally, I really enjoyed the book (I listened to the audio version), but I went into it expecting chick lit. I thought the book was a nice distraction to my workplace worries (and one of the twists took me completely by surprise). Those who didn't like the book terribly much were annoyed with Jane's character, displeased with the whole set-up, left with a bad taste in their mouths by the resort concept (Pemberly Hall as whorehouse?), and unhappy with the lack of Austen.

That being said, we did have a good discussion about the book. We drew a few parallels from Austen, discussed the Firth-Darcy as a cultural icon, defined chick lit in general (for those who hadn't been exposed to it before), identified devices in the novel, and wondered how we'd each react to a Pemberly Hall environment.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

That Sarah Waters is a fantastic writer is apparent from her debut novel. Tipping the Velvet paints a vivid portrait of Victorian London and those living on the perimeter of its society. At the outset, teenage protagonist Nancy Astley is a fishmonger in coastal Whitstable, working in the family oyster parlor, content with her life and her lot. Then, during a routine trip to the music hall, Nancy encounters the enigmatic Kitty Butler.

A male impersonator with her eyes on stardom, Kitty draws Nancy like a moth to a flame. Nancy goes to the hall night after night (spending all her savings on train fare) just to see Kitty's performance. When they finally meet, the two become fast friends and when Kitty departs for an engagement in London, Nancy joins her as her dresser. The two become lovers, Nancy joins the act and soon she has completely immersed herself in the life of celebrity and of a closeted "tom". When Kitty betrays her, Nancy feels she has lost everything. She takes to the streets and begins a whole other education.

Chronicling the most most tumultuous years of Nancy's life, Tipping the Velvet is the story of her road to discovery. While that story is compelling, parts of it that are downright depressing. There are times when both Nancy and the reader despair of things ever working out for her. Of course, in the end, it does in a most unexpected way.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Another Book Meme

Yesterday was an extremely hectic day for me so I missed posting my Booking Through Thursday post. Luckily, this week's question is really a set of questions (a meme) that works just fine as an everyday post.

What was the last book you bought?

KnitPicks (an online knitting store) is having a book sale this month. I purchased three books: Kilt Hose & Knickerbocker Stockings by Veronica Gainford, The Knitter's Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn by Clara Parkes, New Pathways for Sock Knitters by Cat Bordhi.

Name a book you have read MORE than once:

Since it only asks for one: Pride and Prejudice

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

Not that I can think of... there have been times when I've read the right book at the right time and it helped me through a difficult period. One that springs to mind is PS, I Love You, which comforted me after my cousin died unexpectedly.

How do you choose a book? eg. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews

Any or all of the above. I usually don't let cover design be the sole determining factor (I'll always read at least the blurbs before impulse-buying), but you just can't deny the allure of the cover.

Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?


What’s more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

It depends. See this post.

Most loved/memorable character (character/book)


Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?

The last book I completed was The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. I've been listening to an audio version while doing coding. I believe I finished it yesterday. (Of course I'm in the middle of reading a number of others)

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?

Yes, most recently Carnevale by MR Lovric. See this post.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Week of Missed Thursdays (7)

You, um, may have noticed that the Olympics are going on right now, so that’s the genesis of this week’s question, in two parts:

* Do you or have you ever read books about the Olympics? About sports in general?
* Fictional ones? Or non-fiction? Or both?

And, Second:
* Do you consider yourself a sports fan?
* Because, of course, if you’re a rabid fan and read about sports constantly, there’s a logic there; if you hate sports and never read anything sports-related, that, too... but you don’t have to love sports to enjoy a good sports story.
* (Or a good sports movie, for that matter. Feel free to expand this into a discussion about “Friday Night Lights” or “The Natural” or whatever...)
(from August 14)

I'm probably much less of a sports fan now than I have been in the past. I enjoy the Olympics because they allow us to see sports that we don't tend to see otherwise (for summer I love watching rowing and synchronized swimming among others). Other than that, though, I don't tend to watch a lot of sport. During Tour de France month I see a lot of cycling, but while I do enjoy that, it's really Russell's passion.

That being said, I was much more into sports in my youth. I collected cards, some baseball, some hockey, but mostly basketball. I also had an unhealthy obsession with the "Dream Team" from the 1992 Olympics.

I don't tend to read a lot of books about sport - not that I intentionally avoid them, but they just don't cross my path very much. My favorite sports movie is probably The Cutting Edge, which is more of a sports-themed chick-flick than anything else.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A Week of Missed Thursdays (6)

What was the most unusual (for you) book you ever read? Either because the book itself was completely from out in left field somewhere, or was a genre you never read, or was the only book available on a long flight... whatever? What (not counting school textbooks, though literature read for classes counts) was furthest outside your usual comfort zone/familiar territory?
And, did you like it? Did it stretch your boundaries? Did you shut it with a shudder the instant you were done? Did it make you think? Have nightmares? Kick off a new obsession?
(from September 25)

I tend to be pretty open with my reading. While there are certain genres I like more than others, I do read from a wide variety of them. And, while I tend to enjoy fiction more than non-fiction, I do still read non-fiction (though, obviously, less frequently than fiction).

I'm going to cheat a bit (doing eight Booking-though-Thursdays in one week is a bit much) and defer to another blog post as the answer to this question. One January 6, 2007, I posted about a book a read as part of a New-book-for-a-new-year exchange. I think it fits the bill.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Week of Missed Thursdays (5)

What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line? (from July 31)

This is a sister-question to July 24th's, which I actually did answer.

I don't tend to remember specific last lines, but after thinking about this question a bit I recollected that The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood had a good one. And indeed it does:

"Are there any questions?"

Regularly-scheduled Booking Through Thursday

What, in your opinion, is the best book that you haven’t liked? Mind you, I don’t mean your most-hated book–oh, no. I mean the most accomplished, skilled, well-written, impressive book that you just simply didn’t like.
Like, for movies–-I can acknowledge that Citizen Kane is a tour de force and is all sorts of wonderful, cinematically speaking, but... I just don’t like it. I find it impressive and quite an accomplishment, but it’s not my cup of tea.
So... what book (or books) is your Citizen Kane?

I'm still waiting for my coffee to infiltrate my system this morning, so I'll go with the first book that comes to mind. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I talk a bit more about it in this post.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Week of Missed Thursdays (4)

Have you ever felt pressured to read something because "everyone else" was reading it? Have you ever given in and read the book(s) in question or do you resist? (from September 4)

I'm sure I felt pressured to read books that everyone was reading at some point (middle school, high school, maybe), but now I mostly just get curious about all the hype. I do sometimes read the books: some of them I like, some of them I don't like. I don't always get around to reading them quickly, for example I only just read Eragon this year. I also don't tend to buy books just because everyone else is reading them. I'll wait and borrow a copy from a friend or get the book on a book trading. I may pick up a used copy for cheap. Honestly, though, there are so many books that I want to read that I generally won't read a hyped-up book if it doesn't sound like something I'd like (unless, of course, I get a copy pressed on me).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Week of Missed Thursdays (3)

If you’re anything like me, one of your favorite reasons to read is for the story. Not for the character development and interaction. Not because of the descriptive, emotive powers of the writer. Not because of deep, literary meaning hidden beneath layers of metaphor. (Even though those are all good things.) No... it’s because you want to know what happens next?
Or, um, is it just me?
(from August 28)

In many cases, yes, part of the joy of reading is the story and finding out what happens. There are, of course, many books in which nothing much happens and they too can be enjoyable reads as long as there's something else there.

Different books I like for different reasons. I also think that in general we come to books with certain expectations which vary depending on the genre of the book, whether we've read the author before, what we've read in reviews or heard about from friends, etc. If I come to a book expecting more than just an interesting story, I'm liable to be disappointed if it fails to engage me on other level. Similarly if I come to a book expecting not much more than an interesting story, I can be disappointed if the story's lacking and there isn't something else to tip the scales.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Week of Missed Thursdays (2)

Whether you usually read off of your own book pile or from the library shelves NOW, chances are you started off with trips to the library. So... What is your earliest memory of a library? Who took you? Do you have you any funny/odd memories of the library? (from August 21)

I'm not sure of my earliest library memory, but I can relate my most vivid early library memory. In kindergarten we had a field trip to the library to go get our first library cards. Of course I'd been to the library before with my mom, but this was a special trip, an event even. I remember anticipating the trip and being extremely excited about the prospect of my own library card. I don't remember much about the trip itself except getting handed my first library card... card stock with a little metal piece (that had an ID number or something on it) and my name.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Week of Missed Thursdays (1)

I know that I haven't been a very good blogger lately. I've been posting infrequently and I haven't done a Booking-through-Thursday post since July. In hopes of getting myself back on track, I've decided to dedicate this week to catching up a bit (and hopefully reinvigorating myself in the process). Each day this week I'll be answering one of the Booking-through-Thursday questions that I skipped this summer and maybe if I'm really on-top-of-it I'll even include a couple of other posts in the mix.

Autumn is starting (here in the US, anyway), and kids are heading back to school–does the changing season change your reading habits? Less time? More? Are you just in the mood for different kinds of books than you were over the summer? (from September 18)

Autumn inevitably increases the desire to curl up on the sofa with a cup of coffee/tea/hot cocoa and a good book. In that way, I think the season generally encourages reading.

I'm not sure that it changes the types of books I read though. There are certain kinds of books that I associate with summer--books that are set in vacation areas or have summer as a prevailing theme--and those definitely move out of favor as the weather cools. It may be that I read more mysteries in the fall and winter (though that's just a guess) because they are books that I like to read while cuddled up safely at home.

I think I'll cheat a bit and just list here the books I read in September, October, and November in the last two years (I started keeping track in 2006).

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Fall 2006 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
186. The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
185. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
184. Geisha by Liza Dalby
183. The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
182. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
181. Local Girls by Alice Hoffman
180. Goddess for Hire by Sonia Singh
179. Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix
178. All for Love by Dan Jacobson
177. Emerald Enigma by C.J. Westwick
176. Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud
175. Miss Understanding by Stephanie Lessing
174. Artistic Licence by Katie Fforde
173. The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
172. Skylark Farm by Antonia Arslan
171. Artistic Licence by by Vivienne LaFay
170. At Risk by Stella Rimington
169. Song Quest by Katherine Roberts
168. Journey across Tibet by Sorrel Wilby
167. Killing Time by Caleb Carr
166. Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto
165. The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith
164. The Samurai by Shuaku Endo
163. Margarettown by Gabrielle Zevin
162. Touching Darkness by Scott Westerfled
161. The Dark Bride by Laura Restrepo
160. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
159. By the Time You Read This by Giles Blunt
158. A Lover in Palestine by Selim Nassib
157. Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
156. Varjak Paw by SF Said
155. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
154. The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld
153. Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman
152. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
151. The Egyptian by Mika Waltari
150. Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going
149. Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan
148. Mister Monday by Garth Nix
147. The Whole World Over by Julia Glass
146. Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman
145. The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster
144. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
143. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones
142. Thirty-three Swoons by Martha Cooley
141. Shopgirl by Steve Martin
140. Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
139. The Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo
138. Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear
137. Melancholy by Jon Fosse
136. Undead and Unemployed by MaryJanice Davidson
135. Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates
134. Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson
133. The Last Fine Time by Verlyn Klinkenborg
132. The Blue Taxi by N.S. Koeenings
131. The Man of my Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld
130. Lying in Bed by M.J. Rose
129. Max and the Cats by Moacyr Scliar
128. Fordlandia by Eduardo Sguiglia
127. Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
126. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith
125. Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay
124. The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
123. Sweet Magnolia by Norma Jarrett
122. Blood Money by Thomas Perry
121. Vanishing Act by Thomas Perry

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Fall 2007 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Note: I didn't separate August from September in my 2007 list so a few of the earlier numbers may be August reads.
168. March by Geraldine Brooks
167. Friends, Lovers, and Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith
166. The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
165. The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
164. How I Fell in Love with a Librarian and Lived to Tell about it by Rhett Ellis
163. 2nd Chance by James Patterson
162. Bedtime, Playtime by Black, Kerce, King
161. Murder Most Frothy by Cleo Coyle
160. Latte Trouble by Cleo Coyle
159. 1st to Die by James Patterson
158. Through the Grinder by Cleo Coyle
157. LionBoy by Zizou Corder
156. Piratica by Tanith Lee
155. The Sword in the Grotto by Angie Sage
154. My Haunted House by Angie Sage
153. Coming Round the Mountain by Tabitha Flyte
152. Flipped by Wendelin van Draanen
151. My Father's Secret War by Lucinda Franks
150. Embers by Sandor Marai
149. The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worall
148. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
147. In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
146. Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill
145. Glass Houses by Rachel Caine
144. Thirty-three Teeth by Colin Cotterill
143. Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai
142. The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill
141. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
140. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
139. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
138. A Killer Stitch by Maggie Sefton
137. A Deadly Yarn by Maggie Sefton
136. Needled to Death by Maggie Sefton
135. Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
134. The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
133. Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris
132. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
131. The Spy Wore Red by Aline, Countess of Romanones
130. The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory
129. Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
128. The Last Cavalier by Alexandre Dumas
127. Until I Find You by John Irving
126. Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris
125. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
124. On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle
123. Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton
122. The Royal Treatment by MaryJanice Davidson
121. Kingdom of the Golden Dragon by Isabel Allende

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

book clubbing (August-September)

My book club met today and I realized that things have been so crazy this summer that I'd forgotten to post about last month's book. Better late than never...

August: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. She claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a "tesseract," which, if you didn't know, is a wrinkle in time.
Meg's father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?

Most of us who had read this book before hadn't read it since we were children. Personally I'd forgotten everything about the book except that it was written by Madeleine L'Engle so reading it again was really rediscovering it. We talked quite a bit about the book as it related to its time, speculating how different it would be if it had been written today.

September: 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

The true story of the 20-year correspondence between Helene Hanff, an American writer living in New York, and Frank Doel, the Manager of Messrs Marks and Co., a bookshop in London's Charing Cross Road. The story is told through the pair's letters.

This book received mixed reviews: some thought it charming, others thought it dull. It was short, but because it was told through correspondence the story itself wasn't particularly meaty. In general, we wished to know more about the books Hanff was ordering/reading and what happened to some of the other bookshop employees.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ethel & Ernest

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs

Ethel & Ernest: A True Story is a graphic novel that relates the story of the author’s parents from their first meeting in 1928 to their deaths in 1971. Winner of the British Book Awards’ Best Illustrated Book of the Year for 1999, Ethel & Ernest is a touching memorial. It is also an interesting social history, showing how one working-class family confronted the Great Depression, World War II, and the great social and technological changes during this time period.

Read more on the Student Services blog...

Monday, September 08, 2008

Three Musketeers

Three Musketeers by Marcelo Birmajer
translated from the Spanish by Sharon Wood

Despite his fear of becoming his newspaper's token Jewish affairs correspondent, apathetic reporter Javier Mossen is strong-armed into interviewing expatriate Elias Traúm, who is visiting from Israel for the first time in 20 years. When Traúm is kidnapped from the Buenos Aires airport before Mossen's eyes, the unwanted assignment takes on a whole new meaning. Mossen becomes invested in both ensuring Traúm's safety and the story Traúm has to tell. Darkly comic and unapologetic, the novel subtly explores the political reality of Argentina's past and what it means to be a good Jew. Narrated by the sex-obsessed Mossen, this is the tale of Traúm's short visit to Argentina and the legacy of his role as one of the tres mosqueteiros, a group of precocious young radicals, two of whom joined the Montoneros during the Dirty War. It is also the story of Mossen's struggle to reclaim control of his life.

I was particularly taken by this passage:
"Nobody knows who he is, and as such the best thing is to proceed cautiously through life and not get our hopes up too much. Maybe paradise is simply the place where we will be handed a leaflet telling us clearly who we are, what we wanted and why we couldn't have it" (4).

Read the full review in Library Journal or at Barnes & Noble (click on "editorial reviews").

Three Bags Full

Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann

A witty philosophical murder mystery with a charming twist: the crack detectives are sheep determined to discover who killed their beloved shepherd.

On a hillside near the cozy Irish village of Glennkill, the members of the flock gather around their shepherd, George, whose body lies pinned to the ground with a spade. George has cared for the sheep, reading them a plethora of books every night. The daily exposure to literature has made them far savvier about the workings of the human mind than your average sheep. Led by Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in Glennkill (and possibly the world), they set out to find George's killer.

The A-team of investigators includes Othello, the "bad-boy" black ram; Mopple the Whale, a merino who eats a lot and remembers everything; and Zora, a pensive black-faced ewe with a weakness for abysses. Joined by other members of the richly talented flock, they engage in nightlong discussions about the crime and wild metaphysical speculations, and they embark on reconnaissance missions into the village, where they encounter some likely suspects. Ther's Ham, the terrifying butcher; Rebecca, a village newcomer with a secret and a scheme; Gabriel, the shady shepherd of a very odd flock; and Father Will, a sinister priest. Along the way, the sheep confront their own all-too-human struggles with guilt, misdeeds, and unrequited love.

I hadn't heard of this book before I visited some friends that had a copy. They hadn't read it yet, but they thought I'd like it so they let me borrow it. Of course right after that I saw the book in a bookstore in the Las Vegas McCarran Int'l Airport (it seems I always misjudge the amount of reading material I'll need on any trip I take; that time I ended up buying a copy of The Tenderness of Wolves).

In any case, this weekend I finished the book. I really liked it, but I've been having difficulty trying to figure out how to describe the book.

Leonie Swann does a great job imagining the ovine perspective (and creating a large cast of characters, each of whom manages to have a distinct personality). The book is funny, but it's not a comedy. The humor comes in how the sheep (mis)interpret the humans around them. In that way the book is brilliant, but it's hard to give any decent examples because nothing works nearly as well out of the full context of the novel.