Thursday, March 27, 2008

Person of the month

This month I was the person-of-the-month for one of our exchange groups. No big deal really, it just means is that everyone else in the group has to send me a book.

You can imagine how much fun it is to check the mail every day during "your" month.

Anyway, here's what I got:

The American Boy by Andrew Taylor

The Curer of Souls by Lindsay Simpson

Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

Ghosthunters and the Gruesome Invincible Lightning Ghost & Ghosthunters and the Totally Moldy Baroness by Cornelia Funke

Goetz and Meyer by David Albahari

LionBoy: The Chase by Zizou Corder

A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

The Secrets of the Fire King by Kim Edwards

Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rusdie

Wallace & Gromit: Welcome to West Wallaby Street

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


The Stravaganza series by Mary Hoffman

I recently read the first three books in this superb series: City of Masks, City of Stars, and City of Flowers.

The series opener, City of Masks, is the story of fifteen-year-old Lucien Mulholland whose father gives him a beautiful journal to help him survive his chemotherapy treatments. When Lucien falls asleep holding the book, he travels to Bellezza, a Venice-like city located in a fantastical version 16th Century Italy. In Bellezza he becomes Luciano and learns that he is part of the brotherhood of the stravagante, wanderers between two worlds dedicated to protecting the separation of and balance between the worlds.

As Luciano explores Bellezza by night, Lucien's body becomes stronger. That physical change, however, is not why he was called to Bellezza. It is only when a plot to assassinate the Duchessa, Bellezza's beloved ruler, is uncovered, that Luciano begins to see what his true role will be.

City of Masks has it all - romance, intrigue, historical detail, subtle but strong magic, and a singular concept. Despite the fact that City of Masks stands alone and comes to a satisfying conclusion, you can't help but want to read more about Hoffman's fantastic world.

The Stravaganza books are written for teens, but they will also captivate adult readers (especially those who tend to like fantasy). The books are relatively quick reads, but they are meaty enough that you don't want to rush through them and that you feel satiated upon finishing them. Hoffman's Talia is an Italy like our own 16th Century Italy in many ways though there are unique differences, some obvious and others subtle.

The books will hold up to (and in many ways invite) multiple readings. I'm eagerly awaiting the fourth book in the series, City of Secrets, which will be published sometime this year.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Guns, Germs, and Steel

The second of my Book of the Month posts for our student services blog went up yesterday. Fiction next month, Nonfiction again in May (both TBD at this point). I need to have an every-other rule so that I don't focus too much on fiction.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Subtitled "The Fates of Human Societies", Guns, Germs, and Steel won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in 1998. Diamond, a professor of geography at UCLA, sums up the 480-page book with the following sentence: "History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among the peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves" (25).

The book is divided into four parts. The first part, "From Eden to Cajamarca," discusses the rise of civilization, how geography molded Polynesian society (as a model for understanding the radiation of societies on the continents), and how and why Spanish conquistadors were able to capture the last independent Inca emperor despite being outnumbered 500-to-one. Parts two and three focus on the rise and spread of food production and how that led to the development of writing and technology as well as the evolution of germs. The final part, "Around the World in Five Chapters," explores the implications of these developments on each of the continents.

Though Guns, Germs, and Steel has its critics, it is a fascinating read. And, by the time you finish, you'll have enough cocktail hour discussion fodder for the next five years.

More on GG&S after our book club meeting on the 26th.
Yes, I'll admit it. I killed two birds with one stone by picking our March book club selection to be the March book of the month.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sophie and the Rising Sun

Sophie and the Rising Sun by Augusta Trobaugh

Salty Creek is a sleepy Georgia town where everyone knows everyone else's business. Strangers rarely enter their midst. When the mysterious Mr. Oto arrives in the spring of 1939, he immediately becomes the talk of the town.

A quiet, unassuming Japanese man with a secret history of his own, Mr. Oto meets Sophie soon after arriving in Salty Creek and immediately falls in love with her. Sophie, having lost her true love during World War I, spent her youth caring for her mother and maiden aunts. Now that they are gone, she has resigned herself to a lonely, passionless existence. That all begins to change as she finds herself drawn to Mr. Oto.

When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Mr. Oto's newfound life comes under siege and Sophie must decide how much she is willing to risk for a future with the man who has brought such joy into her life.

This was a quick read, but a very good one. There was the potential for the story to get quite dark and menacing and I'm very glad that it did not. I appreciated that is was a simple (and simply beautiful) story of a complex situation in a very complex time.

I liked Trobaugh's writing (I should have expected to with such a wonderfully constructed title) and particularly the dual perspectives of the narrators and what that added to the story.

As much as I liked Sophie and Mr. Oto, I think my favorite characters were Sally and Miss Anne. Sally because of her gumption and her ability both to forgive and to hold others accountable for what they'd done. Miss Anne because the parts not narrated by her revealed the imperfections that made her a full-bodied character (particularly her slight revisions of the story to make herself look better). I think the fact that I didn't completely hate the "bad" character by the book's ending says a good deal about Trobaugh's ability to both create believable characters and to convey nuance.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Briar Rose

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

It is an old, old tale, the German story of Briar Rose, the Sleeping Beauty. Now one of America's most celebrated writers tells it afresh, set this time in the forests patrolled by the German army during World War II. A tale of castles, of mists and thorns, of a beautiful sleeping princess, and an astonishing revelation of death and rebirth. A tale that will leave you changed forever. The tale of Briar Rose.

I was a bit worried that it was going to be too dark (given the subject matter), but I decided to read it anyway. Because of the way that the novel is structured, as readers we are somewhat distanced from the horror of the Holocaust. As it became a fairy tale for Gemma, so does it become one for us as we follow Becca on her quest. Even when the horrors are recounted we are shielded by layers of story and want to rush through that part to find out the solution to the mystery.

Unlike the other readers of my copy of the book (it's a BookCrossing book so I read their reactions), I was not disappointed by the ending (because I read their journal entries yesterday and so didn't expect a fantastic ending? maybe, maybe not). I honestly don't know what I would have changed about it. It may have been too simple after the journey, but isn't that how things happen in real life?

I'm definitely going to look up the other books in Terri Windling's Fairy Tale series (the first few books in the series were published by Ace including one by Charles de Lint, Jack of Kinrowan, which I know I read many years ago).

Monday, March 03, 2008

belatedly Booking Through Thursday

I need to catch up a bit with Booking Through Thursday since I've managed to blow off it off the past two weeks.

Format: All other things (like price and storage space) being equal, given a choice in a perfect world, would you rather have paperbacks in your library? Or hardcovers? And why?

I answered a version of this question as part of Eva's Reading Meme (see this post). If the question is really and truly about format, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings. Some books I'd rather have in hardcover, but generally I like trade paperbacks for everyday reading (I really can't abide mass-markets and those tall mass-markets even more. I hate how easy it is to break their spines).

Heroine: Who is your favorite female lead character? And why?

This is a difficult question for me because whenever I actually set out to pick a favorite character I end up choosing a protagonist of one of my favorite books. That leads me to wonder whether I chose that character because I like him or her in and of his- or herself or simply because he or she happens to play a big part in one of my favorite books. So, I guess my real answer is "I don't know". There are a lot of female characters that I like, but I'm not sure that I'd ever be able to pin down a favorite.

book clubbing in February

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Last month's book club selection was Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin. I actually didn't finish the book in time for our discussion on Wednesday (I only finished yesterday), but I was rereading and remembered enough that I wasn't going to worry about spoilers.

We had a full and lively discussion on the book, hitting on topics like
- who is the blind assassin referred to in the title
- how would we have reacted to the book if we were older and had lived through more of the time period described in the book
- who was responsible for Laura's death and way
- the fairy tale aspects of the book (this came from one of those sets of discussion questions put out by publishers and we completely disagreed with the question-author about the story being at all fairy tale-like)

One of the best things about reading this book is that it introduced quite a number of our members to Atwood for the first time and left them asking the rest of us about which of her books to read next (we recommended Alias Grace and The Handmaid's Tale).

March is nonfiction...