Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tamora Pierce

Over the weekend was was home-bound with a bad cold and though I've generally had a hard time concentrating on anything for any length of time, I did have some luck with the Tamora Pierce books on Mt. TBR.

Terrier: The Legend of Beka Cooper

Beka Cooper is a rookie with the law-enforcing Provost's Guard, and she's been assigned to the Lower City. It's a tough beat that's about to get tougher, as Beka's limited ability to communicate with the dead clues her in to an underworld conspiracy. Someone close to Beka is using dark magic to profit from the Lower City's criminal enterprises — and the result is a crime wave the likes of which the Provost's Guard has never seen before.

I believe this is the first Pierce book I've read. I'd heard good things about her, and when I saw this book and it looked like it might be a good entry into her world, I couldn't resist.

I enjoyed the book. The story was interesting and compelling, the characters were well-written and sympathetic (those that were supposed to be). Most importantly of all, Terrier did keep my attention and I was sorry to turn its last page.

The Will Of The Empress

For years the Empress of Namorn has pressed her young cousin, Lady Sandrilene fa Toren, to visit her vast lands within the Empire's borders. Sandry has avoided the invitation for as long as it was possible. Now Sandry has agreed to pay that overdue visit. Sandry's uncle promises guards to accompany her. But they're hardly a group of warriors! They're her old friends from Winding Circle: Daja, Tris, and Briar. Sandry hardly knows them now. They've grown up and grown apart. Sandry isn't sure they'll ever find their old connection again — or if she even wants them to.

After reading Terrier, I was at a loss until I remembered that I had this book on Mt. TBR. I double-checked that the book wasn't a 2nd or 3rd book in a series and then dug it out.

While I did not find The Will Of The Empress as compelling as Terrier (despite the fact that the book does stand alone, my attention-limited self found that there were a few too many main characters to handle not knowing their backstories), it did meet my needs and provide a distraction from my icky-feelingness yesterday.

I'll definitely be reading more of Pierce in the future - particularly the Circle books so I can meet Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar properly.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that's not safe. Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth.

Needing a book to read this evening, I plucked Speak off my BookCrossing bookcase (yes, I have a bookcase dedicated to BookCrossing books) almost at random. But, oh am I glad I did. What a wonderful, compelling book. After reading it, I can assure you that Speak deserves any award that it has received.

In it, Anderson deals with a tough issue, but does so sympathetically and honestly without over-dramatizing it. Protagonist Melinda is relatable and her first-person narration (and sarcastic humor) is what makes the book as successful as it is. Anderson's depiction of high school is authentic. Despite being a quick read, Speak is a book that will stay with you long after you turn its final page.

book clubbing in May

I was looking forward to this month's book club discussion. Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair was on the agenda and I knew that most of my book club members hadn't been exposed to Fforde or Thursday Next before. The Eyre Affair is the first book in one of my favorite series and I was wondering how everyone would react to Fforde.

My initial reaction to The Eyre Affair:
"I'd heard great things about this series and I was not disappointed. I loved the literary references, the crazy 'history,' and the all-round zaniness of the book. Not to mention the dodos!" (journal entry 10).

In preparation for the meeting I read my Illustrated Jane Eyre (blog post) and reread The Eyre Affair. It's a good thing that I did because I'd forgotten how different The Eyre Affair is from the other books in the series (it's much more self-contained) and exactly where Thursday's story left off at the end of the novel (to some extent, the books in the series do run together for me and it just would not do to spoil something from a book later in the series).

Only one other person in the book club had read the book before. And, I'm happy to report that all the others did seem to like the book (a few of them are planning on getting book 2!). I think some of Fforde's zaniness and side-stories were a bit much for some of them, but they all seemed to like the main plot line, the way Fforde envisions the world of books, and interaction-with-text aspect of the story.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Extras by Scott Westerfeld (Uglies Trilogy)

It's a few years after rebel Tally Youngblood took down the uglies/pretties/specials regime. Without those strict roles and rules, the world is in a complete cultural renaissance. "Tech-heads" flaunt their latest gadgets, "kickers" spread gossip and trends, and "surge monkeys" are hooked on extreme plastic surgery. And it's all monitored on a bazillion different cameras. The world is like a gigantic game of American Idol. Whoever is getting the most buzz gets the most votes. Popularity rules.

As if being fifteen doesn't suck enough, Aya Fuse's rank of 451,369 is so low, she's a total nobody. An extra. But Aya doesn't care; she just wants to lie low with her drone, Moggle. And maybe kick a good story for herself. Then Aya meets a clique of girls who pull crazy tricks, yet are deeply secretive of it. Aya wants desperately to kick their story, to show everyone how intensely cool the Sly Girls are. But doing so would propel her out of extra-land and into the world of fame, celebrity...and extreme danger. A world she's not prepared for.

Extras is the fourth book in the Uglies Trilogy (yes, that's right, the 4th book in the trilogy).

It's been a while since I read the first three Uglies books (which I thought were fantastic) and in this case I think that that's a good thing. Because Tally wasn't so fresh in my mind it was easier to cope with the fact that she's not the protagonist of this installment (that and having been given a heads-up before I started the book).

It seems like Westerfeld was planning to end with book three, but was pressured to continue the series because of its success. Extras is much different than the first three. It does continue in the same vein and Tally and the cutters do figure into the story, but it is set on a different continent, years later. Extras also brings the storyline to a satisfactory conclusion so it'll be interesting to see whether he comes out with another book.

Anyway, I did like Aya - at times she was a bit too insistent on the importance of her "kicking", but I'm sure that's because she's a product of her city. I also really liked the character of Frizz. So I guess what I'm saying is that I would not be adverse to another book that continues their story.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Manual Labor Redux

Scenario: You’ve just bought some complicated gadget home... do you read the accompanying documentation? Or not?
Do you ever read manuals?
How-to books?
Self-help guides?
Anything at all?

Do I read the documentation that comes with the products I buy? Sometimes, but I rarely read every single word. I check to make sure I know how the thing works and I'll look up specific details, but I've never found documentation that was so compelling that I needed to read it completely.

Do I ever read manuals? Sometimes. As necessary.

How-to books? I have read them, but I don't do so very often.

Self-help guides? Rarely.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Truth & Beauty

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett

I picked up Truth and Beauty and Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face around the same time after hearing that they were both fantastic books and should be read together. I read Autobiography of a Face in February (see this post), but only just got around to reading Truth and Beauty this month.

I've read Patchett before and enjoyed her writing. Truth and Beauty is compelling and Patchett seems to write honestly about Grealy and their relationship, but there is a strange edge to the book, most likely because it was written in response to Grealy's death. It's hard to take pleasure in a book when you know that it will end with the untimely demise of one of the main characters especially when that character is both sympathetic and a real person. That isn't to say that the book didn't make me laugh (the CDs on page 187, for example) and that it wasn't heartwarming in its way, it's just that the loss of Grealy tends to overwhelm everything else for me.

Also, I'm not sure that I liked the way that Patchett used Grealy's letters throughout the book. I almost wish that Patchett had omitted them and relied purely on her own words. It almost seemed that Patchett was using excerpts of Grealy's letters to prove things that didn't really need to be proven or in some way trying to create a memoir co-written by Grealy. While Patchett may have used the letters to increase the authenticity of the story, I found that their inclusion made me more likely to doubt her as a narrator (and to wonder about what Patchett chose not to include). Of course, my reading of Truth and Beauty has been clouded by my reading of Autobiography of a Face and the knowledge that Grealy's older sister was against the publication of Truth and Beauty. That may be one of the reasons why I feel the way I do about the use of Grealy's letters, with no prior knowledge I might not have even given the use of the letters much thought.

In any case, I'll be posting a little teaser review of Truth and Beauty on the student services blog on Friday.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Meme of Fives

Heather/errantdreams tagged me for a meme today. I'll answer some of the questions, but I'm also going to create a few of my own to keep the meme on topic for the blog.

What are five places where you have lived?
In order: Ossining, NY; Uelsen, Germany; Chicago, IL; Athens, Greece; Ann Arbor, Michigan

What are five jobs you have had?
Babysitter, Lifeguard, Shoe salesperson, Intern, Archivist

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)

- Work on a Digital Library Collection proposal
- Pick out some finding aids for Isadore to encode tomorrow
- Read Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett
- Research Louis Kahn
- Work on the J.J. catalog

Five books I've most recently completed:
- The Bride Stripped Bare, Anonymous
- The Illustrated Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte/Dame Darcy
- Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
- New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
- The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards

Five (random) books on Mt. TBR:
(chosen by the LibraryThing widget in my sidebar)
- Garden of Eve by K.L. Going
- The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur by Victor Pelevin
- Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
- Cry of the Dove by Fadia Faqir
- Death of a Joyce Scholar by Bartholomew Gill

Five BookCrossing books I've had in my possession for over a year:
(I got these by sorting my bookshelf TBR by registration date, earliest first)
- Evening by Susan Minot
- Murder at the National Gallery by Margaret Truman
- The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
- The Underpainter by Jane Urquhart
- Virgin Earth by Philippa Gregory

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Illustrated Jane Eyre

The Illustrated Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë’s sweeping Victorian romance is reborn through the striking illustrations of the inimitable Dame Darcy.

This month my book club will be discussing Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. What a perfect excuse to read The Illustrated Jane Eyre, which I've had on Mt. TBR since September 2006, and that's exactly what I did this weekend.

First of all, I should say that I'm pretty sure I'd never read Jane Eyre before. I thought I had, way back in high school, but now I think I'd only read Wuthering Heights (by younger sister Emily).

Suffice it to say that I really enjoyed getting to know this classic properly. Dame Darcy's illustrations are a wonderful addition to this addition. Black and white illustrations are peppered throughout the book (encroaching from the margins, forcing the text to wend its way around them) with the less frequent inclusion of full-page illustrations (you can see images of some of the full-page plates in the book on Dame Darcy's color prints and black and white prints pages). Her style seems like a perfect match for Jane Eyre and as I read the novel I found myself eagerly awaiting Darcy's next addition to the text.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Twilight Saga

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga seems to be getting a good deal of press lately. I was introduced to the books by a friend before I'd heard any of the hype.

I read New Moon and Eclipse just this week, though I'd read Twilight in September.

Twilight has a very different feeling than the other books in the series so far. Maybe that's because Meyer didn't set out to write a series. In any case, when I read Twilight I liked the relationship between Bella and Edward, its slow build-up and all the difficulties inherent in it, but wasn't crazy about the violent, action-packed ending of the book. I had no strong feelings about the series, but I knew I'd read the other books when my friend got around to loaning them to me.

I became much more invested in the series with the second book, New Moon. Part of it is because I knew - to some extent - what to expect. Of course, I was blindsided by the big thing that happens early on in that story, but I liked how things proceeded from there and I became much more interested in Bella herself.

The books are compelling despite the fact that it is sometimes hard to relate to Bella. The cast of characters (mortal and immortal alike) is interesting, as is Meyer's take on vampires.*

Though some fans might consider this sacrilege, I am not a member of the Edward fan club. Personally, I prefer Bella's other option. I find Edward too domineering (though, I'll admit that he is beginning to mellow) and think that if this was a chick lit storyline we'd have a very different sense of Edward and would be convinced that Bella was in a horribly unhealthy relationship and rooting for her to kick him to the curb. I think the memory of the romance of the Twilight tends to blind readers to the implications of some of his actions later in the books.

* This isn't really a spoiler because it's alluded to in the first book, but I've put it down here just in case: actually Meyer's take on werewolves and her incorporation of them into Native American mythology is much more interesting.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Manual Labor

Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos... do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries–-if any-–do you have in your library?

I can't say exactly how many since I don't have all my books cataloged in LibraryThing yet.

Let's see... I have style guides, Struck & White and Chicago (yes, I bought the new edition as soon as it came out) as well as APA (required for grad school) and MLA.

I also have dictionaries, lots of them. Bilingual dictionaries: French/English, Spanish/English, German/English, Modern Greek/English (I think we also have a Latin/English dictionary kicking around the apartment). I have a "collegiate" English dictionary (I think) sitting on my desk at home. I know I have at least one other in storage as I distinctly remember raiding my grandpa's bookcases. I have a wonderful, monstrous German dictionary that I got when I was working on my translation project and a lovely children's German dictionary with illustrations. I also have at least one thesaurus.

I do have a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, but I've never gotten around to reading it. And, I know I have at least one other book like it, though the title is escaping me right now.

As for reading them... the reference books I use for reference. I also like using the OED online and dictionary.com/thesaurus.com for quick checks. I'm more interesting in reading about the history of them, like Simon Winchester's books on the development of the OED (particularly The Meaning of Everything).

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Secrets of a Fire King

The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards

I've had The Secrets of a Fire King on my wishlist pretty much ever since I read The Memory Keeper's Daughter (read my post). Now that I've read it, I'm wondering why I didn't try to get my hands on a copy sooner. I loved the varied settings of the stories, Edwards' vivid descriptions, and her sympathetic characters. In this collection, Edwards is subtle and strong. Her words are mesmerizing. And, while there were some stories that I cared less for than others, there were none that I wanted to write off (which is rare in a collection, I think).

I think my favorite stories were "Thirst" (about a mermaid who gave up the sea for love), "A Gleaming in the Darkness" (the story of Marie Curie's cleaning woman), and "Aristotle's Lantern" (how to describe that one?). I loved the irony of "The Invitation" and optimism evidenced in "The Great Chain of Being" and "The Story of My Life" (and how those two stories frame the collection).

While The Secrets of a Fire King has a number of recurring themes, I was particularly struck by Edwards' meditation on Marie Curie and her legacy. When radium appeared unexpectedly in a second story, I felt a surge of joy (and a greater anticipation about where that story would lead).

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks' debut novel (she has since written March and People of the Book) follows two years in the life of a small English village (Eyam, Derbyshire). When an infected bolt of cloth carries the "seeds" of plague to Eyam in 1665, a visionary young minister convinces the villagers to quarantine themselves. In an effort to stop the spread of the contagion, the villagers sacrifice themselves and as the death toll begins to mount mistrust rears its ugly head.

The novel's narrator is a young widow named Anna Frith, one of the plague survivors. Anna is sympathetic and relatable despite the 300+ year time difference between readers and herself. Year of Wonders is the story of her village and its trials, but it is also the tale of her own self-awakening.

Year of Wonders is one of those rare books that is consistently strong throughout. My interest never waned and I probably would have finished it all in one sitting if I didn't make myself go to bed around midnight. I particularly liked the epilogue and how Brooks ties up things with our protagonist (it's unexpected and somewhat unrealistic, but perfect nonetheless). I also loved the afterword. Too often I start afterwords and never finish them because they aren't compelling and can be extremely anticlimatic after the end of a good novel. Brooks' afterword, however, was interesting and relevant and it added to my enjoyment and understanding of the novel.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Mayday!

Quick! It’s an emergency! You just got an urgent call about a family emergency and had to rush to the airport with barely time to grab your wallet and your passport. But now, you’re stuck at the airport with nothing to read. What do you do?

That's easy, I'd head over to the bookshop in the terminal and pick out something that looks interesting. Occasionally when traveling I'll misjudge the amount I'll read in the course of a trip and have to pick up another book to make it through the trip home. I've picked up some interesting reads that way. Two that I remember offhand are The Friday Night Knitting Club (see this post) and Mirage by Soheir Khashoggi, which I picked up over a long connection in Philly, I believe.

Now, if I'm in a little dinky airport without terminals let alone bookshops I'd just have to make do with people watching in the airport and the airline magazines (gotta love those crossword puzzles) in the plane at least until my connection at a bigger airport.