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.