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).