Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Rug Merchant

The Rug Merchant by Meg Mullins

Isolated and far from his native Iran, Ushman Khan has worked hard to build a wealthy, reliable clientele for his wares: exquisite hand-woven rugs from his home city of Tabriz. With perfect rectitude, he caters to clients like New York's Upper East Side grand dame Mrs. Roberts, who plies him for stories about his exotic origins and culture to feed her own imagination. But like many immigrants, he's living only half a life. He dreams of the day his beloved wife, Farak, will be able to join him in New York and complete his vision of the American dream. But when she tells him that she is leaving him for another man, Ushman is shattered. He begins to wander aimlessly through the terminals of JFK Airport, imagining a now-impossible reunion with Farak. Unexpectedly, he meets Stella, a Barnard College student who has just bade farewell to her parents en route for an Italian vacation. After Stella, isolated in her own way, finds herself at Ushman's Manhattan store, they embark on an improbable and powerful romance. Together this American girl from the Deep South and the Iranian aesthete form a tender bond that awakens them both to the possibility of joy in a world full of tragedy.

We had the audio version of this novel with us on our last car trip. It's a good character study, but The Rug Merchant is slow and sad and not at all the right kind of book for a long, boring car trip.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - Electronic vs. Paper

In response to "Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature" (Time Magazine article),
Do you have an ebook reader? Do you read ebooks on your computer? Do you hate the very thought? How do you feel about the fact that book publishing is changing and facing much the same existential dilemma as the music industry upon the creation of MP3s?

I do not have an ebook reader. I read books (and articles) on the computer when I have to. I don't hate the thought of reading from the screen, but I do greatly prefer a printed copy. For me reading is at least in part a tactile experience. I like the heft of the book, the feel of its cover, the act of turning its pages.

I understand the direction that publishing is heading right now. But, I really don't think it'll change our buying habits. Russell and I don't buy mp3s. We buy CDs because, at least in part, if our hard drive crashes we'll still have the music on disc.

I like the fact that self-publishing is becoming for viable. Part of that is because I'm friends with an author who has been struggling with the traditional publishing process and, through her, I've really gotten to see just how difficult it is to get published even when you are a good writer with an innovative product.

Then again, because of self-publishing's increased popularity the market will become flooded, possibly making it harder for consumers to find what they want.

There are pros and cons to these new developments, but as Lev Grossman says in "Books Gone Wild," changes are happening and they're neither good nor bad, they just are. And, for better or worse, we readers are along for the ride.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

book clubbing in January

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Booker Prize-winning Possession is an academic mystery and a literary love story. It's multilayered, dealing with the Victorian era as much as modern times, and using a variety of different devices to convey the story. As such it was wonderful discussion fodder.

The novel does drag at times (personally I had the most trouble with excerpts from Ash's biographies as well as some of the poems), but it is definitely worth pushing through those sections. The story has some wonderfully unexpected twists at the end.

A couple of our members had difficulty getting through Possession. I recommended watching the movie and that seems to have been a good solution, allowing us all to really get into the discussion at our meeting this afternoon. We talked about possession as a theme in the novel, its portrayal of academia, our reactions to the various characters (we found most of them unsympathetic), the poets Ash and Christabel were modeled after (allegedly Robert Browning and Isabel Rossetti), different aspects of the story, the role of the epigraphs at the beginning of some of the novel's chapters, and the quality of Byatt's poetry, among other things.

One of Possession's greatest strengths is that it forces the reader to spend time on it. It's not a book that you can rush through, but it's also a book that is worth spending time on. Possession is substantive. There's something spiritual about it, one of our members said. The Victorian parts in particular are wonderfully atmospheric.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Perfect Scent

The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr

As the book's subtitle suggests, The Perfect Scent is the story of "a year inside the perfume industry in Paris and New York". Author Chandler Burr is the scent critic for The New York Times (a scent critic! I'd never heard of such a thing, but of course it makes sense that there are people whose job it is to critique perfume).

In The Perfect Scent, Burr shows readers the perfume industry from the inside. In it, he chronicles the development of two very distinct perfumes--in two different environments--over the course of the year. The first, is Hermés' Un Jardin sur le Nil (I'm so intrigued by this one - I need to get myself to a high-end department store so I can smell it for myself), the second, Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely (which is on the scented bookmark that accompanied my copy of the book).

Honestly I wasn't sure whether I'd like this book. These types of industry profiles can be fascinating or boring. While The Perfect Scent isn't a page turner, it is a very interesting read. Though the narrative is occasionally too personal and his technical explanations are sometimes too detailed, Burr is a very good writer. He knows his subject, he's opinionated (I love his descriptions of "bad" perfumes - actually I like his perfume descriptions in general), and he's passionate about educating consumers.

The Perfect Scent made me want to go smell out a perfume for myself. It confirmed some of my preconceptions about the industry, and dismantled others. Most importantly it intrigued me. It made me think about perfume, which is not something I normally do, and it helped me to understand what's behind a good scent.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Belated Booking Through Thursday - Inspired

I started trying to answer this question Thursday, but I was feeling decidedly uninspired so I gave up pretty quickly.

Since "Inspiration" is (or should) the theme this week... what is your reading inspired by?

This isn't a particularly simple question to answer because I honestly don't spend much time thinking about what inspires me to read. Reading is simply something that I have always done. I was raised by readers and one of my most vivid early memories has to do with visiting the public library.

That being said, the kind of books that are most appealing to me at this moment are upbeat, light-hearted books, those with happy endings, YA novels, and those set far, far away (either in fantastical worlds or just further afield). I assume that this is because during these dark, dreary winter months, I find comfort in escapism and stories that lift my spirits. So I guess that right now my reading is inspired by a quest for comfort.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hello, Cruel World

Nonfiction for the student services blog this month...

Hello, Cruel World by Kate Bornstein

Subtitled "101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws", Hello, Cruel World is an irreverent guidebook designed to help anyone and everyone navigate the sometimes cruel world in which we live.

With a foreword by Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara and a detailed introduction by Bornstein, a transsexual trailblazer who defies categorization, the book unapologetically provides coping mechanisms (some extremely unorthodox) and encourages readers to follow their "hearts' harmless desires". For Bornstein anything is preferable to suicide: do whatever you need to do to stay alive, just "don't be mean".

Hello, Cruel World is unconventional, eye-opening, and life-affirming. The layout makes it fun to read and because Bornstein makes a point not to exclude anyone, it's a book that can speak to everyone.

Here's one of my favorite blurbs about the book:
I realize Kate Bornstein is trying to save teenagers — the beautiful weirdos on whom the fate of our future rests—but if her book gets into the wrong hands, she might inadvertently save a whole lot of adults too. —Carol Queen
If you can't get your hands on the book right away, you can get your fix at Kate Bornstein's Blog for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Salem Falls

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

In Salem Falls, Picoult takes on the issue of statutory rape aeasoning her narrative with modern-day witch-hunting (hence Salem Falls).

The novel opens with protagonist Jack McBride newly released from prison after serving an eight-month sentence. With no where to go - no life to return to - McBride arbitrarily settles in the small town of Salem Falls, where he hopes to eek out a quiet existence. Just when things are starting to come together for McBride, it becomes known that he's a registered sex offender. The townspeople are up-in-arms. He's threatened, the house he lives in is vandalized, and he's beaten-up by masked thugs. He's then arrested for allegedly raping a teenage girl who lives in the town at which point the story gains momentum.

Salem Falls was a bit predictable (I'd guessed at the final twist fairly early on, but I've also read a lot of Picoult and know how she works), but readable nonetheless. I think I may have to stop reading Picoult though. Her books are compelling, but her worldview is much too bleak.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

If You Could See Me Now

I first discovered Cecilia Ahern quite my accident. Her debut novel, PS, I love you, came to me at just the right time. I happened across it in a bookstore and when I read it, it spoke to me and comforted me in a time of need (my cousin had just passed away quite unexpectedly).

I've since reread PS, I love you and read Ahern's second novel Love, Rosie (also published under the titles Rosie Dunn and Where Rainbows End). I didn't find Love, Rosie particularly compelling, which left me wondering whether Ahern would be a one-off author for me, but I kept her other books on my wishlist just in case.

This one arrived in a late birthday package yesterday. I just finished it, though I have to admit that I almost gave up on the first few pages.

If You Could See Me Now* by Cecilia Ahern

If You Could See Me Now is the story of Elizabeth Egan, a woman in her thirties who is struggling with her life despite the facade of perfection she displays for the world, and an imaginary friend named Ivan who comes into her life through her adopted son Luke.

The concept is preposterous, but it does provide a unique twist to a pretty pedestrian subject. Ahern's Elizabeth is sympathetic and while some readers may not be able to relate to her problems in particular, they will be able to relate to her general feeling of being acutely responsible and overwhelmed.

The heart-warming If You Could See Me Now is a quick and read. What I liked best about the novel is Ahern's vision of imaginary friends and their roles in the world.

* This novel has also been published under the title A Silver Lining. Unnecessary re-naming of novels is one of my pet-peeves.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - The Best?

It’s a week or two later than you’d expect, and it may be almost a trite question, but... what were your favorite books from 2008?

Though I addressed this in my recent Books-read-in-2008 posts, I've pulled a single this for this post.

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
Austenland by Shannon Hale
Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (reread)
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Cheney Sisters Trilogy
- The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll
- The Courtesan by Susan Carroll
- The Silver Rose by Susan Carroll
Disobedience by Naomi Alderman
Divas Don't Knit by Gil Mcneil
Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes
Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (reread)
Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer
I am Rembrandt's Daughter by Lynn Cullen
The Illustrated Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte/Dame Darcy
An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear
Madame Zee by Pearl Luke
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd (reread)
Outlander Saga
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
- Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
- Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Stravaganza Books
- City of Masks by Mary Hoffman
- City of Stars by Mary Hoffman
- City of Flowers by Mary Hoffman
- City of Secrets by Mary Hoffman
Study Books
- Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
- Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder
- Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
Terrier (Beka Cooper) by Tamora Pierce
Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
Time and Again by Jack Finney
Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal (reread)
Vampire Academy Books
- Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
- Frostbite by Richelle Mead
Witch Child by Celia Rees
Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Curiosity Killed a Cat Sitter

I read this book back in 2006. When I was putting some reviews up at LibraryThing, I realized that I hadn't posted a review on the blog despite the fact that I mentioned it among the books I liked best from 2006.

Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter by Blaize Clement

Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter is the first in a dazzling new series for animal lovers. Dixie Hemingway (no relation to you-know-who) is a professional pet-sitter in Sarasota, Florida. When Dixie goes to feed the cat of a vacationing client and discovers the animal hiding from a very dead intruder, she is led to investigate the whereabouts of her now suspicious-looking client, who has vanished. With a bright future ahead, Clement is a welcome addition to Minotaur's lineup of cozy authors.

I discovered this book through Suzanne Beecher's Read it First Program. Suzanne was promoting the book. She had sample pages for us to read and 25 copies to give away. Here's part of the email I sent her to enter the contest:
I loved reading those pages from Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter all at once.
I'm a cat lover (I have two Siamese snowshoe kitties that are about 1.5 years old) so once I started reading I knew I couldn't fail to like this book, but this is the part that really sold me:
"Cats, on the other hand, try to give you the impression they didn't even know you were gone. 'Oh, were you out?' they'll say, 'I didn't notice.' Then they'll raise their tails to show you their little puckered anuses and walk away."
Something about that just rang so true to me.
Anyway, now that I've read the first 20 pages, I'm intrigued. I really want to learn the protagonist's back-story. I want to know what happened to make Dixie leave her position at the sheriff's office.
Of course, I didn't win one of the copies. However, especially seeing the 5-star reviews on amazon, I was so intrigued by the book that I decided to buy it for myself as a half birthday present.

I must say that I really enjoyed Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter. I read it from start to finish the day it arrived!

The protagonist Dixie is multifaceted and interesting. The other characters, both human and animal, are well-conceived. And, Clement adds a lot of things that make this book more substantive than your run of the mill cozy. I'll be eagerly awaiting the next installment in this series.

I haven't read any of the other books in the series yet (and there are quite a few of them now), but I still hope to do so.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Books Read July-December 2008 (2 of 2)

Continued from yesterday's post:

154. Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall
153. Wolf Star by Tanith Lee
152. Stravaganza: City of Secrets by Mary Hoffman
151. Wolf Tower by Tanith Lee
150. Hello, Cruel World by Kate Bornstein
149. Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
148. Eldest by Christopher Paolini
147. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
146. The Conqueror by Jan Kjaerstad
145. Divas Don't Knit by Gil Mcneil
144. The Silver Rose by Susan Carroll
143. The Courtesan by Susan Carroll
142. The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll
141. Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer
140. The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

139. Spice: the History of Temptation by Jack Turner
138. Witch's Business (aka Wilken's Tooth) by Diana Wynne Jones
137. How to be Popular by Meg Cabot
136. Cube Chic by Kelley Moore
135. The Haunted Tea-cosy by Edward Gorey
134. Remember Me by Sophie Kinsella
133. Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker
132. 100 Shades of White by Preethi Nair
131. And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
130. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
129. Fabulous Nobodies by Lee Tulloch
128. Bride Finder by Susan Carroll
127. Time and Again by Jack Finney
126. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
125. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter
124. The Beach Book, Melcher Media

Monday, January 05, 2009

Books Read July-December 2008 (1 of 2)

At the beginning of July I posted my reading list for the first six months of the year (post 1, post 2).

As promised, here's the first part of list of books read in the second part of 2008. The ones I liked best are italicized.

I'm still planning to do posts on a few of these, so don't be surprised if you seem them mentioned here again.

123. Under My Skin by Sarah Dunant
122. Birth Marks by Sarah Dunant
121. Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
120. Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
119. Sunny Chandler's Return by Sandra Brown
118. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
117. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
116. Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
115. Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
114. Hatching Magic by Ann Downer
113. Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki
112. Sorceress by Celia Rees
111. The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless by Ahmet Zappa
110. Persepolis II by Marjane Satrapi
109. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
108. Me and Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmann
107. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
106. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
105. City of Shadows by Celia Rees
104. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
103. Austenland by Shannon Hale
102. Frostbite by Richelle Mead

101. The Forgetting Room by Nick Bantock
100. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
99. Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters
98. Carnevale by M. Lovric
97. The Sooterkin by Tom Gilling
96. Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes
95. Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult
94. Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - Two questions

Both Christmas and New Years Day fall on Thursdays this year. I skipped my BTT post on the 25th, so I have two questions to answer today...

What are the most "wintery" books you can think of? The ones that almost embody Winter?

Hmmm... the Narnia books, particularly The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because of the White Witch; Smilla's Sense of Snow (though I'm not sure if it is fair for me to include this as I don't think I've ever read the book).

This is actually a difficult question. I can think of dozens of books that I associate with summer, but the other seasons are harder to pinpoint. And, I don't think that books set in winter necessarily embody the season.

So... any Reading Resolutions? Say, specific books you plan to read? A plan to read more ____? Anything at all?

I think my reading goals for 2009 will be:
1. to read at least 150 books, closer to 175 would be good, but I need to be realistic. This year I read 154 books (and possibly a few more that I forgot to put on the list). I'll be posting my list in spurts over the next week
2. to move more of my BookCrossing books along, even if that means I decide that I'd really rather not read a particular book before I let it go
3. to read more British authors (this is part of a super-secret project)
4. to read some of books that I've bought to keep in my personal collection, but haven't read yet
5. to not wait until the last minute to read my book club books

Name me at least ONE thing you’re looking forward to reading this year!
I just started Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a book I've been looking forward to reading. I'm also keen on goal number four listed above.