Monday, March 30, 2009

The Orchid Thief

Better late than never... the March book-of-the-month offering:

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

The story of John Laroche, a plant dealer who was arrested in 1994 for poaching orchids from a Florida state park, is the jumping off point for New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief.

Seeking to understand the man behind the headline, Orlean spent two years among Florida's orchid fanciers. The result is an engaging book with a similar feel to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The history and character of Southern Florida are as integral to the story as the feverish nature of botanical collecting and Orlean weaves the threads together with both precision and humor.

The Orchid Thief is indeed as its subtitle suggests "a true story of beauty and obsession."

My favorite line in the book: "The English have especially felonious urges toward orchids." The passage continues "Kew Gardens has to display its orchids behind shatterproof glass and surrounded by surveillance cameras the way Tiffany's displays its jewels. In 1993 a rare six-foot-tall monkey orchid with light pink flowers bloomed near London, and the Naturalists' Trust had to hire two security guards to stand watch and protect the plant from collectors" (156).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Shadow Speaker

I've had The Shadow Speaker on my wishlist for as long as I've known of its existence as a work-in-progress, basically since I read Zahrah the Windseeker, a novel that I adored. I finally got a copy for Christmas, but I didn't read it right away. I wanted to save it, to savor it.

The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

Driven by vengeance. Destined for peace. Niger, West Africa, 2070: After fifteen-year old Ejii witnesses her father's beheading, her world shatters. In an era of mind-blowing technology and seductive magic, Ejii embarks on a mystical journey to track down her father's killer. With a newfound friend by her side, Ejii comes face to face with an earth turned inside out-and with her own magical powers. But Ejii soon discovers that her travels across the sands of the Sahara have a greater purpose. Her people need to be protected from a force seeking to annihilate them. And Ejii may be just the hero to do it. This futuristic, fantastical adventure heralds a bright new talent on the YA fantasy scene.

The Shadow Speaker is set in the same world as Zahrah, but it is decidedly more futuristic. While it is not necessary to read Zahrah to understand The Shadow Speaker, it's fascinating to see how Okorafor-Mbachu fleshes out her setting from one book to the other. In The Shadow Speaker, the world is definitely more fully realized and it is also put in broader context (it is clear in The Shadow Speaker how their world fits in with ours).

While The Shadow Speaker is a good novel, I don't think that it has the same heart as Zahrah (of course, I loved Zahrah so I am a bit biased). It is a bildungsroman that deals with the same issues, but its target audience is a bit older. Highly recommended for the 12-and-up crowd, in any case.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

Last week's question:
We’ve all seen the lists, we’ve all thought, “I should really read that someday,” but for all of us, there are still books on “The List” that we haven’t actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they’re fabulous. Even though we know that we’ll like them. Or that we’ll learn from them. Or just that they’re supposed to be worthy. We just... haven’t gotten around to them yet.
What’s the best book that YOU haven’t read yet?

What a question. I'm not sure that there is one, true answer to the question. For now, I think I'll say the Canongate Myths books (see this post) that I've been slowly collecting despite the fact that I haven't managed to read any of them yet.

Today's question:
What book do you think should be made into a movie? And do you have any suggestions for the producers?
Or, What book do you think should NEVER be made into a movie?

I'm not a huge fan of books being made into movies. So far the only movie version that I've liked better than the book is Bridget Jones's Diary (though, I guess I should admit that I thought the books themselves were a bit too much). I won't watch the Harry Potter movies any more on principle (I stopped after the 3rd). I hate the fact that if you haven't actually read the books you would have literally no idea what was going on because so much of the plot and storyline have been cut out in order to make the films a manageable length.

That being said, I'm usually happy to watch the latest Austen remakes. I think PBS and the BBC do a good job with their classics though the recent Room with a View (see this post) is a notable exception.

I'm pretty sure that I even own a copy of Bride and Prejudice (I love me some Bollywood goodness). That makes me think, though, that in the case of classics I tend to be a bit more open to crazy movie adaptations that I am to novels that try to do something similar. Case in point, The Man who Love Jane Austen, which I read recently and found to be just a bit too farfetched.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

flu reading

I've been home sick this week with the flu. The most annoying thing about being sick (besides feeling sick, of course) is that I can't concentrate very well. Luckily I was able to dig up some books that sicky-Karen could read fairly well.

Touch of the Wolf by Susan Krinard

Historical paranormal romance. I won't go into the plot, just provide a starting point: werewolves in the English aristocracy in the late 1800s.

It wasn't too taxing a read, the story (and the romance) was interesting enough to keep me reading despite my flagging concentration, the main characters were multilayered, and the paranormal aspects of it not too over the top.

Touch of the Wolf is the first book in a trilogy and I'd definitely be interested in reading the other two books.

Fiona Buckley's Ursula Blanchard Books

Ursula Blanchard is the bastard daughter of one of Anne Boleyn's ladies-in-waiting. She manages to rise above her station and marry for love. Married bliss, however, is fleeting and Ursula loses her husband to small pox. She first becomes a loyal lady of the Queen Elizabeth I's Presence Chamber and then a spy for the English crown.

So far this week I've read To Ruin a Queen (#4). I'm reading Queen of Ambition (#5) now and I'm planning on reading A Pawn for the Queen (#6) next.

Ursula is a sympathetic even modern character and that's one of the things that makes these books such fun reads.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

playing catch-up

Things have been busy lately. I need to get caught up. I owe a Booking-through-Thursday post and a report on our February book club meeting, not to mention comments on some of the other books I've read so far this year. I'm going to work on that.