Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

word: trilobite

While I was flipping through a copy of Wendy Johnson's Socks from the Toe Up at a local yarn store yesterday a word I wasn't familiar with caught my eye: trilobite. The word first appeared in the title of one of the patterns (Trilobite Socks) and later in a description of the genesis of a second pattern (Sheri's Posies Socks).

Apparently triobites are a well-known (just not to me!) group of extinct marine arthropods that form the class Trilobita frequently found as fossils.

This Guide to the Orders of Trilobites seems like a good place to learn more, especially since it is maintained by a biologist.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Find #1

Taking a cue from Barney of Barney's Book Blog, I'm going to start blogging on Fridays about a book that I've discovered over the course of the week. The featured books may not be new releases. In many cases they'll just be new-to-me books.

My find for this week is: Knitting and Tea by Jane Gottelier

The KnitPicks catalog I received this week featured a few of the patterns from Knitting and Tea knit up in their yarns.* I hadn't heard of this book, but I was intrigued.

Subtitled "25 Classic Knits and the Teas That Inspired Them," Knitting and Tea is more than just a pattern book. Apparently it's also a travelogue that focuses on the history of tea and it has recipes!

Reviewing this book for, Sarah E. White wrote, "The patterns definitely have the feel of the places (and the teas) that inspired them, so if you're a fan of teatime in the traditional sense and the British imperial aesthetic, you'll enjoy this book and the projects in it" (review). I have to admit, I'm even more intrigued than I was before.

* This is one of the things I love about receiving the catalog. I get to preview some of the patterns and see how they look in different (and usually much less expensive) yarns than they're written for.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

book clubbing in August

I'd been looking forward to this month's book club discussion for quite some time. Pride and Prejudice was our August selection, but we also decided to allow any of the many P&P spin-offs to add to our discussion.

Those who've read my recent posts will know that I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and First Impressions by Marilyn Sachs in preparation for our meeting. Other spin-offs read by members included The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O'Rourke,1 Pamela Aidan's Darcy novels,2 the new P&P comics (art by Hugo Petrus).3 Additionally most of us had read Austenland for our discussion last fall (see post).

We had a great discussion about Pride and Prejudice itself (one of our members had never read Austen before, assuming he wouldn't like it, and his reaction to it was wonderful), societal differences and entail,4 the collective obsession with P&P (or is it Mr. Darcy?), the inanity of certain spin-offs,4 why we think other spin-offs like Bride and Prejudice work so well, what Austen novels the newly converted should read next,5 class issues, whether Elizabeth is typical of a woman of her station (she has a modern sensibility for sure, but were many of her contemporaries more like Charlotte), and the reason for the recent obsession with zombies, among other things.

All in all it was an absolutely fantastic meeting with a varied and engaging discussion.
  1. I've read this one, but it looks like I never posted about it on the blog. I'll pull together some thoughts and write a post soonish.
  2. An Assembly Such As This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain. They come highly recommended by the reader.
  3. I only flipped through a few issues, but they look fantastic (isn't the image I included in this post compelling?). I can't wait until they are collected in book form.
  4. What a perfect word to feature. entail, in the context of Austen's writing, refers to the settlement of the succession of a landed estate, so that it cannot be bequeathed at pleasure by any one possessor. Mr. Bennet as entail of Longbourn (presumably the entail was set up in an ancestor's will) has free use of the estate during his life, but no control over what happens to the estate upon his death.
  5. Sense and Sensbility or Emma depending on mood and inclination.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Life According to Literature (meme)

Another book-related meme that came up on FaceBook (therubycanary of Ruby Ramblings is one of my FB friends; she tagged me):

Using only books you have read this year (2009), answer the following questions. Try not to repeat a book title. It’s a lot harder than you think!

Describe yourself:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

How do you feel:
Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee

Describe where you currently live:
Among the Mad

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
The Sari Shop

Your favorite form of transportation:
The System of Vienna

Your best friend is:
Aspects of Love

You and your friends are:

What’s the weather like:
Snow in August

Your fear:
The Shadow Speaker
far too many good options for this one

What is the best advice you have to give:
The Rest Falls Away

Thought for the day:
Hello, Cruel World

How I would like to die:
God's Mercy

My soul’s present condition:
Reading the OED

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First Impressions

First Impressions by Marilyn Sachs

First Impressions is a very quick read. A friend passed me a copy at lunch today and I'm writing about it this evening.

A young adult novel intended to introduce readers to Jane Austen, First Impressions is an interesting Pride and Prejudice spin-off. The protagonist, Alice, is a highschooler who has to read Pride and Prejudice for her honors English class. At first reading Alice hates Pride and Prejudice, viewing it as tragedy: "Sure, Elizabeth and Jane get their guys, and Lydia makes an exciting, scandalous marriage, and the author hopes that Kitty will turn out okay, but Mary... it's a tragedy for Mary" (1). Incidentally she's the under-appreciated and often-ignored third child in a brood of five.

First Impressions is the story of Alice's rereading of Pride and Prejudice over winter break and how it changes her life. There are some fantastical elements (magic is mentioned), but it is clear that it's the novel (or Austen herself) that wields the transformative power, encouraging Alice to be less of a Mary and more like an Elizabeth or Jane.

I was pleasantly surprised by First Impressions. It's not at all what I expected.

I also really liked this quote from Sachs on the book's dust jacket: "Jane Austen comforts me when times are hard, and she reminds me how funny, precious, and delightful this world is, as well as the people (or most of them) in it".

Tomorrow's our book club meeting so expect more on P&P soon!

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Monday! What are you reading?

This past week I finished reading:As for current reading...
I'm working on The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk.
Next up: The System of Vienna: From Heaven Street to Earth Mound Square by Gert Jonke

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Overnight Male

Overnight Male by Elizabeth Bevarly

I mentioned in this post attending a session at the Society of American Archivists meeting that featured a presentation on sex and sexuality in archives fiction. After the session I requested a couple of the books mentioned in it from BookMooch. There were quite a number of books mentioned in the presentation, but only two were available through the book-trading site.

First up, the romantic suspense novel, Overnight Male...

Overnight Male is the 3rd (and presumably final) book in Elizabeth Bevarly's OPUS* series (after You've Got Male and Express Male), in which the protagonist, one Lila Moreau, finally meets a man who she's able to love.

Lila Moreau, codename She-wolf, is one of OPUS's preeminent agents. She's on the tail of Adrian Padgett, once an OPUS agent himself, who is the single biggest threat to national and international security. She has a plan to take him down on her own until she realizes that OPUS wants her on a short leash: she'll have to work hand in hand with her new partner, Joel Farraday, an OPUS archivist.
And, from their first meeting sexual tension abounds.

I'm not sure, though, if Joel is really an archivist. In Bevarly's world archivists seem to be behind-the-scenes analysts, not those in charge of preserving the records of OPUS.

Overnight Male isn't all that great from a suspense standpoint (the final standoff, if it can even be called that, between the OPUS operatives and Adrian is anti-climatic at best), but it does excel in the romance arena. I think the finale would be even more satisfying for readers who have followed Lila's adventures through the two earlier novels.

* Office for Political Unity and Security

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

I have so much to say about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, "The Classic Regency Romance -- Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!" (title page), that I'm not sure quite where to begin.

Book Club is discussing Pride and Prejudice this month and we thought it might be fun to allow spin-offs since many of us have read P&P before. I'd been curious about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies after all the hype so I that's what I decided to read.

I'll begin by saying that while I do love P&P, I've read quite a few spin-offs before and went into I started Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with an open mind. I understand the premise: there are certain things in Austen's work that could be better(?) explained by the introduction of zombies into the story (like Charlotte deciding to marry Mr. Collins).

In addition class and wealth, in Grahame-Smith's England individuals are judged by their skills in the deadly arts. His Lady Catherine is a famous zombie slayer who advises the royal court on security and looks down on Elizabeth because the Bennett sisters have Chinese martial arts training rather than Japanese.

I can accept that Britain has a zombie infestation and that its citizens need to train themselves to defend the country. It doesn't make sense, however, that Elizabeth and her sisters are sent to the Shaolin Monastery to learn kung fu, let alone that they were able to make the trip to "the Orient" twice. Cost would be prohibitive for the family and travel time similarly unfeasible.

Beyond the fact that the "Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!" is not particularly well integrated into the original storyline, the main problem is that Grahame-Smith isn't able to maintain the essence of Austen despite keeping much of her original text. Mr. Bennett isn't true to character. Elizabeth is surprisingly unsympathetic (Grahame-Smith has her fantasizing about beheading her sister and that's the least of it). I know readers have mixed feelings about some of Austen's heroines (hello Emma), but Lizzy is universally liked.

This is part of a scene that takes place when Elizabeth visits Rosings:
Though discontented with such a beginning, Lady Catherine held the greatest hope for her third and final ninja, the deadliest of the three. But no sooner had she snapped her fingers, than Elizabeth flung her Katana across the dojo, piercing the ninja's chest and pinning him against the wooden column. Elizabeth removed her blindfold and confronted her opponent, who presently clutched the sword handle grasping for breath. She delivered a vicious blow, penetrating his rib cage, and withdrew her hand--with the ninja's still-beating heart in it. As all but Lady Catherine turned away in disgust, Elizabeth took a bite, letting the blood flow down her chin and onto her sparring gown.
"Curious," said Elizabeth, still chewing. "I have tasted many a heart, but I dare say, I find the Japanese ones a bit tender." (131-132)
Not only is this disgusting, but it is completely out of character for Lizzy, even zombie-slayer Lizzy. First of all, why on earth would she kill Lady Catherine's ninja trainers--one by "strangl[ing] him to death with his own large bowel" (130)--when she's just supposed to be sparring? It's practice; they're innocents. Second, eat a still-beating heart in mixed company?!

There are also other inconsistencies, for example: an English housekeeper at Pemberley wears a kimono, but has bound feet. Besides the obvious confusion between Japanese and Chinese culture, a woman with bound feet would be ill-suited for service.

In short, I finished the book, but only because I had to force myself to.

Apparently the same publisher (Quirk Books) has a book called Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters set for a September release. I don't think I'll be reading it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Sisters Mortland

The Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman

As I mentioned last week, when packing for my trip I decided to only take books that I'd be comfortable wild releasing after I was done with them. I'm not sure I should have read another contemporary gothic novel so close on the heels of The Thirteenth Tale (see post), but The Sisters Mortland, which had been languishing on my bookshelves, was one of the ones I packed.

Summer 1967: As an artist paints a portrait of thirteen-year-old Maisie and her older sisters--arrogant, beautiful Julia and brilliant, bookish Finn--Maisie embarks upon a portrait of her own: a secret account of her troubled family and her village friend Daniel. Before the end of the summer, a terrible accident will befall the family.
Winter 1991: As the now-legendary portrait of the Mortland sisters is featured in a London retrospective, Daniel seeks to free himself of his obsession with the mysterious sisters by unraveling the secrets of that fateful summer...

The novel has three sensitive narrators, Maisie, Dan, and Julia. Their accounts are biased and occasionally jumbled and it is only in having them all combined that the truth is revealed. The story of the sisters and that fateful summer is compelling and Beauman draws it out masterfully, offering small clues and teasing hints, only revealing the full extent of the mystery at the novel's end. The tale, however, is haunting.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

word: gamine

I came across the word gamine in Patty Jane's House of Curl by Lorna Landvik (I posted about the book here). I don't recall having seen it before.

gamine (adj.)

The feminine form of gamin (French) originally meaning street urchin.
Gaining popularity, the word was later used more generally to describe mischievous young women, slim, boyish, possibly wide-eyed, teasing and unattainable.
"Attractively pert," The OED adds.
Picture a slim girl with a pixie cut.

A number of reference sites online cite gamine as HarperCollins' word of the year for 1899. My brief search did not find any substantive evidence of this.

Apparently Audrey Hepburn was the quintessential gamine.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's Monday! What are you reading?

This past week I finished reading:and gave up on The Absence of Nectar by Kathy Hepinstall (see post).

As for current reading... I'm just about to finish The Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman after which I'll get back to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk.

traveling, part 4

I'm back in Buffalo after a great trip and good conference, though yesterday was a very long day for me.

I finished Patty Jane's House of Curl by Lorna Landvik and left my copy in the seat pocked of the plane I took from Austin to O'Hare.

I'm glad that I finally got around to read Patty Jane's House of Curl especially since I managed to acquire two copies (in my defense, they had different covers) back in 2006. The novel was different that what I expected. For some reason I was under the impression that it would be more of a comedic novel. I'd never read Landvic before. Her books have interesting titles (like Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons and The Tall Pine Polka) so I guess that's where I got my preconceived notions about the book.

In any case, I thought Patty Jane's House of Curl was a very good book, but also a very sad book despite Landvic's breeziness and humor. The story of Harriet (Patty Jane's sister), in particular, was heartbreaking to me. In Patty Jane's House of Curl, Landvic has created a set of fully realized and memorable characters. The only criticism I have of the novel is that occasionally the descriptions are repetitive (as in the cases when Patty Jane wears dress shoes).

I'm still reading the fourth book I packed for my trip, The Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

PSA: book giveaway

Booklogged at A Reader's Journal is having a drawing for The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

I've been hearing lots about this novel (and it's on the voting list for next year's book club selections), so I'd love to get a copy. Depending on how many comments she gets, Booklogged has up to five copies to give away.

Pop over to this post to enter.

Friday, August 14, 2009

traveling, part 3

As I mentioned earlier in the week, the reason I'm traveling is the Society of American Archivists annual meeting. I went to a couple great sessions this morning, one of which was entitled "Archives After Hours (The Light, Literary, and Lascivious Side of Archives)". It was a decidedly fun session. I'm writing about it because one of the presenters, Arlene Schmuland, talked about sex and sexuality in archives fiction.

I am embarrassed to say that I'd only read one of the books she mentioned in her presentation, The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga. I took lots of notes and will report back as I have a chance to read the books in question. I'm particularly amused by the idea of sexy archivists as protagonists in romance novels.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

traveling, part 2

I chose The Other Queen as my airport bookstore buy because I've read and enjoyed a number of Philippa Gregory's novels (and The Host is not out in paperback yet). I like how Gregory tends to focus on secondary characters (like Anne Boleyn's sister Mary in The Other Boleyn Girl) and themes in British history.

I can't say that The Other Queen is my favorite Gregory book (that honor still belongs to The Constant Princess) or even close, but I did enjoy it.

I'm not sure where Gregory comes down on Mary, Queen of Scots. Her portrayal of Marie Stuart is not particularly sympathetic, but neither is it completely unsympathetic. Though she is one of the three narrators of The Other Queen (and her story is the basis for the novel), Mary is not the star of the novel. The other two narrators--George Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and his wife Bess--are much more significant. After finishing The Other Queen, I have no strong feelings about Mary beyond confusion about her relationship with Bothwell.

What was particularly interesting to me while reading The Other Queen was Gregory's take on William Cecil. It is completely at odds with my impression of Cecil based on Fiona Buckley's Ursula Blanchard mysteries (the first of which is To Shield the Queen). Buckley's opinion of Cecil, while not glowing, is decidedly more positive than Gregory's. This makes me want to delve more into the period to get a better sense of Cecil's character.

I'm not going to wild release The Other Queen because I'm sure that my mom will want to read it.

Edited to add:
I forgot that I wanted to share the opening of the novel:
Every woman should marry for her own advantage since her husband will represent her, as visible as her front door for the rest of his life. If she chooses a wastrel she will be avoided by all her neighbors as a poor woman; catch a duke and she will be Your Grace, and everyone will be her friend. She can be pious, she can be learned, she can be willing and wise and beautiful, but is she is married to a fool she will be "the poor Mrs. Fool" until the day he dies. (1)
That first paragraph is both a taste of Bess and something that made me think of how times have changed and how they've stayed the same.

Monday, August 10, 2009

traveling, part 1

I'm away for a week, visiting family and going to the Society of American Archivists conference. I decided to pack only books that I could wild-release once I was done with them. I stuck two books in my carry-on bag and two in my suitcase.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Sijie Dai

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was a quick read. I left my copy in the seat pocket of the plane at the end of the first leg of my trip.

I didn't enjoy Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress as much as I thought I would. I can't really put my finger on what didn't work for me: the novel was too short? the ending was unexpected and not particularly satisfying? I hadn't previously known all that much about the re-education that went on during the Cultural Revolution so I found that part interesting.

The Absence of Nectar by Kathy Hepinstall

I packed The Absence of Nectar because it was a mass-market paperback. I gave it the old college try (80 pages or so) on the trip. I do enjoy some thrillers, but this one just didn't appeal to me.

I bought a copy of The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory at the bookstore in O'Hare during my unplanned extra-long layover and left my copy of The Absence of Nectar in the seat pocket of the plane on the second leg of my trip.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - Recent

This week's question and last week's question go quite well together.

What’s the funniest book you’ve read recently?

I'm not sure if this book is the funniest, but it's as good an answer as any... I enjoyed Wimbledon Poisoner by Nigel Williams quite a lot. There were parts that made me laugh out loud (I guess I just "get" the author's humor). I'd definitely be interested in reading other books by Williams.

What’s the most serious book you’ve read recently?

Serious fiction? Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

To Night

Indie dyer Rainy Days & Wooly Dogs (etsy shop) has a line of sock yarns that I love called "goth socks." She recently did a small series of colorways inspired by dead poets. I was able to snag this skein, inspired by Percy Shelley's "To night" in a trade. I just had to share.

Swiftly walk o'er the western wave,
Spirit of Night!
Out of the misty eastern cave,--
Where, all the long and lone daylight,
Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear
Which make thee terrible and dear,--
Swift be thy flight!

Wrap thy form in a mantle grey,
Blind with thine hair the eyes of Day;
Kiss her until she be wearied out.
Then wander o'er city and sea and land,
Touching all with thine opiate wand--
Come, long sought!

When I arose and saw the dawn
I sigh'd for thee;
When light rode high, and the dew was gone,
And noon lay heavy on flower and tree,
And the weary Day turn'd to her rest,
Lingering like an unloved guest,
I sigh'd for thee.

Thy brother Death came, and cried,
'Wouldst thou me?'
Thy sweet child Sleep, the filmy-eyed,
Murmur'd like a noontide bee,
'Shall I nestle near thy side?
Wouldst thou me?'--and I replied,
'No, not thee!'

Death will come when thou art dead,
Soon, too soon--
Sleep will come when thou art fled.
Of neither would I ask the boon
I ask of thee, belov├Ęd Night--
Swift be thine approaching flight,
Come soon, soon!

-- Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Monday, August 03, 2009

It's Monday! What are you reading?

This past week I finished reading:
  • The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa (post here)
  • The 5th Horseman by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro, which decidedly does not "[take] the Women's Murder Club to the most terrifying heights of suspense they have yet to encounter" as the dust jacket claims
Reading now:

Sunday, August 02, 2009


I subscribe to quite a few book-related newsletters, but Powell's Review-a-day is most definitely my favorite.

Today's review was of Margaret Atwood's forthcoming The Year of the Flood so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to mention both the newsletter and the novel.

Why don't you go check out the review and maybe subscribe to the newsletter?