Sunday, January 31, 2010

Daugther of Kura

Daughter of Kura by Debra Austin

Daughter of Kura is a coming-of-age story set in southeastern Africa during prehistoric times. Snap's grandmother is the Mother of Kura, the leader of their ukoo. One day Snap will be the clan's Mother, but for now she is concerned with having to choose her winter mate for the first time.

At the end of the summer, the Kura women return to their village from their nomadic harvesting and men from other clans arrive in the hopes of being bonded to one of the Kura women for the winter. While the bonding is usually a cause for celebration, sadness prevails in Snap's kao after the unexpected death of her mother's usual mate. Whistle (Snap's mother) chooses a newcomer named Bapoto who is famed for his hunting skills, while Snap chooses a young long-walker named Ash.

While Snap and Ash seem to be a perfect match, there is tension in the kao. Bapoto has strange ideas and is constantly talking about the Great One. He encouraged the men to perform rituals before their hunts. He expects others to thank the Great One for any and all blessings and becomes upset with anyone who does not acquiesce to his request. He also begins to receive visions from the Great One, which only he can interpret. After the death of Snap's grandmother, Whistle becomes Mother and Bapoto the highest ranking male. In his new position Bapoto is able to exert much more control over the people of Kura. When Snap questions Bapoto one too many times, she must risk her life to be true to herself and her ukoo's traditions.

Daughter of Kura was very slow going for me at the start (this was confounded by the fact that the majority of the characters have sound names like rustle and warble making it difficult for me to keep the secondary characters straight), but once I got into the story, I found it very compelling. Despite the fact that Snap is in many ways very different from the reader, she is surprisingly sympathetic.

The world Austin imagines for Snap and the rest of the Kura is finely-wrought and her author's note serves to put it in context. Austin notes that "the geologic features, technologies, and social systems that form the structure of [the protagonist's] life are constructed from a combination of reasonably secure scientific facts, plausible theories, and wild (but not provably wrong) speculation" (303).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Second Thyme Around

Second Thyme Around by Katie Fforde

For years, things have run quite smoothly for Perdita and her organic gardening business. So what if her hair needs a complete overhaul, her sweater has more holes than Swiss cheese, and there's no hope of a boyfriend on the horizon? The last thing Perdita wants is a meddlesome man in her life--but she's about to get one, in the form of her completely infuriating ex-husband, Lucas. Lucas is disagreeable, curt, arrogant, and smolderingly gorgeous. He's also the new chef at Grantly House, Perdita's number-one customer. Worse, Mr. Grantly has the insane idea of starting a television cooking show that will put Lucas and Perdita together as "The Gourmet and the Gardener." Now, things are heating up in the kitchen--and elsewhere. With the bright lights blazing and old feelings stirring the pot, it could be a recipe for disaster...or absolute delight.

Second Thyme Around is a quick, but enjoyable read. Beyond the usual chick lit hate-turned-to-romance, there's a secondary plot about the death of a loved one and the drama caused by the unexpected appearance of a long-lost relation with his eyes on the estate.

Perdita is a sympathetic character and is much less obtuse than chick lit heroines can sometimes be. Perdita's neighbor Kitty despite being a secondary character is really the star of the show. Kitty (and her storyline) adds so much depth to the novel.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Night Villa

We discussed The Night Villa by Carol Goodman at our book club meeting yesterday. I've read quite a few of Goodman's other novels--The Drowning Tree, The Ghost Orchid, The Lake of Dead Languages, and The Seduction of Water--and I love how atmospheric they are.

The eruption of Italy’s Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 buried a city and its people, including their treasures and secrets. Classics professor Sophie Chase travels to the beautiful island of Capri in to unravel the secrets of one unusual household, immersing herself in a culture simultaneously fascinating and frightening.

Beneath layers of volcanic ash lies the
Villa della Notte, home to first-century nobles who engaged in pagan rituals and a slave girl named Iusta whose life may have ended during the eruption—or may have helped to alter the course of Italy’s religious history. As Sophie and her team piece together Iusta’s story, they unearth a subterranean labyrinth and a set of invaluable antique documents believed lost to the ages. But for both women, suspicion, fear, and danger lurk in the tunnels and chambers beneath the estate. As Iusta races to escape Vesuvius’s impending fury, Sophie rushes to uncover what happened to Iusta before all traces of her life disappear—or are erased.

With parallel modern/historical storylines and some unexpected twists, The Night Villa provided lots to discuss: the role and treatment of women during the Classical period, how difficult it was to figure out who the "bad" and "good" guys were during the story (I'll admit that I didn't suspect the real informer), the role of religion in the story, why certain characters acted the way that they did, the portrayal of the ancient manuscript deciphering and translation (and how authentic it was), how we left about the opening of the novel and whether that scene was really necessary, our take on Phineas (the Roman traveler whose scroll the team has uncovered), the ancient cult and its rites, etc.

One of the most interesting things to me was the Pythagorean cult (Tetractys), that features predominantly in the current-day portion of the book. After finishing The Night Villa, I did a little research because I wondered whether the Tetractys was a real cult. It's not, which makes Goodman's imagining of it all the more wonderful.

The book starts out with a bang, then proceeds agonizingly slowly, picking up once Sophie is in Italy. I can't say that I loved The Night Villa, but it's definitely interesting and I have recommended it to at least one classicist in my life.

For another take on The Night Villa, see this blog post by another one of our book club members.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

word: blue-stocking

As I'm sure I've made abundantly clear, I find Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street series thoroughly enchanting. One of the series' main characters is frequently described as a "blue-stocking," a term I'd never heard before.

From the OED:
Blue Stocking lady: orig. one who frequented [Elizabeth] Montague's "Blue Stocking" assemblies; thence transferred sneeringly to any woman showing a taste for learning, a literary lady. (Much used by reviewers of the first quarter of the 19th c.; but now, from the general change of opinion on the education of women, nearly abandoned.)
Like librarians, these intellectual women were considered dowdy. Apparently the term blue-stocking is in reference to that frumpiness. In the mid-1700s, one should be out and about in fashionable black silk stockings, rather than hose knit of blue worsted-weight wool.

For more on the term, check out World Wide Words' take on it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Monday! What are you reading?

This week I finished reading:Here are the books that I have in progress and am attempting to read:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blue Bloods

Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

Melissa de la Cruz has a really interesting take on the origins of the vampires (blue bloods, as opposed to the human red bloods), but Blue Bloods (the first in a series) spends far too much time on the usual dramas of upper-crust New York teens before getting into the meatier part of its story.

The novel's protagonist is Schuyler Van Alen, a sophomore at the prestigious NYC prep school, whose influential family is down on its luck. An natural outsider, Schuyler is forced to involve herself with members of the school's most notorious clique when she learns that she is coming of age as a vampire just like many of the most popular kids at school. When teens begin to die under mysterious circumstance, Schuyler realizes that the vampire elders may be concealing something.

Blue Bloods is definitely not one of the best teen vampire books, but I am interested in seeing how the storyline will play out in the subsequent books.

Monday, January 18, 2010

It's Monday! What are you reading?

This week I finished reading:Here are the books that I have in progress and am attempting to read:

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Lucky by Alice Sebold

"In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheater, a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was lucky."

I'd had Lucky sitting on my bookshelf for over three years now. I got it after reading The Lovely Bones, an absolutely fantastic novel (see post), but I was reluctant to start reading it because, based on the subject matter, I expected it to be a very difficult read. I needed a non-fiction title for January's book of the month so I decided to give it a chance. When I did, I was pleasantly surprised. While Lucky is not a fun read, it was much less arduous than I expected it to be. That's not to say that the memoir isn't both brutally honest and graphic.

Lucky begins with the rape, but its scope is much broader. Readers follow Sebold through her recovery, the rapist's trial, revelations of other rapes (both close to home and not), and what might be the most horrific thing of all. Through it all Sebold's openness and honesty is what makes the book accessible.

I'll be posting about Lucky on the student services blog next week.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's Monday! What are you reading?

This week I finished reading:Here are the books that I have in progress and am attempting to read:

Friday, January 08, 2010

Friday Find #10

Have I mentioned lately how much I like Powell's Review a Day?
Here's another fantastic-sounding book I've discovered through the Review a Day mailings:

The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming

An incredibly original, intelligent novel — a love story set against New York City at the dawn of the mechanical age, featuring Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, and J. P. Morgan.

After discovering an old photograph, an elderly antiques dealer living in present-day Los Angeles is forced to revisit the history he has struggled to deny. The photograph depicts a man and a woman. The man is Peter Force, a young frontier adventurer who comes to New York City in 1901 and quickly lands a job digging the first subway tunnels beneath the metropolis. The woman is Cheri-Anne Toledo, a beautiful mathematical prodigy whose memories appear to come from another world. They meet seemingly by chance, and initially Peter dismisses her as crazy. But as they are drawn into a tangle of overlapping intrigues, Peter must reexamine Cheri-Anne's fantastic story. Could it be that she is telling the truth and that she has stumbled onto the most dangerous secret imaginable: the key to traveling through time?

Set against the mazelike streets of New York at the dawn of the mechanical age, Peter and Cheri-Anne find themselves wrestling with the nature of history, technology, and the unfolding of time itself.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Espresso Tales

Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith

Espresso Tales is the second book in the 44 Scotland Street series (see my post on the first book, 44 Scotland Street, here. I've been listening to the audio (just finished it yesterday) and I just can't get over how much I like the series. I've already started the third book Love Over Scotland and am already a bit worried about running out of books in the series. McCall Smith has only published five 44 Scotland Street books and none since 2008 so it would seem that book number five will be the last in the series.

Monday, January 04, 2010

It's Monday! What are you reading?

This week I finished reading:Here are the books that I have in progress and am attempting to read:

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Adventures of Cecy and Kate

I just finished reading Sorcery and Cecilia and The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. I'd been looking forward to reading the books since I first got my hands on The Grand Tour, but I had to wait until I got a copy of Sorcery and Cecilia. I enjoyed the books very much, but I though the first book was definitely better than the second (which I assume was written because the first was so successful).

The novels are set in a Regency England in which magic is part of everyday life. Sorcery and Cecilia is an epistolary novel. The two main characters, cousins Cecilia and Kate, are separated when Kate is sent to London for her debut season. In addition to the usual society drama and difficulties finding appropriate husbands, there are two evil wizards that whose plans need thwarting.

The Grand Tour follows Cecy and Kate on their honeymoons. Because the two take a joint honeymoon, instead of letters the novel is narrated through Kate's diary entries and excerpts from a deposition given by Cecilia. I don't think the story works quite so well without the characters interacting the way they did through the letters.