Monday, March 29, 2010

weekly reading recap

I finished two books this week: I'm currently reading:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

book clubbing in March

Fantasy this month for book club!

Blue Girl by Charles de Lint

When Imogene, her mother, and her brother move to Newford, she decides to reinvent herself — this time she won't go looking for trouble.
She quickly gets to know two very different people. Maxine is a "good girl," following a strict life plan. Imogene helps Maxine loosen up and break a few rules, and in turn Maxine keeps her on the straight and narrow.
Imogene's other new friend is a little more unusual. His name is Adrian. He is a ghost. Adrian was killed when he jumped off the high school roof in 1998, and hasn't left since. He has a huge crush on her — so much so that he wants her to see the fairies that also haunt the school. The fairies invade Imogene's dreams, blurring the line between the unreal and the real. When her imaginary childhood friend Pelly actually manifests, Imogene knows something is terribly wrong. With Maxine, Adrian, and Pelly's help, Imogene challenges the dark forces of Faery.

I was really pleased when Blue Girl ended up on our reading list for book club. I've been reading de Lint since middle/high school (though I have to admit that it's been a while since I cracked one of his books open) and I've had a copy of Blue Girl sitting on my shelf since Russell bought it off my wishlist a couple of years ago.

Blue Girl got mixed reviews from the book club members, though I am happy to report that at least two of the book club members expressed interest in reading more de Lint. I liked Blue Girl, but I have to say that I thought that the ending was a bit anticlimactic.

During our meeting we discussed
  • fantasy as a genre and urban fantasy as a subgenre (and I did a horrible job of explaining how urban fantasy has changed over time),
  • what makes a YA/teen novel,
  • whether we related more to the teenage characters or to their mothers,
  • how we felt about the mothers (both in terms of their authenticity and whether we agreed with their outlooks),
  • the nature of the faeries in novel, specifically the brownies/house faeries and how they were similar to house elves in the Harry Potter books,
  • why Imogene has such difficulties believing in faeries when Adrian first tells her about them,
  • the nature and role of angels in Blue Girl and how different it is from how angels are normally portrayed,
  • how the various characters developed over the course of the novel,
  • whether there was a happy ending for Adrian, and
  • how we felt about certain decisions that Imogene makes during the course of the story, among other things.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Casting Off

Casting Off by Nicole R. Dickson

Academic Rebecca Moray receives a grant to do study both the history of Aran sweaters and the techniques and stories behind them. Her best friend Sharon grew up on the island* and Rebecca has been dreaming of this research trip for years. She also hopes that three months away will help ground her 6-year-old daughter Rowan, whose childhood has been marred by the loss of her father and frequent moves made necessary by Rebecca's career.

As soon as she and Rowan step off the dock, Rebecca begins to realize that she'll be getting more than she bargained from this trip. Everyone greets her and Rowan by name, treating them like long-lost relatives, but they all have very clear ideas about what Rebecca should be doing with her time. Amid all the friendly interference, the only cold reception comes from Sean Morahan, an enigmatic and troubled old man.

Casting Off is the story of Rebecca's research trip, of how the people of the island changed both Rebecca and her daughter, and how the Morays, in turn, changed them.

I originally wanted to read Casting Off because it is a knitting novel. I'm happy to report that it was much better that I expected to be. The story has real meat, the characters are sympathetic, the setting is bucolic and well-described, the knitting tidbits are interesting (the author even has a blog dedicated to the stitches featured in the novel), and the nothing that happens in the course of the novel is too terribly implausible.

I'm loaning my copy to a friend, but after that I think I'll keep it around for a while because I'm pretty sure that I'll want to re-read it.

* Casting Off is set on an unspecified Aran isle.

Monday, March 22, 2010

weekly reading recap

Finished this week: Reading now:

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Recently I forced Russell to read The Handmaid's Tale (Atwood) so it seemed only fair that I read one of the books he's been wanting me to read.

Exodus by Leon Uris

Russell likes Exodus because its plot is compelling (particularly with the inclusion of the various characters' backstories) and it's pretty accurate. He also appreciates the fact that Uris covers some parts of the history that are usually completely overlooked (like the evacuation of all the Yemeni Jews). When he first read the novel, it compelled him to do research on his own to find out what actually happened.

I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated by Exodus's page count especially when coupled with its small text and narrow margins. But, while it's not a novel you can tackle in one afternoon, Exodus is not a difficult read. That's not to say that there aren't some sections that are hard to read, but that's to be expected given the subject matter.

Overall I thought Exodus was a very good read. Uris is heavy-handed at time and the romantic aspect of the story is unexpectedly tame, but neither of these things keeps Exodus from being an extremely compelling read. The inclusion of the main characters' various backstories (in one case going back generations) is the novel's biggest strength, not only do those stories provide context for the individual characters, they also provide a framework for understanding the broader history of the Jews.

Reading Exodus also made me realize how much I don't know about the foundation of the nation of Israel.

Russell says, now you have to read Trinity...

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Girl with Glass Feet

The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

I was really pleased when I was offered an advanced reader copy of Ali Shaw's debut novel. I was intrigued by the synopsis. It seemed like just the kind of book I enjoy most.

The Girl with Glass Feet is the story of Midas Crook, a young man who uses his camera to shield him from the world, and Ida Maclaird, the titular character (and if there is a single protagonist it is Midas not Ida). The novel is also very much concerned with its setting, the strange, snowbound archipelago of St. Hauda's Land. The Girl with Glass Feet is a love story and a fairy tale; its also a bildungsroman.

I found The Girl with Glass Feet extremely compelling and I know it's a novel that I will want to read again. While my favorite thing about the novel were the descriptions of the creatures that Henry (a secondary character) is raising, I was also intrigued by the fate of Midas' father's manuscript and the implications of said fate.

The Girl with Glass Feet is atmospheric and sometimes dreamlike. It's not a cheery book, but it is ultimately redemptive. St. Hauda's Land is vividly imagined and hauntingly beautiful. The novel's characters, even when faced with the impossible, are authentic.

When asked about his inspiration for the novel, he replied:
I remember being on an escalator in a railway station when I suddenly saw in my mind a girl with feet made of glass. I couldn’t tell you whether something prompted it – the image is the most vivid thing I can remember about that railway station. I got home and started exploring it, asking what kind of person had feet made of glass, and how on earth would she cope? And I loved the idea that she hadn’t always had feet of glass, but that slowly they had transformed into it. Which of course meant the rest of her body was in danger of turning into glass as well.
Shaw's sketches for the book on the publisher's website. The sketches don't appear in my advanced reader copy and I'm not sure that they'll appear in the published version, but they are quite interesting to see.

The Floating Brothel

Nonfiction for the student services blog this month...

The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an Eighteenth-Century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts
by Sian Rees

The convict ship Lady Julia set sail from England in 1789. Its cargo was a bevy of “disorderly girls”, unemployed women reduced to petty thievery or prostitution, who had been sentenced to “Transportation to Parts Beyond the Seas.” These women were destined for Sydney Cove in New South Wales to provide companionship and children for the many male convicts already peopling the area.

Ostensibly the true story of the voyage, The Floating Brothel is also a work of imagination. Rees admits that the primary sources available to her were limited and that she relied heavily on probably-unreliable diaries of one of the ship’s crew. That being said, she does a fantastic job of bringing the 18th century to life for her readers. And, while The The Floating Brothel is not as salacious as its title suggests, it is a fascinating read.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Broken Glass Park

A review that appears in the latest issue of Library Journal...

Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky

This debut novel, which was nominated for the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, reveals a strong voice that's simultaneously biting and accessible.
Its narrator, precocious 17-year-old Sacha, lives in a housing project in Berlin populated by Russian immigrants. She's at the top of the class in her exclusive private school and has two goals in life: to kill her stepfather and to write a book about her mother tentatively titled "The Story of an Idiotic, Redheaded Woman Who Would Still Be Alive if Only She Had Listened to Her Smart, Oldest Daughter." This modern coming-of-age story follows Sacha as she interacts with the characters that populate her world and ventures further afield.

It is unfortunate that Bronsky's depiction of the immigrant community veers into stereotype because, as an émigré herself, she is uniquely situated to critique her fellow travelers. Additionally, while translator Mohr's prose is pitch-perfect, the way his notes are inserted in the text distracts from the flow of the narrative.

Broken Glass Park is the kind of book one expects to see on high school reading lists. It faces difficult issues head-on and its edginess will appeal to teens.

Monday, March 15, 2010

weekly reading recap

I only finished one book this week: Vampyres of Hollywood by Adrienne Barbeau and Michael Scott (see post).

Reading now:

word: mondegreen

A mondegreen is the mishearing or misinterpretation of a oft-heard phrase (usually something like a line in a poem or a song lyric), due to near homophony,* in a way that gives it a new meaning.
"Our Father who art in Heaven, Harold be his name" for
"Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be his name"

The term mondegreen was coined by Sylvia Wright in a 1954 Atlantic article. As a child Sylvia had listened to a folk song that included the lines "They had slain the Earl of Moray / And laid him on the green," which she'd misheard as "They had slain the Earl of Moray / And Lady Mondegreen."

* the linguistic phenomenon whereby words of different origins become identical in pronunciation

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Vampyres of Hollywood

Vampyres of Hollywood
by Adrienne Barbeau and Michael Scott

Hollywood, California: three gruesome deaths within two weeks and every one of them a major star - an Oscar winner, an ingenue, and an action hero. A serial killer is working through the Hollywood A-list and celebrities are running scared.
Each crime scene is worthy of a classic horror movie, and all three victims share a connection to the powerful scream queen, Ovsanna Moore. The stunning and formidable Moore is the legendary head of a Hollywood studio, as well as the writer and star of seventeen blockbuster horror films (and a few that went straight to DVD).
She's also a 500 year old vampyre... but this is Hollywood after all, and no one ever looks their age.
Beverly Hills Police Detective Peter King knows a lot about the City of Angels, but he certainly doesn't know that most of the famous actors in town are actually an established network of vampires. Or that secretive and seductive Ovsanna Moore happens to be their CEO.
Moore and King may be from opposite sides of the Hollywood Hills, but both have something to gain by stopping the killer who the tabloids have dubbed the Cinema Slayer. Ovsanna must protect her vampire legacy and her production schedule, while King just wants to keep his Beverly Hills beat as blood-free as possible. But when the horror queen and the cop with the movie star looks form an unholy alliance, sparks fly and so do the creatures of the night.

Vampyres of Hollywood showed up this week courtesy of BookMooch, a book trading site. Because its a "light" book, it got read right away (like most of the "light" or "fluffy" books that have come through our door lately).

A paranormal mystery set in the glamorous and tawdry world of Hollywood, Vampyres of Hollywood is both funny and gory. I'm not sure the authors' take on vampires is particularly novel (different types of vampires with different kinds of skills, vampires that change as they age, a society full of rules and complex power structures), but I enjoyed the idea of real vampires as the creators of vampire mythology and how the authors made connections with famous and historical personages (though there may be a bit too much name-dropping).

The narrative flip-flops between Ovsanna and Detective King and that change of perspective with each chapter is what propels the narrative along. That being said, Vampyres of Hollywood isn't so much of a page-turner that I had to stay up late to finish it. I didn't find the novel compelling. The writing isn't that great, it's finale tied things up too quickly, and the romance seemed tacked on at the end. Lackluster, in a word.

Monday, March 08, 2010

weekly reading report

Books finished this week:Reading now:

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian, Kostova's debut novel, was published to much acclaim in 2005. The novel is full of archival research (what I mean here is that the characters spend lots of time in archives, not that Kostova did archival research for the novel though maybe she did) so it's been on my must-read list. It's just taken me years to get around to it.

I started reading the 642-page novel last weekend. I didn't mind that it was long and mired in historical detail (like others have), I was just a bit disappointed in the ending. With all the build-up, the final encounter was a bit anticlimactic. Not to mention the fact that the climax, short-term tie-up, and epilogue are all accomplished in 25 pages. After reading 600+ pages of build-up, I felt a bit robbed.

There were a number of things I liked about the novel: the prominence of archives,* the fact that main characters were sympathetic (and many of the secondary characters full-bodied and interesting), pondering the meaning of the title (who is the historian), and the epigraphs. I enjoyed the interplay of the two storylines, but while I was following Helen and Paul I was wondering what the narrator was up to (and vice versa). That tension, wanting to know what was going to happen (especially wanting to find out what became of the narrator's mother) is what kept me reading, but based on my general dissatisfaction with the ending I don't think I'd recommend The Historian.

* One thing that I just have to share -
Dracula: "I will put many archivists at your disposal--the finest of them--and you shall bring more under our power" (577). Yes! who wouldn't want to serve evil if they were promised an army of archivists.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Friday Find #12

I'd heard about this book last month, but was reminded about it again today.

After reading all the dire predictions* of Taiga (courtesy of a thread on the ExLibris listserv), I was cheered to see How Librarians Can Save The World (an an NPR review of This Book is Overdue) shared by one of my friends on FaceBook.

Below is the publisher's blurb, but there's also an excerpt from This Book is Overdue available on the NPR site underneath Heller McAlpin's review.

This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All
by Marilyn Johnson

Buried in info? Cross-eyed over technology? From the bottom of a pile of paper and discs, books, e-books, and scattered thumb drives comes a cry of hope: Make way for the librarians They want to help. They're not selling a thing. And librarians know best how to beat a path through the googolplex sources of information available to us, writes Marilyn Johnson, whose previous book, The Dead Beat, breathed merry life into the obituary-writing profession.
This Book is Overdue is a romp through the ranks of information professionals and a revelation for readers burned out on the cliches and stereotyping of librarians. Blunt and obscenely funny bloggers spill their stories in these pages, as do a tattooed, hard-partying children's librarian; a fresh-scrubbed Catholic couple who teach missionaries to use computers; a blue-haired radical who uses her smartphone to help guide street protestors; a plethora of voluptuous avatars and cybrarians; the quiet, law-abiding librarians gagged by the FBI; and a boxing archivist. These are just a few of the visionaries Johnson captures here, pragmatic idealists who fuse the tools of the digital age with their love for the written word and the enduring values of free speech, open access, and scout-badge-quality assistance to anyone in need.
Those who predicted the death of libraries forgot to consider that in the automated maze of contemporary life, none of us--neither the experts nor the hopelessly baffled--can get along without human help. And not just any help--we need librarians, who won't charge us by the question or roll their eyes, no matter what we ask. Who are they? What do they know? And how quickly can they save us from being buried by the digital age?

* Taiga Forum Provocative Statements (2006) and Taiga 4 Forum Provocative Statements (2009)

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood was on campus on Wednesday as part of the University's Distinguished Speakers Series.

I went to hear her speak and I have to say that it really wasn't what I expected. Atwood herself was funnier than I imagined. Her talk was on the short side and its topic was "questions people have asked me and their answers" so the whole program ended up being like one huge question-and-answer session.

What she chose to include in her talk was interesting, particularly her discussion of how the questions she's usually asked have changed over the years. She touched on her hair, feminism, speculative fiction, and hope. Her answer to the question of which of her characters is most like her is Zenia from The Robber Bride because she's a pathological liar who's able to spin tales appropriate to her audience.

The audience questions covered a variety of topics. Atwood was asked about her arctic vacations and whether she had any advice for graduate students. Individuals requested that she comment about one character or another and share her feelings about the film adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale (she wishes they'd release an original cut because the voice-over bits were cut out and, while she understood that they had to change the ending, she didn't think what they decided to do was logical).

When Atwood was asked which genre she prefers to write she answered that if she really and truly enjoyed one more than the others that'd be the only genre in which she'd write. She continued that the bit of writing that she finds most difficult is the book review. As a result she reviews infrequently and only books that she likes. She mentioned reviewing E.O. Wilson's first novel Anthill.

She was also asked which authors she always snaps up: Alice Munro and Hilary Mantel. She also threw in a plug for Yann Martel's new book, Beatrice and Virgil (forthcoming in April).

When asked about the impending death of the book (in the wake of e-readers), Atwood mentioned that she'd written a post on her blog detailing three reasons to keep paper books: solar storms, energy shortages, and internet overload.

Books that were mentioned in the program (ordered, more or less, from most-mentioned to least) were The Handmaid's Tale, The Year of the Flood (which we'd expected her to talk more about than she did), Oryx and Crake, The Robber Bride, and Alias Grace. Atwood mentioned her poetry, but generally.

Of course I can't mention everything here, but that was a taste of it.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

word: alack

Who doesn't like a good interjection? I know I do.

The word alack popped up in a book I'm reading (The Historian I think, though it could have been in The Blue Girl) and it seemed like a good word to feature. The phrase "alas and alack" comes to mind, but in the novel, alack was used on its own.

Alack is used to express sorrow, regret, or alarm

The OED adds:
Especially in phrases alack the day! alack-a-day! originally ‘Shame or reproach to the day! Woe worth the day!’ but in later usage of mere surprise, and aphetized* lack-a-day!
* aphetize, another good word. A linguistic term: having undergone aphesis (the removal of an unstressed initial vowel).

Monday, March 01, 2010

Weekly Reading Report

Books finished this week:
  • Abhorsen by Garth Nix (3rd in the Abhorsen Trilogy; see post)
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
    one of my favorite books. I've convinced Russell to give it a try and will post about his reaction and our discussions after he's done
  • Lirael by Garth Nix (2nd in the Abhorsen Trilogy)
  • Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
    our February book club selection; see post
The two books that I'm actively reading now are The Book of Lost Books by Stuart Kelly and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.