Monday, June 28, 2010

weekly reading recap

This week I finished reading:I'm actively reading: I also have quite a few others books in progress including: Chef, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, Knitlit (Too), and Saint Julian.


Juliet by Anne Fortier

The story of Romeo and Juliet did not begin with William Shakespeare. Earlier versions of the story hail from Siena rather than "fair Verona, where we lay our scene." That earlier, lesser-known history of Romeo and Juliet was the inspiration for Anne Fortier's debut novel, Juliet (to be released next month).

The action of Juliet jumps between the14th century and the present. The 14th century storyline is that of the true Juliet, Giulietta Tolomei, a daughter of one of two feuding Sienese families. The novel’s protagonist, however, is Julie Jacobs, a descendant of Giulietta Tolomei's twin sister who is cast in the role of a reincarnated Juliet.

After the death of the aunt who raised her, Julie travels to Italy to uncover a secret birthright. As Julie follows the clues left behind by her mother, who believed that there was indeed "a plague on both your houses" that needed to be rectified, the story of the historical Juliet unfolds.

I found Juliet to be a compelling read although I had quite a few problems with it. For example, the relationship between Julie and her twin sister Janice changes drastically and inexplicably at one point in the book.

The shifts between present and past were handled well, but the modern-day plot was at times overly complex (to the point where we as readers could lose track of what the characters were after). As a first-time author, I think Fortier tried to take on a bit too much. Juliet is a historic romantic thriller, that’s also a reinterpretation of a classic. It would be difficult for even a seasoned novelist to balance the myriad aspects of the story.

The Julie as modern-day Juliet is far too overt. This kind of device functions far better when the protagonist is not aware of their role. To my mind when Julie meets her first love interest, the relationship should be able to develop naturally rather than for her to be second-guessing it because of her role in the story (ie. “if I’m Juliet, are you Romeo or Paris?”).

Finally, as an archivist I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the scenes in the archives were completely unrealistic. That being said, archives and special collections libraries are rarely portrayed accurately in fiction.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

book clubbing in June (1 of 2)

Graphic novel month for the library book club...

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley

We read the first collection of Linda Medley's Eisner Award-winning comic-book series, Castle Waiting. I had to rush through it a bit as I didn't get my hands on a copy until last Monday (book club meeting was on Wednesday), but I enjoyed it nevertheless. And, I'm happy to report that the general consensus of book club members was positive as well.

Castle Waiting begins with a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. After the princess awakes, she runs off with her prince leaving her castle waiting for new tenants. The castle becomes well-known as a refuge and the series follows the stories of the individuals who find their home in it.

Castle Waiting is full of literary references both overt and subtle. As I was reading I kept thinking that I wasn't catching everything making me think that the volume could stand up to many rereadings.

The collected volume ends at a bit of a weird place, leaving it unbalanced as a stand-alone: far too of the narrative is spent on the backstory of one of the characters. That being said, full backstories of the other characters should be forthcoming in the next volume.

I was intrigued by the order of bearded nuns (apparently this idea has some basis in history) and by Lady Jain (I really wanted to know more about her and how she came to be in the situation she was in). I loved the little hobgoblins that infested the castle (especially the one that looks after the baby).

My biggest complaint had to do with the format. The pages were shrunk down to fit into a binding that looks very much like one of the Series of Unfortunate Events books (evident from the image I chose for this post). Our resident graphic novel expert brought his copies of the Castle Waiting comics and flipping through them I realized just how much the reduced page and panel size changed the experience of reading the story.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Angels by Marian Keyes

The only one of her siblings not burdened with the "diva gene," Maggie Walsh always prided herself on her normalcy --until she caught her irreproachable husband having an affair and was sacked from her dependable job. Suddenly her perfectly organized existence has become a perfect mess. Rather than stew in her sorrow, she decides, for the first time in her life, to do something daring — and flees to the shelter of her best friend Emily in the faraway wonderland of Los Angeles. In this mecca of tanned, beautiful bodies, unsvelte, uncool Maggie is decidedly a fish out of water. Yet overnight, she's mixing with film folk, pitching scripts, even experimenting with sex — and discovering that the end of a marriage is not the end of everything. And before she's through, neither the City of Angels nor Maggie Walsh will ever be the same again.

I decided to read this book because I was in the mood for something light. I got it at a recent bookcrossing meetup after I'd noticed a dearth of chick lit books on my shelves.

Angels was a relatively quick read. I wouldn't say it's a fantastic novel, but I did like how the author provided a substantive backstory for her protagonist and how she revealed that history throughout the course of the novel.

I don't think I've read Keyes before, but apparently two of Maggie's sisters are protagonists in other Keyes novels (Rachel's Holiday and Watermelon).

Monday, June 21, 2010

weekly reading recap

This week I finished reading:I also posted about Paradise Beneath Her Feet by Isobel Coleman.

I'm actively reading: I also have quite a few others books in progress including: Chef, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, Knitlit (Too), and Saint Julian.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Paradise Beneath her Feet

It's book-of-the-month time for the student services blog...

Paradise Beneath Her Feet* by Isobel Coleman

Subtitled "how women are transforming the Middle East," Paradise Beneath Her Feet has as its focus Islamic feminism and its proponents. Its author, Isobel Coleman, is a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations where she is director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program.

While many would argue that secularization is the only sure means for achieving gender equality in the Middle East, many men and women throughout the Islamic world are working for women’s rights within the religion rather than trying to dislodge it. By seeking progressive interpretations of Islamic texts, they are able to use Islam as a force for women’s empowerment.

In Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Coleman first lays a groundwork for understanding women’s issues in the Middle East. She outlines the importance of women’s empowerment, the rise of Islamism within the region, and the tensions inherent in any attempt to modernize. After describing the genesis of Islamic feminism, Coleman focuses on the work of female activists in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. She concludes this scholarly but readable book on a positive note recognizing that cultural change is slow but inevitable.

While Paradise Beneath Her Feet does not seem to discuss how Islamic feminism will affect the non-Muslim women living in these countries, it is still a useful introduction to this brand of activism.

*On pages xxvi and xxvii Coleman discusses how the hadith (a saying of Muhammad or a report about something he did) that inspired the title can and has been interpreted in a number of different ways both pro- and anti-gender equity.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

another reason I love Powell's

Here's another fantastic-sounding book I've discovered through the Powell's Review a Day mailings:

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse.
On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother's homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother's emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother — her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother — tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.
The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden — her mother's life outside the home, her father's detachment, her brother's clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them. It is heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad, and confirms Aimee Bender's place as "a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language." (
San Francisco Chronicle).

Here's a link to the Review-a-Day post.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is definitely going to my to-read list.

Monday, June 14, 2010

weekly reading recap

This week I finished reading:I'm actively reading: I also have quite a few others books in progress including: Chef, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, Knitlit (Too), and Saint Julian.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Host

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

I read and wasn't terribly impressed by the Twilight series (see post; I hated book 4, Breaking Dawn, so much that I didn't want to post about it1). Because of that while I was intrigued by the premise of The Host, I didn't bother to seek it out before it was released in paperback.

I picked up a copy of The Host in an airport bookstore last week after I finished the only book I'd packed (A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé) sooner than expected. I have to say that I really enjoyed it.

Meyer's take on the aliens was interesting (the species colonizing the Earth as well as the others described by Wanderer). The story was compelling despite focusing a bit too much on the romance. And I found both protagonists sympathetic (Wanderer a bit more than Melanie, at least to me). I think Meyer took the easy way out with the ending. That being said, I have to admit that the ending was satisfying.

The Host is the library book club's March 2011 selection, but I think I'd hang onto my copy of the novel anyway. I may even decide to reread it between now and March anyway.
  1. what I would have written would have been full of spoilers and I try to avoid that as much as possible because I don't think it's fair to other readers

Thursday, June 10, 2010

book clubbing in May, part 2

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

I'd never heard about The Woman in White until its title appeared in the voting list for my online book club. I was quite intrigued when I learned that The Woman in White is generally considered the first English sensation novel. I was also extremely pleased to find that Librivox offers an audio version of the novel in their catalog.

I really enjoyed the book despite its length (The Woman in White is a behemoth). I was the discussion leader for May and I overdid it a bit with the questions (18 in total) after finding a few different discussion guides (1, 2, 3).

Just a few comments on the novel (things I can write about without including spoilers):

The Woman in White was first published as a serial so it makes sense that it reads a bit like a television show. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot, no real red herrings, but definitely some events I never saw coming.

I had a really difficult time relating to Laura who I thought was far too passive to be considered the heroine - things happen to her, but she rarely does anything to shape events (also, she's never a narrator). Marian on the other hand is an active participant in both the story and the events that unfold within it.

Anne (as titular character) not being a bigger part of the story was one of my disappointments about the book. Then again, now that I think about it, the titular character is the "woman in white" and Laura fills that role for at least part of the narrative so maybe that complaint is really a moot point.

I really liked the fact that the story was told from multiple viewpoints and diverse narrators. This technique allows readers to see the motivations of individual characters without the use of an omniscient narrator.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

recent reading

I haven't felt motivated to post much on the blog recently because I've been having bad luck with my reading selections. There are lots of books that I've started and not finished. Some I've intentionally given up others are simply languishing partially read in one area of the house or other. Of the books I have finished it seems like I've felt decidedly ambivalent about the majority of them.

Last week I decided that I needed a bit of a pick-me-up so I grabbed my copy of The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde off the shelf. The Eyre Affair is the first book in the Thursday Next series, which is one of my favorites.

With this post I may be speaking too soon, but it does seem like with that reread my reading luck has reversed. I genuinely enjoyed reading my latest Library Journal review assignment, A Novel Bookstore. When I finished that book sooner than expected while out of town and away from my book collection I picked up a copy of Stephenie Meyer's The Host. I'm really enjoying The Host. It's much better than the Twilight books.