Friday, September 17, 2010

97 Orchard

While browsing through the library's list of recent acquisitions for ideas for September's book of the month, I came across one that sounded absolutely fascinating...

97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman
An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement

Today 97 Orchard Street is the site of New York City's Tenement Museum. For many years, though, it was but one of the thousands of tenements housing working-class immigrants on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

97 Orchard tells the story of five families who lived at that address between 1863 and 1935, focusing specifically on their culinary lives. While 97 Orchard is more about the foods eaten in the Lower East Side than the families themselves, it is still a fascinating read.

How various immigrant groups were subsumed into and helped to redefine American culture is the overarching theme of 97 Orchard. By using food as the means to explore the topic, author Jane Ziegelman highlights the relationship between our culinary heritage and American identity.

For more information on the book and its subject, listen to Guy Raz of NPR's All Things Considered, interview the author or visit the Tenement Museum's virtual tour of 97 Orchard Street.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


One of my online friends is giving away a $25 gift certificate for TheLiteracySite's online gift shop.

TheLiteracySite is a click-every-day site dedicated to funding free books for children. Per their website: "On average, over 80,000 individuals from around the world visit the site each day to click the "Click Here to Give - it's FREE" button. To date, more than 87 million visitors have helped provide more than 2.5 million books to children who need them the most."

All you need to do to enter the drawing for the gift certificate is go to her blog, Shaunie's Happy Place and comment on this post (including the title of one of your favorite books in the post) by October 10th.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Golden by Jennifer Lyn Barnes

When Lissy James moves from California to Oklahoma, she finds herself in the middle of a teenage nightmare: a social scene to rival a Hollywood movie. And if understanding the hierarchy of the Goldens vs. the Nons isn't hard enough, Lissy's ever growing Aura Vision is getting harder and harder to hide, and if shes not careful, shes going to become a Non faster than you can say "freak."
But its becoming clear that Emory High has a few secrets of its own. Around the halls, the term "special powers" goes way beyond ones ability to attract the opposite sex, and there may be something more evil than the A-crowd lurking in the classrooms. Lissy can see a lot more than the average girl, but shes about to learn the hard way that things aren't always as they appear and you can't always judge a girl by her lip gloss.

I happened across Golden this week when I was in need of a new audiobook. I was somewhat intrigued by the book description, but I didn't have particularly high expectations. Despite my fondness for YA fiction, I have to admit that many books geared toward teens are not particularly good.

I have to say, though, that Golden was better than I expected. The novel deals with the normal trials and tribulations of being an American teen trying to fit in at a new school. Lissy is in many ways a typical teenager (with an annoying little sister and a huge crush on a male friend). Before she moved to OK, she wasn't one of the popular kids, but she wasn't a social reject either. She has a special ability, but she's always been able to keep it from making her life difficult.

I do think that Barnes tried to do a bit too much in this (her first) novel. The paranormal element (especially the myriad ways it expressed itself in Lissy's family) is overcomplicated. At first it seemed liked maybe Oklahoma was going to be portrayed as a paranormal hot-spot, but when it becomes obvious that all gifted people don't come from the area, questions arise (at least for me). While I realize that Lissy's powers strengthened over time, it seems unrealistic that she wouldn't have noticed certain things* when she was still living in California. I'm also not crazy about how Barnes handles some of the relationships* in the novel. Personally I don't think that romantic predestination is appropriate for teen fiction.

* I'm trying to be vague here in order to avoid spoilers.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Haunting Jordan

Haunting Jordan by P.J. Alderman

The first in a new series of cozy mysteries, Haunting Jordan features Jordan Marsh, an LA psychologist buys a rundown mansion in a seaside village in Oregon or Washington (incidentally she was in the middle of a divorce when her husband was murdered and she's the prime suspect). She's planning on giving up the LA life and restoring the house (of course she has no idea what she's doing, doesn't even own a hammer). It turns out, though, that the house is haunted by the ghosts of two women who lived there in the late 1800s. They befriend her because they want her to solve a murder. She has to dig up old diaries and go to the historical society to research...

My friend Janelle (her blog is Eclectic Closet) gave me Haunting Jordan when I saw her last weekend. She thought I'd enjoy it and I have to say that I did. I especially liked the fact that the historical murder was in the forefront rather than the contemporary one (and that the narrative flipped between Jordan and Hattie, c. 1890).

I'm definitely interested in reading further entries in the series (Port Chapman mysteries) once they are available. Jordan is a sympathetic character. I found both the setting and premise of the series compelling, and the paranormal elements were not too over the top. And, maybe most importantly, the identity of the two murders wasn't obvious until the point they were revealed.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Knowledge of Angels

Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh

Set on an island very similar to Majorca in a time reminiscent of the 15th century, Knowledge of Angels is an exploration of morality and intolerance. The novel's action centers around the islanders' relation to two outsiders, who each by their very presence of each draws into question the status quo.

Palinor is a foreign nobleman who washed up on the shores of Grandinsula after a boating accident. While he wants nothing more than to travel home, but officials are unable to issue Palinor the necessary paperwork because he will not indicate a religious affiliation. When Palinor refuses to sway from his atheistic position, a notated theologian and educator is brought in to convince him of the existence of God.

Amara is a preadolescent girl who was raised by wolves. Discovered by shepherds in the mountains, Amara is displayed as a novelty to those who would pay to see the wolf child until she is rescued by a devout teenage boy worried about the state of her unbaptized soul. After Amara is baptized by the cardinal (to satisfy the boy), she is consigned to a community of mendicants. Since Amara has never been exposed to religious teaching, the cardinal hopes to learn from her whether or not the knowledge of God is innate. The nuns are ordered to care for her physical needs and to civilize her, but never to mention God in her presence.

Though the two outsiders never meet, their stories are linked by a chain that solidifies when an inquisitor appears on the scene, causing problems not just for Palinor and his apologist friend, but for the island's religious head as well.

As is usually the case with novels that have more than one storyline, I was more interested in one (Amara's) than the other and sometimes found myself skimming through the dense philosophical debates of Palinor's sections to get back to Amara and the nuns more quickly.

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994, Knowledge of Angels is extremely thought-provoking. With many questions raised and few answered, readers can't help but continue to ponder the novel long after they close its covers.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A Novel Bookstore

I have a confession to make. I rarely love any of the books I'm assigned to review for Library Journal. I expect that's partly due to the nature of the books they send me. It seems like my niche is literary fiction in translation with an emphasis on Scandinavian and German-language authors. I don't get light, fluffy, fun reads, I get hard-core literary stuff that is sometimes hard to get through. That's not to say that the books aren't accomplished, just that reading them often feels more like work than pleasure.

Earlier this week a novel I reviewed for Library Journal and really enjoyed was published.

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé

Heiress Francesca and bookseller Ivan don't expect to make a profit when they open a bookstore in Paris that sells nothing but the best fiction. The store's unexpected success produces a powerful backlash: outcry from pundits, negative ad campaigns, targeted competition, and threats that escalate to physical violence. When members of the store's secret inventory selection committee are attacked, barely escaping with their lives, it becomes imperative for the owners to find out who is behind the intimidation.

With A Novel Bookstore, French novelist Cossé gives readers a truly literary thriller. Eminently readable, A Novel Bookstore is a love letter to the novel (literature junkies will find within its pages a seemingly endless supply of book suggestions) and a profound exploration of human nature.

On a side note, I love what translator Alison Andersen [by the way, she was the translator of The Elegance of the Hedgehog (see post)] did with the novel's title. In French the title is "Au bon roman" ([place] of good novels), while the English title drops the good modifier, it plays very successfully on the double meaning of the word novel.

See full review at Library Journal.

back in the saddle again

The summer has been hectic for me. I've been busy and struggling to meet two big deadlines and haven't had a lot of time for leisurely reading. Because I've been overwhelmed I've also found myself losing patience with books more easily than usual.

I didn't manage to finish the book club book for either my normal book club or my online book club the past two months:
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (July selection, regular book club) I liked, but I didn't start it early enough and couldn't rush through it to finish in time for the discussion. I haven't picked it up again
  • One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell (August selection, regular book club) wasn't what I expected. I didn't like it at all. I couldn't relate to any of the characters. I gave up on the book because I never wanted to pick it up to read more.
  • Wings of the Dove by Henry James (August selection, online book club) - I never got around to starting the book
  • You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier (July selection, online book club) - ditto
I read about 160 pages of The Book of Shadows by James Reese (synopsis sounded good, but the actual story had far too much emphasis on sex). I also gave up on Tathea by Anne Perry (I found it boring).

I did manage to finish some books. I read Druids by Morgan Llywelyn and Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger. I loved the first two books in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, Hunger Games and Catching Fire (I'm saving the third book, Mockingjay as a birthday treat). I also read a number of romance novels by Susan Johnson. (I'm sure I've forgotten some others)

Additionally, according to Bookcrossing, I've wild-released 36 books in the past 4 weeks (see stats on my profile page).