Monday, December 26, 2011

books, giving and receiving

There were only three books among my outgoing holiday gifts this year.  I did not purchase any books for Russell since we went a bit overboard with book buying this year (remember Borders?).

From my dad's Amazon wishlist I selected, The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson.

My mom received Betty Crocker's Best Bread Machine Cookbook to go along with her new bread maker (a gift from my dad). My mom is going to be doing a lot of experimenting with ingredient substitutions to I chose this book in particular because of a section it has on problem-solving, which is full of illustrations. Two other things in its favor: overwhelmingly good reviews and a structure that enables it to lie flat.

I got my sister a copy of The Hunger Games.
She wasn't particularly enthused, but I reminded her about how miffed she was with me when Twilight (the film) was released for not having previously informed her about the existence of the Twilight Saga.
Now, I legitimately thought she would refuse to read Twilight given its slow pacing and her general dislike of vampires and I don't even like the series (my ambivalence turned to hatred after Breaking Dawn).
Since The Hunger Games is coming out next year and I love Suzanne Collins' trilogy, I thought it would be irresponsible of me not to get her a copy of the book.

I received three books this year (all from Russell)
I really wasn't expecting books, but I have to say that I was tickled pink to get the two novels as they were among my most wanted books.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

phrase: sui generis

When reading I often find myself bemoaning the fact that I've never studied Latin.  The Latin phrase of the day is sui generis,1 which more or less means "in a class of its own." Apparently generis is the genitive case of genus (which we should all know from taxonomy) and sui means "self" or in this case "of him/her/itself."
  1. I came across this phrase in a discussion of Scottish author Alasdair Gray and his work.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

series (re)reading

Series reading and rereading has been a bit of a theme for me lately. I suppose that it's because in the wake of busyness and stress, I long for the comfort of the expected.

I'm loaning one of my new coworkers the Hunger Games Trilogy (I gave her book one yesterday after a harefooted read-through on Friday) so I'm on a binging on them in anticipation of not having ready access. Oh, how I love these books! I finished Catching Fire just now and am forcing myself not to jump right into Mockingjay
A Hunger Games movie is forthcoming, but I have no desire to see it. What I dislike most about film versions of books is how they manage to completely override our own images of how things, people, and places in the book look. That's not so much a problem with books like Pride and Prejudice that are constantly remade, but for others there's often only one film version and that version overshadows the originals.

Last year I read Old Man's War by John Scalzi over the Thanksgiving holiday when I ran out of reading material. It's not a book that I'd normally pick up (see post), but my dad recommended it. I was pleasantly surprised by it and have subsequently picked up the follow-up books (again from my dad): The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe's Tale.
I read The Ghost Brigades recently and will likely be tackling the other two books in short order.
I usually find science fiction to be somewhat inaccessible (it's a bit curious to me that science fiction films and television shows are so accessible when their written counterparts are so often not), which is why I tend to steer clear of it, but this series is really an exception. I recommend it for science fiction lovers as well as for people like me who don't normal read scifi.

I've been in a book spiral for the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books. What's a book spiral?, you ask. It's a way of circulating all the books in a series to a set of dispersed readers. Person A reads book 1 then sends it to B, who sends it to C, who send it to D, ..., who sends it back to A. While 1 is circulating, A reads book 2 and then starts to send it on its way. In this was all the books in the series are shared (one at a time) with each participant and then sent back to the originator. How long it takes to receive each book depends on the number of people before you in the queue, how quickly each reads, how far the books have to travel, and the efficiency of the postal service(s) involved.
I read The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters in December and The Titan's Curse in February. The Battle of the Labyrinth arrived this month.
I've really enjoyed this series. I like how Riordan incorporates Greek mythology (including many lesser known creatures) into his stories. One of the things I've appreciated most is how Riordan made things that are usually considered negative (dyslexia and ADHD) into indicators of superhuman gifts because I hope that kids who suffer for one or both of these things might feel a bit better about themselves after reading this series.

I had to admit that while I've collected all the books in Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunately Events series, I've never managed to read it all the way through (I even have The Tragic Treasury, but I forbid Russell to play in my presence because the songs are such earworms). I've read so many other books since the last time I picked up a Snicket title that I wanted to start from the beginning, The Bad Beginning. So far I've read that, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, and The Miserable Mill. Four down, nine to go!

Friday, October 21, 2011

quick thoughts on some recent reads

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

While Beauty Queens came highly recommended (lots of good blog reviews and a personal recommendation from friend Jessica), I can't say that I really enjoyed reading it. I liked the novel's snarky tone; how it played on pageants and pageant parents, reality TV, Lord of the Flies, and miscellaneous other stereotypes; and the diversity of the girls, their backgrounds, preferences, and points of view. As much as I appreciated all those things about Beauty Queens, I found the narrative irritating more than anything else. Beauty Queens was not a quick read for me because I didn't really want to keep reading it.

Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliasotti

I really enjoyed Clockwork Heart. The world in which Pagliasotti sets the novel is quite intriguing - the extremely hierarchical society and how class divisions are marked, the icarus class and their role in the society, the ways in which the world is different than other steampunky settings. Clockwork Heart is a romance with a love triangle and a mystery that will keep readers guessing.
I will say that I found the romance element of the story much more successful than the mystery, which was overly complex for a book that isn't to going to have a sequel to continue building on the less immediate threat. As far as I know, Clockwork Heart is a stand-alone novel, but I'd love to read more set in this world.

Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist

Historical romance set in Asheville, North Carolina circa 1899. Tillie is a senior parlormaid at Biltmore when she has a chance to become Mrs. Vanderbilt's ladies maid, position for which she's been groomed her entire life. Her priorities shift when Mack, twin of the undeniably handsome steward Earl, comes to live at Biltmore as a man of all work.
The protagonists of Maid to Match were a bit too righteous for my taste. While they each had some flaws, I didn't find them particularly believable. The author writes inspirational (Christian) romance, which accounts for the strict moral alignment of her characters.

Viridis by Calista Taylor

I hadn't heard of Viridis before it was mentioned in the steampunk reads discussion group on GoodReads. It was available as a free Nook-book (also free on Amazon for Kindle), so I figured that it couldn't hurt to download it.
Viridis is a steampunk romantic suspense novel and the first in a planned series. I enjoyed it. Good world-building that doesn't overshadow the storyline, interesting characters, romance, and mystery, but there was one glaring narrative inconsistency that's quite hard to overlook.
There's one part of the story that some readers may have trouble with and need to skim through.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Steampunk! out this week

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories
edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant

I posted about Steampunk! back in June, but the anthology is out this week so it seems like the perfect time for another post.

There's a great review written by Steampunk Scholar up on one of the blogs.

My favorite stories in the book were "Clockwork Fagin" by Cory Doctorow, "Everything Amiable and Obliging" by Holly Black, "Finishing School" (comic) by Kathleen Jennings, "The Last Ride of the Glory Girls" by Libba Bray, "The Oracle Engine" by M. T. Anderson, "Steam Girl" by Dylan Horrocks, and "The Summer People" by Kelly Link.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

on into October

I should begin this post by explaining why I haven't been posting regularly. The short answer is that I've been busy and tired. Starting a new job1 is exhausting and I have to admit that I've worn myself out trying to post as regularly as I think I should. As you can tell from my sidebar, I have been reading, I just haven't been posting about all the books that I've read. I do intend to post on many of the unreviewed books, but it'll take me some time to get to all the ones on my list.

October is going to be the craziest month of the year for me for the foreseeable future. My new employer runs lots of special events in October. And when I say "lots," I mean lots: the biggest event runs on 21 nights in October and there are three other every-weekend events. I didn't work this weekend, but I'm on special-event duty every other weekend this month (next weekend, I'm working Saturday, Sunday, and Columbus Day). So, don't expect a lot of posts in October. I suspect that I'll be falling asleep over books more often than not.

I've also been neglecting a writing project so I will be intentionally limiting my time spent on the blog for a few months after October. I'll still be posting, just not as much, because I desperately need to focus on this other project.

Just wanted to let you all know what's going on...
  1. These past six months have flown by, but I'm still very much learning the lay of the land and figuring out how to best navigate these new waters

Thursday, September 29, 2011

two more from the Myth series

I'm a big fan of Canongate's Myth Series and my intent is to collect hard-cover copies of each of them.

Thanks to one of Russell's sisters, I know have two more books to add to my little collection.

The Fire Gospel by Michael Farber and Where Three Roads Meet by Salley Vickers.

In other birthday-related news, for those who were wondering, my sister's presents did have an intentional orange theme. We're still waiting on one item to arrive.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

happy birthday to me

An explanation of my recent blog silence is forthcoming,1 but I didn't want to skip my usual post about books I received for my birthday.

This year, I received only one book (so far). It's from my sister and I'm fairly certain that she chose it specifically because of the orange color on the cover. Seriously. All the other items I received from her were orange2 so I think she decided to go with orange as a theme. Apparently there are two more items on their way so we'll see if I'm right. I could ask, but where's the fun in that.

In any case, back to the book. This particular title was on my wishlist. I'd heard the author interviewed on NPR and was intrigued.

Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India by Anita Jain

Is arranged marriage any worse than Craigslist? One smart and feisty womans year in India looking for a husband the old-fashioned way reveals a rapidly changing culture and a whole host of ideas about the best way to find a mate.
Anita Jain was fed up with the New York singles scene. After three years of frustration and awkward dates, and under constant pressure from her Indian parents to find someone, she started to wonder: was looking for a husband in a bar any less barbaric than traditional arranged marriage? After all this effort, there had to be something easier.
After announcing in a much-discussed New York magazine article her intention to try arranged marriage, Jain moves back to India—the impoverished, backward land her parents fled—to find a husband. At age thirty-two, and well past the cultural deadline for starting a family, Jain subjects herself to a whole new onslaught of expectations. Marrying Anita is an account of romantic chance encounters, nosy relatives, and dozens of potential husbands. Will she find a suitable man? Will he please her parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins? Is the new urban Indian culture in which shes searching really all that different from America?
With disarming candor, Jain tells her own romantic story even as it unfolds before her, and in the process sheds new light on a country modernizing at breakneck speed. Marrying Anita is a refreshingly honest look at our own desires and the modern search for the perfect mate.

Also, I'm so excited about one of my non-book gifts that I simply must share. I got one of Etsy seller sewtara's "caffeinating, please wait" sleeves. I've been wanting one of these ever since I first saw the listing (when my friend Jessica added it to her Etsy favorites list). My sister got sewtara to make me one with an orange load bar and lining. love!

  1. Nothing substantive; things have just been very busy here
  2. I'm including one of these--a non book gift--below (or above, in this case) because I just can't help myself

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

As I mentioned earlier this week, I won a copy of Divergent from Kaye at paper reader. I wasn't planning on posting about Divergent this weekend. I have lots of to-be-written and to-be-finished posts in my queue and I've posted about two YA dystopians recently1. But, I read it from start to finish on Friday, staying up way past my usual bedtime to do so, and it's the first time I've done that in quite a while so I figured Divergent deserved quick treatment.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Decades ago our ancestors realized that it is not political ideology, religious belief, race, or nationalism that is to blame for a warring world. Rather they determined that it was the fault of human personality--of humankind's inclination toward evil, in whatever form that is. They divided into factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world's disarray. [...] Those who blamed aggression formed Amity. [...] Those who blamed ignorance became the Erudite. [...] Those who blamed duplicity created Candor. [...] Those who blamed selfishness made Abnegation. [...] And those who blamed cowardice were the Dauntless. (42-43)
Beatrice Prior, who grew up within the self-sacrificing Abnegation faction, has reached the age when she must make the biggest decision of her life. She, like all sixteen-year-olds in her post-apocalyptic Chicago, is evaluated to determine the faction for which she's best suited. While the evaluation results are stored, they do not determine placement. Using the evaluation as guidance, Beatrice must chose with which faction to ally herself. She'll still have to pass her chosen faction's initiation. If she doesn't, she'll spend the rest of her life as a factionless on the outskirts of society.

On the day of her evaluation, Beatrice is unsure about which faction she'll choose. When her result is anomalous, Beatrice has more questions than before and only one day to make the decision. Beatrice goes with her gut and chooses Dauntless2 despite the fact that her decision might mean that she'll never see her parents or brother again. The Dauntless initiation is much more intense than Beatrice, who renames herself Tris, imagined and the things she learns during it make her question the status quo.

I really enjoyed Divergent (I assume that's obvious based on what I posted above) and, while it wasn't perfect, it didn't disappoint me. Readers don't receive any information about what big, apocalyptic event (if any) caused society to break down and reorganize in this way. They also don't learn anything about the world outside of Chicagoland.3 This didn't bother me too much because it's quite possible given what we do know that the individuals living in Roth's Chicago have no contact with the outside world (if society even exists out there).

At first I thought that Divergent would have been a stronger novel without Tris' blossoming romance. That it wasn't necessary. That Tris and the other character could have played off each other without their relationship developing into a romantic one. I thought it would have been better to leave this particular romance out or to leave it unstated and/or unrequited until later in the series (because, yes, Divergent is the first in a series). But then I remembered the final scenes and I'm not sure how some of them would have played out if Tris and the other character hadn't been in love. I guess I'll just say--for the people like me who are tired of the "instalove" often portrayed in YA novels-- that Tris' romance is not quite of that ilk. They don't instantly fall for each other, there is tension, and they have much more in common than either of them realizes.

Tris is a relateable heroine, despite the fact that things sometimes seem too easy for her (and there is actually an explanation for that ease). The society Roth depicts is interesting and different than any other I've read thus far. Divergent also works well as a first-book-in-a-series. There's world building and the revelation of an overarching storyline, but the novel has a satisfying conclusion. One of the areas in which Divergent excels is in not getting bogged down in world-building and backstory. Divergent is fast-paced and full of action. It is a bit heavy on the violence, but I think the story itself is so engrossing that even individuals who are sensitive about violence can push on past those sections.

Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent will be released in May 2012. It's going straight on my wish list.
  1. Bumped by Megan McCafferty (see post) and Delirium by Lauren Oliver (see post).
  2. The encircled flame on Divergent's cover is the Dauntless seal. Though, I think that the stamped version on the hardcover itself is more striking than the burning image on the dust jacket.
  3. Chicagoland isn't a term used in the book. It's just an informal term for the Chicago metropolitan area. As far as I remember, Roth never names her imagined society.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood

I've come across quite a few awesome Little Red Riding Hood-inspired items lately, so I decided that a post was in order.

corset-maker Damsel in this Dress has a fun, sexy Little Red Riding Hood costume for sale in her Artfire and Etsy shops (special price until the end of the day today) as part of her 13 Days of Halloween celebration.

You can read all about the costume, see the three color options (I'm quite fond of the patchwork version), and watch a hysterical reality tv-inspired video on Damsel's blog.

I'll admit that I do question whether I'd be able to pull off any of her costumes, but I'm really curious about what else she's come up with. So far there's Little Red, a Where the Wild Things Are-inspired Monster, and the forthcoming pumpkin (I desperately need the hat that goes along with that costume).

I discovered artist Christian Jackson and his wonderful minimalist Children's Story Posters via WORD for Teens. They are all so clever, but my favorites are Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood.

Little Red Riding Hood and his other posters are available through Jackson's Imagekind shop. You can get framed and printed in/on a variety of different sizes/media, so there's an option to meet nearly any price point.

The Woods Belong to Me, a wonderful design by radiomode (aka Budi Kwan), is currently in-print at Threadless.

I bought the style pictured (I had a Groupon for Threadless), but scoop neck and zip-up hoodie versions are also available.

I just created a Little Red Riding Hood-themed treasury list on Etsy.

I'm having a lazy Saturday and I figured I might as well.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Woman's World by Graham Rawle

Woman's World by Graham Rawle

Woman's World is a novel constructed entirely of text (and images) cut from magazines. Women's magazines from the early 1960s. My friend Nancy assigned it to me as part of my 2011 take-a-chance reading challenge.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to write about Woman's World without including spoilers. I'm usually anti-spoiler, but in this case I think it's especially important. I think the best way to experience Woman's World is to come at it without any preconceived notions and let the novel reveal itself.

Woman's World is odd and it's not just because of its construction. I can't say that I enjoyed reading it. I marveled at the layout of each page, but I read the story with a profound sense of foreboding. All is not right within the protagonist's family. Readers experience suspicion, then certainty, but the full truth of the matter is revealed only slowly.

The story is engrossing and unexpectedly atmospheric, but one never ceases to notice the underlying collage. The pieced-together text isn't distracting, though, it adds to the narrative. Woman's World is composed of women's magazines, but it is also very much about women's magazines, the voice with which they speak, and ideas they are trying to sell to their readers.

What I liked best about Woman's World is that Rawle included a piece on the making of the book. The piece is short, but fascinating. Rawle explains the construction of one page in 40,000 Not-Very-Easy Pieces (skip the introductory paragraph if you don't want any spoilage).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I won a copy of...

Divergent by Veronica Roth
from Kaye at paper reader. Thank you, Kaye!

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue — Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is — she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are — and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves...or it might destroy her.

I suspect that I'll read Divergent fairly soon so expect a review post in the near future.

Monday, September 12, 2011

adaptation: Sherlock

Sherlock television series

Sherlock was recommended to us earlier this year by our friend Chris,1 but Russell and I hadn't had a chance to see it until recently. Our local public television station played the first two episodes--"A Study in Pink" and "The Blind Banker"--during a fund drive. Two episodes doesn't seem like much, but each episode is 90 minutes long and each season consists of only three episodes. So, despite having only seen two episodes, we've seen two-thirds of season one.

Sherlock reimagines Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary characters in a contemporary setting. The series stars Benedict Cumberbatch as an extremely tech-saavy, slightly Auspergian Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as the wonderfully ordinary war veteran, John Watson.

"A Study in Pink" (remember that A Study in Scarlet is what introduced Holmes to the world) is the series opener. In it, Dr. Watson, recently returned from Afghanistan and suffering from PTSD, is introduced to Sherlock Holmes when a mutual acquaintance finds out they are both in need of a flatmate. In short order, Watson moves into 221B Baker Street, which is still owned by Mrs. Hudson (who incorrectly assumes that Watson is Holmes' new live-in boyfriend). PI Lestrade (Rupert Graves) seeks assistance from "unofficial consultant" Holmes after one suspicious suicide becomes a series and Watson is kidnapped by a man claiming to be Holmes' archenemy.

I liked Sherlock, so much so that I could have watched all six episodes in a row if I'd had access to them. I think the series is fresh and interesting, yet still very authentic-feeling. Russell is much more of a purist so his thoughts on the show may be a bit more meaningful to die-hard Doyle fans. Though updated, Russell thought that Sherlock remained true to the original especially with regard to the main characters, their personalities, and histories.
  1. Chris is also a blog reader. Hi, Chris!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

This is a follow-up to Sunday's post. The focus is on another dystopian YA novel that I got during the Borders liquidation.

One of the categories for my 2011 take-a-chance reading challenge is "loved one's choice." Since it was one of my favorite categories, I asked three different people (Russell and my good friends Jessica and Nancy) to provide me with reading assignments. Jessica gave me a choice of four options,1 one of which was Delirium by Lauren Oliver. I fully intend to read all four of her selections (though likely not all within 2011), but since Delirium is the first one I've gotten to, it's the one I'll be counting for the challenge.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Magdalena Haloway has grown up in a world that considers amor deliria nervosa, or more specifically how individuals infected with the disease act and react, the biggest threat to society. There is a cure, but it's risky to have the procedure performed too early. Boys and girls are segregated to reduce the likelihood of disease contraction in youth. As individuals near their eighteen birthday and cure date, they undergo an evaluation and receive a list of approved matches. Lena is counting the days until her procedure, looking forward to the safety it will provide. That is... until she meets Alex.

Like Bumped (see post), Delirium disappointed me (and it's also the first in a planned series).

I liked the concept (though I will admit that it was a bit too much like Scott Westerfeld's Uglies) and Oliver's writing, but the story itself fell flat for me. It was really a combination of things, not all of which would normally put me off. The pace is very slow. Lena's best friend Hana is much more interesting than she is. Lena and Alex fall in love far too quickly and with little chemistry. What bothered me the most, though, was the lack of observable menace and oppression in the society. Yes, we are told that there are strictly-enforced curfews, that it's really difficult to cross the border, that people who fall in love are punished and killed, but we see precious little of that. It's far too easy for the characters to get away with everything that they do and because of that the society in which they were supposed to be living seemed inauthentic to me.

Because there are two more books planned for the series, I'm fairly certain that things at the end of Delirium are not necessarily what they seem. I suspect that the series will get better (in general, as the larger story is played out, not in reference to the aforementioned ending), but I don't plan on reading the other books.
  1. You can see the list of Jessica's selections in this post.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Booker shortlist

I never got around to posting about this year's Man Booker Prize longlist, but the shortlist was announced today.

I haven't read any of the featured titles so I'm just showcasing them below with their synopses (and very brief comments). But, the fact that four of the longlist titles were debut novels, two of which made it to the shortlist, warms the cockles of my heart.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero's bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there's more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero's fate was settled. Half Blood Blues weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don't tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong ...

The only thing I don't like about Half Blood Blues is that its title brings to mind a paranormal romance.

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

Jamrach's Menagerie tells the story of a nineteenth-century street urchin named Jaffy Brown. Following an incident with an escaped tiger, Jaffy goes to work for Mr. Charles Jamrach, the famed importer of exotic animals, alongside Tim, a good but sometimes spitefully competitive boy. Thus begins a long, close friendship fraught with ambiguity and rivalry.
Mr. Jamrach recruits the two boys to capture a fabled dragon during the course of a three-year whaling expedi­tion. Onboard, Jaffy and Tim enjoy the rough brotherhood of sailors and the brutal art of whale hunting. They even succeed in catching the reptilian beast.
But when the ship’s whaling venture falls short of expecta­tions, the crew begins to regard the dragon—seething with feral power in its cage—as bad luck, a feeling that is cruelly reinforced when a violent storm sinks the ship.
Drifting across an increasingly hallucinatory ocean, the sur­vivors, including Jaffy and Tim, are forced to confront their own place in the animal kingdom. Masterfully told, wildly atmospheric, and thundering with tension, Jamrach's Menagerie is a truly haunting novel about friendship, sacrifice, and survival.

This reminds me a little too much of Life of Pi, which I mostly hated, but I'm willing to give it a try anyway. Love the cover.

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
*debut novel*

Lying in front of Harrison Opuku is a body, the body of one of his classmates, a boy known for his crazy basketball skills, who seems to have been murdered for his dinner. Armed with a pair of camouflage binoculars and detective techniques absorbed from television shows like CSI, Harri and his best friend, Dean, plot to bring the perpetrator to justice. They gather evidence--fingerprints lifted from windows with tape, a wallet stained with blood--and lay traps to flush out the murderer. But nothing can prepare them for what happens when a criminal feels you closing in on him. Recently emigrated from Ghana with his sister and mother to London's enormous housing projects, Harri is pure curiosity and ebullience--obsessed with gummy candy, a friend to the pigeon who visits his balcony, quite possibly the fastest runner in his school, and clearly also fast on the trail of a murderer. Told in Harri's infectious voice and multicultural slang, Pigeon English follows in the tradition of our great novels of friendship and adventure, as Harri finds wonder, mystery, and danger in his new, ever-expanding world.

Does this sound good or what? I thought I liked the cover art on the British edition (pictured) best (color!), but then I took a closer look at the American one.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they swore to stay friends forever. Until Adrian's life took a turn into tragedy, and all of them, especially Tony, moved on and did their best to forget.
Now Tony is in middle age. He's had a career and a marriage, a calm divorce. He gets along nicely, he thinks, with his one child, a daughter, and even with his ex-wife. He's certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer's letter is about to prove. The unexpected bequest conveyed by that letter leads Tony on a dogged search through a past suddenly turned murky. And how do you carry on, contentedly, when events conspire to upset all your vaunted truths?

You know I've been reading the Thursday Next books and being in that frame of mind makes the unexpected bequest (which I admittedly find intriguing) scream "plot device!"

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living – and whom he does it for.
With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters – losers, cheaters, and ne'er-do-wells from all stripes of life – and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

I nearly took a copy of this home with me during our last trip to Borders (which may have been Sunday and unreported).

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
*debut novel*

Nick Platt is a British lawyer working in Moscow in the early 2000s—a place where the cascade of oil money, the tightening grip of the government, the jostling of the oligarchs, and the loosening of Soviet social mores have led to a culture where corruption, decadence, violence, and betrayal define everyday life. Nick doesn’t ask too many questions about the shady deals he works on—he’s too busy enjoying the exotic, surreally sinful nightlife Moscow has to offer.
One day in the subway, he rescues two willowy sisters, Masha and Katya, from a would-be purse snatcher. Soon Nick, the seductive Masha, and long-limbed Katya are cruising the seamy glamour spots of the city. Nick begins to feel something for Masha that he is pleased to think is love. Then the sisters ask Nick to help their aged aunt, Tatiana, find a new apartment.
Of course, nothing is as it seems—including this extraordi­nary debut novel. The twists in the story take it far beyond its noirish frame—the sordid and vivid portrayal of Moscow serves as a backdrop for a book that examines the irresistible allure of sin, featuring characters whose hearts are as cold as the Russian winter.

Of the six shortlisted titles, I'm probably the least interested in reading this one.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

I love a good dystopian novel. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale has been one of my favorite books since I first read it (around 1999). It follows that I'd appreciate the spate of dystopian (both YA and not) fiction being published recently. Of the seven of books I've gotten for myself during the Borders liquidation (the list is below for those of you who haven't been keeping track), three have been dystopians. I've already posted about Shades of Grey. This post is the first of two focused on the YA dystopians I brought home and read right away.

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

I'd been wanting to read Bumped for what seemed like ages (it can't really have been all that long, though, since the book only came out this April). I kept seeing good reviews of the novel, which made me want to read it even more.

Bumped takes place in min-2030s Princeton, New Jersey. In the wake of the Human Progressive Sterility Virus epidemic, the United States is trying raise its teenage birthrate. When nearly all individuals over the age of eighteen are infertile, nubile girls are the highest valued segment of the population.

The novel's protagonists, Melody and Harmony, are sixteen-year-old identical twins who were separated at birth. Melody's adoptive parents have groomed her to be the first girl in her school to "go professional." She's got a six-figure contract and she's just waiting for her couple to find their perfect sperm donor. Harmony, on the other hand, was raised in a religious community. In her world, girls marry young and only have sex (and children) within marriage. Harmony discovers Melody's existence while trying to find her birth parents. The two girls have barely begun to know each other (via email and chat) when Melody arrives on Harmony's doorstep and the narrative begins.

Bumped is a bit different than most much dystopian fiction (which may disappoint some readers). There's no authoritarian government or overt suppression, but there are dystopian elements to the society McCafferty depicts. And, there's a lot of social commentary both subtle and overt sprinkled throughout Bumped. The more that I think about the novel, the more little digs I remember.

Overall, though, I have to say that my opinion of this book suffered from my high expectations. I didn't dislike Bumped, but I wasn't blown away by it. The concept is interesting and I like how McCafferty uses satire, but I can't help but think that Bumped would have been better if it had been conceived as a one-off rather than the opener for a series. While I didn't like Jondoe's character or the way the novel ended, my biggest criticism of the book is that Harmony did not seem authentic (primarily because some of her decisions were so far out of character that no explanation for them could be satisfactory).

Thumped, the sequel to Bumped, is scheduled for an April 2012 release.
    Karen's Borders pickings:
  1. The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
  2. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
  3. Bumped by Megan McCafferty
  4. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  5. Encounter by Milan Kundera
  6. The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
  7. One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Typealyzer: Myers-Briggs based on blogs

Yesterday I Marg of Adventures of an Intrepid Reader posted about being typealyzed, ie. having her blog posts analyzed by code at Typealyzer. I snuck over and entered morsie reads right away and was intrigued by the results.

From my most recent blog posts, Typealyzer has determined that I'm an ISTP (introverted sensing thinking perceiving). What amuses me about this is that only one of the four indicators (the I) is true to my non-online personality. This blog isn't a personal diary so it makes sense that my blog persona is not completely in line with my real one, but I wonder how much of it is the subject matter (books and bookish things) and how much is an unconscious decision to project myself as different than I am. Apparently the ISTP is a daredevil, which I assuredly am not.

I'll have to re-typealyze with different posts to see whether my personality as expressed through the blog is consistent or not.

You can read more about Typealyzer at About Typealyzer and Psychographics.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Mrs. Beeton's

For comfort reading and in preparation for One of our Thursdays is Missing, the sixth installment in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, I've been rereading the earlier books. At the moment I'm on The Well of Lost Plots (book #3), which like all the other Thursday Next books is full of literary references. I was absolutely tickled to come across multiple references to Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (unfortunately incorrectly cited as "Mrs. Beeton's Complete Housekeeper").1 The mentions didn't mean much to me during my earlier readings, but we're big fans of Mrs. Beeton's at my new place of employment. My coworker even has a Mrs. Beeton's apron like the one pictured here.

Isabella Beeton (nee Mayson) was the Martha Stewart of her day2 and Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861) was her magnum opus (1000+ pages). For the contemporary reader Mrs. Beeton's is a window into the middle-class Victorian home. While the text is heavy on cookery, it also provides advice on any number of topics relevant to the mistress of the house (who is likened to the commander of the army). Readers learn how many and what type of servants one need employ based on one's income, what to feed an invalid, how to diagnose and treat thrush, the logistics of serving dinner la Russe, and myriad other things.

The original Mrs. Beeton's is out of copyright so the text of the book is widely available on the internet. has a nice layout.

  1. Here's the first one: "I went downstairs and explained to obb the rudiments of cooking, which were as alien to it as having a name. Fortunately I found an old copy of Mrs. Beeton's Complete Housekeeper, which I told obb to study, half jokingly, as research. Three hours later it had roasted a perfect leg of lamb with all the trimmings. I had discovered one thing about Generics already: dull and uninteresting they may be -- but they learn fast" (p. 13 of my British edition).
  2. I cringed at that cliche even as I typed it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

a weekend update

I live in a basement apartment in an area that was right in the path of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. Sunday morning we woke up (around 7:30 am) to 2 inches of water in the kitchen (the laundry room was also completely flooded, but we didn't notice that right away). So, suffice it to say, that we had an interesting weekend. It's not nearly as bad as it could have been (thank goodness for the neighbors and their little submersible pump). The carpeted main part of the apartment did get some water (it came up through the floor), but we were able to move most everything out of the way. We're mostly dry now, but disorganized and musty-smelling. All of our books are safe and sound.

As for work, the sites have downed trees and some flood-related damage to buildings and landscapes. The main library is a-OK. I assume that we may have lost some books that were in the areas of the sites that flooded, but that's minor in the great scheme of things.

Friday, August 26, 2011

more liquid shopping

As of yesterday everything is 50-70% off at Borders. Russell and I went again last night. This morning as I was filling out my expense report paperwork I noticed something interesting on my receipt (see image on right). The free space in our store is now filled with miscellaneous stuff (this post at The Book Frog will give you an idea) and it warms my heart that someone had enough spunk in reserve to make that snarky, but apropos adjustment.

While I did pick up one book for myself (One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde; I needed it since I have all the other books in the series), the shopping experience was more depressing than anything else.

I spent some time in the history section, doing some collection development work. At least this time others will benefit from our Borders-liquidation obsession. We also picked up another book that I may end up donating to the library: Ghosts from King Philip's War by Edward Lodi. It ended up in Russell's pile during the pre-checkout sort.

As for Russell, he made out like a bandit:And last, but not least, we got Minotaurus, the Lego boardgame, for both of us. We're going to try it out this weekend.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Bookworm (Poughkeepsie, NY)

Last weekend Russell and I checked out The Bookworm in Poughkeepsie.

The store is a bit out-of-the-way on a curvy two-lane road. We had to turn around and backtrack because we'd driven past the driveway for the store before we even noticed it was there.

The shop is brightly lit with a large front counter and a spacious entryway where new stock is displayed. There were two salespeople working on Saturday. The guy manning the front counter was friendly and asked us whether we needed assistance. There is a small side counter where the second salesperson was sitting. I didn't pay much attention to her or her counter, but Russell thought that she was peddling jewelry.

Romance makes up about 35-40% of The Bookworm's stock. That's an guesstimate and it does seem like it might be an exaggeration, but seriously the front door is in the center of the shop and if you turn left, that side is audio books and romance. Only audio books and romance (and a small table of marked-down hardcovers). Everything else is on the other side of the shop.

Per Russell, The Bookworm's nonfiction selection was miniscule and not particularly well organized. For context, it seemed like the nonfiction section was about the same size as the children's section (not including YA books).

There was a good selection within the various fiction sections. And lots of little notes to point shoppers in the direction of their favorite authors (ie. look for so-and-so in paranormal, with arrow).

Overall the stock was on the newer side, in good condition, and strongest in romance and non-genre fiction. I suspect that it gets refreshed frequently because of The Bookworm's business model.

Individual items are not labeled. I was very confused by this until Russell showed me the big sign that explained The Bookworm's buy/sell policies (strangely, the sign isn't by the front counter, it's near the audio books).

The store's pricing is standardized, but high. 50% off list, plus a 25c handling fee. So they'd sell a $16 trade paperback for $8.25. They buy books (ie. give store credit) at 25% of list. The Bookworm seems like the kind of place that caters to regulars who treat it like a library, trading in their recently-read books for new reading material.

We didn't buy anything. Russell didn't find anything in the nonfiction he wanted and I didn't find anything I liked well enough to buy at their prices.

The Bookworm
1797 New Hackensack Rd.
Poughkeepsie, NY 12603
hours: 10am - 5pm
closed Sundays
open 'til 6pm on Wednesdays

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

After a fire claimed the lives of both his parents, 12 year-old Will Henry became the unwitting apprentice of Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, his father's former employer. Dr. Warthrop is a monstrumologist, one who studies (and hunts) "life forms generally malevolent to humans and not recognized by science as actual organisms, specifically those considered products of myth and folklore" (Monstrumologist front matter).

The action of The Monstrumologist begins one night in 1888, Will Henry is roused from his bed when an unexpected caller arrives bearing the fresh corpse of a pack-dwelling monster.

I wanted to get buy a copy of The Monstrumologist because Simon & Schuster, the book's publisher, had announced its plans not to continue publishing the popular, award-winning series that The Monstrumologist opens. The good news is that Simon & Schuster has since reconsidered their decision and will publish at least the fourth installment (book 2 is out already and book 3 is forthcoming).

I found The Monstrumologist to be well-written, but a bit gory for my taste. That's a good thing, though, because The Monstrumologist is one of the only young adult books I've read lately that I can actually imagine a teenage boy reading. Really, why are so many young adult books so heavy on the romance?

In any case, here's a passage I bookmarked:
Perhaps that is our doom, our human curse, to never really know one another. We erect edifices in our minds about the flimsy framework of word and deed, mere totems of the true person, who, like the gods to whom the temples were built, remains hidden. We understand our own construct; we know our own theory; we love our own fabrication. Still... does the artifice of our affection make our love any less real? (362)
So very observant and not at all what I'd expect to find hidden in a horror novel.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
trans. by Tiina Nunnally

Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck has just returned from sick leave. He's physically recovered from the bullet wound he received while investigating his last case, but not emotionally. One of his partners is dead, the other is stuck in the Hornbaek Clinic for Spinal Cord Injuries, and it's his fault (or near enough).
Mørck's a bit perplexed when he's made head of the newly formed Department Q on his first day back. Department Q (staff: 1) is located at the Copenhagen police headquarters (in the basement) and tasked with investigating cold cases of national interest. It's a cake job for Mørck. He can slack off all he wants because no one really expects him to solve any of the cases he's assigned.
When Mørck discovers the Copenhagen homicide has co-opted the 90% of the 8 million kroner earmarked for Department Q, Mørck successfully lobbies for a departmental vehicle and an assistant. When his assistant (a pleasant, but enigmatic Syrian political refugee) arrives for work, Mørck realizes that he hadn't thought that request through. Now that he has an assistant, he's accountable to another.
Mørck chooses his first case at random. It is the mysterious disappearance of a MP and Vice-chairperson of the Social Democrat party, Merete Lynggaard, five years before.

After the success of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, I suspect that publishers will be keeping Americans in Nordic crime novels for the foreseeable future. No complaints from the corner, especially if we keep being feed prize-winning works of the caliber of The Keeper of Lost Causes.

The Keeper of Lost Causes is the first in Adler-Olsen's Department Q series. The novel is an opener that doesn't get too bogged down in setting the stage for the entire series.

Mørck is a flawed, but sympathetic protagonist. He's understandably morose at the beginning of the novel, but working on the case invigorates him. One of the things I like about him is while nearly all of the others who work in the police headquarters find him difficult and unlikeable, we as readers get to see the kindness of which he's capable. Mørck's assistant, Assad, is a bit of a mystery himself. As the novel progresses, both Mørck and the reader discover that Assad has many hidden talents.

As much as I enjoy the CSI television programs, they tend to lack authenticity. I was quite pleased when reading The Keeper of Lost Causes the the detectives were described as "already wearing the white disposable coveralls, masks, gloves and hairnets that procedures prescribed" (23) when they begin to process a crime scene. That gave me faith that Adler-Olsen was going to provide me with a more accurate picture of this kind of police work.

As for Department Q's first case. Readers learn fairly early on that Lynggaard did not commit suicide (as was held when the case was first investigated). The narrative focus switches between Mørck and Lynggaard throughout (near the climax, the villains get their chance in the spotlight as well). At the beginning of The Keeper of Lost Causes, the two timelines are separated by five years, while at the end they become parallel before they intersect.

The mystery had depth. Readers don't figure out whodunnit before the other characters do and there's no out-of-left-field deduction by the investigators. The pacing is quite good (The Keeper of Lost Causes is nearly 500 pages long, but those pages fly by). It would have been very easy to get bogged down in Lynggaard's chapters, but Adler-Olsen manages them with aplomb.

A note on the title -
While I love the novel's American title1 and find it very compelling, it's interesting to note that the original Danish title translates as The Woman in the Cage. The original title emphasizes the case where the title we (Americans) encounter emphasizes Mørck and Department Q itself.

The Keeper of Lost Causes comes out on Tuesday (August 23, 2011). The second and third books2 in the Department Q series have already been published in the original Danish so hopefully we'll have access to English translations soon. I know I'm eager to get my hands the next installment.
  1. Apparently, this book is published under the title Mercy in the UK.
  2. Their Danish titles translate as The Pheasant Killers and Message in a Bottle.
disclosure: I received a review copy of The Keeper of Lost Causesfrom Penguin via NetGalley.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Spellbound by Cara Lynn Shultz

Spellbound by Cara Lynn Shultz

16 year-old Emma Connor's life has been a bit of a disaster the past few years. First her twin brother dies (of meningitis), then her mother (of cancer), leaving Emma alone with her abusive, alcoholic stepfather. When her stepfather causes a car accident that nearly kills them both, Emma moves to New York City to live with her aunt Christine.
When Emma begins her junior year at a posh, private school, she's in for a much bigger change than she ever imagined. Emma is drawn to tall, dark and handsome Brendan Salinger despite the fact that he acts quite coldly to her. Inexplicable things begin to happen, leaving Emma with no choice, but to explore the strange connection between her and Brendan.

I finished Spellbound quite a while ago, but didn't feel up to posting about it because the strongest feeling I had about the novel is one of irritation... not at the story itself or the author's writing, but at the text chosen by the publisher for the novel's back cover (and subsequently for the novel's promotional material). The snappy tag line includes information that neither the protagonist nor the reader learns until about 140 pages into the book. That's more than 40% of the way through the story. To me, that amounts to a spoiler. And, I really do think that I would have enjoyed Spellbound more if I hadn't read that tag line first. Knowing that piece of information prematurely clouded my view of the first half of the novel.

That being said, Spellbound was more or less what I would expect from a teen paranormal romance published by Harlequin. I do wish that Emma and Brendan's romance was a bit more substantive. If they are destined to be together, shouldn't there relationship read like more than just a typical teenage romance?

There are some things that I did like about the novel. While the secondary characters were a bit one-dimensional, I really liked Angelique (great attitude) and how Shultz handled Francisco (despite his horribly cliched stock character status). I also liked the fact that Shultz included what amounts to a soundtrack for the novel in the "What's on Brendan & Emma's iPods?" section at the end of the book.

It seems like Spellbound is the beginning of a series.1 I suspect that the novel's sequel may focus on Emma's friend Angelique. So readers who like Spellbound should keep an eye out for more where it came from.
  1. Harlequin: "A Spellbound Novel"; if the author uses the stories from Hadrian's Medieval Legends as a series theme, "there [a]re countless tales in that book" as Angelique says (331).
disclosure: I received a review copy of Spellbound from Harlequin Teen via NetGalley.

Friday, August 19, 2011

book club slacker and the 2012-2013 reading list

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't been making my regular book club and online book club posts. I have lots of excuses for why I haven't kept up with my book club reading (or made it via Skype to any of my Buffalo book club meetings since I moved), but suffice it to say that I feel horribly guilty about it and I hope to rectify the situation soon.

In the meantime, I do have the new reading list for Buffalo book club to share.

January 2012: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
February 2012: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
March 2012: Room by Emma Donoghue
April 2012: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
May 2012: Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar
June 2012: City of Thieves by David Benioff
July 2012: A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
August 2012: The Fortune Quilt by Lani Diane Rich
September 2012: Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason
October 2012: The Strictest School in the World: Being the Tale of a Clever Girl, a Rubber Boy and a Collection of Flying Machines, Mostly Broken by Howard Whitehouse
November 2012: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
December 2012: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

January 2013: The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
February 2013: Bossypants by Tina Fey
March 2013: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
April 2013: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
May 2013: The Professor's Daughter by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert
June 2013: Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet by Deepak Chopra
July 2013: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
August 2013: Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs
September 2013: The Garden of Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani
October 2013: The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga
November 2013: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
December 2013: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster

Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster
Subtitle: One Narcissist's Quest to Discover If Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, or Why Pie Is Not the Answer1
I'm just about finished with Downward-Facing Dog when I hear a noise that makes my blood freeze. No, it's not the crack of a gunshot or the tinkle of an ice cream truck; it's the sound of feet clattering up my front steps. Before I can pull myself up, I come face-to-ass with the UPS delivery man, and I peer at him shirtless, backward, and upside down from between my legs, over the spare tire that is forcing my cabbage-rose-clad rack up around my neck, and through my uncurtained windwow.
And this? Right here? Is why I hate exercise. (99)
Such a Pretty Fat is Lancaster's third memoir. I read her first, Bitter is the New Black, last year for book club (see post).

If you haven't read Jen Lancaster, the quote above will give you a bit of a taste for her style. The passage that immediately follows the quote is one of my favorites in the book. I thought about including it as well, but decided a three-page quote was a bit excessive for the blog and, well, I didn't want to rob anyone of the experience of reading the whole scene in context.

Such a Pretty Fat is as much about who she came to write this particular memoir as it is about her quest to lose weight. Lancaster is honest about her struggles (that's one of the best things about Lancaster, her willingness to share all the pitfalls she encounters regardless of how embarrassing they are). She made me laugh. I also found some real wisdom in Such a Pretty Fat, which I wasn't really expecting.
  1. Oh how I love Jen Lancaster's subtitles! She also uses footnotes and by now I'm sure my readers have realized how I feel about footnotes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

dare I admit that there was another trip to Borders

Don't mock Russell. I encouraged him this time.

The Monday-Wednesday special this week was buy six, save an extra 10%, buy 8, save an extra 15%. It seemed like a good deal (provided the liquidator made good on it, unlike the last time) so we decided that Russell should go on a reconnaisssance and possible shopping mission today.

Russell made out pretty well and reported that it wasn't busy at all. He didn't even have to wait in line!

For me:
  • Bumped by Megan McCafferty (I've been dying to read this one)
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver (on my 2011 challenge reading list assigned by Jessica)
  • Encounter by Milan Kundera (to complete my collection; I own everything Kundera's written that's available in English)
  • The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (because I'm not a fan of Simon & Schuster at the moment; see why)
For Russell:For both of us:Yes, that's a total of eight items. And, yes, we did get an extra 15% off.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Thrall's Tale by Judith Lindbergh

The Thrall's Tale by Judith Lindbergh

The Thrall's Tale is a masterpiece of historical fiction that follows Katla, a slave, her daughter Bibrau, and their mistress Thorbjorg, a prophetess of the Norse god Odin, as they navigate the stormy waters of love, revenge, faith, and deception in the Viking Age settlements of tenth–century Greenland. Lindbergh's lyrical prose captures the tenuousness of lives led on the edge of the known world, the pain of loyalties shattered by Christian conversion, and the deepest desires hidden in the human heart. A book that has appeal for readers of fantasy and romance as well as historical and literary fiction, The Thrall's Tale is an absorbing cultural saga researched and written over ten years as Lindbergh immersed herself in the literature, artifacts, and landscape of her characters' lives and world. (back cover text)

I first discovered The Thrall's Tale in 2007 (see post). I've had a copy sitting on my shelf for four years now. I loaned it to my mom (who loves historical fiction) shortly after I received it, but since then it's been more or less collecting dust. I know I've picked it up a few times during the past four years and I may have started it once, but I never dug into it until this month.

I'll admit it now. I didn't finish The Thrall's Tale. I really did make an effort, though: the novel is 446 pages long and I gave up on page 188.1

I really wanted to like The Thrall's Tale. It's a debut historical novel set during a time period with which I'm not familiar and it got great reviews.2 It seemed like the recipe for a great read, but unfortunately The Thrall's Tale did not work for me. The novel seemed to have much promise in its early pages, but the more I read of The Thrall's Tale, the less I wanted to continue reading it. Especially since, after a certain point, it seemed like there was no point in holding out for the promised romance as it was either going to come to absolutely nothing or be disappointing for all involved.

The Thrall's Tale begins with one female narrator (Katla, a teenage slave, accompanying her master from Iceland to Greenland), gains a second (Thorjorg, a seeress of Odin) and then a third (Bibrau, Katla's unplanned and unwanted daughter). I don't mind a multiple narrative structure (whether it be first- or second-person), but I don't think I've ever before read a multi-narrative book where I didn't enjoy any of the narrative threads.
  • I liked Katla well enough in the beginning of the novel, but the drastic change in her personality after the incident that occurs around page 55 rendered her completely unsympathetic to me (I don't fault her for her reaction to the traumatic incident, but I found relating to her very difficult after that point).
  • Thorjorg's narrative was tough from her entrance because of her obtuse, oracular voice. Even early on (when I was still genuinely interested in following the story), I found myself skimming through her chapters.
  • Finally, there's Bibrau. She comes across as more than just strange. She's like an evil child in a horror movie. I didn't want to know more about what would happen to her or what she would do because it seemed like it was only going to get worse.
It's obvious that The Thrall's Tale was well-researched. And I'm sure the story Lindbergh is trying to tell (settlement of Greenland, Christianization of the area) could have been very interesting. In short, three things turned me off: unlikeable protagonist-narrators, slow pace (quite a bit happens early in the novel, but then the pace becomes glacial), and pervasive hopelessness.

BUT, The Thrall's Tale has gotten good reviews so your mileage may vary, as they say.
  1. That's about 42% of the way through.
  2. From Library Journal, Geraldine Brooks, and Jonis Agee just to name a few.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bruised Apple Books and Music (Peekskill, NY)

As I mentioned, I'm going to start featuring local (and not-so-local) and independent (used and not-used) bookstores on the blog. This is the first of those posts. Let me know what you think.

Last weekend, Russell and I visited Bruised Apple in Peekskill. And, my, my, it is a wonderful shop. It's just the kind of used bookstore that I like best. It has a huge selection (50,000 titles, according to its website). It's organized, uncramped, and infused with mood-setting, but not distracting instrumental music. It's the kind of shop where you could spend an afternoon browsing and there's little surprises around every corner, including the postcards, notes, and clippings that decorate the endcaps.

Russell and I both browsed. My primary focus was the fiction sections, while Russell checked out the music (that section included movies as well) and nonfiction with a particular focus on history and biography.

The selection was quite good and the main sections each had multiple subcategories (urban fiction, Chinese history, etc.). Historical fiction is segregated from the general fiction/literature section and is referred to as something like "fiction inspired by history," which I thought was interesting. The YA section was overstocked with Stephenie Meyer (which isn't completely unexpected; I momentarily considered picking up a hardcover copy of The Host). The local-interest/Hudson Valley section is the only one that includes both new and used books. On the tops of the cases in the fiction/literature section I noticed old leather- and cloth-bound sets of Shakespeare, Dickens, etc, most priced for the entire set, but some available to purchase by individual volume. There are some rare books, but the bulk of the stock was standard modern used (which isn't a bad thing).

Russell thought that the music was overpriced, but the book prices were generally. quite good. I didn't buy anything, but Russell picked up a signed copy of William Pitt: the Younger by William Hague for $9.50. If you follow the link, you'll see that Powells is selling a unsigned used copy of the book for $24.

Bruised Apple does buy used books (not sure about music). Russell called prior to this visit to ask about whether they bought (remember all those books we've been weeding?) and the owner told him that they were pretty full, but that they might consider literature and local history. We didn't bring any books when we made our weekend visit, wanting to see what kind of items they stocked before making any offers. Russell went back during the week with some books, but they didn't buy any of them.

The image below will give you an idea of how big the storefront is (it's also quite deep). I don't have any inside shots since I didn't want to draw attention to myself. Luckily, though, the shop has lots of interior shots on its photo page AND a blogger from the local newspaper has an image-rich post on the store entitled Old-school works for me, every time.

Bruised Apple Books and Music
923 Central Ave
Peekskill, NY
Established 1993
Open daily, call for hours