Thursday, January 27, 2011

vampire books galore

I think that I've been reading a bit too much paranormal YA fiction. As much as I love my Nook, I blame it (and the ease of getting such books as e-checkouts from the library) for my increased jadedness with the genre. I gave up on Fallen by Lauren Kate halfway through. I also wasn't impressed by Evernight by Claudia Gray (the first in a series; the protagonist was born of two vampire parents and is attending a school for young-looking vampires trying to keep up with the changing times, which has just admitted humans for the first time ever; it wasn't bad, but I have no desire to read the other books in the series). I was, however, impressed with a book my friend Nancy recommended to me.

Sweetblood by Pete Hautman

Sweetblood is a refreshingly different vampire novel. Teenage Lucy Szabo is causing her parents grief. She's failing a couple classes, dressing like a goth, and frequenting vampire forums online.

Having been diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at age six, Lucy has had a lot of time to think about her condition. She has a theory... about vampires. The vampires of the middle ages were people with untreated diabetes. After all, "madness, ravenous hunger, extreme sensitivity to sunlight and sound, bleeding receding gums (that make her teeth look longer), cold, clammy skin, and deathlike coma" (32) are all symptoms of untreated diabetes. And, well we all know how people like to embellish stories...

I really like Lucy. She's very much a typical teenager. She's angsty without being too angsty. She's also very cheeky. Here's one of my favorite passages from the novel:
I recognize Guy's voice right away.
"Where were you?" I say.
"Who is this?"
"This is the grounded vampire."
"Where were you? I went to the Bean, but you weren't there/"
"I thought you were grounded"
"So?" I'm not going to make this easy for him. If he really likes me, he'll have to learn to deal.
"Sorry--I didn't think you'd be there."
"Well, I was."
"You know what I'm doing right now?"
"Talking on the phone?"
"I'm looking at that bug you gave me."
"Yeah? Is it doing anything?"
"It's just sort of having out. Where'd you get it?"
"I have my sources. Hey, you want to go over to the Bean? They're open till two. They have live music at night."
"Can't," I say. "I'm grounded."
Guy doesn't say anything for a couple of seconds, then, in a tentative voice, he asks, "Does that mean that I should to to the Bean anyway, just in case you decide to go--even though you can't go because you're grounded? Or do you mean you really can't go? Which is it?" (75)
I also appreciated the fact that though Sweetblood is a self-confessed vampire novel, it doesn't feel the need to rely on the paranormal.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

book clubbing in January

I first read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last summer (see post). I'd been wanting to read the other books in the trilogy, but I held off since I knew we'd be discussing Dragon Tattoo this month.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I'm happy to report that Dragon Tattoo was generally well-liked (it even lured someone who isn't a regular to our meeting). It also led to a pretty fully discussion. We talked about:
  • the two main characters and how we felt about them
  • what we do and don't know about Lisabeth's past
  • Mikael's je-ne-sais-quoi appeal
  • the Swedish movie and the casting decisions made for the American version
  • the novel's pacing and length
  • the two storylines
  • how we felt about the ending of the novel
  • why the author referred to his characters by their last names
  • Mikael's relationship to Erika
  • the relative merits of listening to the audio version of the novel
  • the novel's title and why it was chosen (the original Swedish title translates as "Men Who Hate Women")
  • and why we thought the novel was so popular
among other things. What was particularly nice was that one of our book club members had been an exchange student to Sweden. She was able to give us some insight into Swedish culture.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

new selections for online book club

Based on how our discussions went last year, we decided to go for an even mix of contemporary fiction and "other."
I have to admit that there are a couple of books on the list that I'm not sure I'll like, but that's part of what makes being in a book club so enjoyable; you're challenged to read things you wouldn't necessarily pick for yourself.

February 2011: Tinkers by Paul Harding (contemp. fiction)

March 2011: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (fables/satire)

April 2011: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (contemp. fiction)

May 2011: A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane (mystery/thriller)

June 2011: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (contemp. fiction)

July 2011: Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill (paranormal)

August 2011: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (contemp. fiction)

September 2011: Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley (YA/fantasy)

October 2011: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (contemp. fiction)

November 2011: True Grit by Charles Portis (western)

December 2011/January 2012: Room by Emma Donoghue (contemp. fiction)

February 2012: Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick (nonfiction)

March 2012: The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman (contemp. fiction)

April 2012: The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming (alternate history)

Monday, January 24, 2011


Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia Series

I recently read the first three books in Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia) and I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about them. In short, I thought The Thief was well-wrought and compelling. I found The Queen of Attolia almost unbearably boring (it got interesting for a bit around page 150 and then again at the end) and I only finished reading it in the hope that it would get better. I liked The King of Attolia, but the only reason I read it is because I already had it checked out of the library.

The books of the Attolia series are set in a "Byzantine-like imaginary landscape." Attolia is one of three competing nations that fight amongst themselves in the shadows of the vast Mede empire.

The Thief is a well-deserving Newbery Honor Book. Gen, short for Eugenides, is the titular character and the novel's protagonist. He's a thief whose boast that he can steal anything from anyone is challenged when he's expected to steal Eddis' national treasure. While The Thief does have a strong storyline, it is really character-driven and the cheeky Gen is an interesting and sympathetic character. I loved the revelation at the end of the book and the fact that I hadn't seen it coming.

As mentioned above, I did not care for The Queen of Attolia. I didn't have a problem with the story's horrific beginning. Overall the pacing of the story is quite slow and despite expectations (based on The Thief and on what happens to Eugenides at the beginning of The Queen of Attolia) much of the novel is not focused on Eugenides, but rather on the political situation and maneuverings between the various countries. There are spots of interest and excitement, but if I hadn't enjoyed The Thief so much I probably would have given up on The Queen of Attolia.

Overall I thought that The King of Attolia was much better balanced than the The Queen of Attolia. While The King of Attolia is about Eugenides, he's not really the protagonist of the novel. Much of the novel follows Costas, a member of the Attaolian King's Guard.
While Eugenides is the driving force of the series, he's seems less and less present in the later books. In The Thief readers see everything from Eugenides' perspective and the series progresses we see him and his perspective less, focusing more on others' perceptions of and misconceptions about him.

I'd put myself on the waiting list for the fourth book in the series (A Conspiracy of Kings) before I started The Queen of Attolia so I may read it when my name gets to the top of the queue, but I may not.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Passage

Coming soon to a student services blog near you:

The Passage by Justin Cronin
A viral, it was said, was a being without a soul. [...] In its blood was a tiny creature, called a virus, that stole the soul away. The virus entered through a bite [...] and once it was inside a person, the soul was gone, leaving the body behind to walk the earth forever; the person they had been was no more. These were the facts of the world, the one truth from which all other truths descended; Peter might just as well have been wondering what made the rain fall; and yet, [...] he thought it. Why would a viral come home if it had no soul? (270)
It's hard to know what to make of a 766-page "postapocalyptic vampire fantasy" written by an English professor. The premise of The Passage is intriguing, but its length is daunting.

The Passage is set in the near future (Jenna Bush is Governor of Texas at the beginning of the novel). Scientists working on a secret, government-funded project, create a race of vampires while attempting to develop a cure for aging. When the vampires get loose, they decimate the human population of North America (and possibly the world). Only small outposts of human civilization survive and they must be vigilant because the virals are always hungry and never far away.

The Passage won't be everyone's cup of tea. I suspect it's one of those books that you'll either love or hate. Personally I didn't love The Passage, but I didn't dislike it as much as I thought I would when I first started reading it. While the book is dark and does seem to drag at points, it's hard not to get invested in its story. I kept reading because I really wanted to see where it would go (it was also interesting to see what parts of the vampire mythos Cronin decided to incorporate into his breed of blood suckers). The most problematic thing about The Passage is that it is the first in a series. Readers who aren't aware of that fact will be find the book's ending unsatisfying.

You can read on the first fifteen pages of The Passage on the author's website.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

"He secretly regarded novels as quaint, irrelevant oddities--complex, imaginative enterprises produced by people who needed to dignify the interminability of their idleness" (283).

The protagonist of The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay, 25-year-old Karan, came to Bombay "in search of images that would reveal its most sublime, secret stories" (6). This revelation is also the aim of the novel, which follows Karan and his unexpected associates. Karan meets reclusive Samar Arora, a former child prodigy who decided to get out of the limelight while his musical career was still at his peak, on an assignment from India Chronicle. Samar introduces Karan to Zaira, a beautiful, but shy Bollywood actress famous enough to be known only by her first name. Zaira sends Karan on a question to the Chor Bazaar, where he comes across his eventual lover, Rhea Dalal, a homemaker who gave up a promising artistic career for her husband.

A writer has to be pretty gutsy to kill off one of his novel's most sympathetic characters a third of the way through it, even if his story is based on a real life murder. Honestly I wasn't sure whether the The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay would hold up once Zaira was no longer an active participant in its story. Luckily, it does. Zaira also continues to be a driving force in the novel even at the end of its story years after her death.

I was particularly taken with this passage:
Karan found that over time he had not come to forget Zaira, as conventional wisdom would have him believe; rather, he had come to remember her better. Her particulars were now sharp and resplendent, like the head of a spear. Countless details fretted in the air like disturbed mites before they slowly congealed to form something composite and solid, a thing that stood in direct, cavalier opposition to the haze of memory.
Reluctantly, sadly, he had come to accept that a human being was composed not only of everything that he possessed but also of all that he had lost. (293)

Moonlight in Odessa

Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles

In Odessa, 23-year-old Daria, who's trained as an engineer, works a secretary for the head of an Israeli shipping firm and moonlights as an interpreter for Soviet Unions, a matchmaking agency that specializes in providing mail-order brides to American men. She lives with her doting grandmother (called Boba), but longs to marry and have a family. Faced with a dearth of suitable bachelors (the only man interested in her is a gangster) and encouraged by Boba, Daria decides that her happily-ever-after lies in America with Soviet Unions client, Tristan.

Moonlight in Odessa is written in the first person. Daria is a sympathetic character with a clear and compelling voice. She's smart, plucky, and knows how to handle herself. Once in America, however, Daria looses all of her spunk.

I enjoyed the first part of the book (through page 214), the last 125 pages, I did not. Charles does a good job in highlighting the challenges inherent in navigating life in post-Soviet Ukraine. Her (and Daria's) Odessa is peopled with interesting, if not always likable, characters: enigmatic Vlad, formidable Valentina Borisovna, lecherous Mr. Harmon, two-faced Olga, and well-meaning. Once Daria leaves Odessa, the story becomes as bleak as she does. While Daria is eventually able to rally herself enough to take back control of her own life, the novel's conclusion is too perfect to be believable.

While I found Moonlight in Odessa disappointing overall, it is Charles' first novel and the novel's strong points indicate that Charles has quite a bit of potential.

Daria on moonlight:
Moonlight. I love this word. So romantic. There is a hint of secrecy, of deeds done at night when no one can see. I love its transformation from noun to verb. To moonlight: to work a second job on the sly. (45)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Corduroy Mansions

Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith

It's no surprise that I enjoyed Corduroy Mansions, the first book in McCall Smith's newest serial novel series, since I so enjoyed 44 Scotland Street (see post) and its sequels.

Corduroy Mansions is quite similar to 44 Scotland Street. It's been touted McCall Smith's "first internet novel" as it's published on The Telegraph's website, but in practice I expect the writing and publication work the same way as 44 Scotland Street did with The Scotsman.

Corduroy Mansions follows the lives of the residents of mansion-turned-apartment building located in the Pimlico area of London as well as some of their associates and associates' associates. One of the book's most memorable characters is Freddie de la Hay, a Pimlico terrier (see Tea Time for AMS for a discussion of the breed). He comes to live with wine merchant William French who owns the top flat of Corduroy Mansions and hopes that Freddie's appearance will encourage his 24-year-old, dog-hating son to finally move out.

My favorite character, though, is Terence Moongrove. His connection to Corduroy Mansions is a bit tenuous: he's the uncle of the vile Oedipus Snark, MP, whose personal assistant, Jenny, shares the middle flat. He's a complete crackpot (following a Bulgarian mystic, he practicing sacred dance as a way to connect with "beings of light" he also drives an ancient Morris Traveller that he's often to absentminded to remember to gas) and his presence adds so much to the novel.

Part of the reason that I like Corduroy Mansions and 44 Scotland Street so much is that McCall Smith's sense of humor really shines in the series (or maybe the humor in these two is just much more in line with my own). I'm not saying that there are not funny moments in his other books, but these series seem to yield many more laugh-out-loud-moments for me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

a reading challenge for 2011?

I haven't done a reading challenge in a while, but when I saw the Take a Chance challenge, I thought it might be fun.

I'll post the list again once my selections for each category have been made, but in the meantime here are the categories (with instructions):

1. Staff Member’s Choice: Go to a bookstore or library that has a “Staff Picks” section. Read one of the picks from that section.

2. Loved One’s Choice: Ask a loved one to pick a book for you to read. (If you can convince them to buy it for you, that is even better!)

3. Blogger’s Choice: Find a “Best Books Read” post from a favorite blogger. Read a book from their list.

4. Critic’s Choice: Find a “Best of the Year” list from a magazine, newspaper or professional critic. Read a book from their Top 10 list.

5. Blurb Book: Find a book that has a blurb on it from another author. Read a book by the author that wrote the blurb.

6. Book Seer Pick: Go to The Book Seer and follow the instructions there. Read a book from the list it generates for you.

7. What Should I Read Next Pick: Go to What Should I Read Next and follow the instructions there. Read a book from the list it generates for you.

8. Which Book Pick: Go to Which Book and use the software to generate a list of books. Read a book from that list.

9. LibraryThing Pick: Go to LibraryThing’s Zeitgeist page. Look at the lists for 25 Most Reviewed Books or Top Books and pick a book you’ve never read. Read the book. (Yes... you can click on MORE if you have to.)

Note: #10 allowed participants to choose one of three different options. I decided to go with two of the three.

10a. Public Spying: Find someone who is reading a book in public. Find out what book they are reading and then read the same book. Write about it.

10b. Random Bestseller: Go to and, using the True Random Number Generator, enter the number 1950 for the min. and 2010 for the max. and then hit generate. Then go to this site and find the year that generated for you and click on it. Then find the bestseller list for the week that would contain your birthday for that year. Choose one of the bestsellers from the list that comes up, read it and write about it.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

L.A. Candy

L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad

I never planned to read L.A. Candy primarily because I'm snooty enough to think that celebrities with book contracts didn't get them based on the merits of their writing (which isn't to say that I haven't read books written by celebrities in the past, see post for evidence). I did read it, though, because I came across it while browsing through NYPL's ebook collection for books to read on my Nook and I have to admit that it was better than expected. This book isn't high literature by any means, but it's definitely good for a light, fluffy read.

Given the fact that Conrad has starred in two reality shows, I assume that L.A. Candy is based on her experience. I'm sure there are many people who read it trying to equate certain characters or events with things that happened on Laguna Beach and The Hills (I admit to doing a bit of that myself despite the fact that I didn't regularly watch either show), but what more interesting is the look it gives at what goes on behind the scenes. Jane is as relatable to readers as she is to the fictional viewers of the tv show (less so, though, when she gets involved with a celebrity bad boy), but many of the other character are a bit cookie-cutter. The story ends abruptly leaving no question that there's a sequel (it looks like there are three books in the series so far).

Thursday, January 06, 2011


Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

In Peeps vampirism is a parasitic sexually transmitted disease. Once infected with Echinococcus cannibillus, you turn into a vampiric monster who eschews sunnlight in favor of hordes of rats or you become a carrier like the novel's protagonist. Cal has night-vision, superhuman strength, and a ravenous craving for sex - after all, the parasite needs its carriers to spread.

My friend Jessica originally advised me against reading Peeps. She didn't think I'd care for the parasite descriptions that begin open each chapter. She was right, but fortunately those sections are consistent enough to make them easy to skip over them without missing out on any of the text of the main story (I'll admit that I stopped forcing myself to read them at around the halfway point).

Parasites aside, I thought Peeps was OK. While I really like Westerfeld, this one was not one of my favorites. It took me a week and a half to read it (normally I'd be able to read it in a day or two) because it was never my first choice when I sat down to read. I didn't find the storyline particularly compelling (though it did get better for me in the last quarter). I did like Westerfeld's historical and biological explanation of vampirism, though.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Park Guell

Park Güell: Gaudí's Utopia
by Jose Maria Carandell, Pere Vivas Ortiz (photographer)

Uncharacteristically, I didn't give many books as presents this holiday season. I did pick up this gem for my father, though. When my parents visited Barcelona last year my dad became smitten with Parc Güell (oh the photos he took!).

I decided that Park Güell: Gaudí's Utopia would be a perfect gift for him. It's a nice size (not a coffee table book, but one you can easily hold in your hands), enough (but not too much) text, and the photographs are absolutely gorgeous. It's out of print, but I was able to find a like-new copy for a decent price. (he loved it!)

On a side note - I discovered The Gaudí Key by Esteban Martin and Andreu Carranza while searching for book ideas for my dad. I requested a copy through BookMooch, which arrived recently. I'm sure I'll get around to reading it at some point.

Monday, January 03, 2011


Hi, all!

I'm testing out some new templates and going back to tag my older posts.

Let me know if there's anything you do or don't like or if you have suggestions for me.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

End of 2010 survey

When I saw the end of 2010 survey on another blog, I thought I give it a try despite the fact that I didn't do a great job of keeping track of all the books I've read this past year. (and, in case you didn't know, I don't blog about every book I read)

In any case because I haven't kept a list, my answers may not be completely accurate. I also have a hard time with the idea of singling out a single book that is "best" or "worst" so it helps me a bit to qualify. I'm also going to try to limit my use of the same book as an answer to multiple questions (for added interest).

1. Best book of 2010?
Because I can't begin to decide on a best novel, I will go with Sock Innovation by Cookie A (see post)

2. Worst book of 2010?
One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell (see post)

3. Most disappointing book of 2010?
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (see post) because I expected it to be a good deal better than it actually was and I had been really looking forward to reading it.

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010?
- Old Man's War by John Scalzi (see post)
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (see post)

5. Book you recommended to people most in 2010?
Probably Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins once I read it.
I also found myself recommending the following books quite a bit:
- Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
- The Host by Stephenie Meyer (see post)
And, since I got my Nook for Christmas, I can't seem to stop recommending that other people get one too.

6. Best series you discovered in 2010?
So I don't repeat the obvious (see question 5), here are a few other options:
- Port Chapman mysteries by P.J. Alderman. Haunting Jordan (see post) is the only out so far, but it has the makings of a great cozy series.
- Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. I didn't think I'd like these books, but I did!

7. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2010?
- Alison Andersen (translator)
- Nicole R. Dickson (non-genre fiction)
She's only written Casting Off so far (see post), but I'm looking forward to seeing what else she'll write.
- Chloe Neill (paranormal)
- Susan Johnson (romance)
- Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi (non-genre fiction)

8. Most hilarious read of 2010?
I'm having a hard time with this one.
The Reluctant Miss Van Helsing by Minda Webber was quite goofy.

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2010?
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010?
- Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, sequel to Leviathan (per question 11, I really did not care for Behemoth's cover)
- Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, third book in the Hunger Games trilogy (After I read Catching Fire of course)

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010?
I think my favorite is the cover of A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé

12. Most memorable character in 2010?
Lisabeth Salander, of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010?
This one is hard - maybe The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw (see post)

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010?
Persuasion by Jane Austen (see post). I can't believe it took me so long to reread it.

15. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read?
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
When I wrote my friend Jessica in August that I'd started reading Hunger Games, she responded:
"I cannot believe it took you this long to get to it!!!!"