Sunday, July 31, 2011

comfort reading

As I mentioned in this post, I've been a bit overwhelmed lately. When I'm stressed I'm fond of pulling out old standbys. My current choice for comfort reading is Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza series, which I first posted about in 2008 (post).

Stravaganza: So far I've reread the first two books in the series. I have books three and four on hand and have just realized that a fifth book flew under my radar. City of Ships is now on my to-buy list.

Readings in American History

Today's tidbit comes from the War-on-Drugs era, more specifically from Mark Bowden's Killing Pablo (which is about the manhunt for Pablo Escobar).
The Americans were used to working with Colombian officers who would joke about failed missions, who took them no more seriously than getting the wrong order at a restaurant.
There were plenty of reasons why they repeatedly failed. On one occasion, approaching a suspect finca on a morning raid, the assault force lined up along a ridge and then simply walked toward the structure. A Centra Spike soldier accompanying them suggested that the force drop down on the ground and crawl.
"In the dirt?" asked a Colombian officer, insulted by the suggestion. "My guys don't crawl in the dirt and the mud."
The occupants of the target house fled well before the raiding party arrived. The finca had all the hallmarks of an Escobar hideout [...] The occupants had fled in such haste that they hadn't had time to completely burn documents, so they had urinated and defecated on them. This was enough to dissuade the national police from taking a look. When the Centra Spike man began to fish the papers out of the mess, the colonel himself objected.
"I can't believe you'd do that," he said. "That's human waste!"
"Where I come from we also low-crawl and get our uniforms dirty," the American said. (88)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

a trip to Borders

Today Russell and I decided to visit our local Borders to check out their going-out-of-business sale.

I have to say that the store wasn't nearly as busy as I expected it to be. The majority of the store's stock was 20% off so I suspect that many shoppers are holding out for deeper discounts.

My mom asked me to pick up a book she wanted to send to a friend (A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff). For myself, I only got one book and some knitting magazines1 since magazines were 40% off.

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross is the book that came home with me. I've wanted to read it since I first saw the description and I didn't manage to snag a review copy. Seeing all the blogger reviews has been a bit of cruel and unusual punishment so when I noticed one copy on the shelf, I snagged it.

Russell's purchases:We'll be going back as the liquidation proceeds though I (at least) will try not to bring too many more books home.
  1. Creative Knitting, Sept 2011; Debbie Bliss, Spring/Summer 2011; Knitscene, Summer 2011, Fall 2011; and The Knitter, issue 31

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sync this week and an update

The reason I've been relatively quiet lately is that I'm knee-deep in an exhausting move (work this time; all the library and archival collections to a new building). Sorting and packing and organizing. It really does seems like a never-ending project. Today's installment involved three trucks and eleven guys in blue t-shirts. I'm worn out just from running around keeping them all on task.
I'm trying not to have a repeat of my March/April move stress-induced silence, but I thought an explanation might be in order.

The only other news is my big giveaway. Please enter. And, tell your friends - if they enter (and say that they heard about the giveaway from you), you'll get an extra entry. I've enjoyed looking through the entries and have appreciated all the comments and feedback I've been receiving on the blog.

Now onto our continuing coverage of Sync's summer free audiobook extravaganza...

The offerings this week are
Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari and
Rescue: Stories of Survival From Land and Sea

Epidemics, floods, droughts--for sixteen-year-old Lucy, the end of the world came and went, taking 99% of the population with it. As the weather continues to rage out of control, and Sweepers clean the streets of plague victims, Lucy survives alone in the wilds of Central Park. But when she's rescued from a pack of hunting dogs by a mysterious boy named Aidan, she reluctantly realizes she can't continue on her own. She joins his band of survivors, yet, a new danger awaits her: the Sweepers are looking for her. There's something special about Lucy, and they will stop at nothing to have her.

Following the successes of Epic, High, and Rough Water, the latest addition to the Adrenaline series presents the most gripping rescue narratives. Rescue includes Doug Scott's account of saving himself by crawling off Pakistan's Ogre with two broken legs, and Spike Walker's story of the race to recover a king crab fisherman from the Bering Sea in midwinter. The book also includes an account of trying to rescue two canoeists battling hypothermia on a storm-tossed lake; Alison Osius's tale of two teenagers lost in the Great Gulf Wilderness of New Hampshire; and a missionary doctor and his dog team being blown out to sea on an iceberg off the coast of Labrador.

Note: these books don't expire like the e-audiobooks you get from the library. So, be sure to download the books even if you don't think you'll get around to listening to them right away.

More information about Sync is available in this post.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

5 years [giveaway]

Five years ago today I posted my first blog post. I think that's a pretty good excuse for a giveaway.

I like surprises so this giveaway will be a little bit different than the usual book-blog giveaway. There will be at least two winners and the prizes will be customized. If you win, I'll send you a book off your wishlist1 and a copy of one of my favorite books that I think you'll like.

I'll be posting my choices for the winners on the blog, so don't enter if that makes you uncomfortable. Don't worry, I won't be buying erotica. I don't know any of you well enough for that.

I'm using the commission I've earned from Powells Partner Program to buy the books.2 As I mentioned above, there will be at least two winners. The cost of my book selections will decide how many more. The more the merrier!

If you win, you'll need to be willing to provide me with your mailing address. The prizes may ship directly from Powells and they may or may not be wrapped.

Who can enter?
  • No location restrictions
  • Family and real-life friends are eligible
  • If you are a minor, have a parent or guardian submit an entry on your behalf
  • You don't have to be a follower, but you'll earn an extra entry if you are
Interested? Click here to enter. You have until Wednesday, August 10 (11:59 pm, EDT).3

Thanks for reading! I'm looking forward to the shopping I have ahead of me.
  1. Amazon, LibraryThing, ... anywhere as long as it's publicly accessible.
  2. circa $93
  3. Eastern Daylight Time

Monday, July 25, 2011

adaptation: Bride & Prejudice

Last week a coworker and fellow Austen fan she made a reference to how Mr. Bennet handles Mary's performance at the ball (in Pride and Prejudice) in conversation. Maya's wonderfully horrific cobra dance in Gurinder Chadha's Bollywood-style adaption, Bride & Prejudice, leapt to mind so I mentioned it. When my coworker admitted to not having seen the film, I insisted that she borrow my copy. This weekend I decided that I need to watch Bride & Prejudice once more before it left the house.

I have a soft spot for Bollywood films (and I loved Chadha's Bend it Like Beckham) so Bride & Prejudice was never a hard sell to me. Bride & Prejudice isn't perfect (above all - there are only 4 Bakshi girls, Kitty didn't make the cut), but I think it's true to the spirit of the original. The contemporary Indian setting works really well for the story because inherent in it is a more rigid social hierarchy and behavioral expectations reminiscent of Austen's time. Mrs. Bakshi works perfectly as a by-the-book Mrs. Bennet and she's believable within the setting.

Martin Henderson doesn't do much for me as Darcy (Balraj/Bingley is much more my type) and Aishwarya Rai is a bit too gorgeous for Lizzie, but otherwise I think the casting is quite good. The musical interludes are pretty well integrated (which is not always the case with Bollywood movies), though I could have done without Ashanti's guest appearance. The cobra dance bit mentioned above is my favorite scene from the whole film. Also Lakhi/Lydia (Peeya Rai Chowdhary) is an absolute crack up.

Two thumbs up! But, skip it if musicals (or modern interpretations of Austen) drive you to distraction.

I suspect my coworker is more of a purist than I am so I may post a follow-up when I've heard her comments on the film.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

on weeding our book collection (post 5 of ?)

We have, in our new place, six book-only bookcases. Three are mine (one five-shelf, one two-shelf, and one three-shelf), two Russell's, and one shared.

The last part of my pre- and post-move weeding and book organization project has been to get my LibraryThing library updated.

So far I've input (or updated the entries for) all the books housed in my two smaller, glass-front bookcases.

I first posted these photos in May (here) so the contents have altered slightly, but I thought I'd include them for illustrative purposes.

top shelf: 28 books
bottom shelf: 29 books

top shelf: 66 books
middle shelf: 30 books
bottom shelf: 38 books

I've been putting off the five-shelf case because (1) it has 5 shelves and (2) books are two deep on every shelf. I'll get to it eventually (and the books on the shared case).

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sync: Chanda's Secrets + Tess of the D'Ubervilles

The fifth week of Sync's summer free audiobook extravaganza started yesterday.

The offerings this week are
Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton and
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.

Sixteen-year-old Chanda Kabelo has secrets. Her mother is acting strangely, her little sister is out of control, and her best friend is in serious trouble. To make matters worse, people are dying around her. Everyone is afraid to say why, but Chanda knows: it’s because of AIDS. Chanda's Secrets is a suspense-filled novel about a teenager who fights to rescue the people she loves. Through his dramatic story-telling, Allan Stratton captures the love of family, the loyalty of friends, the pain of bereavement, and a fearlessness that is powered by the heart. Above all, this is a story about the courage of living with truth

A ne'er-do-well exploits his gentle daughter's beauty for social advancement in this masterpiece of tragic fiction. Hardy's 1891 novel defied convention to focus on the rural lower class for a frank treatment of sexuality and religion. Then and now, his sympathetic portrait of a victim of Victorian hypocrisy offers compelling reading.

Note: these books don't expire like the e-audiobooks you get from the library. So, be sure to download the books even if you don't think you'll get around to listening to them right away.

More information about Sync is available in this post.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Fitz is the bastard son of the Six Duchies' king-in-waiting, Prince Chivalry, who abdicates the throne when he learns of Fitz's existence. Fitz is left in the care of Chivalry's gamekeeper until King Shrewd decides that Fitz must live in the keep and be trained. But Fitz is not given an education appropriate to a prince, he's apprenticed to Chade, King Shrewd's assassin. Fitz must put his talents, learned and innate, to use for the king because royal bastards are only kept alive as long as they are useful.

Assassin's Apprentice is the first book in the Farseer Trilogy (as well as being Hobb's debut novel). I'd weeded it (and its two mates) in my pre-move book destash. Russell insisted that I keep the books, though, because I had the entire set (and often it's difficult to acquire the later books in a series). I'm happy that I listened to him. I finished Assassin's Apprentice last night and have already started its sequel, Royal Assassin.

One of things I like about the world Hobb has created for the Farseer Trilogy is the royal family's custom of naming children after the virtues the parents hoped the child would embody. That added another level to the story for me. While reading I was constantly taking stock of the royals and to see to what extent each was ruled by his/her name.

More after I've finished the series.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

a couple of things

First, I want to thank Rhiannon Paille for featuring me on her blog last week.
If you don't know about her self-titled blog already, you should definitely check it out. Rhiannon is a really interesting person and I appreciate her book reviews and thoughts on the publishing industry.

Second, be sure to visit this blog later this month (in 10 days or so) as I have something extraordinary planned.
If you are one of those people who can't handle anticipation, you might a clue at the very bottom of this page if you look hard enough.

Have a great week, everyone.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Courtier's Secret by Donna Russo Morin

The Courtier's Secret by Donna Russo Morin

17-year-old Jeanne Du Bois was sent off to a convent seven years ago. When the sisters tire of her insolence, Jeanne is returned to court (Louis XIV's at Versailles). Stifled by the restrictions of life as a female courtier, Jeanne spends what free time she has eavesdropping on the palace's school room and sneaking off to fencing lessons with her uncle.

Jeanne's domineering father wants nothing more than to make her someone else's problem (and to make some money in the process). Evading an arranged marriage seems to be Jeanne's biggest problem. That is, until she accidentally saves the life of one of the King's Guard while dressed in her fencing uniform. When Jeanne is mistaken for a man and invited to join the Musketeers, Jean-Luc (her alter-ego) is born. Cue: endless costume changes.

I would not recommend this books to fans of serious historical fiction because I suspect that they'd be disappointed in it. I can see The Courtier's Secret being a gateway book for YA readers wanting to get into more series historical fiction. In fact The Courtier's Secret reads more like a YA novel than it does a novel written for adults. It's not just the age of the protagonist, but how Jeanne was written as well as the kind of story The Courtier's Secret is (action, adventure, romance with a young misunderstood protagonist and a mostly happily-ever-after ending) and the fact that the author seemed to play fast and loose with historical fact.

I'd class The Courtier's Secret as a nice, fluffy historical. A bodice-ripper without any real bodice-ripping. I did read The Courtier's Secret all the way through in one sitting, but found it unsatisfying and ultimately forgettable. The things that were included to add depth to the story were either overshadowed by the action or horribly contrived. And, while everything turns out fine for Jeanne, others go unpunished or unsaved.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Eutopia by David Nickel

Please note that while this review doesn't include any big, end-of-novel spoilers, it does include a bit more plot detail than the publisher's blurb. Proceed with caution.

Eutopia by David Nickel

Subtitled "a novel of terrible optimism," Eutopia is a genre-bending novel with a title that promises a terrific blend of eugenics and utopia.1

Set in 1911, Eutopia follows two outsiders navigating the remote mill town of Eliada, Idaho.

Andrew Waggoner is the junior physician at the Eliada Hospital. While his credentials are impeccable, he's a Negro and his presence is tolerated only because it is mandated by the town's patron.

17-year-old Jason Thistledown has miraculously survived a plague that killed the entire population of Cracked Wheel when his long-lost aunt arrives in the area as part of her census for the Eugenics Records Office. Untethered Justin agrees to accompany his aunt on to Eliada, where she has an appointment with a colleague.

Eutopia was not at all what I expected and I have to say that I didn't like it. I expected a story where the villains were overzealous proponents of eugenics. There were those, but the story also included a paranormal element that I just could not appreciate.

I enjoyed the beginning of the book and was intrigued by where I thought the author was taking the plot, but when it became apparent that the mysterious Mr. Juke was a faerie/monster rather than someone locked away for study because of his intriguing (to the eugenicist doctor) deformities, I lost interest. I did finish the entire book, but only because I had Eutopia slated for review.

I know there are readers out there who will love Eutopia, but I'm not one of them. The novel definitely leads more toward horror, so if you like horror (fantastic rather than realistic)2 with a historical bent, you want want to give Eutopia a try.
  1. For those of you unfamiliar with eugenics, it is a science (popular in the early 20th century) focused on bettering the human race (usually through the culling of undesirable elements; forced sterilization programs and the like). Here's a page with lots of information.
  2. I don't usually read horror so I have no idea if those are the right adjectives to use. What I'm trying to get at is human "monster"(s) versus supernatural monsters.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Eutopia from ChiZine via NetGalley.

Sync: Revenge of the Witch + Beowulf

I hope you all don't mind these reminder posts. I have to admit that doing them is a bit self-serving as it has helped me to remember to download the books.

Today's the beginning of the fourth week of Sync's summer free audiobook extravaganza.

The offerings this week are
Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney and
Beowulf, translated by Francis B. Gummere.

Revenge of the Witch is the first book in Delaney's Wardstone Chronicles / Last Apprentice series. It has also been published under the title The Spook's Apprentice.
For years, Old Gregory has been the Spook for the county, ridding the local villages of evil. Now his time is coming to an end. But who will take over for him? Twenty-nine apprentices have tried — some floundered, some fled, some failed to stay alive.
Only Thomas Ward is left. He's the last hope — the last apprentice.
Can Thomas succeed? Will he learn the difference between a benign witch and a malevolent one? Does the Spook's warning against girls with pointy shoes include Alice? And what will happen if Thomas accidentally frees Mother Malkin, the most evil witch in the county?

The first true masterpiece of English literature, Beowulf depicts the thrilling adventures of a Scandinavian warrior of the sixth century. Part history and part mythology, Beowulf begins in the court of the Danish king, where a demon named Grendel devours men in their sleep. The mighty warrior Beowulf kills the monster, but rejoicing turns to terror when Grendel's mother attacks the hall to avenge the death of her child. After slaying the mighty beast, Beowulf becomes king, ruling peacefully for fifty years. But the day comes when he must confront a foe more powerful than any he has yet faced--an ancient dragon who guards a horde of treasure. Once again Beowulf must gather his strength and courage to defeat the monster, but this time victory exacts a terrible price.

Note: these books don't expire like the e-audiobooks you get from the library. So, be sure to download the books even if you don't think you'll get around to listening to them right away.

More information about Sync is available in this post.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Life from Scratch by Melissa Ford

Life from Scratch by Melissa Ford
ETA (13 April 2012): A commenter on GoodReads expressed concern about spoiler information in my review so I thought it'd be best for me to add a warning. There is one questionable bit in here, but when I was writing the review I honestly didn't think of that comment as being a spoiler.
34-year-old Rachel Goldman has decided to take a year off to "find herself" in the wake of her divorce. She starts a blog, in which she chronicles her adventures in the kitchen (she's learning to cook since she can't afford to eat out anymore) and struggles navigating life on her own.

I saw Life from Scratch in my review queue last time I loaded up my Nook, but I didn't remember requesting it. I'm glad that I had it because it's exactly the kind of book I need right now. Life from Scratch doesn't require a lot from its reader. It provided a wonderful distraction and its ending was unexpectedly satisfying.

Rachel is both protagonist and narrator. Straightforward first-person narration is interspersed with the text of Rachel's blog posts, which are mostly vignettes about cooking. Rachel is self-involved (to the point that she completely missed out on the fact that her best friend was dating someone for the first time in years), but likable enough that you'll forgive her for it. Rachel's unintentional obtuseness is emphasized by the fact that the novel's plot twists are (intentionally?) fairly obvious.

A nice, light read, perfect for summer reading.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Life from Scratch from Bell Bridge Books via NetGalley.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Last night I finished the other book I picked up on my visit to The Strand last month.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Four children with unusual talents are recruited for a top-secret mission. There is only one rule - there are no rules.
How can they work together to save the world?
A cracking adventure begins...

Reynie Muldoon, Sticky Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire each answer a curious ad in the paper ("Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?") and pass a series of befuddling tests before meeting Mr. Benedict, an intelligent eccentric who has a mission for them. The mission can only be completed by a group of children and the fate of the world is at stake.

The Mysterious Benedict Society is the first in a series (followed by MBS and the Perilous Journey and MBS and the Prisoner's Dilemma). I doubt I'll read the other books because I didn't enjoy The Mysterious Benedict Society as much as I thought I would (BUT I'm not exactly the target audience).1 I plan to send my copy of The Mysterious Benedict Society to... hmmmm... I was going to say "nieces" (children of sister-in-law #3), but now I'm thinking my nephew (son of sister-in-law #2) would like it as well. Maybe I'll have to buy a second copy.
  1. The book is quite long (my British edition is 472 pages) and it dragged for me. I liked the first part of the book much better (the foundation of the society) than the mission itself (which should have been the exciting bit).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Readings in American History

Russell often reads me tidbits from the books he's reading. I've posted them occasionally in the past (the first that comes to mind ended up in my blogger profile), but today1 it occurred to me that maybe I should make these a more formal (if sporadic) feature. For now they'll be called "Readings in American History" (following my first-year humanities course at Chicago, Readings in World Literature). The title may change, but he's on an American (or at least North American) history2 reading kick right now so it should suffice for now.

A bit of Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 by Fred Anderson:
Of more immediate consequence for the governments of Pennsylvania and Virginia was an event that occurred not long not long after the [treaty] conference [at Logstown, PA in the spring of 1752] ended, two hundred miles farther west, at Pickawillany--the Miami town where George Croghan and his associates maintained their trading post. At about nine o'clock on the morning of June 21, 1752, a party of about 180 Chippewa and 30 Ottawa warriors, accompanied by 30 French soldiers from Detroit under the command of a French-Ottawa office named Charles-Michel Mouet de Langlade, attacked the settlement. Most of Pickawillany's men were away hunting; most of its women, who had been working in the cornfields, were made captive. After a six-hour attack, Langlade called a cease-fire. He would, he said, return the women and spare the defenders (who numbered only about twenty) if they agreed to surrender to the traders. Lacking any alternative, the defenders agreed, then looked on while the raiders demonstrated what the consequences of trading with the English could be. First they dispatched a wounded trader "and took out his heart and eat it"; then they turned their attention to the settlement's headman, Memeskia. This chief, known to the French as La Demoiselle, had lately acquired a new sobriquet, Old Briton, from Croghan and his colleagues. Now, to repay "his attachment to the English" and to acquire his powers for themselves, the raiders "boiled [him] and eat him all up." Then, with five profoundly apprehensive traders and a vast amount of booty in hand, they returned to Detroit. Behind them lay the smoking ruin that, twenty-four house earlier, had been one of the largest settlements and the richest trading point went of the Appalachians. (28-29)
This falls into the "weren't things great back then?" category.
  1. Incidentally, today's our anniversary.
  2. A Seven Years War / War of 1812 kick to be more precise.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Legacy by Cayla Kluver

Legacy by Cayla Kluver
"I really have no choice," I said, confident he would acknowledge the difficulty of my circumstances.
"You always have a choice." (295)
17-year-old Alera is Crown Princess of Hytanica. Custom dictates that she marry on her eighteenth birthday, after which point her father will retire from his responsibilities as king. Alera will be queen, but her husband will be the true ruler of the kingdom. Alera's father has the perfect candidate lined up--Steldor, the conceited son of the Captain of the Guard--but Alera can't stand him. Alera wants to marry for love, but Steldor's the only person who seems to meet all of her father's qualifications.

Alera's biggest concern is avoiding her father's heavy-handed matchmaking, until an intruder is found on the castle grounds. With the unexpected reappearance of a Hytanican boy kidnapped by Cokyri sixteen years ago and presumed dead, Hytanica's unofficial and tentative truce with its mortal enemy is in doubt. No one knows what to make of Narian or where his loyalties lie, but Alera finds him strangely compelling.

Legacy is fantasy romance and first book in a trilogy. It's best that I share that information right off the bat because the novel ends cliffhanger-style.1 Also of interest is the fact that the author is only eighteen (she was fourteen when Legacy was first released as a self-published ebook, which means that she was writing the series as a tween). I suspect that much of the attention the book has gotten so far (and will continue to get) is due to the author's age, but I do like the idea of Harlequin TEEN publishing a book written by a teenager.

Regardless of the author's age, I wasn't expecting high, literary fiction from an imprint focused on romance for the teen audience. I can't say that Legacy gave me exactly what I expect from this type of novel because it exceeded my expectations. There's depth here that I didn't anticipate.

Alera is a sympathetic protagonist. She's a princess, but she's also dealing with normal teenage problems inherent becoming an adult while trying balance her desires against the high expectations of her parents. She makes incredibly stupid decisions because she doesn't always think through the consequences of her actions.

As for the other points of Alera's love triangle - Narian is enigmatic, the mysterious bad boy with a heart of gold, but there are things Alera doesn't know about his past that might their match disastrous. And, there's more to Steldor than meets the eye and his suit has support from unexpected corners.

Philosophical differences between the opposing countries add an interesting dimension to the series. Hytanican society is male-dominated, while Cokyri is matriarchal. By one account, a Hytanican's ambassador's disrespect toward Cokyri's female ruler 100 years ago is the reason that the two countries went to war in the first place.

There's also a strong theme of free will in Legacy. Alera isn't the only character struggling with duty and destiny. The struggles the characters face aren't limited to duty versus desire, but rather doing what is right whether it is expected of you or not.

Harlequin Teen doesn't seem to have set a release date for the second book in the trilogy, Allegiance, Kluver's website indicates that it will be 9-12 months after Legacy's June 28, 2011 release.
  1. I, for one, am not all that found of that device. I prefer my novels--even those in a series--to have some sort of resolution, satisfactory or not.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Legacy from Harlequin Teen via NetGalley.

Friday, July 08, 2011

bad books?

First of all - Book bloggers, I'm looking for some book suggestions. Please see item 3 on this post.

Now on to our regularly-scheduled follow-friday question post.

What is the worst book that you've ever read and actually finished?

The single worst book? I really have no idea. I've gotten so much better at giving myself permission to stop reading books that I'm not enjoying at all. So far I've had two did-not-finish books (see this post). My most punishing read-all-the-way-through book of recent memory was probably The Passage by Justin Cronin (see post) just because it was horribly long and slowly paced and not nearly as intriguing as I'd hoped it'd be.
I know that doesn't strictly answer the question, but that's all I've got this morning.

If you are visiting this blog for the first time, welcome! This is Karen. I'm a librarian and archivist and I've been writing this blog since 2006. Some of my favorite books are All We Know of Love (schneider), The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (kundera), The God of Small Things (roy), The Handmaid's Tale (atwood), Pride and Prejudice (austen), The Storyteller (vargas llosa), and Zahrah the Windseeker (okorafor-mbachu).

Here are my posts since my last follow-friday post (I skipped last week):

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Sync: Where the Streets Had a Name + Passage to India

Today's the beginning of the third week of Sync's summer free audiobook extravaganza.

The offerings this week are
Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah and
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster.

Thirteen year old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother's ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab's life. The only problem is that Hayaat and her family live behind the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, and they're on the wrong side of check points, curfews, and the travel permit system. Plus, Hayaat's best friend Samy always manages to attract trouble. But luck is on the pair's side as they undertake the journey to Jerusalem from the Palestinian Territories when Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel.
But while their journey may only be a few kilometers long, it could take a lifetime to complete. . . .
Humorous and heartfelt, Where the Streets Had a Name deals with the Israel-Palestinian conflict with sensitivity and grace and will open a window on this timely subject.

Among the greatest novels of the twentieth century, A Passage to India tells of the clash of cultures in British India after the turn of the century. In exquisite prose, Forster reveals the menace that lurks just beneath the surface of ordinary life, as a common misunderstanding erupts into a devastating affair.

Note: these books don't expire like the e-audiobooks you get from the library. So, be sure to download the books even if you don't think you'll get around to listening to them right away.

More information about Sync is available in this post.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

As I mentioned before, I picked up The Dream of Perpetual Motion at the Strand (for some reason this bookstore requires the definite article). I was intrigued by the novel's title and cover design (art and text).

I can't say that I enjoyed reading The Dream of Perpetual Motion, but I did find it strangely compelling.1 I think I may have enjoyed it more if I had a better grasp on The Tempest (I've never read this play - horror of horrors!), which is heavily referenced in the novel.

The Dream of Perpetual Motion is around the turn of the (20th) century in a city called Xeroville. The "age of miracles" is gone, but only just.2 It is now the age of technology, of mechanization, of The Future. No one has done more to usher in this machine age than Prospero Taligent, inventor, entrepreneur, originator of mechanical men, and adoptive father of Miranda.
The novel's protagonist and narrator is one Harold Winslow (read: Ferdinand), a greeting-card writer, who has been imprisoned on a zeppelin powered by perpetual motion technology. Harold is alone, but for the cryogenically frozen body of his jailer (Prospero), the disembodied voice of his only love (Miranda), and the automata maintaining the zeppelin. The text of The Dream of Perpetual Motion is that of the journal in which Harold explains how exactly he came to be in his current predicament, interjecting his narrative with brief updates on his present circumstances.

I found The Dream of Perpetual Motion profoundly disorienting. The novel's prose is evocative and often dreamlike. It is for the most part very slow-paced and the emphasis on language (rather than plot) tends to slow it down even more.

I've been thinking that I didn't like The Dream of Perpetual Motion, but that can't possibly be true, not when I look at the evidence. I've already confessed on this blog to dog-earring my own books so I can freely admit that I did so to my copy of The Dream of Perpetual Motion. Not to keep my place, but to mark pages to which I wanted to return. Ten of them. Ten really is quite a lot for me, a book of this size would usually only yield 1-3. Here are a couple of passages that I wanted to revisit:
"Write down what you think happened, or what you believe happened, of something like what might have happened. All these things are better in the end than writing down nothing at all; all are true in their own way" (113).
"an imperfect grace is never what we seek when we fantasize about our futures, when we dream of a long life with someone we claim to love or we build machines that we read about in science fiction. We want all possible things made actual, the perpetual possibility of perfection, the best of all futures all at once. But whatever we accomplish in the end never measures up. We always fail. We always fall short. Because when we see the perfect thing before us we fell we have to touch it. And then it vanishes or bruises or turns to show its hidden flaws or turns to dust" (340-341).
That being said, the bits of the novel that I found really and truly interesting were few and far between. Thinking back, I keep remembering little bits and wishing that they could have been expanded on.

If I haven't made it clear already, The Dream of Perpetual Motion is no steampunk adventure novel. Yes, I think we can safely consider it steampunk, but The Dream of Perpetual Motion is literary to a fault. Palmer has created an interesting world, but its obscured rather than illuminated by his prose.

I'm going to leave The Dream of Perpetual Motion among my other books for now. I feel like I should reread it after reading The Tempest, but I'm not altogether sure that I want to.
  1. I'll admit that I've been procrastinating. I haven't wanted to post about the novel because I really have no idea what to write. The draft of this post has been stalled for ages, but I'm making myself push through today whether I like it or not.
  2. I was so intrigued by the references to this earlier time period. Here's one: "By the time the touring Exposition of the Future came to our town, all the signs were in the air that the age of miracles was almost at its end. It wasn't uncommon to see sights like an angle staggering down the middle of a street in broad daylight, weaving like a drunkard, clutching its hand to its stomach and vomiting up blood. My father was a metalsmith, and more than half his income in those last days came from demons, who'd come to the back door of his establishment under cover of night, sacks of silver clutched in their clawed hands, begging him to use his tools to file off their magnificent curling horns" (190-191).

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Domestic Violets and I did not get off to a good start. I was eager to read it, mostly because it was being touted on The Olive Reader,1 but I was completely put off by the first chapter. I'm not even sure that I made it through the first chapter the first time I picked up Domestic Violets. The novel opens with its protagonist, Tom Violet, angst-ridden over his inappropriately flaccid penis. I had no patience for that so set Domestic Violets aside in favor of one of the other books loaded onto my Nook. If I hadn't gotten Domestic Violets from NetGalley and felt duty-bound to review it, I probably wouldn't have picked it up again. But, I'm glad that I did. By the time I finished Domestic Violets, my irritations2 seemed minor.

So many aspiring writers dream of writing the great American novel.3 I can't say that Norman's debut is the novel, but it shows great potential. In Domestic Violets Norman writes thoughtfully and comedically about contemporary American life (the realities of and the disenchantment inherent therein).

Protagonist Tom does suffer from erectile dysfunction (as well as any number of other marital and employment-related difficulties), but his main problem is that he's an aspiring novelist living under the shadow of his hugely successful father. While it seems strange to think of bildungsroman with a 35-year-old protagonist, Domestic Violets is very much a coming-of-age tale. The action of the novel takes place over a relatively short amount of time, during which Tom finds both the need and the will to consider what he does and does not like about his life and make some necessary changes.

Domestic Violets will be published in September.
  1. Check out the book you should read this fall.
  2. Yes, that's irritations-plural. I wasn't keen on the Gregory character and the over-the-top way he and Tom interacted.
  3. Maybe that should be Great American Novel.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Domestic Violets from HarperCollins via NetGalley.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

first half of 2011

Here's the rundown of all the books I've read so far this year (including links to reviews when available).

I got my Nook at the end of December so this was my first six months using an e-reader. That and the move stress may explain why these selections seem a bit heavier on YA, paranormal, and romance than is usual for me.

My favorite was Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.
  1. Unsuspecting Mage by Brian S Pratt
  2. His Wicked Ways by Samantha James
  3. Peeps by Scott Westerfeld (see post)
  4. L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad (see post)
  5. City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
  6. Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith (see post)
  7. Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead
  8. Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard
  9. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (see post)
  10. The Devil Wears Plaid by Teresa Medeiros
  11. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (reread; see post)
  12. Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (see post)
  13. King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (see post)
  14. Evernight by Claudia Gray (see post)
  15. Sweetblood by Pete Hautman (see post)
  16. The Summoner by Layton Green (see post)
  17. Sweet Little Lies by Lauren Conrad
  18. The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
  19. His Wicked Promise by Samantha James
  20. Sugar and Spice by Lauren Conrad
  21. Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen (see post)
  22. Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  23. Victoria and the Rogue by Meg Cabot
  24. Alphas by Lisi Harrison (see post)
  25. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (see post)
  26. The Possessed by Elif Batuman (see post)
  27. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (see post)
  28. Beastly by Alex Flinn (see post)
  29. Head over Heels by Susan Andersen
  30. Insatiable by Meg Cabot
  31. Baby, Don't Go by Susan Andersen
  32. Blood Promise by Richelle Mead
  33. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
  34. The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
  35. Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead
  36. Flawless by Sara Shepard
  37. The Host by Stephenie Meyer (reread; see post)
  38. Nicola and the Viscount by Meg Cabot
  39. Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead
  40. Steamed by Katie MacAlister (see post)
  41. Millie's Fling by Jill Mansell
  42. Strange Neighbors by Ashlyn Chase
  43. Homicide in Hardcover by Kate Carlisle
  44. The Lady Most Likely by Julia Quinn
  45. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (see post)
  46. City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare (see post)
  47. Pleasure Grounds, J. Haley, editor
  48. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare (see post)
  49. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (see post)
  50. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis (see post)
  51. The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (see post)
  52. Hotel Angeline, 36 authors (see post)
  53. White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey (see post)
  54. The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter (see post)
  55. Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank by Kaja and Phil Foglio
  56. Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows (see post)
  57. Mercy by Rebecca Lim (see post)
  58. Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories (see post)
  59. First Impressions by Debra White Smith
  60. Stranger by Zoe Archer (see post)
  61. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson (see post)
  62. The Poisoned House by Michael Ford (see post)
  63. The Maid by Kimberly Cutter (see post)
  64. The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer (review forthcoming)
  65. Soulless by Gail Carriger (see post)
  66. Book of Lies by Mary Horlock (see post)
  67. Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman (review forthcoming)
  68. The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook (see post)
  69. Ghost Ship by P.J. Alderman
  70. Changeless by Gail Carriger (see post)
  71. Blameless by Gail Carriger (see post)
  72. Everything We Ever Wanted by Sara Shepard (review forthcoming)
  73. City of Masks by Mary Hoffman (reread; see post)
There were two books that I did not finish:
  • Fallen by Lauren Kate (gave up halfway through)
  • The Sportsman by Dhani Jones (not my cup of tea; a review is still forthcoming because Russell's reading it)

Friday, July 01, 2011

Literary Blog Directory

Sam over at Tiny Library, a blog I discovered today (through the Book Blogs community on Ning, which I just joined), is starting up a directory of blogs that focus completely/mostly/sometimes on literary and/or non-genre fiction.

Literary Blog Directory

I think it'll be a good resource for people overwhelmed by genre-centric book blogs.

Of course I asked to be included (I love that she asks people to list some of their favorite books). It looks like I'm number 14.

You can sign up here. More information is available in this post.

The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock

The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock
We talk about getting away and seeing the world, but we never do. We stay here making the same mistakes, over and over. (8)
The Book of Lies opens in late 1985 with 15-year-old Cat Rozier admitting that she's murdered her best friend, Nicolette. Her narrative then begins to chart the short history of Cat's tumultuous relationship with Nic. Cat's written confession is interspersed with pages of documents that Cat found in her late father's office. Those documents tell the story of Cat's uncle Charlie, "who got in trouble with the Germans and ended up being starved and tortured and driven mad. He only just survived the War and he was the reason Dad made himself an expert on said German Occupation" (27).

Cat is such a wonderfully real character, a teenager through and through. Self-satisfied and self-loathing by turns, Cat is angsty and witty, judgmental and clueless. She's also a bit of a drama queen, a snarky one. Her voice is so very authentic (and that can be very hard to pull off). One line in particular made me laugh out loud.1

Some readers may be put off by the novel's format (split narrative with footnotes), but I thought it worked really well for the story Horlock was trying to tell.2 And, while Cat and Charlie's stories are quite different, they parallel nicely.

The novel is also full of truisms. This one had particular resonance for me: "I suppose that's the thing about History, there are always several versions of that thing we call the truth" (213).

The Book of Lies is a strong debut for Horlock. I do hope that people people aren't Guernsied out after The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The Book of Lies does deal with occupied Guernsey, but it has so much more to offer (if nothing else the 1980s storyline deals with bullying). I know lots of book clubs read Guernsey Literary (mine included) and while I think that The Book of Lies would provide plenty of discussion fodder on its own, it would be a perfect follow-up for Guernsey Literary.

The Book of Lies will be released in mid July.
  1. I'm not quite sure why, but I found this hysterical at the time: "Mr. McCracken asked after Mum and called her a 'trouper,' but I thought he said a 'grouper,' which is a fish. I replied that Mum didn't like water and hot climates" (30).
  2. And, I do love footnotes
disclosure: I received a review copy of The Book of Lies from HarperCollins via NetGalley.