Sunday, July 21, 2013

dust jackets, binge reading, and counting chickens

My blog-related resolution for 2013 was to post at least something about every book that I read this year, preferably immediately or shortly after I either finish or officially give up on it. I failed pretty miserably at it during the first six months of the year, but I was on quite a roll this month (even sneaking in an on-topic review of a book read earlier in the year). I felt so good about the groove I'd gotten in that I started counting my chickens before they'd hatched.

Last week was one of those crazy weeks where all different sorts of problems pile up on you all at once. It was made even more unbearable by the heatwave our region has been under. Even if I hadn't begun floundering, I would have dropped the ball on my review posting last week. At a certain point all I wanted was some comfort reading. Specifically, I wanted to reread The Hunger Games trilogy. Thursday night when I went to pull The Hunger Games off the shelf though, I found lined up on the shelf Mockingjay, Catching Fire, and an empty The Hunger Games dust jacket. Now it isn't too uncommon for there to be empty dust jackets on my shelves because I prefer to read hardcover books naked1 when possible. I'm also quite lax about putting my books away. Of course I couldn't find the book in any of the logical places. As I was looking for it I grew so irritated with myself that I actually started reuniting some of my other naked hardcovers with their dust jackets.

Luckily Russell managed to find my naked copy of The Hunger Games on Friday because the high temperatures have left me indoors and growing increasingly stir crazy this weekend. I haven't wanted to knit or do much of anything else so I've just been binge reading the entire series. I just finished Mockingjay and I'm at a bit of a loss again. But by writing this post, I've made progress toward getting back on track with my resolution. I've now posted about 7 out of the 9 books I've read so far this month. Somehow that sounds much better than 4 out of 6.
  1. I mean, without their dust jackets.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Blue Monday by Nicci French

Blue Monday by Nicci French
series: Frieda Klein (1)

At the public library I usually select books from the new acquisitions areas. Last time I was at my local branch looking for books I happened upon Nicci French's Tuesday's Gone in the adult fiction new titles section. It seemed intriguing, but it was obviously part of a series so I decided to see if the first installment was available. It was.

Blue Monday is the first in the fairly new1 mystery (psychological thriller) series starring Frieda Klein, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. It's action revolves around the kidnapping of of five-year-old boy, which echoes a similar crime from 22 years earlier.  When Frieda Klein begins to suspect that one of new patients may be implicated in the crime, she decides that she must give what information she has to the police. DCI Karlsson has little use for such unsubstantiated claims, but he decides to follow up on the lead anyway when Klein suggests there may also be a tenuous link to the earlier crime.  Once he appreciates the usefulness of her skill set, Karlsson asks Klein to consult on the case.  As she gets more personally invested in the case, Klein starts working on it independently. 

All is all, I think Blue Monday is a promising start to a series. The protagonist as psychoanalyst invites all sorts of possibilities in terms of crimes perpetrated and methods of investigation.  The author(s)2 have included a nice variety of significant secondary characters that will no doubt be involved in both side stories and the main action in future installments.  They've also hinted at a complicated backstory for Klein.

I won't say too much more about the plot of the novel itself for fear of including spoilers, but I will say that I found the realization of the ending was particularly creepy even though it was just a confirmation of something I already suspected.
  1. Blue Monday was published in 2011 in the UK. The series' third installment, Waiting for Wednesday, is not yet available in the US.
  2. Nicci French is actually a husband-wife writing team.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Artists in the Archives Exhibit at the Greenburgh Public Library

Recently I had a chance to check out Artists in the Archives: A Collection of Card Catalogs at the Greenburgh (NY) Public Library. There was a New York Times article about the exhibit, but I first learned about it when Artists in the Archives was featured on the Library as Incubator blog (post 1; post 2).

The exhibit is on display from April through September 2013 on the second floor of the library's gorgeous new (as of 2009) green building.  Here's how Artists in the Archives is described on the library website:
More than 85 artists, poets, writers, musicians, librarians and creative thinkers have contributed to the collection of art contained in the drawers of library card catalogs on display on the library's second floor. (exhibits page)
The exhibit consists of three separate installations:  "Book Marks" by Barbara Page, one artist, one card catalog; "The 'Alternet'" by Carla Rae Johnson, over 70 artists, one card catalog; and "The Call to Everyone" by JoAnne Wilcox, one card catalog for everyone.  Artists in the  Archives is a very friendly, hands-on exhibit -- notice how all the labels say "Browsing Welcome."  I took lots of photos.

The exhibit had a that encouraged visitors to leave feedback. I was happy to oblige.

I'll start my overview of the exhibit with "Book Marks," which was my least favorite of the three.  "Book Marks" was the least interactive of the installations as it was fully contained within a glass exhibit case.  The glass also made it difficult to photograph (the black and white pattern evidenced in the pair of close-ups is the shirt I was wearing reflected in the glass).

Rather than catalog cards, artist Barbara Page's project utilized book cards, the kind that lived in pockets in the back of library books prior to the computerization of libraries.  As you can see in the image above, the installation included a card file, but it lacks the rod used to tether catalog cards to the drawer.

I assume that the reason the installation encased precisely because her altered cards would be particularly easy to steal otherwise.1 I liked looking at Page's work and seeing how the text on the individual cards inspired her art, but this installation was destined to play 3rd fiddle to the others simply because it disallowed participation while the others encouraged it.

When I arrived at the exhibit, "The 'Alternet'" installation looked just as it is pictured on the left. Two the drawers had been left out on one of the cabinet's built-in trays, evidence of a previous visitor's interaction with the installation.

Each of the drawers of this large cabinet were labeled with individuals names (one or two to a drawer).  Those labels indicate the artists whose work is contained within each drawer (50 drawers, 70 artists, including the organizer Carla Rae Johnson).  The work within the card catalog as a whole is varied.  Some cards are drawn or painted upon.  Others have photographs or other printed material affixed to them.  And others have been augmented by three-dimensional objects.

The image above shows three of the drawers open to a random location.  The drawers are not in any order in the cabinet and I have to admit that I had to resist the urge to arrange them all alphabetically by the authors' last names.  Below are close-ups of a couple of cards that I especially liked.  I stupidly did not take note of the artists and I can't even make out the name on the visible label (especially not without a full list of contributor names to work from).2  

There is a Facebook group for "The 'Alternet'"(link).  I did try to suss out appropriate attribution by going through its many photo albums, but I didn't find an exact match and am not confident enough to even list a possible author for each of the cards.  I am planning to visit the exhibit again and when I do, I will attempt to locate these two cards again and take note of their authorship.

When I first started exploring the exhibit, "The Call to Everyone" installation seemed the least appealing to me.  It consisted of a 25-drawer catalog card cabinet (drawers labeled traditionally) with a 4-drawer card file on top.  There were also a few stamps and stamp pads scattered across their surfaces.  The cabinet contained catalog cards, but most of them were not altered like the ones featured in "The 'Alternet'" installation.  The card file contained loose, unaltered catalog cards.

Of course I hadn't bothered to read the installation's label before I started digging into the drawers. The label explained that "The Call to Everyone" was the most participatory of the installations and encouraged visitors to select four cards (presumably from the card file), alter them with images taken with their cell phone cameras, and return them to the library for inclusion in the installation (presumably in the cabinet). It directed interested parties to, where further instructions would be available.  The purpose of the stamps and stamp pads also became clear.  You can see how I used one of them below.

I selected my four catalog cards (pictured below) and I have every intention of becoming a full participant in the installation. I already have specific ideas for appropriate images for two of the cards.3 I chose the other two because I was confident that I'd be able to figure out something that'd go along with their content.


Expect another post when I've altered my cards and have returned them to the library.

  1. For what it's worth, ALL of the altered cards in the other installations could be stolen fairly easily and I'm not just saying this because my library still has a card catalog. Figuring out how to remove a drawer's rod is not rocket science. 
  2.  I didn't manage to snap an image of "The 'Alternet'"'s label, which did have the list of names, either.
  3.  Russell groaned when I told him where I needed to go in order to take one of them so I may be in for a solo irritating traffic-filled excursion in the near future.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Benjamin Constable

Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Benjamin Constable
Ever since writing was invented, people have been documenting the contents of their brains, giving names to ideas, noting their dreams, and distorting their memories and making up new ones. Lifetimes of scribbling, and oceans of ink. Whole forests of trees reduced to pulp for us to collect our words. What if nobody reads them? I think we write to be read, even if we tell ourselves we don't. But the vast majority of everything written fails in its most basic purpose and has never been read by another. Where are you to read my works, Tomomi Ishikawa? Are we talking to ourselves? (175)
One day Benjamin Constable, a 38-year-old Brit living in Paris, comes home to find a letter from his friend Tomomi (Butterfly) Ishikawa, an American expatriate, slipped underneath the door of his apartment. In that letter, Butterfly informs Ben that she's committed suicide and that he is "the inheritor of a thing, or many things, [she's] been making for years, since long before [she] knew of [his] existence--since [her] childhood, in fact" (21). Ben follows a series of clues that lead him to places in Paris and later New York that had special meaning to Butterfly. The more clues Ben follows, the more he learns about his friend. If the disturbing tales contained in the series of notebooks Butterfly left for him to find are any indication, Ben didn't know her well at all.

Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa is a difficult book to describe. Horrifying and playful are the first two adjectives that come to mind. If I had to categorize it, I'd call is a literary psychological thriller.  It is also a bit of a love letter to both Paris and New York City.

In a way I think Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa may be more about the process of writing than it is about anything else, or rather the tension between fact and fiction that is inherent in writing, autobiographical or not. Butterfly's clues and the way they are presented to him make Ben question the truth of what he is being told. Constable forces his readers to experience that same uncertainty by making himself the protagonist in his debut novel.

The novel is compelling, but I can't say that I enjoyed reading it.  After a certain point,1 I dreaded picking it back up again each time I set it down. Though early on in the novel, I imagined how wonderful it would be to be in Paris with Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa as a guidebook.2 I also didn't quite care for the ending, though I understand why Constable decided to end it the way that he did.3

I can imagine Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa being the source of a particularly fruitful undergraduate literature seminar discussion.

I had to include a featured word, because I love how Constable defined tickety-boo within the narrative:
'Yes, it's British English. It means everything is running perfectly, or according to plan, and portrays a sense of contentedness with the current situation.' (173)
  1. The discovery of the first notebook and the revelation of its contents.
  2. While I live close enough to New York City to use Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa as a guide to some of its special places, the combination of the summer weather we are experiencing now (I can't even imagine tromping around the city in this heat) and the onset of the horrifying aspect of the novel put me off the idea.
  3. To leave room for the uncertainty of which he seems so fond.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa from Gallery Books (Simon and Schuster) via NetGalley.

Friday, July 05, 2013

summer reading with memaids

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama (source: public library)

In the early 1870s in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a mermaid named Syrenka falls in love with a young naturalist and decides to give up her immortality for a life on land with him. In modern day Plymouth, 17-year-old Hester disdains love because generations of her female ancestors (including her own mother) have died shortly after the birth of their first child. It is only after Hester meets the magnetic Ezra that she realizes just how naive her romance-avoidance plan was. At the suggestion of Ezra, Hester begins to research her family history in the hope of determining the true cause of the postpartum deaths and whether there's a way she can avoid her own.

Monstrous Beauty is dark and Fama's mermaids are monstrous (in case that wasn't obvious from the novel's title). There's lots of nice historical detail for the historical fiction fan though. In addition to the sections that take place in the 19th century, Hester is also an interpreter in the 17th century English village at Plimoth Plantation, where they do first person interpretation.

Of Poseidon by Anna Banks (source: Sync)
series: Syrena Legacy (1)

While there is a disturbing scene early in Of Poseidon, the novel is is much more of a standard YA paranormal romance than Monstrous Beauty. Its mermaids (who don't like the term "mermaid") are decidedly human-like, though they are thick-skinned and hot tempered, with a society more patriarchal than current western tastes would support.

One interesting (to me) thing about the mermaid-culture in Of Poseidon is that the mermaid's have archives.  Their archives are individuals who serve as the collected memory of the people.

I liked Of Poseidon well enough and I'll probably get the sequel (Of Triton) from the library. I had, however, figured out the big reveal that happens at the end of the novel fairly early on.  There was opportunity for second-guessing, but, from the time the mystery is apparent, I was fairly certain of its solution.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Fatal Likeness by Lynn Shepherd

source: review copy
A Fatal Likeness by Lynn Shepherd
UK title: A Treacherous Likeness
series: Charles Maddox (3)
forthcoming: August 20, 2013

In the third installment of her literary mystery series featuring thief-taker1 Charles Maddox,2 Shepherd seeks to fill the "inexplicable gaps and strange silences" (8) in the biographical record of the Young Romantics. The action of the novel begins when Charles Maddox is summoned to Sir Percy Shelley (son of Percy Bysshe and Mary) and asked to spy on someone claiming to have some of the famous poet's private papers for sale. The more Maddox learns about the assignment and his clients, the more complicated things begin to seem and the less altruistic their decision to employ him.

In her post-epigraph author's note and the back matter section entitled "Author's Notes and Acknowledgments" Shepherd makes clear that while A Fatal Likeness is fictional, it is based on facts and contemporary accounts. Apparently the author made every attempt to stay true to the various historical personages (primarily the Shelleys, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley's stepsister Claire Clairmont) and for her suppositions to be plausible based on the evidence that is in the historical record.   In the back matter Shepherd also explains the reasoning behind her decision to attribute certain actions to certain characters or explain a mystery in a certain way. 

While I don't think it is strictly necessary to read the other Charles Maddox books in order to appreciate A Fatal Likeness, I do think it would help. The Shelley-related storyline stands well on its own, but I feel like it is a bit difficult for the reader to connect to Charles Maddox as protagonist in A Fatal Likeness not having the backstory presented in the earlier novels.

I generally enjoy historical fiction centered around historical personages whether well-known or obscure.  I think an author does her readers a disservice, however, when she assumes that they come to her book with significant previous knowledge of her subjects.  I will fully admit to not being familiar with Claire Clairmont and her significance (I almost always read author's notes and the like after I read the body of the text) and I was put off by how Shepherd begins the paragraph following Clairmont's introduction into the narrative: "It is a name that may well be familiar to you, but it means nothing whatsoever to Charles.  And he will not be alone, not in 1850 [...]" (56).

The biggest flaw with A Fatal Likeness is in just how unlikeable Shepherd makes all the historical personages as characters.  I came to the novel with no romantic notions about the individuals featured in it, as I was reading I found myself despising each of them in turns and none more so than the famous Shelleys themselves.  I can only imagine how a reader with a great love of any of this individuals might react to the demonization of one of their heroes. 

I do plan to put the other Charles Maddox books on my to-read list because I did enjoy the writing and style of A Fatal Likeness, if not all its particulars.
  1. detective
  2. After Murder at Mansfield Park and The Solitary House (published as Tom-All-Alone's in the UK, either of which I've read.
disclosure: I received a review copy of A Fatal Likeness from Bantam Dell (Random House) via NetGalley.

Monday, July 01, 2013

June recap and 2013 (so far) in books

Books read in June

57. The Elite by Kiera Cass - public library
56. Blood of the Lamb by Sam Cabot (see post) - Netgalley
55. The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell (see post) - public library
54. Scarlet by Marisa Meyer (see post) - public library
53. Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal (see post)- Netgalley
52. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld - Netgalley
51. The Way Back to Happiness by Elizabeth Bass - Netgalley
50. The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey - Netgalley
49. Plague in the Mirror by Deborah Noyes - Netgalley
48. Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama (see post) - public library
47. Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts - Netgalley

Books bought and/or acquired in June1

- Already Pretty: Learning to Love Your Body by Learning to Dress it Well by Sally McGraw (purchased 2 copies from Amazon, one for self, one to give)

Notes from the field
or, the not-so-secret travels of BookCrossing books

(see this post for more information about this feature)

- this copy of The Blind Assassin was released at a company picnic in Ontario by a reader who received the book in 2009 and read and enjoyed it in late 2012.
- this copy of Driving Mr. Albert was wild-released at a Panera Bread in North Tonawanda, New York by a reader who got the book (from a different local Panera) in September 2009.
- this copy of The Last Suppers is being wild released on a cross-country road trip by a reader who selected it from a book box last year.
- this copy of Nathaniel's Nutmeg was wild-released at that Panera as well after hanging out with that reader since 2008.

2013 (so far) in Books

books finished / abandoned - 57 / 4
- library books - 18 (16 finished, 2 abandoned)
- review copies - 26 (25 finished, 1 abandoned
- personal copies - 10 (9 finished, 1 abandoned)
- bookcrossing books - 5
- borrowed copies - 2
- non-review ebooks - 1

books purchased
- for self - 10
- as gifts - 5

books (physical) otherwise acquired
- as gifts - 2
- via BookMooch - 2

- books read - 5
- books registered - 1
- books wild-released - 11

  1. E-books don't count here because (1) I don't buy them and (2) they are substantially more transitory that the physical specimens.

Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal

source: review copy
Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal

Jacob Grimm, the eldest of the famous Brothers Grimm, is a troubled soul caught in the Zwischenraum, the place between. After years attempting to discover and resolve "the thing undone" (that which is keeping him in limbo), Jacob learns from another ghost of an Exceptional, one of the few living souls who can hear ghosts speak, and a "Finder of Occasions who would bring harm to the boy" (48). Jacob determines to find the boy and to protect him from the Finder of Occasions.

A social outcast since he admitted, eight years before, to hearing voices, Jeremy Johnson Johnson is struggling with more than a typical fifteen-year-old's problems. His mother is dead and his father's inability to cope has left Jeremy responsible for the management of the household and the family business.

Far, Far Away is filled with references, direct and indirect, to the Grimm Brother's household tales. The novel is listed as "12 and up," which seems appropriate, but I do think it will also appeal to adults, particularly those who enjoy fairy tales and adaptations and/or reimaginings of them.

The pacing of Far, Far Away is slow well through the novel's midpoint, with the author laying the groundwork for the events of its final third.  That final third, though, is well worth the wait. As the narrative turns more Grimm-like there is a wonderful change in atmosphere and an increase in suspense. The fact that the reader knows how things like these tend to turn out in (the Grimm versions of) fairy tales is exploited to great effect by the author.

For what it's worth, as I was reading the novel the pacing didn't bother me at all.  I was engrossed by the relationship between Jacob and Jeremy, and the positive changes that Jeremy (and his friends) seem to be making in his life, that I forgot all about the ominous Finder of Occasions that Jacob warned of at the beginning of his narration.   It was only when that more exciting section of the novel began that the difference became marked.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Far, Far Away from Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random House Children's Books) via NetGalley.