Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New and improved blogging area

I promised pictures of my desk as it is now to counteract the embarrassingly disastrous set I sent Cathy of Kittling: Books for her Scene of the Blog feature on my blogging space today. Click on any picture to view it larger.

So here's my attempt at revisionist history. (And yes, the desk actually does look like this today, it did yesterday, and with any luck, it will tomorrow.) You can still note the clutter of wires and such under the desk. I have no idea what bit of electronic equipment they go to and so am afraid of throwing them out as a result. You can also see the poor abused desk chair in this picture. It had been in bad shape for years (my water broke in it with my last child over 7 years ago so you know it hasn't been pretty for a long time) but it's only recently that the kids broke the back off of it. Eventually I'll probably get around to getting a new one. Of course, it took about a year for me to actually organize the desk itself, so no telling when eventually might actually come.

The books in this picture are merely one third of the books sitting around that I've already read and need to review. The other two thirds are beside the desk on the CPU. As I review what I've read, I shuffle more books into this spot so the composition here is always changing. If you look closely at the top picture, you can see me with my husband when we had been dating less than a year and were all of 19/20 years old. I still look eactly like that (as far as you know). D. doesn't. I think his hair fled in terror at the prospect of having me by his side 18 years later.

More family photographs and the funny little toy that my grandparents got when I was a small little pudnick. Family lore has it that each time they made the two dangling people flop over the bar, I absolutely chortled with glee. And so they bought it and it spent the next however many years in their house. Now it sits on my desk and makes me smile. And I think it's fitting that it's by my collection of Mr. Putter and Tabby books because they make me smile too.

This is the minimalist corner. As you can tell from the rest, I am a knick-knack person but I managed to keep this side of the top shelf reasonably clutter free although each thing there also has a special meaning.

I guess even when I have tidied up, I am still a bit of a clutter bug. And no, I didn't take any pictures of the rest of the room since it is still as big a mess as it was in the pictures I sent Cathy! Only the desk has improved. So I hope that has satisfied all your dormant peeping-tom tendencies but if not, feel free to ask about anything on the desk or shelves. And be sure to check out Cathy's feature for the "before" pictures.

Featured at Scene of the Blog

Cathy of Kittling: Books runs a fun feature on Wednesdays where she showcases the blogging spaces of fellow bloggers. She asked me to send her pictures and answer questions some time ago. So I bit the bullet and took pictures of what was then a completely messy and disastrous desk. I had never organized myself after the move. My desk is in the basement and who ever goes down there (besides any overnight guests we have given that our guest bedroom is down there but hey, most people don't actually sleep at my house, right?) I had fully intended to post updated photos since the desk is now in its semi-permanent state, which is far tidier than it was when I took the pictures; it's still a little chaotic compared to others who have shared their spaces at Cathy's. Given the sad fate of my camera, I had to con Miss R. into letting me borrow her camera and figure out how to download off of her camera. Check out my disaster area showcased in all its glory at Cathy's and then come back here later on today and see what my desk really looks like when I haven't been neglecting it in favor of all the more public spaces in my house.

A-Z Wednesday

Reading at the Beach is hosting A-Z Wednesday where bloggers take the time to highlight one book that starts with the letter of the day. This week is the letter H.

How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer is somewhere in the tbr stacks. While I don't normally enjoy short story collections, I can say with almost definite certainty that I was attracted to this book by the title of the book. I have an affinity with water that draws me to titles that mention water, lakes, rives, oceans, etc. Unless the book is too far outside my comfort zone for me to rationalize, if it has one of these in the title and I stumble across it, odds are incredibly high that it's coming home with me. But because it is a collection of short stories, and ones that sound rather depressing at that, it has been in my tbr stacks for years, never quite making it to the top of the heap. Maybe now I'll be inspired to pull it out? Even if not, the cover is still hypnotizing to me.

Here's what amazon has to say:

The stories in How to Breathe Underwater, Julie Orringer's debut collection, swim with tragedies both commonplace and horrific. A fall from a treehouse, an ailing mother, a near-drowning, a premature baby, a gun--each is the source of a young woman's coming-of-age, which we witness through Orringer's lovely, driving prose. The author possesses an uncanny ability to capture scenes and complex emotions in quick strokes. In "Pilgrims," young Ella is taken to a hippie household for Thanksgiving, where her mother joins several other cancer patients in search of natural remedies: "Some of them wore knitted hats like her mother, their skin dull-gray, their eyes purple-shaded underneath. To Ella it seemed they could be relatives of her mother's, shameful cousins recently discovered." Shame is as omnipresent as water in this collection, sadly appropriate for stories about girls becoming women. Orringer possesses an acute understanding of the many rules of girlhood, in particular the uniquely childish importance of "not telling" (for fear of becoming a traitor, and consequently, an outcast). But though her subjects may take us to the murky depths--submerging us in the cruelties girls and siblings commit against each other--Orringer's nimble writing and subtle humor allow us to breathe.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy Birthday to my very best girl

How do you know your little girl is growing up? Her birthday wish list includes both Littlest Pet Shop toys and a Magic Bullet. (Get your minds out of the gutter. It's a blender thingie. The kid loves to cook.) She is clearly not quite ready to leave childhood behind (thank heaven) but she's not a little kid anymore either. I am much too young to have a child her age. Would anyone believe I had her when I was 10? 12? 14? Didn't think so.

So what is eleven now? They are famously called "tweens." I think this term was made up long after I was eleven. I don't remember getting a pass on my attitude because I was a tween. I was told to "act your age" without acknowledgment of the irony inherent in the fact that I was doing that very thing. Eleven now means the youngest in middle school. Eleven then meant king of the heap in elementary school. Eleven now means a heightened sense of fashion and a great desire to try make-up. Eleven then meant the same thing (well, for the girlie girls like my daughter it did, oddly nerdy, sporty girls like me were a whole different ball of wax, but I digress) but the make-up looked like Tammy Faye Baker. Eleven then meant the start of girl dramas, occasional nastiness, and a burgeoning awareness of boys. Man, I hope eleven now doesn't mean the same thing!

Seems like eleven these days isn't really all that different from eleven so many years ago (fewer years than you're thinking--remember, I was a child bride). We think it's so different because of the changes in the world and in technology, but really, eleven is still just poised on the cusp of the metamorphosis that will result in the adult she will be. She's not clomping around in high heels that are too big for her, a purple feather boa wrapped loosely around the neck of her footie pajamas, with cheap plastic neon earrings clipped to tiny earlobes anymore but she hasn't quite grown into my shoes yet. And she's got years before she needs to do that. After all, I didn't wear heels until I was well over 30.

Her presents will show the strange mix of girl-child and young lady that she is. No, no Magic Bullet but I suspect that'll show up under the Christmas tree (and really, I would have gotten it had Walmart not been out of them today--and Amazon and eBay don't have a ship in less than 5 hours option for procrastinating parents). I admit I did get her mostly toy/kid stuff because I'm not quite ready for her to move on from childhood, although I think I'll also spring for the Facebook page she wants. I do think she only wants to play the silly games on it. (Does eleven now include slyly snowing your parents?) The day she friends a boy not her daddy though, we'll have to delete it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: However Tall the Mountain by Awista Ayub

A timely book written by the woman who created the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange, an organization that nurtures young Afghani girls through sport, specifically soccer, this tells of the creation of the organization but it focuses more on the original eight girls on the team. It follows their lives outside of soccer but also spends some time describing their reaction to the US when they travel here to play in exhibition games. Sports can make an important difference in peoples' lives and happiness and this book strives to show just this.

Told in chapters switching between the girls' individual stories, the team as a whole and its training, and indeed author Ayub's own understanding and feelings about what it means to be Afghan-American, this had real potential. Unfortunately, to my mind, it was choppy and had awkward transitions and so I felt as if this missed out on what could have been a fascinating (and timely) story. The timeline itself was hard to follow. I never knew if the girls' stories were pre- or post-visit to the US, which made it difficult to determine if the prejudice against girls playing soccer was one that could be overcome or if it was too ingrained to allow the particular girl being revealed in the chapter to continue playing.

Each of the girls overcame a lot in order to don uniforms and take to the field. They were determined and inspiring and I felt badly for the girls who ultimately couldn't continue playing because of family or religious prohibitions. The personal stories were fascinating and I wish there had been more to them as they illuminate so very well the difficulties that Afghanistan faces politically, both in denying their girls and women full and unhindered citizenship but also the limitations, dangers, and misconceptions men there also face.

Ayub inserts her own feelings about creating this soccer program only briefly, mentions how the girls' chatter made her want to better learn one of the languages of her homeland, and reflects how their presence made her miss certain Afghani things and customs. But she never fully developed this line of thinking. Her search for self is alluded to but even though it would almost certainly have dovetailed nicely with the stories of the girls, Ayub drops that ball, not examining her feelings fully. This tentative delicacy in delving into the meat of her research into the girls, into Afghanistan itself, and into her own heart is pervasive throughout the book. In the end I thought that all parts of the story were short-changed, which is so unfortunate given the potential here. Each thing was touched on too briefly and without depth. I really wanted to find a gem here but I was left feeling frustrated by the way that this barely skimmed the surface of such a rich vein.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading This Week?

This meme is hosted by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog. I had another week of reading less than is usual for me but I signed up to be nagged about not being up to date on my reviews (hi Alaine!) so I was much better about posting those this week. Now I'm a mere 22 reviews behind. As bad as that sounds, it's real progress!

Books I completed this week are:

Between Me and the River by Carrie Host
The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
An Inside Passage by Kurt Caswell
Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird
Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
Divided Lives by Elsa Walsh
Terra Incognita by Sarah Wheeler

Reviews posted this week:

The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James
Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures edited by Jennifer Leo
The Scenic Route by Binnie Kirshenbaum
Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

Current giveaway on my blog:

The Blue Star by Tony Earley Enter before Oct. 9th for a chance to win one of five copies.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review: Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

A quiet, contemplative novel, this has received accolades and raves in abundance from the literary world. As I am always contrary, the short of is that I liked it but wasn't wowed by it like everyone else. Perhaps it is simply yet another victim of excessive expectations up to which it couldn't possibly live.

Trond, a 67 year old man, has chosen to buy a house in a remote part of Norway, and to mostly seal himself off from the rest of the world in spare solitude. But a chance encounter one night with his nearest neighbor, sends him tumbling back in memory to the pivotal summer of his adolescence. His neighbor is the younger brother of Trond's friend, the one with whom he adventured and imagined and played the summer he lived with his father at another remote summer cabin home before tragedy played itself out in both boys' lives.

Told with heedlessness to a linear timeline, the novel slides forwards and backwards from the present to the distant past and back again, from Trond's current, slow labor around his cabin to his childhood to his father's past. Petterson has a quiet way of revealing the story behind that pivotal summer and the main players in the book. This subtleness is a real strength of the novel. Trond, drawn as the slightly curmudgeonly would-be hermit, is a very different literary character than I usually encounter in my reading and he comes across as entirely authentic. He is gruff and short and yet curious and glimmers of the imaginative boy of his youth still shine through.

Other characters are really incidental in the story as it is Trond and his memories and understandings of the course of his life and his father's which matter most in the narrative. But other characters are introduced and are left as merely sketches from Trond's memory. Even his daughter, who comes to visit him one day, is a flat character, one whom the reader may be surprised to encounter, given her brief exlanationless flash through the pages.

While I recognize that this was a beautifully crafted novel, it still wasn't one that called to me to immerse myself in it constantly. I needed breaks from the simple, intense, and yet oddly slow moving revelations found within its pages. Just as Trond held himself aloof from others, uneasy but wanting to be content with his solitude, I found myself staying aloof from the story but wanting to be drawn in. In looking back on the book as a whole, I find myself labelling it lovely and sleepy, somehow unfinished and quietly startling. An intriguing read, it didn't hold my interest as well as I'd hoped.

Sunday Salon: the headache edition (plus giveaway)

Woke up this morning with a headache. Not much reading will happen with it pounding behind my eye. Right eye. Thumping. Mild though, so could be far worse.

Tennis match in an hour. W.'s, not mine. Tennis isn't good with a headache. Spectating isn't either but he can't exactly drive himself.

Came home last night to the smell of melted plastic and chocolate. Apparently almost poisoning the dog hasn't taught my children any lessons. R. decided to soften a block of baker's chocolate in a plastic kid's cup in the microwave. Aside from the smell, she cleaned it up pretty well. Wonder if plastic fumes cause headaches?

Nagged kids about picking up rooms and basement this morning. (Can nagging cause headaches?) Oldest thought he was being singled out. Snapped a quick pic of youngest's room on the Nintendo DSi to show me he wasn't worst offender. Novel use of otherwise useless to mom technology. Whining definitely causes headaches.

Not much reading overall this past week. Rainy drear is good for reading. But alternate sun and rain almost daily means many pressure system headaches. When I did read, I weathered the raging, cold river of a rare cancer before trying to steal the script for Hamlet from The Globe while disguised as an apprentice player and finally appreciating and really seeing the natural world and how it winds into and through our everyday lives and the institutions in which we abide or abandon.

Hopefully next week will have me back to my usual verbose self. And no headaches. Oh, and don't forget to enter my giveaway for Tony Earley's The Blue Star.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Review: The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone

This is a big book. The sort that I shy away from unless I have unlimited amunts of time at my disposal, which of course, being the mother of three very active children, never occurs anymore. But this book sounded good. And it was something I had made a commitment to read. And do you know what? I read it as quickly as I've read many a much shorter book. That is to say, Malone can put together a story that gallops along and certainly keeps a reader turning pages fast and furiously as I did with this one.

Annie Peregrine Goode is 26. She's in the middle of divorcing her cheating ex-husband. And she's going home to see the aunt and aunt's best friend who raised her after her con-man father dumped her at the family home and ran when she was seven. Told by dizzying jumps forward and backwards in time, the mystery of Annie's mother, why her dying father needs her help now after all these years, and the story of a possibly real but possibly apocryphal Cuban treasure cram the book's pages thoroughly. As the reader stumbles along with Annie, trying to figure out the important things she needs to know and what she can just let go, Malone manages to weave a rollicking, fun story. His characters are quirky and off-beat. Perhaps a few of the plot lines are ultimately given short shrift but the plethora of characters helps to illuminate the themes of unconventionality, familial love, drive, and learning to fly on your own (the literal standing in for the figurative here given Annie's status as a top-notch Naval pilot).

As this is an overly long book, it could probably have done with some cutting and it does get repetitive in places, especially for the reader who doesn't put it down often. Sometimes the repetitiveness makes it all too obvious where the plot is going and which bits are most important to remember but if you can ignore the occasional heavy-handedness and the unbelievable character coincidences that make it terrifically obvious Malone wrote for a soap opera, you can still have an entertaining and adrenaline-laden read. I did notice this stuff, and yet, overall, it was still a light and fun read for me. So don't let the length scare you off but be willing to suspend disbelief and enjoy a dip into a Southern style soap opera.

This is a stop on the Literary Road Trip. Michael Malone is a North Carolina author.

Thanks to the publisher for sending this to me for review.

Saturday Shout-Out

On my travels through the blogging world, I find many books that pique my interest. I always add them to my wish list immediately but I tend to forget who deserves the blame credit for inspiring me to add them to my list (and to whom my husband would like to send the bill when I get around to actually buying them). So each Saturday I'm going to try and keep better track, link to my fellow book ferreter-outers (I know, not a word but useful nonetheless), and hopefully add to some of your wish lists too.

The Palace of Strange Girls by Sallie Day was mentioned at The Crowded Leaf.

Cleaving by Julie Powell was mentioned at Lesley's Book Nook.

Rowed Trip by Colin and Julia Angus was mentioned at The Written World

What goodies have you added to your wish lists recently? Make your own list and leave a comment here so we can all see who has been a terrible influence inspiring you lately.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Firsts

A new meme by Well-Read Reviews, Friday Firsts highlights first lines from your current read. Officially:

The first line can make or break a reader’s interest. Just how well did the author pull you in to the story with their first sentence? To participate in this weekly book meme is extremely easy.

Grab the book you are currently reading and open to the first page.
Write down the first sentence in the first paragraph.
Create a blog post with this information. (Make sure to include the title & author of the book you are using. Even an ISBN helps!)
Did this first sentence help draw you into the story? Why or why not?

From An Inside Passage by Kurt Caswell:

"Late summer blackberries are gone now."

This is a slim little book but so far it is really gorgeous. The first line is pretty indicative of the fact that you will be reading lovely, observant naturalist essays here.

Review: The Scenic Route by Binnie Kirshenbaum

A divorced, unemployed American woman has taken her severance and escaped to Europe, where she's always wanted to visit. While there she meets Henry, a charmer married to an absentee heiress. Sylvia and Henry drift into an affair and travel all around Europe with each other. While they travel, Sylvia narrates portions of her life for Henry, introducing him and the reader to her family and friends. As they wander arbitrarily around Europe, enjoying the monied, self-indulgent life that Henry so values, Sylvia's narrative heads off into digressions and roundabouts and back roads, telling of not only her life but that of her extended family as well.

As they travel, more and more of her life is revealed but the kicker was that I just didn't care all that much. I think Henry was meant to be portrayed as devil may care but in his twelve or so lines in the novel (only a slight exaggeration as he's not terribly present in this novel at all) he came off to me more as a selfish, unobservant, and remote git but he is definitely the perfect creation as a listener of Sylvia's tales. And Sylvia's rambling, meandering stories didn't really hold my interest as I kept putting the book down and walking away. I'm not certain it needed to be set in Europe as there was not much of a sense of place to it at all, as even Sylvia herself mentions. Embedding Sylvia's telling Henry about her family within a bigger, but not fully realized, frame of telling the whole story to her former(?) friend Ruby was distracting and seemed like the narrative equivalent of stream of consciousness' unlovely stepchild. I have other Kirshenbaum books in my tbr piles and I hope I enjoy them more than I did this one. This could always be the anomaly, correct? I guess I'm more of a direct highway route kind of person rather than a scenic route rambler.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy.

National Reading Group Month Great Group Reads

**In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the WNBA and was also on the selection committee charged with picking the books. Feel free to ask me anything at all about the organization (I'm part of the Charlotte chapter) or about the books on the list and I'll happily ramble on interminably for you!

National Reading Group Month Announces the 2009 Great Group Reads

NEW YORK — September 24, 2009 —The National Reading Group Month Selection Committee has chosen nine books, eight novels and one memoir, as this year’s Great Group Reads. The books are:

Appassionata by Eva Hoffman (Other Press)
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (Other Press)
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë by Syrie James (Avon A)
The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey (Harper Perennial)
Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal by Julie Metz (Voice)
While I’m Falling by Laura Moriarty (Hyperion)
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Picador)
Cost by Roxana Robinson (Picador)
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (Picador)

These titles were selected on the basis of their appeal to reading groups for whom they are bound to open up lively conversations about a host of timely and provocative topics, from the intimate dynamics of family and personal relationships to major cultural and world issues. The Committee also made a conscious decision to focus its attention on under-represented gems from small presses and lesser-known mid-list releases from larger houses. All are books with strong narratives peopled by fully realized characters; books which perhaps have flown under the radar of reviewers and reading groups overwhelmed by the sheer number of new releases each year.

Selection Committee coordinator Rosalind Reisner puts it this way: “Great Group Reads will help passionate readers find that great mid-list fiction and nonfiction that may be overlooked in the clamor over best-sellers.” Ms. Reisner also was one of ten selectors, all of whom praise the process and the choices made. According to her colleague, Judith Strand, “This NRGM program taught me to read more objectively and gave me greater insight into how to judge a book based on its appeal for group discussion rather than how the story affected me personally. I am grateful to the publishers who trusted our judgment, and to the authors who continue to astound me with their ever higher standards of excellence.” Another Committee member, Michele Leber adds, “Suggesting titles for book groups is a natural next step in WNBA's celebration of National Reading Group Month. As a lifelong lover of reading, a published reviewer for 35 years, and a member of a 15-year-old book group, I'm delighted to have a hand in selecting these titles.” (A full list of Selection Committee members can be found at the National Reading Group Month Web site. (

The National Reading Group Month chair Jill A. Tardiff thanks the Committee for its hard work and all the publishers who submitted titles and made reading copies available. Ms. Tardiff says, “We hope that these wonderful titles become reading-group staples and that booksellers and libraries across America feature them during month of October, which is, of course, National Reading Group Month.” She continues, “To that end, we are providing an array of professionally designed display materials such as shelf-talkers and table-top posters on the National Reading Group Month Web site for anyone to download and use in promoting these titles. We encourage visiting the site for these and other features, as well as links to further resources.”

See National Reading Group Month Marketing Toolkit at Get Involved http://www.

National Reading Group Month is an initiative of the Women's National Book Association (WNBA). Founded in 1917, WNBA promotes literacy, a love of reading, and women's roles in the community of the book.

National Reading Group Month 2009 Official Sponsors: HarperCollins Publishers, Harper Perennial, Ingram Content Group and Susannah Greenberg PR.

National Reading Group Month Great Group Reads logo designed by Susan Vianna, Fishergate Inc., Chester, MD.

Further information is available at:,

Women's National Book Association, P.O. Box 237, FDR Station, New York, NY
(212) 208-4629,

Press release prepared on September 24, 2009,
by Jill A. Tardiff, National Reading Group Month Chair/Coordinator
tel (201) 656-7220.

Visit National Readiing Group Month on Twitter and Facebook

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Blue Star Giveaway

The Blue Star by Tony Earley
I am really pleased to be able to giveaway 5 copies of this book compliments of Hatchette Book Group. I have my own copy of this one sitting here just waiting for me to pick it up. And I know I will soon as this is the much anticipated sequel to the delightful Jim the Boy which I reviewed here earlier this year. If you don't yet know Jim Glass, you should meet him because I think you'll love him.

Amazon's blurb for The Blue Star:

The small dramas of teenage love get caught in the crosswinds of a war in this sequel to the 2001 bestseller Jim the Boy. It's late summer 1941, and Jim Glass, now a high school senior, has an earnest, unshakable passion for classmate Chrissie Steppe. But as straightforward as his feelings are, the circumstances of his nascent romance are complex: Chrissie's family is indebted to their landlord, whose sailor son Bucky claimed Chrissie as his girl before shipping out to serve on the USS California at Pearl Harbor. Throughout Jim's fraught final year at school, he relies on the advice of his uncles, but after Pearl Harbor is bombed, they can't protect him from the war's toll. Questions of patriotism, sexuality and poverty weave their way into a narrative that's deceptive in its simplicity: the growing pains that Jim and his friends experience pack a startling emotional punch.

Now doesn't that sound appealing? And I suspect you can read this second book without reading the first, although why you'd skip the loveliness of the first I don't know. In any case, onto the usual rules:

To enter, leave a comment with your email (without an email, your entry won't count).
Extra entries for being a follower, twittering the contest, or posting it on your blog.
All entries can be combined in one comment.
Open for residents of the USA and Canada
No PO Boxes
Winner will be chosen by Oct. 8 and posted Oct. 9

Good luck!

Review: Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures edited by Jennifer Leo

I was looking for a light and humorous read when I stumbled across this on my shelves. I mean, how could a collection subtitled Funny Women Write From the Road miss the mark on that, right? Well, either my funny bone had gone on vacation when I read this or I have a different sense of humor than the editor. This is a collection of essays, several of which are excerpted from longer works that I have already read (and nothing makes me crabbier than having paid good money for something that isn't new content), centered on the travel misadventures suffered by women who have a host of jobs that take them all over the world. A few of the essays did indeed inspire chuckles but there were an awful lot more that left me scratching my head as to why they were considered funny. Now, I generally find that essay collections by multiple authors do tend to be spotty in terms of holding my interest (some do, others, regrettably, just don't) but it was sad to realize that travel humor is equally likely to run the gamut of appeal for me. Of course, my sense of humor runs to the self-deprecating and thoroughly embarrassing (vomit, poo, clothing mishaps, etc.) so other readers may find more humor in the less obvious essays than I did. I loved the concept of the book but I wish I had gotten more out of the execution (or maybe it's just that someone wee'ed in my cornflakes the morning I read this).

Hidden in Plain View

Tina at Tutu's Two Cents is starting a new Thursday meme called Hidden in Plain View. She says: This is a chance to dig a little deeper into our personal libraries to find books that may be languishing on the shelves and bring them out for a better look. To join in:

1. Pick a random book from your library (I used to pick mine from my LT catalog).
2. Tell us

title, author, #of pages, edition, (tags, and collections if LT)

why that book is in your library
whether you've read it or not
if so did you like it and why;
if not, do you plan to read it?
how and when you acquired the book

I have 171 'pages' of books in LT, so this week chose pg 160. Then Random choose book 13 from the 50 books on that page. This week's book is

The Wall: Images and Offerings From the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Michael Norman, 128 pages, hardcover, Collins Publishing, 1983

I think I bought this back in high school for a report I was doing in my War Through the Ages (or some similar sounding title) history class. It is a coffee table type book and I remember spending hours pouring over the pictures. I know I read all of the text as well but the pictures always left me with an aching lump in the vicinity of my stomach. I don't think I've looked at it in years.

Here's the amazon blurb:
This volume, to be published on the fifth anniversary of the dedication of the national shrine, includes photographs by freelance photographer Lopes and 16 other photojournalists, and excerpts of letters placed at the wailing wall by families, friends and war buddies of the dead and missing whose names are engraved there"the mystery of death writ in stone 58,132 times." This American family album is deeply moving in its simplicity: "Damn you, brotherwhy didn't you come back? . . . I still love you, and I'd love you if you came back in one piece, or your arms or legs or mind gone." Among the 75 poignant color and black-and-white pictures photographed with respect, a child is lifted by a veteran to plant a kiss on a name; flowers, teddy bears, flags and uniforms grace the polished black granite. In his introduction, Vietnam veteran and freelance writer Norman discusses the controversy over the Wall's design and mourns a friend who substituted for him on patrol: "He may have died for his country or for his God or for nothing at all. For a long time, I thought he died for me."

Review: The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James

I still have my copy of Jane Eyre from when I was nine so I am easily the target audience for this fictionalized take on Charlotte Bronte's inner life. Yes, I fell in love with Jane and Rochester when I brought home a rather large mass market sized book fresh from the always enticing Scholastic Book Club flier. When I was a little older and had a bit of disposable income (ie an allowance plus birthday money), I promptly bought myself all of Bronte's books as well as Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. And just as promptly, I read them all. So happily spending hours with imagined diaries that shed some light into the lives of these clergyman's daughters who lived such isolated and fairly constrained lives out beside the moors made perfect sense to me.

Opening as Charlotte is debating whether or not to accept the marriage proposal of her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, the diaries then proceed back in time to the day that Mr. Nicholls arrived at Haworth parsonage. Not much substantive is known about the years between Mr. Nicholls taking the curate's position and when he and Charlotte Bronte wed so James has a fairly blank canvas on which to weave her tale. The diaries span the writing and the publications of most of the major works by the sisters Bronte but this doesn't shut out the imagined intricate daily life of the family. Charlotte's feelings towards the shy Mr. Nicholls grow and change realistically throughout the eight years of the narrative. In addition to Charlotte's life, the reader is treated to both Anne and Emily's characters and to the sad waste of Branwell's life.

All of the characters, as seen through Charlotte's eyes, come alive although occasionally Anne and Emily seem a bit interchangeable. The story is impeccably researched, the language authentic feeling, and James has imagined a story that most Bronte fans will enjoy thoroughly. In some ways, her tale of Charlotte's life almost seems like an undiscovered plot from one of Bronte's own works. And while she cannot possibly reproduce inner thoughts and feelings as they definitely were, she has done a wonderful job imagining the possibility. Although this is called a diary, it is not written in traditional diary format (not that I would have been put off by such a convention although I know other readers would). It is, of course, written as a first person narrative and has a confidential tone to it in many places but it is still a respectful and almost staid rendering of these momentous eight years. I enjoyed the book as a fictional peek into an author for whom I will always have a very special feeling and I suspect that even folks not familiar with the Bronte's work can appreciate this as an historical fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me the book to review.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A-Z Wednesday (a double whammy)

Reading at the Beach is hosting A-Z Wednesday where bloggers take the time to highlight one book that starts with the letter of the day. This week is the letter G. I just filled this one out below but as I was clicking through to other people's choices, I realized that I could highlight one of my favorite middle grade books for this one. It's not a book too many people know of and that should definitely change.

The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley is phenomenal. Don't be swayed by the dreadful cover here (my cover is the older one and it is way more appealing). I discovered this book years ago when I was looking for fun stuff for my daughter to read. At the time it was a bit beyond her reading level but I was completely enchanted when I read the back cover copy so the book came home with me. I read it in no time at all, followed it with the sequel, and have tried to entice others with it ever since.

Here's amazon's take on it:

The characters in a fairy tale are also the major characters in this novel, and they become involved in the lives of its readers. Within the pages of a storybook, 12-year-old Sylvie, a princess, refuses to consider marriage until she accomplishes one "Great Good Thing," and goes off to aid several animals in distress. Sylvie also violates the cardinal rule of storybooks and looks her Reader right in the eye, establishing a lasting bond with her. She lives the role of an adventurous heroine, rescuing her story when Claire's brother sets the book on fire. She ventures in and out of Claire's dreams. In hazy transitions, the story moves to a subconscious level with all the book characters only alive in the oral retelling, eventually in danger of being forgotten. Numerous supporting characters float in and out of the scenes: Claire's menacing brother; her grandmother (the original Reader who gave her the book); and, eventually her daughter Lily, who saves Sylvie's story from disappearing. However, the movement of characters in one person's dream or waking world to the mind of another is difficult to follow or swallow. This is an extremely clever and multilayered concept, but one has to question the child appeal, even among the most ardent fantasy fans. Most young readers will lose interest in this book long before its admittedly happy conclusion.

Now I would give much more credit to avid young readers than amazon does but maybe this means you all should take my recommendation with a grain of salt... Nah. It's a great book and I'm always right, just ask my husband. ::grin::

A-Z Wednesday

Reading at the Beach is hosting A-Z Wednesday where bloggers take the time to highlight one book that starts with the letter of the day. This week is the letter G. I am getting around to this incredibly late today but I hope a few people still stop by to check this out because this is a very tempting book. :-)

The Golden Tulip by Rosalind Laker is sitting on my sooner rather than later tbr shelf waiting for me to pick it up. I pulled it out because it fits nicely into several of the reading challenges in which I am participating. It also has the distinction of being one of my "expandable books" which is what we've dubbed any and all books that found themselves at the bottom of the lake when the boat sank this summer. It was always a fairly long book (576 pages) but now it looks like it rivals War and Peace in length. And while it is historical fiction, it doesn't deal with Russia during the Napoleonic Wars, instead it deals with Holland during the time of Rembrandt and Vermeer. And I do have a weakness for art inspired books despite not being able to personally paint my way out of a paperbag.

Here's what amazon has to say:

Love, tulips, painting, Dutch patriotism and the dynamics of personal and political power inform Laker's sprawling saga, set in Holland during the time of Rembrandt and Vermeer (both of whom serve as secondary characters). Francesca is the eldest daughter of the painter Hendrik Visser and a talented artist in her own right. So is middle sister, Aletta, while the youngest, Sybella, is far more interested in marrying well. Hendrik is successful, but his drinking and gambling keep the family in penury. Once the girls' mother dies, Francesca has new responsibilities, which she must soon balance with an apprenticeship to a little-known Vermeer. Tulip grower Pieter van Doorne makes a delivery at the house one day while Francesca prepares to pose as flower goddess Flora for her father. Pieter is instantly smitten, but the man who commissioned the Flora painting, wealthy ship owner Ludolf van Deventer, has designs on Flora, as well as on the country's political future. Laker (To Dance with Kings) excels at broad-strokes portraiture, moving from 17th-century intrigue to intimate glimpses of daily life. The absorbing plot unfolds slowly and conveys real passion for both life and work.

What's on Your Desk Wednesday

I was tagged by both Sassy Brit of and Yvonne of Socrates' Book Reviews for this meme. I never knew so many people were interested in my clutter!

What's on your desk Wednesday? is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Sassy Brit of Check her blog out each Wednesday for the post titled What's on your desk Wednesday?

You can do one of two things or both!

Grab a camera and take a photo of your desk! Or anywhere you stack your books/TBR pile. And no tidying!
Add this photo to your blog.
Tag at least 5 people!
Come back here and leave a link back to your photo in comments.


List at least 5 BOOKISH things on your desk (I'm thinking your TBR pile or books you haven't shelved...)
List at least 5 NON BOOK things. (I'm thinking some of some of the more unusual items on your desk/table?)
Tag at least 5 people to do the same.
Come back here and leave your link, so we can come and visit your blog. Or add your answers in the comments if you don't have a blog.

I would love nothing more than to be able to take a picture of my desk and post it but I still haven't managed to replace the really good camera I sank this summer. ::sob:: And if you think it's bad not being able to photograph the disaster that is my desk, imagine not having a camera to photograph any of my kids' sports or big life events. ::sigh:: I should probably replace the camera before R.'s birthday in two weeks! But I digress (per usual). Given the lack of camera (maybe I'll take pics on one of the disposables I have hanging around and post them on down the road when I get the pictures back), I have to choose option two. So...

5 Bookish things on my desk:

1. 1/3 of the pile of books I've finished reading but not yet reviewed (the other 2/3 is beside the desk)
2. The last two review books that came in the mail (Viola in Reel Life and In a Perfect World).
3. Two Bookmarks magazines from which to cull more suggested reading
4. A nearly complete set of Mr. Putter and Tabby books (because we all love Mr. Putter here).
5. Asterix le Gauloise from my high school French class umpty-ump years ago.

5 Non-book things on my desk:

1. Two halves of a geode that was a wedding present from my old geology professor (it's the result of an old family joke where my mom--Hi mom!--mistakenly but excitedly called a geode a gonad in front of the whole football team in college and since we serendipitously went to the same college and had the same geology professor, the story has been shared far and wide--and now all over the world on the internet--Hi mom!)
2. One of the best ever Christmas card pictures of my three kids.
3. A small pottery jar from our honeymoon in Turkey.
4. Two toys impossible to explain without a photograph that I adored as a child.
5. A fragile wooden box my grandfather made for me when he was dying of cancer.

5 people I'm tagging (and since I am so late getting to this, perhaps they'll want to hold off until next Wednesday!):

1. Beth at Library Chicken
2. Lisa at Books Lists Life
3. Rebecca at Lost in Books
4. Deb at Readerbuzz
5. Kari at Another Book on the Stack

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge

I think this challenge was designed with me in mind. Of course, the number of books that have been on my shelves for more than six months is simply mind-boggling. But the beauty of the Clear Off Your Shelves 2009 Challenge is that you only have to declare a percentage that you intend to read. So I can safely shoot for 20% of my reading for October and November to fit the guidelines and still have completed the challenge. Love this! Given that I have made some review commitments for those two months already, I think I will be a big baby and stick with the minimum percentage, which is indeed 20%. Obviously living on the edge is not my thing! But this should help remind me that it's not all about the new books, either in the mailbox or from the store. I should revisit why I bought or requested some of the stuff I did so very long ago.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vampires and other reimagined spookiness

The Count on Sesame Street was probably the last vampire I actually liked. Now to be fair, I tend to avoid vampires like the plague so I haven't come across too many of them since my Sesame Street years. I read Dracula in college and had to sleep with the covers completely over my head for weeks. My boyfriend (now husband) would come into my room, catch me napping, and all he'd see was a lump under the comforter with a nose poked out above the blankets. I might have married him simply because he didn't laugh after I told him I was just certain that if I left my neck on display while I slept that I was next on the bloodsucking list. I never said I was rational about it after all. But that was the last I thought much about vampires except at Halloween, a holiday I don't love anyway (the candy part is good--well, bad for the waistline but good for the taste buds--but the dressing up and trooping around the neighborhood thing leaves me cold), until now.

Now everywhere you turn, vampires are the schizzle. Romances have fanged men with rippling abdomens adorning their covers. Other books show glowing eyes and blood dripping from fangs. Twilight it totally ubiquitous. (I haven't read it and yet I suspect I should, if only to join the conversation.) Even classic authors' works are being re-imagined to include the seriously cursed blood suckers and other creepies like zombies and sea monsters.

Thus far I have avoided all of these books, not because I suspect they aren't worth the paper they are printed on (although in the interest of full disclosure, my snobbish self does indeed suspect this to be the case), but because I am a wimp and a coward and I don't see how I can convince my husband, even though he didn't laugh at my sissy-self long ago in college, that I have to sleep curled into the smallest ball possible as far under the covers as I can burrow, oh and can he not runkle around, pulling sheets, making it possible for a vampire bat to swoop in and sink its teeth into my neck either.

And much as I'd like to see this latest trend in publishing find a stake in its heart and quietly go away forever, there are more vampire books on the horizon. The latest you lovers of the blood thirsty ask happily while we cowards wince again? Wuthering Bites. Heathcliff will be a vampire in this one. And why not? He was a soul-sucking nasty in the original so it can't be much of a stretch to have him sleep in a coffin and cause Cathy's ghost to forever walk the moors. Look for it in Sept. 2010 because I clearly don't run the publishing world and won't have made it all go away by then.

Oh, and I take that back about the Count being the last vampire I liked. For some reason, I find Christopher Moore's vampires totally acceptable and more importantly, funny not scary. And I committed to the R.I.P. Challenge so maybe I will dig Twilight out and finally join the conversation. Never say never, I guess.

Review: The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey

Told in four distinct sections, this novel is a powerful and affecting story centering around the way in which the characters connect and disconnect with each other, the ways in which we fail each other, and how self-absorbtion overtakes and smothers. The narrative is both set in the present and the past and the minute details serve to explain and illuminate the tragedy whose thread runs through each of the stories told between the covers.

First in the story is Sean, the boyfriend of Abigail, who owns the eponymous house. He is completely blocked on his doctoral dissertation and taking on questionable writing projects with a partner whom he doesn't respect in order to pay his share of the rent upon which arrangement Abigail insists despite the fact that he left his wife for her. As Sean and Abigail's relationship disintegrates, Sean becomes more and more fascinated by his current writing project on suicide. Wanting to discuss the project, he turns, very occasionally to Dara, Abigail's friend from university who lives in the basement flat of the house on Fortune Street.

The second section focuses on Cameron, Dara's father, who left his wife and children many years ago and who has hidden distasteful things about himself from his children. He is (or was) an amateur photographer whose kinship of feeling with Charles Dodgson is disturbing and is detailed during this section through important and defining snapshots of Dara's childhood and pre-pubescence.

The third section opens with Dara meeting Edward, her elusive boyfriend whose presence or absence mirrors Dara's feelings. Happy when she can spend time with him but miserable when he has disappeared into his other life (he still lives with his partner, the mother of his child), Dara is more similar than not to the women she counsels at the crisis center where she works, pinning her hopes on an unreliable man. In addition to the woes in her love life, Dara's working life is fully fleshed out in this section as is her adult relationship with her father, helping to create a more complete picture of Dara.

The fourth section centers on Abigail's college memories and her entrance into Dara's life, filling in the last bit of the puzzle that is this story. And while the reader has long known where the story has no choice but to go having read the climax in the first section, this final narrative wraps everything up so that it, as a whole, feels authentic and somehow understandable.

I am still thinking about the power of this one, many days after having finished it. It's an interesting novel in terms of format and aside from the jolt of trying to figure out who Cameron was after the focus on Sean, I think the four sections were successful. There's much fodder for discussion here and the writing was simply luminous. I loved the constant literary connections, often made overtly, in this book, pairing each main character with a major British literary figure. There is a somewhat desperate and desolate feel to the narratives so don't look here for a happily ever after although Livesey has managed to inject a certain small measure of cautious hope by the end. But for a searching and insightful look at human nature, our flaws and weaknesses, and the way we fail each other in and out of the many different types of love, this is masterful.

Thanks to the publisher for providing this book to me.

RIP IV Challenge

R.I.P. stands for Readers Imbibing Peril and while this is not normally a challenge I'd try out, given my innate cowardliness and general dislike of being scared, creeped out, or thrilled to the point my heart pounds, I am going to play along this year and see how I do breaking out of my self-imposed sissyhood. The challenge, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings, has several levels of participation and since I don't want to get too crazy right out of the gate, I will be attempting only the slightest of the offerings: Peril the Third, which only requires reading one book in total from amongst the categories of Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, or Supernatural. I might have chewed my fingernails down to the quick by the end of this but I'm going to give it the old college try if my nerves can stand it. And if it looks like I am about to walk into the darkened room where the monster is waiting, be sure to shout at me, will you?

Fall Into Reading Challenge

I do love the seasonal reading challenges even though I haven't managed to complete the spring or summer lists I created for myself. Knowing my weakness for setting books down (for no apparent reason) and starting others instead of finishing those with bookmarks in them already, I am going to continue to try and challenge myself to get back to them and finish them. That's where the Fall Into Reading Challenge hosted at Callapidder Days comes in.

Here are Katrina's rules for this low pressure challenge:

Make a list of books you want to read (or finish reading) this fall. Your list can be as long or as short as you’d like. (Also, feel free to modify your list during the challenge if it’s not working for you.)

Write a blog post containing your list and submit it to this post using the Mr. Linky.

Get reading! The challenge goes from today, September 22nd, through December 20th.

Check out other participants’ lists and add to your own to-read-someday pile!

Write a post about your challenge experience in December, telling us all about whether you reached your goals and how Fall Into Reading went for you. But remember: this is a low-pressure challenge that should be fun. As long as you do some reading this fall (and enjoy it!), that’s good enough for me.

So, with that in mind, here's my list of books for the challenge:

1. The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
2. The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
3. A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird
4. Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
5. Divided Lives by Elsa Walsh
6. Terra Incognita by Sarah Wheeler
7. The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
8. Between Me and the River by Carrie Host

These are all books that have a bookmark somewhere inside their pages as of this morning. Some have been in progress for months. One I just started last night. Here's hoping that I can knock a fair number of these out for this challenge!

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's Monday! What Are You Reading This Week?

This meme is hosted by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog. I had a tough time forcing myself to read this week. I did better on the reviewing front but am still basically in a slump. I think I just really need the right book to shake me out of it because it is getting old! I will say that for the first time in a long time, I actually picked up one of the books that has been a permanent feature in my list of in progress books though so perhaps I will finally knock one of those out instead of continuing to pass them up in favor of other books.

Books I completed this week are:

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell
The Lie by Fredrica Wagman

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird
Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
Divided Lives by Elsa Walsh
Terra Incognita by Sarah Wheeler
The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

Reviews posted this week:

Cornfield Heiress by E.
A Strong West Wind by Gail Caldwell
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

Mailbox Monday

Another week of just a trickle of books. But all those that came look fabulous so it's all good. This past week's mailbox arrivals include:

Girl From Mars by Julie Cohen came from Amazon.
I found this British chick lit on Book Chick City through her interview with the author. I'd never heard of Cohen but the concept of a comic book fan girl who is resigned to being a single nerd finds love. I am not a comic fan myself but I married one so I do feel a certain affinity for them although I had, of course, always assumed their biggest audience was pre-teen boys. ::grin::

In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke is from the Trish at TLC Book Tours.
While this book has the Phoenix flu rather than the swine flu, a tale of family, marriage, and relationships amidst the growing concern of a worldwide epidemic is frighteningly timely and should make for a good read. Plus I rather like the understated sort of sinisterness of the cover, sicko that I am.

Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani if from Book Club Girl.
I really enjoyed Trigiani's Big Stone Gap series and am looking forward to her first YA entry. The author will be discussing the book on air with Book Club Girl on Sept. 30 if you want to listen in (or call in or write in too).

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Marcia at The Printed Page and enjoy seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday Shout-Out

On my travels through the blogging world, I find many books that pique my interest. I always add them to my wish list immediately but I tend to forget who deserves the blame credit for inspiring me to add them to my list (and to whom my husband would like to send the bill when I get around to actually buying them). So each Saturday I'm going to try and keep better track, link to my fellow book ferreter-outers (I know, not a word but useful nonetheless), and hopefully add to some of your wish lists too. Here are the latest additions to my wish list as of this Saturday:

The Iambics of Newfoundland by Robert Finch was mentioned at A Striped Armchair.

An Equal Stillness by Francesca Kay was mentioned at Hello, My Name Is Alice.

The Pursuit of Other Interests by Jim Kokoris was mentioned at Breaking the Spine.

Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter by Lisa Patton was mentioned at Breaking the Spine.

Americans in Space by Mary E. Mitchell was mentioned at Breaking the Spine.

Once on a Moonless Night by Dai Sijie was mentioned at Book Chatter and Other Stuff....

Meeting Mr. Wrong by Stephanie Snowe was mentioned at Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia.

The Music Room by William Fiennes was mentioned at dovegreyreader scribbles.

Remembering the Bones was mentioned at A Life in Books.

The Finishing Touches by Hester Browne was mentioned at S. Krishna's Books.

Slept Away by Julie Kraut was mentioned at S. Krishna's Books.

Evenings at the Argentine Club by Julia Amante was mentioned at All About {n}.

The Brightest Star in the Saky by Marian Keyes was mentioned at Breaking the Spine.

What goodies have you added to your wish lists recently? Make your own list and leave a comment here so we can all see who has been a terrible influence inspiring you lately.

Popular Posts