Friday, December 29, 2006

Passing along a review...

Awhile back I posted a few books from my Bookmarks Magazine that sounded interesting to me. One of them was the Cliff Janeway series by John Dunning. "Booked to Die" is the first in the series about "a tough, book-loving homicide detective". Based on my recommendation, my mom read the whole series. She said the first three books were good and interesting. They talked quite a bit about the technical side of book collecting. And although the last couple were still good, there weren't quite as good because they weren't focused as much on the book part of the series.

I haven't read any of these yet, but hope to start the first one sometime in the near future. It's on my must-read list. :-)

I'm about 50 pages into The Shadow of the Wind and am enjoying it so far. I'll post a full review when I'm finished!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hopefully, coming soon to a blog near you!

A post from Holly!! My thanks to Allison and Kirsten for keeping this blog going in my non-reading stage. :-) We are moved into our new house and I am in the process of unpacking. Sadly, Andrew shoved all my book boxes to the basement. I'm not really sure what he thinks will come of them down there. Since, well, I have a plan for them, of course, to go on nice newly purchased bookshelves in our bedroom once we buy nice new bedroom furniture. Um, who knows when that will be. So here's hoping that someone paid attention to my amazon wishlist and maybe I'll get some fun books for Christmas.

But in the meantime, I shall be writing a review in the next month at least! I know you are all on the edges of your seats! I joined a book club! A real live book club! I've wanted to do this for years and just haven't had the right opportunity. My good friend Claire, who happens to live around here, has been going to a book club for about 5 or 6 years now, and she asked if I wanted to join. So I'll hopefully be attending their January meeting. The book is The Shadow of the Wind by Caros Ruiz Zafon. It received great reviews on both the Barnes and Noble and Amazon websites. I'll let you all know what I think!

So mysterious!

I have been reading, just not posting much about it. I've mostly been on a mystery kick:

Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron. Since posting a review of the first, I've read #2 (Jane and the Man of the Cloth) and #3 (Jane and the Wandering Eye) and they did not disappoint. There's something a little poignant in knowing Jane Austen's biography when reading these--I know how many years she has left to live, and I know the outcome of her romantic entanglements. But somehow, this doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the stories, which is a credit to Barron.

The Flaming Luau of Death by Jerrilyn Farmer. This is the most recent (out in paperback, anyway...I don't buy mysteries in hardback) in her series about Madeline Bean, a party planner in LA. She has two fun assistants, and her parties always end one way...with police tape and a chalk outline. Seriously, who would hire this woman to plan a party after a half dozen or so The first in Sympathy for the Devil. I rather like these, and this latest was very enjoyable.

Re-reading the Diane Mott Davidson series. The first is Catering to Nobody. These are about Goldy, a caterer with a son who goes from around 10 years old into his teenaged years. She gets married during the course of the series. Each book includes a handful of recipes, some of which are really excellent. I have mixed feelings about these. I always enjoy them, but there are little annoyances. For example, in every book she has Goldy look in the mirror and describe herself, which is a pretty lame device. In every book, she brings up the thumb that her ex-husband broke in three places. Arch (her son) can be a real pain in the patoot, but she puts up with his moodiness and flat-out jerky behavior. She uses adjectives like there might be a shortage soon. And a lot of her causes of death are really convoluted, on par with the terrorist plot in Snakes on a Plane for sheer plausibility. That said, I like them anyway. Maybe I cut her some slack because I *adore* her recipe for Grand Marnier Cranberry Muffins, but I like Goldy, and the investigations are always interesting. So if you're looking for a new series to try, give the first book a read and see how much these things bother you. I can obviously get past them, since I'm re-reading the series for the umpteenth time.

That's it for now!

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

I just finished this book, and I have to say I don't think it lived up to its reviews. (Sorry, Holly!) It never drew me in, and I had to make myself finish it. The characters were all extremely sad and self-centered, which made the whole book feel one-dimensional. I also found it completely unrealistic since societal attitudes about Down's syndrome had already begun changing in the 1960s.

Feed your habit...

I just found this cool site where you can trade your used books for other ones. I think the only cost is $3.99 for shipping the books you select to your home. There's no charge to mail your used books to others. Here's the site:

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Little Too Mysterious

I finished Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris a few days ago, but hadn't really known what to say about it. It's the first in a series in which the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice solve mysteries. I thought the premise sounded cute for a cozy mystery series, and I really wasn't expecting great literature or anything, just an entertaining mystery novel. It started out pretty well. The Darcys find Caroline Bingley wandering in a disreputable street, acting very strangely, and other odd happenings follow. There were some rather over-the-top characters, but I was willing to look past that. The writing was fine, but suffered in comparison to Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries. It was a quick read and very light. But then she brought in this occult element that just didn't really fit. I've read mysteries that successfully bring in the otherworldly, but it really didn't have a place in a continuation of a Jane Austen book. And frankly, the solution was pretty...lame. So, I'm not sure yet if I'll read the next in the series. For now, I'm reading the second book in the Barrons series and really enjoying it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor

I finished this book last night. It's the first in a series by Stephanie Barron that purports to be "edited" by the author from long-lost journal entries and letters written by Jane Austen. This is somewhere between the light "cozy" mysteries and and an actual Jane Austen novel in feel. I have to say, I enjoyed it quite a lot. I wasn't sure what to expect, and I was a bit skeptical of the set-up, which includes some footnotes to fill in things from Jane's life specifically or her time period generally. It was just fun, and I was sucked into the premise quite easily. Barron, I thought, is quite a good writer, and makes it believable that the writing is Jane's. Jane is exactly as clever and witty as you'd expect, so the book isn't in the least dry. The mystery is complicated and the supporting characters well-drawn. It took longer for me to read than a typical cozy mystery, but that's not a bad thing. It was just a bit more dense and with a less modern feel to the writing. I have the next few books in the series as well, and I'm told they just get better. I'd certainly recommend it to mystery lovers and Jane Austen fans. But make sure you have hot chocolate in the house--Jane drinks it with breakfast every morning, and each mention sets off a craving :)

I'm nearly through with Pride and Prescience, the first in a series by Carrie Bebris in which the newlyweds Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy solve mysteries. This is a much lighter and breezier series, but enjoyable nonetheless. Review when I'm done.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

For the kid in you

I'm reading Molly Moon's Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure. I love children's books, and I enjoyed the first two Molly Moon books quite a bit. The first is Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism. Molly is raised in an orphanage and ends up finding a book on hypnotism. When she turns out to have a natural talent for it, she ends up thwarting an evil plot. If you love Harry Potter and are looking for something in a similar vein to read before Book 7 comes out, these are very cute, and at around 400 pages each, pretty substantial (though they're grades 4-6, I think, so they go fast). Molly is a likeable heroine, and the other orphanage characters are a nice supporting cast.

A Little Fun

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this series here before, but I just finished Owl's Well That Ends Well by Donna Andrews, and I think some of you might enjoy her series about Meg Langslow. Meg is a blacksmith, but there's not much technical blacksmith stuff in the books. They mostly center on Meg, her actor/professor boyfriend, and her crazy family. The first is Murder With Peacocks, which is a very enjoyable read. The premise is that single Meg is involved in the planning of three separate weddings. Each bride has her own specific quirks. Oh, and there's a murder :) The investigation is entertaining, partly due to the enthusiasm of Meg's father, a doctor, who is just tickled to be in the midst of all the excitement. Occasionally, I'll look around on amazon for new (to me) mystery series, and I found this one based on their recommendations and really enjoyed it. The subsequent books have been fun as well.

My book club is reading The Alchemist, and I just got my copy, so I'll start that soon. I've also decided to start the Darcy mystery series (the first is Pride and Prescience, I think) by Carrie Bebris and the Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron. I'll post reviews as I finish them.

Friday, October 20, 2006

From Harry Potter to Encyclopedia Brittanica

I haven't posted lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading. I recently finished the latest in the Harry Potter series, The Half Blood Prince. I enjoyed the book quite a bit, but I feel like an idiot for not figuring out who was the Half Blood Prince sooner.

On a slightly more highbrow level, I also just finished The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs. It is exactly what the title says it is, a recounting of A.J. Jacobs' quest to read the Encyclopedia Brittanica from A to Z. The book is organized in encyclopedia fashion with alphabetical entries of varying lengths. This makes it a good book to read in spurts, because you always have a convenient stopping point. Jacobs shares with the reader the knowledge he acquires about each topic as he reads it, in particular, the weird and strange facts buried within the Brittanica. It was a surprisingly funny read.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Book review - An Assembly Such As This

I finished An Assembly Such As This by Pamela Aiden. This is the first in a trilogy that tells the Pride & Prejudice story from Mr. Darcy's point-of-view. I thought this would be really interesting since P&P doesn't give you much insight into how Mr. Darcy goes from completely dismissive of all country society (including Lizzy) to saving her family from ruin and falling in love with her. But as it turns out, I think she gives you all you really need. I enjoyed this book, although it was much too long. This should be one book, not a trilogy. Ms. Aiden isn't a great writer. I would describe this as above-average fanfiction, honestly. Ms. Aiden adds some elements to show Mr. Darcy's character and circumstances. Some of these work, and some are clunky. His conversations with Bingley are interesting, and some of the P&P scenes she shows are cool to see with his thoughts revealed. The clunkiest ones are when he talks to his horse and dog and this whole ridiculous thing where his valet ties his cravat in a new way and this other guy is really jealous, which just seemed stupid. And she went on and on about the dang cravat for like two chapters. The political stuff that's alluded to could have been really interesting, but I don't think it's handled all that well.

Do I recommend this book? Hmmm. Die-hard Jane Austen fans like me may enjoy it despite it's shortcomings. I am interested enough to want to read the other two books. Definitely buy it used, though, or get it from the library. This is not a full-price from B&N book :)

Other Jane Austen related series to check out: Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries, in which Jane Austen solves mysteries (these sound really fun) and Carrie Bebris's Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries. Both series sound like lots of fun, and maybe the genre change to mystery negates some of the issues I had with the Aiden book.

Ha! See, Holly, I read a new book :)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More Jane Austen, Not Less

My mother-in-law gave me An Assembly Such as This, by Pamela Aiden. It's the first in a trilogy that tells Pride & Prejudice from Darcy's point of view. She loved it, but I haven't read it yet. Just wanted to alert fellow Jane Austen fans that this is out there :)

Friday, September 15, 2006


Kinda slow lately. Any good books out there?

I just finished Deja Dead, the first book in the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs. I enjoy the tv series Bones on FOX and that's based on the Brennan character. I'll probably read a few more in the series. I thought some of the technical descriptions in the book were a little dry and come off much more interesting when you have the visual of the television to go with them. But overall, I enjoyed the book.

I have the third Bubbles book sitting around from the library that I need to finish in the next week or so and then I might delve into The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I have a coupon to buy it this weekend from Barnes and Noble and well, all my other books are packed away for now. :-)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Interesting coincidences

So I haven't finished any books lately, but I am in the middle of the second Bubbles book, which I am enjoying for its silliness. Bubbles visits Amish country. Quite entertaining. Coincidentally, I received my latest Bookmarks Magazine in the mail a week or so ago and read it cover to cover. One of the books it reviewed as an interesting read was Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman. He is the man who also created the documentary "A Devil's Playground" which I believe was nominated for an Oscar. Then 20/20 had a show on this week about Amish gone bad. It's so strange that all in a week's time three Amish related things have popped up in my world. Not that I'm particularly fascinated by the Amish. It's just interesting how coincidences pop up sometimes....

Here are some books that I thought sounded like they might be good that were also reviewed in Bookmarks:

Theft by Peter Carey--a novel set in the art world and about art forgery

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen--a novel about a man studying to be a vet who runs away to the circus in the Depression-era

The Bookwoman's Last Fling by John Dunning--a detective book in the book world. Part of the Cliff Janeway series.

The Stolen Child by Keith Donahue--a science-fiction book about a boy kidnapped by changelings who then take his place in the real world (or something like that). I'm not super into science fiction but this one is touted at a fairy tale for adults and sounded entertaining. (Allison, I thought this sounded like a book you might like.)

If anyone reads these before I have a chance to, I would love to know what you thought of them.

Monday, August 14, 2006

On a streak...

I have finished three books in the last week and a half! Go me! I read Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich. I really enjoyed it. I like that she brought in a couple new characters with the gay funeral directors. I laughed picturing Grandma Mazur prancing around like Mick Jagger, and sort thought "Eww!" to Lula's outfits. But I was quite entertained by this one. Either my expectations for her books have been lowered or I feel like she has gotten out of her rut she was in for books 7-9. I also read Bubbles Unbound since Allison and Carol both recommended it. I was pleasantly entertained by these characters as well. And I plan on reading the rest of the series.

The third book I finished was The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. I was really enthralled with this book. It starts in the mid-1960's and goes through to late 1980's. Dr. Henry and his wife have twins, a boy and a girl. The boy is perfect and "normal" and the girl is born with Down's syndrome. Due to events in his family history, the doctor feels that the girl would be better off at an institution. And that there would be less grief for him, his wife and son if they believed the baby had died at birth. The doctor lives with the secret that his daughter is alive and well and living with the nurse he asked to deposit the baby at the institution. The nurse could not fathom leaving the baby in such a place, and chose to raise her in a different part of the country. The book is written with every few chapters alternating between the doctor and his family and the nurse and the little girl. It flows well and I really liked how the chapters switched back and forth. I would recommend it as a good read. It's also a quick read.

I keep saying I'm going to read The Lost Painting and there it still sits on my bookshelf. I really do want to get to it, bu I think it reminds too much of my college reading since its about one of the artists in my thesis topic. So even though I find the book interesting, its hard for me to think of it as light reading. I may move on to the next Bubbles book next. ;-)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Summer Re-Runs

Okay, we've been a little slow here at the Bookshelf lately. I'm not helping, either, since I've been stuck in a re-reading rut. I'm hosting my book club next week and I haven't even bought the book! I'm hoping they'll be too distracted by my wonderful cooking to notice :) All my "new" reading lately has been childbirth/early childhood stuff (and baby name books!), and maybe there's just not room in my brain for anything else.

So, I thought I'd try to start a little bit of discussion. What books (if any) do you re-read, and why? If you're not a re-reader, why not? Here's my list:

Harry Potter: I secretly really, really want to go to Hogwarts. But reading these is the closest I can get :) I love visiting the world JK Rowling constructed. The books are rich and full of detail, and really just delightful to read. The characters are well-drawn and believable, and even though I already know what's going to happen, the getting-there is so much fun that I can read them over and over.

Jane Austen: I love reading about all the social rules and who follows them or breaks them. I love Austen's gentle satire of social conventions (which you could easily miss by skimming) through making characters ridiculous with dialogue. And every time I get to the end of Pride & Prejudice, I'm so happy that Lizzy & Mr. Darcy finally got together.

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next Series: My inner English nerd loves the wordplay and literature references, but those couldn't stand alone without the entertaining characters and clever situations. Plus, I've always wished I could literally enter my favorite books, and I think the way Fforde manages this is an impressive feat of imagination.

Kate Atkinson: I love her writing. I bought Human Croquet on the bargain table of Barnes & Noble without having heard of Atkinson, and I loved it. And that's not even her best book! Her sentences are just a pleasure to read, and I enjoy the unfolding of her intricate plots.

Gregory Maguire: Even his "not as good" books are fun retellings of fairy tales. It's the familiarity of a story you've heard since childhood, but with variations. I think my favorite of his is Lost, which incorporates Jack the Ripper and A Christmas Carol, if you can believe that.

Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit: Because I'm a big nerd, that's why.

HItchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and sequels): Because sometimes, you need a little insanity.

Janet Evanovich: It's nice that Stephanie Plum's life/career/family are so much crazier than mine :) Even in the less stellar books in the series, you're always guaranteed to laugh out loud at least once.

Rita Mae Brown's Mrs. Murphy series: Because there's something comforting and lovely about animals talking to each other and solving mysteries, even if the mysteries aren't all that interesting.

Dorothy Cannell: Cozy mysteries at their finest. An injection of Britishness, crazy family members, fun mysteries that make you wish you were poking around an old mansion with lots of secret passages.

Jennifer Crusie: Her contemporary romances are engaging enough to re-read. Welcome to Temptation and Manhunt are really the best.

There are more, I'm sure, but these are the most frequently re-read for me.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

On My Bookshelf...

Bubbles and other laugh out loud novels...

On Allison's recommendations, I started reading the Bubbles' series by Sarah Strohmeyer. They're not quite as good as Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, but they're an easy and entertaining read. And, yes, at times, I even laugh out loud. I've read four of the five books so far and am going to pick up the fifth at the library in the next week.
Bubbles is a really ditzy blonde hairdresser who as part of her divorce settlement attended junior college (Two Guys) to be retrained for a new career. After failing tons of courses over 8 years, she finds that she's a natural for reporting. After all, what is a beauty parlor anyway but a den of gossip! She has a brilliant daughter who dyes her hair with koolaid and a hot boyfriend named Steve Stiletto. Strohmeyer admits to creating Bubbles at the kitchen table of Janet Evanovich. Definitely you can see Evanovich's fingers in this one.
The other two authors that I really enjoy reading that make me laugh out loud are Christopher Moore and Carl Hiasen. Holly introduced me to Christopher Moore with The Stupidest Angel and her Mom introduced me to Carl Hiasen. Both of them have characters that are out there to say the least. I think Moore is a bit more unhinged with his plots than Hiasen, but both of them write very entertaining and fun novels. These are all great summertime reads as they're light, hilarious and entertaining - just the way, summer should be!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Better get started!

Britain's librarians have posted a list of books to read before you die right here.

I think I went to a really good high school (go, public education!), because I have read 23 out of 30, many of them in high school. I hadn't heard of Birdsong or The Master and Margarita before. A few of these I just haven't gotten to. And I just have to say, "The Lovely Bones????? Are you kidding me?" Man, I hated that book. Actually, I liked it until the convoluted, tacked-on ending, which ruined that book for me. Ugh.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Need a Laugh?

Boy, have I got the book for you! On my flight back to Wisconsin, I read Early Bird by Rodney Rothman. The guy next to me kept giving me sideways looks and trying to inch away. I tried to smile reassuringly and explain, "It's this book! It's so funny!" Yeah, he thought I was a loon. This is the memoir of a comedy writer who loses his job at the age of 28. Lost as to what to do next, he decides to test-drive retirement out in Florida. At first, he's perplexed by the old folks up washing their cars at 6:15 in the morning, 4:00 pm dinners at value buffets, and the ladies who can play five Bingo boards at once (he can barely manage one). But he settles into retirement, gaining acceptance into the exclusive clique that hangs out by the condo pool and joining the shuffleboard team. Laugh-out-loud funny and achingly poignant. A totally satisfying reading experience. I've been recommending this to everyone I know. It's 244 pages and a quick read. Read it! Seriously!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Still chugging away...

I recently finished The Kalahari Typing School for Men and The Cupboard Full of Life by Alexander McCall Smith (#4 & #5 in his Ladies Detective Agency series). Okay, I understand that when you write a series of books you will have to repeat a few things in the off chance that someone picks up a book out of order in the series. For example, it is always mentioned in the Stephanie Plum series about the unlucky happenstance of getting her cars blown up, etc. But Smith's repetition gets a bit annoying. It is mentioned probably no less than 3 times per book about Mma. Makutsi's (a supporting character in the series) 97% on her secretarial exam. I just find it getting to the point where some of the repetition bothers me. Also, Smith seems to drag the story out and then all of sudden gets bored with it and ties it all up in the last two chapters. Either speed things along throughout the course of the book, or make them longer!

I do still somewhat enjoy the books though. The Typing School was entertaining because you read the book really hoping that Mma. Makutsi has finally found the right man. And book five culminates in an event that Mma. Ramotswe has been waiting for for awhile.

I'm sure I will continue to read the series as I am pretty loyal once I start a book series as evidenced in my next book choice: Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich (the twelth book in the Stephanie Plum series). Even the Plum series wavered a little after about book 6, but it came around again in book 10. So I'll hold out hope for the Ladies Detective Series. There are either one or two more books already published in the series. So I'll get them eventually. After Evanovich, I think I'll read The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A Mommy book

For Mother's Day my mom gave me Sippy Cups are NOT for Chardonnay: And Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor. I pretty much read this book in one day. It's such a quick read. And I think any new mom or mom-to-be should read this book! It's so realistic, although slightly over the top. In the Out and About With Baby chapter. She talks about one of her thrice weekly outings to Target and it made me laugh out loud and I could completely relate! Actually much of the book I could totally relate to. I'm not sure if that's because this mom is from Los Angeles and we are both dealing with living in the same "mommy" scene. I'm sure it's the same everywhere. I suppose I could go on, but you really should take a look at this one if it sounds at all interesting to you. I laughed out loud several times while reading it.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Past Bestsellers

I haven't gone through all the years yet, but this site lists the top ten selling books of every year from 1900-1995. Pretty cool. It's a different kind of list than the "best books of the past X years" kind you usually see. Anyway, I thought it was pretty cool.

Holly, I know you read the Stephanie Plum books, and I just finished the second Bubbles book by Sarah Strohmeyer, and thought you might like them. The first is Bubbles Unbound. Bubbles is a hairdresser trying to make it as a journalist. She's a hoot. I also just finished A Dose of Murder by Lori Avocato, which is a total Stephanie Plum rip-off, but cute. The similarities are just too close to be coincidental. You can tell she pitched the series as "Stephanie Plum, but with a former school nurse turned insurance fraud investigator." Example: instead of Lula, the plus-size black sidekick, she has Goldie, the tall Creole transvestite. Jagger, the mysterious investigator who trains Pauline, is totally Ranger.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

On My Bookshelf...

On My Bookshelf...

I must be the only person among you all that reads the suspense novels. The last one I read was Up Country by DeMille. It's about a Vietnam veteran returning to Vietnam on a secret mission for his former boss at the Army Criminal Investigation Department. Not only is there suspense, intrigue and slimy bad guys, but there's romance and a lot of information about how the war affected the protagonist and others (both North and South Vietnamese).

I'm now reading In a SunBurned Country. Not sure of the author. It's about a man's travels through Australia. He's written several books - one about his travels in Britain, America, etc... Since I've been to Australia a few times, I can identify with some of his stories.

I'm also reading the third book of the Jewel in the Crown trilogy - The Division of Spoils. I have been reading this trilogy for over a year. Definitely I'm not the historical novel type! Although, the third book is finally making a lot more sense than the first two. The first book was so disjointed and skipped around to all these different characters and stories. The second was a little better. And the third is finally tying a lot of the first two books together.

Not sure what my next book will be. I may have to go to the library and check into some of the books you all recommend.

The Best Novel?

So, the New York Times Book Review decided to name the greatest novel in the past 25 years. Time Magazine has a lovely (and short) article about it here. Even better, Laura Miller, one of the judges explains here why she declined to vote.

The end result almost doesn't matter (but if you're dying to know, it's Toni Morrison's Beloved). It's a bizarre thing to do, gathering a group of judges to pick "the best" novel of any given period. Trying to distill literature into some sort of athletic contest with one "winner" is ridiculous. The picks were also nearly all by white men, though they did ultimately choose a black woman as the author of the "best" book. Overcompensating much? I love Toni Morrison, and I think Beloved is brilliant, but I also think this group of mostly old white guys choosing the best book might have been consciously trying to avoid accusations of favoring other old white guys.

I like what Time Magazine did with their list of the 100 best books since 1923 (Why 1923? Who knows?). It gives room for diversity, for a multitude of experiences and viewpoints, for authors trying to accomplish different things. The NYTBR exercise drives me nuts because literature is collective, not singular, and no one novel can represent all great novels of the last 25 years.

Hey, how'd I get on this soapbox? Can somebody help me down?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

I just finished this book. It was indescribably wonderful! Thank you, Holly, for suggesting it.

The premise: The island nation of Nollop off the U.S. coast semi-worships their most famous resident, the fictional creator of the pangram (sentence using all letters of the alphabet) "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." They have a statue of Nollop with his sentence inscribed on tiles in the center of town. One day "Z" falls down, and the council of elders determine that this is Nollop speaking from the grave, challenging them by removing "Z" from their written and spoken language. Citizens violating the new alphabet face flogging, banishment, or death. But that's not the only tile to fall. The novel is written entirely in letters between the Nollopians, sometimes letters to out-of-town relatives, sometimes notes left on the refrigerator. Only a few pages are challenging to read because of the letter omissions. The plot is delightful, the character development charming, and the wordplay just plain fun. I can see some readers finding it overly clever, and it's true that the book is built on a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that doesn't prevent endearing characters and suspense. At 200 pages, it's a fairly quick read, and a thoroughly enjoyable one. It's going on the "never throw/give away" shelf next to my Jasper Fforde.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Her Fork in the Road

There's a bookstore on the west side of LA devoted entirely to cookbooks and cooking related tomes. I bought this book--Her Fork in the Road--there several months ago and just started reading it. The book is a collection of stories celebrating gastronomic travel, all written by women who are supposedly some of the best writers in and out of the food and travel fields. The stories meld unique ethnic cuisine experiences with the food's surrounding cultural context. The book is making me hungry--for both food and adventure! It's a different sort of read, but one I'm enjoying on many sensory levels.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Curtis Sittenfeld

I read in the Sunday LA Times that Curtis Sittenfeld has a new book coming out this month called "Man of My Dreams." Did anyone else read her first book Prep? I was initially drawn to the book because the protagonist was supposed to be from my hometown of South Bend, Indiana. The book turned out, in my opinion, to be an extraordinarily well written tale of teenage angst and the desire to be accepted. I'm eager to read her latest effort as well.

Mommy Wars

I recently finished Mommy Wars by Leslie Morgan Steiner. The book is a series of essays by mothers about their choices of whether to stay at home with their children or continue their careers. As a member of a playgroup with both working and non-working moms, I was curious to read the viewpoints of mothers on both sides of the fence. It is obvious, upon reading this book, that no woman can ever be certain she made the right choice and the only way to make peace with that choice is to embrace it entirely.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I finally finished a book! Mark this day on the calendar!

Since I've finished all my current knitting projects and waiting for my yarn for the next one to show up in the mail, I read yesterday and finished The Historian. This book is about a professor looking for his advisor who has gone missing. The advisor had become interested in researching whether Vlad Tepes (aka Dracula) really existed and is in fact undead and still walking around attacking people. The search begins all over again with the professor when he starts to look for his missing mentor. Then his daughter starts to look for him when he just takes off. The book is filled with vampire lore from a historical fiction perspective and it is fairly interesting overall. I think the middle third of the book is way too long and way too dry and I think Kostova probably loses many readers at that point, but I forged on and finished and it does end up nicely tying up all the loose ends, leaving with a sort of cliffhanger. But a good cliffhanger, not one where you're mad that the whole thing wasn't completely resolved.

I would recommend it to anyone that likes academic type fiction books or interested in where vampires originated. I think it was well written overall even if she tended to drag it out an extra 200 pages or so.

Now I'm on to lighter fluffier reads...I think I'll read the next two books in Alexander McCall Smith's Ladies Detective Agency series....

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Summer reading

So, I've been on a mildly trashy contemporary romance novel kick, and I thought I'd admit to it here :-) These books are so quick to read, and fun, and there are so few surprises that they're comforting in a way. And as the weather gets warm, they're just perfect sometimes. So, if anyone is looking for cute, fluffy reads, Susan Donovan's He Loves Lucy and Rachel Gibson's Sex, Lies, and Online Dating are both very cute and enjoyable. I can also recommend almost anything by those two authors, as well as Jennifer Crusie and Janet Evanovich (who also does the Stephanie Plum books but has been cranking out the romance lately).

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Love Wife by Gish Jen

I stayed up too late finishing this book last night, but it was worth it. I've enjoyed Gish Jen's past novels, Mona in the Promised Land and Typical American, and this one was just amazing. The story begins when Carnegie does two things to disappoint his Chinese-born mother; he marries a white woman "Mama Wong" insists on calling Blondie, and he adopts a child of unknown parentage. Mama Wong's dying wish is for the Wong children to be raised more Chinese, so she arranges for Lan, a distant relative, to be brought over from China to nanny for the children (Carnegie and Blondie have adopted another daughter from China, and have had a late-life biological son). This book is about so many things: Carnegie's conflicted relationship with his mother and Chinese culture in general, Blondie's fears that Lan is the wife Mama Wong had wanted for Carnegie, the daughters' feelings that they are not one thing or the other, Lan's categorizing of everything as "Chinese" and "American" and assimilation attempts, what it means to belong to a family. I also learned a bit about the Cultural Revolution, which Lan lived through.

Excellent book. Like her others, I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 14, 2006

ToB Winner Announced!

Okay so I got bored with myself and my ToB commentary so I haven't posted in awhile. I also have still been knitting. I didn't like the first blanket I made at all, so I have started a new one and am only a quarter of the way done. And I have to have it done by the end of the month. Eek! Hopefully I can resume reading after that.

However, I did want to at least post the Tournament of Books winner for this year. I am utterly shocked, but The Accidental by Ali Smith was chosen. Perhaps I should give my audio book a second chance, perhaps the last four chapters of the book are what really make it. It's just so hard to believe that this is supposedly, in the biased minds of these literary judges, the best book of 2005! I think I will have to read some of the other books they've reviewed. Some of them sound so much better to me than the Accidental. But I suppose my viewpoint is from an entertainment point of view, while the judges may be coming from a more literary point of view.

Anyway, anyone read any good books lately?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

ToB continues....

Never Let Me Go has moved on as did Home Land by Sam Lipsyte. The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova have fallen by the wayside.

I somewhat disagree with The Historian not being moved through to Round 2. I am only half way through the book, but I am really enjoying it. I guess it is somewhat dry and slightly academic (as the judge points out) so it can be a little hard to get through it all. But I tend to glance over paragraphs that get too wordy or boring, looking for the overall picture. I'll give an overall review of it when I finish, if ever. I am currently spending my minimal free time knitting a baby blanket for a friend so reading has taken a backseat.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

ToB Round One continues

History of Love won out over The Time In Between.

Today's matchup was:

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close will be moving onto round two, where it will go up against, History of Love, which ironically is the author's wife's book.

Tomorrow's matchup is:

Review - The Year of Magical Thinking

My book club book for this month was Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. It's a memoir about the year following her husband's death. But it was graceful and thought=provoking rather than Oprah-Book-Tearjerker depressing. I haven't read her previous books, and at first her writing style bugged me, but I couldn't put this book down. It's a quick read at about 225 pages. It really wasn't what I was expecting at all, but it was beautiful and moving, and the phrases and images she echoes throughout the book really resonate, and keep the book from being self-indulgent. It's a surprisingly grounded account of a year Didion acknowledges that she was kind of crazy. I definitely recommend it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Best Sellers

I recently finished four best sellers. Stephen King's CELL, Robert B. Parker's SEA CHANGE and two by Sarh Dunant, THE BIRTH OF VENUS and IN THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN.

I don't own a cell phone and neither does Stephen King or so he says. After reading CELL, I'm not certain I really need one. This is King at his usual scary best although I was disappointed w/the ending. Too much left undone.

SEA CHANGE is another good example of Parker's writing. Taut dialog with a sarcastic edge. Tough characters with all too human frailties and a rather shocking denoument. All Parker's books are quick reads that leave you wanting more. He has three detective series going so it seems there promises to be more.

Sarah Dunant's historical novels are extremely well researched w/bibliographies at the end. I guess that means she's a SERIOUS writer. These two books are set in 15th and 16th century Italy, Florence and Venice. You learn that life was very different and very difficult than today's existence. The plots center around events of the times and actual people you learned about in school have roles in the books. For those of you with an interest in Art History, THE BIRTH OF VENUS has an intriguing appearance by Michaelangelo. In THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN gives you insight into the huge amount of time and effort it took to practice the oldest profession. You learn that appearances ARE everything but in the end family values endure.

ToB starts tomorrow!

For those of you who are intrigued, the Tournament of Books begins tomorrow. Each day of the week you can go to the website and they will have a review of each day's matchup. From the ToB website:

"The first of many judgment days is tomorrow (a new judgment published each weekday until the tournament’s done), with judge Choire Sicha deciding between the highly regarded—and highly PR-machine’d—The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and Dave Bergen’s stealth bomber, The Time in Between. It’s guaranteed to be a joyful bloodbath. Welcome to the 2006 Tournament of Books."


If anyone has read either of these and would like to give your own review. Please post a comment.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Review--The Accidental

The Accidental by Ali Smith is one of the books from the Tournament of Books. I listened to the audiobook of this. I'm not sure if I would have had a different impression from actually reading the book. It has been hyped by several publications and it won the Whitbread award so I was anticipating a very good book. However, I found it to be only an okay book.

An English family is vacationing and a stranger enters their world and possibly changes their lives. The book is written where each chapter is from a different character's point of view. I liked the first half of the book and enjoyed hearing the different characters viewpoints. But I just didn't see where the story was going and I got bored. So I admit, although it is very against my nature to abandon a book, I did not listen to the last four chapters.

I will be curious to see how it does in the bracket and what the judges thought of it. Maybe I'm just not literary-minded enough to have grasped why this is supposed to be such a great book. I did look up other reviews of it and they are pretty mixed. Seems like you either love it or you hate it.

I am currently reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I am not incredibly far into yet, but I am really enjoying it.

Monday, March 06, 2006

ToB Bracket announced!

If you click on the Tournament of Books link in the sidebar, you will see the list of judges and a place to download the tournament bracket. I have to say, I'm really amused by The Morning News writers. I think their explanations of their process are great and they don't take themselves too seriously. Which I love!

Anyway, check out the bracket, I may post a running commentary of the tournament and see if any of you have read some of the books on the list and your opinions of them. And whether or not you agree with the judges choices.

Review - The Big Over Easy

I finished The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde, and I really enjoyed it. If you've read his Thursday Next series, you may find it difficult not to agonize over the connections between The Well of Lost Plots (in which most of these characters make an appearance), but it's an enjoyable debut to his new series, and I'll definitely read the second book, which comes out this summer.

The book opens up in Reading, England, where Mary Mary is assigned to work with Jack Spratt in the Nursery Crime Division, which investigates crimes involving gingerbread houses, giants, and most significantly for this book, the murder of a large egg. Humpty Dumpty has been murdered, and suspects abound. Jack must make his way through a tangled web of corporate greed, ex-wives, and mad scientists to solve the murder. To make things more difficult, Reading is a world where police not only have to solve crimes, they have to make them readable, and Jack has always been an outsider, devoted to justice rather than ratings. Fforde does a great job creating fun characters and an outrageous world for them to play in.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Has anyone tried this? I recommend it as a way of acquiring books you are interested in but don't have time to read at the moment. It's like Netflix. You keep a running list of books you'd like to read. Each month Zooba will send you the book at the top of your list. You can rearrange, add or delete books from your list whenever you want.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Seven Deadly Wonders

Just finished 7 Deadly Wonders by Matthew Reilly. WOW! Talk about nonstop action and adventure. The book is a Sinbad, The Sailor movie from my childhood. A team researches the seven ancient wonders of the world and then actually finds them all usually one step ahead of the evil USA and Europe. Yes, the USA and Europe are the BAD GUYS in this story. An interesting twist. Each ancient wonder site is filled w/hazards for those brave enough to try to find the elusive treasure left behind by none other than Alexander the Great.A high adventure read for a blustery winter afternoon.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Book Reviews

I recently finished two very different books, and enjoyed them both.

Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore: I like his writing style and crazy plots with unbelievable characters. They're fun, quick reads as well. This one had a slightly clunkier plot than the last I read - Island of the Sequined Love Nun - but Practical Demonkeeping is also his first novel. The plot is hard to summarize; there's a djinn who's trying to send the demon back to hell, and the demon's keeper, Travis, who tries to confine the demon's eating to criminals. It's crazy and fun.

The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella: Kinsella also wrote Shoeless Joe, the novel on which the film Field of Dreams is based. If you liked that movie, you would probably enjoy this book. It has many of the elements that made the film wonderful; strong characters, magic, Native American legend, and baseball. It's not an action-packed read, but his storytelling is leisurely and thorough. I very much enjoyed it.

I'm now reading The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde. Not sure what I think about it yet.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Recent Reads

I've recently discovered W.E.B.Griffin. He's sort of a political suspense thriller writer like Robert Ludlum. Griffin has two books w/the same character, a young FBI/Homeland Security agent whose name escapes me. The titles are By Order of the President and The Hostage. I found I couldn't put these books down.

Another thriller/suspense author is Greg Iles. I've read The Quiet Game and Turning Angel. These books also share the same characters and are set in Iles' birthplace, Natchez,Mississippi. They are murder mysteries and the evil specter of racism raises its ugly head. After reading these books, I wonder whether Iles truly portrays race relations in Natchez as they are or if he takes literary license.

I just finished Mary, Mary by James Patterson. The most recent novel in his Alex Cross series. Alex is a cop who solves serial murders. I've read every single book in this series. Some are better than others but all keep me enthralled until the last page.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

"what to read next?"

I thought I would try out the "What should I read next?" website since I'm on vacation and the girls are napping (I'm listening to The Accidental right now as well). I put five titles into the mix: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Lovely Bones, The Poisonwood Bible, and The Known World.

The database spit back three pages of books. Some of them classics like Catch-22, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, 1984, etc. A few others I took note of:
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen

Ella Minnow Pea sounds interesting to me (and not just because I like the first name) and seems to fall into the same category as Jasper Fforde's books (Allison: you should look this one up!). There seems to be several books about book clubs lately. Besides Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons and The Jane Austen Book Club, there's also The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe. I just think it's interesting this is such a hot topic.

I'd be curious to hear if anyone liked Life of Pi. And Cloud Atlas seems to keep popping up in things I've read. So I might have to add that one to my reading list. A friend of mine enjoyed Practical Magic as well as some others of Alice Hoffman's books.

Kind of a fun website to play around with.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Currently Reading....

Well I keep checking, but the Tournament of Books bracket has not been posted yet. Allison has inspired me to try listening to an audio book since my reading time has been severely shortened due to my two lovely daughters. She let me know about which is a great site for audio books and she invited me so I got to try out two books for free. I decided I was going to get two of the books on the Tournament list and chose "The Accidental" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close".

I've started The Accidental, which has received quite a bit of praise. It was short-listed for the Booker Prize and won the Whitbread Prize last year. I'll post a review when I'm finished with it but I am enjoying it so far. More soon.....

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What I'm reading

I finally got all of the books I'm currently reading in one place, so now I can tell everyone what I'm reading. I prefer to read one book at a time, but I currently have five going:

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2. This Day in the Life: Diaries From Women Across America
3. A Series of Unfortunate Events -The Penultimate Peril, Book 12 by Lemony Snicket
4. Salem's Lot by Stephen King
5. I Married My Mother-in-Law and Other Tales Of In-Laws We Can't Live With -- And Can't Live Without

As may be apparent, I have wide ranging tastes and am a fairly voracious reader.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

White Teeth

I finished White Teeth, Zadie Smith's debut novel, yesterday. It was an amazing book. It reaches back in time to reference the character's ancestors, but is based in the melting pot of North London, where the central characters live. Archie (a white Brit) and Samad (a Muslim Bengali immigrant, despairing of his children's assimilation) have a friendship based on their military service together. Archie marries half-Jamaican, recovering Jehovah's Witness Clara and lives near Samad's family. The book takes off from here, exploring the ancestry that defines the characters and the new directions of their offspring. I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fixed Link

The link in the previous post is now working. ;-)

Monday, February 13, 2006

More on the Tournament of Books

I did a little more research into this, this morning. Last year was the first year for it. They arbitrarily chose 16 books and arranged them in a bracket (a la the NCAA basketball tourney). I'm not sure how books get elminated but last year's finals came down to The Plot Against America by Philip Roth and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Cloud Atlas was the winner of "The Rooster" as they call their top prize.

Here is a link to some background information on how the Tournament of Books started and why: First Annual TMN Tournament of Books

This year's Tournament will take place in March. The bracket has not been released yet. I will post a link when the bracket is available. But here are a list of the 16 books in contention:

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
The Time in Between, by David Bergen
Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole, by Stephanie Doyon
Home Land, by Sam Lipsyte
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy
The King of Kings County, by Whitney Terrell
Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
The Accidental, by Ali Smith
On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
Beasts of No Nation, by Uzodinma Iweala
Garner, by Kristin Allio
Saturday*, by Ian McEwan
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close*, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Murder She Wrote

I just finished the book I was reading Sugar Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke. This was a very fluffy mystery, part of a series of books by this author with Hannah Swensen as the main character. I gave my mom this book for Christmas thinking it would just be a fun read for her. The story itself is set in Minnesota which makes me like it from the beginning because I like to read books that take place in places I've lived. The story itself is readable, but predictable and the two main characters of Hannah and her sort of boyfriend, Mike remind me quite a bit of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum and Joe Morelli (she happens upon a murder and he's a cop, she helps him solve the case). But maybe this is a common theme among fluff mysteries. I haven't branched out tremendously in this genre so I wouldn't really know.

The interesting thing about this book is that the setting is mostly at a community potluck dinner and all of the recipes mentioned in the story are listed in the back of the book. And some of them sound kind of good!

When I'm reading, sometimes there are words that just stand out to me and I say to myself, "Wow, what a great word!" This happened twice in this book. #1 on pg. 55: "Mayor Bascomb's tie was splendiferous." What a great word splendiferous is. And #2 on pg. 68: "Hannah felt a wave of relief sluice down from the top of head to her toes." Sluice is also a fun word.

Anyway, now that I've read two sort of easy reads in a row, I think I should tackle something slightly more literary. I will probably decide between Girl With a Pearl Earring and Kite Runner. I'll read a little from both and see if my interest is peaked in either.

Just curious, what kind of reader are you? Do you juggle more than one book at a time? or do you feel guilty starting a new book if you haven't finished reading your current one?

Personally, I pretty much have to read the current book I'm on. Once I've committed myself to it, I tend to finish it before moving on, even if it takes me weeks or months to get through. Though, I may have to start three or four books before I get to one I'm in the mood to read.

Chiming in

I'm happy to be a part of this group! I wanted to add a suggestion for links: The Whitbread Awards and The National Book Awards for excellent British and American(respectively) contemporary literature suggestions.

I'm reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith (as Holly knows!) and I'm about halfway through. I'll post a review when I'm done (I think it will be glowing!). You've inspired me to start a list of my favorite books/authors. I'm in the midst of that now, along with a list of the books in my must-read piles (arranged by genre : ).

Sidebar on the Sidebar

I've just about got things all linked. There are a few pages to My Book Notes I still would like to add. I thought I might just expand a little on what I've chosen to put in the sidebar.

I've received Bookmarks magazine for a year or so now. Each issue has a couple themes where they specialize their book reviews to that topic. They also review current new releases in many categories. I've found several books I want to read listed in this magazine.

I'm not entirely sure what the Tournament of Books is about yet. But I found the link on another blog and thought it seemed interesting.

Bookplates is just a fun site if you want to "mark" your books as your own or if you tend to lend your books out often.

If you type in your favorite books to "What should I read next?", their database will process what you put in and spit back out titles of books it seems to think you will enjoy reading. Interesting concept. In the future, I will play with it and post some of the results.

The Potter Index is a site where you can type in anything relating to the Harry Potter series, such as a name, place, etc. and the site will tell you which book and what page that information appears on. Just thought it was an interesting site.

I came across the La Vie en Rose site while looking at someone else's blog. I thought it was a fun place to look at gifts for a reader. Although they are quite pricy and I have no idea who I might ever buy one of these gift baskets for. But oh well. Just wanted to include it.

My Book Notes
Pretty self explantory. These are web pages I have created that list books I have read or would like to read with links to each title.

Book Blogs
I searched for "reading book blogs" and it came up with a few blogs, but those blogs had links to other blogs. And I guess I just never realized how much time people put into these things. I admit I have spent quite a bit of time this week working on this. But these people, some of them seem like they have degrees in English Lit and this is how they spend their free time. Others go into such detail reviewing the books I wonder if they get paid to do this. The few I have chosen to include as links on this blog were the ones I thought I might actually read on a regular basis. Most of which, were not as erudite as others. Or I simply liked the name a lot, such as Literary Vamp.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Finding the time

I have a friend who has a blog dedicated to the things she does (knitting, reading, writing, & cooking). I thought it would be interesting to start a reading journal for myself. I like keeping track of what I've read. So really this blog will be more for me but I thought I would use this format because I know a lot of other readers out there and maybe they would be interested in this.

I did moderate an online bookgroup for two years. It was very laid back and the members only had to participate when it was their month to pick a book. Everyone else could read it or not. I disbanded the group starting this year because I didn't have time to read a book a month--or at least dedicate myself to reading a book a month. It took me three months just to finish October's pick and I liked the book!

If anyone would like to post regularly to this blog about what they are reading or their recommendations, please send me an email. I can make you a "team member" which means you can post freely whenever you want to.

I'm not sure how often I'll update this, or what exactly I'll post on here. I'm still working all that out. We'll see where it goes.