Wednesday, July 30, 2008

GIVEAWAY- Bobbie Faye's (kinda, sorta, not-exactly) Family Jewels

I'm doing a giveaway for an Advance Reader's Copy of Toni McGee Causey's new book, Bobbie Faye's (kinda, sorta, not-exactly) Family Jewels. Publisher's Weekly says the book is "hilarious, pitch-perfect... Causey doesn't miss a beat in this wonderful, wacky celebration of Southern eccentricity."
From the back:
It's been a whole month since Bobbie Faye Sumrall has blown up anything, and that's almost a record. But when her diva cousin Francesca waltzes into CeCe's Cajun Outfitter (where Bobbie Faye mans the gun counter), everything goes to hell...
Sounds like a great summer read to me. If you agree and would like to win a copy, leave a comment with your email address and I'll enter you into the giveaway. Blog about the contest and I'll enter you twice!

The giveaway will close Wednesday, August 6 at 6:00pm EST. I'll announce the winner soon thereafter.

Good luck and good reading!

REVIEW: When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris

When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris. Published 2008 by Hachette Book Group. Nonfiction. Humor.

Like a lot of people, I'm a big fan of David Sedaris. As a matter of fact, until When You Are Engulfed in Flames came out, I had no idea how many people were big fans of David Sedaris. The first Sedaris book I read was Holidays on Ice, and I bought it on impulse one early morning having coffee in Borders in downtown Boston, when coffee out was a luxury and new hardcover books were an extravagance. But it just looked so funny, and so me. And it was, and for years I thought I was the only one in on the joke- nobody else I knew read him. I mean, I curl up with "The SantaLand Diaries" every Christmastime the way more normal people read A Christmas Carol or "The Night Before Christmas." It's my little tradition.

Since then I've become positively addicted to Sedaris's unique witty sarcasm and bitter irony. I rolled around on the floor laughing to Me Talk Pretty One Day; bystanders who thought I was having some kind of fit, offered to call me an ambulance as I fell over to Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. When I read The New Yorker magazine at the gym, I had to put it aside when one of his essays appeared for fear I would fall off the crosstrainer.

Alas, no one thought I was having a medical emergency as I read his latest collection of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

I rushed right out to buy his latest as soon as it hit the shelves- I was in such a hurry to get to my favorite bookstore to get it, I didn't even know Sedaris himself was reading from the book at another bookstore not a mile from my house. I found the book disappointing. Oh yes, it's full of pithy little essays on being an expatriate in France, and being a writer, and family stories and character sketches of eccentric neighbors and friends. But it's missing something. I don't know if his sense of humor has dulled, or if mine has, but the stories, almost all of them, struck me as a little duller and a little more domesticated than I'm used to. Reined in. Or something. Oh sure, I laughed now and then, but they were quiet laughs- chuckles- when what I expect from David Sedaris are belly laughs and the kind of fits and squeals that make people question my health and/or sanity.

The last essay, "The Smoking Section", an almost-novella about Sedaris's trip to Japan to quit smoking, comes close to the old David though, and mostly because it reminds me of some essays in Me Talk Pretty One Day when he first goes to France with his partner Hugh. The culture shock, the language lessons, the awkwardness fitting into a new environment, the tortured English of the locals- it's all rendered with characteristic humor and bite, and it's by far the best part of the book.

Overall I'd suggest When You Are Engulfed in Flames for die-hard Sedaris fans, but also for anybody who'd like to while away a little time with some mildly humorous essays about life and love. The first essay, "Keeping Up," is actually a very tender little love letter to Hugh- sweet and touching, and very different from the Sedaris I'm used to. But then the whole book is different from the Sedaris I'm used to, so maybe it all makes sense.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclsoure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Congratulations go out to WINDYCINDY, the winner of a brand spankin-new Advance Reader's Copy of The Lace Reader, which hit the shelves today!

Congrats Cindi, and thank you to everyone who entered and double thanks to everyone who posted my giveaway on their blog. I wish I had enough copies for all of you!

Over the next few days I'm going to visit as many of you as I can to check out your sites. Should be fun! :-)

Thanks all and I hope you all get your hands on what's going to be the hottest book of the season! Click here to read the article published today by The Boston Globe about the book and plans to market it and Salem together. Enjoy!

Oh, and come back tomorrow night for another great giveaway!

Tuesday Thingers

Today's question: Cataloging sources. What cataloging sources do you use most? Any particular reason? Any idiosyncratic choices, or foreign sources, or sources you like better than others? Are you able to find most things through LT's almost 700 sources?

My answer: I use Amazon most frequently for most of the books I input. Most of my books are pretty easy-t0-find fiction, nonfiction and graphic novels, so I haven't needed too many other sources. I have like 716 works cataloged through Amazon. After that the next largest source for me is, for my French books, and 16 that I entered manually, mostly zines. When I was setting up my husband's LT account I used quite a bit for all of his British science fiction, especially his large collection of Doctor Who books. What about you?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Johnny Boo, The Best Little Ghost in the World! by James Kochalka

Johnny Boo, the Best Little Ghost in the World! by James Kochalka. Published 2008 by Top Shelf Productions. Graphica.

Part two in my three-part series on all-ages comics features Johnny Boo, the Best Little Ghost in the World!, a charming little comic for kids and everyone else. Told in simple drawings colored in unshaded blocks of bright color, it's the story of little ghost Johnny Boo and his pet ghost, Squiggle, and their run-in with the Ice Cream Monster.

Children will love the bright colors and the funny plot, not to mention the burps. Parents will enjoy sharing this cute story with their little ones. Even adults not reading to a child will have fun with Johnny Boo. It's about making friends and using talent and smarts to get out of sticky situations. The Ice Cream Monster is made of silly and should not upset anyone. If I say much more, my review will be end up being longer than the book. Enjoy.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Salon

Yesterday my husband and I took a ride out to sunny Concord, Mass., to browse the antique stores and their wonderful bookstore, which I think is just called the Concord Book Store. I didn't buy anything but I was impressed listening to one of the staff people recommending books to a customer interested in historical fiction. One of the things he suggested was a book called Kristin Lavradsdatter, a historical novel by Sigrid Unset, which looked fascinating. It also looked long, like way too long for me to even think about right now, but I might tuck it away on my wishlist for the future.

I was looking at my TBR pile and I've got several chunky books waiting for me: Middlemarch, The Golden Notebook, The Whisperers, Don Quixote, Marie Antoinette, among others. So maybe when I finish one or two big books, I will give myself permission to buy another.

Today I'm enjoying reading Peter Carey's Booker Prize winner, Oscar and Lucinda, a literary romance about two misfits and a church made entirely of glass. As you can tell from the book cover, it was made into a movie starring Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes. I liked the movie, but I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie and I'm really, really liking the book. For the past year it's been the book I've always wanted to read next. Finally!

Still wading my way through American Wife. I was starting to have some issues with it but I've come to terms with the book I think. More later! I've noticed some of you are starting post reviews of this book and I've been avoiding reading them, because I want to wait till I'm done and have formed my own opinion, but I'm looking forward to talking to you all about it soon.

Friday, July 25, 2008

REVIEW: The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean

The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean. Published 2006 by HarperCollins. Literary Fiction.
The Madonnas of Leningrad is a brief, sweet treat of a novel. Being about Russia and being about women, it intrigued me right away. The subject of the novel is Marina, now an older woman, who survived the Siege of Leningrad and is now gradually fading to Alzheimer's disease. It's also about her daughter Helen and preparations for a family wedding in the present-day United States. The narrative goes back and forth between the past and present, between Marina as a vital young woman who must work tirelessly to save herself and her own family, as well as the vast treasures of the legendary Hermitage Museum, and her slow decline.

Unsurprisingly for a book about Alzheimer's, the overarching theme of the novel is memory. In the past, Marina constructs elaborate "memory rooms" in her mind, to save the layout and contents of the museum within herself. It becomes an almost sacred task as paintings and artifacts are boxed, stored and shipped, and it's unknown if they will return or if the museum, a treasure of Russian culture, will ever be restored. The Madonnas of the title are a reference to the many paintings and depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the beloved museum, and to Marina herself, alone and pregnant and her name a Russian variant of the Virgin's.

I liked this book very much. Dean does a nice job of pacing and unfolding the story, and I liked the alternating perspectives, Marina's and Helen's, on both the past and the present. The "memory room" passages were bittersweet with loss and nostalgia. Towards the end the family experiences a crisis, and while it is resolved in a way both satisfactory and poetic, I wish Helen's character had been a little more developed before the action started. I felt like Dean told only part of her story and dropped her too soon. Having captured so beautifully a past and a present tense, I would like to have had a sense of the future for this family, and Helen could have been its carrier. A minor quibble. The book would be a great choice for people who enjoy character-driven stories about women and families especially. I thought it was pretty terrific.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

Friday Finds

Here's what's new in my bookpile this week.

I received my much-anticipated review copy of Mort Zachter's memoir Dough, about how he discovered his family's hidden fortune.
His family ran a bakery for many years in New York's Lower East Side and Zachter grew up believing his family was very poor. Then one day he found out they weren't.
The book is his family's story. It's short (less than 200 pages) and I'm about a third of the way through it already. It's good stuff.

I was also very excited to pick up Cathar Castles : Fortresses of the Albigensian Crusade, 1209-1300. I'm a geek- what can I say. And several
years ago I took a hiking trip to the Languedoc region of France, where these castles are located, and hiked to several of them. The trip was not really a shopping trip, and there weren't gift shops near the castles the way there probably would be if they had been in America, so I actually wasn't able to find anything like this book when I was in France. It was therefore actually very cool to pick this little volume up the other night at my local Borders!

It's a good book with some great photos and basic historical information about the era, the Cathars and the castles. The history of the Cathar religion is a tragic one and one that doesn't get a lot of attention. I was grateful to have had the chance to learn a little about it on the trip and also glad to find this book.

Last but not least, I got So Long at the Fair, Christina Schwarz's latest. It's a story of one day in the life of a man who must choose between his wife and his mistress. I started it and it seems pretty good so far. I've got some other obligations on my plate at the moment but I'll get back to this one as soon as I can!

What did you find this week?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

Here’s another idea about memorable first lines from books.

What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

The only first sentence I can remember off the top of my head is Proust's, Longtemps je me suis couche de bonne heure. But that's a classic! Otherwise I'm sorry to say that I can't really think of any that were particularly memorable. Maybe I'm just getting old!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I've been nominated!

Megan at Medieval Bookworm , Wisteria at A Bookworm's Dinner, and Lisa at Minds Alive on the Shelves have nominated me for a blog award! Megan says our tastes are different enough that she gets "new and different recommendations" from my reviews, which she called "wonderful," Lisa says my blog is one of the first ones she checks and Wisteria called my site "adorable"!

Aww, you all are so nice! Honestly I'm always so flattered and pleased that anybody reads my blog at all and your kind words really made my whole week. Thank you!

Now to do my part. I'm sorry I've been slow at getting this out.

Here are the rules:
1. Put the logo on your blog.

2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.

3. Nominate at least seven other blogs.

4. Add links to those blogs on your blog.

5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blog.

My nominees are:

1. Book of Life Podcast- Heidi Estrin's great podcast and blog on new and upcoming Jewish children's literature. I learn a lot from her!

2. Matt at A Guy's Moleskine Notebook, whose tastes are enough like mine that I can relate to him but different enough that I always learn something new.

3. Presenting Lenore, for her well-written and insightful reviews;

4. The Bookshipper, who always seems to be on the cutting edge (and started the whole book blog ring that's helped us all so much);

5. Literary License, for her concise and clear-cut reviews;

6. Books and Cooks, because she offers variety and fun in her posts; and

7. My Life in Books for her funny, frank and real opinions.

Thanks again to Megan, Lisa and Wisteria- and to all you great bloggers who make me spend way too much time reading your posts!


Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands: A Guide to the City's Hidden Shores, by Christopher Klein. Published 2008 by Union Park Press. Nonfiction. Travel.

Live in the Boston area? Planning a trip to New England this summer or fall? Or just curious about a group of islands with some historical and natural interest? Then you might enjoy Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands.

This brief volume is somewhere between a travelogue and a coffee table book. Smaller than the latter and not as detailed as the former, it's filled with beautiful photographs and interesting historical information and trivia about the group of islands in Boston and nearby Hingham harbor. Did you know that World's End, a reservation area in tony Hingham, was landscaped by Frederick Law Olmstead and once considered as the site of the United Nations? Driving through that quiet, upscale community recently it's a little strange to think of how different it would be if it had been chosen over the Rockefeller land in New York City! Or that Spectacle Island was once home to a horse-rendering plant? Author Christopher Klein fills the book with just these kinds of details about each island. Now, I've been to two of the islands in the past- George's Island in high school, to visit Fort Warren, and Thompson Island for a corporate retreat, but this book opened up all kinds of possibilities.

First of all the presentation is beautiful. The book features dozens of color photographs, pictures of historical artifacts and a few basic maps. It's divided up into sections based on groupings of islands- islands in Boston Harbor, Hingham Harbor and "islands for landlubbers"- like beautiful Worlds End in Hingham, a property comprising several miles of lovely trails and seaside vistas, perfect for dogwalking, hiking or picnicking. Each section is rich with legend and lore, like the myth of buried treasure in Boston Harbor, and less glamorous (but equally interesting) information like how Boston's wastewater treatment system works, and how the islands figure into the plan.

The book covers two and a half dozen or so islands and includes several features designed to help the reader plan a trip- a key indicating what activities and services are available on each island, an appendix of web resources for travel, information on accessibility, and features on the flora and fauna of the islands. I wish the book included more maps though- for example, a highway map showing the route from Boston to Hingham would be helpful for tourists unfamiliar with the area, as would some indication of the relative distance and travel time between the two cities. They're not far apart, but tourists might be unaware that driving from Boston to Hingham will require them to set aside some time and take traffic conditions into consideration. Klein tells us that visits to several of the islands are discouraged during the nesting season of resident birds; it would be helpful to know approximately when those nesting seasons are- say, a range of months. As it is this information, which would be very helpful, is not included. Nor is an index, which would be nice as well.

A caveat- as interesting and beautifully presented as the material in Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands is, be aware that Klein's emphasis is on general features and historical and background details. There are no detailed trail maps or other specific information on the terrain of specific islands. He leaves that up to individual properties, and that's fine, but the reader should know not to expect it here. As I learned when I visited World's End as part of my research on the book, some of the hikes can be demanding and if you're planning a visit to any of the sites in the book, check with the property beforehand so you're prepared appropriately. The key Klein provides is helpful but doesn't provide complete information. As much as I enjoyed reading the book as I chose a destination and prepared for my visit, the book was not as helpful when I was actually on the ground.

Overall though I'd say that Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands serves as a very good introduction and source of general information about natural spaces that are little-known even to local Bostonians. I learned a lot about the history of the islands, their general features and how they're used today. If you live in eastern Massachusetts (or plan to visit) and are looking for a fun daytrip, picnic or hike with friends or family, the Boston Harbor Islands have a lot to offer and this book is a great place to start.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


The giveaway is over! Thanks to all who entered!

One of the hottest books of the summer...

A great success story to come out of the world of self-publishing...

The subject of a huge marketing campaign by publisher HarperCollins, and...

a terrific read to boot!

Win your own Advance Readers Copy of The Lace Reader by leaving a comment on this post with your email address. Post the giveaway to your blog and receive two entries!

The contest is open starting today, July 22, and closing on July 29, when the book is due to come out in bookstores. Good luck!

Garden Spells Giveaway- We Have A Winner!

The winner of my giveaway of an Advance Reader's Copy of Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells is....



Thanks to everyone who participated and don't forget to check out Alea's blog, Pop Culture Junkie, as well!

p.s. If anyone is interested in an ARC of a certain hot summer book about to be released, about Salem psychics and a certain kind of "reading", come back to my blog anytime between this afternoon and July 29!

Tuesday Thingers

Today's topic: Recommendations. Do you use LT's recommendations feature? Have you found any good books by using it? Do you use the anti-recommendations, or the "special sauce" recommendations? How do you find out about books you want to read?
My answer: I look at the Recommendations feature and I probably have researched things I've found on it, but nothing springs to mind. It's useful when it does tell me about new things, but half of the time it's either more books in series I've already started, or things that are popular that I'm not interested in reading. I think the "special sauce" recommendations are actually really good and I enjoy perusing them. As far as where I find books to read, I have my favorite authors, and all kinds of other resources. Browsing bookstores, newsletters, LT Early Reviewers, professional journals, etc. The list goes on!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Korgi, Book 1, by Christian Slade

Korgi, Book I: Sprouting Wings! by Christian Slade. Published 2007 by Top Shelf Comics.

For the most part, since I've started Graphic Novel Monday I've been featuring books best suited to teens and adults; today begins a short series of all-ages graphic novels, suitable for children.

Korgi is a great example of an all-ages graphic novel, and also of the genre of "silent" or wordless graphic novels. First in a series of adventures starring Sprout the Korgi and his human companion Ivy, the book tells the story of the day that Sprout and Ivy leave their home in Korgi Hollow, have adventures, and find out something unexpected about Sprout's powers.

With this book, it's all about the art. Save for an introduction at the beginning and a two-page spread at the end showing the cast of characters, there is no writing in Korgi. And what art it is. The entire adventure is communicated in lush, detailed line drawings in black and white. There is a gorgeous variety of light effects, textures, action sequences and fleshed-out characters large and small, good and bad. There are some monsters, but it's not too spooky. Overall the effect is charming and engaging. Ivy and Sprout's adventures are richly illustrated and easy to follow even without any narration.

There is a blurb on the book saying that the book would be great for fans of The Hobbit and other fantasy literature; I fully agree. It's definitely a kids' story- a quickly moving, beautifully drawn and easy to understand narrative with nothing unsuitable for children. I would also recommend it specifically to young girls, since it stars a girl but it would also be great for boys and anyone else interested in fantasy or adventure stories. Parents will like it too and it would be fun to read and share with a child. Since there are no words, it's a fine choice for a reluctant reader as well. Korgi is good clean fun for the whole family.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Salon

This Sunday I had planned to take a little daytrip to one of the islands in Boston Harbor, but weather predictions of thunderstorms kept me home. So I'm reading!

I'm about halfway through Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife and really enjoying it. I haven't read her other books but she's definitely no lightweight. It reminds me just a little of Margaret Atwood's book The Blind Assassin in that it's a first-person fictional memoir written at the end of a long and varied life, full of foreshadowing and seeming to promise a good payoff. I'm interested to see what the payoff is but in the meantime it's a very engaging read.

My project of the day was cleaning off my bedside table, laden with books. I keep most of my short-story collections there, because short stories are great when I have a little time and just want something I can read in one sitting. I also have two "bedside books" that I'm reading a chapter at a time- David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed in Flames and Israeli author Zeruya Shalev's Husband and Wife. I like reading this way, a little at a time. As soon as I finish one of those books I already have several lined up. The first will be Antonia Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette, which I picked up at a library sale a while ago and am simply dying to get to. (No, I was not named after her!)

I also dusted off one of my treasures- my Penguin 60s collection. Back in 1995 I was living in Ireland and the publisher Penguin was celebrating its 60th anniversary by offering 60 miniature books for 60 pence apiece; they were also selling the entire set boxed. Each miniature book contains a single short story- fiction and nonfiction, and I haven't read all of them, and I may never, but the set is one of my favorite souvenirs of that trip.

Well back to the books. What are you up to today?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Friday Finds - a day late!

It's been a crazy week, but I made it to Saturday- thank goodness! Here are a couple of things I picked up or started reading this week that I'm excited about:

The Demon from Dakar, by Kjell Eriksson. I've had this galley since February, but between one thing and other, I haven't really got to read it until late last week. It came out in May; lately these Scandinavian crime novels have been popular so I thought I would give this one a try. I don't normally read a lot of crime fiction but I am really enjoying this book a lot.

The Bride Who Argued with God, a collection of Jewish folktales by Hava Ben-Zvi. This book is an anthology of 70-odd Jewish folktales compiled and translated by librarian and author Hava Ben-Zvi. I will have an interview with Ms. Ben-Zvi sometime in the next few weeks. In the mean time I've been enjoying reading the stories, many of which I'm already familiar with. Several of those I've read so far have been used as the basis for children's books and other literature, Jewish and not. It's good stuff and a great collection.

Last but not least, there's Dearest Anne, by Israeli novelist Judith Katzir. This book is the story of a woman recollecting an affair she had with a female teacher when she was younger. I read the first few pages in the bookstore and it looks to be both well-written and a page turner.

What did you find this week?

Friday, July 18, 2008

REVIEW: The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. This edition published 1984 by Vintage Contemporaries. Literary Fiction.

The House on Mango Street is one of those books I looked at in bookstores probably dozens of times before I finally read it; I'm sorry it took me so long.

A collection of short stories comprising a larger narrative, it's a little gem of a story of a young girl coming of age in a poor neighborhood. Each chapter is an individual story or vignette of young Esperanza's neighbors and friends, little episodes from her life. The young narrator shows different facets of her own personality through each portrait- a sense of humor, a sense of outrage, hope, optimism, sadness, pity, pride, shame, and compassion:
One day I'll own my own house, but I won't forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I'll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house.
Some days after dinner, guests and I will sit in front of a fire. Floorboards will squeak upstairs. The attic grumble.
Rats? they'll ask.
Bums, I'll say, and I'll be happy.
This passage shows her hopes for herself (bettering her lot in life, owning her own home, having friends over for dinner parties by a fireplace- an idyllic middle class life), as well as her naivete- maybe her homeless friends upstairs would like to come down, too.

The simplicity and openness of Esperanza's tone in this and other passages belies the book's serious undercurrents. Though the individual vignettes have an innocent charm, themes of desperation and fear run throughout, through stories of her neighbors and friends, many of them women, trapped, by poverty, by abuse, by illness, by a lack of education, or by a lack of imagination. By the end of the book we come to understand that she uses her writing as a means of escape, and so there is hope.

The House on Mango Street is a lovely, sweet book for teens and adults about what it means to grow up and find meaning in life. I'd recommend it for just about anyone.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

Another question inspired by the Bunch of Grapes on Martha’s Vineyard having burned down on the Fourth of July.

Do you buy books while on vacation/holiday?

Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit while away on a trip?

What/Where are they?

You can't keep me out of bookstores when I'm on vacation! When I'm on Nantucket I love going to Nantucket Bookworks and Mitchell's, as I've written before, and I always love to visit local bookshops (or even the local Borders!) and pick up books that are special to a place. When I was in New Mexico once, I bought some great local poetry; the last time I went to France I got books about local myths. When I came home from a four-month stay in Ireland I had a veritable mini-library of Irish books. One thing I love to do when I travel is to pick up a dictionary of the local language- so I have an Occitan dictionary from the Languedoc region of France, a Hawaiian dictionary from Maui, a Canadian-French dictionary from Quebec, an Irish dictionary from Dublin, and more. This summer I'm going to Vegas and San Francisco and I already have a literary itinerary in the works. Travel is such a great opportunity to learn and enrich yourself, and books and reading help it stay with you forever!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bibliophile-About-Town: Visiting the Borders Concept Store in Wareham, Mass.

Last Saturday, after running some errands, my husband and I decided to take a ride down to Boston's South Shore, to visit the town of Wareham, and the new Borders Concept Store, which had just opened a couple of days before.

First, let me be clear about one thing: I love Borders. It has always been my favorite of the big-box bookstores, hands down. I love the Boston stores (there are two now in downtown Boston) and I've spent countless hours in them shopping, browsing, reading, hanging around with friends- you name it. I read a lot of literary fiction, and I love to browse, and two things have always been true for me about Borders- I can always find what I'm looking for, and they have great displays. I also love their in-store pickup service. I love indie bookstores too, but they are different, and provide a different experience; basically I'll shop for books anywhere but when it comes to those big stores, Borders is just my favorite.

So I had high hopes on visiting the Concept Store, and a lot of questions. What exactly is a "concept store"? How was it going to be different from the regular Borders? What are all these kiosks and computer stations? Luckily for me, the manager of the Wareham Concept Store, Mary Dillon, was nice enough to take some time from her workday to do an impromptu interview with me and gave me lots of really good information. I also found this video, wherein Borders CEO George Jones gives an introduction to the Concept Store idea:

Wow, look at all the books, I thought as I wandered the gorgeous displays just inside the entry- curving tables laden with new books, standing and in piles, offering themselves up for browsing and handling. Then I noticed the excellent signage, raised above the shelves for easy navigation. Ms. Dillon told me that the company had brought in merchandisers just to design all this spiffy shelving, signs and displays, and all the work really shows. It's gorgeous, eye-catching and made me want to buy stuff. A lot of stuff!

The idea behind the Concept Store seems to be to provide more services than are traditionally associated with a bookstore, and to locate those services in appropriate areas of the store. These areas are called "destination areas" and include cooking, wellness and travel. Kiosks in these areas allow customers to search for recipes and even arrange vacations right in the store. The children's area is likewise filled with a combination of books and educational toys- to my librarian's eye, maybe a few too many toys- but the idea behind this merchandising is to pair the books with other materials of interest to the customer.

One of the most visible distinctions between the Concept Store and the ordinary Borders is the media area. It's smaller than in most Borders; instead of a vast selection of CDs, there are workstations where users can download songs and either burn them to CD or download them right into their MP3 player- as long as you don't use an iPod! Hopefully this oversight will be fixed quickly. I also learned about Borders' new self-publishing venture, which is operating in conjunction with The service allows customers to publish their own books and ties them into Borders by allowing others to order self-published books in-store. In the future there are also plans to have a section of the store where people can actually buy self-published books, and to hold author readings for self-published Borders authors as well.

The store also boasts a nice Seattle's Best Coffee outlet, thoughtfully set up with a huge bookcase in front of the seating area for privacy and quiet. The cafe also has outdoor seating, an added bonus. We stayed and relaxed with an ice coffee for a few minutes after speaking with Ms. Dillon and liked it very much.

Overall I really enjoyed my visit to the Borders Concept Store. It's too far away from where I live (1-hour plus driving time) to go there too often, and I am blessed to be in a great community for bookstores, but I have a feeling it's going to be a real asset to the Wareham area, where someone told me it is the only bookstore in a 30-mile radius. I hope they stay open late and take advantage of the hang-out traffic- the Borders nearest me closes at 9 and on those nights when I'm out late and want to browse or grab a coffee, I have to go to that other big chain bookstore. Oh well. It's a really nice store. I gather that the company is planning to open a total of 14 of these stores nationwide- that's too few, in my opinion. I'd love to see one of the downtown Boston stores converted into a Concept Store, so that there's one closer to me!

Is there a Concept Store near you? Want to learn more from Borders? Go to the PR page here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's topic: Book-swapping. Do you do it? What site(s) do you use? How did you find out about them? What do you think of them? Do you use LT's book-swapping column feature for information on what to swap? Do you participate in any of the LT communities that discuss bookswapping, like the Bookmooch group for example?

My answer: Yes, I do some book-swapping, exclusively on Bookmooch. I got into it after playing with the swap column in LT and realizing that some of my books which I considered dogs, were actually in high demand elsewhere. I thought- hey, I can get rid of this, and get something I want in return! I tried a couple of other sites, including PaperBackBookSwap, and it just seemed like too much hassle to have accounts on more than one. I like the simplicity of Bookmooch and once I was up to speed on mooching etiquette I've had mostly good experiences. I have a few "friends" on Bookmooch (I'm mariekat over there- friend me!) but it's not a feature I use much. I used to be in the LT Bookmooch group but the questions tend to be repetitive. Overall I really enjoy being able to swap books and get the things I want for very little money. And it's recycling too- always a good thing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday:The Professor's Daughter, by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert

The Professor's Daughter, by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert. Published 2007 by First Second. Fiction. Translated from the French.

This has to be one of the weirdest graphic novels I've read in a while.
The Professor's Daughter isn't bizarre or surreal or idiosyncratic, but it feels a little rough around the edges nonetheless.

It's about an archaeologist's daughter who falls in love with a mummy, is kidnapped by the mummy's mummified father and has a quick series of adventures including a murder trial, a fight between the mummified father and the archaeologist one, and an episode in which Queen Victoria is tossed into the Thames.

Got all that? Good for you. The book has its merits- the artwork is beautiful, inky and fluid and done in a moody palette of blues, greens and yellows. The characters are basically pencil-sketch stereotypes but the types work together nicely. And the story bumps along quickly, to a very silly and morbid conclusion.

Having said that, I didn't really like it. The beginning was abrupt and I wish there had been a little more exposition to set up the premise. I found the characters shallow and the action confused me and had me wishing for a slightly less bumptious and slapstick approach to plotting. There's no adult content and it would probably be fine for kids, and I think I'd only suggest it for kids interested in mummy stories or hard-core fans of Joann Sfar. Which was the reason I picked it up in the first place. Otherwise it's a pretty marginal choice for most graphic novel readers.

Rating: BORROW

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday Salon

I'm not sure what this Sunday holds for me in terms of reading. I'm within twenty pages of finishing The Madonnas of Leningrad, a quick but satisfying (so far) book about a woman who survived the siege of Leningrad, and I'm still working my way through American Wife.

Yesterday my husband and I visited the new Borders Concept Store out in Wareham, Mass., (more on that in a couple of days) and I picked up Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie,
because it just won Best of the Booker and I haven't read it, or anything else by Rushdie either. And he's one of those people I feel like I should read. I may even get to it someday! Hey, if it's on my shelf it has a fighting chance, right?

Today we are going out to Hingham, Mass., and a park called World's End, which is featured in Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands, which I was given to review. I've read the book but I want to take a couple of trips before I write my review, because the islands are nearby and I think it would help me write a better review. Next weekend we're going to an author event on one of other islands, and that will bring the grand total I've visited to four.

I hope everyone has a great day!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Giveaway: Election 2008 : A Voter's Guide

I picked up Election 2008: A Voter's Guide at a conference, and then realized I don't have much use for it, so I'm offering it to you, my loyal readers.

It's a paperback compendium of the candidates for President this year- all of the major Republican and Democrats anyway. It was released in time for primary season so obviously most of the candidates are out of the running now.

I know some of you are homeschooling parents and I wondered if it might be of interest as you cover politics and the election with your children.

Anyway if you'd like me to send it to you, just send me an email at Bibliophile AT bostonbibliophile dot com with your address and it will go out in my next batch of mail. First come, first served.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Contest! Hachette Giveaway!

The Bookshipper is partnering with Hachette to sponsor a huge Summer Reads Giveaway - go on over to the blog, enter and you could win a package of 14 books!

Thank you Bookshipper and Hachette!

REVIEW: Bitter is the New Black, by Jen Lancaster

Bitter is the New Black, by Jen Lancaster. Published 2006 by Penguin. Nonfiction. Memoir. Humor.

Okay, so something published in 2006, to which there have already been two sequels, is not exactly hot off the presses. But then again, like little black dresses and Jen Lancaster's brand of sarcastic self-depreciating humor, some things never go out of style.

Bitter is the New Black is Lancaster's first book, the beginning of her very successful series of memoirs; I reviewed the second, called Bright Lights, Big Ass, and her most recent book, Such A Pretty Fat : One Narcissist's Guide to Discover if Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, or Why Pie is Not the Answer, just came out. What makes her books so much fun is that she makes a big deal about how unlikable she is, or was- how frivolous, insensitive, self-centered, etc.- and then subverts that premise at every turn with her wit and candor. Nowadays Lancaster is a successful blogger turned writer, but Bitter takes us back to the days before her fame, when she lost her lucrative, challenging job in the corporate world, and had to not just find a new job, but find herself in the process. Out of work for much longer than she expects, she struggles with self-doubt and shame, with moving from stylish digs in a nice Chicago neighborhood to ever more and more squalid surroundings, finally being evicted from a place she thought she'd never even end up in.

The book is about what she learns through these transitions and how she bounces back. In the mean time though she makes you believe in the real humiliation and shame of losing everything, being unable to find work despite her considerable strengths, and having to face up to how her own behavior landed her in the hole in which she finds herself. But she does it with grace and a light touch and a sense of humor. When she agonizes over selling her purses on eBay to come up with rent money, or bemoans the mani-pedi-less state of her hands and feet, she reminds me a little, in a very silly way, of St. Augustine- "Lord, give me chastity," (or in her case, fiscal responsibility and healthy priorities) "but not yet." I think we can all feel her pain.

Anyway her books are fun reading for the beach or for a little spare time here and there. When I was unemployed for a pathetically long time after finishing my master's degree, I had some pretty bad bouts of self-loathing and self-doubt; I could so relate to her experiences. And I could smile at and with her pratfalls and struggles. She made me laugh, and she made me think. Not bad.

And you can find her blog here.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Friday Finds

Some books I'm excited about this week:

The Story of French. I picked this one up the other day at a substantial
discount, like $7 for the hardcover instead of $25.95- much better, thank you! I'm so spoiled on free books these days that I have to really want something to go out and pay for it, and even then I'm still pretty cheap. But I'm also an unrepentant Francophile and a history of the French language written in a friendly, accessible tone was too good to resist. Did you know that French is the only language besides English taught in every country of the world? Or that 10% of Israelis are Francophones? Or that the number of Francophones worldwide has tripled since World War II? And that's just in the introduction. I don't know quite when I'm going to get around to reading it but I'm definitely looking forward to it.

Also, in the mail this week, courtesy of Random House, is the ARC of Curtis Sittenfeld's new novel, the weighty but very readable American Wife. It's one of those books that I started in on right away- it clocks in around 600 pages, so I won't be reviewing it next week or anything, but I'm enjoying it so far. Fifty or so pages into this first-person story of a woman who grows up to be First Lady, and we have sex and secrets and illness and first love. Should be good!

What did you get this week that you're excited about?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

Today's Question:

One of my favorite bookstores burned down last weekend, and while I only got to visit there while I was on vacation, it made me stop and think.

What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable?

Whether it’s a local book shop, your town library, or an internet shop … what would you do if, suddenly, they were out of business? Devastatingly, and with no warning? Where would you go for books instead? What would you do? If it was a local business you would try to help out the owners? Would you just calmly start buying from some other store? Visit the library in the next town instead? Would it be devastating? Or just a blip in your reading habit?

That's a hard question to answer. Living where I do, in a very academic and intellectually-oriented town, I am blessed to say that there is no shortage of bookstores. I'm almost embarrassed to say this, because I know a lot of people live in areas with only one bookstore, or only one indie bookstore, but if one of the stores closed I would just start shopping at another. If it was a local business and it closed because of fire or some natural disaster I'd try to help the owners. I feel terrible for the owners of that store on Martha's Vineyard that burned down last weekend and I hope they bounce back. That's just not fair.

Special Feature: Interview with Israeli author Eva Etzioni-Halevy

The Triumph of Deborah, by Eva Etzioni-Halevy. Published 2008 by Penguin Books. Click on the cover to buy from your local IndieBound-affiliated independent bookseller.

Awhile ago I was contacted with the opportunity to read The Triumph of Deborah, the latest entry in author Eva Etzioni-Halevy's series of historical fiction focusing on women of the Hebrew Bible, and to interview its author; I found the book to be very entertaining and was glad to have the chance to read it. Other books in the series include The Song of Hannah and The Garden of Ruth. Ms. Etzioni-Halevy's answers to my questions follow.

1. Can you summarize the story and tell my readers a little about the book?

This novel is the tale of Deborah, THE most eminent woman, and one of the most beloved heroines of the Bible, a courageous leader, who saved her people from certain destruction

In ancient Israel, war is looming. Deborah sends the warrior Barak into launching a strike against the neighboring Canaanites, who threaten Israel with destruction. Against all odds succeeds, returning triumphantly with the daughters of the Canaanite King, as his captives. But military victory is only the beginning of the turmoil, as a complex relationship develops between Barak and the two princesses.

Deborah, recently cast off by her husband, develops a surprising affinity for Barak. Yet she struggles to rebuild her existence on her own terms, while also groping her way toward the greatest triumph of her life: the attainment of peace.

Filled with vivid historical detail, TTHE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH is an absorbing and riveting tale, and also a tribute to feminine strength and independence. In an era in which women had few rights, some women, most prominently Deborah, succeeded in "breaking the glass ceiling" (as we would call it today) and obtaining prominent positions for themselves.

This is also relevant for our time. For although women have obtained legal equality with men, and many more options are open to them, they have not obtained equality in practice. In this Deborah and the other women in the novel can serve as shining role models for them, for us. The lesson that women toay can learn from these women is this: if at that time, when conditions for women were so much worse, some women had the inner strength to achieve what they had set their minds to do, certainly we can do so today. Not all women want to become leaders, but in the wake of Deborah and the other heroines of the biblical story, they can say to themselves: whatever I want to achieve, whatever is right for ME, I can do it.

2. I'm not much of a Bible reader, so could you tell me how much of the story was directly on the Bible, the midrash (extra-canonical stories that expand on Biblical stories, often augmenting the roles of supporting characters in the Bible version), and how much was your own invention? Why did you make the decisions you made with respect to sources?

My novels in general and THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH in particular are light stories, love stories with twisting plots, "pageturners," as they have frequently been referred to, written first and foremost for reading pleasure, which are yet meticulously faithful to the Bible. They don't deviate at all from the scripture, only add to it. The biblical stories are short and leave many gaps. In my novels I fill in these gaps with my imagination, my identification, and the inexplicable feeling that this is how things really happened.

In the case of DEBORAH, the basis of the plot is in the Bible: The Scripture tells us that when Deborah summoned Barak and ordered him to go to war against the Canaanites, he said to her something strange: If you go with me I will go, but if you don't go with me I will not go. Furthermore, the Bible tells us that she did in fact go with him not only to the battlefield, but to his hometown as well. Yet it tells us that she was a married woman, a mother of children, and her husband did not go with her.

So this got the wheels of my mind turning. I asked myself: why did Barak want Deborah with him in the battlefield at a time when war was strictly a men's affair? What did her husband have to say when she went off with the warrior to distant parts, leaving him to do the babysitting? And what transpired between Barak and Deborah when they were away with no husband in sight?

All these questions arise straight from the biblical text. The answers I supplied came from my own imagination and, as I said before, from the feeling that I was actually there and witnessed it all.

As for the Midrash and other extra-biblical sources, I looked at them but did not use them as basis for my own interpretation. I believe that the biblical characters (including biblical women) are rich, many-sided human beings, with strenghts but also with weaknesses, some of which stem from their sexuality. In many cases, the later intrpreters have interpreted away
this sexuality and turned the characters into one-dimensional, super-righteous personalities, which they were not meant to be originally. To my mind, this is a shame. The Bible is good enough as it is, and none of its aspects need to be "interpreted away". Hence I based my novels directly on the Bible, as it has been written, and not as it has been reinterpreted.

3. How and why did you choose the very distinctive, florid narrative style of THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH? You've written several other books in your series on Biblical women; why did you choose this tone instead of a more standard literary voice?

I tried to write in a style that would be authentic to the story and conjure up the era I was writing about, and still be attractive to modern, present-day readers.

I did so by using, as far as possible, biblical language and biblical imagery, but baseed on the modern rather than the old translations of the Bible.

Although that was not my aim initially, in retrospect this turned out to be a distinctive style. This is a good thing in its own right, because I think that it is a cardinal sin for any writer to follow a well-trodden path. If I managed to write in an authentic style and also avoid this sin, this makes me doubly happy.

4. What inspired you to write your series of novels about Biblical women? Who are they, and what was it about them that intrigued or interested you? What are your hopes for the reader?

It so happened, that rather late in life I began reading the Bible on my own and I was fascinated by it. What I found so compelling is that it contains the most DRAMATIC and the most TRAUMATIC stories about people who lived thousands of years ago, ad yet are so similar to us in their hopes, anxieties and desires.

I was also inspired by the fact that I live "on location", so to speak, in Israel, and I could actually see the spots where the plots of the novels took place.

I was particularly entranced by the women of the Bible, with whom I identified so strongly, that I felt as if I had taken a journey back in time, and as if I were part of their lives.

In the Bible these women are mostly side characters, so I decided to bring them into the center of the stage, turn the limelight on them and amplify their voices so that they could be heard loud and clear across the generations.

In this way I also hoped to magnify the feminine part of the Bible.

My hope is that my excitement in writing about these women has come through to the readers of the novels, and that I have succeeded in bringing them alive for contemporary readers.

5. Did you write these books for a general audience or did you have a specific audience in mind? How did this intention influence your choices as a storyteller? What can diverse audiences gain from your books?

The books are written for a general audience. They are for Jews, Christians and believers of other religions, and also for non-religious people, or those who have no religious affinity at all. Since they are light, entertaining stories in their own right, they are for people who have some
interest in the Bible, but no less also for persons who have no interest in the Bible at all.

Since they are about women, and the male characters are frequently seen through the eyes of women, they are geared more to the interest of women readers than to those of men. But there have been quite a few men who have told me that they have readd the novels and enjoyed them very much.

The most immediate gain readers can derive from the novels is the pleasure of reading, and becoming emotionally involved with the personalities of the novels by identifying with them, or taking exception from them.

Readers might also learn something about the period and society, ancient Israel, in which the stories take place.

Finally, quite a number of people have told me that having read the novels, they went back to read the Bible, which they had not done for many years. This is an extra bonus. But if people have just enjoyed the novels without any additional gains, that is good enough for me and, I hope, for them as well.

6. How have readers responded to the series, and to THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH in particular?

Readers' responses have been overwhelmingly supportive.

There have been a few isolated adverse comments to my first two novels, from apparently very strictly orthodox people who seem to have taken exception from the few sensuous scenes in the novels, but the vast majority of the comments have been most positive. To my delight there have been quite a few religious-orthodox people, Jews as well as Christians, who have
expressed full support for the novels, as authentically based on the spirit and the letter of the Bible.

THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH, although it does not differ in respect to sensuality from the previous novels, to the best of my knowlege, has elicited no negative and only positive responses so far, and also incredibly affirmative reviews.

Thank you so much for your time and participation, Ms. Etzioni-Halevy. I look forward to reading your next book!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

REVIEW: Fatelessness, by Imre Kertesz

Fatelessness, by Imre Kertesz. This edition published 2004 by Vintage International. Literary Fiction. Translation.

Fatelessness is a Holocaust novel, a semi-autobiographical account of author Imre Kertesz's time in the Auschwitz and Burkenau concentration camps; as such, I knew right away it would be pretty grim going. The teenage protagonist, Georg Koves, is on his way to work when he's taken off a bus and put on a train to the camps. He has no idea what's happening to him, or what's about to happen, and tells his story with breathtaking emotional detachment.

This detachment is the main characteristic of the novel, which takes place over an indeterminate period of time from just before Georg's capture to just after his release after the Soviet army liberates the camp. He tells the story in the first person, and mostly through exposition; there is very little dialogue and throughout his experiences Georg registers very little awareness and very little emotion. When he's taken off the bus he obeys every authority figure with perfect docility, unaware of why he was pulled off or what's next. When he first arrives at Auschwitz and sees other prisoners wearing prison garb, he immediately assumes he is in the company of real convicts- murderers and the like- and seems to have no idea that these are most likely ordinary people just like him, people who have done nothing wrong. He even recounts painful medical procedures with equanimity, as if it's really all no big deal.

Of course the reader is acutely aware of what's going on, and it's this heightened, stretched dramatic irony that gives this novel much of its flavor. I felt intensely frustrated and even irritated at Georg for his naivete, until I realized that the way this character was experiencing these events was probably the way a lot of people experienced the Holocaust as it was happening, because how overwhelming would it be for a person to have to assimilate it otherwise? Then after his release, he can't understand what people mean when they refer to the "atrocities" he must have witnessed. Georg says if there were atrocities he didn't see them, still either unable or unwilling to really confront what he's been through.

Fatelessness is a Holocaust novel of uncommon power and impact, mostly owing to this extreme detachment and lack of awareness. For me every experience was magnified and amplified because I had to fill in the gaps in Georg's narrative with my own understanding of the history behind his story, and the imagination is always more gripping than anything on the page. It's a tough read but it was a rewarding one, and I would recommend it for readers with more than a casual interest in the subject. Kertesz is a Hungarian writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his body of work, including this stunning novel; unfortunately only a small portion of his writing is available in English- Kaddish for an Unborn Child and Liquidation, although two more translations (The Pathseeker and Detective Story) are in the works for release in 2008. Fatelessness was also adapted into a film in 2005. His is a strong voice in world fiction and deserves a listen.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Giveaway! ARC of Sarah Addison Allen's GARDEN SPELLS

In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in the smallest of towns, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it - Garden Spells, cover information.
I'm giving away an Advance Readers Copy of Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells. The paperback edition just came out; the ARC that I have to give away was printed in advance of the hardcover, which came out last August.

From what I understand Garden Spells has been very popular and Allen's new book, The Sugar Queen, just came out recently as well.

The giveaway will be open until July 22; you can enter by leaving a comment on this post. If you write about the giveaway on your blog and link back to this post, I'll enter you twice. Good luck!

(Oh, and as always you can click on the cover if you want to buy the book!)

Tuesday Thingers

Since we're past the Fourth of July and the summer season has officially started, what are your plans for the summer? Vacations, trips? Trips that involve reading? Reading plans? If you're going somewhere, do you do any reading to prepare? Do you read local literature as part of your trip? Have you thought about using the LT Local feature to help plan your book-buying?

My answer:
I'm going to Las Vegas for three days, then to San Francisco for a week in mid-August, and I've done a little travel-book-reading to get ready but that's about it. I definitely plan to spend a lot of time in bookstores in San Fran (I'm not sure what Vegas has to offer in terms of literary life but we'll see!), and already have a smallish shopping list for one particular bookstore (City Lights). As it gets closer I'll probably do some background historical reading on both cities as well. We'll do other things in San Francisco but I absolutely plan to make book shopping and book stuff part of the trip. In Vegas, my plans are to visit one of my best friends and go to the Star Trek Experience- I'll forgo the highbrow for a couple of days and just have fun. I do plan on using the LT Local feature to help pick out some places to visit! What are you doing?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: Exit Wounds, by Rutu Modan

Exit Wounds, by Rutu Modan. Published 2007 by Drawn & Quarterly. Graphica. Fiction.

Exit Wounds is a deceptively simple graphic novel by Israeli artist and writer Rutu Modan, set in modern-day Tel Aviv and focusing on a young man named Koby Franco and his search for his missing, enigmatic father, Gabriel.

As the story opens, Koby's relationship with Gabriel has been strained for some time, and it has been months since the two last spoke; Koby meets a young woman soldier, Numi, who had had a relationship with Gabriel and believes he may have been killed in a roadside bombing. Their search takes them on a journey through Gabriel's secrets, and leads them to a place neither expected.

But Exit Wounds isn't just a love story or a story about secrets; it's about identity, about reconciling with your past and being able to move on to a future. Mostly it's about learning when to let someone in, and when to let someone go. The artwork is spare and simple; clean, simple lines define unshaded washed colors, and faces and bodies have just enough definition to transmit emotion and mood. Commentaries about social and political inequalities in Israeli society are interwoven into the story, which is broken up into four neatly defined chapters.

It took me a few pages to get into the story. The beginning felt abrupt, like I'd just been launched into Koby's life, and I think that's the point. He meets Numi unexpectedly, and all of a sudden his whole world is turned inside out. Modan does a great job providing the reader with a little of that feeling of disorientation. The story picks up steam, and although I could never call it brisk it moves along at a good clip. The ending is inconclusive but sweet and optimistic; the mysterious Gabriel is never revealed. Exit Wounds is a very satisfying read; it's definitely an older teen-to-adult story as it has some violence and sexual content. If you're interested in Israel or just want a good story with complicated characters I think you'll like Exit Wounds.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sunday Salon - Nantucket Bookshopping

My husband and I are spending Fourth of July weekend at my inlaws' place on the island of Nantucket, off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It's nice here, very peaceful, a nice place to read and relax. I'm still reading Pravda and A Voyage Long and Strange; I have some reviews to write but today though I wanted to talk about bookstores on the island of Nantucket.

Nantucket is an affluent, picturesque New England resort town. It came to prominence as a whaling and shipping center in the 18th and 19th centuries, along with towns like New Bedford, Fall River and Salem, Massachusetts. These days it's home to plutocrats and rich kids from New York and Boston, as well as seasonal workers from countries like Bulgaria, Russia, Ireland and Guatemala. Franchise-free (except for gas and groceries) it boasts some great shopping and eating as well as outdoor recreational activities.

But I'm a book girl, and when I go to Nantucket I just like to curl up and read. I do bring books but of course I like to shop for them too.

The two main bookstores are Nantucket Bookworks and Mitchell's Book Corner. Both of the main stores are in the center of town and since Nantucket is famously un-chain-friendly both are independent.

Nantucket Bookworks on Broad Street is a cozy shop selling a variety of fiction, nonfiction, touristy books and childrens' books, as well as gifts and accessories. This is the place to go for the serious reader. It's open late, until 10:30 daily until December (when the hours shorten slightly to an 8 pm closing time), and has a friendly, relatively uncluttered layout. The staff are great and I almost always leave with some new discovery.

Mitchell's Book Corner is on busy main street, right in the middle of the action, and its claim to fame is having the largest selection of books about Nantucket on the island. It's deceptively small; when you first walk in it feels very tight and cramped but it goes back pretty far and has a huge selection of historical and gift books about Nantucket and Cape Cod. It also has a great selection of children's books at the front of the store and a small selection of fiction somewhere towards the middle. I usually come well-stocked with books when I come to Nantucket but there are have been times when Mitchell's has saved me in some reading pinch.
When I first started coming here I used to think of Mitchell's as just the place you went to buy maps and coffee table books but it's really a unique little place. A while ago they featured a reprint of the 1931 novel Smuggler's Luck, by Nantucket historian Edouard A. Stackpole and featuring a forward by the author's son. This book is exactly the kind of specialty, hard-to-find material you can expect to find at Mitchell's.
The various museums also offer some specialty maritime material although I have to admit I'm not as familiar with them. For more Nantucket book resources and links to museums and some individual author pages, you can click here.
Happy reading and I hope everyone is having (or had) a great Fourth of July weekend.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Friday Finds

This is my first Friday Finds, and I'm getting in just under the wire but here they are:

I picked up Someone to Run With, by Israeli writer David Grossman, because I've been offered the opportunity to guest-lead a book club discussion this fall using the book. I'm very excited to read it; I'm familiar with some of his other work and I've heard good things about this one.

I also received an ARC of The Heretic's Daughter, the first novel by author Kathleen Kent, which is coming out in September. It looks intriguing and I look forward to reading it.

So, as usual, lots of good stuff to look forward to reading!

I hope all my US readers had a great holiday today. Celebrate your freedom to read!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

It’s a holiday weekend here in the U.S., so let’s keep today’s question simple–What are you reading? Anything special? Any particularly juicy summer reading?

I'm reading Pravda, by Edward Docx, and Fatelessness, by Imre Keretsz, and A Voyage Long and Strange, by Tony Horwitz. A Voyage Long and Strange is about some forgotten or lesser-known stories from early American history; the first chapter was about the Viking explorations and settlements in northern Canada. It's very well-written- very engaging and fun. I gave a copy of it to my father in law for Father's Day and I'm actually really enjoying it myself!

Fatelessness is a Holocaust novel set mainly in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. It's good but difficult- grim and intense. Pravda is a modern-day family-suspense drama set mainly in St. Petersburg. It's awesome so far. Densely written, good characters and an intriguing plot. It's been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and deservingly so, I think. I'm about 15 chapters in and it's about 50 chapters long, so I do still have a way to go. But they're short chapters!

But it's not all about the grim and difficult. I'm reading volume 3 of Happy Mania, my chick-lit manga series, and just got volume 1 of Absolute Boyfriend, which if anything is even fluffier. Because you can't be so serious all the time.

What are you reading this weekend?