Thursday, April 30, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

btt button

Which is worse?

Finding a book you love and then hating everything else you try by that author, or

Reading a completely disappointing book by an author that you love?

For me being disappointed by an author I love is worse. It's almost hard for me to admit when I don't like a book by a favorite author. For example, I love Margaret Atwood. Think she is amazing. But there have been a couple of hers that I wasn't so crazy about. I found Cat's Eye dull. Oryx and Crake? Wake me when it's over. Etc. She's brilliant, and one of my favorite authors, but I'd say I have only a 50 percent success rate with her- I'm just as likely to not connect with one of her books as I am to love it. After several homeruns, the first time I read a book of hers I didn't love, I almost didn't believe myself- like, wait a minute, how can I not be enjoying a Margaret Atwood novel? Is that even possible? Maybe surprised is a better word!

You can see more Booking Through Thursday answers here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Upcoming Events for Reading and Books

May 1 is Buy Indie Day. What are your plans?

Buy Indie Day is an international day of advocacy and appreciation for independent booksellers, the brainchild of author Joe Finder, who suggests buying something- audiobook, paperback, hardcover, what have you- at an independent bookstore. What's your favorite indie bookstore?

You can go to to connect with other readers, find an indie bookstore near you or online, and find other ways to participate in Indie Book Day. If you can't get to an indie near you, you can buy online. You can also get gift certificates good at many indie bookstores.

I'll be going to Porter Square Books, a great Cambridge indie, to buy a book. What are you going to do?

In other news, May 2 is Free Comic Book Day. Free Comic Book Day is an annual event taking place on the first Saturday in May. Participating comic book stores give away free comics, oftentimes samplers and other special issues. Lots of different publishers representing different styles and artists participate in the giveaways; in the past, I've walked away with samplers from publishers like Drawn & Quarterly, Top Shelf, Fantagraphics and others. Go to to find a participating shop near you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

REVIEW: The Tricking of Freya, by Christina Sunley

The Tricking of Freya, by Christina Sunley. Published 2009 by St. Martin's Press. Literary Fiction.

The Tricking of Freya, Christina Sunley's accomplished debut, is an addictive mixture of coming-of-age, family secrets and glimpse into the culture and history of Iceland. It was a treat from start to finish.

Sunley tells the story of Freya Morris, a young woman whose life with her mother, Anna, in a suburb of Connecticut, is punctuated by annual visits to the Canadian resort town of Gimli, the center of Canada's Icelandic immigrant population. It's also home to her mother's family and friends, chief among them her eccentric sister Birdie and her mother, Sigga. Birdie, a moody, brilliant and mischievous beauty whom nobody trusts, dotes on Freya and tries to instill in her a love for her Icelandic heritage. Freya alternately idolizes and fears her, so glamorous and yet so dangerous, so loving and yet so mercurial. Anna becomes disabled following an accident when Freya is little for which Freya will punish herself for years to come. She will also punish herself for the after-effects of a trip to Iceland with Birdie. Years go by; Anna passes away, and Freya grows up. Returning to Gimli for Sigga's one-hundredth birthday, Freya overhears an echo of a family secret and returns to Iceland to figure it out.

More than that I don't want to tell you. I really admire Sunley's writing in general; the tone is light but The Tricking of Freya is not a light read- Sunley covers some pretty dark territory concerning shame, mental illness and self-recrimination, and manages to do so in a way that seemed both psychologically real and gripping. There are some really harrowing passages but I never wanted to put the book down.

On the contrary, I had a great time reading The Tricking of Freya. I love the combination of a strong plot and character-driven drama, and Freya's first-person narration, with her own tricks and deceptions, works beautifully to bring the story to life. Sunley also delivers a lot of fascinating detail about Icelandic history, culture and language, all of which was new to me and added a lot of richness to the novel. Sunley makes heavy use of foreshadowing throughout the novel and although I started predicting the big twist early on, it still came as a surprise that brought tears to my eyes. There are actually lots of little twists here and there and Sunley fits them together skillfully in her finely-crafted, beguiling debut. And now I want to go to Iceland!

Rating: BUY

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

Teaser Tuesdays

The rules:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!'
"When they came in they found Lady Emily, Agnes and Mr. Holt sitting at tea in what used to be Agnes's sitting-room, but was not used for sit-down tea at a round table. Mr. Holt was in a state of sulks which he hardly endeavored to control."
From Angela Thirkell's Wild Strawberries. I have two chapters to go- so far, it's the perfect summer read.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted at

Monday, April 27, 2009

Graphic Novel Monday: Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming

Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming, by Rachel Hartman. Published 2002 by Pug House Press.

Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming is a charming collection of comics about ten year old farm girl Amy, who lives in a medieval-like time and place called Goredd, along with her family and an assortment of friends, including Bran, "quite possibly her best friend," Trigarth, a teen heartthrob and Amy's crush, and the Dragon Lalo, a visiting grad student. They, along with others, pursue romances, misadventures and daily life, all while young Amy navigates the perilous waters of tweenhood.
Hartman wrote six adventures starring Amy prior to Amy Unbounded; they are available in minicomic form from the author and by the time I was done reading this book I wanted to go find them. It's simply adorable. And just a little frenetic! All kinds of plots weave in and out of the book. Amy's father faces a downturn in his profession as a weaver. Her friend Niella falls in love with the dragon-cum-grad-student. Bran's brother brings home an unexpected wife. And one of Goredd's most prominent citizens, a wealthy businesswoman, must choose between her fortune and her independence.
Sounds heavy, but it isn't. It's filled with charming, detailed illustrations and light humor. Hartman also fills the stories with wholesome lessons about body image, feminism, and relations between men and women- without being preachy. It's also clean as a whistle, with no sex or violent content. My only complaint is that I found the pages to be rather packed and busy- sometimes I had trouble following it- but that is a minor quibble. It ends on a lovely optimistic note, even though the ending isn't exactly happy. Hartman doesn't shy away from the bad things that can happen in life, but the message is that just as one story ends, another begins. Amy Unbounded would be a great book for tween boys and girls, and for anyone looking for a sweet, light comic read.

Rating: BORROW

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

Musing Mondays

Musing Mondays (BIG)Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about reading non-fiction…

Do you read non-fiction regularly? Do you read it in a different way or place than you read fiction? (question courtesy of Diane)

I read very little nonfiction. Once in a great while... but not often. In fact, looking at my bookshelves of TBRs, I can't find any, except for a book I got from LibraryThing. I guess I'm a fiction person! What nonfiction I do read tends to be biography and memoir.

Favorite nonfiction reads include A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Jay Parini's biography of Robert Frost, and Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette. Recent favorites include Ariel Sabar's My Father's Paradise and Erin Einhorn's The Pages in Between.

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Salon

It's been a long, fun weekend- I'm just back from a day and a half getaway to western Massachusetts. My husband and I went to the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge for a little overnight trip, and we had a great time. Of course books and bookstores figured prominently in the trip- all in all we visited three shops.

First up was Yellow House Books in Great Barrington (252 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA- 413-528-8227) - I love that place. It's full of beautiful, unusual things. I didn't buy anything, but I was tempted by, among other things, a book of East Asian folk tales in French, beautifully illustrated and in gorgeous condition. My husband picked up some Doctor Who paperbacks to add to his collection- the store had a whole stack of the Target novelizations he likes.

Later in the day we went to The BookLoft (322 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, MA-(413) 528-1521, , an independent new/used bookstore, also in Great Barrington. It's a sweet place to pick up the latest and greatest, and it was fun to see their selection and how they put things out. I had a nice chat with a friendly bookseller and enjoyed my visit.

Finally, today we happened upon the delightful Berkshire Book Company (Route 7, 510 Main St, Sheffield MA- 800-828-5565), a used/rare shop in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Sheffield is home to many, many antique stores, so it only makes sense that it would also be home to the kind of used/rare bookstores that bibliophiles dream about. It was two floors of incredible finds- and nearly everything was half off the proprietor's already reasonable prices. I found an Angela Thirkell paperback and my husband picked up a book from the Loeb Classical Library. He was very impressed with their Latin selection. My big find, though, was a gorgeous, slipcased, illustrated edition of Marcel Proust's Swann's Way (Du cote de chez Swann for you Francophones):
How beautiful are these pictures? And considering the price, after the discount, was less than four dollars, how could I leave it behind?

I also did a bit of reading- I brought Angela Thirkell's frothy little romp Wild Strawberries for reading in a rocking chair on the front porch of the hotel. All in all a great bibliophile weekend!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Yard Sales

So it's spring, and around here spring means the start of yard sale season.

Do you buy books at yard sales? When you host a yard sale, do you find that you're able to sell them?

When I was a kid, we didn't have a lot of money and the public library couldn't always satisfy my appetite for books, so I figured something out. Not that I could find interesting books at yard sales. All I found at yard sales were cheesy romances and pulp thrillers. No, I figured out that I could buy paperbacks in good condition for cheap money (a quarter, fifty cents), then sell them to my local used bookstore for credit- and make money. Then I bought the shop's half-off paperbacks- and found the books I was looking for. I bought Tolstoy's short stories, I found a wonderful book called Christ Stopped At Eboli, which at the time I thought no one else had ever heard of but was a marvelous read. I found Dostoevsky and Gandhi's autobiography, poetry anthologies and plays and all kinds of things that helped form my tastes over the years.

Sometimes I found stuff to read at yard sales too. Once, after coming home from a day of yard-shopping, I realized that I had bought two copies of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude at two separate yard sales- and then decided that, hey, maybe I should read it! It turned out to be one of my favorite books. And I used to collect French-language grammar books at yard sales, which I would use to study. (Yes, I bought extra textbooks so I could spend extra time studying.) Then, when I was a senior in high school and part of the school's Russian exchange program, I met a girl named Natasha who was trying to study French on her own. I traded her a pile of my grammar books for a bag full of souvenirs she brought to give Americans- postcards, those little metal pins, matryoshka dolls, all kinds of things. And I still have everything she gave me.

Nowadays when I browse at yard sales it's not with an eye to selling and I rarely find something I'm desperate to read. Sometimes though (like this morning), for a dollar or less I'll take a chance. The sale I visited today had stacks of Marian Keyes, Jennifer Weiner and the like, and I picked up something cute-looking for a buck. The last time I hosted a sale, books were the hardest things to sell, and next time I'm not sure I'd even bother. It's still fun though, to peek into what other people have read and then, once in a while, experiment a little. What's your yard-sale story?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Unfinished Friday

The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News? by Peter J. Gomes. Published 2008 by HarperOne.

Click here to buy The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus from your favorite indie bookseller.

I had to read The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus for my book club, The Daughters of Abraham, which is a religion-themed club of Christian, Jewish and Muslim women. Scandalous Gospel was one of two Christian-themed selections we read this year; I can't remember the other one, but I can tell you that I didn't finish that one, either!

Peter J. Gomes is a Baptist minister and a professor at the Harvard Divinity School; he's a liberal Protestant, and his book is an eloquent, witty and enjoyable discussion of his views on Jesus. I actually had a good time reading the book and didn't finish it only because I became distracted by other obligations and lost track of time before the book club met to discuss it. Many of my own views are similar to his, and I enjoyed him at the same time as I could point at certain passages, such as the chapter on sin, as being very different from my own religion's dogma. That is to say, he talks about the assumption that one is going to heaven as though it's a given; in my religion, the given is going, um, elsewhere. In other words, he made me think and he made me laugh.

I would love to get back around to finishing The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus some day, if only I could locate it in the huge pile of books next to my sofa. Because I didn't finish it, it still hasn't made its way back to the bookshelves, so if I can ever figure out where it is I'll give it a go.

Seven Things About Me as a Reader

I swiped this neat meme from Vasilly over at 1330V. You can see the original post here.

1. I shop for books constantly. Even if I'm not in a buying mood, I visit different bookstores 3-4 times a week, just to look around at what's new. Chains, indies, big, small- it doesn't matter. I even browse bookstores that sell books I can't read- like the Russian bookstore near where I work- just to see what they're selling and ask questions.

2. I always spent a lot of time in libraries, but never seriously considered becoming a librarian before my late twenties. I spent the first eight or so years after college in the corporate world and I have to say I am thankful every day that I changed paths. Not only is it more fulfilling but it has put me in contact with a whole world of readers and booklovers I never would have known.

3. When we had required summer reading in high school, I kept incredibly detailed journals about what I was reading. Now I can barely remember even a single book that I had to read then.

4. I miss reading poetry. I used to be really fluent in contemporary poetry but somewhere I fell off the bandwagon and now I feel hopelessly behind.

5. I can read several books at a time, but when I really get into a book, everything else gets shoved to the side until I finish.

6. When I'm reading I can block out nearly all ambient noise and distractions. People can sit right next to me and talk to me and I will not even hear them.

7. I am very thankful to all the wonderful teachers I had who recommended weird but wonderful books to me and helped me push boundaries and challenge myself. I'm also glad that the YA genre basically didn't exist the way it does now, because I got to go straight to adult books without reading anything "suitable for children."

Want to play along? Leave a comment- I'd love to read your 7 things!

Friday Finds

Only two new books this week- what's up with that?

I used a gift certificate to my favorite chain store to fill in a couple of crucial gaps in my library- The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway, and The School for Love, by Olivia Manning.

I went through a Balkans phase several years ago, during which I read everything I could get my hands on about the subject- history, fiction, you name it. I found a lot of great writers during that time, and learned a lot too- and I think Cellist should fit in nicely. The School for Love just looked interesting to me- it's about a boarding house in Jerusalem and different characters from different backgrounds interacting therein.

This weekend we're expecting some summer-like weather in Boston and I'm looking forward to some serious relaxation, so I'm looking for something frothy and fun to read- any suggestions?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

Question suggested by Barbara H:

My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.

It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?

As a reader, I relish the experience of glimpsing beneath the surface of a novel and seeing its structure; it's not something English teachers made up, and it's absolutely something that authors continue to do. I also think it's perfectly fine to enjoy the story for the story's sake, and not stress out about it. But if you're inclined to do that little bit of extra work to see what might be going on on another level, it can be very, very rewarding.

As far as examples, authors like Margaret Atwood and Iris Murdoch (and many, many others) create rich layers of meaning and metaphor in their work. Atwood's Alias Grace, for example, uses the story of a woman in prison for a murder she may or may not have committed as just the basis for a study of women, sex and power in early Canada. Her The Robber Bride has Biblical undertones. And on and on. You really don't have to look far to find it, and you don't even need to go highbrow. Most, if not all, good authors craft their work carefully and use metaphor and symbolism to some degree.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

REVIEW: Sonata for Miriam, by Linda Olsson

Sonata for Miriam, by Linda Olsson. Published 2009 by Penguin.

Click here to buy Sonata for Miriam from your favorite indie bookstore.

Sonata for Miriam, Linda Olsson's latest novel, is a four-star turkey.

It has all the ingredients of a classic crowd-pleaser. A failed love affair. A gifted composer writing music for his dead daughter, a child killed in a senseless, tragic accident. Secrets. A horrible choice a character must make. It's even about the Holocaust. It's got all the elements, but that's the problem. There's so much packed in so tight, that it collapses under the weight of its good intentions.

Swedish-born composer Adam Anker is living in New Zealand with his teenage daughter Miriam when he happens on a photo of another Adam, Adam Lipski, in a museum collection, and is struck because that's his name too- his real name. He does a little research, and luckily enough, Adam Lipski's sister Clara lives nearby. Adam is off and running, researching his family's past in a journey that takes him to Poland in search of his family and back to Sweden, in search of his lost love, Miriam's mother Cecilia, who long ago forced Adam to make a terrible choice.

In between the discovery in the museum and the extended European voyage, Miriam dies, and her death is where the novel starts to break down. Adam doesn't talk about it. He goes on this trip to Poland and Sweden and for three quarters of the book, the reader never finds out what happened to her, how she died, until nearly the very end. Her death is the pivotal event in Adam's life (or so it seems) and Olsson just drops her. I know- Adam is overcome by grief, blah blah blah. It still doesn't make sense to me.

Then there's Cecilia, and the story of Miriam's conception. It's true that Cecilia forced Adam to make a choice, but we never find out why. The choice she offers is callous and senseless, and because she never explains herself, the choice just comes across, at best, as the solipsistic act of a narcissist- who else would do what she does? At worst, the choice comes across as a weak plot device designed to inject drama without any semblance of psychological reality.

Because you know what? It doesn't need the added drama. Holocaust fiction can usually stand on its own without dead-child-and-horrible-choice melodrama- and the whole horrible-choice plot has nothing to do with the Holocaust. Granted, if Olsson took out the melodrama she'd be left with just a bland, unexceptional Holocaust novel, and the book would therefore lose what little appeal it has. None of the characters seem real- they don't talk like real people and they don't act like real people. Here's a sample, when Adam visits with Cecilia:

Adam says, "There is no time here...everything is the same. Time has stood still."
"Is that how it seems to you?" I [Cecilia] said. "I can't tell. What you live with day in, day out, may seem ever the same. But then when you look back, you are reminded of things and people that have been lost, new growth, fundamental changes."
I picked that exchange more or less at random; it takes place when Adam and Cecilia see each other for the first time since Miriam's birth. Tell me- do you talk like that? Do you know anybody who talks like that? Because I don't. Even people on soap operas don't speak so stiffly and formally.

And they don't live in a realistic world. Olsson piles on coincidence after coincidence to make it work. Adam Lipski's sister just happens to live nearby Adam Anker, in New Zealand. Adam makes his fateful discovery on the day that Miriam dies, and, in a crucial twist, he forgot his cellphone that day too. The only thing that would make Miriam's death more tragically contrived is if she had been carrying a basket of kittens. It goes on and on. If you want to read Holocaust fiction, there are better books than Sonata for Miriam. Read Philippe Grimbert's polished gem, Memory, or a thousand other, better novels. If it wasn't for the Holocaust element, Sonata would be just another overwrought melodrama. As it stands, it's an overwrought melodrama and a boring Holocaust story all at once. It's like two bad books for the price of one.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

The rules:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
I'm going to give you a few sentences from an advance reader copy of China Mieville's latest, The City and The City:

The powers of the Breach are almost limitless. Frightening. What does limit Breach is solely that those powers are highly circumstantially specific. The insistence that those circumstances be rigorously policed is a necessary precaution for the cities.

I can't wait to share my review of this one with you all- I can't wait to finish reading it! It's a brainy page-turner with real oomph. Love it!

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted at

Book Buddy!

I have a new best friend- the Book Buddy II.

The Book Buddy II is a cool little accessory for readers- basically, a pillow with some ribbons attached to hold down the covers of your book. It's made by Reading Comfort, and I just love it.

The thing about reading as a hobby is that you don't really need any accoutrements- just you and the book. And maybe a light, or a blanket, or a cup of tea. But basically, it's just you and the book.

But the nice thing about the Book Buddy is that it makes reading that little bit more comfortable. Cozier. It moves the book closer to your face, nice if your eyes are tired. It fits nicely in my lap, it's nicely plumped and it makes it easier for me to read sitting with good posture. And it's pretty. Here's how it works:

Slip one of the vertical ribbons over one cover, then the second ribbon over the other, and you read. It's as simple as that. If you want to use the Book Buddy as a writing desk, you can use the clear acrylic table that comes with it by hooking the diagonal ribbons around its edges. The ribbons are adjustable and I found that Book Buddy works best with hardcovers or trade-sized paperbacks. It didn't handle mass market paperbacks quite as well.

It's also pretty and comes in attractive fabrics (the company also sells blankets to match and other accessories as well).

Here you can see my husband enjoying the Book Buddy II. I think lots of people would like having a Book Buddy; I'd love to get one for my patrons, especially some folks who come in to read for extended periods. It would be such a nice, homey touch for the library, and it certainly helps provide a little extra comfort at home.

Thanks to and Amanda Crawford Designs for sending me a Book Buddy II to review. I use it every day!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Graphic Novel Monday: I Saw You... edited by Julia Wertz

I Saw You...; Comics Inspired by Real-Life Missed Connections, edited by Julia Wertz. Published 2009 by Three Rivers Press. Graphica. Humor.

Ever passed the time reading those "missed connections" ads on CraigsList and the like? Then you'll have fun reading this anthology of short comics by authors like Lucy Knisley (author of French Milk), Abby Denson, Jeffrey Brown, Liz Prince, and many more.

Like a lot of comics anthologies, it's great for the variety of art and writing on display- all kinds of styles from a wide range of artists and authors. The stories are quick and light- no more than three or four pages, and many one or two, covering various coffee-shop romances and mini love affairs. Wertz, of Fart Party fame, even tells a sweet little story of her own in the introduction; she also has a couple of comics in the anthology.

I had a lot of fun reading I Saw You.... Some comics are sweet and some are sad, and the book, with its share of sexual references and adult language, is definitely intended for adults. Its light, short stories would be a great introduction to contemporary comics for new readers and a delightful read for those familiar with some of the artists. You might even find a new favorite or two in its pages.


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

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Musing Mondays

Coming towards the end of April, we’re a third of the way through the way through the year. What’s the favourite book you’ve read so far in 2009? What about your least favourite? (question courtesy of MizB)

Without a doubt, my favorite book so far this year is Abraham Verghese's showstopping Cutting for Stone. Like a good plot? Check. Engrossing characters? Check. Heart-stopping action? Check. Richly detailed geographic settings? History? Love stories? Intelligence? Humor? Check. Check. Check. Check and check.

It's amazing and destined to be one of my all-time favorites. I can't say enough about this incredible book!

My least favorite? Well, you'll have to come back on Wednesday and read the review I'll be posting then. :-)

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.

Sunday Salon

So it's a beautiful day here in Boston and what have I been doing with it?

Well I went to the gym, and then to a local mall to spend a gift certificate at a cooking store, and now I'm home with a cappuccino and some time on my hands.

First of all, thank you so much to Karen Harrington, author of Janeology and of the wonderful Scobberlotch blog, for the great giveaway she ran during her "Bookaversary" week- and the great prize pack I won, a copy of Janeology and a beautiful leatherbound notebook, for my own novel-in-progress. I don't really have a novel-in-progress, but maybe I should. I was actually thinking about using the book to take notes for a memoir, but that's another story for another day.

If you haven't been to Karen's blog, you really need to go- now. She's one of my favorite bloggers and I can't wait to read the book. I don't know if I can review it objectively though- we'll see!

I'm also working on a couple of posts for next week, about the Book Buddy II reading accessory and about a couple of books.

My dragon quilt is coming along; I have all four dragons pieced and I've started piecing the borders. I'll show you a picture of the finished quilt top in the next couple of weeks.

Finally, congratulations to all those hardy Readathon participants. I think I would end up divorced if I decided to read for 24 hours straight (unless I could persuade my husband to join me!) but I'd love to participate in an abbreviated version next time.

What are you working on this week?

You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Unfinished Friday

So, I had an idea to start a new feature on Boston Bibliophile- Unfinished Friday. The idea is to post each Friday about a book that I've left unfinished, and then let you all tell me if you think I should finish it. If you want to play along, I'd love it if you left a link in the comments with your own unfinished book. Because, you know, we book bloggers need another weekly meme.

My first Unfinished Friday book is Atmospheric Disturbances, by Rivka Galchen. This book came out last year, and has been widely praised and even won some awards- it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2008 and won the Salon Book Award of 2008.

It's a character-driven novel about a man who believes that his wife has been spirited away and replaced with an exact duplicate- a premise reminiscent of Borges, and the wife is even from Argentina, so I sense a direct link here. Anyway I had kind of a hard time muddling through it, and my husband, who is reading it right now, is also considering giving up on it. So tell me- have you read it? What did you think? Do you think I should muddle through and finish it, or not? I really would love to know what you think.

Friday Finds

New books this week- some good stuff!

Spiced, a memoir by pastry chef Dalia Jurgensen, arrived at work early this week; I've actually already read it and I can tell you it's fun. It just came out yesterday. Jurgensen has a blog you can read at

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe, also arrived. It's about the Salem Witch Trials. I know many of you have already read this one through the Barnes and Noble First Look program; I'm looking forward to it as well.

I Saw You..., a comics anthology edited by Julia Wertz, and Valley of Strength by Israeli author Shulamit Lapid arrived via a gift certificate purchase this week; really excited about both of these.

From a Sealed Room by Rachel Kadish came via Bookmooch, and Annie's Ghosts arrived courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

All in all, some good stuff!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

REVIEW: The Local News, by Miriam Gershow

The Local News, by Miriam Gershow. Published 2009 by Spiegel & Grau. Fiction.

Missing children are not an uncommon subject in novels these days; as events around the world and in the economy seem to spiral out of control, it seems to get easier to deflect our anxieties onto the homefront, onto the family and onto matters close at hand. And what does more to tap into our primal fears than a missing child? The Local News is a novel dealing with just such anxieties in the middle class, middle American Pasternak family. Lydia Pasternak, a bookish highschooler, and her parents are dealing with the disappearance of her popular older brother Danny, a jock and prankster whose breezy self-confidence masked his own anxieties.

Lydia is a very likeable young woman who narrates the story in a casual first-person style; she relates her day to day life, her friendships and her relationship with her parents, who are lost in their own morass of grief. Lydia finds herself surprised by her changing position in the school; before, before Danny disappeared, she was his mousy understudy, teased by his friends and almost invisible at home. Now, his friends befriend her and she finds herself becoming closer to people like Lola Pepper, a cheery flag squader who had been one of Danny's hangers-on, and Kirk Donovan, a fellow athlete. She does things she never did before- parties, stays out late, and has a falling-out with her friend David Nelson, a sweet boy with a crush on her.

The Local News also follows the Pasternak family's search for Danny and its heartbreaking conclusion, as well as the attendant accoutrements of a disappearance- the posters, the yellow ribbons, the searches, the loonies, the hope. Frustrated by police indifference following the intial period after Danny's disappearance, the Pasternaks hire a private detective and Lydia becomes infatuated with him, an older man name Denis who allows Lydia to play a role in the search.

Ultimately it's a hopeful book. Author Miriam Gershow shows a nice girl going through something unbearable, and shows her surviving- growing and changing into adulthood, sloughing off different selves as highschoolers do, until she's left with her essential self- smart, strong and insightful. I found the novel low-key but never boring, and I'm glad that Gershow stuck with Lydia throughout and didn't try to tell the story from other perspectives, as Stewart O'Nan did in his somewhat denser and (for me) less entertaining novel on essentially the same topic, Songs for the Missing. Telling a story from multiple perspectives also seems to be trendy these days and sometimes a book loses focus when the author tries to do too much. Not so with The Local News. A satisfying, beautifully written novel about adolescence and its many tragedies, it's sweet and tender and a very worthwhile read.


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

Booking Through Thursday

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Yesterday, April 15th, was Tax Day here in the U.S., which means lots of lucky people will get refunds of over-paid taxes.

Whether you’re one of them or not, what would you spend an unexpected windfall on? Say … $50? How about $500?

(And, this is a reading meme, so by rights the answer should be book-related, but hey, feel free to go wild and splurge on anything you like.)

I would spend $50 on a couple of graphic novels or a short stack of paperbacks. But probably the graphic novels- they tend to be expensive and I have a hard time justifying buying them most of the time. Most the graphic novels I review are gifts or come from the library! $500 would not go towards books- that's too much to blow on luxuries in my opinion. I would put it towards attending a national library conference, which I can't afford to do this year, and which would be good for my career and my bookshelf!

Click here to read other responses or join in!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

REVIEW: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. Published 2008 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction. Translated from the French.

One of the big topics in the book world at the end of 2008 was the dearth of translated literature in America; plenty of English-language literature gets translated for the rest of the world, but precious little of what gets published in other languages makes it to us- a shame. Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Nobel literature committee, made a splash, and caused a lot of controversy, when he suggested that American insularity was having a deleterious effect on American literature. In large part due to the this shortfall of European literature translated into English, American writers, he argued, were isolated from many of the trends and conversations going on elsewhere in the world, making American literature less rich and interesting.

Now, whether or not you agree with Engdahl's evaluation of American literature, the small quantity of available translated literature isn't really open to dispute. So when The Elegance of the Hedgehog came out in English last year, I was excited to familiarize myself with this celebrated novel that's sold more than a million copies in France. And if you've been hedging on whether or not to read it yourself, let me just say that you're in for a treat.

The action of the book takes place nearly entirely within the confines of an exclusive apartment building in Paris. The building's tenants- wealthy Parisians, many of whom have lived in these apartments for years if not generations- form the background. The foreground is occupied by Paloma, a precocious, hyperintelligent 12 year old who writes her "Profound Thoughts" in a diary, and Renee, the concierge, who is poor but very intelligent and a bit of an autodidact who hides her worldliness behind a thick veneer of averageness. Paloma and Renee find a mutual friend in the form of Monsieur Ozu, a mysterious, wealthy Japanese man who moves into the building.

Action, though, isn't really the point. The book is a character study of these three individuals, so different on the surface but so alike in their efforts to understand the world and other people. Paloma relentlessly analyzes herself, her family (indifferent bourgeois parents, vacant teenage sister) and yet even though she is obviously very intelligent she's still a little girl. Even her vow to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday comes across as like childish overdramatics- oh, how sorry they'll all be, etc. But herein lies her charm- her combination of analysis and innocence. Renee reads Tolstoy and philosophy, but knows that in class-obsessed Paris the tenants would never believe her to be capable of anything more than servitude; yet, she takes a certain pleasure in the security of her position and when she develops a friendship with Monsieur Ozu, who seems to see something more in her, she loses her balance a little, and must surrender her disguise.

But it's a sweet kind of surrender. The Elegance of the Hedgehog takes as its theme (one of its themes) the sweetness under the surface- Renee's intelligence and sincerity, Paloma's innocence and Monsieur Ozu's kindness and generosity of spirit. It's a talky book, heavy on interior monologues and tangents- and like I said, not a lot actually happens- but stick with these lovely characters and you'll be swept along and moved and touched. It ends too sadly to be a sunshine sort of book but you'll be happy to have read it nonetheless. It's a very special, very rare sort of book that will make you smile through your tears and right away you'll want to savor it all over again. Let's hope more great books like this one make their way over to us soon.

Here's my review of the 2011 movie, The Hedgehog.

Rating: BUY

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


Lately I've been the lucky recipient of a number of blogging awards. I've been scrambling for time to post and thank a bunch of bloggers, so here goes:

A Novel Menagerie gave me the Super Comments Award. From her post:
"We give and get awards for having a great blog and being a good friend. What I want to award is to those people whose comments have meant THE WORLD to me. It takes time to visit a blog and leave a comment. I wanted to take this opportunity to say “thank you” to each and every one of you who has left a comment for me on A Novel Menagerie. Also, I wanted to recognize some special bloggers whose comments have made such an impact on me."

Thank you!

Lori at Jew Wishes g
ave me the Excellent award, for "blogs [that] offer content that has given me much to ponder, from religion to recipes, to books and beyond. Thank you." Thank you, Lori!

Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews gave me T
he Splash Award, for blogs which "allure, amuse, bewitch, impress, or inspire." Thank you!!

Finally, Blodeudd at Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell gave me the Premio Dardos Award, for "bloggers who distinguish themselves for showing cultural values, ethics, great and fun writing skills, as well individual values, through their creative writing."

Thank you all so much. It really is wonderful to know that you all enjoy my blog. Yay!

And to reciprocate, I'm going to pass them all right back to the fantastic bloggers above. Go visit their blogs if you haven't- bookmark them, follow them, subscribe, etc. Because they're all great writers, readers and people. I'm lucky to know them and I hope you take the the time to visit them if you haven't yet.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Musing Mondays

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about blog comments

How do you respond to the comments on your blog? Do you try to email individually or comment on post yourself answering the comments above? What do you think is the best way to respond to comments and do you respond to all of them? Do you feel slighted if you don't receive a response back from the blog owner? (question courtesy of Jenn)

I respond by posting in the comments section when I feel like a response is warranted. If it's something I'd rather keep private I'll email the person but that's rare. I try to comment back on people's blogs when they comment on mine, but I'm not as good at keeping up with this as I'd like to be. I try to respond to as many as I can though. I do not feel slighted if I don't receive a comment back from someone- but I'm happy when I do. I've actually had people get snippy with me if I didn't comment back or do it fast enough- chill out already! It's just a blog! There are courtesies involved in being in the blogosphere but there are no rules- or at least, in my opinion, there shouldn't be!

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday Salon

Well, it's Easter, so I've got a busy day ahead of me. After work, I've got to finish up the dessert I'm making and then it's off to my in-laws' house for dinner.

Probably won't be doing much reading, but you never know. I don't think I could actually go a whole day without reading!

Hope everyone has a great Sunday, whatever you get up to. And if you celebrate Easter, have a great one!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Buy Indie Day

Have you heard about Buy Indie Day?

Buy Indie Day is May 1, 2009. The idea is to rally book lovers around independent bookstores and have a day where folks go to their favorite independent bookstore and buy a book. It's the brainchild of best-selling author Joe Finder, who's proposing it as a way to advocate for and raise the profile of independent bookstores nationwide, and world-wide. There's even a Facebook page you can join.

So how can you participate, besides going to your favorite indie and buying a book?

Blogger Kevin Guilfoile, who's written a terrific post on Buy Indie Day, suggests announcing on your blog where and when you're planning to shop ahead of time- and spread the word. On your blog. On Twitter. On Facebook. Where ever you live and play online.

If you don't have an independent bookstore in your area, or you're not able to get out that day, you can also participate online. can link you to indie bookstores- simply go to their website, click on "Find Bookstores," and you're off and running.

There's a lot of talk about the value on independent bookstores, so Buy Indie Day is an opportunity to come out and show that we mean what we say.

Me? I'll be going to Porter Square Books in Cambridge, a great neighborhood indie. And I already know what book I want!

IF YOU PLAN TO PARTICIPATE in one way or another- blogging, buying, etc.- I would love to know so I can set up a list of blogs and we can visit each other on May 1 to see what we're all up to!

IF THERE IS NO INDIE BOOKSTORE IN YOUR AREA, use zip code 02138 or 02115 to locate one in the Boston area that will ship! No excuses! :-P

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Finds

Another interesting week of books. First up, I bought The Witches of Eastwick at River Run Books in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; River Run is one of my favorite indies outside the Boston area and lately I've become Twitter friends with two of the women who work there (If you're on Twitter you should follow them too- @readandbreathe and @MissLiberty, respectively) so it was fun to go visiting and, of course, buy a book! I received The Tricking of Freya from Macmillan; it's set in Iceland and looks fantastic. Can't wait to get to it.

I won G. Xavier Robillard's Captain Freedom in a HarperCollins giveaway, and my husband and I are currently arguing over who gets to read it first. I gave him my China Mieville galley that I snagged a week or so ago, so I think maybe I get first crack at Captain Freedom. And finally, Container Gardening, a volume of poetry, came my way courtesy of author (and neighbor and library patron) Ellen Steinbaum. I've started reading it and I'm really enjoying her poems.

Friday Finds lives over at Come play!