Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Salon

Today is going to be one of those varied days!

Yesterday was pretty laid back; the big event was going to see my friend John perform in a community theater production of "You Can't Take it With You"- it was a good time. He played Kalenkhov, a bombastic Russian dance instructor. John is a great physical comedian and did a terrific job- by far the most entertaining member of a very good cast.

The morning started with a visit to the ER- my cat scratched me up good the other day, and the scratches got infected. So now I'm on antibiotics for a week and have to see my regular doctor tomorrow. In the mean time, I'm working today, and my husband is off to his writing group. Yesterday I splurged on some graphic novels at my favorite comics shop, so I'll be reading those as well.

I'm done reading Justin Cronin's The Passage, and my giveaway is still open till midnight if you want to enter. Just click on the book cover on the left-hand side of this page. I might do an early review this week; it's going to be a bit tricky to review because so much of the pleasure of it is the unfolding of events. It's such a great read though. And it's going to be huge this summer. Now I'm reading The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, this month's book club pick, about a young girl growing up Muslim in 1970s Indiana. It's not exactly what I'd call literary but it's a decent read and I think the discussion will be a good one. I like it because it's contemporary, and I find the more contemporary Muslim books more engaging than some of the older historical fiction.

I'm actually flipping between about four books right now but I'm going to spend today's reading time trying to finish one!

What are you up to today?

You can read more Sunday Salon here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Unfinished Friday

Any unfinished reads this week? Leave a link or comment below and we'll visit each other and share our unfinished books.

I know most of us endeavor to finish everything we read, but we don't have to, and sometimes it's impossible- it just doesn't work for us, for one reason or another. But it's still possible to get some mileage out of that work for your blog- by sharing it with us here on Fridays!

I don't have any unfinished finds for you today but I'd love to hear about yours!

Friday Finds

A few fun finds for this Friday:

The Glass Palace, by Amitav Ghosh, arrived via Bookmooch. Since I enjoyed Sea of Poppies, I'm interested to read more of Ghosh's work.

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. I haven't read this since high school but I started rereading it in the bookstore and it's just such a sentimental favorite, I had to have it. Love Gone with the Wind!

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, by Mohja Kahf, and The Girl from Foreign, by Sadia Shepard, are two upcoming selections for my bookclub and should be great reads.

What's new for you this week? Read more Friday Finds here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Booking Through Thursday- Twisty

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Jackie says, “I love books with complicated plots and unexpected endings. What is your favourite book with a fantastic twist at the end?”

So, today’s question is in two parts.

1. Do YOU like books with complicated plots and unexpected endings?

I do like books with complicated plots and unexpected endings- but only if the ending makes sense for the plot and characters and doesn't violate the spirit of the book. In other words, I don't like an ending that comes out of nowhere but I think a good writer can generate an unexpected ending that still makes sense.

2. What book with a surprise ending is your favorite? Or your least favorite?

Possession, by A.S. Byatt, has a heartbreaking surprise ending that made me love the book even more than I was loving it as I read it; Godmother, by Carolyn Turgeon, had a surprise ending that made me want to throw the book out of the window! The ending to Ian McEwan's Amsterdam was likewise infuriating!

You can read more Booking Through Thursday here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

REVIEW: Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh

Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh. Published 2009 by Picador. Literary Fiction.

I read this book courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies is a dense, difficult novel that started slow for me but built to a riveting cliffhanger by the closing pages. It's the first of a planned trilogy and a great literary read.

Set in India just prior to the Opium Wars (1839 and 1856) Ghosh's novel follows a panoply of characters- Deeti, the widow of an opium worker who marries a lower-caste man and flees her family; Paulette, a French orphan who wants more out of life than learning Bible verses and making idle conversation; her childhood friend Jodu; Neel, an upper-caste man who finds himself disgraced and degraded; and Zachary, a sailor trying to navigate more than just his way across the sea. All of these characters- and others- are in some way connected to the opium trade, which Ghosh shows as a pervasive and insidious fact of life. Issues of gender, race, caste and colonialism conspire with the drug trade to shape the characters' lives, but Ghosh's people are not pawns in some political manifesto but willful and active doers who strive to make their own destiny.

I will admit I almost gave up on Sea of Poppies in the first few chapters. Ghosh's language is a vibrant stew of English and Indian dialects and the seadog vernacular aboardship reminded me of reading (or trying to read) Patrick O'Brian's seafaring classic Master and Commander- rig the topmastforesail and hoist the petards, or something, only half in a language I don't understand and with no real explanation. Even the glossary at the back is very little help. And the use of dialect continues throughout the book but I found I could understand most things in context.

I'm glad I stuck with it, though, because after a while with Ghosh's musical medley of languages, a kind of harmony develops and you'll find yourself fluent before you even realize it- and you'll find yourself engrossed in the story as his characters come together aboard a rickety vessel lurching towards an uncertain future. I felt for Neel's compounding humiliations and admired Deeti and Paulette for their tough determination in the face of cultural forces that would willingly crush them. Once the drama starts, it doesn't let up till the very last sentence- and then if you're like me, you'll find yourself flipping the back pages to make absolutely sure it's the end because you'll want it to keep going and going.

Rating: BUY

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

Monday, January 25, 2010

Graphic Novel Monday: Owly: A Time to be Brave, by Andy Runton

Owly: A Time to be Brave, by Andy Runton. Published 2007 by Top Shelf. Fiction.

Andy Runton's Owly series is absolutely adorable. It's an all-ages series with a lovable cast of characters headed by the eponymous large-eyed owl and costarring birds, butterflies, worms and small mammals. Together they have little adventures and learn sweet lessons about life.

A Time to be Brave, the fourth in the series, tells the story of an opossum who wanders into Owly's home and accidentally damages a tree there; the other animals don't understand who or what this new creature is and become frightened of him. Owly and his friends have to find out about him and how to handle him- is a friend? An enemy? Just what is he?

You can tell this is a series for children but I think anyone would like these wholesome, squeaky-clean and enjoyable books. The Owly books are more or less a "silent" graphic novels- stories told almost entirely without words, through symbols and visual metaphors; they are therefore great for small children who don't read yet or don't read well. Parents can share them with their kids and tell the stories aloud together, or a child can read by him or herself and practice storytelling skills. For adults, Owly will be a quick and charming read. Either way it's a winner.

Rating: BUY

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

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Salon

A quiet Sunday.

We finally took down our Christmas tree today- don't worry, it's fake! It's amazing how long we can procrastinate on the tree ever since we got the artificial one. I'll say though, that although I enjoy the scent of pine, it's so much less work to put it up and take it back down, I'll never get another live tree.

Mostly this week has represented a return to normal life- the tree is just the last gasp of the holiday season. Between being injured and being sick, I've been out of the gym for a month, so getting back to working out this week has been huge for me. And getting back to work tomorrow will be a good thing for me, too.

Reading-wise, I'm still working through The Passage, Justin Cronin's book coming out in June. I have a giveaway going on until January 31, if you're interested in reading it as well. I've finally convinced my husband to start reading it- there's so much about it I want to talk about, I need for him to be reading it too!

And that's about it for me. What's new with you this week?

You can read more Sunday Salon here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Finds- and Something For You

If I haven't mentioned it before, I had an incredible time at ALA Midwinter this past weekend. Among other things, I got a lot of great books. Here's the stack:
Now mind you, these aren't all the books I got there- these are just my favorites and the ones I'm going to read first!

Some favorites:
Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin. I tried and failed to get a review copy from her publicist so I just bought it from the booth.

The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw looks like juicy fun.

Beatrice and Virgil, by Booker Prize winner Yann Martel. A no-brainer for me.

Likewise Parrot and Olivier in America by the brilliant Peter Carey, a two-time Booker winner.

The Man from Beijing, by Henning Mankell. Twisty, page-turning Scandinavian crime fun.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, about an unlikely friendship.

Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger, by Lee Smith. Short stories that have nothing to do with Jane Austen.

Beautiful Maria of My Soul, by Oscar Hijuelos. A followup to his masterful The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.

And more!

But it's not all about me. I came back with some goodies for you, too.

First and foremost, I picked up an extra galley of Justin Cronin's next-hot-thing, The Passage, a post-apocalyptic thriller coming out in June from Random House. I don't know if you've heard about this book, but let me tell you- it's a showstopper. I'm 200 pages in (it's 700 pages long) and I can't put it down. It's like LOST in book form. When I'm reading it, I get so absorbed I can't hear my husband talking to me.

Trust me- you want this book. So here's what you need to know to win it:
  • Leave a comment on this post with your email address. Comments without an email address will be disregarded. I'm not kidding.
  • Link or tweet for an extra entry (and let me know!).
  • If you're a Google Follower or a feedburner subscriber (or become one), you get two extra entries.
  • U.S. addresses only. I'm sorry- this one weighs a ton.
  • You have until midnight January 31 to enter.
  • I will email the winner soon after Feb.1. You have 48 hours to acknowledge with your postal address or I pick another winner.
Fair enough? (Just so you know, the galley doesn't look anything like the cover art I'm showing you; it's a plain cover with blurbs of praise on both sides and a black spine.) Good luck!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Favorite Unknown

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Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading? The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of. You know, not JK Rowling, not Jane Austen, not Hemingway–everybody’s heard of them. The author that you think should be that famous and can’t understand why they’re not…

I have two- one who really is sort of famous and one who isn't. My first choice is Iris Murdoch, a British writer who won the Booker Prize in 1978 for The Sea, The Sea, about a theater man who retires to a small cottage by the sea, only to become obsessed with a woman he had loved when he was younger. It's wonderful! I also read her The Black Prince and Nuns and Soldiers, both serious, complex novels. Murdoch was the subject of the film "Iris" with Jim Broadbent and Judi Densch and one of the 20th century's most brilliant novelists, critics and philosophers. I'd like to see more younger people reading her. She's really amazing.

The second writer I'd like more people to read is the Croatian-American writer Josip Novakovich- actually, I need to read more of him myself. Several years ago I read his fabulous collection of short stories, Yolk, about the Balkan Wars. I remember being absolutely enchanted and haven't gotten it out of my mind since. He's got more books out- more stories and a novel, and I have them in my piles of TBRs somewhere, I know. I need to make time for them- and you should, too!

You can read more Booking Through Thursday answers here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

REVIEW: The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. Published 1997 by Random House. Literary Fiction. Winner of the Booker Prize.

Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things is the story of a Indian family destroyed by love and death. The family is that of children Rahel and Estha, fraternal twins who live with their mother Ammu, their aunt Baby Kochamma and their uncle Chacko. They are the prosperous owners of Paradise Pickle. The death is that of Sophie Mol, a little girl and Chacko's daughter, visiting from England with her mother Margaret. The love is between Ammu and Velutha, a lower-caste neighbor.

Themes explored include race, caste, class and identity; the novel travels back and forth in time between Rahel and Estha's childhood in India and their separate destinies as adults. Tragedy and sadness are interwoven everywhere as the reader is reminded via foreshadowing and repetition of the inevitable forces shaping and reshaping their lives at every turn. The love story between Ammu and Velutha is particularly poignant as Roy shows the cost of the caste system on the lives of the people who live under it.

It sounds like it might be a little depressing, and it is, but I liked it nonetheless. Roy doesn't tell us exactly what happened to Sophie Mol until the very end, and by that time we can see how her death and its consequences are about more than just Sophie. Her fate determines that of every other character and tears back the thin dressing of civility in this troubled community like a bandage from a wound. Roy does a brilliant job of sewing up this patchwork of relationships and lives so that when trouble comes, it rips right along the lines.

The God of Small Things is definitely not the book for every reader; it's slow and it struck me as a dense study of character and culture. It fits well within the tradition of moody Booker Prize winners and would be a fine choice for the literary fiction reader interested in books about India. It's not a lively book but Roy kept me going with the suspense over what happens to Sophie and the other rich, detailed characters. She also evokes the setting beautifully and vividly; you'll fall in love with these characters and live the story along with them.

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

REVIEW: Our Lady of the Lost and Found: A Novel Of Mary, Faith, and Friendship, by Diane Schoemperlen

Our Lady of the Lost and Found: A Novel Of Mary, Faith, and Friendship, by Diane Schoemperlen. Published by Penguin, 2002. Fiction.

I read Our Lady of the Lost and Found: A Novel Of Mary, Faith, and Friendship, by Diane Schoemperlen, for my book club several months ago. I've mentioned my bookclub before- the Daughters of Abraham, an interfaith Christian-Jewish-Muslim club which meets to read and discuss books on the three faith groups. I suggested Our Lady to the club as a book about Catholicism since it deals with the Blessed Virgin and the many myths and stories surrounding her. I was actually named for her and she's a saint who's been very important in my life, and I found this book fascinating and illuminating.

It's the fictional story of an unnamed woman, a writer, who is visited by the Virgin for a week. Just back from some time in Mexico, Mary is tired and needs a break and chooses to spend a sort of vacation with this solitary, thoughtful and introspective woman. Together they do nothing extraordinary; they talk, they eat, they spend normal everyday time together. In between this rather mundane action, the narrator recounts a number of anecdotes, stories and legends that have grown up around Mary. She tells well-known stories like her apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima, as well as lesser-known stories from America, Europe and elsewhere. All but one of the stories she tells are true (in the sense of being documented elsewhere). The narrator does some serious thinking about her own faith and I found myself skimming some of those passages; she wasn't fleshed out enough for me to really care and I wanted to get back to reading about Mary.

I enjoyed reading Our Lady generally, both because I enjoyed reading about Mary's appearances and because I found the book to be otherwise well-written, thoughtful and respectful. I wouldn't have enjoyed something critical, or satirical, or irreverent when it comes to this particular subject. I think Our Lady would be a great book for book clubs (it generated great conversation in mine) and for readers who enjoy books about religion that are nonetheless not dogmatic or didactic or particularly pushy about doctrine. I don't enjoy didactic religious fiction and read very little; I would describe Our Lady as culturally Catholic without being religious per se, even though it centers on one of the most beloved figures in the Catholic universe. If you've ever wanted to learn more about Mary and her stories, Our Lady of the Lost and Found is an offbeat book that just might work for you.


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

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Salon - Taking a Break from ALA Midwinter

So this weekend the American Library Association's annual Midwinter Conference is being held just across the river from me in Boston and let me tell you- it's overwhelming and it's wonderful.

It runs from January 15th through the 18th and for me and for hundreds and hundreds of librarians and booklovers, it's nonstop fun. The Midwinter conference does not have sessions per se like the Annual conference but it has some wonderful author-focused and publisher-sponsored programs and wonderful exhibits with miles of vendors and library folk to talk to. Yesterday I walked the entire exhibit floor and talked to architects, government agencies, publishers large and small and just about anyone else of interest. I picked up catalogs, information packets, and yes- books.

Lots and lots of books.

There are some great things coming out this spring and summer and this weekend ALA Midwinter was the place to be to snag new titles by the likes of Brunonia Barry, Yann Martel, Peter Carey, Oscar Hijuelos, Joyce Carol Oates and many, many more. Not only that, but there are so many great people to talk to. I said hi to old pals (hi Talia! hi Ann!), met new ones (hi Ben! hi Kayleigh!)- lots of whom I've tweeted to or blogged to or corresponded with in one way or another through the magic of social media, and lots who were brand-new.

It's been an amazing time, and it's not over yet. Tomorrow I go back for an author tea and more browsing and talking and walking. I love it!

You can read more Sunday Salon here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Unfinished Friday

Any unfinished reads this week? Leave a link or comment below and we'll visit each other and share our unfinished books.

I know most of us endeavor to finish everything we read, but we don't have to, and sometimes it's impossible- it just doesn't work for us, for one reason or another. But it's still possible to get some mileage out of that work for your blog- by sharing it with us here on Fridays!

I don't have any unfinished finds for you today but I'd love to hear about yours!

Friday Finds!

Three fun finds this week.

Jon McGregor's Even the Dogs arrived courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. McGregor is a former Booker Prize nominee so I have high hopes for his latest, about drug addicts.

Kim Harrison's Dead Witch Walking and Margaret Atwood's Moral Disorder arrived via Bookmooch. I have a later entry into the series which started with Harrison's book and want to learn more about it, and you all know how I feel about Atwood.

What did you find this week? You can find more finds at

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's Conference Time!

Maybe it's just the aroma of freshly-minted galleys in the air, but I'm excited about conference season.

This weekend, the American Library Association is having its annual MidWinter Conference in Boston and you can bet I'll be there with bells on. ALA MidWinter hasn't been in Boston for several years; the last time, I was still in library school and a librarian coworker of mine actually told me not to bother going- can you believe that? Now, MidWinter is different from ALA's big Annual Conference in that there are many, many fewer programs- it's mainly a business/committee meeting- but still. It's always worthwhile to attend, even it's just for the publishers' programs and the exhibits. I'm looking forward to all the socializing- there are tweetups and a LibraryThing event and all kinds of opportunities for hobnobbing. Bring it on!

In the midst of all the excitement, a group of bloggers headed by Trish of Hey Lady Whatcha Reading? has put together a day-long mini-conference just for book bloggers following on the heels of this year's Book Expo America (BEA), on May 28. BEA is the big publishing-industry trade show and conference, open to librarians as well as people in the for-profit side of the book industry. I regretted not going last year, when so much was going on for bloggers but it just wasn't possible. So as soon as I signed up for the blogger con, I realized that I might as well sign up for BEA while I was at it. So now it looks like I've got a pretty good week coming up in May after all!

What this means for my usual conference schedule is that I'll probably be skipping the Massachusetts Library Association's annual conference, which takes place about a month before BEA. I don't have an employer that pays for conference expenses and my personal travel budget is limited to about one of these things a year. I've been going to MLA for the past three years and find it to be a very rewarding event. The networking is great because everyone's local to me and MLA's programs are excellent- a miniature version of ALA and over the years I've learned a lot and made some good friends there. I'll miss it but it's the right decision for me this year.

The first big conference I attended was 2006's conference of the Public Library Association, held in Boston a mere subway ride from my home. I attended great sessions on everything from business topics to new releases to "Bollywood, Bhangra and Books," a session about Indian movies, music and reading that helped guide me into a new-to-me area of media. The reader's-advisory sessions about genres that I don't read are my favorite things because they give me basic information and the tools for further exploration. After PLA I started watching Bollywood movies using the suggestions from the session and it opened up a whole new world. Since then, I try to get to at least one session on a genre I don't know well so I learn something different and new every time.

When I can get to ALA's big conference it's a good time, between the library sessions, author events and exhibits. It's in Washington this year, which makes it at least a possibility. I went to ALA in Washington three years ago and it was a blast. It's not useful to me for networking because it's just so big, but it's like a carnival of books and reading and library information. And it's amazing how many people I managed to bump into, despite the size!

Sometimes I go to the Association of Jewish Libraries' annual conference as well; I went last year and got a lot out of it. AJL is the conference that's most directly related to the work I do so it's definitely worthwhile! I don't know if I'll be going this year; it's being held in Seattle over Fourth of July weekend so I have some questions. BlogHer also has an annual conference, held this year in New York. I would love to go but I'm not sure about the budget. A couple of years ago BlogHer held a mini conference in Boston and I would love for them to do that again! Readercon is a local conference on science fiction and fantasy that I'll surely attend as it's a 20-minute drive from the house and very affordable.

And you? Do you attend any of these conferences? Or do you attend other professional and/or hobby-related gatherings every year, or when you can? What do you like about them? What do you not like? I would go to every single one of them if I could; there's always so much to learn and nothing does more to inspire me than being with my peers and friends who are just as excited about this stuff as I am!

Booking Through Thursday - To Flap or Not to Flap?

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Suggested by Prairie Progressive:

Do you read the inside flaps that describe a book before or while reading it?

I skim the inside flaps before I decide to buy a book; I might reread it once I start to get myself situated. But, since most of the books I buy and read are paperbacks, my books rarely have flaps to flap!

You can read more Booking Through Thursday answers here!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

REVIEW: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. Published 2008 by Random House. Crime Fiction. Translation.

Okay, so I'm the last blogger to review The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, late Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson's first entry in his soon-to-be-completed Millennium Trilogy. I still liked it- a lot.

The story centers on Mikael Blomkvist, a (formerly) respected journalist hired by a wealthy eccentric to track down his missing granddaughter, disappeared years ago. He enlists Lisbeth Salander, a troubled but talented hacker, to help get to the bottom of what seems be an unsolvable case. But Blomkvist has other problems- his reputation is in ruins after losing a painful and expensive libel suit to a ruthless industrialist. And Salander has baggage of her own as well.

Late to the party as I was with this sensation of a novel, I really, really enjoyed it. It's a crack literary thriller that starts of slow but builds to a wholly unexpected conclusion. It's also a love story of sorts, the kind more about how people mature and relate to each other with baggage in tow. I thought Larsson's handling of Salander's psychology in particular was astute and realistic; I loved the detail into which he delves concerning her background and what makes her who she is. For a novel that deals in no small way with graphic violence against women, Larsson seems to have really respected them.

As far as the violence, it's mostly off-stage except for a couple of scenes anyway- I would not have enjoyed this book nearly so much had it had much more. As it was I enjoyed it quite a bit, even the ending which I was warned would come across like a sucker punch. For me, it didn't; for me, it was the natural, realistic place for the characters to come to. It may not have been sweet, or romantic, or what we'd like for them, but it's what they would do. I'm glad Larsson let them be themselves. I can't wait to see what they get up to next.

Rating: BUY

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

Monday, January 11, 2010

Graphic Novel Monday: Festering Romance, by Renee Lott

Festering Romance, by Renee Lott. Published 2009 by Oni Press.Graphica. Fiction.

Festering Romance is a cute, quick read, about young woman named Janet who lives with a platonic-male-friend ghost, who dates Derek, a young man with a female-friend ghost. Janet uses her ghost friend, Paul, as a bit of a crutch to avoid dating and relationships; Derek's makes his social life a little difficult too, but when they meet we know it's all meant to be.

Or do we? Janet and Derek are sweet and moody and have all of that new-couple nervousness and anxiety, which is both cute and cringe-making. Derek works as a trolley tour operator and Janet is a student; they're introduced by Janet's friend Freya and neither knows about the other's ghost- at first. A lot of time is spent as the two get used to the idea of the significant other in each other's life. Too much time, in my opinion!

The artwork in Festering Romance is simple and cute but the story is why you'll want to read it, and if you like light romance you'll enjoy it. There are some sexual references but no nudity; I would suggest it for teens and above. It's the graphic-novel equivalent of chick lit- light and airy and quick to read and enjoy. I'd love to see more work from writer and artist Lott in the future but for the time being Festering Romance makes for an enjoyable, if not crucial, read.

Rating: BEACH

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

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Salon

I'm finding myself a little at a loss today for things to share with you; the past week has been busy with work and next week will be interesting, but this weekend has been very, very quiet as I recover from one and prepare for the next. I hope to have more to say about that next Sunday- stay tuned!

For today, I think I'm going to stay home and read. I'm appallingly far behind on everything and getting all kinds of emails from people whose books I promised to review asking me when they can expect their reviews and I don't have any good answers for them! I just received my latest LibraryThing Early Reviewer win, Jon McGregor's Even the Dogs, and I'm two books behind on my Early Reviewer books so I really need to make some serious tracks this week. Sea of Poppies, the oldest of the three, is coming with me on my travels all this week. I have got to finish!

And I want to get going on the Complete Booker Prize challenge. My goal for the week is to write my introductory post and post some of the reviews I've written of Booker winners.

Well, for the moment, back to my Slanket and my tea. I hope you all have a great Sunday!

You can read more Sunday Salon posts here.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2009 Reading Meme!

Here's a fun reading meme I found over at BookClub Care's blog.

How many books read in 2009?


How many fiction and non fiction?

70 fiction versus 17 nonfiction. I think my preference is clear!

Male/Female author ratio?

41 male authors to 47 female authors- almost 50/50! One book, Broad Appeal, is an anthology of womens' comics edited by a man; I counted it once in each category.

Favorite book of 2009?

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese.

Least favorite?

Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson. Just. Awful.

Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why?

Several. The Russian Debutante's Handbook. The Story of French. Jarrettsville. See Unfinished Friday for more!

Oldest book read?

Strange Ways, by Rokhl Faygenberg, originally published in 1925.


Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.

Longest and shortest book titles?

Longest: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Shortest: Spiced, by Dalia Jurgensen.

Longest and shortest books?

Longest book: either Wolf Hall or The Children's Book. Shortest: Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan.

How many books from the library?

Three library books. I'm not a big borrower.

Any translated books?

The Funeral Party, by Ludmila Ulitskaya, and Siberia, by Nikolai Maslov, translated from Russian. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East, by Joann Sfar (French); The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka (German); The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Swedish); Valley of Strength by Shulamit Lapid, Someone to Run With, by David Grossman, And From There You Shall Seek, by Joseph Soloveitchik (Hebrew); Rachel Calof's Story by Rachel Calof and Strange Ways by Rokhl Faygenberg (Yiddish); Isaac's Torah by Angel Wagenstein (Bulgarian).

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?

Margaret Atwood, with two books- her latest The Year of the Flood and its companion novel Oryx & Crake. Other than that no repeats!

Any re-reads?

No- no re-reads this eyar.

Favorite character of the year?

Thomas Cromwell of Wolf Hall.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?

India, Russia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Slovenia, Hungary, Britain, Israel, Lebanon, Germany, France, Poland, Sweden, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iceland.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?

The Polski Affair, by Leon H. Gildin. Lorri's review at her JewWishes blog was instrumental in persuading me to read this book.

Which author was new to you in 2009 that you now want to read the entire works of?

Elizabeth Strout. Loved her luminous Olive Kitteridge.

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read?

I wish I'd gotten to The Anthologist, Nicholson Baker's new one. But I have it, and I will read it.

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?

No. I need to work on that in 2010.

2009 TOP TEN Events in Marie's Book Life - in no particular order:

10. Boston Book Fest. Lots of fun.

9. Meeting Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand and Dawn of She is Too Fond of Books,

8. Meeting authors China Mieville, Ariel Sabar and Abraham Verghese at readings,

7. The Boston BEA Tweetup,

6. Attending ReaderCon, a science fiction and fantasy conference. I learned a lot!

5. Having author Scott Pomfret attend my book club meeting,

4. Meeting Margaret Atwood, one of my all-time-ever-top-favorite writers,

3. Having one of my reviews published in a high school English textbook,

2. Saying hi to pals and making new friends at the always-fun and enriching conferences of the Massachusetts Library Association and the Association of Jewish Libraries,

1. Reading all of your blogs & comments!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Unfinished Friday

Any unfinished reads this week? Leave a link or comment below and we'll visit each other and share our unfinished books.

I know most of us endeavor to finish everything we read, but we don't have to, and sometimes it's impossible- it just doesn't work for us, for one reason or another. But it's still possible to get some mileage out of that work for your blog- by sharing it with us here on Fridays!

My unfinished pick this week is Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow's The Story of French. It's not a bad book- it's a fine and interesting history of the French language- its growth, its influence and its future. I'm a Francophile and I enjoyed reading it, but at some point I put it down and just never picked it back up again. The sad part is I think I only have a chapter or two left! Does that ever happen to you?

Leave a comment or a link to a post on your blog about a book you haven't finished- I'd love to know!

Friday Finds

Four new books this week- a celebrity bio and three graphic novels. To wit:

Hollywood Monster, by Robert Englund, a.k.a. Freddy Krueger, a.k.a. Willie from "V". Um, yeah. I think I've discussed the whole I'm-a-lame-"V"-fangirl thing already. No need to reiterate.

Water Baby and Emiko Superstar are two more Minx graphic novels I picked up on a New Year's Day shopping trip to one of my favorite comics shops, Hub Comics of Somerville. These both look like fun.

Festering Romance, by Renee Lott, is another comic book I picked up on the same shopping trip.

You can read more Friday Finds at ShouldbeReading. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

REVIEW: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Published 2007 by Little, Brown and Company. Fiction. Young Adult.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, was one of my favorite reads of 2009.

Alexie's book is the story of a young boy known as Junior who's growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. He's got some medical problems and he gets bullied a lot; his parents are unhappy; his older sister runs away. But he's got some things going for him, too- he's determined to get a good education and manages to get himself transferred to an all-white school off the reservation, where he excels at basketball and learns to believe in himself.

I loved this book. I loved it. I laughed and cried with his struggles, his victories and his defeats. Junior's dysfunctional family is every dysfunctional family, and his problems are the problems of every kid who ever felt like he didn't fit in or that nobody understood him (or her). He pushes his way through the pain of racism, defeatism and adolescence with a tenacity that was so affecting for being so real. Alexie tackles some tough issues- racism, poverty, addiction, discouragement and the deep pessimism that comes when you feel like the whole world is against you. Things don't always go well for Junior and he doesn't always win but he does his best and he does well.

The Absolutely True Diary is a book I wish I could give to every kid I know and everyone who ever was a kid. It's brilliant and beautiful and wonderful. I loved Alexie's writing, which, although clearly enough for a teen audience, doesn't condescend or talk down and shows craft and skill enough for any adult to appreciate. Ellen Forney's comic-like illustrations, which pepper the story, are cute and sweet and darkly funny. I burned through it in about three days over the summer when I was home sick and can't think of a better way to spend time than reading this lovely gem of a book.

Rating: BUY

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

REVIEW: Mathlida Savitch, by Victor Lodato

Mathilda Savitch, by Victor Lodato. Published 2009 by FSG. Literary Fiction.

Mathilda Savitch is a strange little book about a disturbed young girl, Mathilda of the title, whose sister Helene has died. Mathilda's parents have more or less checked out emotionally speaking and Mathilda is left to navigate adolescence and grief on her own. Her anxiety over her sister's death and her parents' inertia combines with a post-9/11 political malaise and she becomes obsessed with finding out how her sister died.

Her anxiety also drives her to act out in other ways- by dressing up in her sister's clothes, by snooping through her emails and even outfitting a makeshift bomb shelter- to get her parents' attention and to deal with her own feelings of abandonment and confusion. She experiments with love and sex, and she struggles with and tests the limits of teenage friendships. Eventually she tries to track down the man she believes to be responsible for Helene's death, only to find out the truth is more complex than she imagines or can really understand:
Once you have a little bit of knowledge, more of it just keeps coming at you like birds around a bagel. Sometimes when I learn things, I wish I hadn't learned them. Like did I really need to know about Da's magazines or Ma's bottles or even the things I know about my own body?
I like Mathilda; I like her voice and her thoughts and the way Lodato writes her internal dialogues. I think adults who read a lot of YA would be the best readers for Mathilda Savitch. I cared about her and felt sorry for her, especially as she tries to wake up her mother, a woman who has lost all sense of how to be a mother to her remaining child. Mathilda's voice sounds very young to me, but then I read so little young adult literature that I don't have a good sense of how girls like Mathilda typically sound in books. But since I liked Mathilda, it's easy to like the book, too. It's a solid, well-written coming-of-age story with a very likable character and an intriguing mystery that will keep many readers turning the pages.


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

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

E-Reader Blues

So one of the best and most highly-anticipated gifts I received this Christmas was a Sony Touch e-reader. It was a semi-surprise; I didn't know for sure that my husband would get it for me, but we had been out together several times to look at them at the local SonyStyle store and I thought, you know, maybe. Let's just say I was very excited to open that little box on Christmas morning and get started with my new toy. (I know, I know- like I don't have enough books to read.)

I hooked it up to my Macintosh iBook laptop and got started- installed the software and even transferred a few free ebook files I had lying around- even a business document or two. Great. I try out the reader itself- it's easy to use, intuitive, fine to look at and comfortable to read. Oh, and it plays music if I want. And I can put a few photos on it, too. Great. So far, loving it.

My husband, being the considerate soul that he is, gave me a $25 gift certificate to the Sony store to get started. I registered and downloaded my first book- William Boyd's Any Human Heart, a book I'd heard about on the Books on the Nightstand podcast a few weeks ago.

And it was here that my troubles began.

All of a sudden, the Sony Library software would not recognize the reader. I tried switching USB ports; I tried waiting; I made sure the device wasn't locked; I made sure the device was actually on when I tried to hook it up; I searched for support information from Sony, tried everything it suggested and came up with nothing. I went onto my favorite search engine and tried several different searches on my problem. I learned that the problem is commonplace in Macs and that despite it being commonplace there is no solution. Even the solution someone said on several chat rooms was a solution, wasn't a solution. I went online to Sony's live chat and asked a person for help; the support person gave me a link to the support page I'd looked at before but I was unable to click on it or even copy and paste it due to something about the nature of the chat interface. When I asked her to email me the link, she emailled the entire transcript and then logged off before I could tell her that I'd done everything listed and nothing worked.

Then I did what anybody in my position- frustrated at 11 p.m. with a piece of electronics that now looked to be a very expensive coaster- would do- I complained on Twitter. Almost right away someone who told me he "works with Sony products" chimed in and offered to help. I was farmed off to another random Twitter person who said he worked with Sony products. This person didn't solve my problem either but asked me a question that helped me figure something out- did my computer mount the device on my desktop?

I had never even looked at my desktop but it turned out the answer was yes. Knowing this, I was able to figure out a work-around whereby I could bypass the Library software entirely when transferring free ebooks. My work-around doesn't work when transferring books bought from the Sony store though- it seems there's no avoiding the Library software for that. So, tired and frustrated and feeling like there was nothing else for me to do, I gave up, went to the ebookstore and deauthorized my computer, then reinstalled the Library software on my husband's PC, downloaded my book again and succeeded in transferring it to my reader, where I could finally read it. And now I'm enjoying my ereader just fine, thank you very much.

What did I learn? That Sony shouldn't say that its software works on Macs if it doesn't, or if just works sometimes and they won't help you if it fails. That if we weren't a two-platform house I would have returned my Reader by now. That when someone tells you that ebooks allow for instant gratification for your bookish impulses, that's only true if you're lucky and often that claim is nothing short of a canard. Have you ever gone through all that to read an old fashioned paper book? I didn't think so.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Graphic Novel Monday: Kaspar, by Diane Obomsawin

Kaspar, by Diane Obomsawin. Published 2008 by Drawn & Quarterly. Graphica.

Kaspar tells the story of one Kaspar Hauser, a German man who showed up out of the blue and claimed to have been raised in a cellar with nothing but a toy horse for a companion. Diane Obomsawin bases her telling on Hauser's own memoir, and recounts his story up through his strange death by stabbing in 1833 at the approximate age of 21.

Obomsawin's style of both art and prose is bare and simple; the same black and white line drawing style is used throughout the book, characterized by simple panels and iconic, stylized figures. Kaspar is taken in by different people who try to variously educate and exploit him as the truth behind his claims remains a mystery. The book eschews any sense of the controversy that surrounded Hauser's life and claims in favor of a plain retelling of the story from his point of view. The simple artwork is a fitting accompaniment to the unadorned storytelling.

I enjoyed reading Kaspar; it's such a strange little story and a very unusual window in the world of early 19th century European culture. It contains some sexual references that probably render it unsuitable for children but I think teens would enjoy it. If I say too much more, my review will be longer than the book itself, so if you're interested in short, off-the-beaten-path graphic novels, go check out Kaspar.


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

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday Salon

So with the start of the New Year, the holiday season is officially over, and I'm
sort of glad. I had a great time over the past couple of weeks but I can't deny that 2009 was a difficult year for all kinds of reasons and on New Year's Eve I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the Twitter hashtag #2009mustdie.

Now on to bigger and better things!

First of all, I've decided to join a reading challenge for 2010, something I rarely do. I chose the Complete Booker 2010 Challenge:
This is not so much a reading challenge, but a long-term project in which the participants aim to read all winners of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. There is no time limit, and members read short- and long-listed nominees as well.
I've already read a number of winners and nominated books but lately I've been actively collecting past winners I haven't read. I think the challenge will be a great way to motivate myself to put those books on the top of the TBR pile and an opportunity to share views and reviews with like-minded readers. Like I've said before, 2010 is going to be a different kind of reading year for me than those in the recent past, one focused much more on pursuing interests I've let slide with the avalanche of ARCs I've been digging myself out from under for a while now. Which is not to say I won't be reading new releases but I'll be much pickier about it this year.

Last night was the highlight of the past week or so; after seeing the very fun "Sherlock Holmes" movie, my husband and I went out for a great dinner and a beautiful walk in the snow. We even visited our favorite bookstores. Today? A few things going on- a trip the gym, brunch out with friends and probably some hanging out at home. But you know what? I've been doing a lot of hanging out lately and I'm actually really looking forward to getting back to real life on Monday. I've got work, personal projects and of course- reading.

What are you looking forward to today?

More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Unfinished Friday

Happy New Year!!

Any unfinished reads this week? Leave a link or comment below and we'll visit each other and share our unfinished books.

I know most of us endeavor to finish everything we read, but we don't have to, and sometimes it's impossible- it just doesn't work for us, for one reason or another. But it's still possible to get some mileage out of that work for your blog- by sharing it with us here on Fridays!

Friday Finds - Happy New Year!

Three finds to report today to round out 2009 and begin the new year.

Any Human Heart, by William Boyd, is the first ebook I bought since getting my shiny new Sony Reader. Come back on Tuesday to hear more about my experiences with the new toy! As far as the book goes, I've started reading it and I'm enjoying it a lot. It's written in diary form, about an English man. Right now he's still in high school so I can tell you more later.

Token, by Alisa Kwitney and Joelle Jones, is another entry in the Minx line of graphic novels. I picked it up on sale earlier this week. It's about a young girl who doesn't fit in growing up in the 1980s in Florida.

The Famished Road, Ben Okri's Booker Prize-winning novel, arrived from Bookmooch. I didn't recognize the name when I requested it, but seeing it now, I think I tried to read it several years ago and stopped in the middle. Well, I'm willing to give it another shot.

2009 has been a fantastic year of reading for me, in no small part because of all of you who read and comment here on my blog. As we start 2010, I just want to say thank you to all of you and I look forward to sharing another year of reading with you! So, thank you! :-) 2010 is going to be even better with more literary fiction, graphic novels, Jewish lit and the occasional surprise.

I can't wait!

You can read more Friday Finds at