Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Art of the Novella Challenge: The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy

The Death of Ivan Ilych was one of the first "grown up" short stories I ever read. There was a great used bookstore in my town whose eclectic selection formed the basis of my largely self-directed reading as a teenager; I bought an old paperback of The Death of Ivan Ilych and Other Stories for about a quarter and devoured it. It jumpstarted my lifelong love of Russian literature.
So naturally I had to read the Art of the Novella edition for this challenge, and it's the first time since I was a teenager that I've revisited this classic. The story is simple, about the life, illness and death of Ivan Ilych, a Russian attorney and judge who has been, all is life, everything that everyone has expected of him. He made all the right moves, married the right woman and settled into a successful career. Then, in late midlife, he's struck with a sudden illness, soon protracted into a painful and miserable slow death.

The story starts with his funeral then backtracks to his early life and childhood, following through to his final moments. Towards the end, he starts to question himself and his choices, but, certain as he is that he's always lived the right way, he never gets very far. Still, the suspicion gnaws at him like the pain. The only relief he finds is when his manservant elevates his legs, or when he can find a moment or two of solitude.

Reading this story now, it's just as powerful and moving for me as it was when I was younger. I feel a little more for Ivan Ilych now, being an adult now and feeling some of the stresses the narrator describes. I think when I was younger I saw more of the didactic morality tale, which I can still see, but which takes a back seat for me to the questions we all have to ask ourselves about our choices. I still love this story!

So that brings me to my goal of six novellas for the challenge. I'm officially "Captivated"!

Thanks to Frances of Nonsuchbook (who has my vote for Best Literary Blog in BBAW) and Melville House for hosting this challenge. It's been so much fun, and I know I'll continue to read these wonderful books.

Here are links to the rest of the novellas I read for the challenge:

The Duel, by Heinrich von Kleist
The Illusion of Return, by Samir El-Youssef
The North of God, by Steve Stern
Benito Cereno, by Herman Melville
Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance, by Sholem Aleichem

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

REVIEW: The Vices, by Lawrence Douglas

The Vices, by Lawrence Douglas. Published 2011 by Other Press. Literary Fiction.

What a tangled web we weave...

In The Vices, everyone has a secret. They have secrets from their secrets, and secrets from themselves. Oliver Vice is dead. He fell of the side of a cruise ship, probably a suicide, although there isn't much about Oliver's life that would suggest a reason to end it. He's rich, good-looking and successful, an admired philosopher and published writer with a secure position at a prestigious college. And he has one stunning woman in his life after another.

Those family secrets, though, they do have a way of festering. Oliver has a number of vices- as does his family- and our narrator, a clean cut guy with more quotidian problems, makes it his mission to ferret them out, come what may. Voyeur-style, the narrator bears witness to Oliver's peccadilloes and relationships, his accomplishments and his failures. An outsider to Oliver's world, an American Jew dipping his toe in European-Christian high society, the narrator is awestruck, and besotted.

There's a lot to hold his interest. Oliver's mother, Francizka, is a glamorous, domineering matriarch with a somewhat unsavory relationship with her son Bartholomew ("Mew"), Oliver's fraternal twin. Her home is immaculate and filled with valuable treasures but it's an open question how many of them will turn out to be fakes and forgeries. She worships her sons, who, for all their potential and brilliance, always seem to come up short in the way of actual accomplishments. She tells stories about herself and her first husband that don't withstand scrutiny and seems perpetually engaged in the wheedling of money from someone or something else to herself. I could read an entire book devoted to this fascinating, toxic and contradictory woman.

As for Oliver, he has a bizarrely chaste relationship with a woman named Jean whom he visits periodically in the company of whomever else he happens to be dating. His sad affair with one, poor Sophia, is the closest thing to normal this emotionally vacant man will ever know. He even manages to disrupt the narrator's own marriage to the very conventional Melissa without anyone being quite able to say why or what happened. After a brilliant start, his career founders, and his death just raises more questions, and more ghosts.

All in all, The Vices adds up to a colorful, suspenseful tale of a wealthy family living on lies and little else. I flipped the pages eagerly as the narrator's search reached its conclusion; I won't say the final reveal was predictable but I can't say it was a big surprise, either, given everything that comes ahead of it. Oliver himself struck me as somewhat drab and dysfunctional, unworthy of the fascination the narrator has for him. I felt like the narrator was compensating for his own dull life by investing so much in this strange and remote family, whose truths, while tragic, are made of the sad remains of the old world trying to escape to the new. Douglas has crafted an intriguing, fascinating hall of mirrors, an elegant, entertaining literary suspense about the tragedies of the 20th century and its lingering aftermath.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Art of the Novella Challenge: The Duel, by Heinrich von Kleist

Melville House just introduced a mini-series of books into their Art of Novella series; The Duel is a series of five novellas bearing that title by different authors. I read Heinrich von Kleist's Duel, originally published in 1810.
Von Kleist's Duel tells the story of German nobility caught up in a scandal. Littegarde, a beautiful noblewoman, is accused by Count Rotbart of having been his mistress. Rotbart himself is accused of plotting to kill her husband, his brother. His accusation of her is his alibi. Meanwhile, Littegarde's sweetheart, Sir Friedrich, leaps to her defense and challenges Rotbart to a duel and putting Littegarde's honor in the hands of God. If Friedrich wins, Littegarde will have been judged innocent by God; if he loses, she will be judged guilty and both Friedrich and Littegarde will die.

The Duel is a very entertaining and suspenseful read. The idea of divine justice- that God's will will be revealed in the outcome of an Earthly contest- is a great premise for a tale of courtly intrigues. The story reads a little bit like a late-eighteenth-century soap opera. The novella is one of the shortest in the series at a mere 50 pages; however, The Duel is more than its 50 pages. It's what Melville House is calling a Hybrid book. A QR code at the end gives readers access to 133 pages of content on a range of electronic devices. Bonus material for The Duel includes excerpts of Ivanhoe, selections from The History of Dueling by J.G. Milligen, Johann Ludwig Uhland's poem "The Fatal Tournament," Don Quixote, and more. It's like a mini-course on the subject, and it's yours for the taking with the book!

This is the fifth book I've read for the Art of the Novella Challenge. One more to go and I'm at my goal of 6!

Links to my other Art of the Novella reviews:
The Illusion of Return, by Samir El-Youssef
The North of God, by Steve Stern
Benito Cereno, by Herman Melville
Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance, by Sholem Aleichem

The Challenge is hosted by Frances of Nonsuchbook. Visit- and shop- from Melville House here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Salon: Hurricane Edition

Like much of the east coast, we're hunkering down for Hurricane Irene. We got slammed with rain yesterday and the winds will start up this morning. Our windows started to leak, so we improvised a solution that will get us through the day but we'll need some fairly costly repairs to our siding in the spring. At least we know now, so we can start budgeting for it.
Yes, those are Littermaid receptacles taped to my window to collect rain. We have another one on third window!
Public transportation in Massachusetts has been shut down and because of the damage to the house and the bad weather we can't really leave, so I guess that means a lot of reading. I got a good start on it yesterday and made significant progress in The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland Merullo, a really heartbreakingly wonderful novel about abuse and rural isolation that I urge you to buy right now. Merullo is one of the most underappreciated writers in this country and his new book is just staggering.

This week I finished The Prestige, by Christopher Priest, in a couple of days; it was awesome. If you've seen the movie, you still need to read this book. There's a whole storyline the movie left out and an ending that knocked my socks off. I then proceeded to lose my copy, along with my copy of Carte Blanche, by Carlo Lucarelli, at a movie theater. Carte Blanche is a crime novel and a Europa title I was reading for the challenge so I started reading Minotaur by Benjamin Tammuz in its place. It's also very good, about a young woman who becomes the center of several erotic obsessions.

The whole world is telling me to read The Night Circus, so my husband is going to read it and then tell me if he thinks I should, too. I've agreed to accept his judgement. I did start it a while back but then I misplaced my copy. I got a second one at a Night Circus party I was honored to attend this past week, thrown by Random House and attended by booksellers and bloggers from around the area. It was fun to meet author Erin Morgenstern and the party included a mime, a juggler and a psychic as well as great food and lots of my friends. I feel really blessed sometimes to have found this community of booklovers.

Well I'm going back to watching my windows for leaks. I hope everyone in the hurricane's path this weekend takes care of themselves and stays safe and dry.

More Sunday Salon here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

This or That: A Quick Post for a Saturday

If you're new to my blog, here's a few this-or-that questions I borrowed from Hooked to Books, to help us get to know each other a little better. I'd love to hear your answers too!

Unicorns or Zombies
Unicorns. I hate zombies. I have no interest in all those zombie books, zombie apocalypse, zombie wars, whatever. Where's the unicorn apocalypse? Who's gonna write Jane Eyre and Unicorns? Maybe I should!

iPhone or Blackberry

iPhone. I love my iPhone. I love it so much. I don't know how I could live without it! I actually use and carry a cell phone every day now, which I never did before.
My cat Pandora lounges on a quilt.

Dog or Cat
Cats. Cats rule, dogs drool.

TV or Movies
Movies. I don't go out as often as I'd like to, but I love going to the movies and seeing films on the big screen.

Truth or Dare
Truth. I have no secrets.

Dinner or Dessert
Both, please!

Mac or PC
Mac. I've had a Mac of one kind or another for 20 years and I could never switch! I have a PC netbook for travel but I really, really prefer my Mac.

Beach or Mountains
Beach. I grew up near the ocean and nothing says home to me like a sea breeze. But I'm a city girl and the best thing is a city on the sea, like Boston or San Francisco or Honolulu.

Night Owl or Early Bird
I like to sleep in and stay up late, but sometimes it is awfully nice to enjoy a quiet, cool morning.
The last quilt I completed.
Rock or Country
Rock all the way. Another thing I can't live without is my iPod.

Too Hot or Too Cold
I'm always too cold! I have a house stuffed with quilts and blankets because I'm always cold. I hate being chilly. I think I learned to quilt just so I could have warm blankets around all the time.

Text or Talk
Either. Sometimes texting is great for quick things that don't require long conversations. I love the convenience of texting sometimes.

This came from a guest post on Hooked to Books, a great blog you need to read!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

REVIEW: The Companion, by Lorcan Roche

The Companion, by Lorcan Roche. Published 2010 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction.
The ad is in The Voice.
Then, after a little while, a voice is in the ad.
Sounds exactly like the bloke who played the evil-baddie in North by Northwest, you know him yes you do, silver hair, real refined, shite, what's this his name is...?
Mason, James.
And this is what James Mason saying, softly: Trevor, you should endeavour to respond. ON the contrary, it will not be a waste of a subway token and will not involve your faith in humanity further being broken. My dear boy, this is for you. Believe me.
Thus begins The Companion, Irish writer Lorcan Roche's novel about an Irish man living in New York City who answers an ad to care for a slowly dying, disabled young man named Ed. Roche tells the story in Trevor's lively first-person Irish argot and tells it with elan. Trevor is troubled himself, with a difficult backstory we don't fully learn until just near the end. His parents kept secrets from him, and he himself didn't quite fit in with his brilliant sisters and their posh beaux. He works as a companion because taking care of the disabled is what he knows how to do, and he's good at it. He forges a good relationship with the often difficult and demanding Ed, and manages Ed's cold and selfish family as well. Other characters in this colorful novel include Dana, a brittle physical therapist, the family cook Ellie and Trevor's own running internal monologue.

The Companion is a very entertaining, very bittersweet book. Trevor becomes, over the course of the book, a very different person from the hard-as-nails, sarcastic man we meet at the beginning; Roche takes us all the way under his shell and shows us the vulnerable and damaged man inside. It's possible to draw some parallels between his psyche and the outward condition of the people for whom he cares- and he does care about his patients and clients, not just for them.

I enjoyed The Companion enough that I slowed down as I neared the end, unwilling to let the book go just yet. Roche's bubbly language rolls the reader along and shows more and more heart as the pages turn. I didn't expect it to end the way it did, and I didn't expect the tenderness that came out, either. It's edgy and raw and uncompromising, like so many Europa books, and a great read for the literary fiction reader looking for something a little different and off-the-beaten-path. At first I wasn't sure I was going to like the tight-hemmed Trevor, but I ended up loving him and I think you will, too.

This is book #5 in the Irish Reading Challenge 2011, on the way to Kiss the Blarney Stone Level (6 books) and book #3 of the Europa Challenge on my way to Amante Level.

Rating: BUY

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

REVIEW: The Bone People, by Keri Hulme

The Bone People, by Keri Hulme. This edition published 1986 by Penguin. Literary Fiction.

Winner of the 1985 Booker Prize, The Bone People is a staggering literary novel. Keri Hulme's long and somewhat experimental novel focuses on an idiosyncratic family-by-choice in roughly modern-day rural New Zealand. Kerewin is an artist, solitary and self-sufficient; she lives in a tower and spends her days alone and working. One day, out fishing, she finds an enigmatic, silent little blond boy named Simon. They form a bond. She meets his father, Joe, a big man with a temper and a fondness for drink, which he shares with Kerewin. But Joe isn't exactly Simon's father, and his story, and the story of his history and his future with Joe make up the plot of this unusual novel.

Hulme's writing is dense and poetic, and her characters live in close contact with the natural world:
And here I am, balanced on the salt-stained rim, watching minute navyblue fringes, gill-fingers of tubeworms, fan the water...put the shadow of a finger near them, and they flick outasight. Eyes in your lungs...neat. The three-fin blenny swirls by.. tena koe, fish. A small bunch of scarlet and gold anemones furl and unfurl their arms, graceful petals, slow and lethal...tickle tickle, and they turn into unterestinglumps of brownish jelly...haven't made sea-anemone soup for a awhile, whaddabout it?...
The narrative structure is basically linear apart from the first chapter but Hulme changes the point of view often, gives her characters extended internal monologues and peppers their language with Maori words and phrases (both Kerewin and Joe have Maori background). It becomes obvious that Simon and Joe's relationship is not what it seems, and that Simon is being horribly abused. Hulme draws Joe's psychology so realistically that the reader can see how it happens, too. And Simon has troubles of his own, as we learn through his rare moments of internal monologue. Although iconically angelic in appearance, he is a troubled little boy whose troubles only continued when he met Joe and Joe's late wife. Now, ironically, Joe and Kerewin may be the best shot Simon has at a loving family.

Sorting out all those contradictions makes up the demanding work of parsing through this very accomplished and important novel. Hulme creates incredibly rich characters in all three of her leads, even mute Simon. And she sets up a heartbreaking situation out of her characters' complex psychology. She asks the reader some really hard questions about whom it's possible to love, and under what circumstances. Hulme's style means sometimes it's a little hard to know what's going on; I would suggest taking advantage of a cheat sheet if you find yourself having a hard time keeping track of the plot, especially in the latter third of the novel. But I do strongly recommend The Bone People to anyone up for a read that will challenge both intellectually and emotionally.

This book counts toward the 2011 Complete Booker Challenge.

Rating: BUY

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Art of the Novella Challenge: The Illusion of Return, by Samir El-Youssef

"It was the last night the four of us were together."

The line "It was the last night the four of us were together" echoes like a drum beat through this slow-moving, thoughtful story. The last night the four Palestinian friends- the narrator (nameless), Ali, Maher and George- were together started in a café in Israeli-occupied Lebanon. They met to talk about life, philosophy, politics, all the big-picture things young people love to talk about over coffee and cigarettes. They avoided private pains- the death of a sister, of a brother, the failure of a family and looming murder of one of their own- that come as consequences of the very politics they discussed with such fervor.

The Illusion of Return is the story about a man in middle age revisiting memories of his youth in Lebanon from the vantage point of his new life in the United Kingdom and the day he visits with Ali. The narrative alternates between the day of his visit with Ali at Heathrow Airport and the friends' last night together. Secrets are shared that night; some more are shared years later, while others are kept. The narrator seeks validation from Ali, and at the same time fears what meeting him again will mean, and what it will not.

Can you go home again? What does that mean in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, or in the context of the life of an individual? Does the concept of return belong to one people, or several, or to no one? What does home mean? Does it mean your family? What if your family has been destroyed, or has destroyed itself through secrets and shame?

El-Youssef tackles some difficult questions in his beautifully written, challenging novella that is nonetheless a lovely gem of a book. For all the discussion of politics, it struck me as not particularly a political story but one about how individual lives are lost- and found- as larger-scale events and movements wash over them, a theme with universal relevance. And he's written some wonderful characters, like the narrator who struggles so much and especially Ali, who seems so glib at first but whose own life has been mired in the same struggle as the narrator's. It's just that he's found a way to find peace, and to offer it up to his friend.

This is the fourth novella I've read for the Art of the Novella Challenge, hosted by Frances at NonsuchBook. Visit the Melville House website here, and buy some of their wonderful books from your local independent bookstore today!

Links to my other Art of the Novella reviews:
The North of God, by Steve Stern
Benito Cereno, by Herman Melville
Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance, by Sholem Aleichem

Monday, August 22, 2011

App Alert: Aleksandar Hemon and Love and Obstacles

Love and Obstacles is an app featuring short fiction by Bosnian-American author Aleksandar Hemon, author of The Lazarus Project, Nowhere Man and the collection from which the material on the app is taken, also titled Love and Obstacles.
The app features video, audio and ebook content from the collection. Hemon reads a story; there is a video version of another story and you can read another. There are also links to purchase the book.

I'm a fan of Hemon's and really enjoyed exploring some of his recent work with the aid of this app. If you're a fan of his, or think you might be, and you own an iPhone or iPad,  I recommend that you check it out! The app is free to download from the iTunes store.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Salon: Off My Feet Today

We still have some summer left, but it's hard to deny that fall is just around the corner and with it, the busiest season of readings and bookish events. Numerous author events plus the Salem and Boston book/literary festivals mean a very full schedule from here on out!

Today I'm preparing for the first event on my calendar, Carmela Ciuraru's reading/discussion from her book Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms. I'm learning so much; I didn't know, for example, that Sylvia Plath originally published The Bell Jar under a pseudonym, or that Karen Blixen/Isak Dineson published some of her books in English first, then translated them herself into Danish, often changing things in the process. It's fascinating stuff. 

I'll be discussing the book with her at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, on Thursday, August 25 at 7pm. I really hope you can make it!

Other than that? I have no idea what today holds. My tendonitis has been acting up so I'm going to stay off my feet and that probably means some reading. I started The Prestige, by Christopher Priest, and if you follow me on Twitter you know I've been raving about it. It's just crazy good. If you've seen the movie you know the biggest twist, but there are definitely others and the book is pretty different from the movie in many respects. 

I'm also still in the thick of The Illusion of Return, by Samir El-Youssef, about a Palestinian refugee living in the UK and confronting an old friend from their days in Lebanon under Israeli control. I'm reading it for Melville House's Art of the Novella challenge, hosted by Frances of Nonsuch Book. It's a great read but it's not a quick one. I really want to just read the whole series!

What are you up to today? What are you reading? Have a great Sunday. More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Finds- Where to Begin?

I've had an extraordinarily good week in books. I won a summer-reading giveaway from HarperCollins that included titles like Tolstoy and the Purple Reading Chair, by Nina Sankovitch, and Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson, among others, I went on a weekend trip to New York that found me visiting six independent bookstores and two Barnes and Noble outlets, and received a totebag's worth of galleys from the wonderful Melville Press, publisher of the Art of the Novella series. On top of that, I made some fun discoveries at my local used bookstore and a couple of nice gifts from my visit to Europa Editions' New York office. Wow!

That's the pile I won from HarperCollins. From Melville House,
  • The Duel, by Anton Chekhov,
  • Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber,
  • How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, by Christopher Boucher, a fiction title that the publisher is absolutely passionate about, 
  • Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets,
  • The Train, by Georges Simenon, part of Melville's Neversink Library series of rediscovered classics, and
  • Nairobi Heat, a crime novel by Mukoma Wa Ngugi.
At the local used bookstore I picked up The Prestige, by Christopher Priest, and The Damnation of Theron Ware, a nineteenth century novel about clashes of religion and secularism, by Harold Frederic. New York's bookstores offered up The Bird Sisters, by Rebecca Rasmussen, The Color Purple, by Alice Walker and Be My Knife by David Grossman.

I have lots of great reading ahead! What are you looking forward to? More Friday Finds here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Visit to the Europa Editions Office in NYC!

This past weekend, my husband and I visited New York City for a four-day weekend. As always we made the rounds with our friends and family, and visited many of Manhattan's wonderful bookstores.

But I got an extra treat- a visit to the office of Europa Editions, on West 29th street not far from Penn Station. Publicist Julia Haav graciously accepted my request to drop by for a few minutes and it was so neat to see where the magic happens on this side of the Atlantic (Europa has its main office in Rome, where, sadly,  I do not have any trips scheduled.)
It was so fun to visit! Julia let me take home a finished book of my choice- Roma Tearne's Bone China- and a galley she picked out just for me, Treasure Island!!!, a January 2012 debut by Sara Levine. It's a comedy about a woman who decides to apply the lessons of risk-taking she learns from the famous book to her own more ordinary life.

Thank you for everything, Julia! It was such a pleasure to meet you and visit the office! I look forward to more great books from Europa!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

REVIEW: Song of Time, by Ian R. MacLeod

Song of Time, by Ian R. MacLeod. Published 2008 by PS Publishing. Hardcover.

Song of Time is a neat book with a really bad cover. I heard about at the 2008 Readercon presentation "The Year in Novels," where critics from science fiction and fantasy specialty journals talk about their favorite books of the year. I don't remember who recommended Song of Time but the critic thought it was a good example of "literary SF" and described its plot in a way that made it sound like catnip.

A 2009 Arthur C. Clarke award winner (among other honors), and set in a distant and oblique future, the story concerns an elderly woman who lives alone and who finds a nameless, naked young man washed ashore near her Cornwall property. The woman, Roushana, is an Irish-Indian retired violinist who shares the story of her life with her mysterious visitor, while preparing for a major transition in her own.  The book covers decades of time. She recounts her childhood, the death of her adored older brother Leo, the impact of wars and pollution and politics on her life and that of her husband, the charismatic Claude, already a star when they meet and fall in love in Paris. Meanwhile, in the present tense, she's getting to know Adam, as she's come to call the man, and finding out exactly who, and what, he is.

Song of Time is more of a fictionalized memoir than a dystopia or futuristic book per se. MacLeod concentrates more on the characters and their life stories over another dramatic arc or world-building as such. It's distinct from a book like Embassytown that builds a fairly compelling plot on top of a complex and detailed world but goes a little light on character. Here, it's all about the people. He tells us the story of Roushana's life and then only what we need to know of the world to understand it. So questions remain, but MacLeod gives us a rich portrait of the people in a world different from our own but recognizable nonetheless. He writes beautifully; the style of the book is distinctly literary with vivid descriptions and lengthy exposition. Probably a must-read for committed SF readers,  I'd also recommend it highly to readers of literary fiction looking for a strong character-driven novel a little different from the usual literary fare.

Read a great review of Song of Time at Tamaranth's Creative Reading.

Getting a hold of a copy might be tricky if you're outside the UK. I was unable to find it in Powell's extensive database and obtained my copy directly from the UK publisher.

Rating: BUY

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Art of the Novella: Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance, by Sholem Aleichem

For my third novella, I chose Sholem Aleichem's Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance, because it's been in my TBR pile for a long time and it's about time I got around to reading it!

Stempenyu tells the story of a famed Yiddish violinst who travels from place to place winning fans, fortune and acclaim- and leaving a trail of broken hearts. Then one day he meets Rochalle, a beautiful married woman and a kind of Emma Bovary of the shtetl, and falls in love.
But Rochalle isn't like Emma in one respect- despite her love for Stempenyu, she has no real desire to actually cheat on her husband, or indulge in a fantasy life. True, she's frustrated and lonely, and true, her husband doesn't appear to have much to offer, but she's smart and she's lucky, and things might not turn out so badly for her after all.

I kind of loved this little book. I've tried to read Aleichem before and never really had much luck with him, truth be told. Wandering Stars, his novel about traveling Yiddish actors, is still gathering dust somewhere in my house. But this book was just my speed- charming and loquacious like all of his work, it has a strong plot and wonderful characters, and without giving too much away, I'm glad that he gave his heroine a happy ending. It's a refreshing change from novels where women are punished for their passions. It's also a really fun and loving portrait of a lost world and the colorful figures that inhabited it. I'm so glad I finally got around to reading this great novella!

The Art of the Novella Challenge is hosted by Frances of Nonsuch Book. You can also visit the Melville House site here.

Other novellas I've read for the challenge:
The North of God, by Steve Stern
Benito Cereno, by Herman Melville

This brings me up to the 3-book level. I'm going for 6! Next up is The Illusion of Return, by Samir El-Youssef.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mailbox Monday!

So many great new books have come in over the past couple of weeks!
The PEN-award winning Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, stories by Danielle Evans, came in for review. I've heard so many great things about this that I can't wait to dive in.
Nom de Plum: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms, by Carmela Ciuraru, came in anticipation of Ciuraru's Porter Square Books event, which I'm participating in, August 25 at 7 p.m. I would love to see you there!
Elif Batuman's acclaimed The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them was a used bookstore find. I've been meaning to get this forever so I was very happy to find this at the wonderful Lorem Ipsum Books in Cambridge.

And more! Weeding books makes me feel like I can buy more. It's a vicious bookish cycle but what can I do?

More Mailbox Monday at Chick Loves Lit.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Salon: Summer's Trickling Away

I can't believe it's already the middle of August. July seemed like a very long month to me, but August is just flying by. Soon it will be time to put away the shorts and take out the sweatshirts and jeans; soon I'll be wearing socks again. But not quite yet.

My reading so far this month has been a little bit all over the place- and I'm loving it. I've gotten totally sucked into the Art of the Novella challenge hosted by Frances at Nonsuch Book; I started off with just one, and I've quickly upped my goal to six novellas. I read Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance, by Sholem Aleichem, my third, and I have three more on deck. Today I'm reading The Illusion of Return, by Samir el-Youssef, about a Palestinian refugee. If I had $300 and nothing better to do with it, I'd just order the whole set already. They're so collectable and covetable, and what I love best about the series is that it's like a survey course in world literature in miniature. You can sample so many different writers from different eras and cultures, although the series is weighted to European and American literature. Anyway I'm really enjoying this challenge as you can probably tell.

Meanwhile I've fallen behind on the Complete Booker challenge; my goal for the year was the Booker Dozen- one winner per month- but I've stalled on V.S. Naipaul and need to catch up. Maybe I should switch to another book and come back to him another time. Generally when I have a DNF it ends up being a NF (Never Finished) but rules are meant to be broken, right?

As far as the Europa Challenge, I'm still on track there, though I have been a little distracted by the Art of the Novella. I'm reading- and really enjoying- The Companion, by Lorcan Roche, about an Irish man working in New York as a caretaker for a disabled man. I think I'm stalled on this because I like it so much I don't want it to end!

Finally, I'll make time today to read a chapter of Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms, by Carmela Ciuraru. If you're in the Boston area, mark your calendars for Thursday, August 25 at 7:00 p.m.: I'll be at Porter Square Books with Carmela, doing a Q&A with her about her book. I can't wait! This book is fascinating; it's all about writers from different times and places who chose to use pseudonyms and why, a phenomenon that persists today.

That's it for me! What are you reading today? Any other plans? Have a great Sunday!
More Sunday Salon here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Role of Critics and Reader-Reviewers

What is the role of the professional critic in the new world of reader-reviewers, wonders Tom Payne in this article, which appeared in The Telegraph last week. I wish he'd answered this question, but sadly this article seems like just another screed by a professional reviewer against bloggers and members of social networking sites devoted to reading (he quotes a GoodReads user at one point). If I may be so bold as to offer my own opinion, I would say that the role of professional reviewers is to offer sophisticated book criticism that takes into account more in the way of context and background and attention to craft than I would expect myself to. I try to write chatty, fun book reviews that tell my readers a little about the book and a little about what I thought of it. I'm no scholar and I don't try to be, but I expect more from the pros.

But what I really want to talk about is what he talks about- the role of bloggers and "reader-reviewers." "Don't write crap" seems to be the minimum expectation- perfectly reasonable.  But so what if we do, once in a while? Payne criticizes a GoodReads user who reviews a book by making a funny statement about how many bus stops the reader missed while reading the book; no, this is not "considered appraisal" but who says every utterance has to be? What is actually wrong with expressing ones' self in an amusing way? Why should the average person commenting on a website be held to the same standards as a professional writing for publication and pay? Certainly this individual is not holding himself up as a professional critic; why should Payne do so?

Another criticism he levels at bloggers is having the audacity to think that they have a right to not like a book. "It’s as if bloggers take authors to task because the books weren’t written just for them," he opines. Well, who are books written for if not for readers? Are we obliged to like everything? Professional reviewers aren't expected to give glowing reviews all the time; does our amateur status mean we must lavish praise on whatever comes our way? Is the fault mine if a book doesn't speak to me? I don't think it is, and I don't think it's the book's fault, either. I've always thought saying "this book is not for me" is a diplomatic way of letting the author off the hook for a book one didn't enjoy. Not every book is right for every reader. I don't think there's any book that's right for every reader, and anyone who tells you differently is, to paraphrase the farm boy Westley, selling something.

I don't go to social media sites, or blogs, for authoritative, scholarly critiques. That's why God gave us The New York Review of Books. I go to social media and blogs to see what my friends are reading and get a bead on their thoughts. A lot of what gets written (and I include myself here, and maybe even this post) is casual, a little silly and a little light. So what? I sincerely doubt that the advent of book-related social media is responsible for creating a plague of inarticulate expressions of opinion or a lack of appreciation of popular books. It's just that we all have these outlets now. The woman who didn't think Bridget Jones' Diary was a good Pride and Prejudice re-write would have thought so whether or not she had a GoodReads account. It's just now she has a podium.

And maybe that's Payne's real problem- that average people have access to widely-distributed media, and that he has to read their tiresome and ill-informed opinions. He says he wants to know what people are thinking about books, but it kind of seems like he doesn't. I think it's a good thing that people who love to read have the opportunity to share their opinions with others. I love the online book community, warts and all, and I think we all have a lot to offer each other. And if you think I'm stupid and don't want to read my LibraryThing reviews or my silly blog, who's making you?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

REVIEW: Get Me Out of Here, by Henry Sutton

Get Me Out of Here, by Henry Sutton. Published 2011 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction.

Get Me Out of Here is a entertaining little romp about a very un-fun guy. Matt Freeman is a Londoner ostensibly living the high life in 2008. He brags about expensive clothes, hot girls and a fab job that takes him around the globe and pays for a swank lifestyle. Problem is, very little of what he says is true.

Oh sure, there's a bird or two, but they seem to, well, exit his life very abruptly. And the clothes? The flat? The restaurants? They all seem to be stolen, or appropriated, or enjoyed on someone else's nickel. The book opens with Matt ruminating about a ruined pair of glasses, and this monologue, referencing expensive designers and Matt's own very fussy taste, is repeated many times in different guises throughout the book, whenever Matt needs to distract himself, or the reader, from what's really going on in his life. Normally I dislike name-dropping brands in novels as lazy shorthand on the part of the writer but it's important to understand what all this blather and noise tells about Matt's personality and the reality of his life. He's trying to say, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain but with a narrator as wily as Matt, that's where all the fun is.

Little by little, it all comes apart. When I started the book, it read to me like a confession; I expected the book to have been written, Humbert Humbert style, in prison after he finally gets his comeuppance. I'm not going to tell you whether or not I was right, but if you like highly stylized literary pop fic crossed with social satire and told by the most unreliable narcissist this side of Nabokov, what I will tell you is to run out and buy this book right now. It's the best time you'll have being horrified all year.

This counts towards the Europa Challenge.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

REVIEW: Embassytown, by China Miéville

Embassytown, by China Miéville. Published 2011 by Random House. Science fiction.

"I can make things bad for you," Ez kept shouting. "There are things I could say."

Embassytown, the latest novel from acclaimed British writer China Miéville, takes as its theme language and the power it can have over us all. Like many of Miéville's books, this one starts with a city, the city of the title. Embassytown exists in the far future, on a distant planet humans have settled. It's kind of a border town between human civilization and that of the Ariekei, an enigmatic race to whom the planet belongs. The Ariekei, or the Hosts,  speak a language so difficult that only specially-trained Ambassadors can communicate with them, so the Ariekei remain an enigma to all but this very select group of people. Avice Benner Cho, the protagonist and narrator, is not one of these people, but she's something even more important. Avice is a simile.

When Avice was a child, she was recruited to perform a task for the extremely literal-minded Ariekei so that they could enrich their language (so iconic it's simply referred to as Language) with figurative speech. Since then, she's traveled through the immer, or deep space, had a career, been married, and generally had a life. There are others like her as well, other similes, and the first breakdown of Language has a profound effect on them. Other key players include an ex-Ambassador named Bren, Avice's husband Scile, and a new Ambassador who is unlike the others, and whose use of Language wrecks a havoc that changes Ariekei society forever.

Embassytown is the kind of book that unrolls slowly, and you'll want Miéville's own extremely skillful use of language to wash over you. Unlike The City and The City, a tight, plot-centric blend of genres, Embassytown is more straight-up science fiction and less about plot and more about the language itself. In other words, it's not a fast read, or a particularly gripping page-turner. I found it to be long and dense, but I kept going because Miéville sets up such a remarkably complex and detailed world and made me care about the Ariekei and their extremely unusual problem. The novel is as rich with ideas as it is neologisms, and even when I couldn't tackle more than a few pages at a time, I never seriously considered putting Embassytown down for good. Miéville is a major talent whom literary readers would do well to get to know. As Miéville wrote in my copy of the book, "Hope you enjoy this linguistic apocalypse!"

Rating: BUY

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Art of the Novella Challenge: Benito Cereno, by Herman Melville

Benito Cereno is a novella by Herman Melville; originally published in 1855, it tells the story of an American merchant vessel that comes upon a mysterious Spanish ship off the coast of South America. The captain, Benito Cereno, is taciturn and sullen. Followed everywhere by his African servant Babo, he seems indifferent to his difficult situation: most of the crew are dead and those remaining are all behaving oddly. The American captain, Delano, offers help and is rebuffed; he tries to find out what's going on but gets nowhere, until Cereno makes a move that illuminates the situation and forces a resolution.

This book was one of only a few Art of the Novella books available at the bookstore, and to be honest I picked it up because it was short. But it is really incredible; dense and detailed with tragedy of many kinds at its core, it's hard to place but impossible to put down. Melville builds the tension slowly until the story explodes in violence. Although the story is based on true events, Melville seems to scrupulously avoid taking sides, as the debates around the political and philosophical message of the story show. I think I agree with the critic who said that at the end of the day, what it's really about is brutality. I'd recommend it to readers wanting to try out a little Melville without committing to Moby-Dick (I've never been able to finish that book myself); it's great American literature all by itself.

Also read for the Art of the Novella Challenge:
The North of God, by Steve Stern

I guess this means I'm going beyond the 1-book level and shooting for 3!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Four Years of Blogging, and Maybe It's Time to Change It Up

This week marks the start of my fifth year as a blogger. Over the past four years a lot has changed about my blog, but a lot has stayed the same. While I've flirted with other areas of blogging (crafting and movies being the most recent) I'm still primarily a book blogger, and I still blog about more or less the same kinds of books I always have. And I blog about as often as I ever have.

But lately I've been feeling a little antsy and have been wondering if I ought to make some changes. Over the past two weeks I've been rigorously weeding my TBR piles and I culled lots of books- old books, new books, ARCs, paperbacks, hardcovers, things I bought, things I picked up at shows, things I asked for, things I received unsolicited, things I've read, things I haven't read, things I may yet read from the library or in another medium. If there is a category of books in my house, there is something from that category in the discard pile.

I started weeding because the piles were overrunning my den and because there's no way I can possibly read them all, and because over the past year or two I feel like my reading has lost its focus. Sometimes I hear a lot of hype, and I get caught up in it. I want the new "it" books, and I end up drowning in them.

Meanwhile, all those cool little books I pick up at used bookstores and from small presses get left in the dust. I started the Europa Challenge (along with my friend Liberty) in part to address this problem, since I collect Europa books kind of obsessively but haven't been reading them at the pace I'd like.  And reading them, I'm reminded of all the other idiosyncratic choices I've left aside for the past couple of years in favor of the hot new book-of-the-week or review obligation. And I'm tired of doing that. Which is not to say I'm abandoning current fiction or review requests but I need to steel myself to be choosier.

I've also been wondering if it's time to change up the look of my blog- get some new logo art and reformat it. What do you think? Keep my redhead woman up there, or get something different? You take a chance when you mix it up with your brand image; that's how a lot of people recognize my online persona these days, and I've worked hard to make it recognizable. Is it too late to change it?

And maybe alongside the visuals, maybe I should change the topical focus to emphasize the things I've been neglecting- the older books I ferret out, the personal choices I find on my own, the books no one's told me about but that I want to read because they just look so interesting. But ignoring new releases would be like closing the door on a lot of great conversations; blogging is like belonging to a big book club sometimes, and I don't want to lose that camaraderie.

All of this leads me to ask what is it that you expect of Boston Bibliophile? Hot new releases? Random stuff? What is that you're hoping to find when you come here? Do I deliver on that? What am I doing that you wish I wouldn't? What can I do better? The blog is by me but it wouldn't exist without you, so I want to know what you think.

Who knows how this will turn out. I've said many times that I'm tired of hype and books-of-the-moment but I can't help but feel the pull of the New Releases table, and I'll always want to know from my friends what they're excited about and what they're reading. I have more or less stopped buying hardcovers unless it's by a favorite author (handy, since I'm unemployed and my book budget is almost nil at the moment) but there always seems to be a reason to make an exception. Wherever I end up going- the new release table or the used shelves- I want to thank every single person who's come along with me in my blogging adventures, and I hope you'll stick around for another four years, or longer.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Salon: My Blogiversary!

Happy Sunday! Today is a very special day for me:

Happy Blogiversary to me!! Today is my fourth anniversary blogging. Thank you to everyone who's ever read my blog, left a comment, entered a giveaway, linked to me, tweeted, etc., etc. It's been a fun-filled, busy four years of online life. I've read a lot of books, written a lot of reviews and most importantly made a lot of wonderful friends. And I have a present for one of you:

I'm offering a giveaway of Eddie Signwriter, by Adam Schwartzman, my favorite new book of 2010. It's just out in paperback; you can read my review here. It's a wonderful literary debut by an acclaimed poet with a wonderful ear for language and eye for detail. This book didn't get near the attention it deserved, but Schwartzman is one to watch. He's already achieved wide acclaim for his poetry and I predict more success for him and his writing in the future.

What you need to know:
  • I'm offering a brand new paperback of Eddie Signwriter that I bought myself for the giveaway. There is no sponsorship or corporate promotion behind it. I just love this book and want more people to read it.
  • The giveaway is open to the U.S. and Canada.
  • To enter, comment on this post with your email address. No email address, no entry- no exceptions.
  • You have a week, until midnight EST August 14 to enter.
  • Sometime early that week I'll pick a winner with and notify that person via email. The winner has 48 hours to get back to me with a mailing address before I pick another winner.
  • Tweets, Facebook posts and Google+ posts get you two extra entries. Being a follower gets you two extra entries. Please leave a link.
And me? I'll spend the day reading. Maybe I'll re-read Eddie Signwriter. Thanks for entering and thanks for everything! This blog would be nothing without you.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happy Birthday, #AmWriting!

If you're on Twitter, and you're a writer, reader or someone interested in books, you've probably seen the hashtag #amwriting now and then. Hashtags are the way Tweeters keep track of large conversations within Twitter; by clicking on a hashtag, you can see all posts so tagged, and so follow the conversation. #Amwriting is an ongoing conversation in which writers find each other and share what they're doing. When I'm writing, I use it now and then when I pop in to Twitter to take a break.

Anyway, two days ago, August 3, was the second anniversary of the use of #amwriting tag, started by writer Johanna Harkness. You can find Johanna's blog and the #amwriting anniversary post here; here you'll also find links to lots of other writers celebrating the day.

The #amwriting tag has definitely had an impact on my writing life; I love that I can see who else is out there, share what we're doing and offer each other support and encouragement. Writing is a solitary activity but that doesn't mean you have to do it in a vacuum; getting in touch with other writers makes a world of difference to me when I'm trying to hammer out my own work. It's so inspiring to be part of this wonderful community. Thank you Johanna and to all the writers!

I'm going to use this post to inaugurate a new occasional feature on my blog, Writing Life, where I'll post about my own writing process and thoughts on a once-in-a-while basis. I think key to being committed to my writing is and has been talking about it to other people in my life. When it's a secret, not only is it easy to slack off but it's easy to think, "I'm not really a writer." But telling people about it makes it real. I took a first big step in this direction recently when I included the phrase "currently working on her first novel" in a biographical statement I gave to the organizer of the Salem Literary Festival. It gave me goosebumps to do it but saying it might make it come true!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Art of the Novella Reading Challenge: The North of God, by Steve Stern

One of my favorite bloggers, Frances of Nonsuch Book, is engaged this month in a challenge that I think is just fabulous: she's reading all 42 of Melville House's Art of the Novella books, and blogging about them! She's attracted Melville's House's attention, not surprisingly, and they're promoting the challenge with a host of giveaways throughout August. To participate, go to Melville's page here.

I'm participating at the "Curious" level- one book- and the book I've chosen is Steve Stern's remarkable The North of God. Part of The Contemporary Art of the Novella series, Melville published it in 2008. It's the story-within-a-story of Velvl, trapped in a cattle car with an unknown woman and her child, on their way to God-knows-where during the Holocaust. To keep them all sane he tells her the story of Herschel, a young shtetl scholar set to marry the daughter of a rich man, then seduced by a succubus. He loses his mind and runs out of his wedding ceremony only to be haunted by his passion for this elusive demon. Part one is wholly Herschel's story; Velvl appears only as a supporting character, one of the boys at Herschel's cheder.

The theme of this brief tale is the power of storytelling to save. First and most obviously, Herschel survives because Velvl is there tell his tale. But storytelling saves Herschel, too; he meets a traveling theater man, and storytelling becomes his way out of his life of wandering when he gets the idea to go to America and put on Yiddish plays: "He thought he might be able to do something interesting with the story," he thinks to himself. Herschel's stories therefore have a power to save him that may be denied to his storyteller, on his way to a concentration camp. For his part, trapped in the train, Velvl believes that his stories will help ensure the survival of his little trio: "So long as he could keep the mother and daughter captivated, he could keep them safe." Later, when Velvl tries to bargain with a Nazi officer using storytelling as a chip, he's rebuffed: "What am I thinking? This is the place where all stories end."

Stern is an exuberant writer and this story is heartbreaking as well as full of bluster, sex, scatology and violence. If you've read his novel The Frozen Rabbi you'll have a little idea of what to expect here- a mixture of legend and realism, flights of fancy combined with raw, moving and unexpected expressions of human nature. It's a little gem! I wish I had more of these books around!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

REVIEW: In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. Originally published 1966. This edition published 2004 by Random House/Blackstone Audio. Narrated by Scott Brick. Nonfiction.

In Cold Blood is a true classic of American nonfiction; in my opinion it should be required reading for anyone interested in American literature, period.

Truman Capote, author of such seminal fiction as Breakfast at Tiffany's and Other Voices, Other Rooms, turned his hand to journalism for the New Yorker magazine when he traveled to Kansas to report on the murder of a wealthy farm family, the Clutters, in the town of Holcomb. Two films have been made about his trip, which he undertook with fellow writer Harper Lee: Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006); there have been film adaptations of the book itself as well. But none of these are any substitute for this masterful book.

The book is structured in two overlapping circles. In plain, unvarnished prose, Capote alternates between the story of the murder and the story of the murderers, building tension slowly as we see the doomed family slowly careening towards their encounter with their killers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock. The details of the murders aren't revealed until Smith and Hickock are caught but the discovery of the bodies by neighbors is one of the most haunting passages I've ever read.  From there, Capote rejoins the fugitives and the investigators as they begin their own slow-motion collision. Finally, Capote covers the trial, imprisonment and eventual fate of the killers, ending on a note of poetry.

Capote fleshes out every person mentioned in the book, just about; he goes into great detail about the Clutters, their character, their life together and their place in the community. It's a little hard to imagine how much research must have gone into the book to obtain the level of detail Capote shares. And he gives the investigators a similar treatment, but he saves his most thorough journalism for the killers. We learn a great deal about Smith and Hickock's background, psychology and motivations; their journey before and after the murders is recounted meticulously.  He also spends time discussing criminal psychology, cases similar to the Clutter murders and the role of the death penalty. He doesn't quite create empathy for the killers but he tries to show the reader how such a crime, and how such killers, might come to be.

I listed to the audio version of the book over a two-week period. Scott Brick does a great job narrating, building suspense and bringing the narrative to life. Certain production choices, like where to end a disc, add to the drama. And Brick has a great voice for true crime. I read the book in print several years ago; I think it works best on the page but with Brick's skillful narration, audio was a fine way to experience it too.

In Cold Blood is one of my all-time favorite books. Besides being fascinating, thought-provoking and well-crafted, it's a page-turner like no other. I can't say enough good things about this incredible, essential book. If you're not a regular reader of literary books, you owe it to yourself to make time a few times in your life for a work of this caliber. Otherwise, why read?

Rating: BUY

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

REVIEW: My Fair Lazy, by Jen Lancaster

My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover if Not Being A Dumbass is the New Black, or a Culture-up Manifesto, by Jen Lancaster. Published 2010 by New American Library. Narrated by Jamie Heinlein. Nonfiction. Memoir. Audiobook.

Jen Lancaster is one of those guilty-pleasure authors whose books are always just a pleasure to read; I'm borrowing her phrasing here, as she acknowledges her guilty-pleasure status near the beginning of this entertaining book. She's made a name for herself with best-selling books like Bitter is the New Black, about being unemployed, Bright Lights, Big Ass, her continuing adventures in Chicago, and Such a Pretty Fat, about losing weight.

My Fair Lazy, her fifth memoir, documents her "Jenassiance," a rigorous program of self-improvement she undertakes with the aide of more worldly friends and acquaintances, and often accompanied by her good-sport husband Fletch. After realizing with shame that she doesn't know who Baudelaire is, she decides she needs to smartify herself if anyone is ever going to take her seriously. So she goes to the theater, tries new cuisines, learns about wine and reads important books in her attempt to make herself over, from the inside out.

As she's learning the ropes of high culture, she's also unapologetic about her love for the lowbrow end of things. She writes with touching candor about why she fell in love with "The Real World," and what reality television means to her and to us. Even after her transformation is well on its way, she stays true to herself. Her adventures in culinary exploration, vinoculture and the literary canon are fun to watch, and it's neat to see the positive way her project impacts her relationship with her husband and opens her mind in ways she might not have anticipated. The book is sort of one long string of self-deprecation combined with self-congratulation, as she both mocks her supposed ignorance and then tells us how awesome she is for doing something about it. It's funny. And she's funny- always.

She's still Jen Lancaster though, and there's only so far she can stretch, so if you're a fan from her earlier books don't worry that she's about to become someone else. She's still a strident Republican, still loves madras and still idolizes the rich, although she's willing to admit, after watching a wealthy man pick his nose at a dinner party, that money might not always equal class. But that's okay, because that's what makes Jen, Jen. Like many I've read her avidly for years and it's always fun to see what she's up to now. She's like the funny, whip-smart friend you can always rely on for a great story and a great time. Jamie Heinlein, the narrator, has read several other Lancaster titles and handles this one with humor and aplomb; she's expressive, funny and brings the text to life. It's kind of just how I imagine Lancaster herself would narrate the book.

On balance? Like all of Lancaster's books that I've read, this one is a good time and well worth a listen or a read at the beach or on the road. If you've read her before and liked her, you'll like this too; if not, it's a fine introduction to an entertaining humorist.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not received this title for review by the publisher.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Musing Mondays: Blogs and Inspiration

This week’s musing is about reading…blogs! 
As a book blogger, does reading others’ blogs spark ideas for what to write on your own?
Of course! I get ideas all the time from others' blogs. I keep a folder of bookmarks of thoughtful or thought-provoking posts and I get ideas from challenges, memes, etc. The great thing about blogging is the community of bloggers and how we all learn from each other! Now I just need to get back in the habit of writing more opinion posts.

More Musing Mondays at