Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Salon: Fall Fair Season is Here!

As if King Richard's Faire a few weeks back wasn't enough, this weekend Jeff and I took on our annual tradition of going to the Topsfield Fair, a local agricultural fair that was one of the first of its kind in American history. Local farmers, gardeners, craftspeople and animal enthusiasts get together to show off what they've done in the past year and the rest of us eat junk food, play games and go on amusement park rides. Some highlights:

Pumpkin decorating! Local school kids decorate pumpkins to look like-anything! Above you see the Muppets, but there are sea creatures, famous people in pumpkin form, even a pumpkin ice cream sundae. The fair also shows the largest pumpkin grown locally, this year a 2009-pound monster. You can go here to the fair website to learn more about this year's winner.

Horses! The Royal Canadian Mounted Police took part in the parade that kicks off the fair. These folks were just getting ready; the exhibition included a lot more of them, beautiful and impressive in their regalia. The horses even have maple leaves shaved into their hindquarters.

Crafts! There is always a beautiful exhibition of local artists and craftspeople. I always gravitate towards the quilts! This one, a large single-block affair, was my favorite. Love!

And the annual sand sculpture. This will be worked on throughout the fair but on the first full day we go to see the beginnings of the annual design. This year it looks like an older couple enjoying fair goodies. Jeff joked that this will be the two of us in about twenty years, munching on donuts and sipping cocoa. Our fair tradition is to start the day with a hot chocolate so we're half way there!

We had so much fun yesterday. I've been going for my entire life and Jeff and I have been going together for about 15 years now. Wow!

Reading? Oh yeah, that! I'm in the middle of Louise Erdrich's Round House and Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, but I'm sweeping it all aside to read Don Quixote for the next little while. I'll keep you posted!

More Sunday Salon on Facebook. Have a great day!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Crafturday! Two New Quilt Tops Finished

So I've been working through the various projects I have stacked up in my sewing room lately; sometimes I would find a pattern I liked and buy fabric for it but like the books I buy and take forever to read, it might be a long time before I got around to actually making the quilt. The seashells quilt above is one example. The pattern comes from Teri Christopherson's book The Best of Black Mountain Quilts; then I fell in love with the seashell fabric and knew I had to make something with it. I finished piecing the quilt top this week. It was a fairly complex quilt with a lot of seams to match; I did my best but it's far from perfect! It's throw-sized, about 43x63 inches or so.

With the left over scraps, I was able to piece together a small doll quilt!

The pattern came from Patriotic Little Quilts by Alice Berg. I love the Little Quilts books (there are several- Celebrate with Little Quilts, Little Quilts! All Through the House and Living with Little Quilts); when I used to make miniature quilts, I used them extensively. Now they're great for leftover projects!
Both of these quilts still need quilting and finishing. Right now they're just pieced fabric. I anticipate hand-quilting the larger quilt and machine-quilting the smaller one. Then I need to find people to give them to!

What's next for me is probably a Christmas project, with another kit I purchased ages ago. I'm still working on the redwork project I told you about in the last installment of Crafturday. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Interview with Marc Fitten, Author of ELZA'S KITCHEN

Marc Fitten's second novel Elza's Kitchen was published earlier this year; I reviewed the delightful Elza's Kitchen yesterday but I've been a fan since his first novel, Valeria's Last Stand, came out in 2009. Marc was kind enough to answer a few of my questions so I could share the answers with you.

You’ve said that people have very strong reactions to your books. What have those reactions been and why do you think this happens?
I think people who read my books don't really know what to expect beforehand.  They begin and they recognize an off-beat and breezy narrative and think it’s going to be a light comedy, but then they realize that the characters and their situations are terribly flawed.  I think there's an incongruity between the light narrative style and thematic heaviness that people either respond to or don’t.  But I like to imagine that the hints are always there and that the characters I write are psychologically real. I think Billy Wilder does this sort of thing expertly.  Same with the Coen bros.  I like the idea of someone sitting down to watch something like Friends and maybe getting into it when all of a sudden – but not really – Monica attacks Phoebe with a frying pan.  I don’t know.  I’d like to see that, I think.
One critic in the UK wrote that I was like Marmite.  A critic in the States wrote that I was like Prince.  I don’t know.  Take that as you will.  I think it means readers will either like my work or they won’t.  Considering the opposites are Nutella and Justin Bieber, I’ll take Marmite and Prince any day.

You lived in Hungary for a number of years and both of your novels are set there. Why did you choose Hungary as a place to live, and what is it about the country that has inspired you so?
I lived in Hungary for five years back in the nineties.  I was young and looking for a good time. And the idea for what I’m calling The Paprika Trilogy came from film.  I wanted to create something like Kieslowski's RED, BLUE, and WHITE films but I wanted my project to span the period of time from the end of Soviet communism until today.  I wanted to explore the mindset of three women as time passed and the country transformed.    Hungary is perfect because it embodies the qualities of lightness and heaviness that I try to put in the book.  Mass social transformation is a huge undertaking for any group of people. It’s the sort of process that screams for fiction.
Why do you so seldomly name your male characters? In Valeria’s Last Stand, the male lead was known as “the Potter”; in Elza’s Kitchen, it’s “the Sous-Chef.” Why these choices?

I wanted to keep the focus entirely on the female protagonists.  I also wanted to lend the books a fairy tale quality.  I don’t think anything is lost in Little Red Riding Hood because we don’t know the woodsman’s name.  We don’t even know Red’s name!  It worked stylistically, so I went with it.  In the finale, I plan on having male characters whose names I will etymologically expound on until the editors beg me to stop.   

Your books have a kind of folk-tale feel about them to me, yet their settings and characters are deeply contemporary and steeped in modern political, economic and social realities. Can you explain this contradiction?
I think civilization is mostly absurd and at odds with human nature. Luckily, I wasn’t the first person to have this thought.  I don’t know who was -- maybe the guy who lived next door to the guy who invented it --  but I know Freud wrote a book about it.   

Don’t get me wrong, I prefer civilization to the alternative.  I partake.  However, every time I put on a suit, I am conscious of the fact that the fabric of our lives is really cotton…and then mass hysteria. Our context is entirely speculative.  At best civilization is a hopeful hypothesis, at worst, an illusion.  The only real things, as far as I can observe, are the precarious and existential crisis of the human condition, the capacity to love, and hope.  Anything else, any political or economic system especially, is a chimera.  So Kundera nailed it, "the great matters of nations cannot make us forget the modest matters of the heart." And my style is entirely concerned with stripping away the pretentions of civilization in order to represent people – who I find endlessly fascinating.

Marc, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions! Best of luck with your book and I can't wait to read the finale!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

REVIEW: Elza's Kitchen, by Marc Fitten

Elza's Kitchen, by Marc Fitten. Published 2012 by Bloomsbury. Literary Fiction.

Elza's Kitchen is author Marc Fitten's second novel, his followup to 2009's delightful Valeria's Last Stand. Elza is also set in Hungary after the fall of Communism, but this time the story centers on a middle-aged chef whose life is about to change, for reasons as much to do with changing economics as changing emotions.

Elza runs a successful restaurant in the Hungarian town of Delibab; she serves expertly prepared classic Hungarian dishes to a large crowd of regulars. Over time she's refined her recipes and knows just how to keep her customers coming back. But she's become dissatisfied. For one thing, she craves greater recognition in the cooking world. She enlists her old cooking professors to get the attention of a famous critic, hoping to persuade him to visit and review her restaurant. At the same time, she ends a casual relationship of longstanding with her sous chef; when he becomes smitten with the pretty young pastry chef, things get out of control in her kitchen as well as in her life. And she's got to contend with a family of Gypsies who beg outside the restaurant, one of whom will come to play a crucial role in her drama.

Like Valeria's Last Stand, Fitten writes Elza in a folk-tale-like style, giving names to the women and naming (most of) the men by their professions. The sous chef is The Sous Chef; the critic is The Critic. The only exception is the little Gypsy boy Elza accidentally injures; little Pisti gets a name.  He also shows the growing influence of capitalism on Hungarian society by endowing the pastry chef Dora with a hungry appetite for business, and a good head for it, too. The partnership between the Sous Chef and Dora is as much about pragmatics as emotion. Elza is a wonderful cook but has no head for business, and the reception she gets from the Critic leaves her flummoxed and looking for a new direction. Will she find one?

I really enjoyed Elza's Kitchen. Elza is a touchy, difficult woman but you'll be rooting for her to come from behind and pull out a victory after all. I think she starts to regain her stride when she realizes that she doesn't have to compete with her former lover and his new fiancee, that there's room enough for both of them to succeed in meaningful ways. It's a nice lesson to take from this well-crafted and thoughtful meditation on love and change and finding your strengths just when things look their bleakest.

Click here for my interview with author Marc Fitten!

Rating: BUY

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

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sleepy Sunday Salon

Yaaaaawn. Okay, I'm awake.

It's been a crazy week. I haven't worked much more than normal, but things have really picked up in the store and every day has been a busy day. Wednesday night I helped out at the Cambridge Public Library for the Zadie Smith event; Smith, author of White Teeth and On Beauty (among other things) appeared before a packed overflow crowd of Bostonians and Cantabridgians to read and talk about her new novel NW. I was intrigued enough to add it to my paperback list. The bookstore was selling books at the event and my job was crowd control, which involved making sure every seat was filled and everyone who could get a seat, got one. Then I flapped books and did personalizations for people waiting in line for the signing, which I actually find fun.

Otherwise I've been doing a lot of sewing; I completed a medium-sized throw (just the quilt top- I still have to quilt and finish it) and a small doll quilt with the scraps. I'll take pictures and show you soon. And reading! It's been a slow reading week for me. I finished The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers and Tyrant Memory by Horacio Castellanos Moya, a novel about a government takeover and coup in 1930s El Salvador. It mixes comedy and tragedy and was an enjoyable read. The Yellow Birds is a poetic and heartbreaking novel about the Iraq War. Between the two I think I'm ready for a fun read and I think that's going to be Robert Kaster's The Appian Way, a short travelogue of the famous Roman road.

This week I also got involved in an online discussion about the book Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, explaining to some folks why I think people should read it, after some folks expressed hesitancy because the subject matter upsets them. I have certainly passed on certain reads because of unpleasant subject matter (American Psycho? Fifty Shades? No thanks.) But I think with culturally important books that's not a great excuse, even if it's a human one. By skipping an important book, we miss out on a little of what shapes our culture, even the culture of the moment. But you can't read everything, right? I'm tempted to devote a whole post to this but I'm not sure I have more to say about it than that. What do you think? Have you read Lolita? Have you passed on reading it because you find the subject disagreeable?

That's it for me today. Head to Facebook for more Sunday Salon. Have a great day!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Crafturday- Redwork Project

So my latest project is a a series of embroidered blocks from Sarah Jane Studios, called "Her Month by Month." It's a twelve-month series of blocks showing a little girl throughout the year. Traditionally when I do a series like this, I will start with the month that's current, so the first block I'm doing is September. The girl is waiting for the school bus with her lunch pail. I'll stitch the word "September" to the side later.

The patterns can be worked in any color combination (the Sarah Jane Studios website shows a contemporary palette) but I chose traditional redwork because I enjoy that style. I'm stitching the blocks on point and I'm going to stitch triangles of fabric on each corner to make it a regular block, then add sashing and stitch all twelve blocks in a 3x4 grid to make a wallhanging/small throw of about 38x42.

After that I just have to find a little girl to give it to!

A project like this takes a long time. Typically I'll get one block done every month (I work on multiple projects at a time), then stitch the blocks up at the end of the year. That part is the fastest and generally takes two weeks or so. Then I anticipate hand-quilting the top.

The pattern is for sale at Sarah Jane Studios and you will receive it via download as PDF file. Trace it onto your background fabric with a thin Pigma pen (use a lightbox or a window) and stitch away with two strands of embroidery floss. I love this pattern but I'm not affiliated with Sarah Jane Studios in any way.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Interview with Dan Wilbur, author of How Not to Read

Yesterday I reviewed bookseller and comedian Dan Wilbur's book How Not to Read. Today I have our conversation on books, reading and literary culture.

How Not To Read started with your blog, Better Book Titles. What gave you the idea to create Better Book Titles? Didn’t you have anything better to do?
I was in stacks at Columbia University and I met the famous librarian ghost who lives there. She asked me to teach her how to use an iPad. I obliged, though her ghost-hands made it hard to tap the screen. She then asked me if I would father her ghost progeny. It was really weird, but when I woke up surrounded by ghost-babies it reminded me that I would have to teach them everything I'd ever read in books. Although we all know ghost-babies live forever, I am sadly mortal. So I designed this blog to help them understand books faster by summing up each one in a concise image. The results were funnier than intended.

The real answer: I was playing a game called "Assassins Creed" where you kill the Pope at the end, and I thought: "They should have called this 'Kill The Pope'" It would have been so controversial!! Then I looked around my apartment and realized there were many books from college I could sum up easily, and I started with the very first one I posted: "Teddy Roosevelt Solves Tranny Murders" for "The Alienist." It's a great book and needed a better title. 
It says on your bio that you play a lot of video games. What video games are you playing now? Do you play video games while you write? Cause it kind of seems that way.
 Hah! It does seem like I write while playing games. I certainly played a lot of Words with Friends while I should have been writing. When people ask how long it took to write the book, I say "a year, but to you it will appear as though I wrote it in one sitting!" That's probably because I played too many games. Right now I'm between Batman: Arkham City, Chrono Trigger (an RPG for Super Nintendo where you constantly time-warp!), and I just bought a game called Starhawk which features a big online community of angry teens to challenge. Those are the games I like most now. Where I can make a teenager angrier for ten minutes by beating him. It's a good way to get out the spite I feel for my own fifteen year old self.

I think we’re all sick of books and reading. I mean, really. Whatever, right?
Totally. It's like: wow, books! What's your deal? Why don't you make music and cool colors and cost less money? Every time I see a bunch of books on the curb, I think: "Good. More space in that house for Bed, Bath & Beyond paintings and Laserdisc collections! Good job, house dweller!" Next book I see I'm gonna take down a peg by heckling it. HAH!! WHAT NOW, BOOK?! Think you're better than everyone else with your beautifully-wrought imagery and suspense? You're nothing to me! Anyway, I'm reading Gone Girl right now and it's great.

What are you so glad to have finished recently?
I'm glad I finished writing my book so I can relax and collect all that SWEET CASH.

Best book I finished in the last few years: Skippy Dies. lots of themes juggled from drugs, catholic cover-ups, ghosts, time travel, more drugs, and death. Paul Murray ties it all up nicely at the end. Really sweet and funny. Other than that: Pulphead, I reread Adam Ross's Mr. Peanut and still love it. I also tried a third time to read Ulysses, and I'm proud to say I quit because I was getting nothing from it but the sad-people jitters that come from the self-flagellation of voluntarily reading Joyce.

I have to say, your book did not help me stop reading. On the contrary, it made me want to read some of the books you mentioned. What do you have to say for yourself?
OH NO!! I've failed! Maybe next time I'll write a book with fewer literary references. Oh no! It's like these signs on the subway to stop people from eating junk food or doing cocaine, but there's cocaine and junk food on the sign! I've become what I hate most. A reader-inspirer!

Thanks for answering my questions, Dan!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

REVIEW: How Not to Read, by Dan Wilbur

How Not to Read, by Dan Wilbur. Published 2012 by Penguin. Humor.

Full disclosure: Dan Wilbur is a friend of a friend, and I hope someday to be able to call him my friend as well. He sent me the book to review, and Penguin asked me to blurb it, which I did. The book is based on his blog, Better Book Titles, in which he and others come up with creative and descriptive titles for books like White People Ruin Everything, also known as The People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, and Epic References! which you may know as The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman. He's even retitled his own book I'll Probably Stop Blogging Now That My Book's Been Published.

The book is hilarious. Although it does include a nice sampling of his re-written book titles, most of it is a comedic tour of the book industry, reading and literary studies. It's the kind of book that's fun to dip in and out of when you have a spare moment and need a chuckle. The basic thesis of the book is that reading is a waste of your time. Obviously there is a heavy component of irony in writing about how it's dumb to read. Wilbur is a comedian and a bookseller when he's not blogging and he puts his knowledge of the book world and his well-honed comedic turns of phrase to good use.

Chapter headings include
  • Books: What Are They, and What Are They Good For?
  • How To Read
  • How To Talk to Others About Books
  • and the introduction, Ughhh! Books Are the Worst!
Each section addresses its respective topic with insight and thoughtfulness, with the genuine wish to help the "reader" sort through the morass of the literary world. The first chapter, Books: What Are They... talks about what exactly a book is, where you might have heard of books, and the various evils for which books are responsible. Later on Wilbur treats us to a guide to the various sections of a bookstore or library, like "Nonfiction, Or the 'I Feel Smarter Just For Buying This' Section".  Etc.

How Not to Read would make a great gift for the book-lover in your life, or a gag gift for someone who doesn't like to read. It's not really kid-friendly though so I would hesitate to recommend it for reluctant younger readers, even though it is very funny.

Click here for my very serious interview with Dan Wilbur.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review and was asked to blurb it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

REVIEW: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Published 2012 by Crown. Fiction. Crime Fiction.

Wow. Chilling. Twisty. Suspenseful. Can't-stop-reading-till-it's-done-able.

That's almost all I can tell you about Gillian Flynn's remarkable new suspenser, Gone Girl, which does live up to all that hype.

Set in the present day in North-Somewhere (Carthage) Missouri, Gone Girl tells the story of a marriage made in Hell between Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott. The story opens on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, but that also happens to be the day their marriage dissolves forever. Nick comes home to find the door wide open, the furniture upended, and Amy gone.  Nick seems like kind of a bad guy; he doesn't get along with her family,  doesn't seem that concerned about his wife, seems kind of put out and bothered by the search and derisive of the police as well as those who would wish him well. And he's got secrets. What follows alternates between Nick in the present day, cooperating, or not, with the investigation into her disappearance, and Amy's diary detailing their courtship and marriage up till now.

And now that's really all I can tell you about the plot.

What I will tell you is, if you like suspense, and you haven't read this, read it. More than just a story about a missing woman, it's about madness and entitlement, the drive to perfection and what happens when we realize that the perfection we've been promised is pulled away, again and again and again. It's also about media culture, gender war and the power of stories to define who we are, including the stories we tell ourselves.

And that ending? Ominous, scary, brilliant and perfect. Flynn writes the whole book with steely control and precision, but nothing tops those last few sentences for pure chill. I haven't read anything like this since Shirley Jackson. I picked the book up because Flynn's last book, Dark Places, kept tugging at my sleeve in bookstores though I never got around to it. I was determined not to let her latest pass me by, especially in the wake of the hype around it. But don't be put off by the hype- this is one incredible piece of work sure to provoke conversations and nightmares for a long time after you're done.

Rating: BUY!

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

Friday, September 14, 2012

What's New on the Shelf 9/14

I found a few new things to bring home from work this week, and discovered an amazing new-to-me used bookstore in Waltham not too far from home. Of course I thought it would be rude not to buy anything during my visit!

The Have-Nots by Katharina Hacker is a German novel about a couple and their travails. I picked it up at the marvelous More Than Words bookstore, a nonprofit used bookstore run by young people from Boston to teach them business skills. Not only does the store have a good cause, but it is beautiful, beautifully-managed and they even serve great coffee. I really encourage you to check them out if you live in the area. They're on Moody Street a few blocks down from the also-wonderful Back Pages Books.
I finally got David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas so I could at least try to stay ahead of the curve and read it before the movie comes out. All my hippest customers are reading it; I can't fall behind!

 The Girl in the Photograph, by Lygia Fagundes Telles, is set in the dark days of political repression in Brazil. It just appealed to me for some reason. It's published by Dalkey Archive Press, one of my favorite small presses, and it just looked neat.

Seven Houses in France is by Spanish-Basque author Bernardo Atxaga, and it's about colonialism in South America. I read Atxaga's Obabakoak earlier this year, which I enjoyed but it's a strange book and I couldn't figure out how to review it for you. Nonetheless I liked it enough to want to read more by this intriguing and challenging writer. This was a case of "one for the shelf, one for Marie"- I found it while I was stocking books at the store last week. I love when that happens.

What's new on your shelf this week?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Self-Interview

I didn't sign up for interviews in time, so I'm doing the self-interview instead- and a day late!

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I like to drink tea and snack on whatever's at hand. But usually I don't eat while reading.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I'm fine with writing in books, but as a matter of habit I don't tend to.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?
Bookmarks when I have one at hand.

Laying the book flat open?
Not so much. I used to though.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Mostly fiction. I rarely browse outside the fiction section unless I'm looking for something specific, and then it's not really browsing!

Hard copy or audiobooks?
Hard copy, please. I like audio for the car once in a while. I like nonfiction audios, especially things that are funny like celebrity bios. I had a temp job once doing data entry and got through a lot of books!

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
I can put it down at any point but I would prefer to end at chapters. I appreciate nonfiction books particularly with short chapters so I can dip in and out.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Yes, if I have a dictionary or my computer handy. If not I'll look it up later.

What are you currently reading?
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, Travels to Siberia by Ian Frazier and The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers.

What is the last book you bought?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I always have several books going at once. See above!

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
I like to read in coffee shops in the morning or the afternoon with a latte or espresso handy.  If I read at home I tend to get sleepy.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
I prefer stand-alone books. I like detective series though I read them slowly.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
Margaret Atwood always! And look at my Staff Picks page and my Favorites page in the tabs above.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
I organize them by read and unread and then by fiction or nonfiction, poetry, books in French and graphic novels.Over time those distinctions are blurring as I run out of shelf space, and I've weeded about half of my French books. I also have separate sections for books by publishers like NYRB Classics, Europa Editions and Persephone.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

REVIEW: Broken Harbor, by Tana French

Broken Harbor, by Tana French. Published 2012 by Viking. Fiction. Crime Fiction.

So as some of you may have noticed, I've been on a crime fiction kick lately. Crime fiction may or may not be a mystery; sometimes you know the killer from page one (sometimes the book is narrated by the killer), and sometimes you have to wait to find out. Sometimes you never find out; sometimes who did it is beside the point. I accepted a pitch to review Broken Harbor because I've long been intrigued by Tana French, a writer of the who-dun-it school set in one of my favorite places, Ireland, and she had a new book out just when I've been getting into the genre. She's also a pretty mainstream author and I thought it would be fun to break out of the small-press world for a bit and try a best-selling author of wide renown.

In modern-day, post-financial-crash Ireland, Detective Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy is called to investigate a horrible scene. A family of four is found dead or dying in a seaside home. They live in Brianstown,  a housing development in an area that used to be called Broken Harbor. Brianstown promised upscale suburban living for Dublin's rising upper middle class. The development and the family's prospects bloomed and wilted with the now-tanked Irish economy. Dad Pat Spain was an up and comer laid off during the crash; he and his pretty wife Jenny were high school sweethearts, the king and the queen, with a beautiful home and two adorable moppet children until it all went wrong.

French offers the reader a small but tantalizing set of suspects including Jenny's sister, a creepy neighbor kid and a former friend of the couple's turned benign stalker. She spends a lot of time on the details of the investigation including lengthy interviews with suspects and asides to do with Kennedy's mentally ill sister and his family secrets. She also fills the book with a lot of authentic and fun Irish dialogue which I'm sure sounds fabulous on the audio version. My pal Sandy mentioned the audio on her blog You've Gotta Read This and persuaded me to pick this up off the pile. The book's strength is its setting and its use of dialogue to flesh out the various characters, especially the Spains' seedy neighbors.

Overall I liked Broken Harbor. I thought it was a very solid, engaging page-turner and a fun read. It slowed down a little for me after the first half; it's clear from the flap that the person Kennedy thinks is the killer isn't, so after a point I was waiting for him to sort of get on with it and figure it out for real. I'm not sure I'm 100% down with the solution; I get it, but I thought the killer's motive was not entirely convincing. In any case though  I think Broken Harbor is an entertaining mystery that fans of French and suspense will enjoy.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Blogger Appreciation Week! Book Blogs I Love

It's here again folks, and though I almost missed it, I found out over the weekend that this is the week. I'll be participating kind of sporadically; I hadn't planned anything so I'm going to just kind of wing it.

Today's topic is other blogs we appreciate. BBAW isn't doing awards this year (wise decision in my opinion) so it's all about showing our appreciation for the blogs we love.

You only have to look at my sidebar to see just some of my favorite blogs and bloggers. Scrolling down the list this morning it's impossible for me to choose my top favorites so I'll just say, visit any of the blogs on my list and you can't go wrong.

There are blogs I read because their taste is similar to mine and I'll always find books to add to my TBR pile, like Nonsuch Book, A Guy's Moleskine Notebook and Dolce Bellezza;

there are blogs I read because their content is creative and original and push the boundaries of what a book blog can do, like Books and Bowel Movements and Enrique Freeque's Forum;

there are blogs I love because the bloggers are loyal, prolific commenters, like Raging Bibliomania and BermudaOnion;

bloggers who are good friends in real life, like Archimedes Forgets, A & A's Movie A DayLaura's Review Bookshelf, Care's Online Book Club, and more,

bloggers who bring sunshine into my day whenever I get to peek into their world, like You've Gotta Read This and Scobberlotch;

blogs whose topics are specialized and fascinating, like Reading Proust in Foxborough, ImageNations and Almost Insider,

blogs which emphasize diversity and global literature, like Amy Reads, Kinna Reads, and The Feminist Texican [Reads],

and all the other blogs I love for their passion for books, whether or not they read the things I do or comment all the time or post every day or once a month or hardly ever. Going over this list, I noticed I really need to update it with all the blogs I read all the time but haven't bookmarked. So many great blogs!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Salon- Fall Is Here!

I know it's not official until later this month but let's face it- summer is over. This past summer has been great- I read lots of good books, went on a fun trip to a resort island, worked a ton, bought a grill for the backyard and used it several times per week. But it's time to roll up the hammock and at least think about finding my sweaters and jeans. For this week I'll still be in capri pants and light blouses- temperatures will be in the high 70s with lots of sun. But I can still dream about cool days, hot cider and apple pie.

This weekend we got a good start on fall by attending King Richard's Faire, an annual Renaissance fair that takes place over the course of about two months. It was pretty fun. It was very kid-oriented but there was plenty of fun for grownups- food, animals, games, shopping. I got a pretty silver puzzle ring and ate my weight in.... well, actually I had a chicken Caesar wrap for lunch and a root beer float for dessert, hardly a feast worthy of a Renaissance lady but one that suited me fine. Jeff shot some arrows and enjoyed a turkey leg (secret: turkey legs at Ren fairs are really ham hocks) and we both had a great time.

Today? Today I'm working at the bookstore in the morning and running errands in the afternoon. And reading. I just finished Tana French's Broken Harbor so expect a review this week; I need to pick a book to read next though. What should it be? I also started The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers and I'm enjoying it. I'm putting The Inquisitory aside for now or at least slowing down my progress.  I also finished Marc Fitten's delightful Elza's Kitchen, which I enjoyed. Well, I'm sure I'll find something, but I'd definitely appreciate any suggestions!

Hope you have a great Sunday. I understand Sunday Salon is mostly on Facebook these days (I have more or less stopped using Facebook so I don't know) so I think you need to go there for more posts.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hiccups and Updates

So, this week I made the long-overdue move of changing my Blogger URL to I won't go into the reasons why but I felt like I needed to claim that little bit of internet real estate for myself since it is the name under which I "do business". Anyway I don't know what effect that has had on my subscribers, so those of you who subscribe to or bookmark the site through Google or by URL might want to check to make sure your subscriptions still work. Of course, if your subscription does not work you are likely not going to see this message. So then I guess we're all stuck.

Also, I've been hearing a lot of folks having trouble with the Captcha word verification. I really am sorry about this. I don't know what to do about it. I have no control over the Captchas that Blogger chooses; Captcha drives me crazy too when I visit blogs. What I do when presented with a Captcha I can't read is refresh a couple of times until I get one that's clear enough to try.

I really don't want to have to moderate comments to keep out spam, and Captcha is the best spam deterrent I've found. If it's too much and you're not able to comment, I'm sorry, but I hope you'll read anyway. I really appreciate all of you and all of your comments and I wish I had a better solution to this for you.

Friday, September 7, 2012

What's New on the Shelf 9/7/12

A few new things turned up in the mailbox and the shopping bag this week. I'm excited about all of them of course!

I've been fascinated by the looks of Ben Macintyre's books about World War 2 spying. His latest, Double Cross, is out in hardcover now and has been selling well; Agent Zigzag is an older title of his, about a man named Eddie Chapman, an English man who trained to spy for the Germans during the war and ended up as a double agent. I know I'm going to love this!

Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, came from a used bookstore. It's a literary novel about two couples and their relationship over a number of years. I've been interested in Stegner and when I asked on Twitter which book of his to start with, this was the the clear winner.

Europa Editions sent me a review copy of Anthony Burgess' Earthly Powers, a tome of 650-odd pages of teensy type. The type is so small that Europa sent along a separate letter saying that they were aware of the small type (i.e., don't tell us, we know!) and suggesting we reviewers remind our readers that the book is available as an e-book. So you've been warned if you decide to take it on! The story concerns an older writer who is asked to bear witness to a miracle to support the canonization of a Pope; the book constitutes the writer's memoirs. I'm taking my synopsis from one of the many glowing reviews of the book, which has apparently been out of print, to be found on I'm intrigued to say the least!

What about you? Have you read any of these? What did you think? What's new on your shelf?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More Fall Books!

A couple of weeks ago I did a fall books post about some of the books I'm excited about this season, but of course as soon as I hit "post" I thought of a whole bunch more that I'm anticipating.  Here's (most of) the rest. Some are reprints or reissues, some are mainstream and some are small press.

Out now and the hipster must-have book of the year is D.T. Max's biography of David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. I almost want to read this and I've only ever read one of Wallace's books, The Broom of the System, a relatively minor title.  (Penguin)

NYRB Classics is reissuing Kingsley Amis' Booker-Prize winner The Old Devils and it's coming out pretty soon (October 2). This is one of the very last Booker Prize books I have to collect and I can't wait to get it. (NYRB Classics)

Veronique Olmi's Beside the Sea is coming out from Tin House Books, a wonderful small press. Previously it was published by Pereiene Press, a small European house, and was hard to find on this side of the Atlantic. It's a story about a troubled mother who takes her children on a seaside holiday. Look for it October 31. (Tin House Books)

Ludmilla Ulitskaya's latest Daniel Stein, Interpreter, comes out in paperback in early October. If you like first-class literary fiction from the former Soviet Union, you really need to be reading her.  I haven't read this yet (I'm waiting for the paperback) but I've loved everything I've read of hers in the past. (Overlook)

Of course, The Twelve is one of the biggest fall titles, in terms of anticipation and buzz as well as sheer bulk. The sequel to Justin Cronin's smash hit The Passage is every bit as riveting as the first book. It comes out October 16. (Random House)

I'm also very excited about Ian McEwan's latest, Sweet Tooth, about a young woman, an avid reader, recruited to MI5 in 1972 as part of a Cold-War initiative to spy on a writer of interest to the agency. But someone blows her cover- to find out who and why, you'll have to read the book. (Random House)

That's it- I think! Who knows, maybe there will be a Part Three in another couple of weeks.

Have you read any of these yet? Interested in them? What else are you looking forward to?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Salon- Labor Day Means No Labor For Me

Well I'm happy to say I'm enjoying Labor Day Weekend by doing no labor. I have the whole three day weekend off, which is something of a miracle! Yesterday my big plan was to get my hair cut; today, we may go to the beach and play skeeball at an amusement park and tomorrow there might be a visit to a coffee shop and a croissant to eat. That's about it.

Here are my cats Tanya and Pandora doing what I'd like to be doing this weekend!

The past week was average-busy for me; the bookstore has been slowish during August, but you can already tell that's about to change. My new staff pick will go up soon if it hasn't already; it's Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm, which I reviewed here last week.

Like everyone else, it seems like the summer has ended really quickly. This weekend was the annual Santa Lucia Festival in my neighborhood, a small street fair centered on a tiny chapel in a residential neighborhood. The chapel seats maybe 30 people; the fair has food and live music and it's come to represent the end of summer for me, always bittersweet. After a typical work schedule this week Jeff and I are headed to King Richard's Faire next weekend; should be fun. We went to a Renaissance fair last year and enjoyed it, and I think we'll enjoy this one too.

Reading-wise, I finished I Hadn't Understood by Diego de Silva and started Elza's Kitchen by Marc Fitten; I read his first book Valeria's Last Stand a while back and liked it. With I Hadn't Understood I've now finished by 12-book commitment to the Europa Challenge but I'm sure I'll read more. I have a ton of unread Europas waiting for me and I can't stop buying their books. There are lots of great challenges out there but that seems to be the only one I can stick to!

I'm tempted to do a Fall Books Part 2 post sometime soon, with more mainstream titles I'm looking forward to (my first post was very small-press-heavy). What do you think? Enough already with the fall books or do you want to hear more?

Have a great Sunday. More Sunday Salon here.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What's New On The Shelf- Labor Day Weekend Edition

Only two new books this week; I've decided for the rest of the year, if I'm going to buy a book, I have to get rid of two books. Of course this starts NEXT week.

Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, coming in September, arrived for review from the very wonderful Europa Editions. Grazie! <3 br="br">
I bought the second volume in the Inspector Kayankaya series, More Beer, by Jakob Arjouni. My husband and I don't drink alcohol, and I work in a bookstore, so he raised his eyebrows when I came home one day last week and said "I bought More Beer at work today," but now he understands. The first book in the series, Happy Birthday, Turk! was crazy good and I know I'll love this one too.

What's new on your shelf this week? Have a great Labor Day Weekend and read lots!