Monday, March 31, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finally finished The Siege Of Krishnapur this week. It was really good. I'll review it soon. Next up in the Booker pile is Rites of Passage, by William Golding. It came out 1980. I don't know what it's about but I'll tell you more soon.

I also finished Jan Elizabeth Watson's new book, What Has Become of You, which comes out May 1. I will review it then. I think I need to read more books that are out now because I'm always like, oh I can't review that now blah blah blah.

So now I have all these openings in my reading schedule.

I started Countdown City, the second in Ben H. Winters' Last Policeman Trilogy. Book Three is coming out very very soon so I need to be ready for the end of the world! That, along side Rites of Passage and Hild will be enough to keep me busy for now.

What are you reading?

See more at

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Blogging Challenges and Changes

I have been dealing with serious blogging blockage lately. All of my book energy goes into my job, and when I'm home and not reading, I'm just doing other things. You know, things besides things having to do with books. I know, impossible, right?! What do you mean, things besides things having to do with books. There are no such things!

Well, there's my sewing business, and my writing, and my fitness hobby, and my acupuncture sessions, and time spent with my husband and friends. So, there are a few things.

All this has meant that I basically just blog on Mondays, and any posts I don't write on Monday don't get written for the week. If you're still here, and I think not many of you are, you'll have noticed the paucity of reviews. Another factor influencing that deficit is my lack of interest in writing reviews for books I don't absolutely love, and there are always a few of those. And when I'm just lukewarm on a book, and not sure if I should review it or not, I've been opting for not.

But I really want to have a more active blog so I'm going to start posting (or re-posting) older reviews on Thursdays and call them ThrowBack Thursday reviews. I'm not into posting childhood photos of myself on the internet, but I can do an old review a week. These reviews will not be tagged or labeled in any searchable way, because I tagged the original reviews, and any buy links will be removed because I don't do that anymore anyway. I hope you enjoy them.

Other changes may be in the works, too. I haven't done what's-new-on-the-shelf in a while, and I've been toying with the idea of doing occasional posts on cool things I see pass through my hands at the bookstore. And I'm looking for more ideas so if you have any, I'd love to know!

Thanks to my readers who've stuck with me- I really appreciate you!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: THE PALESTINIAN LOVER, by Selim Nassib

The Palestinian Lover, by Selim Nassib. Published 2007 by Europa Editions. Literary fiction. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

The Palestinian Lover is a book that keeps me thinking about it long after I closed the final pages. First, there's that title. To what, or whom, does it refer? The book is about a fictional love affair between Golda Meir and an Arab businessman named Albert Pharaon. So maybe it refers to Albert, Golda's Palestinian lover. Or maybe it refers to Golda; the French title is L'Amante Palestinese, amante being the feminine form of the word, and another English translator chose A Lover in Palestine as the title.

Certainly the book is about a woman who loves the land called Palestine, who has come from Europe and America to make a new home there, and for whom a man like Albert represents both the ultimate forbidden fruit and the single thing from which she cannot turn. There's a second woman, too, a Palestinian woman with whom Albert has a relationship after his affair with Golda ends. The book covers time from the early 1930s through 1948 and ranges from a kibbutz to the city but rests largely in the minds of its characters.

Certainly identity and it malleability, the way we put it on like clothes and wear it into the world, is a central theme of the book. Other themes include individual versus group identity, adherence to convention and the power of passion to challenge our ideas about ourselves. The Palestinian Lover also figures as an example of Europa Editions' mission to bring important Arabic literature to Europe and America. Unfortunately it's out of print now but I hope that readers interested in the Middle East and Israel will keep an eye out for this fascinating and important novel.

It's my third for the 2014 Europa Challenge.


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

Monday, March 24, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I had a good reading week last week. I read The Palestinian Lover, by Selim Nassib, an odd book that I enjoyed about a fictional love affair between Golda Meir and a Palestinian aristocrat, covering the late 1930s until 1948. More on that later this week. I've had this book in my piles for a long time so I'm glad I finally got to it.

This week I started reading Jan Elizabeth Watson's new book, What Has Become of You, which is coming out next month. This book is her second; her first book, Asta in the Wings, was one of my favorites and remains one of the best books I've read about childhood. This new one is about a teacher at a girls' school in Maine and some creepy goings-on. We'll see where it goes but I like it so far. It feels more commercial than Asta, a very literary book published by the small press Tin House Books.

I also started listening to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, which I'm enjoying. This book, which has been very popular, is about the HeLa line of cells that were taken from a woman dying of ovarian cancer. The cells became the first immortal line of cells to be used in medical research and have had a huge impact on the treatment of many diseases and conditions, yet before this book little was known about the woman from whom they came. Skloot's mission was to correct that gap. It's interesting, and it's not sending me for PTSD treatment like Devil in the White City did.

I'm still working on Hild and The Siege of Krishnapur. What are you reading this week?

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Crafturday: Where Are My Dragons?

Trapped in their maze, on this pillow. I made this as a gift for the folks who put us up in Austin a few weekends ago.

There was a mistake on the blue dragon which I caught in time to fix it. It's pretty horrifying when you look at a paper pieced pattern like this, which I would describe as intermediate with plenty of smallish pieces, and find that something that was supposed to be blue was black and now your dragon looks like it has a pencil neck. But I did catch it in time!

The pattern is from the book Spellbinding Quilts, which features wizards, dragons, fairies, witches and other magical creatures. The block is 71/2 x 15 inches and the total pillow size is about 18 inches.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review: IN THE ORCHARD, THE SWALLOWS, by Peter Hobbs

In the Orchard, The Swallows, by Peter Hobbs. Published 2014 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction.

In the Orchard, The Swallows, is a slim, lyrical book that can be read in a sitting or two, about a young man released from a Pakistani prison after more than a decade. Now, the boy he was gone, and the man he could have been ceased to exist, he must figure out who he is and how he will survive, not just day to day but how to make a life when everything about himself has been shattered, reformed and remade.

Peter Hobbs writes the book as a series of letters to Saba, the girl he knew and the inadvertent cause of his imprisonment. The two were infatuated with each other as teens though separated by custom and class. Her father has the boy arrested and sent away, and the boy stays in prison for years, becoming a man. Then one day, just like that, he's released and dumped by the side of the road. He makes his way back home and a kindly neighbor takes him in and takes care of him, until he's ready to begin taking care of himself.

He has a long way to go, and Hobbs makes no bones about the abuse he's suffered and the difficulty of his recovery in both physical and psychological terms. But there's hope, and there's a future, even if he doesn't quite know what that future will hold. I would recommend In the Orchard for readers of Atiq Rahimi and Khaled Hosseini. It's a little gem.

It's my second book for the 2014 Europa Challenge.

Rating: BUY

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's been a slow reading time for me. I'm stuck on a couple of books that don't seem to want to end, and I decided to DNF another. But, at the same time, I've got some fun things coming up.

This week I read Peter Hobbs's intensely lyrical In the Orchard, the Swallows, about a Pakistani man freed from prison after more than a decade. He was imprisoned for a sin rather than a crime- the sin becoming infatuated with the daughter of a local strongman. When he gets out, he's a ruined shell of himself, but little by little begins the slow process of recovery.

I'm still working my way through The Siege of Krishnapur, which I only read at work on my lunch breaks, and since I only work a couple of days a week that's going slowly. I like it a lot, though.

And I'm still reading Hild, which I'm still loving.

I'm participating in a LibraryThing readalong of the classic early dystopia We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin. This is my third time reading We and it's always a treat. I'm about halfway through.

I decided to DNF Eric Larson's Devil in the White City. It was just too disturbing for me. I read a lot of crime novels, and I don't mind gore, but this isn't fiction, and we all have our limits. It's very compelling but it's also written for maximum salaciousness and titillation, and it's just not for me.

So, I'm going to start of Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I'm hoping will be a more cerebral and less visceral experience.

And then I'm going to pick something off my galley shelf, maybe Dorothy Must Die, which I dipped into last night and enjoyed a lot.

What about you? What are you reading this week? You can see more at

Thursday, March 13, 2014


The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, by Eve Harris. Published by Black Cat Press 2014. Literary Fiction.

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman came out in Great Britain last year and was longlisted for last year's Booker Prize. Don't worry though- this is no stuffy "literary" book, although it is well-written, delightful and addictive reading.

Set in the present-day London neighborhood of Golders Green amid its Orthodox Jewish community, the story centers on a 19-year-old young woman named Chani who is about to get married to Baruch, a 20-year-old she barely knows.  As the book opens she's preparing for the nuptials- getting dressed, getting nervous, and he's doing the same. The opening pages capture their anxiety as they shoulder tradition, the expectations of their families and their own innocence, and author Eve Harris conjures this mood so beautifully that these first few pages are what stay most in my mind.

From here Harris shifts perspective to the Rebbetzin, whose husband is the lead rabbi of this particular community. By extension she herself is an important community leader; women come to her for advice and it falls to her to take young Chani to the mikvah, or ritual bath, before her wedding day because Chani's mother is busy with her large brood (Chani is one of eleven children). But the Rebbetzin is deeply conflicted, having grown up secular and then come to Orthodoxy as a young woman when her then-boyfriend committed to a traditional Jewish life. The Rebbetzin has played her role well, admirably even, but now, in midlife and after suffering a traumatic miscarriage, she isn't so sure anymore. Harris takes us through her life's story and into her future.

We get to know Chani and Baruch's families, and see how they interact. Baruch spies Chani at a party and asks to meet her; his mother, a wealthy social-climber, isn't happy that a poor girl has attracted her precious son's attention and schemes to undermine the blossoming relationship. Chani, for her part, isn't sure she even likes Baruch but she knows she has to get married and he seems nice enough so she goes along with it. Ironically it's Baruch's mother's resistance that gets Chani to dig in her heels.

I'm telling you a lot about what happens, so I'll stop. The book isn't perfect; some of the conversations struck me as unrealistic but overall I think The Marrying of Chani Kaufman is a charming and absorbing novel with great characters and a winning couple at its center. I don't think it comes down as very negative about Orthodox life though there are characters who find frustration as their lot. There are also those who will find a way to make it work. The key to happiness, Harris seems to say, is rational balance and finding a partner with whom you are on the same page. Conflict only brings alienation. The book is very heavy on the details of Orthodox ritual and is clear and accessible enough to be a good read for someone interested in learning about that. If you're new to the subject I hope you won't be put off and miss out on this great read.

Rating: BUY

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

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Traveling Again- Austin, TX

My husband got a coveted speaking engagement at this week's SXSW conference in Austin, and I was lucky to be able to go with him for the weekend. I've never been to Texas before so this was pretty exciting. We made a weekend of it, staying with friends and enjoying the sights and food of this fun part of the country.

We arrived at our hosts' home on Friday night and tucked into some delicious home-made chili. After a long day of flying that was about it for us.

Saturday was a full day of running around and taking in the local color. After getting the day started with some Torchy's breakfast tacos (migas with chipotle sauce for me) we visited Book People, the legendary independent bookstore. I bought The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes, a bookmark and a little zipper pouch.

Book People, Austin TX

We spent a good long time browsing and exploring the aisles. Book People is two floors of books with staff picks running down the center of every shelf. It also has a big cooking section and a very nice cafe. I had the Frida Kahlo mocha- delicious and very spicy!

Next up was Cavender's, a department store of Western wear-boots, jeans, clothing and jewelry. My husband found some cowboy shirts and I came away with a pretty necklace. I wanted  pretty much every pair of boots in the store! I own a pair of red Ariat boots that I did not bring to Texas- I should have!
Cavender's boots- just a sample!
I could have spent all day trying on all the fun clothes.

After this we scaled back and enjoyed Central Market, a big gourmet grocery store, Hobby Lobby, a local chain of craft and hobby stores and The Quilt Store, which has a great selection of Texas and Mexican fabric. I came away with a handful of fat quarters including two pieces of orange Longhorn batik, which I bet I won't find here in Massachusetts!

We had dinner at the Salt Lick in Driftwood that night- yum! The Salt Lick came highly recommended for barbecue and we were not disappointed.

Sunday was all SXSW. We walked the exhibits, checked out the scene and Jeff did a great job at his presentation, on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the "Fragile Law" that protects Internet speech. My job was to monitor the questions that the audience tweeted and repeat them to the moderators. It was a great session!
This guy is dressed up in some kind of robot motion-capture costume, from the SXSW exhibit floor.

Then Monday we flew home but before we did, we had the chance to check out the Austin Rodeo Midway. The actual rodeo took place at night; this was more the county-fair side of it with rides, greasy food and animals. We saw longhorns, met a guy from New Mexico who makes pewter models of horny toads and watched a pig racing competition. I believe the pig racing was rigged, since the Longhorns pig always won and the OSU pig always came in dead last.

I wish we could have stayed for the evening rodeo but all in all it was a great weekend in Texas! I hope we get to go back sometime soon!

Monday, March 3, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Last week I read Time Present and Time Past, by Deirdre Madden, which I really enjoyed. She was nominated for the Orange Prize for Molly Fox's Birthday, a book a lot of her fans think is better than Time Present but I liked it just fine and I'm excited to discover such a terrific new-to-me literary writer.

This week I'm still (still!) plodding along through Hild and The Siege of Krishnapur. I have a lot going on right now; reading is slow. I'm doing a ton of sewing and that takes up most of my would-be-reading time. But I started and have almost finished The Wedding, by Dorothy West, a 1995 novel by a key member of the Harlem Renaissance, about a wealthy African-American clan getting ready to marry off one of its daughters on the family homestead on Martha's Vineyard. It's pretty wonderful.

I'm also starting a group read of We, by Evgeny Zamyatin, being held over on LibraryThing. I love this book and I'm excited to be reading it with a group of my online pals. We is one of the founding books of the dystopian genre; every dystopia written since its 1920s publication owes it something.

What about you? See more at

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March's Staff Picks

I did two staff picks this month, because that's how I rock it.

Jacob’s Folly by Rebecca Miller

Jacob Cerf is an 18th century French peddler who dies and comes back to life as a fly on the wall- literally- in the lives of two modern day New Yorkers- Les, a good guy frustrated with his life, and Masha, an Orthodox Jew struggling with hers. Rebecca Miller brings her characters to live with sparkle and verve. A winner, and one of my favorites of 2013.  My full review is here.

Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, by Paul Koudounaris

Worth it for the pictures alone, scholar Koudounaris fleshes out a strange little corner of Catholic history- that of the skeletal remains of martyrs that were dressed and ornamented as a response by the Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation. Read about the skeletons, what they meant to the communities that hosted them and how they ended up. Fascinating! My full review is here.