Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wheel of Darkness

by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Reading Preston and Child books are a guilty pleasure that I thoroughly enjoy but don’t often admit to. It is like sneaking a bright pink snowball or a blow pop without benefit of children around and hoping that your work colleagues don’t catch you acting like a child instead of a serious professional. Preston and Child write some of the most entertaining, edge of your seat thrillers that I have ever encountered. I don’t often read thrillers but I don’t miss a Preston and Child release. My favorites are Thunderhead about the search for the Anasazi City of Gold, Riptide about pirate treasure on a dangerous island off the coast of Maine, and Ice Limit about a scientific expedition attempting to recover the largest meteorite from an island off the coast of Chile. Sure the premises sound silly but they are well done escapism which are just pure fun.

And then there are the Agent Pendergast series. Alloysius Pendergast, an unorthodox FBI agent, who comes from a very wealthy and strange southern family, is featured in Wheel of Darkness, the eighth book in the Pendergast series. I don’t really want to give too much away about Pendergast or the series but I highly recommend that you start at the beginning. The books featuring Pendergast in order of which they were published are:
Relic (1995)
Reliquary (1997)
Cabinet of Curiosities (2002)
Still Life with Crows (2003)
Brimstone (2004)
Dance of Death (2005)
Book of the Dead (2006)
Wheel of Darkness (2007)

Mount Dragon (1996), Riptide (1998), Thunderhead (1999) and Ice Limit (2000) are all stand alone books but do often have characters that show up in the Pendergast books. I have read them all in the order published.

I guess I should say something about Wheel of Darkness. Agent Pendergast and his ward, Constance Greene attempt to recover a mysterious Tibetan relic that has been stolen from the Tibetan monastery where they both have studied. They pursue the thief aboard a luxury ocean liner where a serial killer seems to be on the lose and then things go from bad to worse. While not as focused on the Pendergast story as more recent ones in the series, as always I really enjoyed the way the authors make their settings come to life. I was totally caught up in the world of the ultra luxury ocean liner both above decks with the officers and the mega-wealthy and below decks with the crew. Unfortunately, the authors seemed slightly off their game. The focus oddly was not on Agent Pendergast and I missed his antics and learning more about his fascinating story. The plot was also somewhat uneven and the mystery itself while an interesting premise didn't reach its full potential. While not one of their best, I was glad I read it and I do look forward to reading Cemetery Dance coming out soon. I highly recommend reading these books from the beginning.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bookmarks Magazine

Nov/Dec 2008

Historical Fiction
Blood Flowers - Anita Amirrezvani
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks
Knights of Black and White - Jack Whyte
Painter from Shanghai - Jennifer Cody Epstein
The Last Empress - Anchee Min
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See
***************************
After Dark - Haruki Murakami
Monsters of Templeton - Lauren Groff
Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer
Lace Reader - Brunonia Barry
The Girl With the Dragon Tatto - Stieg Larsson
Anathem - Neal Stephenson (SF)
Flood - Stephen Baxter (SF)
The Black Hole War - Leonard Susskind (NF)
Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin (SF)
Ringworld - Larry Niven (SF)
Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny
New York Trilogy - Paul Auster
Under the Banner of Heavan - John Krakauer (NF)
Dear American Airlines - Jonathan Miles
Theory of Clouds - Stephane Audeguy
Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett
Fieldwork - Mischa Berlinski
Signed Mata Hari - Yannick Murphy

Friday, October 31, 2008

RIP III Wrap Up

I signed up to do Peril the Third which was only one book. I in fact read four - Out, Tales of Moonlight and Rain, Heart Shaped Box and Haunting of Hill House and enjoyed them all. Only one of them was in my original book pool - Tales of Moonlight and Rain. I still want to read all of the ones in my pool but I was especially disappointed that I didn't get to reread House of Leaves, especially since of the 473 RIP III reviews to date, not a single one was for that book.

Here are some of the books that I discovered from other RIP participants that I would like to read:

The Book of Lost Things-
We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson
The Thirteenth Tale -

I haven't managed to read all of the reviews yet, no power for two weeks with Hurricane Omar visiting put a crimp in that, but I will eventually work my way through and keep adding to this list.

I thoroughly enjoyed RIP III and especially liked the challenge being pressure free. Thanks Carl for hosting a great challenge!

The Haunting of Hill House

by Shirley Jackson

This book was not on my original pool of books for the RIP challenge but I read so many great things about it that I ordered it when I ordered a new copy of House of Leaves, another haunted house type book that I read years ago and really want to reread. I had to do some traveling and House of Leaves was simply too big to haul around so I took Hill House instead and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The story line is simple. A professor studying the paranormal, Dr. Montigue, rents Hill House, a known haunted house, for the summer and invites some people who have had paranormal experiences before to join him. Two people accept his invitation, Eleanor who has spent her quiet isolated life caring for her ailing mother who has recently passed away and Theodora who is vibrant, self assured and used to being the center of attention. They are also accompanied by Luke, the future heir to the house. As soon as they move into the house strange things start to happen.

The book was beautifully written. I especially enjoyed Eleanor’s fantasies on her drive to Hill House about living a simple life in the picturesque and idyllic houses that she passes which are so greatly contrasted with the descriptions of Hill House. I had a bunch of passages marked to share here but in the aftermath of Hurricane Omar I checked a chain saw as my luggage instead of my clothes and book so you will just have to read it for yourself. I remember that the house itself was described as “not sane” and even all the characters are slightly off kilter, especially Eleanor. I loved that the house itself was a main character and its evil manifested itself in its physical presentation. I also really enjoyed that the story was primarily told from the point of view of Eleanor and you are never sure whether or not she is a reliable narrator.

I can see why this book is a classic of the haunted house genre and would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a well written atmospheric psychological thriller. I am certainly going to read Shirley Jackson’s other popular book, We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Heart Shaped Box

by Joe Hill

Apparently this book has been quite a sensation but I had never heard of it, or Stephen King’s son, until I starting poking around the RIP challenge reviews from last year and peoples book lists for this year. As I was looking for something light and fun in audio to take with me on a trip, I thought this would be perfect and it certainly fit the bill. It is the story of an aging Rock Star, Jude Coyne who buys a ghost on the internet for his macabre collection. Needless to say the dead man’s suit that arrives actually does bring with it a ghost and Jude gets a lot more than he bargained for.

I was pleasantly surprised that this was not just the run of the mill ghost story. What I liked most about the story was that it was so character driven. When the story opens Jude and his much younger girl friend of the moment, whom he calls Georgia, seem unappealing and one dimensional. Jude seems to be the stereotype of the self absorbed aging retired rock star and Georgia seems to be a Goth bimbo rock band groupy. As the book develops however these two characters emerge as interesting and complex characters as do the ghost himself and his step daughter, a deceased former girlfriend of Jude’s that he called Florida.

I also really liked the fact that while the ghost himself was scary the truly horrific acts of the book were committed by ordinary living people. You cannot say, this is just a ghost story and could never happen in real life because it could be happening in your neighbor’s family right now and you not even know it. (I know that is cryptic if you haven’t read the book but I don’t want to give away to much.)

Essentially, what the book is really about is relationships. Relationships between Jude and his girlfriends, between Jude and his father, between Jude and his dogs and within the ghost’s family. I don’t mean to imply that this is not a page turning horror story with lots of action, suspense and plot twists, because it is, but I was pleasantly surprised that it had a whole other dimension to it as well.

On the negative side, I thought the book could have ended after the climax instead of doing a rather long rap up to let you know what happened to everyone, but that is a common complaint I have with many books. I don’t mind a book not tying up every single loose end. When the plot reaches its natural conclusion I think it should end and let the reader use their imagination as to the aftermath, but that is just me. I know that many people like to know what happened to all the characters.

The other negative was the dogs. I liked the portrayal of the dogs and the important role that they played in the book but (I don’t want to spoil anything) suffice it to say I found a few of the dog scenes disturbing to read. I can read anything about humans but for some reason I am not willing to read about bad things happening to animals and to be honest if I had known that would be in there I probably would not have chosen to read the book. Ever since a child I have refused to even watch movies that involve animals (Bambi’s mom dies!).

Overall, it was an enjoyable page turner with more substance than I expected and I would read more of Joe Hill in the future.

Confession: I downloaded this book as audio and since mine didn’t have an actual cover and I loved the cover that Bride of the Book God had on her review, I decided to use that cover. Much more interesting than the standard mass market cover. Check out the other interesting covers.



Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bookmarks Magazine

Theory of Clouds by Stephane Audeguy
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
Bejing Coma by Flora Drew
Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner
Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles
Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
The Escapement by Jake Lake but start with Mainspring SF
The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace NF
Eaves of Heaven by Andrew X. Pham (wrote Catfish and Mandala) NF
The Forgers Spell by Edward Dolnick NF

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tales of Moonlight and Rain

by Ueda Akinari

“First published in 1776, the nine gothic tales in this collection are Japan’s finest and most celebrated examples of the literature of the occult. They subtly merge the world of reason with the realm of the uncanny and exemplify the period’s fascination with the strange and the grotesque.” Quote from the front flap of the book.

I read this book for the Japanese Literature Challenge and will also post it for the RIP III challenge as it certainly fits. These nine tales of ghosts, demons and spirits range from the mild ghost stories involving civil conversations with entities that just happen to be ghosts to the truly horrific involving tenacious demons and cannibalism. In general my favorite stories in this collection were the more sensational ones but I also really enjoyed one that wasn’t scary at all.

The Carp of My Dreams was simply a lovely story with a hint of the supernatural. A monk likes to paint carp and spends many hours studying them in the lake and painting them. He becomes ill and in his delirium dreams that he is a carp swimming in the lake, or is it a dream? He recovers from that illness and lives a full life. When he knows the end is near he takes all the carp paintings to the lake and releases the carp which swim off the paper and into the lake. It reminded me of something Borges could have written. I didn’t find anything gothic about it but I certainly enjoyed it.

I also really enjoyed the Reed-Choked House about a peasant that goes off to the capital to attempt to become a merchant but cannot return home because of civil unrest. Six years later he finally returns home and finds his home unchanged and his wife dutifully waiting for him. He awakes the next morning. “Feeling something cold dripping on his face, he opened his eyes, thinking that rain was seeping in: the roof had been torn off by the wind, and he could see the waning moon lingering dimly in the sky. The house had lost its shutters. Reeds and plumed grasses grew tall through gaps in the decaying floorboards, and the morning dew dripped from them, saturating his sleeves. The walls were draped with ivy and arrowroot; the garden buried in creepers - even though fall had not come yet, the house was a wild autumn moor.” He finally realizes that his wife is long dead.

In two other stories the women are not such benign ghosts. In the Kibitsu Cauldron a husband runs off with a prostitute. Instead of waiting for him to return the wife becomes an angry spirit, kills the prostitute and gets revenge on her husband. In A Serpent’s Lust a handsome young man is seduced by a beautiful serpent demon. Although he eventually catches on that she is not a young lady all his attempts to escape her and live a normal life are to no avail. These are two of my favorite stories in the collection but make me wonder a little about the author’s relationship with women.

In the Blue Hood an abbot at a monastery becomes infatuated with a beautiful young servant boy. When the boy becomes ill and dies the abbot is driven mad, becomes a demon and terrorizes the nearby village by digging up graves and eating the corpses. A traveling priest is able to help the village and the abbot attain peace. These are just my favorite tales but I did enjoy all of the them.

The book itself has a lengthy introduction and each story has its own introduction and contains numerous footnotes and endnotes. I found that what worked best for me was to read each story straight through without all the additional material as a simple gothic tale. I don’t think it is necessary to read anything but the tales themselves to enjoy them as stories. Simply because I was interested, I then went back and read it again with all the supplemental information which certainly added another dimension to the work. The supplemental information was exhaustive and while much of it was way more information then a casual reader would need, much of it was really fascinating. For example, the homosexual overtones of the Chrysanthemum Vow totally escaped me until I read the supplemental material. As it has been a long time since I took Japanese history classes in college I had forgotten how important a role Chinese culture played in the development of Japanese culture. I found the comparisons to No theater interesting. I enjoyed the supplemental material but if you want to simply read it as a collection of gothic tales that works too.

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

While surfing for scary books I stumbled across a reference to On the Beach by Nevil Shute which, in the serendipitous way of internet surfing that I love, resulted in a list of post-apocalyptic novels that I would like to read.

On the Beach - Nevil Shute
Earth Abides - George R. Stewart
Alas, Babylon - Pat Frank
The Stand - Stephen King
Lucifer's Hammer - Larry Niven
Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter Miller.

I purchased Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse based upon Carl V's rave review but haven't had a chance to read it yet. My favorite post-apocalyptic novels off the top of my head are Handmaid's Tale, Cloud Atlas and the Road.

So much to read, so little time!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Out

by Natsuo Kirino

Although this book has been on my wish list for some time I specifically read it for the Japanese Literature Challenge. I have also seen this book on people’s lists for the RIP III challenge so I am going to link it there as well.

This story opens with four women working the night shift in a factory making boxed lunches. When one of them murders her abusive husband the others assist with the disposal of the body. In typical noir fashion, things go from bad to worse as these four desperate and broken women try to cope with the police investigation, a loan shark and another murderer. I don’t normally read crime fiction but I generally like dark stories and boy is this dark, sadistic, brutal and shocking. Although I enjoyed it, it is not for the faint of heart.

I thought it was very well written (and translated) and that the author really captured both her characters and settings very well. It really transported me to the outskirts of Tokyo to the lunch box factory, the night club or the characters' homes. Even though not a single one of the characters is likeable and all have committed despicable acts they were so incredibly real that I cared about them and wanted to find out what happened in their story. You could really feel the desperation that each of these characters experienced. There is certainly an undercurrent of gender conflict in the novel but it never becomes preachy or obtrusive.

The only criticism I have is that the ending was a little odd. The ultimate showdown is told twice from two different perspectives. Although it was interesting to get the two perspectives of the same battle, I think this could have been achieved a little more artfully without a complete second retelling which I felt disrupted the flow of the story. I would also warn that the ending was incredibly brutal and disturbing and I can think of many friends that would not be comfortable reading it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

RIP III



Carl V has just announced his Rip III challenge which aims to "share the love of eerie, creepy, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night literature". As I love classic horror I cannot resist. I really appreciate that fact that Carl provides the option of only reading one book (Peril the Third) so that I can join in the fun without over committing myself. Hopefully I will have time for more than one. We will see. I also like the idea of a pool of books to chose from because even if I don't read more than one now, it will be a great resource when I am in the mood for something that goes bump in the night. Here is my pool of possible reads which I fully expect will increase as time goes by.

Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Akinari Ueda
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Best Ghost Stories by Algernon Blackwood
Three Impostors and Other Stories by Arthur Machen
Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James

I will definitely read Tales of Moonlight and Rain as it is sitting enticingly on my coffee table for the Japanese Literature Challenge and I am really looking forward to it. House of Leaves I read when if first came out and I have been meaning to re-read it as the creepy House keeps poping into my head. Machen and Blackwood both influenced Lovecraft, one of my favorites, and I have been meaning to read more of them. M.R. James is one of my favorite ghost story writers and I still haven't read all of his work. I am sure that I will think of or find more to add to this list. I am really looking forward to reading other participants' pools and reviews!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Reading slumps

So, what do YOU do when you find yourself in a reading slump? How do you get out of it? Do you keep trying different books until you find one that draws you in? Do you just give in to the slump until it passes, and do something other than reading for a time? Do you ask for help? And, if you ask for help, what great (or, not so great) advice have you been given on how to get out of the slump?

Thank goodness I rarely get in a reading slump but I know exactly what you mean when you finish a book and don’t know what your in the mood to pick up next. When I do get in a slump I try one of the following: read a magazine (usually Bookmarks); surf the internet (usually book blogs); read a short story or two by some of my favorite authors such as Borges or Lovecraft or Poe; or read a really trashy page turner. If I am not in the mood to read at all, I don’t read. Reading is what I do for fun and if it isn’t fun then I have plenty other hobbies to keep me occupied.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Libraries

Whether you usually read off of your own book pile or from the library shelves NOW, chances are you started off with trips to the library. (There’s no way my parents could otherwise have kept up with my book habit when I was 10.) So … What is your earliest memory of a library? Who took you? Do you have you any funny/odd memories of the library?

As a child I don’t remember using a library. The school library was a place for classes and meetings but the actual books were quite limited and I don’t ever remember checking any out. The public library was very limited and I only recall going once with a school trip. As a child my source for books were mainly book fairs plus my dad bought me series that I liked such as Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls Wilder. My favorite source for books were “borrowing” or swiping those belonging to my older sister such as all the Ian Fleming books, Coffee, Tea or Me (a wildly trashy and inappropriate book for a young child about airline stewardess), Shirley McClain books and books about aliens and the lost city of Atlantis. My taste in books have radically changed since then but the sense that reading was exciting and sort of illicit has stuck with me.

I didn’t really discover libraries until I was an adult living in the states and now I am back in a location with no real libraries. Thank god for internet shopping! I do love reading about libraries. A very interesting read is Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles. One of my favorite stories about a library is by Borges called the Library of Babel which is here. Although not a warm and cozy sort of library that you would want to spend time in, it is certainly memorable.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Books about Books

I love books about books and found these good suggestions to add to my wish list:

Speaking of Books and A Passion for Books by Harold Rabinowitz.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Favorite Bookstores


What's your favorite bookstore? Is it an online store or a bricks-and-mortar store? How often do you go book shopping? Is your favorite bookstore (or bookstores) listed as a favorite in LT? Do you attend events at local bookstores? Do you use LT to find events?

Well Marie at the Boston Bibliophile sure brings back memories with this question and her response! I spent many years living in Boston and enjoyed the Harvard Coop but my favorite book store was Waterstones in a fabulous Romanesque Revival building on the corner of Newbury Street and Exeter which originally was built as a Spiritualist Church. It was everything a book store should be, great selection in a beautiful setting and a wonderful place to spend the day. Unfortunately it is long gone. I also enjoyed the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookstore which is also now gone although it retains an online presence. (Check out its bitter but interesting, “Twelve reasons for the death of small and independent book stores”, scroll down the page a bit). Boston was a great city for antiquarian book stores which were fun to poke around in but I must admit I rarely purchased anything. Boston is also home to my all time favorite book event, the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair where I would drool over not only the interesting and rare books but the amazing fore-edge painting and extravagant book bindings. Once again, never bought anything but I loved looking.

The bookstore that I am most fond of however is the Barnes & Noble in Walpole, MA because I was part of the management team that opened that store. It was quite an experience. Whenever I am back in the area I always go and visit. It is looking older and tired and everyone that I knew is long gone but it still holds a special place in my heart.

Now I live in a location that has no bookstores and no useful library so all of my shopping is online. I use aubible.com for audio books, ebooks.com and others for ebooks and Barnes & Noble.com for paper books. I must admit that I use Amazon to look for books and read all the reviews but I actually purchase the books from B&N because the shipping works much better for me than with Amazon, the price is great since I am a member, plus I get airline miles. I guess I am in the process of selecting books almost everyday that I surf the internet but I don’t actually place an order more than a couple times a month. I haven’t found LT very helpful for finding book stores or book events.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

BTT - Other Worlds

Are there any particular worlds in books where you’d like to live?
Or where you certainly would NOT want to live?
What about authors? If you were a character, who would you trust to write your life?

I cannot think of any books I would like to live in but I certainly would like to visit some for a short while. The Groan castle in Gormenghast from Titus Groan by Meryvn Peake as long as I was a member of the Groan family. In fact I would like to stay in the twin sisters’ rooms so I have access to the Room of Roots and can have tea parties on the giant tree that grows horizontally out of the side of castle. Macondo from 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The New York of Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. Any of Tom Robbins books.

I certainly would not want to live at the Colorado horse ranch from God of Animals or the world of I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Some of the places that I definitely don’t want to live would be absolutely fascinating for really really short visits such as the House from the House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, the ruins in Antarctica from the Mouth of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft.

I would trust Gabriele Garcia Marquez to write my life because it would be beautifully written with a hint of magic and wonder. I would be very tempted to see what my life would be like written by Franz Kafka or Luis Borges, two of my favorite authors. It would be filed with the unexpected but I am afraid that it would not turn out well for me and while I don’t generally read happy ending books, if its my life I want it to be happy.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Musing Mondays #3: Why Join Reading Challenges?

I just discovered Musing Mondays through Tuesday Thingers so while I am obviously a day late, I loved the topic so wanted to add my two cents worth. The question is: Why do people join in on reading challenges… what’s so appealing about them?

I was asking myself that very same question back in April and as a result decided to try Carl V’s Once Upon a Time II as my first challenge. I enjoyed many aspects of it. I enjoyed reading everybody else’s reviews although I never did get through them all as there were a total of 476 reviews posted. It was good for me to have some incentive to go ahead and post reviews and make comment’s on other people’s blogs as I have a tendency to lurk. I discovered lots of interesting blogs with similar interests and found some books to add to my wish list.

What I didn’t like was that I found it stressful and I resented the fact that I needed to read the next book for the challenge instead of reading whatever struck my fancy. I was also surprised by how many young adult books were included in the reviews. While I can appreciate that young adult books may be well written and other adults enjoy them, they are simply something that doesn’t interest me.

I concluded that I don’t read fast enough to do a challenge consisting of five books in two months and still leave myself time to read my book club books as well as a few simply for fun. I also concluded that I needed to be more discerning when picking the topic of the challenge. Fantasy is not an area that I normally read and I thought it would be good to branch out and indeed I found some great books that I had never thought of as fantasy that I loved. But I think that if it was a topic that really interested me I would have enjoyed it more.

With the end of that challenge in June I said that I was not going to start any other challenge anytime soon. See Once Upon A Time wrap up post. But then I discovered Belleza’s second Japanese Literature Challenge. That is a topic that really interests me and it only requires three books over a six month time period so I gave in a joined up and am really looking forward to it. The review site is here.

I note that many others have commented that they enjoy challenges because it reduces their TBR piles. It certainly does not reduce mine. For the last challenge I intended to read three books that I already owned but ended up only reading one that I had and buying five new ones. For the Japanese challenge I intend to read one that I own but all of the others that are on my list as possible reads I would have to buy. If I am going to commit to the challenge I want to be reading the best books that I can find for it and besides, what a great excuse for buying books - I simply had to!!

I also noted that others mentioned that they enjoyed the challenge aspect of it. My work is all about meeting rigid deadlines and I don’t have any desire to try and push myself to read more in my leisure time. My natural inclination is to read as much as I can in the time I have available and adding stress to it just takes the pleasure out of it.

I am in awe of people that participate in multiple challenges at a time as well as people that read a huge number of books but that is something that I simply cannot do. The verdict on reading challenges is still out for me but I will give an update when I finish the Japanese Reading Challenge after January 30, 2009.

God of Animals

by Aryn Kyle

Set on a broken down horse farm in Colorado, this is a coming of age story of a twelve year old girl, Alice, and her very dysfunctional family. I cannot say that I enjoyed reading this book but I still thought is was very well done. I didn’t enjoy it simply because of the cruelty to the horses that was portrayed. As a young child I discovered that stories with animals often involved the death of an animal and I refused to read animal stories or watch animal movies. I generally still adhere to that policy. I read this book because it was the selection for my book group. One of the reasons that I enjoy my book group is that it gets me to read things that I wouldn’t ordinarily read on my own which I believe is a good thing. This book certainly was reading outside of my comfort zone.

Despite my discomfort, I found the characters very engaging and I was anxious to see how their stories played out. There is the mother that never comes down from her bedroom. The handsome but distant father who is chasing after his dreams and trying to keep the ranch afloat. The missing older sister who always won all the blue ribbons in the horse shows and attracted lucrative clients to the stable who ran off with a rodeo cowboy. The grandparents that show up in their RV and in a whirlwind of activity get things going in the right direction for the family and then just as suddenly depart. The catfish, the wealthy ladies who board their extremely expensive horses at the stable, who mostly sip cocktails and gossip instead of actually ride. Patty Jo who tries to distance herself from the catfish and is more interested in the handsome father. And last but not least, Polly a drowned girl from Alice’s class and the English teacher that becomes Alice’s confidant in late night phone marathons. With this odd cast of characters Alice is trying to do the best she can to grow up and take care of her family with absolutely no help or guidance from any adults in her life.

While some in my book group found the story depressing and didn’t like any of the characters, I thought the author’s portrayal of the characters, while not sympathetic, rang true. It is not a happily every after story but I suspect that it is more true to life than we would like to think. I enjoyed the author’s use of language and found the plot and characters extremely well done. This was the author’s first novel and I would be interested to read her future works if she doesn’t include any animals.

Tuesday Thingers

What other weekly memes or round robins do you participate in? Is this the only one? Why Tuesday Thingers and not some other weekly Tuesday meme? Or do you do more than one?

In addition to Tuesday Thingers I sometimes participate in Booking Through Thursday and Weekly Geeks although I am not very consistent. I only participate if I have the time and find the question interesting. I like Booking Through Thursday and Tuesday Thingers because they are book focused and in addition to the interesting questions it is a good way to find other bloggers that have similar interests. I occasionally participate in Weekly Geeks because I am new to blogging and I am trying to be more of a participant than a lurker, which is my natural tendency.

I recently discovered a new one, It’s Tuesday, Where are You, which asks where is reading taking you today? The question is always the same but the answers are always different. Reading is such a great way to experience something different without even leaving your home be it inside a virtual reality game, in outer space, in Antarctica, in Cromwell’s England, in the Emperor of China’s Court or in Colorado on a horse ranch. I really enjoy seeing where reading has taken other readers.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Halting State

by Charles Stross

After the Once Upon a Time II challenge I was in the mood for some sci fi. I had read such great things about this book (like Carl V's review) that I had to check it out. This thriller takes place in 2018 in the independent republic of Scotland where a bank robbery by a band of orcs with a dragon for backup has taken place inside of Avalon Four, a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). It is told in the 2nd person through the narratives of Sue, a police officer, Elaine, a forensic accountant and Jack, a game programmer that just happens to have the exact skill set as Avalon Four's missing programmer.

While I have never played computer games and could not follow all the lingo, I found the whole premise very interesting. The technology seemed to be a reasonable extrapolation of where we might be in ten years and the pervasiveness of information technology in everyday life seemed dead on. I found myself caught up in the plot and having to remind myself that the portrayal of the police’s big brother ability to track a person’s every movement was really very scary. I also found the idea interesting that innocent games, Spooks in the book, could be used by intelligence agencies or others to have the participants unwittingly involved in far more than a game without them even suspecting.

While I know that some who have read the book did not like the second person style, I had no issue with it. While I didn’t find that the second person was essential to the book, as in Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, once I read that it was the narrative used in most role playing games, I thought it was a fun touch.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is when you first meet Elaine, the forensic accountant, who on her time off is involved in sword fighting but enhanced with virtual reality to add elaborate costumes and an appropriate setting. Through out the book I was hoping that Elaine was going to have the opportunity to really wield that sword and cause some havoc. While she did get to use it at a pivotal point in the book, it was very anticlimactic and disappointing. Of course I was happy that two of the three main characters were strong women so it was just a minor quibble. Over all though I enjoyed the book and will definitely check out some others by Charles Stross.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Recommendations. Do you use LT's recommendations feature? Have you found any good books by using it? Do you use the anti-recommendations, or the "special sauce" recommendations? How do you find out about books you want to read?

I don’t find Library Thing’s recommendations very helpful and do not use them. It comes up with such obvious recommendations: I have some Jose Saramago in my library so I would like other books that he has written or I have some Franz Kafka in my library so I would enjoy reading a biography about him. I am not saying these recommendations are wrong, just obvious. The unsuggester recommendations seem to all be books about Christianity which apparently is a typical response judging from other posts. The member recommendations seem way off base to me. I liked Good Omen’s so I should like the Eyre Affair and Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff? I loved Good Omen’s but wasn’t thrilled with either the Eyre Affair or Lamb, both of which I thought were good concepts that didn’t live up to their potential.

I have no problems finding lots of books that I would like to read. I subscribed to Book magazine before it went out of business and now to Bookmarks magazine and always find interesting suggestions there. The best source are friends who share your reading tastes but unfortunately that is not as common as I would like which is why I have turned to the internet. I get so many ideas from both web sites and emailed newsletters such as the New York Times Book Review as well as numerous bookish blogs. Some books just grab me after just reading one review and I know I have to have it like Carl V’s review of Wastelands. Most books I will read one review and then if I start reading about it on the blogs I will really consider it. At the moment the Lace Reader and Gargoyle both seem hot books that I will keep in mind as I read more about them. I also tend to get interested in a subject or genre and follow that path for a while. Recently I was in the mood for science fiction and came across Tor's new web site that is currently giving away free ebooks many of which were already on my wish lists. There are far more books in the world then I will ever have time for and I have at least a couple of years worth of books to be read in my house so I never really need to search for books. Books just seem to find me and I cannot resist them.

It's Tuesday, Where Are You.

Where is reading taking you today?

Today I just started to visit a broken down horse ranch in Desert Valley Colorado. (God of Animals by Aryn Kyle)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

July/August Bookmarks

Here are the books that looked interesting in the July/August Bookmarks magazine.

Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere by Gabrielle Walker - NF
The Boat by Nam Le - S, Short Stories
Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Srout
What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman
The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson - SF

It also had a article on Great Science Fiction
Cyberpunk:
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr.
Philip K. Dick
Peace War by Vernor Vinge
Pat Cadigan
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
Alfred Bester

Time Travel:
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
John Crowley - AegyptCycle or Lord Byron's Novel

Space Opera:
Poul Anderson
Polity series (Gridlinked) by Neal Asher
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

I just discovered Raidergirl3's It's Tuesday, Where Are You? which asks where is reading taking you today. I loved the idea so thought I would join in.

Today I am in the year 2018 inside the multiplayer on line virtual reality game Avalon 4 with a forensic accountant who is trying to figure out how a band of orcs with a dragon managed to rob a virtual bank and we have just been attacked by intruders. Having last played a computer game not long after the pong era, I am a little lost but am finding the world intriguing and the story compelling. (Halting State by Charles Stross).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Japanese Literature Challenge 2

Bellezza is hosting the second Japanese Literature Challenge. I said I wasn't going to join any more challenges right away but this one is only three books in six months and is a topic that really interests me so here it goes. Here are some of the books that I will consider reading for this challenge but I reserve the right to add to this list (and most likely will) at any time.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle - Murakami
Sea of Fertility - Yukio Mishima
The Tatoo Murder Case - Akimitsu Takagi
Out - Natsuo Kirino
something by Banana Yoshimoto
Tales of Moonlight and Rain - Ueda
Tale of Genji - Shikibu
All She Was Worth- Miyuki Miyabe

Bellezza has some book suggestions here and Tanabata of In Spring it is the Dawn has interesting ones from her Reading Japan project here which I would like to explore more.

I have been meaning to read the Tale of Genji for years but it is quite daunting. If anyone is going to read the Tale of Genji for the challenge I would love to have someone read along with me.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Summer

Since we're past the Fourth of July and the summer season has officially started, what are your plans for the summer? Vacations, trips? Trips that involve reading? Reading plans? If you're going somewhere, do you do any reading to prepare? Do you read local literature as part of your trip? Have you thought about using the LT Local feature to help plan your book-buying?

We don’t have any exciting travel plans scheduled for the summer. We went to California for a vacation in May and just got back from a five day weekend diving in St. Eustatius. I may try and fit in some family obligations this summer in Nebraska and upstate New York but work is very busy and I don’t know if I will be able to get away.

I don’t have any specific reading plans for the summer but I tend to think of the classics as summer reading. When I was in college I often took a literature course or two when I was home during the summer for fun and to rack up a couple extra credits so when I think of D.H. Lawrence, Henry James, Theodore Dreiser and Willa Cather I associate them with summer time. I may not read any classics this summer but as it gets hotter and hotter I tend to read more. Instead of feeling compelled to do chores and be productive with my spare time, keeping cool becomes an actual activity and lounging by the pool with a good book becomes justified indolence.

When I do travel I always try and read a few books set in my destination before the trip. Before our trip to India last fall I read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie. Before visiting Vietnam I read the Quiet American by Graham Greene, Catfish and Mandala by Andrew Pham and Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong. Before I visited Peru I read the Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder, Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield and the Puma’s Shadow by A.B. Daniel, a fictionalized story about the Incas. It can sometimes be hard to find fiction set in the location that you are visiting but usually Lonely Planet guides have a small section on further reading and Longitude Books ( A web site of “Recommended Reading for Travelers”) often has good ideas.

I have tried the LT local feature and have not found it helpful. I don’t tend to read much while I am actually traveling but do take my ipod with audio books for the plane rides.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Weekly Geeks #9: Challenges

1. If you participate in any challenges, get organized! Update your lists, post about any you haven’t mentioned, add links of reviews to your lists if you do that, go to the challenge blog if there is one and post there, etc.

2. If you don’t participate in any challenges, then join one! There’s a good selection of possibilities over on my right hand sidebar (scroll down) where I list those I participate in. There’s also A Novel Challenge, a blog that keeps track of all sorts of reading challenges.

3. Towards the end of the week, write a wrap-up post about getting your challenges organized OR if you’re joining your first challenge, post about that any time during the week. Once you have your post up, come back and sign Mr Linky with the link to the specific post, not just to your blog.

This is certainly a timely theme for me. I am new to challenges and I just successfully completed my first one, Carl V’s Once Upon A Time II challenge. I was skeptical at first but wanted to give it a try - see post “What’s the appeal of reading challenges?”. After two months, five books, one play and perusing 476 book reviews of the other participants I concluded that I enjoyed it, would probably try it again with less of a book commitment but for the moment was ready to take a break. See the post about my experience at OUATII Wrap Up. I don’t know how some people do more than one of these at a time!!

P.S. There is a Lost (as in the t.v. show) challenge? I so didn't want to know that! It is very tempting. I can see that these challenge things get to be compulsive.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

May/June Bookmarks

Here are the books that looked interesting from the May/June Bookmarks Magazine.

Maps & Legends - Michael Chabon -NF
Lush Life - Richard Price (also wrote Clockers)
The Invention of Everything Else - Samantha Hunt
The Commoner - John Burnham Schwartz
The Monsters of Templeton - Lauren Groff
Slip of the Knife - Denise Mina
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles - Jennifer 8 Lee -NF
Rock On - Dan Kennedy -NF-S
Bliss - Peter Carey - S
Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey

Friday, June 20, 2008

Once Upon A Time II Wrap Up

Well I completed my first challenge and it was fun but also stressful. I read American Gods which I have owned since it first came out, The Stolen Child which is one of the best books that I have read in the past year, Storm Front which will be a fun new series to explore when I am looking for something light, Harsh Cry of the Heron, book four in the Tales of Otori and Gracious Plenty. I wouldn’t have finished the challenge but for the fact that I read Gracious Plenty for my book club and discovered it was fantasy and so could count. I also read Midsummer Night’s Dream and watched the Hoffman movie which was wonderful.

I had really hoped to read Gormanghast by Mervyn Peake as the first book, Titus Groan, is one of my all time favorite books and I have no doubt that Gormanghast will be as good but it was simply too long. I had also hoped to read Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell which I have had since it came out (I buy books much faster than I can read them), but alas it was also too long. I am currently in the middle of two books that I intended for this challenge, Gods Behaving Badly in audio and Perdido Street Station. I didn’t get very far into Gods but am really enjoying Perdido Street and will post a review when I am done.

All in all I enjoyed the challenge. I enjoyed reading the reviews (465 when I last checked), adding to my wish list and discovering new blogs along the way. The only thing I didn’t like was feeling the pressure to read these five books under the deadline. I felt a little resentful that I needed to move onto the next book that needed to be read instead of going with my whimsey and selecting what I am in the mood for. For me five books, plus my book club obligations, in two months is simply too much of a commitment as it doesn’t leave me any time for outside reading. Will I do a challenge again? I will probably at some point but right now I am looking forward to reading according to my mood. Before I embarked on this endeavor I was reading Borges: the Collected Fictions, just one short story with breakfast in the morning, and I am looking forward to returning to that. I am also craving some science fiction and some classic horror - H.P. Lovecraft perhaps. And after that - who knows, whatever beckons the most beguilingly from my bookshelf.

Midsummer Night’s Dream

by William Shakespeare

As part of Once Upon a Time II Challenge I read the play a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although I had seen the play several times I don’t think I had ever actually read that play. I didn’t particularly enjoy reading it. I think plays are meant to be seen and not simply read and they lose so much with just reading. Of course if you are going to really study the dialogue like you would in a class, you need to read it, but for pure enjoyment I need the full play. As I didn’t have a Shakespearean troupe handy to perform it for me I did the next best thing and got the movie by director Michael Hoffman. I think it was remarkably well done, true enough to the original (with some exceptions that I didn’t mind) and had some wonderful acting. Kevin Kline was great as the Ass, Michelle Pfeiffer was perfect as the Fairy Queen, Calista Flockhart was surprisingly good as Helena and Stanley Tucci stole the show as the mischievous Puck. I also thought the sets and special effects set the mood very well. While this was not my favorite performance of the play that I have seen it was certainly enjoyable.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Popularity

What's the most popular book in your library? Have you read it? What did you think? How many users have it? What's the most popular book you don't have? How does a book's popularity figure into your decisions about what to read?

Very interesting question. I never really looked at those statistics before. I would have assumed that my response would have been similar to Marie's that if something is really popular I would be less inclined to read it but some of the most popular books are some of my favorites.

The most popular book in my library is the DaVinci Code which I read (I don't put books in my library thing unless I have read them). It is total trash, poorly written but entertaining escapism and I did enjoy it. 23316 readers have it and the only more popular books are the Harry Potters which are the most popular books that I do not have and have not read.

I was surprised to see that two of my favorite books are in the most popular category - 100 Years of Solitude and Enders Game. I also really enjoyed and Memoirs of a Geisha, Life of Pi and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time. I guess that a books popularity does not make me more inclined to read it but it obviously does not deter me from reading something either. It would have been interesting to see the ranking of 100 Years of Solitude before it became an Oprah book. I know that if I am hearing a lot about a particular book I may look it up and see whether I am interested or not.

Interesting question! Thanks Marie.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Gracious Plenty

by Sheri Reynolds

This is a spare little novel about a woman who is disfigured by burns as a child and grows up isolated from the community. Finch Nobles continues her family business, a cemetery, and spends all her time taking care of the cemetery and talking with the dead. I really enjoyed the idea that the dead don’t go straight to heaven (or elsewhere) but spend time on earth assisting the elements with tasks such as greening the ivy, plumping the tomatoes, bringing rain showers and helping the sun rise. While performing these tasks the dead gradually tell their stories, work out issues and eventually lighten and fade away to who knows where. Finch can hear and see this world of the dead and tries to help one of the dead with her relationship with her mother which results in Finch getting into all sorts of trouble with the world of the living. By the end of the book Finch’s involvement with the dead results in her becoming once again involved in the world of the living.

This was a very quick read and I enjoyed it but didn’t love it. The males that I know that have read it said it was women-y and Oprah-y, whatever that means. I found it very preachy at times and heavy handed with its message. I enjoyed learning about the world of the dead and didn’t really mind the cute love interest story line but the ending just seemed ridiculous. Not one of my favorite reads of this year.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ebooks

I was just reading Henry Carrigan’s report on this years Book Expo America at BiblioBuffet.com in which he claims that the Amazon Kindle is a sure sign that the book industry is in trouble.

Perhaps the clearest sign that there’s trouble in River City is a booth for Amazon’s Kindle—which is not a book, of course, but an electronic device for transforming digital equations into pixels that resemble the page of a book—nestled alongside the publishers’ booths at BEA. I’m no Luddite trading in apocalyptic proclamations, but it’s a bit ironic (not lost to those canny enough to look at their surroundings this year in LA) for the product that’s touted to replace the book to be nudging up against those books. It’s a little like placing a booth for a slaughterhouse next to the horse stables at the fair.

The ebook is touted to replace the book? It certainly depends on what you mean by “book”. If book only encompasses books made out of paper perhaps that is correct but isn’t it really just the medium that is changing? And is this really damaging to authors or just those that deal in the supply and demand of paper books. Ebooks are a new technology. Just like the monks in the scriptorium copying books by hand, perhaps paper books will be replaced by a digital format, but I don’t think that means the end of books. I am not an author but it appears that some authors and publishers are embracing the new technology. For example, Tor (the well known scifi publisher) releases most of its books in ebook form and at the moment is giving away some of their books in ebook format to promote their new web site. As a reader I am much more likely to try a copy of a free ebook that I can quickly and easily download, perhaps blog about it and recommend it to others in the blogosphere and you have all this free publicity. Of course this works with paper copies too but I just don’t see the ebook format hurting authors or publishers if they choose to use it. And lets not forget that all those Kindle new releases are sold, not given away free.

I personally love my ebook (not a Kindle). My husband was very excited about getting me one because he had hoped that it would do away with all the books taking up too much room in the house. We were both unsure how we would like it but both enjoy it’s ability to hold many books, it’s instant gratification allowing you to download a book at any time and it’s reading comfort being lighter than most books and giving you the ability to change the font size. Years ago I kept every single book that I read. After a major move I got rid of half of my books and have gradually pared my book collection down to two book cases of mostly to be read books. I do have a couple shelves of my absolute favorite books that I keep but in general I do not keep books anymore once I have read them. It’s not the physical book that is the essence of the book but the story and enjoyment and or enlightenment that I received by reading the book that matter. Whether I read it as an ebook or a paper book I get the same enjoyment from the book. I don’t think the ebook will mean the death of books, indeed I am hopeful that it will mean that people read more.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Book Clubs




Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose (or, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?

Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?

Great question. While I didn’t have the chance to read all the posted responses to this (77 when I checked) a random sampling really surprised me with how few belong to face to face book clubs and how many said that they don’t like the constraints of having to read a particular book for a club.

I started a book group in 2001 and it is still going strong with about 15 members at the moment. We take turns meeting at each other’s houses. The host provides a main course and four other members are given food assignments (appetizer, dessert etc.). We always stress that this is book club not food club so the food is low key and may be something ready made from the super market but as we meet on a week night and all come directly from work it assures that we have something to eat that night without cutting the meeting short. People also usually bring wine or beer. We take turns selecting the books. The person selecting the book presents three titles to choose from, explains why they were selected and explains their preference and then we vote on the three. The person that selected the book leads the discussion of that work.

I also briefly joined a book group that was to read the “great works”. I was excited to read Dante and Shakespeare with other people but all the books were selected by the leader and he had other things in mind. The leader believed that only very short works would be actually read by the members and he really loved the Greeks so he ended up selecting short political discourses that I was not interested in. In this group the leader led the discussion.

I particularly like my book club because it exposes me to books that I would never have read but for the group. We have read some truly amazing books that were not on my radar such as Troll, the Book of Salt, Perfume, and Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight. Moreover, often after hearing the book discussion and other people’s opinions I have a much greater appreciation of the book then before the discussion. Reading them for book club does effect the reading experience somewhat. While reading a book club book I make a point of marking particular passages that might be interesting for discussion. If it is the book that I have selected and I am leading the discussion I make a point of reading reviews, online discussions and author interviews before hand.

I was really surprised that so many people responded to this question that they didn’t like the constraints of reading a particular book for a meeting but that they were people that participated in challenges, often more than one. I am trying out my first challenge and that is exactly what I am feeling about it. I feel under pressure to read these five books under the deadline and am reading books that I would not have normally read, at least at this point in time. I am feeling a little resentful that I need to move onto the next book that needs to be read in stead of going with my whimsey and selecting what I am in the mood for. Others have said that they were not interested in joining our book club because they didn’t like the constraint and I never really understood that but I now have a better appreciation of their concern. I personally have never felt that about book club simply because it is just one book (usually less then 500 pages) every 4-6 weeks which still gives me time to read other books that I select. The five book commitment of the challenge however has left no room for outside reading.

I really enjoy my face to face book club and I hope that others give it a try.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Harsh Cry of the Heron

by Liam Hearn

This is the fourth book in the Tales of the Otori and while I greatly enjoyed the previous books in the series I really think that it should have ended with the trilogy (Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for his Pillow and Brilliance of the Moon). The Tales of Otori are set in an imaginary feudal Japan with some very interesting twists. A secret sect called the Hidden that are ruthlessly persecuted, the Tribe which has inherited supernatural powers and act as spies and assassins, the kingdom of the Maruyama traditionally ruled by women, the monks of Teruyama and are dedicated to peace to name just a few. The three books in the trilogy tell the tale of Takeo and Kaede who have overcome great odds and brought peace and prosperity to the Three Countries. The Harsh Cry of the Hearn is about the wonderful world that they have built falling apart as the traditional feudal elements seek to regain control.

While part of my dislike may be due to the fact that I would have liked the story to end on a positive note, I still think that a book about the unraveling could have been well done. Indeed, there are aspects of Harsh Cry that I really enjoyed. For the first time in the series the Three Countries are placed in a larger context. Foreigners (clearly Portuguese missionaries and merchants) are introduced for the first time and with them the opportunity to discuss the similarities and differences between Christianity and the Hidden. Moreover, the emperor of the Eight Islands is introduced for the first time and his interaction with the Three Countries is crucial to the tale. The supernatural elements are also interesting. The twins play a vital role and their involvement with the Dead and the Ghostmaster was fascinating.

What I most disliked about the book was that one of the main characters fundamentally changed in this book and took actions that did not feel true to me. I can appreciate that characters develop over time, just like people, and that someone that was good can turn evil or that appeared good also has an evil side but in this instance it was not skillfully done and I just couldn’t believe it. One minute the character is who I have known for three books and the next the character is someone I don’t recognize.

I highly recommend that anyone read the first three books in the series (the first is certainly the best). I probably would have read this book anyway just because I like to complete things but on the other hand the last book in the trilogy didn’t leave you looking for a sequel and that was a far better ending for the series. Indeed, it was originally intended to be a trilogy i.e. three books. I also note that there is now a Prequel: Heaven’s Net is Wide which I will probably read as it has gotten good reviews.

Fantasy

So I was writing an email to a friend recommending that he read Titus Groan and Gormanghast by Mervyn Peake and googling for a review or two to include when I came upon this post by writer David Louis Edelman. I immediately liked this Edelman guy because he describes Titus Groan in terms of Kafka - I loved it! As surfing will often do his review led me to some interesting websites and added to the list of books that I would like to read.

Infoquake by David Louis Edelman mentioned above.

I found a fascinating Essential Fantasy Reading List by author Jeff VanderMeer. I loved the list because it included books and authors that I really love that I had never thought of as fantasy such as Kafka, Saramago, Peake, Borges, Calvino, Marquez which of course leads me to believe that I will like the others on his list as well.

The list also made me curious to read VanderMeer's books - City of Saints and Madmen sounds like the place to start.

Six months ago if anyone would have asked me I would have said I absolutely do not read fantasy but I guess what I was thinking of was what I have seen described as fluffy unicorn fantasy with dragons or knights or dwarves. But if what you mean by fantasy is that it is not reality, well then that is about all that I read. Steinbeck is very talented but I far prefer books that are not too grounded in reality. I live in reality and when I read I want something different. Plus I find that by not being tied to reality the author can often more easily and effectively illuminate an aspect of reality. If Kafka, Murakami, Saramago and Peake are fantasy then I am a devoted fantasy reader - I just didn't know it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Storm Front

by Jim Butcher

I read this book for Once Upon A Time II Challenge. I don’t remember if I read another participant’s review of another book by this author or whether I just stumbled across it at Amazon.com but the Dresden File series sounded interesting and a quick read. A couple weeks ago I saw an entire window display of Jim Butcher’s newest book Small Favor (Book 10 of the Dresden Files) in an airport book store, so apparently he is popular. Storm Front is the first book in the series and is about Harry Dresden a professional wizard in Chicago. He is down on his luck and in trouble with the White Council when he is called in by the police to assist with a double murder investigation that involves black magic. Dresden deals with fairies, demons, vampires, and black wizards with aplomb and even manages to go on a date. In the course of the book things go from bad to worse but (as this is the first in a series as we might suspect) our hero eventually prevails.

It was a fun light read that I read in one sitting while flying cross country. It was certainly entertaining, I enjoyed the characters, the humor and the plot twists. I found Dresden an interesting character and it made me want to read more books to find out more about his story. (Exactly what did he do to get sentenced to the Doom of Damocles and what is that? It doesn’t sound good.) As I find with all these type of mystery serials I found it very formulaic and I certainly won’t be recommending it to my book club but when I am looking for something fun and light I will definitely read more in the series.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Book Review:The Stolen Child

by Keith Donohue

I loved this debut novel about two changeling boys. The title is taken from the Yeats poem which I had never read before but which adds an interesting dimension to the book. The chapters alternate between the story of the changeling that kidnaps Henry Day and takes his place in the human world and Henry Day who becomes one of the hobgoblins (now called Aniday) that live in the woods. I especially liked how the chapters alternated between the two boys’ stories. For example you get Henry Day’s perspective on being kidnaped and then the hobgoblin’s perspective of changing into Henry Day and fitting into his human family. It would have been easy to dislike the changeling who took Henry away from his family but the author did a marvelous job of developing his story as well and indeed by the end, I found him an equally sympathetic character. While I enjoyed learning about the life of the hobgoblins in the woods I thought the author did a wonderful job in showing how similar the two boys were. Both boys were struggling with their past, who they had been and who they were now.

I also enjoyed the author’s writing style. Aniday speaking of his assimilation into the hobgoblin family:

“They showed me the hidden things silence revealed: a pheasant craning its neck to spy on us from a thicket, a crow hopping from branch to branch, a raccoon snoring in its den. Before the daylight completely faded, we tramped through the wet grounds to the mucky bank of the river. Along the water’s edge ice crystals grew, and listening closely, we heard the crack of freezing. A single duck paddled further down the river, and each snowflake hissed as it hit the water’s surface. The sunlight faded like a whisper and vanished.” p 32 Trade Paper edition.

And I was happily surprised by the many scenes with Aniday and Speck sneaking into a secret basement chamber of the library to spend hours reading. Although many of the hobgoblins had forgotten their ability to read and write Aniday not only held onto and reveled in these human traits but also attempted to keep a diary of his own history. I found this an interesting aspect of the story.

All in all it was one of the best books I have read in a while and I would heartily recommend it to anyone. Indeed, I am thinking of suggesting it for my book club to read.

Poem: The Stolen Child

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we've hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping
than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping
than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scare could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping
than you can understand.

Away with us he's going,
The solemn-eyed:
He'll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping
than he can understand.

--W. B. Yeats

Monday, May 19, 2008

So it goes

I apparently have lost the ability to shop for books at a physical bookstore. I notice this on a recent trip to Seattle and confirmed it on my trip to Baton Rouge. I still enjoy poking around bookstores and make a point of doing so when I get the chance, having no bookstores at home, but I have lost the ability to find new novels to read at a store. Moving from working at a Barnes & Noble and being surrounded by books and book people on a daily basis to a location with no bookstores, I was forced to change the way I selected books. Now I am so used to reading magazines such as the former Book and now Bookmarks, the online version of the New York Times Book section and its like, BookBrowse (back when it was free) and blogs, not to mention the hundreds of comments left by readers at Amazon, before I select a book, that I cannot chose one now without that input.

I find this disturbing as I spent many a happy afternoon poking around bookstores (long before I worked in one) and coming home with piles of treasure. Indeed, I started working at B&N simply to get the employee discount and help fund my book habit. This trip to Baton Rouge I set myself a task - to find a book to purchase at B&N. How hard could that be for a bookaholic. The first thing that I noticed was that every book that I picked up I had either already read a review of it or it was by an author that I had already read and liked. Obviously these could not count as being found in a bookstore. Remembering numerous discussion in the blogosphere about the enticement of covers, I endeavored to find a cover that I found appealing. Every singe one of the books that I was drawn to had a cover with some sort of book theme and worse, were all books that I had already read about. After several attempts at this exercise (my hotel was conveniently located next door) I gave up.

I guess I have to accept the fact that my selection process has fundamentally changed. I don’t know that my new selection process is better for all the additional input or whether I am missing out on spontaneously finding unexpected pleasures, but change is inevitable. So it goes.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

American Gods

by Neil Gaiman

I read this book as part of the Once Upon Time II challenge. It had been sitting on my shelves since it first came out in hardcover and I had purchased it based upon the great reviews and the fact that I had immensely enjoyed Neil Gaiman's book Good Omens that he wrote with Terry Pratchet. American Gods is the story of Shadow who is released from prison where he was serving time for bank robbery only to learn that his wife has died in a car accident. At lose ends he meets up with a grifter named Wednesday who offers him a job and Shadow becomes embroiled in the world of the American Gods. Unbeknownst to most people, America is full of gods that where brought here whenever someone from their homeland believed in them and therefore brought them to America. There is conflict between the old gods that we may be familiar with from mythology and fairytale and the new American gods of the media, internet and dot coms who think that they are superior.

I enjoyed the book but not as much as I had hoped. Of course with any book that gets so much hype it raises your expectations so that it is bound to be somewhat of a disappointment. I enjoyed the portrayal of the gods as everyday Americans, the old gods usually down on their luck and the new ones enjoying their time in the lime light. I loved the idea of tacky road side attractions being important power centers. I found the story a little slow to begin but then I got sucked in and just had to know what happened to Shadow next. I did not find any of the characters particularly compelling however, even Shadow. While I wanted to find out what happened next I didn't really care about any of the characters. I also found the sheer number of gods way to much. I would have preferred to have fewer gods but developed more then to have a very interesting three pages on a particular god never to see them again except once for one page. And I saw the punch line a mile away.

I also found a couple things confusing. While I liked the gods portrayed as regular people and I appreciate that some of the older gods were not very powerful because they were forgotten and not worshiped anymore, I found it odd how easy it was to kill any of the gods. I also kept wondering what about the same god in other locations. For example, say Odin comes to America from Scandinavia in the belief of Scandinavian immigrants, is there is another version of himself still in Scandinavia and another version of himself in each location that his people travel too? If so is the American version aware of the other versions? I know I am nit picking but I kept thinking about it through out the book.

All in all I enjoyed American Gods but I don't know if I will read its sequel, Anasazi Boys. I would highly recommend that everyone read Good Omens.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Discover New Blogs

The Hidden Side of the a Leaf has started a Weekly Geek blog challenge. This week's challenge was to visit some of the blogs of the participants, find five that are new to you, leave them a comment and then post on your blog what you have discovered. Since there are currently 115 participants listed there are lots of blogs that are new to me but as I am more of a lurker I don't normally leave comments so it will be a good exercise. This is what I found.

Laura at Reading Reflections is also a new book blogger and I really enjoyed her review of the Book Thief. I have read alot of reviews of that book and Laura's was the first that actually made me want to read the book. I look forward to reading her future reviews.

J at Thinking About ... has a very funny blog that made me laugh out loud and I totally identified with her comments about Yaz!

Misa at This Redhead Reads has a lovely blog and I really enjoyed the post Memories About A Sixth Grade Readathon which stirred up my own reading memories from my childhood.

Naida at the bookworm has a very pretty blog and I enjoyed her review of Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

I enjoyed the attitude of Bibiloatry who states that"reading is essential to living a good life" and contains interesting book reviews.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Spring




Do your reading habits change in the Spring? Do you read gardening books? Even if you don’t have a garden? More light fiction than during the Winter? Less? Travel books? Light paperbacks you can stick in a knapsack?

Or do you pretty much read the same kinds of things in the Spring as you do the rest of the year?

While I live in the tropics there still is a distinctive change to the season. Spring means an end to the dry season and its brush fires, the mahogany trees lose all their leaves and then promptly releaf, the peacocks become noisy with their mating calls and the days become warmer - you can just feel that summer is coming. While I don't read different types of books as the weather becomes warmer and "keeping cool" becomes an actual activity I do tend to read more. In the winter there are always projects to get done but the hot weather brings with it a sense of justified indolence. No need to clean out that closet, its best to keep cool and read by the pool.




Memes

Being new to bloging I am also new to memes. According to the dictionary a meme is “A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Dictionary.com. In the blogging world this apparently is usually a question or series of questions that other bloggers can then answer on their own blog. See here for more information. Some of them are posed by bloggers randomly, some are posted upon a regular basis and some seem to circulate through something akin to a blogger’s chain letter. Not being fond of chain letters I am going to try a weekly one by Booking Through Thursday which is book related.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

March/April Bookmarks

Here are the books that looked interesting from the March/April edition of Bookmarks Magazine.

Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski - audio
Signed, Mata Hari by Yannick Murphy - ebook
Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips - ebook, audio
Stephen King, Duma Key - ebook, audio
Halting State by Charles Stross - ebook
Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee - S
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan -S
Postsingular by Rudy Rucker
Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Once Upon a Time II Challenge

I have been debating whether or not to join Carl V.'s Once Upon a Time II challenge. I have never done a challenge before and my first reaction to this one was that I don't read fantasy. After much reflection however I realized that I do read books that would fit into this challenge which includes some of my favorite reads, books on my to be read pile or my wish list - I just don't happen to think of them as fantasy! I have also never attempted to write a review that someone else might read but I am willing to give it a shot.

So in the spirit of trying something new I am going to do Quest the Third (Quest One with Midsummer Nights Dream which I just adore!).

While I reserve the right to change my selections at any time I believe I will be choosing among these books:

Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Harsh Cry of the Heron by Lian Hearn
The Bestiary by Nicholas Christopher
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye by A.S. Byatt
Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

What's the appeal of reading challenges?

In the last six months my lunch time surfing has revealed the world of literary blogs. I find them astonishing on two counts: 1) the sheer volume of books these people read each year and 2) the popularity of reading challenges. In my world I am considered a voracious reader but last year I only read 20 books and the year before only 20 books. The people I know think I am odd because I actually keep a reading diary and know exactly what I read. But compared with the bookish blogosphere I barely read at all. On the one hand it is comforting to know that there are far more book obsessed people out in the world than me. On the other hand it makes me feel like I better step up my performance before I can even begin to consider myself a real reader.

This brings me to challenges - I simply do not understand the appeal. On my bookshelves at home are hundreds of unread books that I really want to read. Moreover I acquire books at a far more rapid pace then I can read them and accumulate lists of books that I want far more rapidly then I could ever obtain them. So why would I want to conform my limited reading time to comply with a reading challenge? I understand wanting to share your thoughts on books through blogging and I can see that exploring a new genre through a challenge might broaden your perspective but why put aside books that I know I want to read to read ones that begin with the letter A or have an animal in the title? And these bibliophile bloggers don't seem to join but one challenge at a time but numerous ones!! How in the world do that they do that and still have real lives - which they seem to have from their posts? Maybe I am just jealous of these bloggers' apparent ability to fit so much reading into their already full lives.

How can I condemn something that I have never tried? I admit that makes me uncomfortable and so I need to do something about it. I have been wrestling with this thought ever since Carl V. started his Once Upon a Time II Challenge. I should try it - no way I don't have time - but it could be fun - but that means I won't read these books here on my bedside table! Uncle - I give up. In the spirit of research I am going to try the challenge to see what it is like.

Libraries and Borges

I found this book while browsing at B&N in Seattle.
The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel. I just love reading about Libraries!

I have a copy of this author's A History of Reading - which I haven't gotten to yet.

Another book of his that I would like to read is With Borges.
Apparently Alberto read to Borges as a teenager.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Lullaby

by Chuck Palahniuk

I read this for book club. I had heard of this author because of his book (and movie) Fight Club which I never really had a desire to read (or see) and I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It is about a “culling song” which kills people. Originally the culling song was supposedly used in times of war or famine to humanly end the suffering of the young, the old, the wounded or dying. The novel however is set in today’s world in which it has been printed in a children’s book of nursery rhymes and consequently led to many accidental deaths. A man who accidently killed his wife and daughter teams up with woman who accidently killed her son and attempt to rid the world of all copies of the nursery rhyme book. I don’t want to give too much plot away but the novel is filled with outrageous characters, darkly funny scenes and witty social commentary.

The characters include a bereaved journalist, a real estate agent who sells and resells haunted houses, a witch, an extortionist/ environmentalist, and a paramedic who likes to have sex with beautiful dead women. There are some wonderful scenes regarding the bombardment of the senses by the noise pollution of the media. His descriptive narrative is unique and vivid, his dialog witty. My only complaint was that I found the end unsatisfying but I still enjoyed the book. If your not scared off by necrophilia and sudden infant death syndrom this dark satire will have you laughing out loud.