Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Wild Sheep Chase

by Haruki Murakami

This is my third Murakami book (after Kafka on the Shore and The Wind -Up Bird Chronicle) and I was certainly not disappointed. Apparently this is the third in the Trilogy of the Rat but I haven't read the first two (which are not readily available in English) and did not feel that I was missing anything while reading A Wild Sheep Chase. The un-named main character is drifting in his life, his wife leaves him, his business is ok but not very interesting, he describes his life as mediocre. Then he gets summoned by a mysterious businessman interested in a photo of sheep used in one of his brochures. He is tasked with finding the unusual sheep and sets off on an adventure. He meets interesting characters - a woman with the most beautiful ears, a sheep man, a sheep professor who never leaves his hotel room and it appears that his friend and business partner (the Rat) who had earlier disappeared is also on the trail of the same sheep.

This was the most straight forward Murakami that I have read (and also the earliest) and can easily be read as a simple detective story. But what I love most about Murakami is the beautiful writing and of course the wonderful characters. And if you feel like it, you can delve into the endless quest of "what is it trying to say" and "what does the sheep symbolize". What resonated most with me however was the narrator's nostalgic yearning to recapture something of his youth. His stay at the cabin in the mountains with nothing to do but read and cook or bake, perhaps go for a run made me nostalgic for my youthful stays at my parents cabin, with nothing to do but read, cook or go for a walk in the woods or a swim in the bay. No television, no dvd, no running somewhere on an errand or to pick up take-out. I miss that.

I understand that Dance, Dance, Dance is a sequel to this and I am looking forward to reading that as well. I am looking forward to lots more Murakami in my future, including a new release in English in the fall of 2011. Although I admit that when I find an author that I really enjoy like Murakami I am afraid to read all of his work too quickly for fear of running out of new books to experience. If anyone has any suggestions on which Murakami I should try next, let me know.

I note that In Spring It Is Dawn has started a Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge 2011 which I immediately signed up for. This book completes my participation in Bellezza's wonderful Japanese Literature Challenge 4. Thanks for hosting another great Challenge Bellezza!


Here is what looked good in the November / December Bookmarks Magazine issue.

C, Tom McCarthy
Room, Emma Donoghue
Bitter in the Mouth, Monique Truong - S
Hunger, Knut Hamsun
Percival's Planet, Michael (about discovery of Pluto)
What is Left the Daughter, Howard Norman (set in Nova Scotia)
The Bird Artist, Howard Norman
The Dreaming Void, Peter F. Hamilton - SF
The Dervish House, Ian McDonald - SF
Pattern Recognition, William Gibson
Zero History, William Gibson
Fall of the House of Walworth, Geoffrey O'brien -NF

All books appear to be available for the Kindle.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Here is what looked interesting in the September/October 2010 Bookmarks Magazine.

The Man Who Invented the Computer, Jane Smiley
The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
Passage, Connie Willis
The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, Reif Larsen
The Tattooed Map, Barbara Hodgson
The Incident Report, Martha Baillie

Contemporary Russian Literature:
Something by Boris Akunin
Dream Life of Sukhanov, Olga Grushin
The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books, Elif Batuman -NF
The World to Come, Dara Horn
Moscow Rules, Daniel Silva

Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan - S
Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban -SF
Cookbook Collector, Allegra Goodman - S
Deep Creek, Dana Hand
The Thousand Autums of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell - S
Kraken, China Mieville -SF
The Passage, Justin Cronin - SF
Blood Oath, Christopher Farnsworth
Operation Mincemeat, Ben Macintyre - NF

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Savage Garden

by Mark Mills

Bookmarks had a review of Mark Mills’ new book, The Information Officer, a thriller set on Malta during WWII. While I don’t often read books about war I have always been interested in (yet know little about) Malta because the Knights of Malta once owned the island where I currently live. In reading about the Information Officer many of the reviewers liked it but commented that it was not as good as the Savage Garden. I looked up the Savage Garden and it sounded interesting as well, so I decided to start there.

The Savage Garden is the story of a young Englishman who comes to Tuscany to study the famous Renaissance Garden of Villa Docci. While living with the family at the Villa and studying the garden he begins to investigate the garden’s and the family’s history and learns of two unexplained murders that occurred 400 years apart. As he delves deeper into the symbolism of the garden and becomes more personally entangled with the family things get more and more dicey for the young man. It is a mystery after all so I don’t want to give the plot away. Suffice it to say that while the murder mystery was entertaining but fairly light, I really enjoyed the mystery of the garden. It was very atmospheric and I could just see the beautiful yet crumbling villa, the now neglected once spectacular garden and the quirky family. It made me want to buy a plane ticket to Florence right away. Not great literature, not great mystery writing but an enjoyable diversion if you want a pleasant visit Tuscany without actually going there. I bet the author could bring Malta to life as well so I will probably give the Information Officer a try sometime.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

by Allison Hoover Bartlett

There are few genres that I enjoy more than books about books. I love reading about other people obsessed by books and the entire book world. This is especially true as the world of book collecting is a world I have chosen not to participate in but I entirely understand its allure. Years ago when I lived in Boston one of my favorite things to do was to go to the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair (which is incidentally this weekend) all by myself. I never bought anything but I would just gaze at the beautiful book bindings, fore edge paintings, illuminated manuscripts and rare first editions. I understand the lust for these things. For myself I have chosen to focus on the experience of reading and not to collect or focus on the books as objects, but I could easily have been a rabid collector. I therefore really enjoy reading about others who participate in the book world and was looking forward to reading this.

This non-fiction work tells the story of the author tracking down and getting to know John Gilkey, a notorious book thief. While Gilkey goes to great extremes to steel his books, and while both he and the author often proclaim his love for the books, I just never bought it. It seemed to me that Mr. Gilkey was simply a thief with a compulsion but that he had no real love or appreciation for the books. It seemed to me that he could have easily been compulsively steeling jewelry or paintings. As a mere thief and not a true book lover, I felt absolutely no empathy for the man. In addition, I thought the story line was rather dull and it wasn’t very well written.

I would skip this book and read A Gentle Madness or Used and Rare. Of course many people loved it. On Amazon it has 107 reviews with an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars. Carl V. from Stainless Steel Droppings also really enjoyed it.

Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie

by Alan Bradley

Sometimes you are just in the mood for something light and fun. Eleven year old Flavia de Luce is a little bored rambling around in her English country manner house and doing experiments in her chemistry laboratory. But then she finds a body in the cucumber patch and the police seem to be focusing on her father as the prime suspect so what is she to do but solve the murder herself! This outrageously precocious 11 year old is very entertaining, especially since I listened to this in audio and the narrator, Jayne Entwistle, did a marvelous job with Flavia. While not a great work of literature it was clever and fun and I would not hesitate to read more in this series when in the right mood. For a more detailed review check out Carl V’s at Stainless Steel Droppings.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Master and Margarita

by Mikhail Bulgakov

I have been wanting to read this "masterpiece" for many years about Satan's visit to Stalinist Russia. The story opens with two gentlemen having a lively discussion in a Moscow park about whether or not Jesus actually existed when they are joined in the discussion by a foreigner named Woland (aka Satan). From there the story takes off in crazy and unexpected directions that were thoroughly entertaining. Woland (aka Satan) has come to Moscow with his entourage and causes all sorts of trouble especially for the literary and theatrical communities. In another story line we encounter Pontius Pilate on the day that he meets Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Jesus). I don’t want to give much of the plot away as the madcap twists and turns are part of the fun.

This novel can be read on many different levels. It was written in the 1930s in Stalinist Soviet Union but because of the regime’s repressive control of literary works was not published there until 1963. The novel is in many respects a satire of the bureaucratic control of literature. One of the funniest little vignettes is when Woland makes a literary bureaucrat disappear but his suit remains at his desk working away and signing documents without any disruption to the office. In fact the title character, the Master, is a writer who burns his novel for fear of the problems it will cause him with the bureaucracy. Indeed, most of the characters caught up in Woland’s antics are either writers, poets, the literary trade union MASSOLIT or part of the Variety Theater.

But the novel can also be read simply for fun. The plot is just wild and wacky and I also loved the characters. I especially enjoyed Woland’s entourage which includes Behemoth a mischievous black cat that can take on human form, Koroviev an ex choir master, Azazello a fanged assassin, and Hella a beautiful red headed succubus. My favorite character is Margarita, the Master’s lover, who fully embraces whatever situation she may find herself in. My favorite scenes are when Maragarita agrees to help Woland out and is given extraordinary powers which she uses to take revenge on the literary bureaucrat that she blames for the Master’s troubles before she leaves Moscow to serve as the hostess at Satan’s springtime ball.

I also really enjoyed the fact that the novel does not paint Satan, or any of the characters, as simply good or evil. As Woland says "what would your good do if evil did not exist, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it?" (p. 360). Good can sometimes come out of evil. For example, Margarita is turned into a witch to host Satan’s ball and in return is given a wish. Instead of asking for something for herself she requests that a women that she has just meet be released from torment. And as we all know, good intentions can often lead to evil, a principle that must have particularly resonated during the Stalinist era.

Apparently this novel has been turned into numerous plays, a movie, a mini series for tv, an opera, a ballet, a graphic novel, a painting and inspiration for songs by Mike Jagger and Pearl Jam. I read this for Carl V’s RIP V challenge and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks Carl for hosting a great challenge again. Hopefully next year I will have more time to participate.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


by Roberto Bolano

I finished this book in July and it is almost November and I still haven’t written a review of it. Work has been crazy and we went on vacation etc. and I cannot blame this particular book for putting me so far behind in book write ups, but I must admit that I don’t really know what to say about this book. When it first came out it made quite a sensation so of course I immediately bought it. I started reading it in January and read it in the three sections that my book was divided into with other books in between. This is how Publisher’s Weekly described it:

Last year's The Savage Detectives by the late Chilean-Mexican novelist Bolaño (1953–2003) garnered extraordinary sales and critical plaudits for a complex novel in translation, and quickly became the object of a literary cult. This brilliant behemoth is grander in scope, ambition and sheer page count, and translator Wimmer has again done a masterful job. The novel is divided into five parts (Bolaño originally imagined it being published as five books) and begins with the adventures and love affairs of a small group of scholars dedicated to the work of Benno von Archimboldi, a reclusive German novelist. They trace the writer to the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa (read: Juarez), but there the trail runs dry, and it isn't until the final section that readers learn about Benno and why he went to Santa Teresa. The heart of the novel comes in the three middle parts: in The Part About Amalfitano, a professor from Spain moves to Santa Teresa with his beautiful daughter, Rosa, and begins to hear voices. The Part About Fate, the novel's weakest section, concerns Quincy Fate Williams, a black American reporter who is sent to Santa Teresa to cover a prizefight and ends up rescuing Rosa from her gun-toting ex-boyfriend. The Part About the Crimes, the longest and most haunting section, operates on a number of levels: it is a tormented catalogue of women murdered and raped in Santa Teresa; a panorama of the power system that is either covering up for the real criminals with its implausible story that the crimes were all connected to a German national, or too incompetent to find them (or maybe both); and it is a collection of the stories of journalists, cops, murderers, vengeful husbands, prisoners and tourists, among others, presided over by an old woman seer. It is safe to predict that no novel this year will have as powerful an effect on the reader as this one.
blurb from Publisher’s Weekly via

I am not sure I agree with Publisher Weekly. My favorite parts were the first “The Part About the Critics” which describes the scholars who have devoted their lives to analyzing Archimboldi searching for him in Mexico, and the final “The Part About Archimboldi” where we learn the full life story of the missing author. I thought the first part was extremely funny describing the self absorb scholars and the entire academic world. I also enjoyed the writing style, although some have found it too detailed:
The first conversation began awkwardly, although Espinoza had been expecting Pelletier’s call, as if both men found it difficult to say what sooner or later they would have to say. The first twenty minutes were tragic in tone, with the word fate used ten times and the word friendship twenty-four times. Liz Norton’s name was spoken fifty times, nine of them in vain. The word Paris was said seven times, Madrid, eight. The word love was spoken twice and the word happiness once (by Espinoza). The word solution was said twelve times…The word euphemism ten times…. The words eyes or hands or hair fourteen times.
I thought this was a much more interesting way to convey the gist of the conversation without actually telling us what was said. I also thoroughly enjoyed the long and complicated Archimboldi story.

I found the Part About the Crimes by far the weakest part and had to force myself to get through it. I knew going in that it was going to be lengthy and overwhelming with incident after incident of murder and rape recounted but I had not anticipated that it would be so boring. Far from bringing home the horror of the crimes it simply made me blaise. Or perhaps that was the point, I don’t know. I just kept thinking he needed an editor.

I am glad that I read it but it certainly wasn’t one of my more memorable reads this year (other than the fact that it took up so much of my reading time). I might consider reading the Savage Detectives but am not rushing to do so.

Monday, September 27, 2010

RIP V Challenge

I have been looking forward to Carl V's RIP challenge for a while but work and life have been crazy and I just realized that I haven't actually signed up for it. I have to select Peril the Third which requires one book because I don't think I will be able to do more. I have already started reading The Master and Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov which so far I am enjoying very much. If I get a chance to read more below is a list of some that I would like to read. For information on joining the challenge go here, and for the review site go here.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - which has been sitting on my shelf since it came out.
Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Great and Secret Show or Damnation Game by Clive Barker - I loved his Weaveworld.
The Stand by Stephen King - cannot believe that I have never actually read it.
The Terror by Dan Simmons
We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson - I loved Hill House.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
The Ghost Writer by John Harwood - also been on my shelf since it came out.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


July/August 2010

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen - S
Amsterdam by Ian McEwan - S & L
Feed by Mira Grant - S
Solar by Ian McEwan
The Executor by Jesse Kellerman
The Love we Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
War by Sebastian Junger - NF
Callapse by Jared Diamond - NF
Erast Petrovich Fandorin series by Boris Akunin
start with The Winter Queen

Books about New York
City of Dreams, City of Glory, City of God by Beverly Swerling
Paradise Alley, Dreamland, Striver's Row by Kevin Baker
New York by Edward Rutherfurd
Queen of Bedlam by Robert McCammon

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Japanese Literature Challenge IV

It is time for the Japanese Literature Challenge. For info go here, for reviews go here, and suggestions here. You only need to read one book for the challenge but I have several that I would like to read. I would like to read the following:

Wild Sheep Chase - Murakami
Spring Snow - Yukio Mishima
The Tattoo Murder Case - Akimitsu Takagi
Old Capital - Kawabata
Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo

I am definitely reading A Wild Sheep Chase as it has been sitting on the coffee table waiting for this challenge to begin. I also already own the Tattoo Murder Case and the Rampo book would be perfect for the RIP challenge in the fall. And of course I am sure my wish list will get much longer as I read everybody's reviews. I see that there are already 40 reviews posted! Sorry I am late.

Once Upon A Time IV Wrap Up

I had signed up for the journey to give myself flexibility and I ended up reading four books.

The Other City
Invisible Cities
Pale Fire

It is hard to pick a favorite as they are all so different and all enjoyable. I absolutely loved Shriek and it's fascinating mushroom plagued city of Ambergris and am looking forward to the next in the series, Finch. Invisible Cities was less a novel and more an experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. Pale Fire, which purports to be a poem and critical commentary, was a fun and witty novel. I really enjoyed them all.

Thanks for hosting another fun challenge Carl!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pale Fire

by Vladimir Nabokov
I began hearing about Pale Fire when I read House of Leaves in 2000 (and it is hard to believe that that was 10 years ago). Like House of Leaves, Pale Fire plays with the structure of the text and often is cited as an important example of early metafiction and hypertext. This novel written by Vladimir Nabokov (of Lolita fame), published in 1962, purports to be a 999 line poem written by poet John Shade and critical analysis of the poem in a forward and lengthy end notes by Charles Kinbote. Although the critical analysis is supposedly about the poem, it mainly provides the story of Kinbote, his supposed friendship (which comes across more as stalking) with next door neighbor John Shade, and the travails, exploits and adventures of the deposed king of the kingdom of Zembla.

I guess because I heard about this book primarily in relationship to its unusual structure and often described as difficult but important (#53 on Modern Library's 100 Best Novels), I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the story and the characters were a lot of fun. I loved that the narrator, Kinbote, could clearly not be trusted and the way he tried to insert his story of Zembla into the poem. I enjoyed the escapades of the zany king of Zembla and the frightening assassin Gradus. I appreciated the commentary on the academic life of a small New England college and its professors.

At first I tried to go back and forth between the poem and the notes but I quickly decided to read the poem through and then read the notes through, returning to the poem text once in a while. It could be read either way. Indeed, as evidenced by the many decades it has been studied and the numerous critical books and essays it has engendered, it could be read numerous times and still give the readers something new each time.

Although it is clear that the narrator cannot be trusted, it is unclear how to interpret the rest of the story. Did John Shade write both the poem and the commentary creating Kinbote as a character? Is John Shade a figure of Kinbote's imagination? Is Kinbote sane? Are his stories of Zembla and the assassin Gradus real?

I highly recommend this book. While you could spend years analyzing it, you can also simply enjoy it as a funny, witty, beautifully written story.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Invisible Cities

by Italo Calvino

Since I just finished reading the Other City and wanted to read some Calvino I thought this one would be perfect. Invisible Cities is even less of a novel than the Other City. The premise is that Marco Polo is telling Kublai Khan about the places he has visited in his travels. The entries are very short and are mostly one or two page descriptions of cities interspersed occasionally with a page or two of conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Each entry is designated a specific type: Cities and Memory, Cities and Signs, Cities and Desire, Thin Cities, Cities and the Dead, Continuous Cities, Hidden Cities etc. I know it sounds strange, without any real plot or characters, just a book describing cities, but I absolutely loved it. The writing was beautiful and it was such a pleasure to dip into these little vignettes of cities.

Since I could never adequately explain this work or Calvino's beautiful prose and since they are so short I could not resist including one in its entirety: Cities and Desire #4.
In the center of Fedora, that gray stone metropolis, stands a metal building with a crystal globe in every room. Looking into each globe, you see a blue city, the model of a different Fedora. These are the forms the city could have taken if, for one reason or another, it had not become what we see today. In every age someone, looking at Fedora as it was, imagined a way of making it the ideal city, but while he constructed his miniature model, Fedora was already no longer the same as before, and what had been until yesterday a possible future became only a toy in a glass globe.

The building with the globes is now Fedora's museum: every inhabitant visits it, chooses the city that corresponds to his desires, contemplates it, imagining his reflection in the medusa pond that would have collected the waters of the canal (if it had not been dried up), the view from the high canopied box along the avenue reserved for elephants (now banished from the city), the fun sliding down the spiral twisting minaret (which never found a pedestal from which to rise).

On the map of your empire, O Great Khan, there must be room both for the big, stone Fedora and the little Fedoras in glass globes. Not because they are all equally real, but because all are only assumptions. The one contains what is accepted as necessary when it is not yet so; the others, what is imagined as possible and, a moment later is possible no longer.
Here are some descriptions of more of my favorites.
  • The city with no walls, no ceilings, no floors, just "water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be: a forest of pipes that end in taps, showers, spouts, overflows." Thin Cities #3.
  • The city made up of two half cities, one permanent, one temporary, one a circus, one made of marble, stone and cement with factories, banks, schools. Each year the the marble, stone and cement city is loaded into its caravan to continue its itinerary. Thin Cities #4.
  • The city whose inhabitants all move onto a new city periodically and take on new jobs, new spouses, new hobbies and yet the city remains always the same. Trading Cities #3.
  • The spider web city built hanging down from a net over a chasm. Thin Cities #5
  • The city which has built an exact copy of itself below ground for their dead. Cities and the Dead # 3.
I also enjoyed the discussions between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan.
Polo: Perhaps this garden exist only in the shadow of our lowered eyelids, and we have never stopped: you, from raiding dust on the fields of battle; and I, from bargaining for sacks of pepper in distant bazaars. But each time we half-close our eyes, in the midst of the din and the throng, we are allowed to withdraw here, dressed in silk kimonos, to ponder what we are seeing and living, to draw conclusions, to contemplate from the distance.

Kublai: Perhaps this dialogue of ours is taking place between two beggars nicknamed Kublai Khan and Marco Polo; as they shift through a rubbish heap, piling up rusted flotsam, scraps of cloth, wastepaper, while drunk on the few sips of bad wine, they see all the treasure of the East shine around them.

Polo: Perhaps all that is left of the world is wasteland covered in rubbish heaps, and the hanging garden of the Great Khan's palace. It is our eyelids that separate them, but we cannot know which is inside and which is outside.
No description could do this book justice. Just read it.

I read this for Once Upon A Time IV.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Other City

by Michal Ajvaz

I had never heard of this book until I saw it on Jeff VanderMeer's Best of 2009 list and read his review for Omnivoracious.
In this strange and lovely hymn to Prague, Michal Ajaz repopulates the city of Kafka with ghosts, eccentrics, talking animals, and impossible statutes, all lurking on the peripheries of a town so familiar to tourists. The Other City is a guidebook to this invisible other Prague, overlapping the workaday world: a place where libraries can turn into jungles, secret passages yawn beneath our feet and waves lap at our bedspreads. Heir to the tradition and obsessions of Jorge Luis Borges, as well as the long and distinguished line of Czech fantasists, Ajvaz's The Other City - his first novel to be translated into English - brings to light all the worlds we are blind to, being caught in our own ways of seeing.
Blurb from the back of the book.

I admit that mention of Borges and Kafka, two of my favorite authors, had me intrigued. And then I read the opening paragraph:
I was walking up and down rows of books at the antiquarian bookseller's in Karlova Street. Now and then I would take a look out the shop window. It started to snow heavily; holding a book in my hand I watched the snowflakes swirl in front of the wall of St. Saviour's Church. I returned to my book, savoring its aroma and allowing my eyes to flit over its pages, reading here and there the fragment of a sentence that suddenly sparkled mysteriously because it was taken out of context. I was in no hurry; I was happy to be in a room that smelled pleasantly of old books, where it was warm and quiet, where the pages rustled as they turned, as if the books were sighing in their sleep. I was glad I didn't have to go out into the darkness and the snowstorm.
I was hooked. In that cozy bookshop with the books sighing in their sleep the protagonist finds a strange red velvet book in a writing that he does not know which leads him to discover a city that he never realized was there, a city that exists in the dark neglected corners and on the edges of the city he knows. The Other City is not strong on plot or character development Indeed, the Complete Review complained that it was almost all atmosphere with little purpose. I have to admit I did not love it as much as I had hoped to. On the other hand, some of the imagery was breath taking and has stayed with me long after I finished reading it. I loved the concept that we live our daily lives seeing what we expect to see and not noticing what exactly is in the shadows and neglected corners. I loved the overlap of this other world and our everyday world.

"There's a tension in The Other City between the fanciful and the baroque, the cleverly odd and the deeply odd, that makes the novel work. It's the kind of book you let wash over you in waves--episodic, funny but not too silly, and marked by a first-class imagination." Jeff VanderMeer. I agree that you need to let the book simply "wash over you" and let your imagination take you away. Indeed, it is more of an experience than a novel.
"What will we do?" the girl said. "We'll never reach the island now. We'll never walk along the white promenades or sit on a terrace above the sea ..."
"It doesn't matter," her friend replied. "It is better this way. We'll imagine it all, and it'll be much more beautiful. Every day we'll dream up excursions, games in gleaming pools, splendid parties with lanterns, flirting with interesting people, dancing at night on the decks of yachts. We're not so dull as to need reality ..."
p. 140-141.
I hope I am not so dull as to need reality, at least not all the time.

I had hoped to read China Meiville's The City and the City along with this as the two books have been compared quite often, but alas, my Kindle with my copy of it is still shanghaied by my husband. The Other City is definitely not for everyone, but I found it intriguing.

I read this for Once Upon A Time Challenge and Speculative Fiction Challenge.

Sunday, May 02, 2010


Here's what looked interesting in the May/June Bookmarks Magazine.

Tell All, Chuck Palahniuk - S
Sleepless, Charlie Huston - S
Horns, Joe Hill - S
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornett's Nest, Stieg Larsson - S
Innocent, Scott Turrow - S
Solar, Ian McEwan - S
The Big Short - NF - S

Spies of the Balkans, Alan Furst
Terminal World, Alastair Reynolds - SF
Kraken, China Mieville - SF
Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes -NF
Fordlandia, Greg Grandin - NF
The House at Sugar Beach, Helene Cooper
Forever, Pete Hamill
Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Heidi W. Durrow
The Information Officer, Mark Mills
The Savage Garden, Mark Mills
This Book is Overdue!, Marilyn Johnson - NF
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot - NF

Shriek: An Afterward

by Jeff VanderMeer

This is the second book set in VanderMeer's wonderful city of Ambergris. I just adored City of Saints and Madmen. While I think you could dive right into this book and still enjoy it, I would recommend you start with City which not only sets the stage for Ambergris but includes many of the same characters and events relevant to Shriek. Unlike City, which is a collection of short stories, letters, pamphlets and scholarly articles, Shriek is written in a more typical novel format. The book supposedly is a manuscript written by Janice Shriek, a former art dealer, about the life of her brother Duncan Shriek, a former historian. It includes editorial comments by her brother inserted in the text in brackets. But it is more than a story of the rise and fall of these two fascinating siblings. Through the story of the Shrieks it gives a detailed picture of an entire generation of the inhabitants of the city of Ambergris, from its cultural and academic life, to its descent into war, to its mysterious underground populated with the gray caps and their fascinating fungus. Ambergris is richly imagined and VanderMeer's wonderful prose makes it unforgettable. Although a dark mysterious and dangerous city, Ambergris is one of the most intriguing imaginary locals I have ever encountered.

The story of Ambergris is continued in VanderMeer's new book, Finch, which has been nominated for a Nebula award. Although I bought it as soon as it came out , I think I will hold of reading it for a while so I can savor Shriek. My understanding is that it is a novel cast as a noir detective story which takes place a century ofter Shriek when the grey caps have come to power. It has gotten good reviews : here is one from Carl V.

I read this for Once Upon A Time, Mind Voyages and Speculative Fiction Challenge.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cemetery Dance

by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Zombies? Really? Zombies? Preston and Child are my go to guys when I am looking for fun fast-paced trashy adventure. I absolutely loved Thunderhead (Anasazi in New Mexico), Riptide (Pirate Treasure in Maine) and Ice Limit (Meteor trouble in Antarctica). And then there is the Agent Penderghast series which began in New York's Museum of Natural History and continues with this newest entry, Cemetary Dance. I normally love Agent Penderghast as a character but this entire book fell flat for me. Indeed, it included characters that I had really enjoyed in other books but it just couldn't hold my interest. In fact, I have read all of their books, except Brimestone, and this is my least favorite. So why did I even finish it? Well, it is really hard for me to not finish a book and I was hoping that it would get better. And of course I did want to find out if it really was zombies. Try the Relic, Thunderhead, Riptide and Ice Limit. Will I read their new Penderghast story Fever Dream which comes out in May? Absolutely, I cannot wait!


by Marie-Elena John

This was a selection for my book club and I was looking forward to reading it because it was set in Dominica. I love reading fiction set in the Caribbean and Dominica is one of my favorite islands. It turns out that the author is the cousin of the book club member who selected it, so she was able to provide some interesting background. This is the author's first book and although the author's immediate family ties are with Antigua her relatives originally came from Dominica.

The story is of a young woman living in Washington D.C. who grew up in Dominica and was sent to the states to live when she was a teenager after some unknown traumatic event. As an adult she feels the need to go back to Dominica and try and find out about her family history. The novel is the story of three generations of strong women. I concede that the book is one that my husband would call "womeny", nevertheless I thought the characters were interesting and I really thought it captured Dominica very well. I have never lived in Dominica but having visited Dominica a couple of times I could clearly picture what the author was describing.

I loved the scene where the locals were talking about the crazy tourists that had to go visit the boiling lake as it was absolutely dead on. I thought it gave a very interesting picture of the cultural elements of the island such as the Carib Indians (Dominica being one of the few remaining islands that is home to a significant Carib population), the Maroons, a community of runaway slaves, and the origins of Carnival. It engendered an interesting discussion in book club about the distinctions between West Indians and African-Americans, especially as both groups were well represented in book club.

I enjoyed the book so much that I gave away my paperback copy and bought a hard copy to add to my Caribbean fiction collection. Here is the blurb from the author's web site:
Unburnablea work of literary fiction that is at once a love story, a murder mystery, a multigenerational epic, and a reinterpretation of Black history – defies neat categorization. Covering the African Diaspora, this riveting narrative of family, betrayal, vengeance, and murder, follows Lillian Baptiste as she is willed back to her island home of Dominica from Washington, D.C. to finally settle her past. Haunted by scandal and secrets, Lillian left Dominica when she was 14 years old after discovering she was the daughter of Iris, the half-crazy Carib woman; and the granddaughter of Matilda, convicted and hung for murder. Their infamous lives were told of in chante mas songs sung during Carnival -- songs about a village on a mountaintop and bones and bodies, about African masquerades and a man who dropped dead. Lillian knows these Carnival songs – thus the history – belongs to her. After 20 years away, she returns to face the demons of her past, and with the help of Teddy, the man she has until now refused to love, she is determined to find her answers. Set partly in contemporary Washington, D.C. and partly in the Caribbean island of Dominica, Unburnable is the dazzling debut of a talented writer who deftly intertwines the African-American experience with authentic Caribbean culture and history – the Caribs, the Maroons, the African origins of Carnival, the practice of Obeah – and in doing so, showcases a new literary voice confident enough to also deliver a page-turner.
The author's web site also has some interesting reviews and interviews with the author. Although some book club members weren't sure they liked the ending, I thought it was perfect and everyone agreed that they enjoyed this book.

Bookmarks Magazine


Things that looked interesting in this issue of Bookmarks:

True Confections by Katharine Weber S&L
36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson
Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

Friday, March 19, 2010

Once Upon A Time IV

Finally Carl V's Once Upon A Time Challenge is here. I have been waiting patiently, or maybe not so patiently, ever since Jeff Vandermeer's Finch came out and I bought Finch and its predecessor Shriek but held off reading them until this challenge. For anyone that does not know, Once Upon a Time is all about reading fantasy, folklore, fairy tales or mythology and runs from March 21, 2010 to June 20, 2010. For details go here, for the review site go here.

I am going to sign up for the Journey because I appreciate the flexibility and lack of stress which means that I will read at least one book but I might read more. And I hope to do a few short story weekends.

I am definitely going to read Shriek by Jeff Vandermeer and I haven't decided whether I should save Finch for later or just dive right in.

My pool of possible other books include:

The Castle, Franz Kafka
Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin
The City and the City, China Mieville
The Other City, Michal Ajvaz
Observatory Mansions, Edward Carey
White Apples, Jonathan Carroll
Alchemy of Stone, Ekaterina Sedia
Something by Italo Calvino (inspired by Bellezza) possibly Invisible Cities
Something by Jose Saramago possibly the Stone Raft

I would also be curious to read something by Angela Carter or Terri Windling so if anyone has any suggestions on where to start I would appreciate it.

And if I run out of inspiration, Jeff Vandermeer always provides lots of ideas such as in his Best of 2009 at Locus, Best of the Decade on Omnivoracious and of course his wonderful Essential Fantasy Reading List.

I look forward to reading everyones posts and adding to my wish list!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canticle for Leibowitz

by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

For some odd reason I just love post apocalyptic books. This is a classic that was originally published in 1960 and won the Hugo Award in 1961. The first part takes place after the world has engaged in nuclear war. After the war called the Flame Deluge, the survivors undertook a Simplification in which they destroyed anyone of learning, any written materials and even anyone who could read because they believed that learning had brought this disaster upon them. Leibowitz attempted to save some of the pre-Flame Deluge knowledge by starting an order to hide, memorize and copy books. That is all I really knew about the book when I read it. I cannot however talk about my reaction to this book without spoilers so if you don't want any spoilers stop reading here.


The first part of the novel is set in the 26th century in which the United States is broken up into various Kingdoms. One of the monks at the Leibowitz monastery doing a fast out in the dessert comes upon an old fallout shelter and finds documents that may have belonged to Leibowitz. The second part of the book takes place in 3174 where the city-states are engaging in political intrigue to enhance their power. The age of reason is returning and the monastery and its riches of preserved knowledge attracts the attention of secular scholars who are fascinated by one of the monks invention of a treadmill powered electrical generator that powers an arc lamp based upon his studies of some of the documents in the memorabilia. The last part of the story is set in 3781 and the world has nuclear power and spaceships again. The Asian Coalition and the Atlantic Confederacy appear to be on the brink of nuclear war as the monastery tries to activate their plan to once again preserve mankind's knowledge.

There are many things that I loved about this book - the cyclical nature of history, the allure yet danger of knowledge. But then at the end it turned into this bizarre rant about the church's position against euthanasia or suicide (no mater the circumstances) versus the state's attitude toward euthanasia. To me it just didn't fit with the rest of the book. At the very end we have the Abbot trying to convince a women to not euthanize her child that clearly has more than a fatal dose of radiation poisoning. He tries to reason with her, pleads with her and eventually resorts to commanding her to not spare her child unspeakable suffering before her unquestionable death because the Church does not permit it. I have no issue with the author taking a position that I don't agree with but it ruined the book for me because I thought it was totally out of character from the rest of the book.

This book wasn't about euthanasia or obedience to the church. It was about the idea that knowledge, though dangerous, was valuable and the hope that mankind could learn from its mistakes. I could have understood if in the end the Order lost hope and rejected its centuries mission to preserve knowledge in light of mankind's second destruction of the world but that is not what happened. The Order continued to cling to hope and went ahead with its plan to preserve knowledge in the colonies in space. This book is a classic and I am glad that I read it but the ending just didn't work for me.

I read this for SciFi Experience, Mind Voyages and Speculative Fiction Challenge.

Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Society

by Mary Ann Shaffer

This is one of those books that gets so much hype that I don’t really want to read it. But then I was looking for something short and light to put on my ipod for a trip to my brothers. Cute is the word that comes to mind when I think of this book and I am usually more of a Franz Kafka - H.P. Lovecraft kind of girl. But you know how sometimes you happen to read the right book at the right time in the right place? I was staying in my niece’s very cute bedroom at my brother’s house (my niece being all grown up and in her own house with her own daughter) and each night I would crawl in bed early and/or wake up early in the morning and listen to some of Juliet’s adventures in Guernsey. I enjoyed the epistolary format. I had never even heard of Guernsey and found the information about the Channel Islands fascinating. The characters were fun and diverse (and the narrators in my audio version did an amazing job with the different characters). All in all it was a delightful short diversion.

Friday, February 26, 2010


by Ian McDonald

I cannot say that I totally understood Brasyl but I definitely enjoyed it. It was a Hugo Nominee in 2008. One can assume that the novel is set in what we know as Brazil and weaves among three different time periods, 1732, 2006 and 2032. In the present day Marcelina strives for the next super sensational reality tv show . In 1732 a Catholic admonitory sent from Rome travels up the Amazon in search of a renegade Jesuit priest who is attempting to establish his own City of God. And in 2032 a street wise entrepreneur becomes obsessed with a beautiful rogue quantum physicist. I don't want to give too much away but the story was action packed and compelling. I was fascinated by the various threads of soccer, quantum computers, capoeira (a Brazilian blend of martial arts and dance), religion, the nature of reality and the idea of multiple universes. It certainly merits another read as it was a little bit confusing especially with the use of many Portuguese words (although there is a glossary in the back).

I felt fully immersed in this amazing world and was surprised to realize that it was written by a guy in Ireland. It made me want to go visit Brazil and learn capaeira. Oddly for a book labeled as cyberpunk, I found the 18th century Jesuit story line the most fascinating and the imagery so vivid that I still can see it in my mind's eye. This was my first encounter with this author who has also written River of Gods and more recently Cyberabad Days and I will certainly be reading more of his work.

I read this for the SciFi Experience, Speculative Fiction Challenge and 2008 Hugo Nominee for Mind Voyages.

Fall of Hyperion

by Dan Simmons

I read Dan Simmons first book in the Hyperion Cantos, Hyperion, and absolutely loved it. I highly recommend that everyone read Hyperion! This is the second in the series and picks up where the first one left off. If you haven't read Hyperion it is the story of six pilgrims who go to Hyperion to see the Shrike, Lord of Pain at the time tombs as the universe is on the brink of war. As they travel to the time tombs they each tell their stories. Hyperion ends just as the pilgrims get to the time tombs.

In the Fall of Hyperion, which was nominated for a Hugo in 1991, the pilgrims that we got to know in Hyperion have reached their destination and the story shifts between their encounters at the time tombs and with the Shrike, the Web government’s leader Meina Gladstone while she wages war on the Ousters and Joseph Severn, a cyber recreation of the poet John Keats. The structure of this book is more traditional and straight forward than Hyperion and is your typical adventure tale.

I must confess I really wanted to love it, but I ended up having to make myself finish it so I could start a new book. The characters that I so enjoyed in Hyperion seemed sidelined by the action. And we didn’t really learn anything new about the fascinating worlds that were introduced in Hyperion. It did tie up the story that was begun in Hyperion but by the time I got to the end I didn’t really care anymore. I was so excited by Hyperion that I immediately bought the next two books as well but haven’t decided whether to read them or not. I have read some reviews that say that the 3rd book is much better than this one so I most likely will try it at some point.

I read this for SciFi Experience, Mind Voyages and Speculative Fiction Challenge.

Speculative Fiction Challenge

I discovered this great challenge back in January but apparently neglected to sign up until now. I am trying to limit my challenges, but this one is perfect for me because it encompasses science fiction, fantasy and horror (plus a whole lot more) - all of which I know I will be reading this year. And it runs the entire year! I was going to be cautious and sign up for Inquisitive but I am going to be bold and go for Enthusiastic which requires 6 speculative fiction books in 2010. For more information about the challenge go here. The review posts will be here.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reading Deliberately

We are one month into 2010 and I have been talking and thinking a lot about what I am going to read this year and have come to the conclusion that I want to read a little more deliberately. There are numerous books that I really have intended to read for sometime that I just somehow have never gotten around to. I usually read more classics, more "literature" and at least one or two nonfiction books. Here are books that I really want to make an effort to read in 2010. This should still leave me plenty of room to read spontaneously as well as read my book club books.

2666 by Roberto Bolano
Gold Bug Variation by Richard Powers
New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
The Castle by Franz Kafka
Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Winters Tale by Mark Helprin (re read)
Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Lost City of Z by David Grann (nonfiction)

There are also books that I really want to read that will fit perfectly with some challenges that I intend to participate in.

Shriek and Finch by Jeff Vandermeer - Once Upon a Time
The City and the City by China Mieville - Once Upon a Time
Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - RIP
Master and Margarita by
Mikhail Bulgakov - RIP
Wild Sheep Chase by
Haruki Murakami - Japanese Literature
Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr - SF
Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi - SF

In addition, while I don't think I can join the Art History Reading Challenge, I love reading their reviews and would love to read at least one book about art, either fiction or non-fiction, this year.

I also love reading books about books, so I would like to read at least one book about books, libraries, reading, writing or book collecting.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Housekeeper and the Professor

by Yoko Ogawa
U.S. Edition 2009

This is the charming story of an elderly mathematics proffessor whose memory only lasts 80 minutes. He quickly goes through many housekeepers until he meets the housekeeper of the title (no names are used in this book) who brings her son, whom the professor nicknames Root because his head is flat and resembles the square root sign. Although the professor doesn't remember them each day they are able to connect as Root shares his love of baseball with the professor and the professor teaches them the elegance of mathematics.

It is beautifully written and although the premise sounds depressing it was not in the least. My husband read it as well and absolutely loved it.

This was my last read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 3. I also read All She Was Worth. I didn't get to the Tatoo Murder Case or Wild Sheep Chase but hopefully Bellezza will host again and I can read them then. Once again I enjoyed the challenge and especially reading everybody's reviews, so thanks Bellezza for hosting.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Review Round Up

There are four books that I didn't get to review in 2009 so here is a short post about them.

Lucky One I read for my book club. Lucky One, by Nicholas Sparks, is about a veteran that returns from Afghanistan to search for a women in a photo he found there. Now I know there is a reason why I have never read Sparks books before. One book club member said it was a Harlequin romance but other members objected and said that Harlequins are better. I don't know about that but the only thing I liked about the thing was the dog.

Cane River was also a book club selection which I did not have high hopes for but I was actually pleasantly surprised. It is not great literature but at least it was entertaining and I found the characters engaging. And I found its Civil War era focus on French settlements of both slaves and gens de couleur libre interesting.

Martian Chronicle by Ray Bradbury was also a book club selection and my favorite of these four books. It was also only the second sci fi book the book club has read in its entire 10 year history. While it was certainly dated this was also part of its charm - a real time capsule into what the concerns of the late 1940s - 1950s were all about. It is really a set of linked short stories and as in all short story collections, I liked some better than others. I especially liked the ones that focused on the Martians. There was this wonderful one with a glass or crystal house with water flowing through it, and I wished there were more stories about the Martian's way of life before people from Earth showed up. My favorite was Usher II about censorship in which a man builds his own Poe inspired mansion and gets revenge on the Moral Climate Monitors in the style of horror masterpieces. I agreed with my other book club members that it didn't really fit in this story collection but I still liked it.

Venus on the Half Shell was not a book club book but I have two friends that have been raving about this book for years and so even though it is out of print I tracked a copy down to see what all the fuss was about. I had first become aware of this book back in the late 70's when I was trying to track down and read all of Kurt Vonnegut. Back then there was no internet to easily find things and I had to rely upon my local book store. Venus was then published under the author's name Kilgore Trout, one of Kurt Vonnegut's characters, and there was speculation that Venus was written by Vonnegut. Apparently now it is determined that this book was actually written by Phillip Jose Farmer. In any case, the main character zooms around in his space ship visiting different planets and having numerous amorous encounters. Although it was Vonnegutesque, I found that each story seemed to be simply an excuse to discuss a topic of interest. Lets go to a planet to consider women's rights or aging etc. I didn't find the stories or characters particularly well written or interesting.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bookmarks Magazine Jan/Feb 2010

Here is what looked interesting in Bookmarks Magazine, as well as several that I was reminded that I had been meaning to read.

God Father of Kathmandu, John Burdett - S
Last Night in Twisted River, John Irving - S

Freedom, Daniel Suarez - SF
**read Daemon first
Blackout, Connie Willis - SF
Far North, Marcel Theroux - SF
Inverted World, Christopher Priest - SF
Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk
**read My Name is Red and Snow first
Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, Peter Ackroyd
Invisible, Paul Auster
**read the New York Trilogy first
The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt
Generosity, Richard Powers
**read Gold Bug Variations first
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Allison Bartlett - NF
Lit, Mary Karr - Memoir
**read The Liar's Club first
Ayn Rand and the World She Made, Anne Heller