Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bookmarks Magazine

Here's what looked interesting in the July / August Bookmarks.

Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks
The Tragedy of Arthur, Arthur Phillips
The Pale King, David Foster Wallace
All Clear, Connie Willis read Blackout first
Cryoburn, Lois McMaster Bujold
Embassytown, China Mieville
In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson

Crime in the Art World
The Forgery of Venus, Michael Gruber
The Raphael Affair, Iain Pears
Doors Open, Ian Rankin
The Rembrandt Affair, Daniel Silva
Xibalba Murders, Lyn Hamilton
Headcase, Peter Helton
A Talent for War, Jack McDevitt
Flanders Panel, Arturo Perez-Reverte
Forger's Spell, Edward Dolnick
False Impressions, Thomas Hoving
Provenance, Laney Salisbury
Billionaire's Vinegar, Benjamin Wallace
A Real Van Gogh, Henk Tromp
Loot, Sharon Waxman
The Art of the Heist, Myles J. Connor Jr.
The Art Detective, Philip Mould
The Rape of Europa, Lynn H. Nicholas

Friday, September 02, 2011

Two Cozies

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure and Crocodile on the Sandbank.

I haven't really read any cozies in many years but after struggling with the Castle for so long I was just in the mood for something light. These are not great literature but were quick afternoon reads that I found refreshing before moving on to something more substantial.

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure is the first in the Haunted Bookshop series by Alice Kimberly. The heroine, Mrs. McClure has just moved to a little town in Rhode Island to assist her aging aunt with her bookstore. As Mrs. McClure attempts to revitalize the bookstore with a famous mystery author event, her famous author drops dead and it looks like it was murder - GASP! As the quiet town reacts to this extraordinary event Mrs. McClure realizes that the bookshop might be haunted by a ghost who is connected to the murder. But don't worry Mrs. McClure solves the mystery and all is well, as is always the case with cozies.

The Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first in the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Amelia Peabody is a woman of independent means who in 1884 wishes to visit the pyramids in Egypt. While visiting a archeological dig there is an attempted kidnapping, attacks and even a crazed mummy terrorizing the camp. Luckily Amelia uses her wits to figure it out and save the day.

While the Amelia Peabody series is very well known I must confess that I enjoyed the Haunted Bookshop more. Perhaps I am just a sucker for anything set in a bookshop but the Crocodile on the Sandbank just kept reminding me of the dated Sunday afternoon movies on tv I watched while growing up involving mummies and tombs set in Egypt. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed them both, the Haunted Bookshop just seemed more original to me.

The Imperfectionists

by Tom Rachman

I picked this up at an airport bookshop one day when I was spending way to much time in airports. I thought it looked like a good diversion and I was really pleasantly surprised. It was a very fast read, I finished it before I reached my destination, but it kept me entertained and I really enjoyed the characters.

The novel is made up of the individual stories of various people connected to an English language newspaper in Rome. While I am not always fond of this style, in this instance it really worked. The individual characters were really interesting and the individual stories worked together to give a wonderful sense of the newspaper.

Overall I found it well crafted, humorous and entertaining. And as this was the author's debut novel I will definitely check out his next effort.


I cannot believe it is time once again for Carl V's RIP challenge. For information on the challenge go here, for the review site go here. As September is the hottest month where I am, it doesn't feel much like fall, but I am ready anyway. As I love the flexibility and also expect a busy September/October, I am signing up for Peril the Third which requires one book - but I hope to read more.

I have two books that have been waiting on my shelves just for this challenge:
The Historian and
Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I will definitely be reading Something Wicked This Way Comes and will have a go at the Historian. There are also some short story collections I would love to dip into:

THE WEIRD: A Compendium of Dark & Strange Stories, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
The Essential Works of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
The Best of Arthur Machen: 15 Tales of Horror

Unfortunately the Weird is not due out until sometime in October but I have the other two loaded onto my Kindle at the ready.

And if miraculously I have more time I would also love to read:

Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt
Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo
Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bookmarks Magazine

Here is what looked interesting in the May/June Bookmarks.

A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan - S
The Devotion of Suspect X, Keigo Higashino - S
The Troubled Man, Henning Mankell - S
Blood, Bones & Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton - NF, S
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Tom Franklin
The Magus, John Fowles
Human Croquet, Kate Atkinson
The Tiger's Wife, Tea Obreht
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
Swamplandia!, Karen Russell
Pym, Mat Johnson
The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes -NF
The Discoverers, Daniel Boorstin - NF
The Information, James Gleick - NF
The Magnetic North, Sara Wheeler - NF
Moonwalking with Einstein - NF

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lost Art of Reading

by David Ulin

I absolutely love books about books, so I was excited to find this very slim volume one day at the book store. It sounded great: "The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time." I thought perhaps I wouldn't find anything especially new or insightful in this little essay but at least I would agree with the author that books matter!

Unfortunately, the author focuses so much time explaining the distracted time we live in, that he never really gets around to explaining why books matter. In fact, I was left with the distinct impression after finishing the essay that the author ultimately agreed with his son Noah that literature is dead. The most I could gather from this essay was that the author believes books (ie traditional paper books) matter as a sort of antidote to all the distraction - a sort of still point to filter out all the noise and reorient your self.

I don't agree with the prognosis that literature is dead. First of all, while reading physical paper books may be on the way out, just because the story is now no longer in the format of a traditional "book" but can be read on a ebook, the computer or listened to on an ipod, to me does not mean that this new medium is not literature. Second, I think to some degree the advent of the internet and other "distractions" discussed at length in the essay enhance and promote reading books. Access to not only blogs but articles by well respected newspapers, magazines and websites make information on a much wider range of authors and books available to anyone interested. And I now have access to a much wider selection of books, be it for my Kindle, my ipod or in paper ranging from that obscure book that is out of print, the foreign language translation of a Serbian author, free ebooks in the public domain or a an unpublished book downloaded from an author's web site.

Finally, I have never perceived so much excitement and interest about reading as today. I see people that didn't really read much before, picking up Kindles or ipods or downloading apps to their phones to read or listen to books. People still stop me when they see my Kindle and ask about it and the next time I see them they have their own ebook and claim to love it. Twenty years ago I couldn't have found a book group to join if my life depended on it. Now there are not only multiple competing live book groups but you have the entire internet of book blogs, professional reviews, forums, book reading challenges etc. in which you could immerse yourself in nothing but discussing books and literature if you wanted. And yes, that in itself can be distracting, but people are still finding time to read.

I was interested in the authors contention that reading facilitates or teaches empathy but he never really developed that line of thought. While I certainly agree that reading can be a concentration or focusing exercise, so can meditation or running or painting or many other things. The poor author needs to figure out how to live a balanced life in a distracting time, as do we all. Just because distraction is there for us 24/7 does not mean that the means of that distraction is bad. We all have free will and we can choose to be distracted by the internet and email or choose to use them as useful tools and then turn them off and do something else, like read a good book. For an essay on what a distracting time we live in, this is the essay for you. For a mediation on "why books matter" however, you need to look elsewhere.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Once Upon A Time V

I cannot believe that Once Upon A Time V is finished already. It seems like I just made my original post with potential books to read. While I have not been good about posting reviews throughout the challenge, I have been reading.

I signed up for the Journey because I really appreciate the flexibility and lack of stress. I also said that I was going to watch Midsummer's Night Dream on DVD and do some short story weekends with Jorge Luis Borges. I didn't do the short stories and I just totally forgot about the DVD but I did read five books.

The Alchemist & Executioness by Paulo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell
The City and the City by China Mieville
The Castle by Franz Kafka
Finch by Jeff Vandermeer
The Library by Zoran Zivkovic

I would have to say that my favorite was clearly The City & the City closely followed by Finch. I also enjoyed The Library and the Alchemist & Executioness. I am currently reading the Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry which I am enjoying very very much. (Oddly I am finding it more "Kafkaesque" then I did The Castle.) It is giving Finch a run for its money for second place.

I don't know if this really counts or not but I also just finished watching season one of Game of Thrones on HBO which is based upon George R.R. Martin's books. I have not read any of the books but I absolutely loved the series and cannot wait for season two next year. The world of the Seven Kingdoms was fascinating and beautifully depicted, the plot twists kept you guessing, the photography and special effects amazing and the acting superb. I highly recommend it.

Thanks Carl for once again hosting a wonderful, pressure free challenge.

The Library

by Zoran Zivkovic

I ran across an interesting review of Serbian writer Zoran Zivkovic's The Last Book. Searching for a copy of that book which I eventually ordered used through ABE, I discovered that Amazon had new copies of The Library by that author available. While there isn't much on the Amazon page about the book, its short blurb pretty much describes the Library.

A cycle of six thematically linked stories, droll renditions of the nightmares ensuing upon misplaced, or (of course) excessive, bibliophilia. A writer encounters a website where all his possible future books are on display; a lonely man faces an infinite flow of hardback books through his mailbox; an ordinary library turns by night into an archive of souls; the Devil sets about raising standards of infernal literacy; one book houses all books; a connoisseur of hardcovers strives to expel a lone paperback from his collection.
I always love books about books and libraries so thought I would give it a shot. Looking more into this author I discovered that he has his own web site (in English) and has contributed to Jeff Vandermeer's (the author of Finch) Leviathan series.

The Library, comprised of six short stories, is very short. I did enjoy the collection but I must say that I was not blown away. My favorite library story is still The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges. I generally prefer novels instead of short stories, so I am looking forward to reading The Last Book by this author.


by Jeff Vandermeer

I had this for last year's Once Upon A Time Challenge but after reading Shriek, which I enjoyed, I decided to save this one for this year. While I know that others have read this without having read the City of Saints and the Madmen and Shriek, I enjoyed the background knowledge they provided.

Unlike the prior books set in Ambergris, this one is styled a detective story. The grey caps, strange fungal entities, have taken over the city of Ambergris and detective Finch, a human who works for the grey caps, is assigned a very unusual murder case involving a dead human and a dead grey cap. His investigation plunges the reader into a fascinating world of rebel insurgents as the grey caps race to complete the building of two mysterious towers. I don't want to give away too much about the plot or the characters as it is such a joy to discover this new story set in Ambergris. Carl V gave a great review of it last year.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend that you read all the Ambergris novels. I know that I intend to keep reading more Jeff Vandermeer, perhaps Veniss Underground, his first novel, next.

The Castle

by Franz Kafka

I read Franz Kafka's the Trial several years ago and absolutely loved it. I thought it was so funny and found frightening parallels with our current criminal justice system. The Trial is one of my favorite novels. So I was really looking forward to reading the Castle for the Once Upon A Time Challenge.

The Castle is the story of a land surveyor, K. who is summoned to a village by the Castle authorities to be its new land surveyor. The entire story is that of K. trying to deal with the Castle bureaucracy and begin his work as the land surveyor, which he never achieves. The story line certainly had potential.

Unfortunately, I didn't really enjoy it. While like the Trial it dealt with the nightmare of bureaucracy, it totally lacked the humor of the Trial. And while it was dark, it was more depressing then truly dark. The characters were also uninteresting and I didn't really care what happened to K.

Obviously this is a highly acclaimed work and some people absolutely love it. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that it was unfinished, but then again so was the Trial. I really wanted to love it as I usually enjoy reading about the absurdity of bureaucracy. The Trial was magnificent. Another one of my favorites is All the Names by Jose Saramago about a clerk in the registry of births, marriages and deaths.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The City and the City

by China Meiville

I purchased this book for my Kindle as soon as it came out but didn't get around to reading it until now for the Once Upon A Time Challenge. I absolutely loved it and have been recommending it to everyone I know. Even people that say they won't like fantasy will enjoy this one.

The story is cloaked as a hard-boiled police procedural with a Detective investigating a murder. What makes the story unique is that it is set in two cities, Beszel a decaying and run down city and Ul Qoma, a modern bustling booming metropolis. Detective Tyodor lives and works in Beszel but an unusual murder case takes him to the city of Ul Qoma. I don't want to give too much away as it is such a pleasure to figure out the connection between these two cities and what exactly is going on as you read the book. The real mystery for the reader isn't the murder, it is the city and the city.

I absolutely loved this book. It is completely original and yet so well realized. The characters were interesting but the cities were by far the most engrossing. Read it, you will enjoy it.

The Alchemist and Executioness

by Paulo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell

I cannot believe that the Once Upon A Time Challenge is almost over. Although I have not been posting, I have been reading. The first book I "read" for the challenge was actually an original audio book produced by I so enjoyed the Windup Girl by Paulo Bachigalupi that when I read about this new project involving Bacigalupi created just for audio, I thought I would give it a try, especially as it was fantasy and perfect for this challenge. I had read a really interesting interview by the two authors about how they created this work but I cannot find it at the moment. Essentially it is two separate short stories but both set in the same fantasy world. Khaim is a world where magic was once widely used but unfortunately with every use deadly bramble is created. Magic is now banned and punishable by death as the citizens try to battle the bramble back before it swallows the last of the cities.

In the Alchemist by Bacigalupi an alchemist has dedicated his life to creating a machine, the balanthast, which can destroy bramble. He works in secret because his experiments require he bring bramble into the city and for fear his alchemy might be mistaken for magic.

In the Executioness Buckell tells the story of a women who is forced to take her father's place as an executioner and sets off on an adventure to save her children kidnapped by raiders.

These two stories are far more traditional fantasy then I usually read but I enjoyed them both. I also found it an interesting project as there is not a lot of works created specifically for audio. I do note however that it appears that limited editions of these stories have since been published as books by Subterranean Press, although I strongly recommend you try them as they were intended as audio. Both the audio narrators of these stories were wonderful.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

2011 Wish List

I often send myself emails of books that sound interesting with the intention of adding them to my wish list. Apparently I have not gathered these random emails since April 2009 so thought I better do so.

Biblio Mysteries
Here are some links to some great lists:
Green Chair Press Books on Books list

Manchester Public Library Death Among Books

Evanstan Public Library Bibliomysteries

Amazon List Top Biblio Mysteries

The Last Book by Zoran Zivkovic

Homicide in Hard Cover by Kate Carlisle (series)

Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop by Otto Penzler (short stories)

Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett (series)

Japanese Literature
Ryunosuke Akutugawa – Rashomon & 17 other stories – translator Jay Rubin

Hitching Rides with Buddha: A Journey Across Japan

The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata

Spring Snow' by Yukio Mishima

Japanese Science Fiction

Japan Sinks - Sakyo Komatsu

Paprika – Yasutaka Tsutsui

Shinju by Laura Joh Rowland

Science Fiction / Fantasy
Dark Universe – Daniel Galouye

Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

Lilith's Brood by Octavia E. Butler (Erika Bann recommended)

Viriconium by M. John Harrison

Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley

Home Fires by Gene Wolfe

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

Lethem – Chronic City

Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan (about the Brontes)

Various Flavors of Coffee, A Novel by Anthony Capella

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace

Golden Tulip by Rosalind Laker

Death as a Side Effect by Ana Maria Shua

The Unburied by Charles Palliser

Scary Stories
The Beetle by Richard Marsh

Curios: Some Strange Adventures of Two Bachelors

Edited by Ellen Datlow:
Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe

Lovecraft Unbound

Charles Stross - the Atrocity Archives (Lovecraft inspired)

Cory Doctorow – Someone Comes to Town and Someone Leaves Town – Project Guttenberg

The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan

Washington Post List

Amazon Listmania

Awards and Best of Lists
Locus Award Finalists

Man Booker 2009

Vandermeer Best of 2009

Best of the Decade

Best of 2010 Publisher Weekly

Time Best of 2009

Books on Books
How Reading Changed my Life by Anna Quindlen

List on Savage Reads

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

How to Read Novels Like a Professor by Thomas Foster

The Case for Books by Robert Darnton

Magic and Madness in the Library editor Eric Graeber

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

Book by Robert Grudin

Art Books
The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

Making Mummies Dance: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Thomas Hoving

Provenance: How a Con Man and a Foger Rewrote the History of Modern Art

Post by Citizen Reader about Art Thrillers

About Van Gogh
Irving Stone’s Lust for Life, Adam Braver’s Crows Over the Wheatfield, Alyson Richman’s The Last Van Gogh and Sheramy Bundrick’s Sunflowers.

Polar Reading List

The Ends of the Earth: An Anthology of the Finest Writing on the Arctic and Antarctica

Antarctica: Life on the Ice by Traveler’s Tales

Collapse by Jared Diamond

The Power of the Sea by Bruce Parker

The Siege of Shangri-la by Michael McRae

Sunday, May 08, 2011


Here's what looked interesting in the Jan/Feb and Mar/April Bookmarks Magazine.

The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene - NF
Life by Keith Richards - NF, S
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
The Beautiful Cigar Girl by Daniel Stashower
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Cut! by Denise Imwold - NF, S
The Risk Pool by Richard Russo - S
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin -S & L
By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham - S
Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie
read Haroun and the Sea of Stories first
World and Town by Gish Jen
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King - S
Three Seconds by Roslund & Hellstrom - S
start with The Beast
The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell - S
start with Faceless Killers
Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat -SF
How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming by Mike Brown - NF

All seem to be available on the Kindle except, Daughter of Time, Risk Pool, Girl In Hyacinth Blue, Three Seconds, Troubled Man and Cut! seems to be out of print entirely.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New York Trilogy

by Paul Auster

I have been hearing about Paul Auster for many years, and then I read this great review by Carl V. The New York Trilogy is really three stories which were originally published separately and now are published together : City of Glass, Ghosts, and the Locked Room all set in New York City. While sort of noir mysteries they don't really fit that genre and are more of a postmodern endeavor. City of Glass is about a writer who takes on a surveillance job and gradually begins to question realty (and includes a character called Paul Auster). Ghosts is about a detective named Blue who is investigating Black and sending reports to his client White. The Locked Room is about a mediocre writer who gets caught up and lost in a childhood friend's family and literary work after his friend's disappearance.

But you don't read this for plot. The writing is amazing, the characters are intriguing and you never know what is going to happen next. While it is difficult to describe it was thoroughly enjoyable. I definitely intend to read more Paul Auster.

My Name is Red

by Orhan Pamuk

Nobel Prize winning author, Orhan Pamuk's, My Name is Red is an unconventional murder mystery / love story set in 16th century Istanbul. The sultan has commissioned a group of miniaturists or illuminators to secretly illuminate a special commemorative manuscript, but when one of the illuminators is found dead, the other illuminators begin to worry.

I loved many things about this book. I knew very little about 16th century Istanbul or Islamic illuminated manuscripts so it was very educational and interesting for me. I loved that there were multiple narrators, including a dog, a coin, a corpse, the color red. Istanbul, its court and its inhabitants really came alive.

What I loved the most was the illuminated manuscripts themselves. Random House's web site has several fascinating images, such as this:

I knew that Islam has certain reservations/prohibitions about representational figures, but this book really elaborated on the many Islamic views and the tension with the "European style". This was especially interesting as many points of view were presented and the many differing opinions and practices, even in the 16th century, really made the issue interesting.

I must say however, despite the fact that I learned a lot from this book and liked many things about it, over all I didn't really enjoy the experience of read it. It was very dense, not particularly lengthy or difficult, but it was an effort to get through it. I am glad I read it but I am not in a hurry to pick up another one of Orhan Pamuk's books.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Once Upon A Time V

Finally it is time for Carl V's Once Upon A Time challenge. I remember when I joined this challenge for the first time. I was new to blogging, new to challenges and didn't think that I actually liked fantasy. What I have realized is that fantasy is so much broader than magicians, fairies, dragons and knights and actually encompasses my favorite type of books - books that are not too constrained by reality such as those by Kafka, Murakami, Calvino and Saramago.

For more information on this challenge that focuses on fantasy, folklore, fairy tales or mythology go here and for the review site go here. It runs from March 21 to June 20, 2011.

I have so many books that I could read for this challenge. I bought Jeff Vandermeer's Finch last year and then decided to save it for this year so I had time to savor Shriek, so I will definitely be reading Finch. I also have had The City and the City since it came out so I definitely will be reading that. I also enjoyed the Calvino and Ajvaz so much last year that I would like to read more of them. And I of course have more Saramago to read. So here is a pool of books to chose from.

Finch by Jeff Vandermeer
The City and the City by China Mieville
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Alchemist and the Executioness by Bacigalupi and Buckell
Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Stone Raft by Jose Saramago
The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz
The Library by
Zoran Zivkovic
The Last Book by Zoran Zivkovic
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
Observatory Mansions by Edward Carey
The Wood Wife by Terri Windling
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
Invitation to a Beheading by Vladamir Nabokov
The Narrator by Michael Cisco

And if that isn't enough there is always Jeff Vandermeer's Best Fantasy of 2010 review to get inspiration from.

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. I did the Journey last year and ended up reading four. I also plan on watching Midsummer Night's Dream on DVD and I hope to do a few short story weekends with Jorge Luis Borges. Thanks Carl for hosting another great challenge.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Broken Angels

by Richard K. Morgan

I read Richard K. Morgan's Philip K. Dick Award winning Altered Carbon for the Sci Fi Experience two years ago and enjoyed it. While this is the second book about Takeshi Kovacs it is very different from Altered Carbon. Altered Carbon was essentially a noir detective story that just happened to be set in the future. In Broken Angels you meet up with Takeshi Kovacs embroiled in a war on a distant planet, working as a mercenary for a giant corporation trying to lay claim to an ancient Martian artifact, in the middle of a war zone. While it was much more of an action/war adventure, I was very happy that it explored the implications of the advanced technology laid out in the first book.

In Kovac's world people have stacks embedded in their spinal column that contain their memories and personalities and as long as your stack is recovered when you die you can either be "re-sleeved" in another body or exist in virtual reality. Because your consciousness can be put into a digital format this has interesting implications for torture, sex, space travel and warfare conducted by soldiers that don't die a "real death".

I also found the story line about the Martians fascinating. The Martians were long gone when humans discovered their cities and artifacts, but by using the Martian technology and information that they left behind, human beings have been able to leap far beyond their capabilities, especially in terms of space travel. I don't want to give the plot away but I found the entire Martian story line fascinating and hope that it is developed more in the following book.

I will definitely read the next (and supposedly last) Takeshi Kovacs book, Woken Furies, which is set on Kovac's home world, Harlan's World, and delves into Kovac's history.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Windup Girl

by Paolo Bacigalupi

I had been hearing great things about this book since it came out in September of 2009. And the buzz only continued to grow as it won both the Hugo and Nebula for best novel in 2010. It also seems to appeal to people that do not normally read science fiction and even made Time magazine's top ten fiction books in 2009. Sometimes a book with all that buzz just cannot live up to its billing but I was really wowed by Windup Girl.

The story is set at some time in the future in Bangkok Thailand, after oil has run out, the sea levels have risen and plagues have decimated the world's food supply. Methane made from animal dung lights the street lamps and cook fires and kink-springs are used to power everything from boats and factories to guns. Computers are powered by the individual pedaling away at the treadles and bioengeniered beasts called Megodonts (as pictured on the cover) do the heavy labor. The primary means of transportation are sailing ships and dirigibles. While this may make it sound like a steampunk novel, I didn't really get that vibe from it, but I am no steampunk expert. My favorite part of the novel was the extraordinary future Bangkok, with sky scrapers built during the Expansion now crumbing and overcome with vines since electricity is gone but filled with people.

The primary interest of the novel is genetic engineering both of the food supply and of people and animals. Much of the food supply is tainted and has become deadly to eat while calorie companies control the food supply of genetically engineered crops. Engineered animals, such as the Cheshire cats that shimmer in and out of sight like the one from Lewis Carol's Wonderland, have almost obliterated all of the natural species. And the calorie men search for original genetic plant material to work their gene hacking magic. The Windup Girl of the title is a genetically modified humanoid created by the Japanese as a companion, secretary and translator for a wealthy businessman who abandoned her in Thailand where "New People" are illegal.

While the characters were fully developed and interesting and the plot was complex and fascinating, what I loved most about the story was the way the reader is just dropped into this complex world and allowed to slowly figure it out. To me the city of Bangkok is the main character and the large themes are the main plot devise. It is not preachy in any way but the author manages to create a frightening world that in light of our current state of affairs seems not really that far fetched. It certainly has made me look at "calories" in a new light.

The publisher, Night Shade Books, currently has free downloads of "Windup Stories" which contains two stories that are set in the same world as The Windup Girl, The Calorie Man and Yellow Card. I enjoyed reading them, especially since I understand that The Calorie Man was the genesis of The Windup Girl. I would however recommend reading the book first as it fully immerses you in this world and I think better prepares you to appreciate these stories.

And if you need more convincing here are some reviews from Cory Doctorow , SF Signal.

I read this as part of Carl V's Sci Fi Experience.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dark River

by John Twelve Hawks

This is Book 2 of the Fourth Realm Trilogy. I read the first book, the Traveler, when it first came out in 2005. Set in the present day, an evil organization is developing more and more sophisticated ways to track all movements and activities of the population. From credit card and banking transactions, to surveillance cameras on the streets, tickets purchased, web sites visited, and phone calls made, the Tabula is tracking your every movement. The first book was about a Traveler - a person with the ability to travel to "other realms" and a Harlequin, a sword carrying protector of travelers and their pursuit by the Tabula. I thought it was an interesting premise and it was written as an exciting thriller. While I didn't think it quite lived up to all the hype, I did enjoy it and was interested in reading more.

The second book, Dark River, picks up were the first one left off. The Tabula is working furiously to achieve total control of the population. Two brothers search for their legendary Traveler father, one brother working for the Tabula and one hiding from the Tabula, living off the grid and protected by the young Harlequin Maya. While this was clearly a middle novel and could not be read on its own, it did make me interested to continue following the adventure and read the next book The Golden City.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Winter's Tale

by Mark Helprin

I first read this in the 80s shortly after it first came out. I rarely re-read books but this one really stuck with me all these years and I am glad that I finally re-read it. On a second reading it certainly did not disappoint! And while I remembered some sections vividly, there was a lot that I did not remember which made for an interesting read.

Winter's Tale is very difficult to describe. Superficially the story is about a burglar who falls in love with a young dying heiress when he breaks into her mansion. But that is just what gets the story going. In my mind the main character is the mythical New York City that Helprin creates which seems to always be enfolded in winter and threatened by a cloud wall. We experience almost a century of the city from the days of sailing ships, horse drawn carriages and cobblestone streets to the modernization of electric lights, mighty bridges and printing presses. There is a small upstate town which is not on any map and usually cannot be found, a white horse that can seemingly fly, and an epic struggle to build bridges.

The writing is spectacular and I could vividly picture flying up the frozen Hudson river in a sleigh under piles of fur, hiding in the lighted constellation ceiling of Grand Central Station or skulking through the sewers with the Short Tails gang of Five Points. While this is definitely fantasy it is not elf and dragon sort of fantasy but rather a look at turn of the century New York as a wondrous and romanticized place that you wish it had been. And you don't have to have ever been to New York or even like New York to enjoy this book. One of my favorite books of all time. Read it!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reading Deliberately 2011

Last January I decided to try and read more deliberately. I believe the quality of the books that I read in 2010 was much higher than in 2009. I think this is in part due to my leaving my real world book club (and therefore cutting out books I didn't really want to read) but also reading some great books that I have intended to read for a long time but never seemed to get to. I therefore am going to try it again this year.

Books I intended to read in 2010 and still intend to read in 2011:

Gold Bug Variation by Richard Powers
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Lost City of Z by David Grann (nonfiction)

There are also books that I have that would be perfect for challenges that I intend to participate in:

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

In addition I would like to read a book about Art, a book about Food, a book about Books or Reading, a nonfiction book as well as something from the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels List which I am extremely slowly working through (The Sound and the Fury is on it).

This is a shorter list than last year but perhaps I can complete it this year and I reserve the right to add to it as I am sure I am leaving something important out.

2010 Year in Review

I cannot believe that 2010 went by so quickly. At the beginning of 2010 I decided to read a little more deliberately. While I did not achieve all my goals I did make significant progress and had a good reading year over all, especially as it included some really great books.

My five favorite books from 2010:

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

It was very hard to narrow it down to only five, especially since I really loved all of my honorable mentions below. It didn't make any sense to me however to pick 11 favorites since I only read 26 books this year. I guess it goes to show that I had a very successful reading year at least in terms of quality!

Honorable Mention:
The Other City
New York Trilogy
A Wild Sheep Chase
Housekeeper and the Professor

Reading Achievements for 2010:
I read twenty six books, which does not compare to most book bloggers but I am quite happy with that number as it is one more than last year and I expected to have read less as it was an especially hectic year for work and life. Of the ten books that I intended to read in 2010 I managed to read half of them, which isn't bad. Of the seven that I had on my shelves that I intended to read for challenges I only read three of them. Indeed, I didn't do very well with Challenges in 2010. I completed the Sci Fi Experience (3 books read), Once Upon A Time (4 books read), RIP (1 book read) and Japanese Literature (1 book read) but dropped out of the Speculative Fiction Challenge and Mind Voyages. I did manage to read two books related to art (The Savage Garden and My Name is Red) and one book about books (The Man Who Loved Books Too Much). I am way behind in writing reviews and need to get better about that, especially since my main goal in having this blog is to replace my physical reading diary.

Although some of the books could fall into more than one category for the purposes of this list I only assigned one category for each book.
Nonfiction - 2
Science Fiction - 3
Horror - 0
Fantasy - 4
Mystery - 3
Literary - 9
Thriller - 3
Other - 1
Female authors - 5
Male authors - 21
New to me authors - 15
Audiobooks - 10
Ebooks - 4

I was surprised that I listened to more audio books than ebooks but since my husband has returned my Kindle to me I bet that ebooks will increase in 2011.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Sci Fi Experience 2011

It is time once again for Carl V's Sci Fi Experience. If you want to join in go here and if you want to check out people's reviews go here. I have been waiting for this to begin! I have Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan on my ipod ready to listen to (I enjoyed his Altered Carbon) and the Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi on my coffee table in hard cover. I also have Daemon by Daniel Suarez, Light by M. John Harrison and Old Man's War by John Scalzi on my Kindle. I don't think I will get to all of these but if I do there are many more on my list. And as always I am looking forward to reading all the other reviews and adding to my wish list. Thanks Carl for hosting again!

Sunday, January 02, 2011


What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave by Peter Heller

I am not a surfer, never aspired to be a surfer, don't live in a location where there is much surfing and don't know any surfers. I was spending way to much time in an airport and looking for something lighter than what I had with me for reading and picked this up in a bookshop. I cannot say it is a great work of art or well written for that matter but it was entertaining and introduced me to a world that I knew nothing about. In fact, I immediately went out and rented three surf movies: Endless Summer, Step Into Liquid and Blue Horizon. I had no idea that people are surfing one hundred foot waves. I also picked up the new book, The Wave by Susan Casey, that looks really interesting.

But back to this book. Peter Heller seems to have made a career for himself going on adventures and then writing about them: extreme kayaking Tibet's Tsangpo gorge, the "deepest river gorge in the world"; a radical and dangerous campaign on an "eco-pirate ship" against Japanese whale hunting in Antarctica - and that is just his published books. His adventures are also chronicled in his articles in Outside Magazine, National Geographic Adventure as well as others. His web site has quite a few of his articles. But back to this book - Kook about surfing.

In Kook, Peter Heller sets himself the task of trying to learn how to surf in one year. He starts out in California and works his way through Baja and into Mexico. In the process he meets all sorts of surfers, from guys nobody has ever heard of to the famous. Oh yeah, and his girl friend comes along and learns to surf too. A surfer certainly wouldn't read this book the same way I did but for a non surfer it was a very accessible and entertaining introduction to the surfing world. I don't know if this is the best introduction to surfing (you cannot beat the visuals of a video for really understanding the waves) but I found it very interesting and was glad I read it. I will probably pick up some of his other books as well.

People of the Book

by Geraldine Brooks

This book was a surprise to me. I read great reviews of it when it first came out in 2008 added it to my wish list and forgot about. Years later I needed to put something on my ipod for a trip, came across it, remembered it was supposed to be good and got it without really knowing what it was about except vaguely a book. While it was far more serious then I expected, I really enjoyed it. The framework is that our narrator is a young rare book restorer who is tasked with restoring the Sarajevo Haggadah and when she comes across a clue in the book to its history such as a wine stain, salt or an insect wing, we get to hear the story of how that wine stain etc. got there and gradually the entire history of the Haggadah unfolds.

And quite a history it is, from its creation in Spain and travels to Venice, Vienna and Sarajevo barely escaping the inquisition, the Nazi's and the Bosnian War. The author has an interesting map on her web site of its travels. While not a "thriller" I thought the story was just fascinating, especially since it is in most part true. And I am always fascinated by illuminated manuscripts.

I was not familiar with the Sarajevo Haggadah or its history but I don't think that took away from my enjoyment of the work. Obviously this is a work of fiction and I understand that experts knowledgeable of the actual book and its history may take issue with some literary license taken but as a literary work I thought it was great. Each of the story lines was fascinating as well as the many characters and I also learned a lot of interesting history that I was unfamiliar with. I highly recommend it.