30 November 2008

Weekly Discoveries #6

Introducing my very first button!! The only hard part was finding a public domain image that I liked.

Here are this week's discoveries. As always, many come from other bloggers' book reviews, but others are my own finds.

Book Suggestions
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (historical fiction, India/China)
Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell (historical fiction)
The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason (historical fiction)
Towers of Gold by Frances Dinkelspiel (nonfiction)
The King's Daughter by Sandra Worth (historical fiction)
Possession by A. S. Byatt (fiction)
Alex & Me by Irene Pepperberg
Lumby Lines by Gail Fraser (fiction)

Authors to Check Out
Cora Harrison (medieval Ireland mysteries)
Deanna Raybourn (mysteries)
Linda Buckley-Archer (YA fantasy)
Laurie R. King (mysteries)

Books Bought or Borrowed
The Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie (fiction/fantasy/puzzle: looks like lots of fun!)
Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris (Southern Vampire series #4)

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29 November 2008

Challenge: Art History

Here's a challenge that is pretty hard to resist. It's being hosted by Sarah. The full rules and other participants can be found here.

I have committed to reading 6 books about art in 2009. Fortunately, we can read fiction, which is the option I'm going for. Here's my list, but I reserve the right to change it if I find something else!

Tracy Chevalier: The Lady and the Unicorn
R. Howard Bloch: Needle in the Right Hand of God
Elizabeth Peters: Silhouette in Scarlet
Elizabeth Peters: Trojan Gold
Susan Vreeland: Girl in Hyacinth Blue
Karen Essex: Leonardo's Swans

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28 November 2008

Friday Finds: Nov. 28

I post my entire list of weekly discoveries on Sundays, but I like to pick out at least one book to highlight for this meme. To see what others found this week, click here.

Both books today were suggested by my local library.

Historical fiction about "the Anglo-Burmese war, a rogue major, and the fate of an ordinary piano tuner drawn into an extraordinary entanglement."

First in a mystery series that takes place in medieval Ireland.

EDIT: Here are links for more information: The Piano Tuner and My Lady Judge.

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27 November 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Thankful

Here's today's Booking Through Thursday. For the complete meme and everyone else's responses click here.

Today is Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Now, you may have noticed that the global economy isn’t exactly doing well. There’s war. Starvation. All sorts of bad, scary things going on.

So–just for today–how about sharing 7 things that you’re thankful for?

I am thankful . . .

(1) For my family and friends and their good health
(2) That after a half of century of reading, my eyes are still holding out
(3) For my newfound blogging and Twitter friends
(4) That my husband and I -- both self-employed -- still seem to be working in this scary economy
(5) That no matter how long my reading wish list gets, there are always more books
(6) That "they" can never find anything bad about coffee and caffeine
(7) For digital cameras

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it!

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26 November 2008

Review: Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer

It's no wonder that David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing won the Pulitzer Prize for history (2005). This is a fascinating look into the American Revolution from the summer of 1776 to the end of winter 1777. Those seven or eight months were critical to shaping the American spirit and personality as well as George Washington's self-confidence and leadership style. The book is well illustrated with paintings, drawings, and maps along with twenty-five appendices that cover everything from military statistics to weather data.

The first two thirds of the book take us from the Declaration of Independence to Washington's crossing of the Delaware and the battle of Trenton. Fischer gives us insight into the troops and commanders of the British armies, Scottish kilted troops, and the dreaded Hessians. We learn about Washington's early mistakes, Congress's struggle to find its place in the military sphere, and the state of the young country's soldiers.

The last third of the book was even more interesting. Here we see how Washington's victories in New Jersey were based on a new way of leading men and waging war. Washington held councils and listened to the opinions of others, from the lowest private to the highest general. In contrast, commanders of the enemy troops lead unilaterally. Washington treated his soldiers as gentlemen, introducing a new meaning for the term, befitting the new nation: Gentlemen were not born into their status (as in the Old World) but earned it through honor, dignity, and decency.

Washington instructed his men to treat prisoners of war under the ideals of human rights. This principle became part of the reputation of the United States for more than two hundred years. The Hessians in particular were the polar opposite. Not only did they kill their captives but they enjoyed making a game out of torturing them first.

The book includes firsthand accounts of the events and descriptions of the key people, quoting newspapers, broadsides, diaries, and military documents. Such personal viewpoints make the book very approachable. Furthermore, Fischer adds a concluding chapter that summarizes many of the significant factors of Washington's first campaigns, including the commander's growth as a leader.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about the history of the United States, Washington, and the Revolutionary War. The first part of the book covers much of the same territory as does David McCullough's excellent 1776. Both books are worth your time.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Recorded Books), read by Nelson Runger. Although Runger did an adequate job with the running text, his German accents and his inflections for Washington were a bit off. I recommend reading this one in print.

I read this book as part of the U.S. Presidents challenge. More information about that challenge can be found here.

Published by Oxford University Press, 2004
ISBN: 0195170342
Challenges: U.S. Presidents, 25 Books
Rating: A

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Wordless Wednesday #5

Icelandic Horse

For more Wordless Wednesday entries, click here.

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25 November 2008

Tag You're It

Betty over at Betty's Books (here) tagged me for this meme.

1. What book is on the left-hand side of your computer or closest to the left-hand side?

2. Are you reviewing it, is your favorite, or is it there for some other reason and specify.

3. Go to page 38 and write down from the 2nd paragraph, the first 4 sentences.

4. Tag 4 friends and pass them this avatar.

Thanks so much, Betty!! It's great to be tagged. The book to my left is Washington's Crossing, which I just used for Teaser Tuesdays (here), so I won't copy more sentences from it. I'm reading the book for personal interest and as part of the U.S. Presidents challenge (for more information, see here). I'll be reviewing it soon (probably on Monday or Tuesday).

Because I was tagged for almost the same meme just last week and tagged five other people then, let me do this:

If you haven't played yet, please copy the button and consider yourself tagged!

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Challenge: Audiobooks

I truly wasn't going to join another challenge for 2009, but J. Kaye struck again! Anyway, this one is made for me. So far in 2008 I've listened to 84 audiobooks, so this will be a breeze.

In short, I've committed to listening to 12 audiobooks in 2009. I think I have a chance of meeting this goal.

For the complete rules and to see who else is joining in, visit J. Kaye's Book Blog here.

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Teaser Tuesdays (Nov. 25)

This is my first Teaser Tuesdays because I usually don't have my current read sitting in my office. But today I do!

Here's how to play: (1) Grab your current read. (2) Let the book fall open to a random page. (3) Share two "teaser" sentences from the page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. (4) Mention the title of book. (5) Don't post spoilers. For the full rules and to see what everyone else is reading, visit Should Be Reading here.

On the high ground above, George Washington saw the Hessian regiments rally in the apple orchard and watched them start up the hill toward his flank. With great speed and presence of mind, he instantly sent an order to Edward Hand's Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment and Haussegger's Pennsylvania and Maryland German regiment. (246)

Not sure these lines are going to sway anyone, but the book is truly interesting.

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Challenge: Themed Reading 2009

Here's another challenge I can't resist. The good news is that the books must come from my TBR pile, so I'll actually make some headway! The challenge begins in February.

Caribousmom is hosting the Themed Reading challenge, and the full rules can be found on her blog (here). The option I'm going for is to pick 6 books that share more than two themes.

Here are my themes (1) part of a mystery series, (2) woman author, (3) woman protagonist, and (4) protagonist operates out of the United States.

Here are the authors (with protagonist and state). The particular book will depend on where I am in the series when this challenge starts:

  • Blaize Clement (Dixie Hemingway from Florida)
  • Earlene Fowler (Benni Harper from California)
  • Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse from Louisiana)
  • Cynthia Riggs (Victoria Trumbull from Massachusetts)
  • J. D. Robb (Eve Dallas from New York)
  • Kate Wilhelm (Barbara Holloway from Oregon)
I'm hoping to make a dent in some of the series I've been reading.

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24 November 2008

Musing Mondays: Gotta Read

Here's this week's Musing Monday's (now hosted by Just One More Page!). To see the full meme and to read other answers, click here.

Here we go: How do you feel about wide-spread reading phenomena--Harry Potter, for instance, or the more current Twilight Saga? Are these books so widely read for a reason or merely fads or crazes? Do you feel compelled to read--or not to read--these books because everyone else is?

I'm usually not taken in by reading phenomena. In fact, such hype usually turns me off completely. And I'm almost always disappointed by best-sellers and the current fad. That said, I can be talked into reading the current popular book if someone I respect encourages me.

I read the first Harry Potter because YA fantasy has always been a favorite genre, and I'm happy that there is so much more to choose from in the post-Harry world. Unfortunately, once the series was a phenomenon, Rowling's editors became timid, and the later novels are not as tight as the earlier ones.

I read the Twilight books because I my niece (C) encouraged me. I enjoyed the general idea of the books, I loved discussing them with C, and it's fun to be in the know. But I would probably not have finished the series on my own because of weaknesses in the plots.

So, no, I'm not taken in by the current fad; in fact, wild popularity often turns into a reverse barometer for me. However, I will read the book if it's a favorite genre or if someone I know talks me into it.

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Review: Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

Note: Magic Study is the second in a trilogy. This review assumes you've read the first book, Poison Study. For my recommendation, skip to after the asterisks.

Yelena is on her way home to Sitia to meet her family after a fourteen-year separation. Because she was kidnapped at the age of six, she has no memory of her early childhood. The trip is bittersweet: Although she will soon know what it is like to have a family and a clan, Yelena has left her lover, Valeck, and friends Ari and Janco behind. And once she's seen her homeland, she will leave it to enroll in the magic school at the Citadel to study with her mentor, Irys.

Life in the south is not good for Yelena. While she is learning to hone her magic skills and is discovering some of her talents, she is met with hostility--even from her older brother, Lief--and is accused of being a spy for Ixia. Her classmates and teachers are jealous of her skills, a group of rebels are threatening to invade the north, young girls are being raped and murdered, and Yelena is being stalked by at least one enemy. She barely has a peaceful moment, and her burdens are heavy.

* * * * *
Magic Study focuses on a transition in Yelena's life, from enslaved child to independent woman. The exploration of her personality, magical abilities, and relationships with others is strong. Unfortunately, many of the characters introduced in this book seem to lack depth. I was disappointed that her family was not more fully developed. I'm not sure I understand Yelena's mother and her odd behavior, and Lief's motives were weak. Teachers at the Citadel seem to be either good or bad, and we don't learn much about them.

On the other hand, I like the spirited, strong Yelena and will definitely finish off the trilogy (with Fire Study). This is not a complex fantasy world filled with numerous creatures and cultures. Instead the books tell the story of one young woman and her struggles to overcome adversity and find her place in the world.

Magic Study could have used a stronger editor; the abundance of similes is sometimes annoying. In this Harlequin publication, romance is neither in the forefront nor excessive.

I've listened to the first two entries in the trilogy via audiobooks, read by Gabra Zackman. The narration is clear and nicely done.

Published by Harlequin, 2007
ISBN-13: 9780778323921
Challenge: 25 Books
Rating C

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23 November 2008

Weekly Discoveries #5

Here are this week's discoveries. As always, many come from other bloggers' book reviews, but others are my own finds.

Book Suggestions
On Beauty by Zadie Smith (contemporary fiction)
Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse (nonfiction, family autobiography)
A Thousand Veils by D. J. Murphy (fiction based on a true story)
Two Brothers--One North, One South by David H. Jones (civil war novel)
Whiskey Rebels by David Liss (historical fiction)
Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie (fantasy/mystery)
The Tenth Case by Joseph Teller (mystery)
When Wanderers Cease to Roam by Vivian Swift (nonfiction)
Conquering Gotham by Jill Jonnes (nonfiction; tains and NYC)
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson (nonfiction, cholera)
Downtown Owl Chuck Klosterman (fiction)

Authors to Check Out
Lyn Hamilton (archaeology mysteries)
C. W. Gortner (historical fiction)
Leanda de Lisle (historical fiction)
Rebecca Ann Collins (Austen characters)

Books Bought or Borrowed
Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer (nonfiction)
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (YA)

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21 November 2008

Challenge: YA Books

J. Kaye has another great challenge for 2009. And, yes, I'm joining. Click here to see the full rules and to see who else is joining up. J. Kaye announced two other new challenges, so check them out. I'm avoiding the series challenges, but they may be perfect for you.

I'm going to list authors (alphabetically) instead of book titles. I'm working on some series, so the specific book will depend on where I am in the series when January roles around. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind at any time during the year -- especially because my niece is always coming up with great books for me to read.

Oh, the principal rule is to read 12 YA novels over the year.

  1. Jonathan Safram Foer Libba Bray
  2. Cornelia Funke
  3. John Green
  4. Caroline Lawrence
  5. D. J. MacHale
  6. John Marsden
  7. Garth Nix
  8. Arthur Ransome
  9. Angie Sage
  10. Jerry Spinelli
  11. Jonathan Stroud
  12. Scott Westerfeld
I'm looking forward to seeing other people's lists. My niece and I are always looking for new books to read together.

EDIT: Lou (Bogsider) pointed out that Safram Foer was likely not considered YA. I thought his books were, but just in case, I've swapped him out.

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Friday Finds: Nov. 21

I post my entire list of weekly discoveries on Sundays, but I like to pick out at least one book to highlight for this meme. To see what others found this week, click here.

I'm going to highlight only one book this week, don't know why . . . just the way it is.

Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse caught my eye. It was reviewed by Kris at Not Enough Books. It's the true story of three generations of Chinese women and what the family had to endure to relocate to England. Read Kris's review, and I bet you add this to your wish list, too. And when you're over at Not Enough Books, be sure to click on the link to the photo of women whose story is told in the book.

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20 November 2008

Review: Club Dead by Charlaine Harris

Club Dead is the third book in the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris. I suggest you read the books in order. Sookie Stackhouse and her boyfriend, Bill Compton, a vampire, have gained recent fame from the HBO television series True Blood, based on Harris's books.

Note: This review contains very minor spoilers. If you're worried, skip to after the asterisks for my recommendation.

As the novel opens, Sookie is wondering if there is trouble in paradise. Bill the vampire is acting distant and is spending all his time on the computer. Sookie is not happy and is even less so when Bill tells her he has to go to Seattle on a secret mission. Although she can't read his mind, she knows he's lying.

Soon after Bill leaves, Eric, handsome leader of the region's vampires, tells Sookie that Bill has gone missing--and that he was last seen in Mississippi, not in the Pacific Northwest. Eric and his clan are sure that Bill has been kidnapped.

After Eric convinces Sookie that Bill's so-called life may be in danger, she agrees to head to Mississippi, posing as the girlfriend of Alcide, a warm-blooded, daytime-living, food-eating werewolf. The two must go to Josephine's, a bar known as "Club Dead," where Sookie hopes to read the minds of the patrons to learn whether Bill is still walking the earth and, if so, where he is being kept.

Of course, Sookie, Alcide, Eric, and others must appease their enemies and escape vigilante humans as they attempt to learn the truth about Bill and escape back to Louisiana with their lives intact. And at the end, Sookie realizes that she needs to face some serious questions about the men in her life.

* * * * *
If you've read the first two books in the series, then you must read this one. Although I don't think the plot of Club Dead is as strong as those of the first two books, the novel leads Sookie to an important crossroads. From here, the series could go in several directions.

If you haven't read any of the Southern Vampire books . . . well, get yourself to a bookstore or library. Sookie is both cute as a button and tough as nails. I'm guessing you'll fall for her fairly quickly.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Recorded Books) read by Johanna Parker. Parker has become Sookie in my mind and her narration is spot-on for the series.

Published by Ace Books, 2003
ISBN-13 9780441010516
Challenge: 25 Books
Rating B+

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Booking Through Thursday: Honesty

Here's today's BTT. For the complete meme and for everyone else's answers, please click here.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?

I'm not going to get on a soapbox, but the short answer is this: If you make your work available to the public, then you have to brace yourself for all kinds of reactions. Here in the United States, we have the right to publish our negative opinion about anything and anyone, as long as isn't slander. Authors have no rights when it comes to receiving negative reviews.

Unless you've signed a contract guaranteeing that you'll post only positive comments, you are under no obligation to give a good review.

What's the point of posting reviews if all your reviews are glowing? Your readers will begin to lose faith in you if you never write about dud books. Of course, I don't think reviewers should be mean, but I appreciate the 1- and 0-star reviews.

Furthermore, what do authors learn if everyone tells them they are so wonderful? Surely negative reviews can be used as guides for bettering one's craft.

I'm on the side of freedom of expression. And I'm not on the self-esteem bandwagon. Hummm, when did I climb up on this box?

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Tag You're It

I've been tagged by Lori from Pieces-n-Bits for the meme I completed last week about which book is closest to you. Thanks so much Lori!!

For my answers, click here.

Because I tagged people just a few days ago, let me do this: If you'd like to play, please consider yourself tagged!!

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19 November 2008

Wordless Wednesday #4

Tidal action on the Maine coast

For more Wordless Wednesday entries, click here.

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18 November 2008

Review: Plum Island by Nelson DeMille

Thrice-shot Manhattan homicide detective John Corey escaped to his uncle's house on the north shore of Long Island for a little R&R. After a summer in the small community, Corey is beginning to make friends and enjoy his afternoons sitting on the deck, watching the ocean, and sipping a cold beer. One late-summer day, Max, local chief of police, drops by to see Corey. Mutual friends of theirs, Tom and Judy Gordon, have been found in their backyard, each shot in the head. Max asks for Corey's help.

Were the attractive, well-liked Gordons victims of a simple robbery gone bad? Or did their murder have something to do with their work on Plum Island, a high-security federal biological research station off the coast of Long Island? And how did the Gordons manage to own an expensive speed boat and attend high-society wine-tasting parties on their research-scientist salaries?

Corey teams up with Beth Penrose, a local detective working her first homicide, to find out what happened to the young couple. Despite being on disability leave and out of his jurisdiction, Corey cannot walk away from the case. He finds himself delving into a wide range of seemingly unrelated issues: local history, homeland security, and the life of the rich and not famous.

Meeting John Corey is just as interesting as getting to the bottom of the case. We wonder if he knows what he's doing or if he's just about making wise cracks and finding his next beer or woman. After all, Corey seems to rely heavily on instinct and quickly dismisses simpler, more obvious solutions. For the first three quarters of the novel, Corey interviews suspects, witnesses, and friends of the Gordons. He learns about the town, Long Island, Plum Island, and local lore. Once Corey is pretty sure he has it figured out, he must prove his theory--and we're there all the way to the dramatic end.

Plum Island is bit out my usual cozy mystery genre, but I was taken in by the story and especially by Corey and his sarcastic sense of humor. DeMille's characters were complex enough to keep me guessing: Were the Gordons good or evil, savvy or naive? Are the FBI guys doing their job or covering something up? Is Corey insightful or totally off the wall? I recommend Plum Island, and I will likely read more John Corey books.

Scott Brick did a brilliant job of reading this unabridged audiobook. The way he set the mood with his voice couldn't have been better; the pacing of the narration was perfect. I have rated the book B+, but I rate the reading A+.

Audiobook published by Books on Tape, 2004.
ISBN-13: 97804466055403
Challenge: 25 Books
Rating B+

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Challenge: What's in a Name? 2

I've joined this challenged for 2009. The challenge is hosted by Debi. For the complete rules and the other participants, click here. The challenge is to read 6 books, one each in the following categories.

  1. A book with a profession in the title -- Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly (mystery)
  2. A book with a time of day in the title -- The Dead of the Night by John Marsden (kind of a fantasy)
  3. A book with a relative in the title -- The Marsh King's Daughter by Elizabeth Chadwick (historical novel)
  4. A book with a body part in the title -- A Needle in the Right Hand of God by R. Howard Bloch (historical fiction about the Bayeux tapestry)
  5. A book with a building in the title -- Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery (historical fiction)
  6. A book with a medical condition in the title -- In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (nonfiction; travel)
I reserve the right to change my mind and substitute books! Thanks, Debi, for hosting this challenge.

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17 November 2008

Musing Mondays (Nov 17)

Today's Musing Mondays from Should Be Reading consists of four questions. For full rules and other answers click here.

1. What are you reading right now? I'm reading Plum Island by Nelson DeMille.

2. What did you recently finish reading and what did you think about it? My last book was Heat by Bill Buford (my review is here). I loved it.

3. What do you think you'll read next? I believe it will Club Dead by Charlaine Harris.

4. Will you read any holiday-themed books soon? No, I don't plan on it.

Now off to see what others have answered.

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16 November 2008

Weekly Discoveries #4

Here are this week's discoveries. As always, many come from other bloggers' book reviews, but others are my own finds.

Book Suggestions

  1. Songs for the Missing, Stewart O'Nan (fiction)
  2. The Pirate's Daughter, Margaret Cezair-Thompson (historical fiction)
  3. Climbing the Mango Trees, Madhur Jaffrey (autobiography)
  4. Digging to American, Anne Tyler (fiction)
  5. Company of Liars, Karen Maitland (fiction, based on Chaucer)
  6. Isaac's Storm, Erik Larson (nonfiction; Galveston hurricane)
  7. The Sudden Sea, R. A. Scotti (nonfiction)
  8. Crack in the Edge of the World, Simon Winchester (nonfiction, San Francisco earthquake)
  9. Crossing the Continent, Robert Goodwin (nonfiction)
  10. Book of Tea, Kakuzo Okakura (food history)
  11. To Catch the Lightning, Alan Cheuse (historical fiction)
  12. City of Ember, Jeanne Duprau (YA fantasy)
Authors to Check Out
  1. Elizabeth Haydon (fantasy)
  2. Lillian Beckwith (fiction, Scotland)
Authors Rediscovered
  1. Arthur Ransome (YA fiction)
  2. Norah Lofts (biographical novels)

Books Bought or Borrowed
  1. Inkdeath, Cornelia Funke (YA fantasy)
  2. Lucia, Andrea di Robilant (historical fiction)
  3. Twilight at Monticello, Alan Crawford (nonfiction)

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14 November 2008

Bookworm Award!

Sally over at Book Critiques tagged me for this Bookworm Award. Thanks so much!! I'm thrilled.

Here’s how it goes.

Open the closest book to you, not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment, to page 56.

Write out the fifth sentence, as well as two to five sentences following there.

Okay. The book nearest me (I'm in my office) is Blake's Poetry and Designs, edited by Mary Lynn Johnson and John E. Grant (it's a Norton Critical Edition). On page 56 is the poem "A Little Boy Lost."

Here are the first two stanzas:

"Nought loves another as itself
Nor venerates another so.
Nor is it possible to Thought
A greater than itself to know:

"And Father, how can I love you,
Or any of my brothers more?
I love you like the little bird
That picks up crumbs around the door."
Pass this on to five blogging friends.

The five people I tag are:

Alabama Book Worm
Kylee's 2009 Blog
Lous Pages
Nely at All About {n}
Tamara at Books by TJBaff

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Review: Heat by Bill Buford

The subtitle of this book tells it all: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. Bill Buford quit his job as a writer/editor for The New Yorker to learn to be a chef in the small kitchen of Mario Batali's restaurant Babbo.

In the fascinating story of how Buford goes from a carrot-chopping prep cook to a reliable line cook, we learn the inner workings of a restaurant and the tale of how Mario became . . . well, Mario. And we follow Buford to Italy, where he becomes a pasta intern and then a student of a famous butcher.

Although Babbo, Mario, and the internal politics of restaurant life are woven throughout the narrative, Buford is really writing about the difference between being a good home cook and being a chef. One of the primary goals of a restaurant chef is to cook a limited range of dishes that are exactly the same every single time they are served. A home cook has the freedom to serve whatever he or she wants, and guests do not expect any one dish to be prepared and presented with precise consistency. Restaurant eaters have different expectations.

Chefs listen, smell, and touch food to determine doneness and the state of a dish. They rely less on sight and taste than does the home cook. Buford learned to develop what is called "kitchen awareness"--an almost instinctive sense of what needs to be done, based on just a particular sound coming from the pan, for example.

Buford also examines ingredients, among them wine, flour, eggs, and meat. The conclusion, especially for animal products, is that "the breeding, not the breed" is key. In other words, store-bought eggs do not behave the same as farm-fresh eggs, and feed-lot beef does not have the same properties as grass-fed beef.

This is wonderfully written with laugh-out-loud moments while Buford relates his failures and triumphs as a cook and introduces us to the eccentric group of people who become his mentors. I recommend this book to anyone interested in food, Mario, Italian cooking, or restaurants. Don't miss out on Buford's story.

Michael Kramer did a terrific job narrating the unabridged audio edition.

This book was part of Historia's Books about Food Challenge. For a summary of this post and to see what food books others have read and reviewed, click here.

Published by Random House, 2007
ISBN-13: 9781400034475
Challenges: Books about Food, 25 Books
Rating: A

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Friday Finds: Nov. 14

I post my entire list of weekly discoveries on Sundays, but I like to pick out a couple of books to highlight for this meme. To see what others found this week, click here.

Both books for this week were found on J. Kaye's Book Blog! It is simply coincidence that the two books I picked from my list happened to be mentioned or reviewed there. Thanks J. Kaye!

The first one is Crossing the Continent 1527-1540 by Robert Goodwin. This is the true story of Estaban Dorantes, an African American slave who traveled across the American south with three Spanish captains. They face much hardship along the way, and the Europeans eventually owe their lives to Dorantes. Sounds like a must-read to me.

The second one is To Catch the Lightning by Alan Cheuse. This is a novel based on the life of photographer Edward Curtis, who became famous for his photographs of Native Americans. Curtis was determined to record the disappearing cultures of the American Indians, and apparently this passion became all-consuming. I am familiar with Curtis's work and have studied anthropology, so this is another book that is going on my must-read list.

For a synopsis of the first book and a review of the second, visit J. Kaye's blog here.

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13 November 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Why Buy?

Here's today's Booking Through Thursday. For the complete meme and for everyone else's answers, click here.

Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I'm betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. . . . What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?

If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?

Buying: I am a life-long buyer of books. I love books, I love their look and smell. I revisit books, and I want them available whenever the mood strikes. I don't like the pressure of deadlines and due dates in my leisure time (I have enough of that at work). I want to be able to read books in my own time at my own speed.

Borrowing: After a lifetime of buying books, we're getting crowded out of the house! We have no more walls for bookshelves, and things are getting out of hand. Also, I have realized that some books are never read a second time. I never, for example, reread mysteries (one of my top genres), so it really makes no sense to own them. Thus I've become selective in my buying.

Changing habits: One way I've saved us from drowning under books--and increased my reading time--is to listen to audiobooks. I am big on digital downloads (no physical book!) and listen almost exclusively on one of my MP3 players. My library offers digital downloads and I have taken advantage of that. I also check out audiobooks (even cassettes) from my library. For some odd reason I don't feel the same deadline pressure with an audiobook -- well, probably because I way more opportunities to listen than I do to sit and read.

Ok. More than anyone wanted to know . . . and I'm not even sure I answered the question.

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12 November 2008

Challenge: 100+ Reading

J. Kaye is hosting the 100+ Reading Challenge for 2009. I wasn't going to join another challenge. However, I know I'll meet this goal anyway, so why not join in with others?

I'll be listing my books as I complete them, and I'll have a progress bar over in the left sidebar.

For complete rules and to see who else is joining in, click here.

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Wordless Wednesday #3

Red Door and Windows: The Netherlands

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

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It's Tuesday: Where Are You?

I just discovered this meme hosted by An Adventure in Reading -- a day late. Oh well. For other responses and the complete meme, click here.

Yesterday I was in New York City in a small kitchen cooking for Mario's restaurant.

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11 November 2008

Which Twilight Woman Are You?

I found this over at Nely's blog (here). I couldn't resist.

I'm a Bella! I found out through TwilightersAnonymous.com. Which Twilight Female Are You? Take the quiz and find out!

And I'm happy to be a Bella! Who are you?

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Review: Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson

What was Anne Shirley's life like before she came to Green Gables? Budge Wilson, with the authorization of the L. M. Montgomery estate, has given us the answer. Before Green Gables was written as part of the celebration of the 1ooth anniversary of the publication of the first Anne Shirley book.

***Note: The following paragraphs contain minor spoilers. For only my recommendation, skip to below the asterisks.***

The book starts with Anne's parents and her birth and follows her as she lives with two families before being sent to the orphanage from which she was rescued to live with the Cathberts. The book ends as Anne steps off the train to meet her new family.

Wilson does a good job capturing the spirit of Anne and of telling us how Anne's active imagination and quirky vocabulary came into being. Unfortunately, Anne's childhood was filled with hard work and few chances to play. She was unappreciated and unloved by the adults who agreed to take her into their homes. The story was depressing and often unbelievable. For example, Anne was working at an age when most children are barely walking and was using an adult vocabulary when most toddlers have trouble putting a full sentence together.

Anne was able to find some happiness by creating make-believe friends and by imagining a better world. Every once in a while, a loving adult (teacher, neighbor) helped stimulate the girl's active mind and tried to give her hope for her future. Sadly, none of them did anything substantial to change Anne's horrible circumstances.

* * * * *

The audiobook was read by Renee Raudman. I found her overenthusiastic style to be a bit much for me. Perhaps the earnestness would appeal to a young audience, but it was sometimes grating, and I would turn the book off.

Despite the book's problems, I recommend it to Anne Shirley fans simply because it covers the missing years. I especially liked the descriptions of Anne's parents. I suggest that you read rather than listen to it, though.

Audiobook published by Tantor Meida, 2008
ISBN-13: 9781400106271
Challenge: 25 Books
Rating: C

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10 November 2008

Musing Mondays: Giving/Keeping

Here's this week's Musing Mondays:

If you keep your books, where do you keep them? And, if you give them away, who do you give them to? . . . Are any of your books in storage due to not having enough space for them all?

I do keep my books. Books fill several bookcases, are piled on every horizontal surface, and are stacked on the floor. Some are in boxes in the attic.

When I give books away, I donate them to AAUW for their yearly book sale.

For other answers and the complete meme, see here.

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09 November 2008

Challenge: Support Local Library

J. Kaye's Book Blog is hosting a great challenge: read 12, 25, or 50 books from your local library in 2009. I definitely want to do this. What a terrific idea for a challenge.

I don't have a book list -- yet. I'll have to do some looking around and leave wiggle room for new acquisitions. I am going to commit to 12 books for 2009.

I hope others plan to join this challenge.

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Weekly Discoveries #3

Here are this week's discoveries. As always, many come from other bloggers' book reviews, but others are my own finds.

In case you're wondering about the huge number of books on my Weekly Discoveries lists: I'm using these lists to keep track of what catches my attention as I read reviews (online and in print) , participate in book lists, and wander through bookstores. Some books are recommendations from friends and family. The lists are here so I can browse them before I hit the library or make a trip to the store. No more little bits of paper that always seen to go missing.

That said, it's ironic that this week I have a small list. I had a tough workweek and thus not much time to browse reviews!

Book Suggestions
Champlain's Dream by David Hackett Fischer (biography, history)
Wife in the North by Judith O'Reilly (autobiography)

Authors to Check Out
Lori G. Armstrong (PI mystery series)

Books Bought or Borrowed
The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry (fiction)
Illuminated by Matt Bronleewe (fiction, 1st in series)

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07 November 2008

Challenge: U.S. Presidents Reading Project

Lezlie has started a perpetual challenge to read one nonfiction book about each president. There is no time limit and it can be retroactive. I will not post reviews of books I read before I started blogging. This is a great life goal, and my thanks goes to Lezlie for thinking of this challenge.

Book lists and other participants are available on the challenge's blog (here).

Although I have read biographies and histories of several presidents, I am going to start clean -- except for our second president. I read David McCullough's John Adams when it first came out. It was my top read for that year, and I can't imagine that there'd be a better or more thorough study. I highly recommend it (but will not be reviewing it here).

As luck would have it, I have books about Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR already waiting in my TBR pile, so I'll likely read them first.

Stay tuned!

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06 November 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Presents!

Today's Booking Through Thursday asks: What, if any, memorable or special book have you ever gotten as a present? Birthday or otherwise. What made it so notable? The person who gave it? The book itself? The "gift aura"?

Because I come from a family in which book giving is prominent, this is a difficult question. I still have many of the books my parents got me when I was a child. No single one stands out.

I think the best books were the series because my parents bought them for us one at a time. I remember devouring each one in a day or so, and then I'd have to wait weeks or even months until I could get the next one. It was a pleasant agony. Why I didn't just check out the next Little House or Nancy Drew (or whatever) from the library, I have no idea. I think I liked the anticipation. We got books for most occasions and for no occasion.

Probably not the answer that was expected. For more answers, visit the BTT blog here.

EDIT: I did remember that my older brother went to Europe in the 1970s and brought me home a British edition of The Hobbit. I have cherished that book and his thoughtfulness.

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05 November 2008

Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge

Here's another challenge for 2009. This one looks like a lot of fun and is being hosted by Melissa over at Book Nut. To read the full rules and see who else is participating, click here.

For this 3-month challenge, we need to read 3 books; each one must meet one of the following criteria: (1) have a food name in the title, (2) be about cooking or eating, (3) have a place name in the title, (4) be about someone's travels, (5) be about a specific culture, (6) be written by someone whose ethnicity is different from yours.

This sounds too good to miss. My tentative list is as follows:

  1. House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar (criterion 1)
  2. Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen (criterion 4)
  3. Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George (criterion 5)
I may change my mind, but I think these are books I'll read.

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Wordless Wednesday #2

Fuel stop during migration (Maine).

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04 November 2008

Tag You're It

Lynda tagged me for this meme. So here I go:

1. I generally read only one book at a time.

2. I am addicted to audiobooks and listen whenever I can.

3. I have so many books in my house that I have piles of them on the floor.

4. I'll read almost every fiction genre except horror.

5. I sometimes reread books.

6. My wish list is miles long.

7. My favorite childhood books were about pioneers in the U.S. west or in Canada.

Now for the people I'm tagging (in no order):

If you want to play, please consider yourself tagged!!!

And for their instructions:
1. Link to the person who tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 bookish, random, and/or weird facts about yourself.
3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that he or she has been tagged by leaving a comment on his or her blog.

Tag You're It!

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Review: A Mortal Bane by Roberta Gellis

How is it that Magdalene la Batarde has been able to set up her high-class brothel in the Old Priory Guesthouse, which is still owned by St. Mary Overy Church? Magdalene doesn't run a common whorehouse, and her women are far from usual. She employs simple-minded Ella, blind Sabina, and mute Letice. The cook and housekeeper, Dulcie, can barely hear. For a high price, a gentleman can spend an enjoyable evening and know his secrets will be kept.

One night in the spring of 1139, a messenger from the pope comes to the guesthouse gate and asks for lodging. Only hours after the man has been entertained by Sabina, a body is found on the steps of the church, and the women are accused of the murder. They know they will hang because who would believe the word of a whore over that of a church official?

Sir Bellamy of Itchen, a bishop's knight is sent to Soutwark (outside of London) to investigate the murder. When he visits the Old Priory Guesthouse to search for clues, he is surprised at what he finds and is immediately drawn to the beautiful Magdalene. As they work together to find the murderer, they learn that this crime is more than a simple case of a robbery gone wrong. Furthermore, the messenger may have carried papers important both to the church of St. Overy and to Stephen in his fight with Maud for the English crown.

In A Mortal Bane, Gellis draws us into the world of medieval England, and we get a peek at the politics of the early church. Greed, murder, overzealous piety, politics, prejudice, and simple jealousy must all be sorted out before the murderer can be found. All the while we wonder, along with Bellamy, about Magdalene's past and her relationship with her powerful benefactor.

I highly recommend this first in the series mystery, and I will absolutely be reading the rest. If you like Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael series, you'll like this too. The characters are complex, the dialogue is believable, and the action is just right.

I listened to this unabridged audiobook, which was read by Nadia May. May did an excellent job differentiating among the characters, and her accents and inflections enhanced the book.

Audio published by Blackstone Audiobooks, 2002
ISBN-13: 0786193964
Challenge: 25 Books
Rating: A

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03 November 2008

Musing Mondays: Boys and Books

Today's Monday Musings is about boys and reading . . .

Do you know of any young boys who do not like to read? Why do you think boys so often don't? What can we do to encourage them to read more? [Thoughtful post snipped; to read the complete musing, click here.] So what do you think? How do you encourage young boys to read more, or how would you?

I wish I had the answer to all of these questions. I'll address the last one. I don't have sons, so my thoughts are based on my experience with my brothers, father, husband, and nephews.

I think for boys the important thing is to keep them reading, whether it's graphic novels, action hero books, or even the daily comic strips. It's also important for them to see others reading and talking about books. Many of the men and boys in my life (all raised in reading families) didn't come around to reading until they were in their 20s. In several cases, all it took was the right the book at the right time, and in no case did that book come from a lit class assignment.

So my advice is (1) to keep buying boys what they like, (2) to read those books yourself and talk about them with the kids, (3) to stop worrying about whether they're reading great literature, and (4) to set a good example. I bet they'll come around in time. . . . And wouldn't it be great if it were just that easy!

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02 November 2008

Weekly Discoveries #2

Here are my discoveries for the week. As always, many come from fellow bloggers, but others are my own finds. I think I'm going to have to stop reading reviews . . . my wish listing is growing way too big!

Book Suggestions
Life in the Country by Freydis Jane Welland (for Jane Austen fans)
The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory (historical fiction)
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (historical fiction)
Amateur Gourmet by Adam Roberts (food non-fiction)
The Blackstone Key by Rose Melican (mystery)
Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (medieval mystery)
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (YA fantasy)
I, Coriander by Sally Gardner (YA historical fiction)
Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster (fiction)
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (fiction)
The Eight and The Fire by Katherine Neville (action/adventure? fiction)
My Lady of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes (historical fiction)
Canoeing with the Cree by Eric Sevareid (nonfiction, travel)
Name to a Face by Robert Goddard (stand-alone mystery)
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (fiction, 19th-century Australia)
The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham (historical fiction, 14th-century Britain)

Authors to Check Out
Marsha Altman (for Jane Austen fans)
Roberta Gellis (medieval mysteries) [Already reading!]
Christopher Fowler (mysteries)
Pierdomenico Baccalario (YA, Ulysses Moore books)
Ann B. Ross (mysteries)

Books Bought or Borrowed
Club Dead by Charlaine Harris (Southern Vampire Series)

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Fall into Reading: Wrap Up

On Friday, I finished my first ever reading challenge. Okay, so I picked only 7 books for this challenge, but I'm still excited about finishing. Thanks so much to Katrina for hosting this. My wish list grew insanely long because I read almost all the reviews posted by the other participants. What a great community!

I was warned that challenges could be addictive. A glance at my current and pending challenges (in the sidebar) will tell you that I'm hooked. I've tried to hold back a bit because I'd hate to have my reading totally restricted by challenges. Still, it's great fun to set goals and meet them.

Fall into Reading doesn't end until until fall does, so I'll continue to post reviews on the challenge site. If you're interested in the rules of the challenge or in seeing the reviews, click here.

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01 November 2008

Challenge: 25 Books (Monthly Update)

These are the books I read in October. All count toward meeting the 25 Books challenge sponsored by my local library. The letter in parentheses is my rating for the book; click on the author's name to see my review.

  1. Dawn on a Distant Shore, by Sara Donati (B+)
  2. Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky (B-)
  3. To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis (A)
  4. The Hippopotamus Pool, by Elizabeth Peters (C)
  5. Genghis: Lords of the Bow, by Conn Iggulden (B+)
My total for this challenge is now 16.

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Review: Genghis: Lords of the Bow, by Conn Iggulden

The second of Conn Iggulden's trilogy of the life of Genghis Khan concentrates on the conflicts between the wandering Mongols and the urban Chinese. In the early years of the 1200s, a young Genghis has done the unthinkable: united the warring tribes of Mongols under his rule. The Mongols are all about conquest, and Genghis leads tens of thousands of men and their families across the Gobi Desert to seek revenge on the Chin (Chinese), who have long held military and trading power over his people. The growing army conquers vassal states, makes allies, burns cities and fields, and kills millions on its way to the capital city of Yenking (Beijing). After a long siege, which includes interludes of spying, poisonings, and assassinations both in the Mongol camp and within the city walls, the starving Chinese (who have been reduced to cannibalism) surrender, and the boy emperor is forced to kneel before the great khan. The book ends on a cliff-hanger, as the Chinese break the pact of peace and Genghis sends his brothers back to the city to destroy everything in their path.

Besides describing the battles and politics, the books delves into what happens when two very different cultures come in contact under hostile conditions. Despite the power play, each group learns from the other -- whether it be book learning, the arts, and luxuries or warfare, discipline, and ingenuity.

A running theme in the book is the relationship bewteen sons and fathers. Men remember their childhoods and wish their fathers could see their successes or offer advice. Men look at their sons with mixed feelings and wonder if they are raising them correctly. Boys are caught between feeling love and respect for their fathers while seeing them as flawed individuals.

I didn't know that much about Genghis Khan's life or how he and his sons conquered most of the known world. Some quick research (via reliable and respected sources) shows that Iggulden has stuck to the facts fairly well, making some changes to suit the flow of fiction. I recommened this trilogy for those wishing to learn more about medieval Asia and the story of the khan.

Lords of the Bow did not repeat information given in the first book. Genghis: Birth of an Empire covers about the first 30 years of the khan's life and provides the needed background for understanding the relationships among Genghis and his family and presents the key events that shaped Genghis's personality and desires. I am looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy, Genghis: Bones of the Hills.

I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Recorded Books), read by Richard Ferrone. Ferrone does a nice job with the novel, but I was used to Stephan Rudnicki, who read the first book. Once I made the adjustment, I was able to settle in and enjoy Ferrone's narration.

This book marks the completion of Katrina's Fall into Reading challenge. To see what others have been reading this fall, click here.

Published by Delacorte Press, 2008
ISBN-13: 9780385339520
Challenge: Fall into Reading
Rating: B+

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