Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Finds: 27 February 2009

These are the books I've added to my New Finds list this week.

Sea Holly, by Robert Minhinnick
Evans Above (Constable Evans Mysteries #1), by Rhys Bowen
I discovered both of these through the Anglo-Welsh Literature discussion group over at Good Reads. Both authors are new to me. Actually, I've never read much Welsh literature beyond Dylan Thomas. But I'm part Welsh, so I thought I should do a little investigating.

The Needle in the Blood, by Sarah Bower. I first saw this one over at Meghan's Medieval Bookworm blog and it looked so intriguing I had to find out more about it. Here's the publisher's synopsis:
January 1067. Charismatic bishop Odo of Bayeux commissions a wall hanging, on a scale never seen before, to celebrate the conquest of Britain by his brother, William, Duke of Normandy. What he cannot anticipate is how utterly this will change his life-even more than the invasion itself.

His life becomes entangled with the women who embroider his hanging, especially Gytha-handmaiden to the fallen Saxon queen and his sworn enemy. But against their intentions, they fall helplessly in love. Friends become enemies, enemies become lovers; nothing in life or in the hanging is what it seems.
Fatal Lies, by Frank Tallis. Tallis has written a series of mysteries set in Vienna, involving psychiatrist Max Lieberman and his police detective friend, Oscar Rhinehardt. I haven't read any of the books yet, but I've got one other one (Vienna Blood) on my TBR list, and this one sounds good, too.

Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail From Istanbul to India, by Rory MacLean. Another book about "my generation" – have to at least give it a look.

Friday Finds is a weekly event hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Participants are asked to share with other bloggers about the new-to-you books found during the week – books you either want to add to your TBR (to be read) list, or that you just heard about that sounded interesting.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Collectibles

This week's BTT questions:
Hardcover or paperback? Illustrations or just text? First editions or you don’t care? Signed by the author or not?
Well, there was a time when M and I had visions of collecting antique books and first editions. And we even have a few very nice modern firsts in our library. But until recent years, we've always lived a fairly nomadic – and frugal – lifestyle; not the sort of existence that encourages the accumulation of expensive, valuable items. That hasn't prevented us from amassing a huge collection of books, of course. These days, if I'm buying a hardcover edition of a newly or recently published book, I always do try to buy the first edition. But for older books, I'm usually not that picky. Really, the only books I actually collect are editions of Lewis Carroll's Alice books and Twain's Huck Finn. And none of those are particularly valuable – just different editions of two of my favorite books.

The hardcover vs. paperback question is a tough one. In general, I always prefer hardcovers for my library. But for actual reading purposes, I'm not terribly particular. Hardcover books are nice because they generally stay open to the page you're reading. But paperbacks are usually lighter weight and more portable – they can be stashed in handbags and backpacks more easily. Also, the cover art on a paperback edition can frequently be much more interesting than its hardcover equivalent.

Signed by author? Well, we probably do have some books in our library that were signed by the authors. I can think of at least one textbook signed by one of our old college professors. And I'm sure there are at least a couple signed by M's colleagues or grad school pals. But other than those few, if the book has an author's signature in it, the signature was there when the book came into our collection. I've never been much of an autograph-seeker.

Ah, but illustrations – now there's something I have a definite opinion about. I love illustrations. I think all books should have them. Not to the point of turning them into "graphic novels," I suppose. But I'd like every one of my books to have a few nice illustrations. That was one thing I liked about the books by the late novelist John Gardner – he always insisted that his publisher include illustrations with his work. And Rita Mae Brown's Mrs. Murphy mysteries always have a few illustrations of Mrs. M, the "tiger cat," and her Corgi pal Tucker. Just a little something to jazz up the text a bit, and give your eyes something to rest on besides the old Times Roman for a while.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review: Cover Her Face

Written by P.D. James
Simon & Schuster / Touchstone, 1990; 250 pages
First published 1962

In P.D. James's Cover Her Face, young housemaid and single mother Sally Jupp is found strangled in bed behind a bolted bedroom door, with her infant son asleep in his crib in the same room. Just the day before, her employer at Martingale manor house, Mrs. Eleanor Maxie had been in the middle of presiding over the annual St. Cedd's Church fete when she received the astonishing news that Sally had become engaged to marry Mrs. Maxie's son, physician Stephen Maxie. Family and friends, as well as those who had known Sally at St. Mary's Refuge for Girls were surprised and shocked, but was the surprising engagement enough to spur someone to murder? Both Martha, the family's longtime housekeeper, and Mrs. Maxie's daughter Deborah had reasons to dislike the girl. Or could the murder be related to something in Sally's past – something to do with her time at the refuge for unwed mothers, or her former employment at the Select Book Club in London?

Sally was lovely and headstrong, and had ambitions "above her station" that very well might have resulted in enemies. One by one, the suspects mount up, and Scotland Yard's Detective Chief-Inspector Adam Dalgliesh is called in to sift through the evidence – and the complicated relationships and passions beneath the calm surface of English village life – to come up with a solution to the mystery.

Cover Her Face was P.D. James's first novel, and marked the debut of poetry-writing sleuth Adam Dalgliesh. Published in 1962, it was written, so James says, during her train rides to and from her civil servant's job in London. It was wildly successful and spawned a best-selling series that is still going strong today – her latest entry, The Private Patient, was published last year.

I've loved every one of the books, but somehow I had neglected the first book until this year. I wondered how it would compare to the later, perhaps more polished works – and the answer is that it holds up very well. James's style is already pretty fully developed, and her adept handling of characterization is evident from the book's first page. The London Sunday Times has famously referred to her as "the greatest contemporary writer of classic crime." I would not disagree with that statement; and I'd say Adam Dalgliesh is one of the most fascinating characters in fiction – detective fiction or any other genre. I'm so glad I finally managed to read the book that introduced him to the world.

20 in 2009 Challenge
2009 TBR (Lite) Challenge
Books Into Movies Challenge
Guardian 1000 Novels Challenge
Read Your Own Books (RYOB) Challenge
Suspense-Thriller Challenge 2008-09
To Be Continued (Perpetual) Challenge
Winter Reading Challenge 2008-09

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuesday Thingers: Favorite Genres

Tuesday Thingers is hosted by Wendi of Wendi's Book Corner, and this week she's asking about favorite genres:
I've noticed that some book bloggers specialize in a certain genre, or even a specific niche within a genre (lots of vampire book blogs out there, Christian books, health, etc), while others read and review quite a variety of books.

Today's question: Do you have a specialized blog where you only review a certain genre or type of book? If so, what is your favorite thing about that type of book? If not, what is/are your favorite genre(s)? What makes that genre(s) a favorite?

No, I don't have a separate blog for any special genre. And I don't "specialize" in any particular genre, although overall I tend to read a lot more fiction than nonfiction. Not that I dislike nonfiction. And in the past I've gone through periods when I read nothing but histories and biographies and memoirs. But at the moment I seem to be mostly concentrating on fiction; and within the broad fiction category, my tastes are pretty eclectic. I read general "literary" fiction, mysteries and suspense/thriller type fiction, romance literature, science fiction and fantasy, young adult and children's books, historical fiction, ghost stories and paranormal fiction. I read modern and contemporary fiction, as well as the "classics."

What don't I read? Well, I don't read much "chick lit" – you know, the Sex and the City type of writing. I suppose it might have appealed to me when I was younger, but I think I'm just too old to enjoy it now. I'm not crazy about vampire stories; I figure I read Dracula and most of Interview with the Vampire back in the '70s and that should be enough (ya seen one vampire, ya seen 'em all). I'm put off by books with a lot of violence in them, and I don't really like war stories – I don't think I've read any of the novels that came out of the Vietnam War.

Oh, and self-help books. Although I could probably use the help, you won't find me reading about it. Don't read diet books. Don't read financial planning books. Don't read save-your-soul or save-the-planet books. (Not that there's anything wrong with reading those books.) I confess I'm not much interested in making myself the best I can be or expanding my consciousness or exploring my inner child. Been there, done that, got the emotional scars to prove it.

I used to read quite a lot of short fiction; but now, not so much. I find that short stories can sometimes have a much more powerful impact than longer works, and since I'm reading mostly for pleasure these days, I'm not as eager to embrace that experience as I might have been in the past. Similarly, I used to read a great deal of poetry, back when I edited a poetry journal. But since the journal folded I've read almost no poetry at all. I still love it and I'm sure I'll go back to it one day – just not ready yet.

In looking back over the books I've read in the past few years, I do notice something of a pattern. Most of them involve a bit of a mystery, even though they may not be traditional mystery or detective fiction. Most tend to be "quest" type stories – someone looking for something or trying to prove something or expose a secret of one kind or another. And most also have at least a moderate amount of humor mixed in. I figure life is just too short to waste time with books that depress me.

Teaser Tuesdays: Another Victorian Interlude

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. And these are the rules: Grab your current read; Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! Please avoid spoilers!

I seem to be stuck in the 19th Century these days. This week my teasers come from page 280 of The Conjugial Angel, by A.S. Byatt, the second novella in her book Angels & Insects:
Then he lifted her from the ground, holding her against his shirt, laying his face gently against hers. His hands and skin spoke to her, he pulled like a magnet, he was strong as a tree, a tree in summer the poet in her head hummed, and she laid her own head on his shoulder, listening to their blood banging and leaping.
Hmmmm. Sounds pretty steamy for the Victorians, doesn't it? But then it is A.S. Byatt, so I guess you have to expect a certain amount of "banging and leaping."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Musing Mondays and Library Loot

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page. This week's MM topic is about using the library:

How often do you visit the library? Do you have a scheduled library day/time, or do you go whenever? Do you go alone, or take people with you?

It's interesting that this should come up today. Over the weekend, I actually checked out library books for the first time in ages. In recent years, I've spent time in our local public library looking things up, and I've attended their book sales, and popped in to get flu shots in their annual clinics. But for quite a while now, I haven't bothered to take out any books – I've just fallen into the habit of buying most of the books I read.

However, this year I've got myself involved in a number of reading challenges that will mean reading books I don't own and don't particularly want to buy. So I'm becoming a library patron again (literally – I signed up as a "Friend of the Library" and handed in my contribution this weekend, too). And although it was a brief visit (M and I were on our way to the supermarket for the weekly stock up – and we wouldn't want to cut that thrill short, now would we?), it was fun. And it made me remember how much I like hanging out at the library and browsing the new books.

This time, I came away with only two books – A.S. Byatt's Angels and Insects and the new biography of Katherine Swynford by Alison Weir (Mistress of the Monarchy). The Byatt book is one I'm reading for several different challenges this year, and I've been interested in taking a look at the Swynford bio because she's supposed to be an ancestress of mine.

In the past, I generally went to the library by myself and I suppose that's probably the most practical strategy. I tend to spend a lot more time browsing than most people are ready to endure. When I go with other people, I usually try to stay more focused, and look for specific titles or info. But that's just not as much fun as random roaming, is it?

So I'm expecting to be more of a regular at the library this year. I may not be going there every week, of course. And I plan to keep my current selections for their full allotted time – they're due March 14th, and that just happens to be the date of the library's next big book sale!

This is my first time participating in Library Loot, co-hosted by Eva (A Striped Armchair) and Alessandra (Out of the Blue) – a weekly meme that "encourages bloggers to share the books they've checked out from the library." If you'd like to take part, please visit one of their blogs and leave a comment.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Storage

This week's BTT topic:
How do you arrange your books on your shelves? Is it by author, by genre, or you just put it where it falls on?
Ah, yes – shelving! Now there's a subject that can warm the heart! No, really – it's one of my favorite topics. And over the years and through all our changes of household, my husband and I have played with several different "systems." Because I suffer from a rampant case of OCD (Adrian Monk is my hero), I tend to like my books separated into fiction or nonfiction, and arranged in strict alphabetical order (by author, then by title). I haven't yet taken to arranging them by size or dust jacket color, but I'm sure that's coming one of these days.

My husband has a slightly different system for his academic books, and I'm not completely sure what that comprises. I know they're separated out into genres, or areas of study, and also by various literary eras. He also has a separate area where he shelves journals and periodicals – I think those might be divided into the volumes that have his articles in them, and those that don't. And every now and then he has purges in which he throws out all those nasty, unenlightened journals whose editors haven't seen fit to include his articles – and only keeps the "good stuff."

Of course, not all our books actually make it onto shelves. . . .

But that's a whole other long, messy tale.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesday Thingers: Where'd You Get That Book?

Tuesday Thingers is a weekly meme aimed at LibraryThing users and enthusiasts, graciously hosted by Wendi of Wendi's Book Corner. This week's topic is all about obtaining and keeping track of the books we review:

How do you get your books for reviewing? (Feel free to participate in the poll below, you can check more than one answer) Do you track them somehow (excel, database, etc), or just put them in a tbr (To Be Read for anyone that doesn't know) pile?

Well, first of all, I guess I should say that for me the emphasis is on reading and enjoying books rather than reviewing. Basically, I blog about books in order to keep myself from sliding back into the non-reading torpor that I seem to have gotten into for several years there. The reviewing is just sort of a corollary of that. I do occasionally request or accept an advance reading copy or free book from an author – but only if it's a book I would have read anyway. For the most part, when I pick up a book, from whatever source, it's because I want to read it, not because I'm looking for something to review.

Most of the books I read are books I've bought myself or received as gifts. In other words, books in my own personal library. And although I try to buy as many as possible in local bookshops and used-book stores, I have to admit that these days more and more of my purchases are from online sources. It's just more convenient and frequently less expensive to obtain them that way. (And it's so much fun getting books in the mail!) But I haven't tried any of the book swapping sites, although I think I'm signed up with both BookMooch and BookCrossing. I do think they're a great idea – I've just been too lazy to get myself actively involved.

I used to get a lot of my books from the library, although recently I haven't been much of a library patron. But quite a few of the books I'm intending to read for challenges this year are titles I don't own and don't really want to buy; so I may be checking out a lot more library books in the near future. Fortunately, we've got a lovely new branch of our local public library within easy driving distance; and their fiction collection seems to be improving all the time. Now if they'd just add a coffee bar, it would be a wonderful place to hang out on a Saturday afternoon!

I'm an inveterate list-maker, so I've always kept pretty close track of the books I read, and that includes the ARCs I receive and read. And I do use computer databases for my various lists – mostly just the Microsoft Works Database program that came with my basic Microsoft package. It's very adaptable and easy to use – doesn't take a great deal of learning time in order to set up a workable database.

I've also taken to using my Good Reads and Shelfari accounts for listing my TBR and "already read" books. Mainly just because I've had those accounts for a while now and could never really think of anything much to use them for. Of course, I use LibraryThing as my main cataloguing site; and I've started using the "50 Book Challenge" discussion group for tracking my year's reading. I would be delighted if this year I were able to graduate to the "75 Book Challenge," but I think that might really be wishful thinking!

Teaser Tuesdays: Among the Victorians

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. And these are the rules:

Grab your current read; Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! Please avoid spoilers!

This week, I'm sharing some teasers from The Great Victorian Collection, by Brian Moore:
Rebuked, Maloney moved out of the shed, still carrying the oil lamp. Opposite him now was one of the most peculiar rooms in the Collection, a room which experts said did not exist, a room he had read about in an obscure volume only available from the Reserved Shelf in the British Museum. [p. 122, Dutton Obelisk, 1985].
I've just started this one, so I'm not sure exactly what's going on here. But the premise of the novel is that one morning the book's protagonist Anthony Maloney wakes up to find that a dream he's had has come true: Outside his hotel window he sees a vast, magnificent collection of exquisite and rare Victorian objects. But just how real is the collection, and how will it affect his life and the lives of those around him? Well, that's what I'm itching to find out.

Brian Moore was born in Northern Ireland, but lived in Canada and the US for many years. The novel won both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Canadian Governor General’s Award for Fiction in 1975, but is out of print now.

I'm also reading Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, so I'll include a couple of teasers from that one, too – even though no one should need "teasing" to read this wonderful book.
All the elderly ladies whom Archer knew regarded any woman who loved imprudently as necessarily unscrupulous and designing, and mere simple-minded man as powerless in her clutches. The only thing to do was to persuade him, as early as possible, to marry a nice girl, and then trust to her to look after him. [p. 1093, Library of America edition of Wharton's novels]

Monday, February 16, 2009

Musing Mondays: Non-Blog Book Reviews

This week's Musing Mondays topic is about book reviews:

Do you read any non-blogging book reviews? If so, where (newspaper, library etc)? Do you have any favourites sources you’d like to share?

There are several non-blog book reviews that I go to for recommendations and other bookish information. I guess the New York Times Sunday Book Review is the one I'm most faithful to, and also (until this week) the Washington Post's Book World. Of course, Book World has closed up shop as a separate print entity – from now on, the reviews will be scattered throughout the daily editions of the paper; somehow, that's just not the same.

I try to keep up with the reviews in the New Yorker, but I'm usually at least a month or two behind in my magazine reading. I also occasionally look at the reviews at LibraryThing and Good Reads, and commercial sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And my husband subscribes to the Times Literary Supplement, so I read that now and then, too – it's great for finding out about British titles, but frustrating in that so many of them aren't always available in the U.S.

I'll read book reviews just about anywhere, in magazines or newspapers, or on publishers' websites. But more and more, I find I'm turning to a few trusted bloggers for recommendations and reviews. I don't exactly know how it's happened, but if they say a book is worth reading, it somehow carries more weight with me than the same information from one of the "professional" sources. Is that weird or just the way of the future?

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just one more page.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Sunday Salon: My Weekly Reading – So Far So Good

Well, today I finished reading Jo Dereske's Index to Murder, and I can now tell the world that the butler definitely didn't do it! Other than that, I'm not saying anything about the ending of the 11th installment in Dereske's Miss Zukas mystery series, centering around dedicated small-town librarian Helma Zukas. Well nothing else except that there's not a single butler in the book, murderous or otherwise – so you can relax.

But I can say I enjoyed it and I've put the first book in the series on my TBR list. Officially, of course, I'd always recommend starting out with the first book of a series and working one's way through. It just so happens that "Index" was the one Miss Zukas book I found at the used book store a few months back. So – in medias res and all that.

It's been a really lovely day here in Northern Virginia – at least to look at. Still a lot colder than I'd like it to be, even with all the gorgeous sunshine. But at least the "wintry mix" that was predicted never developed this weekend, so I've been able to lull myself into believing that spring is just around the corner.

However, staying indoors has its "up" side, of course – I was able to get quite a lot of reading done today. Started off with the Sunday book review supplements (last appearance of the Washington Post's Book World – boo-hoo), and then progressed to sessions with each of the three books I've been reading this week. Aside from Index to Murder, I've got Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth and Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence both started. And I'm about midway through "Marvels," so I should be able to finish that one in a day or two. I'm trying to get through at least a book a week, and so far I'm doing pretty well – but, of course, the year is still young.

Well, I suppose that's all I have to report for today. So I'll leave you with a little snippet from Index to Murder, with librarian Helma Zukas spending a restless night, near the book's end:
In her apartment, during the darkest of the night, Helma did what she often did during puzzling times. She Cut Things Out. Using a pair of imported Scherenschnitte scissors . . . Helma began with last month's Smithsonian magazine. So precise that not a fraction remained of the surroundings or was excised from the illustration. She cut out two leopards, then the letters of the word "Smithsonian."

She opened the magazine and cut out the editor's head, then excised the colorful figures occupying a South American landscape. A llama, two girls weaving, an ultramodern hotel, storm clouds, palm trees, rare flowering orchids, . . . rubies found in Egypt, a mummy, a double rainbow. The pieces grew on her coffee table, each perfect image after the next.
[p. 212]
And I thought I had some really deep and interesting neuroses! Miss Zukas and I are obviously kindred spirits.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Authors Talking

This week's BTT topic:

Do you read any author’s blogs? If so, are you looking for information on their next project? On the author personally? Something else?

My first thought when I read the question was that my answer would be a short and sweet "no." Because I really don't read any authors' blogs – well, that is aside from my husband's; and since his published writing has been mostly in the academic realm, I suppose he's not what we have in mind here. And the various authors' websites I've looked at have usually disappointed me: Their "blogs" generally turn out to be extended bits of advertising or ego-boosting puff pieces. Which, I suppose, is to be expected – after all, they do have to sell those books.

But then I remembered that there is one author whose website I check out from time to time. I don't read it on a regular basis, but Monica Ferris's website ( can be pretty interesting now and then. Ferris is the author of the Betsy Devonshire "needlework" mystery series, and she's a needlework enthusiast herself. Her website has information about her books, but it also has needlework patterns and occasional tidbits about her day-to-day life. And though it's not exactly a blog itself, it does have a link to a blog that she shares with several other authors – they take turns, each writing one post per week. Well, at least that was the formula the last time I stopped by.

So, that's my only author's blog. But I'm looking forward to hearing about others – maybe I'll find a few more to add to my paltry list. Any candidates?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Guardian 1000 Novels Challenge

This is another long-term challenge that's just too tempting to pass up. It's The Guardian 1000 Novels Challenge, hosted by Jennie of Biblio File, and it runs from now (it started February 1st) until February 1, 2010. The basic idea is to read and review 10 novels (that's just 1% of the total) during that time, to include one book from each category on the list. Also, if possible, one of the books should be a book you've never heard of until you saw it on the list.

You can read all about the challenge on the announcement page here, and see the Guardian's list and categories here. Out of the 1000 novels listed, I've only read about 200, so I've got plenty to choose from. And since quite a few of them are on my TBR list already, this should give me a chance to make another small dent in that enormous pile!

I'll probably just choose my books as I go along, rather than making a list to start with. But I'm already reading Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, which is listed under the "Love" category, so I guess I'm on my way.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'm Not Worthy

I've been a bad, bad blogger. Staci, of Life in the Thumb, presented me with the Blog Friends Award weeks and weeks ago and I'm just now getting around to blogging about it. Well, maybe not weeks and weeks. But over a week ago. I'm very sorry, Staci, and my lateness doesn't mean I don't value the award – I certainly do. Thanks so much for considering me a blog friend. And please forgive me for being such a sluggard.

Along with the award, comes this very nice note:

"These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

I'm feeling more and more guilty all the time!

Now I need to pass the award on to more blogger buddies, and given the fact that (as I think we've established) I'm a bad, bad blogger, that may take me a while. See what I mean about not being worthy?

Tuesday Thingers: How Important Are Ratings?

Tuesday Thingers is a weekly meme aimed at LibraryThing users and enthusiasts, hosted by Wendi of Wendi's Book Corner. (Thanks, Wendi!) And here's this week's topic:

Do you use a rating system on your blog? How do you feel about using the rating system provided on sites like Library Thing and Amazon? When looking up information on a book you are interested in, do you use the ratings provided by these sites (or similar sites) to help you make the decision on purchasing the book?

I know I'm a little late getting here this week, so I'll try to keep this short. No, I don't use a ratings system on my blog. I've thought about it, but I always talk myself out of it for some reason. I don't really have anything against ratings systems, per se. And I do occasionally use the ratings at Amazon or LibraryThing, etc., when I'm investigating a new title. Although if a book sounds interesting, I'm not likely to let a lack of high ratings put me off it. And you do have to be careful when you're looking at those ratings – if only one or two people have rated a work (like maybe the author and his mother), I would tend to discount that.

The problem with the "star" system of rating books is that I can never decide how many stars are enough. Should my top-rated, favorites-of-all-time volumes get five stars or six? Or more? Should I give "minus" stars for books I thought were real stinkers? Or should I take a simple thumbs up or down approach, like those famous movie reviewers?

No, that last one would never work for me – I'm not decisive enough to make it stick. And I suppose that tendency to waffle is the main reason I've never started a ratings system on my own blog. One thing I like about LibraryThing's system is that it permits you to give half-stars, which allows for a bit more fine-tuning. If I had to rate a book by giving it a thumbs up or down rating, I'd always be giving out half a thumb or a thumb plus a pinkie finger or something.

Teaser Tuesdays: Digging the Desert

Teaser Tuesdays
is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.
And these are the rules:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

This week, my teasers come from page 167 of Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth:

From his magnificent palace at Nineveh he could look out at a world that was prostrate at his feet. His storedhouses [sic] were overflowing with booty; his foes were conquered, the rebel chiefs dragged behind his chariot or fastened to his gates with rings through their jaws like dogs.
Ah, it's great to be king!

I should probably point out that the copy I'm reading is a bound galley, so the published version may differ a bit (and, hopefully, the typos and misspellings will be corrected).

Monday, February 09, 2009

Musing Mondays: Bookmarks

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS topic is bookmarks:

What do you use to mark your place while reading? Do you have a definite preference? Do you use bookmarks, paper, or (gasp) turn down the pages? If you use bookmarks, do you have a favourite one?

Wow, I probably shouldn't even get started on this. I've been meaning to go through my bookmark collection and sort things out, but somehow I just never get around to it. I always thought I'd do a blog post about bookmarks with a lot of photos, but that takes a lot more planning than I'm usually up for. So now's my chance, right?

I really do prefer to use bookmarks to mark my place when I'm reading – definitely don't like to turn down the corners of the pages; although I have been known to do that once in a while (something I hate to admit). I use Post-it notes a lot, to mark interesting quotes or plot developments, but I still prefer a bookmark to keep track of my place.

Though I'll use most anything as a bookmark in a pinch (ticket stubs, greeting cards, folded up paper towels, lengths of dental floss), I love "real" bookmarks and I've collected them for a long time. Some I've actually purchased for myself, but most were either gifts, or promotional markers from booksellers and publishers, libraries, museums, art galleries, restaurants – you name it.

Not many of my bookmarks are antiques, but I do have a few fairly old ones. Some were actually meant to be bookmarks and some were just advertising, like these early 20th Century trade cards.

Lately, I've taken to collecting those little matchbook-style ads you find in hotel lobbies – for restaurants and local attractions. After I flatten them out and laminate them, they make very nice bookmarks, and also remind me of the places we've visited.

Some of my bookmarks belonged to my mom, who also accumulated them at an alarming rate. Although, like me, she was just as apt to use makeshift markers, like these pieces of Celestial Seasonings tea packages.

And I especially love finding handmade bookmarks – like these I've found in some of the used books I've bought at one time or another.
See a few more bookmarks on my Joysweb Blue Monday post.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Sunday Salon: My Weekly Reading and (Not) Reviewing

I am a world-class procrastinator. If there were an Olympics for putting things off, I could delay for the US of A. I've actually done pretty well with my reading so far this year – six books finished, and three more started. But I've only written two reviews. Plus, I have at least four or five reviews I've never written for books I read in 2008. And I really want to write the reviews – I just can't seem to make myself write. Yes, I can hear you saying, "Stop whining, and just sit down and do it, already!" That's exactly what I've been telling myself.

But I haven't been completely dormant this week. This is what I've been doing instead of writing those reviews:

Started reading Land of Marvels, by Barry Unsworth. This was an ARC that I received last week, even though the book is actually out now. Haven't got very far into it, but it's billed as a "thriller set in 1914," so I'm thinking it might fit into my reading for the Suspense-Thriller Challenge (Historical Thriller sub-genre).

Started reading Index to Murder, by Jo Dereske. This is one of the Miss Zukas mystery series, about librarian and amateur sleuth Helma Zukas. I'm reading this one mainly for the 2009 Reading Challenge associated with the MysteryReaderCafe Yahoo Group ("new-to-me author").

Continued reading The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. I've only gotten a few chapters into this one and I'm still reserving judgment, but so far it's not really grabbing me. But it's a relatively long book and I've seen a lot of favorable reviews of it, so I'm going to stick with it a little longer and hope it picks up.

Spent way too much time playing with my Good Reads account. I've had it for quite a while now, but I'm just getting around to adding books. I still prefer LibraryThing as my main cataloguing site. But I have accounts at Shelfari and Good Reads, too; and I'm using them mainly to keep track of books I've read and books I intend to read someday. Don't know which I'll like better – they each have their different attractions.

Found yet another challenge that I'm thinking about signing up for. Yes, I know I'm seriously challenge-addicted, but I've already finished one this year, The Winter Reading Challenge – though I've yet to write all the reviews or the wrap-up post (more procrastination – I'm definitely going for the Gold). So there's room for one more now, right? Anyway, the new entry is The Guardian's 1000 Novels Challenge, hosted by Jennie of Biblio File, and based on a list (compiled by the British newspaper, The Guardian) of the 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read Before They Die. It runs through February 2010, and involves reading ten books from several different categories (you can read more about the challenge, and sign up here). I was surprised, when I looked at the list, at how many of the books I've already read. But there are hundreds of interesting titles still to be read, many of which I've already got on my lists this year, for one challenge or another. So this one really does look doable.

And that's pretty much it. Oh, I also spent a considerable amount of time searching for something to replace the Stanley Desk Journal refills I've been using for years now. They came from Levenger, and fit into really nice refillable leather covers. But they seem to have been discontinued, like most of the products I use. Bummer. So I guess it's Moleskine from now on.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday Finds: 6 February 2009

Friday Finds is another weekly event hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Participants are asked "to share with other bloggers about the new-to-you books found during the week – books you either want to add to your TBR (to be read) list, or that you just heard about that sounded interesting."

This is my first Friday Finds post, so a few of these books may actually have come to my attention a bit before this week. But so far this year, I've added the following to my "sounds interesting" list, which is sort of a prelim to my TBR list:

Ancient Shores. Jack McDevitt
Ember from the Sun. Mark Canter
Spade & Archer: The Prequel to The Maltese Falcon. Joe Gores
The Genius. Jesse Kellerman
The Portrait. Iain Pears
The Seance. John Harwood
The Women. T.C. Boyle
Vienna Blood. Frank Tallis

Only a couple of these are actually new books; most were published some time ago. But they're new to me, so I'd be interested in knowing if anyone's read any of them.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Too Much Information?

This week's BTT topic:

Have you ever been put off an author’s books after reading a biography of them? Or the reverse - a biography has made you love an author more?

Well, my answer to the first question would have to be "I don't think so." (Yes, I know that's waffling – but at this hour it's hard for me to be real decisive). I can't really recall ever being put off an author's work after finding out about their personal story. I don't read that many actual biographies and in most cases (for the contemporary literature I read, anyway), I don't know any more about the author than the bits of info I get on the dust jacket or book cover. Sometimes I glean a little more from book reviews or bookstore and publishers' promotional material, but I rarely seek out anything more than that.

But even when I do know more about an author's biography, I don't think that has much influence on how I feel about his or her writing. If I let myself be put off by a writer's private life or opinions, I would never have read Norman Mailer or Lewis Carroll or Henry David Thoreau or Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde or J.D. Salinger, or any number of other wonderful writers.

Of course, there are some books that affect me so much I'm moved to find out more about the writer; but these days, those are few and far between. I guess I have to admit that I really don't care to know all that much about an author's biography. It's a little different for some older works, and the "classics" – well, I probably know more about those authors because I've studied them in school. But there again, I don't think their personal stories affect the way I feel about their work. Unless I find out they've plagiarized it – I suppose that would be the one thing that would make me change my opinion.

As I say, I don't read many biographies. And of the ones I've read, I don't know that any has made me "love" an author any more or less; but sometimes a biography or autobiography will make me more interested in a writer's work. For instance (although it was a historical novel, and not an actual biography), a book I recently read based on the life of Henry James (The Master, by Colm Toibin) has made me want to read more of James's work. But in general I think I prefer to let the work stand on its own.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays: Literary Nibbles

OK, I just have to start off by saying that this is my 300th post to this blog. I remember a time when I thought I'd never get past my second post. In fact, almost a whole year passed between my first and second entries. How can I possibly have so much to say?

But enough of that – let's get to the matter at hand. Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. And these are the rules:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

This week, my teasers come from page 103 of the whodunit I'm currently reading: Index to Murder, by Jo Dereske:

Ruth, who was as likely to be late as early, already sat at a table beside the front window in Saul's Deli. Not only that, she was halfway into a meal of a double bacon cheeseburger, onion rings and French fries, coleslaw, and peanut butter pie, plus a chocolate milk shake.
Please. I haven't had breakfast yet. Anyway, I don't really know what's happening there, since I've just started the book. I do know that "Ruth" is the best friend of the book's protagonist – librarian and amateur sleuth, Helma Zukas (this is "A Miss Zukas Mystery").

I'm also still reading The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. Well, at over 500 pages (in paperback), it's a book I'm probably going to be reading for quite a while. So here are a couple of teasers from that one, too (page 229):
It's perfect, buttery and cool. The next course is salmon, with long pieces of asparagus in an olive and rosemary marinade.
What's with this food theme I seem to have going here? (And I swear those were random picks.) Actually, a lot of the action in Time Traveler seems to take place at meal times or while the characters are having coffee or parties or other get-togethers where food is present. OK, I think it's definitely time for breakfast now!

Tuesday Thingers: Here's My Review!

This week's Tuesday Thingers topic:

Do you post links to your reviews? Here on Library Thing, or anywhere else? How else do you like to promote your site?

Well, I don't really promote my site. I know I should, and I intend to do more of that this year. I mostly write my blog for my own enjoyment and edification, but I'm happy and flattered and grateful when someone stops by – so I guess I need to try being a little more public.

But I do sometimes post my reviews on LibraryThing (and that reminds me – I've got a couple I need to post). And for a while, I was posting links to my reviews on LT's "Blog the Book" message board, but I haven't been very faithful about that. I do try to include links to my reviews in the updates to my 50 Book Challenge thread at LT. And I've thought about posting my reviews on Amazon, but I've never actually done it. Don't know why not – guess I really should try it. Goodness knows I've benefited from the reviews others have posted there.

Giveaways? Well, I really don't do giveaways. I'm not generally very enthusiastic about entering contests or sweepstakes or competitions. And I've found that most of the books being given away on the various blogs I read are usually books I already own or have read. And also, hosting a giveaway requires a lot more time and organizational effort that I really want to expend (I'd rather be reading). Although I know it could be a super way to attract more visitors to my blog. So maybe that's another new adventure for this year. At the moment, I'm mostly concentrating all my time and energy on catching up on reviews – as usual, I'm running just a little slow. If I wait much longer, I'll have forgotten I ever read those books!

**Edited to add: Almost forgot about Here Be Reviews. I'm signed up there, and I'm assuming my reviews show up somewhere on the site, but I don't check it very often. Also, I have a WordPress blog where I was cross-posting my reviews, but I haven't kept that up for a while now. Do I seem a little hit-or-miss about all this?**

Tuesday Thingers is a weekly meme aimed at LibraryThing users and enthusiasts, hosted by Wendi of Wendi's Book Corner. (Thanks, Wendi!)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Review: Hotel Du Lac

Written by Anita Brookner
Published by Pantheon Books, 1984, 184 pages
Originally published by Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1984

In Anita Brookner's award-winning novel Hotel Du Lac (Man-Booker Prize for 1984), Edith Hope is an author of romance novels, writing under the pseudonym "Vanessa Wilde." And that persona could not possibly be more deceptive, as Edith herself admits:
I am a serious woman . . . and am judged by my friends to be past the age of indiscretion; several people have remarked upon my physical resemblance to Virginia Woolf; I am a householder, a ratepayer, a good plain cook, and a deliverer of typescripts well before the deadline; I sign anything that is put in front of me; I never telephone my publisher; and I make no claims for my particular sort of writing, although I understand that it is doing quite well. [pp. 8-9]
Edith's real-life romantic entanglements have led her to commit a social faux pas – a breach of such enormous proportions that she has been obliged to retreat to a Swiss hotel for an extended stay, until things cool down back home. Her friends were "prepared to forgive her only on condition that she disappeared for a decent length of time and came back older, wiser, and properly apologetic." [p.8]

And while she's in residence at the Hotel Du Lac, Edith works on her latest novel and introspectively reviews her past. There are a few flashback sequences, showing us Edith's life in London before and after her "unfortunate lapse," and we get to hear Edith's voice through the letters she writes – those frequently poignant letters intended for her former lover, David, back in London.

She also observes her fellow guests. Though it's late in the season at the hotel, and there's not as much activity as there would have been a few weeks earlier, there are still several interesting characters around – including the ancient and deaf Comtesse de Bonneuil; Monica who has an eating disorder and has been sent to the hotel by her titled husband in the hope that she will mend her ways; and Mrs. Iris Pusey and Jennifer Pusey, a mother and daughter team who at first fascinate and then rather horrify Edith. Starting out thinking Jennifer to be a young woman of "about 25," Edith has to keep readjusting her age estimation as she learns more and more about the mother. And the guest list also includes Mr. Neville, a tall, well-dressed man who would seem to be a perfect candidate for a bit of vacation-time romance, but I won't say anymore about that.

This book has an odd timelessness or even quaintness about it. While it's set firmly in the 20th Century, it could easily be transposed to an earlier era. In fact, it's just possible that Edith's experiences at the Hotel Du Lac and the situation that brought her there would have seemed old-fashioned even at the time it was written in the early 1980s. A similar plot could easily have come from Barbara Pym or Elizabeth Taylor, or even Jane Austen. But the voice is pure Brookner.

I think this may be my favorite of all the Brookner novels I've read. Still, I'm not sure I'd recommend it for everyone – she is, as they say, an acquired taste. No one does bleak quite so well as Anita Brookner. Her novels, though laced with a sardonic sort of gentle humor, can be terribly sad, her heroines gloomy, drab and frequently forlorn; but her writing is luminous and exciting and, I think, dangerously addictive. Taking in all that desolation and futility can't really be good for me, can it? But I keep right on reading her books for some reason. As Edith tells her publisher:
'And what is the most potent myth of all? . . . The tortoise and the hare,' she pronounced. 'People love this one, especially women. Now you will notice . . . that in my books it is the mouse-like unassuming girl who gets the hero, while the scornful temptress with whom he has had a stormy affair retreats baffled from the fray, never to return. The tortoise wins every time. This is a lie, of course,' she said, pleasantly, but with authority . . . . 'In real life . . . it is the hare who wins. Every time. Look around you. And in any case it is my contention that Aesop was writing for the tortoise market.' [pp. 27-28]
Well, in Anita Brookner's novels, the tortoise may not always "win," but I think it's clear Brookner herself is also writing for the tortoise market. So I guess I know what that makes me. Excuse me while I adjust my shell.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Books Read in 2009

Cumulative Reading List for 2009.

January 2009
1. Drawers & Booths, by Ara 13 (2007; 215 pages; fiction)
2. Cover Her Face, by P.D. James (1962; 250 pages; mystery fiction; series book: Adam Dalgliesh)
3. The Master, by Colm Toibin (2004; 338 pages; fiction)
4. Rest in Pieces, by Rita Mae Brown (1992; 347 pages; mystery fiction; series book: Mrs. Murphy) [Review to come]
5. Hotel Du Lac, by Anita Brookner (1984; 184 pages; fiction)
6. Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem (1961; 204 pages; science fiction)

February 2009
7. Index to Murder, by Jo Dereske (2008; 259 pages; fiction; series book: Miss Zukas mysteries)
8. Land of Marvels, by Barry Unsworth (2009; 287 pages; fiction)
9. The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton (1920; 285 pages; fiction)
10. The Great Victorian Collection, by Brian Moore (1975; 213 pages; fiction)

March 2009
11. Blasphemy, by Douglas Preston (2008; 524 pages; fiction)
12. Angels & Insects: Two Novellas, by A.S. Byatt (1992; 340 pages; fiction)
13. The Private Patient, by P.D. James (2008; 352 pages; fiction; series book: Adam Dalgliesh mysteries)
14. Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown (2000; 572 pages; fiction)

April 2009
15. The Way Through the Woods, by Colin Dexter (1992; 296 pgs; fiction; series book: Inspector Morse mysteries)
16. The Book of God and Physics, by Enrique Joven (2009; 350 pages; fiction)
17. The Old Man and Me, by Elaine Dundy (1963; 231 pages; fiction)

May 2009
18. Brimstone, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (2004; 500 pages; fiction)
19. The Optimist's Daughter, by Eudora Welty (1972; 109 pages; fiction)
20. Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons (1987; 126 pages; fiction)
21. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien (1971; 233 pages; fiction)
22. To Dance with the White Dog, by Terry Kay (1990; 241 pages; fiction)
23. The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist (2006/2009; 268 pages; fiction)
24. Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively (1987; 208 pages; fiction)

June 2009
25. The Longshot, by Katie Kitamura (2009; 191 pages; fiction)
26. The Valley of Fear, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1914; 320 pages; fiction)
27. The Mothman Prophecies, by John A. Keel (1975; 288 pages; nonfiction)

July 2009
28. The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (2009; 470 pages; fiction)
29. Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant (2009; 402 pages; fiction)
30. The Fire, by Katherine Neville (2008; 445 pages; fiction)

August 2009
31. Grave Goods, by Ariana Franklin (2009; 337 pages; fiction; series book: Mistress of the Art of Death mysteries)
32. Fear the Worst, by Linwood Barclay (2009; 400 pages; fiction)
33. Rabbit Is Rich, by John Updike (1981; 467 pages; fiction)
34. Victory Over Japan, by Ellen Gilchrist (1984; 277 pages; fiction)
35. Dance of Death, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (2005; 560 pages; fiction)

September 2009
36. The Man in the Picture, by Susan Hill (2007; 145 pages; fiction)
37. The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill (1983; 160 pages; fiction)
38. New Year's Eve, by Lisa Grunwald (1997; 366 pages; fiction)
39. From Doon with Death, by Ruth Rendell (1964; 226 pages; fiction; series book: Inspector Wexford mysteries)

October 2009
40. The Friend of Madame Maigret. Georges Simenon (1950; 186 pages; fiction; series book: Inspector Maigret mysteries)
41. The Lair of the White Worm. Bram Stoker (1911; fiction)

November 2009
42. Homer & Langley. E.L. Doctorow (2009; 208 pages; fiction)
43. The Uncommon Reader. Alan Bennett (2007; 120 pages; fiction)
44. The Lover. Marguerite Duras (1984; 117 pages; fiction)
45. The Lesson of the Master. Henry James (1888; approx. 63 pages; fiction)
46. Stardust. Joseph Kanon

December 2009
47. Santa Clawed. Rita Mae Brown (2008; 240 pages; fiction; series book: Mrs. Murphy mysteries)
48. Christmas Card Magic. Margaret Perry (1967; 127 pages; nonfiction)
49. Crewel Yule. Monica Ferris (2004; 245 pages; fiction; series book: Needlework/Betsy Devonshire mysteries)