Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sunshine Smackdown! Battle of the Prizes Challenge

Once again, I have to start off saying "I really shouldn't do this."

I really shouldn't do this, but I'm signing up for another challenge. It's The Sunshine Smackdown! Battle of the Prizes Challenge – American Version, which must qualify as the longest ever title for a reading challenge! It's being hosted by Rose City Reader and runs from May 1 to September 7, 2009 – May Day to Labor Day. And since it only requires three (or four) books, it seems really doable.

These are most of the details:
Chose three books that you have not read before:

1) One that won both the Pulitzer and the National;
2) One that won the Pulitzer but not the National; and
3) One that won the National but not the Pulitzer.

OPTION: For those who have already read all six of the double-dippers, or otherwise do not want to read one of those six, pick two Pulitzer winners and two National winners for a total of four books.

Read all books between May Day and Labor Day. Overlap with other challenges is allowed -- and encouraged!
You can read more about it and find links to lists of the award books on the announcement page here.

I've got these three books in mind for the challenge:

1. Double Winner: Rabbit is Rich, by John Updike. Mainly because I've wanted to read it for years, I've got a copy, and my husband is a real fan of the Rabbit books. I've never read any of them, so maybe I should take a look at Rabbit, Run first.

2. Pulitzer Winner: The Optimist's Daughter, by Eudora Welty. I like Welty's short stories, so I thought I'd try one of her longer works. And again, I've already got this one on my shelves. [See my review.]

3. National Book Award Winner: Victory Over Japan, by Ellen Gilchrist. I really enjoyed her In the Land of Dreamy Dreams when I read it many years ago. I've also read Drunk With Love, but I don't remember that one quite as well. Don't think I own a copy of this one, so I'm hoping the local public library has it on their shelves.

Booking Through Thursday: Worse?

This week's BTT topic:
Which is worse? Finding a book you love and then hating everything else you try by that author, or reading a completely disappointing book by an author that you love?

Ouch! Both of those situations are painful, aren't they?

But while it's always annoying to be disappointed by a much-loved author, at least you have the hope that his/her next work (or the next one you read, at any rate) will be more on target.

So I guess I'd say the first predicament would get my vote as the "worst." Fortunately, it hasn't happened to me very often. I can really only think of a few cases where I've been mostly disappointed by an author, after enjoying one of their works. The one that comes immediately to mind, for me, is Virginia Woolf. The first thing I read by VW was Orlando, which I loved and still love. Since then, I've tried to read several of her other works, and just never could get interested. Well, I finished Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, and while I didn't hate them, they just weren't as much fun as Orlando.

I had a similar experience with Maeve Binchy. And there again, I can't say I've hated any of her books. I read her short stories and fell in love with her writing, but then when I sampled her novels, they just didn't seem to measure up. I've started several, and never gotten through any of them. But they always sound like something I'd love, so someday I'll probably give her another chance.

Hmmm. This is one of those "too early to think about" questions, isn't it? Not an easy topic to consider before the mental fog clears.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Every Wednesday BermudaOnion hosts Wondrous Words Wednesday, and asks everyone to share "new to you" words you've found in the course of your weekly reading adventures. To take a look at more wondrous words, or to contribute some yourself, please visit Bermudaonion's Weblog.

Didn't find any new words in my reading this week, so these are a couple from one of the books I read earlier this year, Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner. I always find wondrous words in all her books.

exeat – 1) A license for absence from a college or a religious house; 2) A permission which a bishop grants to a priest to go out of his diocese.
From the book: "The tall thin beauty with the dog was never visible in the daytime and it was impossible to imagine her doing anything except eating ice cream and smoking, like a child on an exeat from school." [p. 66]
crepitate - To make a crackling or popping sound; crackle.
From the book: "Edith felt the hairs on the back of her neck begin to crepitate." [p. 100]
Hmmmm. These days, my joints seem to be doing quite a bit of crepitating.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Review: Solaris

Written by Stanislaw Lem
Published by Harvest/Harcourt, 1987, 205 pages
Translated from the French by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox
Translation copyright 1970, Faber and Faber Ltd.

What's It All About?

From the publisher's synopsis:
"When psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds himself confronting a painful memory embodied in the physical likeness of a past lover. Kelvin learns that he is not alone in this, and that other crews examining the planet are plagued with their own repressed and newly real memories. Could it be, as Solaris scientists speculate, that the ocean may be a massive neural center creating these memories, for a reason no one can identify?"
Kelvin and the other researchers on the Solaris space station are being "visited" by loved ones who should not be there. Are the visitors as real as they themselves seem to believe? And if so, why are they there? How have they materialized in this place at this time? And is their sudden appearance benign or is it part of a more sinister development, somehow tied to the planet the scientists are studying?

What Did I Think About It?

In his novel Solaris, first published in 1961, Polish author Stanislaw Lem managed to pull off that most difficult and most vital of tricks for the science fiction writer – the creation of a completely unique and authentic (even though mysterious) fictional world. Or, in the case of Solaris, a unique and authentic body of literature and information about that fictional world. Much of the book is taken up with detailed descriptions of the discovery and documentation of the planet Solaris, and the academic industry that grows up around it over a period of years. I suppose, depending on your personal tastes, this can be endlessly fascinating or endlessly boring. I have to admit that after a few chapters of "Solarist" minutiae, I started skimming over the details in order to get to the actual story.

I've had Solaris on my TBR list for over thirty years now, ever since I first heard about it in the 1970s. But I probably wouldn't have been nudged into reading it if I hadn't finally seen the Steven Soderbergh movie from 2002, starring George Clooney as Kris Kelvin. It's a haunting, thought-provoking film that really caught my attention; I've watched it several more times. And since I read the novel, I've also seen Andrei Tarkovsy's 1972 version. Neither film is completely faithful to the book, though each is different in its own way. And the novel is, to some extent, both more and less interesting than either film. It's certainly more cerebral.

For me, one thing that really stood out in the novel (as opposed to the films) was the relative lack of modern computer technology. Which is a little odd, since science fiction of the time was full of early imaginings of cyberspace and computers. After all, 2001's HAL was only five or six years down the road. However, there's very little of that in Solaris. When Kelvin begins his research on the possibly sentient ocean that covers the surface of the planet, he does it the old fashioned way – using books from the space station's library shelves. In a way, of course, that was refreshing; but also a little strange and disorienting.

Would I Recommend It?

Though I hate to admit it, I was a little disappointed in the book. Maybe it's just a result of reading about it for so many years: I've seen it receive so much praise from so many reviewers, perhaps my expectations were just too high. I didn't hate it, though; and I'm still very impressed with Lem's achievement. But if you like your sci-fi speculation mixed with more than a passing nod at action and drama, this probably isn't the place to look.

20 in 2009 Challenge
2009 TBR Lite Challenge
Books Into Movies Challenge
Lost In Translation Challenge
Read Your Own Books (RYOB) Challenge
The 42 (Sci-Fi) Challenge
Winter Reading Challenge

Tuesday Thingers: All My Covers

This week's topic for the Tuesday Thingers group is about book covers:

Do you have any missing covers (they show as a plain gray book)? Did you have a favorite view (title, author, date entered)? Do you have any favorite covers? If so, is there anything they have in common?

This is a new one for me – I really didn't know anything about the "All Your Covers" feature at LT. I think it's really neat, but I have almost two thousand books listed in my library, and when I gave it a try, my covers just kept loading and loading and loading . . . until I got bored and gave it up. So I'm afraid I don't have a favorite view or a screen shot to share. But, yes, I have many, many "missing" covers; although in my library they don't show up as blanks because I've changed the default to the red marbled cover, which I have to admit makes all those "coverless" books look really garish when seen en masse.

Do I have favorite covers? Well, yes, I'm sure I do (I'm pretty opinionated, after all). But there again, to go through two thousand covers searching for all the ones I really love would take a bit more time than I'm eager to spend. But generally I'm attracted to covers with interesting artwork – I'm not too fond of the simple author/title designs, or covers with the author's name in twelve-inch type. And I'm also usually put off by "tie-in" covers, with photos of movie or TV stars. And there are some covers that I'm attracted to simply because they stir pleasant memories. These are just a few of my favorites.

Tuesday Thingers is hosted by Wendi of Wendi's Book Corner. If you'd like to see more or participate yourself, head on over to her blog and leave a comment.

Teaser Tuesdays: French Flicks and Magic Castles

This week, I'm continuing with The Old Man and Me, by Elaine Dundy, set in early 1960s London. In this snippet, our heroine who is calling herself Honey Flood (not her real name) is at a film with a friend:
On the screen all hell was breaking loose: a Brigitte Bardot film, crackling with carnality. As I relaxed into its comforting amorality I felt my Honey clothes becoming unstuck and myself slipping into Bardot's panties. [p. 82]
OK, lest anyone should start suggesting that this blog ought to be X-rated, I offer another teaser from one of the books I'm reading for the Once Upon A Time III Challenge, Knight's Castle by Edward Eager (sorry about the extra line):
Eliza opened her eyes and staggered to the door after Ann. And then she wasn't sleepy anymore.
Where the hall should have been there wasn't any hall, just great airy space, and far above them a round shining globe that might have been the hall light back in unmagic times.
[p. 69]

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or participate yourself, head on over to her blog. 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!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Review: The Book of God and Physics - A Novel of the Voynich Mystery

Written by Enrique Joven
Published by William Morrow, 2009, 347 pages
Translated from the Spanish by Dolores M. Koch

This review refers to an uncorrected proof of the novel.

What's It All About?

From the publisher's synopsis:
"Hector is a young Jesuit science teacher. He is also part of a group that, for years, has been trying to decipher the secrets of the Voynich manuscript – a mysterious book written in an unknown language and illustrated with enigmatic drawings – which first surfaced four centuries ago in the heart of the Holy Roman Empire. With a cult following of amateur and professional cryptographers the world over . . . the Voynich manuscript . . . has stumped the best minds for decades. . . . When a possible key to unlocking the Voynich is discovered in Hector's church, powerful forces conspire to keep the manuscript from being decoded."

What Did I Think About It?

There really is a Voynich manuscript. I first became interested in it several years ago, after reading The Rule of Four, by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. That novel is concerned with solving the mysteries of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a Renaissance text that also really exists and has baffled scholars for centuries. In my reading about the Hypnerotomachia, I came upon the Voynich – another mysterious book, written in the 15th or 16th century, by an unknown writer in a mysterious language and filled with undecipherable illustrations. The book is named after the Polish-American book-dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912. According to Wikipedia, the manuscript now resides in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, and a facsimile edition was published in 2005. I found both books fascinating and very much enjoyed the Caldwell-Thomason novel, so when LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program gave me the opportunity to read an advance copy of Enrique Joven's book, I was eager to get started.

From the initial synopsis of The Book of God and Physics, I was expecting something of an intellectual thriller. Sort of James Patterson with footnotes. And, to some extent, I think that's what Joven was aiming for. But if so, he missed the mark by quite a distance. There is a mystery in the book, complete with hidden passageways, secret messages, and surprise betrayals, and a tragic twist near the story's end. But those traditional features of the thriller are slowed down, and the framing story of Hector and his friends and fellow investigators John and Juana is almost completely buried by the convoluted discussions of background and research. The explorations of the Voynich's history and possible authorship are interesting in themselves, but alone, they're just not enough to hold a novel together. Joven seems mainly concerned with refuting the theories of Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder (who are authentic figures, just as their book Heavenly Intrigue really does exist), which ultimately makes for some tedious reading.

Joven relies a great deal on the device of a super-smart student in one of Hector's classes, who becomes fascinated with a part of the mystery and begins bringing Hector the results of his research. I found this just a bit tiresome; but then, I'm generally put off by child prodigies in fiction, so that may just be my own prejudices coming to the fore. Still, I think I would have been more comfortable with Hector doing his own research. Also, I thought a lot of the dialogue was stilted and not very believable. However, I have a feeling that may just be a fault of the translation and not of the author's writing (I'm always reluctant to criticize dialogue that I've read in translation).

Would I Recommend It?

Although the publishers call it a "thrilling page-turner," this is not a book in which a lot happens. If you're looking for chill-a-minute action scenes, in the manner of Dan Brown, or Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, this is probably not the book for you. A great deal of the book (a great deal) is taken up with the historical background of the Voynich manuscript, its possible authorship, and explanations of its connections with astronomy and the history of the Jesuits (at least the book is aptly titled). While I enjoyed the book enough to keep reading right to the end, I can't say I'd recommend it for everyone. It's brilliant and makes for very interesting historical reading, but action-packed it's not. In the end, I think the abundance of historical exposition simply overwhelms what began as a very intriguing idea for a novel.

20 in 2009 Challenge

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Finds: 24 April 2009

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.

These are the interesting books I found this week, while browsing blogs and book stores.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Symbolic? Or Not?

This week's BTT topic:
My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.

It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?

Well, I can understand how the hubby felt, but I think if you asked most authors of fiction today, they'd definitely tell you they use symbolism in their work. I don't know of many writers who "just tell the story." For one thing, that would make for some very boring, pedestrian writing. They'd most likely say the symbolism is there – we just haven't looked deeply enough. Of course, there's symbolism and symbolism, and not everyone is going to agree on what's a symbol and what's not. Authors are sometimes reluctant to step up and say whether or not symbolism exists in their stories – they prefer to let their readers discover it for themselves. And some genres don't really lend themselves to the use of heavy symbolism; thrillers and whodunits, especially. But even there, I think if you do enough digging, you'll find some symbolism in most of those works, too.

Of course, modern authors don't use symbolism in the same way writers used it in the past. And also, I think, the way we read now doesn't really encourage us to look for things like symbolism, foreshadowing, coincidence, and other literary devices. We read on the go. We listen to audiobooks. We read with the TV on. We read fast so we can finish a lot of books in a certain amount of time. A lot of the time, it's the reader rather than the author who's just concerned with getting the story told, and not with enjoying methods of plot design or language usage.

OK, enough preaching. Frustrated author that I am. And I'm not going to offer any examples - this is already running on longer than it should. If I started offering up examples, we'd be here all day, and I'd never get that nap I'm thinking of taking.

However, I do have just one more totally pointless thought. This topic reminded me of an incident way back in my high school senior English class when we were slogging our way through Hardy's The Return of the Native. And our young teacher (who was slogging her way through her first year of teaching) told us about one of the "brainy" kids in her other senior English class – who had come up with this really wonderful description of the symbolism in one of the passages of the book. She was pleased – and surprised – that any of her students could have done the deep thinking and sophisticated research it must have taken to achieve that kind of understanding. It was something even she hadn't picked up on. Now the rest of us all knew the brainy student hadn't done any research or deep thinking – he'd just made it all up on the spur of the moment to impress the young teacher. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that the symbolism wasn't there – and goodness knows, if there was a symbol to be found, Hardy would beat it to death – it just wasn't terribly obvious to most of us normal readers. I'm not really going anywhere with this – but that brainy student? Well, reader, I married him!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Every Wednesday BermudaOnion hosts Wondrous Words Wednesday, and asks everyone to share "new to you" words you've found in the course of your weekly reading adventures. To take a look at more wondrous words, or to contribute some yourself, please visit Bermudaonion's Weblog.

This week, my words come from Brimstone, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

1. embonpoint - adjective: sufficiently fat so as to have a pleasing fullness of figure; "a chubby child"; "pleasingly plump"; from the French, around 1655-65, meaning "in good condition"
From the book: " 'All the color, noise, flash, the embonpoint diva prowling the stage, shrieking and howling and throwing herself from the ramparts of some castle – it distracts the mind from the music.' " [p. 103]
This is FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast explaining why he doesn't like opera. Funny because I always think the color, noise, flash and people throwing themselves off ramparts is the best thing about opera.

2. emphraxis - a medical term meaning: 1) A clogging or obstruction of the mouth of the sweat gland; 2) An impaction
From the book: " 'For now, I see a large individual approaching who appears to be suffering from emphraxis.' " [p. 10]

Pendergast again, referring to the approaching Lieutenant Braskie of the Southampton police, who is rather angry at the time; but I'm not sure exactly why he should look like he's suffering from emphraxis. Presumably, the sight of the Special Agent is causing the Lieutenant a certain amount of physical discomfort somewhere.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tuesday Thingers: Helper Badges

This week's Tuesday Thingers topic is Helper Badges. And the questions:

Did you know about Helper Badges? Do you have any badges? If so, what is your highest medal/number? What is your lowest? Do the badges give you any incentive to help add to the areas of LT that they cover (Common Knowledge, Venues, etc)?

Well, yes, I did know about Helper Badges, and I also knew that I have two of them. Two bronze badges. At least, I think they're bronze, although it's a little hard to tell the bronze from the gold on my computer screen. When I click on them and go to my Helper Badge Page, it shows that one of my badges is for "contributions to any area of LibraryThing (63)" and the other is for "contributions to Common Knowledge (62)."

I do remember adding some info to the Common Knowledge area for several books, but I'm not sure what my other "contributions" might have been. Well, I've written some reviews and I've participated in a few discussion groups – I suppose that might count as contributions. But I'm a little surprised that there are 63 of them!

And as to incentive – I really don't think the possibility of earning more badges is going to make me any more or less eager to do any "contributing." I was never into collecting badges or gold stars or anything like that. Probably one of the reasons I never joined the Girl Scouts. So I'm pretty sure I'll just go right on doing what I've been doing.

Tuesday Thingers is hosted by Wendi of Wendi's Book Corner. If you'd like to see more or participate yourself, head on over to her blog and leave a comment.

Teaser Tuesdays: Mr. Science and The Beast

Last week was a slow reading week for me, so I'm still in the midst of Enrique Joven's The Book of God and Physics, and these teasers come from page 250:
"Teaching science, especially for a priest, was becoming in many people's eyes a daring feat. But the only risk I could see in my daily duties was to die of boredom."
I should probably explain that the narrator of the book, and the speaker in those sentences, is indeed a science teacher who is also a Jesuit priest. But I imagine most teachers can identify with that last line.

I've also started reading the Douglas Preston-Lincoln Child thriller Brimstone, for the Suspense-Thriller Challenge, so I'm including a couple of teasers from that one, too. These come from page 5, and they're a bit of a cheat because that page only has five lines on it.
"The cloven hoofprint burned into the floor told her everything she needed to know. The devil had finally come for Jeremy Grove."
And that's just the end of the first chapter!

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly event hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or participate yourself, head on over to her blog. 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!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Books Into Movies Challenge Completed

Well, it seems that while I wasn't even paying attention, I managed to finish up another reading challenge. The Books Into Movies Challenge, hosted by Kathrin of, began January 1st and runs through this year. I don't think there was an official sign-up cut-off date, if you'd still like to join in.

Here are the books I read that qualify for the challenge, with links to my reviews and the International Movie Database pages for the films or TV shows:

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton [at IMDB]
Angels & Insects, by A.S. Byatt [at IMDB]
Cover Her Face, by P.D. James [at IMDB]
Hotel Du Lac, by Anita Brookner [at IMDB]
Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem [at IMDB and also the Russian version at IMDB]
The Way Through the Woods, by Colin Dexter [at IMDB]

I want to say thanks to Kathrin for coming up with the idea and hosting, and to all the other participants for all those great reviews (and additions to my ever-expanding TBR list). I'm still working on posting my own reviews of some of the books – hope to be adding links this week. And even though I've wrapped up the challenge, officially, I'm sure I'll very likely be reading more works in this category throughout the year.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Sunday Salon: On a Cloudy Sunday

In the interest of not clogging up the blogosphere with pointless filler, I haven't written a TSS post in quite a while. But I thought this week I'd use the Salon to say congratulations and "good job" to everyone who took part in the 24-Hour Read-a-thon yesterday. For about two seconds, I thought about joining in, but decided I'd never be able to stick it out. I have great admiration for anyone who can read for 24 hours at a stretch. I consider myself a pretty assiduous reader, but I could never spend a whole day doing just that. You guys are amazing.

And just the teensiest bit crazy.

But crazy in a good way.

Well, even though I didn't join in the Saturday marathon, I did get some reading done this weekend. I've got four books on deck right now, and I'm actively reading two of them. The Book of God and Physics: A Novel of the Voynich Mystery by Enrique Joven is a strange amalgamation of fiction and history, just about as eccentric as you might expect when you're dealing with a novel written by an engineer with a doctorate in physics. So far, I'm enjoying it, but then I'm pretty geeky – a story with a lot of historical facts and speculation and not much action is perfectly OK with me.

The other book I'm involved in at the moment is Brimstone, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I'm reading it for the Suspense-Thriller Challenge, and it's pretty much the exact opposite of the Joven book – plenty of action and spine-tingling goings-on. It's the first Preston-Child book I've read (although I did read Preston's Blasphemy earlier this year), and I've been a little surprised at how much I'm liking it. At nearly five hundred pages, it's something of a chunkster, but I think it's going to be a pretty fast read. It's a little bit like "CSI meets The X-Files", so it's right down my literary alley.

Now I guess I better get back to my books. But first I think I'll spend a little time looking in on other Salon posts, checking up on everybody's reading news and looking for "new finds" for my TBR list. Now isn't that a great way to spend a Sunday evening?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review: The Way Through the Woods

Written by Colin Dexter
Crown Publishers, Inc., 1992; 296 pp.

The Way Through the Woods is the tenth book in Colin Dexter's wonderful Chief Inspector Morse mystery series. It was, quite fittingly, the winner of the Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year in 1992. As always, the book centers around the cranky but brilliant Chief Inspector and his long-suffering (but adoring) partner Sergeant Lewis. With settings in Oxfordshire and Dorset, and of course many pubs and taverns in both areas, this one has the oddly-matched duo investigating a "cold case" that had been abandoned by the detectives originally on the job - a case involving the disappearance of a young Swedish woman on holiday in England.

When lovely tourist Karin Eriksson disappeared after visiting Oxford on a summer day just one year ago, Morse insisted that the girl had been murdered. But with no body found, and very little evidence to prove his theory, the case was ultimately recorded as a missing persons incident and allowed to fade away, unsolved. But twelve months later, while Morse is on a rare holiday trip to Lyme Regis, a cryptic anonymous letter appears in the London Times, containing a strange poem that may or may not be a key to what actually happened to the missing girl. Of course, being a consummate puzzle solver, Morse is able to decode the poem and use it to have the case reopened. He and Lewis revisit all the witnesses and go over all the old territory. And in a very unusual turn of events, they're aided in their investigations by letters sent to the newspaper by private citizens with their own ideas about what clues the poem might contain. But with all the twists and turns along the way, can we even depend on those letters and letter-writers to be what they claim?

As usual, Dexter includes plenty of suspects for Morse to wade through. And also as usual, Morse manages to "solve" the case several times before the final conclusion is reached. The dust jacket says the novel "displays all of Dexter's gifts for matching the taut plotting of classic British mystery with rich characterization and witty prose"; and that's exactly true. One of the nicest things about the Morse books is the humor; some of it very dark, of course. The book also includes a few character changes, with the exit of one old friend, and the introduction of a new "regular."

This was the first Morse mystery I've read in many years, and I really enjoyed it. I love Morse, both the print and the film versions; and of all the books I've read in the series, I think this was the best - although I usually say that about each one I read. Well, this was definitely the best one until I read the next!

20 in 2009 Challenge
2009 TBR Lite Challenge
Book Awards II Challenge
Books Into Movies Challenge
Reading the 90s Personal Challenge
Spring Reading Thing Challenge
Suspense-Thriller Challenge
To Be Continued (Perpetual) Challenge

Booking Through Thursday: Windfall

This week's BTT topic:
Yesterday, April 15th, was Tax Day here in the U.S., which means lots of lucky people will get refunds of over-paid taxes.
Whether you’re one of them or not, what would you spend an unexpected windfall on? Say … $50? How about $500?
(And, this is a reading meme, so by rights the answer should be book-related, but hey, feel free to go wild and splurge on anything you like.)

Well, thanks to the fact that I have an excellent financial manager (he's also a pretty good husband), my taxes are always paid well before the April 15th deadline, so our "windfall" is already in the bank. And officially, I suppose the refund will help make a summer vacation trip a little more likely this year.

But in the spirit of playing along, let's say I had that $500 to spend on anything I wanted (why stop at a measly fifty?). And mostly that would be books, of course. I'd probably just surf on over to Amazon (shameful!) and order everything on my wish list. But I could have a lot of fun shopping our local used-book stores, too; although I'd probably have to spend part of the loot on another bookcase to house everything.

Then again, Bauman's Rare Books has some very nice first editions in the $500 range. Maybe that copy of Larry McMurtry's Moving On listed for $550 – something to replace my old book club edition. And if the windfall was just a teeny bit more than $500, Bauman's has a 1930s set of Lewis Carroll's Alice books, in the original publisher's slipcases and signed by Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the original Alice of the stories – a bargain at $7,800!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Every Wednesday BermudaOnion hosts Wondrous Words Wednesday, and asks everyone to share "new to you" words you've found in the course of your weekly reading adventures. To take a look at more wondrous words, or to contribute some yourself, please visit Bermudaonion's Weblog.

My words all come from the book I finished last week, The Way Through the Woods by Colin Dexter. It's one of his Chief Inspector Morse mystery series. And Morse, of course, is a lover of crossword puzzles, and anagrams, and acrostics, and just about anything having to do with words and language. So the books almost always include a few terms I've never encountered before. These are the ones I found this time. I've only included the sentences they were found in when I thought they might be helpful - in most instances, seeing the words in context doesn't really add any enlightenment. And, of course, I had to be careful not to reveal any "spoilers."

brachycephalic - short-headed or broad-headed with a cephalic index of over 80
(That would probably be a little more meaningful if I knew anything at all about cephalic indices.)

concoloration - no definition found, but concolor - of the same color; of uniform color

"Morse looked at her eyes, and for a few seconds looked deeply into her eyes - and saw a hazel-green concoloration there. . . ."

paronomasia - a Greek term for a play on words; a pun

synoptically - adverb of synoptic/synoptical: 1) affording a general view of a whole; 2) manifesting or characterized by comprehensiveness or breadth of view; 3) presenting or taking the same or common view; specifically often capitalized: of or relating to the first three Gospels of the New Testament; 4) relating to or displaying conditions (as of the atmosphere or weather) as they exist simultaneously over a broad area

"It was necessary to stand away, to see things in perspective, to look synoptically at the problem."
(I knew about the "relating to the first three Gospels" definition, but didn't realize it had so many other applications.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuesday Thingers: Re-Style Your Library

This week's Tuesday Thingers topic is all about the style of your library display at LT:

Have you explored the different styles? Have you customized any of the styles? If so, what are your favorite customized items (isbn, Dewey Decimal, Reviews, Book-Swap, etc)?

And my answer, once again, is no. I haven't explored the different styles or done any customizing. And now that I've looked at it, my first reaction was "too many choices!" It's a little overwhelming at first glance. I'm not sure I'll really use it, but I might like to play around with it a bit.

I had seen that notice that some LT users' libraries have about a "suggested display style," and wondered how they did that. Now I know – there's a little menu at the bottom of the page where you can select the style you want to recommend. Right now I'm using Style B (Cover, Author, Title, Date, Tags, and Comments) and I don't think I'm likely to change that; but it's an interesting option.

Tuesday Thingers is hosted by Wendi of Wendi's Book Corner. If you'd like to see more or participate yourself, head on over to her blog and leave a comment.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays: Magic Roots and a Visit to the Crypt

This week, I'm reading a couple of books I got through the Early Reviewer program at Library Thing. My last two "snags" never arrived, and I was beginning to get a little paranoid. Then, naturally, I got two at once. These first teasers come from page 286 of The Book of God and Physics: A Novel of the Voynich Mystery, by Enrique Joven:
The roots of the mandrake vaguely resemble a human being, like a doll or a fetish. For it to become a real man, the plant had to be collected before dawn on a Friday morning – by a black dog, to be precise – and then washed, infused with milk and honey, even with blood in some recipes. The miniature being that resulted would protect its owner with absolute fidelity, just the same as a golem.
OK, I know that's actually three lines. So I cheated improvised a little this time.

The other book I'll be starting this week is Elaine Dundy's The Old Man and Me, so I'm throwing in a little snippet from that one, too. And I'm afraid I'm cheating again because these are just the opening lines from the book:
There is a sort of coal hole in the heart of Soho that is open every afternoon: a dark, dank, dead-ended subterranean tunnel. It is a drinking club called the Crypt and the only light to penetrate it is the shaft of golden sunlight slipping through the doorway from time to time glancing off someone's nose or hair or glass of gin, all the more poignant for its sudden revelations, in an atmosphere almost solid with failure, of pure wind-swept nostalgia, of clean airy summer houses, of the beach, of windy reefs; of the sun radiating through the clouds the instant before the clouds race back over it again – leaving the day as sad and desperate as before. [p. 5]
Sorry about that – and I'm usually such a rule-follower, too!

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or participate yourself, head on over to her blog. 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!

Mailbox Monday, and It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. And although this is the first time I've actively participated, I've been checking it out for quite a while now, and enjoying reading about everyone's weekly loot.

These days, my mailbox is not quite as full as it once was because I've cut way back on requesting ARCs, and I'm trying (really I am) to cut back on book-buying, too. But over the last week or so my mailbox hath runneth over, so here's my list:

Angels of Destruction by Keith Donohue (Shelf Awareness)
The Book of God and Physics by Enrique Joven (LibraryThing Early Reviewers – bonus book)
The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy (LibraryThing Early Reviewers)
Stone's Fall by Iain Pears (Shelf Awareness, I think)
The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber (Book Closeouts)
The Falls: A Novel by Joyce Carol Oates (Book Closeouts)
The Babes in the Woods by Ruth Rendell (Book Closeouts)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading This Week? is a weekly event hosted by J. Kaye of J. Kaye's Book Blog, "to list the books completed last week, the books currently being read, and the books to finish this week."

Well, last week I finished one book, The Way Through the Woods, by Colin Dexter, and I'm working on a short review which I hope to have posted soon (of course, around here "soon" is a relative term). [See Review]

I started reading The Book of God and Physics right after it arrived, and I'll be continuing with that one this week. It's a strange book which, so far, reads more like history than fiction; not exactly a page turner, but it's holding my interest.

I'll also be starting The Old Man and Me this week – I usually try to get through those Early Reviewer books as soon as I can. And then I still have to finish up The Hours, by Michael Cunningham. Wow, that's a lot of reading for a slowpoke such as moi, so I better get busy!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Finds: 10 April 2009

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.

This week I'm a little embarrassed to admit that almost all my new finds have come from browsing the Book Closeouts $1.99 sale, which took up most of two whole days for me this week. Shameful, I know – I really should have been reading actual books, or blogging, or doing just about anything besides immersing myself in an online book catalogue. The only title that wasn't found in the sale listings was The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons; I learned about that one after stumbling onto the 2006 made-for-TV movie based on the book. The film was pretty awful, but the story itself sounded interesting, so I did a little investigating. I've never been able to stick with any of Siddons' work in the past, but this one sounds like it might be more to my taste – I'm a pushover for books about spooky old (or, in this case, new) houses.

Here's my list for this week:

Follies: New Stories, by Ann Beattie
The Bondwoman's Narrative, by Hannah Crafts (and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
The River King, by Alice Hoffman
Dreams of My Russian Summers, by Andrei Makine
The House Next Door, by Anne Rivers Siddons
An Expert in Murder, by Nicola Upson

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Numbers Game

This week's BTT topic:
Some people read one book at a time. Some people have a number of them on the go at any given time, perhaps a reading in bed book, a breakfast table book, a bathroom book, and so on, which leads me to…
Are you currently reading more than one book? If so, how many books are you currently reading? Is this normal for you? Where do you keep your current reads?
Life's too short to read just one book at a time! Hmmm. I could have T-shirts made, couldn't I?

Well, OK, technically of course, I can only read one book at a time. But in any given week, I've usually got at least two or three books started; and I try to read a certain number of pages in each one each day. Ideally, one of them will really grab my interest and I'll stick with that one until I finish it. I love it when that happens.

Right now, there are only two books on my "currently reading" list – The Way Through the Woods, one of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse mysteries, and Michael Cunningham's The Hours. And the Morse book (hooray!) is turning out to be one of those grabbers – it kept me up much too late last night, and I'm hoping to finish it later today.

Where do I keep the books I'm reading? All over the place. I suppose because I read all over the place. Well, there was a time when I did a major part of my reading on public transport. But since I've stopped working, the sofa in the living room is probably the place where most of my reading gets done, and that's the area where most of my current reads accumulate. We don't have bedside tables or reading lamps, so I can't read in bed (darn it), and I don't read in the bathroom (OK – that's probably TMI, I know). And generally, I only read during meals if I'm by myself; when the hubby is around we usually watch TV while we eat, or talk, or both ("How was your day, Dear?" "Fine, how was yours?" "Fine, put that remote over here by me.")

Once upon a time, back in the bad old pre-cyberspace days, breakfast time was prime reading time for me. Nowadays, I spend that part of the day at my computer, blogging and blog-reading. But the blogging keeps me focused on reading the books, so I don't regret those stolen hours.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tuesday Thingers: To Widget or Not To Widget

Tuesday Thingers is hosted by Wendi of Wendi's Book Corner. This week, the topic is widgets:

Do you have a LT widget on your blog? If so, what is your favorite thing about it? Have you had a chance to go see the all new widget building page, and if so, have you built a new widget? If so, what do you like about it?

No, I don't have a LibraryThing widget on my blog. I do have one of those little link bar thingies – if you click on it, it takes you to my LT profile page. And I've got the "Followers" widget provided by Google/Blogger. I did have a Shelfari widget for a while – it showed a bunch of the books on my TBR shelf; but I took it off because it seemed to be slowing down the page-loading time.

I didn't know about the new widget building page – I'll have to give it a look and maybe play with it a little. But I probably won't be putting any more widgets on my blog. I really prefer not to keep a lot of stuff on my blog – sort of prefer the clean and empty look. Of course, you wouldn't suspect that, looking at my cramped and crowded apartment. But at least I can keep my virtual world clutter-free.

Teaser Tuesdays: Virginia and Her Devils

This week I'm reading Michael Cunningham's The Hours, and loving it so far. Just about any passage in the book could provide a wonderful "tease" to tempt would-be readers. This one is truly random and comes from page 167 of the trade paperback edition; and I don't think it's really a spoiler if I say that it's from one of the Virginia Woolf sections:
She is, of course, not alone, not in a way anyone else would recognize, and yet at this moment, walking through wind toward the lights of the Quadrant, she can feel the nearness of the old devil (what else to call it?), and she knows she will be utterly alone if and when the devil chooses to appear again. The devil is a headache; the devil is a voice inside a wall; the devil is a fin breaking through dark waves.
Poor Virginia. She suffered so much for her art, didn't she? But if she hadn't allowed the work to summon her devils, we wouldn't have those wonderful books to read, now would we?

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or participate yourself, head on over to her blog. 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!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday Finds: 3 April 2009

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.

This week, several of my New Finds are from the last couple of LibraryThing Early Reviewers offerings. And one, The Dud Avocado, is actually a book I've known about for a while – I'm including it because it always sounded intriguing and it was the reason I was attracted to Dundy's latest, The Old Man and Me. I'm supposed to be getting that last one from LibraryThing, but as my last two Early Reviewer books have never arrived, I'm not terribly hopeful. Anyway, here's my list for this week:

Bad Things, by Michael Marshall (LTER, March)
Being Written, by William Conescu (see the teaser at Popin's Lair)
Key of Light, by Nora Roberts (see the teaser at Inside Mo's Mind)
Mobius Dick, by Andrew Crumey (don't remember where I first saw this one)
The Book of God and Physics: A Novel of the Voynich Mystery, by Enrique Joven (LTER March Bonus Batch)
The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy
The Old Man and Me, by Elaine Dundy (LTER March)
The Tricking of Freya, by Christina Sunley (LTER March)
The Various Haunts of Men, by Susan Hill

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Library Week

This week's BTT topic:
I saw that National Library week is coming up in April, and that led to some questions. How often do you use your public library and how do you use it? Has the coffeehouse/bookstore replaced the library? Did you go to the library as a child? Do you have any particular memories of the library? Do you like sleek, modern, active libraries or the older, darker, quiet, cozy libraries?
I've always loved libraries, from the first time I was taken to our local public library branch, as a child back in San Antonio, Texas. I wrote about that experience in an earlier BTT post (here), so I won't go into a lot of detail, but I always loved going there. And I still like the experience of going to the library. In recent years, my library visits have fallen off quite a bit. I don't have access to a university library, and our local public library was in the process of building and moving into new quarters; and for a while their fiction collection was nothing to get excited about. As a result, I fell into the habit of simply buying the books I wanted to read. Recently, though, I stopped by again, and found that the local branch has improved enormously since its early days. So I've started up my regular visits again, and it feels really nice.

How do I use the library and how often? Well, I usually go whenever I have books to return – in most instances, that would be every two or three weeks. And I almost always have something definite in mind to look for when I go; but at the same time, I almost always do a little browsing, too. Especially among the "new arrivals." And I'm lucky that our local library system has a good online operation – I can renew online, search the catalogue, request books online and have them held for me. I haven't actually used that service yet, but I can see it saving me a lot of time and frustration, down the line.

So, my answer to that last question would be a definite YES. I like sleek, modern, active, and old, quiet, cozy libraries. I like actual libraries and I like virtual libraries (including sites like the Gutenberg Project or Good Reads or LibraryThing). I like just about all libraries. I think libraries are one of the most astounding and valuable inventions of human kind. I believe civilization cannot survive without its libraries. If I could go back in time, I'd go to ancient Alexandria, before the Library was destroyed, and take a look at the great collections there – maybe have a chat with one of the librarians (I'd take along my handy-dandy Acme Dead Languages Translation Device, of course).

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Blog Every Day: This Is Not An April Fool's Joke

I know I'm probably the last person on earth to hear about this (I usually am), but if anybody is here at the end of the line with me and hasn't yet heard about BEDA (Blog Every Day in April), you might want to take a look at Maureen Johnson's Blog to find out more. She tells about how she came up with the idea and how it took on a life of its own.

As for me, I can't promise to blog every single day this month (I can hear the sighs of relief rushing in from the Blogosphere), so I'm not signing any manifestos or anything. But it does sound like a cute idea, and I might try to play along on my Joysweb blog if not here.

But see, I've already blogged today! That means I've only got another twenty-nine vacuous and inane posts to go!