Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I Won, I Won, I Won!

Sorry if that sounds a little like crowing; I don't win that many things. But I managed to snag a couple of giveaway books recently, and I'm a little late posting about it.

Back in May I was a winner of one of Library Thing's Member Giveaway books – a very nice copy of The Real Opera Ghost and Other Tales by Gaston Leroux. It was offered by LT user SandySchmitz, who got it here very quickly and in great shape. Many thanks, Sandy.

Then, earlier this month I won another contest for a copy of Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, over at arch thinking (thanks very much, Lorin).

Both books look like great reads – French ghost tales, and true crime at the Chicago World's Fair. Now if I can just finish up those four or five other books I've got going right now . . . .

Tuesday Thingers: Get Away From Me With That Glue!

This week's topic for the Tuesday Thingers group is about Glue! – the new social networking site. (Good work, Wendi!) Lately, I've been seeing the Get Glue! ads, but hadn't stopped to investigate – so I was curious and took a look at their website. And now that I know a little bit more about Glue!, I have the following thoughts.

You cannot be serious!!!

Let me get this straight. There's actually a whole organization out there that thinks I'll want them to stalk me around the Internet, and watch my every cyber move? And then broadcast it to a lot of people I don't know? Am I the only one who finds this more than a little terrifying?

I would probably pay a hefty fee to have them NOT do that!

OK, I'm admittedly ignorant when it comes to most of the "new technology" these days. And I'm not enthusiastic about laying out my private life all over the worldwide web – that's probably the main reason I've never really taken to Twitter. But this one seems annoying at best, and at worst downright dangerous. Somebody please explain why I would want to get myself involved in something like this. And please, please tell me it's something I'd have to "opt into" – because if given a choice I'd definitely opt OUT.

Oops! Sorry if I'm ranting here, but this just sounds like a really, really bad idea to me and I'm a little surprised that so many people seem to be in favor of it.

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: Archie-isms

One of the things I'm trying to do this summer is read more classic mysteries. And I'm starting with Fer-de-Lance, the first Nero Wolfe novel by Rex Stout. I think it's possible that I read it once before, many years ago; but so far, it doesn't seem familiar. It was originally published in 1934, which was before even my time – so it's a great whodunit with a nice nostalgic feel to it. Like most of the Nero Wolfe novels, it's narrated by Wolfe's assistant Archie Goodwin, and although Archie's descriptive abilities definitely improve over time, he's still pretty good in this first outing. Here are a few examples:
"I went over and shook hands with her. She was a homely kid about twenty with skin like stale dough, and she looked like she'd been scared in the cradle and never got over it." [p. 13]

"He was smooth-shaven, his hair was turning gray, and while he wasn't fat there was size to him. He looked worried but amused, as if someone had just told him a funny story but he had a toothache." [p. 180]

"In a neat well-cut housekeeper's dress, black, with a little black thing across the top of her hair, she looked elegant, and her manner was as Park Avenue as the doorman at the Pierre. Well, I thought, they're all different in the bathtub from what they're like at Schrafft's." [p. 268]
I'm assuming everybody knows about Schrafft's, and its famously attractive (mostly Irish) waitresses. But maybe I'm wrong about that. Not sure why I know it, myself. Probably from a lifetime of watching old movies and reading classic mystery novels. It's a habit that's made me wise beyond my years, and old before my time!

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB17 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, June 26, 2009

Friday Finds: 26 June 2009

Only two new finds this week. And one of them actually has been around a while even though it's just now showing up on my radar.

Not sure where I first read about Chris Ransom's debut novel, The Birthing House; but it sounds like a great psychological thriller – as one reviewer put it, "a ghost story with class." It'll be published in August. And I think it's very possible that I've heard of Syrie James's The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen before this week, but it's only now registering with me. I discovered it while checking out the Everything Austen Challenge over at Stephanie's Written Word. Haven't decided yet if I'm going to take up the challenge, but James's book sounds like it's worth a look.

Friday Finds is a weekly event hosted by mizb17 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.

So, what great new books did you find this week?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Review: To Dance with the White Dog

Written by Terry Kay
Simon & Schuster / Pocket Books, 1990; 242 pages

At the beginning of Terry Kay's To Dance with the White Dog, 80-year-old Sam Peek has just lost his wife Cora after fifty-seven years of marriage. Soon after her death, a pure white dog appears at Sam's place and stays with him. The couple's seven grown children are worried about their father – at first, no one but Sam sees the dog. And even after White Dog makes herself visible to the rest of his family, Sam's conviction that she's safeguarding him makes them uneasy. Sam even claims that White Dog dances with him; and she does, but not while any of the kids are around.

The two daughters who live nearby, Kate and Carrie, are especially worried. Before they actually see White Dog, they're convinced Sam's obsession is a sign of mental decline. There's a wonderfully funny episode in which they dress up in commando-type black garb, complete with fireplace ashes to blacken their faces, and stake out Sam's house in the early morning hours, trying to get a glimpse of his canine guardian. Of course, Sam discovers them – with some help from their husbands – and begins to think the "girls" might be having mental breakdowns of their own. Well, I guess guys gotta stick together. As Kate's husband Noah tells her:
"Good Lord, Kate, don't you know your daddy better'n that? The two of you are aggravating him to death. All he's doing is paying you back. He's putting you on. You know he likes to do that. . . . The trouble with the two of you is you don't know how a man feels when he can't do something anymore."
White Dog always seems to be around when Sam needs help or company. She even accompanies him on a journey back to Madison Agricultural and Mechanical School for a class reunion. It was there in 1915 that Sam met his future bride, Cora, who was a young nursing student at the time. While Sam and White Dog are traveling, Sam becomes confused and loses his way – the first real sign that his children's fears might be justified. But it turns out all right. Sam is rescued by a passing Samaritan, and eventually meets and spends a few hours with an old friend from the past.

The reunion turns out to be Sam's last lengthy excursion. As the months pass, he stays close to home – developing an interest in genealogy and writing everyday in his journal (". . . brief, daily footnotes of brief, daily occurrences"). And White Dog stays with him right up to the end. Just before he dies, Sam tells his youngest son, James, that he believed White Dog was Cora who had come back to watch over him. Of course, we readers have believed that all along, as well.

To Dance with the White Dog won Terry Kay the Southeastern Library Association Outstanding Author of the Year Award in 1991. Kay has said that the novel had its start as a work of nonfiction in honor of his own parents' long marriage; even the visit by the white dog is supposed to be based in fact. It's a very moving story – even an inspirational one. But it's also packed with humor and wonderful, memorable characters. The relationships among Sam Peek and his children feel very authentic. And Kay has a fine ear – all the dialogue sounds absolutely real. It's a great read – sad, funny, heartwarming but not saccharine. And although it forces readers to confront the subjects of grief, old age, and death, it's really a celebration of life, love and family ties.

Booking Through Thursday: Hot!

This week's BTT question is a tough one:

. . . what is the most “Summery” book you can think of? The one that captures the essence of summer for you? (I’m not asking for you to list your ideal “beach reading,” you understand, but the book that you can read at any time of year but that evokes “summer.”)

At first I thought it would be difficult for me to come up with one book that "evokes summer" – that is, a book with a summery feel to it. Actually, the first thing that came to mind was Barbara Pym. Since I'm a confirmed Pym fanatic, and I first discovered her work during a summer trip to England back in the early '80s, her books usually do make me think of summer.

Then there are all those books I first read during summer vacations when I was a child. I was introduced to Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and Nancy Drew during the summer. And I spent one whole summer enthralled by everything Arthurian after reading T.H. White's The Once and Future King. But then, I think I read Lord of the Flies during a summer vacation, too; and that certainly doesn't seem very summery. Well, I suppose you could see it as the ultimate example of the summer camp experience gone horribly awry.

But if I'm going to choose just one book that always represents summer in my mind, it would probably be Alice in Wonderland. Not that I read it during the summer, but because of the story of its creation. It was supposedly on July 4, 1862, that Lewis Carroll invented the tale for Alice Liddell while taking her and her sisters rowing. Also, the book is prefaced by a poem that begins "All in the golden afternoon / Full leisurely we glide" and it ends with Alice and her sister sitting in the grass, thinking about the "happy summer days." See? Perfect summer book. In fact, it might be time for a quick re-read this summer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Spring Reading Thing: The Wrap-Up

So summer is officially here now – been with us for several days already. It's also been a few days since the Spring Reading Thing ended on June 20th. This was a very easy, enjoyable "challenge," and I managed to read almost twice as many books as I thought I would during that time – although only one of them was on my original list of possible titles. I'm still working on getting all the reviews posted, and hope to get that done by the end of the week.

It would be hard to choose a favorite among all the books I read – they were a very mixed lot, and I enjoyed most of them very much. Several were books I'd had on my want-to-read list for many years, and some (like Ellen Foster and To Dance with the White Dog) were new discoveries by authors I hope to encounter again in the future. There were even a few disappointments in the bunch, but no real stinkers. I suppose the biggest surprise was The Longshot, the debut novel by Katie Kitamura, certainly a new name to watch.

Here's the list of books I read, with links to reviews:
Angels & Demons. Dan Brown
The Private Patient. P.D. James
The Way Through the Woods. Colin Dexter
The Book of God and Physics. Enrique Joven
Brimstone. Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
The Old Man and Me. Elaine Dundy
The Optimist's Daughter. Eudora Welty
Ellen Foster. Kaye Gibbons
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Robert C. O'Brien
To Dance with the White Dog. Terry Kay
The Unit. Ninni Holmqvist
Moon Tiger. Penelope Lively
The Longshot. Katie Kitamura
The Valley of Fear. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I want to say thanks to Katrina at Callapidder Days for hosting, and to all the other participants for all the great reviews and recommendations. I've added quite a few new titles to my TBR list, which is now almost long enough to be divided up into a multi-volume set.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Review: The Longshot

Written by Katie Kitamura
Simon & Schuster, 2009; 191 pages

From the publisher's synopsis:
Cal and his long-standing friend and trainer Riley are on their way to Mexico for a make-or-break rematch with the legendary Rivera, who has never been beaten. Four years ago, Cal became the only fighter to ever take Rivera the distance, even though it nearly ended him. Only Riley, who has been at his side for the last ten years, knows how much that fight changed everything for Cal. And only Riley really knows what's now at stake, for both of them.
In support of total disclosure, I want to say right up front – I got this book free from the publishers, Simon & Schuster UK (A CBS Company). What with all the new blogger-control rules and regs being kicked around, I wouldn't want to piss anybody off (oops, sorry – I mean make anybody upset with me). Don't want the FTC, or any other watchdog group I might not yet know about, coming after me.

However, when I say I loved this book, the fact that I didn't pay for it has nothing to do with it. I would have loved it even if I'd bought it with my own hard-earned cash. And nobody asked me to say that.

At first glance, I would not have said this was a book for me. It's true that I was something of a boxing aficionado as a child (well, I was a weird little girl, OK?) – used to watch the fights every week with my father. And I did go see Stallone's Rocky I about two dozen times when it first came out (still think that's a perfect little jewel of a film). But I've never cared much for the mixed martial arts variety of fighting. All that kicking and jumping and pounding heads on the ground is just a little too much mayhem, a little too far from A.J. Liebling's "sweet science" for my taste. But Katie Kitamura's masterful debut novel is almost enough to make me a fan. Almost.

The book is written in a stripped down and deceptively simple style. Short sentences. No frills or pointless verbiage. The story is tightly focused. Cal and Riley travel to Tijuana for the fight. They stay in a cheap motel. They eat in a nearby cafe. They train for the fight. Riley takes a brief trip back to California for a press conference at Rivera's gym. Cal climbs into the ring for the big event. You learn very little about their past lives or families or time away from the job – and yet by book's end, you can't help feeling you know all about these men. Cal and Riley are each on a journey of self-discovery that we take right along with them. Kitamura is adept at using description for explanation, and allowing her readers to feel the emotion of her characters, rather than telling us about it. It's such a bravura performance that the comparison to Hemingway is, I suspect, inevitable.

You don't actually have to be a boxing or MMA fan or know anything about either sport to like this book – although a rudimentary interest would make it more enjoyable. The relationship between the two men, their exchanges, and the time we spend inside their heads is really what this work is all about. The action is exciting, immediate, and raw, but not as interesting as the story of Cal and Riley. Their journey back into the ring for the biggest fight of Cal's career is moving, psychologically jarring, and a really exciting ride.

Tuesday Thingers: Confused and Frustrated? (Who? Me?)

This week, Wendi has the following questions for the Tuesday Thingers group:

What areas of Library Thing do you find confusing or frustrating? The team at LT seem to be continually updating things at the site. Is there anything in particular that you would like to see updated or changed?

Well, in general, I'm pretty satisfied with the way LT works. But yes, as Wendi says, it would be nice to have a way to search by user name, and as far as I know, it doesn't exist at the moment. Not really sure how much I'd use it, though. I admit I'm not very good at searching out friends at LT. But I've never been able to get the email tool to work for me, either.

I think the thing I find most frustrating is just the general slowness of the site, and I'm not sure there's much to be done about that. Just too much traffic, I guess. LibraryThing has turned into a very popular site, and rightly so. And I guess delays are to be expected.

One thing I'd like to see at LT is more book descriptions and capsule synopses, such as you find at Good Reads. Some books do have descriptions in the Common Knowledge section, but not all. Of course, I guess if I want to see more descriptions, I should stop my griping, get myself in gear, and add some of my own, right?

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.

Review: Angels & Demons

Written by Dan Brown
Simon & Schuster / Pocket Books, 2000; 570 pages

From the publisher's synopsis:
World-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyze a cryptic symbol seared into the chest of a murdered physicist. What he discovers is unimaginable: a deadly vendetta against the Catholic Church by a centuries-old underground organization – the Illuminati. Desperate to save the Vatican from a powerful time bomb, Langdon joins forces in Rome with the beautiful and mysterious scientist Vittoria Vetra. Together they embark on a frantic hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and the most secretive vault on earth . . . the long-forgotten Illuminati lair.

When I read The Da Vinci Code several years ago, I liked it much more than I expected I would. It wasn't a great work of art, of course – Dan Brown's style is not the most elegant I've encountered. But it was a whopping good tale that moved fast and had interesting characters and lots of twists and turns and surprises. And that's pretty much all I ask of a thriller. The history and theology and science might not have passed muster with historians and theologians and scientists, but I knew going in that the book was fiction (that means "not real," folks) and it might play a little fast and loose with facts and accepted theories. I didn't mind that – I just enjoyed the ride.

So I expected at least a bit of a let-down when I picked up Brown's earlier work Angels & Demons. I mean, art historian Robert Langdon (the protagonist in both books) had already tracked down and preserved the bloodline of Jesus Christ. What could be more exciting than that? Well, how about saving the Vatican and possibly the rest of humanity from evil secret-society terrorists with anti-matter? (Sorry, I guess that might be a bit of a spoiler.) It would be hard to find a caper more thrilling than that, now wouldn't it? And then there's that jumping-out-of-a-helicopter-without-a-parachute trick, too. Take that, Douglas Preston!

Seriously, folks – I enjoyed this one just as much as the first Robert Langdon escapade. (OK, technically, this was the first one, I know.) It's set mostly in Rome, one of my favorite cities (even though I've never been there), all that anti-matter nonsense gives it a science fiction-y feel (one of my favorite genres), and it's all about Renaissance art, one of my favorite periods (even though I'm not actually quite that old). There's more than one mystery to be solved, just as there was in Da Vinci; but this time I didn't figure everything out quite so fast. And it's written in a play-by-play, minute-to-minute style that leaves you breathless after every short chapter – wondering just what astounding, implausible and life-threatening thrills Langdon will be involved in on the next page.

Would I recommend it? Well, sure. Why not? It's a fun read, if you don't take it too seriously. And if you don't mind more than a little gore and mayhem. I don't usually enjoy books with a lot of violence, but it didn't bother me here – maybe because the whole thing was so improbable, it didn't seem real enough to be upsetting (but you've been warned). The thing that really made my blood run cold was all that trashing of the Vatican library!

Teaser Tuesdays: Crazy In the Big Easy

I lived in Louisiana for many years before moving up here to the north country, and while I was there I discovered the writings of Ellen Gilchrist. Right now I'm reading her second collection of short stories, Victory Over Japan. My teasers are from a story called "Crazy, Crazy, Now Showing Everywhere." I know I'm cheating – this is more than two lines; but it had such a great New Orleans feel, I just had to include the whole little passage.
". . . That girl adores being crazy. She's a crazy specialist. She threw the plate at me because I wouldn't act like it was interesting that she's crazy. Crazy doesn't fool me, Lady Margaret. Not after living in this family. Do you want another beignet or not?" [p. 87]
Well, I guess everybody thinks their family is a little crazy, don't they? Even if they don't live in the Deep South. Not that mine is, of course. Gosh, I wish I had me some beignets right now.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB17 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!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-23: Challenges

Well, summer's finally here. Don't know how half a year got away from me, but here we are – getting ready for the last few days of June. So I thought it might be a good time to take a look at my reading challenge situation and see just how things stand, at just about the midpoint of 2009. And since this week's Weekly Geeks topic is just that, I also thought I'd join in this week. I believe it's been several months since I participated in a Weekly Geeks event – must try to do better in the future.

This week's topic was suggested by Sheri of A Novel Menagerie. She writes:
"Reading Challenges: a help or a hurt? Do you find that the reading challenges keep you organized and goal-oriented? Or, do you find that as you near the end of a challenge that you've failed because you fell short of your original goals? As a result of some reading challenges, I've picked up books that I would have otherwise never heard of or picked up; that, frankly, I have loved. Have you experienced the same with challenges? If so, which ones? Do you have favorite reading challenges?"
I joined a lot of challenges this year. A lot of challenges. Probably more than I should have, but I don't regret it. They've kept me reading; and I've read a lot of books I probably wouldn't have thought of reading without the challenge to spur me on. I always try to look for challenges that don't call for a set number of books or put a huge limit on the kinds of things I can read (like MizB's Read Your Own Books Challenge, one of my favorites). And even if I don't manage to read all the books required, I don't usually feel terribly guilty when the challenge ends. I'm a slow reader, so I know going in that it's likely I won't be successful with each and every challenge. But I like the self-discipline they impose – and I enjoy the list-making and record-keeping almost as much as the reading itself. Well, I am a geek, after all.

So far, I've completed the following challenges in 2009:
Haven't written the wrap-ups for all those challenges yet. And I still have an embarrassing number of reviews I need to get posted (running behind, as usual).

So it looks like I've read quite a few books. Well, looks can be deceiving – many of those books were shared among several challenges. Still, I have read twenty-six books so far this year, which is a goodly number, for me. That means if I keep up the pace, I'll easily reach my goal of fifty books for the year – might even do a little better than that. I'm not making any promises, of course. My reading challenges have given me a nice big nudge, but it's best not to expect miracles!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer Reading Challenge 2009

Well, the Spring Reading Thing and the Once Upon a Time III Challenge have come to an end – today was their final day. I still have to write my wrap-up posts, and catch up on my reviews. But that's two more challenges completed. And in addition, I've finished up several other challenges recently – just haven't managed to get the wrap-ups written. But I'm working on it (really, I am).

Anyhoo . . . . When a couple of challenges end, can another new one be far behind? Certainly not around here, anyway. So I'm signing on for the Summer Reading Challenge hosted by A Southern Daydreamer Reads. It runs from June 21 to September 21, 2009, and these are the rules:
  • Make a list of books you want to read this summer.
  • Write a post with your list on your blog. (You can add to or change this list at any time during the challenge.)
  • Please post the direct link to your Summer Reading Challenge 2009 post (so that other participants can visit and see what you are reading).
  • You can write another post in September to let everyone know how you did.
So, here's my list. It's tentative and subject to change, of course; I always want to allow for change of mood, or the new discovery I might find along the way. And the list is probably longer than it really should be; there's no way I'll be able to read all these books in one summer – especially since several are real chunksters. There's a little suspense, a little humor, a little romance, a couple of ARCs. Some are books I'm already planning to read for other challenges (hope that's OK).

A Stitch in Time. Monica Ferris
Angels of Destruction. Keith Donohue
Ignorance: A Novel. Milan Kundera
July and August. Nancy Clark
Mistress of Mellyn. Victoria Holt
Murder, She Meowed. Rita Mae Brown
People of the Book. Geraldine Brooks
Rabbit Is Rich. John Updike
Sacred Hearts. Anita Dunant
Stone's Fall. Iain Pears
The Angel's Game. Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Black Dahlia. James Ellroy
The Dance of Death. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
The Inn at Lake Devine. Elinor Lipman
The Mothman Prophecies. John A. Keel
The Spectator Bird. Wallace Stegner
The Stormy Petrel. Mary Stewart
Victory Over Japan. Ellen Gilchrist

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Finds: 19 June 2009

Friday Finds is a weekly event hosted by mizb17 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.

Just three books this week. And, technically, The Game by A.S. Byatt isn't a new find – it was her second novel, first published in 1967; but I just "discovered" it this week while browsing an interesting library at LibraryThing. Alice Hoffman's new novel, The Story Sisters, made its appearance this month. And Fear the Worst, Linwood Barclay's latest suspense novel is scheduled to be released on August 11.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Fantasy and Sci-Fi

This week BTT asks about the fantasy and science fiction genres. Sci-fi author Sharon Lee has declared June 23rd Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day:
"A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life."
Thus, we have this week's topic: What might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?

I do read sci-fi and fantasy, although I'm not going to get into "why." I just like it – OK? And although reading SF/F has helped me through some rough patches of existence, I'm pretty sure it hasn't changed my life in any significant way. Well, nothing that springs to mind anyway – I'd have to think about that a while.

These days I don't read sci-fi or fantasy as much as I did in the past. There was a time when I was a real science fiction fanatic, and read almost nothing but. I once had a huge collection of SF/F books and magazines. No more, though – most of it got left behind when we moved from Louisiana to Virginia a couple of decades ago. Still wish I'd held onto those original editions of the James Blish Star Trek adaptations, published by Bantam in the late '60s and early '70s – they're a little hard to find these days, in really good condition.

Moving on.

I'm still something of a sci-fi devotee, although I do more watching than reading – I love sci-fi movies and TV shows. But I do still read science fiction (in the last year I've read Solaris and 2010: Odyssey Two), even though I might be a little more discriminating about it. And I have to admit that I stay mainly with the older authors that I loved in my youth – Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford D. Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, John Wyndham. As for fantasy – well, that's a little different. I read fantasy, but it's mostly the kid lit type – like the book I just finished reading, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I've never really been very interested in sword-and-sorcery tales or Lord of the Ring clones.

And as for celebrating the genre on June 23rd, well I guess that's an OK idea. I might do a blog post about a favorite author or book. Traditionally, June 23rd is Midsummer's Eve – so it might be a good opportunity to re-read A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of my favorite fantasies. In fact, that's part of one of the challenges I'm involved in this year, Carl V's Once Upon a Time Challenge. And if you're looking for some intriguing ideas about fantasies to read, the challenge website here is a good place to start.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Review: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Written by Robert C. O'Brien
Illustrated by Zena Bernstein
An Aladdin Paperback, Simon & Schuster, 1975; 233 pages
First published 1971; 1972 Newbery Medal Winner

Robert C. O'Brien's charming fantasy tale, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH clearly deserved the Newbery Medal it won in 1972. It's been on my need-to-read list for ages, but it took this year's reading challenges to nudge me into finally getting around to it.

The book tells the story of Mrs. Frisby, a widowed field mouse who must move her family to their summer quarters to avoid certain death at the hands of Farmer Fitzgibbon and his tractor/plow. But when her youngest child Timothy comes down with pneumonia and can't be moved, she fortunately discovers the extraordinarily learned rats of NIMH who devise a brilliant but dangerous solution to her problem.

The book is really made up of two tales that ultimately come together – Mrs. Frisby's dilemma and the saga of the rats who have near-human intelligence and a literate, mechanized society. They have electricity which they use to run sophisticated machinery, including elevators. They store food for the winter. They have the ability to read and have a large collection of books. And because of the research conducted on them before they made their escape from the laboratories of NIMH, they have greatly extended lifespans – in fact, no one really knows how long they might live.

But the rats' amazing way of life has obliged them to rely heavily on human society. That's risky, and many of the group see it as stealing. So they've decided to abandon their present lifestyle and return to a more independent existence – a sort of self-sufficient back-to-nature movement which isn't popular with everyone in the colony. Several members have already left the group and their leaving has attracted the attention of the human population. The account of the rats' efforts to avoid detection, and at the same time help save Mrs. Frisby's home and family, is real edge-of-your-seat storytelling.

I absolutely loved this book! I can see why it's on so many lists of beloved childhood books. I loved the fact that although it's a fantasy about cute furry animals (and a few cute, feathery birds), it never deteriorates into nursery language or "talks down" to its audience. It's a book that adults can enjoy just as easily as younger readers can. I unreservedly recommend it to everyone – it's a wonderful read. Oh, and the two story lines make it a very economical book as well – it's almost like getting two books for the price of one!

Reading Challenges: 20 in 2009, 2009 TBR (Lite), Book Awards II, Once Upon a Time III, Read Your Own Books (RYOB), Spring Reading Thing, What An Animal!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays: Who Do You Think You Are? Sherlock Holmes?

This week, I'm reading The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The title makes it sound like it might be one of Conan Doyle's ripping yarn type adventure tales, with dinosaurs roaming the lost Amazonian jungles. But in reality it was his final Sherlock Holmes novel, first appearing as a magazine serial in 1914. Here's a quote from page 56 of this edition:
"It's all very well your saying that a man escaped by wading this moat, but what I ask you is, how did he ever get into the house at all if the bridge was up?"
"Ah, that's the question," said Barker.
Yes, indeed – that's the question all right. And that's exactly why you should always be sure your bridge is up and your moat is stocked with piranha fish.

And here's another snippet, much more representative of Holmes' personality and the whole Holmes/Watson dynamic:
"Good, Watson, good! But not, if I may say so, quite good enough!" [p. 21]
Poor Watson. Why does he put up with it all?

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB17 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, June 12, 2009

Friday Finds: 12 June 2009

Friday Finds is a weekly event hosted by mizb17 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 have half a dozen new finds. They all look really interesting, and I imagine several of them will be going on my TBR list. Well, the ones I haven't already read, anyway.

The Condition, by Jennifer Haigh
The Shimmer, by David Morrell
Summer House, by Nancy Thayer
The Wildwater Walking Club, by Claire Cook
Duchess of Death, by Richard Hack
The Longshot, by Katie Kitamura

The first four are being featured in BookReporter.com's weekly "Beach Bag of Books" contests. I believe Summer House is in this week's batch; the others are all coming up in July or August. I discovered Duchess of Death, Richard Hack's new biography of Agatha Christie, while browsing the June selections in LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Katie Kitamura's The Longshot was an ARC and something of a surprise when I received it. Didn't really look like anything I'd choose to read, but after the first page I was hooked and rapidly made my way through it in one sitting. Very unusual for me. I'll try to get a review up later today, but for right now I'll just say it was truly extraordinary.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Finding My Niche

This week BTT asks about the niche books we read. You know – special genres, or those esoteric works, or books that concentrate on one particular subject. And I have to admit this was a tough question for me. At first glance, I would have said I don't really read any "niche" books. I don't read how-to manuals or cookbooks. I do like to read books about books – bibliomysteries and the like; but that's really more of a sub-genre of fiction, not exactly what we're talking about here.

But then I started thinking about it. And I realized that while I may not actually do a lot niche book reading, I certainly do some niche book collecting.

I suppose the closest I've ever come to real "niche" reading would be the doll-collecting books I read back in the '90s when I was building my collection. But I don't really read those anymore, except for looking up an occasional fact or price or other reference-type article. I still read Doll Reader Magazine – does that count?

I have a few books on needlework and fabric crafts, but I don't actually read them. I did some needlepoint years ago, and keep thinking I'm going to get back into it one of these days, so I've collected a few books on the subject. But it's not really something I'm actively involved in.

I guess the biggest "niche" collection I have is theater- and acting-related. Many, many centuries ago, I started out intending to work in the professional theater world, and I have a huge collection of plays, scripts, playbills and programs, and books on theater and stagecraft. That's mostly all packed away in storage now, along with my youthful dreams. And so it goes.

Oh, and one more – home decorating and architecture. Although I don't really read them all – I do collect books on modern architecture and decor. I love everything Mid-century or Mod, and I have a pretty good collection of books on the subject. As I say, I can't claim to have read every word of every book, but I love, love, love looking at all those thoroughly modern interiors.

So I guess I am one of those niche readers after all.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Tuesday Thingers: Non-finishers

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. And this week's topic is about all those books you just can't manage to wade through:

How often do you find yourself struggling through a book (if you HAD to estimate)? How far will you read before you stop and consider it a DNF (Did not finish)? Will you skim ahead and see if it gets any better? Once you put it down, do you still write a quick review? What do you do with the book when you are done?

Well, generally I try to find out as much about a book as I can before I start reading it, so most of the books I begin I also finish. However, once in a while I'll inevitably pick up something that turns out to be not what I was expecting or hoping. And in those cases, I think it's best just to move on to something new.

It usually only takes a chapter or two (occasionally, not even that much) for me to decide whether or not a book is for me. But sometimes, before completely abandoning a book, I do skim ahead to see if any of it is more to my liking, or to find out how the book ends (good to know, even if I don't like the way it gets there). And although I might mention that I tried a book and didn't care for it, I don't think I've ever written a full review of a book I haven't read in its entirety – that would be too much like cheating on an exam. Of course, that means that now and then I'll have to read something that doesn't appeal to me – a book I wouldn't ordinarily have finished. Unfortunately, that's happened to me twice lately – both of my most recent Early Reviewer books from Library Thing were books I probably wouldn't have finished if I hadn't felt obligated to review them. And in one case, I was glad I finished the book because it turned out to be better than I'd expected when I started it. So maybe there's something to be said for sticking it out, no matter what your literary taste buds may be signaling.

And as for what I do with the books I don't finish – well, that's a good (though embarrassing) question. I'd like to say I don't keep them; that I donate them or give them to friends who might find them more palatable. Or swap them for other books. But in reality I have to admit that when a book comes into my custody it's usually mine for life! Like it or not. One of these days, I'm definitely going to have to do something about that – before rescue workers have to break down the door to my apartment and dig through the piles of paperbacks that have toppled over and buried me alive!

Teaser Tuesdays: Don't Mess With Old Folk

This week, my teasers come from Silver on the Tree, by Susan Cooper. In this snippet, Will Stanton is trying to explain to his older brother Stephen about himself and his mission to save the world from the forces of the Dark:

"We are the Old Ones," Will said, strong and self-confident now. "There is a great circle of us, all over the world and beyond the world, from all places and all corners of time." [p. 13]

And he's not talking about us Baby Boomers!

I read the first four books in Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence last year, for the Once Upon a Time II Challenge, and really enjoyed them. So I'm very much looking forward to finishing up the series with this final book, which I'm reading for this year's OUT/III Challenge. As the publishers explain, the six main characters "fight fear and death in the darkly brooding Welsh hills, in a quest through time and space that touches the most ancient myths of the British Isles." And maybe it's because of my Welsh blood or something, but that sounds to me like the finest of tales.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB17 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!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Tony Time

OK, I'm not going to try to blog the Tonys or anything. But I am watching. And Angela Lansbury just won the award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play. I'm so happy about that. I was pulling for Angela Lansbury. And she won for playing Madame Arcati in "Blithe Spirit," which makes me happy, too. I always wanted to play that role. Came close in high school, but got beat out by a girl named Peggy Jacobs who was a grade ahead of me and much weirder than I was, so a natural for the part. I played Ruth, a thankless task. Had to paint my entire body blue for the ghost scenes. Ah, the roar of the greasepaint!

OK, that's enough of that.

Oh, Liza Minnelli just won for something! That makes me happy, too. For some inexplicable reason.

Anyway, back to the show.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Friday Finds: 5 June 2009

Friday Finds is a weekly event hosted by mizb17 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.

Just two new finds this week. I think I may have first read about the Aldridge book in last week's New York Times Book Review. Not sure where I heard about the Waters.

The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes: The Art of Alan Aldridge. This one really takes me back. Alan Aldridge's book, The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics was a favorite of mine back in the day. I remember spending hour upon hour just pouring over the artwork, picking out all the references. Great meditation material. Better than drugs.

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. A novel of psychological suspense. I've already got one of her other novels (Affinity) on my TBR list, and this one looks good, too.

Completed Challenge: Book Awards II

I've been putting off writing a wrap-up post for the Book Awards II Challenge, because I hadn't written reviews for all the books I read for the challenge. Well, I'm still working on that. But since the challenge ended June 1, I thought I should go ahead and say "that's that," even though I'll still be adding reviews over the next week or so.

I didn't have a set list when I began the challenge (see my original post); and I ended up reading several books that I hadn't thought about when I started out. Here's a list of what I read, with links to the reviews:

The Age of Innocence. Edith Wharton (Pulitzer Prize, 1921)
The Great Victorian Collection. Brian Moore (Governor General's Award, 1975)
Hotel du Lac. Anita Brookner (Man-Booker Prize, 1984)
The Master. Colm Tóibín (IMPAC Dublin Award, 2006)
The Way Through the Woods. Colin Dexter (Gold Dagger Award, 1992)
The Optimist's Daughter. Eudora Welty (Pulitzer Prize, 1973)
Ellen Foster. Kaye Gibbons (Sue Kaufman Prize, American Academy & Institute of Arts & Letters, 1988)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Robert C. O'Brien (Newbery Medal, 1972)
To Dance with the White Dog. Terry Kay (Outstanding Author of the Year, Southeastern Library Association, 1991)
Moon Tiger. Penelope Lively (Man-Booker Prize, 1987)

I'm a little reluctant to pick a "best book" from those – I enjoyed all of them very much. But The Age of Innocence is a book I'd been intending to read for many years, and it's turned out to be one of my all-time favorites – one I know I'll return to in the future.

This was a fun challenge – and one of my favorites. I want to thank Michelle at 1 More Chapter for hosting, and the many other participants for all those inspiring reviews. Now I just have to decide if I've got the nerve to sign up for Book Awards III.

Booking Through Thursday: Sticky

OK, first of all, I have to say I really don't like this sort of question. I prefer the kind you can ruminate on a bit. But this week's BTT topic asks us to do some quick thinking:
This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.
And I guess if I'm going to play the game, I should follow the rules. So here are fifteen books that will "stick with me" forever. They're not necessarily my fifteen favorite books – just fifteen that made a significant impression. Many of them are books I read as a child – those early reading experiences are always some of the most enduring, I guess. Most of them I've read more than once. Oh, and I've listed them in alphabetical order – I couldn't possibly rank them in any other way.
  • Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Lewis Carroll (I can't separate these two)
  • Brave New World. Aldous Huxley
  • The Catcher in the Rye. J.D. Salinger
  • The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody. Will Cuppy
  • Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain
  • Little Women. Louisa May Alcott
  • Lonesome Dove. Larry McMurtry
  • Orlando. Virginia Woolf
  • Please Don't Eat the Daisies. Jean Kerr
  • Rebecca. Daphne DuMaurier
  • The Ship That Flew. Hilda Lewis
  • Some Tame Gazelle. Barbara Pym
  • Tales of Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Turn of the Screw. Henry James
  • Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte
Given another fifteen minutes, I could come up with fifteen more. In fact, I have a whole blog post about many of the books that will "always stick" with me – my "top ten" list. Since I wrote it a couple of years ago, I've read several more books that could be added to the list. Maybe it's time for the revised edition.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Tuesday Thingers: Twittering (A Day Late)

Yes, I know it's not Tuesday anymore. Well, not around here anyway. So I guess I'm a Wednesday Thinger this week. And the topic was:

Do you Tweet? If so, what do you like best about Twitter? What do you like the least? Do you have any Twitter applications or extras that you use frequently (TweetDeck, TwitterFeed, etc)? Do you belong to any of the Twitter groups on LT?

Actually, I don't tweet. I do have a Twitter account, but I don't tweet. I've got a lot of people and publishers that I'm following, but I don't tweet. Every now and then, I'll take a look at my Twitter account just to see what's going on, but I think I've only posted about three or four tweets in the whole time I've been there.

I think Twitter is a really interesting social phenomenon. But it just makes me feel inadequate and inactive. So many people doing so many interesting things, and also having the time and skill to tweet about it at the same time!

I sort of stopped all my Twitter / Facebook / MySpace activity when I realized I was reduced to posting things like "Joy is going to take a nap now." If you can't come up with anything more interesting than that, you really don't need to be broadcasting updates all over the internet.

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.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays: Dear Old Mom

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB17 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!

This week I thought I'd offer up a short snippet from the book I just finished reading – Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger. This is the book's narrator, Claudia, talking about her mother (Gordon is her brother):
She had no opinions and she loved no one, was merely fond of a few people, including I suppose Gordon and myself. She acquired a Highland terrier which had been trained to roll over on its back at the command 'Die for your country!'; apparently Mother did not find this disturbing. [p. 21]
Okey dokey. Good book, although Claudia herself is a little hard to take at times. I'm working on a review which I hope to get posted later today, after I've done some blog hopping to read all those other teasers!

Monday, June 01, 2009

It's Monday! What Are You Reading This Week?

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 reading, and the books to finish this week."

Last week, I finished four books:
This week, I'll be starting two books for the various reading challenges I'm involved in:
And I'm still making my way through a couple I started earlier this month:
All of my current reads are fairly long books, so I expect to be sticking with them for a while. Also have a few more reviews I need to write in order to wrap-up the Book Awards II Challenge which ends today. That should be enough to keep me busy and out of mischief all week, wouldn't you think?