Thursday, April 29, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Restrictions

This week, BTT has come up with this truly devilish predicament:
God* comes to you and tells you that, from this day forward, you may only read ONE type of book–one genre–period, but you get to choose what it is. Classics, Science-Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Cookbooks, History, Business … you can choose, but you only get ONE.

What genre do you pick, and why?

*Whether you believe in God or not, pretend for the purposes of this discussion that He is real.
That's easy. No god I could ever believe in would try to enforce such horrendous restrictions.

My god believes variety is the spice of life. My god believes in live and let live. And my god believes all genres and literary devices are created equal.

Even those zombies and vampires.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A-Z Wednesday: "L"

A-Z Wednesday is hosted by Vicki at Reading At The Beach. To join in, just visit her blog for the guidelines and leave your link in a comment.

This week's letter is "L." So I went to my shelves, and this is what I pulled out.

Lying Awake
Written by Mark Salzman
First published 2000

Description from Good Reads:
Sister John's cloistered life of peace and prayer has been electrified by ever more frequent visions of God's radiance, leading her toward a deep religious ecstasy. Her life and writings have become examples of devotion. Yet her visions are accompanied by shattering headaches that compel Sister John to seek medical help. When her doctor tells her an illness may be responsible for her gift, Sister John faces a wrenching choice: to risk her intimate glimpses of the divine in favor of a cure, or to continue her visions with the knowledge that they might be false-and might even cost her her life.
The book's page at

And another cover (possibly the British edition?).

I read this gorgeous little novel a few years back and, even though I'm not really terribly religious, I absolutely fell in love with the book and Sister John. The book is beautifully written, and I honestly couldn't put it down until I'd finished. I've always intended to try something else by Mark Salzman, and thanks to A-Z Wednesday, I've given myself a good reminder now.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: Angels of Destruction

As usual, I've got several books going at the moment, so it took me a little while to make up my mind about which one to use for a teaser. Decided on Keith Donohue's Angels of Destruction – one of the ARCs I never managed to read last year (but thanks to the ARC Reading Challenge, I'm finally getting around to all those unread advance copies that were glaring at me from their shelves, making me feel so guilty).

I'm a few pages away from this snippet, so I'm not really sure exactly what's going on. But I know the two people involved are Norah, a mysterious young orphan, and her classmate Sean. And Norah has just been trying to persuade Sean to share her cigarette. From p.35:
"I know lots of things," she said, and catching the interest in his eyes, she shrieked and tore off through the woods, her shoes skating across the snow and bare earth, and he did not catch up to her until they reached the back fence of Mrs. Quinn's yard. At a blind corner, they nearly crashed, and as he caught himself short by grabbing her shoulders, Norah screamed at the touch and laughed and screamed again, and he could see stars glistening at the back of her throat.
Okey-dokey. Apparently the book combines elements of fantasy and reality in telling its tale, but even so, I'm wondering about those stars. . . .

How about you? Got a great teaser from a book you're reading right now? Want to play along? Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link.

Yes, it really is Monday, isn't it? Don't know why I always have such a hard time getting started after the weekend, but I'm running behind today as usual.

In the last couple of weeks I've been doing pretty well with my reading, although I'm still lagging on review writing (what else is new?). Here's what's up lately:
  • Finished last week:
    An American Type, by Henry Roth. Review to come next month (book is due out in June).
    A River in the Sky, by Elizabeth Peters
    Live To Tell, by Lisa Gardner. Review to come later (book is due out this summer).

  • Reviews posted recently:
    A River in the Sky, by Elizabeth Peters
    The Swimming Pool, by Holly LeCraw

  • Reading this week:
    The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton
    The Map of True Places, by Brunonia Barry

  • Next up:
    The Sculptor, by Gregory Funaro (Won this in a Good Reads giveaway. Looks interesting.)

  • In the works:
    Still at least half a dozen or so reviews to be finished up and posted. (Must do better!)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Long Time No See

It's been a really long time since I checked in on the Sunday Salon. We're usually pretty busy around here on Sunday, and that doesn't leave me much time for blogging or blog reading. But today we've rescheduled all our errands and other business so that the hubby can stay home and spend the entire day watching the NBA playoffs. Well, maybe not the entire day – it'll just seem like the entire day. (Just kidding – I'll probably be watching, too.) But that does leave me with a little extra blogging/reading time, so I decided to see what's going on in TSS country.

Also time to do a little stock-taking. So far in 2010 I've read 17 books (see my list here). I know that doesn't sound like a lot to all you super readers out there who can get through two or three books a day. But for a slowpoke such as moi, that's doing pretty darn good – I'm averaging about a book a week, which should make it possible for me to reach my fifty book goal by the end of the year, or get very close.

Last week, I actually finished two books. A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters is the most recent addition (published this month, I believe) to her Amelia Peabody series, and a great adventure tale. I enjoyed it a lot even though I hadn't read any of the earlier books. Also finished reading An American Type, Henry Roth's posthumous novel due out in June. I received my ARC through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program, and I've put up a short review at LT; but I'll probably hold off a while on posting a blog review, until a little closer to the book's publication date.

If all goes well, I should be able to finish one of my current books today. I've been reading an ARC of Lisa Gardner's new D.D. Warren mystery, Live To Tell, and I've only got a few chapters to go. It's another one that's due out this summer, so I might hold off on that review, too. For now I'll just say it's packed with surprises, and I'm loving it.

The other book I've got going right now is The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. One of the groups I follow at Good Reads selected it as one of their April group reads, and I thought I'd join in. It's something of a chunkster, though, and I'm only about a third of the way in – so I might have to sit myself down and just blast through it this week. Wouldn't mind doing that because (so far) it's a great story!

So, that's where I'm at in the land of lit-ra-chure. Now I'm off to see what everyone else is occupying themselves with today. Hope we all have a great Sunday, and get lots of reading done!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Earth Day

This week Booking Through Thursday is all about Earth Day:
It’s Earth Day … what are you reading? Are your reading habits changing for the sake of the environment? What are you doing for the sake of the planet today?

It is, indeed, Earth Day today. Who would have thought, back in those ancient days of 1970, that the "hippie holiday" would turn into such a mainstream event and hang around for so long? Certainly not me. But then, I never expected bell-bottom pants to come back, either.

So. What am I reading? Well, nothing Earth Day related. Although one of my current reads does have a title that sounds like it could have an ecological theme. But somehow, I don't believe The Forgotten Garden (by Kate Morton) has anything to do with saving the planet. The other book I've got going at the moment is an ARC of Live To Tell, by Lisa Gardner; and the only earthy thing about it is the language of its chief protagonist, Detective D.D. Warren.

I don't think my feelings about the environment really have much influence on my reading habits. I have acquired an iPad recently, so I suppose I'll probably be reading more e-books which some think might save a few trees. However, that's a controversial subject that I don't want to get into right now (I know others disagree about the environmental impact of all these electronic devices).

And as for what I'm doing for the planet today – well, not much, I guess. Oh, I know – I'm using my new Brita water filtering pitcher which has cut way down on the amount of plastic water bottles we've used lately. But I'm not planting any trees or anything. In fact, given the horrendous pollen count we've got around here right now, I probably won't even be going outside!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A-Z Wednesday: "K"

A-Z Wednesday is hosted by Vicki at Reading At The Beach. To join in, just visit her blog for the guidelines and leave your link in a comment.

This week's letter is "K." So I went to my shelves, and this is what I pulled out.

Written by Anya Seton
First published 1954

Description from the publisher:
This classic romance novel tells the true story of the love affair that changed history – that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets – Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II – who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king's son, falls passionately in love with the already married Katherine. Their well-documented affair and love persist through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. This epic novel of conflict, cruelty, and untamable love has become a classic since its first publication in 1954.
The book's page at

The Wikipedia article about the book.

The original cover from 1954:

And the cover of a more recent edition:

This is another book I haven't read yet, although I've skimmed through sections of it. Katherine (de Roet) Swynford is supposed to be an ancestress of mine, so I've always been interested in her, and the children she had with John of Gaunt. Those Plantagenets were so colorful, but so hard to keep track of!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: A River in the Sky

Written by Elizabeth Peters
William Morrow, 2010; 320 pages

This review refers to an uncorrected proof of the book, provided free of charge by the publisher, through Good Reads' First Reads Program.

Elizabeth Peters’ latest entry (no. 19!) in her long-running series of novels centered around Victorian female archaeologist Amelia Peabody opens in August 1910. The intrepid Peabody and her husband Emerson are at home in England, having put their Egyptian adventures behind them for the moment. But any dreams they may have of spending some tranquil summer days in their rose garden in Kent soon evaporate when the two are recruited (by the War Office and Buckingham Palace) for some hush-hush derring-do abroad. Not Egypt this time, but Palestine. Another (would-be) archaeologist, Major George Morley, claims to be heading for Jerusalem to search for the legendary Ark of the Covenant. But the Germans are becoming more active in that ancient region, and the British government is convinced Morley is a German agent working for the Kaiser to stir things up in the area. Though he doubts Morley could be a spy, Emerson agrees to help, if only to prevent the destruction that an unprofessional excavation might cause. So Emerson, Amelia, and entourage are off to the Holy Land.

At the same time, in a parallel story, Amelia’s son Ramses is having his own adventures on a dig in Samaria, north of Jerusalem – also involving those nasty German spies. And before he can meet up with his parents at their desert encampment and deliver the important information he’s discovered, he runs into some serious trouble involving a lovely female archaeologist who might or might not be working for the enemy.

The two story lines come together in an exciting conclusion, with lots of unexpected twists, thrilling near-disasters, and generous helpings of humor. I was very eager to read this one, as I'd heard great things about the series. Since I'd never read any of the earlier books, I really didn't have any expectations, although I had thought there would be more of a whodunit-type mystery involved. But the book is actually an adventure story, along the lines of H. Rider Haggard’s or Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales – not my favorite genre, but I enjoyed it just the same.

I've noticed that some readers have complained that Peters spends too much time introducing her characters and explaining the various relationships. And I admit that did slow things down a bit, but as a newcomer to the books I actually appreciated all that exposition. I’m still not completely sure how Ramses and Nefret and several other characters fit into the group, but then I have eighteen earlier installments to catch up with. And that confusion didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this latest book.

My one real criticism is that the novel jumped back and forth between the two main story lines so quickly and so often – after the first couple of chapters I found that really annoying, and wished we could just stay with one plot line for a while. I was tempted to take out a pair of scissors and do a little rearranging of my own. All things considered, though, I thought it was a good, fast, entertaining read. Definitely recommended.

Teaser Tuesdays: A River in the Sky

This week, my teaser lines come from Elizabeth Peters' A River in the Sky. It's the latest (no. 19!) in her series of adventure novels about the Victorian archaeologist Amelia Peabody. This snippet is from page 214. The narrator is Amelia herself, but she's telling us how her husband Emerson (also an archaeologist) handles the crowd of men who have gathered round his precious dig in Palestine. If they pass beyond the ropes he's put up, he says:
". . . I will know and my curse will fall upon you. Your eyes will go dark and your ears will wither and fall off, and so will your --"
It was this last threat – which propriety prevents me from recording – that carried the greatest conviction.
Emerson's escapades in Egypt have earned him the title "Father of Curses," and apparently his reputation has preceded him!

I read an ARC of this (which is out this month, I believe), without having read any of the previous books in the series, so I didn't really know what to expect and came away having enjoyed it quite a lot (see my review).

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Brief Review: The Griffin and Sabine Trilogy

Griffin & Sabine - An Extraordinary Correspondence (1991)
Sabine's Notebook: In Which The Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Continues (1992)
The Golden Mean: In Which The Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Concludes (1993)

Written and illustrated by Nick Bantock
Published by Chronicle Books

Somehow I managed to avoid reading any of Nick Bantock's Griffin & Sabine books back in the '90s when they were all the rage. So when the Art History Reading Challenge came along, I decided to remedy that situation. The books that make up the first trilogy are just about 50 pages each; so, together, they form something of a novella-length story.

In the first book, London artist Griffin Moss receives his first missive from Sabine Strohem – a note complimenting him on a decision he has made to alter one of the handmade postcards he designs. This mystifies Griffin, as he works alone and never discusses his design process with anyone. He has never met or even heard of Sabine before; but he responds, begging her to tell him how she knows about his changes to his original design. When Sabine replies, she tells him "I share your sight," and explains that in her mind she can see his work as he creates it, even though she lives many miles from him – in another country, in fact. And so their correspondence (which truly is, as the subtitle claims, extraordinary) begins, and gradually becomes ever more intimate, romantic, and astounding.

Griffin fantasizes about Sabine, and is by turns, powerfully obsessed and repelled by their strange situation. Over the course of this and the next two books, the relationship grows and the two make plans to meet. They also face the problem of a sinister intruder who wants to study their "psychic" connection.

These books were a joy to read. There are wonderful illustrations on every page, and the story unfolds as the reader examines the cards and letters that pass between the two artists (many of the letters are in actual envelopes). Their individual personalities and outlooks are exposed through their correspondence and their very different artistic styles – Griffin's in his postcards, and Sabine's in the postage stamps she designs for her South Pacific island home, and the whimsical doodles she includes on each of her cards and letters. And all through the series runs the question of just how much is real and how much exists only in Griffin's imagination. Or in Sabine's.

The trilogy ends with one final, rather enigmatic postcard – which leaves an obvious opening for further adventures in the future. And I was very excited to find that there is, indeed, yet another volume in the series – The Gryphon: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Is Rediscovered. Can't wait to get my hands on that next installment!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A-Z Wednesday: "J"

A-Z Wednesday is hosted by Vicki at Reading At The Beach. To join in, just visit her blog for the guidelines and leave your link in a comment.

This week's letter is "J." So I went to my shelves, and this is what I pulled out.

Written by Anne Fortier
Published 2010

Description from the publisher:
Juliet, an ambitious, utterly engaging historical novel on the scale of The Thirteenth Tale and The Birth of Venus, follows a young woman who discovers that her family's origins reach all the way back to literature's greatest star-crossed lovers.

When Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy, she is told it will lead her to an old family treasure. Soon she is launched on a winding and perilous journey into the history of her ancestor Giulietta, whose legendary love for a young man named Romeo rocked the foundations of medieval Siena. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in Shakespeare's unforgettable blood feud, she begins to realize that the notorious curse - "A plague on both your houses!" - is still at work, and that she is the next target. It seems that the only one who can save Julie from her fate is Romeo - but where is he?
See the book's page at Good Reads.

And the covers of a couple of other editions (the German and Dutch, I believe):

I just received an ARC of this one, and haven't started it yet. Apparently it's been causing quite a stir in the publishing world, so I'm eager to get to it. But it's gonna have to wait until I finish a couple of other books first.

Teaser Tuesdays: A Sweet Beginning

Well, right now the books I'm reading are all advance reading copies of books not due to be published for a few months. And I always feel a little strange about quoting those. So my teasers this week are from another book, one I haven't actually started yet, Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It's a library book, so I need to get it started soon or return it. (And that reminds me: Don't forget that this is National Library Week.)

I've heard great things about this book. And since I haven't actually started it yet, I thought I'd just use the opening lines of Chapter One:
It was as black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door.
Quite an opening, hmmmm? So what'll it be? Keep on reading? Or return to the library and get back to those ARCs?

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review: The Swimming Pool

Written by Holly LeCraw
Doubleday, 2010; 320 pages

This review refers to an advance reading copy of the book provided free of charge by the publisher.

Past actions have powerful effects on present day lives in Holly LeCraw’s debut novel, The Swimming Pool.

Seven years ago, Cecil McClatchey and Italian-born Marcella Atkinson fell in love and had an affair while each was married to someone else. The romance was short-lived, but on the night it ended, Cecil’s wife was found murdered in their home. The murderer was never caught, and Cecil, briefly an uncharged suspect in his wife’s death, also died soon afterward, leaving Marcella and his two children to grieve and wonder.

All these years later, Marcella is now divorced from her husband Anthony – living alone and on shaky terms with her now teenaged daughter Toni. As summer approaches, she learns that Cecil’s grown children Jed and Callie have returned (with Callie’s husband Billy) to the family vacation home in Cape Cod for the first time in years – only a short distance from Marcella’s place in Connecticut. Coincidentally, Toni has taken a summer job helping care for Callie’s young son and newborn daughter. Marcella is disturbed by this news, but sees no way to remedy the situation without telling her daughter about the past she's trying to keep hidden.

Then one day Jed finds a woman’s swimsuit folded away in a box and stored in a closet – something he senses really doesn’t belong there. Although he doesn’t realize it at first, the suit is a connection to his father’s affair and to Marcella. Slowly though, he begins to piece the story together and decides to make contact with Marcella again. And when he and Marcella begin their own passionate affair, the old betrayals and secrets that are revealed produce intense and life-changing repercussions for both families.

I enjoyed this book much more than I expected to at first. However, I must say I believe the final third of the novel is much stronger and more interesting than the first two-thirds that lead up to it. That could just be because the last part of the book concentrates a bit more on the "mystery" of Betsy McClatchey's murder. If LeCraw could have tightened up that first part, the book would have been a truly extraordinary work – she's obviously a very gifted writer.

I found some of the characters a little hard to believe in, and some of their choices were also not easy to accept. In fact, "implausible" is a word that kept occurring to me over and over as I read the book. Do people really behave this way in the real world? The story had a very soap opera feel to it, and while it kept me coming back for another installment, it didn't have a real ring of truth. I've noticed other reviewers have praised LeCraw's depiction of post-partum depression (or whatever it's called now) as very realistic and sympathetic – and while I'm certainly no expert, I did think that part of the book (Callie and her struggle with the disorder) was very well done.

In the end, I enjoyed the book and even though I didn't love it, I still thought it was a good read, and I'd definitely recommend it to others. But I'm looking forward to reading more polished work by LeCraw in the future.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Plotting

This week Booking Through Thursday asks what seems like a simple question:
"Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness? Which would you rather read?"

And right at first I was tempted just to say plots. Period.

But when I got to thinking about it, I realized that while I really do prefer books with strong plots, lots of action and dialogue, I have been known to enjoy some "stream of consciousness" type of writing as well (I'm thinking especially of works by Virginia Woolf, and some of J.D. Salinger's writings). So I guess it all depends on the writer and how he/she handles a particular style.

Looks like my answer is both.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A-Z Wednesday: "I"

A-Z Wednesday is hosted by Vicki at Reading At The Beach. To join in, just visit her blog for the guidelines and leave your link in a comment.

This week's letter is "I." So I went to my shelves, and this is what I pulled out.

In a Summer Season
Written by Elizabeth Taylor
Published 1961

No, not that Elizabeth Taylor!

Description from
Kate Heron is a wealthy, charming widow who marries, much to the disapproval of friends and neighbours, a man ten years her junior: the attractive, feckless Dermot. Then comes the return of Kate's old friend Charles - intelligent, kind and now widowed, with his beautiful young daughter. Kate watches happily as their two families are drawn together, finding his presence reassuringly familiar, but slowly she becomes aware of subtle undercurrents that begin to disturb the calm surface of their friendship. Before long, even she cannot ignore the gathering storm...
The Wikipedia article on Elizabeth Taylor, the novelist (not the movie star).

An appreciation of Taylor and her work, by Philip Hensher in the Telegraph.

A couple of different covers:

And a photo of the author:

(Elizabeth Taylor, 1912-1975)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: The Forgotten Garden

This week I'm reading a couple of ARCs, and really don't feel good about quoting from books that haven't actually been published yet. So my teaser lines come from a book I'm thinking about reading. One of the groups I follow at Good Reads has chosen Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden as their group read in April, and since I already had it on my TBR list, it's tempting to join in. However, the book is over 500 hundred pages long, in the paperback edition. So I'm still trying to decide if I should take the plunge right now.

Since I haven't actually started reading yet, I'm not really certain exactly what's going on here, or who the people are, or how they relate to the story. But this snippet comes very early on, from page 11:
Then he led her to sit by him on a fallen gum trunk, smooth and white, and he leaned to whisper in her ear. Transferred the secret he and her mother had kept for seventeen years. . . . Watched as the bottom fell out of her world and the person she had been vanished in an instant.
So, should I throw caution to the wind and keep reading, or what?

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

Monday, April 05, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link.

Haven't been doing much blogging lately. Well, I've been reading other people's blogs, but haven't been working on my own very often. Don't know why. Maybe it's spring fever. Maybe it's too much thinking about all that spring cleaning I should be doing. But for whatever reason, I've been neglecting this blog for the last week or so. Must try to do better. However, I have been getting a little book reading done.
  • Finished last week:
    A Stitch in Time, by Monica Ferris.
    A Fair Maiden, by Joyce Carol Oates

  • Reviews posted last week:
    Contact, by Carl Sagan. Just one. I've got several others started. Finishing them up is at the top of my "to do" list this week.

  • Reading this week:
    The Swimming Pool, by Holly LeCraw
    Live to Tell, by Lisa Gardner

  • Next up:
    A River in the Sky, by Elizabeth Peabody
    An American Type, by Henry Roth. This is an Early Reviewer book from Library Thing, and hasn't actually arrived yet, but the publisher says it's on its way. If and when it shows up, I'll be dropping everything else to get it read and reviewed (don't want to anger the Almighty Algorithm).

  • In the works:
    At least half a dozen reviews to be finished, and a couple more to be started. (So embarrassing!)