Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 book 275 (!!!!!!)

Lisa Lutz's The Curse of the Spellmans
The second Spellman book has the least-awesome mystery to reread, but some of the best character moments in the series.

Yay, I read 275 books this year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 book 274

Yeah, I'm gonna hit 275, no problem.

Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files
I've read this book at least once this year already, but I've been out of library books for a month and sometimes you just need a comfort read. This mystery, about a family of hilarious PIs, never disappoints. The fourth one comes out this spring--I've heard it's the last one, which kind of sucks since I love this series, but gives me hope that a certain romantic pairing will finally come to pass!

2009 book 273

Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
One of my favorite books of 2009, his mystery--about an 11-year-old girl chemist who tries to solve a murder that took place in her garden--didn't disappoint on rereading.

I'm trying to hit 275 by the end of the year--so, back to reading!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009 book 272

Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects
This was one of my favorite books of 2006--it totally blew my mind, in part b/c I was expecting something frothy from Flynn, formerly a tv reviewer at EW, and it was so completely dark and unexpected, about a very troubled woman who returns to her hometown to try and write an article about a serial killer attacking young girls. Anyway, it definitely holds up to rereading, though was even darker and crazier than I remembered.

2009 book 271

E. Nesbit's The House of Arden
The nice thing about Nesbit's books is that they always feel like a modern book written to be old-fashioned, whcih I guess speaks to a certain timelessness to her stories. In this one, a brother and sister inherit a castle and hunt for treasure to try and maintain it, with the help of a magical mole-thing and some poetry. Nesbit's humor prevails and the children are very likable, though I did think there were some unanswered questions--I wonder if there's a sequel?

Friday, December 25, 2009

2009 books 269 and 270

Rick Riordan's The Battle of the Labyrinth and The Last Olympian
The last two Percy Jackson books have lots of exciting battles and adventures as the children of various Greek gods try to save Olympus from evil forces. The series in general is a little derivative of Harry Potter--or maybe of all books featuring magical children fighting the forces of evil--but is definitely enjoyable. I mean, I read all five in a day and a half, so clearly I liked them. :)

2009 book 268

Rick Riordan's The Titan's Curse
Ooh yay, the third Percy Jackson book heavily featured Artemis, my favorite goddess! These books rock.

2009 book 267

Rick Riordan's The Sea of Monsters
This series really is a lot of fun! Likable characters going on adventures, an upcoming epic battle between good and evil, lots of twists and turns . . . I even busted out my D'aulaire's (one of my all-time favorite books--a gift from my mom when I was recovering from pneumonia in 5th grade) a couple times to look up character backstories. I wish these books had been around when I was a kid who was totally into Greek mythology, but I'm totally enjoying them now.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

2009 book 266

Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief
I've been hearing good things about the Percy Jackson series for a while, and don't know why I waited so long to check it out--I mean, you'd think the story of a boy who discovers his father is one of the Greek Gods and has to go to special god-kid summer camp and questing and whatnot would be immediately appealing. And the story was really satisfying--very Harry Potter-esque. It was a little frustrating that some of the major plot points were so easy to guess in advance, but on the whole this book was very enjoyable and I'm definitely going to read the next one in the series. This is perfect bored-on-Christmas-and-needing-some-good-fun reading!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 book 265

Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
This was a SERIOUSLY AWESOME end to Larsson's trilogy--way more action-packed than the first two, in a good way! I don't want to say too much about it since it doesn't come out till late May in the US, though I will say it was TOTALLY worth ordering from! A.

I had actually planned on reading this over Christmas Eve/Christmas, but I couldn't wait to start it and then couldn't wait to find out what happened . . . now I'm at a bit of a loss for entertainment on those days. Worth it though!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009 book 264

Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire
Larsson is truly the master of the slow build, as the murders of two writers working on an expose of Sweden's sex trade leads to the involvement of all of the titular girl's friends and enemies, as well as the police, and it all comes to a crazy and scary head. And having read this one right after the first one, and seeing all the hints that lead to the craziness in this one, it felt like a much stronger story than last time I read it. I can't wait to read the third one! Which luckily is sitting on my couch right now. Still don't know why they released it months ago in England and not here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2009 book 263

Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
It's a mark of what a good writer Larsson is that, even though I remembered how this mystery turns out, I was still really engaged and anxious while reading (though I did forget that bad things happen to a cute animal, which is odd since it's basically the only thing I wrote about when I first read it).

Friday, December 18, 2009

2009 book 262

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women
Reading this article the other day made me want to reread Little Women, whcih actually was one of the first books I got for my Kindle and was all ready to go. Now, I hadn't read it in years, and most of what I remembered came from the movie (the June Allyson/Janet Leigh/Elizabeth Taylor version, which is far superior to the Katherine Hepburn version), so it was nice to go back and find all the little details I'd forgotten. But then it went on and on and I was convinced I'd somehow started in on Little Men without realizing--no, it's just way longer than I remembered (I have the three books in one Kindle thing--and Little Women is 47 percent of it). I do think it's interesting what a non-entity Mr March is even after he comes back from war, especially considering the other great male characters Alcott wrote--I wonder if she didn't feel up to fictionalizing her father?

links, links, and more links

It's been a while since I did a link round-up:

Gift ideas for cupcake lovers! I'll take any and all of these. ;)

I found this Guardian article on Harry Potter's nude scenes in the final movie to be weird--b/c both of those scenes are in the book! (Though at King's Cross, clothes appear for him to put on.) (Oh, and I just saw that the article was updated to say what I just said, so never mind.)

Speaking of Harry Potter, I sooo want to hear the audiobooks as narrated by Stephen Fry.

Lisa Loeb is launching an eyewear line!

And finally, here's an interview with the little girl who sings in Love Actually (and who is also the voice of one of my favorite cartoon characters. Yes, I watch cartoons. So?).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

favorite books of 2009

I've never put up a best of the year list this early--I always feel like it cheats the books I may read right up till the end of the year. But this month I've mainly been rereading old favorites and my library hold list is really light, so the chances that I'll read something new and completely amazing in the next two weeks is fairly slim (and if so, I'll just have to remember to add it to 2010's list). With that said, 2009 was a pretty great year (for books, and in general: my brother got married, I got new teeth, xxmerge was incredible, and I crushed my goal of 250 books and still have time to crush it more), and since I read so many books, I have a top 20 and not a top 10. In alphabetical order by author:

Emily Arsenault's The Broken Teaglass
Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire
Gillian Flynn's Dark Places
James Fuerst's Huge
Joshua Gaylord's Hummingbirds
Lauren Grodstein's A Friend of the Family
Lisa Lutz's Revenge of the Spellmans
Dara Horn's All Other Nights
Marjorie Kernan's The Ballad of West Tenth Street
Sarah Hall's How to Paint a Dead Man
Kent Meyer's Twisted Tree
Christian Moerk's Darling Jim
Kate Morton's The House at Riverton
Yoko Ogawa's The Housekeeper and the Professor
Sara Shepard's The Visibles
Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me
Colm Toibin's Brooklyn
Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You

Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 book 261

Francisco X. Stork's Marcelo in the Real World
When a boy on the autism spectrum is forced by his father to work in a law firm mailroom as a summer job so he can learn about "the real world", the boy must learn to come out of his shell and to deal with issues of moral complexity after finding a picture of an injured girl involved with a lawsuit. This book was a fairly good read, but the villain was way too cartoonish and most of the plot was overly predictable. B.

2009 book 260

Alexander McCall Smith's The Full Cupboard of Life
These are pleasant reads, but sometimes I want to read something where, you know, something happens! (And actually, something does happen in this one, it just takes a while.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Originally uploaded by wordnerdy
Happy Hanukkah!

2009 books 258 and 259

Diana Wynne Jones' House of Many Ways
The third Howl's Moving Castle book is funnier than the first two, full of likable characters and crazy magic.

Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire
Seriously, why isn't this book on Kindle when Hunger Games is? LAME. Anyway, the third one comes out August 24th, and I can't wait! I loved this book, but it actually felt stronger on this reread, and less middle-chapter-of-a-trilogy-ish.

Friday, December 11, 2009

2009 book 257

Diana Wynne Jones' Castle in the Sky
The companion/sequel to Howl's Moving Castle is a takeoff of Arabian Nights-type tales; it's something of a slow starter but gets pretty entertaining halfway through.

2009 book 256

Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle
Cold, cold days are for curling up under an afghan and rereading a favorite funny take on fairy tales where a girl gets to (mostly) save the day (though of course things go awry). I still wish the movie had been more accurate to the plot.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2009 book 255

Alexander McCall Smith's Kalahari Typing School for Men
Another pleasant read in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. (Sorry, there really isn't anything else to say about it!)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Originally uploaded by wordnerdy
My friend Kate got me some pretty flowers b/c she knows I love blue things. They smell so nice!

2009 book 254

Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games
Briefly, b/c the Top Chef finale is on: it was interesting to reread this in light of Catching fire--lots of hints are there if you know to look!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

2009 book 253

Penelope Lively's Family Album
I've actually never read any of Lively's many earlier novels, despite general acclaim and awards, but I may have to check them out, since this was such an enjoyable read. Six adult siblings flash back on their childhood with their eccentric family and its big secret (which is fairly easy to guess, but--spoiler alert!--maybe only b/c I read that recent AS Byatt novel). A-/B+.

Monday, December 07, 2009

2009 book 252

Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma
The third book in this series about a band of gifted children and their kindly leader finds them once again battling their leader's evil twin brother. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though was disconcerted to find a vaguely final ending--is this the last book in the series? I'd be disappointed if that was the case--I really like these characters and the sly writing.

2009 book 251

Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses
Walls' followup to her memoir Glass Castle, a novel about her grandmother's life, has made a bunch of best-of-the-year lists, and I'm not entirely sure why. It's readable enough, but not particularly interesting. (Of course, I didn't like Glass Castle much either, since it was sooooo depressing.)

Friday, December 04, 2009

2009 book 250

Penelope Farmer's Charlotte Sometimes
Although I couldn't find the books I was looking for when I was home for Thanksgiving, I did grab this one, which I loved when I was younger and hadn't read in years. It's an interesting look at identity, about a girl who starts boarding school only to find herself swapping places with another girl from 1918 in the nights. She gets stuck in the past, playing the part of the other girl, due to WWI, and she and her counterpart's sister have to find a way to switch them back. (I think I like books about inadvertent time travelers mistaken for people from the past--cf The Devil's Arithmetic--are there others?) I was looking up Farmer online--this is apparently one of three books about this character, but I've never read the others and they're not in print--and discovered that this is the revised edition from the 80s and is missing a chunk of the ending. Man, the 80s were so lame! I really want to read the real version now. Also, though I've never talked to anyone else who read this, apparently it inspired a song by the Cure and the name of some other band.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

2009 books 248 and 249

I said I was going to read these two together, and I did:

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time
This officially counts as my first Shelf Discovery Challenge book--ok, it wasn't on my initial list, but you have to make do when you can't find classics like A Stranger with my Face. And this book is always an entertaining read--what bespectabled bookworm doesn't dream of the day that a Calvin will notice she has dreamboat eyes? Plus all the magical space travel, and fighting of evil, and sweet sibling relationships, and Aunt Beast. I never much liked the sequel (don't they, like, go into cells and repair mitochondrions or something? Is that where George Lucas came up with his crappy definition of the Force for the prequels?) but do remember enjoying the one where a unicorn helps Charles Wallace go back in time to discover Calvin's ancestry and save the world. Ah, YA lit.

Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me
There's always a worry that, when you reread a book you remember loving, it won't hold up (which frankly sort of happened to me with A Wrinkle in Time). But this book is really the best book I read in 2009. I was crying in advance of events this time, and really all throughout. Such an amazing story, about a girl who loves Wrinkle, and losing and gaining friendships, and game shows, and two-dollar bills, and first romance, and the possibility of time travel. Plus a nice dentist.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

2009 book 247

I feel like we should start a pool to guess how many books I'll end up reading in 2009, with the winner getting cupcakes.

Kent Meyer's Twisted Tree
This book is a prime example of why I wait till the year actually ends to compile my best-of-the-year lists, since it's really good and could well be on my list. Anywya, it's about a small town in South Dakota, and the lives of the people in it, and how they were touched by the murder of one of their own by a serial killer, told in short stories. It paints a really interesting portrait of small-town life, before and after a tragedy. A.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

links and stuff

People love Kindles!! I love mine a LOT.

I found this article on falling out of love with Murakami to be pretty interesting. A few months ago, I took Hardboiled Wonderland on a trip and read half on the plane--but I never bothered finishing my reread. And that's my favorite Murakami! It's been sitting on my coffee table since September.

Here's an interview with an amazing book designer.

I really miss Ecto Cooler. I had this in my lunchbox every day as a kid.

How to use an apostrophe.

2009 graphic novel roundup

You know, 2009 was really a good year for graphic novels, and I read a ton of them! Of course, the one getting the most attention right now is Stitches, but that book is nowhere near the best of the year. (I actually didn't like it much and have no idea why it was nominated for a YA National Book Award.)

Anyway, here were some books I really did enjoy reading this year:

--Scott Pilgrim 5! Need I say more?

--Everything by Naoki Urasawa that came out this year. The first 6 volumes of Pluto are out--it's a retelling of an Astro Boy story and it's totally incredible. I never thought I'd be so into a story about some malevolent plan to destroy the world's most advanced robots, but I totally am. His 20th Century Boys is also completely amazing--every volume has had me totally riveted.

--Locas II. I already own all the material in this book, but if you don't, it's a good way to catch up with Maggie, Hopey, and Ray--it's a great package and great material. This is the stuff that started to convert me from a Beto fan to a Jaime one.

--Robert Kirkman's Invincible. Kirkman also writes Walking Dead, but I prefer his superhero story. I love the character--this is one of the only superhero books I read (Greg Rucka's Detective Comics is the other, but it hasn't been collected yet). There are 11 trade paperbacks in this series so far and they're all stellar.

--X-Men Misfits. OK, I guess I did read some other superhero stuff this year, but how can you resist Kitty Pryde all manga-style? And Beast looks like a Totoro!!

--Locke and Key is another story that blew me away this year--Erin kept telling me I'd like it, but I was all meh, I don't wanna read a comic by Stephen King's son. How wrong I was! The first two miniseries have been collected and the third just started--sooooo good!

--Asterios Polyp has deservedly been on a bunch of best-of-the-year lists--it combines architecture, philosophy, hilarious puns, and a little romance with an actually amazing visual style.

--Amulet volume 2 came out this year--I really like this all-ages series--great art.

--I've enjoyed Richard Sala for years, but Cat Burglar Black may be my favorite book--his art is cuter than ever and meshes well with his slightly sinister story. I really hope there'll be a sequel.

--Masterpiece Comics is just hilarious. Perfect for the literature and comics lover in your life!

--R. Crumb's Genesis was actually pretty great--not at all weird or creepy like I was expecting.

--Yotsuba 6 finally came out this year--if you're not reading this adorable manga, you are missing out.

--Ed Brubaker just started writing a new Criminal story, so now's the time to catch up with the earlier volumes. Really great gritty noir stuff.

--Continuing series I enjoyed this year in trade or single-issue format: Fables, Yakitate Japan, Fruits Basket, Runaways, Echo, Madame Xanadu, Unwritten, Umbrella Academy, Buffy Season 8, Beasts of Burden, and probably some others I'm forgetting.

Monday, November 30, 2009

2009 book 246

Alexander McCall Smith's Morality for Beautiful Girls
The third Ladies Detective Agency book wasn't as sweet as the first two, but I'll still check out the next one in the series, since the main characters are so likable.

2009 book 245

I had planned on picking up the books on my Shelf Discovery Challenge list while home for Thanksgiving, but could only find one, so I guess I need to rethink my options! I did snag another book I loved in middle school:

Robin McKinley's Beauty
I believe my class read McKinley's retelling of Beauty and the Beast in 5th or 6th grade (one of its themes was apparently "Don't judge a book by its cover" which I had written in the inside front cover with an exclamation point). Anyway, Beauty is a fairly interesting heroine--the typical bookish plain girl, though much more engaging than, say, Bella from Twilight--and I always liked the invisible servants! The end does come all in a rush--pretty anticlimactic after all the build-up, but still a good story.

Maybe I'll reread A Wrinkle in Time and the Westing Game, which were both on the SDC list, and both of which I have here, and both of which are awesome stories deserving of a reread (maybe I'll even reread When You Reach Me, since it ties in so nicely to A Wrinkle in Time).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

2009 book 244

Joshua Gaylord's Hummingbirds
A really excellent novel about a man who teaches English at an all-girls school in Manhattan, how his life in upended when another man (named Ted Hughes, no less) comes to teach in his department, as well as the lives of two of the students at the school. Gaylord apparently teaches English at an all-girls school, so it's no wonder he gets all the little details right. The writing, as well as the story, is superb. A.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

2009 book 243

Alexander McCall Smith's Tears of a Giraffe
I really like this Ladies' Detective Agency series! They're not really mysteries at all, but the characters are so sweet and they totally make me smile.

Friday, November 27, 2009

2009 book 242

Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's Beautiful Creatures
A not untypical YA novel about a boy who dreams of a girl and then meets her, only she and her family are under a curse. There's magic and whatnot, and it's all a compelling read, though I did find the end a bit abrupt (is there a sequel in the works?). I also was intrigued by the depiction of completely conformist small-town Southern life--one of the authors grew up in the south and wanted to portray that environment--I guess she didn't have a good time of it. B+.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2009 book 241

Joan Thomas' Reading by Lightning
Slow-paced slice-of-life story about a Canadian girl who gets shipped off to her English relatives on the eve of World War II. B+.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

oh, conan, i love you.

Since I've been rereading the Twilight books, this was especially hilarious:

2009 book 240

Stephenie Meyer's Eclipse
You know, reading all of these in short order like this makes me realize why I get annoyed at Bella/Edward--besides his general creepy controlling-ness, in EVERY conversation they have, she's all insecure that he could be in love with her. EVERY conversation. I get that those feelings are typical for a teenage girl--I was a teenage girl--but it's not fun reading and doesn't make me like their relationship. It's not romantic or aspirational and I don't know if I would have liked it when I was a 15 year old girl (I would have looooved these books, but probably still would have been on Team Jacob).

And on this rereading, I noticed how many seeds were set for the kind of weird fourth book, so some of that stuff isn't as outlandish in context after all.

Monday, November 23, 2009

2009 book 239

Oh yeah, I'm so gonna hit 250 this year.

Stephenie Meyer's New Moon
Edward sucks! Go Team Jacob! I might even see this movie, even though the first one was just laughably bad.

2009 book 238

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight
My mom and sister have both gotten into these books, so I figured I'd reread them and we can have Team Edward vs Team Jacob debates over Thanksgiving. :)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

2009 book 237

Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer
Well, I've never been a huge Roth fan, and this book didn't even begin to convert me. For one thing, it's fairly boring--all that happens is that young Nathan Zuckerman, Roth's fictional counterpart, goes to dinner at the home of a writer he admires, and they flatter each other and talk about writers, and then Nathan has an extended sequence where he imagines a young woman staying there is actually Anne Frank (which makes no sense in context, and was the only reason I read the book in the first place), and then the esteemed writer and his wife have a fight.

Interestingly, there is a moment that hints at Roth's Plot Against America, when Nathan's family tried to talk him out of publishing a story that makes Jews seem greedy by asking if he'd write such a story in Germany in 1938, and when he's all "aw Mom, this isn't Europe!" she's like, it could have been! I wonder if the Holocaust has really haunted Roth to that extent all these years--to the point where he imagined and wrote a world where it did happen here (frankly, I think most Jews go through something similar after learning about the Holocaust--though he did grow up during the 1940s so maybe it seemed more immediate).

Friday, November 20, 2009


Originally uploaded by wordnerdy
Gratuitous tree picture, b/c fall is my favorite season!

2009 book 236

Scarlett Thomas' Popco
I learned this week that Thomas has a new book coming out in April, and was so excited that I had to go back and re-read this one. Plus sometimes you just want to read a book you know will satisfy you.

I'm thinking about rereading the Twilight books again--my sister just got into them and my mom is about to read them too! This is going to be a hilarious Thanksgiving.

partially read

Miklos Vamos' The Book of Fathers
I made it 200 pages into this Hungarian epic about generations of sons who inherit a fancy watch and psychic visions from their fathers. It's not a bad book--it's just a little too choppy for my tastes. I need more narrative flow to make it through an epic.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NYT graphic novel gift guide

The New York Times nailed its '09 holiday graphic novel gift guide. Of course there are more titles I'd add--my big graphic novel post is coming, I swear!--but pretty much every book on this list rocks. (And though they mentioned Stitches in the intro, they didn't include it on the actual list, for which I am supremely grateful. Seriously, that book was not good.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

2009 book 235

Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels
Alternately winning awards and causing controversy, Lanagan's dark, dark, dark retelling of Snow White and Rose Red takes place in two worlds--in one, a young girl is sexually abused, and in the other, she finds her own piece of heaven with her daughters, free from fear--at least until bears and men encroach.

I think at least part of the controversy comes from classifying this as a YA novel--it's definitely for the older end of that age group, as it doesn't shy away from the horrors and fears of young womanhood (which also makes it a valuable read). I do think it's weird that some reviews seem to be stressing the incest thing, instead of just calling it sexual abuse, but whatever. A-/B+.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

partially read

Tobias Hill's The Hidden
I'm nearly 200 pages into this novel but can't stand to read another page. I think it's meant to be an intellectual kind of thriller (it badly wants to be, like "The Secret History goes on an archaeological dig") but it is completely and utterly boring. I mean, it makes me angry that this book is this boring and I actually wasted time reading waiting for the good stuff. If you can't get good stuff in the first 200 pages, you shouldn't be writing a book. Meh.

2009 book 234

John Cook/Mac McCaughan/Laura Ballance's Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records
This was such a fun read! I figured it would be after hearing Mac and Laura's reading at the Regulator, but really all of it was stellar. I love the conversational tone and back-and-forths between Merge people, band people, and others, and the way it was formatted--general info about the label at various times interspersed with the stories of select bands--made it really readable (though one always wishes one's own favorite bands are more heavily represented). Anyway, great book, and great package--lots of photos, fliers, etc from the twenty years of Merge really made everything come alive. A.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

partially read

John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River
I really, really wanted to like the new John Irving book--I'm one of the many people who loves his earlier novels, though his recent ones have not really been to my taste (minus A Widow for One Year, which I adored). And admittedly I didn't give this much of a chance--not even 50 pages--but I can't get into it at all. As I commented on twitter, it's like John Irving does Cormac McCarthy. And that is so not my thing.

I actually feel a little guilty for not slogging through it, but hey, I'll get over it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

2009 book 233

Brigid Pasulka's A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True
This book has been garnering comparisons to various Jonathan Safran Foer books (based primarily on its title and its WWII/1990s Polish setting, I suppose), which is a shame, b/c his books are terrible, full of deliberately quirky narrative tics and unlikable protagonists, whereas Pasulka's characters are winning and her narrative much more straightforward (each chapter flashes back and forth between a woman's life in a small village in 1940s Poland, and her granddaughter's 50 years later in Krakow). Anyway, I enjoyed this quite a bit--it was full of heroism and romance and complex family dynamics. A- just because I had mixed feelings about the ending.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2009 book 232

Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
I had been fairly meh on reading this series--cozy mysteries aren't my thing--until one of my bosses got super into them and recommended them. And really, this is more about the main character setting up her agency and being clever and sweet. Really a good read and I'll definitely check out the next one.

2009 book 231

Paul Auster's Invisible
Auster is one of those reliably good authors--I know I'll almost always enjoy reading his novels, and this was no exception. Sometimes he gets super meta, which is interesting, but this book is more straightforward (though there is a memoir within a novel thing going on). We have the story of Adam, a college student in 1967 who gets involved with an eccentric professor and his French girlfriend, sent as a memoir to a college friend, who adds his own spin on things. None of which explains any of it very well, except to say that it's worth a read. A-.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

2009 book 230

Emily Arsenault's The Broken Teaglass
OMG, y'all, this book was REALLY good. Of course, I may be biased, as it's filled with wonderful word-nerdiness and has a mystery at its center, plus lots of desserts, but it was such a good read. It's about a young man who, after college, goes to work at an editor at a dictionary company. When he and another young editor find references citing a book that doesn't exist, they get hooked on uncovering what seems to be a crime involving one of their colleagues. The main character is amazing, very true-to-life and likable, and the story had me totally sucked in. A.

Friday, November 06, 2009

2009 book 229

Think I can hit 250 books this year? 21 books in 7ish weeks sounds do-able, statistically speaking . . .

P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast's Tempted
I scored the first five books in the House of Night series (about a teen vampire boarding school, only with lots of Cherokee and pagan mythology thrown in for good measure) and enjoyed them enough to read them all in one sitting, and so was looking forward to the 6th one with guilty pleasure. It picks up right where the 5th leaves off (with few reminders of who everyone is, and I didn't remember all the minor characters well, but on the other hand, if you're gonna read a series in a clump, those little background bits do get annoying). Anyway, it picks up after a climactic battle as special snowflake chosen one Zoey and her motley crew of friends and boyfriends have to pick up the pieces and figure out how to continue to fight evil. There's a lot of moral ambiguity in these books which is sometimes even interesting. Though mostly this is just a guilty pleasure series, and this is one of those in-between volumes where the plot move slowly (though, as always, the end was intense enough to make me want more!). Eh . . . B?

2009 book 228

Lauren Grodstein's A Friend of the Family
When a man's best friend's older daughter (with a sordid past) becomes involved with his college-age son, things go awry for both families. Grodstein does a great job of flipping back and forth in time to show the whole picture of a family's life, and I especially liked that all the adult characters went to Pitt (and the main character's wife is from Squirrel Hill). Yay Pittsburgh! And yay this book, which was excellent and heart-breaking. A.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

2009 book 227

Sarah Hall's How to Paint a Dead Man
One of the things that impresses me most about Hall is how varied her novels are (her last book, Daughters of the North, was a crazy near future dystopian thing; her first book, Electric Michelangelo, was about a tattoo artist on Coney Island [I loved that one]. She has another one too but I don't remember anything about it, anyway, back to my point), which really few authors seem to be able to do these days--they tend to have similar themes, narrative quirks, characters, etc. In this novel, the narrative alternates between four characters and four different points in time; their lives are interrelated and all are artists in some capacity. One is an elderly Italian painter, another a blind girl in his village whom he once taught, one a well-known British artist who in his youth wrote fan letters to the Italian painter, and the fourth is that artist's photographer/curator daughter, struggling to get past a horrible tragedy in her life. Actually, they've all had tragedies in their lives, which are eventually revealed as their narratives unfold.

Of course, none of that is at all an effective way of describing the lyricism of Hall's writing, the pathos and compassion her characters engender, and how much I wished there was more to the novel, as I wasn't ready for it to end. A.


It's November, which means it's late enough in the year for holiday gift guides! The NY Times has started putting up some good ones, including this one on cookbooks. I Love Macarons has been on my Amazon wishlist for a while--it just looks so cute!! (I've never even had a macaron, and have no way of making almond flour--unless that stuff exists?--but that cookbook makes me want to make fidgety French cookie things!)

I guess they're into macarons--they also suggest buying some for friends and family. Anyone know where I can get some locally? I'd love to try one.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

links and whatnot

I don't even know what to think about leftover Halloween candy pie. I think I want some! After all, if Nigella believes in winter indulgence, who am I to argue (doesn't that risotto sound yummy)? I love you, Nigella. I also love this cookbook and wish I worked in a place with weekly cakes.

Look at these cute Hanukkah plushes. Awwwww!

Or take this wicked fun Mr. Rogers-related quiz. (I got a 90%--it would have been embarrassing for a Pittsburgher to get any less.)

I am sooo excited for the Scott Pilgrim movie.

Finally: tiny bunnies.

2009 book 226

Lois Lowry's Number the Stars
I've been on a rereading-favorites-from-childhood kick, and this is one I haven't read in decades but remembered fondly as full of friendship and adventure and heroic Danes rescuing Jews from Nazis. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problems a lot of middle-grade literature has--it just doesn't have enough meat to the story to sustain adult interest. It just reads totally bare-bones to me, like an outline of an awesome story that still needs to be fleshed out. Oh well, we can't stay ten forever.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

2009 book 225

Roald Dahl's The Witches
Flipping through the channels tonight, I came across the movie version of this, which always annoyed me for the unnecessary minor changes it made to the book (ie, the witches' shoes). I reread the book instead of watching; it was much more satisfying.

2009 book 224

Megan McAndrews' Dreaming in French
Lovely, lovely novel about a girl growing up in France w/ her American expat parents, and how her life ends up taking some unexpected turns. Had some mixed feelings about the end but on the whole totally enjoyed it. A/A-.

Friday, October 30, 2009

2009 book 223

Jacqueline Kelly's The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
A girl growing up in Texas in 1899 loves learning about science from her grandfather, but as the only girl of seven children, she's under pressure to pursue more traditionally feminine activities. Nothing unexpected happens, but I really enjoyed reading about her relationships with her brothers. B.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

shelf discovery challenge!

Reading Shelf Discovery (scroll down a bit for comments) made me want to reread some of my favorite YA books, so imagine my glee at discovering that some intrepid blogger has instituted the Shelf Discovery Challenge, where you pick 6 books covered in SD and (re)read them!!

Here are my 6 (this list is tentative, based on books I believe are still in my childhood bedroom that can be reclaimed over Thanksgiving):

-Stranger with my Face--I loved this book and it creeped me out!
-Homecoming--I believe I read this for school, but then I read all the others in the series. Maybe I liked being depressed, or knowing about survival tactics?
-A Little Princess--I genuinely like this book and think I reread it fairly recently, maybe? Should that count?
-Cat Ate my Gymsuit--was it a cop-out that she gets skinny and thus merits a boyfriend in the sequel?
-Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler--this is the book I most wanted to reread immediately after finished SD, but it's not available on the Kindle. :)
-My Sweet Audrina--I read my first VC Andrews at summer camp--isn't that always the way?

I probably will also reread the Westing Game, b/c it's one of my all-time favorite books, and doesn't need to be reclaimed since I proudly have it on my bookshelf here! Same for A Wrinkle in Time. Those don't really count as nostalgia fests since I consider them abiding excellent literature.

Anyway . . . who else wants to read awesome (and awesomely bad) YA books with me?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2009 book 222

Jonathan Carroll's The Ghost in Love
When this came out a year or so ago, it got great reviews and I checked it out of the library, but never got around to reading it b/c the description made it sound like a dead dude was chilling, in love with his ex girlfriend, a la The Lovely Bones. Then an awesome friend recommended it to me and so I gave it a shot, and realized I had a totally skewed perspective on what it was actually about. Which is: a few people are supposed to die, and don't, and one of them is this guy Ben Gould, and the Angel of Death sends a ghost (Ben's ghost really, but Ben is still alive) to watch him and figure out what's going on, and the ghost is in love with the girlfriend, and there's a really great dog, and things get totally metaphysical. So, a pretty good read! A-.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 book 221

Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton
This was one of my favorite books of 2008, so when my dad sent me an Amazon gift certificate, this was one of the books I got for my Kindle! It's still just as good on rereading--can't go wrong w/ lake monsters, ghosts, illicit love affairs, literary history, and research into one's family origins. If you haven't read this yet, you should. A.

Friday, October 23, 2009

2009 book 220

Lizzie Skurnick's Shelf Discovery
Skurnick's book--a collection of her Fine Lines columns from Jezebel (with a few introductory essays, as things are organized by rough themes) celebrating the awesomely crazy YA lit of the 70s and 80s--made me want to reread all these hilarious classics (dangerous while using a Kindle). I did have a few problems, but they were primarily editorial--lots of typos/sentences missing key words in the first half; not all essays had the contributor's name (not all are by Skurnick) and I hated flipping back to the table of contents every time there was a textual clue that someone else was doing the writing.

Anyway. This is a must-read if you grew up in the 80s and were a reader--or you could just find the essays online, as they're not much different.

Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 book 219

E.L. Doctorow's Homer and Langley
A generally uninteresting and heavily fictionalized account of the Collyer brothers, this book just didn't do anything for me. B-.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

2009 book 218

Francine Prose's Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife
Prose's point in writing this book seems to be to defend Anne Frank's diary from a literary perspective--she presents plenty of compelling evidence to show that Anne considered herself a writer and meant for her diary to be read (which isn't new information, but I imagine Prose's book will reach people who didn't know that). That's all well and good, but it's only the first half of the book. Prose then goes on to recount the troubles with bringing the diary to Broadway and to film, and then briefly discusses its educational uses and people who think it's a hoax. So I guess she was going for an all-encompassing book about the diary? I'm honestly not sure. She did make me want to read a Philip Roth book, which is commendable, since I'm not really a Roth fan.

I can't grade this--it's a book about Anne Frank, for goodness' sake.

Friday, October 16, 2009

books and such

I liked this piece in the Guardian on Roald Dahl in light of the awesome-looking Fantastic Mr. Fox movie.

Also book-related--I just started reading Francine Prose's book on Anne Frank. It somehow manages to touch on all the recent Anne Frank news--bits of her tree being planted in the US and the only known video coverage of Anne. I'm enjoying it so far, though my track record with non-fiction isn't great.

Re: that tree thing--I really admire the Anne Frank Center's various efforts to spread knowledge and tolerance and whatnot. The Anne Frank House/Museum in the Netherlands recently published a couple of comic books about the Holocaust (intended for educational purposes, but fairly good reads) and they're very well-done. The art is Tintin-esque, and the stories (aimed at an early teen audience, I think) don't shy away from the horrors of the Holocaust while still exploring other wartime themes. The first one, A Family Secret, involves a modern-day Dutch boy searching through his grandmother's attic when he discovers a scrapbook from her childhood and learns the story of her best friend, a Jewish girl who was deported. This one nicely explores the Dutch WWII experience (though in an effort to show different reactions, one of the protagonist's brothers joins the Nazis, the other joins the resistance, whcih is not entirely realistic). The sequel, The Search, highlights what happens to the Jewish friend and her family. Anyway, like, I said, I thought these were well-done and would be perfect for classroom use (or personal reading use, if you're interested in that sort of thing).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2009 book 217

Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry
So remember how Niffenegger got a five million dollar advance for this book by virtue of having previously written a runaway bestseller? Well, this is not a five million dollar book. It's not even really a five thousand dollar book. Starting with the lazy, lazy title, moving to the complete lack of logic in her ghost world, then to the completely illogical decisions her characters make . . . I did enjoy the first half, as the characters were all interesting (a woman leaves her apartment to her twin nieces, and there is lots of twin drama in various generations, and romances, and family secrets, and a great upstairs neighbor crippled by OCD), but something that I think is supposed to be a big secret is way too easy to guess, and the characters all turn into idiots. C-.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

2009 books 215 and 216

Yes, I read two books today--suck on that, New York Times! (I could easily make it through another, but only have two left and still have lots of airport time tomorrow).


Bill Willingham's Peter and Max
Willingham, the author of the amazing Fables comic series (seriously, go pick up some of the graphic novels, they are awesome and cross all audiences), has written a novel set in his fictional comic book world (where fairy tale characters live in exile in New York). The titular Peter is Peter Piper (and he's married to Bo Peep!) who gets the news that his wayward brother has returned to our world and must go find him. Peter's travels, and reflections on his current life, are interspersed with the story of the two brothers and their childhood, and the different paths they took. But you know, they're fairy tales, so there are thieves and witches and magical flutes and things. This is another great take on stories from Willingham and I highly recommend it, even if you've never read the comics (though you should also read those). A/A-.

Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked
I think if you like Hornby, you'll like this story of a woman in an unfulfilling relationship who strikes up an unlikely correspondence with a former rock star her boyfriend's obsessed with. Parts of this are fairly unbelievable but I do like Hornby so found it a good read while on an airplane. A-/B+.

Monday, October 12, 2009

2009 book 214

Irene Sabatini's The Girl Next Door
Great, great book about an African girl in Zimbabwe in the 80s just after independence, and the white boy next door who may or may not have murdered his stepmother, and their interrelations throughout the 80s and 90s during all the political upheaval. It went places I wasn't expecting, taught me more about a country I know little about, and had believable and sympathetic characters. A.

I have a post brewing about some of the many, many graphic novels I've read--and neglected to blog about--lately, but it's been a long day and I'm tired. Stay tuned, or whatever?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

2009 book 213

James Fuerst's Huge
This novel has a lot going for it--for one thing, the narrative voice is stellar. The narrator is an emotionally disturbed 12-year-old who's really into detective books, and he tells the story in a totally hard-boiled style (with hints of the 12-year-old creeping through). For another, it's just a great slice of life story, where the kid is trying to solve the mystery of who defaced the sign at his grandmother's retirement home while dealing with local bullies, being thought of as crazy by everyone in town, and his older sister, all in 1980s New Jersey. Anyway, I really enjoyed this. A.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

ny times

There's some good stuff in the NY Times Book Review this week--this review of A.S. Byatt's new one echoes some of my own complaints:

While Byatt’s engagement with the period’s over­lapping circles of artists and reformers is serious and deep, so much is stuffed into “The Children’s Book” that it can be hard to see the magic forest for all the historical lumber — let alone the light at the end of the narrative tunnel. The action is sometimes cut off at awkward moments by ponderous newsreel-style voice-over or potted lectures in cultural history. Startling revelations are dropped in almost nonchalantly and not picked up again until dozens or even hundreds of pages later. Byatt’s coda on the Great War, dispatched in scarcely more pages than the Exposition Universelle, is devastating in its restraint. But too often readers may feel as if they’re marooned in the back galleries of a museum with a frighteningly energetic docent.

There's also a stellar review of Catching Fire, which I was very pleased to see, along with one on Francine Prose's book on Anne Frank and her literary legacy, which is in my library pile, and which I am now quite eager to read.

Friday, October 09, 2009

2009 book 212

A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book
It's taken me all week to read this, partially b/c it's almost 700 pages long, partially b/c it's so insufferably boring. (I'm not sure why I kept reading, except I remembered liking Byatt's books and thinking it would get interesting.) Here are just a few of my problems with this book:

--There are 4 core families of characters, all with multiple children and hangers-on to keep track of, which Byatt doesn't handle well.
--For a book where so many people talk about and have illicit sex, it's completely unsexy.
--Even when a Deep Dark Family Secret is revealed, it's somehow boring.
--WAAAAY too many interludes on early 1900s art, theatre, and politics that have nothing to do with the story and feel like chapters from a history book.

It's also interesting to me that one of the central characters is a woman who writes children's books (and there is so much pontificating on children's literature), after she wrote that big essay where she's all jealous of JK Rowling's success.

Anyway, this book was dreadful and I can't believe it was nominated for a Booker. Honestly, I'm sure the British have better books if they want to learn about this time period, and I hope they're not reading it for the vague and inconsistent characters. D.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Man, I've been reading the new AS Byatt book all week and am still only 2/3 of the way through. Until I manage to finish it and blog about it, here are some links and things to tide you over!

Victor might be leaving Young and the Restless! Nooooooo!!!! (But maybe now he can do more guest shots on HIMYM.) (I think everyone has one soap opera they started following as a kid home sick from school, and Y&R is mine.)

I'm totally going to read this Twilight parody.

I also want this book. Yum.

Monday, October 05, 2009


A tribute to Betsy-Tacy! I love that series and own them all! Sometimes I toy with writing an article on them (there are surprisingly few in academia), but who has the time?

Are these the best books of the 2000s (so far)?

Troop Beverly Hills is still one of my favorite movies from the past 20 years. I always sing the "It's Cookie Time" song.

Awesome Lego lantern.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

2009 book 211

Victor Lodato's Mathilda Savitch
A profoundly sad book about a young girl struggling to come to terms with her older sister's death by investigating her life and generally having issues. I had some problems with the narrative voice and with the conclusion but mostly I was just sad. B+.

Friday, October 02, 2009

2009 book 210

Tim Wynne-Jones' The Uninvited
For ages I've thought Tim Wynne-Jones was somehow related to Diana Wynne Jones, but that's not the case at all, it turns out, which is just to say that I wasn't expecting a book quite this dark and intense. At first I wasn't sure if it was going to turn out to be more of a thriller or a character study, but thankfully it was the latter. Anyway, it's about a college student who flees to her artist father's abandoned shack in Canada after things go awry in her lovelife--only to discover someone's already living there, and he's her brother, and someone's been leaving scary gifts on his doorstep. The main plot was fairly easy to suss out, but there were a few twists and turns, and the characters are interesting enough to keep the story working. A-.

2009 book 209

Charlaine Harris' A Touch of Dead
Harris and her publishers, probably in an effort to further capitalize on True Blood's success, have collected the five Sookie-related stories that have appeared in various anthologies. I picked this up so I could finally find out what the deal was with Sookie's cousin Hadley (as I noted here, this short story is important to one of the books), but it was disappointingly bereft of further details. Actually, all of these stories were pretty boring. D.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

partially read

Pete Dexter's Spooner
This has been getting great reviews, but I just don't care enough to read past page 253. It starts off pretty well, telling the story of a troubled young boy and his relationship w/ his family, especially his kind stepfather, in a fairly chatter manner. But then the story jumps ahead to the boy's adulthood and I totally lost interest.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2009 book 209

Seanan McGuire's Rosemary and Rue
This urban fantasy mystery has a terrible title but a pretty solid concept--a half-fairy PI is trying to track down some missing fairies and ends up as a fish for 14 years, and comes back to an entirely different world. When one of her other fairy friends is killed, she's cursed to find the murderer and get all the answers. The usual intrigues and car chases ensue until the more-or-less satisfying ending. This is the first in a series; the next one will be out in March. A-


I am always bitching about the dearth of Hanukkah songs, so thank you, Neil Diamond.

Also awesome: the VCU library has acquired their two millionth comic book and of course it's Obama-Spiderman. I want to go to there . . . .

I also want to go to the Harry Potter theme park--check out these pictures!!

Monday, September 28, 2009

2009 book 208

Roald Dahl's Boy
When you're fasting, it's easier to read things that are kind of mindless and funny (though both this and the Spellman books had way too much about food!). I was talking about Dahl the other night and his hilarious and grisly stories about old-school surgery were on my mind.

2009 books 206 and 207

Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files and Revenge of the Spellmans
Rereading these light, funny mysteries (the first and third in the series--I don't own the second one) was a pleasant way to spend some of Yom Kippur. Of course I still have some time to kill till break fast--time to peruse the bookshelves.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

yom kippur

It must be Yom Kippur, as hits to this post are climbing!

What am I doing this year on Yom Kippur? Hopefully having an easy fast--my schedule made starting it complicated and annoying--and baking a challah, which probably will make me crazy with hunger. Good times!

I'll also read some library books and watch more Buffy--I'm deep into season 5.

partially read

Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters' Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (can't find the link to my review--Blogger's search function is so finicky)--it was an original and funny idea, and I loved the original and this new take. I was a little leery of this rushed-to-market sequel, which is even less Austen text and more add-ins. But actually, the reason I couldn't get through it was that Sense and Sensibility is not one of my favorite Austen books (the romantic foibles annoy me), and the insertion of sea monsters somehow made it even more boring. I only made it to page 56. Oh well.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

2009 book 205

Shandi Mitchell's Under this Unbroken Sky
It's inevitable that a novel about Ukrainian farmers in Canada in 1938 is going to be bleak, but MAN was this bleak. Lots of great family drama and great characters, but bleak. Also, I am so sick of authors creating lovable animals just to do bad things to those animals and go for more pathos. It's so obvious. Eh, how do you rate a good book that depressed the hell out of you? B+?

Side note: I still think of the ANTM contestant whenever I see the name Shandi.

Friday, September 25, 2009

2009 book 204

Michelle Zink's Prophecy of the Sisters
I kind of hate when books don't tell you they're the first in a trilogy, so you're getting all into the story and then get near the end and realize you're nowhere near any kind of real conclusion and will now have to wait ages and ages to get one. Not that this is some amazing book where I need to know what happens RIGHT NOW, but I certainly would have prefer being forewarned that there would be waiting. Anyway, it's a YA novel about a pair of twin sisters who discover they're part of a prophecy and destined to be enemies, and there are astral plans and spells and mystical things and whatnot. The characters are well done and the story is strong and even a little bit unusual, so I'll definitely read the next one. B+.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

good stuff

This Saturday is Museum Day! That means free admission to cool museums all over the country (including many in NC). I have work and can't take advantage of this awesomeness, but you all should.

Trapper Kindle!

Five reasons to love Castle. (My 6th reason: they wrote a tie-in mystery and sent me a copy! I haven't read it yet though. I love the show without freebies.)

Amos Oz is the bookies' frontrunner for the Nobel. I love a) that people gamble on this, and b) that Oz is the frontrunner! Elsewhere, Perhaps was one of my favorite books for a long time and clearly I should reread it.

Apparently I am not the only one who can't get AT&T reception at home. I'll probably cancel my contract when it's up and hope Verizon gets iPhones soon. Seriously, the sheer frustration I feel whenever I try to make a call (or when my conversation w/ my mom gets interrupted by three dropped calls, as happened last night) is not worth new toys.

Sneak peek at the new Lynda Barry book!

I am bemused at the idea of this automatic pancake maker. I make awesome pancakes but they are never perfectly round. What's the secret???

In other food news: turn a radish into a 1-up mushroom in seconds!

And finally, I cannot wait to roadtrip to the Harry Potter theme park.

Clearly I haven't written one of these link round-ups in a while.

2009 book 203

Lisa Tucker's The Promised World
Tucker's last novel, Once Upon A Day, was one of my favorites of 2007, so I was glad to get her new one from the library. This one also involves a brother and sister and family secrets, though is somewhat darker: after her twin commits "suicide by police" by aiming an unloaded rifle at a school, a literature professor basically loses it, and her husband has to help pull her together to uncover her forgotten past. Parts of this require way too much suspension of disbelief, but the characters are likable and sympathetic and there's lots of great literary references. A-/B+.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2009 book 202

Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply
Con men and orphans and other people cast adrift populate this novel, which consists of three storylines (in one, a man searches for his disturbed twin brother, in the second, a college student flees his life, and in the third, a high school teacher and one of his students run away together) that come together spectacularly. To say much more would give too much away, but this book is definitely worth a read. A/A-.

2009 book 201

Beth Kephart's Nothing but Ghosts
A teenage girl working as a gardener for the summer after her mother's death decides to try and solve a local mystery with the help of some friends and a fashionable librarian. I wished this book had been longer or more in depth--things sort of happen in a rush and so are mildly unsatisfying. B/B-.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

2009 book 200

Heather Gudenkauf's The Weight of Silence
I'm pretty bummed book 200 was such a piece of drekkerai. Seriously, this book was terrible. I correctly guessed the end less than 1/4 of the way into it and the path to that ending was tortuously long and boring and stupid. D.

2009 book 199

Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs
I have been eagerly awaiting a new novel (or a new anything, really) by Moore for years and years and years. I think this one kind of blew away her earlier ones (though they are hazy in my mind)--it's certainly longer and more ambitious. It's about a college student who takes a job providing child care for a well-to-do couple and their adopted child, but of course things are never that simple. The student seems to float through her life in a dream-like way (or at least that's how it felt to me), and some of the most vivid scenes are discussions she overhears about multiracial families during a weekly group meeting (hilarious liberalism abounds). I did find parts of the story to be mildly unbelievable, but in general it was a good read. A-.

Friday, September 18, 2009

2009 books 196, 197, 198

I'm in Pittsburgh for Rosh Hashanah, but my parents' internet was out yesterday (Verizon failed to fix it, but my brother had things up and running in about three minutes this afternoon) so I had plenty of time for reading.

Chelsea Cain's Evil at Heart
The third book in Cain's series about a detective obsessed with a female serial killer he helped catch felt kind of like it was rushed into publication. The characters are still interesting enough, but things didn't quite line up this go-round. B/B-.

Nellie Hermann's The Cure for Grief
I think I related fairly strongly to this book, since the main character is a Jewish girl born the year before me, and has some typical Jewish girl experiences. Except then tragedy keeps striking her family! I did get a bit teary during parts, but thought the ending could have been a bit stronger. B+.

Anita Diamant's Day After Night
Commenting on Diamant's work in any kind of critical manner (as in, the manner of a critic, not that I'm criticizing) is hard for me, since I know her daughter (who is super nice). Plus I've hardly read any of Diamant's novels, since I was so-so on The Red Tent (loved the first half, thought the second half was weak). But anyway! This was really a good, satisfying novel that looks at a little-known period of Jewish history--when refugees from post-WWII Europe were coming to Palestine in 1945, and the British kept them in internment camps. The story focuses on four women with very different wartime experiences and the characters are all vividly drawn. My only complaint is with some minor anti-Arab sentiments (some espoused by Zionist characters, whcih makes sense, some coming from the 3rd person narrator, whcih glosses over some of the history of Jewish immigration into what is now Israel). Still, really a good story, and my mom's reading it next. A-.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

2009 book 195

Helen Oyeyemi's White is for Witching
I really enjoyed Oyeyemi's first novel, The Icarus Girl, which was creepy and full of Nigerian mythology and good in many ways. This book is her third and has some of the same bits and pieces--twins, hauntings--but the ambiance just isn't there. It's a story about a haunted house, sort of, but the house is one of the narrators, and there's just no internal logic to the story at all. It was a frustrating read, b/c I wanted it to be so much better than it was. C.


Originally uploaded by wordnerdy
Mac and Laura did a reading from Our Noise at the Regulator tonight and it was awesome! Some great performances (highlight for me: Mac's acoustic version of the Matt Suggs classic "Where's your patience dear") and hilarious readings--not to mention the out of control Q/A session . . . Everyone must buy this book now!

Monday, September 14, 2009

2009 book 194

Jenna Blum's Those Who Save Us
I was more than halfway through this when I put it down to read Catching Fire, and I didn't mind much, since it's a middling and generally implausible story. It's the sort of book Jewish book groups will read, but it wouldn't be one of their better selections. Anyway, it flits back and forth between WWII--when a young German girl gets romantically involved with a Jewish doctor and gets pregnant--and the 1990s, when their daughter, a German historian in America, starts a project to document the German wartime experience. You just spend the whole book waiting for the daughter to find out the truth, and when it finally happens, it's totally anti-climactic. B-.

2009 book 193

Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire
I've been dying to read this book since picking up an advance copy of Hunger Games at ALA, and then it took the library way longer than I wanted to get it to me, and then I was home sick, but it was finally on hold, so of course I went and picked it up and sat down and read it in one sitting! I was a little worried my hopes were up too high, since EW gave it a C, but they have no idea what they're talking about (and on rereading that review, I spot a couple of inaccuracies, indicating the reviewer didn't read the book carefully at all. And for that matter, didn't read the first one carefully at all, if she was expecting something like Twilight). Anyway, it was just as good as the first one, but even more intense, b/c Katniss is not only fighting for her life, she's unwittingly fomented a rebellion and the President is out for blood. Not to mention she's still caught in a love triangle. And there are even more likable characters to root for, and I teared up more than once. Awesome. Now I have to wait how long for the third one? A.

Friday, September 11, 2009

2009 book 192

Erick Setiawan's Of Bees and Mist
This book was good, but weird--even setting aside the mystical bees and mists and things. It has a sort of fairy-tale feel that carries the story along well as a girl grows up in a bizarre household and then finds love, along w/ the rivalry of her new mother-in-law, but things derail a bit toward the end. B.

fruit bats!

Originally uploaded by wordnerdy
I got to go see the Fruit Bats last night at Local 506 and they were so awesome live! Their new album is great--go buy it right now.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

2009 book 191

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
This is still one of my favorite HP books. But now it's decision time--I have a stack of library books waiting for me--should I keep reading the HP books or take a break for something new? I mean, they only get more intense from here!

Anyway, back to ANTM: The Shorties and Glee. Oh ANTM, how will you top yourself in craziness this year? The shorties are very entertaining so far--I like the chick who models for Jesus.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

2009 book 190

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I realize I probably could find something else on my bookshelves to read, but nothing else seems appealing! (I love all of these books, even the ones that are weaker on multiple rereadings like this one.) Oh library, please hurry and get me more new books!

2009 book 189

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
I'm out of library books, and some of my teaching materials mentioned the first line of HP1, so I figured, hey, why not reread it for the umpteenth time? It's still a stellar story all these years later.

Monday, September 07, 2009

2009 book 188

Courtney Summers' Cracked Up To Be
After something mysterious happens at a party, a perfect teenage girl spirals out of control. When we meet her, she's on serious probation at school, manipulating teachers and her ex-boyfriend, and being pursued by the new guy. And that's actually all interesting and compelling, but I hated the end. B/B-.

2009 book 187

Eugenia Kim's The Calligrapher's Daughter
This book is inevitably going to be compared to all of Lisa See's novels, since it has a similar scope, only set in Korea. Young girl coming of age on the eve of modernism, battling with her father's traditional ways, longs for education and a career, all during the Japanese-Korean conflicts of the 1920s and 30s (the novel goes through the end of WWII, but mostly concentrates on the earlier years). The end feels a bit rushed after a lot of build-up, and a few periods are told through letters, as though Kim didn't want to make the book any longer by including extraneous details, but it was still a pretty good read. B+.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

2009 book 186

Linda Castillo's Sworn to Silence
I guess the premise of this is interesting enough--a young woman, who left her Amish lifestyle and became a cop, returns to her hometown and becomes chief of police, and then a body is found indicating a serial killer has returned after 16 years. It starts off strongly enough, though weirdly swaps between 1st and 3rd person narration for some unfathomable reason, but the end was entirely predictable and cliche-ridden. C.

Friday, September 04, 2009

2009 book 185

Wow, I'm gonna crush last year's book record of 205 for sure! This time last year, I was only at like 135.

Michelle Huneven's Blame
I don't get why book jackets give away every little thing that happens in a book. The first thing that happens in this one--which impacts everything that follows--is that an alcoholic history professor is arrested for killing two pedestrians with her car. So then she goes to prison, and gets sober, and has to learn to live with herself. And other stuff happens that the jacket should just not tell you, b/c even when it's being oblique, it's so easy to guess what's going on. My recommendation: read this book, and avoid the jacket. A-.

2009 books 183 and 184

Kirsten Miller's Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City and Kiki Strike: The Empress' Tomb

Dear Ms. Miller,

PLEASE write another Kiki Strike book!


Alicia K.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Lego cookie cutter! I need this. Also, Cupcake Milkshake!

Nick Bertozzi does The Awakening (Arianne commented that she would totally buy this--me too! And so would every women's studies/lit undergrad. Someone needs to get on this).

I'm actually surprised it took so long for a Twilight-branded version of Wuthering Heights.

The day after her father disowned her for her novel, Randa Jarrar won an award! (I really liked her book.)

Fun Alton Brown interview.

Hey, should we knit little blankets for shelter animals? Thinking of those poor little puppies and kittens all lonely and bereft just breaks my heart. There are lots of participating shelters all over, it looks like.

2009 book 182

Julia Child's My Life in France
I've actually been reading this off and on all week--the beginning is really enthralling, with Julia and Paul's early days of marriage, adventures getting to know France, and Julia starting to get into cooking. But things bog down as she spends years and years writing her first cookbook (and she is a tad bitchy about her friends/collaborators!). I guess I wish there had been a heavier hand editing this or something.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

2009 book 181

Rebecca Stead's First Light
Since I enjoyed When You Reach Me so much, I sought out Stead's first novel, which focuses on a young boy and girl in very different worlds. The boy lives in New York and is plagued by weird visions; the girl lives in a world under the ice and dreams of seeing the sun. The two storylines come together in a fully satisfying way, and plus there are lots of awesome dogs. Obviously it's not quite as good as When You Reach Me (but really, what is?), but it's definitely a great read. A.

2009 book 180

Colin McAdam's Fall
Ugh, this book was so cliche-ridden. A weird loner type ends up rooming with the most popular boy at boarding school and is in crazy love with the roommate's girlfriend, and it's told in alternating chapters and the roommate's are just this awful stream-of-consciousness drivel. It's billed as a sort of mystery, as the girlfriend disappears, except that happens right near the end of the book and there's no mystery to it. Why is this getting good reviews? D.


This was on Conan tonight:


2009 books 178 and 179

Scott Westerfeld's Pretties and Specials
The second two books in Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy were unfortunately lame. Unlikable, sketchily drawn characters involved in weird but stupid futuristic societal battles just don't do it for me, I guess.

Monday, August 31, 2009

2009 books 176 and 177

Sorry for the radio silence--I've been out of town celebrating my brother's wedding! (And mostly staying w/ my sister, who doesn't have internet.)

Michael Taeckens, ed. Love is a Four-Letter Word
I'm not just saying this b/c I know the editor and one of the contributors, but this anthology is really good! With most anthologies, there are some definite high points and low points, but I genuinely enjoyed all the essays/comics/whatevers in here. Some great writers are represented: Junot Diaz, Linda Barry (though I have her piece in another book, it's nice to see here), Kate Christensen, etc etc. I highly recommend this one. A.

Val McDermid's A Darker Domain
This mystery starts off strong (even though the heroine is soooo formulaic) as a police inspector in Scotland investigates two cold cases from the 80s--one involving a man who disappeared during the miner's strike, the other involving the kidnapping of an heiress. The cases are interesting enough, and the narrative style--lots of flashbacks--works well, but the end is fairly ridiculous. B/B-.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

2009 book 175

Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me
Just when I was getting disillusioned with all my crappy recent reading, the library got this book for me. And it was AMAZING. It's about a twelve-year-old girl in the late 70s who's obsessed w/ A Wrinkle in Time (and rightly so), and then her best friend stops hanging out with her, and she starts getting mysterious and somewhat disturbing notes, and makes some new friends, and things happen in a great way. I did guess part of the end but that didn't stop me from crying and crying and crying about it. This book is so good--go read it right now. A+.

2009 book 174

Elizabeth Garner's The Ingenious Edgar Jones
This started off strong--a talented and ambitious boy is born during a meteor shower in Victorian England--but quickly devolved into depressing and just plain weird. B-/C+.

Monday, August 24, 2009

2009 book 173

Juan Gabriel Garcia's The Informers
I've always considered myself someone w/ a generally intellectual/literary taste in books (barring the guilty pleasure reads we all enjoy), but this one defeated me. It started strong--a young man in Colombia writes a book about a family friend who fled the Nazis in the 1930s, and his father writes a scathing review. So there's Jewish stuff, and great dysfunctional family stuff. And the dad dies, and secrets will be revealed! Only the family friend just talks and talks and tells totally boring and seemingly unrelated stories and by the time the secrets are revealed I didn't even care and was barely reading. Is this a bad translation? Or am I just not the intellectual type anymore?

In other news, I agree w/ Jezebel that Betsy-Tacy is the best series ever. My mom loved them too!

Friday, August 21, 2009

link roundup

Scott Pilgrim . . . at the library!

Comics 101 takes on one of my all-time favorite comics, Love and Rockets. I totally agree with that dude's assessment of where to start reading the series.

Venture Bros. Season 4 preview!!!!!!!!!!

Everyone loves Ugly Dolls. Even my mom!

Heartwarming artificial elephant leg story.

What do we think of this list of must-read classic children's books? I personally think it's a pretty good list.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

partially read

Brian DeLeeuw's In This Way I Was Saved
For all I know, this book is a literary masterpiece, but something very bad happens to a puppy on page 65 and I didn't want to read anymore after that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2009 book 172

Scott Westerfeld's Uglies
I love me some YA dystopias, and since I'm still waiting for Catching Fire to come out, I figured I'd start a new series with a similar take on things. In this book, when people turn 16, they undergo an operation to make them "pretties" (though it's a little more sinister than just making them hotter). Our teen girl protagonist longs for the day when she'll stop being an ugly, but then makes a friend who has other plans--to run away and join a secret civilization of people who haven't had the operation. Our protagonist isn't interested, until the powers that be blackmail her into finding the secret city before they'll turn her pretty. Things progress pretty much as you'd expect, but it's a good read nonetheless, and I'll be reading the two sequels for sure. A-.

2009 book 171

Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You
A man whose marriage has recently ended b/c his wife was sleeping with his boss returns home after his father's death and spends a week sitting shiva with his entertainingly dysfunctional family. Tropper does a great job making these characters--and their many interpersonal problems--come alive. Something I think is interesting about the marketing is that the word shiva isn't mentioned--just that it's their father's dying wish that they spend a week together as a family. I find that odd, since the book has a took of Judaism references and clearly doesn't shy away from that. Anyway. I loved this book. A.

Monday, August 17, 2009

2009 book 170

Edward Eager's Seven-Day Magic
I think this is my favorite Edward Eager book, besides the classic Half Magic (ok, I love ALL his books, except Magic by the Lake, whcih I didn't discover till high school and which isn't really very good). It's about a group of book-loving children who find a magic library book and have adventures! No wonder I loved this book when I was little.

2009 book 169

Harry Dolan's Bad Things Happen
Dolan (who got a master's at UNC) has written a very satisfying mystery involving a man with a mysterious past who gets enlisted as an editor at a crime fiction magazine, helps his boss bury a body, and then becomes a suspect when his boss is murdered. Much of the story centers on a police detective working the case, a nicely written single mom. Anyway, I enjoyed the ending and didn't guess all of it, whcih makes it a winner in my book! A-/B+.


Some friends and I went to go see Ponyo tonight, and it was SO CUTE!!!!! Seriously. So cute. It was definitely on the very light side of Miyazaki (despite some heavy-handed environmentalism and a kind of weird ending) and we giggled throughout. Also, there were some great previews--I cried AGAIN at the Where the Wild Things Are trailer (even though it was an extended version and not the bleaker one I'd seen before) and we all laughed hysterically at the Fantastic Mr. Fox trailer (that's my favorite Dahl book and I think I'm gonna go reread it right now).

For now, here's the Japanese version of the Ponyo end theme--the American version is surprisingly similar, and I urge you to stay in the theater until the terrible remix version kicks in. We also laughed hysterically all through that.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

2009 book 168

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir's Last rituals : an Icelandic novel of secret symbols, medieval witchcraft, and modern murder
A fairly boring and anti-climatic mystery involving a grad student in Iceland studying witchcraft who gets brutally murdered. The protagonist is a lawyer who gets involved somehow. The story was ok, but wasn't fleshed out enough and there was no tension whatsoever, plus there was a very silly romantic subplot shoehorned in. Still, the lawyer's family life was interesting enough that I may read the second book in this series. B/B-.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Man, I know some of you guys read io9, so why didn't you TELL me about their post on the cast of the Middleman doing a reading of the unfilmed season finale???? I'm off to watch all 7 parts on Youtube!

Also, the DVD set would make an excellent present for all the partially unemployed Middleman fans in your life.

Friday, August 14, 2009

2009 books 166 and 167

Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty
Set in the Victorian Era, this YA fantasy deals with a young girl who discovers a world of magic and power, and then gets sent to boarding school, where she and her friends go to magical realms and get in trouble and stuff. It was extremely predictable. B-.

Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife
Ok, I know I read this, like, a week ago, but it was still sitting on my nightstand, and the other night I wanted to look this one part up and ended up rereading a good chunk of it from the beginning, then last ngiht I finished my other book (see above) and wanted to read something else, but the cat was so cutely asleep across my legs that my choices were pretty limited to whatever was within reach. Namely, this. And I still stayed up way too late rereading it, proving once again my lack of reading-related self-control. I mean, seriously, I jsut read this, like, a week ago! I knew exactly what was going to happen next! And yet I was still compelled to finish it. And I still cried at various ending scenes.

I'm still not sure if I'm going to see the movie. I did have hopes it would be ok, but it's getting dreadful reviews.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

links 'n' stuff

Here's a great NY Times piece on a new bio of Clarice Lispector. I read her stuff in some Jewish lit class--she's pretty incredible.

Rebranded matzah for the whole year!--no thanks.

Some good links following a blog post on the (admittedly subjective) best 100 comic book covers of all time.

2009 book 165

Lev Grossman's The Magicians
I've been really excited to read this book, even though I remembered hated Grossman's last novel, but it's a great premise and is getting stellar reviews. It's about a teenage boy in Brooklyn, obsessed with a series of fantasy books (very similar to the Chronicles of Narnia), who gets recruited to take the entrance exam for an exclusive college of magic (a la Harry Potter). I think the main problem I had with this book was that most of the characters were really, really underdeveloped. Plus they were all the kind of assholes that New York literary men tend to write about. Still, the bits in the school of magic are pretty cool, and their post-graduation adventure was interesting enough, but again, was a bit underdeveloped. Basically, I wanted to love this book, and based on the description I should have, but it really needed more depth and a stronger ending. Still worth a read though. B+.

2009 book 164

Thomas Cook's The Fate of Katherine Carr
A reporter, still broken from his young son's murder, and a dying little girl try to solve a twenty-year-old missing persons case by deciphering a story the missing woman left behind. I'm still not sure what to think about this, though was intrigued by the varying levels of narrative unreliability. B.

Monday, August 10, 2009

2009 book 163

Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver
This book is clearly trying to do for werewolves what Twilight has done for vampires. Actually, Twilight did it for werewolves too, and better than this book. Anyway, a girl and a wolf-boy fall in love and there's all sorts of werewolf drama. B/B-.

There was a really good scene in a candy store, though, that made me wonder why the candy companies don't commandeer some summer holiday. Like candy season starts at Halloween, then goes right into Christmas-Valentine's Day-Easter, but then there's like a six-month gap that's begging to be filled with some sort of seasonal candy. I could totally see flag-shaped peeps for the 4th of July. Though come to think of it, August is kind of bereft of holidays. We should think of some really obscure one to commercialize like Valentine's Day was so long ago. Mainly b/c I like candy.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

2009 books 161 and 162

Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass
Yeah, these just don't hold up well to multiple readings. Luckily I have a stack of library books waiting to be picked up tomorrow!

Friday, August 07, 2009

2009 book 160

Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass
I read most of this last night and figured I'd finish it today, even though my computer has been restored to me (praise God and Apple). I planned on re-reading all three books and then writing some big blog post (though really, actual intellectuals have covered them pretty in-depth) but I'm halfway through the second and just don't have the interest or energy. I mean, the first is still stellar, but the second feels really heavy-handed this go-round, and I remember the third being even more so and am not sure I'll bother reading it again this time. Anyway. Good times.

2009 books 156, 157, 158, 159

Here are some books I read while longing for my laptop back!

Kim Harrison's Dead Witch Walking
Blah blah urban fantasy where a witch and a vampire team up to be bounty hunters or something, only mostly the witch is avoiding a hit her old boss put out on her. There were a few exciting moments but mostly this was boring and I won't be reading the sequels.

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home
This was slightly less awesome than I remembered.

Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies
This also seemed less awesome than on previous rereads. Maybe it was just the cranky, computerless mood I was in.

Neil Gaiman's Brief Lives
This is my favorite Sandman volume, I think. Can't go wrong w/ a good road trip story.

I do apparently have some good library books waiting for me, but ran out and am rereading stuff till I can get back over there.

Also, twitter is being super annoying and not posting my updates. Still, it's really, really nice to have my laptop back. Please do let me know about any important internet things I may have missed from the last few days, since I'm mostly marking the 700ish items in Google Reader as read.


Originally uploaded by drelk3
Sorry for the lack of posting--my poor baby computer died Tuesday night and I only just got it back from the amazing Apple geniuses. Book updates are coming as soon as I remember everything I read--in the meantime, here is a shot my dad took at Steelers' training camp!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

partially read

Margot Berwin's Hothouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire
I made it all the way to page 162 before deciding this book wasn't going to get any less ridiculous. I thought the beginning parts--where a woman working in advertising in NYC meets a mysterious man with a greenhouse in a laundromat, but then tells some other dude she's trying to bone about the laundromat's man secret stash of valuable plants and of course that guy steals them, so then she has to help replace them--were all just a convoluted way of getting the protagonist to go on a journey of self-discovery to Mexico. But things didn't get any better, narrative-wise, once she got there--the usual magical mystical natives were helping her on her quest, and she's mostly annoying and horny, and it's just not any fun.