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.