Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Opening Sentence: World Without End


Gwenda was eight years old, but she was not afraid of the dark.
-- World Without End by Ken Follett.

This is the sequel to the fabulous Pillars of the Earth that I read a few years back. Pillars was the story of building the Kingsbridge Cathedral in the 1100s; this one takes place 200 years later.

This counts as one of my choices for several challenges: TBR Pile, Mt. TBR, Off the Shelf, Chunkster, and Tea & Books.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: The Devil's Elixir



The Mexican got up from the couch, calmly, and took a step toward Walker, sending a ripple of tension across the room.  The rest of the bikers straightened up and inched forward threateningly, clearly ready to rumble, as did Navarro's two aides.
-- The Devil's Elixir by Raymond Khoury. This is a drugs-and-guns thriller with a historical mystery overlay.  It is pure entertainment. 

This is the latest in Khoury's Templar series, featuring FBI agent Sean Reilly and his archaeologist girlfriend Tess Chaykin. I haven't read the others, but this one stands alone just fine.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event. 



Monday, February 27, 2012

Mailbox Monday


Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday! MM was created by Marcia at A girl and her books (fka The Printed Page), who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here).

Metroreader hosting in February. Please stop by her fun blog to see what she is reading on her commute!

I got one book last week:

Bamboo Farmer Wisdom: 101 Inspirational Thoughts by Greg Bell, author of Water the Bamboo.



The book came as part of a "small world" story. A few weeks ago, a gentleman came to my door to explain that a friend of his had owned our house for about 30 years, that he was elderly now, and would love to come see his house again.  So we made arrangements for the two of them to come over for a visit, which they did yesterday afternoon. 

It turns out that the gentleman who made the arrangements for his friend is the father-in-law of my old friend, Greg Bell.  So he brought me a copy of Greg's new book, a little gift-book companion to Greg's excellent Water The Bamboo: Unleashing The Potential Of Teams And Individuals, which I reviewed here.



The Wisdom book did indeed come with a Water the Bamboo wristband.  My cats immediately disappeared it. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Favorite Author: Iris Murdoch



Iris Murdoch (1919 - 1999) was an Irish-born author best known for her complex but entertaining philosophical novels.  Dame Iris, as she was known since she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1987, won the Booker, Black, and Whitbread (now Costa) prizes; had one book on the Modern Library's list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century; and also wrote poetry, plays, and books of philosophy.

I am working my way through her novels, which are listed below in publication order.  Those I have read are in red; those on my TBR shelf are in blue.

Under the Net (1954) (Modern Library's Top 100 list)

The Flight from the Enchanter (1956)

The Sandcastle (1957)

The Bell (1958)

A Severed Head (1961)

An Unofficial Rose (1962)

The Unicorn (1963)

The Italian Girl (1964)

The Red and the Green (1965)

The Time of the Angels (1966)

The Nice and the Good (1968)

Bruno's Dream (1969)

A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970)

An Accidental Man (1971)

The Black Prince (1973) (James Tait Black winner)

The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974) (Whitbread, now Costa, winner)

A Word Child (1975)

Henry and Cato (1976)

The Sea, the Sea (1978) (Booker winner; reviewed here)

Nuns and Soldiers (1980)

The Philosopher's Pupil (1983)

The Good Apprentice (1985)

The Book and the Brotherhood (1987) (reviewed here)

The Message to the Planet (1989)

The Green Knight (1993)

Jackson's Dilemma (1995)

OTHER MURDOCH FANS

Please feel free to leave comments with links to your Murdoch-related posts and I will list them here. 

NOTES

The Sea, the Sea is my favorite so far.  It is a remarkable novel and really, really wonderful.

A Fairly Hounorable Defeat was also very good, and sticks in my head all the more now that I read Claire Massoud's The Emperor's Children, which I think was a rip-off of Murdoch's earlier book.

Updated January 10, 2015.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Opening Sentence: Murder at the Vicarage


It is difficult to know quite where to begin this story, but I have fixed my choice on a certain Wednesday at luncheon at the Vicarage.
-- Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie.

This is the first of Christie's full-length novels featuring Miss Jane Marples, although Miss Marples had appeared in earlier short stories.

The Vintage Mystery Challenge has me in a vintage mystery mood, for sure.  This will count as one of my choices in the Golden Age Girls category. 



Friday, February 24, 2012

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Devil's Elixir



Alvaro de Padilla was overcome by dread as his visions dissipated and focus returned to his tired eyes.

-- The Devil's Elixir by Raymond Khoury. This is a real rip-roarer. Pure fun. It opens in 1741 in what is now Mexico.

This is the latest in Khoury's Templar series, featuring FBI agent Sean Reilly and his archaeologist girlfriend Tess Chaykin. I haven't read the others, but this one stands alone just fine.



A Few More Pages hosts Book Beginnings every Friday.  The event is open for the entire week.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Opening Sentence: People of the Book

 

I might as well say, right from the jump: it wasn't my usual kind of job.
-- People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, about the mysteries of a real-life 15th Century illuminated Hebrew manuscript called the Sarajevo Haggadah.

Despite the popularity of this book, I haven't read it before.  It is terrific.

It also counts for several challenges I'm working on: the European Reading Challenge, the Eastern European Reading Challenge, my TBR challenges, and the What's In a Name? Challenge.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: Serenissima



The Republic of Venice existed from the late 7th century until 1797 and was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice, or La Serenissima for short. Erica Jong's 1987 novel Serenissima is set in contemporary Venice, but much of the story goes back in time to Venice in the late 1500s, at the peak of the Republic's glory.

Jessica Pruitt is a 43-year old actress in Venice to judge an international film festival and begin filming her next movie, a reinterpretation of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice in which she will star as her namesake, Shylock's daughter Jessica.

Like the dreamy, foggy glide of gondolas downs Venice's romantic canals, the story drifts from the glittering present to Jessica's historic adventure. After an encounter with an aging ex-patriot – who may also be a witch – Jessica finds herself in the lavish Jewish ghetto of 16th Century Venice, in love with a visiting English poet named Will, and racing to save a newborn Christian baby by finding it a safe Jewish home.

The story definitely depends on the reader's willing suspension of disbelief. The time-travel doesn't try to make sense and the ending explains nothing. And there is a sex scene involving Shakespeare, a Venetian whore, and the Earl of Southampton that I would like to erase from my reading psyche.

But Jong is a terrific writer who blends sumptuous language with a knack for good storytelling. Fans of Jong may prefer her purely contemporary novels like Fear of Flying and its sequels. On the other hand, Serenissima would make a good introduction to Jong for fans of fantasy and historic romance.

OTHER REVIEWS

Fear of Flying, reviewed here
How to Save Your Own Life, reviewed here

If you would like your review of this or any other Erica Jong book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it. 

NOTES

Serenissima was also published as Shylock's Daughter.

This counted as my Italy book for the European Reading Challenge, my book for the Venice in February Challenge., and one of my books for the I Love Italy Challenge.





Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Alfred Edelman: Urban Compositions


Alfred Edelman, with your eyes
I see anew
my own native place.

A side-swept entrance
opens into a tunnel
leading towards light,
towards celestial riverbeds.
-- from poetry by Paulann Petersen (Oregon's poet laureate), in Alfred Edelman: Urban Compositions, photos by Alfred Edelman, essay by Kathleen Dean Moore, published by Pacific Northwest College of Arts.

Edelman was a Portland-based architect, photographer, and founder of Hotlips Pizza (yummmmmmmmm). This beautiful books features Edelman's photographs of urban fragments, coupled with Peterson's poems.  It is lovely.

Urban Compositions is available at The Gallery at Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland (or on line), Broadway Books, or directly from Jeana Edelman.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event. 



Monday, February 20, 2012

Mailbox President's Day


Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday! MM was created by Marcia at A girl and her books (fka The Printed Page), who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here).

Metroreader hosting in February. Please stop by her fun blog to see what she is reading on her commute!

Only one book came into my house last week, but it is a book I've had my eye on for quite a while, so I am very excited.




Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz, with a Foreword by Sally Fallon.

I've wanted a copy of this ever since Hubby gave me a German sauerkraut crock for Christmas.  Not romantic, I understand, but what I really, really wanted. 



Sunday, February 19, 2012

Author Interview: Len Stevens


Lenhardt Stevens is the author of The Hapless Valet, an offbeat mystery featuring Draper Burns, valet and general troubleshooter for a global media mogul.

In this first novel, Burns is dispatched to Portland, Oregon to get to the bottom of the mysterious death of a screenwriter on location for Burns's boss. Movie people, hoodlums, federal agents, and Portland characters combine with clever plot twists in a Pacific Northwest setting to make The Hapless Valet a most entertaining read.



Len writes and lives, with his wife Susan, in Portland, Oregon.  He'd like to also say "Winner of 2008 National Book Award for fiction", but fears that someone could try to verify that.

I was pleased to interview Len as he launches his new book.




How did you come to write The Hapless Valet?

Every writer has a mystery in them. Many fiction writers, regardless of their favored genre or subject matter, are compelled to write a mystery. A huge part of western culture has been influenced by novels, movies, radio and television based on the mystery form. Mysteries are popular. Readers find mysteries entertaining. Writers want to entertain, at least I do. After a lot of writing where perhaps the entertainment value took a back seat to the “big” literary idea, I decided to write something more fun. The mystery market is especially saturated, so the challenge is to create characters and setting different enough to set your work apart and entice readers to give you a chance.

Your novel is set in Portland, Oregon and the city is very much a part of the book. Are there things about Portland that make it a good setting for a mystery?

Absolutely! The city has established its bona fides as a muse for writers and artists. Poets, film directors, musicians, song writers and chefs thrive on the city's zeitgeist. Mystery writers have also been inspired. Hipsters, indie artists, green politicians and entrepreneurs, old style capitalists, indigents, meth heads and felons, lawyers, bike riders, rich east coast transplants . . . so many kinds of people converging in east-side neighborhoods, rain soaked downtown blocks and the west hills create an urban setting that teems with ideas for mystery writers. Having lived here all my life, I might have a perspective on Portland's history that provides extra fodder for the mystery reader.

What did you learn from writing your book – either about the subject of the book or the writing process – that most surprised you?

For me, the slow deliberative process of writing doesn't really lend itself to many surprises. One hears of writers whose bursts of inspiration propel them to manically write a novel in a month or two or even a few weeks. If that happened to me, it would be surprising.

What is your "day job"? How did it lead you to writing fiction?

I work on behalf of my family's real estate and business interests, the kind of administrative and operational toil that's devoid of artistic creativity. For most people in this type of environment, a creative outlet is essential. Sometimes, I try to convince myself that I don't need to write. I haven't succeeded.

What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an author?

I'm looking forward to getting it.

What do you do to promote your books? Do you use social networking sites or other internet resources?

I'm pursuing all avenues of digital marketing. You can find The Hapless Valet e-book on line at Amazon and Barnes & Nobel. Kirkus Reviews gave the novel a pretty good review, so I'm trying to exploit that. The Hapless Valet has its own Facebook page and I provide book seller links to the general public and friends. I've also “tweeted” the links on Twitter @lsshart. Of course, I try to catch the attention of book review bloggers like Rose City Reader!

Do you read e-books? What about self-published e-books?

I read e-books. Self-publishing is fine, as long as the writing craft and rigorous editing is applied. Powerhouse marketers like Apple, Amazon and FaceBook are committed to e-publishing so the future is promising for writers frustrated by the traditional publishing route. Agents and publishers tied to the old way probably aren't sleeping very well because of the rise of digital publishing.

Who are your three (or four or five) favorite authors? Is your own writing influenced by who you read?

Authors who can explain a big chunk of humanity through storytelling get my attention. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Eliot, Trollope, Faulkner, Mishima, Kesey were epic writers who amaze and inspire me. Dickens is a particular favorite of mine because, writing in installments for magazines, he mastered trenchant social insight while employing the chapter ending cliffhanger. Richard Wright's Native Son, Peter Carey's fiction about Australia and David Foster Wallace's prose on steroids are some of my favorite modern reads. If I could convey gothic mood, tension and setting like Poe, express irony like Waugh, Orwell and Wodehouse and keep the reader guessing like Christie and Hammett can, I'd be pretty content with my writing.

What are you reading now?

I just finished Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending. It's a fable about the fallacy of memory and perceived acts of insignificance. I'm downloading Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer as we speak.

Is The Hapless Valet the beginning of a series? Is a sequel in the works?

There's a lot of possible conundrums in Portland that could entangled Draper Burns.

Have you written or are you writing any other books? Any plans to publish them?

I'm revising a novel I wrote a few years ago about two men who grew up together in Oregon, had an abrupt falling out, are fatefully reunited in Thailand twenty years later and engage in various misadventures. It was written with the hope of being read by others.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: Mysteries of the Middle Ages



Thomas Cahill takes some grief for his Hinges of History books being "pop history" and giving only entertaining overviews. But that's why I read them! It's been 25 years since I've taken a history course and I've never been any kind of historian. So I read Cahill's books now and again to remind me of what little I may once have known and what I would like to learn more about.

Which I why I turned to Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe. Like the other "Hinges" books I've read, this one was entertaining and packed a lot between the covers.

After introductory chapters explaining how Greek Alexandria and the transformation from Rome to Italy set the stage for the Medieval cultural developments he examines, Cahill concentrates on the High Middle Ages "from the beginning of the twelfth-century renaissance to the coming of the Black Death in 1347."

Instead of a straightforward chronology of monarchs and wars, he focuses on a few key people and how they were exemplars for particular developments. He includes chapters on Hildegard of Bingen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Abelard and Héloïse, St. Francis of Assisi, Giotto, and Dante Alighieri to make his case for why this period was a turning point towards modern notions of feminism, science, and art.

The book flies along with accessible renderings of these people's stories and Cahill's lucid and compelling arguments in support of his thesis. There are many color prints of the art Cahill discusses, beautiful illustrations, and interesting sidebars with extra information. Cahill's commentary on contemporary events sometimes feels clunky and out of place, but overall, Mysteries of the Middle Ages is a terrific introduction to a fascinating period of European history.

OTHER REVIEWS

If you would like your review of this or any of Thomas Cahill's Hinges of History Books listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it

NOTES

Mysteries of the Middle Ages counts for one of my books for the Mt. TBR and Off the Shelf Challenges and the Non-Fiction, Non-Memoirs Challenge hosted by My Book Retreat.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Opening Sentence of the Day: Alfred Edelman: Urban Compositions


Alfred Edelman: Urban Compositions is the second in a series of books that feature the photographic work of Alfred Edelman.

-- from the Introduction to Alfred Edelman: Urban Compositions, photos by Alfred Edelman, essay by Kathleen Dean Moore, poetry by Paulann Petersen (Oregon's poet laureate), published by Pacific Northwest College of Arts.

To be honest, I'm tired of always worrying about what flies away -- time, truth, children, decades, all the decades.

-- from "The Properties of the Concrete Footing," the opening essay by Kathleen Dean Moore.

Edelman was a Portland-based architect, photographer, and founder of Hotlips Pizza (yummmmmmmmm). This beautiful books features Edelman's photographs of urban fragments, coupled with Peterson's poems.  It is lovely.

Urban Compositions is available at The Gallery at Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland (or on line), Broadway Books, or directly from Jeana Edelman.




A Few More Pages hosts Book Beginnings every Friday.  The event is open for the entire week.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy



Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974) is the first novel in John  le Carré's "Karla Trilogy" featuring MI6 agent George Smiley battling his KGB counterpart. Here, Smiley is called back – on the sly – from his abrupt and involuntary retirement to unravel a series of botched operations and find the Soviet mole inside the British intelligence service.

The story starts in the middle of the action, when a rogue British agent confesses to an illicit, and perhaps staged, love affair with a Russian spy. Is Irina's report of a high-level mole inside the agency for real? Or clever disinformation planted by Karla to disrupt Britain's espionage efforts? Only Smiley and his covert team can find the answer.

As brilliant as the novel is – and it is brilliant – it is so dense with spy jargon and so intentionally abstruse that the plot is almost impenetrable. Only in the last 50 or so pages to the pieces start to fall together. But fans of Cold War espionage novels will eat it up.

OTHER REVIEWS

If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.

NOTES

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was followed by The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) and Smiley's People (1979). The Karla Trilogy was published in an omnibus edition in 1982 called The Quest for Karla.

I wanted to read the book before I saw the new movie, starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth, which I am now particularly excited about.

This also counts as one of my books for the Mt. TBR and Off the Shelf Challenges, as well as one of my pre-identified choices for the TBR Pile Challenge. Since I got my copy of The Quest for Karla from my Grandma in 1983, this may be the book that has sat on my TBR shelf the longest. It's about time I finally read it!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Opening Sentence: Half of a Yellow Sun



Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair.
-- Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

What a terrific first sentence! 

This won the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction.  It is set in the 1960s in Nigeria, leading up to and during the civil war and brief existence of the independent country of Biafra.  I am about half of the way through it and it is very good.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Teaser Tuesday Valentine's Day: A Simple Machine, Like a Lever



While I answered her, though, I was wondering if I would still love Marie if she owned a car.  I wanted to think so, but I wasn't sure. 
-- A Simple Machine, Like the Lever by Evan P. Schneider, published by the super nifty Propeller Books.

This is one of the many passages in this sometimes endearing story of under-achieving man in love with his bike that make me think, "Only in Portland!"

No wonder my single girlfriends get so frustrated by the men here in Rose City!



Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event. 



Monday, February 13, 2012

Mailbox Monday


Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday! MM was created by Marcia at A girl and her books (fka The Printed Page), who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here).

Metroreader hosting in February. Please stop by her fun blog to see what she is reading on her commute!

I got three terrific new books last week:



The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents: From Wilson to Obama by Steven F. Hayward.

This is exactly what I need for a refresher course on 20th+ Century Presidents. Hayward is as witty and irreverent as ever. And he gets right to the point with his system of grading US Presidents on how strictly they adhered to their oath to uphold the Constitution. It looks like I could learn a little while I'm laughing.



Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2's Deadliest Day by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan.

I'd like to read this one because it looks great, but I'll have to wait for Hubby to finish, since he snatched it a way from me the minute it came out of the envelope. It is so right up his alley.



The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman. This looks like an incredible novel!

I won it in a giveaway on the Chunkster Reading Challenge. Thanks for hosting, Wendy and Vasilly!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: Blood Sport

 

Blood Sport is one of Dick Francis's earlier novels, first published in 1967. It is edgier than most of his mysteries, and, in some ways, a little disturbing.

Like most of his books, this one involves a competent professional dragged off his patch for some amateur sleuthing involving race horses. In this case, 38-year-old Gene Hawkins is a government personnel manager, at least on paper. His real job as some kind of spy-catching secret agent is only hinted at.

While on a (stress-induced) vacation, his boss distracts him with a moonlighting assignment to find three valuable stud horses stolen in America – an adventure that takes him from Tennessee horse country to the far corners of the American West.

The plot moves right along, with plenty of clever bits. But it is darker than the usual Francis story. Hawkins is depressed to the point of being suicidal, frequently considering shooting himself or otherwise doing himself in. He actively toys with the possibility of consoling himself in the arms of his boss's 17-year-old daughter. And there is a surprising death that makes sense in terms of Hawkins's situation, but gives the ending a moral ambiguity atypical of a Francis book.

Because Blood Sport deviates from Francis's winning formula, it may be off-putting to some loyal fans. Others will enjoy the variation on his usual themes.

OTHER REVIEWS

If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.

NOTES

This counts as one of my books for the Audio Book Challenge, hosted by Teresa's Reading Corner.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Opening Sentence of the Day: A Simple Machine Like the Lever



This morning, when I put on my pants, I went ahead and just rolled them up right away.
-- A Simple Machine, Like the Lever by Evan P. Schneider, published by the super nifty Propeller Books.

This is a novel for the times -- a man and his bike face the travails of under-employment and social discomfort.  




A Few More Pages hosts Book Beginnings every Friday.  The event is open for the entire week.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Opening Sentence: Serenissima



The way we live now, jetting from palmy LaLa Land to gray and frenzied New York City, to azure Venice, the Serenissima of all Serenisseme -- we might as well be time traveling. 

-- Serenissima by Erica Jong.

Today is my birthday, so I am playing hooky from work and having fun all day. One thing I am doing is indulging in Erica Jong's novel about Venice.  This one is pure fun.

It also is my book for the Venice in February Challenge.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: Living



In Living, Henry Green accurately captures life in an English factory town in the 1920s. Unfortunately, that is all that is good about the book and everything that is not.

His descriptions of the hard and risky labor of the factory floor, the back-stabbing squabbles of management, and the drudgery of domestic life are snapshot clear, and he has the dialect down pat. But factory life in a depressed, pre-war, Midlands mill town was a boring grind, and that's what this book is.

There is limited plot, minimal character development, and no contemplation of big themes, other than how unfulfilling and unfair factory life is and that the women had even fewer options. Add to this Green's distracting lack of articles that gives the narrative a "Me Tarzan, you Jane" cadence, and Living becomes a long 175-page slog.

Green is acclaimed as a master of English modernist literature and was as popular in his time as his contemporaries, Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell, but his novels haven't aged well. After 90 years of movies and television, a novel that gives no more than a realistic snapshot of a particular slice of life – in this case, factory workers and their families – just doesn't pack the punch it originally did.

OTHER REVIEWS

Harriet Devine's Blog

If you would like your review of this or any other Henry Green book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.

NOTES

I read this for the Henry Green Week reading challenge, hosted by Stu at Winstonsdad's Blog.  It also counts for the Mt. TBR Challenge, the Off the Shelf Challenge, and the two Classics Challenges I'm doing.



Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Spinning the Law




All lawyers love to tell war stories about their courtroom battles or other litigation skirmishes. Kendall Coffey has more than his fair share. Most lawyers will practice a lifetime and never, in the middle of finalizing a settlement agreement, be tear gassed by federal agents brandishing assault weapons. Or argue in court over the outcome of a presidential election. Or, for that matter, appear as a talking head on the Sunday news shows.

Coffey has done all these things and more, so with his experiences, it is easy to see why he wanted to write a book. It's not so easy to figure out what he wanted the book to say. 

All non-fiction books need a good introduction, and this one gets off on the wrong foot from the get go by not having one. There is an introduction, but all it contains is a very general opening paragraph, followed by a short anecdote about one of Coffee's media-worthy cases.

The introduction should set out the author's thesis, explain something about the subject, give an outline of the book, provide some information on why the author is interested in the subject and qualified to write about it, and tell the reader what is unique about the author's take on the subject. This introduction provides the road map for the rest of the book. It allows the reader to take the information provided, analyze it to determine if it supports the author's thesis, and decide whether to agree or disagree with the author's conclusions.

Without a good introduction, the reader is left to wander, and wonder, alone, trying to figure out as the book unfolds just where the author is going and what he is trying to prove. The problem with Spinning the Law is that Coffee never makes this clear. It reads like all he wanted to spin were some yarns about his legal career, but was convinced he needed a bigger theme or to teach a lesson, so he grabbed the idea of "trying cases in the court of public opinion."

When he sticks to his war stories, the book is good. Where it falls off is in the filler. Coffee stuffed in some chapters on famous legal cases in history (like the trials of Socrates and Joan of Arc and the Lindbergh kidnapping) and famous modern cases (like Martha Stewart's criminal trial). He salted distracting text boxes throughout the book that contained inane "Spinning Lessons" such as "police and prosecutors need each other – sometimes it is better to lose a case than to lose face with your teammates" or, even worse, "rather than cry over spilled milk, pour the next glass."

If he had a thesis and made clear in the introduction what it was, maybe some of this filler would have made sense. Without knowing where Coffee was going, it was no more than distraction from some pretty interesting stories about his own career.

OTHER REVIEWS

If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.

NOTES

I got Spinning the Law from the Internet Review of Books, who first published this review.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Green Oranges on Lion Mountain


My journey started at dawn, when thankfully it was still cool.  I had joined the poda-poda queue forming under the lone palm tree that offered the only shade.
-- Green Oranges on Lion Mountain by Emily Joy.  This is a British doctor's memoir about working for two years in Sierra Leone. It is fascinating, sad, funny, and charming.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event. 



Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mailbox Monday


Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday! MM was created by Marcia at A girl and her books (fka The Printed Page), who graciously hosted it for a long, long time, before turning it into a touring meme (details here).

Metroreader hosting in February. Please stop by her fun blog to see what she is reading on her commute!

I got one book last week and it didn't come in my mailbox, it came magically to my iPhone because I downloaded the free Kindle app that lets me read e-books on my phone.  I don't really like reading a book on a screen, but it is handy to have when I get stuck somewhere without a book with me.

I got this one because it is by a Portland author, it sounds good, the cover is terrific, and it only cost $.99!

The Hapless Valet by Lenhardt Stevens



In Stevens’ debut novel, a celebrity with a history of eco-terrorism, a 1950s film noir star’s mysterious past and a jazz club owner looking to make fast money collide in rainy Portland with professional valet Draper Burns (that’s the jack-of-all-trades servant kind, not the kind that parks cars).
 From the Kirkus Indie review.

2012 Challenge: I Love Italy Reading Challenge


FINISHED

Laura at the Library of Clean Reads is hosting an I Love Italy Reading Challenge.  Because of the irresistible overlap with my own European Reading Challenge and the Venice in February challenge, I signed up.

I went for the introductory, "Ciao Italia" level, to read 1 - 3 books.

BOOKS & REVIEWS


Serenissima by Erica Jong (the book I read for the Venice in February Challenge; reviewed here);

A Bell for Adano by John Hersey (award winner -- Pulitzer; reviewed here)

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (reviewed here)

Dressed for Death by Donna Leon (an extra; not reviewed)


POSSIBILITIES FOR NEXT YEAR

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi (a Memorable Memoirs Challenge pick);

Maybe something else off my list of Venice books; or

At least one more of Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries.

NOTES

Last updated on July 4, 2012.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

2012 Challenge: The Eastern European Reading Challenge


INCOMPLETE

Black Sheep Dances is hosting an Eastern European Reading Challenge that dovetails so nicely with my own European Reading Challenge that I am excited to sign up.

I signed up to read four books "about or by an author from any of the following regions: Croatia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Hungary, Belarus, Estonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Czech Rep., Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Romania, Moldova, and Kosovo."

Black Sheep Dances encourages participants "to select titles that are translated works to help support the continuing exposure of Eastern works to Western readers."  I am going to try to do this, to the extent my TBR shelves yield up translated books.  My big personal goal is to make a dent in my TBR mountain.

BOOKS, REVIEWS, & POSSIBLE CHOICES
Those books I finished are in red. 

Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz (by a Polish author, translated)

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie (Russia)

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (Russia) (reviewed here)

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (Bosnia) (reviewed here)

NOTES

Last updated on December 26, 2012. I bit off more than I could chew with this one. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Opening Sentence of the Day: Green Oranges


" . . .and the Golden Rule, Dr. Joy?"
-- Green Oranges on Lion Mountain by Emily Joy (ellipses in original).  This is a British doctor's memoir about working for two years in Sierra Leone.

Publisher's Description:

When your Dad can crash his airplane into two water buffalo, life is unlikely to go according to plan. Even so, Emily Joy puts on her rose-tinted specs, leaves behind her comfortable life as a doctor in York and heads off for two years to a remote hospital in Sierra Leone. There she finds the oranges are green, the bananas are black and her patients are, well, really ill. There's no water, no electricity, no oxygen, no amputation saw—and Dr. Em is no surgeon. And there's no chocolate to treat her nasty case of unrequited love. Then the rebels invade! Dr. Em's problems are tiny compared to those faced by the people of Sierra Leone on a daily basis. If they can remain so optimistic, what's Em's excuse? Our green doctor is a bit of a yellow-belly, often red-faced, trying to fight the blues. But green oranges give sweet orange juice. Never judge a fruit by its color.




A Few More Pages hosts Book Beginnings every Friday.  The event is open for the entire week.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Opening Sentence: Mysteries of the Middle Ages



(Following a quote from The Canterbury Tales.) 

So does Geoffrey Chaucer describe the convening -- at the Tabard Inn in Southwark on the southern bank of the River Thames -- of twenty-nine pilgrims.
-- Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe by Thomas Cahill.

Cahill takes some grief for his Hinges of History books being "pop history" and giving only entertaining overviews.  But that's why I read them!

It's been 25 years since I've taken a history course and I've never been any kind of historian.  So I read Cahill's books now and again to remind me of what little I may once have known and what I would like to learn more about.  They are definitely entertaining and pack a lot between the covers.

This one will count for one of my books for the Mt. TBR and Off the Shelf Challenges and the Non-Fiction, Non-Memoirs Challenge.

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