Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Housekeeping vs. the Dirt

After explaining that, while in Portland, he bought a book called A Complicated Kindness on the recommendation of several Powell’s Books employees:

Did you know that you have the best bookshops in the world? . . . . Over here in England, the home of literature ha-ha, we have only chain bookstores, staffed by people who for the most part come across as though they’d rather be selling anything else anywhere else; meanwhile you have access to booksellers who would regard their failure to sell you novels about Mennonites as a cause of deep personal shame.

--  Housekeeping vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby.

A Portland shout out from Nick Hornby! Well, maybe by "you" he meant all of America and not just the book-loving Rose City, but it was Powell's that inspired the anecdote, so I choose to interpret this as a compliment to my fair city.

This is the second compilation of Nick Hornby's columns for the Believer magazine, following The Polysyllabic Spree (reviewed here).

This is one of my choices for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge.

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

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mailbox Monday

My mom was here for a visit and passed on a couple of books she thought I would like, giving me a short Mailbox Monday list.

These are two books that I gave to my sister when she was in culinary school last year. I loaded her up with food and cooking books. She passed them on to our mom when she moved to Bavaria in May. Now Mom is finished with them and they've come full circle.

La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture by Lily Prior

The Food of Love by Anthony Capella

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Review of the Day: Venusberg

Anthony Powell is best known for his 12-volume novel, A Dance to the Music of Time, which follows a loose group of acquaintances from school days on the eve of WWI, through service in WWII and subsequent careers. The plots of the individual novels are less important than the entwining of these characters as they move in and out of each other’s lives over the years.

The shape and ideas of Dance, and Powell’s dry humor, are visible in his earlier novel Venusberg. Although the plot is different – a young journalist is sent to cover the political unrest in a newly-minted Balkan state – the book similarly depends more on characters than action. Lushington’s circle includes an old school chum who stole his lover, a penniless Russian count, the seductive wife of an eminent professor, a fake count selling beauty products, a grandiose and loquacious valet, and a dozen others swirling around the diplomatic and political scene in the new capital.

Powell is content in Venusberg to observe the antics and misfortunes of this crowd of characters, while in Dance he shows more sympathy in fully developing each storyline. Still, his descriptions can by pithy masterpieces, summing up whole lifetimes in a few, deft sentences, such as his description of Lucy, Lushington’s former love:

Not long after the [divorce] decree was made absolute it became apparent that she was more than remarkably good-looking. She showed signs of becoming a film star. But she was a girl who felt that life should be full of meaning and she broke with her second husband, a film producer, because he adapted one of the minor classics too freely.

The story arc in Venusberg is none too steep – the plot is bracketed by Lushington’s arrival in and departure from the Baltic capital and pretty much confined to a series of comic scenes and character sketches. It is a book probably most appreciated by Powell fans, but could serve as a quick introduction to this great author.

(If you would like your review of this or any other Anthony Powell book listed here, please leave a comment with a link to your review post and I will add it.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: Rebecca

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

-- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

Although I've watched the movie several times and own two or three copies of the book, I have never read this.  One of my New Year's book resolutions was to finally get to it. For one thing, it will bring me that much closer to finishing the books on the Radcliffe Top 100 list.

I am about a third of the way through it and admit that, so far, my only reaction is to want to slap some sense into this little unnamed ninny of a heroine. She goes around afraid of her own shadow -- not to mention waiters, the housekeeper, her sister-in-law, and pretty much any one she encounters. It's a good thing she hasn't come across a goose, because she wouldn't be able to say "boo."

I must have had more sympathy for her when I watched the movie as a teenager. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: Burmese Lessons

"In a quiet street near Sule Pagoda, a woman smiles at me for no reason."

-- Burmese Lessons: A True Love Story by Karen Connelly (from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program -- I'm almost caught up on that list).

Connelly is a writer (travel, memoir, poetry, and fiction) who, while living in Thailand, went to Burma to gather information for articles she planned to write about dissident authors and artists living in that military dictatorship.

That's as far as I have read so far, but the jacket says that she is going to fall in love with a rebel leader. This could get very interesting.

This one has Book Club written all over it. I only wish it was my turn to pick the book.


Book Beginnings on Fridays is a Friday fun "opening sentence" event hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Post the opening sentence of the book(s) you started this week and see what other books people have going.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Review of the Day: Every Bitter Thing

Every Bitter Thing is the fourth book in Leighton Gage’s captivating mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Brazilian Federal Police. In this book, Silva and his team are faced with a series of brutal murders with the same m.o. – the victims were all shot once, then beaten to death. Despite the creepy cover, it is a fast-paced who-done-it, not a scary thriller.

Solving the mystery requires Silva to first find the connection between the victims – not so easy, since they range from a respected professor who writes popular “scientific” books about sexuality, to a violent thug recently released from prison, to a flight attendant laying over at an airport hotel. The search takes the team to several Brazilian locales, including Rio de Janeiro and Holambra, a city of Dutch immigrants famous for its lavish cut flower exposition.

Leighton does an excellent job of blending factual information about Brazil into the story. His touch is light, so the reader gets a good idea of the cultural and geographic setting without being distracted by travelogue.

He has also built a great cast of characters who all add to the narrative. There’s a hard-boiled sidekick, a good looking younger cop they all call Babyface, a medical examiner who is the girlfriend of one of the detectives, an unlikeable climber of a supervisor, and even a Miami policeman buddy willing to do stateside legwork. Gage alludes to the backstory about these people just enough to pique interest in reading the earlier books in the series, but without confusing the present story.

Gage's writing is lean and crisp.  He describes enough to set the scenes, but depends mostly on dialog to move the story ahead at a good, steady clip.  He has a good ear -- the characters speak realistically, but with individual voices.

One letdown is the plotting, which is pretty straightforward. Silva and his cohorts go from one murder scene to the next and carefully piece the clues together until they solve the mystery. There is a bit of a twist, but overall the story would be more exciting with a few more blind alleys, false leads, and conflicting theories. For example, no one ever wonders why the victims were shot first and then beaten. Were they tortured for information? Was this method the signature of a psychotic serial killer? No one on Silva’s team asks these kinds of questions. They just march forward, connecting the dots.

Also, no one on Silva’s team is ever really in any danger. They are police facing bad guys, but there are no immediate threats or near misses. The book would benefit from a couple of nail biting scenes.

At fewer than 300 pages, the story has room for fluffing to address these minor weaknesses.  Still, Every Bitter Thing packs quite a bit of entertainment between its covers.

(If you would like your review of this book or any of Leighton Gage's other Mario Silva mysteries listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Author of the Day: P. G. Wodehouse

Pelham Grenville ("P. G.") Wodehouse wrote some -- most? -- of the funniest books in the English language. Over his long career, he wrote close to a hundred novels and books of short stories, essays, letters, and other works. He was born in England in 1881, lived in France and America, became an American citizen in 1955, and died in New York in 1975.

He is best known for his Jeeves/Bertie Wooster and Blandings Castle series of novels and stories. But he has many stand alone books and several other minor series.

He is a big favorite of mine, so I would like to read all of his books if I can find them. I am gathering the new "Collector's Wodehouse" editions because the covers are pretty cool.

Those I have read are in red; those on my TBR shelf are in blue.

The Pothunters (1902) (reviewed here)

A Prefect's Uncle (1903)

Tales of St. Austin's (1903) (short stories)

The Gold Bat (1904)

William Tell Told Again (1904)

The Head of Kays (1905)

Love Among the Chickens (1906)

The White Feather (1907)

Not George Washington (1907)

The Globe 'By the Way' Book (1908) (essays, out of print)

The Swoop (1909)

Mike (1909)

Gentleman of Leisure (1910) (US: The Intrusion of Jimmy 1909 serialized edition, The Gem Collector)

Psmith in the City (1910)

The Prince and Betty (1912)

The Little Nugget (1913)

The Man Upstairs (1914) (short stories)

Psmith Journalist (2015)

Something Fresh (1915) (US: Something New)

Uneasy Money (1916)

The Man With Two Left Feet (1917) (short stories)

Piccadilly Jim (1918)

My Man Jeeves (1919) (short stories)

A Damsel in Distress (1919)

The Coming of Bill (or The White Hope, 1920) (US: Their Mutual Child, 1919)

Jill the Reckless (1921) (US: The Little Warrior, 1920)

Indiscretions of Archie (1921)

The Clicking of Cuthbert (1922) (US: Golf Without Tears, 1924) (short stories)

The Girl on the Boat (1922) (US: Three Men and a Maid)

The Adventures of Sally (1922) (US: Mostly Sally, 1923)

The Inimitable Jeeves (1923) (US: Jeeves)

Leave It to Psmith (1923)

Ukridge (1924) (US: He Rather Enjoyed It, 1925) (short stories)

Bill the Conqueror (1924)

Carry On, Jeeves (1925) (short stories)

Sam the Sudden (1925) (US: Sam in the Suburbs)

The Heart of a Goof (1926) (US: Divots, 1927) (short stories)

The Small Bachelor (1927)

Meet Mr. Mulliner (1927) (short stories)

Money for Nothing (1928)

Mr. Mulliner Speaking (1929) (short stories)

Summer Lightning (1929) (US: Fish Preferred)

Very Good, Jeeves (1930) (short stories)

Big Money (1931)

If I Were You (1931)

Louder and Funnier (1932) (essays)

Doctor Sally (1932)

Hot Water (1932)

Mulliner Nights (1933) (short stories)

Heavy Weather (1933)

Thank You, Jeeves (1934)

Right Ho, Jeeves (1934) (US: Brinkley Manor)

Enter Psmith (1935)

Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935) (US: Blandings Castle) (short stories)

The Luck of the Bodkins (1935)

Young Men in Spats (1936) (short stories)

Laughing Gas (1936)

Lord Emsworth and Others (1937) (US: The Crime Wave at Blandings) (short stories)

Summer Moonshine (1937)

The Code of the Woosters (1938)

Uncle Fred in Springtime (1939)

Eggs, Beans and Crumpets (1940) (short stories)

Quick Service (1940)

Money in the Bank (1942)

Joy in the Morning (1946) (US: Jeeves in the Morning)

Full Moon (1947)

Spring Fever (1948)

Uncle Dynamite (1948)

The Mating Season (1949)

Nothing Serious (1949) (short stories)

The Old Reliable (1951)

Barmy in Wonderland (1952) (US: Angel Cake)

Pigs Have Wings (1952)

Ring for Jeeves (1953) (US: The Return of Jeeves)

Performing Flea (1953) (US: Author Author, 1962) (letters)

Bring on the Girls (1954) (autobiography, with Guy Bolton)

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954) (US: Bertie Wooster Sees It Through, 1955)

French Leave (1956)

Over Seventy (1957) (US: America I Like You, 1956) (essays)

Something Fishy (1957) (US: The Butler Did It)

Cocktail Time (1958)

A Few Quick Ones (1959) (short stories)

Jeeves in the Offing(1960) (US: How Right You Are Jeeves)

Ice in the Bedroom (1961)

Service With a Smile (1961)

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963)

Frozen Assets (1964) (US: Biffen's Millions)

Galahad at Blandings (1964) (US: The Brinkmanship of Galahad Threepwood)

Plum Pie (1966) (short stories, poems, essays)

Company for Henry (1967) (US: The Purloined Paperweight)

Do Butlers Burgle Banks? (1968)

A Pelican at Blandings (1969) (US: No Nudes Is Good Nudes, 1970)

The Girl in Blue (1970)

Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971) (US: Jeeves and the Tie that Binds)

Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin (1972) (US: The Plot that Thickened, 1973)

Bachelors Anonymous (1973)

Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (1974) (US: The Cat-Nappers, 1975)

The Uncollected Wodehouse (1976) (short stories, essays)

Sunset at Blandings (1977) (unfinished)


If you are reading Wodehouse's books, please leave comments with Wodehouse-related links and I will add them here.


Updated August 11, 2019.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Every Bitter Thing

"'The method of killing was the same, a single shot to the abdomen followed by a beating with a blunt object. And the bullets were all fired from the same gun.'"

-- Every Bitter Thing by Leighton Gage.

This is the fourth book in a mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Brazilian Federal Police.

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

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mailbox Monday

My mailbox overfloweth last week. Many books really did come in the mail, plus I stopped at one of my favorite library bookstores, the Booktique, when I was in Lake Oswego for a Ladies' Lunch, and I went to Powell's to get my Book Club book. So I have a very long Mailbox Monday list.


Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women by Mary Rechner. This adorable book came from a Portland publisher called Propeller Books. I didn't ask for it. I don't like short stories. But it has moved from my mailbox to the top of my nightstand TBR-immediately stack because it is irresistible. Not only is the cover so vintage sassy, it is also a beautifully-made book, with thick, rough-cut pages and French flaps. French flaps. That is a trend in book binding that I support wholeheartedly.

The I Hate to Cook Cookbook by Peg Bracken. Despite my ever-growing Guilt list, I asked for this because it is a super-cute 50th Anniversary edition of a 1960s classic. And Peg Bracken was an Oregon author, to boot.

The Truth About Obamacare by Sally Pipes. This is an issue on which I need some guidance!

Maps and Shadows by Krysia Jopek. Following my review of The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt, Aquila Polonica sent me two more books and a DVD about the Siege of Warsaw. This novel looks very good -- I'll read this one.

The Ice Road by Stefan Waydenfeld. This is the second book from Aquila Polonica. It is non-fiction and involves an escape from Soviet labor camps. This one definitely has Mr. Rose City Reader's name on it. I wonder if they have to eat the sled dogs?


Sorry, no pictures of these. I'm in a hotel room in Eugene with horrible internet and I'd rather spend the rest of the evening getting a good start on Rebecca than waiting for every picture to load. 

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd

Parachutes & Kisses by Erica Jong (the third in the Isadora Wing series)

Perfect Happiness by Penelope Lively

The Journals of Lewis and Clark ("Edited and interpreted by Bernard DeVoto")

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown (on the Erica Jong list)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (on several lists, but I can't recall which ones)

The Redhunter by William F. Buckley, Jr.


Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin (for Book Club)

The Choir by Joanna Trollope

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: Venusberg

"Lushington collected the pieces of typewritten foolscap and shook them together so that the edges were level."

-- Venusberg by Anthony Powell.

I have been tearing through books here the past week. I'm on a reading roll.

Anthony Powell is a favorite author of mine. His magnum opus, A Dance to the Music of Time, is my "desert island" book and one I look forward to re- and re-reading.

Venusberg is an earlier novel, first published in 1932, almost two decades before the first volume of Dance.  It is the story of a British journalist sent to cover the unstable situation in an unnamed Baltic state.

My copy is a particularly cool little paperback edition put out by Green Integer Books. It is 4.25" wide by 6" tall -- an interesting, compact size. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: Housekeeping vs. The Dirt

"The story so far: I have been writing a column for this magazine for the last fifteen months."

This is the second compilation of Nick Hornby's columns for the Believer magazine.  I got a big kick out of the first volume, The Polysyllabic Spree (reviewed here) and am enjoying this one just as much.

This is one of my choices for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: Every Bitter Thing

"It was Norma Palhares who first steered her new husband towards the offshore oil platforms."

-- Every Bitter Thing by Leighton Gage.

That is a catchy first sentence. I like it. It turns out not to have a lot to do with the plot, but it sets up a good opening sequence that tells the reader a great deal about the setting -- modern day Rio de Janeiro.

This is the fourth book in a mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Brazilian Federal Police.


Book Beginnings on Fridays is a Friday fun "opening sentence" event hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Post the opening sentence of the book(s) you started this week and see what other books people have going.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review of the Day: Saving Stanley

Saving Stanley: The Brickman Stories by Scott Nadelson is a terrific collection of eight interrelated stories about Daniel Brickman and his family. The stories move back and forth in time and focus on different family members, eventually piecing together a family history from the grandfather’s Communist youth in Leningrad, the parents’ early years of marriage, and Daniel’s adolescence, to Daniel’s own marriage.

The stories that focus on Daniel’s mother Hannah are the strongest, starting with the title piece in which she fanatically nurses the family’s old, sick cat Stanley. Making Stanley the temporary but absolute center of her life causes Hannah to reconsider her relationships with academic colleagues, her husband, and her children. The later stories, “Why Not?” and “Hannah of Troy,” fill in details of Hannah’s years as the young, sometimes overlooked, wife of a scientist.

Many of the stories deal with Daniel’s troubled relationship with his older brother Jared. The best is “With Equals Alone” in which Daniel panics about starting high school with Jared off at college and Jared, uninterested in his own pending high school graduation, spends all his time and energy preparing for a local body building contest. The strain between the brothers is palpable, typical, and humorous – at least to outsiders.

“Kosher” and “Young Radicals” are the funniest of the stories. Daniel is a young adult in each, busy rebelling against his parents’ suburban life. In “Kosher,” he gets a shady job fundraising for the Robowski Fund for the Disabled – a charity benefiting only Helen Robowski and her sole employee. In “Young Radicals,” Daniel reconnects with his grandfather with vague plans for a college thesis on early Soviet history. His plans go awry when faced with the reality of his grandfather as a Florida retiree clash with his image of a fiery Russian laborer.

One weakness in the collection is that Nadelson does not elaborate on how the brother’s got along after they grow up. Also, the adult brothers, as characters, started to conflate. They were totally different people when they were young, and they remained factually different as adults, but what went on in their heads started to look the same. In “Anything You Need,” Jared and his girlfriend are having difficulties and he ponders what she wants that he can’t provide. In “Hannah of Troy,” Daniel has pre-wedding jitters and wonders what his fiancée wants that he can’t provide. With only eight stories in the collection and only one featuring Jared as an adult, it is a shame there wasn’t a broader range.

But that minor quibble shouldn’t keep readers away. Nadelson’s writing is fresh and clear and brings the Brickman family to life. Although only 212 pages, Saving Stanley packs the wallop of a long novel.

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


Saving Stanley won the Oregon Book Award for Short Fiction and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. Scott Nadelson teaches creative writing at Willamette University and lives in Salem, Oregon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Announcement and Miscellany


The August issue of the Internet Review of Books is up now, with a dozen non-fiction reviews, a half-dozen fiction reviews, two poetry reviews (including one of a collection of Dorthy Parker's poetry that is particularly interesting), and the always-entertaining Brief Review section.


I got several things in the mail this that caught my bookish fancy.


The first is a catalog from Open Letter, an publishing house I had never heard of before. Based at the University of Rochester in New York, the press specializes in "literary translations" and has a small but impressive selection of books in print.

The book that caught my eye is The Ambassador by Bragi Olafsson, translated from Icelandic. It is a novel about a poet invited to an international poetry festival in Lithuania as official representative of Iceland, only to be accused of plagiarism on the eve of his trip.  It looks great.

The catalog is a treasure trove of novels, stories, poetry and non-fiction  from Argentina, France, the Czech Republic, Poland, Catalonia, and elsewhere. This is a terrific resource and would be particularly useful when finding books for an international reading challenge.  I see from browsing the on-line catalog that you save 20% by ordering direct.


The second thing I got in the mail iss the latest calendar for workshops and events at the San Francisco Center for the Book.  It made me wish that I still lived in San Francisco! I attended several events there, including a poetry reading/letterpress exhibit with Kirsten Rian and a Mail Art workshop where we made collage postcards and submitted them for this "digital exhibit."

For anyone living in the Bay Area or visiting, I highly recommend taking part in the goings on at SFCB.


Finally, a friend of mine sent me a book swap chain letter.  The idea, as with all chain letters, is to send whatever it is to the name at the top of the list and to pass the letter on to six friends, with the idea that when your name goes to the top, you will receive multiple whatevers. 

In this case, the whatever is a paperback book and the list only has one name on it.  That is, there is one person's name on the back of the letter -- I am supposed to send her a book.  The friend who sent it to me included six of her own return address sticky labels. I stick one on the back of each of the six letters I send out. So the pyramid for this pyramid scheme is pretty squat!

I have always been a sucker for chain letters. Ever since I was a kid, I have sent pennies, recipes, stamps, socks -- anything. Well, maybe not socks.  But I am enchanted with the idea, even though I don't know that I ever got anything.  The chain always broke before my name got to the top of the list.

So, Annette in Wisconsin -- keep a loot out for your book. It's on the way!

I am curious to know what other people think of chain letters. What about book chain letters? Tempting at all? Has anyone ever successfully participated in a chain letter?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Saving Stanley

"I'd never expected to be held accountable for my actions as a ten-year-old, and I certainly never thought they would cost me my brother's love.  Now I took his side in any argument he had with my parents, but he didn't seem to notice."

-- from "With Equals Alone" in Saving Stanley: The Brickman Stories by Scott Nadelson.

This is a terrific collection of interrelated stories about Daniel Brickman and his family.  Here, a young Daniel struggles to be loved by his older, now in high school, brother.  There is a lot of truth in these stories.  Great reading.

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

Monday, August 16, 2010

Givaway Winner!

I am pleased to announce the winner of my giveaway for The Opposite Field by Jesse Katz.

Thank you to everyone who participated by signing up and/or spreading the word! And a big THANKS to Three Rivers Press who made the book available.

I used random.org to generate a winner. That lucky person is Carin at Caroline Bookbinder. Thanks for participating, Carin. Congratulations!

Mailbox Monday

Only one book came into my house last week, so my Mailbox Monday list is very short.

Every Bitter Thing by Leighton Gage.

This was so tempting, even with its creepy cover, that I started it already and am racing through it.

So many books sit on my TBR shelves for years, it is fun to break my old habits now and again. I feel so impetuous.
GIVEAWAY: I'll announce the winner of my giveaway later this morning! 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Review of the Day: The Idea of Perfection

There is a small irony in the fact that Kate Grenville won the Orange Prize – awarded to the “best” novel in English -- for a book that celebrates the imperfection in all things. The Idea of Perfection examines how people cope with their own imperfections and handle the imperfections in others.

The story focuses on Harley Savage, a part-time curator and textile artist who comes to Karakarook, New South Wales, to help the town starts a Pioneer and Heritage Museum. The seams in her art quilts are intentionally askew, reflecting, perhaps, her views of how people relate and life works.

Harley fancies she has a “dangerous streak,” so has walled herself off from relationships with other people, including her own children and even the stray dog that follows her home. Readers learn early on that her husband’s suicide turned her reclusive. But when the grisly details emerge, social seclusion seems like a mild reaction – it’s a wonder she wasn’t institutionalized. Grenville did not have to go quite so far to make the story work.

With other points, Grenville has a lighter touch. Douglas Cheeseman is the sympathetic anti-hero of the piece. An engineer sent to Karakarook to replace the old, Bent Bridge (there’s the imperfection idea again), Douglas bumbles through every social encounter, barely able to talk, consumed by his self doubt. He is drawn to Harley but, in the awkwardness of their meetings, is all but incapable of moving the affair forward.

Side stories amplify the theme of imperfection. Primary among these is the mesmerizing story of Felicity Porcelline and her relationship with the town’s butcher. Felicity is obsessed with perfection – keeping her house spotless, her face unmarred by wrinkle or freckle, and her interactions with the townsfolk above reproach. Things are definitely not what they seem, however, and it turns out that this seemingly perfect woman is the least perfect of all.

Felicity’s story and some of the other digressions do not mesh with the overall plot. They seemed tacked on or laid over the top. Rather than lessening the quality of the book, these misalignments underscore Grenville’s theme that perfection is impossible and imperfection should be embraced.

(If you woud like your review of this book or any other of Kate Grenville's books listed here, please leave a comment with a link to your post and I will add it.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review of the Day: The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt

Rulka Langer was visiting her family in Poland when Germany invaded in 1939, setting off World War II. Her husband was in America, where they had been living, but she had taken their two children back to Poland to visit her mother, her brother, and other relatives. She and her children remained in Poland through the German siege of Warsaw, before finally escaping back to America in 1940.

Langer’s account of the German invasion and siege was first published in 1942. The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt has now been re-issued with fresh editing; more than a hundred new photographs, maps, and other supplemental documents; and a new Epilogue written by her son.

This is an incredible book. Subtitled “War Through a Woman’s Eyes, 1939 – 1940,” it reads like a novel, dragging the reader through the burning streets of Warsaw as German bombs drop on the city, on perilous train and cart trips through the war-scarred country-side, and through the treacherous and increasingly evil post-siege German administration. Her writing is crisp and honest – revealing her prior experience as a journalist.

Langer was not Jewish, and she left Warsaw before the Germans squeezed the city’s Jewish population into the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, so this is not a book about the Holocaust. But her depictions of events such as the arbitrary arrest of teachers and Catholic priests, and refugees transported on cattle cars, provide, in retrospect, chilling clues about what was to come.

Hers is the story of what it was like for ordinary people to live through war, to make decisions and to carry on even when her world is being blown apart. Her descriptions and explanations can seem unrealistically chipper – such as her report of bringing her children and mother back to Warsaw after deciding they were in greater danger in the country – seeming to deny the emotions that must have gone into them. But some experiences cannot hide behind a brave face, such as watching the houses on either side burn, knowing there was no water to put out the fire should it spread to their house, or racing with her children to a bomb shelter while machine guns strafed the street on which they ran.

Although the subject matter is serious, this is still an entertaining book that is thoroughly absorbing and quick to read. Langer’s memoir is a valuable historic account that deserves a wide audience.

The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt would make an excellent book club choice, especially for readers who enjoyed Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, The Diary of Anne Frank, or Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.


I am pleased to scratch this one off my Guilt List. I just wish I hadn't waited so long to read it -- it was terrific!

The book is published by Aquila Polonica Publishing, “a young company specializing in publishing, in English, the Polish World War II experience – a part of World War II which is virtually unknown in the West. This amazingly heroic and tragic story of one of the Western Allies was suppressed for decades by the Communist regime that was forced upon Poland after the war, as part of its strategy for controlling that country. Only since the fall of Communism in 1989 have the true facts begun to resurface.”

Mermaid won the 2010 Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Best First Book (non-fiction).

(If you would like your review of this book, or any other book published by Aquila Polonica, listed here, please leave a comment with a link to your post and I will add it here.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review of the Day: Juliet, Naked

What happens when an idol turns out to be a normal, middle-aged person with plenty of ordinary problems of his own? Nick Hornby answers this question with charm and wit in Juliet, Naked, a novel about three people whose lives are turned inside out by one man’s mania for a reclusive rock star.

Duncan and Annie have been together for 15 years, putting on a brave front as a small-time academic and rinky-dink museum curator in the cultural backwater of seaside Gooleness. The dominating feature of their tepid relationship has always been Duncan’s fixation with Tucker Crowe, a late-‘70s, early-‘80s American rock star whose album Juliet is considered – at least by the 15 or so remaining, frenetic fans – to be the be all and end all of break-up albums.

When Crowe’s record company releases a CD of the demo tracks for Juliet, the “Croweologists” go wild over the first new material from their hero in the twenty-plus years since he cancelled a tour and abruptly retired. Annie revolts, setting into motion a series of romantic, almost plausible events that finally knock her and Duncan out of their rut.

As always, Hornby’s take on obsessive fans is spot on. Using Annie as the lead character brings freshness to these themes and makes this a particularly appealing Hornby choice for his female readers.


(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link to your review post and I will add it.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Two Towers

"Aragorn sped on up the hill."

-- The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien.

This is Part II of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I read The Hobbit as a child, but never the trilogy, and have been meaning to turn to it for years. I finally read the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, last year. I hope to get this one and the final volume, The Return of the King, finished this year. 

Finishing the trilogy will let me scratch this off several lists:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt

The long rumbling noise of crumbling walls, the tinkle of broken glass.
Mother, the room, everything disappeared in a cloud of dust . . .

-- The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt: War Through a Woman's Eyes, 1939 - 1940 by Rulka Langer (ellipses in original).

This is a really amazing book! It is the memoirs of a Polish woman who lived through the Nazi siege of Warsaw at the beginning of World War II. It reads like a novel and tells just what it was like to try to live a normal life with bombs falling and armies on the move.

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


Monday, August 9, 2010

Mailbox Monday and GIVEAWAY

Two book came into my mailbox last week, in time for Mailbox Monday. Chick Loves Lit is the host this month.

The first book is one I had my eye on and am pleased as punch to get from the Oregon State University Press:

Discovering Main Street: Travel Adventures in Small Towns of the Northwest by Foster Church.  I am lucky to live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and I love exploring small towns.  This would be the travel book I wrote myself if I had time and talent.

The second book is one that came to me unsolicited from the publisher:

The Opposite Field by Jesse Katz.

This memoir by a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist is generating some real buzz and great reviews. It is a father's story about his relationship with his son, centered around their baseball-playing times together.

It looks like it would be very, very good.

BUT I AM GIVING MY COPY AWAY TO A GOOD BLOG HOME.  My hope is that it will go to someone who will enjoy it and REVIEW it. Not that I don't think it is a good book and would be worth reading, but my Guilt List is already long and, honestly, if it involves wheels or balls, I am just not interested.


The contest is open until Sunday, August 15, 2010. To enter, do any or all of the following, but you must leave a comment for each one:

1. Leave a comment on this post. You must include a way to contact you (email or website address in your comment or available in your profile). If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner. (1 entry)

2. Blog about this giveaway. (Posting the giveaway on your sidebar is also acceptable.) Leave a separate comment with a link to your post. (1 entry)

3. Subscribe to my rss feed, follow me on blogger, or subscribe via email (or tell me if you already are a subscriber or follower). Leave a separate comment for this. (1 entry)

4. Tweet this post on Twitter. Leave me a separate comment with your twitter user name. (1 entry)

5. Stumble this blog, digg it, technorati fave it, or link it on facebook. Leave a separate comment. (1 entry)

There are a lot of ways to enter (maximum of five entries), but you must LEAVE A SEPARATE COMMENT for each one or they will not count. I will use random.org to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is open to entries from the U.S. and Canada only, no PO Boxes. The deadline for entry is midnight in your time zone, next Sunday, August 15, 2010. I will draw and post the winner's name on Monday, August 16, 2010.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Opening Sentence ofthe Day: Saving Stanley

"When the cat was sick and slowly dying, Hannah canceled vacation plans, dinner parties, hair appointments, a manicure."

Saving Stanley: The Brickman Stories by Scott Nadelson (Oregon Book Award winner; Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award). 

I was immediately sucked into the first story in this interconnected collection of stories about the Brickman family because my own cat recently died of old age. I know just how Hannah felt! I ripped through the whole story in one sitting. It was excellent -- subtle, tense, funny, sad, and gracefully written. I can't wait to read the rest. 

This is one of the beautiful Hawthorne Books editions that make you re-think the idea of "paperback" because they are taller and skinnier than a typical trade paperback and feature "acid-free papers; sewn bindings that will not crack; heavy, laminated covers with double-scored French flaps that function as built-in bookmarks."  Hawthorne is a Portland-based, independent publisher specializing in literary fiction and narrative non-fiction. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Review of the Day: Small Island

In Small Island, Andrea Levy examines what happened when volunteers from Jamaica came to England to fight for the British military during World War II and then stayed. She tells the story from the points of view of Queenie, the English wife of Bernard, her Jamaican tenant Gilbert, his new wife Hortense, and Bernard. The narrative moves back and forth in time from before the war to after, and from Jamaica to England to India, where Bernard was stationed.

The varying voices allowed Levy to pull in several different threads, but the central theme of the book is race relations in the 1940s in England. Until WWII, many English people in England had never seen or interacted with black people. Levy is a bit ham-fisted in her portrayal of American soldiers and their segregated ranks, but the contrast with the English is interesting. While the Americans were blatant with their discriminatory Jim Crow rules, the English prided themselves on how the British Empire supposedly led to racial tolerance.

Levy shows that this tolerance was more theory than fact. As black soldiers returned to England as black immigrants, they were treated as unwelcomed foreigners, despite being British citizens. Neighbors resent Queenie renting rooms to Gilbert and Hortense. Although Gilbert planned to go to law school, he is relegated to driving a truck. And college-educated Hortense is told that she will never be qualified to teach in London. Levy makes her point with subtly and humor as Gilbert and Hortense learn to find their way in England and in their marriage.

Levy skillfully weaves the small island theme throughout the novel. Geographically, Jamaica is a small island, but Levy makes it clear that limited ideas about culture, race, marriage, and opportunities made England just as small.

(If you would liek your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link to your post and I will add it.)


Small Island won both the Orange Prize and the Costa (Whitbread) Book of the Year Award. My book club read it and it was a enjoyed by all. It counts as my Orange Prize choice for the Book Award Challenge. It would also count for the Typically British Challenge if I had not already read more than my quota for that one. 

Friday, August 6, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: This Is Water

"There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys[, h]ow's the water?'"

-- This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace.

When the senior partner at your law firm hands you a little book and tells you that you should read it, the only response is to smile and say, "Oh, yes. Certainly. How lovely."

Does this mean I don't have to read Infinite Jest?


I will be hopping around today because we settled a big child sex abuse case last night (after a long, long day of mediation) and I am celebrating.

Book Blogger Hop

The BBH question this week is whether you listen to music when you read and, if so, what songs?

I can't listen to any music with words while I read. I can have music without words playing -- in our house, this means classic, Mid-Century jazz like Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, or Dexter Gordon -- but I don't hear it. I tune out everything when I read.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: Peaceful Places, New York City

"I have lived in New York City all my life, and I am convinced that it is the most vibrant, fascinating, creative, diverse, and, sometimes, frustrating place on earth."

-- Peaceful Places, New York City: 129 Tranquil Sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island by Evelyn Kanter.

I laughed when I read the acknowledgment section at the beginning of this book because the author thanked GM and Ford for loaning her cars to use to get to the places she wrote about. Having no car is such a quintessential New York thing -- I feel like I will be in good hands with this woman.

Although I have been to Manhattan several times, I have never explored the other boroughs.  We are planning a trip to New York this fall -- maybe this will be my chance to venture farther afield. And maybe this will be the book that inspires me to do so.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review of the Day: Valley of the Dolls

Valley of the Dolls may be the most famous of all "trashy" novels, which is why I've always wanted to read it. I have never even seen the movie, so I never knew what it was about. I had a vague, misconceived notion that the book was about women (dolls) . . . who lived in a valley? Maybe in Connecticut?

How do these ideas take root?

Jacqueline Susann's novel is actually about three young women who come to New York City after World War II, looking for fame and fortune. Anne comes from a well-off but stodgy New England background, gets a job as a secretary to a high-powered attorney-for-the-stars, and exercises extremely poor judgment in her choice of men.  Neely is a 17-year-old vaudeville trouper who dreams of becoming a musical star. Jennifer is a no-talent bombshell who builds a career around her enormous boobs.

The story rips along through two decades, following the careers, love affairs, break-ups, crack-ups, and tragedies of the three until they start to lose their youth, beauty, health, and sanity.  As life gets tougher, all three eventually turn to sleeping pills (red "dolls) to get through the night and pep pills (green "dolls") to get through the day.

And there is no happy ending.

Which is why I now  wish I hadn't read it. I don't mind sordid during the story, but I like a happy -- or at least hopeful -- ending, with the bad guys getting their comeuppance and the good guys prevailing. What with the booze and pills and adultery and abortions and back stabbing and general ugliness, I just wanted a good scrubbing by the time I got to the end. 

(If you would like your review posted here, please leave a comment with a link to your review post and I will add it.)


I read this for the Birth Year Reading Challenge hosted by the Hotchpot Cafe. So at least I get a candle!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Down River

"The trailer was old, probably thirty, which is about three hundred in trailer years. It canted to the right on cinder-block legs."

-- Down River by John Hart

This is an Edgar winner, and I am really enjoying it.  I don't usually do teasers from audio books, but I failed to download one of the disks, so had to get the book book from the library to fill in -- giving me the chance to find a teaser.

James Lee Burke pretty much has a lock on moody, atmospheric Southern mysteries, so I admire an author willing to even give one a shot. That this one is very good, original, and not a Burke homage makes it definitely worth reading. Those Edgar folks picked a good one.  

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

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mailbox Monday

I enjoyed Peaceful Places, Los Angeles so much that I got my hands on a copy of Peaceful Places, New York City.

There are plans afoot for a trip to New York this fall, so I can't wait to read this and get ideas.

This is the first week of the new Mailbox Monday blog tour. This month, Chick Loves Lit is the host.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt

"In front of the house, under the big chestnut tree, Mother sat on a wooden bench talking to Uncle."

-- The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt: War Through a Woman's Eyes, 1939 - 1940, "Rulka Langer's extraordinary personal memoir of the opening chapter of World War II, covers the six-month period from August 1938 to February 1940 -- from the end of the last peacetime summer, through the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Siege of Warsaw and the first few months of the Nazi occupation."

This has been on my Guilt List for a long time. But it caught my attention now, because I was fascinated by the women's stories about WWII in London in Small Island by Andrea Levy, which we just read for book club

Also, it is a good balance to Valley of the Dolls.

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