Saturday, October 30, 2010

Review of the Day: Origin

Origin is an emotional, atmospheric mystery set in the icy winter of Syracuse, New York. Crime lab technician Lena Dawson has an intuition for danger – and a keen sense of smell – that take her out of the fingerprint lab and to the heart of a series of mysterious baby deaths.

Lena’s talents, which she attributes to her incredibly unusual infant upbringing, brought her public acclaim in a prior case, but also earned the enmity and mistrust of several co-workers. She must battle office resistance as well as baffling circumstances to find the connection among the dead babies and solve what she knows are murders. But to do so, she must also find, and face, the answers about her own past.

This is Diana Abu-Jaber’s fourth book, but her first mystery, and she combines the best of literary fiction and genre writing. The plotting and pace of the mystery are very good, but Abu-Jaber does not stint on developing deeper, underlying ideas about personal identity, isolation, and dependency.

This is an all-around great book for any reader looking for a mystery with meat on the bones.


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


Diana Abu-Jaber is the author of two earlier novels, Arabian Jazz and Crescent, and a memoir called The Language of Baklava. She was born in Syracuse, New York, and now lives in Portland, where she teaches at Portland State University.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Sea, the Sea

"The sea which lies before me as I write glows rather than sparkles in the bland May sunshine."

-- The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch, a novel about an aging playwright/director/actor who retires to the North Sea coast of England.

This won the Booker prize in 1978. I am reading it for my  Battle of the Prizes, British Version challenge. It will also count as one of my Chunkster Challenge reads.

Book Beginnings on Friday is a weekly Opening Sentence event now hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review of the Day: A Geography of Secrets

Although called a novel, A Geography of Secrets by Frederick Reuss is really two separate novellas with common themes. The stories twine around each other but never really connect. Both are enticing character studies, with layered ideas about family, marriage, friendship, and responsibility.

The first story concerns an unnamed mapmaker seeking to discover the secrets of his father’s professional history. He delves into government archives and travels to Switzerland to learn if his father was a CIA operative undercover in the diplomatic corps. His search takes a personal turn that leads to a melancholy ending.

The second story follows a government defense analyst, Noel Leonard, facing  demons after his error causes the bombing of a school in Afghanistan. Wrestling with his conscience, but unable to discuss the situation honestly with his wife, supervisors, or his priest, Leonard’s marriage and career break under the strain. Whether they can be repaired is left uncertain in the end – which readers may find either tantalizingly or frustratingly ambiguous.

Comparisons to Graham Greene are justified as Reuss captures a similar sense of moody isolation and human frailty. His writing is elegant without getting in the way of the ideas. Some of his descriptions are particularly captivating:

I felt a pang of shame for the seedy atmosphere that had overtaken the room. . . . It was also Nicole, distraughtly puffing away at her cigarettes, the disorder of the apartment, the dreary winter weather, the shabbiness of lives foreshortened by cocktails and weltschmerz.

That is terrific. "Lives foreshortened by cocktails and weltschmerz" is a novel in itself.

Some readers may be disappointed with the soft landing of the ending, or that the two stories remain separate. But for the writing and the levels of insight plumbed in the stories, the book is well worth reading.

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

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Author Interview: Steve Anderson

Steve Anderson is a Portland-based author whose historical espionage thriller The Losing Role is available on Amazon Kindle, iBooks, and other e-readers. His earlier novels, False Refuge and Besserwisser are also available. He describes his books as crossing the genres of mystery, crime, historical, noir, espionage, war, and humor.

Steve has worked in advertising, marketing, and journalism with the Associated Press. He’s been a Fulbright Fellow, a language instructor, a waiter, and a freelance copywriter. Steve is also a screenwriter and has had short stories published online and in print. He’s a big soccer fan. He’s traveled a lot and lived in Germany but now lives with his wife René here in his hometown of Portland.

It is always interesting to talk with authors about their books and get their take on writing and publishing.  Steve generously shared his answers about his work and inspirations, marketing in the internet age, e-books, and the life of a writer:

Your novels are often set in a volatile period, such as WWII. What draws you to that type of story?

Periods and settings in turmoil are fertile ground. I'm always drawn to characters who are stuck between two worlds and in over their heads with a plan that's doomed to fail, but they stick with it anyway. They often don’t know exactly what they’re doing, but they believe in making the effort. That is the main character in all my books, really -- you just made me realize that.

My books tend to involve some overlooked historical theme. I like researching and using historical detail when it serves the story (but not too much), and some sort of duplicity often in the form of espionage or crime. I like setting up a clear sense of place for the reader. And there has to be loss. For a story to be good, for a character to gain something, something also has to be lost. It’s sad but true and I like realism. There’s truth there, if you can find it.

What have you learned from self-publishing e-books that you think is the most valuable lesson? What surprised you the most?

It’s a different trajectory compared to what I know about a print book release from a publisher. There’s not necessarily a clear window of marketing opportunity. It’s a long game. You have to be patient. As far as getting reviews from established reviewers, there are just some places you can’t be because you don’t have the physical book they require, and even when you do, any self-publisher of a print book will tell you it’s tough to get a review.

At first I just wanted to free my books from the drawer. Then it became this revelation -- I felt this huge weight lift off me. I quit worrying about if my agent was going to find a home for the one book. I also learned that many readers don’t know or care what publisher you’re with -- they’re just looking for a good read at a good price. I used to think I wasn’t legit until I was with some so-called legit publisher, but recently? I could give a rip. I’m doing my thing, I’m already happy enough, so whatever comes from that will come. Once I realized that, it was liberating.

It wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but it was nice to find out that if you get it out there and participate, readers will find you and get what you’re doing. I'm not talking about sales; mine are steady, though minor. A well-written reader review is the best thing.

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

This is the big challenge. Marketing myself or my books doesn't come naturally to me. For e-books, there are only so many options. I try to keep it simple. I go on message boards for readers, do some price promotions and announce when Amazon discounts my titles. I have a website but it’s more to provide info; I don’t have time to blog. I’m on Facebook and Twitter of course, which is kind of like baby-blogging, but I don't do a lot of it. I like Goodreads for the conversation. It definitely feels more natural when I'm simply taking part in a conversation and not hawking my books too directly.

I probably spend as much time weighing what strategies don’t really pay off for the time and effort. Plus, I think it depends on the genres you’re in -- some currently lend themselves better to promotion than others. My books cross genres -- mystery, crime, historical, noir, espionage, war, humor -- and where the ideal readers are isn’t always clear, at least not to me. But that will come as more start e-reading.

Any tips or hints for authors considering bringing out their own self-published books?

Be patient and work on your writing. Especially for fiction. There’s an urge to get it out there now, and that’s hard to resist. Resist it! Especially if you’re new. It takes years of writing for most to become a pro. It chooses you, and it’s brutal actually doing it -- just you alone in a room plodding along. You have to love the writing and rewriting and the rewriting again and again. That’s where the best stuff comes out.

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

I read more e-books now than print books and don’t really miss the feel of a print book like I thought I would. I use the iPhone Kindle app mostly for reading and always have books with me. I should be reading more self-published books and intend to. I have a virtual stack of them but my to-be-read list is huge. From the ones I’ve read, I can see that there’s a huge spectrum of quality -- but then look at any books from big publishers and you see the same thing.

Who are your three (or four or five) favorite authors?

This is tough. Graham Greene, John Le Carré. Alan Furst for the historical detail. Charles McCarry for the craft. Elmore Leonard for the humor. Patricia Highsmith, Martin Cruz Smith, John Steinbeck, Kingsley Amis. That’s already too many, isn’t it? It’s often whoever I’m reading at the moment and like. Philip Kerr and Rebecca Cantrell recently. Okay, I'll stop.

What are you reading now?

I just finished a novel called Black Out by John Lawton, an American who lived in Britain for years. It’s set in wartime London, about a detective tracking down a murderer and mixing it up with Yanks, emigrés and the corrupt. He nails the British stuff but Americans too in a way only an American could. Right down my alley. Just started Crusader’s Cross by James Lee Burke, a writer who proves some of the best writers period are writing in the so-called genres.

What’s next? Are you working on your next book?

I’m going to put out The Losing Role as a print book. I’ve started drafting a new novel set in the current day, about a writer from Portland who turns FBI informant to investigate an estranged friend who’s leading a militia movement in rural Oregon. It’s based on a screenplay I wrote. It explores the changing Northwest and the urban-rural split. It’s a shift in direction for me, returning home so to speak. I’m enjoying it. Now, I just need to find the time for it.

How many books have you written? Do you have a favorite?

The PR never tells you that most so-called first-time authors wrote many manuscripts before that first novel is published. So, yeah, I’ve probably written about 6-7 total, a couple reworked into something else. My favorites are probably The Liberator, which is from my real first manuscript (started years ago as Reparation) and the one my agent’s trying to find a publisher for. I have a soft spot for Besserwisser: A Novel, because I tried something different by going with humor -- doing subtle funny and keeping it going was the hardest writing ever.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

There are so many things. Being my own boss, working at home, and connecting with readers, more recently. But it really goes back to creating stories that start to take on a life of their own. When you’re humming along, and you’ve put the work into shaping a character, and that character wants to do things -- has to do things -- through your fingers. That’s an amazing feeling. Not to sound spiritual (I’m definitely not that), but it’s like you’re channeling something, someone. Maybe the best thing is knowing what I want. This is what I do. I have to do it. It's a pain in the ass sometimes but it makes me feel alive.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Let the Great World Spin

"A violent gust or even a sudden change in temperature would force the buildings to sway and the wire could tighten and bounce. . . . If he was on it, he would have to ride out the bounce or else he'd go flying."

-- Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

I am halfway through this and am enjoying it, although maybe not as much as I had hoped to.

My favorite parts are those about Philippe Petit on the tightrope between the Twin Towers. The documentary about him, Man on Wire, knocked me off my pins.

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mailbox Monday

Thanks go to Avis of She Reads and Reads for hosting Mailbox Monday in October.

Three books came into my house last week:

Mink River by Brian Doyle.  This was a hostess gift from a very thoughtful friend. I am looking froward to it because it is a novel by the author of The Grail: A Year Ambling & Shambling Through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World, which I really liked and reviewed here.

American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields by Rowan Jacobsen. This is a LibraryThing Early Reviewer book. I've been limiting my ER choices, but this one sounded very interesting to me.

61 Hours by Lee Child.  This one came as a result of the book chain letter I sent out a couple of months ago. I am a big Lee Child fan and have read all his Jack Reacher novels except this, his latest. I'll be turning to it very soon.How fun!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Jazz Cats: Update

Having two new kittens in my house has completely absorbed my attention. Ever since their arrival a week ago, we spend all the time we can just watching them. Again, I promise this won't become an all-kitten blog, but there are just too cute to ignore.

A brief update:

After spending two days not moving much and hissing at Ella, Billie transformed into über-kitten, playing with every toy (a bent pipecleaner being her favorite) and running around like a nut. That lecture we gave her about kittens with no personality having to go back to the pound must have sunk in.

She even started to tolerate Ella and came withing a belly's distance without hissing (that's Ella on top, Billie below, Husband in the middle).

But meanwhile, Ella, who came with the kitten cold most cats catch at the Humane Society, got sicker and sicker. She stopped eating. A quick trip to the vet and $175 later, she was pumped full of fluids, vitamins, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and an appetite stimulant and was on the road to recovery. The only good thing about her being sick was that Billie (who had caught the kitten cold herself) was sympathetic and let Ella sleep in the same basket with her.(Ella is the one talking in the picture.)

Now they are both on antibiotics but are feeling pretty frisky, even if they do sneeze a lot. Ella has packed on some pounds -- well, ounces -- thanks to the special fat food from the vet. They still sleep in the same basket, but they spend most waking hours playing an elaborate game of Kitten Tag that involves lots of wiggling, hopping, nose tapping, and mad dashes across the free-fire zone of the bedroom.

Okay, okay . . . back to the books. I just started Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. Perfect for this rainy weekend while I watch the Jazz Cats play.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: Let the Great World Spin

"Those who saw him hushed."

-- Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

This won the National Book Award last year. I am reading it as my National winner pick for the Battle of the Prizes, American Version challenge.

I had originally picked Them by Joyce Carol Oates as my National choice, and Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler for my Pulitzer winner, but I decided to switch. I just read Olive Kitteridge for my Pulitzer winner and decided to stick with the short-stories-as-novel idea with my National pick. They tie in with The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter for my double dipper choice.

Now I am finally making progress on my own challenge. It's about time.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: Another Way the River Has

To say that Another Way the River Has is a collection of essays inspired by the Pacific Northwest is both an overstatement and inadequate. The essays are inspired by the northwest corner of one Northwest state, Robin Cody’s Oregon, but they are broader in scope than their geographic setting.

Cody writes about gyppo loggers, boat builders, Coast Guard rescue crews, sheep farmers, rodeo cowboys, Indian fishermen, birders, and his own experiences as a coach, umpire, and school bus driver. The stories are fascinating in and of themselves. And Cody uses them to mull on larger topics, such as man’s impact on the natural world – and vice versa – and how people and nature adapt to life’s unfairness.

Many of the pieces were previously published in Northwest Magazine in The Sunday Oregonian and other regional publications, although several appear here for the first time.

Because they were written over a span of 25 years and for different audiences, the collection has a bit of a hodgepodge feel to it. It is easy to stumble over some of the transitions, such as the one between “Deaf Basketball,” a quirky story about refereeing a game for the Oregon State School for the Deaf, and “Hideaway Slough,” a mystically personal reflection on solitary boat camping in a sleepy Columbia River backwater. Perhaps the contrast is intentional, but it can be a little distracting.

Cody is probably best known for his popular coming-of-age novel, Ricochet River, and he won the Oregon Book Award for Voyage of a Summer Sun. The essays in Another Way the River Has further showcase Cody’s keen awareness of what makes his corner of Oregon endlessly fascinating.

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


Published by OSU Press.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review of the Day: Echoes

Maeve Binchy has the knack for making stories about ordinary people be very interesting. She is like Anne Tyler in this.

Echoes is no exception to the usual Binchy “Aga saga” formula, and it is just as absorbing as her later books. It is the story of Clare O'Brien, a shopkeeper’s daughter in a second-rate Irish beach town, and David Power, the son of the town’s only doctor. The two have mostly divergent, post-war childhoods, but meet up in Dublin in the early 1960s when Clare goes to college and David is in medical school.

It feels like Binchy took a look at an older couple she knew in the present day, went back, and told the story of how they grew up, met, and fell in love. Their lives are not extraordinary, but their story keeps your attention.


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


This counts as one of my books for the Chunkster Challenge. I am not doing so well with this challenge and think I over-committed. Luckily, the punishment for changing my participation level at this late stage is . . . nonexistent. That's the thing about blogging -- it is not obligatory.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Another Way the River Has

While he maneuvered to pass a towline to the disabled trawler, a breaker caught the lifeboat broadside.  The boat did what it was designed to do in overpowering conditions [-- it] began a 360-degree roll.
-- from "Surf Savvy" in Another Way the River Has: Taut True Tales from the Northwest by Robin Cody (published by OSU Press).
This is a terrific collection of essays by the author of Ricochet River.  Set in Oregon and Washington, but definitely stories with universal appeal.

For those in the area, Robin Cody will be reading from this book tomorrow night at the Press Club.  Details here.

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mailbox Monday and Giveaway Winner

Thanks to a book chain letter I sent out a couple of months ago, at least one book came into my mailbox last week.

Thanks go to Avis of She Reads and Reads for hosting Mailbox Monday in October.

But first:


Congratulations to Tea at I Love to Read who won my copy of The Art of Disappearing by Ivy Pochoda. I used to pick the winning number (it was 2), but Tea did a good job of increasing her odds by entering in all five of the possible ways. Thanks Tea!

And thanks to everyone else who entered. I've seen several giveaways for this book, so I wish you luck getting a copy elsewhere.


44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith (this is the first of his newer series)

Canola Gourmet by Sheilah Kaufman and Sheri L. Coleman.  At first, I thought this was a chain letter book, because it came with no cover letter or note or anything. But I now realize from the return address that it came from the author.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Jazz Cats Are Here!

I've ignored the blog this weekend to celebrate the arrival of Billie and Ella, The Jazz Cats. We picked them up yesterday from the Oregon Humane Society. Both are eight or nine weeks old and still very little.

Unlike an earlier joke, these kittens are real. And they are adorable. I promise that I won't devote this blog to pictures of cute kittens, but, really, they are cute.


So far, Billie is oddly docile. We can pick her up, hold her, or put her anywhere and she just sits there. She finally wandered around to get something to eat and drink, but she doesn't play or talk. She hisses at Ella, but doesn't run away or swat. She's healthy, so maybe she is just getting used to her new home. Or she is just odd.


Ella is a bundle of kitten love. If she is awake, she is purring. She already knows her name and follows us around everywhere. She wants to be right next to one of us at all times. In fact, right now, she is sitting on the back of my neck while I hunch over like a crone. If I try to put her on my lap so I can sit up, she climbs on the laptop and types.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Hop and Giveaway Reminder

I'll be hopping around today while I pretend that I do not have a stack of neglected work to attend to.

Also, please don't forget that I am giving away a copy of The Art of Disappearing by Ivy Pochoda.  See the main giveaway post for details.  Please sign up on the giveaway post, not here. Thanks!

Book Blogger Hop

The question for this week's Book Blog Hop comes from The Paperback Princess, who asks:

"When you read a book that you just can't get into, do you stick it out and keep reading or move to your next title?"

Since I very rarely abandon a book, it would be an understatement to say I "stick it out."  In general, I have a funny, personal rule that I won't even look to see how many pages a book has until after I get past page 100. By then, I'm either interested, or have so much time and effort invested in the book that I finish it.

However (with lawyers, there's always a "however"), since I started blogging and sometimes get books I didn't ask for and am not particularly interested in to start with, I have gotten better about abandoning a book if it too much of a slog to get to page 100.  I can think of a particularly dry economic history of India and a biblical history textbook that I jettisoned early on. It was freeing.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Food Lover's Guide to Portland


Liz Crain tapped into Portland’s do-it-yourself ethic and agricultural abundance to write her Food Lover's Guide to Portland, an informative and inspiring handbook on the bustling food scene in this corner of the Pacific Northwest.

Because several print and on-line sources cover Portland’s restaurants and bars, Crain focused, for the most part, on the many producers and purveyors who supply the food and beverages so enjoyed by Rose City’s food lovers. She covers food, drinks, and general resources, providing the inside scoop on bakeries, cheese makers and mongers, chocolatiers, ethnic markets, brewers, coffee roasters, distillers, cooking classes, farmers markets, and much, much more.

While not concentrating on restaurants and bars, Crain does follow some of her favorite ingredients to the tables where they are served, providing lists of recommended “Go To Spots” for certain categories, such as cheese service, noodles, food carts, spicy food, vegetarian, brewpubs, and cocktails.

She also includes several “sidebar” pieces focusing on the people and products that make Portland unique. She introduces bartenders who infuse their own flavored spirits, chefs who butcher their own meat, pickle fanatics, miso makers, and others who she describes as having “a passion for food made the hard way.”

There is a lot packed into this small volume. If you live in Portland, are planning a visit, or just like foodie books, this is the one for you.


My review of Liz Crain is here.


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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Givaway: The Art of Disappearing

It's time to get my Guilt List under control. And one thing I can do is pass on to an appreciative reader a book that I do not think I will get to:

The Art of Disappearing by Ivy Pochoda (ARC copy)

This book is on tour this month and is very popular.  Caitlin on chaotic compendiums has a terrific review describing the book and explaining why she liked it.  Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty also gave it a good review.

It looks like it would be very, very good for readers who enjoy a little magic in their stories. That does not happen to be me. I have a very low tolerance for magic realism and a book about actual magic is not my cup of tea.  But I figure there are others out there who will enjoy it and review it, so I am putting it up for grabs.


The contest is open until Sunday, October 17, 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 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, a week from Sunday, October 17, 2010. I will draw and post the winner's name on Monday, October 18, 2010.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day and Teaser Tuesday

A Geography of Secrets by Frederick Reuss

Opening sentence:

Driving into work one day, I found myself in a different city.


I felt a pang of shame for the seedy atmosphere that had overtaken the room. . . . It was also Nicole, distraughtly puffing away at her cigarettes, the disorder of the apartment, the dreary winter weather, the shabbiness of lives foreshortened by cocktails and weltschmerz.

I just started this yesterday, so am combining an Opening Sentence post with Teaser Tuesday.

Although I have only read the first chapter, I think I am going to like this one.  "The shabbiness of lives foreshortened by cocktails and weltschmerz" is one helluva  phrase.

This has been on my Guilt List for quite a while.

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

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mailbox Monday

I was out of town for a while and happy to come home to find several books had arrived in my absence. I also picked up a short stack on my travels.

Thanks go to Avis of She Reads and Reads for hosting Mailbox Monday in October.

Here's the list:

Two Gold Coins and a Prayer: The Epic Journey of a World War II Bomber Pilot and POW by James H. Keeffe III.  My husband is particularly excited about this one because he loves personal accounts of WWII.  He will probably read it before I get to it, although it does look interesting.

Green Oranges on Lion Mountain by Emily Joy.  This is a British doctor's memoir about working for two years in Sierra Leone. It looks very good and I can think of a couple of people who would like to get a copy of this one for Christmas.

Fish with What You Find by Jim Gilsdorf. This is a collection of articles about fly fishing and fly tying. I do neither, but it still appeals to me, maybe because of the adorable illustrations.

Trespass by Rose Tremain. This is a LibraryThing Early Reviewer book.  Apparently I have caught up enough on my list to get more books.

The New Woman by Jon Hassler.  This is my first (and maybe only) book I received as part of a book chain letter I sent out about two months ago.

Morte D'Urban by J. F. Powers.  This won the National Book Award

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. This won the Pulitzer Prize.

The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey. I like the whole idea of these Soho Crimes international mysteries. This one is set in England.

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby.  Because I am on a Hornby kick these days.

61 Hours by Lee Child.  Because I am on a Jack Reacher kick these days.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Literacy Award

My thanks go to the talented Michele Emrath of Southern City Mysteries for passing on the "I'm a Literacy Builder" award to me. Deanna of The Other Side of Deanna created the award to recognize International Literacy Day and help promote literacy efforts around the globe. Here is a link to programs supported by the UN Literacy program.

Here are the rules:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
2. Display the award logo on your blog site.
3. Tell us five of your favorite words and why you like them, (add as many as you like).
4. Pass the award on to three bloggers you feel are excellent literacy builders, and link to their sites – Yes, only three!
5. Contact the bloggers you’ve chosen and let them know about the award.

My words:

1. squirrelly: This is a great word because it exactly captures someone getting agitated and fidgety like a squirrel.

2. lunatic: I like the sound of lunatic and the old-fashioned idea that the moon caused insanity.

3. dipsomaniac: This is one of my all-time favorite words. It packs so much more punch than the more prosaic "alcoholic" and is more flexible in its variations -- dipsomaniacal, dipsomania, etc.

4. derelict:  Again, I like the sound of this word. Apparently, words with clicky sounds in them appeal to my inner ear. This is such a descriptive word, like "decrepit," although this one can be used as an adjective to describe a building or a noun to describe a person.

5. brigand:  Although there is not much opportunity to use this word, I like it and its bad guy kin, bandit and buccaneer.

6. scurrilous: This is one of those words that sounds great and proves that the English language can be infinitely precise.  It means to be vulgar or obscene and evil. I wonder what word describes someone who is refined or inoffensive but evil?

Passing it on to:

Paperback Fool
100 Books. 100 Journeys.
chaotic compendiums

Review of the Day: The Truth About Obamacare

In The Truth About Obamacare, Sally C. Pipes examines the details of the new health care law and tries to show what its implementation will mean for individuals, doctors, and the country. She argues that, contrary to supporters’ promises, the new program will make health care more expensive, limit options, lead to deteriorating medical care, and weaken America’s already frail economy.

Pipes is the president of the Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank based in San Francisco. In the debate over health care, she has definitely chosen her side, championing market-based reforms such as allowing the interstate purchase of health insurance and revising the tax code to encourage individually-purchased, instead of employer-provided, insurance. But Pipes is no ranting demagogue. She bases her arguments on the language of the bill and lots of research rather than emotional rhetoric.

Pipes's prognosis of health care under the new rules is grim.  However, she closes the book with an optimistic section on alternate proposals for solving America's health care problems.  She argues for repealing the recently-enacted statute and then focusing federal policy on encouraging increased individual purchase of health insurance, expanding Health Savings Accounts, and establishing a voucher system for the uninsured who cannot afford insurance and who do not already qualify for existing government programs.

The book is aimed at a general audience and, although dependent on some pretty dry statistics and detailed research, is readable and accessible. Those opposed to the new health care laws will definitely want to bone up on the subject with Pipes’s book. Proponents also may want to read the book to better understand some of the rational arguments against the new system.


David Bandow's review from the Washington Times

Here is my review of The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care: A Citizen's Guide, also by Sally Pipes

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

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Author of the Day: Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow (1915 to 2005) may have been born in Canada, but he was an American treasure. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. He also won the Pulitzer Prize and won the National Book Award three times.

Bellow is a real favorite of mine. Henderson the Rain King didn't do anything for me, but I think Hertzog and Humbolt's Gift are wonderful.

Those I have read are in red; those currently on my TBR shelf are in blue. I plan to read them all eventually. I may have to re-read More Die of Heartbreak because I read it in high school and don't remember it.

Dangling Man (1944)

The Victim (1947)

The Adventures of Augie March (1953) (National winner; reviewed here)

Seize the Day (1956)

Henderson the Rain King (1959)

Herzog (1964) (National winner)

Mosby's Memoirs (1968) (short stories)

Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970) (National winner; reviewed here)

Humboldt's Gift (1975) (Pulitzer winner; reviewed here)

To Jerusalem and Back (1976) (memoir)

The Dean's December (1982)

Him with His Foot in His Mouth (1984) (short stories)

More Die of Heartbreak (1987)

A Theft (1989) (novella)

The Bellarosa Connection (1989)

Something to Remember Me By: Three Tales (1991) (short stories)

It All Adds Up (1994) (essays)

The Actual (1997) (novella)

Ravelstein (2000)

Collected Stories (2001)  (short stories)


If you would like links to you posts about Saul Bellow or reviews of Bellow's books listed here, please leave a comment with a link to your post(s) and I will add it.


Last updated October 4, 2012.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Case Has Altered

"Dorcas hated the fens."

-- The Case Has Altered by Martha Grimes.

That is, she hated the low, swampy wetlands of Lincolnshire. Understandable. Especially as she was about to walk across them at 11:30 at night, in pumps.

This is the 14th book in Grimes's 22-book series featuring Scotland Yard detective Richard Jury. I've never read any of her books before. While I am usually one to read a series in order, I will occasionally take a flyer on a new series by jumping in out of order with one of the books I picked up along the way.

So far, I have a mixed reaction to this one. I get a little sense that Grimes, who is American, is trying to out-English the English, with place names and characters that are just a bit over the top.

And maybe the point is more to read the series and get to like the recurring characters and their personal story lines, but the actual mystery solving seems a little thin. I'm three quarters of the way through and there's been only rehashing of the same circumstantial evidence on the one hand and, on the other, Jury sticking to the idea that his friend didn't commit the murders because he knows her.  There is a lot of repetition and not much forward progress.

I'd like to hear from fans of the series. Am I missing something?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reading on the Road

btt button

This week's Booking Through Thursday question asks:

When you travel, how many books do you bring with you?
Has this changed since the arrival of ebooks?

The short answer is, "too many." And that hasn't changed a bit with ebooks, since I haven't jumped on that bandwagon. Although now that I listen to audiobooks on my iPod, my book anxiety when traveling has eased somewhat. With over 70 books loaded up, I know I won't run out.

I recently went on vacation, knowing I had limited space, knowing I would undoubtedly find books during my trip that I wanted to bring back, and knowing I wouldn't have lots of time to read -- and I still brought six books for the 11-day trip:

Echoes by Maeve Binchy
Proof by Dick Francis
The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
The Case Has Altered by Martha Grimes
Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd
Enquiry by Dick Francis

I did race through Echoes and Proof, but got bogged down in The Mosquito Coast. It was an incredibly good book and, although exciting, not one to read lightly. I only made it halfway through The Case Has Altered. So it is clear that I overpacked the books.

The problem was compounded by gathering books as I went. Some I picked up on the take one/leave one shelves of our B&Bs, leaving the Binchey and Francis in return. But we also -- foreseeably -- went to a couple of used book stores and even stopped at a book sale at a cottage-cute little library in an Adirondack hamlet.  I ended up bringing seven books home with me, which will show up in next week's Mailbox Monday list.

How about you? I am interested to know what other people answer.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Review of the Day: Lunatic Express

Lunatic Express: Discovering the World . . . via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes by Carl Hoffman.  (This review was first published here, in the Internet Review of Books.)

Carl Hoffman is a travel junkie. He hits the road like some men hit the bottle. His career as a journalist and author had taken him to the far edges of the world, writing about life aboard a chemical tanker in the Atlantic, flying missionaries in New Guinea, reindeer herders in Siberia, and driving the Baja 1000.

Hoffman came to crave these adventures the way any addict craves his drug of choice. As he describes it:

Home became even more strange to return to. The two lives were jarring[,] but I didn’t tell anyone how difficult it was becoming to straddle these two worlds. I was ever more open to the world and ever more closed at home . . . until the time that I looked forward to most was walking down that Jetway, rather than coming home.

Finally, what looked like a typical mid-life crisis blossomed into full-on travel withdrawals -- Hoffman became physically ill, but with no diagnosable malady. After a year of feeling as if he had “a simmering flu,” he was finally cured by spending two months on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, writing about the search for Amelia Earhart.

Not surprisingly, Hoffman’s travel jones took a toll on his marriage. Back from the Earhart assignment, now separated from his wife, he was “conscious for the first time of a deep unhappiness, profoundly disconnected from the life I’d thought unshakable.” He decided that a real blowout of a travel bender was the answer to his problems, and the idea for The Lunatic Express was born. Hoffman wanted to travel around the world using only the most perilous means of public transportation -- the statistically most dangerous airlines, overcrowded ferries, treacherous buses, and perilous trains -- and write a book about his journey.

He sought to experience travel not as a holiday but as the necessary evil that most of the people in the world experienced.  Hearkening back to the French roots of the word travel, he described this necessary evil as “a simple daily act of moving from one place to another on the cheapest conveyance possible” but “still a punishing, unpredictable, and sometimes deadly work of travail. ” Hoffman spent five months traveling from his home in Washington, D.C., on a route that took him to Havana, then to South America, Africa, Indonesia, India, Afghanistan, China, Mongolia, and Russia, before a final leg on a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles back to home.

Each chapter opens with a snippet of a news story about a travel disaster -- airplanes crashing into mountains, ferries sinking, buses skidding off cliffs -- elated to the place or particular conveyance featured in that section of the book. Obviously, Hoffman survived to write the book, but the very real risks associated with his trek make his descriptions even more riveting. It is interesting enough to read about a rickety, overcrowded bus driving overnight through the Andes. But the tale becomes harrowing after reading of other buses along that route that plunged into 1,600-foot-deep gorges, killing everyone on board.

Hoffman’s clear, journalistic style is immediately engaging, depending as it does on descriptive details instead of purple metaphor. Readers feel the muggy heat of the Amazon; the smoky grit of the Indian train; the bone-jarring jolt of a propane truck driving off-road across the Mongolian steppe; and every rock hard, joint-numbing, third-class seat, bench, platform, and floor Hoffman tried to sleep on. Experiencing Hoffman’s travels second-hand will be uncomfortable adventure enough for most people.

The book concentrates on transport, as Hoffman rushes from train station to taxi to ferry dock to auto rickshaw to bus terminal. But his descriptions of the world beyond this series of conveyances are some of the best parts, including stories of his visits to a Brazilian gold mining barge, a bird market in Kabul, and this “Dickensian” auto garage in Nairobi:

Block after block of mud passageways littered with garbage and upended vehicles and men sleeping on piles of tires and the sparks of welders and the smell of smoke and oil and diesel and Bondo. It was one lane wide, with two-way traffic. It was hot and glaring, a place of burning fires and braziers and hammering and music, and the mud was so dark, so black, so viscous, it was like oil. It was the worst and the most compelling place I had ever seen.

Hoffman would have done better had he stuck to writing about the world outside his bus windows and spent less time gazing at his own navel. No matter how compelling his personal quest seemed to him, whether he was going to patch things up with his wife and learn to be content at home or continue roaming the world in search of distracting escapades is the sort of banal, existential conflict that is only interesting to the person conflicted.

Trying to make his personal angst relevant to the larger story only made things worse. The more Hoffman agonized over his feelings of isolation, his inability to bond with his friends, and his marginalization of his family, the more his anxieties seemed petty in comparison to the daily efforts of the people he traveled with. His conclusion -- that “I had to forgive myself and start again” -- is a particularly awkward way to wind up a book supposedly about the millions of people who face danger daily and who do not have the luxury of a fresh start.

But when Hoffman isn’t fretting about himself, The Lunatic Express is a terrific ride.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Teaser Tuesday

"Drainy was a bug-eyed boy with a shaven head and spaces between his teeth.  He had a collection of little cars and toy bikes made out of coathanger wire."

-- The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux.

This book is on the Anthony Burgess list of Top 99 novels, and it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mailbox Monday

She Reads and Reads is hosting Mailbox Monday this month. Thanks Avis!

We got a couple of coffee table books this week. One belongs to my husband, one is mine. It's pretty easy to guess which is which. 

World War II: The Definitive Visual History by Dorling Kindersley

Timberline Lodge: A Love Story, edited by Julie Rose

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