Saturday, May 31, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

I find myself thinking about Murakami's books long after I've read them. Murakami compares writing to jazz music and with his writing it is true. Just as I find myself humming memorable bits from songs like Take Five, I also come back again and again to passages of Murakami's novels and short stories. I don't always recognize the deeper meaning in his works right away, but like a piece of music his writing continues to work on me over time.

After Dark takes place in Tokyo between the "witching" hours of midnight and dawn. The nighttime setting lends itself to the loneliness and alienation of the characters. We are never drawn too close to these characters, but instead we watch and listen, along with the narrator, as though through a camera as it zooms in or out and then pans around at times giving us mere glimpses of the wider setting. The story is told in scenes of dialogue between six characters within segments of sequential time. Mari is a 19 year old university freshman who perceives herself as plain and dull, especially compared to her beautiful older sister Eri. Mari has for some reason, known only to her, decided to stay up all night reading at a Denny's. She is joined several times throughout the night by Tetsuya, a young jazz musician. Mari is unexpectedly drawn into the lives of a large female ex-wrestler who now manages a "love hotel," a Chinese prostitute, and two women with mysterious backgrounds who hide under cover of night and transient jobs.

These scenes are interrupted occasionally as we, the camera, look in on Mari's older sister Eri who sleeps. Her sleep is reminiscent of that deep and complete slumber of Sleeping Beauty. Several months previous to the night our story takes place, Eri announces to her family that she is "going to sleep for awhile"; she has not woken since. On this particular night she is watched by something or someone menacing. Eri has withdrawn completely and may or may not find her way back. We are not sure if she is being controlled by the menacing presence or if her continued slumber is by choice. The scenes with Eri are eerie and unexplained.

Much in this short novel is left unexplained. In one of the more magical scenes, an image of a man wavers, his outline bends, quality fades, static rises. Murakami's story is very much like the image of this man. We can't always see clearly what it is that the author is showing us. I don't think this is an accident or poor writing. I believe Murakami does this intentionally and the reader must look for meaning in a less cognitive way. As the author says through his character Tetsuya,

"You send the music deep enough into your heart so that it makes your body undergo a kind of a physical shift, and simultaneously the listener's body also undergoes the same kind of physical shift. It's giving birth to that kind of shared state."
Murakami's works are very much a shared state. Not everyone will find his writing to their liking, but those who can resonate with the author will find themselves coming back for more.

Rating: 4 out of 5

More Murakami: "Understanding Murakami" my post about Murakami; "Jazz Messenger" essay by Murakami in the NYT Sunday Book Reviews

Note to other reviewers: Let me know if you've written a review of After Dark or other Murakami works and I'll add a link to your review in my post. Please leave the permanent URL to your review in the comments.

Other Murakami reviews:
Books 'N Border Collies (Lezlie): After Dark
My Own Little Reading Room (guatami tripathy): Kafka on the Shore
In Spring it is the Dawn (tanabata): Kafka on the Shore, After Dark
Things Mean a Lot (nymeth): Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Stainless Steel Droppings (Carl V.): After Dark
Bibliophile by the Sea (Diane): After Dark
A Book Sanctuary (Tracey): After Dark

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where are You?

This week raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading asks, "Where do you get your books?"

I get my books from any number of places. I often shop the remains tables at the two major book chains in my area. I'm surprised at how many new titles find their way to this table within six months to a year of publication. These hardbacks usually cost $5.98. What a deal! I also shop at my local Friends of the Library bookshelf where books are between 50 cents and one dollar. Then there is the local Salvation Army which has one of the most amazing book collections -- and cheap, cheap, cheap. Lately I've been getting Advanced Review Copies to review through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. The cost of these books is merely a review posted at LibraryThing. I used to haunt used bookstores, but these stores have a difficult time staying in business where I live. I try to visit used bookstores when I travel. One of my favorites is Bookmans in Flagstaff. I do purchase books online at a discount and usually wait until I have several titles and then opt for the free shipping. Occasionally I purchase books full price at my local bookstore, but I'm usually pretty desperate if I do this. As a librarian, I would be terribly remiss if I didn't check books out at my public library. My library has a nice online feature for keeping lists of books I want to read in future. I noticed that I was purchasing books because I was worried that I'd forget about a certain title I wanted to read. When online bookstores created wishlists, this helped some but I still found myself buying those books. Now that I keep a list on my library account I'm more likely to borrow many books rather than purchase.

Where am I today? I'm in a dead forest, north of Kiev (yes, Russia). My companions are an old wizard, a young wizard-in-training, a street-wise skeptic of all things magical, and various "Things" (spirits) -- a Yard-Thing, a House-Thing, a Forest-Thing, etc. Oh, and I mustn't forget the rusalka (ghost). This is one of C.J. Cherryh's creations called Rusalka.

Friday, May 23, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

Title: The Enchantress of Florence
Author: Salman Rushdie
Publisher: Random House
Date: June 2008

First line: "In the day's last light the glowing lake below the palace-city looked like a sea of molten gold."

The Enchantress of Florence begins with a mysterious yellow-haired stranger standing astride a bullock cart as he enters the domain of the emperor of India. He is godlike in stance, yet in appearance he is as a fool with his overly pretty face and particolored coat. The city to which he arrives is one of the grand cities of the world in both scale and wealth. Even the nearby lake seems to be made of gold. This of course is just an illusion brought about by the setting of the sun, but is an appropriate introduction to the story since it will become difficult to separate the real from the imagined as the story progresses.

The yellow-haired man is a teller of stories and he has arrived to tell a story to the Mughal of India that will either bring him fortune or cost him his life. This young man has represented himself to the Emperor Akbar as an emissary of Queen Elizabeth I. The emperor challenges the stranger's identity and would dismiss him except the yellow-haired man, who calls himself first Uccello of Florence and then Mogor dell'Amore (mogul of love), begins to weave the enchanting story of Qara Koz, the enchantress of Florence, who he claims is his mother.

But what is the Emperor to make of the stranger's story? What are we to make of the story we are reading? Identities and reality are not always clear within this magical novel. Who is the story-telling stranger? Is Qara Koz really the stranger's mother? Even the Emperor is not sure if he is simply an "I" like everyone else or a "we" of divine royalty. Reality is tenuous. Characters are imagined yet given "space" and relationship. Painters disappear into their own paintings. The story-teller feels himself fading away to nothingness when kept from telling his story. Is he merely defined by his story and without it has no existence? To add to the tenuous atmosphere created by questions of identity and reality, women are sometimes mere echoes and mirrors of someone or something else. They whisper and murmur and are ghostlike as they glide behind curtains and veils.

The author has woven layers of story around his readers, and enchants and draws us into his creation. We would come back night after night, for 1001 nights, to hear the story he has to tell. He shows us that story has power ... the power to enthrall, the power to rend apart and the power to create.

The Enchantress of Florence is first and foremost a story. It is secondarily an affirmation of the power of story. I found that I had to let go and allow Rushdie to take me where he would in order to fully enjoy this work. My criticism is limited to passages that seemed unnecessary and clumsy (e.g. the potato witches) and I wonder if the author wasn't too anxious to use as much of his extensive research as possible. The appended bibliography of works consulted is quite impressive and I look forward to reading from that list in order to expand my understanding of those historical elements that went right over my head.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Advance Reader's Copy of The Enchantress of Florence graciously provided by Random House through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Note to other reviewers: I like to provide links to other reviews of the same book. If you would like me to add a link to your review of this book, please leave a permanent link to your review in the comments section and I will include it as a part of this post.

Also reviewed at:
Red Room Library (Sarah)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Bless Me, Ultima is set in a small village on the edge of the plains (the llano) of New Mexico during the 1940s. It is a coming of age novel from the Hispanic perspective. Six year old Antonio must grapple with many conflicts as he strives to grow into a man in a multi-faith, multi-cultural setting.

Antonio has been born into a Catholic family and looks forward to his first Communion, but he has many questions about his natal faith. Paganism is native to this area of the Southwest and Antonio finds much to admire in this belief system. Antonio has a keen eye and mind that is open to many ideas as he searches for what is true. Both world views are present within his home. His mother is a strong Catholic while his elderly aunt Ultima (La Grande) is a curandera (healer) who aligns with a more pagan world view with its focus on the natural world.

Being in the Southwest, Antonio must also live in two cultures simultaneously. His native tongue is Spanish. When we first encounter Antonio, he speaks no English. He learns the English language and Anglo culture at school and is such a quick learner that he is promoted directly from first to third grade after his first year at school. He has a naturally inquiring mind that works well in a scholarly environment.

Antonio's mother is extremely proud of her little scholar since she has aspirations for him to become a priest and fill a role that has been missing for generations from her agrarian family. Antonio's maternal grandfather and uncles are the Lunas. They are peaceful farmers connected to the land and the flowing of seasons. Mama wants her Antonito to grow into a gentle and quiet man who fits into the Luna family mold. Antonio's father hopes for his son to become, like all Marez men, a plainsman of the llano. This group are a free spirited and wild bunch who prefer the wide open spaces and nomadic life. Alongside this parental struggle to bestow identity upon their son, is Ultima who teaches Antonio the healing arts and encourages him to listen to his own mind and heart. Ultima tells him that he must decide for himself what kind of man he will become.

Antonio experiences change as a palpable thing that affects him deeply as he searches for identity and embarks on his journey to manhood. I was transported back to that youthful hypersensitivity to change as Antonio tells his brother:
"I don't know--sometimes I get the feeling that I will come home, and it will all be changed. It won't be the same anymore--" I could not tell him that I wanted the castle of giants to stand forever, that I wanted the goat path and the hill to be for always. But I had misgivings, I was beginning to learn that things wouldn't always be the same.
Bless Me, Ultima is a poignant novel that engaged my emotions while it wrapped me in beautiful prose that made it hard to put down each night. I was drawn into the story. I felt sadness and terror and confusion. I also felt happiness and peace and hopefulness. Anaya's descriptions of the natural world were absolutely stunning and, at times, brought me to tears. I have only one real criticism -- Antonio would have been more credible if he had been twelve or thirteen. At six, Antonio was not really on the cusp of manhood nor would he have had the philosophical thoughts presented. Even so, I will not soon forget this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Note to other reviewers: I would be delighted to add a link to your review if you have reviewed this book. Please leave a permanent link to your review in the comments and I will include it as a part of this post.

Also reviewed by:
Eva at A Striped Armchair

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where are You?

I am in Florence during the Renaissance with brief forays into an India ruled by the Mughals. I am wrapped in stories that weave about me and am not always sure if it's story or real. (The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie)

Where are you?

Take a trip over to raidergirl3's An Adventure in Reading to see where others are on this Tuesday.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hey! Look! A Search Box!

Am I being too geeky? I'm excited because I put a search box in my sidebar. Tip sheet is here if you want to add one to your blog. Tips for New Bloggers is my new favorite website right now.

Any opinions out there on whether I should move the search box up higher or not? OK where it is?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Underland Chronicles

The Underland Chronicles consists of five "Gregor" books. They each tell a story, but are really part of the larger whole. Because of this, I'm providing a brief synopses of each book with some thoughts on that particular installment. These will be followed by some final thoughts on the series.

Gregor the Overlander
In this first of The Underland Chronicles, we meet a hero who goes on a quest. The hero is 11-year old Gregor. Gregor is unable to go to summer camp because his parents can not afford to send both he and his 7-year old sister. Instead, Gregor stays home in order to watch his 2-year old sister and his elderly grandmother while his mother is at work. Gregor's father disappeared mysteriously several years earlier and so many duties have fallen to him in his father's absence. Gregor notices that his 2-year old sister, Boots, has disappeared while he is doing the family's laundry in the basement of his apartment building. It turns out that she has fallen down a hidden air chute and Gregor must go after her. Gregor and Boots find themselves in an underland below New York City that is populated by giant talking cockroaches (crawlers), rats (gnawers), bats, spinners (spiders) and other creatures as well as a pale violet-eyed population of humans. The two children are taken by the roaches to the human queen. It is all very reminiscent of Alice falling down the rabbit hole and finding herself in Wonderland. While in the Underland, Gregor learns that he is part of a prophecy and must lead a quest to save the Underland kingdom as well as his own father.

Thoughts on Book 1:
Book 1 of The Underland Chronicles has Gregor maturing as he takes upon his childs shoulders a very adult burden that will require great courage and sacrifice. In this book we are introduced to many recurring characters and begin to see friendships, alliances, and loyalties develop.

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane
Book one in The Underland Chronicles left us with a clear indication that the story would continue, and continue it does in Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane. Gregor and Boots once again find themselves in the Underland. This time, Boots has been kidnapped from the Overland by the rats and Gregor must go after her. He is reunited in the Underland city of Regalia with the young Queen Luxa and her grandfather Vikus. Vikus tells Gregor of the Prophecy of Bane in which it is foretold that Gregor will fight an ominous and monstrous white rat. Gregor is off on another quest, this time with his giant bat Ares. He must fulfill the prophecy in order to once again save the Underland.

Thoughts on Book 2:
In this second book, we continue to see Gregor mature as he faces danger, death, loss, and change. Trust is a key theme in this installment. Other characters are more fully developed in Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane providing depth and bringing emotional impact to the storyline.

Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods
The Underland saga continues in Book 3 as Gregor trys to save this world beneath New York City from a plague that affects all warm blooded creatures. This quest takes Gregor and his companions to a carnivorous forest to find the cure. A prophecy is again the guide for the quest, and as in many prophecies the true meaning is not clear until the end. Gregor continues to mature and we more clearly see him on the borderline between childhood and manhood in this volume. Gregor's mother will not allow him to go back to the Underland unless she goes along. This presents a conundrum for Gregor as he tries to fulfill his duty as the Underland's warrior/savior and his Overland role as pre-teen son to a mother who worries.

Thoughts on Book 3:
In this volume of the series there is much loss and grief. Several characters must learn how to continue on while holding those they have lost close in their hearts and memories. The theme of change is prominent in this book. Collins continues to develop her characters, both human and creature, so that the reader feels a real bond and empathy with them.

Gregor and the Marks of Secret
The fourth installment finds Gregor and Boots making regular trips to the Underland to visit their mother who is continuing to recover from injuries suffered in Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods. Gregor undergoes further training as he practices wielding a sword and attempts to learn the skill of echolocation. Gregor has previously discovered that he is a rager and that this transforms him into a very focused and skillful fighter, but his inability to see in the dark is a great limitation. It does not matter how skilled he is with a sword if he can not see his opponents. Ripred the rat has become a friend and mentor to Gregor and he takes it upon himself to teach Gregor the skill of echolocation. Ripred is sorely disappointed as he tries to teach this human a skill that he may never learn.

While Gregor trains, Queen Luxa becomes aware that the nibblers (mice) in the Underland are disappearing. Luxa credits the nibblers with previously saving her life and so she is determined to find out who or what is at the bottom of this sinister disappearance. Luxa and Gregor go on a fact finding mission and are appalled at what is revealed. It is on this mission that the way is paved for the last and final prophecy that Gregor must fulfill.

Thoughts on Book 4:
Themes of tyranny and genocide, friendship and love, loyalty and honesty are prominent in this volume. The tension is quite high as the author sets up the reader for the last of The Underland Chronicles.

Gregor and the Code of Claw
The Prophecy of Time is the final prophecy that Gregor must fulfill. The residents of the Underland have taken great pains to hide this prophecy from him and this has led Gregor to understand that it must say something terrible. The prophecy calls for "the warrior's death" and so it is with great courage and heaviness that Gregor embarks on this last of his missions. As the entire Underland finds itself in a massive war and facing a terrible evil, a mysterious new princess arrives to crack the code that the enemy is using to send messages. Great hope is placed in the ability of this princess to crack the code and help turn the tide of the war. Throughout this installment Gregor finds himself contending with his unfolding darker nature as he tries to get his family safley back home and fight a war-to-end-all-wars.

Thoughts on Book 5:
The final book in The Underland Chronicles is very dark, but Collins does not leave the reader without relief. There are delightful moments of tenderness and hilarity to help offset the heavier themes of this book. Ripred's sarcasm provides some much needed chuckles as does the ability of the now 3-year old Boots to turn every place she goes into a playground. It is also here, in the midst of darkness, that we learn about Ripred's past and come to love the crotchety and sarcastic rat.

Gregor and the Code of Claw draws upon some pretty heavy themes. The nature of war, the truly horrific capacity that one person or people group has to commit atrocities against another, and the place of compromise in relationships both personal and corporate. Also explored is the question of fate and whether or not we are destined to a predetermined course of action or if we are free to choose our own paths. This very important idea is looked at in the context of the prophecies.


Some Final Thoughts

I found this series to be both exciting and emotional. There is plenty of action while not neglecting character development and relationships. It is not difficult to see why I like Gregor and his very charming 2-year old sister Boots, but how did the author make me like and feel empathy for a giant rat, cockroach, and bat?? Ms. Collins gave these creatures (that often leave us squeamish) such poignant and familiar human characteristics that it was inevitable. Ripred is a curmudgeon who hides a deep seated hurt behind his sarcasm and gruffness. He is a very loyal friend though it is not apparent from his surface demeanor. Temp is a cockroach who is, even in the Underland, despised and demeaned by the other "races." He is an underdog who shows great persistence, courage and loyalty despite what others think or expect. Ares, the bat, has a great sense of honor, loyalty and faithfulness. His actions are misunderstood and he is shunned by both bats and humans, yet he continues to live by his noble characteristics. Yes ... this is how the author made me come to love these characters and take them seriously. She made me relate to their loss and grief; their sense of honor, loyalty, faithfulness, courage and self-sacrifice. We know these characters in our own lives.

The Underland Chronicles deals with issues of real and terrible loss. Handled by a less skilllful author these could horrify the reader, but instead Collins uses them to make us care about her characters in a way that is almost unbearable at times. She inserts moments of comic respite and moments of tenderness and joy so expertly that you are able to carry on just when you think it is too burdensome. It is very much like life.

The books in The Underland Chronicles are written for readers in grades 4 through 9 (I've seen the range go up to grade 12), but they will also appeal to many adults. This series is rich in thematic material that gets you thinking. It truly is a read that can be enjoyed and appreciated by almost anyone.

Rating for the series: 5 out of 5


Note to other reviewers: I would be delighted to add a link to your review if you have reviewed any of the books in this series. Please leave a permanent link to your review in the comments and I will include it as a part of this post.

Friday, May 16, 2008

New Header Links

I am squealing for joy over here. Can you hear it? This may not be cause for celebration for many people, but I am overjoyed that I successfully "messed with" my blog template and managed to put some nice navigation links in my header. I feel like I am in grade school and just got a big gold star!

Oh yes ... and remember my post from yesterday in which I mention not spending much time with "how-to's"? Well, yes I did use a how-to in order to accomplish this mighty task of adding navigation links. If you would like to take a look at this how-to, go to this Tip for Bloggers. I was pointed to this information by Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot. Thank you Nymeth!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Manual Labor Redux

This week's Booking Through Thursday question has to do with ...

Scenario: You’ve just brought some complicated gadget home . . . do you read the accompanying documentation? Or not?
Do you ever read manuals?
How-to books?
Self-help guides?
Anything at all?

I try to bring home as few complicated gadgets as possible since I tend to lose patience with set-up and troubleshooting. I don't have a lot of patience for gadgets that require my attention. But, on those few occasions when I decide to delve into gadgetmania ...

I try to set-up, use and troubleshoot those gadgets without referring to the documentation. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I appreciate well-written and concise documentation. I want to spend as little time with it as possible. I'm all about using the gadget ... not messing with it. Of course, you are likely to hear me shout, "Hey! I didn't know it would do that!" six months into said gadget ownership. What can I say?

Manuals? If it looks like I need to read a manual, I generally use the table of contents or the index and see if I can only read the section that applies. I will read the manual more extensively only when I must ... or when I see someone doing something with their gadget that I didn't know was possible. Then I shout, "Hey! I didn't know it would do that!" and consult the manual.

How-to books? Rarely. I really, really need to WANT to know "how-to" before I'll read a how-to book. Even then, I'll choose the shortest one I can find. One page how-to sheets are even better.

Self-help guides? I sometimes think I'll read a particular self-help guide, but somehow they always get set aside so I can get back to whatever novel or short story collection I'm reading. I'm not opposed to self-improvement, but the lure of storytelling is too strong for me to say no to my fictional reads.

Anything? Yes! Novels and short stories and blogs and professional literature (library stuff) and nutritional labels on food packaging ... anything but manuals, how-to's, and self-helps!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Top 106 Unread LibraryThing Books

I've come across this fun meme several times and thought I'd give it a whirl.

  • Start with the list of the top 106 unread books cataloged on LibraryThing.
  • Bold the titles you have read.
  • Italicize the books you've started but haven't finished.
  • Asterisk those you own, but have not read.

As per my nature, I've given this my own twist and have actually separated these titles into separate lists.

Books I've read:
Anna Karenina
Life of Pi
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride & Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Iliad
The Kite Runner
Memoirs of a Geisha
The Canterbury Tales
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
A Clockwork Orange
The Inferno
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Gulliver's Travels
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Mists of Avalon
Northanger Abbey
The Aeneid
Watership Down
The Hobbit
David Copperfield
Total = 37

Books I've started by haven't finished:
Total = 1

Books I own but haven't read:
Jonathan Strange & M. Norrell (this one is on my TBR Challenge list)
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Blind Assassin
Great Expectations
American Gods (this one is on my TBR Challenge List)
Atlas Shrugged
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
The Historian (this one is on my TBR Challenge List)
Love in the Time of Cholera
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
Mansfield Park
A Confederacy of Dunces
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Catcher in the Rye
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
In Cold Blood
Treasure Island
The Three Musketeers
Total = 40

Haven't read & Don't own:
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
War and Peace
Mrs. Dalloway
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Reading Lolita in Teheran
Angels & Demons
The Picture of Dorian Gray
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Oliver Twist
Les Misérables
Angela's Ashes
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Scarlet Letter
Oryx and Crake
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
On the Road
Gravity’s Rainbow
White Teeth
The Corrections
Total = 28

Note: If you are going to participate in this meme, you may want to watch out for lists that seem to be missing a title. The list I consulted had 105, whereas the meme says that there are 106. (I know ... big deal! It's only a difference of one! Yeah, I'm picky like that.) If I've done my math correctly, my list should have all 106. Smile.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where are You?

Every Tuesday, raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading asks, "Where is reading taking you today?" I love this question! Reading does indeed take you "places" and it is interesting to see where people are in their reading journeys.

Today I'm not sure where I am yet! Last night I finished Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination, so I was bouncing around between London, Miami, Los Angeles, Honduras, back to London, Port Sudan, back to Los Angeles, and finally on to Maui. Whew! I have just read a few pages into Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence and I'm not sure where it is that I am supposed to be (not Florence yet), so I'll just say that I am wallowing in a field of beautiful words.

Where are you today?

Challenges Progress

I needed to keep the challenges down to a minimum in order to allow for all of my cat-like-impulsive reading desires. You just never know when a book will leap from the shelves and say "READ ME NOW"! Therefore, I'm only participating in 2 challenges this year:

I appear to be on track for both challenges so far.

1st in a Series Challenge

5 / 12 titles. 42% done!

2008 TBR Challenge

5 / 12 titles. 42% done!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Weekly Geeks #3: Childhood Books

I can't really remember learning to read, but into my earliest memories I can remember having a love for books. I still have some of my early childhood picture and story books ... books about farm animals, books about Jesus, ABC books, fairy tale books. Somewhere around the age of eight I read a number of books about animals ... Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe come to mind. I cried and cried over those two books. They were both about abused animals who were rescued from their cruel masters.

We had a wonderful elementary school library that was open year round. My first remembrance of that library was third grade. I was looking for a book that my mom had recommended. I couldn't quite recall the title of the book, so I marched up to the librarian and asked for help finding "this book about a little girl in the woods." Of course, the librarian knew I was looking for Little House in the Big Woods and took me straight to it. Over a period of several years I checked out each one of the books in that series and learned much about a way of life that was quickly passing. At some point I was given a set of these books for my very own, and to this day they sit proudly on my shelves and I pull them down and read from them on occasion.

I was always an ambitious reader and during the summer between third and fourth grades I decided to read David Copperfield by Charles Dickens for the summer reading program. The librarian tried to talk me out of this endeavor and attempted to steer me back over to more "age appropriate" books, but she was not prepared for my metamorphosis from sweet little girl to "little miss stubborn." I did indeed check this book out and carefully placed it in my bookbag, along with a note from the librarian to my mother. The librarian was concerned that I would get frustrated trying to read something so advanced. My mom, on the other hand, encouraged me to read it if that was what I wanted to do. I read that book from cover to cover and actually enjoyed it! I only remember a few bits and pieces now, but I do recall the sense of accomplishment I got from reading an adult book.

My early adolescent years were spent reading mysteries. I owned quite a number of Trixie Belden books (anyone else read these?) and checked out many Nancy Drew's. At some point I read a historical fiction novel about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. I don't remember the title, but I do remember the excitement of delving into a new genre that I'd not previously experienced. As I got into my teen years, I took a reading hiatus except for required school reading such as The Pigman and Romeo and Juliet. I was more interested in various social and school activities during those years. I have since repented of my reading neglect and now read voraciously.

I must admit that I've recently delved back into Childrens and Young Adult books. I've got some young readers that often ask me for books and, of course, I indulge them. I just finished reading the Underland Chronicles (Gregor books) and felt just like I was in a summer reading program again. Anyone else read this series? If you haven't I would highly recommend that you drop everything and read these books! There are only five and they are very quick reads.

Favorite childhood books:
Black Beauty
Beautiful Joe
Charlotte's Web
Cricket in Times Square
Little House ... books
Little Women
Little Men
The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Sunday, May 11, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: The Arthurian Omen by G.G. Vandagriff

Title: The Arthurian Omen
Author: G.G. Vandagriff
Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Advance Reader's copy of The Arthurian Omen graciously provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

First line: "Brother Gruffyd's old heart trembled with excitement."

Maren Southcott's estranged sister, Rachel, has asked for help locating a manuscript which will prove that the Arthur of legend really existed. Rachel is brutally murdered before Maren arrives and it is left to Maren to continue her sister's work searching the Welsh countryside for a priceless document that someone would kill for. Maren is not alone in her quest and quickly finds herself in a race with academics, antiquities dealers, and Welsh nationalists to be the first to find the document that proves Arthur was more than a legend.

The novel is quite thrilling and the author's familiarity with the Arthurian legend, with its continuing impact on Celtic culture, are strong points of this novel. I was quite drawn to the Welsh countryside and thought it very much a character of the novel. I could feel the ancient history and the misty mossiness of the castles and monasteries. I was so intrigued with the setting that I wanted to delve into the mysteries and the stories that I felt the land itself held. The novel would have been stronger with a deeper storyline connecting the land and legend of Arthur with the plot of the novel.

I felt more connected to the countryside than I did the characters. I wanted to like the characters, but I found the character development shallow and the characters unbelievable and inconsistent: Maren shows a marked lack of good judgement and is very impulsive for a woman who is supposed to be a strong heroine, and Inspector Llewelyn is quite clueless in his role as inspector. None of the characters were drawn in enough depth for me to develop empathy. I believe that an earlier placement of some character history would have helped. For instance, the cause of the estrangement between the sisters is not revealed until quite late in the novel and loses its impact as an empathy device by then.

Despite my inability to empathize with the characters and feeling a bit overwhelmed by the plethora of plot points, I found myself enjoying the novel. It was fast paced with enough suspense to keep me reading to find out who the bad guys were and how the story would end. I must admit that the ending was a surprise.

Note to other reviewers: I like to provide links to other reviews of the same book. If you would like me to add a link to your review of this book, please leave a permanent link to your review in the comments section and I will include it as a part of this post.

Also reviewed at:
Literary Feline (Wendy R.)
Back to Books (Nicola)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Weekly Geeks #2: Review Linking

Yes! I want to be a Weekly Geek too! Go here to find out what this new meme is all about. I've signed up a bit late, so I'll be starting with Weekly Geeks #2.

Weekly Geeks #2
Darla, at Books and Other Thoughts, has a policy to include "also reviewed at" links along with her own book reviews. I like this policy because it gathers together multiple viewpoints on a book into review hubs, and it allows bloggers to get a wider readership for their reviews. In fact, I like this policy so much that I want to borrow Darla's idea and use it here at Tip of the Iceberg. You can see this idea in action here.

How it Works
Please leave a comment along with the permanent link(s) to your review(s) if you would like to be included. My current review list isn't terribly extensive (a mere 12 as of this posting), so I would be happy to include links to your reviews retroactively. If you would like to see which books I've already reviewed, click on this link; or go to my sidebar and scroll down to Labels and click on the Book Reviews link.

In future, I will include an invitation to leave your review link at the end of any review I write. I will then use that comment to add your link at the bottom of my review.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cinco de Mayo

I've never celebrated Cinco de Mayo despite growing up and continuing to live in the Southwest. What does a Scots/French/German American who speaks a not quite comprehensible version of Spanish do to celebrate a Mexican holiday? Well ... in typical bookish fashion, I've decided to begin reading a book that has been on my reading list for years -- Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. Anaya is an award winning and prolific Chicano author who writes fiction, non-fiction, and children's books.

Maybe I'll have a Coronita while I read. Sounds like a party to me!

Do you celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Credible Bookstore

I've had occasion to be in a number of airports during the last 5 years and I've noticed something interesting. The shopping and dining available at airports has gotten ... well ... better than I remember it in the past. This is particularly nice if you have any kind of layover or wait.

The San Francisco Airport is one of my favorite airports to hang around. I actually schedule my flights out of SF later than necessary just so I can meander around the place (shopping and dining guides). I usually get sushi or a noodle bowl at Sankaku. Then I head over to Boudin's Bakery for a loaf of bread to take home to Mr. Distortion. After that, it is onward to Peet's Coffee for a latte that I take with me to Compass Books.

Compass Books is no ordinary airport bookstore. In fact, the Books Inc. website calls it "one of the few credible airport bookstores in the world." And they aren't kidding! On my last trip, I went into the store with a list of books in the areas of classic literature, crime fiction, history, technology, and young adult fiction. I found each book on my list. Then I browsed the science fiction section, the popular culture section and the magazines. I had to catch my plane before I was finished browsing ... and yes, I must admit, purchasing.

So now my little secret is out. I keep the most patient husband in the world waiting for me to come home so I can dine and shop at the airport. Hence the guilt offering from Boudin's Bakery.

Does anyone else out there have this strange compulsion to spend time at the airport? If so, what is your favorite and why?