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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thankfully Reading wrap

Taking part for the first time in this year's Thankfully Reading marathon, my goal was to finish some of the books in progress.

First up was Liza Campbell's debut novel, The Dissemblers (The Permanent Press, 2010). Ivy Wilkes is the child of parents comfortable in Cheever territory. She heads out west to find her way as a painter, admiring the work of Georgia O'Keefe. Befriended by a confident woman who suggests they could make a lot of money if she could forge paintings in the O'Keefe style, Ivy's path has been determined. Her new friend Maya is a musician, as is her boyfriend Jake, a security guard at the O'Keefe museum where Ivy gets a job in the gift shop. Jake's cousin, Omar, chef and sketcher of birds, soon becomes her lover.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thankfully Reading

Thannksgiving weekend again this year is when book lovers can try to set aside time to spend with those most important objects in their lives -- their TBR mountains. The details and updates of other readers are here at Jenn's Bookshelves, while BethFishReads has a fun mini-challenge in place on Saturday: What do your shelves or TBR stacks look like?

Here's a view of my living room where the non-fiction section resides. Down the hallway are European and Asian, Canadian and American fiction. In the distance are the beginning of the crime fiction section. The UK fiction section is actually behind where I stood to take the photo.

What's in your reading plans this weekend? I'll post more on that later...

Friday, November 26, 2010

In Progress: 'Best American Short Stories'

The second story in the latest edition of Best American Short Stories is centered in Flannery country. Marlin Barton, an author new to me who I will now seek out, is the creator of Into Silence.

It's the story of Janey, a deaf woman past her girlhood who lives with her aging mother. Gradually, it's apparent that Mama is the control freak and that she wants her daughter to take care of her. "Come home" and stay there is how she rules.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reading Challenge: What's in a Name 4

Reading challenges can be great fun, and What's in a Name 4 looks like one of the best. Here's the information from host BethFishReads herself:

Between January 1 and December 31, 2011, read one book in each of the following categories:

A book with a number in the title: First to Die, Seven Up, Thirteen Reasons Why

A book with jewelry or a gem in the title: Diamond Ruby, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Opal Deception

A book with a size in the title: Wide Sargasso Sea, Small Wars, Little Bee

A book with travel or movement in the title: Dead Witch Walking, Crawling with Zombies, Time Traveler's Wife

A book with evil in the title: Bad Marie, Fallen, Wicked Lovely

A book with a life stage in the title: No Country for Old Men, Brideshead Revisited, Bog Child

The book titles are just suggestions, you can read whatever book you want to fit the category.

Other Things to Know

Books may be any form (audio, print, e-book).

Books may overlap other challenges.

Books may not overlap categories; you need a different book for each category.

Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed but encouraged.

You do not have to make a list of books before hand.

You do not have to read through the categories in any particular order.

Looking forward to a year of great book talk.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: 'Bamboo People'

By Mitali Perkins
YA fiction
July 2010
ISBN: 978-1-58089-328-2

One of the strengths in YA fiction is that it can introduce readers of all ages to any number of places, situations and issues. Mitali Perkins provides examples of what it is like to live in the country where, earlier this month, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released form house arrest after Burma's junta of generals had kept her hidden for 15 of the past 21 years.

The pro-democracy leader is Burmese in a country where the rulers prefer the name "Myanmar", a name that the United States and few other countries refuse to recognize in protest of the brutal regime that rules the country.

In Perkins's novel, Chiko, a young city boy, lives on little food but lots of love as he and his mother cope with his physician father being arrested by the dictators. He is hopeful, naive, loves learning and has a crush on the neighbor girl. When he finds a newspaper ad seeking applicants for teaching positions, he hopes he can start earning money to help his mother. The wise neighbor woman knows better; he is going to be conscripted into the army.

As an involuntary army recruit, Chiko is beaten and subjected to indignities great and small. He is befriended by a streetwise boy who worries about his sister left behind in the city. Chiko is maneuvered into taking part in a patrol, but it's as demeaning as his training. He's the lead boy sent out to look for landmines in the jungle.

The first-person, present tense narrative changes during Chiko's mission to that of Tu Reh, a teenager who is the government's enemy. He is on his first mission from the refugee camp with his father. When they discover the wounded Chiko, Tu Reh's father tells his angry son that he has choices, that there is more to life than kill or be killed. Ecclesiastes "a time for war, a time for peace" is read to him. Tu Reh helps save Chiko and gets him to the refugee camp.

Once there, not everyone is glad to see them. Chiko's fate, as decided by the camp, forces Tu Reh to manage his feelings about conflicting loyalties, old alliances and doing the right thing.

The novel is a simple story that can easily be extrapolated to discussions about loyalty, gangs and bullying, in addition to a heavily researched portrait of current conditions in Burma. The narrative style and pace are well-suited to the youngest secondary readers, while the story may appeal to reluctant readers who are willing to try fiction set in a different country. The author includes information about current conditions in Burma in an afterword.

© 2010 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Progress: 'Best American Short Stories'

Staying awake long enough on a Friday night to get any reading done gets to be more of a challenge as the school year proceeds, but I managed to start this weekend with Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched, the first entry in this year's edition of Best American Short Stories.

Steve Almond wrote an intense, tightly plotted story about a loser shrink who just doesn't get it and an angry patient who knows when to hold 'em. The title refers to poker players that are easily picked apart by pro players, and, of course it applies to what the two main characters think they are doing to each other.

Friday, November 19, 2010


One of the most surprising things I've learned about Twitter is what a wonderful community builder it actually is -- in just months I've become a member of several communities with fun, fascinating people accomplished in the areas of society and culture I'm interested in.

Among the best is the amazing book community. It is erudite, welcome, goofy and diverse. It's easy to be involved too. Start with #fridayreads -- the "what are you reading?" tweets about books, audiobooks, magazines, cereal boxes, you name it. If you're reading it, tweet it and include the hashtag #fridayreads to be part of the wonderful @bookmaven weekend starter.

If you're not on Twitter, there's another way to share the news. Post a comment on the #fridayreads book blog partner, at (and check out Bookladysblog often -- she's a great friend of readers, writers and books in general who is not afraid to note her opinion.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: 'Songs of Love & Death'

Edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Themed anthology
November 2010
Gallery Books
ISBN: 978-1-4391-5014-6

This new cross-genre anthology purports to be an "all original" collection of tales of star-crossed lovers written by fantasy, romance, horror and crime authors. The all-original tag doesn't hold up with the first story, Jim Butcher's "Love Hurts", in which Dresden and a friend fall victim to a spell. It's the same setup seen in hundreds of TV shows in which characters flirt with, or are tricked into thinking, they are in love and go back to their old ways by story's end.

The introduction is odd as well. It's a lifeless, Wikipedia-type essay on what star-crossed means. With no signature, one can only hope it is the work of a publishing company intern and was not created by either Martin or Dozois. If it was Martin's contribution, it's the only thing he wrote for the anthology. But then things get better, even if the actual definition of "star-crossed" doesn't always apply to the stories.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: 'Moonlight Mile'

By Dennis Lehane
Crime Fiction
October 2010
William Morrow
ISBN: 978-0-06-183692-3

Patrick and Angie are back. Still driven, still trying to do the right thing, but with new commitments. And when the past comes calling, the future is in jeopardy.

Patrick is trying hard to toe the line. If he can keep his disdain for the unprincipled rich at bay, he just might get a permanent job with the type of investigative agency that destroys whistleblowers and protects criminals, if their parents are rather wealthy. He hates it, but his wife and baby girl deserve the basics -- a home, relying on a steady paycheck, health insurance. (The undercurrent of having to betray moral principles to get these basics is so well drawn by Lehane that he doesn't have to draw attention to Patrick's dilemma; it's there as an aspect of how the middle class and below try to survive these days.)

One dreary evening, Patrick is confronted by the aunt of Amanda McCready, the little girl who vanished in Lehane's brilliant Gone, Baby, Gone. The price of doing the right thing after they found Amanda and returned her was devastating years ago and preys on them still. Whether they did the right thing remains a point of sorrow and argument between them.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review: 'Mr. Toppit"

By Charles Elton
November 2010
Other Press
ISBN: 978-1590513903

Imagine sharing your name with the main character in a series of children's books written by your father. Now imagine being his sister, who isn't in the books. These dilemmas are the crux of Charles Elton's darkly comic, heartachingly marvelous Mr. Toppit.

Mr. Toppit is the character in the Hayseed Chronicles who is never seen, but who often compels young Luke Hayseed to undertake all sorts of adventures and tests of courage. At the end of the last book, Mr. Toppit emerges from the woods behind Luke's home. But that is all anyone knows of him, for Luke's father, Arthur Haymon, doesn't write any more books. They were never big sellers.

But then Arthur dies, struck in the road after visiting his publisher. As he lays dying, American tourist Laurie Clow tries to comfort him. Frustrated child of a mother with Alzheimer's and performing a dead-end hospital radio job, Laurie latches onto Arthur as if he was her lifesaver. Whch is just what he becomes.