Friday, January 30, 2009

Cut Down on Books? Why?

From Lifehacker [via S. Krishna]:
Cut Down on Book Hoarding
Make a rule that you will read X number of books you currently own before buying another one.
Why would I want to do that?

Friday Update

I've read a bunch of books recently that I haven't reviewed, so one of these days I'll do that. Don't ask why I haven't done it yet. There's no good reason.

Husband and I hung out at a bookstore last night and I brought home two new books:

First was the new and updated version of The President's Daughter by Ellen Emerson White. As I commented on about 20 blogs not too long ago, I loved, loved, loved this book as a kid and am just so thrilled to get to read it again. I started reading is last night at the bookstore and really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to going home to finish it. Regarding the updates: seeing what's different has been fun and, fortunately, not distracting. And all the old things that made this book stay in my memory all these years are still there. Just now, when Meg asks for a martini, I'm old enough to drink one!

I have such a soft spot for Jan Karon's Mitford books. I know they aren't great literature, but I enjoy them. So I was happy to finally be able to get Home to Holly Springs, her first book in the new Father Tim series, in paperback.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Free Read: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Thanks to Reader's Respite for the link: read Coraline by Neil Gaiman online here for free.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Huge Giveaway

Tara's Views on Books is hosting a huge book giveaway with nine different books you can win. Wow! Visit her here to enter. Good luck!

Asimov's Foundation Series

From the NY Times, via Bookslut:
Asimov's Foundation series is heading to Hollywood.
This is one of those classics of science fiction that I always keep meaning to read. Maybe with the deadline of needing to see it before the movie (a personal requirement), I'll finally get around to it. Lord knows we own enough copies.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Help me choose our next book!

It's my turn to pick the next book for my book club. At first, we were going to read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. But our last book was Winter in Kandahar by Steven E. Wilson (which for me was a no, but others in my club enjoyed) and now I'm thinking that two Afghanistan books in row might be a bit much! My other suggestions are 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff and Paper Towns by John Green.

So, what would you suggest? I'll make the final decision, but I'd love to get your opinion.

Wish List: Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Series

Sometimes, when I hear about new (to me) authors, who have been around for ages, publishing multiple NY Times bestsellers, I think, Where have I been? Fortunately, someone comes along and educates me and now I have a whole bunch of new favorites and new books on my ever-growing wishlist.

Today's addition, via John Scalzi's blog Whatever, is Carrie Vaughn and her “Kitty Norville” series, "in which a lycanthropic radio host has all sorts of wild adventures."

There is even, to wet your appetite, a link to the first Kitty story, Doctor Kitty Solves All Your Love Problems, as well as an excerpt from the newest novel, Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand. Enjoy!

Monday, January 26, 2009


Thanks to everyone who participated in my first giveaway!

The winner of Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner is

And the winner of Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan is
Sheri S.!

I hope to host another giveaway again soon, so stay tuned and visit often!

Book Review Ethics

There is an interesting post over at Hey, Lady! Whatcha Readin'?, the Ethics of Book Reviews, based in turn on a post from Reading Matters, the Pitfalls of receiving free books. It's all very interesting, but I would like to point out one thing: book bloggers are hardly alone in this dilemma. From a blog post on Bookslut:
... last night two people mentioned this article about Kevin Coval's Everyday People in the Sun Times. It is written by his publisher. Amazingly, this information does not show up in the author's bio: "Mark Eleveld is a local free-lance writer."
Conflict of interest, anyone?

The Hotel for me?

The midtown NY's Hilton has a hidden something for you to enjoy on your stay in their luxury penthouse suite: a secret room! Find out more at Scouting NY.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Giveaway Reminder

Just a reminder that tomorrow is the last day to enter to win my giveaway. Go here for more information.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

NPR Catches on to the Prefab Thing

Prefab house are one of those things architecture mags have been talking about for years, and the MoMA had an exhibition on last year. So I'm not too sure why NPR is having a story about it and Dwell has their Prefab Issue now. It's altogether possible that something happened I don't know about.

House above by Rocio Romero, from LoftyFinds.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Onion on Architecture

I love it when the Onion does architecture/building. This is no Stoner Architect Drafts All-Foyer Mansion, but it made me laugh:

Foreman Whips Up Special Batch Of Concrete For Favorite Customer

Also from the vault: Architect Asks Self How Le Corbusier Would Have Designed This Strip Mall

Friday Update

What books came into my life this week?

Thanks to the always awesome Presenting Lenore, I received both The Memorist and The Reincarnationist by MJ Rose! I love it when good books show up on my doorstep.

I also bought The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde, author of The Eyre Affair. It was on sale so I couldn't resist, even though I haven't read the last Fforde book I bought, Lost in a Good Book.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Restaurant Cookbooks

On Slate today, there is an article about cooking out of restaurant cookbooks and how the meals you make at home just don't live up to the ones you get at the actual restaurant. The author attributes this to:
Variable factors like ingredient quality, temperature, and timing will ensure that a dish is different every time it's prepared, whether at a restaurant kitchen, or a home kitchen, or even from one day to another at the same restaurant.
Readers of Heat by Bill Buford know the truth, though: the cookbook recipes lie. As Buford explains, at the restaurant, they frequently add touches of spices, or layer an extra sauce under a dish, to add flavor and complexity. None of this is included in the "official" recipe, and therefore these touches are left out of the one that goes in the book. And this is intentional: why would Mario Batali or Eric Ripert want you to be able to make their signature dishes on their own?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Review: War by Candlelight

From the author’s website:
Something is happening around the globe: mass movements of peoples, dislocations of language and culture in the wake of war and economic crises —simply put, our world is changing.

As I previously mentioned, a neighbor of mine suggested that I read War by Candlelight, a book of short stories by Daniel Alarcón*. Actually, she suggested I read it about a year ago and lent me her copy. It fell to the bottom of my “to be read” pile and stayed there. I know it doesn’t really make sense, but I am always so apprehensive about reading a book that is recommended by a friend. And this was a book of short stories. I never read short stories.

The neighbor came over for dinner recently and I tried to give this book back to her, as I felt bad for keeping it for so long. When I told her that I had never gotten around to reading it, she grabbed the book out my hands and opened it to page 17, the first page of the story “city of clowns.” Read it tonight, she told me, you don’t even have to read the rest of the book, just read this story. Feeling chastised, after she left I sat down and read the story. Long story short, as you can guess, I loved the story. I finished it, and then flipped back to the first page of the book to read the rest of this collection.

As the quote at the top of this post alluded, and the title of the book more directly references, the overarching theme of this book is conflict. Much of it is real war, bloody and fought in jungles and streets. The rest is the quieter kind of crisis that takes place in our lives. I liked these stories more, to be honest. “City of clowns” is probably my favorite story in the book, though “third avenue suicide” and “a science for being alone” were also excellent, and quite moving. It’s the personal relationships that give these stories weight.

Globalization, movement and place are strings of themes that echo through these stories. It’s hard not to reference the author’s real life in light of this. As the biography and Q&A at the back of the book explain, Alarcón was born in Lima, Peru, raised in Birmingham, Alabama, educated many places, including Iowa, and now lives in Oakland, California. This is a man who knows what it is like to be new in town and to revisit a familiar town, only to find out it is no longer familiar.

Several of the stories suffered from what is a common complaint I have about short stories: too short! With such little space to write, these pieces felt like interesting sketches about a character or a place; they are evocative of mood but not much more. It will be interesting to read a longer work by the same author. Fortunately, Alarcón’s novel Lost City Radio was published in 2007, so we won’t have to wait.

Buy War By Candlelight on Amazon.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I need to share that I know Daniel Alarcón, albeit just in passing. He is also a neighbor of mine, though not one I have over for dinner. We’re more at the “say hello when we bump into each in the parking lot” level. But this review wasn’t spurred because of that. I didn’t have to review (or even finish) this book; I honestly liked it and wanted to share.

Monday, January 19, 2009


I'm probably going to get in trouble (copyright or some such) for posting this, but I do love this Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip:

I used to spend hours cutting up pieces of paper (which I usually neglected to clean up) to make little sculptures. They were usually fantasy princesses, dragons, knights in shining armor, etc, though I made the occasional castle. I even made a horse (for the knight) complete with saddle and bridle, all made out of paper. My mom kept a lot of them and it's a trip to look at them now. I was a weird kid, but I think it was inevitable I ended up as an architect.

Happy Birthday, Edgar!

In addition to being Martin Luther King, Jr Day here in the USA, it is also a very important day in literary history: it is Edgar Allen Poe's birthday! In his honor, you should curl up with a glass of Amontillado and read one of his famous tales, many of which are available free here.

PS: Also, as an obnoxious UVA grad, I am obligated to point out that Poe, even though he is more closely associated with Baltimore, actually grew up in Richmond and attended (though did not graduate from) the University of Virginia. So, wa-hoo-wa!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reading Quiz

Thanks to S. Krishna for the idea!

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Update

Sorry, y'all, for the silence here this week. I have not had a good week for reading or writing (too much time in a car, for one thing) but here's what has been happening:

I bought, read and finished the Buffy Comics Omnibus Volume 5. This volume features one of my favorite characters, Oz, in a stand alone story about him traveling to Tibet.

Also bought this week: Lost in a Good Book, the sequel to The Eyre Affair (which I loved), by Jasper Fforde, and Stolen, the sequel to Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong (which I discussed here).

I continued reading Le Corbusier: A Life by Nicholas Fox Brown. It's really a good book, but very dense and I find it a bit difficult to pick up. When I do, though, it's a rewarding read. Eventually, I will finish it and then I will have a lot more to say about the book and Corbu himself.

At the urging of my neighbor, I started a book of short stories by Daniel Alarcón, War by Candlelight. Again, I think I will write more about this after I've finished, which should be soon. So far, I am impressed; Alarcón is a very good writer.

So that's what's happening with me. I think I am going to try to start doing more of these update posts, mostly on Friday. Please let me know what you think!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Yes, We Did" Novella

Slate is running an inauguration themed novella by Curtis Sittenfeld (author of American Wife) in five parts this week. The first part is here. I will refrain from judgement until I have read more.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Adult Reading is up

Here are two takes on the new study from the National for the Arts, saying that fiction reading has increased in 2008, after years of declines, one from the New York Times and one from Jacket Copy.

Update: and another one from NPR's MonkeySee blog.

My First Giveaway!

I did some bookshelf cleaning this weekend and found two books that are a) duplicates (i.e., we have multiple copies in our library) and b) new copies (one still with the receipt in it!). Instead of donating to the library or selling, I decided to host my first giveaway here and send them each to a new happy home.

The Books

Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner (softcover, new copy, mint condition)
The heart of this third-person narrative is Becky, an overweight but thoroughly appealing chef at a chic bistro. Married to an adoring doctor and living in a cozy row house, the warm, nurturing Becky ... she rushes to help another woman who collapses into sudden, crushing labor pains after a prenatal yoga class ... The woman whom Becky helps is Ayinde, the gorgeous wife of an NBA superstar. Picturesquely if improbably, she, Becky and another expectant mom, perky blonde Kelly (who was also at the fateful yoga class and lent a helping hand) become fast friends. Eventually, Lia, a beautiful young actress who has left Hollywood for her hometown of Philadelphia in the wake of a tragedy, joins the group. For much of the story, Weiner, a wonderful natural writer and storyteller, renders her characters and their messy, sometimes wrenching lives in details that resonate as the real deal. In the end, alas, she slips in a soapy Hollywood ending. Still, this is a rich portrayal of new motherhood and a fun ride. Weiner's readers will root for her to trust ever more her ability to float between comedy and pathos, leaving the shallows for true and surprising depths.
Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan (hardcover, mostly new copy, book jacket has a little shelf rash, excellent condition)
Tan delivers another highly entertaining novel, this one narrated from beyond the grave. San Francisco socialite and art-world doyenne Bibi Chen has planned the vacation of a lifetime along the notorious Burma Road for 12 of her dearest friends. Violently murdered days before takeoff, she's reduced to watching her friends bumble through their travels from the remove of the spirit world. Making the best of it, the 11 friends who aren't hung over depart their Myanmar resort on Christmas morning to boat across a misty lake—and vanish. The tourists find themselves trapped in jungle-covered mountains, held by a refugee tribe that believes Rupert, the group's surly teenager, is the reincarnation of their god Younger White Brother, come to save them from the unstable, militaristic Myanmar government. Tan's travelers, who range from a neurotic hypochondriac to the debonair, self-involved host of a show called The Fido Files, fight and flirt among themselves. While ensemble casting precludes the intimacy that characterizes Tan's mother-daughter stories, the book branches out with a broad plot and dynamic digressions. It's based on a true story, and Tan seems to be having fun with it, indulging in the wry, witty voice of Bibi while still exploring her signature questions of fate, connection, identity and family.
I'll confess that I didn't really like this book that much (don't ask how we got two), but I'm sure there is an Amy Tan fan out there who will.

The Rules

Comment here and tell me which book you would like to receive. You must include an email address or some other contact information (like a website where I can leave a comment), or I will delete the entry. Contest closes in two weeks, on January 26, at 7 pm (ish) California time. Two winners (one for each book) will be chosen at random. Contest is only open to those with US or Canadian addresses. (Sorry! But I am paying for shipping, and that's what I can afford.)

Good luck!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Review: The Mote in God's Eye

I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Most of it though, is not what is known as "hard science fiction." I tend to dislike Spaceman Spiff adventure-type stories, and if there is a female alien on the cover wearing next to nothing, forget about it. So, despite the fact that we have many books by Larry Niven in our library (courtesy of my husband), I have avoided them like the plague. They looked liked something I wouldn't like. Then I got The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (published way back in 1974) from my LibraryThing Secret Santa. Wow! I am so glad that this book was pretty much forced into my hands. It is fantastic and one of the best sci-fi books I have ever read.

The Mote in God's Eye is the story of the Empire of Man's first contact with an intelligent alien race, after a probe containing an alien corpse is discovered heading for an inhabited system. Once the probe's origins are determined, a ship is sent to make contact. The Moties (aliens) they meet are friendly and only after a disaster occurs do some of the humans begin to be suspicious.

I won't say more, as I don't want to give away some of the delicious plot turns this book takes. It is a great story, one that made me late for work last week as I did not want to put it down after reading it at the breakfast table (always a bad idea!).

Even better than the plot is how thought-provoking this book is. What makes us human? Does psychology follow physiology? Do other creatures have souls? Must our enemies be evil? Is technology necessarily good or bad? Is war justified? And just who is Crazy Eddy?

One thing that generally keeps me away from a lot hard science fiction is how sexist much of it is. An author may speculate about a utopian society, and yet the women in it are still treated like a sub-class of people (Heinlein, I'm looking at you). In The Mote in God's Eye, the human's world is no different: it is a strictly patriarchal society and the women are almost viewed as chattel. The Motie society is, in contrast, a matriarchal one, where the leaders (the Masters) are all female (at least some of the time) and gender is a fluid state. I found the contrast to be interesting.

On the back of my copy of this book, there is a blurb from Robert Heinlein (who really is a favorite of mine, despite my complaints) about this book. He said, "Possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read." I am inclined to agree.

Buy The Mote in God's Eye on Amazon.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

P. G. Wodehouse

Sure, I've heard of P. G. Wodehouse. But he always sounded like one of those authors I should read, and therefore avoid at all costs. So I was pleasantly surprised when I read a recent post by Jacket Copy on Wodehouse that had me laughing out loud. From The Mating Season:
I am told by those who know that there are six varieties of hangover—the Broken Compass, the Sewing Machine, the Comet, the Atomic, the Cement Mixer and the Gremlin Boogie, and his manner suggested that he had got them all.
I love it!

Buy The Mating Season on Amazon.

There is also a lot by Wodehouse that is in the public domain and therefore available free online. Look at Wikisource or Project Gutenberg.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Architecture Books

From ArchiDose: Favorite Books of 2008

I haven't read any of these, I must confess. But they make me want to break my sole New Year's resolution*!

*which was to stop trying to read architecture books that don't fit in my purse.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Do You Yelp?

Where do you go online to find out restaurant reviews? I like the SF Chronicle and East Bay Express for local places, plus as an East Coast girl at heart, I always see what the NY Times is calling the best restaurants there. But for day to day ideas, I like Yelp. Is there a Yelp for where you live? Do you like it?

I don't review there very often, but if you're dying to know what I've written, check out my profile here. And if you let me know who you are there, I'll do the same.

Update: Anyone see this story about a guy being sued for libel after posting a negative review on Yelp? Yikes.


Some inspiration for those of you who like creative bookshelves (with a few secret rooms thrown in for good measure) from WebUrbanist:

20 Unusually Brilliant Bookcase and Bookshelf Designs: Creative, Modular and Unique Furniture

15 (More!) Unusually Brilliant Book Shelving Systems: Creative and Modular Urban Furniture

I've seen many of these before but thought the links were worth sharing. I do like this chair quite a bit. I'd never move on a Sunday afternoon!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Review: The Reader

Have you seen the new movie The Reader (based on the book of the same name)? I have not, though I read the book years ago. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink came out in English in 1997 and was an Oprah book in '99. Not being an Oprah devotee, I didn't read it then but found it used several years later. I have not re-read it since, but this book really stuck with me and I have found myself in the years since thinking about it now and then.

Description from School Library Journal (via Amazon)
YA. Michael Berg, 15, is on his way home from high school in post-World War II Germany when he becomes ill and is befriended by a woman who takes him home. When he recovers from hepatitis many weeks later, he dutifully takes the 40-year-old Hanna flowers in appreciation, and the two become lovers. The relationship, at first purely physical, deepens when Hanna takes an interest in the young man's education, insisting that he study hard and attend classes. Soon, meetings take on a more meaningful routine in which after lovemaking Michael reads aloud from the German classics. There are hints of Hanna's darker side: one inexplicable moment of violence over a minor misunderstanding, and the fact that the boy knows nothing of her life other than that she collects tickets on the streetcar. Content with their arrangement, Michael is only too willing to overlook Hanna's secrets. She leaves the city abruptly and mysteriously, and he does not see her again until, as a law student, he sits in on her case when she is being tried as a Nazi criminal. Only then does it become clear that Hanna is illiterate and her inability to read and her false pride have contributed to her crime and will affect her sentencing. The theme of good versus evil and the question of moral responsibility are eloquently presented in this spare coming-of-age story that's sure to inspire questions and passionate discussion.- Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA, Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
I will emphatically disagree with Ms. Gropman that this book is YA. While some teens may enjoy it, and it's relatively easy to read, this is a dark book with mature themes.

I can't say that I entirely enjoyed reading this book, but as I said, over the years I have found myself thinking about The Reader. Mostly, trying to decide if what Hanna did (which I won't describe so as to not spoil you) was an act of compassion, or one that showed her as even worse than the other prison guards. While this may not be the most lowing review, I definitely thought The Reader was quite good.

Buy The Reader on Amazon.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy New Year!

Yes, I know I am quite late to the party on this one. It's still early enough in the year that I can get away with it, though, I think.

Just about every book blog I read has been doing some sort of end of 2008 wrap-up and/or looking forward to 2009 post. I think it's a great idea to recount just what books I read in 2008 and what my favorites were. Unfortunately, since I only started blogging in August (I think, and I'm being too lazy to look it up), I have no idea what I read for the first 8 months of the year. And even then, I don't review or comment on every book I read (I figure that my thoughts on Twilight are probably not going to be the one thing that finally makes you say, yes! I will read the much exposed/hyped vampire teen angst book!). Maybe this year, I will keep track. But probably not. It just seems like so much work.

As for my 2009 book and blogging resolutions, I have only one, which I am sure I will break in about two weeks, give or take: No more ambitious plans to read massive tomes on architecture, which while they are very good, are very intimidating and too big to fit in my purse, therefore never get read in a timely manner.

Anyway, thanks to all of you who made my first (calendar) year blogging so fantastic. I hope 2009 is a wonderful year, full of great books, for all of you.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Review: The Worthing Saga

This is an older book (published in 1990) but it is so good I wanted to write about it. The Worthing Saga goes beyond science fiction as we think of it—it’s a look at how humans interact with technology and with each other. I loved it

The format of this book is a little different. The first half is a stand-alone novel, The Worthing Chronicle. There are two sections of short stories, set in two different time periods covered by the novel. Many of the stories have been incorporated, as legends or remembrances, into the body of the main story as well. As Card explains in the introduction, the stories in the novel were originally published in other forms, including Tinker, which was one of Card’s first science fiction stories. Card has a history of re-working material, publishing the same thing several times until he gets it right (including Ender’s Game, which was first released as a novella).

The tone and style of the novel reminded me a lot of Speaker for the Dead, or the last chapter of Ender’s Game, when Card is describing how the Speaker for the Dead (the person, not the book) came about. It’s the measured look at a man’s life, thoughtful and serious, with sadness and hard choices. This is not a fun sci-fi book, with space cowboys and cool robots. (As a side note, the back cover description on my copy of this book is entirely wrong. Robots? Embryos? Those aren’t even in the book. What book did they take the description from?) But it’s an interesting book that will draw you in. It is also a great read, and I finished it quickly, drawn into the characters lives and eager to find out the end.

I highly recommend this book, not just to science fiction fans, but to anyone who likes to be challenged by what they read.

Buy The Worthing Saga on Amazon