Monday, August 31, 2009

Review: The Prizewinner of Defiance Ohio (book)

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio* is a memoir by Terry Ryan about her mother, Evelyn, who supported her family by winning jingle-writing and advertising contests. Her husband is an abusive alcoholic who spends most of his salary on liquor, leaving her to cope as best as she can with their ten children. The book is, by turns, charming and funny, and absolutely heart-breaking. Evelyn is clearly a very talented and intelligent woman who, if she had been born a few decades later, could have had the career in New York she always dreamed of. But Evelyn knew this and didn't let it get her down, instead choosing to be upbeat despite the enormous hardships of her life. I didn't really find this book to be as funny as the jacket copy led me to believe it would be, but it was very interesting and a good read.

Buy The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less on Amazon.

The book was made into a movie, also called The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, starring Julianne Moore in 2005.

* Though the title, to me, makes it sound like a book about boxing,

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Review: Black Water

As I'm sure you are aware, Ted Kennedy died this week. Let me start off by saying that I'm very liberal and supportive of his work in the Senate, but I don't want to make this into a political post. During yesterday's conversation on the radio about Kennedy's life, I couldn't help but think of his earlier life and the terrible behavior he exhibited surrounding the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick. Being the bookish person I am, I then thought "what would Joyce Carol Oates say?" Oates is the author of Black Water, a novel based on the Chappaquiddick incident. Luckily for me, I'm not the only person who had this thought, as the Guardian asked Oates to write an essay about Kennedy. I'm resisting the urge to copy and paste the entire essay here, as it is quite wonderful. Oates never hesitates to say the most uncomfortable idea, the one that sticks in your head and has you returning to her work, even though it makes you squirm.

Black Water is a simple read in some ways - at only 160 pages (according to Amazon), the plot can be summarized in just a sentence:
A senator seduces young Kelly Kelleher at a Fourth of July picnic, and as they head for his hotel, his rented Toyota swerves off the unnamed road and into the black water.
Of course, it's the writing and the depth to which Oates plumbs this young woman's dying thoughts that make it such a powerful read.

Buy Black Water on Amazon.


Its time to pick a winner for my blog birthday giveaway. I picked a number using random. org, so ...

Congratulations to Becca!

Becca wrote:
I would love a copy of Medicus because I am fascinated by ancient Rome and Ruso sounds like a very interesting guy. Plus someone gave me a copy of the second in the series but I don’t want to read it until I have read this one.
I'm a stickler for reading series in order, too, Becca, so I totally understand! Email me with your address at lorin_arch (at) hotmail (dot) com

Thanks to all of you who entered and thanks for reading arch thinking!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reminder: Giveaway Ends Today!

Last chance to enter my blog birthday giveaway!

Waiting Wednesday: Committed

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
At the end of her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert fell in love with Felipe, a Brazilian-born man of Australian citizenship who’d been living in Indonesia when they met. Resettling in America, the couple swore eternal fidelity to each other, but also swore to never, ever, under any circumstances get legally married. (Both were survivors of previous horrific divorces. Enough said.) But providence intervened one day in the form of the United States government, which—after unexpectedly detaining Felipe at an American border crossing—gave the couple a choice: they could either get married, or Felipe would never be allowed to enter the country again. Having been effectively sentenced to wed, Gilbert tackled her fears of marriage by delving into this topic completely, trying with all her might to discover through historical research, interviews, and much personal reflection what this stubbornly enduring old institution actually is. ... Committed attempts to “turn on all the lights” when it comes to matrimony, frankly examining questions of compatibility, infatuation, fidelity, family tradition, social expectations, divorce risks and humbling responsibilities...
Also, check out this New York Times article about Gilbert's new book. The publication of Committed is controversial already, as Gilbert's ex husband (the one that prompted the events of EPL) is publishing a book about their divorce, too. Yikes.

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review: Witch World

Despite years of reading fantasy and science fiction, I only knew Andre Norton for the award named after her, not for having read any of her work. Since we own several of her books, I decided it was time to rectify that and picked up Witch World, the first book in her Witch World series, about a parallel universe where magic works.

In Witch World, ex-military man Simon Tregarth is on the run on earth and is given the chance to escape into this new universe. He helps a woman - later revealed to be a witch of Estcarp - escape from men hunting her, and is drawn into helping her fight a war against the sinister Kolder.

In some ways, Witch World reminded me of Glory Road by Robert Heinlein. They were published almost simultaneously (WW in 1963, GR serially in 1963 and as book in 1964), too. Both are about a normal human dropped into a strange world and given a quest. But where Glory Road is fairly light-hearted and a fun read, Witch World is much more serious. It is also written in a very stylized manner - there's a lot of "and he thought they were dead. But they were not!" - common to the era it was written, I think, but not really my usual cup of tea.

That said, I'm really intrigued by the mystery of who or what the Kolder are. I think I will find book 2 on our shelf one of these days and try to find out.

Buy Witch World on Amazon.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: The Book of Unholy Mischief

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark was not at all what I expected. Maybe it was the title - evocative of magic - or maybe it was the setting - 15th c. Venice, rich with intrigue and spice - but I definitely thought this was going to be a DaVinci Code-esque knock-off thriller. Fortunately, it was something I generally enjoy much more - an ode to food, cooked well, and eaten with gusto.
It is 1498, the dawn of the Renaissance, and Venice teems with rumors of an ancient book that holds the secret to unimaginable power. It is an alchemist's dream, with recipes for gold, immortality, and undying love. Everyone, rich and poor alike, speculates about the long-buried secrets scrawled in its pages and where it could possibly be hidden within the labyrinthine city. But while those who seek the book will stop at nothing to get it, those who know will die to protect it.

As a storm of intrigue and desire circles the republic, Luciano, a penniless orphan with a quick wit and an even faster hand, is plucked up by an illustrious chef and hired, for reasons he cannot yet begin to understand, as an apprentice in the palace kitchen. There, in the lavish home of the most powerful man in Venice, he is initiated into the chef's rich and aromatic world, with all its seductive ingredients and secrets.

Luciano's loyalty to his street friends and the passion he holds for a convent girl named Francesca remain, but it is not long before he, too, is caught up in the madness. After he witnesses a shocking murder in the Palace dining room, he realizes that nothing is as it seems and that no one, not even those he's come to rely on most, can be trusted. Armed with a precocious mind and an insatiable curiosity, Luciano embarks on a perilous journey to uncover the truth.
Truth be told, the plot of this book left a bit to be desired. It lagged a bit and the ending slumped off rather than truly wrapping the story up. The story is secondary to Newmark's descriptions of the lavish dinner parties and political intrigue at the Doge's palace. But for those who will read a story just to enjoy the atmosphere, this is a really charming book.

And in case you haven't been to Venice, here's a photo of the palace (via Wikipedia) to set the mood:

Buy The Book of Unholy Mischief on Amazon.

Thanks to Pump Up Your Book Promotions for including me in this book tour.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Once again, Friday is here. Time for me to update the ever-growing list of books I've read and/or brought into my life and to plan what the next book in my teetering To Be Read pile I will tackle next. On my way out the door this morning, I wavered between two books before deciding to grab The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan. It's been on the shelf for quite a while and looked like it needed some attention.

Those of you who read this blog in a reader may not have noticed, but two new buttons have been added to my side bar. The first is an ad for Kiva, "the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe." Kiva first came to my attention when Laura went to Uganda last year as a Kiva Fellow and blogged about her adventures, good and bad. More recently, my sister gave me a Kiva gift certificate, allowing me to make two micro-loans. One is to a woman in Nigeria who makes concrete blocks (I've got to support my fellow women in the construction industry!) and one is to a collaboration in Uganda. I encourage any of you who are interested to find out more and consider making a loan or two yourselves. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

The other new blog button is way less world-saving: I've decided I am crazy enough to do National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) again this year! I didn't win (ie, finish my novel) last year but that was when I was studying for my license exam so I think this year will be much easier. So, come November, expect a lot less reading and blogging from me, and a lot more pleading for plot ideas. Let me know if you plan to participate - I can either encourage or dissuade, as needed!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

We went to see the new movie District 9 last night. It was very good but it was brutal to watch. If you have a weak stomach be sure to bring someone with you who can tell you when it's safe to look. I spent a big chunk of the movie watching the side of my husband's face and, even then, I got a little queasy.

District 9 is a documentary-style movie, set in Johannesburg, South Africa, about the forced relocation of an alien (space alien, not illegal immigrant alien) slum. Like all great science fiction, though, its really holding a cracked mirror up to society and showing us ourselves. At its best, this movie is very powerful and thought-provoking. At its worst, it is hitting you over the head a little hard (apartheid! We get it!). Star Sharlto Copley is fantastic, though, and does an amazing job of carrying much of the emotional weight of this movie.

It is definitely worth getting past the violence and seeing District 9.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: The Name of the Wind

Simply put, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is the story of a hero, in the tradition of a great, heroic, high fantasy, told in the hero's own words. This is the first in a trilogy, so it is just the beginning of the story, but, as the narrator says, it takes more than one day to tell the story of this kind of life.

Patrick Rothfuss was clearly influenced by the Lord of the Rings trilogy and also, I think, by Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books. The plot can be pretty conventional - orphan boy has special powers, goes to a wizarding school, overcomes adversity, etc - but Rothfuss's writing and the book's structure brings a real freshness to the story and prevents the book from feeling derivative.

Despite its length, I read The Name of the Wind pretty quickly. It is quite well written and engaging. It's definitely part of a story, though, rather than a complete story and the ending is a pause rather than the end of a complete thought. Truth be told, I found this to be annoying but I am still eager to read next installment. I highly recommend this book, not just to fantasy readers but to anyone who wants to read a good story.

Buy The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1) on Amazon or visit Patrick Rothfuss at his website.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bookish Stuff

Digging through my Reader post-vacation, here are some links I thought I'd share:

Where the wild things are furry about a version of "Wild Things" by Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze with a fur cover. That image is unbelievable creepy to me.

Via Bookslut: Kill Your Darlings: designers on book covers that were killed.

Via Scott Westerfeld's blog, a link to download Uglies for free. Its a limited time thing, so go now if you are interested. I loved that book.

Way back in July, Tamora Pierce (who I was my fave author in my pre-teen years) published a list of her teen reads for the summer. I don't think I've read any of them, though I recognize a few of the titles.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Giveaway Update

Either there's a case of book contest fatigue going around, or everyone is on vacation. I've decided to postpone the deadline for my current book giveaway until Wednesday, August 26 to give more people time to enter. Please drop me an email or comment here with any questions.

Review: The Middle Place

At thirty-six, Kelly Corrigan had a marriage that worked, two funny, active kids, and a weekly newspaper column. Even then, she still saw herself as the daughter of a garrulous Irish-American charmer, George Corrigan. She was living deep within what she calls the Middle Place - "that sliver of time when parenthood and childhood overlap" -- comfortably wedged between her adult duties and her parents' care. But when she finds a lump in her breast - and gets the diagnosis no one wants to hear - and when her beloved father, too, learns he has late-stage cancer, Kelly finally takes the leap and grows up.
I would never have chosen The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan on my own. It was a book club book so I dutifully read it, but a cancer memoir is the sort of thing I try to stay far away from. I have enough sadness in my life, thank you very much. This was a very well written book, though. Corrigan knows how to blend the fanny and the sad enough to keep the reader going, rather than piling on the tragedy. I enjoyed seeing my own friends and family in hers, and could smile along at her descriptions of the ways in which big families are an entity unto themselves.

I can't quite say that I enjoyed The Middle Place, though. As I suspected I might, and despite her upbeat tone, I found this book to be incredibly sad. A different reader might enjoy this book quite a bit, but for me, this wasn't an enjoyable book to read.

Buy The Middle Place on Amazon.
Visit the author's website or her charity, Circus of Cancer.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Update

That whole posting during vacation thing isn't working out so well, is it? Oh, well. It doesn't matter. I had a fantastic week at the beach and now I am home for a few hours to unpack, repack, and head back out for the weekend.

As you may imagine, in between our beach activities, I got in a lot of great reading time. In addition to reading multiple whale books to my 3-year-old nephew (that's his current obsession), I read another of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan (which caused me to sob at least once), The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark (part of a book tour for later this month).

We also went to a book sale last weekend and I picked up two new novels for our library: Prince of Darkness by Sharon Kay Penman (from the Justin de Quincy mystery series - see my review of The Queen's Man) and March by Geraldine Brooks.

More reviews next week, and some information on our vacation, too. In the meantime, don't forget to enter my Blog Birthday Giveaway!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hello from vacation! Don't forget to enter my giveaway. I'm planning a day of geocaching and an oyster picnic.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Review: The Android's Dream

From the back of the book:
A human diplomat kills his alien counterpart. Earth is on the verge of war with a vastly superior alien race. A lone man races against time and a host of enemies to find the one object that can save our planet and our people from alien enslavement... a sheep.

That's right, a sheep. And if you think that's the most surprising thing about this book, wait until you read Chapter One. Welcome to The Android's Dream.

For Harry Creek, it's quickly becoming a nightmare. All he wants is to do his uncomplicated mid-level diplomatic job with Earth's State Department. But his past training and skills get him tapped to save the planet — and to protect pet store owner Robin Baker, whose own past holds the key to the whereabouts of that lost sheep. Doing both will take him from lava-strewn battlefields to alien halls of power. All in a day's work. Maybe it's time for a raise.
This book is so weird. Death by farting. A human/sheep hybrid. An ironic religious cult. There's sci-fi... and then there's Scalzi.

I'll be honest - this was my least favorite of his books that I've read. Old Man's War and the rest were great, though, so maybe it is inevitable that one of his books will fall short for me. Don't get me wrong - I still think he's great writer and I normally really like his tongue-in-cheek sense of humor (really evident on Scalzi's blog). On this one, though, I had a hard time getting past the weirdness. In the moments when I did, there was a lot to like about this book. The rest of the time, though... weird.

Buy The Android's Dream on Amazon.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Happy 1st Birthday, Blog!

Update: Please note revised contest end date.

This past year has just flown by, and I have just had so much fun blogging. I've read so many good books, "met" many new fellow bloggers, and have just generally really enjoyed having a venue to share my thoughts. Thank you so much to all of my readers. It just amazes me that people - some of whom I have never met - take the time to read what I write. Writing has been a secret hobby of mine for some time and I have just loved having an audience for what I write.

In honor of the big day, I'd like to have a special giveaway. Choose any book* that I have reviewed in the past year, tell me why you chose it, and I will pick one reader who will win that book!** Contest is open until August 18 26th. Be sure to read all the fine print and let me know if you have any questions.

* Fine print: max value $30. Sorry, but there's just no way I can afford to spend more, and I know some of the architecture books I've featured sell for well over that amount.
** More fine print: Most likely, I will send the winner an Amazon gift certificate for the value of the book plus $3.99 for standard US shipping. This contest is open to anyone, but you will have to pay for any shipping above that amount.

Programming Note

I am on vacation this week. Yay! I have a few posts scheduled for while I am away, but mostly I intend to spend as little time at a computer as possible this week. Oh, vacation. I wish it happened more often. So enter my giveaway and have a great week!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Series Review: The Dame Frevisse Mysteries

I just love the Dame Frevisse mystery series by Margaret Frazer. Set in the Medieval (circa 15th c.) England, these books center on an astute, cloistered nun. I am surprised these books haven't been made into a TV show yet - they seem ripe for the BBC's picking. FYI, Margaret Frazer is a pen name:
The first six Dame Frevisse books were written as a collaborative effort between Mary Monica Pulver Kuhfeld and Gail Frazer. The rest of the series has been written by Gail Frazer alone.
There's a strong religious component to these books, as Frevisse frequently ties her daily prayers and offices to the situation at hand.

Obviously, being mysteries, you as the reader know a crime is going to happen. But what I find most interesting about these books is, sometimes, how secondary to the story the crime itself is. In so many mysteries, you know a body will appear in the first chapter and the villain will be delivered to the police (or historical equivalent) by book's end. That's not necessarily the case here, and it keeps me as the reader on my toes.

From wikipedia, here is the current list of titles in the series: (I own the books with an *)

The Novice's Tale (1992)
The Servant's Tale (1993) (received an Edgar Award nomination)
The Outlaw's Tale (1994)
*The Bishop's Tale (1994) (received a Minnesota Book Award nomination)
*The Boy's Tale (1995)
The Murderer's Tale (1996)
*The Prioress' Tale (1997) (received an Edgar award nomination)
*The Maiden's Tale (1998)
*The Reeve's Tale (1999) (received a Minnesota Book Award nomination)
*The Squire's Tale (2000)
The Clerk's Tale (2002)
*The Bastard's Tale (2003)
The Hunter's Tale (2004)
*The Widow's Tale (2005)
*The Sempster's Tale (2006)
*The Traitor's Tale (2007)
*The Apostate's Tale (2008)

Visit the author's website or find (most of) these books listed at Amazon's Dame Frevisse Mysteries list.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Review: The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion is a very interesting teen science fiction novel. Set in a dystopian, near future, it is the story of Matteo Alacrán. To most people, Matt is not a boy, but a beast. He's just a clone, not a human. But he's the clone of El Patrón, lord of Opium -- the country lying between the U.S. and what was once Mexico.

As I said, this is a very interesting book. The writing is crisp and straight-forward, as you'd imagine for a YA book, but the subject matter is not - cloning, genetics, nature vs. nurture - there's a lot going on in this book, and most of the characters' motivation is murky.

For about 75% of the way through this book, I kept thinking that this may be the best YA book I've read this year. Then the story went off in a new, different direction, that just fell a little flat in comparison to what came before. It was still good, just not excellent.

Still, I highly recommend The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. If you haven't read it, check it out. I think you'll be impressed.

Buy The House of the Scorpion on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Architecture Links

I got an alumni newsletter from UVA recently that mentioned a recent article on Peter Waldman's home in Charlottesville, VA. I was surprised, because the house isn't new at all - the Waldman's had been living there for several years when I visited and that was back in 199-something. Still the article - "Let the sun do it": Peter Waldman's Parcel X is a house of many faces at C-ville Abode - is nice and the house is great. Check it out.

Here's a very different "house" - actually two artists in Brazil.

More pictures at Archinect

Leila at bookshelves of doom visited Grace, a cool new restaurant in Portland, Maine that is housed in a renovated former church. The photos look just lovely - I'd love to visit if I'm ever in Portland.

In stark contrast to how lush Grace looks is this very modern church complex featured on arch daily - Holy Rosary Church Complex by Trahan Architects.