Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Update

Every Friday, I update my library and share what new books I bought or received during the past week.

This Friday Update covers the past two weeks, as I didn't post one last Friday. And this week I am in Kentucky, so I am writing this on Wednesday. How much do you want to bet I'll have bought more books in between the time I write this and it posts? Remember, I will be in an airport for a big chunk of the day tomorrow. The only thing that may stop me from buying a new book is if I buy trashy magazines instead. I love trashy magazines, but only allow myself to buy them when I'm sick or when I'm flying.

In the mail last week, I received The Carbon Diaries, 2015 by Saci Lloyd. I will be reviewing this book as part of the green blogger initiative from eco libris. More information to come.

This week, I bought Good Eats: The Early Years by Alton Brown, of Good Eats. Its one of my family's favorite shows and we love the two other cookbooks we have by AB: I'm Just Here for the Food and I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking.

Have a good weekend, everybody! About the time you read this, I'll be off doing something touristy in Louisville and marveling at how the trees are all different colors. They call it "autumn" - amazing!

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Regular readers may note that I love to post pictures of interesting bookshelves. Today's installment is brought to you by Woman's Day. [link via mental_floss] Of the photos they posted, my favorite is the Cave designed by sakura adachi.

The cute kid probably doesn't hurt, either.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Botany of Desire on PBS Tonight

Consider this a public service announcement for those of you in the US - Tonight at 8, PBS is airing a documentary based on one of my favorite non-fiction books, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan. Here's an interesting article at mental_floss with more information.

I will be furiously packing, so I'm not sure I'll be about to watch the whole thing, but I definitely will be recording it.

Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is about the lives of the residents of an upscale French apartment house, focusing on the frumpy, introverted caretaker Renée and the precocious twelve-year-old Paloma, who has decided to kill herself at age 13. The book is told through the diaries each of them keep, cutting back and forth between their viewpoints. It felt, to me, like a very French book. Not just because of the frequent use of French words, but because the culture it described felt very different than my own.

At first, I didn't really like Renée. She is obsessed with the class differences between her and the apartment residents. I couldn't figure out why she hid behind the facade she had created, pretending to be an uneducated peasant when she was actually an intelligent, sophisticated woman. Without giving anything away, though, once I found out more about her past and how she came to make the decisions she made, my heart really opened up to Renée and I liked the character quite a bit.

As for Paloma: anyone who read my review of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie may have noticed that one of my least favorite character types is the precocious child. Reading her parts was an uphill battle for me to begin with. Sadly, I really didn't like Paloma any more at the end of the book than I did at the beginning.

I read Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog for my book club. I'll be honest: I wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't needed to. It took me a really long time to get into this book. I was warned that it started out slow, but I would say that I didn't start to warm up to it until about page 150 (of only 325 pages).

This is not to say that there weren't some great moments in this book. The diaries by Paloma and Renée each have their own distinct voice, but both have passages that had me reaching for my little flags, to mark the spot. Paloma's diaries drip with sarcasm - the architect in me particularly liked this from her, describing dinner at a fancy restaurant:
When the French want to get away from the traditional "Empire" style with burgundy drapes and gilt galore, they go for hospital style. You sit on these Le Corbusier chairs ("By Corbu," says Maman) and you eat out of these white plates with very Soviet-bureaucracy geometrical shapes, and you dry your hand in the restroom on towels so thin that they don't absorb a thing.
In contrast, I felt like Renée's diary was more measured, and while not necessarily softer, more willing to see the good and bad in life. More grown-up, I guess.
...I witness the birth on paper of sentences that have eluded my will and appear in spite of me on the sheet, teaching me something that I neither knew nor thought I might want to know. The painless birth, like an unsolicited proof, gives me untold pleasure, and with neither toil nor certainty but the joy of frank astonishment I follow the pen that is guiding and supporting me.
I don't really have a recommendation for this one, whether you should read it or not. If you have read it, I would love to hear your opinion.

Buy The Elegance of the Hedgehog on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Teaser Tuesday 10/27

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
My teaser this week is from The Alchemaster's Apprentice by Walter Moers:
Echo groped his way to the back of the cellar and crouched down in a corner just as Ghoolion appeared in the doorway. The cellar was suddenly bathed in multicoloured light by the will-o'-the-wisp lantern in his hand.
Don't you just love the term will-o'-the-wisp?

Thursday, October 22, 2009


So this is what a reading slump feels like. Totally bored with what I'm reading? Check. Finding other things to do rather than return to said book? Check. Reading my email or playing solitaire at lunch rather than reading? Check. Staring at massive pile of TBR books and not feeling inspired to pick any up? Check.

I expect this will last until the weekend, when I have time to go to the library or a bookstore. In the meantime, it will be a bit quiet around here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teaser Tuesday 10/20

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
Then he took hold of himself and on his motionless face came a motionless expression of the sort, "You want to play games with me, little girl?" Well yes, I do want to play games with you, you big fat marron glacé.
From The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. A marron glacé, by the way, is a chestnut candied in sugar syrup and glazed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Books Architects Own

Over the weekend, my husband and I went to a co-ed baby shower for our good friends, held at the home of another friend of theirs, who I hadn't really met before. But as soon as I walked in, I knew one of them was an architect. How did I know? Because on the shelf were two books only an architect would own:

S M L XL by Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, with Hans Werlemann
S,M,L,XL presents a selection of the remarkable visionary design work produced by the Dutch firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (O.M.A.) and its acclaimed founder, Rem Koolhaas, in its first twenty years, along with a variety of insightful, often poetic writings. The inventive collaboration between Koolhaas and designer Bruce Mau is a graphic overture that weaves together architectural projects, photos and sketches, diary excerpts, personal travelogues, fairy tales, and fables, as well as critical essays on contemporary architecture and society.

The book's title is also its framework: projects and essays are arranged according to scale. While Small and Medium address issues ranging from the domestic to the public, Large focuses on what Koolhaas calls "the architecture of Bigness." Extra-Large features projects at the urban scale, along with the important essay "What Ever Happened to Urbanism?" and other studies of the contemporary city. Running throughout the book is a "dictionary" of an adventurous new Koolhaasian language -- definitions, commentaries, and quotes from hundreds of literary, cultural, artistic, and architectural sources.

Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings (aka MEEB)

This got me thinking, what other books do pretty much all (American) architects own? First off, some books, like MEEB, that s/he probably purchased for school but found pretty helpful, so they kept, like Fundamentals of Building Construction: Materials and Methods by Allen, et al.

Definitely something by Francis D. K. Ching, most likely either Architectural Graphics or Building Construction Illustrated. Or both.

Maybe a copy of Architectural Graphic Standards, but maybe an old edition or the student version, not the newest edition (#11, sayeth Amazon), because its so expensive.

Some more theoretical books, too. I'd guess everybody owns Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form by Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour and Denise Scott Brown

There's a book about an architect you picked out yourself, maybe Thinking Architecture by Peter Zumthor or something about Herzog & de Meuron, like Herzog & de Meuron 1992-1996: The Complete Works (Volume 3) (aka, the orange one).

Plus, a book about an architect a family member bought you: Frank Lloyd Wright: The Masterworks. Always FLW.

Anyone else have any ideas for this list?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Comic Book Sale

If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area and love comic books, I wanted to share a great sale going on now at Alameda Sports Cards & Comics. Patti lost her lease and is selling everything at huge discounts to clear the decks for her move. Its worth a trip to the East Bay.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Update

Every Friday, I update my library and share what new books I bought or received during the past week.

Last weekend, I went shopping at the SF Museum of Modern Art store. I was tempted by many beautiful books on art and architecture (including, as I mentioned yesterday, one on Patrick Dougherty) but I ended up buying just one, by an artist I have enjoyed for a long time: Abelardo Morell (previous).

This retrospective, entitled simply Abelardo Morell, is a great overview of the photographer's career. I'm so glad I bought it.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, filled with beautiful things.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Artist Patrick Dougherty

I almost bought a book last weekend because it had some work by artist Patrick Dougherty in it.* Dougherty does these amazing organic sculptures that border on some sort of natural architecture. They're amazing. He first came to my attention because of his installation at the San Francisco Civic Center Plaza.

For a really nice sampling of his work, check out this article at dornob. I think I might have to buy his catalog for myself, just so I can own a little piece of his work.

*But not enough, so I passed. What did I buy instead? You'll just have to wait until Friday to find out.

Out Today: Year of the Horse

I recently read and reviewed Year of the Horse and thought it was just great. Its out today, so check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!

Buy Year of the Horse: A Novel on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: Sunshine

Let me warn you up front: this review for Sunshine by Robin McKinley is going to have spoilers. I usually try very hard not to do this, but a) the book has been out for 5-6 years and b) there are some things I want to discuss that necessitate spoilers.

Sunshine is not really a vampire story - it is a Robin McKinley story about a young woman with magic who has to fight vampires. It is told in first person by the woman, Rae Seddon, aka Sunshine, but the voice is, to me, unmistakably McKinley's. Even though the plot and setting were very different, the tone and language felt very similar to The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword. This, despite the fact that Sunshine is decidedly not YA (even though my library had this shelved in the teen section. Somebody clearly did not read the graphic sex scene on page 249, much less the buckets of blood fight scenes, before deciding where to shelve it). For example, the stilted way Sunshine and Con, the "good" vampire, talk to each other reminded me so much of Harry and Corlath talking at the end of The Blue Sword. And the way Sunshine fights the big bad vampire reminded me very much of the way Aerin defeats Agsded at the end of The Hero and the Crown

This isn't so much a criticism as an observation. All this means that if you like McKinley's voice, I think you'll like this book. But maybe not. Because, I'll be honest, there's stuff to love in it, but there are some really clunky moments that grated on my nerves.

Here's one example: Carthaginian. It's a pretty unusual word. (It refers to the city Rome defeated during the Punic Wars. A Carthaginian peace is "any brutal peace treaty demanding total subjugation of the defeated side." [via Wikipedia]) It's one of those words that's unusual enough that it's going to stick out. So use it once. Or if you want to use it more than that, only let one character use it, that way it seems like a quirk. Don't use it multiple times by multiple characters, like McKinley does in Sunshine. It's like a nail sticking up in a floor - I kept tripping over it.

Comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer aside (blond girl fights vampire, yada yada yada), I think Sunshine is very different from all the other urban fantasy out there. As I said above, this wasn't really a vampire story, in that the vampire fighting wasn't the focus. The story is very much about Rae's inner life - how she accepts who she is and who her family is, and learns to use the gifts given to her, both in magic and in baking. Plus, avid readers and fellow book bloggers will appreciate Sunshine's hobbies before becoming a magic-handler - combing used book stores to add to "one of the hip-high pile of books to be read next" (pg 174) and reading.

This is just all to say that there's good and bad in this book and some readers will like it a lot, and some will be less impressed. Me? I'm somewhere in the middle.

Buy Sunshine on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wishlist: Wendy Evans Joseph Pop Up Architecture

Thanks to Laura for alerting me to this article in NY Times about Wendy Evans Joseph Pop Up Architecture, "one of the very few architectural monographs in the form of a pop-up book." How could I resist adding it to my wishlist after that description?

Teaser Tuesday 10/13

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
I confess, I cheated a little picking this one. The first one I picked made no sense out of context, so this was the second random page I picked:
The only noises were the ones I made, and a little hush of water, and the stirring of the leaves in the air off the lake. The shoreline was more rock than marsh, and when we crossed a ragged little stream the cold water against my feet was a shock: I'm alive, it said.
From Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: The Host

I'll admit it: despite having read multiple positive reviews for The Host, I assumed it would be sort of awful. It is, after all, by Stephanie Meyer, the woman who wrote the Twilight series. Therefore, I figured it would be fun to read, and yet annoy the living daylight out of me, and make me kind of want to pluck my eyes out. I am quite pleased to say that I was wrong. Yes, the book was fun to read so I got that part right. But it was not at all annoying. In fact, it was quite good.
Earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies intact, and most of humanity has succumbed.

Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, knew about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the too vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions of the man Melanie loves - Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body's desires, Wanderer yearns for a man she's never met. As outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man they both love.
This is definitely one of those books where the reader spends a lot of time with the main character, so you better like her if you want to read the book. Fortunately, I liked Wanderer quite a bit, and found her to be sympathetic, especially since she really could have been the bad guy in this situation. I liked Melanie, too, though she's a secondary character in her own body, and can be a bit bratty when she is asserting herself.

The one big drawback to this book is that it is pretty long - the library copy I read weighed in at 2 lbs and 619 pages, not exactly easy to slip into my purse. I didn't really notice, though, until about halfway through. I struggled to keep going for a bit, but pretty soon, the big climax sucked me back in and the ending was totally satisfying. So don't let the length put you off, is what I'm saying. I think non-science fiction readers might enjoy this one in particular would enjoy The Host, as it doesn't feel like sci-fi, even though it definitely is.

Buy The Host: A Novel by Stephanie Meyer on Amazon.

One more thought about The Host: according to the publisher, this is Meyer's first book for adults. Uh, why? Not that I'm saying that adults won't like it (I did! Then again, maybe I'm not the best judge of age appropriateness), but I don't think it's particularly mature. Actually, even though Wanderer is an adult, Melanie is only 17, and while she's forced to grow up, she still seems a lot like a teenager to me. Is it because there's some assumed se x? (No one actually does it in the book, or anything, you just kind of assume that certain people are.) If I hadn't read that it was for adults, I might have thought this was YA.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Update

My To Be Read pile is getting out of control. Here's a little window into my life: our bedroom is really small. Since we moved in, I've slept on the side of the bed next to the bathroom door and since there wasn't much room, I could only put books on the bedside table, not on the floor. But we switched sides of the bed, and now I have room on the floor for books. Bwah-ha-ha! I don't know if there are actually more TBR books, or just that, now that they are piled next to me, instead of spread around the house, it looks like there are.

I picked up two books at the library book sale the other day (the little permanent one, not the big one), just for the heck of it, and both of them are about vampires. I'm so predictable.

Breaking Dawn (The Twilight Saga, Book 4): I own 1 and 2, actually, bought new on a whim when they came out in paperback. I've resisted spending money on #3, Eclipse, hoping that someday, it will actually be available at the library. But now I've gone and bought #4, so I have to read the third one first, which means a trip to the book store. Sigh. I'm almost annoyed to be reading these books. Curse you, Stephanie Meyer, for writing such compelling trash!

The Harlequin (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter) by Laurell K. Hamilton: I've never read anything by Hamilton, so I figured why the heck not. Then again, this is book #15 (Yikes!) in the series, so if I like it, its opened up a whole new thing for me to obsessively buy. This is a bad thing, just in case that's not clear.

In other, more highbrow, news - Congratulations to Daniel Alarcón, winner of the new International Literature Award for his novel Lost City Radio. I haven't read Lost City Radio, but I read and enjoyed his book of short stories, War By Candlelight.

Enjoy your weekend, y'all!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Architecture Links

Here's something I haven't done in a while - interesting architecture links.

Architects Hawking Cars at ArchiDose: I always love seeing if I can spot what buildings are in the back drop of car ads. When Sci-arc's new building (aka the freight depot) first opened, it was constantly being used in car ads (and in movies, but that's another topic). I remember one time, we were all gawking out a window at a shoot and some poor production assistant had to come shoo us all away, as we were interfering with the shot.

The Little Town That Los Angeles Killed at metal_floss: While we're sort of on the topic of LA, here's a scary story with some beautiful photos of a modern-day ghost town.

Fictional Architects in Movies at Arch Daily: This is seriously one of my favorite topics. The list in this article isn't even complete, as the commenters and I could name several more (plus, as this is just movies, it doesn't even cover TV or ads). But seriously, I don't know what I love more - how architects are assumed to be cool enough to be in movies (I assure you we are all actually big geeks) or how unrealistically the profession is portrayed in most movies (FYI, the fancy models you see are the kind we make for developers, not the ones we actually work from). Either way, I always get such a kick out of seeing architects in movies.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Review: Year of the Horse

Year of the Horse is so different, so charming, and so much fun, and I am very excited to share it with you. I had no idea what this book was going to be like when I read it and I really liked how unexpected that made the plot, so I don't want to share too much with you. Rather than give you the dry book-flap description, I'll share one I found in an Authors Unleashed interview with the author:
Year of the Horse tells the story of a first-generation American boy by the name of Yen Tzu-lu (his friends call him Lu). He is the child of Chinese immigrants who gets taken along on an adventure by a famous gun-fighter and mystic named Jack Straw, and Jack’s gang of outlaws. They aim to steal a gold mine, and Lu has been hired on as an explosives expert (he doesn’t know a thing about explosives, by the way). Needless to say, they have all sorts of adventures...
Mostly, Year of the Horse is a well-written but standard coming-of-age adventure story, set in the post-Civil War West. Lu learns to ride a horse, shoot a gun, likes a girl, sees the world beyond his front step, and grows up. It reminded me a bit of Huck Finn, with its interesting cast of characters and tone. But what made it so special for me was the vein of supernatural running through the story. It was so subtle at first - did Lu really see Jack put cigarette smoke in his pocket? - but by the time they get to climatic fight with the mysterious Yankee, this story has morphed into a tall tale, in the very best sense of the term.

I won't say this book was perfect - I found the Washington Irving references to be out of place and silly, rather than fun - but it was great. I think kids of all ages will love it.

Buy Year of the Horse: A Novel on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Where Do the Books Come From?

My husband is pretty sure my books are breeding, but in actuality, I buy most of them. I've seen a lot of bloggers list where the last 20 books they've reviewed came from, and in honor of the FTC's new rules (even though I don't think they really apply to unpaid book bloggers), I thought I would do the same.
And there you have it. What did we learn? Only 3 out of 20 were review copies and I spend way too much money on books.

Teaser Tuesday 10/6

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
My first Teaser Tuesday! Woo-hoo!
And their was the new sense, the fifth sense I'd never had, that took the particles from the air and transformed them into strange messages and pleasures and warnings in her brain - scents. They were distracting, confusing to me, but not to her memory.
From The Host: A Novel by Stephanie Meyer

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review: The Dark is Rising

I kind of can't believe I've never read The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper before. It came out in 1970-something (a few years before I was born) received the Newbery Honor, and has been a well-read children's fantasy classic ever since. Not sure how, when I was scarfing up everything the library had to offer as a kid, I missed this one.
On the Midwinter Day that is his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton discovers a special gift -- that he is the last of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping the world from domination by the forces of evil, the Dark. At once, he is plunged into a quest for the six magical Signs that will one day aid the Old Ones in the final battle between the Dark and the Light. And for the twelve days of Christmas, while the Dark is rising, life for Will is full of wonder, terror, and delight.
I very much enjoyed this book. It is action packed, and fun. This is a classic battle between Good and Evil. There's not much in the way of character development, just an exciting adventure.

I have to say this, though: reading this as an adult for the first time, my experience is just so different than what it would be if I was reading this as a child. So I have to think about how a child reading this today would react. To me, it seems like the book hasn't entirely aged well, particularly the language, as it feels somewhat old-fashioned. I am just not really sure a child reading it today would be as enthralled as I know many adult fans of this book were.

That said, I could be totally wrong, and a child reading this would be just as caught up in the fun story as I was reading it. If you've read it, I'd love to hear your opinion.

Buy The Dark is Rising on Amazon.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday Update: Comic Book Store Therapy

Just about everyone enjoys a little retail therapy now and then. Sometimes, for me, its a new outfit, sometimes new shoes, sometimes food. And sometimes, its got to be comic books!

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume 7

Predators and Prey (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Vol. 5) (which Amazon is saying isn't even out yet. My comic book store takes care of me!)

In other news, I want to thank Ari at Reading in Color for giving me the Uplifting Blogger Award.