Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: The Magicians

Right off the bat, I'll say that I really liked The Magicians. Yes, it feels a little like the author, Lev Grossman, took a dozen popular books and mashed them together. But, at least for me, I thought it came out delicious and not derivative.

The Magicians is the story of an ordinary high school student, Quentin, who finds out he has magical abilities and goes to a school for magic (see: Harry Potter, et al). Once there, Quentin meets up with a group of like-minded students, all equally interested in magic and fun. They learn that there are other worlds (hints of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones, perhaps?) and, after some aimless young adult wandering, decide to find out if the magic land of their favorite childhood books (clearly The Chronicles of Narnia) is real.

Unlike these books, however, The Magicians is decidedly written for an adult audience. For one thing, the group of friends reminded me more of the murderous Bacchanalians in The Secret History by Donna Tartt than Harry and his buddies. For another, there is a distinct pathos about all of them. What's the point in trying when everything can be gotten by lifting a finger?

I think that anyone who read the Narnia books as voraciously as I (and Quentin, under another name) did will really enjoy this book. Or you might find it to be derivative garbage and hate it. But it's worth the read to find out.

Buy The Magicians: A Novel by Lev Grossman on Amazon.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! Have a wonderful day, everyone!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Two quick links for a Wednesday:

As heard (by me) on NPR: Save the Words, where you can adopt a word that is about to go extinct. (Warning, site contains sounds, if you are secretly reading this at work.)

My friend Laura has issued a challenge to me to take part in next year's Zombie Safe House Competition. I accept!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 11/16

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!
Today's teaser is from The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman, an author whose work I generally really enjoy. I've just started this one, so I don't have an opinion yet, but I have high hopes.
Antonina and Jan had learned to live on seasonal time, not mere chronicity. Like most humans, they did abide by clocks, but their routine was never quite routine, made up as it was of compatible realities, one attuned to animals, the other to humans.
From that lovely passage, one would never know this is a book about the Holocaust.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: Complications

COMPLICATIONS by Atul Gawande is about surgery, written by a resident surgeon. It is also about how humans learn, make mistakes, learn more, make decisions, learn something new, make another mistake, learn about something else, and then, when things go right, make really good decisions that just maybe save another person's life.

This book is incredibly intense - especially the last story in the book, which made me nervous for days - but not too gory or graphic. I don't normally do well with anything that even has a whiff of gruesome about it, but I generally wasn't grossed out. (I will admit that I skipped one chapter, "The Dead Baby Mystery." I checked with my medical professional husband, who read this book years ago, if this chapter is really about a dead baby. It is, so I decided that in my present, about to be a new mom state, I didn't need to read that.)

Instead, I found COMPLICATIONS to be a fascinating look at something I'm not familiar with. It matters, of course, that Gawande is an excellent writer. It's not perfect, of course, but it is excellent.

Buy Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande on Amazon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Churches for a Sunday

Because it is Sunday, and because I haven't posted on this topic in a long while, I present a round-up of interesting churches (the buildings, not the denominations, FYI).

Our Lady of Guadalupe (Waukegan) [via archi dose]

Johnson Chapel at Trinity School

Not really a church, but still cool: Nobody Steps On A Church In My Town! Or Do They?

Several from arch daily:
Pushing La Sagrada Família Forward, about the long process of getting Gaudi's famous cathedral built.

Tampa Covenant Church by Alfonso Architects

AIA Chicago Distinguished Building Honor Award for the Field Chapel

De la Piedra Chapel by Nomena Arquitectos + Ximena Alvarez

Which one do you like best?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

10 Random Books (with mini reviews)

The horror! I missed a day yesterday. Oh, well. While I won't have an unblemished posting record this month, I am definitely moving back into the swing of things. I still need to power through the backlog of reviews I need to write, though.

This is inspired by the meme I see around all the time, where one puts your iPod on shuffle and writes down the first 10 (or 25, or what not) songs that come up. Instead, I used the LibraryThing app I have on my blog (top right column) and picked the first 10 books that came up. I did cheat a little and exclude my husband's textbooks that came up, as I have nothing to say about them!

Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book: A Primer for Adults Only by Shel Silverstein: I think I got this from a friend years ago. It's just a silly funny book. And yes, adults only, even though it's Shel Silverstein.

Flying Colours (Hornblower Saga) by C. S. Forester: This is my husband's book - he has the whole series - and I've never read it. But I watched the Horatio Hornblower miniseries with him and loved it. It doesn't hurt that I have a bit of a crush on Ioan Gruffudd in it.

Orca by Steven Brust: I first read Brust when I picked up The Book of Jhereg from the advice of a bookseller (yay! bookstores!). I really liked it and continued on with the series, including this one. (This looks like it's out of print as a stand alone title, but it's available in the The Book of Athyra anthology.) The series gets darker as it goes but it's enjoyable for anyone who likes their fantasy with a heaping dose of magic and swordplay.

Zorro: A Novel by Isabelle Allende: I read this re-telling of the Zorro story by famed author Allende for book club. I remember enjoying it, but that's about it.

Irish Sagas and Folk Tales by Eileen O'Faolain: This looks really out of print, unfortunately. I loved this book when I bought it on a summer school trip to Ireland as a high school student.

Sarah: A Novel (Canaan Trilogy) by Marek Halter: The first in a trilogy, of which I have not read all three. I liked this one quite a bit though. It's historical fiction based on the Bible and well-written.

At Home in Mitford (The Mitford Years, Book 1) by Jan Karon: I think I have confessed my love of Karon's Mitford books here before. They aren't good, by any stretch, but I like them for what they are. There's a new book out in her second series about Father Tim (In the Company of Others), which I keep forgetting to get.

The Brand-New House Book: Everything You Need to Know About Planning, Designing, and Building a Custom, Semi-Custom, or Production-Built House by Katherine Salant: I bought this on a whim one day, curious what I as an architect would think of a book written for the layperson on the subject. I found it to be helpful, actually, though not perfect. Still, if you are contemplating building a house, I suggest finding a copy.

Angelas Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt: Doesn't everyone own a copy?

Intrusions by Ursula Hegi: Another gift, from a college friend who is a huge Hegi fan. It's an odd book, with a novel within a novel and characters that interact with "real" people. I can't compare it to Hegi's other novels, but I thought it was interesting.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 11/9

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!
For something different for today's Teaser, I am sharing from Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande.
When things go wrong, it's almost impossible for a physician to talk to a patient honestly about mistakes. Hospital lawyers warn doctors that, although they must, of course, tell patients about injuries that occur, they are never to intimate that they were at fault, lest the "confession" wind up in court as damning evidence in a black-and-white morality take.
I am reading this for book club, as I so often happens when I read outside of my comfort zone.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Arts and Bookbinding

I noticed on The Rejectionist that this past weekend was the NY Art Book Fair. I love books as art.* I know this may seem like a clash with what I wrote yesterday, extolling the virtues of eBooks, but I don't think the love of books as objects and books as reading materials are necessarily linked.

One of my earliest exposures to books as art was through the amazing bookbinder and artist Barbara Mauriello** and the The Center for Book Arts.
The Center for Book Arts is committed to exploring and cultivating contemporary aesthetic interpretations of the book as an art object while invigorating traditional artistic practices of the art of the book. The Center seeks to facilitate communication between the book arts community and the larger spheres of contemporary art and literature through exhibitions, classes, public programming, literary presentations, opportunities for artists and writers, publications, and collecting. Founded in 1974, it was the first organization of its kind in the nation.
One year, due to bad weather or some scheduling mishap, my family was among the few people who went to the Center's yearly open house. That year, instead of just watching the artists work on books and make paper, my sister and I got to try it out for ourselves. It was a fantastic experience. I think my mom still has some of the beautiful marble paper and prints we made. I know the Center offers classes, so if you are interested in book art and in the NY area, I suggest you check them out.

*So much so that I should really go back though all my posts and create a tag for this subject, so as to not bog up my generic Books tag.

** Who is, in full disclosure, a good friend of my family.

All images courtesy of the Center for Book Arts.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

eBook Thoughts

Last week, I was waiting for a friend of mine and, while waiting, was reading on my nook eReader. He hadn't seen it before and after making appropriate noises about the case (which I made) asked me whether I saved money by having one. Not at all, I had to tell him. I may pay a little less per book for new books, but I more than made up for it by buying so many more new books. I still love used books sales, and I prefer to have nice hard cover copies of my well-loved novels, but for day to day reading, ebooks had really spoiled me.

I'll give you an example. Yesterday morning, I woke up very early (one of the hazards of being pregnant, I've found, is how hard it can be to sleep in). I had just finished one book and, as is so often the case, was uninterested in the TBR pile next to my bed, or any of the other books on our shelves I've never read. So I picked up my nook and looked at the Wishlist I had created there. One title stuck out at me - The Magicians by Lev Grossman - so I bought it. A few minutes later I was happily curled up in my comfy chair reading it. All this, before the sun had even come up all the way.

I still love physical books and I can't ever imagine not being surrounded by them. But I have unabashedly become a fan of ebooks, and I foresee that as time goes on, I will buy even more of them.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Architecture Links

From Architecture Record 2011 America’s Best Architecture Schools. My undergraduate college, the University of Virginia, wasn't ranked (boo!) but my graduate school, the Southern California Institute of Architecture was ranked in several categories, including #2 for Design. Way to go, Sci-Arc!

Never a good sign: 2-ton chunk of UC Santa Barbara ceiling collapses. I bet the architects and their consultants are scrambling right about now.

Possibly the most interesting architecture article I've read in a a while: Design Within Reach: A blind architect relearns his craft at The Atlantic Monthly. [via Building Content]

Friday, November 5, 2010


I get ridiculously tired these days, as I near the end of my pregnancy (4 weeks to my due date!), so Friday is very welcome. Fortunately, I only have another week of work before my maternity leave starts. I was originally going to work a little longer but sanity - and my doctor and husband - prevailed and now I get a break before the baby comes. At least that's what I'm hoping for, though every time I tell someone that, it seems they respond about how their first came 1, 2, 3 weeks early!

While I'm talking about babies, I thought I'd share this photo of me at just a few weeks old.

From left: my older cousin trying to console me, my grandmother, me (the one screaming), another cousin (6 months older), and my sister, trying to figure out how she ended up with this little baby hanging around. Fortunately, we grew up to be very good friends.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Book Covers

Huffington Post's Coolest Book Covers of 2010 (via Shelf Awareness). I'm not familiar with any of these books, I'll confess (though I've read a couple of the authors) but I always love hearing the behind the scenes take on a cover.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review: Persona Non Grata

Persona Non Grata is the third book in Ruth Downie's Medicus series, after Medicus and Terra Incognita (links go to my reviews).

In this installment, Ruso, a medic in the Roman army, heads home to Gaul in response to a letter from his family, with his "barbarian" lover Tilla in tow. Once home, he finds out that no one really wants him there. Things go from bad to worse, as they always seem to do around Ruso, when the creditor he's trying to negotiate with is murdered in Ruso's home. Further complications arise: Tilla gets caught up with the wrong crowd (aka Christians), Ruso's half-sister falls in love with a gladiator, and his stepmother keeps trying to fix him up with their wealthy neighbor.

I loved the first one and liked the second one, but thought it had lost a bit of its luster. Now with the third book, I was a little bored. It took me a while to get through it, as I kept losing interest (partly due to my own lack of interest in reading in general, I'll admit). For starters, I felt more annoyed by Ruso and Tilla's exploits than intrigued. Ruso is so hapless, it was hard to root for him. And, out of her element, Tilla seemed a little shrewish, not the feisty heroine from the first two books. There were also many, many secondary characters to keep track of. In the midst of this, the mystery seemed to get lost.

Other readers, especially those in a better reading mood than I, may disagree. I still highly recommend the first book and think there was a lot to like in this one (the setting, in particular). I just expected something more.

Buy Persona Non Grata: A Novel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie on Amazon.

I did really like this slideshow on the author's website of some of the real places in this book.

Note: I received Persona Non Grata from LibraryThings' Early Reviewer program.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 11/2

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!
Today's teaser is from The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be by Armin A. Brott.
My wife and I thought about a home birth for our second baby but ultimately decided against it. While I don't consider myself particularly squeamish, I just couldn't imagine how we'd avoid making a mess all over the bedroom carpet.
My husband bought this for himself, on the advice of friends, and I read it, too, just for fun. I don't plan on reviewing it, but thought it was enjoyable enough to share this snippet.

Monday, November 1, 2010

NaBloPoMo: Day 1

Since I stink as a book blogger these days, I thought I'd see if participating in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) would help kickstart me back into being a better blogger. Even in my blogging heyday, I never posted daily, so this might be interesting.

I am not, sadly, participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. With baby due December 3, I just can't do it. And to be honest, being pregnant has made my arm injury flare back up (not surprisingly) which means that I can't type that much. This is actually one of the contributing factors to my lack of blogging.

Anyway, if any of you are participating in NaNoWriMo, I can't wait to hear all about it. I loved participating the past two years and winning last year felt great. I highly recommend doing it to anyone who likes writing.