The Sunday Salon – August 27 Edition: The reading week. Bits of This and That. And Hitler.


route 66: the mother road herself

A bit of photography for you this sunny (here, at least), temperate day. I stood in the middle of the road to get this shot, in the heart of an almost completely abandoned Route 66 virtual ghost town. All the former businesses were derelict, windows broken, insides filled with debris. I'll be posting several other photos from this location throughout the week.

Have to cut this short this week. It's family birthday party day. (I know, yay.) My boys had their birthdays on July 30 and 31 (two years apart, not twins, which may actually be more remarkable) but we were on vacation then. Today's the first chance we've had to observe their joint birthdays. I still have loads to do; the house looks like Irene picked it up, tossed it around and threw it down again. We're nowhere near the coast, tucked away safely in metro Chicago, but you wouldn't know it by looking in our windows.

Hey, you aren't looking in our windows, are you? Because that's so not cool.

Reading news:

Still reading the Booker Longlist books, working on a couple reviews I'll have up on the blog and reading NetGalley eBooks on my iPhone.

I was reading Chris Bohjalian's The Night Strangers in bed last night. It has supernatural themes, which make me jumpy as a circus performer. When my husband let out a sudden SNORT in his sleep I swear I jumped a foot off the bed. My heart rate shot through the roof. It was not a fun time.

The Night Strangers

Chris Bohjalian

Crown, October 4, 2011



"In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts. 

The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain due to double engine failure. The body count? Thirty-nine.   
What follow is a riveting ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling, award-winning novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, meticulous research, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply. The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead."

Over the course of last week I reviewed:

A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler

The Double Life of Alfred Buber by David Schmahmann

The Curfew by Jesse Ball

We stopped by Catoosa, OK for a look at The Blue Whale.

And had a look at one image from an abandoned gas station along Route 66.

Next week I'll talk about a great book for writers/bloggers, another Booker Longlist read and, if I have the time, a couple long overdue eBook reviews. And, of course, more photos from sites along Route 66 from our summer vacation.

Have a good week. Stay safe if you're out East




The Doctor: Rory, take Hitler and put him in that cupboard over there. Now. Do it.

Rory: Right. Putting Hitler in the cupboard. Cupboard. Hitler. Hitler. Cupboard.


– Doctor Who, Episode 8, "Let's Kill Hitler"

The Sunday Salon – August 20, 2011 , or:

I'm warning you; it's long (That's what she said.)



Good morning, my lovelies! Err… Afternoon, actually.



Route 66 Museum

Here's a photo from our 2011 summer vacation, for no other reason than I haven't posted a whole lot of pictures yet. Time is the culprit. Time is my nemesis. Also, the wasting of time I could be doing something useful, due to my addiction to Angry Birds and Zombie Farmer.

I am such an iPhone whore. There's no time of day or night I'm unwilling to answer its call. The other night Zombie Farmers beeped at 1:00 a.m. to tell me one of my crops was ready to harvest. Did I turn it off and ignore it? What do you think?

But I needed tomatoes!

Know what I'm thinking? When our family plan phone contract is up next summer I may not get another iPhone. I know! Crazy, right? But I don't like this feeling of being chained to my phone, Googling every little thing I wonder about, like: who was that one actor in that one film, the one with the barking dogs? Google it! Who wrote that book I've been wanting to buy? Amazon! Buy it!

This cannot continue. All this tempting technology is teaching me the evils inherent with constant instant gratification, encouraging my ADD via dangling temptations in my face. Do I really need this? Come to think of it, does anyone?

Know how many books I have on my iPhone Kindle app? I don't want to know, so I'm not going to check and tell you. But trust me, it's obscene. I download a lot of free first chapters, to the tune of maybe 50  or so to date. Yesterday I accidentally bought a book instead of downloading the free chapter. Oopsies. Nine dollars worth of oopsies. Plus, it wasn't even one I thought I would wind up buying.

This confession is my segue back into books, the intention of the Sunday Salon. Smooth, no?

I know. No.

We're already familiar with the fact I've been reading through as many books on the Booker Longlist as possible before the September 6 Shortlist announcement (because I am insane impatient and cannot just wait for the shortlist and read those books).

So far I've completed:

Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side

Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending

I'm roughly halfway through Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child and bored senseless (apologies to Emma Straub!)

I've started Patrick DeWitt's uproariously funny The Sisters Brothers, and next up plan to read Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie.

The thinking behind my choices was I needed to read the biggies (Barry, Barnes and Hollinghurst), regardless of what it took to get them, including spending the money to have them shipped here from Next, I'm reading the books available here in the colonies.

Once the Shortlist comes out I will compare my guess educated opinion re: which of the biggies should have, and did, make it through, as well as thoughts on which of the other, lesser known survived. At that point (bear with me; this is a highly complicated process) I will behold those books left unread from the Shortlist, determine how many I am able to lay hands on, read those, and declare my choice prior to the announcement of the winner.

Et voilà! Bob's your uncle!

So far, I say Barnes will make it through. That's all I'm willing to conjecture; there are miles to go before I sleep.

But the Booker contenders are not all I've been reading. For the classics group at the library I re-read Voltaire's Candide, discovering how irritatingly unfamiliar I am  with the philosophies Voltaire was lampooning, determining I need to read a book about him and/or the enlightenment to offset my ignorance.

So, at Half Price Books (how I love thee!) I lucked upon:



From Booklist

A probing and careful biographer, Davidson recognizes that the transforming event of Voltaire's life came when he was banished from France. Losing his place in a country that idolized him as a poet and dramatist awakened Voltaire to political issues transcending national boundaries. In this chronicle of Voltaire's deep involvement in a series of post-exile campaigns to reverse barbaric court rulings, Davidson limns the great writer's remarkable transformation from a literary celebrity into an international champion of human rights. That metamorphosis generated scores of spirited letters initially appealing simply for the lives and liberty–or posthumous reputations–of specific individuals but finally demanding the radical reforms needed to free judicial proceedings from ecclesiastical tyranny. Davidson piquantly details Voltaire's real and unrelenting fight against the church hierarchy but also explodes the mythical image of Voltaire as an atheist and an egalitarian revolutionary. The brilliant writer of Candide knew all too well that this is far from "the best of all possible worlds"; this valuable study shows how resolutely he labored to make it a better one. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.




I also re-read portions of Kate Christensen's The Astral, in order to write my review for (which won't be up 'til next month). On audio I'm listening to DFW's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, wanting to cry hearing his voice, yet so glad it's been preserved.

Coming up, loads and loads of reviews I'm VERY behind in writing.


A work of zombie fiction for the R(eaders)A(dvisory)I(nterest)G(roup)

Zola's Germinal for the classics group at the library

Colson Whitehead's Zone One, for review

One ARC title I was excited to receive: Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon

Plus, NetGalley eBooks – loads of those.

As usual, there's more. Always more.


As always, have a lovely reading week. Please support your local library and indie booksellers!


Books mentioned in this post:

Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side

Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending

Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child

Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers

Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie

Voltaire's Candide

Ian Davidson's Voltaire in Exile

Kate Christensen's The Astral

DFWallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Zola's Germinal

Colson Whitehead's Zone One

Jaimy Gordon's The Bogeywoman





The Sunday Salon – August 14, 2011: Nervous Breakdown Edition


You'll have heard by now a sharp rap, followed by a series of dull thuds. The first was my chin hitting the table. The second, my head banging the wall.




Mere minutes ago I turned the last page of Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending,' a book so gorgeous I am sitting here literally biting my tongue to keep from weeping at the sheer perfection of it. Yes, weeping.

I am not a crier. I do not cry. If I do cry something disastrous has happened, something inconceivable. Or, I've just heard about or seen animal abuse – in a movie, in real life or any way, shape or form. But the minute I read the last page of both Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side and Julian Barnes' lovely novel I found myself in the same fix. I could weep like Alice in the tunnel, until I nearly drown myself.



Such a visceral reaction to two novels read back to back. Either my hormones have been sucked up and spit out by a cyclone or I have discovered – upon reading my second novel of Barry's and first of Barnes' – two authors who speak to me as few other writers have, putting them in the same category as William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. None too shabby a company.

The thing is, they're so different! Barry is poetic, Barnes sparing. Both know exactly when to twist the knife to elicit a reaction in the reader. Their timing is impeccable. And, as for their endings, It was fairly obvious where Barry was going, though no less wonderful to read because of it. As for Barnes, the reader knows something is up, but not exactly what. I guessed, but had it wrong. And I'm very glad to say that, because there's nothing more irritating than guessing an author's intention and being right, then feeling no reward from having gotten there.

Blimey. If you've been hanging about here over the past few days (and if not, WHY NOT?!) you'll know I'm dead set on reading all the Booker Longlist contenders I can. Barry was first, and knocked me off my feet. I thought to myself, "Self! Here is your winner." And he still may be. He may! But Julian Barnes… The two of them have each smacked my gob, and I am deathly afraid what I'll think of the other books.

Both deserve the award. Both have had nominations previously (Barnes 3, Barry 2). Both have resumes as long as both my arms put together. Scholars have seen fit to write works of criticism about them. Barnes' earlier works have already been archived, that's how brilliant he is. Barry has written more plays than novels. Far more. Finally, Barry is Irish and Barnes English.

And I am torn in two.

It's not that I didn't realize these two, plus Alan Hollinghurst (who won the Booker for The Line of Beauty in 2004) were the three huge names in the Booker pool. I expected all three would blow me away. I just didn't realize in advance how strong my reactions to both Barry and Barnes would be. And Hollinghurst's book is next…



I can see the newspaper headline now:




Send. Help.

The Sunday Salon – August 7, 2011 edition


Welcome to this week's edition of The Sunday Salon, in which I bring to you a mere fraction of what I've been reading throughout the week, because my ADD renders a full transcription a superhuman ideal to which I cannot live up.

Books finished:

Howtolivesafely A plot line centering on time travel would have had much less success with me before I became enamored with Doctor Who and his grand adventures in the TARDIS. Honestly, the absolute hotness of the present (Matt Smith) and prior (DAVID TENNANT) actors playing the lead role in the series did have a little something to do with my initial interest, but beyond that I became sucked into the world of time lords, quirky aliens and unpredictable plots. Now I'm a rabid fan, making the idea of time travel – though, in reality, negated by Stephen Hawking – irresistable.

So, in the mail comes Charles Yu's book, arriving at pretty much the height of my Who-mania. Main character Charles Yu (coincidence!) opens the book describing his job involving policing time travellers, in order to keep them from bending or breaking the rule declaring one mustn't mess with the past, or God alone knows the ripple effect. He travels around in a box sounding for all the world like the TARDIS, guided by his computer, TAMMY, and accompanied by a sort of robotic dog.

Sound familiar at all, Doctor Who fans? Me, too. A little too familiar.

The main theme is the alienation Charles suffered from his father – the ubiquitous constantly-distracted/disconnected from real life scientist – before and after his sudden, unexplained disappearance, and how this has haunted Charles all his life. The book bounces back and forth betwixt a young  Charles desperately seeking his father's attention and the adult Charles, operating the very time machines which his father's life's work involved, in the midst of searching for his father in order to find the proverbial closure.

The only time travel book I can recall reading previously is H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, an odd eyebrow scruncher/head tilter of a book, one I didn't particularly care for aside from the fact it was an early attempt at science fiction writing and interesting as such. I can't recall what led me to read it, whether it was for a book group or lark, but the impression it left me with was not positive. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe went better, but didn't replace Doctor Who in my heart. Yu's work lacked a certain something in the way of plot complexity, and general tension. It felt incomplete to me, though I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style – witty, and generally lovely. Pity, that, but can't win them all.

Bunnersisters A much better experience came in the form of a short foray with my beloved Edith Wharton's novella Bunner Sisters, the story of two impoverished spinsters – Evelina and Ann Eliza – living modestly, operating a small sewing/millinary business in their home. The two live miserly lives, but things are satisfactory; they can meet their needs through their own work, without need of a husband to support them.

"The Bunner sisters were proud of the neatness of their shop and content with its humble prosperity. It was not what they had once imagined it would be, but though it presented but a shrunken image of their earlier ambitions it enabled them to pay their rent and keep themselves alive and out of debt; and it was long since their hopes had soared higher."

But then enters a MAN – Herman Ramy – who sells Evelina a clock she gives Ann Eliza for her birthday. When the clock proves to need repair one of the sisters takes it back to his shop. It turns out there was only a speck of dirt in the way, after removal of same the clock was in perfect order.

What starts as a simple transaction blossoms into something suggesting more when the man decides to visit the ladies again, to ensure the clock remains in working order (lame, dude). You can see this one coming: the two sisters begin spending more and more time with him, each believing his attentions are due to her. One is left giddy, and the other broken-hearted, until…

Twist! Turn! Delightful stuff.

As far as actual finished books, let's say these two make up the total list, as I need to go grocery shopping in a few minutes.

Books in Progress:

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta. Reading this with The New Yorker book discussion group, which I didn't even know existed until last week but had to join because, hey, it's THE NEW YORKER. Roughly halfway through, reading on my iPhone Kindle app. Plot: a rather eccentric/artsy, brilliant brother and his adoring but less exceptional sister and the lives they lead, narrated by the sister. Kind of short on actual plot, come to think of it, but interestingly character-driven.

The Infinite Library by Kane X. Faucher. Shazam! No idea how I found this Kindle book, but so far I'm torn between thinking it brilliant and merely approaching/mirroring brilliance as it's heavily influenced by Borges' "The Library of Babel," and no writer can live up to THAT. A mysterious man approaches a book researcher/lecturer asking for help filling in obscure titles in his library, using less than legal means. Reeeallly interesting.

Luminarium by Alex Shakar. Good stuff! Twin men, one in a coma, one participating in a study in which the objective is something approaching becoming one with the universe, with a spiritual slant. Not very far into it, but it's great so far. Reading with The Rumpus Book Club.

Have a lovely week.

Sunday Salon – July 3, 2011 Edition



Alright, so I'm not the best Sunday Saloner. I'm downright crappy, when it comes down to it, and that's a shame. I should be using this time to remind myself what I'm reading as well as share that with others, necause my normal reading style involves picking up whatever's near, no matter how many books I already have going. That's my ADD at work.

And then, no matter how much I'm reading, I have to toss everything else aside when a book for review publication comes in, because some of those pay actual cash money, the kind you spend at stores. Bookstores, mainly, because you can wear the same clothes and shoes forever, right, and get invited to the homes of others for meals. So what does that leave? Books! Right-o!


AmericanpsychoAmerican Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

I never had the slightest desire to read this novel  until the publisher sent me a 20th anniversary edition for review. My assumption, based on nothing actually, was this was a novel of the surreal/postmodern genre I've never had much luck with.  And how wrong I was.

This is my gym read, the one I prop on the elliptical machine to help the time pass. Anything that grips me while I'm working and sweating must be pretty good.

It's about the rise of the dot com bubble 1990s, when everything was good and people were starting to make money like mad. When the potential for failure seemed impossible.

The main character, Patrick Bateman, is a wealthy 20-something man who works for a major investment firm. He spends his time divided between: working out, tanning, buying $ 600 boxer shorts, eating (barely), drinking (plentifully), doing drugs (moderately), and having sex with his friends' girlfriends. He goes to work every day, though who knows what he actually does. All we hear about are lunches and dinners out, his biased opinions of everyone and everything, and how cruel he and his friends are to the homeless: pretending to hand them a dollar then snatching it away at the last minute. Happens a lot when he's out with his friends, actually.

Bateman is obsessed with what people are wearing, what gym they go to, if they're "hardbodies" or not, etc. He mentally undresses others, and by that I mean he observes the designer who made everything they're wearing from top to bottom. That gets old after a little while, hearing, "He wore a plaid jacket from Ralph Lauren, a silk tie from Polo, a shirt from…" wherever, all the way down to a man's shoes. But it certainly gets the point across. Patrick Bateman is a man obsessed with style, status and outward appearances.

He also has a fascination for true crime stories of murder, the more brutal the better. At the same time he's enjoying his success, his mind is starting to overload, his anxiety shooting through the roof. He pops valium like candy, just to get through the day. And he carries a knife in his jacket pocket. Did I mention the knife in his pocket?

A bit intriguing?

As the Doctor would say: Oh, yessssssssss!



Worsthardtime The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

Fascinating stuff that makes you grateful you didn't live through this part of  history. It deserves every bit of the National Book Award and then some.

Egan takes us through the early settlement of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, the westward expansion and land grab. What begins as grazing land for animals is converted to farmland, plowing up the native grasses that had kept the dirt at bay, setting up what will turn out to be the greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States.

It's riveting and heartbreaking. It also makes the reader very angry such a thing was allowed to happen, especially after the northern parts of the Great Plains experienced the same problem and no one connected the dots, realizing the potential for disaster.

I love history, but even if the thought of the Dust Bowl bores you, I expect if you like very well written nonfiction you may enjoy it, as well. Egan will make you care.


I'm reading this via my iPhone's Kindle app, mostly at bedtime. And it keeps me up late every, single night.

Because I need to leave in 15 minutes, here's a really quick recap of some other things I'm reading:

Also reading:

Astral by Kate Christensen

Assistive Technologies in the Library by Barbara T. Mates

I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck

Open City by Teju Cole


Just finished:

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Leche by R. Zamora Linmark

Among the Wonderful by Stacy Carlson

The Double Life of Alfred Buber by David Schmahmann


Coming up:

Candide by Voltaire (Classics Group at the library)

And oh so, so much more.


Oh, yesssssssssss!!!!


Sunday Salon: January 16, 2011



  • Hardcover: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly; 1 edition (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1770460071
  • I have no idea where I heard about this book. I'm not a very big graphic novel reader, but somehow I received it through interlibrary loan, forgetting I'd even requested it. Could be senility creeping in, but if that's so I'll probably forget that, too. There are a few benefits to growing older.

    I liked this book a lot; it gave me a chance to break out of my usual reading fare. I read widely, crossing genre lines, authors and time periods. I read eBooks and "real" books, but I've never been too much a graphic novel reader. It's not that I don't know some of them are great reading, since in grad school we read a couple I enjoyed. I just don't come across them very often.

    Wilson tells the story of a divorced, depressed and usually sour man with a poor outlook on life. He's sarcastic, abrasive, and generally unlikeable, aside from the fact he owns a really cute dog. I enjoyed it so much I read it in one setting. Why? Because it was very funny, in a grim way. And if there's one thing I like it's grim.

    The book as a whole tells the story of a few months in the life of Wilson, though each page's piece could easily stand on its own. We're taken through his everyday life, his incarceration, attempt to reconnect with his ex-wife, and meeting with a long-lost relative, among other things. Highly recommended, even if you never thought graphic novels/books were your thing.

    I'm planning to read his Ghost World (and probably watch the film adaptation) and Twentieth Century Eightball, as well as David Boring. He has another that sounds great, titled Pussey (pronounced Pooh-Say), but I'm a little concerned about interlibrary loaning it, having it delivered to my desk before I can stash it so no one thinks me… Well, strange.

    Talk about closing the barn door after those proverbial cows have escaped.



  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Seal Press (March 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580052649
  • This was a review book for Library Journal, and on the opposite end of enjoyment from Wilson.

    A memoir of lesbian/sexual liberation/socialism advocate Susie Bright, I can honestly say I came very close to refusing to review it. It was so explicit, so lacking in any area of interest I have and utterly excrutiating to read. The prose was awful, the story uninteresting (to me), and it made me feel like bugs were crawling all over me.

    Get the image? I hated it.

    I decided to soldier on, as a conscientious reviewer should be able to read even those books she detests. Though I knew I could say no, I ultimately didn't. Once I was finished I threw the ARC right into our recycle bin – something I don't believe I've ever done before.

    Now I'm working on:

    The first two are inspired by the blog Lifetime Reading Plan.

    The Epic of Gilgamesh (anonymous, one of the first texts ever written, contemporary with the early books of the Bible; re-read) – David Ferry translation

    The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh by David Damrosch (to supplement book above)

    Sula by Toni Morrison 

    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Classics Book Group read)

    Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (Fiction Book Group read)

    Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard (March book group read.)

    Then there's this one Random House sent me:


    At 848 pages, it's another chunker. How will I fit this into my already bloated reading schedule? I have no idea. But if I have to be drowning, I'd sure rather it was in books than anything else.

    I'm a happy bookworm.

    The Sunday Salon



    Expecting so much activity from me in one weekend? I can be wildly unpredictable.




    It was an entertaining read. Two men share a prison cell, one a pedophile (a gay man) and the other a political prisoner. In order to pass the time the pedophile recounts various movie plots, all fascinating, and all centering on a beautiful woman. Meanwhile, the prison officials secretly promise the pedophile a pardon if he can extract anything useful from the political prisoner.


    I think something major passed me by. Maybe it was hidden in the pages and pages half taken up with footnotes, the ones I only skimmed. I have something against footnotes heavily used in comtemporary fiction. But in this case, something tells me they were significant.

    Maybe I'll just rent the movie.

    VERDICT: A great read, even without the footnotes, but an ending that left me wondering what the heck I missed.




    Books featuring unconventionally (that is, unattractive) female protagonists are too far between. I get so tired of reading about women who step out of glossy magazines. How common are stunning women? Not that common. So get over it.

    Mary Gooch, very overweight, gets thin, thanks to a digestive worm, during her senior year of high school. She slims down and becomes temporarily gorgeous, enough the school football hottie asks her out and the two of them eventually marry. Once the worm passes Mary gains the weight she lost and more, but her husband's love goes beyond her physical appearance.

    Mary, seriously depressed, keeps eating. And eating. And eating, growing enormous. Still, her husband stays by her side. But eventually he comes to question if he's able to make her happy, and how long he can stand being with someone so cripplingly depressed.

    VERDICT: Once again, a good read, this time requiring no footnotes. The plot's engaging, the characters mostly realistic (does the high school hottie ever marry the formerly overweight girl?), but there's a bit of hoky in the plot. But only a bit. It's a good, lighter read, not without a few flaws.

    And, War and Peace. I've progressed to the 200s out of 1,000 plus pages, and it continues dense but satisfying. Slowly but surely.

    Finding reading time from here through the holidays: priceless.

    The Sunday Salon – September 6, 2010



    Alright, alright… It's MONDAY and not SUNDAY. But it's Labor Day weekend here in the U.S. of A., and today very much feels like a Sunday. So to me that counts.

    I've already posted the review of the MAGNIFICENT book I finished this week, Jenn Ashworth's A Kind of Intimacy. And I'm hoping she hurries up and writes another book already, because this one was so brilliant, so up my alley, in a Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine way. Hurry, Jenn, hurry!

    Of course I'm reading other things, or just about to start them. I've started Mary Gaitskill's Veronica, which is written in such a densely wonderful style I'm having to read it slowly, to savor.



    Soon to be starting Kafka's Metamorphosis for the Classics Group at the library. Can't believe I haven't read this one, but here we go. Can't wait!

    Finished and discussed both Eva Ibbotson's A Song for Summer and Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whale Ship Essex, both book club reads, both recommended.

    A Song for Summer's a light, sweet account of a young girl, Ellen, who defies her suffragette aunts to become a cook/domestic at a private school in Vienna during the first stirrings of WW II. It touches on what's going on around them – good people smuggling Jews out of Germany as their safety becomes threatened – but does so in a way that avoids going very much into the politics of it, instead focusing on the morality. And even that's a sort of backdrop to the love story going on between Ellen and the musician Marek, who's involved in bringing Jews over the border into the safe territory of Austria. The group loved it.

    I think I've already covered Philbrick's Heart of the Sea? It's well-written, reads like a novel, and for anyone with interest in seafaring adventure a recommended read. I enjoyed it a lot.

    For review, now reading Ayelet Waldman's Red Hook Road. I dunno. It's written well enough, but the premise of the young couple killed between the wedding and reception, and how that ripples out to affect everyone who knew them… It's just not your most original concept, and I may not wind up finishing it.

    I need to let go of the concept she's married to MICHAEL CHABON! and stop comparing the two. But, having interviewed her, finding out she and MICHAEL CHABON! share the same office space, working back to back, well… Her writing suffers a bit in the comparison with MICHAEL CHABON!

    No pressure or anything, Ayelet, and you were very, VERY gracious to have granted me an interview. But, oh… MICHAEL CHABON!



    In the immediate review pile:

    The Countess by Rebecca Johns


    From Publishers Weekly

    Johns's creepily enticing second novel (after Icebergs) travels to 1611 Hungary as Countess Erzsébet Báthory–aka the Blood Countess–is being walled into a castle tower as punishment for the murder of dozens of women and girls. She begins writing her life story as an exposé of the many betrayals that have brought about this–as she sees it–outrageous and unjust imprisonment. The steady, calm tone of Erzsébet's narration lulls the reader along so that the first hints of madness in her girlhood engender doubt and discomfort rather than horror, and as her lack of remorse and grandiose sense of entitlement are unveiled, a matter-of-fact self-portrait of a murderer emerges. This is a carefully researched story, gothic in tone and grimly atmospheric, with subtly handled psychology and an initially unassuming tone. Unlike most serial killer stories, this rewards patience and close reading.
    Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


    Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock


    From Booklist

    Queen Mary Tudor of England (who reigned from 1553 to 1558) will forever live in history as “Bloody Mary,” for the number of Protestants put to the flames during the reign of this unbendingly Catholic monarch. In this inviting biography, British historian Whitelock presents a more favorable queen. The eldest child of Henry VIII, Mary was initially his pampered only child, but despair over the lack of a male heir led him through a series of wives and the relegation of Mary as a bastard. As a Catholic, she experienced difficult times during the English Reformation and particularly during the brief reign of the ultra-Protestant Edward VI, her brother. Her fight to achieve the throne as Edward's rightful heir is seen here as showcasing in full color Mary's mettle: “her triumph over the other contestants to the throne was one of the most surprising events of the sixteenth century.” The author sees survivalism in her subject, where other historians have seen only inflexibility and self-righteousness. –Brad Hooper


    Still so entranced by Per Petterson's I Curse the River of Time I can't bring myself to finish it. I do not want it to end. My nightstand, family room table, van and every other surface runneth over with books review, library and just, plain mine. No time to cover them all.

    Also, I'm having a very busy weekend; I'm lucky to have written this much. Yesterday I helped my daughter take her room from bubblegum pink to an eye-popping turquoise, and there's no doubt today she'll be raring to go shopping to accessorize. NO DOUBT.

    Meanwhile, the laundry piles, the clutter clutters, and dishes don't do themselves. Damn them.

    Have a lovely week.

    P.S.: AMAZON! Where's my freaking copy of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, the one I PRE-ORDERED? I am very NOT PLEASED with your service this time around. VERY not.

    The Sunday Salon – August 22, 2010


    Woo, what a week! I could use a good dentist after two firm kicks to the teeth from two different entities. They're totally unrelated, but managed to coordinate very, very well. I'm rather impressed, to tell the truth. Good show! Splendid! Good thing orthodontia has made such huge strides. Praise the Lord and pass the Prozac.

    Reading… Well, on Thursday I attended a meeting of the Reader's Advisory Interest Group. The topic this meeting was Scandinavian Mysteries, spinning off the Stieg Larsson phenomenon. Since we don't compare notes ahead, some of us wound up repeating books. Like the person right before me, who had read the same mystery:  The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin.

    It's a great read, especially if you like settings featuring old manor houses, lighthouses along the coast, and that sort of thing. In this novel the main characters are a young couple from Stockholm, who along with their two children move to a property on an island off Sweden's coast. Their land includes an old manor house, a guest house, barn and two lighthouses (automated). There are supernatural, ghostly elements, a wall in the barn on which the names of those who've died there are carved, a secret room dedicated to the dead, and a little girl who can hear ghosts. Or can she?  Read more…

    The Sunday Salon – August 1



    My book whore reputation is rip roarin' this week, as I've completed and started more books than I'll probably be able to remember. If there's a spare moment, I have a book in my hand. And if I have a book in my hand, I'm flipping pages like wildfire. One of these days I'll spontaneously combust.

    A couple I finished and love, love loved. Others I've started and love, love, love.

    Here's a quick run-down. Not necessarily proper reviews, but something to give you an idea how happily this reading pig has been wallowing in the mud of bookishness over the week.


    The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti



    OHMYGOD. It's just that good. Ninety-nine percent of the time, when someone declares a book "Dickensian" I want to slap them across the face for their presumption. But in this case? It's Oliver Twist, without all the digressions. And so, so funny. MARVELOUS!


    Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez


    Won't be published 'til September, so this is one of my lovely, lovely review copies. It's about the aftermath of a worldwide flu pandemic, and one young orphan boy's experiences being fostered by a fundamentalist Christian household. Review to come later.

    I'm working on…:


    Strangers by Anita Brookner



    I adore Anita Brookner, and compare her to Penelope Lively and somewhat to Jane Gardam. She's British, sets her books there, and generally writes about more mature characters undergoing life shifts. This book's no different, in this case a gentleman, Paul Sturgis, an elderly man fighting his urge for solitude out of fear he'll die alone. Just under halfway.


    Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Book 2 – Hunger Games trilogy)


    Book three won't be out 'til September (!), but I already have my pre-order in at Amazon. Yes, yes, I could nab it by asking the publisher pretty please, but I don't have time to properly review the series so I'd best pony up the cash.

    Hardly into this one at all, but my older son child finished it in about two days, he loved it so much. As I mentioned earlier this week, our local high school required students to read The Hunger Games as their summer book. My son read that and begged for the sequel. So I ordered it via Amazon while we were on vacation, and it came the first day we were home. Scored major mom points for that.

    I just loved seeing him glued to a book, giving the rest of the family annoyed looks when they made too much noise or tried to engage him in conversation. That was me, I thought, during the few happy memories I have from my childhood.

    And I don't see that often in my kids. Hardly at all, really. Now he says he's going back to the third book in the Tunnels series (another goodie), which he never finished. Tra la!

    And, finally, bought…:


    Because everyone else in the world seems to have already read it, and reviews are RAVING.



    Because The Good Thief left me yearning for more great reads starring teen/tween characters, and Barnes & Noble says this one's great. I don't always agree with them, but I'm so deeply in mourning after leaving behind the characters in Tinti's book I need something to take off the edge.

    This week I want to finish Per Petterson's latest and get it reviewed, since it's out in a couple days. Also, finish and prepare book club discussion points for Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith. And, of course, finish what I've already started, then start Huck Finn for the Classics Book Group I'm a member of at the library and the Nonfiction Book Group's August selection: Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea.

    Perhaps I'll also call a carpenter and an architect. The sides of the house are beginning to bulge from the sheer mass of all my books, and I'm not sure how much it can hold before the foundation cracks. I'm thinking of adding an addition expanding to the back of our lot line, turning the flower garden into an atrium/conservatory, then having a library built past that. What do you think, cherry bookcases or oak? All Stickley furniture, of course.

    Don't wake me, please.