26 February 2011

Among Others

I've been on a bit of a tear recently, finishing things or getting through some shorter books.

I tore through Among Others by Jo Walton these last few days. I'd been waiting and waiting it seemed to get if from the library since Carl V. reviewed it on his blog.

The book is told in a series of diary entries. Mori is recovering from a tragedy that maimed her and killed her twin sister. She can do magic, and see fairies, and few other people can. Her mother can and tried to use magic for evil, which led to the twin girls stopping her, causing the injury and death. The other thing about Mori is that she reads and reads. She's sent off to school by her father's sisters, who don't particularly want the strange girl in their home or as a rival for their brother's attention. She's extremely out of place until she finds a sci-fi reading group that meets weekly (!??!?) at the town library.

So here's the bit i am highlighting:
At that point, when we were about that age (eight), we were always looking for someone else to play with, and preferably a boy, because in books that's the group you have to have to go into another world.

I totally had the same experience when i was around that age, 8-10. I was forever expecting that one day i'd be playing with my 2 younger brothers and then we'd open the right door or see the right rabbit or stumble under the right tree and be swept off to some magical place to have adventures. I was the oldest and the smart girl, the middle brother brave and stubborn, and the youngest brother cute and small. I mean he was always really small; he's an adult now and topped out at 5 ft 3, just an inch above me. So we'd have an adventure and we'd all get to be the hero for part of it, me by being smart, Rory by winning a fight, and Christian by, well, getting somewhere only a tiny person could go. I didn't have it quite all thought out.

But back to the story, this entire book is full of moments where you remember being a child, or being a teen, or a young adult, and having the same feelings or ideas or realizations that Walton describes. It is both completely new and full of nostalgia. I loved it. a 7. I am using it for the 2011 Challenge under the "Bad Bloggers" category as well. Read it! you won't regret it.

25 February 2011

84, Charing Cross Road

People used to write lovely letters. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is a collection of letters between the author and the used bookshop Marks and Co. It is lovely to see the friendship between the American author and the British bookseller, Frank Doel, grow. It begins as the American orders books, sometimes in a jaunty, teasing tone. when Hanff learns of the rationing in post-war Britain, she sends a care package of things like eggs and tinned ham to the shop for Christmas. They begin to speak of their lives, Hanff's as a female writer in NYC, Doel's as a family man in London. Others at the shop, and Doel's wife and, by the end, his eldest daughter write as well. Early on, Hanff keeps saying that "next summer" she'll get to England to meet everyone but things just keep coming up and "next summer" never seems to include the trip.

So in a way, it is a book about not letting time go by. Doing what you dream of while there is still time. I really liked it and will be passing it along to my mom as I think she will enjoy it too. a 6.

Does anyone know if the bookshop is still there?

24 February 2011

Locke and Key 1

well. Today I finished Locke and Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.

Locke and Key is the story of the Locke family. The father is murdered by a couple of teenagers and the wife and kids escape mainly due to the bravery of the oldest son, Tyler. Tyler blames himself for the murder though because he knew the teenagers and once, when he was angry, said something about to one of them about wanting his father dead.

The family picks up stakes and moves across country to live at their father's childhood estate with his brother in an island town named Lovecraft. The kids have different problems adjusting but it is the youngest boy, Bode, who is maybe six, who sets the next part of the story in motion. He finds a key that, when you go through the door it opens, allows you to leave your body. He also finds an entity in the well which has some pretty evil plans.

I like the story and am curious as to where it is going. There is a bunch of backstory we don't have yet. It is obvious the house has a history and many secrets. I like the art and coloring as well. I would say this is better than the first volume of House of Mystery and I've got volume 2 on my library hold list now. a 6.

22 February 2011

Red Herrings

I so love this series. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley is a wonderful book. It begins with Flavia having her fortune read by a gypsy, Fenella Faa. Faa describes Harriet, causing Flavia to knock down a candle and sending the gypsy's tent up in flames. Flavia then invites Madame Faa to stay on Buckshaw's property until she recovers. When Flavia goes to visit the gypsy in the middle of the night, she finds the gypsy lady bashed on the head! Flavia bravely rushes for the doctor and gets Madame Faa to the hospital. Then a seemingly unrelated corpse appears, right in Buckshaw's Poseidon fountain!

A 6 from me, highly recommended! The writing is wonderful, the characters fascinating, the setting rich. I love learning more about Buckshaw and the village and all the strange characters and their histories. And Flavia! The more I read of this series, the more i feel for poor Flavia. I have a terrible hunch that her last case may involve the truth about Harriet and, worse, that it may involve the men close to her: her father and Dogger. I hope I am wrong, that this circumstantial evidence my brain keeps picking at is all, well, a bunch of red herrings!

as an aside, completely unrelated to the novel in any way...you know you are a literature geek when you hear the woman's name "POUR-sha" and you spell it Portia, rather than like the car.

20 February 2011

Snow Crash

B brought this book back from his parents' home for me to read. I've read the first two volumes of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle but never to to the third; so much to read! Snow Crash is very different in time and place but not in scope.

Published in 1992, Snow Crash takes place in the indeterminate near future. There really aren't cities anymore but collections of franchises that are their own little countries. Technology is much more advanced but people seem to have gone downhill. Is there such a thing as a semi-dystopia?

Hiro Protagonist is a hacker, a pizza delivery man for the Mafia and works for the Library of Congress. He becomes partners with Y.T., a teenage Kourier who uses a fierce skateboard to make package deliveries. She helps Hiro deliver a pizza right on time and they make a deal that they will split the profits on any intel she picks up that he can sell to the Library of Congress. Hiro also
helped create the Metaverse, an online world sort of like the Matrix, and the story really gets going when someone creates a virus called Snow Crash that disables hackers' brains and also seems to exist in the real world. Hiro and Y.T. use their friends, their gadgets and their brains to track down the source of the virus.

I loved loved it! I had to read it in 4 long sittings; this book is not one i could really sip from but had to take in great big gulps. This world Stephenson creates is intense and amazingly vivid. Half the technology and gadgets mentioned I desperately want, half horrified me. a 7 and a fabulous book to read during the Sci-Fi Experience!

19 February 2011

Lit Blog Hop

Literary Blog HopI've been thinking of the right answer for this question all day!

If you were going off to war (or some other similarly horrific situation) and could only take one book with you, which literary book would you take and why?

My first thought was Lord of the Rings. I don't know that i could ever tire of reading it. But it is about war; maybe i wouldn't want to read about that if i had a similar situation around me? But the good guys win, and mostly go home, which would be a good hope to have. and it is fantasy, a complete world away from what i would be experiencing. and with all the appendices, maybe if i got tired of reading it i could teach myself elvish. so yeah, i am going to go with Lord of the Rings.

BTW, i can't figure out how to fix the color on the link, sorry it looks so goofy!

18 February 2011


My first two years of college i was a Biochemistry major. You couldn't major just in Biology at LSU at the time; you could do Microbiology or Zoology or Biochem, maybe even Botany. I had a student job in a lab, which meant i washed a lot of dishes, made a lot of copies and generally ran errands for the grad students. One semester they had me "map" one of the freezers. there were maybe 4 shelves filled with these little boxes that were a 4 inch cube. inside were about 20 small tubes, held vertically by a card board grid. I would take each box out of the freezer, nestle it in a cooler surrounded by dry ice, then pull off the lid and check the contents of the box against a paper grid map done a couple years before. It was rather tedious but much easier than making copies of articles. I didn't understand the codes I was writing and the code HeLa came up in a good number of boxes, followed by at least a date and the researcher's initials.

Unlike Rebecca Skloot, I never heard anything in any of my classes about what HeLa stood for. Until I started reading about her book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I didn't even know they were human cells, as the lab i was in had people working with fruit flies, salamanders, and these funky African frogs. It is strange to think now that i held these cells in my hands, in fact years before her own family was able to do so when Skloot was researching the book.

It is an incredibly broad story. It is about the history of cell science and medical research and bioethics. It is about the Lacks family, how they were affected by the loss of their mother, the shocking news that her cells continued to thrive, how they were used by the medical research establishment without their own informed consent. It is a really great book, highly recommended. a 7.

Here's the website for the foundation Rebecca Skloot started to benefit the Lacks family and others who've been used in research without their knowledge and/or consent, like the Tuskegee airmen. There's going to be movie done by HBO and Henrietta's three surviving sons are all paid consultants on it. Henrietta's family is finally benefiting from their mother's extraordinary legacy.

17 February 2011

BTT for 2/17/11

Valentine'sish question.

What’s the most romantic book you’ve ever read?

(Mind you, I don’t mean the hard-core stuff you hide in plain wrappers under your mattress. I mean True Love, Romance, deeply emotional, heart-tugging, and all that stuff.)

And, secondly, did you like it? Is it your usual kind of reading, or did it take you by surprise?

Right off I thought of Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx. Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice. The Lover by Marguerite Duras. Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist is a different sort of love story!

i like books that have great characters and, if those characters happen to have emotional love portrayed well then i am fine with it. I don't normally look specifically for those sorts of plots though.

15 February 2011

Should I Take a Break From These Books?

Here's another Aubrey/Maturin with a strange title. The Surgeon's Mate begins just a day or so after the book The Fortune of War ends. Sailing triumphantly, if only as passengers, into Halifax on board the Shannon, which has just defeated an American ship, Aubrey, Maturin and even Diana are looked at as heroes. In Halifax, Diana finds out she's pregnant with Johnson's child and Aubrey has an affair with a silly Miss Smith. The trio has an exciting trip home, chased by American privateers after Maturin. Then Steven goes to a conference in Paris, taking Diana there to live until she has her baby. Steven then has to come back to England for a mission to the Baltic with Jack as the captain of the Ariel.

It is an exciting, fast paced book that has a good bit of character development as well. One of my favorites so far. a 6!

BTW, Jo Walton explained what the title means in her review over on Tor.com. She is reviewing the whole series; spoilers abound!

13 February 2011

More Sayers

I would say Unnatural Death, by Dorothy L. Sayers, is my least favorite Wimsey book so far. That isn't saying much as I have really liked the previous books and this one was fine, just not as good a read as Murder Must Advertise or The Nine Tailors.

Wimsey and Parker are lunching when they are interrupted by a Doctor Carr who tells them about how being overly cautious had cost him his practice in a small town outside of London. Dr. Carr was treating an elderly lady with cancer who died far sooner than she should have. He suspected the niece must have done something but didn't know what, and the little bit of medical investigation he did was enough for people to gossip and stop coming to him.

So, we know who died, and who the killer must be, but not how or why. Wimsey has an interesting moral quandary as well: how responsible is he for the killer's actions after Wimsey begins investigating? We learn a bit more of Parker and meet Mrs. Climpson, a sort of Miss Marple character. She's Wimsey's female eyes and ears as everyone wants to gossip with little old ladies.

overall, a 5. It is quite good really; i guess i just didn't like the mystery being already solved at the start.

07 February 2011


I received Modern Ruins: Portraits of Place in the Mid-Atlantic Region by Shaun O'Boyle from Librarything's Early Review program. The books shows photos of places people have abandoned: mental hospitals, a stately home, ironworks. There are no people, no portrait picture, just strange, lonely places we have left behind.

I really enjoyed the photos in this book. Some of the places, like the mental hospital, look so creepy. It is strange how quickly nature takes over and decay sets in. My favorite pictures are those from the Bannerman Island Arsenal, which was essentially a Scottish castle set on an island in the middle of the Hudson River. The essays are quite informative as well. I will definitely look for more artwork from this artist and will be passing this one on to my photography loving friends! a 6.

the author's website is here!

I also went to the Frist Center this weekend with my friend D. We saw an exhibit of one of her professors, William Eggleston. It was full of beautiful color photography. Definitely worth going to if you are going to be in Nashville before May 1.

05 February 2011

City of Thieves

I didn't pick up this book for a while because, glancing at the cover on amazon and misremembering the title, i thought i had already read it. However, I had actually read The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti. they are a bit similar!

City of Thieves by David Benioff is mainly set during World War 2, in Russia. It is one long adventure. Lev, a 17 year old boy, gets picked up for looting a knife off a dead German parachuter. Kolya is a slightly older soldier, arrested for desertion. They have one week to find a dozen eggs for a colonel's daughter's wedding cake. After scouring the city, they take to the countryside in their search, encountering more Germans as well as Russian partisans.

This is a fast paced story that still has a lot of emotion in it. At first, i couldn't stand Kolya but he grew on me as he grew close to Lev. I can recommend it. a 6!

04 February 2011

More Aubrey Maturin

The Fortune of War, by Patrick O'Brian, is very different from the previous books.W hile several have had stretches set on land, in this book Aubrey is never in command of a ship after the first chapter or so.

After sailing the battered Leopard into harbor in the Dutch East Indies, Aubrey takes the first ship out to England, along with Maturin and the other followers. after various catastrophe's, they end up on a different ship, the Java, which ends up loosing a battle to an America man-o-war. Jack is seriously injured and Stephen goes with him to Boston, where they wait to be exchanged. When Diana Villiers arrives in town with Henry Johnson and Louisa Wogan, American spies, Stephen is in great danger.

The characters of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin have almost become your friends by this point in the series. I worry about them! I was so sad for Stephen when he lost the vast collection he'd accumulated in the time on Desolation Island. I was anxious for Jack when he was injured. That is great writing when you know there are another 15 books in the series with these characters and you are still so concerned in the moment that you are not sure they will make it! a 6!

03 February 2011

The Disappearing Spoon

I really liked The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. It is a non-fiction romp through the periodic table: how it was drawn up, who discovered various elements and how they went about it, Nobel prizes, Marie Curie! I probably really,really annoyed B as I kept spouting factiods i had just read. I wouldn't quite say i learned a lot, as i am not sure how much i retained, but i was highly entertained. a 6 and my first read for the Science Book Challenge.

02 February 2011


B and I got through the BBC Sherlocks, set in modern London, this past week. Highly highly recommended.

Sherlock Holmes is still a consulting detective; Watson is still a veteran of the Afghanistan war. But Sherlock prefers to text so he doesn't get sidetracked with useless conversation and Watson has a therapist who suggests he start a blog as part of his therapy for PTSD. Whether Watson even has PTSD is an interesting question. They move into 221B Baker Street, with Mrs Hudson frequently shouting "I'm your landlady not a housekeeper!".

The way the show dealt with Sherlock's abilities was great. There were little pop ups that let you know what he was thinking and what he was doing with his phone. It sounds goofy when i say it like that but it works beautifully. The main actors are fabulous. Benedict Cumberbatch has these creepy eyes which he uses wonderfully, especially when he shows contempt or mirth. while I didn't originally picture Martin Freeman as a man of action, i bought it completely.

B hasn't read the stories but had seen some of the Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone productions, and of course the new movie with Robert Downey Jr. The fact that he hadn't read the stories was fun for me, as i could shout "oh, that's an almost quote" or "that was a great way to update that plot point"; i hope i wasn't too annoying.

The one disappointment: only 3 episodes! I could have watched a dozen more. a 7 and maybe I'll go watch "A Study In Pink" again now.

01 February 2011

Desolation Island

I am not sure why, exactly, this book is called Desolation Island. Our characters, Jack Aubrey, Steven Maturin, Killick, Bonden, Babbington, etc, don't end up on the island until the end of the book. This book does have, however, one of the most amazing chase and battle scenes i have ever read. Jack is captain of the Leopard, which due to a massive outbreak of fever is very low handed. It is a 50 gun ship. When they meet up with a Dutch 74 gun ship, Jack wisely chooses to run. The Dutch ship chases the Leopard down south of Africa and a battle ensues during a gale. the sequence is so well written that I had tears in my eyes at the end. Overall, a 6.