Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year 2009!

New Year's Eve 2008.  It's frigid in NYC, with snow flurries and a biting wind coming down from the north, and tonight, with the wind-chill factor, it's supposed to get down to -10 to 0 by midnight.  I'm getting ready to greet the new year with a nasty cold and am not looking forward to going out tonight.  But, here I am in NYC, with reservations at a restaurant near Times Square for dinner with my daughter, her boyfriend, and another couple, so have no choice but to go out. Thank goodness for Emergen-C!  And my Ugg boots, down-filled puffy coat, and long johns.  

Last book of the year was The Wildcats of Exeter, a medieval mystery set in around 1088, featuring Ralph Delchard, head of the Royal Commission investigating land disputes for the King's Domesday Book.  It's the 8th book in the series, and I've enjoyed all of them pretty much equally.  A light, easy read.

First book of 2009?  Probably The Secret History by Procopius, about Julian and Theodora and their court, or perhaps The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar.  Not sure yet.  I went to The Strand in the East Village the other day and picked up five books ~ the three I just mentioned, plus The Gettysburg Gospel and The Ruby Tear by Suzy McKee Charnas.  I love that place, even with the crowds and the sauna-like heat of the interior and the difficult to maneuver shelving "system."    

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmastime in Manhattan

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and are now getting geared up to welcome in the new year.  I am filled with hope that 2009 will be an improvement on 2008.   Frankly, it had better be, because things cannot get worse or even stay the same without terrible consequences.   

My prayers are with President-Elect Obama, as he readies himself to take the helm, that he is able to steer us through the treacherous waters in which we find ourselves, that he stay strong, that he stay safe.   So far, I am encouraged, though I know it will take more than one man to effect a sea change.  (How's that for keeping to sailing metaphors?)  

I think it particularly fitting, on many different levels, that he has chosen to take the oath on the same Bible used by President Lincoln.

I spent Christmas Day on a flight to New York City to visit my daughter.  The plane was surprisingly full considering it was a major holiday.  Not one seat was unoccupied!  But that is, on second thought, understandable, since there is no other place like Manhattan at the holidays.   During the flight, I listened to Salvation in Death, the newest Eve Dallas mystery by J.D. Robb on my iPod and dozed on and off.  Not that Salvation in Death is boring, just that I was really tired from being up late on Christmas Eve and getting up early on Christmas morning to pack.  

Today is a quiet day ~ my flight did not arrive at JFK until midnight, and, by the time my daughter and her boyfriend picked me up and we got to her place, opened Christmas presents, and visited for awhile, it was around 3 a.m., so I'm feeling wiped out, but there are plans afoot to go ice skating in Central Park a little later in the afternoon, and I think they are going to try to get me on skates.  That should be interesting, to say the least ~ I haven't been on ice skates for over 20 years.

Sunday we're going to Lincoln Center to see The Nutcracker ballet, in which the daughter of a friend of mine is dancing.  At some point, I'd like to go to Rockefeller Center and gawk at the decorations (and the other gawkers), as well as to the Metropolitan Museum, and the Natural History Museum, and the Empire State Building.  (I've been to NYC at least a half dozen times but never made it to the top!)  I want to look at the Christmas displays in the department store windows and go to see a Broadway show.  Oh, yes, and visit the Strand bookstore, where I plan to buy A Pirate of Exquisite Mind for my daughter, who finds pirates fascinating.  I'll try to restrain myself, though I'll probably walk out of their with an armful of books which I will have to find room for in my already overstuffed suitcase to get them home.  I'm also planning to visit Ground Zero where I've gone as if on pilgrimage each time I've been to NYC since 9/11.   

I also hope to get some reading done during the quiet times when my daughter is at work.  In that regard, I've already read half of Patrick Suskind's Perfume, a particularly compelling novel about a murderer in pre-Revolutionary France with a fascinating insight into how perfumes were made.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Joys of Holiday Gift Giving

I love Christmas, and I love giving gifts to people I care about. I just don't like it that the two things intersect. I'd much rather be out shopping for some summer tops for myself in, say, June, coming across something that would be perfect for my daughter, and getting it to give to her right then. Or, maybe in April, shopping for a new CD player/radio/alarm clock and seeing something that makes me say, "Oh, Jake (my godson) would love this!" and picking it up to give him next time I see him. To force myself to actually set out to do Christmas shopping in all the crowds, when everything I buy has to be exactly right for the recipient, and when there's only a certain amount of time to find those perfect gifts is just asking for trouble.

So it is with a great deal of satisfaction that I can report I have actually finished my Christmas shopping for this year! Yay me! A few gifts were things I picked up throughout the year, but most of the presents I'm giving to the kids on my list are ~ wait for it ~ books. Yep, this year, almost everyone is getting books.

I found some great ones, too ~ a big popup book called Narnia for a 3-year old girl, Swing, a "Scanimation" picture book for a couple of boys 3 and 5 (it's so fascinating I almost bought one for myself), Artemis Fowl (the first in the series) for a 12-year old boy, and Beedle the Bard for my godson who is 8. I wasn't sure what to get a 17 year old girl of my acquaintance, though I was leaning toward The Book Thief, so I got her a gift certificate to Borders.

The best part of buying books as gifts is that, if I'm careful with them, I can read them before I give them away (except the pop-up which is wrapped in plastic to keep it safe). I have already spent a lot of time looking at Swing because it is, as I said before, fascinating. The pictures actually move, and they look so real! If you think this might interest someone you know, check it out on the Borders website, where the creator discusses it and how he does it.

Anyway, if you're hung up with your holiday gift-buying and aren't sure what to get one or more of the people on your list, my advice is "think books."

Oh, did I mention that I picked up a couple of books for myself while I was there? Depending on how you look at it, that is either a perk or a problem. I personally look at it as a very good thing, though my credit card bill next month is going to be painful to look at. :)

Happy Chanukkah / Merry Christmas / Joyful Kwanzaa / Blessed Yule! And may the coming year bring bountiful blessings of happiness, health, and prosperity to you all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

FOOL, a Bawdy Tale indeed!

I was thrilled to be chosen to receive an Advance Reader's Edition of Fool by Christopher Moore, the guy who wrote one of my all-time, top-of-the-list, desert-island favorite novels, Lamb, and I was excitedly looking forward to reading his latest comic offering. When it finally arrived, I tore open the envelope to find the book wrapped in a warning label that stated, in really large text: "This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as nontraditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank [whatever that is]. If that sort of thing bothers you, then gentle reader pass by, for we endeavor only to entertain, not to offend. That said, if that's the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story."

I shrugged off the warning about it being bawdy but found myself feeling a bit anxious that the nontraditional grammar and split infinitives might put me off the story, but then I reminded myself that one thing that Chris Moore can do well is write, so I shrugged that off too.

I peeled off the wrap-around label and checked out the back of the book. There was that warning label again. Also a Cast of Characters, which included King Lear, Cordelia, and all the rest of the characters from the Bard's play, as well as a couple of fools (Pocket and his apprentice Drool) and a Ghost ("there's always a bloody ghost"). Aha! I exclaimed. It's a retelling of Shakespeare's tragedy. Brilliant.

I began reading immediately, but after I was half through the second chapter (they are not long chapters), I put the book down on the bedside table, somewhat in shock, and turned out the light. Apparently, I am not so inured to ~ what did the warning label call it? vulgarity and profanity ~ as I thought, and I wasn't sure I wanted to continue reading it.

A couple of days passed, and I thought of the book a few times a day, and glanced at it when I got into bed, but I picked up something else to read both nights. But something about the story and the characters and, let's face it, the utterly outrageous naughtiness of it, called to me, so on the third night I picked it up again and read a little more. And it wasn't quite so crude, or maybe I just got used to the language and the images conveyed. So I read a few more chapters before it again got to be too much, though there were a few giggles this time amongst the wide-eyed gasps. And I began to appreciate the dialogue a lot more (that's another thing I've always felt that Chris does really well, is dialogue). Like this bit:

"...The castle's awash in intrigue, subterfuge, and villainy - they'll be
wanting comic relief between the flattery and murders."

"Intrigue and villainy?" Drool displayed a gape-toothed grin.

Imagine soldiers dumping hogsheads of spittle through the crenellations atop the
castle wall - thus is Drool's grin, as earnest in expression as it is damp in
execution - a slurry of good cheer. He loves intrigue and villainy, as
they play to his most special ability.

"Will there be hiding?"

"There will most certainly be hiding," said I, as I shouldered an escaped
testicle into his cod. [Note: you have to read it. I am not going to

"And listening?"

"Listening of cavernous proportions - we shall hang on every word as God on
Pope's prayers."

"And fuckery? Will there be fuckery, Pocket?"

"Heinous fuckery most foul, lad. Heinous fuckery most foul."

"Aye, that's the dog's bollocks, then!" said Drool, slapping his
thigh. "Did you hear, Mary? Heinous fuckery afoot. Ain't that
the dog's bollocks?"

Obviously, of course, I broke through previously well-hidden vestiges of prudery ~ a leftover of my Catholic-school upbringing, no doubt ~ and dove into the clever hilarity and surreal wickedness with relish. And glad I am that I didn't let prudishness stop me from reading Fool, which turned out to be much more than crude vernacular & slapstick. Oh, it was certainly vernacular enough, and I did enjoy a few good out-loud laughs and a lot of chuckles, but, like Lamb, it was much more than that. It might have started out almost too crazily, with too much crudity, too many odd characters and improbable scenes, but it soon settled into a rhythm, and the insanity abated into just zaniness, the crudity into merely colorful language, and the characters became familiar ~ weird but familiar ~ and then new characters, some of them from other of Shakespeare's plays, joined the party, and the fool began to change and grow and started to really matter to me. And the ending was ~ well, I really liked the ending.

So, I'm planning to read the whole novel again, because I think I may have missed some really good bits in the first few chapters while I was being prudish. And also just because I want to enjoy it all over again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm Back ~ with a Great Giveaway (and a Review)

It's good to be back from my NaNoWriMo-induced hiatus from reading and blogging and socializing. During November, I managed to write 51,200 or so words of a novel that is not and never will be finished because I loathe it so much (another story). I had a great time during NaNo November, but I really missed blogging and socializing. Most of all, I missed reading. I mean, I usually read 8 to 10 books a month, and I kept it down to only 2 books last month.

As a reward for my fortitude (at least that's what I like to tell myself), Hachette Books sent me a copy of Gods Behaving Badly, a debut novel by Marie Phillips (click here to listen to a podcast interview). Gods Behaving Badly is about Greek gods and a couple of mortals with whom they cross paths. According to Kerry Fried in Newsday, it is "[t]he most amusing and instructive collision between gods and mortals since A Midsummer Night's Dream." High praise indeed, but is it true? Personally, I love the title, but the jury (of one ~ me) isn't in yet, though I can say that I've read the first chapter and it already had me laughing out loud.

The blurb on the back of the book gives a brief description of the novel:
Being a Greek god is not all it once was. Yes, the twelve gods of Olympus are
alive and well in the twenty-first century, but they are crammed together in a London townhouse-and none too happy about it. And they've had to get day jobs: Artemis as a dog-walker, Apollo as a TV psychic, Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Dionysus as a DJ.

Even more disturbingly, their powers are waning, and even turning mortals into trees--a favorite pastime of Apollo's--is sapping their vital reserves of strength.

Soon, what begins as a minor squabble between Aphrodite and Apollo escalates into an epic battle of wills. Two perplexed humans, Alice and Neil, who are caught in the crossfire, must fear not only for their own lives, but for the survival of humankind. Nothing less than a true act of heroism is needed-but can these two decidedly ordinary people replicate the feats of the mythical heroes and save the world?

So, after the month I've had, I need a few laughs. I'm going to bed now to snuggle beneath the comforter and read more of Gods Behaving Badly.

But, first: The Giveaway! Leave a comment to this post and you will be entered to win a copy of Gods Behaving Badly. Put a link to the contest on your blog, and your name will be entered twice. For each five comments, one copy will be given away, up to five copies. So leave a comment, tell your friends, post a link on your blog. The contest will run through 12:00 p.m. (PDT) December 24, so if you win, it will be a nice early late Christmas present! (Sorry, contest open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only.)

I'll be back in a couple of days with my review.

And here it is, finally, my review: I thought it was a wonderful read, light and amusing without being fluffy, serious without being depressing. Imagine if you will the mighty Greek gods of Olympus ~ Zeus, Hera, Athena, Artemis, Mars, Persephone, Apollo, Hermes, and Pluto (not the Disney dog) ~ living all together (except for Persephone and Pluto who live in Hades) in a rundown tenement in London. And imagine these formerly powerful and amoral gods and goddesses trying to fit into modern times. Dysfunctional doesn't come near to what things are really like for them, especially now that their powers are in decline. I mean, think of it: Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Artemis as a dog walker, Eros as a born-again Christian convert who doesn't believe in Christ but really really wants to.

The story begins when Artemis discovers that her brother Apollo has turned Kate, a mortal female who had apparently resisted his lovemaking, into a tree. She and their aunt, Aphrodite, force Apollo to swear on the River Styx that he will refrain from harming any more mortals unnecessarily for a decade or until they get their power back, whichever comes first. Things get interesting when Artemis hires Alice, a mousy, almost unbelievably ordinary mortal woman, to clean house for them. Unfortunately, Apollo has fallen madly in love with Alice (aided by an arrow shot by a certain god of love who will remain nameless), but Alice is too much in love with Neal, a painfully shy guy who is too afraid of rejection to ask her out on a date though he pretty much adores her too.

As happened all too often in mythology when the gods played with human emotions and lives, the games take a deadly turn of events, and Neal has to make a choice to turn his back on Alice or become the most unlikely hero that ever was.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Just One More Page - Indeed!

Okay, I know I said I wasn't going to blog again until NaNo ends on November 30, but I finished a book last night instead of working at my NaNoNovel (yes, I am the Queen of Procrastination) and wanted to review it. This is it, though, I swear! Really! No more reading. No more reviewing. At least until December 1.

Anyway, with no further ado, here is my review of a LibraryThing Early Review book, LIVING AGELESSLY by Linda Altoonian:

Very little of the information contained in this slim 235-page book was new to me, but having it all in one easy-to-access place makes the book a must-have for anyone with aging parents, anyone who is approaching retirement age themselves (like me), or anyone already retired. Well-organized sections on health & fitness, preparing for retirement, and safety issues make it easy to find information.

Some of the chapters I found particularly helpful were the ones on travel and volunteering, avoiding scams and fraud, and how to deal with depression. I'm not a grandma yet, but, when I am (God and my daughter willing), I'll be referring to the chapter on grandparenting, with numerous ideas on how to interact with your grandkids in today's world, which, if you haven't noticed yet, differs remarkably from the world in which I grew up. I also found the chapters on nutrition well done, setting out nutritional requirements and sources in an easy-to-understand and accessible way.

A few chapters brought up unpleasant realities ~ the critical need for exercise & strength training (I know, I know, I plan to start tomorrow) and the eventual need to reassess one's driving capabilities as we age ~ that last is particularly unsettling to me, living as I do in Los Angeles, the driving capital of the U.S. (or so it seems).

One of my favorite features about LIVING AGELESSLY is its emphasis on mind-body connections. It stresses the importance of a healthy body and positive attitude, and the last chapter discusses what may be the most important way to live a long, healthy, happy life ~ being grateful and showing that gratitude, especially to those we love. Finally, the resources section at the end of the book provides hundreds of websites and phone numbers of organizations dedicated to working with retirees to make their (our) last years comfortable, vital, healthy, and happy.

It's almost enough to make me look forward to my retirement.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

NaNoWriMo Rules November!

Hi, Fellow Readers and Bloggers ~ For those who have not yet heard of it, November is NaNoWriMo month. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and NaNoWriMo is a website dedicated to the thousands of people who take on the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel during the thirty days of November. This year will be my third year of doing NaNo, and I won both previous years (2006 and 2007).What does one win? you might well ask. Well, you win a virtual purple bar and the right to print a out a fancy certificate that says you are a NaNoWriMo winner. No publishing deal, no money, no prizes. Just the aforesaid purple bar, a .JPG of a winners' certificate, and the immense and priceless satisfaction that comes from having actually managed to write a 50,000+ word novel in one month.Now, the reason I bring this up is two-fold. Firstly, I am, as I mentioned, doing NaNo again this November. Therefore, during every free moment of the entire month, I will be frenziedly typing my NaNoNovel on my lovely little AlphaSmart Dana word processor. Ergo, I will have no time to blog, much less read any novels about which to blog. Neither reading nor blogging for an entire month is a real hardship, and I will miss it, but participating in NaNoWriMo is worth the pain.Secondly, I will be doing a bit of writing about the NaNo experience at my Musings from the Dark Side blog, and I invite you to visit me there during November if you'd like to read about all the crazy and wonderful experiences of doing NaNo this year. When in December I emerge bleary-eyed and stiff-fingered from my novel-writing frenzy, assuming I make it through NaNo alive (haha, just joking), I plan to resume blogging here at Just One More Page, with a review of my favorite mystery author Carol O'Connell's soon-to-be-released new novel "Bone by Bone." (I am sooo excited to have been given an ARC of it to read and review! It just arrived today, in fact, and it is going to be very very difficult to resist reading it until after November.)So, to everyone in the U.S., if I don't have a chance to blog here for awhile, don't forget to vote on Tuesday, be sure to honor our Veterans on November 11, and have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving! And to everyone here and in other parts of this great world, have a great month and please come back in December.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby

THE KING'S ROSE is a YA historical novel about the life of Catherine Howard, the fifth of Henry VIII's unhappy brides. It was written by Alisa M. Libby, a Library Thing author. I was fortunate enough to be sent an advance, uncorrected galley copy to read and review prior to its publication, which is scheduled for March of '09. And I do mean fortunate, because THE KING'S ROSE is really good! In fact, from the first page, I was drawn into the world of Catherine Howard ~ a world that is utterly foreign to our own familiar modern sensibilities, yet with strange similarities that pull at the heart.

THE KING'S ROSE was written in the first person, and the story is told by Catherine Howard as if the events of the story are happening as we read them. The pacing is good, the dialogue and descriptions of 15th Century life in England well done, but the characters were the real pull for me. I can also attest to this being an intelligent and honest novel about a young girl (she was only 15 when she was required to wed the aging and ailing king) written for a young adult audience yet also suitable for older adults with discerning taste in historical fiction.

Having read a great deal of history about the Tudor period, as well as enjoying the BBC production about Henry VIII's escapades, I knew what the sad outcome of Catherine's tale would be. Even so, I devoured the story as if it were completely new to me. And, in a way, it was: most of what I've previously read and seen about this young woman (did I mention she was only 15 when she married the 50-year old king?) have portrayed her as a silly, romantic, greedy, weak-willed though cunning whore, yet THE KING'S ROSE paints a quite different picture. Yes, Catherine is a bit silly sometimes, a bit romantic, and she does love pretty things, but she is also an astute observer, has a good idea of the peril she is in, acquiesces to her power-hungry family's commands in everything, knowing she had no choice, and still tries to be a good wife to Henry, though that last is doomed to failure in that vicious court.

I did not come across any historical anomolies such as are usual with writers of Tudor historical fiction (such as Philippa Gregory), but, even if I had, it would have had to be a huge one to ruin the charm of this novel for me. I recommend this novel wholeheartedly for young adults (I'd say from at least 14 years or even older) and adults who enjoy historical fiction.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Broad Street by Christine Weiser

As I may have mentioned before, I'm not a fan of chicklit, but, having read and enjoyed Broad Street, that may change.

For a debut novel, Ms. Weiser's Broad Street is very readable, with good character development and characters for whom I came to care a great deal, an interesting and in-parts quite amusing story, and a writing style that was at times almost elegant. It could have used one more go-through by a copy editor, but otherwise was tightly written but for one minor yet puzzling glitch early on that threw me right out of the story until I decided to ignore it and went on reading. Also, I thought that the very last paragraph (prior to the Epilogue) kind of fizzled (though I won't say more about either because I don't want my review to contain any spoilers).

Other than that, I found a lot to like in the story of Kit Greene, heartbroken and filled with self-loathing after her long-time philandering boyfriend dumps her for another woman. It isn't a spoiler to say that the ex, Dale, a singer in a rock band, is a pretty sleazy character from whom she is well parted, though she isn't quite ready to realize that yet. At a party to which a well-meaning friend persuades her to go, she meets the beautiful Margo, whose current boyfriend Pete is also a singer in a rock band, as well as being about as irritatingly immature and sleazy as Dale. Kit and Margo get drunk together while engaging in a sad bit of male-bashing, and make a pact to start an all-girls rock band of their own, though neither of them are musicians.

What happens in the following months might seem predictable, but it's still fun to follow Kit, who turns out not to be as helpless and self-pitying as she seemed, as she and Margo form their band, scrape together money to hire a place where they can practice, and then find gigs. It would have been particularly fun if I either lived in or came from Philly, where all the action takes place. In fact, I've never been to Philadelphia before, but, after Broad Street, I almost feel as if I know the city.

I won't go further so as not to spoil this for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but I will say that it's well worth the time it took to read, and I will be be looking for more by Christine Weiser in the future. Oh, yeah, and I'll be loaning my copy to my 25-year old daughter who currently lives in NYC and is in theater.

Finally, congratulations to Elizabeth who is the winner of the drawing for a copy of Broad Street. Thanks to everyone who commented and entered the giveaway; I only wish I had enough copies to give to all of you! (But, if you are interested in reading this, you can request it by joining Early Reviewers at

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Miami and the Siege of Chicago by Norman Mailer

Well, first of all, what a lot of memories were stirred by this book! I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, my mom was raised in Mayor Daley's backyard (so to speak), and I was 20 years old (and pretty wild) in 1968 when the events written about occurred. It was a crazy time, and scary, and what's scarier is that the more things seem to have changed, the more they have stayed the same. Only the names have changed. We are in the midst of social and economic crises ~ as we were in '68. We are in the middle of a very unpopular war ~ as we were in '68. The only difference is that the kids today don't seem to be very concerned about much of anything except having fun, looking good, and getting ahead. So different from the youth of the late '60s/early '70s. In some ways that's not so bad ~ according to Mailer, we were a romantic, highly unpractical bunch, but we sure were idealistic. We were in-your-face rebels. We were prepared to die for the cause.

As for the book itself ~ Mailer seldom wrote "just the facts, ma'am." Instead, he would take off on flights of literary ecstasy, as if he had written those bits while high on speed with a few shots of bourbon as chasers, and I found myself struggling to comprehend and often had to reread whole paragraphs to get the gist of what he was saying. His frequent references to himself as "the reporter" got a little tedious after awhile, and I had to steel myself to get past them. The bouts of self-castigation and soul-searching in which he engaged during those days are described in gory detail, too raw and brutal to be easy reading, but they have made me want to read a biography about the man.

I loved the descriptions of Chicago and its citizens. When he wrote about the riots and the police brutality, I trembled inside, as if it were happening now, all over again. The descriptions of his fellow intelligentsia of the movement and the crazy lengths to which the radicals wanted to take us (though I remember thinking it all made perfect sense back then) were hysterical. And the part where he describes his inspection of the troops and later examination of the barbed-wire covered vehicle was priceless. What they did (or attempted to do) to him for his minor defiance was pretty surrealistic. No wonder, having grown up in that milieu, I still don't like cops.

The first part about Miami and Nixon was interesting but not gut-clenching. It was in the second half, when he wrote about what happened in Chicago, that he took my breath away. Toward the end, I felt like I was on a runaway express train, a juggernaut racing toward a terrible plunge over the cliff, unable to stop myself from turning the pages.

This wasn't an easy book, but it was timely and well worth reading, if for no other reason than the historical political insights, but there is so much more here for anyone willing to make an effort.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

I just finished an audiobook reading of The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman. All I can say is wow.

This is the first book since Find Me by Carol O'Connell that made me cry, yet I never felt that the author was manipulating my emotions (which is, perhaps, why I was able to let go, since the pathos was so subtle and crept up on me that I wasn't prepared).

The entire book was dark, and for at least half of it I disliked the unnamed female narrator/protagonist who was whiny and self-absorbed to the point of cruelty. Through this part of the book, she remains entrenched in the childhood belief of magical thinking, where everything that happens is all about her, a misconception that I myself have to struggle against, even now in my sixth decade.

The last half of the book details her redemption. This part was so powerful and intense that I was left literally breathless and, as I said, I actually found myself sobbing at times. It is a story of a woman who, after a terrible tragedy in her childhood that she believes she caused, retreats into a place deep inside herself that is cold and isolated from humanity and love. From that icy depth she exists, all the while trying to make sense of Death. It is only when she is struck by lightening and survives that she begins to thaw and ends up making sense of Life.

This is a book I am sure I'm going to reread again, it is that good.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Results of Mr. White's Confession Drawing

Drumroll please...

The winner of the random drawing is Irene Yeates! Congratulations, Irene. I will be sending an email requesting your address. As soon as I get that, I'll get the book out to you.

Thank you to all who partipated in my first-ever (of many) book giveaways.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Devourer of Books Celebrates 100th Review Milestone!

Congratulations to my friend from Library Thing Devourer of Books who has reviewed her 100th book on her blog! She is celebrating this impressive milestone by giving away up to five great books from her stash. Be sure to check out her blog and enter her giveaway contest.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Broad Street - Pre-Review and Giveaway

I'm so excited! A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by PS Books if I would be interested in reviewing Broad Street by Christine Weiser, the first novel published by PS Books, a new division of the literary magazine, Philadelphia Stories. Being somewhat new to this book blog business, I jumped at the chance, though I admit I was a bit trepidatious about what I was getting myself into. I'd never heard of Philadelphia Stories magazine or Christine Weiser and would hate for my first publisher-solicited review to be negative, but it was too good an opportunity to pass by.

I received the book (and a second copy) today, and already started reading it. Nine pages in, I have to say that I am impressed! Ms. Weiser managed to hook me, not only by the story but by her elegant writing. If the rest of the book is as good as the first bit, I am in for a treat!

A brief synopsis of the book from the publisher: Kit Greene has just been dumped by her philandering rock musician boyfriend. A friend persuades her to go to a party where she meets Margo Bevilacqua, who is currently dating another philandering rock musician. At the party, the two women make a drunken pact to form a band with the sole purpose of outshining the musical men in their lives. This is where I left off, and I must say I can't wait to get back to the story and find out more about them and about their struggle for success in the male-dominated, mid-90s Philadelphia rock scene.

A little about the author, also courtesy of the publisher: Christine Weiser is a professional writer and editor and co-publisher of the literary magazine Philadelphia Stories (founded in 2004). She is co-author of Ask Mr. Technology, Get Answers (Lindwood 2007) and is managing editor for Tech & Learning magazine. She was the bass player for Philly girl band Mae Pang, and her current band, The Tights, can be h eard in clubs in and around the Philly area. Broad Street is her first novel.

If you would like to share the experience of reading Broad Street with me, leave a comment by the end of the day October 6. I will raffle off a copy of the book on October 7. Be sure to leave your email address or link to your blog if you want to be entered in the raffle. If you mention my pre-review in your blog and link to it, you'll be entered twice.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana

I have read most, if not all, of Anne Rice's previous supernatural and gothic novels, and enjoyed most, if not all, of them. So it was with some trepidation that I began to listen (on audio) to the Christ the Lord series, beginning with Out of Egypt and continuing with The Road to Cana.

I needn't have worried. These are excellent novels, not sanctimonious or even overly pious. In fact, they are very matter-of-fact about Yeshua's combined humanity/divinity and holy mission.
Out of Egypt, which I read a year or so ago (also on audio), begins with Yeshua as a young boy, when he brings a playmate back to life. The other Jews of Alexandria, where His family had fled to escape Herod's massacre, just cannot abide a kid who holds that much power. Although unplanned, it turns out to be a good time to return to Israel, so the family packs up and trundles back to the Holy Land ~ Joseph, Mary, and Yeshua, James the first son of Joseph by a previously deceased wife and his wife and children, Yeshua's uncle Cephas and his wife and children, Little Salome, Yeshua's sister, and assorted other relatives. Before they leave, one of the most influential of the Pharisees (I think that's what he was) of the city pleads with them not to take Yeshua away, as he has the makings of a brilliant biblical scholar, but they leave and take the child Yeshua with them. This novel adheres relatively closely to the New Testament, which made it sometimes a bit dry, though I enjoyed it anyway, perhaps because it was being read to me.

Anyway, The Road to Cana takes up when Yeshua is just about to enter his 31st year and begin his ministry. All the years between settling in Nazareth and now, He has kept hidden his knowledge and power, from those outside his immediate family particularly, but also from then and, as far as I can tell, also from Himself. Now, however, a sense of urgency, of mission, begins to beat in his soul, and he is impelled to break away from His large and loving family, seeking solitude yet feeling isolated. He also begins to struggle in earnest with the natural desires that He cannot help but have in his humanity but which cannot be satiated for the sake of his divine mission.
All is told in Yeshua's voice, with a charming simplicity that allows us to know His deepest sorrows and His even deeper love of Mankind. Much of this second novel of the four-novel series is written without recourse to biblical authority, since much of this part of Yeshua's life is not referred to in the bible, and I found it beautiful.

I've heard the story of the Baptism in the Jordan, the Forty Days in the Wilderness, the Temptation of Satan, and Wedding at Cana before ~ I go to church and have read the New Testament a number of times ~ but Anne Rice makes it all seem fresh and exciting, bringing the "characters" to robust life in all their glory and blemishes. I think I would enjoy the novel even if I were an agnostic, although since I'm not I can't be sure. I only know that I am very much looking forward to Rice's next installment of the life of Yeshua, Christ the Lord.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mr. White's Confession - A Review and a Giveaway

Mr. White's Confession by Robert Clark
Trade Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Picador (September 2, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 031242812X
ISBN-13: 978-0312428129

Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel, 1999

In the beginning, two police detectives are drinking coffee at a local White Castle when they happen to notice a bald, rotund, funny-looking man eating hamburgers at the counter. One of them muses that the odd-looking man sits on his stool "like an egg in an eggcup." That was only the first of many moments of pure enjoyment I have had from this murder mystery, which is much more than a whodunnit, and I am looking forward to many more, since I am only at about the halfway point in the novel.

It is late in the autumn of 1939, and St. Paul, Minnesota is still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression when the murdered body of a beautiful red-haired dime-a-dance girl is discovered on a hillside. Coincidentally, the investigation by the two detectives initially leads them to suspect Mr. White, the Humpty-Dumpty of a man they had noticed a week or so earlier at the White Castle.

Now, it turns out that Mr. White has a faulty memory ~ he cannot remember middle-distance events. He can recall in detail memories from his youth, and he is pretty good at remembering things that happened within the last day or so, but between that ~ nothing. As a substitute, he has devised various ways to keep track of his life: he is an avid photographer (particularly of dime-a-dance girls), and he keeps scrapbooks of his photos as well as newspaper articles of current events. On the day of his unknown encounter with the detectives at the White Castle, he had also decided to keep a diary. This diary becomes an integral part of the narrative and is, I think, the best part of Mr. White's Confession. In his diary, Mr. White's voice is formal and innocent and, most of all, blind to his own desires. In the first pages of his diary, recalling a visit by Ruby Fahey, one of the dime-a-dance girls he photographs, he writes: "She went back to my bedroom to change, and I must say I felt a huge sort of breathlessness at the idea that she was in my room shedding and then donning her garments, rather as if some mystery of great enormity were taking place right here in my humble quarters!"

The detective's portion of Mr. White's Confession seems to be a conscious parody of the hard-boiled Chandleresque detective novels, and occasionally it gets a little over-the-top, but overall it works to balance the almost dreamy ruminations of the diarist. So far, anyway.

September 26, 2008 ~ Review continued!
It is always exciting to find a good novel by an author whose work I haven't read before, but when that author is brand new, as in this is his first novel ever, well, that's nothing short of magical.

"Mr. White's Confession" is sort of a cross between a Chandleresque whodunnit and a noir fictional memoir. It tells the tale of an odd-looking and -acting young man who, mostly due to his strangeness, is suspected of murdering a young, beautiful dime-a-dance girl in 1939 during the Great Depression in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is not only socially inept and odd-looking, he has a memory disability. Because of his disability he keeps track of his life in journals and scrapbooks, and that makes up one part of the story. The part that focuses on the police investigation is told mostly through the eyes of the detectives, Lt. Wesley Horner, a chain-smoking, dogged, rough, but honest cop, and reads like a dime-detective novel from that era.
When the story begins, the two protagonists ~ Mr. White and Lt. Horner ~ are eons apart in personality and experience, but, as the novel continues, their lives begin to parallel each other.
I found Mr. White a sympathetic character, perhaps because he is also into photography, and I understood his descriptions of the photographic process and identified with his pleasure at watching an image appear from nothing. I also found his ruminations on the metaphorical aspects of photography as it relates to memory, love, life itself, really quite astute. I also sympathized with him for the way he was looked at ~ as a freak and a creep and even a murderer ~ only because he wasn't fashionable or good-looking. In this story, things got way out of hand because of that bias. I eventually started to like Lt. Horner too, rooting for his redemption when he made the decision that would result in a terrible loss, and feeling his pain over that loss when it occurred. I feel that the character of Lt. Horner grew as much as Mr. White's did until, by the end of the story, they both resembled the kind of quiet heroes the world needs more of but never really seems to appreciate fully.
The novel was a little slow in portions, but the writing itself was so good that it was always enough to keep me going until the pace would pick up again. Toward the end, maybe the last 50 pages or so, the story got so intense that I had to force myself to just keep reading and not skip to the end to see what happened. I did sort of figure out more or less who the murderer was, although it was never 100% certain, due to the ambiguities of Mr. White's faulty memory and everyone's intentional and unintentional falsehoods.

One other thing that bothered me (not about the novel but about one of the issues brought up in the story) was the way the criminal justice system in effect at the time could be so brutal and unfair. There were few of the checks that keep the system in line today, like the requirement for Miranda rights, the rights of the accused to representation and a fair trial by jury, the rights of a criminal not to be subjected to brutal, inhumane punishments, etc. While the criminal justice system today has flaws, they are nothing to what it was like back then. Some of the things that happened to some of the characters infuriated me, and I had to keep telling myself "it's only fiction," and "that was then, it's not like that here anymore."

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this novel and am looking forward to more from this author!
On October 1, a copy of "Mr. White's Confession" by Robert Clark will be raffled off to one lucky reader who leaves a comment below. Please be sure to include your email or blog address in your comment if you want to enter. Mention this contest on your own blog and add a link to the above post, and you'll be entered twice to win. (Open to U.S. and Canadian readers only.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Just One More Page

Sunday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles. I glance up from the book I'm reading and gaze out the window at a bright, pale blue sky. I consider going out for a walk, but I'm almost at the end of the novel I began last night and feel a mighty pull to finish it. Still, the day is so warm, so lovely ~ there is a slight breeze, traffic is light, a jazz concert is being held in the plaza across the street, and summer is almost over.

All right! I have convinced myself. A walk it is.

I glance back down at the book in my hands. Yes, right, I'll get up and go out to enjoy the beautiful afternoon. In a minute or two. First, though, just one more page . . . .