Monthly Archives: June 2010

Challenge Check-in: June edition

Whew!  I can’t believe we are halfway through 2010.  As I did in March, I thought I’d check in with my challenges and see how I’m doing.

Valparaiso Poetry Review: 1/2

– This challenge ended on May 16th.  Thus this is a challenge I failed to complete, and I’m okay with that.  I used to read poetry in college, but the motivation is just not there anymore.

Flashback Reading Challenge (a re-read challenge): 1/6

Thriller and Suspense Challenge: 5/12

Colorful Reading Challenge: 2/7

What’s in a Name 3/6

2nd Reading Challenge 6/12

– This has been one of my favorite challenges to do.  It’s a satisfying feeling to “follow-up” with an author, see the similar themes between books, or the evolution in the author’s writing.

Memorable Memoir Challenge 2/4

Take a Chance Challenge 1/6

Biodiversity Challenge 2/5

And finally, my personal challenge to read 19 books older than myself:


I’m feeling pretty good about the challenges, and except for the poetry challenge, the motivation is still there to complete them.  So, yay!


Filed under Uncategorized

A Climate for Change by Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley

2009. 206 pages. Faith Words.

From: Giveaway win from Bookfoolery and Babble

Recommendation from: Bookfoolery and Babble

In a nutshell:

Katharine Hayhoe, a professor of geosciences and climate change researcher and Andrew Farley, pastor and professor make the case for the existence of global warming and why action needs to be taken.  Their intended audience is mainly American Christians, though the facts presented would be of interest to anyone.


I was excited when I heard about this book on Bookfool’s blog and even more excited when I won a copy from the giveaway she hosted.  I’ve never really doubted the existence of global warming, but I didn’t know many of the facts about it either.  As a Christian, I have been frustrated to see many people of the same faith who seem to reflexively dismiss that global warming is happening.  I wanted to know more so that I could hopefully help people to reconsider this dismissal.

Hayhoe and Farley’s book definitely satisfied that desire.  The authors are always firm about the reality of global warming, but never condescending.  Doubts about climate change and the human contribution to this change are evenly and clearly addressed.  They seem to have anticipated a lot of the arguments and quibbles people might have with global warming.

I also really appreciated that the authors did not take shortcuts in their arguments.  When I came to the section where they explain why Christians should care about global warming, they surprised me.  I’ve seen Bible verses quoted about why we should be stewards of the Earth and that’s what I expected again.  But Hayhoe and Farley acknowledge that there is no explicit mandate given in the Bible for Christians to take care of the earth.  Rather, they argue that we should work to combat global warming because it is the wise and compassionate thing to do.  This is an example of the clear-eyed approach that is taken throughout the book.

The book is well-organized and includes many helpful graphs and images to support the text.  (It’s actually a very good-looking book overall.)  I know I will be referring to it in the future and already have plans of either lending my copy or giving a copy to others.  It’s just such a pleasure to encounter a book that so gracefully transcends the polarizing nature of debate that too often surrounds global warming and Christianity.

Other reviews:

Confessions of an Overworked Mom

The Not So Perfect Housewife

Rachel Motte


Filed under Non-Fiction

Recent Arrivals and a Bookstore Story

The local public library is my primary source for books, but I do buy or otherwise acquire books from time to time.  These are new arrivals to the apartment over the past month:

On Memorial Day weekend, I spent a little time at Shiretown Books in Woodstock, VT.  The atmosphere was friendly and I liked the selection.  I ended up purchasing three books: The Places In Between by Rory Stewart, A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, and Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.  I’ve read A Town Like Alice before, when I was in high school.  This edition’s cover is quite attractive, and the cover of Cranford even more so.  Both the woman working at the store (who may have been the proprietor) and I admired it.

On the subject of covers, she mentioned that she really liked Europa Editions, which I had never heard of, but looked up when I returned home from vacation.  Here is their website:

I received Valeria’s Last Stand by Marc Fitten from Goodread’s First Reads.  I entered into the giveaway because I was intrigued by the story’s setting in a Hungarian village after the fall of the Soviet Union.  I started reading the first chapter while waiting for my car’s oil change, and it’s quite funny.  I look forward to returning to it in the near future.

Buying Time by Pamela Samuels Young arrived thanks to Tracee of Pump Up Your Book Promotion.  I’ve never participated in a virtual book tour before, but I was intrigued by the premise and the author’s bio and thought I’d check it out.

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore arrived courtesy of the publisher, NYRB.  I had participated in the Spotlight Series when NYRB was the selected small press, reviewing Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book.  [Note: The Summer Book came from the public library, not the publisher.]

It’s not an expectation that publishers provide Spotlight Series participants with anything.  So it was a pleasant surprise when I heard that NYRB was going to give a little gift package to all those who posted reviews as part of the Spotlight Series.  A copy of the New York Review of Books and a NYRB shopper bag were also included in the package.

The back cover summary of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne gives little away, but as I’ve loved the previous two NYRB books I’ve read, I have high hopes for this one.

Which brings me to two books that just came today!  I really want to read current “it” book, The Passage by Justin Cronin, and I know there’s no way I can read all of this chunkster during one library loan period.  So I decided to go ahead and buy it when I saw it in the bookstore today.

Thanks to some credit card reward points that can take the form of Amazon gift cards, Sara Wheeler’s Evia: Travels on an Undiscovered Greek Island arrived today in the mail.  Seems like a perfect summer book!


Filed under Uncategorized

Books that “everyone” has read but me

I borrowed this nifty idea from Daphne of Nevertravelled’s Blog, who borrowed it from Stefanie of So Many Books.  Basically, this is a list of books that it feels like “everyone” has read except for me.

1. Animal Farm by George Orwell – I read 1984 in high school as required reading, but was never assigned Animal Farm.  I have about zero interest in reading it now.  I feel some aversion to it because I know it’s allegorical, and  I tend to think that allegorical works will distancing and too ‘instructional’ somehow for my tastes.  That said, I do enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia, so it’s not a clear-cut preference.

2. Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger – I think I’m too old for this book now.

3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett – Even after seeing so many glowing reviews, including reviews that said, yes, actually it lives up to the hype, I just can’t seem to muster any urgency about reading it.  I think that I probably will read it . . . someday.

4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – I tried this in high school and it didn’t quite click.  I’ve picked up on a lot of the references (“42”) and yet have not read the source material.

5. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – There is no real reason that I haven’t read this yet, as I think I’d like it.  However, I don’t tend to blind-buy books a lot, and I’d probably have to put myself on a long library waiting list to check it out.

6. Life of Pi by Yann Martel – I know it’s about a tiger and a boy and a boat.  Because that is what is on the cover.

7. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger – I don’t think this book is so much discussed anymore, but I remember feeling like “everyone” had read it because I think most of my family had at the time.

8. The Sweetness at the Bottom of Pie by Alan Bradley – I actually own this one and now I see reviews of the sequel all over the place, so I feel a bit behind. 🙂

9. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen – Despite my tendency not to blind-buy books, I’ve come sooo close to buying this book in airport bookstores.

10. any book by Margaret Atwood – I started reading The Handmaid’s Tale, but it was college and I really didn’t have the time.  Years later and I still haven’t read anything by her although she is such an admired and beloved writer by many.

So will you show me that I’m not alone in the comments or confirm my suspicions?  Also, feel free to throw in some titles of books that you haven’t read that “everyone” else has.


Filed under Uncategorized

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty

1946. 326 pages. Paperback. Harcourt Brace.

[Image shown is from a different edition.]

From: I purchased this book.

For the challenge: Flashback Reading Challenge

In a nutshell:

Delta Wedding portrays the lives of a Mississippi Delta planter family in 1923 as they prepare for the wedding between their second eldest daughter, Dabney, and their overseer.

The Fairchild family, with nine children, is already large, but is made larger and even more chaotic with the arrival of extended family and their range of personalities.  The viewpoint shifts throughout the book between various female characters, but mostly rests with Ellen Fairchild, the mother of those nine children; Laura, a young cousin whose mother has recently died; and Shelley, the oldest, unmarried Fairchild daughter.


Delta Wedding is a story driven not by plot but by characters, dialogue and a deep sense of place.  I can often be bored when authors trot out dry descriptions of a room’s features.  In Welty’s hands, descriptions of rooms and houses drip with atmosphere and are suffused with the human personalities that inhabit them.

A spready fern stood in front of the grate in summertime, with a cricket in it now, that nobody could do anything about . . . At the other end of the room the Victrola stood like a big morning-glory and there, laid with somebody’s game, was the card table Great-Grandfather also made out of his walnut trees when he cut his way in to the Yazoo wilderness. p. 21

The characters in Delta Wedding are best appreciated as an ensemble.  Sure, I have my favorites, such as impish nine-year-old India and Shelley, the oldest daughter who keeps a journal.  Forthright Aunt Tempe reminds me so much of certain people I know.  The family is almost a character of its own, analyzed by themselves and by outsiders as a single entity.  The Fairchilds, whose cotton plantations sustain a small town named after them, are self-absorbed when they are all together at the family home of Shellmound.  It’s as if the outside world doesn’t exist and it is just their family.  Woe to those perceived as outsiders by the family.

The dialogue, especially between large groups of people talking over each other, is lively and often humorous, with India getting some of the best lines.

These are the aspects that I adore about Delta Wedding, and what made it quite accessible when I first read and loved it as a senior in high school.

However, Delta Wedding can also be a difficult book at times.  There are many passages where characters go into deep contemplation about their family, namely their Uncle George.  Uncle George is the hero of the family who also seems to buck expectations the most, particularly with his marriage to the ‘low-born’ Robbie Reid, who has just left him when the story starts.  To be honest, especially in this re-read, I got tired of all the ruminations about Uncle George.  These often impenetrable descriptions of his motivations and relationships were sometimes hard to follow or be invested in.

Still, the complexity of the narrative means that there are always new layers and aspects to consider in each re-read of the book.

For instance, this time around, I was particularly fascinated by the book’s depiction of the family’s black servants.  The black characters are present in most of the scenes, an integral part of the ensemble in terms of conversation and events.  However, as a writer named Tess Taylor aptly put in this essay, none of the white characters “see” black people.  The characters contemplate the motivations of the other family members, but never, that I can recall, on the servants who are in such close and constant proximity.  One character orders a young black girl out of a shelter into the hot sun, so that she herself can rest in the shelter.  Shelley witnesses the overseer using violence on a black field hand to assert his authority, but thinks little of it later.  Ellen is perturbed when a servant disagrees with her about roses.

Of course, these attitudes are consistent with the setting of the novel.  Still, even the writing, not just the characters, seems to leave the interracial dynamics unexamined.  It seems to beg for a passage or section that illuminates one or more of the servants’ perspective.  As it was, I liked to read the comments made by the black servants to the family and speculate on my own about they really meant.  For those who have read this book, I definitely would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this subject.

As mentioned earlier, I first read Delta Wedding in high school when I picked Eudora Welty for an AP English author project.  As part of this project, I also read her books The Robber Bridegroom, The Optimist’s Daughter, Losing Battles and some of her short stories.  Delta Wedding was by far my favorite.  I’ve found that Delta Wedding is a very rewarding book to re-read, as there are so many layers to explore.  I like how important revelations in the book are rarely telegraphed, but rather tucked in here and there for discovery and re-discovery.  I’ll be returning to this book again.


Filed under Book Review

Teaser Tuesday: Hunchback of Notre Dame

I have finished re-reading Delta Wedding and plan to write a review of it tomorrow night.  Tonight, I just have time for a quick post!

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme,  hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Basically, open the book you’re currently reading and share a couple of sentences from that page on your blog.   Avoid spoilers of course.

My Teaser Tuesday this week is from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  I have just started reading it.  To give some context to the quote, the author has just finished describing the Church of Notre Dame and is about to describe the spectacular view of Paris from the cathedral’s towers.

The Paris of three hundred and fifty years ago, the Paris of the fifteenth century, was already a gigantic city.  We modern Parisians in general are much mistaken in regard to the ground which we imagine it has gained.  Since the time of Louis XI. Paris has not increased above one third; and certes it has lost much more in beauty than it has acquired in magnitude.

p. 101


Filed under Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday: Delta Wedding

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme,  hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Basically, open the book you’re currently reading and share a couple of sentences from that page on your blog.   Avoid spoilers of course.

My teaser comes from a book that I am re-reading, Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding.  This is one of many scenes where all sorts of relatives are gathered together and the conversation is rapidly bopping from one person to the next.

“I always thought Robbie was a very strenuous girl,” said Aunt Primrose hesitantly, looking up at George..

“She’s direct,” said Ellen.

“She has her cheek,” Tempe snapped, while Jim Allen was still asking pleadingly, “Who, who?”

p. 150


Filed under Teaser Tuesday

Summer reading recommendations

Summers are when my reading traditionally kicks into high gear.  I still work full-time but some of my evening or weekend commitments go on hiatus.  Also: vacations!  Last year, the Fourth of July weekend revived my voracious reading appetite, so that when I took a two-week vacation later in August, my backpack was stuffed with library books.  That is a personal reason why summer and books go together in my mind.  But I think that for similar reasons, we see summer reading recommendation lists pop up, whereas we don’t see, say, winter reading lists.

So today I brainstormed books that I thought were particularly suited for summer reading and came up with a few titles. There is not a single defining characteristic that makes them ‘summery’, but for most of them, ‘fun’ would be an accurate adjective.


Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews

– I’m not usually a ‘cozy’ mystery person, but this book won me over with its engaging protagonist and nutty mystery.  Meg Langslow is a blacksmith / artisan who has somehow ended up being the maid of honor for three summer weddings.  She returns to her hometown in Virginia to engage in the flurry of dress fittings (for some outrageous themed wedding ensembles) and insane maid-of-honor duties.  Meanwhile there’s a suspicious death and other not-quite-right stuff going down in the community.  It is actually Meg’s father that is playing the amateur sleuth and Meg gets dragged into it.  Funny, with a bit of romance . . . I think I might have to re-read this one myself this summer. 🙂

any Nevada Barr mystery with Anna Pigeon

– This is a mystery series where each book takes place in one of the U. S. National Parks.  Anna Pigeon is a tough but likable National Park ranger / law enforcement officer.  The settings are fantastic because almost every mystery ends up involving some survival tale element.  It’s not necessary to read these in order.  Off the top of my head I recommend Firestorm and Blind Descent.

Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

– The setting is post-WWII England and eighteen-year-old Penelope is befriended one day by an impressively self-confident girl, Charlotte while they are on the train.  Through Charlotte, Penelope meets Charlotte’s brother Harry, a would-be magician.  The friendship of all three drives the book, along with other delightful characters including Charlotte and Harry’s aunt, Penelope’s brother, not to mention the decaying estate where Penelope lives, a character in its own right.  There’s a lot of buoyant energy to this book that totally charmed me when I read it last summer.

Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith

This book takes us from an Appalachian girl’s adolescence up through her old age.  It is a bittersweet but wholly satisfying story arc that is told through letters written by Ivy Rowe, who lives way up in the holler as a child, spends some time in a coal mining town and a couple other locations as an adult before moving back to her family home.  There are some tragedies in her life, but ultimately I was left with the impression of a life fully lived.


The Cloud Garden by Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder

Two British travelers (the authors) ill-advisedly took a trip into the dangerous Darien Gap in Central America.  They are captured by guerrillas and held for nine-months.  It is a surreal experience for both that involves parasites, orchids and singing a song from Monty Python.  This is a great adventure read.

Speaking of Monty Python  . . .

Michael Palin‘s travel books are ambitious, entertaining reads.  They include Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole and Full CircleFull Circle is the one I liked the most, where Palin travels through the countries that rim the Pacific Ocean.

The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney

Pretor-Pinney’s enthusiasticc love of clouds will help you appreciate the summer sky, whether the clouds are fluffy or building up into thunderheads.  This is a non-fiction book that one should feel free to skim at times, in favor of the most interesting passages.  The true story about the guy who fell through a thunderstorm (and survived!) is a must-read.  The Morning Glory cloud, a recurring phenomenon off of the Austrialian coast is also fascinating.  I was gazing a lot more at clouds after reading the book.

What are some books that you consider good summer reads?


Filed under Uncategorized

Kindred by Octavia Butler

1979. 264 pages. Paperback. Beacon Press.

From: public library

For the challenge: 2nd Reading Challenge

In a nutshell:

Dana, a young black woman, is moving into a new apartment with her husband in 1976 when she is suddenly transported to another place and time.  There she saves a young boy from drowning, and is quickly returned to her own time.  She is involuntarily taken back in time again later, again to save the same boy, Rufus, who is now years older.  Dana realizes then that this is the antebellum South and that Rufus is her ancestor, the white son of a plantation owner on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  Through Dana’s repeated trips back in time, she comes to know all the members of the plantation, the free and the slaves.  Dana’s relationship with her ancestor is an increasingly fraught one, especially as Dana knows her existence is due to Rufus fathering a child with Alice, a slave woman.


I had read only one book by Octavia Butler before: the odd vampire story, Fledgling.  That book had some intriguing ideas but left me with mixed feelings.  I have no mixed feelings about Kindred.  I adore it.  It’s one of those books where I wanted to re-read it immediately after finishing it.

First off, my word, what a premise.  After reading this, I told my friend and also my sister about this book and they were immediately intrigued.  And fortunately Kindred more than fulfills the promise of its story idea. There is so much that is packed into this novel.  It really delves into the complexity of race relations, cultural memory, how to live life in the face of cruelty.  And yet Kindred never seems dense.  Rather, the pages flew by as I was sucked into the tension of the tale.

A huge part of the tension for me was how the time-travel affected Dana’s relationship with her husband Kevin.  On one of her trips back in time, Kevin grabs onto her and is also transported back.  As Kevin is white, he tries to offer protection to Dana by pretending to be her master, but it’s a tricky business.  Also, the couple must face the possibility that Dana will go back to her own time and Kevin may be left behind.  (For they learn that they can spend months in the past, and yet only a few hours may have passed in their own time, 1976.)

All the characters feel fleshed out.  Their interactions with Dana feel human, based on moods and context, rather than responses of character ‘types.’  Dana’s relationship with her ancestor Alice was filled with both conflict and attachment, so that another woman commented that the two “fought like sisters.”

With a scary climax and a satisfying resolution, the book ends very well.  Kindred is certainly one of my favorite reads of the year so far.  I highly recommend it!

Other reviews:

Age 30+ . . . A Lifetime of Books

arch thinking

Jenny’s Books

Linus’s Blanket

Misfit Salon

Page 247

Regular Rumination

the little reader


Filed under Fantasy, Supernatural & Surreal

Chanel: Collections and Creations by Daniele Bott

2007. 206 pages. Hardcover. Thames and Hudson.

From: Interlibrary Loan through public library

In a nutshell:

This book describes the fashion design of Coco Chanel, accompanied by photographs of Chanel collection pieces.  The book is grouped into sections: the suit, the camellia (Chanel’s signature symbol), jewelry, makeup and perfume, and the little black dress.


After watching the film Coco Before Chanel, I wanted to find a book that displayed her fashion designs.  Chanel: Collections and Creations perfectly fits the bill.  There are lots of gorgeous photographs in this coffee-table sized book.  I particularly liked the suit and the little black dress segments.  I skipped the makeup and perfume section because that’s not where my interest in fashion lies.

While containing some interesting facts, Daniele Bott’s prose annoyed me in the way it fawns over Mademoiselle and her fashion house.  I speculated whether access to the Chanel collections had been given to Bott on the condition that she meet a certain quota of superlatives and gushing sentences.

Here’s a couple of excerpts (sorry I forgot to note the page numbers):

No two camellias are alike, not a single collection uses last season’s creations.  Sometimes, 15 centimetres of fabric measuring 90 to 130 centimetres in width is enough to make three or four camellias – what precision, what sophistication and elegance in the cutting, the mounting, the finishing!

The house’s perfectionism is apparent in the skilful combining of fabrics in typical Chanel style, transfiguring a black evening gown into a jewel in itself.

Now imagine the cumulative effect of a book where every sentence is like that and maybe you’ll understand my exasperation.

Oh well.  I really do admire (and appreciate) Chanel for her design philosophy that prioritized comfortable, attractive clothes for women.  And the whole reason I picked up the book was for the pictures.  I was definitely coveting some of the suits and black dresses pictured.  Thus, it seems fitting to conclude my review by including a sample of the photographs.


Filed under Book Review