Sep 29, 2009

Book Review: The Texicans by Nina Vida

(p. 17)
"I've been thinking and thinking about Aurelia," Willie said to Oscar after Luz picked the baby up and took it inside. "I don't want to marry her, you see, but I'd like to buy her."
It's April 1844 in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas on the outskirts of San Antonio. Willie has heard about Aurelia's gift as a curer, a healer, and came to her because of a stomach disorder. Her family is poor and a marriage to Willie would be beneficial.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Should Be Reading Choose two sentences from your current read, and add the author and title for readers.

From the publisher's description:
"Joseph, a Polish-Jewish school teacher has become a rancher by chance. He marries Katrin, an orphaned immigrant from Alsace, to save her from an Indian chief, but he becomes obsessed with Aurelia, a Mexican girl who may be a witch. Together with two runaway slaves, and assorted Comanches, Tonkaways, and vaqueros, they struggle to settle in Texas. This is a gripping story of their trials and tribulations."

When I started the book, I didn't know what a "Texican" was, so looked it up in the Urban Dictionary online, which gave several meanings:

1. A person living in Texas during the time of the Republic of Texas. A person modern who advocates that Texas secede from the United States.

2. A native Texan of Mexican descent. 3. A Texan of Mexican ancestry. 4. A Mexican born in Texas.

5. A Texican is person of European descent in Texas. A Tejano is a person of Hispanic descent in Texas. 6. A Mexican living in Texas.

The novel includes all the above, the various people that make up the residents of Texas in the 1840s. This would also include the Comanches and other native Indian tribes.

The novel's main character is Joseph, a Polish-Jewish former school teacher who heads from Missouri to Texas after his brother's death there. Joseph meets a European girl in Texas who becomes his wife, and later meets a Mexican woman Aurelia, with whom he becomes obsessed.

Comments: The author is a skilled storyteller with excellent descriptions that evoke the time, the surroundings, and the people.

"The braves came home from the hunt with forty bison. They crossed the Colorado and rode into camp. Ten Elk riding ahead, the women laden down with supplies and dragging the butchered bison along behind them until the ground turned bloody and the bison meat was studded with gravel and dirt." (ch. 6)

I think of this as an historical novel telling the story of the variety of Texicans who lived in, settled in, and made up the new Republic of Texas.

Thanks to Nina Vida for a copy of the book for review.

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Sep 27, 2009

Book Review: Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I should have listened to worldwide bookish wisdom and not seen the movie before I read Julie and Julia. Seeing the film first absolutely ruined the book for me. I keep envisioning Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie as scenes from the film kept intruding during my reading.

I liked the film. Unfortunately, I didn't think the book had much more to offer once I knew the story. I keep admiring Julie's determination to finish cooking all the recipes in Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I admire her tenacity and blogging successfully about it. I wish there had been her actual blog posts, printed chronologically with the dates for each one, instead of a continuous narrative based on her blog. Then there would have been something interesting to read after the movie!

I like that Julie added questions at the end of the book to help the reader on, and also her list of favorite related books. One entry that did not help me with the book. however, and stood out as a complete non sequitur to her previous list of recommended books on cooking:

"And a couple of random good reads to round things out...

"The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead" by Max Brooks. Words cannot describe how I adore this book.... I couldn't think of a way to justify putting the complete DVD set of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on a reading list, but this is the next best thing."
Now if there is one set of books/DVD I would not read or watch, it's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Just not my genre.

It goes without saying though that those who haven't seen the movie should really enjoy reading this interesting and unusual story about the love of cooking, Julie and Julia.

Thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book for review.

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Book Review: Hardball by Sara Paretsky

Hardball Two missing persons - one that lawyer and private investigator V. I. Warshawski is hired to find, the other someone that she must find. Those who want to learn more about the city of Chicago, past and present, will certainly get a lot from reading Hardball.

Synopsis: V. I. Warshawski, lawyer and private investigator, is hired to find a missing man, Lamont Gadsgen. In the meantime her cousin Petra disappears, possibly abducted while visiting Warshawksi's office with two unknown men. The security cameras capture the three blurred figures on film. Warshawski has to find Lamont, who has been missing for many years, and also try to find Petra and calm down her father, who blames her for Petra's mysterious disappearance. The plot ties into the history of Chicago in the 1960s.

I like a cleaner, more focused mystery than the current one by Paretsky, however. Maybe I'm too familiar with Chicago, but I felt that Paretsky tried to cram as much of Chicago as possible into her book, more than the plot warranted. Chicago's southside urban ghettos and its gangs and the 1967 race riots in Marquette Park are central to the plot, but the author also throws in Navy Pier, the Polish community, more than enough Chicago politics, and lots of landmarks. I found it distracting.

Also, I was put off by the number of different characters introduced at the beginning. I didn't know who to focus on. The book would have been better had the writing and plot been more streamlined. Even then, you really can't describe all aspects of this city in one book.

I also found it interesting that Warshawski's love interest is named Morell. The name reminded me too much of Stephanie Plum's on-and-off-again boyfriend Morelli in the Janet Evanovich mystery series. Another unfortunate distraction!

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC for review.

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Sep 24, 2009

Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this social satire on modern French manners and society through the main characters.

Take one disenchanted 12-year-old child, smart but cynical for her age, add an equally cynical but likeable concierge/caretaker in a building of private apartments, and then mix in an erudite and wealthy Japanese gentlemen - shake together and see what happens when they meet and interact.

What they have in common is a love of beauty and art. Young Paloma thinks the world is not worth living in, until she discovers what she describes as perfection - the movements of a rising young player in a football game, for instance. The concierge, Renee, hides her love of good food, art, music, and literature behind nondescript clothing, unkempt hair, and a blank face that she shows to the tenants of her building. The Japanese gentleman, Mr. Ozu, is a new tenant who enjoys fine painting, music, and literature.

When Paloma and Mr. Ozu reach the conclusion that Renee the concierge is smarter than she lets on, Mr. Ozu is certain that Renee's cat Leo is named after the Russian writer Tolstoy. Renee decides that Mr. Ozu has found her out; his two cats have the names of characters in Tolstoy's War and Peace after all, and he has begun to observe her with curiousity. Ozu and Renee play cat and mouse games at first, trying to discover more about each other.

Young Paloma is anxious to get away from her wealthy parents and irritating older sister, who are always trying to draw her into meaningless conversations. She finds refuge in Renee's apartment. Mr. Ozu decides to invite Renee, whom everyone sees as a lowly concierge, to his elegant apartment for tea and again for dinner.

What happens next? Well, I won't tell everything!

I liked Renee's philosophical discourses on art, literature, beauty, and life. Her character is drawn to show that social stereotypes are just what they are - stereotypes. A concierge brought up in relative poverty is not what may seem to the outside world. She hides her knowledge of literature and art and her love of classical music because she, like the young girl Paloma, wants to be left alone by people who wouldn't understand her.

For those who like unusual and rebellious characters and who enjoy reading social satire, I recommend The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Can't wait to read Muriel Barbery's previous book, Gourmet Rhapsody, now out in translation.

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Sep 22, 2009

The Art of Meaningful Living by Christopher F. Brown

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by
Should Be Reading. Choose two sentences from your current read, and add the author and title for readers.

"Meaningful living is choosing your passions over your fears. It is accepting what you cannot control and focusing on what is in your power."
(from the cover of The Art of Meaningful Living by Christopher F. Brown, art by John Palmer)

A coffee-table style book with self-help advice on wisdom, action, and resilience. It is illustrated with 75 pieces of colorful abstract art.

Sep 17, 2009

BBAW: Reading

Saw this BBAW meme over at Lori's Blog and decided to play along to mark the end of BBAW Appreciation Week.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I try not to get crumbs or fingerprints on my book, so I'll usually put the book aside while I take a book break. I snack on chips, chocolate, or what's available.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read? How do you keep your place while reading a book?
I never put pencil or pen marks in books.

I try to mark the page with a bookmark, a piece of paper, anything available... When I can't find anything to mark with, I memorize the page number I'm on! That doesn't always work!

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Both. I've discovered some really good memoirs lately. I especially liked Lift: A Memoir by Rebecca K. O'Connor, a falconer.

Hard copy or audio books?
Hard copy, though I've listened to audio books on long drives.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
I put down the book at any point.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Not unless the dictionary is right next to me. I try to figure out the meaning by the way the word's used.

What are you currently reading?
Sara Paretsky's Hardball, an ARC of a new mystery/thriller by the Chicago author.

Also reading the memoir, Julie and Julia, and sometimes pick up The Elegance of the Hedgehog

What is the last book you bought?
Bought The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I loved his first book, Shadow of the Wind.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I'm reading at least three right now - a mystery/thriller, a memoir, and literary fiction.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
I tend to read in the afternoons and at night. I read outdoors, on a couch by the window, in the car while my hubby is driving, at the bookstore, at a coffee shop. Wherever.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
Cozy mystery series by M.C. Beaton as well as gardening mysteries, petsitter mysteries, dog mysteries, feng shui mysteries, and so on. I also like mystery/thriller writer, Ridley Pearson, among others.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
All the books I mentioned above and more.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
They are not organized, sad to say. I organize them by newer versus older, right now anyway.

How about you?

Tagged: Professor B. Worm

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Sep 16, 2009

What's on your desk Wednesday?

I've been tagged!

What's on your desk Wednesday? is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Sassy Brit of . Check her blog out each Wednesday for the post titled, What's on your desk Wednesday?

You can do one of two things or both!

Grab a camera and take a photo of your desk! Or anywhere you stack your books/TBR pile. And no tidying! Add this photo to your blog.Tag at least 5 people! Come back here and leave a link back to your photo in comments.
List at least 5 BOOKISH things on your desk (I'm thinking your TBR pile or books you haven't shelved...) List at least 5 NON BOOK things. (I'm thinking some of some of the more unusual items on your desk/table?) Tag at least 5 people to do the same. Come back here and leave your link, so we can come and visit your blog. Or add your answers in the comments if you don't have a blog.

Five bookish things on my desk:

Hardball by Sara Paretsky,
The Official Scrabble Word Finder by Robert W. Schachner,
The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, third edition
A Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg
One Deadly Sin by Annie Solomon, won in a give away by Carole's Notebook.

Five non book things on my desk: The Music of China compact disc, a yellow flashlight, a paper/photo scanner, a box of paper clips, and a goose neck lamp.

Not very exciting, I know. I keep books in another room as well as downstairs and in the basement, so my desk is mostly book free but covered in notebooks, in which I hope to write sometime. Thanks, Sassy for the tag! I'm to tag a few others, so here goes:

Rose City Reader
The Little Bookworm

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