Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Review: How the Dead Live by Will Self

How the Dead Live was the second book I read for the 1% Well Read Challenge. It was actually an alternate on my list, but I found it at the library and decided to give it a go because I am endlessly fascinated with authors’ visions of the afterlife.

Summary: Lily Bloom is old. And dead. Cancer took her and now she’s existing in a shadow London in a dirty flat surrounded by a bizarre cast of afterlife characters including a half formed baby (Lithy) that never made it out of her body, her dead 9 year old son Rudeboy who never ceases to shout obscenities and racial slurs, a trio of “fats” (spirits of the all the weight she lost and gained over her lifetime), and an extremely enigmatic and annoying aborigine spiritual guide named Phar Lap. She spends her dreary days attending Personally Dead meetings, working at a PR agency to earn money to buy cigarettes (the dead’s one real pleasure it seems), and spying on her two still living daughters, the prissy and plump Charlotte and the gorgeous heroin junkie Natasha. Occasionally she visits the Deatheaucracy office where they tell her she has to pay her back taxes before she can move on, though where exactly she could move on to is the mystery that is supposed to keep you reading.

My reaction: I absolutely HATED the first 26 pages of this novel (titled Epilogue though it comes at the beginning of the book). Reading it was like being thrown into a freezing lake in the dark. I hated the characters, I hated the language, but I made myself keep reading because I was curious to find out how the dead live. The next section was entitled “Dying”. This was all about Lily’s last few days of life, in the hospital, and at home with her daughters. I began to hate the book less – though dying is never fun, Lily was sarcastic and insightful enough to hold my interest. And Natasha’s story, as tragic as it was, was also compelling reading and carried me through the rest of the novel to an ending that turned out to be pretty clever.

There are some interesting ideas here and it did grow on me as I read on, so I guess it was worth reading in the end. But I wouldn’t personally put it on any list of 1001 books that MUST be read before you die.

Anyone have any recommendations of books that cover similar territory? I’ve read Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and I’ve heard a lot about Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere, but I’d be happy to hear about more books on the imagined afterlife.

Lufthansa's (new?) luggage policy

Anyone remember the days when you could check in two 70 lbs bags on international journeys? Even then I had trouble keeping my bags under the weight limit.

I've adjusted to the two 50 lbs bag limit with some trouble - I usually have to take some heavier books out and repack them in my carry on.

Today though I was shocked when our friend Weina was told she'd have to pay 600 Euro extra if she wanted to check in her luggage as it was (her route was Frankfurt - Beijing). Excuse me?! She had two moderately heavy bags but nothing ridiculous (one was close to 50 lbs, the other less). But Lufthansa has a policy now that the combined weight of your two bags can only be 30 kilos - which is 66 lbs!! And every kilo (2.2 lbs) you go over costs 30 Euro!! At least she was able to leave one bag with us - imagine if she got to the airport and had no choice but to pay up. They might as well gouge her eyes out.

Sadly, this too will likely become the norm. You can pay $1000 for yourself to fly and another $1000 for your bags to come with you. And who can afford that?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Book Review: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

This is the story of 15 year old New York native Daisy who is sent to live with cousins in England on the eve of global war. Now why would any father send his daughter so far away in such circumstances? For one, it appears he’s knocked up a “scheming harpy” who hasn’t done much to address “the centuries of bad press for stepmothers”. Secondly, Daisy has long been using anorexia as a way to protest her father’s choices and he’s at his wit’s end. So, it’s off to Aunt Penn’s idyllic farm for the supremely self absorbed teen – though Aunt Penn isn’t around for long. She leaves her children (the youngest is 9 year old Piper) all alone to attend some vague conference. Not that Daisy minds, it gives her the perfect chance to start up an illicit affair with her cousin Edmund and run wild in the English countryside. But then the war heats up, and Daisy finds out she can’t keep the world at bay forever.

Being the huge dystopia fan I am, I was excited to read this. If you can get over the believability issues I mentioned in the first paragraph, you’ll find a meaty novel here about the realities of war and the effects it has on everyone involved. At first, Daisy is rather callous when she hears about people dying: “Most of the people who got killed were either old like our parents so they’d had good lives already, or people who worked in banks and were pretty boring anyway or other people we didn’t know.” She doesn’t let much get to her. Then she opens her heart to Edmund, is ripped away from the farm, and has to become a surrogate parent of sorts for Piper. She grows up fast.

The prose has a heavy, dreamlike quality to it, underscoring the atmosphere of dread and blunting the emotional impact, like war tends to do. It’s a fitting stylistic choice, but it slows the pace at times to a frustrating crawl and tends to weigh down the narrative. The characters, for the most part, are well drawn. Daisy has her problems, but I liked her snark and spunk. Piper comes off perhaps as a bit too angelic (she’s even a dog whisperer) and Edmund is hard to read, but boys usually are. This is a sucessful novel on many levels - too bad about the tacked on and off-putting ending.

If you like this book, you might like to read Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, a novel with similar themes that I liked even more.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Germany in the Euro final!

Now, I don't usually watch or care much about soccer, but it's hard to not get caught up in the excitement of an entire nation when you live here. We saw the semi-final game last night under a tent near the main train station, surrounded by raving fans. The tension was palpable when the Turks made their first goal in the 22nd minute and joy undeniable when Germany equalized in the 26th. Germany made another goal late in the game, but Turkey did too with 6 minutes to go. I didn't want to sit there another 30 minutes for overtime so I cheered like a crazy person when Germany made a goal with seconds to spare to bring the score to 3-2. As we made our way home, we observed (and heard) tons of people honking their horns and waving Germany flags. Some cars had people hanging out of the windows and standing out of their sun roofs. We saw one being tailed by a police car - not sure how that ended. The honking went on until 1 a.m. in the morning at least. Certainly not your everyday occurance.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In the reviewer hot seat

The Class of 2K8 has a great feature this week where they are interviewing two blog book reviewers a day. There are prizes too - so head on over!

Even though I am not in the line-up over there, I thought it would be fun to answer some of their questions over here on my own blog. (I hope they don't mind me piggybacking on their idea).

So here goes:

What's your handle? Presenting Lenore

What kind of books do you review? So far literary, YA, and MG fiction plus a bit of non-fiction. I also read lots of picture books, some thrillers, chick lit, memoirs, sci-fi. I plan to review most everything I read, so you never know what might show up.

Approx # of books reviewed? So far I have reviewed 28 on my blog– but that is just since the end of April 2008.

Where can we find your reviews?
Right here!
I also post some of my book reviews at other websites and online communities, such as Library Thing, Young Adult Books Central and Amazon

Reading turn-ons: High concepts that follow up with excellent execution. Well developed characters. Exciting plots that keep me up all night to finish. Fun language. Unique narrative structures. Dystopian worlds.

Reading turn-offs: Plots that go nowhere. Dense and flowery prose. Crudeness.

Class of 2K8 Books Reviewed: None yet. But a few are coming up:
Read my Lips by Teri Brown
Alive and Well in Prague, New York by Daphne Grab
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce
The Emerald Tablet by PJ Hoover
The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas

We love the crazy handles book reviewers come up with - tell us how you came up with yours! A little bit about how you got into book reviewing would be cool too. I decided to start a blog so it would be easier to share my vacation photos with my family (some of my first posts are actually from my trip to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe). And when confronted with having to pick a name for my blog, I sort of froze. I thought the blog might be about advertising, so I decided on Presenting Lenore because in my advertising copywriting, I am always talking about presenting products. I had an inkling even then that I would incorporate book talk, but I had no idea then that it would take over! I started reviewing in earnest when I saw how much fun it was and how great the online book community is. Now I’m hooked!

Tell us--how do you pick the books you review? Or are they picked for you? I review what I read and finish. If I finish a book, I will review it. Some are sent to me, some I buy based on word of mouth, and some I get from the library.

Do you ever read books that wouldn't normally interest you - and if so have you ever been surprised by what you've read? It’s sometimes hard to say what I will like as I have a wide variety of interests. I pick up books a lot of times on a whim and read the first page to see if it can hook me. I was surprised that I really liked “Devil the White City” a non-fiction look at the 1893 Chicago World fair that reads like a great novel.

What are the best ways to find new books? I used to find most of my books by surfing Amazon features like those lists that people make. And I think Entertainment Weekly has an awesome book section. Lately I’ve found a ton of books for my wish list on other book reviewer blogs. I also go the library about once a month and to bookstores about once a week.

If you really aren't feeling a book - will you make the ultimate sacrifice and finish it for the sake of the review? Most books that I start, I finish, especially if someone has sent it to me for review. If I got a book from the library though, then I don’t hesitate to employ the 50 page rule – if I am not into it 50 pages in, I can put it down and move on.

So if you really love a book - will you read it again? If so - what are some of the books you just had to read more than once? Yes and I keep books that I love especially for that purpose. Let’s see… there are tons I’ve read twice. More than twice… I have read “The Doomsday Book” a time travel back to the middle ages book by Connie Willis at least 3 times, “Beauty” a sci-fi fairy tale retelling by Sherri Tepper at least 5 times. “Trap for Cinderella” a great noir thriller about identity by Sebastian Japrisot 3 times. “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad always gets me hooked. Holes by Louis Sachar… Oh I better stop before I go on all day.

Do you have a basic philosophy on what should be included in a review - or does it depend on the book itself? I try to think about themes and find a thematic entry into my review. That doesn’t always work, but I think it makes the review richer.

Tell us about the last time your jaw dropped open, you laughed, or you cried while reading a book. The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry made me laugh. The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld and Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff made my jaw drop open and the last book to make me cry was Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

Is there any character in a book that you wish would come to life? Or any place you wish existed? I would love to hang out with Frankie from E. Lockhart’s Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks. And Tuesday Next from Jasper Fforde’s series that starts with “The Eyre Affair”. She could take me jumping into books!

I wouldn’t want to visit any of the dystopian lands I so like to read about and I guess I am not a big reader of positive fantasy – ha!

What books do you find yourself recommending over and over and why? Friends come to me all the time wanting book recommendations for themselves or for presents they want to buy someone. Just yesterday I had someone want to know 10 books she could buy for a 12 year old girl, and I was happy to send her a list. What I recommend really depends on the person.

Really bad reviews - do you ever fear giving them? I think that’s natural. Fortunately I haven’t had to give many so far – and in one case the author was long dead so that made it easier. Of course I am going to be honest - I like to accentuate the positive while mentioning things that may have not worked for me personally.

If an author would like you to review her book, what should she do? Contact me at lenoreva (AT) hotmail (DOT) com and let me know about your book. If it is something I’d be interested in reading, I’ll send you my snail-mail address. Also mention when you’d ideally like to see the review posted and I’ll let you know if it’s feasible.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Library Thing Tuesday (7)

Last week I asked what was the most popular book in your library- this week I’m going to ask about the most unpopular books you own. Do you have any unique books in your library- books only you have on LT? How many?

I have 4. They are:

Ariol: Copain Comme Cochon by Emmanual Guibert and Marc Boutavant. This is a graphic novel in French for kids that we got signed in Bologna this year. I love it (even though my French is very basic).

Very Famous by Philip Waechter. This is a PB I got this signed by the author at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year. It's in German actually.

Step by Step through the Old Testament by Waylon Bailey & Tom Hudson. I am really fascinated by the Old Testament and this was the guide we used for our bible study on it a couple of years ago.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book Volume II: Word, Sentence, Scene by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock. I have a bunch of books like this because Daniel and I have been developing a picture book. It's on hold now, but we may ressurrect it.

I am sure I have more, because there are still so many books I have yet to enter.

Do they fall into a particular category or categories, or are they a mix of different things?
Books in foriegn languages mainly I guess. And reference books.

Have you ever looked at the “You and none other” feature on your statistics page, which shows books owned by only you and one other user? Ever made an LT friend by seeing what you share with only one other user?

I have two books that fall into this category:

Kiss and Sell: Writing for Advertising by Robert Sawyer. I got this at the book fair one year from a European textbook publisher called AVA. It has been useful for developing the workshop I teach on writing for the web.

Don't make me think: A common sense approach to web usability by Steve Krug. This is also extremely useful for my job and I've used parts of it in my workshop as well.


Have you entered my contest yet? There is still time (until June 30th). I've been shopping for some of the goodies already and I thought I'd give you a sneak peek of what you can expect:

Ovomaltine Milk Chocolate from Switzerland

Niederegger Marzipan in dark chocolate from Luebeck, Germany

Cote d'Or Noir Framboise (Dark chocolate with raspberry) from Belgium

Walkers Pure Butter Shortbread from Scotland

Terry's Milk Chocolate Orange from the UK

Reber Mozart Pastete from Austria

Blackcurrant candy from an abbey in France

Kinder Country and Kinder Eggs from Germany

Haribo Sour Gummis from Germany

...and more!

****Other Contests****

In honor of Karin's new website ( she's having a kick-off contest. E-mail her with the names of the 9 books pictured in her header, and you could win a signed copy of Twilight. Ends July 1st.

The Book Muncher is celebrating her 100th post by giving away three books (enter by July 15th):

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
When It Happens by Susane Colasanti

Dewey is giving away 4 more boxes of books from Hachette. To have a chance to win one by Friday, you must promote her 24 hr Read-a-Thon on your blog by this Friday. If you enter this one, say I sent you, and I'll get extra entries. I would have loved to participate in the Read-a-thon, but I have a work function in Amsterdam that day. CONTEST ENDED.

J. Kaye is passing along her copy of Lisa McMann's Wake to a reader who comments here. CONTEST ENDED.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Book Review: The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

Oh the power of bloggers! I read several Willoughbys reviews on 48 Hr. Reading Challenge participants’ blogs (Becky’s Book Reviews’ is here and Jen Robinson’s is here) and knew I had to have it and read it immediately. I also read the 5 Randoms’ Reasons to Read this Book and The Well Read Child’s very enthusiastic review. Lemony Snicket was mentioned a lot and I love Lemony Snicket (he also gave it high praise). I actually went out and special ordered this from a bookstore here in Frankfurt so I could have it as soon as possible. So yeah – high expectations galore.

Lowry’s book reads like a spoof of Snicket, with clueless and odious adults, droll humor and vocabulary words that are defined for the reader in fun ways (one of my favorite things about the Snickett books). For example on page 50: “Mr. Melanoff lived in squalor. Squalor is a situation in which there is moldy food in the refrigerator, mouse droppings are everywhere, the wastebaskets are overflowing… There is a very bad smell to squalor.” She expands on the vocab building idea by offering a glossary in the back of the book.

It is also very much a spoof of “old fashioned’ classic children’s books like Mary Poppins (a nanny is hired) and The Bobbsey Twins (a baby is found on the Willoughby’s doorstep). An amusing bibliography of these is offered as well. The tone is even more absurd than even Snicket, especially concerning the Willoughby parents. The postcards they sent home from their dangerous vacation spots had me in stitches.

Don’t read this for character development though. There is none. The 4 Willoughby children start out annoying and stay annoying. The oldest one, Tim, especially got on my nerves with his bossiness. I know this was a stylistic choice on Lowry’s part, but it keeps it from attaining “perfect book” status from me, and if I were giving a rating, it would warrant at least a half star reduction.

Despite this quibble, I did really, really like it. The plot is very silly but fun and there are tons of quotable passages. I will definitely pass this one on to all my friends who are Snicket devotees.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Book Review: The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy

Print journalism is divided into two main types of writing, hard news (which uses the Inverted Pyramid, meaning you make sure all the essential information is near the beginning in case some column lines have to be lopped off your article) and feature writing (which is way more fun to write because you get to tell a story with a hook, climax and resolution). I love reading feature stories, especially human interest ones, and I seek them out when I get my hands on an issue of Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, a newspaper, or even People. I also loved Confessions of a Memory Eater a novel by Pagan Kennedy. So when I heard that she is putting a new book out which is a collection of some of her feature stories that have appeared in the New Yorker and elsewhere, I knew I had to have a copy. And I was pleased to discover that Pagan’s feature writing is as sharp as her fiction writing – with hooks that grab you and don’t let go.

Don’t let the title The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories or the title story, all about Joy of Sex author Alex Comfort’s unconventional life, turn you off if you’re not into reading that type of thing. You can always skip it and move on to one of the other 11 more G rated stories about exceptional people you may or may not have heard about. There’s the one about Cheryl Haworth, the Olympian weight lifter who won a bronze medal as a teen, whose parents told her and her sisters that girls could do anything. There’s the one about Dr. Gordon Sato, the inventor of a cancer drug, who is now most passionate about planting mangrove forests on the coast of Eritrea to help communities there survive. There’s the one about Conor Oberst, lead singer of Bright Eyes, and his life on the road touring with his band, not in a bus, but in a rented Chevy. All are characters that Pagan portrays so vividly, you really feel like you “get” them.

One of my favorite stories, “How to Make (Almost) Anything,” is about Saul Griffith, the author of the book Howtoons for kids. The book was published October 23, 2007 and this story was written before then, but it’s a great behind the scenes look at the origins of Howtoons, a cartoon that shows kids how to build things like an underwater periscope from items like soda bottles that you would just trash anyway.

But my favorite stories of all are her three “First Person: Stories from My Own Life” vignettes, especially “The Encyclopedia of Scorpions”. It’s a travelogue adventure story about a kayaking trip she took on a remote desert river and there is so much tension and beauty packed into 17 pages that I almost couldn’t breathe while reading it.

As a frequent reader of feature stories, I can assure you that these are top-notch and not to be missed. The story collection comes out on September 1, 2008 so wishlist it now before you forget.
PS: Are you a blogger who can't wait until September to read this? Then go to to find out how you can get your own ARC to review on your blog.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Book Review: The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

The Patron Saint of Butterflies is an apt title for a novel about two 14 year old girls who have never been allowed to fly free. Agnes and Honey live at the super strict religious commune Mt. Blessing where all outside influences are banned (no TV, no papers or books besides “The Saint’s Way”, barely any visitors) and thinking for yourself will get you sent to the Regulation Room for a beating by religious leader Emmanuel.

The novel is told in alternating chapters by Agnes, who is trying her hardest to be a saint (she fasts, ties a too-tight rope around her waist, and experiments with sleeping on rocks – all things saints apparently did) and Honey, whose one joy is a butterfly garden she tends to and whose sneak peeks at a forbidden TV have made her aware that Mt. Blessing is whacked, to say the least. After all, this is no normal faith-based commune: red and orange foods are banned (because the devil gave them their color), only adult men leave the commune to work at outside jobs (to both support the commune and Emmanuel’s expensive toys like a color TV, wine, and a car – he’s made exceptions for himself to his own rules) and kids are separated from their parents at 6 months until they are 7 years old to break the child/parent bond and have them fixate on Emmanuel.

Agnes and Honey both have distinct voices (and their own typeface) and friendship that feels authentic, but despite the novel being nearly 300 pages and more than half of it taking place in the “real world” after Agnes’ grandmother rescues them and Agnes’ younger brother, their characters feel a bit underdeveloped and one-note (Agnes is too stubborn, Honey too rebellious).

The novel tackles weighty issues: child abuse, brainwashing, death, and whether you should follow the commandment to honor your mother and father even if they are clearly wrong. Religion and faith are treated with respect (the drudgery of services at Mt. Blessing is nicely contrasted with a scene at a Baptist church in the south where the joy of worship is obvious) - it is those who would pervert the truth that are taken to task here. We don’t get much back story on enigmatic leader Emmanuel, but it’s obvious he’s BAD – he wants people to worship him more than God (he plays the part of Jesus during Ascension week), he’s a megalomaniacal hypocrite, and despite all of his exhortations about purity and avoiding temptation, he sends a 7 year old girl to live with a grown, single man.

Despite the heavy themes, this is a quick read with excellent pacing and a real sense of urgency. I enjoyed reading it very much.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Library Thing Tuesday (6)

Today's Tuesday Thingers question is:

What's the most popular book in your library? Have you read it? What did you think? How many users have it? What's the most popular book you don't have? How does a book's popularity figure into your decisions about what to read?

My answer:
I am going to cheat a bit and skip all the classics that a lot of people have in their libraries. The most popular non-classic in my LT library is "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" by Mark Haddon (13,958 users). I borrowed it from my friend Andrea and liked it fine.

The most popular non-classic in my physical home library is "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel (13,281 users). When I originally read this, I checked it out from the public library, but I loved it so much, I ended up buying a copy. I have also bought this for about 5 friends of mine and have loaned it out a lot as well. I always tell people that have trouble getting into it to skip ahead to the part where the shipwreck actually occurs (about halfway through) because this is the best part. The whole beginning is a set up so that you can understand the end better, but it is not totally necessary to enjoying the story.

The most popular books that I don't have are all the books in the Harry Potter series. I read the first page of the first book, but wasn't hooked and that was that. I do think its overwhelming popularity sets off a rebellious streak in me now - I want to be in the minority that hasn't read it. But maybe I will read it someday. The latest movie was on in the main cabin the last time I flew. I didn't watch it, but I couldn't avoid seeing it, and I noticed that the characters were running through the whole movie. I asked my seatmate why this was. He said, if they had walked everywhere, the movie would've been too long! Should have been a stand up comic, that guy.

Of the top 100 books, which J Kaye conveniently lists here, I have read or own 63 of them. So I guess I can't say I avoid popular books.

EDIT: Well, I have to admit I have read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (23,266 users) though I never added it to my LT library. And I do own The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (14,566 users) but I haven't added it because I haven't read it yet.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Book Review: Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty by Jody Gehrman

Before I begin my review, I have a few confessions of my own.

1. I don’t drink coffee, but I love the smell of it (YAY to scratch and sniff cover on this book).

2. I love Shakespeare’s play "Much Ado About Nothing" (because Robert Sean Leonard was in the 1993 movie version and I love him on House and especially in Dead Poets Society) so I was super excited that Jody used the play as an inspiration for the book.

3. I won this book in a contest on Reviewer X’s blog (read her review of it here) and Jody sent me a signed copy AND a homemade personalized bookmark with jewels on it. How cool is that?! Now go check out her website:

A while back, I had the pleasure of hearing author Markus Zusak (The Book Thief) do a reading and talk about writing. He said that when he writes, he aims to put at least one jewel on each page – whether it’s a clever turn of phrase, a hard-hitting character insight, or perhaps a fun literary reference. Well, before I say anything else about “Confessions”, I have to say that it is fitting that Jody uses jewels to personalize her book signings, because the novel has so many “jewel” moments and the prose is so polished, it positively sparkles.

So anyway, the basic plot is this: Geena has high hopes for her summer – she’ll work at Triple Shot Betty coffee shack with her best friend Amber and her cousin Hero (who haven’t yet met, but Geena’s sure they’ll love each other) and they’ll all have tons of girl fun all summer long. But Geena’s hopes are dashed when Hero (chaste and conservative like her namesake in “Much ado”) and Amber (brash and bawdy like Margaret in “Much ado”) hate each other at first sight and a few cute guys are thrown into the mix, not all of them with the best intensions.

If you know anything about “Much ado” you’ll recognize Geena as the Beatrice character, feisty, cynical, witty and sharp. She’s a skater chick gunning to be valedictorian, and she won’t let anyone get in her way, especially not Ben (the Benedick character), a whip smart, competitive but sweet (and HOT) cyclist classmate. She has a reputation as a guy hater, so when Hero falls in love with Italian import Claudio, who is doing an internship at a winery (it’s set in Sonoma, CA so everyone, even the under-aged, likes to dabble in the “vino”), her overprotective father says she can’t date unless Geena goes with her (shades of “Taming of the Shrew” perhaps?).

The plot continues along, similar to that of “Much ado” with plenty of intrigue and high jinks, but with a fun feminist revenge element as a climax. The message here is clear – stand up for yourself, stand up for your friends and don’t let scummy guys ruin your reputation.

Read this for the modern spin on “Much ado”, read this for its character driven narrative, read this for the swoon-worthy Claudio (I love foreign guys) and Ben and the sweetest romance scenes I’ve encountered in awhile, read this for the authentic dialogue and friendships, read this for all the “jewels” you’ll find sprinkled generously throughout, and most of all read this as soon as you can get your hands on it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Postcards and a giveaway/contest!

I enjoy sending and receiving postcards and buying them for myself on my trips. They make great souveniers (evocative of the place and easy to carry) and once you get home, they also make great bookmarks.

I always make sure to send my Grandma Billie a postcard when I go somewhere - you should see her collection!

My personal postcard collection contains postcards from over 100 countries. Some have been sent to me by friends and have foreign stamps and postmarks (a real bonus in my opinion) like this one:

And some I picked up on my travels like this one:

Would you like to start or expand your postcard collection? Here's the deal: The first (10) people to send their snail-mail addresses to lenoreva AT hotmail DOT com will get a postcard from either Germany or The Netherlands (please indicate your preference in your e-mail and write POSTCARD in the subject line).

Plus leave a comment at this post by June 30th telling me about what you like to collect, and you will be entered into a drawing for a box full of yummy Euro treats (candy, chocolate, etc.)! I'll pick the winner July 1st, so leave me some way of contacting you.
Want extra entries? Blog and link back to the contest for 1 extra entry. Add me to your blogroll for 2 extra entries (if I am already on your blogroll, you get the extra entries too).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Book Review: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

I read The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff for the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. It's part historical (about Brigham Young's 19th wife, Ana Eliza, who brings attention to the polygamy problem) and part modern day murder mystery where a "lost boy" (young Mormon boys kicked out of the Mesadale community so that they won’t be competition for the older men in getting girls) tries to help clear his mother (herself a 19th wife) from murder charges.

The historical part of the book starts with Ana Eliza’s mother’s back story and conversion to LDS (Latter Day Saints), her marriage, and her devastation when her husband is ordered by the prophet to take a second wife. As the narrative goes on, we see how plural marriage negatively affects nearly everyone involved, certainly the wives who become jealous, petty, and bitter, but also the husbands who don’t have enough resources to cope with so many wives and children, and then the children who must compete for affection with scores of others. We also see how anyone who disagrees with the doctrine of the church (or Brigham Young’s whims) is systematically destroyed (emotionally, financially, physically or all three).

The modern day part is a fascinating look into polygamy as it exists today (a very timely subject considering the recent raid on a compound in Texas). The main character here, the teenaged Jordan, is definitely damaged from his abandonment, but is resourceful and forgiving enough to help his mother with her legal woes (she’s been accused of killing Jordan’s father). He enlists help from a colorful cast of characters, including 2 young Mesadale runaways, a sympathetic postmaster in Mesadale, a hotel worker with which he has a romance of sorts, and a step-sister Queenie who still lives within the compound and is now married to one of its police officers.

Though this novel is almost 600 pages long and includes many historical documents, it never felt like a chore to read. I don’t read that much historical fiction, but interestingly enough, the last one I did read (and loved), Kurt Anderson’s “Heyday” covered roughly the same time period and even explored some of the Mormon settlements that appear here. I also knew some about Mormon history going in (I did live in Utah for 2 years), but this filled in a lot of blanks.

I am very glad I got the chance to read this, and highly recommend other readers check it out when it comes out on August 5th.

Friday, June 13, 2008


This was the second time this week I gave into my addiction to crack sushi - this time I went with Daniel. The waitresses laughed at me as they always do and we sat down. Not too long after, a couple sat down at the table next to us.

The first words out of the girl's mouth were (and I am paraphrasing since the conversation was actually in German): "Ok, let's write down what we need to discuss. Number 1, should we stay together or break up?"

Now how can you NOT eavesdrop on a conversation that begins like that?

She went on: "Number 2, should I do my internship in London or here? Number 3, should we attend school in Boston or go to the European Business School?"

Her list continued and had about 10 topics for discussion in all. The young man didn't have much to add, he merely nodded and grunted occasionally.

I had hoped they would start with discussion topic number 1, but she skipped right to number 3: "So, I checked into going to Boston, and it would be so fun. You can participate in sports! I could be a cheerleader! Just like in all the American movies! We could walk around in our uniforms and everyone would think we are so cool!"

When I heard that, I almost choked on my green tea.

She went on and on, discussing the pros and cons of all their various opportunities, but never got back to topic 1 before we left.

Have you overheard any "noteworthy" conversations lately?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Library Thing Tuesday (5)

Today's Tuesday Thingers question is:

Do you tag? How do you tag? How do you feel about tagging- do you think it would be better to have standardized tags, like libraries have standardized subject headings, or do you like the individualized nature of tagging? What are your top 5 tags and what do they say about your collection or your reading habits?

I didn't start tagging immediately. But after I read somewhere that the Early Reviewer formula might possibly like tags, I began to tag in earnest. I actually find it quite useful. I have tags for ARCs, signed books, various genres, favorite books and the 1001 Books to Read before you die that I have read (among others). It makes it very easy to sort my books and find what I am looking for.

My current top 5 tags are 1001 Books (113), Literary Fiction (90), Classic (76), YA (42), Dystopia (26). I think it does pretty accurately reflect my reading habits.

And now for the latest priceless picture of Miss Emmy - just hanging out:

Monday, June 9, 2008

48 Hour Reading Challenge (Finish Line)

Here are my totals:

10 books
28 1/2 hours reading time
3309 pages

average 116 pages per hour

I guess I could have done more if I had slept less, but after a while I really got reading fatigue - I even made proclamations like "I will never read a book again!" (Not true, I already started The 19th Wife).

I also noticed when I was reading "Songs for the Missing" (my second book) that I had chosen the wrong books to read if I wanted to win. Some of the books I chose are not the type of books you can speed read, but I wanted to mix it up between adult and YA and also finish up some of my library books. Next time: A big stack of Babysitter's Club Books! (J/K)

Here's what I read (in the order I enjoyed them):

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marissa Pessl
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster
Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes
Deliverance by James Dickey
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston
Daughters of Eve by Lois Duncan

(Reviews all gathered in the next two posts)

Daniel just sent me this quote:

Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.
Albert Einstein
US (German-born) physicist (1879 - 1955)

I think he doesn't want me to participate next year.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

48 Hour Reading Challenge (Day 2)

8:15 pm - 10:15 pm The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatly Snyder 203 pages

The Headless Cupid is a Newberry Honor Book that explores a blended family adjusting to their new life together. David is the oldest of his 4 siblings, but when his father remarries after the death of David's mother, he gets a stepsister, Amanda who is one year older. Amanda is a huge brat and also into "the supernatural". The house they've all moved into is supposedly haunted by a poltergeist and there is a cupid's head missing from the bannister that disapeared years ago under mysterious circumstances. Amanda initiates her new brothers and sisters into the "occult" by giving them ordeals (can't touch metal for one day, can't touch wood for one day, must be silent a whole day) which actually just end up bothering the parents. When rocks start flying through the air and breaking things, everyone is concerned that the poltergeist is back. Great characterizations and well-plotted.

Favorite line: "There are just right ways and wrong ways to do things that are supernatural. I mean it is supposed to be mysterious and dignified. I guess you just have the feeling for it or you don't. Like for instance, can you imagine a real wizard, like Merlin or someone, wearing bunny mittens?"

10:15 pm - 12:45 am Deliverance by James Dickey 278 pages

Deliverance the novel is overshadowed by the 1972 film based on it, but it is a tight thriller that goes deeper into the character motivations of the four city men who decide to take a canoe trip down a river for a few days. This is a compelling man vs nature + man vs extremely scary hillbillies thriller, but definately not for anyone under say 17 (for the famous "squeal like a pig" scene alone).

Favorite line: "It's there." (what one of the 4 canoe trip guys answers when a native asks him why he wants to "mess" with the river)

8:30 am - 10:30 am The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster 256 pages

This is a fab book for anyone who loves language. Milo is a bored boy who is whisked off to a strange fantasy land via a phantom tollbooth. There he encounters such delights as the Which (not to be confused with the Witch), the spelling bee, subtraction stew (the more you eat, the hungrier you get) and much more. A must for fans of wordplay!

Favorite line: "It's hard work but a noble calling. For you see, time

11:30 am - 5:30 pm Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl 669 pages

Some people hate this (some reviews I've read) and some people adore it (ipgirl - who shares my taste it seems) so I wasn't so sure about it... but I LOVED this novel! Blue van Meer has spent most of her childhood travelling from town to town across the US (attending 3-5 schools per school year) with her professor father but he's decided to let her spend her whole senior year at a private school in NC. That's where she meets teacher Hannah and her tight group of student "blue bloods" as well as gets involved in the mystery surrounding Hannah's death during a spring break camping trip. Some people have compared this to Tartt's The Secret History, but this group of students pales in comparison to those and are actually the least interesting thing about this book (well, that and the constant listing of sources by the author which is clever at first, but gets old quickly). The most interesting parts of the book are Blue herself, her genius father (I loved just about everything he said) and the mystery surrounding Hannah. I never saw it coming, and after I read the last page, I wanted to go back and read this again (and perhaps I will - later).

Favorite Line #1: "Spend your energies on your story. Reworking it. Making it better. Increasing the scale, the depth of content, the universal themes. Those around you can have their novellas. A few will even cook up a Greek tragedy. But you will craft nothing less than an epic with your life. Out of all of them, your story will be the one to last."

Favorite Line #2: "The woman had wandered deep into her forties and, to her evident panic, had been unable to make her way back."

6:00 pm - 7:30 pm The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick 511 pages

This national book award finalist is such a great book, I zipped through it in no time at all (well - it does have a lot of illustrations as well). It's the story of orphaned Hugo who lives in the walls inside a Paris train station and makes sure all the clocks keep running. His most prized possesion is a mechanical man that he is trying to fix because he believes it holds a message from his dead father.

Favorite Line: "I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. So I figure if the world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason , too."

Friday, June 6, 2008

48 Hour Reading Challenge (Day 1)

I joined MotherReader's 48 hour reading challenge and will be updating this post reporting on my reading throughout today.

Start 8 pm (+1 Greenwich mean time) Friday

8 pm - 9:30 pm Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes 217 pages

Olive's Ocean is a sweet story about 12 year old Martha who confronts the realities of death for the first time when a classmate (Olive) dies, her aging grandmother comments that their summer together may be the last and she herself falls in the ocean and fears she may drown.

Favorite line: "She realized that no one, no one at all in the airport, or on the entire planet for that matter, knew her thoughts, knew what she was carrying inside her head and heart."

10: 15 pm - 2:30 am Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan (Barnes and Noble First Look selection) 287 pages

Songs for the Missing might more aptly be titled Songs for the close family and friends of the Missing as it explores the effects that a teenage girl's disapearance has on those closest to her. It was interesting to read about a missing person's case from the family's rather than the police's point of view - it's more about the emotional side of it and the ways that they cope with her absence day by day.

Favorite line: "After a chapter and a half, she gave up and went online, killing time playing Text Twist. The jumbled letters took all her attention. Racking up a high score didn't matter. The satisfying instant when her brain relaxed and the hidden word magically snapped into place was her reward."

10:15 am - 2:00 pm Artemis Fowl and The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer 376 pages

The Lost Colony is a great addition to the Artemis Fowl books with lots of old favorite characters back (Holly, Mulch, Foaly, Butler) and some fun new characters like the pixie Doodah, the sweet demon imp/warlock no 1, and a second juvenile genius - a girl named Minerva. Very entertaining!

Favorite Line: "Mulch locked his mouth and threw away the key."

2:30 pm - 5:30 pm Bed Rest by Sarah Bilston 248 pages

Bed Rest is about a successful career girl, Quinn, who has to pull into the slow lane when her doctor tells her she must spend three months of her pregnancy in bed. Quinn has an appealing voice and there are a lot of laughs as she makes lists, entertains vistors and prepares herself for the birth of her child. Some of the supporting characters are a bit obnoxious, but overall, this a breezy, ok read.

Favorite Line: "Writing a diary seems like an admission you have nothing better to do. It's the life story of a person who doesn't have a life. I read my grandmother's diary once; it was about the weather and the progress of her runner beans. I'd rather leave no record of my existence than that."

6:00 pm - 8:00 pm Daughters of Eve by Lois Duncan 264 pages
Daughters of Eve was published in 1979 and is full of men who are chauvinist pigs. Teacher Irene Stark is the faculty sponsor of the Modesta, Michigan chapter of Daughters of Eve, an exclusive club of 10 girls, and she encourages the girls to stand up for themselves with mixed results. Her tactics get more and more violent as the book goes on. This is an extremely melodramatic novel and the attitudes feel so outdated that I was both outraged and moved to laughter.
Favorite Line: Daughter: "Mom, if I were a boy and had talent? Would you still be telling me the best thing I can do with my life is to sit here in Modesta and have babies?" Mom: "That's a ridiculous question. It's the fact that men can't have babies that makes it necessary for them to fill their lives with other things"

Book Review: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Although The Book of Lost Things is a dark fairytale story, it won the 2007 Alex Award which honors 10 adult books that appeal to (mature) teen readers. The story is about 12 year old David who finds a portal to an alternate world and then goes on a quest to find the King and his “Book of Lost Things” so that he might return home. Along the way, he meets many terrifying creatures, faces assorted tests of courage, and learns valuable lessons.

I was very excited about reading this novel, but I had to really fight my way through the first 50 pages because a) the mother dies and b) some scenes are very claustrophobic. The atmosphere is very creepy (thanks in part to the Crooked Man) and the fairytales retold here are darker than even Grimm. Some scenes work better than others – I was fascinated by the Woodsman, the Loups (half man, half wolf creatures), the huntress, the Crooked Man’s lair and the king's own story but thought the middle part with the knight Roland kind of sagged (and seemed rather pointless to the story overall).

The overall tone and story themes reminded me a lot of the movie “Pan’s Labyrinth”. For my taste, I would rate this book slightly higher (though I admire them both).

Connolly also includes 130 pages of notes about the fairytales, myths and legends he researched for this book. So if you like fairytales and don’t mind them dark, this book is for you.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Read My Lips Trailer

Check out this trailer for Read my Lips by Teri Brown and come to her launch party June 9-13th at for tons of YA fun and prizes!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The blog readability test

According to this fun web tool, you need the following level of education to understand my blog:

blog readability test

And to understand Daniel's Daily Drawings you need to be a genius! I love it!

blog readability test

Try it out on your own blog!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Library Thing Tuesday (4)

Today's Tuesday Thingers question is: Why LT? Why did you choose to open and maintain an LT account? Do you/did you use other online cataloging/social networking sites, like GoodReads or Shelfari? Do you use more than one? Are they different or do they serve different purposes?

My answer:
When I typed in ARCs in google, LT was one of the search results. I loved the idea of the ER program and I loved the tonality of the site (favorite line: If the buzz page doesn't convince you, you cannot be convinced. Go away.) So I signed up and lucked out my first time requesting a book. I spent a few hours entering books and book reviews to convince the ER team I was a responsible reviewer and then got hooked! But my favorite part of the site has to be the ER group and the community that participates there - you guys are great. I probably check the message boards 4 times a day seeing if anyone has posted about ARCs, is offering their ARC in a bookray, or is posting links to a great new book blog for me to check out (as if I didn't spend enough time on the Internet).

I did stop by Shelfari a while back, and may have even joined, but it somehow didn't hook me, so I haven't been back. I hadn't heard about GoodReads until today, but it sounds like I better stay away :)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Book Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Two of my favorite themes in literature are coincidence and the search for identity --And when you get a book about how coincidence can have a part in shaping identity, all the better.

“How does a person become the person she is?” the narrator of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks asks, adding, “This chronicle is an attempt to mark out the contributing elements in Frankie’s character. What led her to do the things she did: things she would later view with a curious mixture of hubris and regret.”

We know from the outset of the story that Frankie has somehow infiltrated a secret all male society, the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, on the campus of her exclusive prep school and masterminded some borderline criminal pranks. The story explores the how and the why.

The how is where coincidence comes in. Her father was a basset hound and she’s heard his stories. Her new boyfriend, Matthew, is a basset hound and when he blows off a date, she follows him to a secret meeting. It just happens that her roommate’s boyfriend has the keys to all the off limit places on campus. She met the basset hound “king”, Alpha, on the boardwalk the previous summer and when he summoned away for a few days over Halloween, it gives Frankie the opening she needs.

The why is more complicated. Frankie is certainly tired of being treated like an innocuous “bunny rabbit” (her nickname) in need of protection. She’s recently blossomed into a knock-out young woman, but she’s not content to be anyone’s arm candy. She’s a firm believer in the equality of the sexes and it irks her to be shut out of “the old boy’s club”.

Frankie is a strategist, a debater, and someone who wants to be a real “off-roader”. She asserts her unique identity by using “neglected positives” (i.e. ept to mean skilled – from inept) in everyday speech, by challenging the unwritten rules of who sits where in the caf, and of course by covertly taking over the basset hounds.

Frankie is a great character – one that I immensely enjoyed spending time with. And this is an excellent book – one that begs for a sequel!

Run and pick this one up ASAP. You will not be disappointed.

Further reading: In case you are interested in the subject of identity, allow me to introduce my favorite poem on the subject: Who are you? by Russian poet Andrey Voznesensky. I have a feeling Frankie would really like it! (The parentheticals are my commentary)

Who are you?

Who are we – poker chips or giants? (Do we control our own destiny or are we controlled by fate?)
Genius in the bloodstream of the planets
No “physicists”, no “lyricists” exist – just "Pygmies" or "poets"
(labels aren’t important – do you have a vision, or not?)

Independent of our works, the epoch vaccinated us like smallpox
We are as worn out as racetracks.
(no matter what we do, we are a product of our time. But as humans we are linked by common emotions i.e. everything that we feel, has been felt before)

Who are you, who are you? Then,suddenly no?
On Venus an overcoat is irritating.
(there are many covers that hide one’s true self)

Starlings strive their best to crow—
Architects to be poet creators.
(what image do you project?)

And thawing their palms,
Poetesses run to be peddlers.
(Some give up their dreams for drudgery)

But what about you? What month is it?
You aim at the stars, but sweep at the puddles
School finished, pigtails cut
Became a salesgirl then chucked that.
(People are constantly changing so it’s hard to pin down their identity).

But between Stoleshnikov kiosks
As if playing “it”
Panting and puffing you stand
A deer, a tigress, a dim-wit!
(People might consider you to be one thing or another depending on their perspective and circumstances)

Who are you? who? You look with longing
Into books, windows—but where are you meanwhile?
You recline, as to a telescope,
to masculine eyes watching immobile....
(Who are we when we are figuring out what we want to be? Who is trying to mold you?)

I wander with you, Vera, Vega!
For, midst an avalanche let loose—
I too am an abominable snowman
Absolutely illusive.
(If you can’t even truly know yourself, how can you “know” other people?)

What are some of your favorite literary works that address the subject of identity?