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Sunday Salon: the Tired Post

June 14, 2009

The Sunday Salon.comWelcome Sunday Saloners! My three-year-old niece is visiting, and she woke up with a fever around midnight last night, so I ended up letting her sleep in my bed with me. But apparently she wanted the whole bed to herself, because I kept getting kicked awake. I’m a little tired this morning, but at least her fever’s gone down. :)

Before I talk about the books I’ve been reading, I’d like to mention my friend Susan. She works at a nonprofit that targets at-risk girls in their community library, and it’s time for the annual book drive. In that post she explains the drive much better than I could, so go read it! She’s set up a wishlist on Powell’s, and she’s asking for people to either buy a title or send in their gently used books. Or, if you’re in a difficult financial position, to simply blog about it and get the word out! May I say, the wishlist is awesome, and it’s added several books to my TBR, so definitely go check it out. :) The drive ends on July 1st, which is when their summer reading program for elementary and junior high students begins.

I’ve been away from the computer for awhile, so this is going to be quite a post, covering more than two weeks!

tatianaFirst up, I read Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson for the Science Book Challenge. This book was awesome! It’s a book about evolutionary biology, written as a sex column. Various animals write in with their concerns/worries, and then Dr. Tatiana explains why they’re experiencing whatever. Judson is that rare thing, a scientist who actually makes me laugh out loud, instead of rolling my eyes at the corniness. I was reading this book in the living room, and Mom kept making me read her sections, because I couldn’t stop laughing. It’s also educational, and Judson points out when there isn’t a definitive accepted explanation and explores different theories. I can’t praise this one highly enough; I was planning on writing a whole post on it, but then I had to return it to the library, so I couldn’t share all of the hilarious quotes I had planned on. :) Even if you don’t usually enjoy nonfiction or science, I bet you’ll enjoy this! She also has a blog at the NYT, and a special site dedicated to the book. I just wish she had more books out there so I could read them all!

whaleriderI picked up Witi Ihimaera’s The Whale Rider for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge. It’s set in New Zealand, amongst the Maori people, who are struggling between maintaining the old ways and jumping into modern Western civilization. The book wasn’t at all what I expected, since it’s shelved as a children’s book. While a little girl is at the heart of the story, it’s told by her adult uncle, and I felt like I was reading an adult novella. There are lots of big, complex themes here, and Ihimaera never provides an answer; he leaves it up to his readers to draw their own conclusions, which I really liked. I also liked that Ihimaera didn’t idealise Maori culture; while he shows the appreciation and veneration of nature that’s part of their way of life, he also shows the sexism and marginalisation of women. But what makes a really good story isn’t themes: it’s characters and plot. Ihimaera delivers both; all of the people (and whales!) felt instantly alive to me, and I had to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen. I highly recommend this one to everyone as well.

My final read for May was Swish by Joel Derfner, which I reviewed yesterday. I loved it as well; those last few days of May were good reading times!

wanderlustandlipstickNow for June! It’s been a slower reading month, since I’ve been so busy with getting healthy, visiting relatives, etc. But I’ve still managed to get a few good books in. :D

Wanderlust and Lipstick by Beth Whitman is subtitled “The Essential Guide for Solo Women Travelers.” I found it stuffed full of practical information intended to empower women to go on their dream vacation! I enjoyed the personal stories sprinkled throughout and wish there were a few more. If you’re interesting in becoming a solo woman traveler, I think you’ll find this book very helpful. :)

ayaThen I turned to a graphic novel Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie; as part of the Graphic Novel Challenge. It’s set in Cote d’Ivoire in the 1970s and follows the stories of three teenage girls trying to figure out love and life. There was a lot about the book that I loved: its setting was so evocative, the drawings were wonderful, and Aya was charming. I loved peeking into the day-to-day life of people so different from me! But at the same time, I had difficulty distinguishing between some of the minor characters, and there was barely any plot. I think a tighter storyline could have made the book perfect, but I still really enjoyed it. There’s a sequel, which I plan on reading! Recommend for those who enjoy reading about life in other countries, even if they’re hesitant about graphic novels (I’m picky about drawing styles myself).

barchestertowersMeanwhile, I had been reading Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, the second in the “Chronicles of Barchester” series for the Classics Challenge. I loved this one; I found it much more engaging than The Warden (the first in the series), probably because it was longer and had a larger cast of characters. Barchester is a fictional cathedral town, and this book looked at the little conflicts and events in the lives of the residents. My two favourite characters from The Warden, Mr. Harding and his daughter Eleanor, play a large part in the book. It begins slowly, with the old, popular bishop dying, and a surprise stranger is appointed as new bishop. He, along with his controlling wife and scheming chaplain Mr. Slope, put all of the established townspeople in a fluster, as there begins a battle of control. Meanwhile, Eleanor is a young widow with a significant income, and it seems everyone in town has an idea as to who she should marry. Summarising the plot sounds silly, but trust me when I say that Trollope has a wonderful way of creating memorable characters (once again, I had to return the book to the library, so I can’t quote anything, but he’s created some AWESOME side characters this time), and I was soon completely caught up in their little world. I’m not sure who this would appeal to; I love Austen and Eliot but am not a big fan of Dickens and feel neutral towards the Brontes, if that helps at all. :) You should definitely be a fan of Victorian lit, otherwise I’m sure you’ll just be rolling your eyes and counting down the pages. But I loved visiting Barchester again, and catching up with old friends, making new ones, and of course rooting against the ‘villains’. ;)

avenetianaffairNext up are two nonfiction history books that left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. In A Venetian Affair, Andrea di Robilant tells the story of one of his aristocratic ancestors Andrea Memmo and his love affair with Giustiniana Wynne, a girl with questionable origins. The majority of the narrative, especially the latter two-thirds, focuses on Giustiniana, since di Robilant has a lot more of her letters than Memmo’s. She certainly had a crazy life, at least in her younger years, and Casanova puts in a few appearances. But the writing left me a bit frustrated; I kept reminding myself that it wasn’t fiction, but the almost complete absence of Memmo in the majority of the book made the title feel like a lie. Still, I enjoyed getting a glimpse of eighteenth century Venice, as well as a bit of Paris and London. I’d say this was an average read, so if you enjoy biographies or this time period, you’ll probably like the book.

silkroadSusan Whitfield’s Life Along the Silk Road provides stories from the area (China, Central Asia) during the late 10th century. I picked it as a history read for my World Citizen Challenge. The idea was really clever: combine general historical information from the period and mix it with stories of individuals who might have lived. And the chapter titles are a big nod to Chaucer, with names like The Nun’s Tale and The Soldier’s Tale. Unfortunately, Whitfield doesn’t pull it off. While she’s an excellent historian, she’s a confused writer, and half the time I couldn’t even follow what was going on. She’d start and end a chapter with a bit about the individual, but then in the middle there’d be whole random sections that were about ‘big picture’ stuff with pretty much no segue. And Whitfield’s writing style kept making my eyes glaze over. :( I expected to love this one, since I love this time period, and I’ve always been curious about the silk road. But it just wasn’t for me. I think people who already have a bit of knowledge about the time/place might enjoy it, since they’re be able to get their bearings. But as an introduction to the subject, it had more flaws than strengths. I’m still planning on read Luce Boulnois’ Silk Road: Monks, Warriors, & Merchants though, because the region itself is fascinating!

brunelleschisdomeWe’re almost there guys! I read two novels for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson and Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, that will be getting their own post. So I can skip right to Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King. I read this for the Art History Challenge, since architecture is an aspect of art I know nothing about. It tells about the construction of Florence’s Santa Maria del Flore dome in the 1400s. The dome is the largest in the world, so getting it built was a feat of genius and engineering. Brunelleschi did it without using wooden supports too, which was a big deal. Unfortunately, I don’t think King gives quite enough big picture context, and like Whitfield, he has a problem weaving together individual stories with background information. His writing style is much more accessible, and I enjoyed the actual reading more, but when I finished it, I felt I had more questions than answers. While King included some sketches in the book, the only image of the dome is from the painting on the cover! I think this is a book that could have benefited a lot from even two pages of pictures in the middle. Also, King’s bias towards Brunelleschi was so overt, it made me question his portrayal of some incidents. And I actually rolled my eyes over certain sentences, since they were so slavishly ‘Fillipo is the best’ or ‘they were mean to Fillipo!’ That being said, I hold social sciences nonfiction to a high standard, so more relaxed readers will probably enjoy this. The random tidbits about Florence were fun, and I’m glad I know about the existence of the dome now, since prior to reading this, I had no idea! But its focus is more engineering than art, and more personal than historical. If that appeals to you, go for it: King’s a good writer. :)

voodooseasonLast night, I picked up Voodoo Season by Jewell Parker Rhodes, intending to put it in my rotation (usually, I read about 50 pages of a book, then switch to the next one, among about four). Instead, I read it straight through! I’d call it more thriller than mystery, set in New Orleans, and with a big voodoo influence (and there’s a focus on the real religion of voodoo vs. Hollywood’s portrayal of it). Obviously, the writing’s good, since it drew me right in, and every time I tried to put it down, I just picked it right back up. :) The main character, Marie, is sympathetic and interesting, and while sometimes the plot got a little murky, it was all cleared up by the end. I did drop it down to four stars from five in the last twenty pages, though. In general, I think thriller writers tend to be a bit too blood thirsty, killing off characters that I really don’t want to die. It lowers my enjoyment of the book, which is why I don’t usually go for thrillers. But even with that caveat, I’ll definitely be reading the next in the trilogy when it’s released! Rhodes wrote an earlier book, Voodoo Dreams, that’s historical fiction about Marie Laveau, and you can bet I’ll be getting it from my library soon! Recommended for those who aren’t concerned by a few (well-written) sex scenes, some definite goriness/sadness, and who love the whole atmosphere of New Orleans. It was a great way to kick off my reading for the Southern Challenge, since Parker did a great job evoking place.

There you have it! Well, I did finish Margaret Cezair Thompson’s excellent book The Pirate’s Daughter, but I’m going to wait on this one. This post is long enough as it is! :D

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2009 11:47 am

    Have you seen the movie version of the Whale Rider? It’s one of my favorite movies from the last few years. I haven’t read the book, but from your description it sounds like the movie is pretty faithful to the spirit of the book at least.

  2. June 14, 2009 12:00 pm

    That Aya graphic novel sounds really interesting.

  3. June 14, 2009 12:06 pm

    Wow! You got a lot of reading done over the past two weeks. I’ll definitely be checking out Dr. Tatiana’s book. It looks like fun. I also added The Whale Rider to my list too.

  4. June 14, 2009 12:11 pm

    Thanks for all of the reviews. I’m going to add The Whale Rider and Life Along the Silk Road to my big and growing ever bigger TBR pile!

  5. June 14, 2009 12:19 pm

    For a “slow” month, you’ve done a lot of reading!

  6. June 14, 2009 12:33 pm

    Holy cow, you have been busy! I’d really like to read The Whale Rider.

  7. June 14, 2009 12:45 pm

    I brought Aya home from the library a couple of weeks ago, but still haven’t read it. Hopefully, I’ll get to it this week. You’ve had a good couple of weeks, I’d say!

  8. June 14, 2009 12:49 pm

    Dr. Tatiana sounds great. The science books I was going to read for the Science book challenge are seeming daunting so maybe I”ll go for something more fun to learn about science this year.

    It’s too bad Brunelleschi’s Dome and Silk Road weren’t spectacular, because they sound very interesting. Have you read The Agony and the Ecstasy? It’s about Michelangelo: Your description of the concept behind Brunelleschi’s Dome reminded me of it. I really liked Agony and the Ecstasy a few years ago when I read it.

  9. June 14, 2009 1:03 pm

    Bookish posts are always never too long, Eva! Especially if they’re packed with several titles, like this. :D

  10. June 14, 2009 1:14 pm

    I HAVE to get Voodoo Season now!!! thanks for the superb post and reviews, Eva. And welcome back! I’ve missed you….I also want to try Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to creation, that sounds like fun!!! I hope your three year old niece feels better soon too. :-D

  11. June 14, 2009 1:20 pm

    Wonderful post, Eva. Thank’s for mentioning Susan and the book drive and I hope you niece feels better. Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice sounds like a great read, I’m adding to my list.

  12. June 14, 2009 1:22 pm

    It sounds like you read a lot of books, even if you didn’t have any fantastic reads.

    Hope this summer brings some great reads your way!

  13. June 14, 2009 1:38 pm

    Great reviews! I’m definitely adding Dr. Tatiana’s to my tbr pile.

  14. June 14, 2009 3:40 pm

    Wow, you’ve done a lot of reading recently! Voodoo Season sounds very intriguing.

  15. June 14, 2009 4:03 pm

    Anthony Trolloppe is one of my favorite authors. He and Mark Twain are my top favorites. I have every book of his that was available in the U.S.-about 20.

  16. June 14, 2009 5:10 pm

    Ah, Eva, you make my wish list get so big! ;)

    You’ve definitely got me interested in Dr. Tatiana – sounds like an extremely clever way to “do” evolutionary biology!

  17. June 14, 2009 5:14 pm

    I absolutely LOVE the Whale Rider movie! I must read the book. and I can’t wait to get Dr. Tatiana’s Sex book – how fun!!!!

  18. June 14, 2009 8:19 pm

    That’s one long list of books! And so many good ones; I’m going to get Dr. Tatiana’s for sure, it sounds fabulous. I’ve never read Trollope; keep meaning to get to him, but this summer I’m going to tackle Middlemarch, so maybe this fall, or next year for Trollope!

  19. June 14, 2009 8:26 pm

    Just adding my recommendation for the movie adaptation of Whale Rider…it’s fantastic!

  20. June 14, 2009 9:25 pm

    That’s a lot of books. I’m glad your niece’s fever is going down. Have a great week.

  21. June 14, 2009 11:29 pm

    Like others I haven’t read The Whale Rider book but I have seen the movie and I would highly recommend it.

  22. June 15, 2009 3:01 am

    Whale Rider looks awesome, love the cover too. And does Voodoo season look awesome or what…

  23. June 15, 2009 9:51 am

    I was also a bit disappointed by A Venetian Affair. I can’t really remember specifics but the writing was a bit dryer than I expected.

  24. June 15, 2009 10:22 am

    Eva, I am always blown away by how much you get read! So glad you enjoyed Barchester Towers. If you want to read a great nonfiction book about the Silk Road, try Peter Hopkirk’s Foreign Devils on the Silk Road. He makes real history sound like a Boy’s Own Adventure book! :)

  25. June 15, 2009 10:31 am

    Christ Almighty, grrrl, slow down! You kind of have me sold on that funny evolution book. I may just have to check it out!

  26. June 15, 2009 12:12 pm

    I love Dr. Tatiana’s…, and recommend it all the time to non-sciency people who ask me for science recommendations. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Tim Birkhead’s Promiscuity is another book along the same vein, although it’s a little more focused and therefore a little more detailed.

  27. June 15, 2009 7:58 pm

    Teresa, I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve heard good things about it! It’s in my Netflix queue now. :)

    Amanda, it was definitely interesting! And a fast read!

    Alyce, awesome!

    Kathleen, I hope you enjoy Life Along the Silk Road more than I did. :)

    Rhapsody, well this covers the end of May too. I read a lot in general though. :D

    Bermuda Onion, it’s a fast read, since it’s novella length and the writing style is very fluid.

    JoAnn, once you open it, it won’t take long to finish!

    Rebecca, I’m all about the fun science reads…the daunting ones remind me why I studied the social scienes instead. ;) I haven’t read The Agony and the Ecstasy, but it’s on my list now!

    Claire, thanks! I enjoy writing them, so I just assume if people are bored they’ll leave. ;)

    Susan, I’ve missed you too! Voodoo Season is such an engrossing read, it barely takes any time to get through. :) And the niece is feeling better already!

    Gavin, thanks!

    Debbie, I had some fantastic reads that I reviewed! Just some in the middle were so-so.

    Linda, it’s a great one!

    Belle, I’m getting Voodoo Dreams from my library soon, because I enjoyed Voodoo Season. :D

    Violette, Trollope’s one of my faves as well! I only own a couple of his books though; I’m waiting until I settle down to build my library. :D

    Megan, it was clever! And hilarious! I have such a friend crush on the author now, lol.

    Care, I can’t wait to see your review of Dr. Tatiana’s!

    Melanie, I think Trollope is more readable than Eliot, although I love them both. :) His novels are less of a project, if that makes sense.

    Softdrink, now I’ll have to move it up in my Netflix queue!

    Vasilly, thanks! You too. :)

    Karen, thanks for letting me know!

    Violet, I think you’d enjoy Voodoo Season!

    Tara, I’m glad I’m not the only one. :) He doesn’t have that gift of writing great nonfiction, does he?

    Jenny, thanks for the rec! My library doesn’t have it :( but I’ll keep my eyes out.

    Chartroose, lol! You’ll learn lots of fascinating facts about genitalia…I have to stop myself from discussing various p*nises now. hehe

    Fyrefly, I’ve read several books about sex and evolution now, although the other ones were geared more towards people. So reading Promiscuity might be a bit of an overload for me. But I’ll be recommending Dr. Tatiana’s… to everyone as well!

  28. June 17, 2009 12:15 pm

    Wow, we must have been reading Aya at about the same time–I just reviewed it last week. I had some similar issues with it, and got some really great feedback from other readers that helped me see the book with a different perspective. I’ll definitely be reading part two, though I probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t blogged about it.

  29. June 18, 2009 6:00 am

    Hey, thanks for the new author lead! I’ve not heard of Parker and one always needs a good Nawlins read! :D

  30. June 18, 2009 11:39 am

    Ali, thanks for letting me know about your review!

    Maggie, they are a necessity aren’t they?!

  31. June 20, 2009 7:34 pm

    I wonder why your post didn’t show up last week when I was reading. Thanks for promoting our drive.

    It is dangerous coming here, my tbr just grows and grows. I often read your recommendations and forget what I had planned to read.

    I loved Aya. It wasn’t perfect but it has so much going for it.

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