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I Need YOU! (To tell me which books to discuss first)

May 30, 2010

I know it’s Sunday, and usually I do a Sunday Salon post, but I’m too worn out from cleaning and too excited about the imminent arrival of my niece (4) and cousin (13) (not to mention my parents, lol) for the summer to say anything particularly coherent.

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Plus, when I look at all the books I’ve read and haven’t talked about on my blog, I get a bit nervous. I need a way to figure out which ones to talk about first. Sooo…it’s poll time! Thanks to Fyrefly, I can make a fancier poll now instead of just asking you to comment, but feel free to explain your choice in the comments. :) You can vote for however many books you’d like, and I’ll review them pretty much in the order of how many votes they get. Here’s the list of books, titles linked to Powell’s (I’m not an affiliate) w/ the publisher blurb so that you can make a semi-informed decision…I’ve also included my little ‘star’ rating so you can get a sense of how I felt about each one. Here’s my explanation of the ratings, copied and pasted from my Books Read page:

My rating system is out of five stars, but it’s not a comparison system, so all of the five stars aren’t of the same value, all of the four stars aren’t the same, etc. It’s more about my experience as I was reading the book-were there flaws? Did I absolutely love it and wish it wouldn’t end? Did I fear that it never would end? That being said, here’s my rough guideline; in practice, the line between 5s and 4s gets blurred a lot. 5=Extraordinary. I will immediately try to acquire other books by this author, 4=Very strong book, good writing style, really enjoyed, 3=A good read, possibly had one or two really strong areas, but the rest was average OR parts of the book were great and other parts were just miserable, 2=There were some major flaws in the book, but it had some good points as well, 1=I regret ever having even considered reading this book.

Ready for the books? You might need want to go put the kettle on first. :)

  1. Piece by Piece by Teresa Toten***: This new anthology features stories by some of Canada’s finest authors who were born in another country and who went through the experience of trying to “fit in.” Exploring the time and incidents, dating from the shock of first impressions to the author’s first stirrings of “becoming Canadian” and what that meant to them.
  2. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis****: In this timeless tale of two mortal princesses — one beautiful and one unattractive — C. S. Lewis reworks the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche into an enduring piece of contemporary fiction. This is the story of Orual, Psyche’s embittered and ugly older sister, who possessively and harmfully loves Psyche. Much to Orual’s frustrations, Psyche is loved by Cupid, the god of love himself, setting the troubled Orual on a path of moral development. Set against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world, the struggles between sacred and profane love are illuminated as Orual learns that we cannot understand the intent of the gods “till we have faces” and sincerity in our souls and selves.
  3. Murder in the Cassava Patch by Bai T Moore***: This novelette (less than 16 thousand words, divided into three chapters) deals with the relationship between Gortokai, a young Liberian man, and Tene, the girl he hopes to marry. We learn on the first page that Tene has been murdered most horribly, and that Gortokai is in jail for it. The story promises “to piece together all the circumstances leading to the violent storm which nearly tore off the roofs from many houses in the Dewoin country one bright Sunday morning in the year 1957.” (taken from Wikipedia, since I couldn’t find a publisher’s blurb)
  4. A Spy in the House by YS Lee****: Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaws Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a ladys companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchants home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets including those of her own past.
  5. Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie***: It was just Luke Fitzwilliam’s luck to be stuck next to a dotty old woman like Miss Fullerton on the London-bound train — although he found himself quite entertained with her tall tales about a series of perfect murders in the quaint village of Wychwood. But when he reads the next day of the freak accident that killed her, too, Fitzwilliam’s amusement turns to grave concern. A visit to the isolated village confirms his worst fears. For Wychwood seems to be divided by an eccentric lot of locals: those who are in on a dark and dangerous secret — and those who don’t live long enough to share it.
  6. Goodbye, Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto***: Maria is the only daughter of an unmarried woman. She has grown up at the seaside alongside her cousin Tsugumi, a lifelong invalid, charismatic, spoiled, and occasionally cruel. Now Maria’s father is finally able to bring Maria and her mother to Tokyo, ushering Maria into a world of university, impending adulthood, and a “normal” family. When Tsugumi invites Maria to spend a last summer by the sea, a restful idyll becomes a time of dramatic growth as Tsugumi finds love and Maria learns the true meaning of home and family. She also has to confront both Tsugumi’s inner strength and the real possibility of losing her. Goodbye Tsugumi is a beguiling, resonant novel from one of the world’s finest young writers.
  7. Talking About Detective Fiction by PD James*****: P. D. James examines the genre from top to bottom, beginning with the mysteries at the hearts of such novels as Charles Dickenss Bleak House and Wilkie Collinss The Woman in White, and bringing us into the present with such writers as Colin Dexter and Henning Mankell. Along the way she writes about Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie (“arch-breaker of rules”), Josephine Tey, Dashiell Hammett, and Peter Lovesey, among many others. She traces their lives into and out of their fiction, clarifies their individual styles, and gives us indelible portraits of the characters theyve created, from Sherlock Holmes to Sara Paretskys sexually liberated female investigator, V. I. Warshawski. She compares British and American Golden Age mystery writing. She discusses detective fiction as social history, the stylistic components of the genre, her own process of writing, how critics have reacted over the years, and what she sees as a renewal of detective fictionand of the detective heroin recent years.
  8. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Darrow**: This debut novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.
  9. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick*****: Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years — a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population. Taking us into a landscape most of us have never before seen, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive totalitarian regime today — an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, in which radio and television dials are welded to the one government station, and where displays of affection are punished; a police state where informants are rewarded and where an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life.
  10. God of the Hive by Laurie King *****: the latest in King’s Russell-Holmes historical mystery series. I’m not blurbing this one to avoid spoilers. :)
  11. Love in Excess by Eliza Haywood***: Haywood’s first novel, Love in Excess or The Fatal Enquiry (1719-1720) touches on themes of education and marriage. Termed an amatory bodice-ripper by some, this novel is also notable for its treatment of the fallen woman. D’Elmonte, the novel’s male protagonist, reassures one woman that she should not condemn herself: “There are times, madam”, he says “in which the wisest have not power over their own actions.” The fallen woman is given an unusually positive portrait. (taken from Wikipedia, since I couldn’t find a publisher’s blurb)
  12. The Hamilton Case by Michelle de Kretser**: A flamboyant beauty who once partied with the Prince of Wales and who now, in her seventh decade, has ìgone nativeî in a Ceylonese jungle. A proud and ambitious lawyer who unwittingly seals his own fate when he dares to solve the sensational Hamilton murder case that has rocked the upper echelons of local society. A young woman who retreats from her family and the world after her infant son is found suffocated in his crib. These are among the linked lives compellingly revealed in a novel everywhere praised for its dazzling grace and savage wit — a spellbinding tale of family and duty, of legacy and identity, a novel that brilliantly probes the ultimate mystery of what makes us who we are.
  13. The Ordeal of Emily Marsh by Linda Colley*****: This is a book about a world in a life. Conceived in Jamaica and possibly mixed-race, Elizabeth Marsh (1735-1785) traveled farther and was more intimately affected by developments across the globe than the vast majority of men. She was the first woman to publish in English on Morocco, and the first to carry out extensive explorations in eastern and southern India. A creature of multiple frontiers, she spent time in London, Menorca, Rio de Janeiro, and the Cape of Africa. She speculated in Florida land, was caught up in the French and Indian War, linked to voyages to the Pacific, and enmeshed as victim or owner in three different systems of slavery. She was also crucially part of far larger histories. Marsh’s experiences would have been impossible without her links to the Royal Navy, the East India Company, imperial warfare, and widening international trade. To this extent, her career illumines shifting patterns of Western power and overseas aggression. Yet the unprecedented expansion of connections across continents occurring during her lifetime also ensured that her ideas and personal relationships were shaped repeatedly by events and people beyond Europe: by runaway African slaves; Indian weavers and astronomers; Sephardi Jewish traders; and the great Moroccan sultan, Sidi Muhammad, who schemed to entrap her.
  14. The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli**: Her memoir is both a revelatory insider’s account of the Revolution and a vivid, intensely felt story about coming of age under extraordinary circumstances. Belli writes with both striking lyricism and candor about her personal and political lives: about her family, her children, the men in her life; about her poetry; about the dichotomies between her birth-right and the life she chose for herself; about the failures and triumphs of the Revolution; about her current life, divided between California (with her American husband and their children) and Nicaragua; and about her sustained and sustaining passion for her country and its people.
  15. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twang Eng****: In 1939, sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton-the half-Chinese, half-English youngest child of the head of one of Penang’s great trading families-feels alienated from both the Chinese and British communities. He at last discovers a sense of belonging in his unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip proudly shows his new friend around his adored island, and in return Endo teaches him about Japanese language and culture and trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. When the Japanese savagely invade Malaya, Philip realizes that his mentor and sensei-to whom he owes absolute loyalty-is a Japanese spy. Young Philip has been an unwitting traitor, and must now work in secret to save as many lives as possible, even as his own family is brought to its knees.
  16. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon*****: In these insightful, provocative, slyly interlinked essays, one of our most brilliant and humane writers presents his autobiography and his vision of life in the way so many of us experience our own lives: as a series of reflections, regrets, and reexaminations, each sparked by an encounter, in the present, that holds some legacy of the past. What does it mean to be a man today? Chabon invokes and interprets and struggles to reinvent for us, with characteristic warmth and lyric wit, the personal and family history that haunts him even as — simply because — it goes on being written every day. As a devoted son, as a passionate husband, and above all as the father of four young Americans, Chabon presents his memories of childhood, of his parents’ marriage and divorce, of moments of painful adolescent comedy and giddy encounters with the popular art and literature of his own youth, as a theme played — on different instruments, with a fresh tempo and in a new key — by the mad quartet of which he now finds himself co-conductor.
  17. The House Behind the Cedars by Charles Waddell Chestnutt*** : tells of John and Lena Walden, mulatto siblings who pass for white in the postbellum American South. The drama that unfolds as they travel between black and white worlds constitutes a riveting portrait of the shifting and intractable nature of race in American life.
  18. Dracula by Bram Stoker*****: Collected inside this book are diary entries, letters and newspaper clippings that piece together the depraved story of the ultimate predator. A young lawyer on an assignment finds himself imprisoned in a Transylvanian castle by his mysterious host. Back at home his fiancé and friends are menaced by a malevolent force which seems intent on imposing suffering and destruction. Can the devil really have arrived on England’s shores? And what is it that he hungers for so desperately?
  19. The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz**: While accompanying eight high–spirited Jewish delegates to Dharamsala, India, for a historic Buddhist–Jewish dialogue with the Dalai Lama, poet Rodger Kamenetz comes to understand the convergence of Buddhist and Jewish thought. Along the way he encounters Ram Dass and Richard Gere, and dialogues with leading rabbis and Jewish thinkers, including Zalman Schacter, Yitz and Blue Greenberg, and a host of religious and disaffected Jews and Jewish Buddhists.

photo credit

And now for the poll! (I’ve set it to expire in one week, so you’ve got some time, but I’ll start catching up on my backlog a bit sooner than that, with any luck.)

53 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2010 6:08 pm

    I love the work of Banana Yoshimoto-unlike most people I prefer Goodbye Tsugumi to Kitchen-I also have Dracula on my read in 2010 list-

    • June 4, 2010 10:55 pm

      I definitely loved Kitchen (and Hardboiled and Hard Luck) and found it difficult to connect to Goodbye Tsugumi, but I wonder how much of that is the translation. Dracula is great fun!

  2. May 30, 2010 6:46 pm

    I’ve voted for the PD James but I’m so glad to see you enjoyed Manhood for Amateurs!

  3. May 30, 2010 7:36 pm

    So many books, so hard to decide but I did take the poll.

    • June 4, 2010 10:56 pm

      Thanks for voting and helping me out! :)

  4. May 30, 2010 7:38 pm

    I REALLY want to hear your thoughts on Manhood for Amateurs because I’m trying to decide if I should read it. And if you tell me I should, then I probably will. :)

    • June 4, 2010 10:56 pm

      I definitely think you should read Manhood for Amateurs. Go put it on hold at the library! Right now! ;)

  5. May 30, 2010 7:39 pm

    Yay! You liked Till We Have Faces! I can’t tell you how much that pleases me, because it’s my favorite Lewis, and I’ve heard so many different reactions to it. from abject love to “huh?”. Jenny and I actually did a conversation post about it during your break. (We also each did a God of the Hive post.)

    And I’d really like to hear your thoughts on Girl Who Fell from the Sky. I won a copy in the readathon but wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. (I selected the prize for the other book in the package.) It looks interesting enough that I held onto it for now, but I was hoping to hear something about it from one of my trusted sources before picking it up ;)

    • June 4, 2010 10:57 pm

      It’s definitely my fave Lewis (though I doubt I’ve read as many as you). Girl Who Fell From the Sky didn’t quite manage to live up to what it attempts…it’s a quick read though and has enough interesting stuff to justify giving it a try. (Is that diplomatic enough? lol) I’m blushing at being a trusted source! You’re a trusted source of mine too. :D

  6. May 30, 2010 7:53 pm

    I’d like to hear your thoughts about The Country Under My Skin by Giaconda Belli.

    • June 4, 2010 11:06 pm

      That’s going to be a difficult one for me to review, because I wanted to love it and it had some great stuff in it, but overall the reading was a bit, well, plodding.

  7. May 30, 2010 8:30 pm

    I loved Till We Have Faces so much that I’m afraid to reread it myself — I’d love to hear what you think!

    • June 4, 2010 11:07 pm

      Till We Have Faces won the poll! hehe That’s funny; I’m already looking forward to rereading it!

  8. May 30, 2010 9:09 pm

    I would love to read your take on Dracula. I read it two Halloweens ago but abandoned it about the part where Van Helsing and gang were bloodletting Lucy (it got too repetitive!). I would also like to see you give a bad review, so…a two star book please.

    • June 4, 2010 11:07 pm

      lol! I do give bad reviews when I need to. ;) I lurved Dracula, but I can see the bit that you gave up on feeling repetitive. It gets pretty action packed after that, though.

  9. May 30, 2010 9:25 pm

    I’m reading Locked Rooms right now – love me some Mary Russell!

  10. May 30, 2010 10:00 pm

    A friend of mine wrote her thesis on the Cupid and Psyche myth, and I’m really intrigued by Lewis’ impression. More importantly, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

    The again, I wish I had know about how to talk about detective fiction when I tried to devote a week to The Maltese Falcon on my blog. I lost wind after three posts!!

    • June 4, 2010 11:09 pm

      A week to one book?! I don’t think I’d manage to pull that off. :)

  11. May 31, 2010 2:29 am

    So many books to choose from! Definitely want to hear your thoughts on Manhood for Amateurs!

    • June 4, 2010 11:09 pm

      Read it! Right now! (that would the cliff-notes version of my thoughts on Manhood for Amateurs)

  12. May 31, 2010 2:56 am

    I voted for Till We Have Faces, about which I am increasingly curious, but I would also like to see your thoughts on Talking About Detective Fiction. Looks like you’ve been reading loads of interesting books!

    • June 4, 2010 11:10 pm

      Your two faves won the first two spots! So I’ll be discussing Talking About Detective Fiction on Monday. :)

  13. winstonsdad permalink
    May 31, 2010 5:55 am

    i voted for yoshimoto loved kitchen and wondered whjat you’d make of this one ,got the chabon to read myself .nice see you back all the best stu

    • June 4, 2010 11:11 pm

      I loved Kitchen too and didn’t think this Yoshimoto was quite as magical. I’m glad I read it, but it was a bit clunky.

  14. May 31, 2010 7:42 am

    I voted for A Jew in the Lotus. One of the books I’m reading Heaven by Lisa Miller mentions the author.

    • June 4, 2010 11:12 pm

      Ohh: I have an ARC of Heaven around here somewhere. Sounds like I should get to it soon! :)

  15. May 31, 2010 7:49 am

    I wanted to vote for all of them but I refrained – that would defeat the purpose and not help you at all! But I look forward to reading your thoughts on all of these :)

    (I get overwhelmed when I have four or five books to review – 19 is HUGE!)

    • June 4, 2010 11:15 pm

      lol! Thanks Shannon. :p 19 feels overwhelming to me too, but I don’t want to just throw in the towel and never talk about them…you know?!

  16. May 31, 2010 8:16 am

    Great idea for a post, I wish I could get far enough ahead with my reading in order to be able to do things like this. Again you put me to shame Eva hee hee hee!

    I would love to heard your thoughts on Christie and Dracula, an author and a book I like the both of.

    • June 4, 2010 11:16 pm

      I love the way you put it as ‘far enough ahead w/ reading’ instead of ‘ridiculously far behind w/ reviews.’ :D

      I love Christie, although I don’t think this was her fave. This was my second go-round with Dracula, and it blew my socks off!

  17. May 31, 2010 8:19 am

    Till We Have Faces has been sitting in my TBR pile for ages, so I’m really curious about what you thought of it. It might bump it up in the priority line.

    • June 4, 2010 11:16 pm

      I hope my post convinced you to read it sooner rather than later. :)

  18. May 31, 2010 8:49 am

    Good grief lady, that’s a lot of books! I think Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh sounds fascinating, & also PD James’s thoughts on detective fiction. :-)

    • June 4, 2010 11:17 pm

      I know! This is what happens when I don’t blog for a month! Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh was fascinating, and I think you’d definitely enjoy it. :)

  19. May 31, 2010 9:02 am

    I have voted for quite a few! I have never read a post where you have reviewed an Agatha Christie novel and so I would really like to hear your thoughts on ‘Murder is Easy’. I have ‘Talking about Detective Fiction’ by PD James on my ‘TBR’ list. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on it. I have heard a lot of wonderful things about C.S.Lewis’ ‘Till we have faces’. ‘Dracula’ is one of my alltime favourite stories. I have not read a book by Banana Yoshimoto till now, but am looking forward to reading some of hers. ‘Goodbye, Tsugumi’ sounds like an interesting book. ‘The Ordeal of Emily Marsh’ looks like a fascinating biography. Would love to read it. I also found your description ‘Jewish Buddhists’ quite interesting :) I didn’t know that there were any Jewish Buddhists.

    Hope the above books come top in the poll :) So that I can read your reviews of them :)

    • June 4, 2010 11:24 pm

      I love Agatha Christie, although I can’t say Murder is Easy is one of my favourites of hers. :) I think you should definitely pick up the PD James! ANd isn’t Dracula marvelous?! I’d recommend Kitchen or Hardboiled and Hard Luck as good places to start w/ Yoshimoto. And The Ordeal of Emily Marsh lives up to its description! :) I didn’t know there were any Jewish Buddhists before reading The Jew in the Lotus either!

  20. May 31, 2010 10:55 am

    I have an award for you at

  21. May 31, 2010 12:06 pm

    You have so many great interesting books to choose from there that it was in no way easy, but A Spy in the House sounds absotulely intriguing to me & gets my vote.


  22. May 31, 2010 3:15 pm

    I voted for God of the Hive because Laurie R. King is one of my favorite authors.
    I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

    • June 4, 2010 11:29 pm

      I LOVE the Mary Russell books so much! :D

  23. June 1, 2010 5:35 am

    i voted for Dracula simply because I ABSOLUTELY HATED IT so I want to know what on earth made it a FIVE STAR READ for YOU. If I rated books I’d give it a two at the greatest. Such an unpleasant experience…

    • June 4, 2010 11:30 pm

      Really!? Wow-that’s so crazy. I read it for the first time a few years ago and enjoyed it but didn’t love it. On this reread, though, I found myself adoring every moment. We don’t usually diverge so much in taste! lol

  24. June 1, 2010 3:20 pm

    Cool! I love a good poll. I’m especially interested to know what you think of Chabon’s book. I alllllmost picked it up at B&N this past weekend. I’ve had a hard time diving into his fiction, but this collection of essays looks like a great place to start.

    • June 4, 2010 11:31 pm

      I think you’d LOVE Manhood for Amateurs Andi! I’ve only read Adventures of K &C on his fiction side, which I ended up loving, but now I’d rather read more of his nonfic before his fic.

  25. June 1, 2010 7:58 pm

    I’m looking foward to seeing a lot of those reviews, but I’m one for the classics, so I’m really looking forward to the C.S. Lewis one.

  26. June 8, 2010 2:51 pm

    Thanks for post from Australia


  27. June 18, 2010 4:47 pm

    Eva, I’m glad you got Piece by Piece! I’m looking forward to your comments about that one, especially since it seems you enjoyed it less than I did.


  1. Library Loot: June 2-8, 2010 « A Striped Armchair

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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