Monthly Archives: April 2009

Upcoming Book Club Books

Book club M has selected our next 6 months of books, although we don’t have the order yet.  You can see our process and ballot in an earlier post.

We already had Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb scheduled for our discussion next Monday.

Coming up after that, we now have:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Halting State by Charles Stross
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

Which is a nice set of books that I’m looking forward to reading.  I’ll review them here, and also follow up with how well they worked for us for discussion.

We had a few books that almost made the cutoff and will be on our ballot next time.  This  includes a couple that I may read anyway, because I was really hoping they would make it.  Just because I run things doesn’t mean I get my way :-).  Really, one of the best things about being in a book club is reading books that I might not have picked up otherwise.


Posted by on April 30, 2009 in Book Club, books, M


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Review: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

(Anyone in my book club that is discussing this book on Thursday may want to skip this review, at least until after our meeting!)

Little Brother Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved this book. I hesitate to give it 5 stars, because it may not be quite that good of a book. I was just enjoying it too much to notice.

I suspect that there are many people who will hate the book for the exact same reasons I love it. In particular, any fan of the Patriot Act or anyone that is not interested in technology should probably avoid Little Brother unless they want to come in with an open mind.

In the beginning, we are introduced to the main character– Marcus to the outside world, w1n5t0n (Winston) to his inner circle of buddies. He’s talking his friends skipping out of his day in high school to play an “alternate reality” game with “physical, online, and mental” components. Along the way we hear about the surveillance every high school has as a matter of course (Laptops crippled with official spyware, “gait recognition” cameras to watch who comes and goes from the school). We listen to w1n5t0n explain how he can get around all of these and more. We also hear how he handles the principle, who thinks he’s been up to something, but can’t quite prove it.

As the group finds their way to the game’s most recent clue, Something Happens. They aren’t sure quite what, but they are taken prisoner by what seems to be the bad guys. Except it turns out the be the Department of Homeland Security. And aren’t they supposed to be the good guys?

Marcus and two of his friends are released, not knowing the fate of the last of their group. The Bay Bridge was attacked by terrorists, and nothing will get in the way of those that intend to keep us safe– particularly not little details like the Bill of Rights.

Marcus continues to use his leadership skills and technical wizardry to try to preserve the rights he believes in.

I particularly loved the secondary characters. My favorite, with a fairly brief role, was the social studies teacher who risked her career to facilitate an honest discussion about the role of civil disobedience in standing up to government in the past and (the books) present. But I also appreciated Marcus’s dad, who honestly believed going along with DHS was the right thing to do; and the friends that decided at various points that although they thought what Marcus was doing was right, they couldn’t afford to take the chance of going along with it.

There was nothing subtle about the portrayal of where the author things certain government policies would go, given the opportunity. 1984, The Patriot Act, and the unrest of the 1970s all inspired the point and counterpoint of this novel.

The unique thing this book had going for it was its use of technology. Doctorow understands and is able to explain computer security, cryptography, computer networking and more. He uses them all in a realistic and interesting way. I never thought I’d see a good explanation of a “man in the middle” attack in a work of mainstream fiction. The technology worked for me as a techie, and I think it would work for an interested non-techie. I suspect a non-interested non-techie would be able to gloss over it without losing much steam in reading.

I enjoyed that this book encouraged me to think, and I also liked the ride it took me on. I think the ending probably was a bit too pat, but I’m willing to overlook that, and strongly recommend it to anyone not scared away by this review.

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Posted by on April 28, 2009 in Book Club, books, L, reviews


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Review: The Writing on My Forehead by Nafisa Haji

The Writing on My Forehead: A Novel The Writing on My Forehead: A Novel by Nafisa Haji

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received this book from a Goodreads first reads giveaway. I signed up for several books that looked interesting, and was excited to hear I was selected for this one.

I found this book both entertaining and thought provoking. In one sense, this is the story of Saira and her sister. It is the story of of a girl growing into a woman and of the meeting of cultures. It is also the story of an extended family, and many other sibling pairs within it. More than anything else, it is a story of relationships.

Saira is a child of Indo-Pakistani immigrants to the US. Her sister seems to be quite happy in the role she is cast into by their parents’ culture, but that just isn’t the person that Saira is meant to be. Even as a young child, Saira always wants to know “why” and always pushes at her prescribed boundaries.

A trip to Pakistan at age 13 introduces Saira to some of her extended family and her family’s history. She continues asking “why”, and begins to hear the stories of the relationships that helped form who her parents are, and to form their attitudes towards her sister and herself. These come together as she grows older and begins to experience a run of tragedies, ending with one hinted at in the beginning of the book.

I found almost all of the characters interesting, likable (in their own way), and individual. In spite of each character having his/her own personality, each pairing (sibling or romantic) contains an echo from other relationships in the family, through different times and locations.

Going into this book, I didn’t know very much about the history of the relationship between India and Pakistan. Although I was glad to know more, I was saddened to think about how much strife is going on in that part of the world, and reflect on the breadth of it. This is a theme touched on briefly in the book.

The writing was very good. There were a few points where it felt clumsy, or where the reader was told things perhaps we should have been left to discover on our own, but these were rare. For the most part, the writing stayed out of my way, which I appreciate in a book.

I’d recommend this book, and will keep my eyes out for others by the author. I give it a high 4 stars, wishing once again for half stars.

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Posted by on April 25, 2009 in books, reviews


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Review: Dead Ex by Harly Jane Kozak

Dead Ex Dead Ex by Harley Jane Kozak

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a fun read (or listen, in this case).

The basic plot was a “someone being framed for murder, best friend to the rescue” standard. The details were unusual, with entertaining twists and turns.

I loved the main character, Wollie. I should have found her hard to connect with: a 6 foot tall denizen of the L.A. celebrity set (she isn’t a celebrity herself, although she has a brush with it), but I was clearly riding through the book with her– laughing as the situations she got into inspired some of her “alternative greeting cards”, worrying about the trouble her best friend was in, concerned about her relationship with her boyfriend.

She’s got a new guy in her life, and doesn’t quite know where she stands. She’s sleeping in his apartment, with her stuff in a suitcase in her very own walk in closet. Both of them are having a little trouble (or maybe too little trouble) separating work and pleasure: She picks up a job as a “dating correspondent” for a soap gossip show, he’s an FBI agent with an undercover role dating a beautiful woman.

I don’t know if the portrait of life in the community surrounding a soap opera was realistic or not. I don’t really care, I enjoyed suspending disbelief. The characters were all exaggerated (in a good way), larger than life. The situations the characters found themselves in were as well.

I particularly enjoyed the “You will see Greeks everywhere” thread running through the book. Wollie is commissioned to paint a mural featuring Greek Mythology, in spite of knowing nothing about the subject. She is told that as she learns more, she will notice Greeks and Greek mythology everywhere, and so it happens. Perhaps this should have been more subtle, but subtle doesn’t describe anything about this book.

In general, I found this book a very quirky read, and one that I enjoyed. I will read more of the series at some point.

View all my reviews.


Posted by on April 23, 2009 in reviews


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Past book club books

Tonight I faced that dilemma of book bloggers everywhere:  Read or blog?  (I’ll ignore all of the other things I should be doing!).

After spending some time on Twitter talking about potential book club reads, I thought I’d share the list of what one of my book clubs has read to date.

This is a Book Club L, which came out of a moms’ group I was part of.  We started meeting when our kids were still very small, and are still going 9 years later.  Some members have left, others have joined, but a core is still taking part each month.

Since 2004, we’ve used a consensus method of selecting books.   Before that, we tried other voting methods, taking turns selecting the book, and probably others I’m not remembering.

This is almost 10 years of books! I’d already collected most of this list, I only needed to fill in the last year or so.  I also listed the books we’ve selected but not read yet, so they are subject to change.

Our Past Book Club books

February 2000           Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama (St. Martin’s Press, 1991)
March 2000     Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (Fawcett Books, 1994)
April 2000        Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (Tor Books, September 1998)
May 2000         Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments (Anchor Books, February 1994)
June 2000       The Bone People by Keri Hulme  (Viking Press, October 1986)
July 2000         Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood edited by Camile Peri and Kate Moses
August 2000    From Strength to Strength by Sara Henderson (St. Martins Press, April 2000)
Sept 2000        Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
October 2000 The Bean Trees” by Barbara Kingsolver
Nov      2000    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Dec     2000    The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

January 2001             The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
February 2001             Married to a Stranger by Nahid Rachlin
March 2001     The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.
April 2001        A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: Based on a True Story  by David Eggers
May 2001         The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
June 2001       Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
July  2001        Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Aug   2001       A Woman’s Path : Women’s Best Spiritual… (Maya Angelou, Diane Ackerman, Anne Lamott,  & more)
Sept 2001        West with the Wind by Beryl Markham
October 2001 How Stella Got her Groove Back by Terry McMillan
Nov 2001         The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Dec 2001        The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Jan 2002         Shop Girl by Steve Martin
Feb 2002         Big Purple Mommy: Nurturing Our Creative Work, Our Children, and Ourselves by Colleen Hubbard
March 2002     The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver 566 pages
April 2002        All New People by Anne Lamott 166 pages
August 2002    Skellig by David Almond 182 pages
Oct 2002         Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley 876 pages
Nov 2002         One for the Money by Janet Evanovich 304 pages
Dec 2002        Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis 336 pages

Jan 2003    The Nanny Diaries: A Novel by Emma McLaughlin and  Nicola Kraus  352 pages
Feb 2003         Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason Helen Fielding 368 pages
Mar 2003         Sarah: Women of Genesis Orson Scott Card 352 pages
Apr 2003          Emma Jane Austen 384 pages
May 2003         The Giver Lois Lowry 208 pages
June 2003       Seabiscuit: An American Legend Laura Hillenbrand 432 pages
July 2003         The Heart of a Woman Maya Angelou 272 pages
August 2003    Bellwether by Connie Willis
Sep 2003         Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
October 2003 Firestorm by Nevada Barr
Nov 2003         The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia)   by C.S. Lewis
Dec 2003        Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

January 2004 Catch me If you Can by Frank Abagnale Jr.
February 2004  In Code: A young woman’s Mathematical Journey by Sarah Flannery
March 2004     Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg
April 2004        Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
May 2004         The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
June 2004       Holes by Louis Sachar
July 2004         Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Sep 2004         Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
October 2004 Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik
Novem 2004    Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Dec 2004        A Newbery Christmas: Fourteen Stories of Christmas by Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh (ed)

January 2005 The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
February:         The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
March:              The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
April:                 Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M Forster
May:                  About a Boy by Nick Hornby
June:                 Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
July:                  The Princess Bride by William Goldman
August:            Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen
September      The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
October           Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott
November       Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress

January 2006 The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
February          God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
March:             The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter by Katherine Ellison
April:                The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
May:                 Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
June:               Spirits in the Wire by Charles de Lint
July:                 The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory
August:            Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
September      I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
October           Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner
November       The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
December       The Wave by Todd Strasser

January 2007 My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
February          Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
March              The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin
April                 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
May                  Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
June                The Prince of Morning Bells by Nancy Kress
July                  Earth by David Brin
October           Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
November       The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

January 2008 The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
February:         The Faith Club by Idliby,  Oliver & Warner
March:             What is the What by Dave Eggers
April:                The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
June:               Heart in the Right Place: A Memoir by Carolyn Jourdan
July:                 The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
August:            Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
October:          If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
November:      Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Meth Addiction by David Sheff
December:      The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow

January 09:     Not a Genuine Black Man by Brian Copeland with
February          “Inkheart” by Cornelia Funke.
March              “The Visible World” by Mark Slouka
April                 “Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow
May                  Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
June                “Interred with Their Bones” by Jennifer Lee Carrell
July                  “Welcome to Biotech Nation” by Moira A. Gunn, Ph.D.
August             “Looking for Alaska” by John Green
September      “Second Honeymoon” by Joanna Trollope


Posted by on April 20, 2009 in Book Club, books


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Review: Malice Domestic 3

MALICE DOMESTIC 3: MALICE DOMESTIC 3 (Malice Domestic (Paperback)) MALICE DOMESTIC 3 by Rosalind Greenberg

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I downloaded this collection of  “cozy” short stories  from Overdrive on a whim.

I find short story collections to be hit or miss even at their best. As I listened to the first pieces, I thought perhaps this one had been a mistake. Short story mysteries are tricky, and maybe they don’t adapt well to the audio format. Not having a list of stories/authors didn’t help*.

I started with
# His Tears by Marilyn Wallace
# Sign of the Times by Nancy Pickard
# Cast Your Fate to the Wind by Deborah Adams
which didn’t make much of an impression on me. In fact, I remember pretty much nothing about them.

After that, either I adapted to the stories, or the stories got better.

I really enjoyed
# Fannie’s Back Fence Caper by Susan & Bill Albert
and will need to track down the authors, who have been recommended to me before. Following the path of a small town adventure through call-ins to the local radio show was very entertaining.

# The Dying Light by Taylor McCafferty
Was an interesting character study. Very creepy, a little spooky, and a nice buildup.

# The Family Jewels by Dorothy Cannell
Is an absolutely hilarious parody of historical adventure/romance novels.

# The Trouble with the Shoot by Camilla T. Crespi
Didn’t grab me. Fashion and a dead body.

# High Heels in the Headliner by Wendy Hornsby
This was entertaining. I looked at as meta-fiction, the story of a woman who got a little too involved in the research for writing a myster novel. Or she could have just been delusional, in which case this would just be creepy and bizarre.

# Cara’s Turn by Marlys Millhiser
Something about real estate. I restarted several times, but I just kept tuning out. Don’t know whether it was the story or the narrator that was the problem, but it didn’t click for me.

# Gentle Reader by Sharyn McCrumb
A humorous piece, which I enjoyed, even if it was a bit predictable– an author and the mob.

# Double Delight by L.B. Greenwood
# Make Yourselves at Home by Joan Hess
# Highwater by D.R. Meredith
As far as I can tell, these weren’t in the audiobook, even though they were listed in the IBL as being in the collection.

In the end, I think the collection was successful. I’ll check out more from Overdrive at some point.

*(Thanks to the Internet Book List for the list of stories and authors)

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Posted by on April 17, 2009 in books, reviews


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Review: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Pardonable Lies: A Maisie Dobbs Novel (Maisie Dobbs Mysteries (Paperback)) Pardonable Lies: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
As I was reading, I was thinking this might be my first 5 star rating in a while. The characters were intriguing, the plot drew me in, the details on life in the 1930s were fascinating. The writing was wonderful (and I normally don’t notice the writing). The plot lines wrapped up one by one. Just one left dangling…

Then the book almost dropped to 3 stars, I was so angry about how that story line resolved. OK, I suspect if I went back to the beginning, the details needed to make the conclusion relevant were there. But I really felt like it was pulled out of nowhere.

Grumble. But the rest of the book was really good, so I’ll focus on that.

I’m a character driven reader– If a book has interesting characters, I can gloss over a lot of plot weakness. If the characters are weakly drawn, I have trouble caring about strong writing and plot. This book was strong on all of these.

The characters in this book were wonderful. I was drawn into Maisie’s conflict, coming to terms with her past while trying to solve some cases that dredged up her history with WWI. Even most of the secondary characters were textured, and there are several I’d like to get to know better.

After the characters, what I liked most about this books were the reflections of the effects of war, even years after it ends. You see the effects on people that were there and of those that are left behind, of the effects on entire communities.

I like this series, the earlier books as well as this one. I’ll go on to read the rest sooner rather than later. I’m just still disappointed in the conclusion of that one plotline!

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Posted by on April 17, 2009 in books, reviews


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What I’m reading

I’m always reading multiple books at a time.  I’ve usually got something going in each of these categories:

  • A book for each book club (current count: 2)
  • An audiobook
  • A paper book (no e-reader yet)
  • a fluffy book
  • a more serious book (non-fiction or literary fiction)
  • a favorite book for bedtime listening

A book can fit in more than one of these at a time– it isn’t unusual for me to be listening to a “serious” book for a book club.

These aren’t my only simultaneous reading categories.  I’ll also add another book in the mix when:

  • I misplace a book I was reading.
  • Someone loans me a book.
  • My daughter hands me a book and says “you should read this”.
  • A book catches my attention and I want to read it NOW.

I always count my book club books as “currently reading” as soon as the previous meeting is over, even though I’m likely to open them until a week ahead of time.  I try to time my reading so I finish just before the discussion (although I misjudged my schedule for the last two books and had to scramble at the last minute).  I go ahead and count them because they are in the mix of books I’m considering each time I sit (or lay or whatever) to read.

So, what am I reading now?

  1. I’m listening to Malice Domestic (a collection of short stories I downloaded from my library via Overdrive).
  2. I’m reading Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspeare.
  3. I’m occasionally picking up Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  It tends to be in an inconvenient location or I’m just not in the mood to read it.
  4. For book club L (meeting at the end of April) I’m reading Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (and I’ve been having a hard time keeping my hands off of it, but I expect it to be a fast read).
  5. For book club M (meeting at the beginning of May) I’m reading Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb.
  6. For bedtime (and sleepless in the middle of the night) listening, I have The Moor by Laurie R. King.

What are you reading now?  How many books do you have open at a time?

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Posted by on April 16, 2009 in books, Me



Time to pick books

Both of my book clubs use the same method for selecting books.

We try to pick 6 months of books at a time. I ask everyone to nominate 2 books. We usually end up with half the group members nominating 3-4, and half nominating none, which works out fine.

I put together a ballot listing all of the books.

Each member gets 15 points to distribute as she wants, no more than 5 points on a single book. She can give 3 books 5 points each, rank her top books with 5-4-3-2-1 points, or whatever else works for her.

I add up the points. I look for a break in the scores, we can end up with as few as 4 or as many as 8 books.

This is the current ballot for book club M. As you can see, we consider a very wide variety of types of books. Have you read any of these books? Would they lead to good discussions? How would you vote?


Posted by on April 15, 2009 in Book Club, books, M


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I’m starting a blog!


I’m starting a blog.  For now, I’m planning on collecting my book reviews here.  I’ll probably add other content later.  Or maybe I’ll put personal stuff elsewhere. I’m figuring this out as I go!

I love to read.  I run two book clubs, and I’ll talk about those in this blog.

I read a wide variety of books.   I read a lot of fluff.  I read some serious fiction.  And quite a bit in-between. I like mysteries, speculative fiction (science fiction/fantasy), chick lit, thrillers, and more.  I try not to let genre keep me from an interesting book.

I read on paper and listen to audiobooks.  I don’t have an e-book reader, at least not yet.

Who I am:

I’m a 40 year old mom-at-home to an almost 11 year old girl.  I’m heavily involved at her school and in her activities.  She has been my primary focus for 11 years now.

Now she’s growing up, and it is time for me to start directing my focus elsewhere.  She’s still number one, but she needs some space, and so do I.   I’m working on exploration:  exploring the Internet (Twitter, blogs…), exploring options (taking classes, talking to people about where they are going) and exploring who I am.

Feel free to drop me a note–


Posted by on April 14, 2009 in Me