Saturday, January 30, 2010


My February reading groups will take me around the world (literally), including visits to Denmark, Vietnam, Italy and England.


Adult Discussion Group
Tuesday, February 9, 7:30 pm
A Year in the WorldFrances Mayes

One Book at a Time Group
Meeting at Mi Casita Restaurant, Sunland
Thursday, February 18, 7:30 pm
Contact for reservation: Lisa
The Quiet Girl, Peter Hoeg

Monday, February 22, 7:00 pm
Paradise of the Blind, Duong Thu Huong

Mystery Book Club w/ tea and scones
Wednesday, February 24; 8:30 am
The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith

Bookie Babes
Wednesday, February 24; 7:30 pm
The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

If you read my blog regularly you will notice that I have already read and reviewed two of these books, The Quiet Girl and The Talented Mr Ripley. Therein lies the answer to how I can find time to be in so many reading groups: sometimes they read the same book or books I have already read. Since I like to discuss the books I read with as many people as possible, it is all good.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

If you are in a reading group or groups, what are you discussing in February?

Happy Reading to all!

Friday, January 29, 2010


Tunnel in the Sky, Robert A Heinlein, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1955, 273 pp

Another great Heinlein novel. If this were published today, it would be labeled Young Adult because the protagonist is a high school senior. In fact I learned that Heinlein wrote what he called "juveniles," though I found this book in the science fiction section at my library, not the teen section. In any case, the book features plenty of story, political philosophy and realistic assessment of human nature.

Rod Walker, planning a life spent developing cities on other planets, must complete his Advanced Survival course with a practical exercise. Each member of the class is sent to an unknown destination and must survive for three to ten days by their wits, their learned survival skills and whatever tools or weapons each brings along. It is like Outward Bound on other planets.

The glitch is that they are not picked up after ten days and as far as they know, will never be found by the authorities back on earth. Most of them survive but they must address setting up an entire life there which calls upon much more than survival skills; for example, social structure, a rudimentary government, growing and storing food, etc.

The action is non-stop, the characters extremely well-drawn and I was captivated on every page. I think that Heinlein has a basic love for human beings, the strong, the weak, the heroes and every type in between. I found the writing to be much better than most current Young Adult novels.

(Tunnel in the Sky is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010


The Geometry of God, Uzma Aslam Khan, Clockroot Books, 2009, 381 pp

I read this amazing piece of fiction, set in modern Pakistan, at the end of December last year. One of the benefits of having a professional book reviewing job is that I read books I may otherwise have not heard of and therefore missed. The Geometry of God made it onto my top 25 favorites for the year. My review is now available to non-subscribers at BookBrowse. It begins like this:

     Reading The Geometry of God was an experience of total immersion, not because I read it in two days but due to the power of the writing and the storytelling. I dreamed about the place, the story and the characters both nights after reading, although modern day Pakistan is a country and culture almost completely alien to me. Uzma Aslan Khan has created exactly what I desire from fiction: to be transported to another world where the problems and rewards of living get worked out in a parallel but different matrix to the world I know. (Read the rest here.) 

(The Geometry of God is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


                     WEDNESDAY MEANS 

                      WORD OF THE DAY!

Today's word is malapert and once again comes from Little, Big by John Crowley, page 75. (I had to look up so many words in that book.) 

malapert is considered an Archaic word, meaning that it is rarely used today but occurs in earlier writings. 

It is an adjective meaning saucy; impudent; pert.
It is also a noun meaning a saucy, impudent person.

It comes from Old French mal which meant badly plus appert which meant experienced or deft; influenced by apert which meant open, bold.

My sentence: When dealing with serious, annoying people, I tend to become malapert.

What is your sentence?

(Last week there were four sentences posted in the comments. That is the most ever in the history of this blog. I was SOOO excited! Thanks to all.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


The End of Eternity, Isaac Asimov, Doubleday, 1955, 189 pp

The more books I read by Asimov, the more I understand why he is the King of science fiction. I think it is his super intelligence that makes his stories so good. The End of Eternity is basically a love story, but it is filled with ideas and actual scientific theories about time as well as a subtle joke about time and eternity which runs through the whole story.

Scientists and government have created a way of life on many planets which is free of war and want. With this utopia comes a certain loss of self-determinism and therefore excitement because of the amount of control necessary to maintain such conditions. Some of the scientists do the job of changing minute occurrences in order to prevent disasters in the future. These guys are called Eternals.

One of the Eternals, Andrew Harlan, falls in love and becomes emotionally alive for the first time. Naturally he risks all, defies all authority and compromises all of his professional integrity to be with the woman he loves. Great stuff!

(The End of Eternity is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. I found it at my local library and it can also be found on-line in paperback from used booksellers.)

Monday, January 25, 2010


Little, Big, John Crowley, Bantam Books, 1981, 538 pp

This is the first book I read in 2010 and will possibly be my favorite book of the year. I used to read fantasy as a child, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Story of the Amulet by E Nesbit. I also liked The Borrowers by Mary Norton. By about fifth grade I got into Nancy Drew and that was the end of fantasy for me.

Then in early 2000, I read the first Harry Potter book and re-discovered magic. The Lord of the Rings movies came in 2002 and I finally read the trilogy, liking it just fine. Next came Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which made me recall how much I used to be fascinated by fairies and the idea that they lurked just beyond our awareness in everyday life. (I am just looking back here and tracing the path of fantasy re-entering my reading life.) Actually, the "little people" first re-emerged for me in the 1980s with Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon.

So, in the ways of being a reader, I wound up reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman for the reviewing job at BookBrowse, which launched me into a search for adult fantasy. (What did I ever do without the Internet?) And that is how I learned about Little, Big, a book which is praised by everyone from Harold Bloom to Ursula K Le Guin.

It is truly a wondrous book; very literary (I came across numerous words I had never seen before, yet they turned out to be easily found in dictionaries), extremely philosophical, clearly influenced by life in the 60s and 70s, and just packed with love of all kinds. There are fairies, there are characters with deep fairy connections, descendants with fairy characteristics, all this culminating in lives lived in "the thin place" where ordinary human life and the supernatural blend.

It is also a multigenerational family saga. The characters have names like Daily Alice Drinkwater, Cloud and Oberon. The Tarot is much in use, the family home is called Edgewood, there are "doors" to another realm. The constant image in the story in infundibular, meaning the further in you go, the bigger it gets. Hence, the title of the book.

In an emotional range from deepest despair to wildest exhilaration, the story takes the characters and the reader through all the terrors and hopes of existence. Though the book is long and only intermittently a page-turner, it passes like a dream. Reading it is like going to Narnia and living for years only to emerge and find that no time has passed. All I can say is, take a week off and read this book.

(Little, Big is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. I am urging our buyer to stock it on the "back list" shelves, but for now you have to order it.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010


A Long Way From Chicago, Richard Peck, Penguin Putnam Inc, 1998, 148 pp

It is Sunday, the day I review children's lit. Today's book is for readers of ages 8-12; third through seventh grade.

(At the bookstore where I work, we have a shelf dedicated to the Newbery Awards and I would always see this book when restocking the shelves. Every December, our store's adult fiction reading group reads a children's book. This past December we read A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck, which has a blurb on the cover saying it is a companion to A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. I decided to read all three.)

A Long Way From Chicago is a Newbery Honor winner, which means a runner-up. In 1929, the Great Depression is just beginning. Nine-year-old Joey and his seven-year-old sister Mary Alice, who live with their parents in Chicago, are sent on the train to visit their Grandma Dowdel in southern Illinois for a week of the summer. As it turns out, they continue to make this visit every summer for seven years. Each visit gets a chapter.

You might think this is going to be just one of those stories about city kids who go to the country and find a whole different way of life including farming, fishing and hanging out with animals. And it would be except that Grandma Dowdel is like no other grandma you have ever read about.

She is tough and strong, can cook up amazing meals and grow her own food, like most mid-western grandmothers, not to mention growing flowers and sewing and all that. But she is also wily like a fox, not too particular when it comes to telling the truth and in her own ornery way, takes care of her little community with a heart full of love and justice.

So you meet inbred lunks, eccentric old people, the ridiculous wife of the local banker and more. Joey, who narrates, and Mary Alice, who gets braver every summer, are given a broad education in human nature and develop a fierce love for the grandma.

I am not sure a child in the 21st century would get all the references to 1930s culture, but any child would be delighted and proud to have a grandmother like Mrs Dowdel. As an adult who visited her small-town mid-western relatives every summer, I got to relive many happy memories. I'm just fine with not living in that part of the country, but I realized I am richer for having spent time there in the 1950s.

(A Long Way From Chicago is available on the shelf in the Newbery Awards section at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, January 22, 2010


The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith, Coward-McCann Inc, 1955, 290 pp

I saw this as a movie back in the 90s before I had ever heard of Patricia Highsmith. Just the other week I saw "Strangers on a Train," also made from another of her novels. I cannot recall how I became aware of Patricia Highsmith, but I am glad I did, because while both movies had a touch of the weird, neither came close to the level of psychological disturbance manifesting in Thomas Ripley.

Our man Thomas is more than a bit of a con man with a large dose of slacker mixed in. He has had a bad childhood and has deep identity issues as well as a certain amount of abhorrence for people. He winds up being sent to Italy, all expenses paid by a wealthy businessman, assigned the mission of bringing home the man's wayward son. Tom Ripley has lied and repeatedly misrepresented himself to this man many times before he even leaves New York, but at that time as a reader, I was just a little nervous.

By the end of the story, Mr Ripley has done many bad things and lived on the edge of being apprehended but has always managed to elude any trouble. It is utterly nerve racking, suspenseful and I got caught up in the madness of it all. Yet there is an accompanying flippancy throughout the story and I swear I could not distinguish if that was coming from Ripley or the author herself.

Truly a unique reading experience and as close to horror as I wish to get.

(The Talented Mr Ripley is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Booked to Die, John Dunning, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1992, 321 pp

Up until the past year or so, I did not often read mysteries. Now, thanks to my friend and mystery author Alice Zogg, I've added several mystery writers to my list of authors I like to read. John Dunning just joined the list.

Reading Booked to Die was pure fun. This is Dunning's first in a series featuring Cliff Janeway as detective. While working as a Denver homicide detective for years, Janeway has also been a closet collector of valuable first editions.

When his fixation on bringing in a certain psychopath drives him to acts outside the allowed perimeter for cops, Cliff finds himself suspended from the force. It is all a sort of midlife crisis which ends up in his owning a rare book shop.

Once a detective, always a detective though, so our hero continues to pursue the killer of a down-and-out book scout and, having lost his girlfriend along with his badge, also pursues Denver's most mysterious and successful rare book dealer, Rita McKinley.

What you get is page-turning crime fiction, insider peaks at the rare book business and amusing asides to all the great books you've either read or heard of. There are five in the series, so here I go!

(Booked to Die is sometimes in stock at Once Upon A Time Bookstore in the mystery section. If not you can order it in mass market paperback.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


It is Wednesday Word of the Day Day! This week I am hoping for at least two sentences in the comments. Lots of love to A to Z, who gives us a sentence almost every week!

This week the word is condign. It comes from page 72 of Little, Big by John Crowley.

condign is an adjective meaning deserved; suitable; said especially of punishment for wrongdoing.

The word comes from Middle English and Old French, spelled condigne; which came from Latin, spelled condignus and meaning very worthy.

(From Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition)

My sentence: As she sat and cried over the boyfriend who left her, she fantasized about the most condign disasters which could befall the jerk, such as being ignored by all women from now on, crashing his motorcycle or gaining 100 pounds in the next three months.

And your sentence is?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


To Siberia, Per Petterson, Graywolf Press, 1998, 245 pp

This earlier book has similar themes to Out Stealing Horses but not quite the same degree of novelistic magic. It is a girl's story; her coming of age in Norway, her relationship to her father and brother, the effects of war on Scandinavian society.

It is written in first person and Petterson does well with a feminine perspective, though she is a tough, tomboy type of girl who always tries to keep pace with her older brother. She dreams of riding the Trans-Siberian Railway all across Russia, hence the title. Her brother dreams of going to Morocco, which he eventually does, but the girl only goes to Sweden, where she loses any final bits of remaining innocence after the war.

The cold, the seasons, the outdoor world, are Petterson's love and gift. He writes again of loss, separation and a sort of despair that I imagine goes with lands where summer is short and winter is mostly dark.

The last lines of the story are some of the most devastating I have ever read: "I was so young then, and I remember thinking: I'm twenty-three years old, there is nothing left in life. Only the rest." (Not a spoiler because you would need to read the story to see how she got to that point.)

(To Siberia is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010


The Magician's Nephew, C S Lewis, HarperCollins Inc, 1955, 221p

The next-to-last of The Chronicles of Narnia, per the original order, The Magician's Nephew is one of the few in the series which I had not read before. It is the tale of how Aslan created a world in which Narnia was a country. It is the weakest writing of all the books and I found it predictable, not exciting and really rather a flop.

Digory is the nephew of a dilettante magician and the son of an ill and dying mother. His friend Polly lives next door. Digory is bored and worried about his mother so he pursues the uncle's magic for something to do and with a vague hope of finding a cure for his mum. Polly comes along for the adventure.

Naturally they end up in the magical worlds, meet Aslan, as well as the wicked woman who will become the Witch in Narnia. Digory is not all that bright but being the boy, he gets to lead all the adventures while Polly is the level-headed and compassionate one.

Well, I suppose I can see why the creator of a fantasy world would want to explain its creation but I think the Narnia chronicles could have gotten along fine without this volume. I am also concerned that since the release of the movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, this book is now sold as the first in the series. It would have put me off the whole thing while The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe hooked me into reading almost all of them as a child.

(The Magician's Nephew is available in paperback in the fantasy section of Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Officers and Gentlemen, Evelyn Waugh, Little Brown and Company, 1955, 339 pp

This is the second book of Waugh's Sword of Honor trilogy which began with Men at Arms, 1952. The story follows Guy Crouchback through another year of the war and relates his continuing quest for an authentic soldier and war experience. He finally has one in Greece though it involves a retreat rather than an attack.

I wasn't looking forward to reading this because Waugh's irony is so deeply buried and rather wordy. I think one would have to be English to truly appreciate this series of books. But ironically, his exquisite skill at irony was what drew me in this time, so either I am getting better at reading it or he is getting better at writing it.

Even the officers and the gentlemen do not find much to satisfy them in the actual day to day of war, but they are constantly seeking something. Perhaps war, like honor and truth, is merely an absolute which cannot be attained in the material plane.

(Officers and Gentlemen is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, January 15, 2010


The Inheritors, William Golding, Harcourt Brace & World, 1955, 233 pp

This is Golding's follow up to Lord of the Flies. I found the book almost incomprehensible but somehow he kept me going to the end. It is a story about the last days of Neanderthal man and how they were taken over by the ancestors of Homo Sapiens.

Golding did an admirable job of telling the story through the viewpoints of these prehistoric people. It was that point of view however, that made the comprehension so difficult. Many times for many pages, I simply could not decode their impressions into anything I could grasp.

When I finally finished the book, I checked reader reviews on the web, which not surprisingly ranged from zero to five stars. But over half gave it four or five stars, which I did find surprising. I liked Clan of the Cave Bear better.

(The Inheritors is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


This week's word is phthisic from Little, Big by John Crowley, page 24.

phthisis is a noun meaning any wasting disease, as tuberculosis of the lungs.

the adjective form of the word.

The word comes from Latin which came from Greek, meaning a decay, which came from phthiein, meaning to waste away.

(From Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition)

My sentence: His phthisic appearance made me think that he had not much longer to live.

What is your sentence?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Desert, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, David R Godine, 2009, 352 pp

This French author won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2008. I had never heard of him before his award, as is embarrassingly true of many of the Nobel Prize winners when they are not American or English. Recently I resolved to read at least one book of each of these writers as long as they write novels. Having read Desert, I understand why he was awarded. The book was originally published in French by Editions Gallimard in 1980 and translated into English for release in 2009.

Easily one of the most intense books I have ever read, Desert takes place in North Africa in two different time periods. The first is the very early 1900s when many tribes, deprived of their homes and lands by European colonialists, are on a desperate march through the desert to a promised land prophesied by their most revered religious leader, Water of the Eyes. This doomed endeavor is seen through the eyes of Nour, a young boy whose family has joined the march.

Lalla is a young girl being raised in a shantytown near a coastal city in Morocco during the late 20th century. She is a descendant of Water of the Eyes, orphaned at birth. When the aunt that is raising her tries to arrange a marriage to an older man, Lalla runs away into the desert with her most beloved friend, a deaf mute goat herder. Later she and her aunt end up as immigrants in Marseilles, eking out a miserable existence in the most depressing area of this modern city.

The power of this book comes from Le Clezio's writing. For example, his account of a religious ceremony held with the natives and their spiritual leader awakes in the reader every impulse for spiritual freedom that mankind has ever had.

The immensity and harsh beauty of the desert, its sand dunes, wind, burning sun and frigid nights, is a continuous presence throughout the story as well as a symbol of both the devastation of these characters and their deepest love.

Never again will I be able to read a novel which romanticizes immigrant life and poverty. In fact, the value of reading the literature of Europe and Asia is its ability to penetrate our very American refusal or inability (I am not sure which it is) to comprehend the hopeless misery and yet the essential strength of the dispossessed peoples of this earth; these victims of greed and "progress."

If there is any chance at all that mankind do a better job of living together, it would have to start with the so-called winners taking a good look at how the so-called losers are created.

(Desert is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Cinderella, Marcia Brown, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1954, 29 pp

This version of Cinderella won the Caldecott Medal in 1955. Marcia Brown illustrated the book and also translated the story from one by the French author Charles Perrault. (I have recently learned that almost every country of the world has a Cinderella tale. We have the versions from several countries at Once Upon A Time in our multi-cultural section.)

The illustrations are truly beautiful; a sort of pen and watercolor look. I vaguely remember this book from my childhood, though I have these images mixed up with the ones from the Disney movie and book.

In this version, there are two balls with Cinderella losing her glass slipper on the second night. Once she marries the prince, she forgives her nasty stepsisters and gives them a home in the palace with lords for husbands. Hmm.

(Depending on when you come in to shop, this version of Cinderella is available in our picture book section at Once Upon A Time Bookstore. We can also order it for you and have it in a few days if we are out of stock.)

Saturday, January 09, 2010


This is a quick summary of books I read in December. I started the month with 23 books to go if I wanted to read more books than last year. Needless to say, I did not make it. I read 15 books which is pretty good. Some of these books have already been posted as reviews on the blog but I am listing them anyway. Sorry, no pictures today.

The Mystic Masseur, by V S Naipaul comes from my reading list for 1957. It was the first book I have read by this author and introduced me to life as an Indian immigrant in Trinidad. Quite enjoyable.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. I had been meaning to read it all year. It won the Newbery Medal and is great!

Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger, is her follow up to The Time Traveler's Wife. One of my favorite books of the year. A love story with a ghost.

I read a complete series of books by Richard Peck, who has won the Newbery Medal and writes for ages 8-12. The three books all center around a small Illinois town and a highly unique woman known as Grandma Dowdel. In order they are: A Long Way From Chicago, A Year Down Yonder and A Season of Gifts. The first one was the best. I am not sure kids today would like them but I've never met a kid who has read even one of them, so I couldn't ask.

Desert by J M G LeClezio, Nobel Prize for Literature winner in 2008, was the most powerful book I read all year. It was written in 1980 but just translated into English in 2009. It concerns the clash between natives of Africa and European settlers and businessmen, from the viewpoint of the natives. Just devastating.

Falcons of Narabedla by Marion Zimmer Bradley, also from my 1957 list, is the first novel she ever published and is fantasy. A electrical engineer finds himself in another world, inhabiting another man's body and entangled in that world's troubles. Not great, but you can tell that her greatness is coming.

Blue Camellia, by Frances Parkinson Keyes was #5 on the 1957 bestseller list. It is historical fiction about a farming family from Illinois who moved to Louisiana and became successful rice growers. I have read a bunch of her books and this was one of the best.

Another author of historical fiction whose books are on many bestseller lists from the 1940s and 1950s is Thomas B Costain. In 1957 he took the #9 spot with Below the Salt, set in England just after the Norman conquest. It tells the story of how the Magna Charta came into being. Also very good.

To Siberia, by Per Petterson is an earlier novel to his award winning Out Stealing Horses. It is a coming of age story about a girl and her brother in pre-WWII Norway. Not a happy story, it was always cold and not as good as Out Stealing Horses but also not at all bad. He is just a very fine writer.

In the Bookie Babes reading group, we always read a Christmas themed book in December. This year it was The Christmas Cookie Killer, by Livia J Washburn. This is what you call a "cozy" and the best part was the cookie and holiday recipes at the back of the book. Though I must say, I did not figure out who the killer was until almost the end.

A Tree is Nice, by Janice Udry, won the Caldecott Medal for illustrations in 1957. If you love trees, as I do, go to the children's section of your library and read this book. It is simply wonderful.

The Geometry of God, by Uzma Aslan Khan is a story of modern Pakistan, two incredible sisters and their rebellious scientist grandfather, living through the fundamentalism of General Zia, the American supported dictator. This novel is just now being released in the US, but I got to read and review it for The review comes out next week. It is an incredibly good novel and also went on my top favorite list.

On the Monday and Tuesday after Christmas, I went to Temecula, CA with two girlfriends for a wine-tasting tour. So decadent to drink wine all afternoon. But we also visited the Paperback Shack, a used bookstore, where I picked up (among others) two mysteries by John Dunning. Cliff Janeway starts out as a Denver homicide detective buts ends up owning the kind of bookstore that specializes in rare books and first editions, in Booked to Die, his first in the series. Fabulous for book lovers, with all the references to literature and inside scoops on the bookstore business. So that is how I ended my reading year for 2009.

Friday, January 08, 2010


A World of Love, Elizabeth Bowen, Alfred A Knopf Inc, 1955, 188 pp

This is the second book I've read by Elizabeth Bowen. (The first was The Heat of the Day, 1949.) She is not easy to read because her sentences are hard to follow and in this novel there was not much of a story.

The setting is a decrepit Irish country house inhabited by a fading family of unhappy or disillusioned people. Having visited Ireland some years ago (in fact, I acquired this book in a used bookstore there), and because Bowen's descriptive writing is so sharp, I could see every scene in the story.

Jane, the twenty-year-old daughter of the family, finds a packet of letters in the attic which opens the world of love for everyone in the house. All of their back stories come to light with the major damage to their hearts having been caused by World War I.

So it was a beautifully told story but I found it hard to care about any of the characters.

(As far as I can tell, A World of Love is out of print, even in the Random House reprint edition, so you will have to check your library or used book provider.)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


It is time for the Word of the Day. If you just want to learn a new word, that is fine. It is more fun if you make up your own sentence using the word and post it in the comments.

This week's word is parvis, which I came across on page 246 in Desert, by 2008 Nobel Prize winner Jean-Marie Gustave LeClezio.

Parvis is a noun meaning an enclosed court or yard in front of a building, especially a church. It can also mean a portico or single line of columns in front of a church.

The word comes from Middle English which derived from the Old French word parevis which came from the Latin paradisus, meaning literally Paradise: the name of the court before St Peter's cathedral in Rome. (Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition.)

My sentence: Looking for a quiet and sacred place to do some serious thinking but feeling shy about entering such a dauntingly holy structure, the young woman settled down on a marble bench in the parvis.

What is your sentence?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger, Scribner, 2009, 404 pp

I liked this novel so much, it is tempting just to gush. It must have been challenging for the author to write a follow up to The Time Traveler's Wife, although I get the impression from reading interviews with Ms Niffenegger that she is not someone who worries much about her popular standing. Like her characters, she does what she loves to do.

Her Fearful Symmetry is chock full of charming attributes: twins (two sets of them), London's famous Highgate Cemetery, mysterious parentage and ghosts. I read it directly after reading Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book and it is truly a companion piece.

Julia and Valentina are identical and mirror twins, meaning that even down to the placement of their internal organs they are mirror images of each other. Their mother is also a twin but has been estranged from her sister since before the girls were born. Being inseparable, privileged 20 year old American girls, they have never had to actually deal with anything in life.

But the London aunt who is their mother's twin and whom they have never met, dies and bequeaths her apartment to them. Off they go to live there in rather complete innocence and all manner of odd, disturbing and finally creepy things happen.

The story is about love, passion, dependence, the problems of independence, secrets, but mostly about love. We already know that Niffenegger is supernatural when it comes to love and she proves this again in her new novel.

Romance writing takes on fresh meaning here, so whether you are already a romance reader or feel you have outgrown the genre (as I have felt in recent years) or have avoided it at all costs, I recommend you give Her Fearful Symmetry a try. You just may become enchanted.

(Her Fearful Symmetry is available in hardcover at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Sunday, January 03, 2010


The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins Publishers, 2008, 337 pp

It is Sunday night and time for my weekly review of a children's or young adult book.

I have finally read The Graveyard Book, of which I have a signed copy. I got to stand right in front of Mr Gaiman while he signed it at Book Expo America here in LA in the spring of 2008, a very big happy moment for me. As readers of this blog know, I am a huge Neil Gaiman fan, though there are many of his books I have still the future pleasure of reading.

The Graveyard Book won just about every prize and award that a children's novel can win this past year, including the Newbery Medal and the Hugo Awards. I am happy for this author who brings such uniquely humanistic views to his writing.

The story begins with a scene of intense horror when almost an entire family is brutally murdered leaving only an 18 month old child alive. Eventually this plucky toddler makes his way to a nearby graveyard where he is adopted by a Mr and Mrs Owens, who are of course ghosts. He is named Bod, short for Nobody, and the entire community of spirits raises and protects Bod until he is old enough to make his way among the living. It takes a graveyard.

Soon enough we learn that the murderer is still after Bod, which casts a fearful shadow over the tale. Bod, like any child, doesn't always get his way; his days are filled with unusual obstacles and a form of schooling that makes Harry Potter's education seem tame; he loses his only living playmate when her family moves away. To top it all off, his chief protector is clearly a vampire and thus only available at night, except when he is away on mysterious wanderings.

When the day finally comes that Nobody Owens can go out into the world and experience Life, I challenge even the most cynical, hardhearted reader not to shed a tear.

(The Graveyard Book is available on the shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Saturday, January 02, 2010


Here is what is coming up for my reading groups in January.

Date: Tuesday, January 12; 7:30 pm
Adult Fiction Reading Group
Location: Once Upon A Time Bookstore, Montrose, CA
Discussing The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean
New members welcome.

Date: Thursday, January 21; 7:30 pm
Sunland/Tujunga One Book At A Time Group
Location: Mi Casita Restaurant, Sunland, CA
For reservations contact: Lisa
Discussing: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson

Date: Monday, January 25; 7:00 pm
Location: Portrait of a Bookstore, Toluca Lake, CA
Discussing: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski
(Note: New members must attend the meeting on Monday, January 11)

Date: Wednesday, January 27, 8:30 AM!
Mystery Book Club with tea and scones served
Location: Once Upon A Time Bookstore, Montrose, CA
Discussing: Winter Study, by Nevada Barr
New members welcome.

Date: Wednesday, January 27; 7:30 pm
Bookie Babes
Location: Barnes & Noble Bookstore, Burbank, CA
Discussing: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
New members welcome.
(For some reason, Blogger will not let me add the image for this one.)

Year end Reading Group Favorites

Some of my groups vote at the end of the year for our favorite read of the year. Here are the results:

Once Upon A Time Adult Reading Group voted almost unanimously for These Is My Words by Nancy Turner as our best book read in 2009.

One Book At A Time, to the best of my memory, chose Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors, but I did not write it down and there was some serious partying going on, so I could be wrong.

Bookie Babes felt that People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks was the best book we read this year.

If you belong to one or more reading groups, let us know what you are reading in January.

Friday, January 01, 2010


Happy New Year 2010!

I did not intend to take an entire nine days off from blogging but the holidays were just too much fun this year. Parties, family, cooking, even some reading, plus a two day trip to Temecula, CA for wine tasting with girlfriends.

Sadly, I read less books this year than I have in recent years. Because of my mom's stroke last January 3rd and her eventual passing on April 12th, I got way behind at the beginning of the year. Despite my best efforts to catch up, I still only read 120 books in 2009. (My highest year ever was 2006 with 141.) was a banner reading year anyway because while I usually choose 20 favorite books, this year I could not get the favorites to less than 25. I don't care what the doomsters say about the death of reading and publishing and all that. There are enough good books out there to keep me happy for the rest of my life and more stellar new books came out this year than I could believe possible.

Each year, I keep a running list of books that sound interesting as I hear about them, which usually adds up to about 100 titles. This year my list went to 147! I am sure a change is coming with e-readers, etc, but we love stories and in some form or other they will be there for us.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,
Junot Diaz (Pulitzer in 2008)
Child 44, Tom Rob Smith
Darwin's Radio, Greg Bear
Desert, J M G LeClezio (Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008)
The Enchantress of Florence,
Salman Rushdie
The Feast of Love, Charles Baxter
The Fountain Overflows, Rebecca West
The Geometry of God, Uzma Alsam Khan
The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver
Love Invents Us, Amy Bloom
The Magicians, Lev Grossman
Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson
The Plague of Doves, Louise Erdrich
The Quiet Girl, Peter Hoeg
The Reader, Bernard Schlink
The Story of the Amulet, E Nesbit
Sunnyside, Glen David Gold
Til We Have Faces, C S Lewis
What I Loved, Siri Hustvedt
Will You Take Me As I Am, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period, Michelle Mercer
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel (Booker Prize, 2009)
The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood

Most of these books have been reviewed on this blog or at BookBrowse. All are available either on the shelves or by special order at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.

I urge, invite and beg you to post your opinions on my list or your lists of favorites. Happy reading in 2010 and keep the wisdom!