Thursday, September 30, 2010

55 quirky questions for readers : part 1

Lydia at The Literary Lollipop created a questionnaire of 55 quirky questions for readers, and I thought it would be fun to share my answers here. I'm breaking it down into more manageable chunks, so here are the first 10 questions and answers.

1. Favorite childhood book: How to choose just one?!? When I was very young, I loved Corduroy by Don Freeman and My Red Umbrella by Robert Bright. Later, I was a huge fan of Nancy drew and Trixie Belden mysteries.

2. What are you reading right now? Desiree: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love by Annemarie Selinko

3. What books do you have on request at the library? I just requested The Princess Bride because I'm thinking about participating in the readalong that starts October 2nd.

4. Bad book habit: Buying more books than I could ever read!

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? Most of my library books are work-related, but I did just check out The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett. One of my readers recommended it for my "cultural crimes" reading list.

6. Do you have an e-reader? No. I haven't broken down and gotten one yet. I just love the feel of a real book!

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once? One book at a time.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? Yes. My reading horizons have expanded thanks to recommendations from other bloggers and readers. I've also gotten review books that probably wouldn't be on my radar otherwise.

9. Least favorite book you read this year: Stealing the Mystic Lamb by Noah Charney was so disappointing I didn't even finish it. You can read my review here.

10. Favorite book you read this year: Hmm, there were a few books I really enjoyed this year including Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, but I think I have to declare my favorite as Darling Jim by Christian Moerk. You can read my review of Darling Jim here.

Watch for the next installment of Q&A coming soon!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday : The Emperor's Tomb

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly awaiting. My pick this week is...

The Emperor's Tomb by Steve Berry. Ballantine Books. To be released November 23, 2010.

Steve Berry recently wrote a guest blog post for Mulholland Books in defense of his genre, which highlights the important role thrillers play in popular entertainment. It's a short read, and, at the end, I said a little "amen!" in my head. I have developed a real soft spot for Berry's Cotton Malone. I've loved every single entry in this series and can't wait to read The Emperor's Tomb. I tried to get a copy through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers without success, so I'm counting down to the release date (56 days, by the way) I was turned on to the series by The Charlemagne Pursuit, the fourth book to feature Cotton Malone, and zoomed through the rest of the series inside of two weeks.

Here's the description from Steve Berry's website:

The tomb of China's First Emperor, guarded by an underground army of terra cotta warriors, has remained sealed for 2200 years. Though it's regarded as one of the greatest archeological sites in the world, the Chinese government won't allow anyone to open it.

Why not?

That question is at the heart of a dilemma faced by former-Justice Department operative Cotton Malone, whose life is shattered when he receives an anonymous note carrying an unfamiliar web address. Logging on, he sees Cassiopeia Vitt, a woman who's saved his life on more than one occasion, being tortured at the hands of a mysterious man who has a single demand - "Bring me the artifact she's asked you to keep safe." One problem: Malone doesn't have a clue what the man is talking about, since Cassiopeia has left nothing with him. So begins Malone's most harrowing adventure to date-one that offers up astounding historical revelations, pits him against a ruthless ancient brotherhood, and sends him from Denmark to Belgium to Vietnam then on to China, a vast and mysterious land where danger lurks at every turn.

Who could resist?!?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review : What Alice Knew

What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper by Paula Marantz Cohen. Sourcebooks, 2010. (released Sept. 1)

[Source: Sourcebooks]

Though only Alice and Henry get a mention in the title, all three of the famous Jameses play a role in this tale. William James is called in by Scotland Yard to help solve the case of Jack the Ripper. Alice decides she and her brothers are perfectly suited to unravel the mystery with their combined talents. Marantz Cohen expertly weaves these historical characters into an historical mystery to create an intriguing yet plausible solution to this great unsolved crime. She also injects contemporary historical figures, including a cameo by William Chester Minor, the madman whose story is recounted in The Professor and the Madman, seamlessly.

I really enjoyed What Alice Knew. In addition to being a great fictional account of the still unsolved case of Jack the Ripper, it peaked my interest in this fascinating family. As with all books like this, I find myself wanting to know which details are accurate and which are pure fiction. I'll be spending a little time reading up on the Jameses in the next few days and perhaps looking into Marantz Cohen's earlier works. If, like me, you enjoy books that insert historical figures into fictional situations, you will no doubt like What Alice Knew. It is a well-constructed mystery from a talented author.

An aside: Henry James seem to inspire today's authors. Colm Toibin's The Master also features him as a main character. While a very different sort of book, The Master would make a good follow up read as it focuses on a later period of James' life. I've already read The Master, so I think it is finally time to tackle one of Mr. James' novels. Is there a particular Henry James novel you've enjoyed? I'd love to hear your recommendations for my first foray into this author's work.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week! Here's the top 10 most challenged books of 2010.

1. The TTYL series by Lauren Myracle
2. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
6. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
7. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
9. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
10. Beyond the Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

I've read The Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple and part of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. To Kill a Mockingbird has long been on my TBR list.

What do you think of this list? Do you read banned books?

The American Library Association maintains a record of the most frequently banned and challenged books on their website if you'd like to see more.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Art crime recommendations

I recently asked for recommendations to supplement my current art crime TBR list. Suggestions could extend into other areas of cultural crime, including maps and books. I received two recommendations and wanted to share them with you.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert Edsel

Have you read either? Do you think they make good additions to my list? Do you have other recommendations? I'd love to hear your comments.

Note: People have asked if recommendations have to be non-fiction. They do not. If you have fiction suggestions that fit the bill, send them my way!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Review : The Forger's Spell

The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick. Harper, 2008.

[Source: Purchased]

The Forger's Spell falls somewhere between the last two books I reviewed, Provenance and Stealing the Mystic Lamb. While not a completely straightforward recounting of a crime and its unraveling like Provenance, it is a more engaging study of art crime than Stealing the Mystic Lamb. It tells the story of the forgery of a series of Vermeer paintings by Han Van Meegeren in the Holland of the 1930s and 40s. There is a thread of Van Meegeren throughout the book, but it is not until Parts 4 and 5 that you begin to see his full story woven together.

As Dolnick says in his preface, "the central question is not whodunit but, instead, howdunit?" In answering this question, Dolnick not only presents the facts but also uses interesting and relevant examples from various disciplines and eras to illustrate his points.The reader learns about Vermeer, other historical fraud cases, and the Nazi obsession with great art. This background provides useful insight into the case of Van Meegeren. World War II and the Nazis play an especially central role in the eventual exposure of this art fraud.

Overall, I enjoyed The Forger's Spell. While I still prefer a more fiction-like narrative, Dolnick's writing style was engaging. He strikes a fine balance between historical study and storytelling. If you like art, crime, or even World War II stories, I think you'll like The Forger's Spell.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review : Stealing the Mystic Lamb

Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World's Most Coveted Masterpiece by Noah Charney. Public Affairs, 2010.
[release date: October 5, 2010]

[Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers]

Stealing the Mystic Lamb is an account of the many crimes perpetrated against the Ghent Alterpiece, also known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. This book represents exactly the kind of non-fiction I don't enjoy. Rather than the "riveting narrative" claimed on the back of the book, I found Mystic Lamb to be a a dry, and sometimes repetitious, presentation of facts. The detailed description of the piece and background history of Jan van Eyck, the artist, and the city of Ghent became tedious to me. I kept plowing forward hoping the narrative would become more engaging when I got to the thefts. However, I finally lost my patience when I reached page 79 and the story of the first theft was set to begin. Instead, the author regressed into a primer on the French Revolution. For what I think was the third time, Charney decided it would be "useful" to digress into a history lesson before coming to his point. I come from a history background, but was frustrated that the topic the book promised to address had still not come to the forefront. Unfortunately, I have too many book on my TBR pile to continue slogging through Stealing the Mystic Lamb hoping for an engaging story. A true art historian may find Stealing the Mystic Lamb a fascinating read, but I'm leaving this book unfinished.

Most of the other Early Reviewers appear to disagree with my complete disappointment though, so feel free to see what they have to say here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday : Books I'm Dying to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's list is Top Ten Books I'm Dying to Read.

iubookgirl's top ten (in no particular order):

1. Hell's Corner by David Baldacci
The next installment in the Camel Club series comes out November 9, 2010.

2. What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper by Paula Marantz Cohen
This is at the top of my TBR pile! I just received it last week from Sourcebooks. It was released on September 1st.

3. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Nick Hornby is one of my favorite authors, and I have yet to read his most recent novel.

4. The Emperor's Tomb by Steve Berry
The next installment in the Cotton Malone series comes out November 23, 2010.

5. Tethered by Amy MacKinnon
This has been in my TBR pile for awhile, but recent Twitter buzz has moved it up the stack.

6. The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff
I loved The 19th Wife so I'm eager to read another Ebershoff book. By the way, have you heard that The 19th Wife is now a Lifetime movie?

7. Room by Emma Donoghue
This book sounds both amazing and disturbing. Though it may be difficult for me, I think it is a must read.

8. Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner
I've been holding onto the second book in this series, The Pere-Lachaise Mystery (aka The Disappearance at Pere-Lachaise), for awhile. I finally bought the first one, so I'm looking forward to checking out this series.

9. Shift by Tim Kring
I picked up this ARC at the American Library Association Annual Conference this summer. I couldn't resist the tag line on the cover, "Did LSD kill JFK?" Written by the creator of Heroes, Shift was published August 10, 2010.

10. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
It is truly sacrilege that I've never read this book...I'm from Indiana for goodness' sake!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week : First Treasure

Happy Book Blogger Appreciation Week everyone!

We invite you to share with us about a great new book blog you’ve discovered since BBAW last year! If you are new to BBAW or book blogging, share with us the very first book blog you discovered. Tell us why this blog rocks your socks off and why you keep going back for more.

I recently rediscovered, A Reader's Respite, which has quickly become a favorite. The blog posts are an ecclectic mix of reviews, author tributes, book art, and general state of the world rantings keep me coming back to see what the day will bring. I also love the irreverent, and sometimes quirky, sense of humor present in so many of the posts. Plus, I like the design of the's attractive AND readable. If you haven't visited A Reader's Respite, go now!

Mailbox Monday

This month's host of the Mailbox Monday meme created by The Printed Page is Bermudaonion's Weblog. According to The Printed Page, "Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists."

Last week, I received two books from Sourcebooks:

What Alice Knew: Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper by Paula Marantz Cohen

Désirée: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love by Annemarie Selinko

Friday, September 10, 2010

Review : Provenance

Salisbury, Laney and Aly Sujo. Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art. Penguin, 2009.

[Source: American Library Association conference freebie]

Provenance is the true story of an elaborate scam that plagued the unsuspecting art world for nearly a decade. The mastermind of the scam, John Drewe, was the quintessential con man leaving a trail of marks from London to Paris to New York. Drewe not only managed the creation of hundreds of fakes but also infiltrated the records of some of the most prestigious art institutions to create documented proof of their "legitimacy." It is unknown how many of his fraudulent paintings and documents still lurk in homes, museums and archives.

Provenance is just the sort of non-fiction I enjoy. Salisbury and Sujo achieve a fiction-like narrative that draws the reader into the exploits of John Drewe while still providing a detailed recounting of the facts as well as some limited background on art and the history of art frauds. You don't have to be an art historian or even be an art buff to appreciate the tale Provenance tells. You don't even need to know what provenance means. All you need is an appreciation for crime stories and the unraveling of a good mystery.