Year in Review?

If I didn’t blog about the books I read, I’d forget half of them – not the books, just when I’d read them. My brain, apparently is less efficient at retaining this information than a sieve is at holding water.

The question from Booking Through Thursday, yesterday, was about favorites over the year. Least favorites, all of that. I’m not in the mood to do anything formal, but here are a few highlights.

Favorite Comfort Reading:
Anything by Cleo Coyle, under any of her pen names. The Haunted Bookstore cannot have a new volume soon enough, and her Coffee Mysteries are just my cup of…espresso con panna.

Favorite Mystery:
The latest from Sara Paretsky, Body Work and Richard Doestch’s The 13th Hour.

Favorite General Fiction:
I’m not sure. Jennifer Wiener’s latest disappointed me a bit, and most of what I read has been genre. I enjoyed my summer of Nantucket Novels, but I wouldn’t call them my favorites, really.

Favorite Women’s Fiction:
Without a doubt, The Naked Gardener, and not just because it’s the debut novel from someone I know through blogging.

Favorite Non-fiction:
Susan Casey’s The Wave, because it had water, myth, science, and adventure all in one book.

And just so you know, I’m currently still reading:
Slip Knot, by Linda Greenlaw
A Pointed Death, by Kath Russell
and a few more I won’t bother to list.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Teaser Tuesdays: Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

– Grab your current read
– Open to a random page
– Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
– BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
– Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I’m cheating this week, because I’m so tired of ads hawking everything from the best cigar deals to new cars that come with free iPads right out of the box. While I’m not particularly religious, I do think the commercialism of Christmas is way overdone. It’s exhausting, and somewhat repulsive.

It was with intention, then, that I pulled from my shelves earlier today, a couple of the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This excerpt, then, is from the chapter entitled “Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus,” from the book Little House on the Prairie, because I’m feeling wistful for a time when something as simple as a cup of your very own meant you had an incredible Christmas. It’s a bit longer than teasers are meant to be, but it’s important to me to share it.

Something was shining bright in the top of Laura’s stocking. She squealed and jumped out of bed. So Did Mary, but Laura beat her to the fireplace. And the shining thing was a glittering new tin cup.

Mary had one exactly like it.

These new tin cups were their very own. Now they each had a cup to drink out of. Laura jumped up and down and shouted and laughed, but Mary stood still and looked with shining eyes at her own tin cup.

Then they plunged their hands into the stockings again. And they pulled out two long, long, sticks of candy. It was peppermint candy, striped red and white. They looked and looked at that beautiful candy, and Laura licked her stick, just one lick. But Mary was not so greedy. She didn’t even take one lick of her stick.

Those stockings weren’t empty yet. Mary and Laura pulled out two small packages. They unwrapped them, and each found a little heart-shaped cake. Over their delicate brown tops was sprinkled white sugar. The sparkling grains lay like tiny drifts of snow.

The cakes were too pretty to eat. Mary and Laura just looked at them. But at last Laura turned hers over, and she nibbled a tiny nibble from underneath, where it wouldn’t show. And the inside of that little cake was white!

It had been made of pure white flour, and sweetened with white sugar.

Laura and Mary never would have looked in their stockings again. The cups and the cakes and the candy were almost too much. They were too happy to speak. But Ma asked if they were sure the stockings were empty.

Then they put their arms down inside them, to make sure.

And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny!

They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.

There never had been such a Christmas.

The Sunday Salon: Struggling to Read

In the last week, I’ve written a novel’s worth of articles, supervised (and tried to help) while my husband and friends moved some furniture around inside, and also into, our house, helped a friend pack to move half way across the country, picked up a cake for another friend’s birthday, managed to shatter the glass of my iPhone when my dog knocked it from my hands, and I’m also rehearsing a song for church. If there was a way to get a roadside assistance plan for my brain, I totally would.

While this has been going on, I’ve noticed that reading has become a struggle. Either I’m too tired, or too hyper, or I just don’t have time. I posted a few days ago that I was not in a reading mood at all, but that’s not true. I want to get lost in a book, and am in the middle of three now (up from two), but I’m not connecting to anything. It’s like, I only have the mental capacity to hum Christmas tunes and watch cheesy movies on Fa-la-la-la-Lifetime.

I know this mood won’t hold, but I was really hoping to manage to complete 104 books this year, and I’m short of that goal.

So, I wonder – what does everyone else do when reading becomes a struggle when it never was before?

Booking Through Thursday: Character


On Thursday, December 16th, Booking through Thursday asked:

If you could be a character from any book, who would you be? And why?

I must not be taking my multivitamins because I swear there was no Booking Through Thursday prompt when I wrote my piece on the 17th. I guess I must have missed it.

In any case, the truth is that there are many characters I’d love to hang out with, but there isn’t one single one I’d like to be. One type maybe – feisty literary heroines like Jo March and Anne Shirley really appeal to me, but I really don’t want to live in either of their time periods, and while I really enjoyed reading Tania Aebi’s account of sailing around the world in a wooden ship as an eighteen-year-old, I know myself well enough to know that I am not happy without access to hot bubblebaths, espresso, bookstores, my dogs, and high-speed internet access.

Lame answer, I know, but the truth nevertheless.

Booking Through Thursday: First


On Thursday, December 2nd, Booking through Thursday asked:

How about First Editions? Are they something special? Or “just another book” to you?

Since the nice folks at BTT didn’t share a prompt this week, I’m answering one that I skipped.

So, First Editions. To be honest, I’m not a used book fan. I think used books are much akin to used gym equipment in that they serve a very important market, but it’s not a market I’m in. For me, there is nothing better than cracking the cover on a brand new book, with no one else’s cigarette smoke or mothball scents trapped in the pages. On the other hand, I do recognize that first editions are potentially valuable, and I do have a small collection, including one Arthur Conan Doyle volume that a friend gave me. It was an incredibly generous gift.

Not in a Reading Mood

All of you who know me will be shocked, but I’ve had almost no time to read this month, and I find that I’m not in a reading mood, anyway.

It’s not that I lack for material. I’m still reading Slipknot in eBook format (which, thankfully, works not just on my Kindle, but also on my iPhone and on laptop computers), and in paperback I’m enjoying a mystery called A Pointed Death, and not just because the main character has a shorthaired pointer.

Usually, I read in the tub, but while I’ve spent some lovely time soaking in bubble bath, I’ve been listening to the radio, and not reading.

And I’ve found myself watching far too many cheesy Christmas movies on Lifetime.

I am, however, writing a lot, both offline and in my main blog MissMeliss: Escribition.

I’m not worried, though; I know my reading mood will come back eventually.

And sometimes it’s nice to live OUTSIDE of books for a bit.

Booking Through Thursday: Crappy


On Thursday, December 9th, Booking through Thursday asked:

Do you ever crave reading crappy books?

On the surface this seems like an easy question, akin to, “Hey do you want to wake up with cerebral palsy tomorrow morning?” You’d think the answer would be a resounding “No.” You’d think anyone would have to be nuts to want to read a crappy book.

And yet…

It all depends on how we define crappy, doesn’t it?

I mean, there are times when I get great enjoyment from reading those really bad bodice ripper romances (generally because I’m reading them aloud, in the car – smut becomes comedy when you read it aloud in the car) and there are all these painful euphemisms for body parts. “Quivering members” and “Soft folds” and all that. I think my favorite referred to a woman’s “hot center” as of she was some kind of walking, talking, chocolate lava cake.

Not that the authors of those books are writing drivel. And even if they are, does it matter? If it gets people reading, it’s not really a bad thing…and hey, they’re getting paid to write, and the fact that I find most smut to be incredibly comical says more about me than the books, doesn’t it?

Doesn’t it?

But then, I also have this thing for Star Trek books, and while some of the writers of those have written their own original-universe stuff, I know a lot of people treat their work with derision. I don’t. I like most of their ideas, and I think it takes MORE talent and skill to write someone else’s familiar characters in a way that is true to the franchise AND true to your own voice, not less.

But I can’t deny that some would consider them crappy.

As for me, I find that there are a lot of free Kindle books that are free not because the author’s are being generous, but because they really are, if not crappy, than at least, not good in any definition of the word that equals “saleable.”

Teaser Tuesdays: Slipknot


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

– Grab your current read
– Open to a random page
– Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
– BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
– Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I’m still in the mood to read books that involve the ocean in some form. I suppose at some point my mood will shift and I’ll want books full of pretty clothes and romance and bridal gowns, but right now, seafaring stories are making me happy.

Recently, I started reading Linda Greenlaw’s fiction, but even though I began reading this book last month, I’ve had NO TIME to read in the last several days, so it’s taking me longer than any book generally does. In any case, since it’s the Kindle edition, I can’t give the page number, but my teasers are from “locations 527-40.”

“That larger island is Acadia, right?” I asked, pointing offshore.

“Yes. Look, you can see the houses. Only see them when it’s wicked clear. The eastern shore is where all you Bunkers are from. That great span of open water to the right of Acadia is known as Penobscot Ridges.”

“Isn’t that the proposed site for the wind farm?” I asked, ignoring the comment about my family. I knew the answer but was looking for an opinion, or at least another detail.”

“Yes. That tiny puddle of the North Atlantic Ocean is causing quite a ruckus around here. It’s been the most productive bottom for cod since before I was born. Green Haven’s bread and butter for decades. It’s been closed to fishing for the last five years or so, to allow the fish a breeding ground. Now the fishermen want to harvest what’s there, and the wind farm people want it for their own.”

— from Slipknot by Linda Greenlaw.

You can buy the book from Amazon or read the first chapter for free.

Review: A Diamond in the Desert, by Jo Tatchell

A Diamond in the Desert
A Diamond in the Desert: Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World’s Richest City
Jo Tatchell
Grove Press, Black Cat, 304 pages
October, 2010
Read the first chapter for free >> or Buy the book from Amazon >>

Description (from Publishers Weekly):
A glittering emblem of global modernity carries a tinge of tribal clannishness and xenophobia in this revealing travelogue through the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Tatchell (The Poet of Baghdad), an English journalist who spent her youth in Abu Dhabi, compares the present city, with its skyscrapers, lavish malls, and Guggenheim branch, to the bedouin past it has all but obliterated. She finds that Abu Dhabi’s 420,000 official citizens, with an average net worth of million in oil wealth, have traded their camels and tents for SUVs, condos, and glitzy, indolent jet-setting; surrounding them is a sea of exploited foreign guest workers, 80% of the population, who build and run the city while living in a stateless limbo. (There are secrets lurking behind the shopping and partying, she finds during a Kafkaesque quest to locate the national newspaper archive.) The author’s teeming, sharply etched portrait introduces readers to tycoons, a wastrel playboy with a pet panther, a bored housewife trying to score bootleg liquor, avant-garde artists, nostalgic British expats, and a Lithuanian prostitute. Tatchell’s keen powers of observation and personal connections enable her to convey the hidden reality of this mirage-like city.

I don’t know what the best under eye cream might be, but I do know that the best way to get a free pedicure is to walk barefoot in sand, and speaking of sand, there’s a great moment in Jo Tatchell’s memoir A Diamond in the Desert: Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World’s Richest City where Jo, visiting her childhood hometown as an adult, finds that she misses the desert sands that have been supplanted by modern construction. She sees some sand between a couple of buildings and takes off her shoes so she can feel it on her feet. It wasn’t a huge moment, but it’s the kind of detail and emotional connection that is what makes this book so delightful on so many levels.

But I digress.

When Ms. Tatchell contacted me and offered me a copy to review, I didn’t connect her name with the voice I’ve heard from my radio when she’s been on NPR, and I’m glad of that, because I would have been slightly intimidated. Who am I to review her work? I confess, I also felt a bit inadequate. I read a lot; I try to keep myself aware of the goings on in the world outside the bubble of SEO copywriting and improvisational comedy in which I reside, but the history of the Arab world is so rich and complicated that I don’t feel I have an accurate grasp on it.

Despite this, or maybe because of it, I quickly found myself engrossed in Tatchell’s book. As many reviewers have said, it’s part memoir, part travelogue, part history, but it’s also a completely human story. In many ways, it’s also a twist on the whole “you can’t go home again” theme, because Tatchell did spend part of her childhood living in Abu Dhabi in the 1970s at the dawn of OPEC (which period I really only knew through works of fiction like The Eight before reading this book). Going back to any childhood home as an adult makes us see it with new eyes. Things we thought were huge often seem diminished, things we remember as sparkly and new often seem dingy and faded, or, conversely, things we remember as worn down are likely to greet us in new, gentrified forms.

Beyond the homecoming aspect of A Diamond in the Desert, however, there is also a look at modern Arab culture that most Westerners will never really experience, and it’s shared candidly, without any political agenda. Tatchell’s observations are honest ones. She sees the changes in “her” city, both good and bad. Abu Dhabi, after all, is one of the few Arab countries with a decidedly pro-Western stance, modeling a form of tolerance we could learn from , and demonstrating that cultural evolution is possible, and even necessary, in a world so full of dynamic change.

Not that Abu Dhabi is perfect, of course. Tatchell never implies that it is, and she shows us its faults as well . In everything from the glossing over, nay, the total erasure of a child abduction that happened in her youth, to the careful non-existence of newspaper archives from the same period, to her recollection of a party she attended as a young woman where the host kept a panther on the balcony (I felt bad for the panther), she shows us Abu Dhabi as naked as a city can be under the cloak of civilization all cities wear.

Tatchell may not love Abu Dhabi unconditionally, but her respect for the city, the country, the culture all shine through. She shows us a different life, and while she may comment on apparent social and/or political inequities (women, for example, are still not treated as equals there, but then, we Westerners aren’t exactly enlightened about the treatment of women (or GLBTQQI folks, or ethnic minorities, or, or, or…) either. We just cover it better.) she does so without harsh judgement.

If you want a scandalous story about murder and crime and intrigue, this is not the book for you. If, on the other hand, you want an honest glimpse behind the veil of culture, with hints of intrigue and peeks at darker politics, as told from someone who has lived in the culture, you should race to the bookstore or click on one of the links above, and buy this book today. You won’t regret it.

And you might even learn something.

I know I did.

Goes well with mint tea and chicken shawarma.