Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Monstrosity Gazette: A weekly smattering of all things literary...

Bookish Quote of the Day:

"Wear the old coat and buy the new book."

-Austin Phelps
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Today in Literary History...

On this day in 1929 D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover was banned in the United States. This was only one of a series of censures from the book's first publication the year before until the landmark obscenity trials in 1959 (U.S.) and 1960 (Britain), but for Lawrence personally it may have been the most devastating. For Philip Larkin, on the other hand, life began "Between the end of the Chatterley ban / And the Beatles' first LP. . . ."

For more literary history, visit Today in Literature.

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Literary Pic of the Day:

                                                       Edward Gorey

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New Book on My Radar:

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein
by Peter Ackroyd
October 2009
368 pages

Summary in a Sentence:
When two nineteenth-century Oxford students—Victor Frankenstein, a serious researcher, and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley—form an unlikely friendship, the result is a tour de force that could only come from one of the world's most accomplished and prolific authors.

Read the Reviews:
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Interesting Links to Peruse:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin book cover historical fiction
Alice I Have Been
by Melanie Benjamin
Delacorte Press (Jan. 12, 2010)
368 pages
Historical Fiction
Source: Shelf Awareness

Summary in a Sentence: 

Benjamin's debut imagines Alice Liddell's experiences before and particularly after Lewis Carroll immortalized her.

My Thoughts:

"But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful?"

I had some vague idea that Alice in Wonderland was indeed based on a real girl. What I didn't realize, however, was that Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, knew Alice Liddell quite well and even photographed her extensively when she was a young girl. (I have included a couple of these photos in this review.)

I completely lost myself to Liddell's world, living at Oxford as the dean's daughter with her father, mother, and sister. Dodgson and Alice understand each other and have an emotional connection that, while not altogether inappropriate, often teeters on the edge of an intimacy that could be disturbing. It is this strangely close bond that threatens to tarnish Alice's reputation and follow her forever.

This is historical fiction at its best. Melanie Benjamin extensively researched Liddell's life and stuck close to her story. An author's note in the back of the book gives insight as to what is fact and what is fiction in Benjamin's narrative, but suffice it to say that the author has captured the essence of both Alice and Lewis Carroll's humble beginnings. Highly recommended.

*Read this one while you wait for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland to come out in March 2010.

This book earns five points towards The Four Month Challenge.

Also Recommended:
Other Reviews:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp

book cover of Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp
by Patricia Clapp
HarperCollins, 1969
139 pages
Children's/YA fantasy; ghost story
Personal Copy

Summary in a Sentence (or two): 
Eighteen-year-old Louisa Amory is off to spend the summer with her aunt and young niece, Jane, who has an invisible friend, Emily. Seems innocent enough, until Louisa learns that Emily was a real girl who died in the house years ago but maybe never quite left.

My Thoughts:

The first time I heard about this author or novel was when perusing Lizzie Skurnick's Shelf Discovery, which, if you haven't picked up yet, is a wonderful little gem of a book featuring teen classics from decades past. Many of you guys have joined the Shelf Discovery Challenge as well.

Anywho, I happened upon Jane-Emily and was at once drawn in with the synopsis of the story. I love ghost stories and anything with a Gothic feel. I couldn't find this one at any library nearby, so I ordered it and am so glad I did. This is a classic creepy, psychological ghost story with a side of romance for good measure. Something about children who are evil, possessed ghosts always seems extra malevolent, don't you think? Oh, and you will never look at those silver reflecting balls in peoples' front yards the same way again...

~For fans of Poe, Shirley Jackson, Du Maurier, all that good stuff. This book might also be a good way to get your kids to be fans of the aforementioned :)

Rating: 4/5

Also Recommended:
Other Reviews: 

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wading Through My Wishlist

Recent additions to the Great Monstrosity that is my wishlist....

I just realized that all of the books in this post come from Eva of A Striped Armchair. We tend to have similar reading tastes, and she picks the BEST literature. I love her blog. Seriously, check it out if these books sound interesting to you :)

In The Hedgehog’s Dilemma, Warwick gets to the bottom of the sudden boom in hedgehog popularity and examines the relationship between the hedgehog and man, covering both the mammal’s natural and un-natural evolution, from despised vermin to much-beloved beast. A historical and cultural exploration of the hedgehog, this is an engaging, informative, and charming look at the fascinating world of hedgehogs.
For more than twenty years, Hugh Warwick has tracked hedgehogs across the globe in the slim hopes of coming across the hedgehog’s tiny, but unmistakable, pawprints. Warwick isn’t alone in his endeavors. In England and Wales, the Environment Agency, Great Britain’s leading environmental group, recently selected the hedgehog as its new mascot; while in America, which lacks a native hedgehog species, fanciers flock to the biannual Mile High Hedgehog Show to celebrate en masse the little spiny urchin. But why does the hedgehog seem to have such universal appeal?

Juno McKay is thrilled when her best friend Christine returns to their upstate New York college, Penrose, to give a lecture about the stained-glass window Juno will be restoring. Christine shocks her audience when she theorizes that Augustus Penrose, the college's founder, depicted his sister-in-law, Clare, not his wife, Eugenie, in the window. After the lecture, Juno finds Christine somewhat troubled and worries about her after she boards her train home. A week later, Juno and her 15-year-old daughter, Bea, kayak on the Hudson River to the Penrose estate, Astolat, where they discover a body: Christine. Heartbroken by her friend's death, which appears to be a suicide, Juno tries to find out what could have driven her over the edge. The search leads Juno in unexpected directions, one of which involves her handsome ex-husband, Neil, who has been a patient in the local asylum for 14 years, ever since he tried to drown himself, Juno, and Bea. Goodman is spot-on at developing a creepy, gothic atmosphere and delivering a compelling, tightly plotted mystery.

Although Gabrielle Walker, author of Snowball Earth (2003), holds a Cambridge doctorate in chemistry, her ear for storytelling is perfect for popular science. One critic praises her lyrical style; others praise her use of detail, anecdote, and science that wouldn't be out of place in Meteorology 101. Critics inevitably compare Walker to Dava Sobel, one of the genre's most popular writers. Walker has honed her skills as a contributing editor of Scientific American, and her breezy tone fits her subject perfectly. Even though her choice to start from square one may frustrate readers with some previous knowledge in the area, Walker has penned an engaging, readable book-nothing too heavy, and worth the reader's every breath.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


A Life in Books is hosting this wonderful challenge (click to sign up).

The challenge will be to read a set number of books that focus on books or reading. These can be fictional works, such as The Eyre Affair or The Shadow of the Wind; or non-fiction works such as 84, Charing Cross Road or The Polysyllabic Spree. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books out there that would fit this challenge.

The challenge begins on January 1, 2010 and ends on December 31, 2010. You must sign up for the challenge by January 31st, 2010.

Only books read during the challenge will count. You may reread books as well as cross-reference books with other challenges.

You do not need to make out a list when you sign up and you can change your mind on particular book selections throughout the challenge. I like to have flexibility for my reading whims!

There are three levels for you to choose from:

  • Bookworm: Read three books
  • Litlover: Read six books
  • Bibliomaniac: Read twelve books
I'm going for Litlover:
  1. A Passion for Books
  2. The Ghost Writer
  3. Who the hell is Pansy O'Hara?
  4. The Thirteenth Tale
  5. The Last Dickens
  6. The Man who loved books too much

First off, some details:  This challenge will run from January 1st, 2010 to December 31st 2010.  And it is completely okay to double-dip, what you read/watch here can count on other challenges! Click here to sign up.

Next, decide on what level you'd like to participate:
~ Level 1:  4 books, at least 2 written during 1837 - 1901.  The other books may be Neo-Victorian or non-fiction.
~ Level 2:  8 books, at least 4 written during 1837 - 1901.  The other books may be Neo-Victorian or non-fiction.
~ Level 3:  12 books, at least 6 written during 1837 - 1901.  The other books may be Neo-Victorian or non-fiction.
I'm going for Level 1.
  1.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  3. The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff
  4. Grange House by Sarah Blake

    The challenge will run from January 1st to December 31st, 2010, and will be hosted at Medieval Bookworm.  Challenge genres include history, medieval literature, and historical fiction.  Medieval, for simplicity of definition, will be from 500-1500, and literature from all over the world is welcome, not just western Europe.  There are 3 levels:
    • Peasant – Read 3 medieval books of any kind.
    • Lord – Read 6 medieval books, at least one of each kind.
    • King – Read 9 medieval books, at least two of each kind.
    I'm going for the Peasant Level.

    1. The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
    2. A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg
    3. Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve

    Haley of The Life (and Lies) of an Inanimate Flying Object is hosting the Jane Austen Reading Challenge.


    **Newbie 2 books by J. Austen, 2 re-writes, prequels, sequels, or spoofs (by other authors)
    **Lover 4 books by J. Austen, 4 re-writes, prequels, sequels, or spoofs (by other authors)
    ** Fanatic 6+ books by J. Austen, 5+ re-writes, prequels, sequels, or spoofs (by other authors)

    I'm doing the Newbie level.
    1. Pride and Prejudice
    2. Sense and Sensiblility
    3. Intimations of Austen by Jane Greensmith
    4. The Other Mr. Darcy

    Waiting on Wednesday: Life as I Know It

     Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine.

    This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

    book cover of Life as I Know It by Melanie Rose
    What if you had the chance to live someone else’s life? Full of heart and soul, here is a captivating novel about the choices we make for family and love—and how sometimes a total stranger is the person we really need to be. Jessica Taylor is walking her dog in the rain when she meets the man of her dreams—only to be struck by lightning moments later. When she wakes up in the hospital, the doctors insist she’s someone else: Lauren Richardson, wife and mother of four.
    This title will be released on February 16, 2010.

    What's your "waiting on" pick this week? Leave your link here!

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    All Things Kid Lit: Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends

    book cover of Mouse and Mole Fine Feathered Friends by Wong Herbert YeePicture book pick of the week:

    Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends
    by Wong Herbert Yee
    Houghton Mifflin
    Grades 1-3
    48 pages

    Whenever Mouse and Mole go bird watching, all the birds fly away. Perhaps “Mousebird” and “Molebird” will have better luck observing the feathered creatures.

    From Booklist:

    In their latest round of endearing adventures, best pals Mouse and Mole suit up excitedly for a day of springtime bird-watching, but before they can focus their binoculars, each of their subjects flies away. Compromising and cooperating are the themes as the friends find elaborate, creative solutions to their problems and make a final project that celebrates their individual talents. Once again, transitional readers will enjoy the well-paced text’s wordplay (including lots of puns); the gentle, realistic friendship conflicts; and the ink-and-watercolor artwork that captures the story’s humor, action, and feeling.

    You might also like:

    Kid Lit News:

    Los Angeles Times
    December 14, 2009

    "Being a book lover and a journalist, I always imagined I'd take the literary high road as a parent and that my boy would want to read (or be read) what I had as a kid: Charlotte's Web, The Giving Tree, and other wholesome classics. I never thought I'd have a reluctant reader for a child, yet that's the position I'm in with my 6-year-old son, who likes books but struggles with reading and writing."

    Los Angeles Times
    December 11, 2009

    Even Eloise herself wouldn't be bored by the Plaza Hotel's latest tribute to the restless, 6-year-old storybook heroine who made her fictional home in the New York City landmark: a 2,100-square-foot pink shrine to all things Eloise.

      Monday, December 14, 2009

      Books By Theme: Travel the World from your couch

      Photo: Dave Austria

      Have the travel itch but low on funds? Live vicariously through this sampling of travel writing...

      Last Chance to See is as funny as travel writing can be but with a serious purpose. The late sf writer Douglas Adams and zoologist Mark Carwardine traveled the world searching out endangered species in their diminishing natural habitat to call attention to the fragility of their existence.

      Michael Paterniti recounts one of the oddest trips he, or anyone else, has taken in Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain. Accompanied by the 84-year-old doctor who performed the autopsy on Einstein and stole the scientist’s brain, Paterniti travels across the country to return it (housed in a Tupperware bowl) to the great man’s granddaughter.

      Travel writer Tim Cahill may explore exotic places around the world, but his experiences and reactions will be familiar to anyone who has survived a long family car trip. A Wolverine is Eating My Leg is a collection of his misadventures from the Americas to Asia and beneath the sea.

      As the result of an ill-considered bar bet, British actor/author Tony Hawks spends 30 days going Round Ireland with a Fridge, meeting many eccentric characters (eccentric even for someone traveling with a large household appliance) and even becoming a minor media celebrity.

      Assassination Vacation combines Sarah Vowell’s love of travel and U.S. history as she visits the locations and sheds light on the personalities connected to the assassinations of presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley.

      Sunday, December 13, 2009

      The Monstrosity Gazette: A weekly smattering of all things literary...

      Bookish Quote of the Day:

      lobster claw
      "Books are like lobster shells: we surround ourselves with 'em, then we grow out of  'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development."
      -Dorothy Sayers

      Samuel Johnson readingToday in Literary History...

      On this day in 1784 Samuel Johnson died. Johnson's last years have been told According to Queeney (Beryl Bainbridge, 2001) and many others, but his large personality seems to escape any one perspective. According to Harold Bloom, Johnson may be beyond reach in all ways: "There is no bad faith in or about Dr. Johnson, who was as good as he was great, yet also refreshingly, wildly strange to the highest degree."

      For more literary history, visit Today in Literature.

      New Book on my Radar:

      abigail adams by woody bolton book cover nonfiction
      Abigail Adams
      by Woody Holton
      Hardcover: Nov 2009
      512 pages.
      Summary in a Sentence:

      In this vivid new biography of Abigail Adams, the most illustrious woman of America's founding era, prize-winning historian Woody Holton offers a sweeping reinterpretation of Adams's life story and of women's roles in the creation of the republic.

      Interesting Links to Peruse: 

      Saturday, December 12, 2009

      The Glimmer Palace by Beatrice Colin

      Glimmer Palace by Beatrice Colin book cover historical fictionThe Glimmer Palace
      by Beatrice Colin
      Riverhead, 2008
      416 pages
      Historical fiction
      Personal copy

      Summary in a Sentence:

      Lilly Nelly Aphrodite takes her first breath in Berlin as the 20th century dawns and keeps right on going until she is Germany's top silent film star.

      My Thoughts:

      Ever since I watched the German silent film Metropolis last year, I've been deeply fascinated with the early film industry. This novel follows Lilly Aphrodite from the dawn of the 20th century to the eve of World War II and gives readers an intimate glimpse into the world of Germany in the throes of World War I and the decadence of the 1920s German film industry.

      An interesting facet of the novel that sets it aside from other historical fiction is the structure. At the beginning of every chapter, the author opens with short unconnected stories about the German film industry and an accompanying photo from turn of the century Germany. The photos above and below were among those included in the book. I love historical fiction because it is an imagined story based on real events. These vignettes and photos help connect the reader with the era and the characters.

      silent film star Pola Negri
      Silent film star Pola Negri

      Besides All Quiet on the Western Front, this is the first book I've read set in World War I. Reading about the complete devastation of the citizens of Germany in a textbook is one thing, but reading about it from the standpoint of Lilly personalizes the loss and poverty that was so widespread and gives the reader a glimpse as to  how these circumstances led to the rise of Hitler in the '30s.

      For fans of historical fiction as well as the history of cinema.

      This book counts towards the Random Reading Challenge.

      Rating: 4/5

      You might also like:
      Other Reviews:

      Read reviews from The Tome Traveller's Blog, Bookgirl's Nightstand, and A Writer's Pen.

      Friday, December 11, 2009

      You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs

      by Augusten Burroughs
      St. Martin's Press (October 27, 2009)
      Genre: Essays; Humor

      Summary in a Sentence: 

      Augusten Burroughs recounts moments and experiences from seven Christmases, describing how he crafted gingerbread tenements, woke up next to Kris Kringle, and more.

      My Thoughts:

      Burroughs is back, this time with a Christmas memoir. I first discovered Burroughs about 3 years ago and read every book he had written to date in one month. My friend and I both fell in love with him during the same summer. He is so irreverent and brutally honest. I wrote down pages and pages of quotations as I read Dry and Magical Thinking. Needless to say, I practically peed on myself when I found out he was coming out with another book.

      Alas, this memoir starts out rocky for me. Arranged chronologically, his first two or three stories are funny, but not overly so, and something about the first story made me downright uncomfortable. There were great moments, though. Burroughs goes into great detail of his long battle of alcoholism in his memoir Dry, and "Why do you reward me thus" features a Christmas when he goes on a drinking binge and literally wakes up huddled between two honest-to-goodness homeless bums.Or how about waking up next to a fat and dirty Santa in "Ask again later"?

      Where Burroughs truly shines is when he is talking about his relationships with George and Dennis. His writing that at times can be crude and completely in your face is immediately tender when talking about those he has loved in the collection's last two stories, "The Best and Only Everything" and "Silent Night." Fans of the irreverent memoir or of Augusten's earlier work will appreciate most of the stories in the collection, especially the last two.

      This book counts towards the Four Month Challenge.

      Rating: 3/5

      Also recommended:

      For more funny Christmas tales, check out my Humor for the Holidays post.
      For the best of Burroughs, check out Dry or Magical Thinking.

      Other Reviews:

      Thursday, December 10, 2009

      Wading Through My Wishlist

      Recent additions to the Great Monstrosity that is my wishlist....
      Events that took place in London nearly 100 year ago—the Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street—form the basis of Fink's captivating ensemble crime drama. In early 20th-century Russian-occupied Latvia, Rivka Bermansfelt witnesses her father's attack on a Russian soldier, which leaves her a fugitive. She escapes to London and falls in with a colorful group of Jewish and other immigrant revolutionaries who tend to appreciate the arts and wish to live simple lives in America or Australia. While on the surface, the novel relates events of the present day to the terrorism of the past, Fink's story goes deeper, creating a compelling and psychologically driven tale of people who have lost their way in the world.

      The lives of four individuals—a dying painter, a blind girl, a landscape artist, and an art curator—intertwine across nearly five decades in this luminous and searching novel of extraordinary power. With How to Paint a Dead Man, Sarah Hall, "one of the most significant and exciting of Britain's young novelists" (The Guardian), delivers "a maddeningly enticing read . . . an amazing feat of literary engineering" (The Independent on Sunday).

      Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is snort-up-your-coffee funny, breezy yet profound, and poetic without trying. In fact, the whole book reads as if Janzen had dictated it to her best non-Menno friend, in her bathrobe, over cups of tea… It's the narrative voice of the person who grew up in an ethnic religious community, escaped it, then looked back with clearsighted objectivity and appreciation.

      Wednesday, December 9, 2009

      Secret Santa Time

      I just arrived home to see a box waiting patiently on my doorstep from Lu of Reading Frenzy. Here's my secret santa loot:

      In case you can't see what everything is, here's the list: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, Quest by Kathleen B. Duble, star magnets, christmas recipe notecards, a candle, an awesome book light, and a chocolate penguin which I've already started gnawing away at :) Many thanks to LuAnn for my great gifts!

      If you've gotten your gifts and posted about it, make sure to link your post up at the Holiday Swap blog.

      Waiting on Wednesday: The Wife's Tale

      Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine.

      This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

      On the eve of their Silver Anniversary, Mary Gooch is waiting for her husband Jimmy--still every inch the handsome star athlete he was in high school--to come home. As night turns to day, it becomes frighteningly clear to Mary that he is gone. For the first time in her life, she boards a plane and flies across the country to find her lost husband. So used to hiding from the world, Mary finds that in the bright sun and broad vistas of California, she is forced to look up from the pavement. And what she finds fills her with inner strength she's never felt before. Through it all, Mary not only finds kindred spirits, but reunites with a more intimate stranger no longer sequestered by fear and habit: herself.
      This title will be released on February 10, 2010.

      What's your "waiting on" pick this week? Leave your link here!

      Tuesday, December 8, 2009

      All Things Kid Lit: Big Wolf and Little Wolf

      Picture Book Pick of the Week:

      Big Wolf & Little Wolf: The Little Leaf That Wouldn’t Fall
      written by Nadine Brun-Cosme
      illustrated by Olivier Tallec
      Enchanted Lion, 2009
      32 pages

      High up in a tree is a little leaf that Little Wolf admires because it’s so tender, shiny, and soft. He asks Big Wolf to go get it. “Wait,” says Big Wolf. “Eventually it will fall.” But it doesn’t. Big Wolf finally agrees to get the leaf, but as branches crack under his feet, Little Wolf wonders whether the little leaf is worth the trouble.

      From School Library Journal:

      Big Wolf lives alone under a tree at the top of a hill until one autumn day when Little Wolf comes along. At first he is wary of this stranger who silently joins him for exercises at the top of the tree, lunch at the base, and sleepy time against the trunk. But when Big Wolf goes for a walk and comes back to find Little Wolf gone, he realizes that "a little one, indeed a very little one, [has] taken up space in his heart. A lot of space." Big Wolf waits through a lonely winter, until one spring day a tiny dot in the distance slowly grows to become Little Wolf, returning at last, and a beautiful friendship begins.

      You Might Also Like:

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      Kid Lit News Links:

      Book ideas for kids this holiday season
      Summit Daily News (CO) 
      December 4, 2009

      Walking into a bookstore children's department, especially at the holidays, can be overwhelming. Here are some suggested strategies and titles that might help you find those special books for those very special children.

      Plumas County News (CA)
      December 03, 2009

      After reading Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk, reading specialist Annie Harris "discovered" that there was a mouse named Squeak in the Pioneer Elementary library. Harris put out a box in which students could place letters written to Squeak. Since he is a library mouse, he enjoys writing back to the children.

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