Sunday, February 28, 2010

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

Bookish Quote of the Week:

"A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life."

-Henry Ward Beecher

Today in Literary History...

On this day in 1749 the publication of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones was announced in "The General Advertiser," along with an apology: "It being impossible to get Sets bound fast enough to answer Demand for them, such Gentlemen and Ladies as please, may have them sew'd in Blue Paper and Boards, at the Price of 16s. a Set, of A. Millar over against Catharine-street in the Strand."

For more literary history, please visit Today in Literature.

Literary Pic:

Book on my Radar:
The Wives of Henry Oades
by Johanna Moran
Ballantine Books (Feb. 9, 2010)
384 pages
Historical Fiction

Summary in a Sentence:

Henry Oades and his family move to New Zealand in the late 1800s, where he has accepted a job, but when his wife Margaret and the children are kidnapped during a Maori uprising and presumed dead, Henry moves back to California where he marries Nancy, a young widow, and the couple is just starting to settle down when Margaret and the children show up, and Henry, Nancy, and Margaret are all charged with bigamy.

Read the Reviews: The Crowded Leaf | Jenn's Bookshelves | Devourer of Books

Friday, February 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Hugo

Today is the birthday of author Victor Hugo, born February 26, 1802. Most people know him by his novels Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but did you know he was also an artist? Behold, one of Hugo's little doodles below:


Hrmm...anywho, here are some other fascinating tidbits about Hugo: 
  • Hugo was very close with his mother and even waited until her death to marry his longtime sweetheart, Adele Foucher. Hugo’s mother disapproved of the match.
  • Hugo’s play Hernani (1830) started a riot between conservative and liberal factions in the audience.
  • The shortest correspondence in history is credited to Hugo and his editor upon the release of Les Miserables. Hugo was on vacation during the time the book was published and was curious as to its success. He telegrammed his editor “?” and was rewarded with the reply “!”
  • Although he never directly attacked the Catholic church, he was critical of its dogma.
  • More than two million people marched in Victor Hugo’s funeral procession through Paris.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wading Through My Wishlist


Recent additions to the Great Monstrosity that is my wishlist....
The Last Man on the Moon
Gene Cernan

Cernan's frank, earthy memoir of his years at NASA adds another entertaining, informative volume to the burgeoning shelf of books illuminating the inner workings of the space program and the people who made it happen. Coauthor Don Davis, a veteran journalist, helps Cernan craft a colloquial prose style that nicely captures the competitive, macho personality that seemed virtually mandatory for astronauts in the 1960s and '70s. Cernan candidly depicts the reckless streak that twice led to needless injuries jeopardizing his spot on a mission.  Detailed accounts of each flight, including technical problems and personal tensions (particularly with Apollo 17 teammate Jack Schmitt, distrusted because he was a scientist, not a test pilot), remind readers that the space program is a human endeavor, with inevitable failures that make the triumphs that much sweeter.
~Found at S. Krishna's Books~

The Case of the Missing Books
by Ian Sansom

In a field crowded with unlikely sleuths, Israel Armstrong--chubby, nervous, clumsy, headache prone, underachieving--stands out. Hired to be a librarian, he arrives to find his library closed and his position retitled "Outreach Support Officer"--driver of the decrepit mobile library. Worse, the books he's supposed to fill it with have disappeared. Worse yet, his new boss will accept his resignation only if he finds the missing books first. Between Israel's inept sleuthing and the general unhelpfulness of the locals, it looks as if he'll be in Tumdrum a long, long time. Begging to be read aloud, they unfold with a rollicking blend of dry humor, slapstick, and sheer farce that is nonetheless anchored by a strong sense of place and a sobering sense of the place's troubled history. Librarians have found themselves a new hero in Israel Armstrong, who, despite his unheroic demeanor, is a champion against bullshit and bureaucracy in the service of books.
~Found at Tutu's Two Cents~

The Female of the Species
by Lionel Shriver

Gray Kaiser is a renowned anthropologist whose career took off when she discovered a remote African village lorded over by white man Corgie, whose plane crash had convinced the locals that he was a god. Now 59, Gray returns to Il-Ororen to make a film of the village as it was, with the help of her 40-ish assistant Errol. Their lives become entangled with Raphael, the 25-year-old grad student whose uncanny resemblance to Corgie makes him the star of the film and eventually Gray's first lover. This is a remarkable book: it is at once full of very predictable plot turns, yet compelling to read; the three main characters are often cliched and transparent, yet they are striking, original, memorable characters. Fascinating and warmly recommended, though perhaps not for those whose taste runs to sophisticated fiction.
~Found at At Home With Books~

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Jane's Fame ~ How Jane Austen Conquered the World

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

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

 Diverting anecdotes pepper award-winning British biographer Harman's sharp and scholarly analysis of Jane Austen's life and the posthumous exploitation of her as a global brand having everything to do with recognition and little to do with reading. Tracing the rise and fall and rise of Austen's reputation against a larger historical backdrop, Harman chronicles the WWI-era worshipping Janeites; assessments of Austen that minimized her as an accidental artist; and modern post-feminist criticism that, in exploring her politics, sexual and otherwise, has placed Austen in several mutually exclusive spheres at once. Harman notes that film versions have taken liberties with and overshadowed Austen's books, concluding that [o]ne of the horrible ironies of Austen's currency in contemporary popular culture is that she is referenced so freely … in discussions of 'empowerment,' 'girl power,' and all the other travesties of womanly self-fashioning that stand in for feminism today. Yet it is impossible to imagine a time when she or her works could have delighted us long enough. Harman herself delights with this comprehensive catalogue of Austen-mania.
This title will be released on March 2, 2010.

What are you waiting on this week? Leave your link here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

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

Bookish Quote of the Day:

"Disparage no book, for it is also a part of the world."

-Nachman of Breslov

Today in Literary History...

On this day in 1852 Nikolai Gogol died at the age of forty-two. His unique style is a comic-tragic-absurd hybrid which has led to him being labeled the Hieronymous Bosch of Russian Literature. Having come under the sway of a fanatical priest late in life, and then been subjected to the treatments of several quack doctors, Gogol's last days mirrored one of his bizarre stories all too closely.

For more literary history, visit Today in Literature.

Literary Pic of the Week:

"Bookworm" by Norman Rockwell, 1926

Book on my Radar:

Ruby's Spoon
by Anna Pietroni
Spiegel & Grau, 2010
384 pages

Summary in a Sentence:

Isa Fly arrives in Cradle Cross, England, in 1933, and many of the town's residents feel an instant pull towards the mysterious young woman, but a group of tight-knit women are suspicious of Isa and accuse her of being a witch, setting in motion a shocking series of events that will change the town and its people forever.

Read the Reviews: Farm Lane Books | The B Files

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg

A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver
by E.L. Konigsburg
Atheneum, 1973
201 pages
Children's historical fiction
Personal copy

Summary in a Sentence:

While waiting in heaven for divine judgment to be passed on her second husband, Eleanor of Aquitaine and three of the people who knew her well recall the events of her life.

My Thoughts:

Oh, E.L. Konigsburg, how could I ever expect anything less than delightful perfection from you? I don't know how I missed this one growing up, considering From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was a favorite in elementary school. The cover for Proud Taste has since been updated to appeal to today's audience, but I just love the original cover art, so I included it in this review.

I love historical fiction, but I sometimes struggle to find books in the genre that I know kids will truly enjoy. Proud Taste is one of those books. Konigsburg sets up a clever premise in which impatient Eleanor is waiting in heaven for her husband, Henry II, to move 'up'. While waiting, the readers are told the story of Eleanor's life by three people who knew Eleanor while she was queen: Henry's mother, Abbot Suger (my favorite), and William the Marshal. Each person takes turns relating the life of Eleanor in such a way that the reader doesn't get bogged down while learning about Middle Ages France and England, which is indeed exactly what is going on! Rather than focusing on dates and events, the story is told with a focus on Eleanor's personality, which is quite different than that of most other women of the 12th century. Included in the book are ink drawings separating each of the narratives, along with a map.

~ I read this book for The Tournament of Reading Challenge  and the Four Month Challenge ~

You might also like:

Friday, February 19, 2010

She Blinded Me With Science - In the Library, That Is.

Books about microbes, photosynthesis, and pesticides are this year’s winners of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)/Subaru Excellence in Science Books Awards.

The AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books celebrate outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults. The prizes are meant to encourage the writing and publishing of high-quality science books for all age groups. AAAS believes that, through good science books, this generation, and the next, will have a better understanding and appreciation of science.
The prizes emphasize the importance of good science books and  encourage children and young adults to turn to science books, not only for information, but for enjoyment too!
2010 Winners:

Children’s Science Picture Book
Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life (Blue Sky, 2009) by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm.
This account of photosynthesis is narrated by the sun. Shining on every page, it celebrates its power with bursts of bright yellow connecting with the greens of the Earth. Circular paintings emphasize the continuity of nature, while the spare, poetic narrative describes the process of converting energy and carbon dioxide into sugar. Back matter gives further information about the scientific process of photosynthesis.

Middle Grades Science Book
The Frog Scientist (Houghton, 2009) by Pamela S. Turner with photographs by Andy Comins.
Discusses the work of Tyrone Hayes and his efforts to study and protect frogs, and follows Hayes into the field with his students to perform experiments with various types of frogs.

Young Adult Science Book
Invisible Kingdom: From the Tips of Our Fingers to the Tops of Our Trash, Inside the Curious World of Microbes (Basic Books, 2009) by Idan Ben-Barak.
Australian microbiologist Ben-Barak gives an enthusiastic tour of single-celled life. Avoiding jargon, he adopts colloquial language that illustrates how the world works for, say, E. coli. Fun facts are one attraction of Ben-Barak’s work, another is the importance the author accords to what microbes do to us. Perhaps readers will become furious hand washers after learning about the culpability of viruses and bacteria in diseases; perhaps they’ll be inspired by the possibilities of enlisting them to kill cancer or clean up pollution; certainly, they’ll be better informed by Ben-Barak’s entertaining approach.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wading Through My Wishlist


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

Irreplaceable by Stephen Lovely

The last thing in the world grieving Iowa widower Alex Voorman wants is to hear from the woman who now has his wife's heart. It's been a year since his beloved Isabel was killed in a truck/bicycle accident, and he's barely moving on. Close to his mother-in-law, Bernice, he resents her push for him to speak with Chicagoan Janet Corcoran, who was near death until she received Isabel's heart. First-time novelist Lovely writes unflinchingly of the medical and emotional realities that attend a heart transplant and the terrible toll it can take on recipients and their families, who are desperate to stop worrying, and the donors' loved ones, who will never stop grieving.

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet by Myrlin Hermes

A Divinity scholar at Wittenberg University, Horatio prides himself on his ability to argue both sides of any intellectual debate but is himself a skeptic, never fully believing in any philosophy. That is, until he meets the outrageous, provocative, and flamboyantly beautiful Prince of Denmark, who teaches him more about both Earth and Heaven than any of his books. But Hamlet is also irrationally haunted by intimations of a tragic destiny he believes is preordained.
When a freelance translation job turns into a full-scale theatrical production, Horatio arranges for the theater-loving prince to act in the play-disguised as the heroine! This attracts the attention of Horatio's patroness, the dark and manipulative Lady Adriana. A voracious and astute reader of both books and people, she performs her own seductions to test whether the "platonic true-love" described in his poems is truly so platonic. But when a mysterious rival poet calling himself "Will Shake-speare" begins to court both Prince Hamlet and his Dark Lady, Horatio is forced to choose between his skepticism and his love. ~ Found via Steele on Entertainment ~

Black No More by George Samuel Schuyler

What would happen to the race problem in America if black people turned white? Would everybody be happy? These questions and more are answered hilariously in Black No More, George S. Schuyler's satiric romp. Black No More is the story of Max Disher, a dapper black rogue of an insurance man who, through a scientific transformation process, becomes Matthew Fisher, a white man. Matt dreams up a scam that allows him to become the leader of the Knights of Nordica, a white supremacist group, as well as to marry the white woman who rejected him when he was black. Black No More is a hysterical exploration of race and all its self-serving definitions. If you can't beat them, turn into them. ~ Found via Rebecca Reads ~

What do you say, readers? Sound good/bad? Have you read any of these?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Dead End Gene Pool


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

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:
In the tradition of Sean Wilsey's Oh The Glory of It All and Augusten Burrough's Running With Scissors, the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt gives readers a grand tour of the world of wealth and WASPish peculiarity, in her irreverent and darkly humorous memoir.
For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to the inherited fortune of Cornelius "The Commodore" Vanderbilt. At the heart of the story is Wendy's glamorous and aloof mother who, after her husband's suicide, travels the world in search of the perfect sea and ski tan, leaving her three children in the care of a chain- smoking Scottish nanny, Fifth Avenue grandparents, and an assorted cast of long-suffering household servants (who Wendy and her brothers love to terrorize). Rife with humor, heartbreak, family intrigue, and booze, Dead End Gene Pool offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of old money and gives truth to an old maxim: The rich are different.
This title will be released on April 1, 2010.

What are you waiting on this week? Leave your link here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Books By Theme: The Not-So-Sunny Side of Florida

sunset over the ocean 
Photo: vgm8383

When I think of the Sunshine State, images like the one above inevitably come to mind, along with idyllic memories of the Magic Kingdom. Not far behind, however, are the not quite so pretty descriptions of Florida evoked by writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Carl Hiaasen. Following are a sampling of books that look past Florida's theme parks and beaches to a deeper understanding to the state's past and present.

Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston book cover
First published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God is African American writer Zora Neale Hurston's most esteemed novel. It focuses on Janie Crawford, a beautiful thrice-married black woman seeking love and empowerment in the racist, sexist world of 1930s central Florida. Janie finally finds the right man in Vergible "Tea Cake" Woods, but a catastrophic hurricane sets off a series of fateful events that doom the couple.

Unquestionably Florida's most popular writer today, Carl Hiaasen has the enviable ability to deal withNative Tongue, the scheming owner of an ecologically challenged theme park in North Key Largo stirs up an array of activist opposition, including the author's greatest creation, recurring character Clinton Tyree, a.k.a. Skink, a half-insane former governor who lives in the woods in a junked car and eats road kill.
serious issues in an entertaining and inventive manner. In one of his best novels,

One of Florida's most intriguing real-life murder cases occurred in
1910 when an ornery, red-bearded man named Ed Watson was shot to death vigilante-style by his Everglades neighbors, who believed him to be a serial killer. Peter Matthiessen recounts Watson's life, death, and alleged crimes in three remarkable novels that combine historical fact and creative conjecture, beginning with Killing Mr. Watson.

Lay that trumpet in our hands by Susan McCarthy book cover
Susan Carol McCarthy's first novel, Lay That Trumpet In Our Hands, draws on her Florida childhood. Triggered by the racially charged murder of a black orange grove worker in 1951, the plot centers on a white family's determined stand against hatred and bigotry in a Ku Klux Klan–dominated community in central Florida. The narrator, young Reesa McMahon, exhibits a poignant blend of innocence, courage, fear, and maturity; cameo appearances by historical figures such as Thurgood Marshall and Harry T. Moore (Florida's first civil rights martyr) enhance the book's power.

~  For more themed book lists, check out Listless by One Librarian's Book Reviews and Listed by Once Upon a Bookshelf ~

Sunday, February 14, 2010

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

Bookish Quote of the Week:

"Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them."
 —Lemony Snicket

Today in Literary History:

On this day in 1975 P. G. "Plum" Wodehouse died, aged ninety-three. Given the hundred books and the three-dozen musicals, it seems reasonable to believe the account of Wodehouse's final moments which has him collapsing while trying to pick up the pen and papers his wife had thrown across his hospital room. On this day in 1946 George Orwell published "In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse," in which he tries to rescue the author from his stickiest and most famous spot of trouble.

For more literary history, please visit Today in Literature.

Literary Pic of the Day:

Man Reading by Rembrandt van Rijn

Book on my Radar:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot
Crown (Feb. 2010)
384 pages
Nonfiction: Medicine/Diseases

Summary in a Sentence:

Examines the experiences of the children and husband of Henrietta Lacks, who, twenty years after her death from cervical cancer in 1951, learned doctors and researchers took cells from her cervix without consent which were used to create the immortal cell line known as the HeLa cell; provides an overview of Henrietta's life; and explores issues of experimentation on African-Americans and bioethics.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Beautiful Creatures by Garcia & Stohl

Beautiful Creatures
by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Little, Brown (Dec. 2009)
576 pages
YA Supernatural Fiction
Winner of the William C. Morris YA Debut Award
Source: My friend Kim foisted this on me so she could have someone to discuss it with :)

Summary in a Sentence:

In a small South Carolina town, where it seems little has changed since the Civil War, sixteen-year-old Ethan is powerfully drawn to Lena, a new classmate with whom he shares a psychic connection and whose family hides a dark secret that may be revealed on her sixteenth birthday.

My thoughts:

I have extremely mixed feelings over this tome of a young adult novel. I usually make the effort to put some distance between a new release with this much hype and my reading of said novel. Unfortunately, I did not give myself enough time with Beautiful Creatures. The book was simply talked up way too much for me to possibly enjoy it as much as I was hoping I would.  Here's my bulleted list of irksome findings:
  • I found Ethan, the male love interest, to be very feminine and not much like most sixteen year old guys I know or have ever known. Women authors have been known to write believable male characters and vice versa, but Garcia & Stohl did not hit the nail on the head with this one.
  • I think I'm a little burned out on the whole supernatural-I'm-mortal-but-the-one-I-love-isn't-what-will-we-ever-do? theme in young adult literature. Did anyone else feel like this was just Bella and Edward in reverse, just a little bit? 
Not everything is bad here, I promise! I love that it was set in the south (South Carolina, to be exact), that libraries feature so prominently in the book (not just regular libraries but secret occult libraries as well), and that the Civil War is also a main topic in the novel. Many citizens in Ethan's small town of Gatlin, South Carolina, still seemed to be fighting for the Cause with a capital 'C'. For librarians out there, teen readers of Twilight and supernatural series in general will definitely be into this one.

~ Read for the 4 Month Challenge ~

Other reviews:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Naked in the Library

Just a fun little tidbit for my Friday morning readers...

Take a closer look at this Library of Congress mural that's been around since 1897...yup. They're naked dudes playing baseball.

Brett Smiley writes:

“There’s a mural on the ceiling of the Great Hall in the Library of Congress that very nearly blends in with the many others found in the room. But when you look closer, you’ll notice something peculiar: It depicts a bunch of naked guys holding baseball equipment. According to Susan Reyburn, a staff writer-editor at the library and coauthor of Baseball Americana, the mural has been around since the Library of Congress opened in 1897: ‘It’s one of about five images depicting ancient games, showing the Olympic ideal.’”...

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