Archive for March, 2011

30th March
2011
written by Steph
I once had a friend tell me that I probably got as much enjoyment out of making lists of books I wanted to read as I did actually reading said books. What can I say? I'm a list maker and love to plan! Like many other book bloggers, I'm always on the lookout for my next great read, and while other blogs are great resources, sometimes I feel like the same books pop up in my Google Reader again and again. That's one of the reasons I love bookstores: I love browsing around and just randomly picking up books and finding titles I've never heard of before. Of course, I'm not immune to the great prices that online shopping can provide, but personally I find book browsing on Amazon (and the like) to be a little tedious and it seems a lot harder to discover surprises that way.

Depiction of YNR interface

Enter YourNextRead. While this isn't the first site I've stumbled across that purports to help readers find their next book, this is one of the best and most effective interfaces I've found. The premise is pretty simple: you type in the name of a book or author that you like, and a little web of related books pops up. Click on one of those, and new titles appear that are related to that second title. Lather, rinse, repeat. What I particularly like about this process is that it kind of operates on the whole "six degrees of kevin bacon" principle. As you click through interesting book options, it's a bit like choose your own adventure, but the books are ultimately linked in some way to that first book you picked. I do like that you can influence the direction of subsequent title suggestions as it's just so much more interactive than a simple list. Additionally, for each title that pops up that is linked to the central book, you can indicate whether you think people who enjoyed the central book will actually enjoy each linked book. I assume that these votes then influence the likelihood of that book showing up again when someone else chooses the central book in the future. One problem I have with Amazon recommendation systems (and many other book recommendation programs) is that they seem to rely too heavily on suggesting other books by the same author. Of course it stands to reason that if I enjoy Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen that I might very well like her other books, but I could probably have figured that out on my own! I am always looking for new authors, and I've found that YourNextRead does this very well. For instance, on a recent search, I put in Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris as my starting novel. From there, I jumped to A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee (never heard of him!) which looks good enough to warrant further investigation. From there I jumped to A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (a book I have and intend to read in the future), where I then jumped to The Summer of Naked Swim Parties by Jessica Anya Blau (another new-to-me author). That one didn't seem like my cup of tea, so I backtracked to Goon Squad, and instead tried Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant (??? exactly!), which seems delightful. From there it's onto The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald which sounds effing awesome. And again, is completely new to me. I'm starting to feel a bit like Thursday Next with all this book jumping, plus I think you get the picture. Along the way, I had seven different alternatives to check out each time (plus there's the option to refresh if a central book isn't presenting anything you think looks appealing), but just from this little experimental jaunt, I've found three new books that are now on my wishlist. Dangerous for those of us with bookbuying impulse control, but a really fun way to explore the book universe. If you feel like you're stuck with the same old stuff in your reading pile, this may be just the way to liven things up! Try it out; it's wildly addictive! And feel free to share in the comments any of the book chains you create!
29th March
2011
written by Steph

Looking at my reading log, I realized that I finished Practical Magic back on February 10. Normally I try to write reviews for books within a week of finishing them, but obviously that didn’t happen with this one. While I was reading PM, I thought it was a fine read and when I finished it, I concluded that I liked it well enough. So why is it that I find myself struggling so hard to write anything about it? I hate when I end up feeling apathetic about a book, because I can barely muster up the energy to talk about it, which is really no fun for anyone. Basically, I had never read an Alice Hoffman novel before so I didn’t really know what to expect going into this one. I think I had seen the movie version ages ago, but I remembered pretty much nothing about that experience. Also, after finishing the book, I did watch the movie trailer and it seems like the film takes considerable liberties and has a different focus than the book. Essentially the movie makes it seem like the book is about these powerful witch sisters who are cursed in the sense that any man who falls in love with them is destined to die… this is very much not how things go in the book. There are two deaths, one tied to each sister, but neither of these really has a direct link to either sister… in fact, the first death is important in the sense that it strikes home the fact that death comes when it will and there’s nothing we can do to stop it when it makes up its mind to claim someone we love. (more…)
21st March
2011
written by Steph

The end of The Worst Book Slump Ever of 2011?

I have seen the future, my friends, and apparently my life ends with me being crushed by the piles of books that have taken over my apartment. What a way to go, eh? Seriously though, I think my reading slump may be nearing its end. I mean, I can’t go and buy 21 books over the course of two days and claim that books and I aren’t on speaking terms, can I? I mean, that would just be silly.  These two piles of books are from two separate hauls… on Friday, I took a personal day because the weather was so nice… which doesn’t exactly justify how I wound up spending two hours INDOORS at McKay’s, but just roll with it. The books in the right column are the ones that I picked up there. Then on Saturday, Tony and I took a little roadtrip up to Louisville, Kentucky which just happens to have several Half Price Bookstores! After hearing so much great stuff from so many bloggers who live in HPB cities, I knew we had to visit one. And that is how the second stack of books (the one on the left) happened. So what exactly did I pick up? I’m so glad you asked! (more…)
20th March
2011
written by Steph
I've been meaning to post this picture for a few weeks now. On my last hair appointment (about three weeks ago), I didn't just get my hair cut, I also got color put back in it. And it feels sooooo good. I love my tri-colored tresses!

My transformation into Rihanna circa 2009 (minus the domestic abuse) continues...

17th March
2011
written by Steph

Just because I'm not writing about books here for the moment, that doesn't mean I've completely forsaken them! On Tuesday I got together with some of the wonderful women who work over at BookPage and sat down for a podcast in which we discussed Lionel Shriver's most recent novel, So Much For That. It was a vibrant and spirited discussion, which really helped to remind me why it is I started this blog in the first place: so that I could connect with others who are passionate about reading. As much as reading can be a solitary activity, I think the best books are the ones that get us thinking and talking and ultimately connecting with others. Not all of us responded to Shriver's latest work in the same way (I may have been a contrarian for much of this podcast... as in life), but it was still a really thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion, and yes it was a lot of fun! If you'd like to hear four passionate readers take off their gloves and throw down, you could do no better than listen to our discussion! I won't spill the beans and say whether or not I actually liked this book... you'll just have to listen to find out. [And really, it's the first question we answer, so you don't really have to listen for very long if you don't want to... I encourage you to listen to at least the first 5 minutes of the podcast for not just the answer to this very important question but also to listen to the awesome "Pemba" music at the start! 😉 ] Listen to the BookPage So Much For That Podcast by following this link! (more…)
9th March
2011
written by Steph

Grrrrr!

Apologies for the lack of updates here of late. Alas, expect them to persist for a little while at least, since I am suffering a case of what I am referring to as Reader's Rage. An extreme form of a reading slump (is it the time of year? Everyone seems to have the bookish doldrums of late), it's not just that every book I've picked up over the past two weeks has failed to excite or interest but rather almost all of them have made me waspish and annoyed. I keep thinking the characters are stupid or that the focus is trivial and while part of me desperately wants to be reading, as soon as I pick up a book, I want to be doing anything else. I've probably read the first 20 pages of five or six books in the past week or so but nothing feels right. So I abandon ship and try something else only to find the same issues cropping up. I have to assume it's not the books' faults, it's mine. Normally I'd turn to an old favorite, but given my current mood, I fear I'd find the suck fairy had gotten into them, thus destroying a once beloved book due to my crotchety mood. And writing hasn't been any better. I have a handful of books I need to cover on the blog, but whenever I open up a file to start typing, I find I have nothing to say. Which is a shame and just plain wrong because these books are pretty good and deserve having things said about them. Positive things even! But the words, they will not come. I fear I have lost my groove! I know I'll get it back, but I'm going to give myself a guilt-free breather until I find my way home again. Let me tell you, feeling like books are your worst enemy rather than your best friends is a terrible feeling. I hope I can shake it soon! Anyone out there experienced the same thing and have any tips?
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1st March
2011
written by Steph
I apologize that of late it feels like I write more reviews on others sites than I do here, but you know the drill by now: new month, new BookPage, new reviews by Steph and Tony!

This month I covered Rebecca Hunt's debut novel, Mr. Chartwell. You might not normally expect the words "chronic depression" and "quirky" to go hand-in-hand, but they merrily skip about in this novel. Taking inspiration from the fact that Sir Winston Churchill used to refer to his battle with depression as his "black dog", Hunt takes the metaphor and makes it real in the form of beastly Mr. Chartwell, a hulking black lab. While Winston Churchill obviously plays a role in the book, to me the most intriguing character was entirely of Hunt's own creation, Esther Hammerhans who has troubles of her own. This was a quiet yet spirited novel that I found very thoughtful and probing. If you'd like to read more about it, you can read my full review here.

Tony tackled a much larger book than I this month (ain't that always the case?), and reviewed Jonathan Evison's latest novel, West of Here. The book has already been getting a lot of buzz and BookPage actually chose it as their top pick of the month! If you're into sweeping epics that span multiple periods of time, then this is the book for you. It features a small town in the Pacific Northwest and looks at the building of a damn back in the 1800s and how it is pivotal to sustaining life in that region... only for the damn to become a burden in the modern age. A intelligent look at the way the country and our lives have changed, this is a book you'll not want to miss. You should also not miss Tony's review, which you can check out here!