Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Special Feature: Bookends

I have been pretty much obsessed with bookends for the last several days so it's not at all surprising that when the time to write about bookish things came I immediately wanted to share my recent finds with you. Here are a few classic, word-related, whimsical and character-inspired bookends. Best part - pictures are clickable and will take you to where I found them! And for more fun bookends stop by my page on Pinterest.

Vintage globe bookends Metal bookends Crown Bookends Corbel Bookend

Poetry bookends by KnobCreekMetalArts Read Books Bookends Book End bookends @ and & bookends

Elephant reading bookends Kids reading bookend Cherub reading

Mermaid bookend Harry Potter bookends White whale bookends

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review: Trade Winds to Meluhha by Vasant Davé

Trade Winds To MeluhhaIn ancient Mesopotamia Samasin the stable boy is falsely convincted of murder. When a double eclipse saves his life he flees his homeland in search of a man whose name the dying victim whispered to him. With murderers eager to protect their crime network on his heels Samasin faces an adventure of his life.

I grew up on adventure stories that spanned continents, with Jules Vernes' In Search of the Castaways and the Mysterious Island being my favorite, and Trade Winds to Meluhha certainly reminded me of the hours I spent imagining distant lands with danger at every step. Mr. Davé did a great job crafting an elaborate story that was not at all straight-forward and although towards the middle all the culprits were perfectly clear the many obstacles in the way of bringing them to justice kept things interesting. There were several sub-plots and adventurous asides that in the end played a role in the main story and I commend Mr. Davé for crafting a novel with this many levels and still managing to keep the pace up without a sluggish moment to create a satisfying resolution that felt natural and logical.
With this many plot lines to keep track of the abundance of characters was taxing at times. Two I had trouble distinguishing altogether, some I wasn't sure were all that necessary, but the main characters were intersting and developed nicely, so I mostly paid attention to them. I liked how they ofthen had secrets that kept me guessing for a while and I enjoyed seeing their transformations as the novel progressed. I think Velli was probably the most changed character by the end of the book and it was fun to see her gradual evolution from a hauty daughter of a wealthy man to a kind and caring lady.
My main issue with this book was the language. It wasn't awkward or inappropriate at any time, but it felt foreign, like a translation that is done without allowing for stylistic differences between two languages. It wasn't a deal-breaker by any means but it did affect my perception. Another factor was that the novel is set in ancient time, two thousand years BC, but a lot of the speech patterns, terminology and idioms used in the book are modern. Combine that with a drug trade and human trafficking and often the novel felt like present day crime drama somehow transported into the time of camels and reed ships. Also, I felt that the whole human trafficking situation was a bit contrived. Had the author stuck with slavery the key developments could have been easily preserved without compromising anything but the story would have felt more time-apropriate and natural.
In the end this is a solid adventure novel with great characters and it made me want to read more in the genre.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I am celebrating my birthday this week and since it's such a happy time decided to do something fun and give away some of the books I enjoyed recently (and not so recently). Spread the joy, as they say.
To enter pick three of the following titles and tell me what your favorite book is so far this year. We'll have three winners and hopefully everybody will get their first choice! You have until Midnight PT on June 24th to enter and I'll draw the names on Monday using and will send the winners their loot within a day or so. If you're outside the US please limit your choices to ebooks. The giveaway is open to anyone, not just my followers. And last but not least, the images link to my reviews of the books so feel free to browse. Good luck!

All the Queen's Players Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris Amongst My Enemies Curbchek Eragon Leonardo's Swans

Memoirs of a Geisha My Sweet Saga Postmortem (Kay Scarpetta, #1) Three Act Tragedy We Bury the Landscape While I'm Still Myself

The giveaway is now closed, thank you very much to all who participated! I have notified the winners via e-mail and look forward to being able to share some really good books with the lucky readers.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: Curbchek by Zach Forthier

CurbchekFrom the testimonials: "Curbchek chronicles the experiences of a police officer as he transitions from a new boot with challenging life experiences to a salty veteran who has been baptized into the dark side of reality by countless hours on the street."
This is a story of law and order uncensored.

We watch crime shows on TV and treat it as just fiction. There's often a clear divide between the bad guys and the good guys and although sometimes the writers of those TV shows show us that things aren't so black and white it's still TV, still fiction. This book isn't fiction. It's the real deal and it shows the ugliness on both sides of the law in no uncertain terms. We're all human, regardless of what we do for a living.
I liked Forthier's no-nonsense style of writing devoid of embellishments or sugarcoating. Things are what they are and there's that. It's not all heavy though, there's humor and a pretty funny story mixed in with the episodes that are anything but. I could tell that despite everything he's been through the author hasn't lost his ability to laugh, even if it's the kind of laughter that's tinged with bitterness.
The book is set up as a series of episodes telling about the cases Forthier worked as a police officer in his hometown after coming back from military duty. It's clear that he came to the force with certain preconceived notions about the job and the people he'd be working with and when reality intervened I think the adjustment was a difficult process that took time and left its own scars.
The stories within each chapter are grouped based on common themes and this gives each episode more impact. The author talks about his experiences and his reasons for doing things a certain way as well as the challenges of the job, and it's clear why he didn't make many friends among other police officers and that the people he wasn't friends with back then aren't going to be won over by this book.
The book is well-written with pacing, narrative, dialogue and voice working together and creating a satisfying reading experience. The only thing I wasn't particularly fond of was the formatting. As I've mentioned before the various episodes are grouped into chapters but there's nothing that separates these episodes. I think it would've been easier to differentiate one story from the other while still preserving the effect by allowing for a divider symbol or extra space between the paragraphs. The 1.5 spacing wasn't my favorite either because it made the book look like a manuscript, which, while easy to read, doesn't make the book look and feel like a finished product.
If you're sensitive to graphic violence or rough language this book is not for you. Work life of a police officer is filled with crime, altercations and profanity, so that's what you get in Curbchek. However, if you want to see what a real cop has to say about his time on the job I believe that you'll enjoy this book. And may be next time you watch a cop show you'll think about what you see a little differently.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Claude Monet - The Reader (aka Springtime)

Oil on canvas
19.69" x 25.59" (50 x 65 cm)
Currently located at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD, USA.

I haven't posted any art in a while and this painting seemed so fitting for the beautiful summer we're having. This lady may be Camille, Monet's wife, reading in the garden of their first house in Argenteuil.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The ReaderAs a 15-year-old boy in postwar Germany, Michael Berg had a passionate affair with a mysterious, guarded woman twice his age that ended suddenly when she disappeared. Years later, Michael sees her again -- when she is on trial for a terrible crime.

The original plan for this week was to read and review Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong but after a week of struggling through the first 30 pages I had to face the fact that for all the acclaim the book garnered Mongolian sheep herders were not going to hold my interest. The morning I decided it was time to move on a friend left a copy of The Reader on my desk at work and I dove in on my lunch break.
At first glance The Reader tells the story of a 15-year-old boy who has an affair with a woman in her thirties and how it affects him for the rest of his life. That is only the outer layer of the story though: as soon as you look deeper you see that more than anything it is about Germany after WW2, about shame and guilt, right and wrong, struggling with finding an identity for a generation that is coming to terms with the past and picking up the pieces. And it's not just my or some critic's opinion, Mr. Schlink tells us as much himself when Michael ponders his generation and its heritage, and tries to understand the past. Another reason that leads me to believe that this book is less about the relationship of Michael and Hanna and more about the German society after the war is that at no time does Michael ask in the book how could Hanna do what she did to him but there's plenty of times when he talks about how could the Germans allow the atrocities to happen, how could they not stand up to it all, how could they accept the former fascists back into society. It is as if he is more scarred by that than by having his whole life ruined by and eventually, in a way, devoted to a woman who didn't seem to care about the consequences of her actions.
One of the strongest features of this book is its elegantly spare, declarative prose. There are few explanations, just simple statements of facts that are offered to us without reservation. There are reflections on morality, humanity, right and wrong, and they too are so simple that they give the novel depth without rendering it unreadable. Yet as positively unflowery as the writing is the author manages to tell us exactly who his characters are, allows us to discover them gradually and without inflicting his own conclusions upon us, creates perfectly complete portraits with a few well-chosen words and well-placed sencentes.
There is a lot of story in a book that is barely two hundred pages long and since we only get Michael's side of it by no means does Mr. Schlink tell us all there is to tell. There is plenty to think about and I hope that if you haven't read this book that you will add it to your to-read list. It is most definitely worth a day or a weekend of your time.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Wellesbourne - A Bar With... Books!

I was going to write about a library today and dove into my notes to find one that would inspire me. Then I got to the note that read "The Wellesbourne. Pub/Library. Los Angeles." The library post is going to have to wait.
As soon as I saw the pictures I immediately put the place on my "Must visit some day" list. According to the reviewers on Yelp the place is designed as an old-world pub/lounge with dim lighting, background music, bartenders decked out in bow-ties, old-fashioned drink selection, large comfy sofas, a fireplace and antique books everywhere. Sure sounds like one of those private libraries in mansions passed down through generations, doesn't it?
To see more pictures and read the reviews visit The Wellesbourne's Yelp page. The official website is but there isn't anywhere near enough information there to satisfy my curiosity. It must be under construction. What is there though promises a solid, gentleman's club-like experience. I'm in!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve JobsAt a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.

I finished the book today and while dinner was cooking flipped through a copy of Rolling Stone magazine that somehow ended up in the house. There was an ad there for the iPad showcasing the Beatles section of the iTunes Store and unexpectedly I could see the principles Jobs emphasised right there on the page. The product that speaks for itself, the clean lines, the no-frills boldness of design, they were all there. Then suddenly I could see it in the biography cover that Jobs himself helped design, the simple black and white photo of Jobs on a clean white background, the genius staring intently at the camera, his mouth slightly curved in an impish grin. Then I remembered the iPod Nano in my purse, the iPod Shuffle in my gym bag, the thrill of every new Pixar movie, the feverish excitement in the eyes of my Apple-faithful friends and colleagues whenever a new iPhone is scheduled to be released and the unbridled delight of a friend when she was showing off her new iPad. It takes something special to turn a garage startup company into the most valuable company in the world with products that people will literally sell their kidneys for and Steve Jobs had that "something".
I don't want to review the man when I should be reviewing his biography but it is such an honest portrayal of a very difficult person that I was often infuriated for the first third of the book because of Jobs' personality. He was undeniably a visionary and it was clear even when he was very young, but the man was a spoiled brat who did drugs and did not shower, and accounts of how he treated people during his first stint at Apple were more than I could read through calmly. Even so, it was fascinating to follow the formative years of the man who would later become the head of both Apple and Pixar as we know them.
The narrative became a lot more palatable to my puritan sensibilities when the focus shifted from young Steve's temper tantrums to the evolution of the technological landscape, the years at NeXT, the beginning of the company that would become Pixar, the antagonistic relationship with Bill Gates and Microsoft, and Jobs' return to Apple. The book is really as much a biography of the Silicon Valley as it is a biography of Steve Jobs because the two are so interwoven they are literally inseparable and the non-techie in me sometimes lost interest when the circuit boards and microchips took over. Fortunately the account is filled with quotes from the people Isaacson interviewed when he prepared to write this book, including Jobs himself, and that provided a welcome balance that kept things moving.
When Apple bought NeXT and Jobs was able to come back to his beloved company the tone of the book changed as the era of unimpeded revolutionary productivity began. It seemed much more "business" from then on, more focused. I felt it was a faithful reflection of Jobs' life at that stage, after all he was a man in his 40s, had a family and two companies to run, and he really couldn't afford any more false starts. He also repeatedly said that he knew he would die young, so intuitive as he was he may have understood on some level that he had to get to work. Or may be he had simply matured sufficiently to focus on being productive more than petulant.
I'm not sure how this happened, but until I read about Jobs being the CEO of Pixar in this book I had no idea that Apple wasn't the only company over which he presided. In retrospect this is not at all surprising because Pixar is another embodiment of technology and art working together to create an excellent product, which is what Jobs has always stood for. I am a huge fan of Pixar movies and I look forward to what Lasseter will do without Jobs.
One thing that struck me as I began reading was how simple the language is. A child could read the book and understand what Isaacson was talking about. If it wasn't for the often mature subject matter I would question who the audience is supposed to be, and then I wonder whether the exceedingly easy to understand writing is meant to make it possible for non-native speakers to read the book without having to wait for the translation.
Research for this biography was a huge undertaking and having all the major players still around to interview was an undeniable advantage. It was really interesting to see how people never really completely disappeared from the picture. They would appear, have their time in the spotlight, then they'd get replaced by a brighter star, but they often reappeared in one capacity or another and towards the end I could clearly see that for all his abrasiveness Jobs managed to maintain relationships with people that lasted decades. And what more, even those who were replaced spoke about him with respect and even admiration. Now that takes talent.
In the first third of the book for all his genius I had little appreciation for Jobs, but by the time I read the last pages I grew to respect him and what he achieved in a relatively short time in his role as CEO, despite the fact that he remained a very difficult person. I feel that it is a testament to the work Isaacson did in presenting to us readers a portrat of Jobs as complete and unbiased as possible and at the end of the day that's what I believe a good biography should do. There's only one last thing I wonder about: can you imagine how much more Jobs would have been able to achieve had he not gotten himself ousted from Apple in the first place?