Thursday, June 30, 2011

Literary Giveaway Winner

Julie of Knitting and Sundries is my Literary Giveaway Winner. Just send me an email within three days, Julie, and I’ll get out your choice of a book written by any of the authors I’ve reviewed on Col Reads!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop. I found so many great blogs through this hop, and I look forward to finding more great reading recommendations from all of you! And a special thanks to Judith at Leeswammes, who organized this fun event.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Audiobook Review: In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

Alexander McCall Smith’s sixth installment in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, has a wonderfully intimate feel. Each of the mysteries covered in this book is very personal to the characters that series fans have already come to know and love. The book starts with Mma Ramotswe attempting to foil a theft in the bizarre. Then there’s the mystery of the intruder in her house on Zebra Drive. And the question of the perfect pumpkin left on her porch. Most importantly, there’s the strange goings-on at Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s former residence – and the chance that they may have something to do with ladies’ man apprentice Charlie. As with all of the books in this series, the mysteries themselves are secondary to the human interactions and observations that lead to their resolutions.

Since the first book was published in 1998, McCall Smith has had plenty of time to develop the main characters, and their increasing complexity is indeed part of the charm of the book. We see Precious Ramotswe’s lingering self-doubt for the first time in the series. And we experience Grace Makutsi’s loneliness – after all, even if you can be justifiably proud of your astounding 97% result on the final examinations at the Botswana Secretarial College, you can’t cuddle up with it at night.

But McCall Smith isn’t letting things get dull in Gabarone. This book introduces two important male characters: Phuti Radiphuti, Mma Makutsi’s kind but clumsy dancing partner, and Mr. Polopetsi, a very honest man who paid a terrible price for someone else’s mistake, and is now trying to find work in an unforgiving city. As ever, I love the compassion with which McCall Smith treats his characters.

One of the reasons I chose this for what I knew would be a long car ride was because it was read, like the other books in this series, by South African narrator Lisette Lecat. Her beautifully accented reading evokes warm sunshine, African bush tea, and the slow but changing rhythm of life near the Kalahari Desert– probably because she grew up not far from Botswana. She is Precious Ramotswe to me. And Grace Makutsi. And Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. I can easily listen to her for hours, forgetting (or at least trying to forget) the demolition derby driving on the Capitol Beltway. Lecat’s range is outstanding. Each of the voices she creates is so distinctive that I no longer need the text to tell me who’s speaking. And unlike other readers’, I haven’t found any of her characterizations off-putting, even those of the minor or transitory ones.

These audiobooks have wide appeal, and because the themes are very traditional, and morality and culture are discussed often, they make a great choice for family listening. My husband and at least one daughter enjoy them as much as I do. Highly recommended for lovers of mysteries, lovers of fiction set in other countries, and people who love smart, compassionate, female protagonists.

Audiobook Jukebox

This book wasn’t for any of my challenges, but I will be linking this review to Audiobook Jukebox, a great place to find audiobook reviews and recommendations. June was Audiobook Month, so I really wanted to get something linked over there before the end of the month!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Reviews: The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate

A while back, I read a review of Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate by Bina of If You Can Read This. I had never even heard of Nancy Mitford, but I enjoyed her review, and I popped the book on my Goodreads TBR. And then promptly forgot about it. Until last week, that is. Looking for some books to load on my Kindle before vacation, I saw the title again, and decided to grab it on impulse. Lucky for me! I couldn’t put it down. So after I devoured it, I downloaded the book Mitford wrote first, The Pursuit of Love. I cannot believe it took me this long to discover these little gems: A perfect vacation reading duo!

Both books share a narrator, Fanny Logan Wincham, a well-born young woman who lives on the fringe of aristocratic society due to her parents’ scandalous behavior (her mother’s serial marriages have earned her the moniker “Bolter,” while her father has bucked up his part of the family fortunes by attaching himself to a series of wealthy older women). Through this classic “poor relation,” Mitford provides the reader with a humorous take on a British society that was poised for change in the period between the two World Wars. The books are not about Fanny, however. In each, she is sharing the coming-of-age (read “courtship and marriage”) story of a woman close to her: poised and polished friend Lady Leopoldina (Polly) Hampton in Love in a Cold Climate and cousin and best friend Linda Radclett in The Pursuit of Love.

That’s where the books really diverge, giving each of the books a character all its own. Fanny’s devotion to Linda and her other cousins at Alconleigh makes The Pursuit of Love laugh-out-loud funny, loving and bittersweet. In contrast, her detachment from Polly, an heiress of astounding beauty, and her terror of her conniving mother, Lady Sonia Montdore, is what gives Love in a Cold Climate its legendary bite.

Lady Montdore dominates Love in a Cold Climate, clinging to the status quo for dear life, worrying that any change would threaten “all this,” her generalized term for her wealth, her station, and her comfortable surroundings. Nobody is more aware of Lady Montdore’s importance than Lady Montdore, and her goal is to always remain at the center of society. In one great passage, Fanny details Lady Montdore’s calculations about who got picked up from the train:

Lady Montdore’s writing paper was headed Hampton Place, Oxford, Station Twyfold. But Twyfold, with the change and hour’s wait at Oxford it involved, was only inflicted upon such people as were never likely to be in a position to get their own back on Lady Montdore, anybody for whom she had the slightest regard being met at Oxford. “Always be civil to the girls, you never know who they may marry,” is an aphorism which has saved many an English spinster from being treated like an Indian widow. (p. 18 )

I have read that Love in a Cold Climate was revolutionary in its time for its inclusion of an openly gay character, the Montdore heir Cedric Hampton. And I suppose it was. Over time, however, that characterization seems a bit dated, probably because serious, literary, modern novels are not likely to play a gay character for effeminate laughs. Cedric becomes Lady Montdore’s “sassy gay friend,” which is all well and good, but there were times when the sharing of jewels and make-up made Cedric seem a ridiculous foil for Lady Montdore, rather than an interesting and complex character in his own right.*

Common wisdom refers to Love in a Cold Climate as Mitford’s “best novel,” but I can’t agree. For me, The Pursuit of Love was the more enjoyable of the two, mostly because of the wacky antics of the Radclett cousins and their eccentric father, Uncle Matthew, a country squire of the decidedly old school. Uncle Matthew’s vociferous rages, contempt for all things not English and obsession with hunting are truly hilarious. And the Radclett clan reminded me of the brood from Cheaper by the Dozen, always letting their imaginations lead them into a good time, on the way to a bunch of trouble.

But both books are charming time capsules, bringing the reader right back to a particular time and a very specific part of society that are now largely gone. I loved reading about the “London season” young girls enjoyed – or endured, depending on the girl – while looking for a husband. Both books drip with irony, something I adore. And who knows, had I read them in the correct chronological order, I might have liked Love in a Cold Climate even more than I did. I heartily recommend them both to those who love literary fiction (and even those who usually read historical fiction) with a humorous side. You won’t be disappointed.

Because of Cedric's groundbreaking part in it, Love in a Cold Climate counts toward the GLBT Reading Challenge. And “pursuit” counts as a movement in the What’s in a Name 4 Challenge. Thanks to BethFishReads for hosting!

*If you haven’t seen Second City's wildly popular and irreverent Sassy Gay Friend videos, they involve a character from literature changing her hideous fate with the help of a sassy gay friend. Here’s a link.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Salon: Back to the Real World Edition

In the past couple of weeks, writing a book chapter for an edited book on advertising and popular culture was followed by an off-the-grid vacation in North Carolina, making June a blogging bust at Col Reads, pretty much. I did get a lot of fantastic reading done, though, discovering two new authors in the process: reviews are coming for titles from Nancy Mitford and Margery Allingham this week.

The beach vacation was exactly what Clan Ahern needed. From Ocean City to Holden Beach and Myrtle Beach, we found plenty of sunny, sandy fun – and plenty of time to unwind and laugh ourselves silly when we were done playing. Of course, I didn’t get any writing accomplished, so there’s a backlog of reviews to finish up this week, but living agenda-free for seven whole days was worth it!

I got back just in time to put up my post for Leeswammes’ Literary Giveaway Blog Hop. I’m giving away a book by ANY AUTHOR I’ve reviewed on Col Reads. The giveaway is open internationally to all blog followers, so if you haven’t signed up for a chance to win yet, you have until June 29 to enter. The post is here.

This week I’m planning on crossing off a few items from my reading challenge lists, including finishing up Helen’s Middle Eastern Reading Challenge. I have a Georgette Heyer novel, Frederica, on my Kindle, because it isn’t officially summer until I read a Regency Romance. And Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes: A Love Story is waiting to be picked up at the library, one of my choices for the Book Bloggers Abroad Challenge. All in all, it looks like a good week in the real world on the way!

Hope your summer is off to a similarly sensational start!


Friday, June 24, 2011

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop: June 25-29

If I had to describe my blog in one word, it would definitely be “miscellany.” I love classics and modern literary fiction. But I also read boatloads of non-fiction. And mysteries – especially vintage mysteries. And contemporary lit in Spanish, as well as translations from other languages.

When it came to picking a gift for the Leeswammes’ Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, I decided to let you decide. So I’m giving away one book by ANY AUTHOR that I have reviewed on Col Reads, as long as the cost is under US$25, the book is available through Book Depository (or Amazon if the winner is in the US), and the winner lives in a country where Book Depository delivers. There is a list of every book reviewed on Col Reads under the “Review Central” tab. But remember, you’re not limited to those books – any book written by one of the authors I’ve reviewed is on the table!

Giveaway Rules:
1. Anyone can enter. You do not need to have a blog.
2. You can participate as long as you live where Book Depository offers free delivery.
3. All you have to do is 1) be a follower and 2) leave a comment with your email address to enter.
4. You can enter the giveaways until June 29th. I will close the giveaway when I turn on my computer on June 30th (Eastern Daylight time).
5. Note that double or invalid entries will be removed.
6. Each valid entrant will be assigned a number. The winning entry will be picked by
7. I will notify the winners by email. The winner must answer my email within 3 days, or I’ll announce a new winner.
8. Have a great time discovering new blogs and thanks for participating.

I hope you enjoy the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop! Please make sure you check out these other participating blogs:

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop Participants:

  1. Leeswammes (Int)

  2. The Book Whisperer (Int)

  3. Kristi Loves Books (Int)

  4. Teadevotee (Int)

  5. Bookworm with a View (Int)

  6. Bibliosue (Int)

  7. Sarah Reads Too Much (Int)

  8. write meg! (USA)

  9. My Love Affair With Books (Int)

  10. Seaside Book Nook (Int)

  11. Uniflame Creates (Int)

  12. Always Cooking Up Something (Int)

  13. Book Journey (Int)

  14. ThirtyCreativeStudio (Int)

  15. Col Reads (Int)

  16. The Book Diva's Reads (Int)

  17. The Scarlet Letter (USA)

  18. The Parrish Lantern (Int)

  19. Lizzy's Literary Life (Int)

  20. Read, Write & Live (Int)

  21. Book'd Out (Int)

  22. The Readers' Suite (Int)

  23. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (USA)

  24. Ephemeral Digest (Int)

  25. Miel et lait (Int)

  26. Bibliophile By the Sea (Int)

  27. Polychrome Interest (Int)

  28. Book World In My Head (Int)

  29. In Spring it is the Dawn (Int)

  30. everybookhasasoul (Int)

  31. Nishita's Rants and Raves (Int)

  32. Fresh Ink Books (Int)

  33. Teach with Picture Books (USA)

  34. How to Teach a Novel (USA)

  35. The Blue Bookcase (Int)

  36. Gaskella (Int)

  37. Reflections from the Hinterland (USA)

  38. chasing bawa (Int)

  39. 51stories (Int)

  40. No Page Left Behind (USA)

  1. Silver's Reviews (USA)

  2. Nose in a book (Int)

  3. Lit in the Last Frontier (Int)

  4. The Book Club Blog (Int)

  5. Under My Apple Tree (Int)

  6. Caribousmom (USA)

  7. breienineking (Netherlands)

  8. Let's Go on a Picnic! (Int)

  9. Rikki's Teleidoscope (Int)

  10. De Boekblogger (Netherlands)

  11. Knitting and Sundries (Int)

  12. Elle Lit (USA)

  13. Indie Reader Houston (Int)

  14. The Book Stop (Int)

  15. Eliza Does Very Little (Int)

  16. Joy's Book Blog (Int)

  17. Lit Endeavors (USA)

  18. Roof Beam Reader (Int)

  19. The House of the Seven Tails (Int)

  20. Tony's Reading List (Int)

  21. Sabrina @ Thinking About Loud! (Int)

  22. Rebecca Reads (Int)

  23. Kinna Reads (Int)

  24. In One Eye, Out the Other (USA)

  25. Books in the City (Int)

  26. Lucybird's Book Blog (Europe)

  27. Book Clutter (USA)

  28. Exurbanis (Int)

  29. Lu's Raves and Rants (USA & Canada)

  30. Sam Still Reading (Int)

  31. Dolce Bellezza (Int)

  32. Lena Sledge's Blog...Books, Reviews and Interviews (Int)

  33. a Thousand Books with Quotes (Int)

Book Review: Bossypants

Tina Fey’s Bossypants is very funny.

It’s so funny that I tried to read one particular passage out loud to my husband, and I couldn’t even finish it: I was laughing too hard. I may be wrong, but I don’t think he found this situation anywhere near as amusing as I did. And I don’t think he found the passage as funny either, once I finally did managed to sputter through it. It’s not because it wasn’t funny, but it wasn’t funny out of context. Which is, to be honest, the main challenge in reviewing this kind of book. I’m worried that I won’t be able to do it justice.

While she’s probably best known to Americans as “the woman who played Sarah Palin,” Fey really focuses more on her comedy writing than her acting. Writing for Saturday Night Live and producing 30 Rock seem to be her proudest achievements, which leads to one of the main strengths of the book. As a writer, her greatest talent lies in crystallizing the humor in everyday situations and events. In one particularly hilarious passage, she talks about the absurdity of getting a manicure:

The first few times you go, it can be intimidating. For starters, you may forget that you yourself speak English. You enter, smile, and nod at the manager. “Manicure-pedicure?” “Pick color,” she chirps back in her Korean accent. You pick out a couple of the three hundred shades of off-white. “This for manicure. This feet. Magazine okay?”Why are you talking like that? Now that you have racially embarrassed yourself, you are ready to squeeze into a seat at a tiny table and basically hold hands with a stranger for twenty minutes. (page 112)
I only had one real problem with the book (aside from the cover, that is, which I think is absolutely freakish). Fey’s humor is largely self-deprecating, and I get that. The problem is that she goes out of her way, over and over again, to point out what a really, really, really normal person she is. But come on, is her book on The New York Times Bestseller List because she’s just an average Jane? Of course not. Lots of people are funny. Lots of people were theater geeks as kids. But only a handful of people have Lorne Michaels’ cell phone number of speed dial. And he only picks up for a small portion of them. Lorne Michaels picks up for Tina Fey. That makes her a BIG deal. The “I’m-just-a-regular-girl-from-Philly” thing grated on me after a while.

I was glad that Fey dealt head-on with some of the sexism issues that go along with working in the entertainment business, although I thought she stopped short of calling a few people out, especially when she was discussing her tenure at Second City. Still, this is a very funny, very gutsy book. If Tina Fey makes you laugh, you really ought to read it. But those who love modern memoirs and those who enjoy popular culture will also find a lot to enjoy here.

Here’s another title for Introverted Jen’s Dewey Decimal Challenge. So thanks again for hosting the only challenge I have completed so far this year, Jen!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Vintage Murder Finds

I've been trying to finish up a book chapter due next week, so my reading has been confined to a few minutes before bedtime. But at least Ngaio Marsh’s Vintage Murder has been providing me with some Wondrous Words!

The first was a complete mystery:
“Is she a good actress?”
“Then how - - -?”
“Pomfret,” said Hambledon, “and push.”

According to the dictionary, pomfret is either a 1) black fish or 2) a licorice-like confection. So my guess is that this was a colloquialism that meant someone offered something sweet (in this case money) to push his own agenda (in this case, getting his daughter an acting job).

The second was pretty clear from context, but I had never heard it before:
“That’s what Hambledon said,” agreed Wade gloomily. “It’s a blooming nark, dinkum it is. Still, there’s better alibis that have gone west before now, and I’m not going to forget this will. Mason’s a whole lot better off by this murder.”

The fourth meaning of nark, is primarily Australian, and means a killjoy or wet blanket. In this case, I think they’re referring to the alibi taking Mason off the suspect list, even though he appears to profit most from the murder. The book actually is set in New Zealand.

I hope even if things are hectic, you’ve found some Wondrous Words this week. Thanks so much to Kathy at bermudaonion for hosting!