Friday, April 30, 2010

Questions for Readers, and Blogmania Winners...

Blogmania has come to a close, so thanks for the participation and new interest!

Wheresmyrain won the "Mom Pack" and DK won the "Fiction Three Pack".  They've been notified and have 48 hours to contact me with mailing info.

Vøringsfossen Waterfall in Norway...

Now back to Serious Business!

I have some questions for readers:  do you have more Scandinavian book reviews or blog links I can link to?  I'd like to keep up with everyone's input (my wish list is now HUGE thanks to all of you!).

I just finished Elegy for April (upcoming review) and I'm curious if the main character of Dr. Quirke is a series or if this is a one-time character?  Anyone familiar with Benjamin Black?  I know the author writes as another name but am just wondering about this particular character...

I have a friend searching for Russian mysteries similar to the Arkady Renko series by Martin Cruz Smith...can anyone recommend Russian detective thrillers?  Thanks in advance!

The Man from Beijing, the second giveaway, ends on May 5.  The only participants in this giveaway are SRC participants (automatically entered) or commenters who specifically request via post to enter that drawing (don't want to just send it out randomly without making sure it'll be loved!).

Also, I'm still trying to collect country locations for a participant map, right now I only have a few.  Eight months left for the Challenge (piece of cake, isn't it?)!!

Thanks to all for putting up with the Blogmania flurry yesterday!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Easy as Pi: Jamie Buchan, nonfiction

Easy as Pi:  The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day
by Jamie Buchan

Give me the 411. 
187-I got him at gunpoint
Deep six it.
Fahrenheit 451
The Seven Samurai

It would be completely cliche to say numbers are everywhere. So I wasn't terribly sure I needed to read this book, as unless you are talking about large numbers of cash migrating into my bank account, the subject seems only nominally interesting.  However, having greatly enjoyed another book in the series, A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi" by Chloe Rhodes, I had to see what this one was about.  It's intriguing on so many levels...

It's not about numerology or anything other than the origins of certain pop culture numbers and numerical phrases, decidedly low brow and accessible.  "Hawaii Five-O", "Se7en", "Three Sheets to the Wind" sort of words and phrases...things you don't expect to find interesting, much less fascinating.

The book is divided into five sections:  Numbers in Language, in Fiction, in Culture, in Math and Science, and in Mythology and Religion. 

Example:  Why did Ray Bradbury name his iconic novel Fahrenheit 451?  Likely because that's the temperature at which paper incinerates (his story involves book burning).  Or what significance was the number 77 in Sweden in WWII?  The pronounciation was so difficult to pronounce, even to a native speaker, that guards at borders used it as a password to distinguish between native Swedes and those trying to cross.

Written in a dictionary style within the categories, it's suitable for general reading and for reference purposes.  The writer's style reminds me of A.J. Jacobs or Eric Weiner: fast paced and witty.

Special thanks to Julie Harabedian at FSB Associates for the Advanced Review Copy. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Between Water & Song, poetry compilation, Norman Minnick

Between Water & Song
New Poets for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Norman Minnick
White Pine Press

This collection is just too good to describe...really!  The majority of the poets are not household names, yet (except Chris Abani, of whom I own three other books).  The variety is impressive, and the selections that appear are full of feeling and are almost tactile in the textural details.  I'll just shut up now and show you:

Stand by Ruth Forman

why so afraid to stand up?
someone will tell you
sit down?

but here is the truth
someone will always tell you
sit down

the ones we remember
kept standing.

Backcountry, Emigrant Gap by Maria Melendez

I thought we fell asleep
austere and isolated-

two frogs calling across Rock Lake.

By morning, deer prints
     in the black ground between our tents-

more lives move beside us
than we know.

These are just two examples but the feel is similar throughout, although not all the poetry is sweet and light.  My favorite in the set are those by Jay Leeming, who reminds me a tiny bit of Billy Collins but is still a unique voice on his own.  His "Rowboat" is elegant and "Supermarket Historians" begins sweetly but ends with a bitter twist.  The always-aware Chris Abani concludes the anthology with "Say Something about Child's Play" that will make you tremble.  Besides being a great read on its own, this would also be great to give a poetry lover looking for new voices.

Special thanks to White Pine Press for the Advanced Review Copy.

Edited: Reviews by our Stunning SRC participants!

I've been collecting reviews by various members of the Scandinavian Reading Challenge who have kindly sent me their links (if yours doesn't show, please email me, I know there were more than this saved).  Just for fun, check out their reviews and their blogs.  I am in awe of their talent!

Quote of the week by Challenge Participant Ken M: "Wow, A Swedish novel with the word "Black" in the title, I wonder if it will be gloomy. What are the odds do you suppose?"

In no particular order:

Nancy's review of Arctic Chill

and Hypothermia

Bernadette's review of Hypothermia:

Jose's review of The Fire Engine that Disappeared (not a children's book, BTW!)

Wendy's review, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Uriah has a number of reviews up for the Challenge, at his blog:

Also, Karen and Maxine have great reviews on, a incredibly comprehensive list of titles...

Suvanto Winner! New Giveaway..

Congratulations to Harvee for winning Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto.  I've emailed and hopefully they'll get back to me with an address so I can ship. 

So, next giveaway:
The Man from Beijing (again!) by Henning Mankell, hardback

This is going to be super ends on May 4, 2010.  All Scandinvian Challenge participants are automatically entered.  Others who want to enter can leave a comment with their email and be blog followers.

I'll announce on May 5, 2010. 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The War Lovers, Evan Thomas (nonfiction)

To be released April 27, 2010:

The War Lovers:  Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 by Evan Thomas is beyond's downright scary.  It is an extremely detailed telling of the events of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency and the Spanish-American War over Cuba.

It begins with the subject of Roosevelt himself, from his habits to friends to family life.  His tough guy persona that needed women to soothe him, and his blistering desire to fight.  Any fight.  He was closely allied with Henry Cabot Lodge, a somewhat snobbish and whiny man that helped him frame his Presidential plans.  Roosevelt wanted war, often considering if he could find an excuse to invade Mexico or Canada, and disappointed when one wasn't found.  Cuba had been on his mind for some time before it became a realistic possibility. 

Aiding Roosevelt, albeit unintentionally, was William Randolph Hearst, a genuine oddball who also wanted to see America fight (and gain) Cuba.  His motives were more obscure:  he wanted to sell more papers, and called his skill "the journalism that acts".  War would help him make money and gain influence, influence he was eager to use in his political circles.  At one point, even though no real threat from Cuba existed, he pondered ways to agitate Cuba.  He had Tiffany's make a sword and engrave it with "Viva Cuba Libre", scheming that delivering the sword to Maximo Gomez would get a reporter inside for an exclusive scoop.  This failed, and he later hired reporters Richard Harding Davis and Frederic Remington (the Remington) to go to Cuba as 'envoys'.  Remington grew bored with the lack of excitement in Cuba, and sent Hearst a telegram stating he wished to return.

Hearst responded with the now famous line "Please remain.  You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war."  Time passed and the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana harbor set in motion the path of war that Hearst and Roosevelt both eagerly anticipated.  While the cause of the explosion was disputed even then, the facts were irrelevant.  They had their war.

The book is amazingly researched and detailed, and illuminates many personality quirks that I'd missed in other readings of the time period.  Thomas doesn't simply portray these men as hate-mongering bullies, but softens it a bit to tell us why they were driven to that end.  He portrays both the cultural and political events of the era in a fast paced and almost gossipy read. 

What makes it frightening is to recognize the parallels of then and now.  Strong personalities, the advantages of wealth and power, and a quick-to-exploit media all are featured in our daily lives.  In fact, many of the techniques and manipulations of the press that Hearst used are standard playbook policies now.  When I first started reading this I thought, 'how could this be true?'  Having completed it, I can say it is too true to ignore.  We still have out-of-touch politicians who care little for the soldiers that fight for them, and huge media moguls still dominate the way we get information.  This book is an excellent way to evaluate what we see now, in view of the past.

Special thanks to Kelly Leonard of Little, Brown for the Advanced Reader's Copy. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday Rambling

I started today totally pouting about not attending the LA Times Festival of Books this weekend (I wanted the damn tote bag, at least!).  I had planned to go, it's just 3 hours south of me, but events involving irritating people kept me home. 
So, we jumped in the car and headed up to Morro Bay and Cayucos for a little excursion.  It was wonderful.  Not as great as the Festival would have been, but I did discover a bookstore "Book Exchange" in Los Osos, which is unique in that it features tons of Henning Mankell and is owned by two cats.  Yes, they own it but they do have a marvelous assistant, Joan, who helped me and the Mr. find some great books.  I picked up Henning Mankell's The White Lioness, Missing by Karin Alvtegen, and The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo...all at great discounted prices.  The Mr. found some Spanish titles he had been searching for.  What was great was the mix of new and used books, stacked to the ceiling, in an environment I could have easily spent the day in.

Farmer's Market in Morro Bay was great and it was odd to discover that the woman selling amazing baked goods lived down our street, only eight houses away.  We found blackberry-red pepper flavored vinegar, baked goods, and fresh fish.  Heading home with that and stacks of books made for a nice day!  No cute tote bag though....

On another note...back to the Scandinavian Reading Challenge.  More entrants have made this really exciting.  Would it bother anyone to let me know what country they are in?  It would be neat to add a map of participants to show our worldwide devotion to Scandinvian a comment with your country in it if you have time! Regarding titles, keep in mind your choices DO NOT have to be crime, any genre is fine.

It's not Scandinavian, but I'm currently reading The Confessions of Noa Weber, winner of the best literary translation award for a novel.  Hard to get into, but now I'm hooked.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

One Giveaway Ending, Another Beginning...Scandinavian Titles

Hello readers!
The giveaway for YOUR PRESENCE IS REQUESTED AT SUVANTO ends on April 25, 2010, so if you haven't entered, click on the link to enter below.

NOTE:  If you are already in the Scandinavian Challenge, you are automatically entered!  So you only need to post a comment if 1) you want the book without entering the challenge OR 2) you are new to the Challenge.


The next giveaway starts on April 26, 2010 and it is for another copy of MAN FROM BEIJING by Henning Mankell.  It will run until May 4, 2010.  Again, if you are already listed as a SRC participant, you are already entered.

IMPORTANT:  These giveaways are NOT related to the Blogmania giveaway on April 30.  That is a one day event that requires separate entries for that day only.  You will need to post a comment to enter giveaways on that day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blogmania Reminder, April 30, some tips to maximize your loot!

Blogmania Early Bird Check List:

We want all of our visiting guests in our first Blogmania Event scheduled for April 30th to Get On Their Marks-Get Set…

It’s not time to go yet, but if you want to have the most fun and scoop up as much loot as possible, here are a few Early Bird Reminders to help you do just that.

1. Be at any of the blogs participating in the Blogmania Event as early as possible on April 30th. The easiest way to find a Blogmania Blog is to look for the Blogmania Badge.

2.  Keep track of the number of blogs participating (there are over 100 now).  On this page, at 12:01 am on April 30, I will list the participating blogs so you can visit them in order.  Keep track and keep going from blog to blog.  Each blog may have different entry requirements, so read them closely. 

3.  Different time zones may also affect your entries, so try to start prowling the blogs early.

4.  Each blog has an entry number and will direct you to the next blog.  The Black Sheep Dances is #2 on the list, so you can hit here early and move on through all 106 plus blogs.

5.  Be sure to watch your email following the one day giveaway, as some blogs may require you to return with a mailing address in a limited amount of time so they can send you your prize (if you win).

The Black Sheep Dances is offering two prizes...a "Mom Pack" with two titles of interest to Mom's along with a glass beaded necklace.  Also, separately a fiction pack of three new fiction titles (just released).  Be here early to sign up!

The Russian Version, Elena Fanailova, Best Translated Book, poetry

The Russian Version was recently awarded the prize for 2010 Best Translated Book Award for Poetry by Three Percent (University of Rochester), an international literary translation site (link on left sidebar). 

In most instances I avoid prologues and forewords...they usually tell me too much about the work and influence me to look at it in a often slanted light.  I tend to read more into it of another's opinion than my own reactions.  However, in this beautiful poetry collection (beautiful as in subtle and elegant), I must break from tradition and read the Introduction by Aleksandr Skidan.  It's worthwhile in that he explains some biographical details about Fanailova and also about the style of poetry that is contained herein.  It's not simply free verse or heteromorphic but a compiling of various clues from her consciousness:  random bits of pop culture, socio-political commentary, painful details of war, conflicted thoughts of family and a tiny bit of ironic humor.  It is probably the most complicated political poetry I've read, in that it isn't just commenting on Chechnya or Afghanistan but more on the Russian character as a whole:  both the stereotype and the reality.  One of her poems mentioned Gogol, and having confused him with Pushkin and Chekhov I have to look him up, so I googled Gogol (!) and the first sentence I saw was that he "says something very essential about the Russian character";  in this she seems to dispute what typifies the Russian persona.

Additionally, another key factor to most enjoy these selections is to go to the back and read her text notes on each section (and these are excerpts, portions of other books and works).  These illuminate details that may be foreign to many Western readers.  For example, in "Freud and Korczak", she explains that the Korczak was a Polish pediatrician who remained with his young Jewish patients in the Warsaw ghetto, though it cost him his life.  The poem talks about the meaningless of murder, the irony of how insignificant a single murder can seem, and yet how a magnificent tool, capable of so much fine workmanship, ends up being a tool of destruction on a massive scale.  It concludes with the question "Why War?", which Fanailova remarks is the name given to letters exchanged between Einstein and Freud, which leads to further meditation on how perplexed those great minds were by the same things that confuse us now.

One of the most revealing selections is her explanation for her one of the poems "Again they're off for their Afghanistan", where she describes a chance meeting with the couple that it is based upon, and how "the whole course and mechanism of this conversation call for a kind of opening of a window in time, and through this window the draft of the eighties begins to blow.  The details, taste, and feel of the time all had to be captured, whenever possible, without distortion....The sense of violence is the main thing that I remember about this era; this sense permeated all entertainments, pleasures, sensations and feelings, not to speak of work...They speak about monstrous things in a rather ordinary way, even with some animation, because it is their youth they are referring to."  Given that my grasp of the eighties was big hair and Duran Duran, I feel shamed for my ignorance. 

A favorite passage:
Recall:  how fine it is to embrace your beloved
Shirking all responsibility.
Love will change with age,
Become even more magnificent,
Maybe more tender, or perhaps more combustible.
Try to stick around long enough for this.

These aren't easy or pretty;  they require some meditation and perhaps further research.  This selection is not for the masses but for those willing to journey somewhere outside their realm of comfort, and who would undoubtedly return richer for the experience.  I'm not going to pretend I understand every reference, or even every poem.  Some made me laugh in places I wasn't sure was appropriate ("Black Suits").  I hope to enjoy this collection and get more out of it as I return to it.

Special thanks to Ugly Duckling Presse for the Advanced Review Copy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto, Maile Chapman

“Sunny withholds judgment but she knows, sometimes this happiness, this passive acceptance, sometimes it is the beginning of decline.”

Sunny Taylor is an American nurse who seeks employment in a private hospital in Finland, escaping bitter memories and looking to soothe them in the cold and remote location. Thus she begins her work at Suvanto, a spa-like hospital focused on caring for wealthy women who are there for various reasons. Some need genuine medical attention, others simply need to be attended to, and a few lack any other place that feels like home. All of them easily leaving behind husbands and family for the refuge of Suvanto.

Besides Sunny, an independent and skillful nurse, we meet Julia, a hostile and baiting old woman, and Pearl, a childish socialite absorbed in her own amusement. All of them are at Suvanto to escape, but what they avoid is unique to each. What unites them is the need to have nothing matter, no complications to deal with. Suvanto provides them with an excuse to be treated for medical conditions when really they are there for leisure. The numbing routine of crafts and walks and gazing at the frozen sea affects them, in a way the reader does not foresee.

Chapman builds the characters slowly and delicately. Sunny, soon after her eager arrival, is at odds with herself, as she desperately wants to matter: “Here, without anything truly at risk, she feels like she’s merely pretending, in everything. The work is nearly meaningless, and life is nothing but a search for meaning, yes? Isn’t that right? […] Doesn’t that mean for as long as she remains here, completing such tasks, she is wasting her energy? Wasting her life?” Rather than finding contentment in a job well-done, she begins to unravel. She begins to question the true motivation of the women who come to Suvanto.

Julia, a former dancer who arrives to manipulate and harass the staff, elicits no sympathy from Sunny as she creates contention and ill-will in the hospital. And then Pearl arrives, a repeat visitor; a wealthy woman who buys jewels as others might buy candy, eager to fall into her routine. Of her, we read: “She likes to move from place to place, most especially when the place exists without her, and can be returned to with no explanations, no responsibilities. With frequent departures she conceals the fact that she cannot form friendships.” Her lack of connection to a fixed location becomes a pivotal point in understanding her character and the meaning of Suvanto.

The pace of the story is slow and spends its time focusing on the details of Finland, the relationships between the women and their battles for attention, and the change in composure that Sunny experiences in her new locale. The pace can be deceptive, as Chapman is knitting together the details that will become significant and apparent once the whole is created. Her writing is light and airy, while the content is not. She uses phrases that stop you in your tracks, as when Sunny experiences ‘a reverse déjà vu’. She employs the changing light and seasons in Finland, even the changing time of day to illustrate insidious allusions.

At times, Sunny is sleepless and haggard to the point of seeing imaginary faces, and she reminds me of the main character in Hunger, by Knut Hamsun. She faces confusion and a delirium that rushes her forward, headlong into the events as they unfold. As she explores the cold outskirts of the hospital, we read:

“The tight face is a shield, it is the way her working self conceals this other, silent self, the one who roams alone out on the paths. It is a protection, but once she is out in the cold she feels it as pain across her forehead and jaw. She is ignoring the rustling memory of her own voice…It is precarious and loud, this humming act of ignoring the obsessive repetitions of the day.”

Releases April 2010 by Graywolf Press. 
Special thanks to Erin Kottke of Graywolf Press for the Advanced Readers Copy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Winner and Giveaway: Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto

Congratulations to Bernadette in Australia for winning Woman with Birthmark by Hakan Nesser.  It's a great read and one of the Van Veeteren series.

Next, we need to keep you all going with more Giveaways, right?  To keep the focus going on the Scandinavian Reading Challenge, the next giveaway is for Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman.  This is a thrilling medical drama that takes place in Finland and is layered with darkness and fear.  I've reviewed it for Graywolf Press (my review will be up this week) and up for grabs is this hardback edition.

I'm making this Giveaway even easier than before! 

  • If you're already entered in the Scandinavian Reading Challenge, you're already entered!
  • To get 1 extra entry, post a link to the Giveaway and/or Challenge on your blog, and please let me know so I can add an entry point.
  • New visitors can enter by posting a comment, and/or signing up for the Challenge, and they can earn 1 additional entry by linking on your own blog.
  • This Giveaway ends April 25, 2010, 9:00 pm pacific time

As far as the SRC goes, we have many participants and lots of great reading ideas.  Feel free to email me your books completed so far, and I'm keeping track and compiling a list of 'what we are reading' so you can share titles and discussions if you wish.  This will be up in the next week.  If at all possible, make sure I have your email address as a contact.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Have a few random things to mention:

First, re the Henning Mankell giveaway:  Lynda has yet to respond.  I've emailed twice, posted her name here when she won, and posted two comments on her blog.  So if you're out there Lynda, please email me asap or the book goes to another entrant, Wed pm at 9 pm Pac Time.

Wonderful site discovery: is run by someone who collects books or works in a bookstore, and catalogues the items they find in books.  Fascinating stuff.  Even the recipe's that are found are posted.

In my Scandinavian reading, I keep running across references to Aquavit.  Went to two huge CA grocery stores that have no idea what it is.  I'm assuming it's a caraway liquor but can't find it.  Can anyone tell me a name brand or source, or possibly another name it may go by,  that could be found in California?  I'd love to drink some while I read...nerdy, yes.

Future challenge ideas:  on there are links to other regional collections.  A New Zealand Kiwi-Crime book collection, and collections from other regional areas wouldn't be hard to find.  Or a city themed challenge? 

Copper Canyon books has a new collection of Pablo Neruda, "Winter Garden".  Looks fabulous.

My latest obsession?  Citizen Kane.  Saw it for the first time last week (I know, I know...haven't seen Casablanca either!).  LOVED it.  I mean, I can't get over just how good it was.   I never really saw Orson Welles in anything but those old wine commercials where he looked pretty obnoxious.  He was amazing in it. 

The family is currently lost in LOST.  Catching up, as they just discovered it about 3 weeks ago and are watching the DVD's.  I keep annoying them by asking questions where I am doing homework nearby, and it ticks them off because I am not committed to watching it all.  So I only get bits and pieces. 

Lastly, more promotion for Blogmania on April 30.  More than 100 blogs are offering one day only giveaways throughout the blogosphere...I will have all the links here, posted at 12:01 am that day, so you can go jumping from blog to blog to enter if you wish.  I believe most of the giveaways are books, some gift certificates to Amazon, among other goodies!  Save the date!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Saturday, April 10, 2010

London Review of Books, personals section (need a laugh?)

To preface this, I saw a book entitled Sexually, I'm More of a Switzerland by David Rose, who compiled the 'best of' personal ads in the London Review of Books.  The subtitle advertises "fewer typos than the last one" with a bit of glee.

With that in mind, I turned to the personal section that I had never looked at before, and some gems are below.  These are serious!

"There's usually an atmosphere of dread when I show up at a party.  Not so the next one, when you accompany me as both my groom to be and my designated driver.  Easily drunk, garrulous F, 41, prone to molesting the teenage sons of suburban dinner party hoses and crying over the petit fours. WLTM sober expert in public apology to 50"

"There are no cures for my intensity.  But significant medical breakthroughs are being made every day. F, 57."

"I am the Frida Kahlo of both personal adverts and sandwich artistry.  Mad as a balloon.  Woman, 48."

"Reformed trapeze-performing reprobate (F 39) seeks creative, sane (ish), trampy looking (not non-smelling) boy for sober fun!"

"I'd sooner indulge my dangerous hi fibre diet than contribute yet another churlish whimsy to this column.  Yet I am alone, and need to smell a lady's head.  Man, 54."

The self-deprecating tone of it all suggests these may be some rather amazing individuals.

Chlorophyll by Stephen Burt

This poem was featured in this week's Londow Review of Books (April 8, 2010):

Rain at varying rates
Breaks up the queues at our bus stop;  most people who know
They waited too long to buy umbrellas stand,
But some sit down on rocks,
While overhead, on long
Clouds sharpened like blades on skates,
We see pneumonia weather sliding in.

All nature seems to be at work
Reluctantly, as Friday's anxious
Managers, both desultory and eager
To clear their stacked-up paper out of the way,
Go home.  Do not start anything today.
Pay less attention to politics.  Wrap it all up.
Consider the neighbor whose overstuffed

Three-storey house caught fire from inside,
Who saved cards, cheque stubs, apple wrappers, news,
Who would have gone up
In a fireball had the fire trucks arrived
Five minutes late:  we saw him just
This morning, smiling
As us in his loose sweater, out on the kerb

Beside one of his indoor-outdoor cats.
Behind them, all unharmed, we saw his row
Of lilies, opalescent, deaf to us
And focused on their arduous life cycle
Of evapotranspiration:
They work all day, each day, with outstretched
Ignorant leaves that might as well be hands.

I get from this how the really deep things that matter are also the simplest, the things to cherish being life and plants and the simple cycle of growth, so easily overlooked in our crazy busy lives.  Any one else have a viewpoint?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

This is a strange little book.  It's a translated work of poetry (translation from the Spanish by William O'Daly) that is unlike any poetry I've read.  It's simply a book of questions that make you stop and think for a moment, or longer.  The answers are irrelevant.  Some are humorous, others deep and meaningful, as in XL,

To whom does the ragged condor
report after its mission?

What do they call the sadness
of a solitary sheep?

And what happens in the dovecote
if the doves learn to sing?

If the flies make honey
will they offend the bees?

or in LXVIII,

When does the butterfly read
what flies written on its wings?

So it can understand its itinerary,
which letters does the bee know?

And with which numbers does the ant
subtract its dead soldiers?

What are cyclones called
when they stand still?

The most poignant questions are in LXIV,

Do we learn kindness

or the mask of kindness?

Who assigns names and numbers
to the innumerable innocent?

The collection is like this, and it's not something you read through continuously.  I actually put it in a basket by the coffee maker, just to glance at a few random questions throughout the day.  Pablo Neruda is famous for his politics and his love poems, so I'll have to take a look at those someday.  He was from Chile and passed away in 1973, just a few years after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.  He left a huge body of work to explore, but sadly not all of it is translated. 

Three Percent (an amazing literary translation site) has a review of his collection World's End at the link



The Black Sheep Dances is challenging you to its first

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2010!

Explore new locations and new cultural traditions, from the land that brought us LEGOS, Ikea and Carlsberg beer, among other essential treasures.

This challenge starts now and runs through December 31, 2010.

Don't know where to start? Scandinavian authors are hot right now (even if the temperatures might be chilly). Stieg Larsson, Per Petterson, Dag Solstad, Hakan Nasser, Henning Mankell, Linda Olsson, Arnaldur Indridason and Knut Hamsun all have great books to get you started. Email me for titles if you get stumped. Once a month I'll throw out some titles and some interesting trivia.  TITLES DO NOT HAVE TO BE CRIME, ANY GENRE OF THE AREA IS FINE.

Reading goal:
"Skal" 6 books before year end
Leave a comment to sign up with your email address and goal. Sign up as a follower as well. I'll contact you and provide a badge for your blog if you wish (just ask). Additionally, I'll have a sidebar widget listing participants by their name or blog name.

There will be prizes to all who complete the 6 book challenge. Prizes not selected yet, but most likely a new book by a Scandinavian author. Maybe a jar of herring. Suggestions accepted!

EDITED TO ADD: You can count books that you were already reading as of March 1, 2010 and any books started since then that fit the criteria of Scandinavian fiction Please make sure your name is on leftside bar of particpants and contact me if not.

Some titles to get you started:

•Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson
•The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
•Astrid & Veronika, Linda Olsson
•Shyness & Dignity, Dag Solstad
•Suggest via email your own favorite titles

Email me with your titles as you complete them. I'll keep a file of participants and titles read and if anyone wants to have a discussion or share thoughts on a title, let me know. Giveaways related to the Challenge will automatically enter any participants...but there may be special giveaways not related that will require you to enter separately.
Thanks for the enthusiastic response, and please know I am open to suggestions as this is my first hosting of a Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NEW GIVEAWAY! Woman with Birthmark, Hakan Nesser

Ready for more Scandinavian crime?  This is the latest in the Van Veeteren series from Hakan Nesser, Woman with Birthmark

The fine print:
  • you must be a follower to enter
  • because of my inability to calculate higher math, entries will be simplified as follows: 
  • 1 entry by leaving a comment with email address
  • +2 entries by mentioning giveaway on your blog (send link)
  • +2 entries by also signing up as a new participant on Scandinavian Reading Challenge
  • This makes maximum entries 5 (so I can count on one hand)
  • PLEASE make it possible for me to contact you
  • PLEASE contact me if your entry count is wrong or if you have questions
Finally, this giveaway end on April 15, 2010...9:00 pm pac time.  Open to all countries. 

We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Lynda from for winning the giveaway for Henning Mankell's The Man from Beijing.  If she doesn't contact me within 48 hours I will regenerate the entries and post another winner.

So she's all set for the Scandinavian Reading Challenge with this mystery title.  Never fear, though...I have another giveaway to announce.

Before I do, please keep in mind the following:  I will keep all the names on the leftside column since all of you are particpants in the Challenge, I will just remove point totals for now.  As you read titles in the Challenge, if you can jot me a quick email with the title I can create a database that shows all books read, and by whom (I will not expose anyone's email).  That way, if more than one person reads the same book, which is bound to happen, they can exchange notes if they wish and discuss the book.  You can opt out if you wish.  If you finish your 6 titles early, keep in mind that prize time will still be later in the year, so I can gauge how many prizes will be needed.  And, by the way, I was joking about the herring, really.  The least you will win is a new book, I hope to do better than that though, depending on how many complete the challenge. 

PLEASE offer titles, comments, questions and suggestions in the comment boxes.  Maybe a term you are unfamiliar with, or a brand.  For example, is IKEA the only place to buy furniture in Sweden? LOL  Can I eat a sandwich without rye bread?  Surely I'm not the only one who wonders such things!

Most of all, let's make this fun and interactive....thanks for participating, Amy

A Certain "Je Ne Sais Quoi" by Chloe Rhodes (nonfiction)

This is a great new reference work that you might just find yourself curling up with as if it were a novel.  It explores 'the origin of foreign words used in English', and some of them are pretty amusing.

For example, our term paparazzi referred to the Italian word for mosquito and was related to a Fellini film (how appropriate is that!).  And when you say someone has a lot of panache, you probably aren't referring to the feather on their hat, but that is where the word derives from:  a plume of feather that exuded flair (French origin).  Now we consider panache more of an expression of style (i.e. Johnny Depp has the trademark on panache)!  Another interesting word in our literary world is denouement, which originated in the French and referred to 'an untying'.  That makes sense, as when we get to the denouement of the book all the complexities usually are unravelled and our understanding is clear.

I enjoyed the different choices of phrases and the accurate explanation of what they originally meant.  I always thought Quid Pro Quo meant doing something for free, somewhat mixing it up with Pro Bono.  Both of my interpretations were wrong:  quid pro quo means something done in exchange for something else (not free).  Pro Bono means something done 'for the good' as in a public service.

This is a reference work useful to almost anyone, but I can't help but think a high school or college student might especially benefit from the explanations and fast paced instruction.  My only disappointment was that the book doesn't offer pronounciations with the phrases.  Most are obvious, but a few really could use a guide on how to correctly pronounce the phrase (thus settling many dinner party disputes).

Thanks to Julie Harabedian from FSB Associates for the Advanced Review Copy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

EDITED: Update on the Scandinavian Reading Challenge

So far we have 23 participants, and the list grows daily.  This is a hearty bunch who is ready to explore new works and new authors. Remember, you must be a follower to participate in the giveaway and prizes at the end of the Reading Challenge.  Please email me your titles as you read them, so I have more titles to recommend and we can all keep track. 
To assist in this, I've added a few websites where you can locate information on Scandinavian titles:
  • has a section on Scandinavian crime
  • has author info and suggested titles
  • has a number of translated titles
  •  Scandinavian crime fiction lists of authors
A few new ones and old favorites of mine: 
  • Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto, by Maile Chapman (Finland)
  • The Twin, by Gerbrand Bakker (Dutch)
  • Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Norwegian)
  • Voices: A Reykjavik Thriller by Arnaldur Indridason (a Reykjavik series)
  • Peter Hoeg and Jo Nesbo have new titles
  • Growth of the Soil, my most favorite Knut Hamsun epic story
Just a reminder, tomorrow concludes the Henning Mankell giveaway, with a winner announced Wed evening Pacific time.  The next Giveaway will start the very next day, another Scandinavian title!  Stay tuned!

Blogmania, April 30...SAVE THE DATE

April 30, 2010 is just around the corner.  What does it mean for you?  How about the possibility of tons of great prizes and new books?

Save the date because on that one day, and that day only, more than 50 bloggers are hosting a internet wide giveaway day.  Each blog will be offering prize packages, some offering more than one!  All you have to do is return here on that date to see the list of participating blogs...the links will be here for you to click on directly.  Go to each one and see their giveaway and enter.  It's simple and fast.  From each blog, you can continue on to the next blog, as all participating blogs will have the next clickable link for you, to just get heading on for more gifts.  Each giveaway is usually won by a random generator, so anyone can win.

One of my prizes available on that day is an official "MOM PACK" that contains two new books just for moms "Mom-Over" (sort of an extreme makeover mom style) and "Just Let Me Lie Down" (by the editor of Real Simple).  Included for the busy mom is a gorgeous glass bead and crystal necklace, with some other surprises too!  And I'll have other prizes as well!

Keep the date saved and I'll remind you as we get closer to the 30th.  And don't worry, my post for that day will go up at 12:01 am and you will be able to see all the participating blogs.  Email me if you have any questions.  Good luck!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Alchemist's Kitchen, Susan Rich (poetry)

The Alchemist's Kitchen, by Susan Rich, published by White Pine Press (

To say that this compilation is a lovely and simple collection would be false.  "Simple" could be taken to mean childlike, or unsophisticated, which it most certainly isn't.  By simple I mean that the poetry is understandable and personal, not so cluttered and overly nuanced that it becomes incapable of eliciting emotion.

Emotion abounds in this collection, which is divided into three parts:  Incantation, Transformation and Song.  Each section has its own beauty, and there is a delicate feel that at times becomes jagged and pointed, enough to make you sit up and re-read the stanza.  This is not a poetry book to sit back and feel relaxed by, but rather one to slowly meditate upon.

The people drawn within it are complicated:  in one moment trying to determine if a noise is simply thunder or an airstrike, while choosing what breakfast cereal to eat.  They carefully choose a lipstick for a dance that may be their last.  They discuss their travels with a dying parent whose only journey is from hospital bed to bath.  They are painful and yet some are light and airy.

One of my favorites:  from Song,
"You Might Consider"

how my long life of losing men
could create a new international sport.

Men lost in the desert, men missing
in action from doorways and all night diners;

men making the most of fire
escapes, service stairs, the emergency aisle

of airplanes like United.  Men
para-sailing after spaceship encounters.

I am accomplished in the world
of the see-you-later save

as his pick up truck disappears
traveling on to the next espresso stand.

Something in the curve of my collar,
the cut of my blouse sets them running.

They know they are in the hands of a master.
But when the coffee's on, the pumpernickel

toasted just right, I have to let them know;
I'm actually ready to let them go."  p.87

In "Transcendence", she uses the musical phrase,
"plastic curtains ecstatic as castanets."  Words like that are mesmerizing, and I kept finding segments equally unique and beautiful, compiling an instant mental picture.

In some of the poems she discusses the genocide in Srebrenica, and at times she refers to a 'Sarajevo Rose'.  I had to look that up, and I've included a picture (above).  A Sarajevo Rose is the location of a mortal shell attack that killed some one, some person, some individual that meant more than just a mark on the pavement.  The damaged area is then filled with red wax, as a rememberance.  That strange mix of memory and horror with a tiny dash of shocking color is what too many have lived through, and in a lyrical way Rich manages to link her poems with that same emotional impact. 

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I Curse the River of Time, Per Petterson

I Curse the River of Time is Per Petterson’s newest title, and it feels different from his previous novels. For one thing, there is a different feel to the words, almost a jagged and sharp edge to the prose. While Out Stealing Horses was almost dreamlike in its beauty and simplicity, this has more of an abrupt edge to it. That became apparent to me in reading portions of it aloud (a cranky baby was resisting sleep) and the words felt chunky and awkward, the sentences long and meandering. Given the subject matter, the complicated relationship of a son with his mother, I think this simply underlines just how talented a writer Petterson is. The style fits the story.

The novel begins with the illness of Arvid Jansen’s mother, and her quick journey away from home to absorb her news. Arvid quickly follows. The telling is interspersed with flashbacks of Arvid’s life, from incidents in childhood to more recent times with his impending divorce. His mother is portrayed as a distant but loving individual, with a strong personality and an aloofness towards Arvid that is never formally explained. It is very much centered on Arvid and his inner feelings as he perceives her, rather than her personal motivations.

Much of what makes this novel fascinating is by what isn’t said: several significant events happen (a family death, her illness itself) that are not explored at all. Rather Petterson focuses on how those events affect Arvid and his mother. If he were to have explained every detail of those events a reader would likely be struck more by the tragedy and its details rather than by what Petterson is getting at, the more subtle change in relationships. It’s really very clever to read it that way. It’s almost as if those very dramatic events are secondary to who these people really are.

As a child, Arvid didn’t fit in with his family, despite his parent’s assurances of how much he was ‘wanted’ by them, and valued. On a dismal occasion when a stranger took him to be an outsider from his family,

 “But what I found out that summer…was that I could swallow whatever hit me and let it sink as if nothing had happened. So I pretended to play a game that meant nothing to me now, I made all the right movements, and then it looked as if what I was doing had a purpose, but it did not.”

There are allusions made to what might cause him to feel this way, and Petterson lets us wonder. As in life, he seems to want to tell us, there are no easy answers.  I have some personal suspicions why this may be, but I don't want to spoil the mystery for anyone else (and I could easily be wrong).

Arvid’s life is more complicated than most, especially in his relationships with women. Three significant relationships are explored, and all of them seem to have him positioned still in the childish role of needing affirmation. In considering his divorce, he thinks

“…there is just you and me, we said to each other, just you and me, we said. But something had happened, nothing hung together any more, all things had spaces, had distances between them, like satellites, attracted to and pushed away at the same instant, and it would take immense willpower to cross those spaces, those distances, much more than I had available, much more than I had the courage to use.”

One of Arvid’s great desires is to be a good Communist, to help the ‘proletariat’ and his usage of that word rather than the more common ‘working class’ used by his Communist friends, infers he deems his calling in a more elevated sense than a true Communist might normally feel. While his parents had been in the working class themselves, his choosing it rather than pursuing college is his means to be different from them. A confusing choice for a man completely confused about who he is.

His feelings towards his mother are obsessive. He thinks of her often yet tries to appear distant and wants her to know he's separate:

“There was a before and after now, a border which I had crossed, or a river perhaps, like the Rio Grande, and suddenly I was in Mexico where things were different and a little frightening, and the crossing had left its mark on my face, which my mother would instantly see and realize that we were standing on opposite sides of the river, and the fact that I left her would hurt her, and she would no longer like me and not want me.”

Yet despite the chasm he imagines, he actually still seeks her out, chasing her even, not wanting to miss a moment of her attention and hoping for any kind of approval.

What I found especially signifcant was that while Arvid actively seeks his mother's blessing, he shows little concern for the rest of his family, to the point that his brothers and father remain on the periphery of his life (and this story).

The story is complex and requires a careful reading. Speeding through this one will offer no satisfaction, this one to relish and unravel. One thing that jumped out at me, and it had to be intentional, was that the character of Arvid Jansen is the same name as the main character in In the Wake by Petterson, where Arvid loses most of his family in a ferry accident (a horror suffered by Petterson himself). If that is indeed the case, then this book would serve as a prequel to In the Wake, and thus his story continues.  This is the fourth of the Petterson books I have read and own, and he continues to be one of my favorite authors.

Special thanks to Erin Kottke of Graywolf Press for the Advanced Reader's Copy. 
It is scheduled to be released in August 2010.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Things We Didn't See Coming, Steven Amsterdam

(I had a few days off earlier this month and got to do quite a bit of reading!)

This collection of short stories was released in February and is definitely going to get some big press. The author, Steven Amsterdam, is a native New Yorker who moved to Australia in 2003. He is youngish and it comes through in the feel of these stories: one unlike any others I can remember. I’ve read many collections before, but often it seems they are told by an older ‘voice’, usually an introspective older man or woman. In the case of my beloved Tim Winton short stories, the voice changes throughout to different people and different age ranges. These however have a snarky young voice, a male narrator, and it spins things around quite a bit as the topics are different as well. The pace is fast and the humor is biting. Amsterdam makes visual pictures of a future Australia that are brutal and painful and heartbreaking.

In “The Theft That Got Me Here”, a young man who lives with his grandparents, one of whom is suffering from Alzheimer’s, is greeted with a surprise:

…Grandma opens the door and she’s fine. She’s standing on her own, not holding the walls, nothing. She’s been off the map for six years and now she’s looking at me like a professor. Not speedy and scared, like she was on the last treatment, but simply there, her old self. And this isn’t me on drugs. It’s her on drugs.

In “Dry Land”, Australia goes through a rain cycle that doesn’t end. For years. All that dry, dusty outback becomes a series of lakes, and the rain never stops. People are forced to evacuate, and while they try to hold off, leaving becomes inevitable. The narrator observes that “Despite all the feelings we think we’ve got for our loved ones and our attachments, when push comes to shove most people figure out how to travel light.”

The author blurb on the back states that Amsterdam is a psychiatric nurse as well as an author. I’m certain that his experience in health care has made him more aware of the more subtle layers of fear and anger, those that he exposes so well in this collection. It’s not in the big details that he reveals them, but in the little details, the little inflections and asides. An unusual collection that is a fun read from someone we’re going to hear good things about!

(And since he IS in Australia, I’m counting this title in my Australian Author Challenge title count, so there! )

Special thanks to Lauren Helman with Pantheon for this Advanced Reader's Copy.