Archive for July, 2008

  •  The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (April 29, 2008 )
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061130419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061130410

Like a dam straining to hold back the floods, Isaac Amin, a Persian Jew, had reinforced the known weak spots so that he and his family could survive in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution; he diverted funds from his gem-dealing business to his Swiss accounts, he sent his university-age son to the US where he would be safe from the reaches of the new Iranian army.  These precautions weren’t enough; one day the dam burst and Isaac was arrested by the revolutionaries on suspicion of being a Zionist spy.


Isaac Amin is one of the main characters in Dalia Sofer’s thought-provoking and powerful novel The Septembers of Shiraz.  It recounts one year in the life of the family, beginning with the day Isaac is arrested in September 1981.  Narrated in the third-person, the chapters are told alternately from the perspective of the Amin family members: Isaac, his wife Farnaz, their son Parviz and nine-year-old daughter Shirin.  This varied perspective makes the novel more palatable than it would have been from a first-person narration; it allows the reader a bit of distance from the intense emotions that the characters must be experiencing.  Perhaps it will enjoy a wider audience because of this styling.


Sofer’s prose flow smoothly, full of striking metaphors.  Shortly after he learns of his father’s imprisonment, Parviz is walking across the Brooklyn Bridge:  “… something about the bridge – its combination of suspension and sturdiness – comforts him.  A bridge, he thinks, is the only place where uncertainty is permissible, where one can exist with no connection to any land – or any person – but with the reassurance that connection is possible.”  Around the same time in the novel, Farnaz embarks on a fruitless mission to find her husband in prison; sitting and waiting for a guard to return, she hears a prisoner begging in response to questions from his interrogator, “for most people, she thinks, the notion of death is no more than a wallpaper – present but rarely seen.  Prisoners, who have little to distract them, have no choice but to stare at this wallpaper.”


Sofer explores many themes in the book, including those of loss, injustice, innocence of youth, loyalty, and material wealth versus the riches of faith and family.  The list is long, but Sofer layers them without crowding; I had to let the book settle within me for several days before I could discern the many subtle threads within it.  The Septembers of Shiraz enriched my knowledge of the time around the revolution in Iran, and made me curious to learn more.  Its complexity lends itself very well to a book group discussion.


Dalia Sofer spent her first ten years in Iran, fleeing to the United States in 1982.  The work is based loosely on her family’s experience.  I read the Harper Perennial paperback edition, which includes an essay by Sofer detailing some of the research she did, in addition to pulling from her own memories.  This includes studying photographs and history, and interviewing former Iranian prisoners to learn about not only the physical torture, but also the range of emotions they experienced, including mental anguish and even hope.


To learn more about the author you can visit her publisher’s site or read an interviewfrom the New York Times book blog.  I read this book as part of an online discussion; many thanks to Gayle at Everyday I Write the Bookblog for organizing and leading the group, and to HarperCollins for providing the book.

Read Full Post »

Good news for folks shopping in Massachusetts the weekend of August 17 and 18th.  Gov. Deval Patrick has signed a law lifting the 5% sales tax for that weekend, with some exceptions.  More details in this article from the Boston Globe.

This “tax-free weekend” has become more common over the past several years due to economic downturn; it should give the summer sales slump a boost.  We saw this incentive in Connecticut the past several years also.

I look at it as “found money” … I can justify buying more books since I’ll have 5% more to spend!  It equates to “buy twenty books, get one free”.  There goes that circular logic again!

Read Full Post »

I took my 10-year-old Little Man (LM10) out for a date last weekend, just the two of us.  We ate dinner at the Rainforest Cafe (his choice), then headed over to Barnes & Noble so he could spend a gift card that had been burning a hole in his pockets since his birthday.

After carefully making his selections, making sure he stayed close to the amount of the gift card, we made our way to the front of the store.  Ah, the front of the store, where all the cool little extras are displayed …

I pointed out an umbrella on display; available in hunter green or black, it features quotes from various well-known books.  LM10 took one look at it and said “Call me Ishmael, that’s from Moby Dick!”  Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather, as the saying goes.  He’s TEN, how does he know that line?!?  It turns out, he’s reading a series of books by Rick Riordan, and the volume he just finished, The Sea of Monsters, mentions Moby Dick, Herman Melville, and that famous opening line.  Apparently LM10 retains what he reads!

So, hats off to Rick Riordan for including that literary reference in his novel.  And, yes, we bought the umbrella!  Have you made any non-book impulse purchases at a bookstore lately?

Read Full Post »

Yes, this book has been around FOREVER, but please bear with me.  I chose to review it because, 1. a great experience inspired me, and, 2. I may be able to introduce the book to readers (youngsters!) who aren’t familiar with it.  Plus, 3.  I’d like to ask your opinions on a gift related to the book.  Read on:

Who can resist Robert McCloskey’s Caldecott Honor classic tale of Sal and her mother, picking blueberries to can for the winter?!  Originally written in 1948, the story features a mother and daughter said to be modelled after the author’s wife and daughter.  Other McCloskey books in our library include Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine and Lentil.  He also illustrated the Homer Price series for middle readers.

In Blueberries for Sal, Sal drops her blueberries into her tin pail – “ker-plink, ker-plank, ker-plunk!”, she pulls them out and eats them, then begins collecting again – “ker-plink, ker-plank, ker-plunk!”  High on Blueberry Hill, deep in Maine, Sal and her mother head in opposite directions around a large bush. 

Sal and her mother are not alone; a mother bear and her cub are also visiting Blueberry Hill, to prepare for winter by filling up with berries.  They too head in opposite directions around the bush.

Mother spots the cub, the mother bear spots Sal,  and there are happy surprises.  The encounter isn’t frightening to the characters, simply startling.  The children are reunited with their own mothers, and the afternoon winds down.

We were inspired to re-read this favorite after a blueberry-picking excursion today. (For those of you in New England, this week and next are peak season; we visited Blueberry Bay Farm, about an hour north of Boston).  We used plastic pails, so instead of “ker-plink, ker-plank, ker-plunk”, I just heard my 3-year-old “little man” saying “mmm, mmm, mmm” (a yummy sound!) as he sampled the berries.

We have a new neighbor, and I thought a gift of homemade blueberry cobbler and a copy of Blueberries for Sal would be an appropriate way to welcome the family to the neighborhood.  I like to give books for new baby gifts, and they’re perfect for the “big brother” or “big sister” in the family as well.  I tend to not give books to my adult friends and family (unless I know a specific title that interests them), because I find it much more risky than buying for kids.  Who do you give books to?  For a special occasions, or “just because”?

Read Full Post »

Marie, the Boston Bibliophile, asks today’s question: Cataloging sources. What cataloging sources do you use most? Any particular reason? Any idiosyncratic choices, or foreign sources, or sources you like better than others? Are you able to find most things through LT’s almost 700 sources?

You know the saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”?  Well, all Amazon and no other cataloging sources makes Dawn a dull girl!  I checked my LT Library Stats – I currently have 271 books cataloged, all using Amazon as the catalog source!  I think LT defaults to Amazon, and that’s what I’ve stuck with.  If I had a more varied/specialty library, perhaps I’d be inclined to look at the other sources. 

I catalog using ISBN, not Library of Congress card numbers.  I had some books without ISBNs, but was able to find them by using the title/author combination.  This was an acceptable “work around” to me, even if the cover art doesn’t match the volume in my library.

Back to that “dull girl” thing … I was feeling “ivy league” and added Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth and Penn to my catalog source list; I’ll search in one of those for my next few additions!

Read Full Post »

Monday 7/28/08– Discussion of Dalia Sofer’s The Septembers of Shiraz begins today over at Everyday I Write the Book.  This is the first time I’ll be participating in one of Gayle’s on-line book groups, and I’m really looking forward to it.  The author will be responding to comments left on the discussion post; if you’ve read the book, pop on over and join in!

Tuesday 7/29/08The Lace Reader goes on sale!  I posted my review of this captivating novel yesterday.  I’m inspired to take a field trip up to Salem on one of these nice summer weekends, to more closely explore the area Brunonia Barry writes about.

Wednesday 7/30/08 – Oh, how embarrassing!  I’m heading to the Post Office today to mail my sister’s birthday gift, and I’ll be buying postcard stamps for those postcards I promised to send out.  I bought the cards right away (it’s a display at a local museum that I think will be of interest to book lovers!), but avoided the lines at the Post Office … they will be in the mail today (Wednesday).  I still have four unclaimed postcards, if you’d like one, leave a comment here, then click on the “contact me” tab at the top of the page to send a private message with your mailing address.

Thursday 7/31/08 – Last day to enter my drawing for The Genizah at the House of Shepher.  I have three copies of this engaging novel to give away!  A well-told tale spanning 150 years and four generations; read my review here and enter the contest here.  Drawing will be held and winners announced on Friday 8/1/08.

Friday 8/1/08 – August already, where is the summer going?!  Tonight I’ll be heading to a nearby Barnes & Noble with my 12-year-old “Little Woman” to enjoy the Vampire Prom and other festivities while she waits for Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn to go on sale at midnight.

Saturday 8/2/08 and Sunday 8/3/08 – It’s the weekend!  Reading and relaxing are high on my “to do” list; I’ll report back next week 🙂

What’s on your agenda this week – bookish or otherwise?

Read Full Post »

  • The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
  • Publisher: William Morrow (July 29, 2008 )
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0061624764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061624766

The Lace Reader, Brunonia Barry’s debut novel, deserves all the advance praise it has received; it is one of my favorite books of 2008!  This book will draw you in with well-developed plot, subtle twists and clever revelations.  The comparison has been drawn to a piece of finely-worked lace, in which every thread is needed to yield the finished product; nothing is extraneous in this engaging mystery.

The opening of The Lace Reader finds the protagonist, Towner Whitney, returning to Salem, Massachusetts after many years away.  She has been summoned home due to the disappearance of a favorite family member, her great-aunt Eva.  Eva, as well as Towner and most of the Whitney women, has the gift of “reading” people – seeing their future through patterns revealed in pieces of lace.  Towner has been uncomfortable with this unwanted talent for most of her life, and has completely denied it since the death of her twin sister, Lyndley.

The settings in The Lace Reader are realistically and fully portrayed.  Salem is the prime location, with its cobblestone streets, the town green and the shops and historic homes along the waterfront; even the local grocery store, Crosby’s, gets a mention.  Another venue is the fictional Yellow Dog Island, where Towner’s mother, May, runs a shelter of sorts for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.  The women live isolated, yet safe, on their small island, making lace that is sold on the mainland.

Barry blends historic themes of the abolitionist’s Underground Railway with May’s work helping women and children.  The Salem witch hysteria of the 1600s parallels the book’s portrayal of distrust of the “witches” and “readers” by a group of religious fanatics in the mid-1990s.  Using a combination of third-person narration, first-person in Towner’s voice, and a series of extensive journal entries, she skillfully combines the various perspectives in this captivating novel.  

See my post of July 18 for more information about The Lace Reader, including links to the official website and to an opportunity to win a trip to Salem, sponsored by the publisher, the William Morrow division of HarperCollins.  There is an excellent article in The Daily News Tribune about Barry, her experience writing and self-publishing The Lace Reader, and the impact the book has already had on the town of Salem.

Read Full Post »


MizB at Should Be Reading asks what books have come into our lives this week.  Here’s my list:




The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt.  I’ve already read this book (twice even!), obviously I really like it!  My neighborhood book group chose it for our September selection, and I was shocked to realize that I don’t own it.  I logged on to PaperBackSwap, made my selection, and the book arrived today. 

The publisher’s synopsis:  Faced with the sale of the century-old family summer house on Cape Cod where he had spent forty-two summers, George Howe Colt returned for one last stay with his wife and children. This poignant tribute to the eleven-bedroom jumble of gables, bays, and dormers that watched over weddings, divorces, deaths, anniversaries, birthdays, breakdowns, and love affairs for five generations interweaves Colt’s final visit with memories of a lifetime of summers. Run-down yet romantic, the Big House stands not only as a cherished reminder of summer’s ephemeral pleasures but also as a powerful symbol of a vanishing way of life.

I received an signed ARC of First Daughterby Eric Van Lustbader.  This looks like quite an engaging thriller!  I’m especially interested in reading it because I just read/reviewed Stone Creek by his wife, Victoria Lustbader.  Their writing styles and genres are very different; I wonder if I’ll see any stylistic links. 

A blurb from the publisher: Sometimes the weakness we fear most can become our greatest strength . . .   Jack McClure has had a troubled life.  His dyslexia always made him feel like an outsider.  He escaped from an abusive home as a teenager and lived by his wits on the streets of Washington D.C.  It wasn’t until he realized that dyslexia gave him the ability to see the world in unique ways that he found success, using this new-found strength to become a top ATF agent.   When a terrible accident takes the life of his only daughter, Emma, and his marriage falls apart, Jack blames himself, numbing the pain by submerging himself in work.  Then he receives a call from his old friend Edward Carson.  Carson is just weeks from taking the reins as President of the United States when his daughter, Alli, is kidnapped.  Because Emma McClure was once Alli’s best friend, Carson turns to Jack, the one man he can trust to go to any lengths to find his daughter and bring her home safely.   The search for Alli leads Jack on a road toward reconciliation . . . and into the path of a dangerous and calculating man.  Someone whose actions are as cold as they are brilliant.  Whose power and reach are seemingly infinite.   Faith, redemption, and political intrigue play off one another as McClure uses his unique abilities to journey into the twisted mind of a stone cold genius who is constantly one step ahead of him.  Jack will soon discover that this man has affected his life and his country in more ways than he could ever imagine.

Christopher Meeks and I connected via a blog post about Jhumpa Lahiri’s award-winning Unaccustomed Earth and the difficulties I’ve encountered discussing short stories in a group setting.  Christopher wrote a thoughtful guest post on the subject, and offered me a review copy of his latest short story collection, Months and Seasons.  I’m looking forward to reading it, being receptive to themes, as Christopher suggests.

A sneak peek at what I may find: “Months and Seasons”is the follow-up story collection to Christopher Meeks’s award-winning “The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea.” With a combination of main characters from young to old and with drama and humor, the tales pursue such people as a supermodel who awakens after open-heart surgery, a famous playwright who faces a firestorm consuming the landscape, a reluctant man who attends a Halloween party as Dracula, and a New Yorker who thinks she’s a chicken.

Read Full Post »

It has been raining for about 24 hours straight in New England – alternating between sheets of rain that come down diagonally, strong winds, thunder and lightning, light showers, sun … then back to driving rain again!

Since I can’t get outside (to read), I spent much of the day cleaning through a pile of papers that had accumulated on my desk.  I came across the accompanying photo, from the Better Homes and Gardens Summertime 2008 issue.

The short article is titled “10 Secrets for Summer Fun.”  Number One is “create an outdoor reading nook.”  Suggestions are: a comfy chair with roomy seat, outdoor fabric pillow, and a hook and lantern for night-time reading.  They’ve added a cozy blanket and refreshing drink to round out the scene.

At home, my “outdoor reading nook” is simply the glider on the front porch, or a chaise on the patio out back.  In my mind, my outdoor reading nook would be more open than this fenced-in backyard, then add a water feature, and some songbirds for subtle background music.  A good book can transport me anywhere!  Waiting for the rain to stop so I can venture outside, I ask you:

What is your fantasy of an outdoor reading nook?

Read Full Post »

  • Stone Creek by Victoria Lustbader
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (May 27, 2008 )
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0061369217
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061369216
  • Victoria Lustbader’s novel Stone Creek is a poignant look at love and losses.  She shares the lives of four central characters who each wrestle with a significant loss and search for a redeeming love.


    Lily, a beautiful and intelligent woman in her mid-40s is married to Paul, a slightly older high-power NYC attorney who adores her.  While Paul jets around the country to work on a high profile corporate case, Lily retreats to their second home, a gorgeous McMansion in the idyllic village of Stone Creek, about an hour outside the city.  Here she is able to contemplate her earlier decision not to have children, and struggles with the implications of that decision.


    Danny is a Stone Creek “townie”, a handsome and considerate widower raising his 5-year-old son, Caleb, after the sudden death of his beloved wife Tara.  His mother-in-law, Eve, blames Danny for Tara’s death, and constantly undermines Danny’s efforts.  Danny and Eve both mourn, yet secrets and animosity keep them from being able to grieve together.


    When Lily and Danny encounter each other in Stone Creek, the instant attraction cannot be denied.  As they spend more time together, they discover truths about their own strengths and vulnerabilities; the relationship helps each one grow, but how far will it go? 


    Lustbader writes from the heart; the characters are authentic in their losses and the way they handle them.  Grief and passion are the ends of the spectrum of emotion evoked throughout Stone Creek.  In an interview on Book Club Girl Lustbader has said that personal experiences influence her work, although it is not autobiographical.  Her descriptions of people and places are so detailed and rich that the reader feels a part of the scene (you can hear more about her writing process and the way she “stages” her novel in the above-referenced interview).  


    Stone Creek is Victoria Lustbader’s second novel, following the success of Hidden, historical fiction based in New York City in the 1920s.  You can read more about these two published works, a hint about her current project, suggested discussion questions and a biography of the author at her website.

    Read Full Post »

    Older Posts »