Stacia's books

Favorite books: Historical fiction, steampunk, modern fiction, classics, some non-fiction, magical realism, surrealist works, satire, travel/exploration/adventure stories

Hammett Unwritten - Owen Fitzstephen, Gordon McAlpine Having read The Maltese Falcon (loved it) earlier this year, this is a great counterpart to the legend of Dashiell Hammett, Sam Spade, literary, movie, and real-life happenings related to all those topics. There is a lot of mix of fact & fiction in this book (as I found out after I was busy researching various things, such as Hammett having been jailed in the 1950s for contempt of court for proceedings relating to Communism, as he was head of a group that was labeled as a front for a Communist group. However, as he served in both world wars, he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery). Fascinating mix of story, characters, atmosphere, & a look at Hammett/Spade in the years after The Maltese Falcon. I would advise reading The Maltese Falcon first, though, to get the most out of this fabulous novella. A very nice addition to the noir/crime genre.
Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation, or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid - J. Maarten Troost This was fine. Mildly entertaining & some interesting observations about visiting & traveling through China.
I Will Have Vengeance - Maurizio de Giovanni 3.5 stars. Enjoyable mystery set in 1930s Naples -- an interesting mix of noir & The Sixth Sense. Compelling enough that I read the entire book in one sitting. As always, this is a lovely edition from Europa publishing, a part of their "World Noir" series. Recommended.

For more info on Europa's World Noir series, check out their website at:

Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall

Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall - Jill Koenigsdorf Delightful, fun book -- perfect for light summer reading.
A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki This novel is wholly original, yet it also reminded me of two of my favorite books in the recent past -- Haruki Murakami's [b:1Q84|10357575|1Q84 |Haruki Murakami||18160093] and David Mitchell's [b:Cloud Atlas|49628|Cloud Atlas|David Mitchell||1871423].

"1Q84" and "A Tale for the Time Being" both examine the realm of the other -- alternate realities, quantum theories, lives that are opposite but yet the same.

Two quotes from "Cloud Atlas" fit right in with Ozeki's lovely novel:

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”


“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?”

Ozeki's novel stands with these other masterpieces, yet stands alone too. Together. Apart. It is the same. (A statement you can surely appreciate if you have read this novel.)

Nao is a charming, heartwarming, & heartbreaking narrator. Not since Lisbeth Salander ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") have I so enjoyed a character. Nao is so real, so fresh, someone I wish I knew. Jiko is yet another fabulous woman in this novel, another person I wish I could know. Ruth is more stand-offish, yet she's integral to the story, to the raveling & unraveling of the pacing, the time, the tempo of the story....

With deceptively understated simplicity (it's really just a teen girl's diary we're reading, after all), Ozeki manages to gift you, the reader, with a mind-expanding array of topics, ranging from love, home, bullying, suicide, war, the recent Japanese tsunami, to Zen, quantum physics, and the shifting realities between author & reader. This novel will break your heart & will make it grow too (along with your mind).

Highly recommended.
Alif the Unseen - G. Willow Wilson The book is ok, but it seems like it is a YA book (even though it is not filed that way at the library). YA is not my thing & I have many other books sitting here that I'd rather be reading, so I'm going to stop reading. I made it through about 175 pages (not quite halfway) -- it sort-of reminds me of The Children of the Lamp series (fun YA series), but w/ more of a techno-geek bent (of course mixed w/ jinn). Based on what I've read so far, I'd probably give it 2.5 or 3 stars overall & would recommend it for those who want a YA mix of modern-day Middle East/technology/jinn/fable. Not the worst out there, but not the best either.
Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d'Art - Christopher Moore This was my first Christopher Moore book (though I've had his books recommended to me different times).

Parts I loved, other parts were ok. It's a (strange?) mix of historical/art fiction, fantasy, almost-horror, & maybe a few other styles tossed in there too. Love the parts about the history of the color blue, as well as the personalities of the artists he uses as characters in the story. (I used to do oil painting as a hobby, so I was entranced by those parts.) The fantasy/almost-horror type sections weren't as interesting, imo; can't really put my finger on it, but those sections had an odd cadence that threw off the pacing of the story.

The hardcover version of the book, however, has text printed in a lovely, deep blue, along with a cover in varying shades of blue. Completely delicious & gorgeous. I even like the tongue-in-cheek half-wrapper around the nude on the cover. Numerous small, color prints by some of the masters of art are also included. Again, totally lovely. I do like Moore's historical & biographical notes at the end.
Absalom, Absalom! - William Faulkner Life is too crazy right now for me to dedicate time to Faulkner. Will definitely be returning to this one as I love Faulkner's writing.
The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats - Hesh Kestin Does your heart go pitter-patter for "Bugsy Malone"? Or maybe "The Godfather"? Perhaps "The Maltese Falcon"? If so, "The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats" by Hesh Kestin serves up 2 parts mob story, 1 part noir to make a gripping, ripping fun yarn about the Jewish mob in 1960s NYC. Definitely recommended.
1Q84 - Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel, Haruki Murakami A masterpiece by Murakami.

I've been pondering my thoughts about this book. And, ultimately, the word I keep coming back to in relation to this book is... basket.

The construction of the story is woven like a basket. Murakami starts with various separate pieces, then starts weaving them together. As the story circles around & around, the weaving gets tighter, pulling all the pieces closer together while rotating again & again. (I realize that some have gotten bogged down in the repetition of the story, but I found it fascinating to watch his construction, to watch him carefully take one tiny design, include it somewhere else later, and continue sprinkling it through so that the final product produces a beautiful, cohesive design.)

The finished product is an epic, yet simple story, well-constructed. It is an impressive work created by a master craftsman. A universal story that, like baskets that have been used in most societies from ancient times to present day, can appeal across cultural divides, across time divides. Functional, useful, and beautiful at the same time. Universal themes such as love, ethics, religion, reality, and many more are woven into the story -- topics that would have been as appropriate a thousand years ago as they are today to people both far & wide. A design that is recognizable across cultures, yet has unique components that showcase Murakami's style & heritage too. And even though this story is like a modern-day basket, it pays homage to the ones before it, referencing some of the great works produced by artists, authors, and others from past times. A reflection of both old & new (& perhaps what is yet to come?).

And this book made me sure to look at the moon, more than once. And how can I not love a book that reminds me to be awed by the beauty of the moon? Our universal, shared moon... common to every person on the planet.

This is the third Murakami work I've read & I'd definitely rate it as the most mainstream of the ones I've read, yet it's not necessarily the one I'd recommend starting with if you've never read Murakami. Perhaps you can get a deeper appreciation for his skill if you're already a fan of his work. Otherwise, it might be to easy to dismiss 1Q84 as simple or basic, when in reality it may look simple, but is really a masterpiece created by a world-class artist.

{Spoiler ahead...}

Ironically, I was a bit surprised by the (happy) ending. Because, even though I saw the story being crafted through hundreds of pages, I was still unsure if Aomame & Tengo were heading toward happiness or not.... Did fate lead them there or was it their free-will? Once I saw where Aomame's & Tengo's stories ended in this book, I have to believe they will overcome any adversities they meet & enjoy a happy future together. They have already weathered the adverse, the strange, the mundane to get to the end, or beginning, of their story together. Time is a circle, watched over by the moon.
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation  - Lauren Willig Frothy & predictable. Mindless, easy, & frivolous enough as a beach or pool read if you're looking for that sort of thing. I guess it's considered historical romance. It's pretty lightweight as a historical fiction piece; not sure how it measures up as a romantic piece as I rarely read romances.
The End of Mr. Y - Scarlett Thomas The best: The cover art is quite cute & fetching.

The rest: You know, I love metafiction, modernist books, mind-bending topics, surrealism, etc..., so I thought this might be a fun book. It's not. The characters are messed up & that's just not fun or interesting to read about page after page. I'm 182 pages in & finding it much too morose, dark, & depressing for my liking. Really? The concept of the book was so cool, but the story just completely tanked because of the characters. Bleh. Must stop now.
Secret Societies: Inside History's Most Mysterious Organizations - Kelly Knauer, Time-Life Books This book is mediocre at best. It's a very, very condensed version of various 'secret' societies w/ special emphasis on groups covered in various Dan Brown books. I enjoyed seeing some of the photos, but it was more of magazine-blurb type writing rather than anything in-depth. (Guess I should have suspected that w/ it being a Time publication, huh?) Most groups were ones I already knew at least a little about, so this book provided very little new info for me. Coverage of the groups was also quite uneven; some groups had pages while others had half a page or less. I really couldn't discern what or why some groups were included while others were not. Some of the writing was fairly impartial, while other parts had personal comments interjected by the writers. It might be ok if you're looking for a very broad listing of groups like this as a starting point which would lead you to more research; unfortunately, there is no bibliography. Overall, though, it's very uneven and too general to be of great interest, imo.
Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health - William  Davis 2.5 stars.

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with much of what the author writes, but much of his evidence is not scientifically backed-up even though he goes into quite a few scientific explanations in the book. The author often says things like 'research was never done in this area' or 'research needs to be done in this area' in regard to many of his theories. Much of his philosophy seems to be based on his physical observations but w/out the scientific evidence to back it up. I think much of what he says is probably right & is on track (& a few other things are over-simplified), but the extreme dietary changes he advocates & science studies he does quote are weirdly (off)balanced by his repetition that these ideas are based mainly on personal observation. Also, his manner of writing is almost provocative -- making it a bit of a stressful read, imo.

Many dietary books recommend cutting out carbs anyway, and Davis does do that (w/ the caveat that all wheat be cut out completely & that wheat is the most-damaging carb for you). I just wish he had presented his info/stance in a somewhat different manner.

Tried/slightly modified version of one of the recipes in the back of the book & liked it. Will try more of the recipes.

Info re: cutting out wheat = probably good.
Theories = various but most stated w/out scientific back-up or research.
Presentation = so-so.
Recipes = good/tasty &/or seem do-able.
The Fifty Year Sword - Mark Z. Danielewski Well, I got my cup of coffee & read this in one sitting. My initial thoughts....

It reads very well as a piece of ongoing modern poetry. (I don't even consider myself a fan of poetry.) At first, I wondered if I should try to read each color quote as a separate thread, but quickly discarded that notion. I didn't really try to keep the different 'speakers' straight, rather read it straight-through as voices interweaving. I enjoyed Danielewski's word-play too -- sometimes giving a lighter edge, sometimes giving a more sinister edge.... The fact that different overlapping speakers told the increasingly spooky story made me think of the chorus of witches that Shakespeare employed to great effect. As such, I think this would be great to see/hear as a performance.

I liked the use of white space (& black space), along w/ the embroidery photos. Even all the pinholes in the cover added to the multidimensional feel of this work as more than just writing; as I saw it mentioned somewhere, it is performance art/multimedia.

The story itself was engrossing, especially through the beginning and middle, but I felt that the ending was a bit anti-climatic. A tale of revenge? Redemption? Hatred? Forgiveness? Shattered illusions?

Interesting piece worth reading.

Wish I could have seen this performance of it:

3.5 to 4 stars.
Winter Quarters: A Novel of Argentina - Osvaldo Soriano Gripping, sparse story. Goes well when read with its predecessor, [b:Funny Dirty Little War|433730|Funny Dirty Little War|Osvaldo Soriano||1770025]. Together, the two books weave a tale of the absurdity to which people descend in times of unrest, war, and political machinations.

Currently reading

Night of My Blood
Kofi Awoonor