Saturday, April 30, 2011

And now for something completely different...

The Door to Lost Pages
by Claude Lalumière

I don’t know that I would have seen this little book if it were not for an intriguing review in PW catching my eye. And I think what intrigued me is that this slight novella of linked stories was set around a bookstore. Surely I am not the only hard-core bibliophile that is immediately attracted to tales involving bookstores and booksellers?

The novella contains a brief (skippable) introduction, followed by a prologue and six stories spanning a number of years. The bookstore is not the primary setting or focus of all the stories, but it is one of the elements that link them. As is Aydee, the central character of the first story, who is introduced as a neglected and abused 10-year-old girl. The store, Lost Pages, came into her life at a time of need, as it had done for others over the years. It’s not your average, florescent-lit chain store. Rather, it had echoes of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books. And, readers, who among us isn’t seeking a mystical bookstore?

There are many other mystical/mythical elements to the tales, some of them rather new-agey for my liking. (But my tolerance is low, and there wasn’t so much that it was off-putting.) But those stories, some of them, were pretty “out there” and weird. This is another thing that can be off-putting to some readers and appealing to others. The stories contained a provocative mix of stark realism and fantasy, innocence and experience. Do know going in that there are repeated references to substance use and abuse. Additionally, there are graphic depictions of a broad spectrum of sexuality, some of it unconventional. What I’ll say is that I think Mr. Lalumière showed restraint and didn’t get too carried away with the weirdness. His writing is very strong, and the imagery was vivid and interesting.

Interesting. That’s a word I returned to time and time again while trying to describe this book to a friend. It seems like such a bland word, but I’m stuck with it. There was nothing bland about this book. And there are worse things than being “interesting.” And if I can’t ever find the door to Lost Pages myself, at the very least I hope to find more of these stories.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The ultimate serial monogamist!

The Ninth Wife
by Amy Stolls

What would you do if you learned the man you wanted to spend the rest of your life with had been previously married eight (!) times? Thankfully, that’s a question very few of us will ever have to ask ourselves. However, it is at the heart of Amy Stolls’ adult fiction debut, The Ninth Wife.

Bess Gray is successful, attractive, independent—and still single at 35. It’s not the life she thought she’d be leading. That sounds like the opening of a chick-lit novel, and while this rumination on the nature of marriage and the permanence of relationships does have some heightened, chick-lit-like elements, there’s actually quite a bit going on in this unusual novel. It’s the story of Bess and Rory—at long last, a man with whom she can see a future.

For the first 16 chapters, Part I of the novel, every other chapter is narrated by Bess or Rory respectively. Bess’s narrative details their meeting and courtship, leading up to his surprise marriage proposal and dropped bombshell. Rory’s narrative is essentially a monologue. Each of the eight alternating chapters is a marriage told in his own words. The reader is hearing Rory’s colorful matrimonial history as the two lovers inexorably head towards this difficult conversation. At one point speaking of a drunken, one-night mistake, Rory says:

“I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I guess I just get angry that people can have lots of relationships that no one would blink an eye at, but because mine have formal labels they get listed against me somehow, and they get lumped together as if they’re all equal, but they’re not. I’ve been married eight times, this is true, but Fawn shouldn’t count. She just shouldn’t. It was an evening that got out of hand. No casualties…”

Part II of the novel is the aftermath. Bess is understandably confused and concerned. Needing a little space to explore her feelings, Bess embarks on a cross-country road-trip, nicely set up in Part I, to drive her elderly grandparents to their new retirement home. In addition to an opportunity to learn more about her roots and observe the good, the bad, and the ugly of a 65-year marriage, it turns into an odyssey to connect with Rory’s various exes.

I really liked the structure of this novel, and there was a great deal to enjoy in the course of the story-telling. For starters, it’s not your everyday conundrum. I don’t believe this was ever tackled on an episode of Sex and the City. Bess and Rory (“the octo-husband”) are likeable, relatable characters. The plotting was a little unconventional, frequently surprising me. It was refreshing, as I wasn’t always sure where things were going.

My biggest problem with The Ninth Wife is that in the end it was neither fish nor fowl. What I mean by that is that Stolls’ kept adding wacky elements to an interesting adult dramedy. There was Gaia, the possibly clairvoyant earth mother, and Cricket the flamboyant gay neighbor—a last minute addition to the road-trip. I didn’t dislike their storylines, really, but I didn’t feel they added anything to the novel. They detracted (or perhaps distracted) a bit. I’m all in favor of a little comic relief, but I just felt like maybe they were in a different novel altogether.

This was my introduction to Ms. Stolls’ work. Despite the criticisms above, I found The Ninth Wife a surprisingly quick (at 496 pages) and engaging novel. Not being married, it gave me plenty of food for thought. And above all, it was simply entertaining. That’s enough for a thumbs up from me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

HUMPDAY GIVEAWAY: The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

A few weeks ago when I received the galley of this book, I discovered that there are a lot of people with much stronger feelings about the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder than me.  As lovely a book as The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House of the Prairie by Wendy McClure appears to be, I'm convinced that there's someone out there who will enjoy it a whole lot more than I will.  (Please note: I am giving away a trade paperback galley, not a finished hardback.)

In their starred review of this book, PW wrote:
Obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books about an 1880s pioneer family, children's book editor and memoirist McClure (I'm Not the New Me) attempts to recapture her childhood vision of "Laura World." Her wacky quest includes hand-grinding wheat for bread, buying an authentic churn, and traveling to sites where the Ingalls family attempted to wrest a living from the prairie. Discovering that butter she churned herself was "just butter," McClure admits she "felt like a genius and a complete idiot at the same time." Viewing a one-room dugout the Ingallses occupied that was "smaller than a freight elevator" prompted McClure to admit that "the actual past and the Little House world had different properties." McClure finally tells her boyfriend, "I'm home," after recognizing that her travels stemmed from her reaction to the recent death of her mother. Readers don't need to be Wilder fans to enjoy this funny and thoughtful guide to a romanticized version of the American expansion west.
Other than that, the giveaway rules are the same as always:
  • The giveaway is open to anyone with a U.S. mailing address ('cause I'm footing the postage).
  • To enter, all you need to do is post a comment below by Wednesday, May 4, 2011.  
  • At my discretion, if there are less than five respondents, I can cancel or extend the giveaway.
  • Generally, giveaways start on a Wednesday, and end one week later.
  • Winner will be chosen by me with the help of a random number generator, and will be announced in the comments section of this thread. 
  • Please check back to see if you've won.  If you have left a way to contact you, I will do so.
  • The winner has one week to response to me at with a mailing address, or I will choose a new winner.
  • If a second winner fails to respond, the book automatically goes to the lovely members of my face to face book club.
  • Finally, if all all possible, please comment below only if you're entering the giveaway.
  • Previous giveaway winners are welcome to enter.
Good luck!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mailbox Monday: Post- Pultizer pessimism edition

Happy Mailbox Monday!

And by the way, this is my new favorite mailbox photo.  What do you think?  So, this was a quieter week around the old mailbox.  In fact, this would have been the shortest Mailbox Monday post yet... if it were not for the Friends of the Public Library 50th Anniversary sale.  The sale was going on for five days, and I stayed away until the very final hours, hoping all the good books would be gone.  But who was I kidding?  There are always good books left, and among the 18 books I got for a dollar a piece, there were some treasures!

The Secret History of Costaguana
by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
Release date: 6/9/2011
Source:  Paper galley from publisher

Uh, I think I need to read some Conrad before I even think of tackling this one.

by Daniel H. Wilson
Release date: 6/7/2011
Source:  Paper galley from publisher

Oh, I had a good laugh when I saw the absurd cover and title of this forthcoming novel about a war between machines and humans.  Especially once I read this jacket copy: " entertaining and engaging thriller unlike anything else written in years."  Aside from just being bad copy, how many examples can you think of of something exactly like that being written?  It's a science fiction trope!  But then I read this little item:  "Steven Spielberg will direct Robopacalypse as a major feature film to be released in 2013."  So, looks like this is getting the big publicity push, coming to a bestseller list near you this summer.  I may have to read it, if only to ridicule. 

Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads
edited by David Morrell & Hank Wagner
Release date: 7/5/2010
Source: Finished hardback courtesy of contributor Katherine Neville

Thank you, Katherine!  The book came in record time, and I haven't been able to keep my nose out of it.  How is it possible I never purchased a copy?  It is awesome!  And just the thing to read leading up to this summer's Thrillerfest.

My top finds at the Friends of the Public Library sale:

Syrup by Max Barry

Okay, I am going to forgo my usual format with release dates and the like or this will take me forever.  Careful readers may recall me mentioning that I'm a huge fan of Australian humorist Barry in last week's Mailbox Monday post.  I've been a fan ever since this debut novel, Syrup.  I loved it!  And every time I see a hardback copy, I scoop it up.  I've discussed this with Max.  There were only like 3,000 hardbacks printed of this quirky debut by a then unknown foreign writer.  Of those 3,000, I have owned four, this latest acquisition being the fourth.  Max has already signed the first three, and I hold them to be bestowed on only the most worthy friends.  I gave one of the copies to Sara Leigh, and I have two other signed copies at home.  This new one is in the best condition of them all!  I hope he tours the U.S. for the new novel.  I can't wait to get this one signed too.  Book by book, I'm acquiring a significant percentage of that print run!

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

This is one of those novels spoken of reverently by well-read individuals.  Funnily, the opening line of the jacket copy says it's "destined to become a cult classic," and damn if it didn't do exactly that!  I found a pristine hardback copy at the sale yesterday, and grabbed it without reading the jacket copy or having the slightest idea what it's about.  Now that I've read the book's description, I'm even more excited to dive in!

The Bachelor's Cat by L.F. Hoffman

When I lost my beloved Weasel nearly a year ago, I asked some well-read online friends for book suggestions that might cheer me a bit.  The description of this tiny novella really appealed, but it was out of print.  I found a lovely hardback copy at the sale.  I'm sure to devour it in the near future.

Sea Hunter by Paul Garrison

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I'm obsessed by "trashy underwater fiction," a genre coined by me.  I always tell people that I started reading the stuff back when I was the editor of a dive magazine to blow off steam, kind of like the folks that enjoy laughing at B-movies.  (And I'm a huge fan/collector of trashy underwater films, as well.)  But the truth is, I've loved this stuff since earliest childhood, and the seventies was a great decade for TUF.  Thank you, Peter Benchley!  I haven't subjected you to this obsession too much on the pages of this blog, but you'll see it.  Finding this book thrilled me, as only a really good TUF find can.  (I have hundreds of these books on dedicated shelves at home.)  Years ago I was discussing TUF with Justin (Paul Garrison's real name is Justin Scott) and he told me to find this book.  Look at that eye!  I can't wait to read this!  Well, I didn't wait.  I read the first three chapters in the bathtub last night.  Other than a complete failure to understand marine biology, it's awesome!  I promised myself not to pack any paper books for my trip to BEA, but I think I need to read this one on the plane.

More Trashy Underwater Fiction:

The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble

Trashy Underwater Fiction doesn't actually have to be trashy.  That's part of the paradox of it.  So, I have no idea how I missed this 2007 novel about a marine biologist from Margaret Drabble.  But my surprise about that is dwarfed by being stunned to discover, this very minute, the existence of an obscure 1902 novel by H.G. Wells entitle The Sea Lady: A Tissue of Moonshine.  It's a mermaid tale, and I've never heard of it before!  Suffice it to say, I found a free copy online, and it has already been uploaded to my Kindle.  It will show up in next week's mailbox.  This is what keeps collecting exciting!

Emerald Sea by John Ringo

This is an author who, without ever having read him, I sort of dislike.  I don't remember the exact reason, but I think he wrote (badly) a novel with a somewhat offensive premise.  But, here's a mermaid tale, and as noted above, I'm a sucker for mermaid tails tales.  No pun intended.

Some stitching references:

Embroidery (French Chic)

This book had no author listed, but has several nice designs, mostly in embroidery styles I've yet to learn (freestyle, crewel, etc.), which is part of the appeal.  I'd like to do a little experimentation.  Also, it featured cute ways to embroider clothes, tablecloths, and other plain items.

More Needlepoint by Design by Maggie Lane

See that Japanese fish design on the book's cover?  I love it!  I want to stitch it!  I've been kind of slacking on my embroidery lately, but just looking at projects like this makes me want to pick my needle back up!

Needlepoint: The Art of Canvas Embroidery by Mary Rhodes

This book looks to be decades old, but the great thing about pursuing an art form that's centuries old is that nothing ever becomes truly dated.  Here's another book full of inspiring projects.  I love growing my reference library at a dollar a pop.

Nice editions of literary fiction:

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Jon has, quite rightly, pointed out how shameful it is that I've never read Richard Russo.  Perhaps having two shiny new hardbacks in the house will move him up higher on my TBR.  At the very least, it will class up my bookshelf.  Now Empire Falls won't feel so lonely.  :-(

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

One day I will get to Italy.  And I will have to read this book leading up to my trip.

The New Yorkers by Cathleen Schine

New York, on the other hand, is a destination I'm jetting off to every other minute, and I always enjoy a good New York story.  I'm especially looking forward to reading this Schine title I overlooked, as The Three Weissmanns of Westport was one of my favorite reads last year. 

 Jenny and the Jaws of Life: Short Stories by Jincy Willett

I loved Jincy Willett's debut novel, the audaciously titled Winner of the National Book Award.  It was dark and hilarious.  David Sedaris loved this collection so much that he wrote a foreword for it.  I've always meant to read it.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

For reasons I'm completely unable to explain, I still have not read this book.  Again, maybe now that it's in the house it will move up the TBR list.

Finally, some genre and other fiction

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

I had dinner with Stan (as he is known) and several other novelists the weekend before last.  He is smart, charming, and easy on the eyes--which is reason enough to pick up his books.  But I've enjoyed some of his speculative fiction (Antarctica) very much in the past.  I have an old beat up paperback of this book in the house, but let's face it, I'm never going to read that copy.  Maybe I'll read this one.  Oh, and maybe I'll get around to blogging about our lovely evening one of these days.

And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer

I do so love DNA's Hitchhiker books.  Everyone says don't read this one, but I find resistance to be futile.

Mammoth by John Varley

I have no recollection of how I came to read this time travel thriller a few years ago, but I really, really liked it.  I always wanted a hardback copy for my permanent collection.  Now I can give Jimbo my paperback like I promised however many years ago.  Time travel--it's the only science fiction trope I really like.

The Sugar Queen  by Sarah Addison Allen

We've been discussing Allen's works this month on Play Book Tag.  This one is supposedly not as good as her first novel and not as bad as her most recent.  What intrigues me about this book is that one character has books magically appear just when she needs them.  Everyone agrees that I have almost the same power!

Alas, the magical book drawing power is a dangerous thing.  For starters, it makes Mailbox Monday a tedious slog.  I'll warn you for next week: seven books arrived in my hands today.  I need to move some books out the door!  Count on Humpday Giveaways for the next few weeks.  In fact, I may even put together prize packs of multiple books to give away.

I'm exhausted.  Ironically, I've begun looking forward to the day when my mailbox is empty.  Surely, there will be no books one week?  No wonder I can't find the time or energy to write my book reviews...

Books finished this week:

The School of Night by Louis Bayard

The Devil Colony by James Rollins - Count on me repeating over and over how AWESOME this book it!

Currently reading:

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips - This book is excellent, but not a title to be gulped down as I've been doing lately.  I am reading it thoughtfully and taking my time--and gulping down other books on the side.

Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads by David Morrell & Hank Wagner

The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey

So, if anyone is still reading, what books did you acquire this week?  What are you reading?  Let me know in the comments!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tina tells her tale

by Tina Fey

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of listening to Tina Fey’s book Bossypants read by the author herself. Not only is the lady fantastically funny, she’s also got something to say. Plus, on the audiobook, she does the Sarah Palin parts in her Sarah Palin voice. And, if you’re anything like me, you’d be very interested in Fey’s own take on the Palin phenomena and her role in it. Fey isn’t writing a straight memoir here. The breakdown is something like this:
46% Celebrity memoir
28% Essay collection
12% Feminist manifesto
9% Stand-up routine
5% Self-help manual
She does cover the major highlights of her life (roots, family, education, career, marriage, motherhood, and miscellany) in a semi-chronological fashion. The book is made up of two dozen or so short chapters, each an essay. Some of the essays are very personal, such as a portrait of her father, or the tale of her disastrous honeymoon. Others were about female empowerment, such as chapters on body image and the fact that women can be just as funny as men.

Speaking of funny… I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone that Tina Fey is hilarious. I laughed out loud through this entire book. I’m sure it was all the more amusing coming straight from her mouth. (By the way, I was surprised to learn that she’s not a half-bad mimic. She does a passable take on Lorne Michaels, Alec Baldwin, Amy Poehler, and other recognizable friends she quotes within the text.) While some chapters were incidentally funny, a handful of them were loosely disguised comedy bits.

It was amusing the way she kept divorcing herself from celebrity. She spoke about glamorous movie stars as though she hasn’t made the lists of Hollywood’s most beautiful and powerful. Somehow she’s retained an everywoman quality that leaves her relatable and approachable. By the end of this slight book, I felt I knew a lot more about Fey. I liked and respected her even more than I had going in. And I was thoroughly entertained. I can’t ask more than that.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

BBC + BEA = Hip Hip Hooray!

I've known I was going to do this for a while, but knowing you're going to do something and plunking down the money are two different things.  But now it's official.  I have airfare, a hotel reservation (of sorts), and I am officially registered for both the second ever Book Blogger Con (BBC) and BookExpo America (BEA).  Both of which will be held in New York, just about a month from now.

Now, I am a seasoned vet of many a BEA, but I haven't attended in three or four years now.  There are several reasons why.  For starters, the conference has made changes that work less well for me.  It used to travel to different cities:  NY, DC, LA, Chicago.  Now it's held in NY every year--and just a few weeks before another conference I attend (Thrillerfest) which is also annoyingly held in NY every year.  Don't get me wrong--I love NY (for up to 10 days at a time), but I'd prefer my trips be spaced a little further than five or six weeks apart.  Also, BEA used to be held over a weekend.  Now it's mid-week.  Finally, I used to go for the galleys.  Now, as you've seen by Mailbox Monday, I don't have to travel 3,000 miles and spend thousands of dollars to collect a season's worth of galleys.  Now, they just come to me.  So, BEA has been less of a priority.

And truthfully, BEA isn't what's getting me to NY this spring.  The biggest catalyst is this shiny, new Book Blogger Con.  They held the first one last year, and I was intrigued.  I might have gone then, but the con fell smack between April and July NY trips, and not even I could rationalize a third.  But by all accounts, the first Con was a success.  And this year, everything seemed to align.  I could accomplish a massive spring theater trip (I hope to shoehorn in 7-9 Broadway shows!) and both conferences with a week in NY, after which I would spend a week in DC with my family.  There I would celebrate my nephew Joshua's third birthday; visit with either my very, very pregnant sister, and/or meet my new nephew; spend time with my parents; see the girls at Tuesday night stitching; take Sara Leigh out for a belated birthday luncheon; enjoy my hometown, and catch the starry revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies at the Kennedy Center.  Whew!

In case you're wondering, yes, my life does exhaust me.

In addition to my general BEA attendance, I also sprung for the two adult author (as opposed to children's author) breakfasts.  (Sleep?  Who needs it!)  I've heard some amazing speakers at these breakfasts over the years: John Irving, Stephen Colbert, Barak Obama, John Updike, Umberto Ecco, Amy Sedaris, Ken Burns, Lisa See, Khaled Hosseini, Alice Seybold--the list goes on and on.  The line-ups this year are no exception.  Here are the two events:

8:00AM – 9:30AM WEDNESDAY BOOK & AUTHOR BREAKFAST (Special Events Hall)

Wednesday morning will feature Diane Keaton, author of Then Again (Random House); Jefferey Eugenides, author of The Marriage Plot (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and Charlaine Harris, author of Dead Reckoning (Ace/Penguin Group USA). Mindy Kaling, author of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) (Crown Archetype) will be the Master of Ceremonies.

THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2011

8:00AM – 9:30AM THURSDAY BOOK & AUTHOR BREAKFAST (Special Events Hall)

Thursday morning will feature Roger Ebert, author of Life Itself: A Memoir (Grand Central); Anne Enright, author of The Forgotten Waltz (W.W. Norton); and Erik Larson, author of In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (Crown Publishers). Jim Lehrer, author of Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to McCain-Obama (Random House) will be the Master of Ceremonies.
How awesome is that!?!  I'm most excited about Jefferey Eugenides!  I'll be writing more about both of these conferences in weeks to come.  Truthfully, I haven't missed BEA that much, but now that I'm returning, I'm really excited!  Oh, and of course I'll blog from NY, as time allows.  For now, this is what I really want to know:  Is anyone else attending either of these events?  Please let me know in the comments!  (Vulgar expressions of jealousy are welcome as well.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

With apologies to Charles Dickens…

A Tale of Two Castles
by Gail Carson Levine

I’ve had a good stretch lately, where I’ve been reading at a ferocious pace. But I suddenly came to a grinding halt a few days ago. Nothing I was reading was inspiring me to keep turning pages. At times like that, a trick that often perks me up is to read a young adult book and I lose myself in pure story. That’s what I did, and it worked like a charm.

Actually, I didn’t lose myself in A Tale of Two Castles right away. It took a while because at the start of the novel Gail Carson Levine is working mightily on the world building. The story opens with a goodbye. Twelve-year-old Elodie is saying goodbye to her parents, her home, and everything she’s ever known. She’s leaving her island and the farm and sailing off to the city of Two Castles which features—you guessed it—two castles. It is time for her to become apprenticed. “Mother and father’s instructions were to apprentice myself to a weaver, but I would not. Mansioner. I mouthed the word into the wind, the word that held my future. Mansioner.”

Oh, I’m sorry; you don’t know what a mansioner is? I didn’t either. In the fairy-tale world that Carson Levine has created that’s the word for actor. A ship is a “cog.” You might wear a “kirtle” and exclaim, “Lambs and calves!” And you might run into a dragon or an ogre—but not if you can help it. In fact, Elodie’s father gave her this parting advice, “Stay clear of the crafty dragons and the shape-shifting ogres. Don’t befriend them!” Of course, a dragon and an ogre are indeed two of the very first beings she meets in Two Castles, but not before all her money is stolen by a cat and she’s insulted by a human. Scared, hungry, and alone, Elodie is in fairly dire straights. Her dream of becoming a mansioner appears to be ending before it has even started. So, when the dragon Meenore offers her a position as ITs (for Mastress Meenore alone knows ITs gender) assistant, what choice does Elodie have but follow IT to ITs lair?

So begins a relations ship based on “deduction, induction, and common sense,” in which each learns from the other. Mastress Meenore has many trades including food service, heating, finder of lost objects, and unraveler of mysteries. So it is that the ogre, Count Jonty Um, comes to Meenore seeking help finding a lost dog. But it turns out that that is merely the beginning of his troubles. The ogre is in danger, and so Elodie becomes Meenore’s eyes and ears in his castle as they work to unravel the larger mystery.

Carson Levine’s story is as magical as it is well-written. Her characters are colorful and endearing. I am a fortunate 42-year-old woman, that I can still be a child. Books like this are time portals for me. I was delighted with this story from start to finish and was sad to see it end. Happily, the end of this novel is the start of a new adventure, one that I shall look forward to reading.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mailbox Monday: Pulitzer Day Edition!

Hey y'all, sort of getting a late start this week, with all the Pulitzer excitement.  But it's still Monday (barely), and boy did some awesome books come in this past week!

The Devil Colony
by James Rollins
Release date: 6/21/2011
Source: The author


Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx
by James Rollins
Release date: 5/3/2011
Source: The author

I know!  An embarassment of riches!  Jimbo rocks, and it's good to be me.  This got an awesome review in Kirkus, BTW.  They said, "Rollins' second Jake Ransom adventure is tighter, more magical and more thrilling than the series opener. Likely to win Jake more fans, this will have adventure seekers of both genders clamoring for volume three."  I'm clamoring already.

Machine Man
by Max Barry
Release date: 8/9/2011
Source:  Electronic galley from publisher

Yeah, I know that cover image sucks, but it's the best I could do.  More importantly:  New novel by Max Barry!  Or newish, at least.  New in this form.  New to me.  And get this, it is being widely reported that an adaptation of this novel will be Darren "Black Swan" Aronofsky's next film.  Very cool!

The Dolphin in the Mirror
by Diana Reiss
Release date: 9/20/2011
Source: Electronic galley from publisher

You know me, I love the sea creatures and the science.

The Invisible Bridge
by Julie Orringer
Release date: 5/4/2010
Source: Aquired in the PBT book swap

Thank you, Care!  I can't believe how festive your package was!  What a treat.  Now, I just have to find the time to read this doorstop of a book.

The Door to Lost Pages
by Claude Lalumiere
Release date: 5/3/2011
Source: Electronic galley from the publisher

The review of this novel in PW caught my eye, and the publisher was kind enough to supply me with a copy. 

I'd Know You Anywhere
by Laura Lippman
Release date: 8/17/2010
Source:  Paper galley from publisher

Megan at HarperCollins was kind enough to send a galley in honor of the novel's trade paper release.  I actualy read the hardback last year.  It was excellent!

Domestic Violets
by Matthew Norman
Release date: 8/9/2011
Source: Electronic galley from publisher

I think I saw this compared to Tom Perotta, or blurbed by Tom Perotta?  It was good enough for me.

by Tina Fey
Release date: 4/5/2011
Source: Purchased with Audible credit

Tina Fey is awesome.  'Nuff said.

Books finished this week:

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair

The Door to Lost Pages by Claude Lalumiere

Long Gone by Alafair Burke

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Currently reading:

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

The School of Night by Louis Bayard

And what books did you acquire this week?  What are you reading?  Let me know in the comments!


I hate to say I told you so, but...

Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction today!  I'll merely remind you that I was raving about this book before it was even published.  You may revisit my review HERE.  And now I will no longer have to write blog posts like, "Why isn't Jennifer Egan a household name?" 

Per the Pulitzer website:
For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Awarded to "A Visit From the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan, an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed.
Congratulations, Jennifer!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

An exotic tale marred by novice writing

The Girl in the Garden
by Kamala Nair

There are a million stories in the naked city, and a million writers trying to get them published. At times like this, I really have to wonder: Why this one? How was it that author Kamala Nair won the golden ticket? Because I just don’t see it.

The novel opens in the present day in the form of a letter from first person narrator Rakhee to her fiancée. “By the time you read this, I will be flying over the Atlantic on my way to India. You will have woken up alone and found the diamond ring I left on the bedside table and beneath it, this stack of papers you now hold.” Okay, already I find her unsympathetic because that “stack of papers” is in fact the 300-page manuscript that makes up the novel. Premeditate much, Rakhee? Well, never mind adult Rakhee because this is a coming of age tale about the summer that Rakhee turned 11. It was a pivotal season in her life and as she explains (in absentia) to her fiancée, until she comes to terms with her past, she can’t move forward with their marriage.

Rahkee is of Indian descent, born in America. She was raised among the blondes of Minnesota, so it’s no wonder she felt like an outcast. She’s a lonely, artistic girl, more close to her scientist father than her indifferent and depressive mother. During a time of heightened family tensions, Rahkee’s mother decides it will be good for them to spend the summer in rural India with her family. There Rakhee meets aunts, uncles, cousins, and the grandmother she hasn’t seen in years. At first, it’s a happy time of finally belonging. But there are dark undercurrents at the family home. Why have the children been warned away from entering the jungle behind their home?

Rakhee is not so suspicious or easily manipulated as her cousins, and before long she has discovered a mysterious cottage surrounded by a beautiful garden, all behind a tall, locked fence. And, she eventually discovers the deformed girl who is the cottage’s sole resident… Are you fully appreciating the references to The Secret Garden yet? That is just one of the many motifs in this dreary melodrama.

Why dreary? I really didn’t find this book well-written. I'm not specifically speaking of Nair's use of language, but what she did with her words.  I found the pace frequently plodding, the dialogue occasionally cringe-worthy (“I’ve been dreading this, but it has to be done. People will talk if I don’t go and see them and act as if everything is normal. Stupid gossips.”), the imagery heavy-handed (“The entire garden had transformed into a crumbling shell of its former self.”), the "secrets" and twists to be obvious and telegraphed, the melodrama to be over the top, and the devices for plot exposition to be excruciatingly obvious and poorly done (e.i. lonely elderly relative regurgitates family history, and multiple drunken confessions). Actually, the over-the-topness did help pick up the pace of things as the novel approached its climax. I was grateful for that, at least.

I think this could have been a rich, exotic tale in a more experienced writer’s hands, but alas, this is a debut I could have skipped.