Saturday, January 29, 2011

Previews and Reminders, Jan 29

A little weekend housecleaning!

Just a reminder about my giveaway of Sadie Jones' Small Wars, which closes Feb 5th.  I'm hoping to post an interview with Ms Jones next week -- I had an opportunity to send some questions along and my fingers are crossed that she'll have time to answer a few!

I also have an interview with Delilah Marvelle coming up as well -- along with a giveaway!

And finally, my review of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand will be posted on the 3rd.  Stay tuned for the teaser!

What's coming up for all of you?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Short Fiction Friday, Jan 28

My semi-regular feature, Short Fiction Friday, points to some free pieces of fabulous storytelling found online. 

From Stephanie Dray, 'The Threshing Floor': This ridiculously amazing story packs a mega punch in the gut.  It's fierce and angry and sexy and magical; it's got religion and feminism and mythology and as the author warns, it's also 18+ -- not for any naughty but for some of the themes mentioned.

From J. Nelson Leith, 'Heather Hadrigal': A fun, odd, mysterious piece that begs to be reread -- is it sci-fi?  Horror?  Mystery?  I don't know, but I like it.

From E. Catherine Tobler, 'The Swallow and the Sea': A nautical yarn and ghost story, with a fringe of romance.  I inhaled this story the first time I read it and returned twice because it has such a delicious chilly romance.

And finally, the Library of America has a weekly free story on their blog.  The selections have great introductions and I just love seeing the features, as it's often short fiction I've never read by authors I greatly enjoy. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Sergeant's Lady by Susanna Fraser

Title: The Sergeant's Lady
Author: Susanna Fraser

Genre: Historical Romance

Rating: Liked!
Did I finish?: Yes - there was a brief point when I quit because I was sort of huffy about a plot point but I couldn't stop thinking about the story so I had to finish.
One-sentence summary: Super rich soldier's wife falls for super poor soldier and face some major dangers and trials.

Why did I get this book?: Pretty cover plus sex.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction
Source: NetGalley

Do I like the cover?: Oh yes.  Bohunky and dramatic without being too lurid.  Although I hate the use of Scriptina font for 'Lady'.

First line: "Aiee! Madre de Dios, it hurts!"

Review: I haven't grown up reading romance novels so the genre is pretty new to me, but I've discovered I do enjoy historical romances.  This one came on holiday with me and was kind of the perfect thing to read while on deck of the cruise -- super fun but enough meaty history and plot to keep me engaged.  

The sexy bits were fun and I especially loved the ending.  In fact, I wish more of the novel focused on the people and plot of the end of the novel rather than the off-putting (to me) plot twist in the middle.  (I don't mean to be so vague but I don't want to spoil the story for anyone!)  I'm told the plot twist is a common romance novel convention and as a result I can't be too unhappy about it, but I found it went on longer than I would have liked. 

Fraser's next novel is about the heroine's brother, flashing back to his courtship with his wife.  I'm especially looking forward to that as these characters -- like all of Fraser's side characters -- were interesting and fleshed out.  I cared about them and I'm thrilled to see at least two are getting their own story. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Small Wars by Sadie Jones

Title: Small Wars
Author: Sadie Jones

Genre: Fiction (Historical / War)

Rating: Like-pushing-to-love!
Did I finish?: Yes -- I kept gulping this book down.
One-sentence summary: British army family faces their own battles in late '50s Cyprus.

Why did I get this book?: As a child, my family was stationed in the Mediterranean so I couldn't pass up a story about a military family in Cyprus.
Reading Challenges:  British Books, Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours

Do I like the cover?: YES. It's very muted -- sort of washed out -- which reminds me strongly of Cyprus and Greece.

First line: An English rain was falling onto the instruments of the band, onto their olive green uniforms and the uniforms of the cadets as they marched.

Review: I have to confess that the novel had me hooked even before I started: as a child, my military family was stationed in the Mediterranean for some years, our first overseas posting.  It was wonderful and a little traumatic -- some of our best and worst memories.  The locational setting of Small Wars, the military family at the story's center, and the era (late '50s) immediately appealed to me and I was so excited to read this novel.

My expectations were met and surpassed.

I really had two reactions with this book: one, an intense sense of nostalgia when I started (as Jones so perfectly captured that sort of numb exhaustion that comes from arriving in a foreign country so alien it's impossible to process); and two, a gripping need to finish the story because I had to know what happened.

There's a sparse, almost polite feel to the writing that feels both very British and very dated -- in a good way.  It's like reading a novel from the '50s with that sort of painful restraint that is beautiful and maddening.  There's just so much unspoken it makes one wiggle with discomfort and sadness; the burden of expectation and the understanding of one's role just weighs on the characters, on the reader. 

Jones has said in interviews that the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan provided the inspiration for this novel and I was a bit apprehensive about thin caricatures of military life or sweeping judgement.  Instead, this very deft novel explores the challenge of duty and the obligation of a soldier, the impact of decisions made for the 'greater good' and the fallout when one has to come home after participating in unimaginable cruelty.  I found myself empathizing with all the characters, even at their worst, even when I wanted so badly for the story to go in another direction.  An absolutely moving war novel -- even for those who might not typically read war fiction.


Giveaway!  I'm thrilled to say the publisher is offering one copy to any US/CA reader!  Just leave a comment (with your email) on this post for an entry.  For a second entry, comment on my interview with author Sadie Jones (coming soon!)  Contest closes Sat, Feb 5 at 5pm Pacific. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

In My Mailbox Monday, Jan 24

Seen both at The Printed Page (hosted in Jan at Rose City Reader) and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox for January.  Many arrived while I was away on holiday so just when I was having my post-vacation blues, I got a few treats!  (I'm a very lucky girl!)

Have you ready any of these?  What did you get?

Won!






   Murder at Mansfield Park, thanks to Austenprose
Child of the Northern Spring, thanks to Debbie's Book Bag
Prelude to a Scandal and Once Upon a Scandal, thanks to the marvelous Delilah Marvelle

For Review!



13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro. I just have to say I am giddy at reading this one -- thumbing through it was I reminded of Barbara Hodgson.  There's some kind of internet secret code thing that the published edition will have that goes along with the story.  Historical plus pretty plus scavenger hunt equals win.

The Oracle of Stamboul: A Novel by Michael David Lukas.  Not only do I want to run away to Turkey now after my visit there (seriously, I had to be dragged back onto the boat), this is also a very pretty book packaging thing that utterly seduced me.  I don't know if the copies sold in bookstores will appear this way, but my review copy came wrapped in a kind of purple paper box thing that makes it especially intriguing.
 
 Unknown!



Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman.  This was one of the many packages that was waiting for me upon my return.  However, I have no idea where it came from.  It was mailed from Sweden, without a note or cover letter!  I've searched my email and can't find any reference to it, so...mystery!  It looks very crazy and weird and it's arrival seems to fit it's plot!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guest post on women and Islam

Velvet of VVB32 Reads kindly invited me to write a guest post for her series Women's Tales.  I decided to do my piece on women and Islam since there was some overlap with my trip to the Mediterranean and my interest in Muslim Women Reformers by Ida Lichter.  I hope you stop by and offer your recommendations!

Waiting on Wednesday, January 19

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event spotlighting upcoming releases we are highly anticipating. It is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

I'm in an epic reading and blogging rut -- I blame jet lag and the epic amount of work at work I need to cover -- so I apologize for the lack of updates.  Still, despite my exhaustion and my TBR pile, I have plenty of time to lust after books. 

This week, I'm waiting on... The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell.  Not only is the cover absurdly pretty, but it has an alluring mix of supernatural and historical that I can't resist. 

And how about you...what are you eagerly waiting on?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway

Title: The Metropolis Case
Author: Matthew Gallaway

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Contemporary / Queer)

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: Yes - I even brought on vacation with me so I wouldn't be interrupted!
One-sentence summary: Four individuals are shaped -- personally, professionally -- by Wagner's Tristan & Isolde.

Why did I get this book?: Opera! Historical! Gay!
Reading Challenges:
Source: TLC Book Tours

Do I like the cover?: Very much so -- it's striking and clever and fits very much the story.

I'm reminded of...: Yann Martel, Michael Cunningham, Joanne Harris.

First line: S--news!--your elder brother has procured four tickets to the opera on the Saturday night of your visit next month AND invitations to the after-party at Demoiselles, an old and rather exquisite French restaurant not far from Lincoln Center.

Did... I find myself missing Pittsburgh as I read?: YES!  I spent my formative teen years in Pittsburgh, near the suburb featured so predominantly in this novel.  I was totally taken back!

Did... I wish I had Tristan & Isolde to listen to while I read?: YES!  Find it -- it's a treat to hear, regardless, but especially when you hear something referred to by the characters.

Review:  I have friends who are involved -- professionally -- in the opera world so I was immediately attracted to this novel.  I'm not a singer nor a musician, and my interest in opera is based on seeing my friends perform, followed by an appreciation for the history of opera and the fantastical plotlines opera employs.  Although this is a novel loosely oriented around Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, I don't think one needs to be an opera fan or musician to appreciate it.

This novel was surprising to me in that the jacket blurb lend me to believe it would be a historical novel more in the vein of Tracy Chevalier, perhaps literally following the characters through various productions Tristan & Isolde.  Instead, the story follows four people as they follow their passions -- personally and professionally -- and weather intense emotional traumas.  In particular, Martin -- the strongest character and story line, in my opinion -- lives through 9/11 in what was one of the first fictional renderings I've read of that day.  It was startling and moving and felt very autobiographical.

The thing that kept me at 'like' rather than 'love' was the strong distance I felt in the narrative.  All four main characters struggled with intense personal traumas and huge emotional canvasses, and yet, at all times I felt very much at arm's length.  I don't know if this was intentional -- a novelistic rendering of audience (reader) and performer (character) -- but the effect was enough that I felt a bit like I was learning gossip third hand about friends of friends.  

There's a whiff of some magical realism that came so late in the novel it felt a bit jarring but it's not entirely unwelcome, and I rather wish it had been introduced earlier in the book.  The four main characters eventually all come together in a single plot line that strains credulity yet feels very satisfying; I'm reminded a bit of the over-the-top plot lines in most operas.

In the end, this is a promising debut and I'm really excited to see Matthew Gallaway's future novels.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Paris: The Luminous Years Reading Challenge

The Paris: The Luminous Years Reading Challenge immediately grabbed me because it's an era I adore featuring authors and other artists I slavishly worship.  The challenge is a mix of fiction and non-fiction which adds an additional challenge that I'm excited about! I'm going for the six book (3 fiction, 3 non-fiction) level.

Some ideas that immediately come to mind:

The Book of Repulsive Women by Djuna Barnes (or her Collected Poems, I'm undecided)
Helen in Egypt by H.D.
Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology by Adam Gopnik
Music's Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac by Sylvia Kahan
The Lost Lunar Baedeker by Mina Loy
Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
Wild Heart: A Life: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris by Suzanne Rodriguez


Read

Susana Fortes, Waiting for Robert Capa

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

I'm a sucker for historical fiction so I'm committing big to the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, hosted by Historical Tapestry -- Severe Bookaholism: 20 books in 2011!

I welcome any and all recommendations!

Read

Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende
A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer
Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner
India Black and the Widow of Windsor by Carol K. Carr
A Different Sky by Meira Chand
Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen
Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray
Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray
Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes
The Sergeant's Lady by Susanna Fraser
Wings by Karl Friedrich
The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
The Printmaker's Daughter by Katherine Govier
Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey
The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning
The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald
All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson
Detroit Electric Scheme by D.E. Johnson
Motor City Shakedown by D.E. Johnson
Small Wars by Sadie Jones
The Taker by Alma Katsu
Before Versailles by Karleen Koen
The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss
A Man of Parts by David Lodge
Heart of Deception: A Novel by M.L. Malcolm
Heart of Lies: A Novel by M.L. Malcolm
Eromenos by Melanie McDonald
Mr Bishop and the Actress by Janet Mullany
Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress 
Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman
Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees
The Luminist by David Rocklin
The Blighted Troth by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer
L.A. Noire edited by Jonathan Santlofer
Queen by Right by Anne Easter Smith
Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson
The Legacy by Katherine Webb
The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Pale Rose of England by Sandra Worth

Eastern European Reading Challenge

Created to inspire unearthing the 'buried' treasures of Eastern European and Russian literature, I'm signing up for the Eastern Europe Reading Challenge in hopes of broadening my reading scope.

Countries include: Croatia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Hungary, Belarus, Estonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Czech Rep., Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Romania, Moldova, and Kosovo; all types of books are allowed.

I'm aiming for Tourist: 4 books over 12 months.

I welcome any and all recommendations!

Read

M.L. Malcolm, Heart of Lies: A Novel (this might be a stretch, but hero was Hungarian)
Susana Fortes, Waiting for Robert Capa (another Hungarian hero)

A to Z Reading Challenge

While I'm recovering from my trip (here, have another picture (Turkey, this time)), I thought I'd ease myself back into blogging by doing the last of my reading challenge sign ups!

I suspect the A to Z Challenge seems easier than it is but I'm tempted nonetheless!  I'm going to try to read 26 books, alphabetically by title! 


A ...  ?????????  (Jan)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vacation Over!

My wife and I in Olympia, Greece
I'm back from my whirlwind trip to the Mediterranean and sorry to brag, but it was awesome.

Despite the breakneck pace (nearly a city a day), I finished two books (The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway, review tomorrow; and The Sergeant's Lady, by Susanna Fraser) and got halfway through Far from the Madding Crowd (which I'm enjoying so much!).

Pyramids at Giza
I came home to a lovely pile of packages but I won't get to them for tomorrow's Mailbox Monday (laundry first, and then my bed!).  I know I owe emails to many folks -- I'm working through the backlog so sorry for the delay!  I've missed my bookish people -- I can't wait to catch up with everyone.