Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where the Dog Star Never Glows by Tara L. Masih

Title: Where the Dog Star Never Glows
Author: Tara L. Masih

Genre: Fiction (Short Fiction / Caribbean / Domestic)
Publisher/Publication Date: Untreed Reads, February 2011
Source: The publisher.

Rating: Loved times loved equals loved infinity.  Totally a top 10 of 2011.
Did I finish?: Yes, slowly, because I savored.
One-sentence summary: Seventeen sharp and well-written short stories
Reading Challenges: E-books

Do I like the cover?: Yes - it captures the quiet, meditative feel of many of the stories.

I'm reminded of...: Diane Ackerman, Penelope Lively, Sigrid Nunez

First line: That night, dawn light seeping into dark, Cap did not walk home from the No. 9 mine. - from 'Where the Dog Star Never Glows'

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy -- especially because it's $4.99 as an ebook!

Why did I get this book?: An excerpt from the collection's first story just grabbed me -- not even half a page of text -- and I was desperate to read the rest.

Review: I am not a short story girl.  (Embarrassing, but true.)  I don't know why, but short fiction usually feels too abrupt for me, or a little too subtle-exploration-of-the-human-psyche, or too vignette-y.  However, this collection of short stories has me completely reconsidering the genre.

Simply, the stories were great.  Nothing super fancy in terms of plot or characterization, but at the end of each story, I just stopped so I could replay what I had read.  Starting, I was sure I knew how the story would go -- and often, it proceed as I anticipated -- only way better than I ever imagined.  My anticipation paid off in spades, over and over.  I would finish a story and think, 'This one is my favorite,' only to read the next one and be astounded.  Honestly, each story was divine -- unlike a chocolate sampler, this one had no misses -- and I've spent the last week walking around like an evangelist for short fiction.  (But I did have a favorite, 'Delight', and I was wholly unsurprised to see it was nominated last year for a Pushcart Prize, because it was awesome.)

The stories take place around the world -- the US, the Caribbean, India -- and feature couples and families challenged by each other.  Love, loyalty, devotion, perseverance, hope, and fear: big grandiose themes distilled down to lovely, well-written stories that seduce with the first sentence.

*** ***
Giveaway!   

The publisher has generously offered one ebook copy (many formats avail) to one of my readers!  Open to US and international readers!  Please leave a comment with your email to be entered.  Contest closes April 22.  For another entry, please comment on my Q and A with Tara.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Heart of Lies: A Novel by M.L. Malcolm

Title: Heart of Lies: A Novel
Author: M.L. Malcolm

Genre: Fiction (Historical / WWI)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Paperbacks (2010)
Source: My public library

Rating: Disliked.
Did I finish?: Yes, with great effort.
One-sentence summary: Hungarian Leo Hoffman reinvents himself in 1920s Shanghai.

Reading Challenges: Eastern European, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes!  Isn't it pretty?  It's romantic and atmospheric and hints at the setting.

First line: He had not spoken to Julia since the day he ended their affair.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow, I suppose, or skip -- I've started the sequel and find that the recap provided sets the story up well and is slightly  more enjoyable than this one.

Why did I get this book?: The setting, the era, and the promise of some romance.  It had been on my TBR for forever and when I was offered a chance to review the sequel, I couldn't wait!

Review: From the other reviews I've seen I know I'm in the minority here, but I disliked this book.  And I tried really hard to like it because it is so up my alley (and I'm reviewing the sequel!). 

I found myself describing this book to friends as watching a movie with gorgeous scenery and a very exciting plot and two super pretty and super wooden actors in the lead.  I found Malcolm's writing to be very telling (rather than showing): I was told the heroine was a 'firebird' but she didn't do anything to warrant such an interesting description; I was told the hero was charming but what he did seemed creepy at best and sociopathic at worst.

History provided all the plot and Shanghai in the '20s and '30s was a tumultuous place, but the story just felt boring and busy all at once.  Despite the promise of two interesting characters, only Leo got any real face time, which further enhanced my inability to connect with or care about the other characters and his behavior was so repugnant I wasn't that interested in connecting with him.

My next comment might be a spoiler, so skip to the next paragraph if you care.  From the moment she walked onto the page, heroine Martha was clearly expendable.  She could have been so interesting, but instead, remained flat, merely a foil for Leo, a very pretty bauble to dance out when we needed to be reminded of all that Leo had to lose.  Continuing the telling-not-showing vein, we're subjected to lots of scenes of men lusting after her because she's so interesting and vibrant, but in the text, all she actually did was smile prettily and blink back tears most of the time.  Her death was clear from the middle of the book and it was just a matter of getting to the page where it happened.

I suppose I should say that another book everyone loves and find so romantic, The Time Traveler's Wife, I found to be creepy and wholly unromantic.  Many bloggers who have great tastes love this book, so it may just be that Malcolm's writing and I don't gel.  (I say this because I'm three chapters in to the sequel and getting huffy.)  In the end, I'm very sad I wasn't fully in love with this book but that isn't to say others won't find something in it that I couldn't.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Separate Kingdoms by Valerie Laken

Title: Separate Kingdoms: Stories
Author: Valerie Laken

Genre: Fiction (Short Fiction / Contemporary)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (2/1/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked but the mood was too raw and grim for me to fall in love.
Did I finish?: Yes - in two nights!
One-sentence summary: Beauty, pain, love, and loyalty are explored in eight deft short stories.

Do I like the cover?: Yes, although on my ARC it's a photo of the cover so I'm not sure how it looks in real life. Still, the colors are gorgeous.

I'm reminded of...: Aimee Bender, Jane Bowles, Siri Hustvedt, Sara Maitland, Lorrie Moore

First line: Instead of the gold-plated onion domes Josie had hoped for, the view from their room revealed only the grimy, cement backside of the Oktyabrskaya metro station, where a few merchants had set up tables selling flimsy newsprint magazines bearing pictures of naked women. - from 'Family Planning'

Why did I get this book?: The author lived and worked in Russia and, well, the title and cover were striking!

Review: These eight short stories pack a punch.  These are dark, moody pieces: not emo moody or overwrought angst, but a steady, grim reality without forced optimism or cheer.  But in a good way, a great way: the writing is exceptional, the storytelling vibrant, and the characters are maddeningly real.

Laken's gift as a storyteller is that you still want to read, despite the painful awkwardness or the grim uneasiness the characters face. 

In 'Family Planning' a lesbian couple is in Russia to adopt a baby when they learn they can chose between two children.  This story had me literally wiggling with discomfort: the characters made me uncomfortable because I know people like them and this very simple set up was just heavy with implication and inevitability and promises of painful disappointment.  It was discomforting because it felt so real.

The tone of the stories just isn't for me -- but it's absolutely my tastes and not any knock against Laken.  However, two absolutely grabbed me -- again, for the fantastic writing and great characterization: 'Map of the City', which has a very autobiographical feel, featuring a young American woman from the Midwest living in Russia in the early '90s; and the titular story, a side by side account of an evening from the viewpoints of an injured father and his teenaged son.

My wife, who loves Shirley Jackson, Aimee Bender, and Herman Melville, Danish films, and New England winters, adored this collection.  I had passed the book to her just to read a single story and didn't get it back until she had finished the entire thing.  

I think this would be a great selection for book groups -- these stories invite conversation about relationships and the choices one would make -- and anyone who enjoys fiction that is a little more raw but still well-written.

*** *** ***
Giveaway!  One copy to any US/CA reader!  Just leave a comment with your email address to be entered; ends April 21st. 

For more reviews, see the other blogs on the tour.  Learn more about the author, Valerie Laken, at her website.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Q and A with Camilla Gibb

I adored The Beauty of Humanity Movement (see my review) and I'm thrilled to share my Q and A with author Camilla Gibb.  See the end of the post for info on my giveaway (two copies now!).

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

It was about a girl who lived on the roof of her parent’s house and communed with the squirrels. Might have been somewhat lacking in the plot department.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I like to start early in the morning before anyone else is awake. Before I have spoken.

Where did Hu’ng’s story come from?

I know a young Vietnamese man who dreamt of opening his own pho restaurant in Hanoi (he since has). I asked him where you could find the best pho in Hanoi and he said that it wasn’t in any restaurant, but off the back of an old man’s rickety cart, an old man who didn’t have a license to operate a business and was constantly being hassled by the police. I came home, and wrote the old man into being.

Was The Beauty of Humanity Movement the original title of this book?

It was. I seem to have my titles as early as my first thoughts about a book.

Did you have an opportunity to travel to Vietnam while writing this book?

I went to Vietnam on holiday in 2007. I was so enamoured with the place that I spent several months writing about it, then went back again to do research.

The descriptions of phở in this book made my mouth water; did you spend time in Vietnamese kitchens to learn the art of making phở?

My friend who had the dream of opening a restaurant – he taught me how to make a perfect bowl of pho. After that, I ate bowls of it any chance I got – in Canada, the US, England and Europe – comparing methods and flavours.

As you were writing The Beauty of Humanity Movement, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

The love story between Hung and Lan. It was not there from the beginning, but as I got to know Hung, I wondered, has he ever loved?

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I cook, I garden, I ride my bike, at least I did until recently. I’m now the mother of a six-month old so every day is filled with new activities and discoveries.

Read any good books recently?

As a new mother, I have to admit, I’ve had very little time. But I am reading Elizabeth McCracken’s sad and beautiful memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.

***

My thanks to Ms. Gibb for her time.  You can learn more about Camilla Gibb at her website and Facebook page.  For more reviews, check out the other blogs on the tour.

GIVEAWAY!  I'm giving away my very gently used copy of The Beauty of Humanity Movement!  To enter, leave a comment and an email address.  For another entry, see my review and leave a comment there.  Open to US and international readers!  And from the publisher, a copy to US/CA readers!  Again, just leave a comment and email to be entered!  Giveaway ends April 9.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb

Title: The Beauty of Humanity Movement
Author: Camilla Gibb

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Contemporary / Vietnam)
Publisher/Publication Date: The Penguin Press (March 17, 2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Big ole swoony love.
Did I finish?: Yes -- in one sitting. I couldn't stop.
One-sentence summary: Three lives unfold around an soup seller in Vietnam.
Reading Challenges:  Historical Fiction, South Asian

Do I like the cover?: Yes, but -- in the novel, there's a discussion about how the pastoral art featuring Vietnamese countrysides really whitewashes what modern Vietnam is like -- so it seems like a missed opportunity by not featuring something more urban.

I'm reminded of...: Diana Abu-Jaber, Anne Carson, Barbara Kingsolver, Jhumpa Lahiri

First line: Old Man H'ung makes the best pho in the city and has done so for decades.

Did...I read this in five hours flat?: YES.  I started it Sunday morning and finished it by Sunday evening, pausing only to meditate on a line or read a passage to my wife.

Did...I grow kind of desperate for pho while reading this novel?: YES.  Find a local Vietnamese restaurant when you start so you can savor the broth and noodles, too!

Why did I get this book?: Ever since Graham Green's The Quiet American, I've been interested in '50s Vietnam and I'm a sucker for food as character.

Review:  The best books are those that can take a topic or plot that is alien to you and yet make you feel yourself in the story.  Initially I wasn't swooning with excitement about this book -- interested, yes, but nothing fancier than that -- and yet, by the second chapter, I was captivated.  

I often found myself stopping to read passages to my wife so we could both savor the lovely language or interesting insight about Vietnam.  There's a prose-poem feel at times -- the contemporary sections are in present tense, the revolutionary sections in past tense -- but the writing isn't obtuse or florid or aloof.  I loved all the characters and cared about each story.  The novel moves back and forth between the present (2007ish, I believe) and the past (1950s and '60s) seamlessly, and like Hung's delicately flavored broths, the story reveals more and more in delicious, tasty layers.

Don't let an unfamiliarity with Vietnam dissuade you from reading this book: ultimately, all you need to know is presented in the story.  The conflicts and joys shared by the characters are easy to relate to and emphasize with and the historical events are given enough context to be meaningful.  I found it impossible not to be sucked into this lovely, evocative, moving novel.

***

GIVEAWAY!  I'm giving away my very gently used copy of The Beauty of Humanity Movement!  To enter, leave a comment and an email address.

For another entry, please stop by on Monday for my Q and A with the author, Camilla Gibb and leave a comment there.  Open to US and international readers! Contest ends April 9.  UPDATE: The publisher is offering a copy as well, so I've got an additional copy to give to US/CA readers! 

For other reviews, check out the rest of the blogs on the tour.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Winner of The Oracle of Stamboul Giveaway

The winner of The Oracle of Stamboul is...


Anna of Diary of an Eccentric

Thank you everyone who entered! There's still time to enter my giveaway for Angelology -- two copies are available!  I'll also be giving away my read copy of The Beauty of Humanity Movement so be sure to stop by on Wednesday to see my review! (And yes, it'll be an international giveaway!)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Title: Kiss Her Goodbye
Author: Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Genre: Fiction (Detective / Historical)
Publisher/Publication Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 5/25/11
Source: NetGalley

Rating: Hardcore like!
Did I finish?: Yes -- best two days ever!
One-sentence summary: Mike Hammer meets disco upon his reluctant return to New York City.

Why did I get this book?: Mike Hammer and I went steady for a while when I was a teenager and I was ready for a reunion.

Reading Challenges: Criminal Plots, E-books, Femme Fatale, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- it's got that pulp-y, hard boiled feel and suggests disco and the '70s.

I'm reminded of...: Mickey Spillane (this is a good thing!)

First line: I didn't want to come back to New York.

Did...my brain melt at the thought of Mike Hammer in a disco?: YES.  Maybe one of the best scenes in a book, ever.  EVER.

Did...I love the way New York City featured in this book?: YES.  Place as character for sure, and what a nasty, moody beast, too.

Review: I went through this phase in high school where I just inhaled super macho men's thrillers.  Mostly I alternated between Clive Cussler and Mickey Spillane, with some Stephen Hunter thrown in for variation.  As a result, I'm super sentimental about all three authors even though it's been more than a decade since I've read any of their books. 

I'd sort of forgotten about Mike Hammer until spotting the newest one on NetGalley and suddenly, that's all I wanted in the world.  As I said, it had been more than ten years since I last read a Mike Hammer novel, but from the first sentence, Kiss Her Goodbye felt just like what I remembered Hammer novels to be: punchy, violent, sorta sexy, grim, and dead fun.

The writing had everything I wanted (craved, even) from a Mike Hammer novel: smart, sly banter; straightforward mystery, sexy women, bad criminals, and a morally ambiguous hero.  Perhaps if I read an earlier Mike Hammer novel just before starting this one, I might have been able to discern where Spillane ended and Collins began, but in the two days it took me to finish this one, I didn't catch an off note or uncharacteristic response.  (In fact, the only change I noticed was with me: I'm a little more squeamish about the violence!)  

This can be read as a stand-alone novel for anyone new to Mike Hammer -- enough context is given to explain past characters and plots --  and certainly anyone familiar with the series will enjoy this offering.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Teaser Tuesday, March 15

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
- Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers

My teaser this week is from Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins.  It's my first Mike Hammer novel in years and it's a blast -- a big change from a lot of what I've been reading lately but welcome now that Boston is all grimy and dirty, post-snow.

On my way out, Bing asked, "You gonna be a regular again?"
"Long as I'm in town."
"What does that mean? A vacation's one thing, Mike, but you belong in the city."
"Not anymore."
A knowing grin creased his face.  "Balls.  Guys like you can't escape the city.  Hell, you a got a blood contract with this place.  You're married to the old girl."
I grunted.  "I'm about ready to kiss her goodbye."
He just shook his head.  "Never happen."
"Think not?"
"Naw, Mike, never.  You forgot to sign a prenup."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mailbox Monday, March 14

Seen both at The Printed Page (hosted in March at I'm Booking It) and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox for the first half of March.  You'll see I've got a metric ton of books to review -- pretty much something for every week of March and April.  I'm so excited!  What did you get?  Planning to read any of these?


For Review!




A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer
Ordinary Angels by India Drummond
Separate Kingdoms: Stories by Valerie Laken
Heart of Deception: A Novel by M.L. Malcolm
Where The Dog Star Never Glows by Tara L. Masih
The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagan
The Blighted Troth by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer

Won!



The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas
Let's Kill Uncle by Rohan O'Grady


Purchased!


To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
A Touch of Death (Hard Case Crime #17) by Charles Williams

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

Title: Angelology
Author: Danielle Trussoni

Genre: Fiction (Supernatural /Contemporary Thriller)

Rating: Enthusiastic like.
Did I finish?: YES -- couldn't stop.
One-sentence summary: Angels are among us, and they aren't very good.

Why did I get this book?: I'm a sucker for biblically-inspired paranormal plots and nuns as heroines.
Source: TLC Book Tours

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- has the dark, sexy feel of the novel's angels.

First line: The angelologists examined the body.

Did... I totally resent having to stop reading to do everyday life things?: YES.  As you can see from my GoodReads updates, I was having a great time with this book.

Did... I love having nuns as action heroines?: YES.  Honestly, that needs to happen more often.

Did... I spend a ton of time Googling the Devil's Throat gorge to see if it was real?: Yes, and the pictures are astounding.  Gorgeous!

Review: I have to confess, I'm pretty demanding of my adventure/thriller novels.  I'm picky about plot and impatient with lazy characterization, and I have to say, in Angelology I found yummy plot and engrossing characters.  Neither Dan Brown or Kate Mosse really engaged me as a reader, so the comparisons to them made me hesitant.  But from the first handful of pages, I was ensnared by this story in a way I hadn't with a Brown or Mosse novel.  I believed the mythos being offered, I believed the characters, and I cared about what was going to happen to them.

The novel begins in third person, following nun Evangeline and a researcher, Verlaine; a hint of the novel's overarching mystery is introduced, and secondary characters pepper the plot.  In the second part of the novel, the focus switches to first person reminiscence by one of the aforementioned secondary characters.  Rather than feel abrupt or out of place, this section breathes life to the possibly overwhelming back story.  Set during the second World War, it's a supernatural historical that I just gobbled up.

The final section of the book felt the weakest to me: the story became very then-they-did-this-and-then-they-did-that and there was a romantic element that felt super abrupt.  It was noticeable to me because the first three sections were very meaty, with a good balance of plot and character development.  The story has a bittersweet close and a bit of a cliffhanger, and I am happy to see Trussoni is working on a sequel.  

***

Giveaway!  Thanks to the publisher, two lucky winners will get a copy of Angelology!  To enter, simply comment with your email address. Ends April 2nd.  US/CA only, I'm sorry!



Monday, March 7, 2011

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Title: The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay
Author: Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary)

Rating: Liked
Did I finish?: Yes
One-sentence summary: The tragedy of fame and the pressure of creative genius dog four artists in Bombay.

Why did I get this book?: Fitzgerald was thrown around; I couldn't say no!
Reading Challenges: South Asian
Source: LibraryThing

Do I like the cover?: Not really.  It feels like a throwaway.  As Karan's photography is the focus of the novel, I would have loved a black and white photo of Bombay instead.

First line: 'Oh, God, Iqbal,' Karan Seth said, looking warily at his boss, 'you sound like you're setting me up for trouble.'

Review: This novel is a bit like a tabloid-tell-all, set in Bombay, and I mean that in the best way.  A reclusive pianist, a Bollywood star, a repressed artist, a Nick Carraway-ish photographer: the cast is appropriately superficial and self-destructive and yet, as we -- and Karan Seth, the outsider-turned-insider -- discover, there's depth and passion and fear.

I wasn't sure what I was getting into as the jacket blurb is fairly vague (but mentions Fitzgerald, which caught my interest).  There is a sort of Fitzgerald feel to the novel -- the glitzy tragedy of those who invite heartbreak and disaster -- but Shanghvi managed to make (most) of the characters real enough that I still felt for them.  A kind of frenetic sadness infuses the story, which is part bildungsroman, part crime thriller, part celebrity expose. 

There's a real crudity in the writing but I found it emphasized the frenzy of celebrity, the repressed sexual nature of the characters and the world they lived in.  Sensitive readers will likely be turned off by the language and at times it felt nearly misogynistic but isn't entirely out-of-place given the tone of the novel.

Whereas Shanghvi's narrative prose had me in swoons, I found his dialogue stiff, stilted, and unbelievable.  I think the attempt was to make the characters sound superficial but it read, for me, inauthentic and archaic.  (Shanghvi has the characters using some very odd, dated slang and I kept flipping to the front of the book to see if this was a problem with translation.)  Honestly, it felt like two different people were at work in this book.

At times, the novel felt a little long: enormous day-to-day detail around some events and then a leap of four years or ten years.  The expansion and growth of the characters was appealing, but for me, the story would have had more oomph if it stopped sooner.  In this case, the pathetic ends weren't poignant or moving, but simply sad, draining the tension that had been so deliciously built up.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Apex Magazine, May 2010



Title: Apex Magazine, May 2010
Rating: 4/5

Original Fiction:
The Last Stand of the Ant Maker by Paul Jessup
City of Refuge by Jerry Gordon
Interview:
DARK FAITH Roundtable: Gary A. Braunbeck, Jay Lake, Nick Mamatas, and Catherynne M. Valente

This issue features items from Apex's Dark Faith anthology, which looks interesting -- and if the two stories are an indication of the quality, then I'm all over it.

'City of Refuge' by Jerry Gordon was my hands down favorite -- I'm a sucker for dystopias anyway, never mind ones involving the undead and underground religious movements.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Interview with Michael David Lukas

I just loved The Oracle of Stamboul -- it was dreamy and beautiful and utterly engrossing (read my review for more enthusing!).  I'm so pleased to share my Q and A with the author, Michael David Lukas.

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

The first piece of fiction I remember writing was when I was nine or ten. It was a story about two kids who discover a trap door/secret passageway in one of their bedrooms. I didn’t get too far with writing the story, but I remember being pretty excited about it at the time.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I write six mornings a week, from breakfast to lunch. Sometimes I’ll continue after lunch, but usually not. I use the afternoons for revisions, nonfiction writing, emails, and random administrative stuff.

As you were writing The Oracle of Stamboul, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

What surprised me most was how much of myself is in the characters, even though they live such different lives than my own. Sometimes writing can feel like that scene in “Being John Malkovich,” when John Malkovich enters his own mind and finds himself in a restaurant filled with John Malkovichs saying “Malkovich, Malkovich.” I guess what I am trying to say is that we can’t help but imbue our characters with our own thoughts, feelings, and characteristics, whether the character is a preternaturally intelligent orphan or the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. And that, in itself, is pretty surprising.

Hoopoes have magical or mythological associations in some parts of the Middle East; is that the reason you chose them as Eleonora’s ‘companions’?

Yes. The hoopoes were originally bulbuls (aka nightingales) which also have a mythological association in parts of the Middle East. But when I discovered the hoopoe, and its role in the meeting of Solomon and Sheba, I was smitten.

Is the six-volume series mentioned in the novel, The Hourglass, real or invented?

It’s invented. And it is one of my favorite parts of the novel. There’s something so magical about a piece of art that exists only within a piece of art. Works like that have a magic hologram quality to them, which is fun in a Borgesian kind of way. It’s also about as close as a work of art can come to perfection, existing only as a reflection of something else.

Was it challenging bringing a historical figure like Abdulhamid II to life?

Very much so, especially considering that the historical Abdulhamid II did some pretty horrible things. When depicting my Abdulhamid II, I wanted to try to humanize him while recognizing also how strange it must feel to be the Sultan. In striking that balance, I returned many times to Joseph Roth’s depiction of Franz Joseph in his wonderful novel The Radetzky March.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I like to cook. I like going for runs. I like reading. I like going to estate sales. And I like hanging out with my friends. Nothing too special.

Read any good books recently?

I just finished Marcel Proust’s amazing, but very very long novel, Remembrance of Things Past.  After 1.5 million or so words of Proust, I need a breather. I am thinking of picking up the Hunger Games trilogy or maybe some David Mitchell? Any recommendations?

*** *** ***
Giveaway!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Oracle of Stamboul to one lucky reader!  To enter, comment on this entry with a reading recommendation for Mr Lukas (and leave an email!).  I'll pick a winner on March 19th.  For an additional entry, be sure to comment on my review.  (US or CA, only, I'm sorry!)

For more reviews, please check out the other blogs on this tour:

Thursday, February 24th: One Book Shy
Friday, February 25th: Staircase Wit
Monday, February 28th: A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Wednesday, March 2nd: Simply Stacie
Thursday, March 3rd: Janet Boyer Blog
Friday, March 4th: Kelly’s Lucky You!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

Title: The Oracle of Stamboul
Author: Michael David Lukas

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 'Historical Fabulism')

Rating: L-o-v-e-d, loved! Going to make my Top 10 of 2011, I can tell!
Did I finish?: Yes -- I wish it could have gone on longer!
One-sentence summary: Young savant Eleonora learns about family and heartbreak, obligation and honor in books and then in her own life.

Why did I get this book?: Historical novel plus Istanbul plus savant heroine.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours

Do I like the cover?: YES. It is so gorgeous, and on my ARC, it is textured, very tactile and inviting.

I'm reminded of...: Salman Rushdie, Diana Abu-Jaber, Paulo Coelho

First line: Eleonora Cohen came into this world on a Thursday, late in the summer of 1877.

Did... I want to move to the Stamboul of this book?: YES.  If you're in need of an escape, take a minibreak to Stamboul.  It's gorgeous!

Do... I desperately want to read the much quoted The Hourglass series so beloved by Eleonora?: YES!  If anyone else has read this book, tell me if it's real!

Am... I dying for Michael David Lukas to hurry and finish up his second novel so I can read it stat?: YES!  Honestly, it's like insta-fan-girl, just-add-water over here.  I love his writing that much.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: BUY.  You'll want to keep this book to reread and revisit.

Review: This book is like a divine dessert: decadent, delicious, and portioned just enough to make you wish there was another mouthful.  Lukas' writing style is playful without being ridiculous (see my Teaser Tuesday for a taste); it's really straight up enjoyable.  Pleasurable!

The setting is an era that I'm unfamiliar with but find wholly appealing -- 19th century Turkey -- and Lukas offers gorgeous passages that place the reader squarely in Stamboul.  There's international intrigue and a host of characters but at no point was I overwhelmed by the story; like young Eleonora, we learn as we go, and Lukas' writing makes it so very easy.

This isn't a plot heavy book and I found I kept bracing myself for the expected action movie onslaught -- evil machinations by her stepmother or the Sultan's advisers, manipulation by her guardian Moncef Bey or Rev James Meuhler -- but the story followed a more subtle even ambiguous thread.  Is Eleonora's genius really a gift?  Who is 'good' and who is 'bad'?  

At the end, I honestly stared at the book a moment, astounded I had finished.  The story had to go on, I was sure; probably one of the first times I actually wished a piece of literary fiction would make a sequel.  I am hungering -- yearning! -- for more of Eleonora's world and Lukas' delicious writing.  I am desperately excited for his forthcoming novel - consider me a rabid Michael David Lukas fan.

*** *** ***
Giveaway!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Oracle of Stamboul to one lucky reader!  To enter, comment on this entry (and leave an email!).  I'll pick a winner on March 19th.  For an additional entry, be sure to come back on March 3rd for my interview with the author, Michael David Lukas!  US or CA, only, I'm sorry!

For more reviews, please check out the other blogs on this tour:

Thursday, February 24th: One Book Shy
Friday, February 25th: Staircase Wit
Monday, February 28th: A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Wednesday, March 2nd: Simply Stacie
Thursday, March 3rd: Janet Boyer Blog
Friday, March 4th: Kelly’s Lucky You!