Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Queen by Right by Anne Easter Smith

Title: Queen By Right
Author: Anne Easter Smith

Genre: Fiction (Historical / English / Medieval)
Publisher/Publication Date: Touchstone (5/3/11)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: Yes!
One-sentence summary: The life of a young noblewoman who witnesses some of the most tumultuous events in medieval Europe, from Jeanne d'Arc to court intrigue around Henry VI to her own family's claim to the English throne.
Reading Challenges: British Books, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes.  While it does have the 'chopped head' figure so common on historical novel covers, the layout is interesting and enjoyably accurate to the novel!  The castle featured is Raby Castle, where the heroine Cecily was born, and the falcon on the woman's arm refers directly to a handful of scenes from the novel. 

I'm reminded of...: Margaret George, Anya Seton, Alison Weir

First line: A scream pierced Cecily's dreamless sleep.

Did... I find the wealth of extras helpful?: YES.  There are thirteen pages to help the reader along: a glossary, maps, genealogies, and a who's who that I found increasingly valuable as the novel went on.

Did... I still go a little cross-eyed at the enormous cast of characters?: YES, not helped that everyone has one of the same five names.  

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: I think most historical fiction fans will want to give this a try; at nearly 500 pages, it might be worth a splurge to have this meaty beast with you to read at your leisure. (Book Depository has it at about $11US.)

Why did I get this book?: Having loved Pale Rose of England, which had a new-to-me historical setting, I was very eager to go a bit earlier and explore another unfamiliar era.  Plus, I've heard how fabulous Smith's other novels were and was excited to see for myself.

Review: When I was growing up, my mom wanted to be a young adult historical novelist but was stymied by history: women were married at a young age or historical costume styles were far racier than we modern folk are comfortable with (her example was something like ancient Egyptian women had their breasts exposed, if I recall correctly). So she never wrote her novel but as a result we both immensely enjoy a historical novelist who wrestles well with historical accuracy and modern reader sentiments.

Anne Easter Smith is really astounding at this. Her novel opens with Cicely as a young girl -- six -- and she manages to convey a child having a childhood rather than living as an object being kept to, essentially, later trade. Even if, in this era, the idea of childhood didn't exist, Smith's articulation of what Cecily's young life could have been like put me as a reader both at ease and unease. Time was spent fleshing out the enormous cast of characters and so, as Cecily ages and her life begins to get more and more complicated, the reader is invited to become embroiled in the drama of the times.

And talk about dramatic times!  In addition to the usual kind of court intrigue one expects of this type of historical novel, Smith inventively incorporates other notable events.  Cecily's obsession with Joan of Arc and her trial reminded me of myself and the ways I can get hooked on CNN and other news outlets come some disaster or notorious crime trial.  It made for a heroine who felt very real and easy to relate to, someone I could imagine as a friend.

At more than 470 pages, this hefty novel allows for detailed exploration of the events in Cecily's life.  At times, I confess, I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of people I had to keep track of but Smith tries very hard to make each character memorable if they're significant to the story -- although occasionally I found that made for some flat secondary characters (I found myself often thinking, 'Oh, so this is cranky Anne' more than once.).

Readers familiar with the Lancaster/York Wars of the Roses will likely enjoy this thorough novel and those new to this era will get an education.  This is the kind of classic historical novel I think of when I enthuse about the genre, one that places the reader square in the time and makes otherwise shadowy historical figures feel compelling and real.  Despite whatever small struggles I had keeping track of people, Cecily's story kept me engaged and when I reached the final page (with its satisfying nod to an event from the beginning of the novel), I felt a pang of bittersweet sadness at having to say goodbye to her and her family.

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GIVEAWAY! 

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Queen by Right to a lucky reader!  Just leave a comment on this entry to be entered.  For another entry, comment on my Q&A with author Anne Easter Smith.  Ends 6/10, US readers only. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mailbox Monday, May 30

Seen both at The Printed Page (hosted in May at MariReads) and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox.  What did you get?  Planning to read any of these?

For Review


The Seven Year Bitch by Jennifer Belle
The Kitchen Shrink by Dee DeTarsio
Centuries of June by Keith Donohue
Before Versailles by Karleen Koen
The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair

Won



Saturday, May 28, 2011

Winner!

My giveaway for Sarah Addison Allen's The Peach Keeper had the highest number of entries since I've started blogging, I think. It was a treat meeting other Allen fans and introducing new readers to her.

The winner of The Peach Keeper is... Melissa of Confessions of an Avid Reader!

I still have three open giveaways if you haven't entered yet!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Armchair BEA Interview with Bethany of Subtle Melodrama

I have had such a blast with Armchair BEA this week, especially meeting and connecting with other amazing bloggers.  I missed out on posting my last interview on Wednesday, so I'm doing it today because I think everyone else should get to know Bethany of Subtle Melodrama as well!  You can check out her Armchair BEA intro or just keep reading to learn more about this great blogger!

What's your favorite article of clothing?
I love wearing vintage dresses, and I've got a few that I absolutely love. I have an 80s prom dress with a big tulle skirt that I love, but rarely get the chance to wear!

What was the oddest/weirdest/most fabulous thing you wanted to do 'when you grew up'?
Ninja Princess Space Cowboy Bounty Hunter. I'm working on it.

According to your bio, you hate marzipan. Did you have a tragic marzipan incident in your life?
Hmm. I don't think so. My mum loves marzipan, and I suspect I probably discovered that I hated it when I tried her otherwise-delicious Christmas cake.

You've been given a paid three-week getaway to anywhere in the world. Where would you go and who would you take?
Japan! No contest. I've always wanted to go to Japan. In three weeks I could do a bit of travelling too, but I'd love to see Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka. I'd bring my boyfriend along with me, so that he can carry the bags and bags full of souvenirs and Hello Kitty merchandise that I'd buy!

You have to turn a book into an ice cream flavor. What book do you choose, and what does it taste like?
Ooh! Good question! I'd probably choose Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood. I think it would taste of praline. Mmm.

If you could spontaneously read and understand another language, what would it be, and who is the first author you'd read in that language?
This one ties in with the last two questions, really! I'd definitely choose Japanese, and I'd be on Murakami in an instant. Then I could read all those Japanese authors whose work hasn't been translated into English yet, too. Otherwise, I'd LOVE to read Crime and Punishment or Anna Karenina in Russian.

When you aren't reading and blogging, what do you like to do?
Write! I'm a fiction writer, and I'm polishing off my first manuscript, and embarking on another soon-to-be (hopefully) novel. I should probably leave the house more.

Which do you fear more: public speaking or heights? Have an experience with either?
HEIGHTS!  I recently read one of my short stories at an event, and it was such a buzz! Nervewracking, of course, but it felt fantastic! I'd definitely want to do it again.  Heights, on the other hand? I've been at the top of the Eiffel Tower and it freaked me out. At the top of Cologne Cathedral, I was clinging onto the wire fencing for dear life. *shudders* I love the view, but it scares me too!

And finally, describe your perfect reading room/situation.
Reading is best done in front of a log fire. The house I lived in as a teenager had a log fire, and there was nothing more wonderful that lying on a rug in front of it, or sitting in a chair near it, curled up under one of my mum's handmade quilts with a cup of tea (and maybe even some chocolate) and a book. Mmm. That is an experience I would love to revisit!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon

Title: Don't Breathe a Word
Author: Jennifer McMahon

Genre: Fiction (Literary Thriller / Supernatural / Vermont)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Paperbacks (May 17, 2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked a whole lot.  Almost love. 
Did I finish?: You couldn't have stopped me if you tried.
One-sentence summary: Childhood fantasy and adult reality collide when a woman and her boyfriend are led to believe they'll be reunited with his sister who disappeared as a child fifteen years ago.
Reading Challenges: None.

Do I like the cover?: YES! How creepy is it?! It's so perfect for the story and is super eye-catching.

I'm reminded of...: Sarah Dunant, Carol Goodman, Mary Robinette Kowal, Shirley Jackson

First line: Hotter than hot, no air-conditioning, sweat pouring down in rivers, the Magic Fingers motel bed vibrating beneath her, Mr. Ice Cream doing his thing above.

Did... I actually have problems going to sleep while reading this? YES. The creepy factor is amazing. Best shivery-up-the-back feeling ever.

Am... I still talking about this book and chewing over it despite finishing it days ago?: YES.  Seriously, the mood setting is just great.

Did... this book feel very New England-y to me?: YES, but it might just be that since the author lives in Vermont, I'm convinced I can see the influence -- and I think the setting-as-character is what made the story feel a bit Shirley Jackson-ish to me.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow absolutely but own if you can -- you'll want to lend it out to everyone you meet so you can have people to squeal and gush with about the crazy twists!

Why did I get this book?: I think I mistook this book for being straight-up paranormal and so it was a delicious surprise to find it was more of a thriller (literary thriller, according to the back cover blurb).

Review:  To put it bluntly, I had a great time with this book.  Every chapter ended with a literal gasp-out-loud moment, the characters were totally real, and the creepiness of this book insidious and addictive.  This was one of the most engrossing seven days I've had with a book in a long while, and the only reason it took me so long to read was that I a) couldn't read it at night without freaking myself out and b) wanted to prolong the pleasure.

I hesitate to say much more because the story moves so quickly -- alternating chapters between now and fifteen years ago, leading up to the day when the girl disappears -- and I don't want to give away a thing.  I will admit, however, that for a while, the heroine Phoebe and I had a rocky relationship which impeded my enjoyment a smidgen.  I found her a bit aggravating and self-destructive and it wasn't until I realized she was displaying some classic ACOA (Adult Child of Alcoholic) behavior that I felt more sympathetic. 

All the characters in the book felt very real, even the secondary characters, and it was easy to keep track of the cast (not enormous, but large).  The writing is so effortless, you race along (thanks to the pacing, too) and the next thing you know, you're halfway through the book and it's getting dark.  I think this would be an absolutely perfect read for the summer.  McMahon was a new-to-me author so I'm very excited to pick up her other three books -- I feel a summertime fling coming on!

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm very excited that the publisher is offering a copy of Don't Breathe a Word to a lucky reader!  Just comment on this entry with an email (or another way to get a hold of you) to be entered.  Closes 6/10, open to US/CA.  Please stop by on June 7 for my Q&A with Jennifer McMahon and another chance to enter!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Q&A with Anne Easter Smith

Over the last week or so I've been engrossed in Anne Easter Smith's newest historical novel, Queen By Right, and so am very excited to share my Q&A with the author.  Read on to learn a little about her, her writing process, and the book -- and don't forget to enter the giveaway!

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

Great question Audra, and the first anyone has asked me that. I am embarrassed to say I tried writing a Georgette Heyer book of my own when I was 19 and going back and forth on the train to work in London from my home in Surrey. I got nine chapters in and then could not make up my mind where I was going with the story -- bland and romantic or gothic and melodramatic! So I quit. Next time I attempted a book was in my 50s when I wrote “A Rose for the Crown,” my first novel (and I thought my only) about the York family in the Wars of the Roses.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I like to do exercise and chores in the morning, have a quick lunch and then go to my office two blocks away at 1 p.m. I usually write until 6 p.m. and then shut up shop and go home. Sometimes I am not writing, sometimes I am spending hours researching, but that’s my usual schedule. I seem to be productive in the afternoons.

Was Queen By Right the original title of your book?

Oh no! I had such a hard time coming up with a title that would resonate with readers and satisfy my editor’s need for something royal in the tile!! I wanted to call it by Cecily Neville’s nickname “Rose of Raby” but she nixed that as too obscure. I toyed with “The Duke’s White Rose” but then a fellow Richard III Society member reminded me that Cecily used to call herself “Queen By Right” when her son Edward became king (she thoroughly disapproved of Edward’s marriage to the upstart Elizabeth Woodville who would now be called Queen Elizabeth and wanted to show her that she, Cecily, should really have been queen, had her husband Richard, duke of York, survived the Battle of Wakefield).

As you were writing Queen By Right, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

I was not expecting to bump off two of my big characters--I shan’t say who and when--but I cried when it happened.

According to your bio, you're also a singer. What are some songs/singers that might make up a 'soundtrack' of Cecily Neville or this novel?

Golly that's hard, Audra. Most of the music Cecily would have enjoyed would have been by people like Hildegard von Bingen and Josquin Desprez, who probably wouldn’t make the charts today! I am sure I could find some favorite folk songs that I used to sing -- Judy Collins was a favorite (I no longer do folksinging, Audra. Nothing worse than a warbly old lady trying to sing “Blowing in the Wind”), but as I am writing this on the road on tour, I can’t access my songbooks right now!

Read any good books recently?

Yes, I have recently read (for the first time, I’m ashamed to say) Wuthering Heights. I enjoyed the language and the images Emily Bronte conjured up, but I can’t say I like Catherine and Heathcliff much! I’m more of a Jane Eyre person myself. I also loved a sweet story by fellow Brit Helen Simonsen, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It was charming. I do have several books waiting to be read like Edward Rutherfurd’s New York, and a couple by Sharon Kay Penman that I never seem to get time to dig into as I am on such a crazy writing schedule. Already 50 pages into my next book due July 2012.

**** **** ****
My thanks to Anne Easter Smith for her time!

GIVEAWAY!  I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Queen By Right to a lucky reader! Leave a comment on this interview (with email or a way to contact you) to be entered. Ends 6/10, US only.  For another entry, be sure to comment on my review of Queen By Right which will be posted on Tues, May 31st.

Armchair BEA Interview with Teresa of Teresa's Reading Corner

I'm so excited to share my Armchair BEA interview with Teresa of Teresa's Reading Corner, a blogger I've read for a quite a while and like greatly.  You can learn a little more about Teresa by reading her Armchair BEA intro, or just read on!

What's your favorite article of clothing? 
My favorite is probably my Lucky Brand Easy Rider Jeans. They are so comfortable and still look polished.

What was the oddest/weirdest/most fabulous thing you wanted to do 'when you grew up'?
Hmmm that is a really tough question, especially since I haven't grown up yet. I'd say that the most fabulous thing I've done as an adult is moving to Colorado. I love it here and am so glad that I did it.

According to your bio, you 'dabble' in cooking. What's your favorite thing to cook?
I try a lot of odd things. One of my biggest battles is finding the perfect pulled pork recipe. I came close with a green chile pulled pork that was fantastic for burritos. It was so simple. I seasoned with salt and pepper and a little habanero powder then browned all sides of my roast. I threw it in the crock pot with a little apple juice and a couple of cans of diced green chiles. Let it cook all day while at work. It was so tender and flavorful.

You've been given a paid three-week getaway to anywhere in the world. Where would you go and who would you take? 
I've read a lot of great books set in Italy and would love to go. I'd take my husband and my son with me. Maybe a friend to help take care of the little one so husband and I could enjoy some couple time.

You have to turn a book into an ice cream flavor. What book do you choose, and what does it taste like?
Oh no! Could I keep the book instead? There is a local ice cream shop that makes a divine cappuccino cookies and cream ice cream that I would love to enjoy. I haven't had any for a couple of years. As far as the book...Possibly Pulled by Amy Lichtenham. This book was equal parts sweet and crunchy.

If you could spontaneously read and understand another language, what would it be, and who is the first author you'd read in that language? 
Some of my favorite authors have been sharing their covers as the rights have been sold in other countries. I loved The Violets of March by Sarah Jio and the covers she's shown have been beautiful. I've also really liked some of the covers that have been revealed for Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. I'd pick up either one of those in another language.

When you aren't reading and blogging, what do you like to do?
Much of my free time is spent with my husband and my son. I used to be an avid mountain biker and I'd love to get back into it. It is so much fun to tackle some of the rough terrain and the feeling of accomplishment after finishing a ride is like nothing else.

Which do you fear more: public speaking or heights? Have an experience with either?
Heights. As an introvert, public speaking is difficult for me. I've had jobs that required me to speak in front of groups of people so I'm a bit more comfortable with it. I've done some hiking in the mountains and while the scene at the top is absolutely beautiful, I make sure to stay well away from the ledge. No thrill of looking down for me.

And finally, describe your perfect reading room/situation. 
Just like many readers I would love to have a home library. It doesn't have to be super big. It would have a fireplace to keep warm on the chilly winter days/nights. It has wood floors and solid wood shelves lining the walls. It also has a big antique table to sit at and a nice chaise to relax on. I would keep hard copies of all of my favorite books.

Armchair BEA interview with Cait of The Cait Files

I've had the pleasure of getting to meet Cait of The Cait Files, a new-to-me-blogger, thanks to Armchair BEA, and I'm thrilled to introduce her to my readers!  To learn a little about Cait, check out her Armchair BEA intro and read on!

If you're comfortable with it, would you share with us what you're studying at university?
I study philosophy! Actually, I finished it, I'm just doing my final exams now =/

What's your favorite article of clothing?
Gahh hard one. Hmm. I love a lot of my clothes! Okay, I have 3, that'll have to do I'm afraid...I have a hat shaped like a mouse which my bf bought my for christmas! It's soooo cute. Erm then there's the dress he bought me for Christmas which is a really nice bronze colour with long floaty sleeves and a lace bodice. and finally my blue blazer with elbow patches-I love that!

What was the oddest/weirdest/most fabulous thing you wanted to do 'when you grew up'?
Omg I've wanted to be everything. The oddest is probably a chocolate taster...I was convinced I'd make an excellent chocolate taster. My grandparents encouraged this dream, which probably wasn't a good idea. Other than that I really wanted to be an astronaut!

You've been given a paid three-week getaway to anywhere in the world. Where would you go and who would you take?
oooooh this is a hard question! There's so many places I want to go...I would take my boyfriend and...can I cheat and do like a tour of europe? despite living in England I've not travelled to that many places in Europe! If I had to narrow it I'd probably say Japan.

You have to turn a book into an ice cream flavor. What book do you choose, and what does it taste like?
I would.....turn The White Darkness into ice cream. It would taste like milk, with a verrrrry slight hint of strawberry at the end.

If you could spontaneously read and understand another language, what would it be, and who is the first author you'd read in that language?
Latin! I've always wanted to read latin. and I'd want to read Cassie Clare's books first. I think Jace's sarcasm would be hilarious in latin.

When you aren't reading and blogging, what do you like to do?
I watch TV alot! It's a student thing. I love the Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, but I also like a lot of sci fi and cooking shows. I love shopping also! I also spend alot of time in the uni library pretending to be working =/

Which do you fear more: public speaking or heights? Have an experience with either?
Public speaking! I get so nervous. I had to do a debate speech once, in my history class about whether Emily Davidson was insane or not when she threw herself in front of the horse...it was scary. I came second tho XD I'm honestly not fussed about heights, never have been.

And finally, describe your perfect reading room/situation.
Ooooh it would be like an old fashioned victorian library, with floor to ceiling bookshelves and those lil moving ladder stairs. I'd have big chesterfield sofas with loads of pillows in front of a huge roaring fire and loads and loads of my favourite snacks and drinks on hand. and obviously books filling my shelves!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Author Reading: Emma Donoghue, May 23

If it's not super apparent from the photo, I was seriously over-the-moon about seeing Emma Donoghue.  Hosted at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge (which, despite it's name, is not affiliated with the university -- that'd be the Co-op), the reading was a packed, intimate event.  I was maybe four feet away from the woman herself.

And it was awesome.

I've never been to an author reading before, so I had no idea what to expect.  I've been a fan of Emma Donoghue since I was 18 when I discovered Hood (that's the original copy I bought in college on the table!).  Since then, I've read and loved every book of hers -- but I haven't read Room and based on the description, I wasn't planning to...but ohemgee, did my mind change after seeing Ms. Donoghue!

Even though she had a bit of a scratchy throat, it was a delight listening to her.  She has a fabulous accent and is so real and personable.  The reading was really more of a Q&A -- she opened by reading a very brief scene from Room but turned over the majority of the hour to questions.  She listened to every question and comment with keen interest, even the ones she's surely answered a million times (including, of course, one about breastfeeding.).  Most of the questions were about specific scenes or characters from Room, which actually got me very excited to read it (even if, I suppose, most of the story has been 'spoiled' for me.).  

Afterward, I was wimpy and wanted to leave but my wife cajoled me into standing in line to get my copy of Hood signed.  (While waiting, I learned my first very useful author event tip, which is to write your name (or the name you want the book dedicated to) on a sticky and leave it on the title page so you and the author don't have to spend time spelling a name over and over. Useful!)  Once I borrowed and filled out a sticky of my own, we reached Ms. Donoghue who literally gasped with delight at the sight of Hood, and laughed about how it hadn't put me off dating women after reading it.  I gushed a bit stupidly about loving every word she wrote, and asked if she'd mind a picture.  She very cheerily agreed to a photo and then I walked away in a gleeful daze.

I'm totally going to become an author reading addict, I can tell (I've got tickets to see China Miéville tonight!). If you have a chance to see her while she's on tour, do so, because she's really so engaging and entertaining.  I'm still in a fangirl daze today!

Teaser Tuesday, May 24

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

This week's teaser is from Jennifer McMahon's Don't Breathe a Word, which I'm enjoying -- mostly.  (Phoebe, the heroine, and I are a bit at odds about her behavior.)  Thankfully, the other characters -- there's about five who are pretty central to the story -- are fascinating and complicated and engaging enough that I can sort of ignore Phoebe when she annoys me.

Picking a teaser that wasn't a spoiler was remarkably challenging!  So many tidbits get revealed with each page, which builds tension deliciously but makes for difficult quoting.  Still, I think I found a passage that gets across the deceptively simple style of the story and it's lovely creepiness!

But there was no one there.

Just her ears playing tricks on her.  Maybe the footsteps were part of the dream she'd be having, something about teeth and keys and doors.

She was about to climb out and head for home when a scream filled the woods, bounced off the walls of the cellar hole, through the trees -- a scream so loud she was sure that not one human being could be making it.  Surely the woods, the animals, even the soft beams of moonlight were all screaming together.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Armchair BEA, May 23 - Who am I

This year was too soon to try to attend the real world BEA and Book Blogger Con in New York City, which made me sad, so I was ecstatic to see an armchair variation.  Today's daily topic is Who are you, and how do you armchair?  This might be too cutesy or a total failure, but I'm going to try to do that with my standard review template!

Title: Unabridged Chick
Author: Audra

Genre: I prefer fiction to non-fiction, although I do enjoy a lovely biography or memoir now and then.
Publisher/Publication Date: I began blogging at Blogger/Blogspot in January 2010.

Rating: Five million stars because I'm awesome??? ETA: Maybe I should acknowledge that I'm not a 'clean reads' person or anything like that.  I try to indicate in reviews if books are particularly risque or very mild but personally I don't mind a little sex in my fiction.
Did I finish?:  No, but I haven't quit yet either, so that's pretty fun!

One-sentence summary: I'm a 30-something married lesbian with a thing for literary fiction, historical novels, interesting heroines, gorgeous prose, place as character, and the occasional werewolf.
 
Reading Challenges: I'm not a fan of inspirational or religious fiction, as a rule, since I'm not Christian (even though I'm married to a former seminarian). 

Do I like the cover?: I'm pretty happy with my blog's layout for now, even if it's one of Blogspot's standards.  I keep trying to take artistic photos of my books to use as a new background but so far, I've not been very successful.

First line: Technically, the very first post in my blog was my review of Fay Weldon's She May Not Leave, posted in January of 2010.  I backdated entries to 2009 to 'bulk up' my blog.

Am... I going to my first author reading events this week?: YES. Inspired by Armchair BEA, I've decided to expand my book horizons from just reading/reviewing, and I am pretty psyched to say I'm going to see Emma Donoghue tonight (reading from Room) and China Mieville tomorrow (reading from Embassytown).

Do... I struggle without how to rate books I review?: YES.  That might be one of the hardest things for me.  I did stars for a while, but that just seemed sort of lame, and now I vaguely rank by love-like-disliked.  That translates a bit oddly when I put my reviews on social book sites but such is life.

Do... I give friends/family blow-by-blow accounts of the books I read?: YES. (Sorry friends and family.)  I can't help it -- especially if I know my wife or bestie isn't going to read the book I'm reading, I have to share all the awesome (or all the horror).  And to be honest, everyone on the subway hears about it, too, or coworkers who share the elevator with me.  I kind of can't shut up about the book I'm reading, whatever book it might be.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: I am a deeply passionate library fan, and when I started book blogging, my wife made me promise not to go nuts buying books to review.  Which I didn't!  I browsed my local library and picked up what looked interesting and that worked just fine.  Then she bought me an e-reader for my 30th birthday and ebooks are so ridiculously cheap that I've started buying.  (So it's actually her fault I buy more books now.)

Why did I get this book?: Or, in this case, why did I start this blog?  Post-college I had a Livejournal for a while, mostly personal stuff, which was fun and strange but eventually seemed too much.  I quit being online for a while but missed connecting with like-minded folks to gush about the things I loved -- mostly books -- and after keeping a private book journal, decided to try my hand at blogging.

Review:  I'm thrilled to be participating in the Armchair BEA (Book Expo America) this year (a first for me) and one of the big steps in my book blogging 'career'.  At this point, I've been blogging for about a year and a half, and I'm amazed at how I went from zero acquaintances and reviewing in a void to a lovely circle of blogger colleagues with whom I can share my bookish love.  It's been a pleasure and, frankly, the achievement of my life dream to have people send me books for free.

When I'm not reading, I love to cook/eat (my wife and I belong to a dinner club which is immensely fun), travel (our last great adventure was taking the puddle jumper from Barnstable to Nantucket), writing (aspiring novelist, of course!), and going to the movies (my friends tease me for this, but I'm a sucker for films in 3D).  I own fat cats who sit on my books when they think I'm not giving them enough attention.

Mailbox Monday, May 23

Seen both at The Printed Page (hosted in May at MariReads) and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox.  What did you get?  Planning to read any of these?

For Review




Jerusalem Maiden: A Novel by Talia Carner
Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen
Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
The Hypnotist (The Reincarnationist #3) by M.J. Rose

Won



The Insider by Reece Hirsch - thanks to GoodReads First Reads

Bought/Traded/Acquired



Carnal Machines: Steampunk Erotica, edited by D.L. King - thanks to Teresa at Read All Over Reviews
Collective Visioning: How Groups Can Work Together for a Just and Sustainable Future by Linda Stout

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Winners!


Two giveaways ended yesterday, so without further wait, here are the winners!

The winner of Island Beneath the Sea is ... SusieBookworm!

And the winner of The Rebellion of Jane Clarke is ... The Missive Maven!

A quick note: in the last few giveaways folks haven't been leaving an email address -- which is fine if your blogger profile includes that info.  But today I actually had to draw four times to get two winners, as twice the chosen winner had a private blogger profile or a profile lacking an email address. 

So....if you decide to enter one of my open giveaways, please be sure I can contact you if you win!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Apex Magazine - January 2011 (Issue 20)

Title: Apex Magazine - January 2011 (Issue 20)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente (Editor)

Genre: Fiction (Short Fiction/Sci-Fi/Speculative)
Source: Purchased

Rating: Liked!
Did I finish?: Yes! Savored it over a few days.

Do I like the cover?: Ish -- I'm not sure how it ties into this issue, but it's very cool looking.

I'm reminded of...: Nicola Griffith, Elizabeth Hand

First line: Point of Infection +61 Days. I suppose there are things one can only learn through experience; the fever is coming on faster than I had expected, making it difficult to organize my thoughts. -- from "The Tolling of Pavlov's Bells" by Seanan McGuire

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy if you can -- issues are $2.99 but a subscription is $19.95 for twelve meaty issues.  A favorite purchase already!

Review: I tried out Apex Magazine last year with a few sample issues and was immediately hooked; nearly a year later, I find the same sharp storytelling in each issue that makes my subscription totally worth it.

I loved two of the three stories in this volume. "The Tolling of Pavlov's Bells" by Seanan McGuire was straight up awesome -- classic scifi thriller. If you enjoy this story, you'll be pleased to learn that Seanan McGuire also writes as Mira Grant and her book Feed seems to take on some of the issues featured in this short story.

Mary Robinette Kowal is a new favorite author of mine; I haven't met a story of hers I haven't adored.  "Tomorrow and Tomorrow" is very insidious -- the horror sneaks up on you all of a sudden.  I'm a wimp when it comes to truly gruesome things but Kowal's writing is creepy enough to give me goosebumps but not gross enough to make me want to heave. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When We Danced on Water by Evan Fallenberg

Title: When We Danced on Water
Author: Evan Fallenberg

Genre: Fiction (Israeli / Contemporary / Historical - WWII)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (6/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked immensely. Intensely.
Did I finish?: YES, in less than one day - Monday morning to Monday night.
One-sentence summary: Teo, an eighty-five year old ballet dancer, is inspired to find passion - and some lost memories of his youth - upon meeting a lovely 40-year waitress in Tel Aviv.
Reading Challenges: Eastern European, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes - it has this bittersweet feel that is very reminiscent of the novel's tone and matches one of the key settings of the story.

I'm reminded of...: Michael Ondaatje

First line: He said, "Where's Rona."

Do... I think this book would be perfect for book groups?: YES. It's slim and a quick, beautiful read, but covers great topics like obsession versus passion, commitment to art, and the thin line between public/private life.

Did... I desperately want to see a ballet after reading this?: YES. Fallenberg's descriptions of dance and the way bodies move were just marvelous.

Why did I get this book?: The moment I saw 'eighty-five year old retired ballet dancer', I was all over it.  I love ballet and the set up of this late-in-life romance intrigued me.

Review: As I said in my Teaser, this novel was effortless to read, and immensely enjoyable.  The writing was lovely -- a little lyrical, a little poetic -- and the plot simple but compelling.

The story revolves around Teo, the aforementioned 85-year old retired ballet dancer, and Vivi, a 40-ish waitress.  They meet at the coffee shop where Vivi works and strike up an unlikely friendship.  This friendship provokes conversations about art, obsession, and passion, themes which weave through the rest of the story, as we learn about Vivi's romantic past and Teo's experience in Berlin during World War II.

The romance was really secondary to Teo's reminiscences, which was fine because Teo's back story is fascinating.  A young Polish Jew dancing with a Danish ballet company, he and his fellow dancers are invited to perform in Berlin in 1939.  It's an opportunity of a life time -- so despite protests from friends in Denmark, he goes.  I don't want to give too much more away as my enjoyment came from not really knowing what to expect as the story unfolded.  But I was surprised, moved, horrified, and relieved, captivated by Teo and Vivi, eager to see how their relationship would develop.  The lyricism of Fallenberg's writing kept the sad parts from being too misery-inducing and made the moments of joy and happiness vibrate.

My one complaint is I found the end a tiny bit clunky but the story closed in a very neat and ultimately satisfying way, and it didn't detract from my overall enthusiasm for this book.  Highly recommended -- would be an effortless and fascinating weekend read.

*** *** ***
GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of When We Danced on Water to one lucky reader!  Just leave a comment and an email address to enter.  Open to US/CA readers, closes 6/3. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teaser Tuesday, May 17

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

This week's teaser is from When We Danced on Water by Evan Fallenberg.  I started this book Monday morning and finished it late Monday night -- it was marvelous.  I really want to gush about it right now but as I'm posting my review tomorrow, I'm going to restrain myself.

Picking a teaser was tortuously hard: the writing is simple but lovely, and the two main characters so charming and fascinating.  Still, I managed to settle on one lovely passage, early on, when Teo, the 85-year old retired ballet dancer and choreographer, is revisiting his memories, most of which revolve around his past performances.

He can hum the music in his old man's quivering voice, but he prefers it in his head, where it lives on in violins and reedy winds.  If he imagines it in rehearsal he can remember every step of his three-minute solo as if he had danced it only yesterday, but he knows, too, that one time, onstage in Berlin, he had not danced it as he had learned it; this much he knows but cannot recreate, could no recreate it even a moment after he had finished dancing it.  While dancing he had felt blind to the stage and audience, deaf to the music.  He had let his body do what it needed to do, free to expand and contract in space, to soar and spin.  So, accordingly, when he tries to remember the way he danced it on stage, he cannot hear the music or feel his feet or get a sense of the audience.  He is embryonic, momentarily cut off from the world around him.  The three most important minutes of his life, the ones that determined his fate and future, are the three to which he cannot gain access, ever.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Title: Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter
Author: Stephanie Dray

Genre: Fiction (Historical - Ancient Egypt/Rome - Magical Historical)
Publisher/Publication Date: Berkley (1/4/2011)
Source: Won from the author

Rating: Liked so very, very much. I'm desperate for the sequel.
Did I finish?: Oh yes -- inhaled this book.
One-sentence summary: The trials, tortures, and triumphs of Selene, daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- super pretty -- although I would have rather it be set in Rome since most of the book takes place there.

I'm reminded of...: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Clysta Kinstler, Libba Bray

First line: They came from Memphis, Thebes, and Heliopolis to see the Savior born.

Do... I think book groups and those who like gripping vacation reads will enjoy this book?: YES. There's enough meat (history, politics, religion, treatment of women/prisoners) to allow a book group some great conversation, and the pacing and story are brisk enough for an engrossing weekend read.

Did... I get the shivers from some the horrors enacted by the emperor?: YES.  While not graphic, the author nails the right amount of detail to convey the excesses and violence of the era.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for sure, buy if you can (Book Depository has it for about $9!)

Why did I get this book?: I was so excited to read this book since it first came out in January.  The author had done a number of guest posts at many blogs I read, and I just loved her take on history and her view of women, goddess worship, and Cleopatra.

Review: I'm a Cleopatra fangirl, one hundred percent, which extends to her daughter.  I love historical fiction and I adore magical themes -- especially goddess worship with some actual historical accuracy -- so I couldn't pass this book up.

And you know what?  It was. So. Good

I love stories that take place after The End; I love wondering how people pick up the pieces and move on.  Stephanie Dray envisioned how Cleopatra's children (particularly her twins, Selene and Helios) suffered the loss of their parents and their country, and how they were treated by Rome. Selene and her surviving siblings are kept in the emperor's household, treated as 'family', and yet, kept acutely aware of their status as prisoners of war.

I felt like I was holding my breath through much of it, eager to find out how things would shake out, racing to the end because I had to know. I'm totally unfamiliar with Roman history but Dray's writing makes it easy to keep the characters in mind and understand the political machinations as well as the interpersonal dramas.  This novel is hardly graphic or overly violent, and yet the story made me shiver with horrified anticipation over what would happen next.  Even though Selene, the heroine, is hardly a teenager -- just 14 at the end -- this isn't a young adult novel or a watered down historical romance.  Her plight -- and her voice -- grabbed me, and I was immediately taken with her (although to be honest I liked the secondary characters as much as the main ones!).  The magical elements felt real and authentic and added a layer of tension to the story that I greatly enjoyed.

I am wiggling with excitement for the second book in the series, Song of the Nile, which comes out this fall (not soon enough, I say!) and contemplating a reread of this one already.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Winner of The Paper Garden

And the winner of The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 is ... 
Amy of The House of the Seven Tails!  
Congrats!

I've still got three open giveaways if you didn't win and more coming!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blogger Doom, and Giveaway extended

As I'm sure many of you know, Blogger was down for about 20 hours or so and blogs were rolled back to Wednesday.  Some of you might see my Thursday review again -- sorry for the duplicate posts!  Since my blog was down most of Thursday, I'm extending my giveaway of Molly Peacock's The Paper Garden until midnight tonight (or, when I wake up Sunday morning).  So comment away if you haven't already!

ETA: Some folks have noticed that their comments from Wednesday 'didn't take' so if you commented on one of my giveaways Wednesday, you should check to ensure the comment is there!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Hotel Angeline by Various

Title: Hotel Angeline: A Novel in 36 Voices
Author: Jennie Shortridge & Garth Stein, editor/organizer

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Pacific Northwest / Collaborative)
Publisher/Publication Date: Open Road (5/3/2011)
Source: NetGalley

Rating: Okay-ish to interesting.
Did I finish?: Unfortunately, no.
One-sentence summary: Fourteen year old Alexis deals with the challenges of running a residential hotel, dodging police, and her real estate-hungry uncle.
Reading Challenges: E-books

Do I like the cover?: Oh yes -- it's so quirky and interesting, very eye-catching.

First line: Halfway up the basement steps of the Hotel Angeline, laden with a heavy stack of industrial sheets and towels, Alexis Austen was beginning to think she'd taken on too heavy a load.

Why did I get this book?: The setup -- Thirty-six of the most interesting writers in the Pacific Northwest came together for a week-long marathon of writing live on stage -- seemed too cool to resist.

Review:  Unfortunately, my favorite part of this potentially fascinating novel was the forward and introduction.  A fascinating mix of performance art and literary experiment, this novel was born out of a brainstorm to raise awareness about Seattle's literary scene.  A basic outline was created and the authors given free reign to interpret and move the story along as they saw fit.  Totally neat and super exciting.

From the start, I didn't connect with the story or characters.  Alexis is an interesting enough teenager in a very sad situation, but the secondary characters were all so unappealing and the plot so over-the-top that I just couldn't connect with Alexis -- and worse, come to care about her.  The running of a residential hotel is very novel and that part intrigued me, but the tenants are all child-adults stuck in the '60s.  I think they were meant to be quirky and funny and a little bit pathetic, but I found myself angry and irritated with them -- so much so, I couldn't imagine why Alexis continued to enable them as she did.

I wanted very much to experience Seattle as a character, but despite the numerous mentions of neighborhoods and a few landmarks, I didn't get a sense of the city in the story.  Alexis could have been in any liberal urban area; I didn't feel as if Seattle (or the Pacific Northwest) was particularly noticeable in the narrative.  Missing that connection, then, all her running around the city was tiresome to me and seemed to be a space filler.

Overall, the quality of the writing was good (I've added about a dozen new writers to my TBR) and for me, the weakness was the story.  I just didn't dig the plot.  But I enjoyed the language and the sort of kaleidoscopic way each author eyed Alexis and her plight.  Seattle folks might enjoy this novel for it's setting, and fans of avant garde fiction might get a kick out of writing-as-performance.  Anyone who enjoys reading-as-experience will like the forward and I recommend this book for that alone!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

Title: The Peach Keeper
Author: Sarah Addison Allen

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Southern)
Publisher/Publication Date: Bantam (3/22/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked a great deal!
Did I finish?: Yes, in a day!
One-sentence summary: Two women from a small town in North Carolina discover that they share more secrets, connections, and mysteries than simply their high school past.

Do I like the cover?: Yes --it's super pretty and quite romantic.

I'm reminded of...: Maeve Binchy, Diana Abu-Jaber, Sena Jeter Naslund

First line: The day Paxton Osgood took the box of heavy-stock, foil-lined envelopes to the post office, the ones she'd had a professional calligrapher address, it began to rain so hard the air turned as white as bleached cotton.

Did... I have an impossible time limiting myself to one excerpt for my Teaser Tuesday clip?: YES.  The writing is just such fun.  Easy to read, but with some lovely imagery and a great deal of good humor.  It was exactly what I needed during this insane work week.

Did... I have one moment in which I was really offended?: YES. More on that in my review.

Did... I finish this book in less than twenty-four hours: YES. I kept picking it up at any spare moment -- it's perfect to read in five-minute increments because it's engrossing but not so elaborate you need long stretches to keep up. Although I did also read it in long stretches because I didn't want to stop!

Why did I get this book?: Because the moment TLC Book Tours announced it, people went nuts, like Elvis was handing out tickets to his otherworldly tour.  It was crazy, and I wanted to be there.

Review: This was my first Sarah Addison Allen book but I instantly understood why she has such a devoted following.  The writing is comfortable and warm and easy (see my Teaser Tuesday for a taste) but I don't know if the style is magical realism.  There are some magical elements but it's not hokey or odd or incredulity-straining; it just is.  It feels right.

I actually knew very little about the plot and wasn't sure what to expect.  What was so refreshing was the story's emphasis on female friendship.  I don't know, maybe it's a Southern fiction thing, but I was actually shocked that the two females -- seemingly opposites (set up, I was sure, to be rivals) -- not only ended up becoming friendly, but weren't mean, competitive, vindictive, cruel, cold, food-obsessed, weight-obsessed or fighting over the same romantic partner.  They had problems that real people have: worries about one's choices in the past, decisions in the future, family, friends, jobs.  I immediately liked the both of them and it made the book so much more enjoyable because I wanted -- yearned! -- for everything to work out in the end.

This was a far more romantic book than I expected but I admit, I was all for the romantic relationships that ensued. 

And now, for my single quibble.  You'll see from my status updates that I was digging this book hardcore until this speed bump hit -- and it really did very nearly break my heart.  I suppose this bit is going to be spoiler-y, so if you want to be wholly surprised then skip over the rest of this paragraph.  Normally I hate -- loathe -- when authors make otherwise gay men straight for the right woman.  It might be plausible, but it's a little too close to intimating that hard work and determination is what homosexuals need to be 'normal'. One of the characters was sexually confused -- I think that's what Allen was trying to say -- but whatever it was left me confused, and not in a good way.  I totally wanted this couple to be together, but I gotta confess, when it happened, I felt a bit dirty and kind of horrified.

I was so rattled by this speed bump that I stopped working on this review to give myself some time to chew over how I felt; now, about a week later, I feel the same: great affection for this book with a twinge of slight disappointment.  Up until that moment, and immediately after, the book was luminous, delightful, engrossing, and fun.  I suspect many readers won't be as upset as I was -- I'm sure Allen didn't mean anything judgmental or negative -- and in the end, I can say I loved her writing enough that I'm going to find her previous books to read and I'll read anything else she does write.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!  I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Peach Keeper to one lucky reader!  Just comment with an email to be entered.  Ends 5/27, open to US/CA only.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Teaser Tuesday, May 10

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 comes from The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen.  My review copy came with one of the Yankee Candle limited edition votives so everything was nice and peach-y scented.  This is my first time reading Sarah Addison Allen but I know many people who get swoon-y over her -- and now I know why!  I'm so loving this novel: the characters are charming and the set up is engaging and the dreamy, slightly magical plot line is otherworldly and believable.  Picking a teaser was a challenge, but I decided to go with this small snippet from the beginning of the book, in which our heroine Willa is being teased/challenged by her 20-something employee, Rachel.

Rachel threw her hands in the air.  "I give up.  Do you want some coffee?"

"Yes," Willa said, glad for the end of this conversation.  "Soy milk and two sugars."  Just this past week, Rachel had become convinced that how people took their coffee gave some secret insight into their characters.  Were people who took their coffee black unyielding?  Did people who liked their coffee with milk and no sugar have mother issues?  She had a notebook behind the coffee counter in which she wrote her findings.  Willa decided to keep her on her toes by making up a different request each day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

In My Mailbox Monday, May 9

Seen both at The Printed Page (hosted in May at MariReads) and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox (technically Sunday).  What did you get?  Planning to read any of these?



For Review



When We Danced On Water by Evan Fallenberg
Ashes of the Earth by Eliot Pattison

Won





Three pack of Lois Duncan re-issues -- Down a Dark Hall, Stranger With My Face, Summer of Fear -- thanks to the Abbott Gran Medicine Show
The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen, thanks to Read It Forward


Purchased



Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr
The One From the Other by Philip Kerr
 A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr
The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia

I went uncharacteristically nuts on this: I got March Violets from the library which my wife started and loved.  So I decided to get the first three books as a surprise and then found all five for cheap and, well, am totally the heroine for the month!