Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagan

Title: The Art of Forgetting
Author: Camille Noe Pagán

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Friendship / New York City)
Publisher/Publication Date: Dutton (6/9/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay to meh.
Did I finish?: Yes, in three hours at the pool.
One-sentence summary: Hallmark-y novel about two friends rebuilding their friendship after an accident changes one friend's personality and eradicates her memories.
Reading Challenges: None.

Do I like the cover?: It's pretty, and the image relates to one of the characters. I quite love the fonts used for the title and author's name.

First line: There is only one way to boost your metabolism: exercise.

Does... this novel feel like a Hallmark-movie-meets-an-after school-special?: YES. It's very wholesome and topically complicated with a very heartwarming conclusion.

Did... I feel decidedly unhealthy while reading this book?: YES. Between the heroine's participation in a running organization and her knowledge of diets, I felt a bit like a slob lounging at the pool with my goldfish crackers.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: This kind of book isn't my tastes, so I'd lean toward avoid; but as I've said above, for those who like hopeful stories (this isn't really inspirational) of the Hallmark Movie variety, this might be worth owning. (See the other reviews from blogs on this tour for more opinions.)

Why did I get this book?: The premise -- memories forgotten, friendships having to be rebuilt -- fascinated me.

Review:  This breezy novel is easy to enjoy in one sitting (I completed it in three hours at the pool), and for good and for bad, it's a light, straightforward story reminiscent of a Hallmark film. Following Marissa Rogers, a health magazine editor in New York City who suffers from poor self-esteem, an awful mother, and a lifelong friendship with the selfish and popular Julia Ferrar, the novel explores themes of self value and identity, forgiveness, the impacts of painful decisions on friendships, and taking responsibility for one's choices.

The writing was a bit thin for my tastes but as a result, this potentially overwrought topic is presented in a very grounded manner, rather than mired in melodrama or exaggerated emotion. Unfortunately, I never completely connected with Julia, the brain damage victim, or Marissa, the passive doormat friend, and that impacted my ability to totally enjoy this novel. I could certainly relate at moments to each character (and the dangerous allure of strong personalities) but both characters were written so broadly and were thinly fleshed out, I failed to see the appeal of either woman.

Pagan's previous writing experience includes articles for magazines like Fitness, Glamour, Self, and Women's Health, and chunks of the novel read more like a piece of how-to journalism than a novel. Marissa becomes a coach for an organization that uses running as a way to help at risk girls find self-esteem, and I found myself skimming those passages, which felt like PSAs on a variety of issues (self-esteem, bullying). While certainly admirable, they were also boring.

The romantic 'triangle' between Marissa, her first boyfriend Nathan, and her current boyfriend Dave, was another note that rang false (although Dave is one of my favorite of the secondary characters, for being the voice of reason time and time again). I certainly have my own 'what if' moments and mistakes made in college that I still regret, but I'm not sure I'd derail my whole life a decade later because my brain damaged friend decided to pull strings and manipulate an unwanted reunion.

The novel had some lovely secondary characters I really enjoyed, like Marissa's sister Sarah, her boss Naomi, and her aforementioned boyfriend Dave. The themes of self-discovery and forgiveness run through all Marissa's interactions and for me, it invited some reflection on my own painful memories and the behaviors of my own I regretted. The novel closed with a very hopeful note without being too cheesy, and I think many folks who want a summer read with a little more emotion might enjoy this one.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

The publisher has generously offered a copy of The Art of Forgetting to my readers.  To enter, leave a comment with an email address.  Open to US/CA, ends 7/15.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Seven Year Bitch by Jennifer Belle

Title: Seven Year Bitch
Author: Jennifer Belle

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Marriage & Parenting / New York City)
Publisher/Publication Date: Riverhead Trade (5/3/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: To my great surprise, I actually liked it (when I wasn't hating on it).
Did I finish?: Yes - very easy to read and get in to.
One-sentence summary: Late '90s-era chick lit heroine is now nearly 40, married and has a kid, but of course it's never happily ever after.
Reading Challenges: None!

Do I like the cover?: Eh -- it matches the hardcover version, so I suppose that's nice, but I'm not wild about it.  I'm grateful, at least, it doesn't feature shoes, a super feminine font, those curlicue-style cartoon women, or a metric ton of pink.

First line: As I walked along Waverly Place to meet my friend Joy for dinner, I saw a girl in her twenties leisurely crossing the street, and something about her brought that whole decade of my life back to me.

Were...the passages on hiring a nanny and mother-nanny relationships interesting/horrifying?: YES.  Particularly as my wife is nanny to women with Isolde's education and income, some of the things Isolde says/does to her nanny is actually quite familiar.

Do... I wish more of the novel featured the heroine's essay reading gig?: YES.  This aspect of the novel had notes of Aimee Bender/Lauren Groff and was amusing and fascinating.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- I'm not sure I'd dig a reread of this book but this is another novel that I think invites great convo and is perfect for lending.  Whether you read it as broad comedy or satire on motherhood, it pushes buttons and prompts some grins.

Why did I get this book?: The title -- like a little kid, I love swear words -- and as I'm hitting seven years with my wife, it seemed appropriate!

Review:  Say you have friends who seem, to you, to have an awful marriage and are terrible parents, but since it's none of your business, you can't really say anything about their staying together and having more kids. Well, that's a bit what reading this novel is like.

Actually, this book had two feels, really.  On one hand, this felt a bit chick lit-y, as if Bridget Jones finally got married and had to face turning 40; on the other hand, this had the kind of quirky tone I associate with Aimee Bender or Lauren Groff. There's not much plot other than the drama heroine Isolde creates, but author Jennifer Belle paints an evocative (and slightly exaggerated) picture of Manhattan-based motherhood and marriage.

My waffling about this book derives from my feelings on Isolde. On one hand, Isolde is deeply empathetic and curious about the world and those in her life (unlike many of her Manhattanite acquaintances); and yet, she's so clueless and so insensitive, it's almost criminal. Maybe I disliked her so strongly because she was ultimately wholly unapologetic about her behavior. I'd think, 'have you no shame?', but perhaps that's not actually a flaw. Her unapologetic, hopeless, best intentioned but irrevocably inappropriate behavior brings her heartache but also allows her to take her life as it is and embrace what is good (a skill I have yet to perfect!).

In the end, I think I felt for Isolde as I might for a casual acquaintance: bemusement in small doses. When I read this book in long stretches, I started to get a big seasick from the repeating up-down bounce of Isolde's emotional roller coaster. There's a sort of vignette-y feel to this novel -- large chunks of time pass without comment -- and so the chapters and characters seemed a bit disconnected to me. The vignette-y feel is further compounded by the dropped plot moments: after a horrifyingly inappropriate obsession with her nanny's fertility challenges, both Belle and Isolde forget about the nanny once she's pregnant; nor are the shocking, credulity-straining, and damaging things her husband does during his son's birthday parties ever addressed or revisited.

I definitely over thought when it came to this novel, for good and for bad, but it certainly inspired conversations with friends on marriage (especially hetero marriage), parenthood, self-identity, and urban living. I'm probably not the target audience but I found this novel unexpectedly entertaining (if not maddening) and that's not a bad thing!  

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

The publisher has generously offered TWO copies of The Seven Year Bitch to my readers.  To enter, leave a comment with an email address.  Open to US/CA, ends 7/15.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Winners of The Blighted Troth

A little late (sorry!), here are the winners of the amazing The Blighted Troth giveaway!

The signed paperback goes to ... Heather of The Maiden's Court!

E-books go to ... lag123, Margaret, and Alison of The Musings of a Book Junkie

For those who didn't win, I still have four giveaways open (including two for international folks) and more opening later this week!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Quick hello and a question for readers

Thanks, friends, for all the comments while I've been gone -- it's been a wonderful treat to see comments pop up while I'm racing between workshops, exhibits, and receptions!

So far, I haven't seen much of Charlotte other than the two-blocks surrounding the convention center. Such is life.  But I did have a fantastic culinary adventure my first night, and sit down because you're going to be shocked: it wasn't Carolina-style BBQ!  (I think that might be a sin.)  Randomly, we found this staggeringly awesome Swedish restaurant!

I know it's not an impressive looking dish BUT it was amazingly delicious.  Swedish meatballs (far more romantically called Kottbullar on the menu, if I recall correctly) with this melange of cider (alcoholic!) soaked apples, some cabbage, potatoes, and...other stuff.  I forget, but it was tasty, and with $2 beers (how badly I miss happy hour.  Boston, I love you, but less blue laws, please!), it was a fabulous night for my wife and I.

Since then, it's been energy bars and what we can grab from the food court nearby (Einstein Bros and Bojangles!).  I plan to do some sightseeing post-conference, though, and catch up on my reading.  (This is the first night I didn't immediately pass out upon returning to the hotel!)

Here's a bookish link and query to my reader friends from an article I read when I needed a break from my day.

LibraryThing interviewed Mukherjee Bharati, author of Miss New India (which I have in my queue to review.).  If you read the interview, Bharati responds to criticisms that her heroine is too passive; she argues that a 'careful reader' will see the heroine's 'awakening and self-empowerment'.  That got me thinking: is it a reader's fault if they see something other than what the author meant?  Is it the author's fault?  Is there no fault, perhaps?  At the reading with Emma Donoghue, she talked about being delighted when readers presented her with their interpretations Room, however strange or varied from her vision, while China Miéville indicated some frustration.  What do you think?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interview with Janet Mullany

Earlier this month I read and loved loved Janet Mullany's hilarious and sexy Regency Mr Bishop and the Actress.  I'm excited to share my interview with Ms. Mullany about her novel and her writing.  Read on and don't forget to enter to win a copy of Mr Bishop and the Actress!

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

I think it was a plagiarized version of Black Beauty (Anna Sewell) but I got bored and couldn't figure out what was going to happen next. Astonishingly, that's how I still write (other than first person horse narratives and, I hope, the plagiarizing).

Was Mr Bishop and the Actress the original title of your book?

Yes. The title came first before I even knew what the book was about. It's a variant on the English joke where you add "as the actress said to the bishop" to any innocuous statement to make it sound filthy. It's the equivalent of adding "in bed" to a fortune cookie motto. (Go on. Try it, as the actress said to the bishop...)

As you were writing Mr Bishop and the Actress, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Without adding spoilers ... Harry's mother's origins.

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

I garden, I volunteer as a docent at a local historical house, read, wrangle a cat. I'm really pretty boring.

Read any good books recently?

Yes! Started Early, Took the Dog by Kate Atkinson, and on the flimsiest of excuses, I started reading Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen again.

*** *** ***

My thanks to Ms. Mullany for her time.

GIVEAWAY!  I so loved this book I'm buying a copy to send to one lucky reader!  Leave a comment with an email address to be entered.  Open to US/international readers (if Book Depository ships to you).  Closes 7/8.  For another entry, comment on my review!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Teaser Tuesday, June 21

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

I'm having all kinds of mixed feelings about this book, which is fun since I think it topically passes for chick lit (even if the heroine is no longer a late 20-something).  It's a mix of marriage/motherhood angst and heroine-takes-on-quirky-job-and-learns-about-herself etc.  At times, it infuriates me, and at other times, delights me.  Picking a teaser was tough because this book also has two different feels at times.  I finally picked this bit, from early on, which is typical of Belle's 'Bad Mommy' wryness.

I loved Duncan and I loved being his mother but I wasn't sure I was prepared to be only his mother.  Before we were even married, when Russell and I had gotten our dog, Humbert, I had walked him early one morning, and as I stood on a line for coffee, someone had offered him a dog treat.  "I always ask the mommy first," she said, looking at him expectantly.  "Oh, I'm not his mother," I said, "I'm just his...friend," and she looked at me with complete contempt.  "You're his mother," she had scolded, "Poor dog."

Monday, June 20, 2011

On the road!

For the next ten days I'll be out of town, working a work conference in Charlotte, NC.  I've got some content in the queue but probably won't be able to visit and comment as much -- I'm very sorry!  I'll be back home during the 4th of July holiday weekend, and I'll catch up then.  In the meantime, if anyone can recommend fabulous things to do (places to eat, etc.) in Charlotte (or Raleigh), let me know!

In My Mailbox Monday, June 20

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

For Review


The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

Won



The Alienist by Caleb Carr, thanks to Books as Portable Pieces of Thought
The Daughter of Siena by Marina Fiorato, thanks to LibraryThing
The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark, thanks to Goldberg McDuffie

Purchased


Lot's Return to Sodom by Sandra Brannan
The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin
Désirée by Annemarie Selinko

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Follow, June 17

Inspired by the Twitter meme (#ff), I'm doing my own monthly Friday Follow.  Below are some blogs I enjoy following and I think you might enjoy following as well!  Check out my recommendations for May, and read on for this month's group.  If you have any recommendations, do share!


.bibliophile. .anonymous.: Jessie and her blog are a new find for me but I just love her voice and her friendly warmth.  Reading her is like dishing books with a close friend (check out her reviews of The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose for a taste; these reviews had me snortling with delight!). Jessie has a lovely meme of her own, Blog Watch Wednesday, in which she shouts out the blogs she likes and it's that open interest in connecting with passionate readers like herself that makes her a delight to read and chat with.


Burton Book Review: If you are a historical fiction fan, you must check out Marie's blog.  One of the first blogs I read regularly, I was immediately captivated by the quality of the reviews.  Whether it's a newer release or a reissue by a classic author, she writes honest reviews that always make my TBR much, much longer. Marie's participation in Armchair BEA really gave me a deeper appreciation for her skill as a blogger: she's a pro, really, and very generous with assistance to new bloggers.  And finally, her list of Jean Plaidy's books, organized by series, is just plain awesome (and also, sanity restoring for anyone who likes to read a series in order!).


Nomadreader: I don't recall how I found Carrie's blog, but she had me at Orange Prize-loving foodie.  Carrie reviews a lot of 'hot' literary fiction and I look forward to her thoughts on short listed and long listed award winning novels.  (I trust her opinion a lot more than other sources!)  She also blogs a bit about food and films -- and with a new move to the middle of the US -- offers armchair escape and fabulous recommendations.


Savvy Verse & Wit: Serena's blog passion is literary and poetic works, and her reviews highlight some of the loveliest books and authors.  Most are new to me, and they are exciting finds from a reader who clearly loves the play of language.  Her weekly Virtual Poetry Circle invites readers to consider a poem in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere over the weekend -- talk about a lovely way to start a Saturday!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mr. Bishop and the Actress by Janet Mullany

Title: Mr. Bishop and the Actress
Author: Janet Mullany

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Regency)
Publisher/Publication Date: Little Black Dress (3/3/2011)
Source: Won from Risky Regencies

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: Yes, and I even reread the last few chapters to revisit the awesome.
One-sentence summary: Proper Mr Bishop meets the decidedly improper Sophie Wallace and both pretend sparks aren't flying as they deal with family, troupes of actors, a wayward ward, and other obstacles in this Regency romp.
Reading Challenges: British Books, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- it's cute and fun (and matches her other books so adorably!)

I'm reminded of...: I'm not sure I've read another author like her!

First line: Sophie clung to the ladder, her face a pale oval in the dark as she looked up at the two girls peering out of the window.

Did... my wife kick me out of bed because I kept her up with my loud laughing, snickering, and chortling?: YES.  I was banned from reading this after 9pm, unless I read it in the living room. 

Did... I keep getting lost in this book every time I thumbed through it to find something to quote?: YES.  I've just spent the last thirty minutes rereading rather than writing this review!

Is... this the sexiest book I've read that doesn't feature a sex scene?: YES. Sex scenes are certainly hinted at but the reader doesn't witness the action, and yet, the romance is still super steamy!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy if you can -- sadly I suspect many libraries won't have this book but it's such a sweet treat, I recommend picking it up!

Why did I get this book?: I love regencies and I especially cracked up at the title, which is inspired by the English joke of adding "...as the actress said to the bishop," at the end of an otherwise banal sentence.

Review: June is always a rough month for me -- perhaps my busiest month work-wise as I gear up for a large annual conference.  It's long days and late nights and a metric ton of stress and I rarely want to do anything but veg.  This book, however, was the silly, comforting, and easy read I needed to unwind after an aggravating 16-hour work day.  (It did, however, keep me up at night, snorting and giggling, much to my wife's deep sadness.)

Told in the alternating viewpoints of Sophie Marsden Wallace, an 'actress' and courtesan, and Harry Bishop, an upstanding and well-mannered steward for a Viscount, this novel manages to be romantic and hilarious in equal part.  (In some places, it's practically slapstick.)  Not only did I love Sophie and Harry, who are the unlikeliest-yet-most-lovely romantic pairing I've seen in a while, I adored literally every other character in this book.  On the surface, the characters seem a bit predictable -- rakish Viscount, lovely ward, rapacious stage manager father -- and yet, Mullany gives each character enough of a twist to make them surprising, interesting, and fun. 

A perfect summertime read for anyone who wants to giggle a great deal and sigh happily and escape the humdrum for a few hours.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!  I so loved this book I'm buying a copy to send to one lucky reader!  Leave a comment with an email address to be entered.  Open to US/international readers (if Book Depository ships to you).  Closes 7/8.  Come back on Wed, 6/22 for an interview with Janet Mullany and a chance for another entry!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

Title: Room
Author: Emma Donoghue

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary)
Publisher/Publication Date: Little, Brown and Company (9/13/2010)
Source: My public library

Rating: Liked, much to my surprise!
Did I finish?: Yes, in very nearly record time (three hours).
One-sentence summary: Five-year old Jack recounts life in 'Room', a 12 by 12 shed where he is imprisoned with his mother.
Reading Challenges: British Books 

Do I like the cover?: Yes, although it sort of has a Bad Seed/murderous child feel to it; I vastly prefer the Picador paperback version.


First line: Today I'm five.

Did... I slightly go nuts with toddler overload near the start of the novel?: YES.  Jack's a very toddler-y toddler and for about two minutes, I thought I wouldn't be able to finish the novel, I was so aggravated with the kid!  (Good mom, I am not.)

Did... I often hold my breath during scenes because I was racing through them?: YES.  Some, out of horror (be over, be over!) and some because they were so exciting.

Did... I occasionally forget this book is set in the US?: Yes.  Weird little language things happened now and then that felt British rather than American, like the way Jack and Ma would say 'cunning'. 

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, depending on your fancy -- it's worth a read!

Why did I get this book?: My new book group selected it as their June read, so that prompted me to consider reading it -- but I was convinced after Emma Donoghue's reading in May.

Review: Confession: I was not planning to read Room.  Ever.  I'm a big weenie about violence toward women, and I'm pretty fastidious, so all the sort of earthy details about breastfeeding and poo and pee and giving birth in a shed would be, I was sure, just too much for me. 

But Room, while having such a disturbing premise (and unembarrassed mentions of bodily functions), was remarkably enjoyable.  (Am I totally warped for saying that?)

I'm not going to be able to say anything original about the plot nor the writing, so I won't try. And really, my reading of Room was very much shaped by what I'd heard about it, and what I heard Emma Donoghue say about it. I picked up the book knowing it wasn't going to be as monstrous as a rape thriller, and so I felt safe letting Donoghue take my hand into this horrific situation.

But I have to tell you -- I found the second half of the book more upsetting than the first. If you're going to read Room and the basic gist hasn't been spoiled for you, skip this paragraph now just in case.  While obviously the events in the first part of the book were shocking and horrifying and disturbing, I found I got more agitated at the second half, mostly at Ma's relatives.  I wanted to throttle her father and slap her mother at times; I hated her brother and his wife.  They seemed so callously oblivious!  

The novel ended with a hopeful note that I needed and while I'm still chewing over Jack and Ma (what will they be like in ten years?, etc.), I don't feel utterly traumatized or in need of brain bleach.  I'm not sure Room will be a reread for me the way Donoghue's other books are, but I'm glad I didn't wimp out on this one.  (Thanks, bookclub!)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Interview with Talia Carner

I recently finished Talia Carner's incredibly moving novel Jerusalem Maiden and so enjoyed it.  I'm excited to share my interview with Ms. Carner about this book and herself.  Please read on -- there's another chance to enter to win a copy of Jerusalem Maiden.

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

The very first time I sat down to write fiction in late 1993, I ended up with a 640-page manuscript. After much revising and honing the craft on this virgin effort, it turned out to be Matryoshka Girl, an unpublished novel (but still good IMHO) set in Russia after the fall of Communism. It deals with valiant Russian women’s struggling for economic independence against the mafia. I have since learned about myself that I don’t think in the short-fiction format but rather in multi-layered, elaborate story lines on large canvases featuring strong female protagonists against powerful, seemingly unbeatable antagonists.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

With my kids grown and emancipated, I resist most of life’s temptations (and sometimes responsibilities) and write, read, edit or research over ten hours each day—sometimes as much as sixteen. I wake up very early, and sit down at my desk. Other than making time almost daily for dance or exercise, I do not take off my computer glasses until dinner time (which, unless my husband prepares or we go out, I just skip.) I return to work after an evening with my husband or friends until well past midnight.

Was Jerusalem Maiden the original title of your book?

Yes. The title presented itself naturally due to the content and the challenge for the protagonist. However, it also fell right in place with the subtle “branding” of my novels. If you notice, Matryoshka Girl (unpublished,) Puppet Child, China Doll, Jerusalem Maiden (and now in-progress, Shadow Bride,) all have a vulnerable subject.

As you were writing Jerusalem Maiden, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Every twist and turn surprised me. As with my previous novels, I did not outline JERUSALEM MAIDEN, but rather let it flow from its own internal spring. Each scene presented itself as I often just closed my eyes and let my fingers transport the story from somewhere deep inside me. Like in a dream, I visualized the place and heard the characters speak. That said, the research was instrumental in directing the events, as were some casual remarks from acquaintances that, time and again, yanked the novel in new directions.

[PLOT SPOILERS: In researching my family’s history, I learned of a young man who had secretly studied music with a missionary then left Jerusalem to become a conductor in Budapest. My deep-seated reluctance to step inside a Christian church in Jerusalem one day sent Esther there. Esther’s nuptial switch was a complete surprise to me, but checking it with an historian, I learned that it was plausible. A Nobel Laureate cousin who was intrigued by my work asked me about Micrography, and an art historian friend mentioned Chaim Soutine. When Esther took off to Paris, it threw into havoc a lot of material I had written toward a totally different development; I had no choice but to pack a suitcase and follow her to Paris. And then, one day, as I looked up at the St. Sulpice church and saw the unfinished, uncarved stones on the right tower, it hit me. “Oh, my God, Pierre is up there!”]

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

Does answering e-mail and checking my Facebook page count? Dance, exercise, go to theater, watch home movies, clean (I’m somewhat obsessive,) board meetings and activism, the outdoors—beach or hiking in woods, read, keep in touch with a host of girl friends, and spend a lot of time with my family. I also travel overseas a couple of times a year.

Read any good books recently?

I truly enjoyed Joyce Carol Oats’ “My Sister, My Love.” Also, T.C. Boyle’s “The Tortilla Curtain,” (which I think offers a great book group discussion topic.)

*** *** ***

My thanks to Ms. Carner for her time!  Learn more about her and her books at her website or check out her Facebook page.

GIVEAWAY!  I'm thrilled to offer one reader a copy of Jerusalem Maiden.  Just leave a comment with your email address.  Open to US/CA readers, closes 7/1.  For another entry, be sure to comment on my review.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose

Title: The Hypnotist
Author: M.J. Rose

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Historical / Paranormal)
Publisher/Publication Date: Mira (4/19/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: Yes.
One-sentence summary: A statue with immense possibilities is the catalyst for theft, murder, revenge, hope, and love.
Reading Challenges: E-books

Do I like the cover?: Eh -- it's got that ambigu-thriller thing going on but I would have liked something that referenced the iconic elements of the novel.

I'm reminded of...: Paulo Coelho, Michael Crichton

First line: Time played tricks on him whenever he stood in front of the easel.

Did... I easily get into this book despite it being the third in the series?: YES. The common thread is the search for historical items to enable easy access to one's past lives, and Rose references events from the previous two novels well enough that I didn't feel lost in the slightest.

Did... I totally desperately want to see the art and exhibits Rose describes?: YES. She has a lovely way of conveying art, even pieces unfamiliar to me, in a way I felt I could 'see' what the characters were seeing.

Is... M.J. Rose's blog a totally fascinating time suck?: YES.  One visit, and I was hooked.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow.

Why did I get this book?: Reincarnation + art!

Review: This, to me, was a perfect summertime escapist read: exciting settings, a large cast of easy to remember characters, some improbable plot twists, and a bit of romance.  Set (mostly) in New York City, the story follows a number of characters including Lucian, an agent with the FBI's Art Crime Team who witnessed his girlfriend's murder twenty years ago; Emeline, a young woman who may or may not be a reincarnation of that girlfriend; Samimi, an Iranian man tasked with recovering (or stealing) a sculpture of immense importance; and Dr. Malachai Samuels, a past-life researcher desperate to locate 'Memory Tools', artifacts thought to assist in accessing past life memories.

Although this is the third book in M.J. Rose's Reincarnationist series, I had no problem getting into the story and understanding the plot and premise.  The story moves at a very brisk pace and I could easily race through  the chapters; the characters are pretty notable; and the reincarnation element was a great twist on the standard crime thriller.  There were a lot of coincidences I usually hate in these types of thrillers, but given that the characters are connected by their past lives, I was willing to forgive that to see where the story would go.

I do have to confess, however, I was disappointed that among the major criminal factions in the novel were Iranian Muslims.  Given the Islamophobia in the US, I find it dangerous to feature Muslims as criminals (and worse, pointedly as 'terrorists' at one point) and it ultimately took away some of my enjoyment of the story.  (I rather wish Rose had invented a country to feature as the historical home of the sought-after statue, perhaps.)

My quibble aside, in the end this was the kind of novel I can understand being described as a 'romp': it's just straight-up fun.  For folks in the market for an entertaining series to become addicted to, this might be it.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!  M.J. Rose has generously offered to giveaway a copy of The Hypnotist, either paperback or e-book, to one lucky reader!  US/CA readers can win either the paperback or e-book; international readers can win the e-book.  To enter, simply comment with your email address and your choice of book format.  Ends July 8th.  

Sunday, June 12, 2011

In My Mailbox Monday, June 12

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

For Review



Miss Timmins' School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy

Purchased




Breath and Bones by Susann Cokal
The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel
Rain Village by Carolyn Turgeon
Drood by Dan Simmons

Winners!

Two giveaways ended on Friday and I've got the winners!

The winner of Queen by Right is ... Debbie of Author Debra Brown!

The winner of Don't Breathe a Word is ... Jessie of .bibliophile. .anonymous.!



Congrats to the winners!  I still have a few open giveaways if you didn't win -- and one opening on tomorrow!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Guest post on Nautical Fiction and mobile view

Inspired by Captain Wentworth's Boating Party, a Persusasion-themed event at vvb32reads, I wrote up a guest post on nautical fiction and my favorite boat-ish books.  I hope you'll stop by and tell me what you think!

Second, I've gone mobile!  (Mobile-view, technically.)  For those of you with smartphones and QR code readers, I present: 
Folks with Blogger blogs can activate mobile view by going to Settings > Email & Mobile and selecting 'Yes' for mobile view.  Smartphone owners can use apps like Google Goggles to read QR codes. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Q&A with Evan Fallenberg

I finished Evan Fallenberg's When We Danced on Water nearly a month ago, but I still can't stop thinking about it!  (It was seriously that good.)  I'm so excited to share my interview with Mr. Fallenberg.  Read on -- I hope it piques your interest in his beautiful book.

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

Two early pieces that I wrote and never completed to my satisfaction dealt with the tug between a religious lifestyle and an impossible love. Apparently, I got that out of my system when I finally found the story that suited it, that story eventually became my first novel, Light Fell.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I like to write in the wee, dark hours of the morning, when the house is quiet and my brain feels least cluttered and most focused. On occasion, when I’m facing a major revision, I’ll leave home for a few days; my favorite getaway is the guest house at Kibbutz Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea. I can be blissfully alone there, but when I need a break the kibbutz boasts a sumptuous garden that is an absolute feast for the senses.

Was When We Danced on Water the original title of your book?

No, the working title for the book was Beautiful Obsession, which sounded to too many people like a bodice ripper. My editor at HarperCollins came up with the eventual title, which is an alteration of a line from the novel. I’m thrilled that the feedback on the title has been positive, but being a rather literal person I still think my original title describes the book most effectively. Maybe I’ll use it one day, if I ever feel the need to write a bodice ripper.

As you were writing When We Danced on Water, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

There were lots of surprises while writing, even though I knew the whole story before I began to write. Most notably, Vivi changed professions (and names) a number of times and Teo changed sexuality. Well, that’s not entirely true: apparently he was always straight, I’d simply misread him. I had assumed (without thinking about it too much) that he was gay, but on a transatlantic flight it suddenly dawned on me that he was straight, and that knowledge brought about a serious rewrite and lots of new insights and plot changes.

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

When I’m not writing I try to look after my body and soul by taking long walks to the beach or doing exercise classes and spending time with family and friends. When you are self-employed and you work in front of a computer I believe you need to build coffee dates and exercise into your daily routine, or you will be a crazy, antisocial, unhealthy, miserable person!

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My thanks to Mr. Fallenberg for his time.  Learn more about him and his work at his website.  Check out my review of When We Danced on Water and for more reviews, visit the other blogs on the book tour.

Winner of When We Danced on Water

Very belatedly, the winner of When We Danced on Water is...

Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit!

Congrats!  Later today, I'll be sharing my interview with the author, Evan Fallenberg. 

As always, I have many giveaways still open if you didn't win anything.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Q&A with Mirella Sichirollo Patzer

I'm very excited to share my Q&A with author Mirella Sichirollo Patzer.  I'm a fan of her wonderful blog, History and Women, and I just loved her historical novel, The Blighted Troth.  Read on to learn more about this book and Ms. Patzer -- and don't forget to leave a comment to win a copy of The Blighted Troth!

Was The Blighted Troth the original title of your book?

The basic plot of The Blighted Troth is borrowed from the Italian classic novel, The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi) by Alessandro Manzoni who wrote the story in 1863. In searching for a title, I wanted to ensure it was unique and had some spark to it. Coming up with a title is never easy and I just couldn’t seem to find the right title, one that I would love and that has never been used before. After several weeks, it came to me in the middle of the night and I thought it was the perfect fit.

The Blighted Troth has such a wonderful setting: early 18th century New France. Why did you choose to set your story there?

There are so many historical novels about England and the United States that I wanted to show the world that Canada too, has a fascinating history. I live in western Canada where our towns and cities aren’t any older than the 1880’s. So when I travelled east to visit Quebec City where its history went as far back as the 1500’s, I was truly enchanted. I fell in love with the antiquity, quaintness, and history of Quebec City and wanted to write about its exciting history and the adversity settlers faced, such as the seigneurial system and small pox epidemics. Truly fascinating.

As you were writing The Blighted Troth, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Absolutely! La Bonne Soeur, also known as Emmanuelle, was meant to be a very minor character whose only role was to interview Emilie prior to permitting her entry into the convent. However, she took on a life of her own and a fascinating subplot soon came alive in my mind. It was as if she was shouting at me. The underlying theme of the novel is all about forgiveness and Emmanuelle was developed to represent our human frailties. We all make mistakes, some more horrendous than others. Sometimes these are caused by circumstances in our lives and sometimes by choice. For Emmanuelle, it was both. A victim of circumstance herself, Emmanuelle made mistakes in order to evade horrors in her life. Her mistakes brought great suffering to her and those she loved, changing their lives forever. Through Emmanuelle, we learn to face the consequences of our errors, learn from them, and more importantly, forgive ourselves and others. She came to represent the worst and the best of us. I have to admit, she is my favourite character I have ever written.

According to your website, you have three other books underway. Can you tell us about them?

I am currently working on two more novels.

The first is The Prophetic Queen, a biographical novel, written in first person narrative, about Queen Mathilda, the mother of Otto the Great, who lived and reined in the 10th century and has been canonized a saint. This is my most challenging work to date – an epic that spans more than 60 years. This novel is 2/3rds complete and may be published as two novels due to its length.

The second novel is Orphan of the Olive Tree and takes place in 13th century Tuscany. It is a family saga and a story about a child who was abandoned by her mother at birth and left in an olive tree outside an abbey. The story has a twist and turn to every chapter and plenty of Italian folklore and superstition. I have ten chapters left to write and I hope to release it sometime in 2012.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

Routine is the biggest obstacle for my writing career and the question I ask most to fellow authors in the hopes I can follow their example. Routine is nearly impossible for me this stage of my life. Not only do I keep an eye on my elderly parents who need help with errands, medical appointments, groceries, and a whole lot more, but I also care for my 5 year old grandson on a full time basis while my daughter works her way through law school. In addition, I own two blogs and two critique groups. All demand my time and attention. Hence, my struggles with routine.

In desperation, I have had to learn some tricks and train myself to write under impossible circumstances. I love my Alphasmart Neo and throw that in my purse when I take my grandson to playgrounds. I have been known to write with it in my car when I’m waiting to pick my grandson up from preschool, at the kitchen table, in front of a blaring television set, at Starbucks, in a crowded mall, and even at a skating rink. I also drag my Asus netbook around the house so that I can do my email, write a blog post, do a critique or two for my writing partners, or write a book review when my grandson’s in the bath, or back yard, or playing a Wii game. I It’s rare for me to be able to write more than one paragraph without an interruption. long for the day when I can rise at 8:00 and work uninterrupted until 3:00.

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

I love to read! I’m a very non-materialistic person, so it doesn’t take much to make me happy. I also love being at home. After many years in a hectic career with a large staff and too many responsibilities, I crave simplicity and tranquility. So books have become my obsession. I have two full bookshelves and hundreds loaded on my Sony Reader and Kindle app on my iPhone. I know I’ll never read them all, but I love having them all the same. I seem to add to my collection at a faster rate than I’ll ever be able to read them. I also love to cook traditional Italian recipes, walk, and crochet.

Read any good books recently?

Far too many to list, but a few stand out in my mind. I loved The Bells by Richard Harvell. It is definitely an all time favourite. House of Scorta by Laurent Guade is unputdownable. And I closely follow the works of Anita Davison, Lisa Yarde, and Anne Whitfield because I respect them so much. They are brilliant authors whose careers are heating up and definitely ones to watch. All the novels and writers I mentioned here write books have interesting settings, filled with plenty of odd and unusual circumstances, and have tons of twists and turns. One of my favourite historical fiction authors is Jeanne Kalogridis. She is my role model and I aspire to her greatness.

Thanks so very much for inviting me to your blog, Audra. I always enjoy reading your review and interview with other authors, so I’m especially honoured to be here.

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My thanks to Ms. Patzer for her time and her very kind words!

Giveaway!  The author has generously offered an amazing giveaway for my readers: one signed paperback copy of The Blighted Troth and three e-book copies (in the format of your choice)!  All four prizes are available for US and international readers!  To enter, please leave a comment indicating which version you'd like (paperback, e-book, or either) and an email address.  Ends 6/24, open to US and international readers.  For another entry, be sure to comment on my review.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Q&A with Jennifer McMahon

I recently read Don't Breathe a Word, which might get the prize for creepiest book read in 2011 so far! It was great -- a perfect summer read. I'm thrilled to share my Q&A with the author, Jennifer McMahon. See the bottom for another chance to win a copy of Don't Breathe a Word.

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

I wrote my first short story in third grade, "The Haunted Meatball." I'm hazy on the details, but the meatball rolled off the table, and chased someone, probably seeking revenge. It may have glowed green (to indicate how haunted it was, of course!) In it, I took an everyday object and did my best to make it as creepy as I could. In some ways, I guess my writing has come full circle! What I remember most about that first story was this feeling of absolute magic -- I had created a world in which I could make anything happen. That sense of magic is still with me every time I sit down to begin a new book.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

With a young child, I write where I can, and when I can. I was pregnant when I started working with my agent, and she was nearly two years old when I signed the contract for Promise Not to Tell -- she just turned seven, so the where and when have definitely evolved over time! I have an office at home, but I carry my laptop all over the house to work -- the living room couch, kitchen table, porch, even the hammock. Sometimes if I'm stuck with a scene, just changing my own physical location will help. I bring my laptop to ballet lessons, ice skating lessons, etc. Sometimes even if I'm kid-free, I'll head out to a cafe to write for a while. My head is clearest in the morning, so that's usually when the writing flows the best. My only ritual is more of a habit -- coffee, and lots of it!

Was Don't Breathe a Word the original title of your book?

It didn't have a title when I was working on it. I just called it "The Fairy Book". I actually have a horrible time coming up with titles that stick. Promise Not to Tell was Potato Girl, Island of Lost Girls started out as Rabbit Island. Now I don't put much energy into a proper title while writing, knowing we'll figure it out when the time comes.

As you were writing Don't Breathe a Word, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Evie was full of surprises. I honestly didn't know what was going on with her for awhile -- did she truly have Lisa's best interests at heart, or was she up to something? Also, the Fairy King. When I was writing the first draft, I didn't really know who he was -- was he real? A figment of people's imagination? As I worked on the book, he got scarier and scarier to me, to the point where I was sure I could feel him behind me in a dark corner, watching while I typed. I guess it's a good sign that I creeped myself out with my own writing!

Read any good books recently?

I'm reading Room by Emma Donoghue now. I'm really loving it, but it is a difficult read for me -- very intense. After this, I'm planning to re-read a some classic horror: Frankenstein, Island of Dr Moreau, Dracula, things like that.

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My thanks to Ms. McMahon for her time!

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.  For another entry, comment on my review!