Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books Read in 2011

January

Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith, The Dragonfly Effect
Susanna Fraser, The Sergeant's Lady
Matthew Gallaway, The Metropolis Case
Sadie Jones, Small Wars

February

Ida Lichter, Muslim Women Reformers
Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay

March

Camilla Gibb, The Beauty of Humanity Movement 
Valerie Laken, Separate Kingdoms
Michael David Lukas, The Oracle of Stamboul
M.L. Malcolm, Heart of Lies: A Novel
Tara L. Masih, Where The Dog Star Never Glows
Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, Kiss Her Goodbye
Danielle Trussoni, Angelology

April

Isabel Allende, Ines of My Soul
Apex Magazine, January 2011 (Issue 20)
Lauren Belfer, A Fierce Radiance
India Drummond, Ordinary Angels
M.L. Malcolm, Heart of Deception: A Novel
Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72
Sandra Worth, Pale Rose of England

May

Sarah Addison Allen, The Peach Keeper
Rosalind Brackenbury, Becoming George Sand
Stephanie Dray, Lily of the Nile
Evan Fallenberg, When We Danced on Water
Sally Gunning, The Rebellion of Jane Clarke
Jennifer McMahon, Don't Breathe a Word
Mirella Sichirollo Patzer, The Blighted Troth
Jennie Shortridge, ed., Hotel Angeline
Anne Easter Smith, Queen By Right

June

Jennifer Belle, The Seven Year Bitch
Talia Carner, Jerusalem Maiden
Emma Donoghue, Room
Ellen Feldman, Next to Love
Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd
Janet Mullany, Mr Bishop and the Actress
Camille Noe Pagán, The Art of Forgetting
M.J. Rose, The Hypnotist
Strand Magazine, February-May 2011 (Issue XXXIII)

July

Lynn Cullen, Reign of Madness
Nayana Currimbhoy, Miss Timmins' School for Girls
Keith Donohue, Centuries of June
Daisy Goodwin, The American Heiress
Noelle Hancock, My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir
Karleen Koen, Before Versailles
Ben Loory, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day 
Melanie McDonald, Eromenos
Kamala Nair, The Girl in the Garden
Nancy Rappaport, In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother's Suicide
Jonathan Santlofer, L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories
Ellen Sussman, French Lessons
Simon Van Booy, Everything Beautiful Began After
Jenny Wingfield, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

August

Alexandra Fuller, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness
Simon Garfield, Just My Type
Juliet Grey, Becoming Marie Antoinette
Lev Grossman, The Magician King
Lev Grossman, The Magicians
Lisa Grunwald, The Irresistible Henry House
Deborah Lawrenson, The Lantern
David Liss, The Twelfth Enchantment
Carlo Lucarelli, Carte Blanche
Evan Mandery, Q: A Novel
John McWhorter, What Language Is
Julie Salamon, Wendy and the Lost Boys
Nicola Upson, Two for Sorrow

September

Michael Alenyikov, Ivan and Misha
Sara Blædel, Call Me Princess
Keith Cronin, Me Again
Isak Dinesen, Winter's Tales
Alma Katsu, The Taker
Joan Leegant, Wherever You Go
David Lodge, A Man of Parts
Rosanne E. Lortz, Road from the West
Eliot Pattison, Ashes of the Earth
Caroline Taggart, Does a Bear Sh*t in the Woods?
Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones
Katherine Webb, The Legacy

October

Donia Bijan, Maman’s Homesick Pie
Leslie Brody, Irrepressible
A.S. Byatt, Ragnarok: The End of the Gods
Carol K. Carr, India Black and the Widow of Windsor
Trevor Cole, Practical Jean
Stephanie Dray, Song of the Nile
Susana Fortes, Waiting for Robert Capa
Karl Friedrich, Wings
D.E. Johnson, Detroit Electric Scheme
D.E. Johnson, Motor City Shakedown
David McRaney, You Are Not So Smart
Sharon Kay Penman, Lionheart
David Rocklin, The Luminist

November

Meira Chand, A Different Sky
Daphne du Maurier, The Doll: The Lost Short Stories
David Finkle, People Tell Me Things
Kersten Hamilton, In the Forests of the Night
Stephen King, Lisey's Story
Caroline Moorehead, A Train in Winter
Laurel Ann Nattress, editor, Jane Austen Made Me Do It
Matt Rees, Mozart's Last Aria
Peter Sis, The Conference of Birds
Seth Steinzor, To Join the Lost
Ann Weisgarber, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

December

Jennifer Adams, Little Master Shakespeare
Jennifer Adams, Little Miss Austen
Karin Altenberg, Island of Wings
Katherine Govier, The Printmaker's Daughter
Duncan Jepson, All the Flowers in Shanghai
Edna O'Brien, James Joyce: A Life
Jane Smiley, Charles Dickens: A Life

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Reads and I'm all messed up...

I'm operating on vacation time, which means I've no idea what day of the week it is, what the date is, and I can barely keep track of time (East Coast vs West coast because I've only changed half the clocks in my life). But I'm having a fabulous time! My vacation plans got all changed once my wife and I reached San Francisco -- my brother and his wife decided to join us for these two weeks, so we scrapped some of LA and will be hitting other towns instead. I love trips like this, and I'm thrilled to spend time with my brother and his awesome wife and adorable children.

My FridayReads is The Imaginary Emperor: A Tale of Old San Francisco by Steve Bartholomew, a historical novel inspired by the man who, in real life, declared himself emperor in 1859.  Isn't that just so California?

Happy New Year's to everyone.  We'll be celebrating quietly this weekend as my wife  will be running a half marathon on New Year's day.  What a crazy woman!  I plan to cheer as she takes off then settle in with a book!

What are you reading this Friday?  Any ambitious New Year's plans?


Historical Fiction Challenge 2012

Last year, my most successful reading challenge was Historical Tapestry's Historical Fiction reading challenge. My goal was 20 books and I read 44 books. Go me! This year, I plan to do the same.

Read

Anita Amirrezvani, Equal of the Sun
Ellis Avery, The Last Nude
Anne Clinard Barnhill, At the Mercy of the Queen
April Bernard, Miss Fuller
Nancy Bilyeau, The Crown
Jesse Blackadder, The Raven's Heart
Christine Blevins, The Turning of Anne Merrick 
Michael Boccacino, Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling
D.L. Bogdan, The Sumerton Women
DeAnna Cameron, Dancing at the Chance
Clare Clark, Beautiful Lies
Angela Davis-Gardner, Butterfly’s Child
Jill Dawson, Lucky Bunny
Debra Dean, The Mirrored World
Tan Twang Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists
Jennie Fields, The Age of Desire
Nicole Galland, I, Iago
Francine du Plessix Gray, The Queen’s Lover
Jennifer Haigh, Baker Towers 
Karen Harper, Mistress of Mourning
Jane Harris, Gillespie and I
Kathryn Harrison, Enchantments
Rashad Harrison, Our Man in the Dark
Victoria Hislop, The Thread
Bruce Holbert, Lonesome Animals
D. B. Jackson, Thieftaker
Sarah Jio, Blackberry Winter
David John, Flight From Berlin 
Suzanne Joinson, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar
Sadie Jones, The Uninvited Guests
Sheila Kohler, The Bay of Foxes
Giles Kristian, Blood Eye (Raven, Book 1)
Janice Law, Fires of London
David LeRoy, The Siren of Paris
Lois Leveen, The Secrets of Mary Bowser
Margot Livesey, The Flight of Gemma Hardy
Elizabeth Loupas, The Flower Reader
Susan Elia MacNeal, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary
Susan Elia MacNeal, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy
Anouk Markovits, I Am Forbidden
Robin Maxwell, Jane
Sarah McCoy, The Baker’s Daughter
Ami McKay, The Virgin Cure 
Kristina McMorris, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves
Donna Russo Morin, The King's Agent
Timothy L. O'Brien, The Lincoln Conspiracy
Maryanne O'Hara, Cascade
Matthew Pearl, The Technologists 
Sophie Perinot, The Sister Queens
Rachael Pruitt, The Dragon's Harp
Lev Raphael, Rosedale the Vampyre
Julie K. Rose, Oleanna
M.J. Rose, The Book of Lost Fragrances
Mary Sharratt, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen
Deborah Swift, The Gilded Lily
V.E. Ulett, Captain Blackwell’s Prize
K. Hollan Van Zandt, Written In the Ashes
Katherine Webb, The Unseen
Steve Wiegenstein, Slant of Light
Lauren Willig, The Garden Intrigue
Jacqueline Winspear, The Mapping of Love and Death
Mingmei Yip, Skeleton Women
Louisa Young, My Dear I Wanted To Tell You

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg

Title: Island of Wings
Author: Karin Altenberg

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1830s / Rural Scotland / Marriage / Isolation / Motherhood)
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin Paperback Original (12/27/2011)
Source: The publisher

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: A Scottish missionary's wife learns about the savage cruelty of men and nature when she lives on a remote island off Scotland in the mid-19th century.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do as it captures the really gorgeous aspects of the novel -- the staggering landscape and the mystery of new arrivals.

I'm reminded of...: Sadie Jones, David Rocklin

First line: The young woman rose from her berth almost before she heard the knock on the cabin door.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is a quiet but intense, almost adventurous historical novel that moves and entertains.

Why did I get this book?: 1830s + missionary's wife + isolated locale = win!

Review: A very cool, restrained book, this historical novel is set on St. Kilda, an island that is the furthest part of the British Isles. Beginning in 1830, the story follows Lizzie and her husband, missionary Rev. Neil MacKenzie, as they move from urban Scotland to the isolated, rocky, backwards island.

In some ways, the novel's arc is unsurprising -- the proper British couple is first charmed, then horrified, by the savage land -- but Altenberg's writing is controlled and captivating, and the development of Lizzie and Neil is surprising and familiar in a way that satisfies. I was strongly reminded of Jane Campion movies (like The Piano) in this novel: the focus on women, the impact of men on their lives, and a harsh and unforgiving world (both literally and emotionally).

There's a kind of historical mystery to the story, too, in the background, that Altenberg fully explains in her Notes. Altenberg's background is in archaeology, which comes out in the novel's almost naturalistic style of narrative, which fits the story: it has that kind of clinical feel of 19th century amateur scientists. The formal, controlled language, of course, does nothing to control, prevent, or manage the more 'earthy' events that occur, and it is that clash of aspiration and reality that provokes and changes Lizzie.

This is a sad novel, but not miserable, moving, with slightly unlikable characters. I felt affection and aggravation at Lizzie, some empathy and irritation toward her husband, Neil, and their marriage was one I rooted for and wished would end. They were, in short, real people, complicated and full, and their story and that of St. Kilda's is one that is moving, engrossing, and atmospheric. An unexpectedly rich novel for the end of my year.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

Thanks to the publisher, I can offer THREE copies of Island of Wings to three lucky winners! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 1/8.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hitting the road once more!

by Kerne Erickson
Happy winter holidays, for those who celebrate! Today my wife and I are off on two week holiday on the west coast! We'll be visiting my brother and his wife, my darling niece and my brand new nephew! (Baby squishing, here I come!) We'll also be road-tripping along the Pacific Coast Highway, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and everything in between. As always, food and literature will be the cornerstone of our trip, from Hammett to Chandler to Steinbeck to Twain (I got a tip that Twain had a cabin out that part of the world!).

Our tentative reading/audiobook list includes:

The Imaginary Emperor: A Tale of Old San Francisco by Steve Bartholomew
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (audiobook/performance with Michael Madsen and Sandra Oh, yum!)
Nightmare Town: Stories by Dashiell Hammett
The Colorado Kid by Stephen King (my wife is getting bold since I so enjoyed Lisey's Story!)
Selected Readings from the Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

I apologize now for not blog-visiting during these two weeks. I'm hoping to do some updating while on the road and share my geek girl squee-age (check out my Twitter for the 'live' coverage). I've scheduled my 2012 reading challenge posts for this week, so sorry about that spam. Real content to recommence when I return (plus, pic spam, I'm sure). I get email via my phone so do comment here and let me know how your holidays went and what plans you have, if any, for the New Year. (Gloating about book gifts received and lazy reading days encouraged!)

Happy New Year's, friends!

Mailbox Monday, December 26

Seen both at Mailbox Monday -- hosted in December at Let Them Read Books -- and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox -- on a Monday, for once!  You might be shocked to see I received no books as gifts -- my family thinks I have too many books and got me other things for Christmas!   But that's okay, because I did get some incredible books this week -- including the most darling package of books from Christine Blevins and a gift bag of Penguin Classics from the Harvard Book Store.  Happy holidays to me! ;)  Have you read any of these?  What did you get?



For Review




Lizard World by Terry Richard Bazes
Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins
The Tory Widow by Christine Blevins
Graveminder by Melissa Marr

Won




Emma by Jane Austen
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Winners!

Two winners this week!

The winner of People Tell Me Things is ... Pearl!

The winner of The Printmaker's Daughter is ... Jackleen!

Congrats to the winners! I've got one open giveaway and more coming this week.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Reads and I'm making a list...

Vacation, finally! Or, in a few hours: I'm off this afternoon and then my whirlwind weekend begins. My wife's family celebrates Christmas, so we'll be spending some time with them, and in between that, I'm cleaning house and washing laundry in anticipation of our winter vacation! And because I can't stop myself, and since I had such fun with my top ten reads of 2011, I'm making a list of my favorite author interviews of 2011, too (plus, there are some interviews that still make me smile! Why keep that to myself?).

Despite the craziness, or because of, I'm still curling up with a book this weekend. My FridayReads is Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg which has this cold moody thing that doesn't quite match Boston right now (again, we're back in the 60s -- what's up, Mother Nature?!). Still, it has this moody ambiance which reminds me a bit of San Francisco (fog, mostly, but whatever), and since I'm heading to the Bay Area in a few days, it felt vaguely appropriate!

What are you reading this weekend? For those of you who celebrate winter holidays, blessings and happy wishes to you and yours!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Top 10 of 2011

I was pretty pleased with myself in 2010, having doubled my reading from 2009, but this year takes the cake. I hit my goal of reading 100 books (in fact, as of today, I've read 109!).

Despite the increased reads, however, I had much harder time picking my top ten reads for this year. I enjoyed the majority of the books I read and only a few stood out to me as very clear winners for top ten.

Rating books is still a challenge: last year I scored out of five, but I gave that up as it felt sort of arbitrary. This year I switched to ranking things as liked and loved (or hated). Still, something is flawed: in total, I 'loved' 21 books this year, but weirdly enough, only six of them made my top ten. For me, a top ten is not just books that I enjoyed in the moment, but books I can't stop chewing over and thinking about and most importantly, pushing on my friends. They're books I want to reread.

This year, six of the writers on this list are male, as opposed to last year, when I read seven male authors for the whole year. (This year, I read thirty-two books written by men.)   The list is mostly fiction -- four historical novels, two short story collections -- but there is one piece of non-fiction.  One is self-published!  And eight of these books I've subsequently purchased for someone in my life.

Tell me about your top tens and what you think of this list -- and clue me in to anything I should read in 2012!

Unabridged Chick's Top Ten Reads of 2011

Michael Alenyikov, Ivan and Misha

This collection of interconnected short stories has everything I want in a book: characters who feel real, writing that makes me jubilant, and an emotional journey that moves me by the end.  I never expected Russian emigres in New York City to do that, but there you go.


Lynn Cullen, Reign of Madness

Famously making me miss my train stop on numerous occasions, this historical novel just gripped me from the first page.  While I'm not always a fan of royalty-centered historical fiction, Cullen made Juana and her story real for me.  There is royal intrigue (and for those who love Tudor-fic, there is some tangential connection!) and some sex, but the real story is Juana's development -- and eventual imprisonment.  One of my favorite heroines of the year, hands down.


Evan Fallenberg, When We Danced on Water

I liked this book a good deal upon finishing it, but as time has gone on, I've not stopped mulling over the story and characters.  I've gone from like to love as the story ages in my mind, and at least four times this year I picked this book up again, revisiting the language and story.  The unusual main characters -- an 85-year old retired ballet dancer and a 40-ish waitress -- haunt me still.

Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd

Wins for best-named heroine of the year, I think.  It took me almost six months to read but that was my fault, not the book's: I kept delaying finishing it.  Satisfyingly over-the-top dramatic, this book wins for most elaborate love entanglement, plus most livestock deaths of the year (honestly, sheep, it's a miracle you live).  I got my copy via Project Gutenberg, hence the lack of pretty cover image.


Stephen King, Lisey’s Story

Thanks to my wife, this was my first King novel in over a decade, and I was stunned at how much I enjoyed it.  Lisey's story (ha!) immediately gripped me, and I was touched by King's articulation of an intense but loving marriage.  Creepy -- with one out-and-out horrifying moment -- this is more a fantastical book than a scary one, and I can't stop recommending it.


David Lodge, A Man of Parts

I still get cringe-y and stomach ache-y when I think of this book, and that's how I know it had to be in my top ten.  This book was great -- well-written, vibrantly characterized, dramatic, sexy, and deeply provoking -- and it pushed my buttons, made me emotional, and caused me to step back and consider my prejudices, knee-jerk reactions, and values.  I had no idea H.G. Wells was so interesting!

Tara L. Masih, Where the Dog Star Never Glows

Upon finishing this book, I declared (in March) that this would be a top ten read for 2011 and unsurprisingly, it's still on the list.  This collection of short stories captivated me -- it's the kind of book I want to put in everyone's hands.  Seriously, if I could afford to buy everyone a copy, I would!  Short story fan or not, consider this collection, because anyone who loves a suck-in-your-breath moment will find it in spades here. 


Mirella Sichirollo Patzer, The Blighted Troth

I love historical novels with unique settings, and this one -- 1700s and the St. Lawrence River-area in New France -- grabbed me immediately.  Although a contemporary novel, this reads like a delicious 18th century Gothic -- shades of Matthew Lewis and Ann Radcliffe -- and I loved every page.  It's got every awesome element of a Gothic, too: wicked villains, virtuous heroines, mysterious nuns, a reformed ruffian, and much gallivanting across the countryside.

Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden

I love my e-reader with my whole body and I'm not one of those book bloggers who gets all bent out of shape about e-books. However, this book is the kind of book that must be experienced viscerally, in person, as the physical edition is as delicious as the content within.  Peacock's biography of the woman who invented collage isn't a twee story about a crafty woman, but a sharp look at vocation, artistic temperament, creativity, love, marriage, passion, and everything in between.  The physical book is perfectly sized for reading, holding, lingering, marveling, and the full color plates don't hurt, either.


Simon Van Booy, Everything Beautiful Began After

If this book had been around when I was in college, I'm pretty sure I would have tried to crawl in to it and embody it.  The writing is dreamy and poetic, reminding me of Lawrence Durrell, and the story twisting and painful and romantic  The unique and varied writing style is what saved this story from being trite, overwrought, or excessive: from a stint in second person to a one-sided correspondence, Van Booy plays with language and narrative in a way that captivated me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson

Title: All the Flowers in Shanghai
Author: Duncan Jepson

Genre: Fiction (Historical / China / 1930s / Mothers and Daughters / Arranged Marriage / Coming of Age)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (12/20/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did -- this reads very quickly.
One-sentence summary: A young woman in 1930s Shanghai is transformed by her marriage and the changing political landscape of China.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I'm not wild about the cartoon-y Chinese woman, even though it has a vintage-y look. However, the physical cover is gorgeous -- the paper is heavily textured, with embossing of the border and lettering. Plus French flaps and deckle edges, yum!

I'm reminded of...: Philippa Gregory, Sidney Sheldon

First line: I still know your face.

Do... I hate the use of Papyrus font for the chapter headings?: YES. Not only is it a bit cheesy, but it doesn't fit the story, the era, or the locale. There's no reason for it. I'm glad, I guess, that they didn't use a 'Chinese'-inspired font.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you're in the mood for some tawdry escapism.

Why did I get this book?: Having so enjoyed A Different Sky, which was set in 1930s Singapore, I was immediately drawn to this story.

Review: I'm sort of baffled about this book. A historical novel set in 1930s Shanghai, the story follows Feng, a naive and excessively innocent woman forced into an arranged marriage with a powerful family. The resulting marriage twists her in to a different kind of woman, and we follow her transformation through the '40s and the Chinese Revolution.

This rich historical setting felt like a total waste as the novel is really about Feng's sexual education and the way her marriage warps her, causing her to become as cruel as those around her. I went through this spate of reading in middle school and high school, Lifetime Movie-esque novels featuring wronged women who wrought their revenge with sex, usually. Anti-romances, they featured lots of tawdriness and little love, and they were delicious, warped garbage. This reminds me of those kinds of books -- Sidney Sheldon, Wideacre-ish Philippa Gregory, Danielle Steele -- and if you're in the mood for that kind of novel, this will satisfy.

Unfortunately, I wasn't expecting it, so I was a bit disappointed -- I was thinking I'd get something meatier. It's not Jepson's fault I had something different in mind, though. His writing style is very easy, fast (I read this book in a few hours), and the characters fairly easy to know -- nothing super nuanced -- but a good old-fashioned salacious family saga. If the holidays are killing you, and you want some fiction that has the same nutritional value as eggnog, but tastes just as good, then this is the book for you!

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to give away a copy of All the Flowers in Shanghai to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, closes 1/8.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lisey's Story by Stephen King

Title: Lisey's Story
Author: Stephen King

Genre: Fiction (Marriage / Loss / Writer on Writing / Supernatural / Sisters)
Publisher/Publication Date: Pocket (6/19/2007)
Source: Personal copy.

Rating: Loved!
Did I finish?: Yes, although I put off finishing it for about three weeks because I wasn't ready for it to end!
One-sentence summary: Lisey Landon, widow of famous author Scott Landon, finds herself the focus of a deranged fan.
Reading Challenges: R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VI

Do I like the cover?: I do -- the shovel is a huge motif in the story, but the wintry background doesn't quite fit (I think).

I'm reminded of...: Laura Lippman, Jennifer McMahon

First line: To the public eye, the spouses of well-known writers are all but invisible, and no one knew it better than Lisey Landon.

Did...I squeal when I caught two Lisey's Story references in the AMC miniseries of Bag of Bones?: YES. for once, I got the inside joke!

Did...I actually put off finishing this book for something like a month because I wasn't ready for it to be over?: YES. Normally I can't stop racing to finish but in this case, I was reluctant to leave Lisey and Scott.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow -- this is a fast, engrossing read.

Why did I get this book?: My wife begged and pleaded for me to give this one a try and since I love her, I agreed.

Review: I spent my teenage years glutting myself on '70s-era Stephen King and burned out, vowing never to give him another minute of my time. Then I married a devoted Stephen King fan who has pestered me to read one of her favorites since forever. Upon signing up for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VI reading challenge, I decided to tackle a King novel then since it would fit the challenge perfectly and I'd get my wife to stop harassing me.

Little did I know I'd totally dig this book! I'm not going to say I'm a new King fan but I do have to acknowledge that something like twenty years has passed between the publishing date of the books I read as a teen and this novel, and thankfully, in twenty years or so, King's grown as a writer. I know I'm going to sound ridiculous swooning over Stephen King because everyone's going to think either, 'Welcome to the club', or 'Really?' but I can't help myself: this was an unexpectedly pleasurable read for me.

Anyway, on to the actual story. The novel follows Lisey Landon, widow of a famous, much lauded novelist, as she deals with her husband's papers. Nagged by academics and fans who think literary widows are a hindrance, Lisey finds herself the focus of a seriously deranged fan with violent designs on her. In dealing with him, Lisey has to come to terms with some moments in her marriage that she's tried to block out.

While I didn't always believe King's take on a fifty-ish widow, I enjoyed his articulation of a long, loving, albeit intense marriage. There was romance, in a way, since Lisey and Scott had a successful marriage, but it isn't a romantic story. I wouldn't call this a horror -- this was a creepy story but not out-and-out scary, which was good for me as I'm a wimp -- and it felt more magical-y than anything. Not quite paranormal, not quite supernatural, not quite fantasy. The narrative read fast, the characters felt real, including Lisey's deceased husband Scott, and I delighted in Lisey's real transformation into an ass-kicking heroine.

If you're new to Stephen King, consider this novel. I'm reminded a bit of Laura Lippman and Jennifer McMahon and that sort of tense, nail-biting, creepy thriller that is so good for lazy weekends and causes many late nights. And I promise, the exhaustion next morning is worth it!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mailbox Monday, December 19

Seen both at Mailbox Monday -- hosted in December at Let Them Read Books -- and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox on a Sunday. A very random assortment of reads this week -- but don't they look good? Have you read any of these?  What did you get?


For Review




Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
The Girl with the Crooked Nose by Ted Botha
Our Man in the Dark by Rashad Harrison
A Discovery of Witches: A Novel by Deborah Harkness
Journey to the Heart of Luna (Space: 1889 & Beyond, #1) by Andy Frankham-Allen
All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson
Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Winner!

Just one giveaway ending today, and so...

The winner of A Different Sky is ... Atlantisflygirl!

Congrats to the winner! I've a few open giveaways still and more coming, so check them out if you didn't win!

Friday, December 16, 2011

FridayReads and I sure miss breathing...

Stupid cold is still lingering! My doctor said my cough may last another eight weeks, which makes me want to cry. As does my wife, who keeps getting rattled out of bed by my hacking. It's sadness all around. Thankfully, I'm immersed in some good reads this week and I've got some heavy lazing-about in my future.

My FridayReads for this weekend is a collection of essays by Croatian author Dubravka Ugrešić, Thank You for Not Reading: Essays on Literary Trivia. It is marvelous. Published in 2000 (in English in 2003), it's funny, playful, sharp commentary on reading, readers, celebrity authors, and publishing. I learned about her via BookSlut, who featured her newest collection of essays, Karaoke Culture.  I'm also starting a new historical fiction novel, All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson, which looks promising (even though I'm not wild about the cover).


So, what are you reading this weekend?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Little Miss Austen and Little Master Shakespeare, by Jennifer Adams

Title: Little Miss Austen: Pride & Prejudice and  
Title: Little Master Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet
Author: Jennifer Adams, writer; Alison Oliver, illustrator

Genre: Fiction (Classic Lit / Educational)
Publisher/Publication Date: Gibbs Smith (2011)
Source: My public library

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did, because I can count to ten.
One-sentence summary: Two classics, boiled down to ten items.

Do I like the cover?: Yes, they're adorbs!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy!

Why did I get this book?: Hormones + classic lit + adorable illustrations.

Review: Try not to judge me too hard, but I fell in love with these adorable baby board books while babysitting this past weekend, and I was deeply saddened that the children I had knew how to count and stuff. I'm a sucker for things like this, too, even though I don't want to be, and the sampler-esque feel to the Austen cover and the paper doll-style art of both books just charmed me from the start.

So, how nuanced can a counting book be, right? About half of each book is specific to the story (four marriage proposals, from the Austen, for example, or five friends, from the Shakespeare) and the other half is general cutesy kid-ness (seven horses or eight musicians, whatever). (And yes, I did pose my pictures, only because my table was a crumb-laden mess and how pretty would that have been??) (And finally, my favorite page from the Austen book: ten.) Adorbs! So, not a ton of substance, but a bunch of cute, which works for me.

(They're coming out with Jane Eyre, too. I kind of can't wait.)

I judge their tag line, however: "Baby Lit™ is a fashionable way to introduce your baby to the world of classic literature." Really? Fashionable? I didn't know there was an unfashionable way to introduce my baby to classic lit, but then again, I'm not the trendy one of my circle.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Charles Dickens: A Life by Jane Smiley

Title: Charles Dickens: A Life
Author: Jane Smiley

Genre: Non-Fiction (Biography / Literary Criticism / Writers on Writers / 19th century / UK)
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin (11/29/2011)
Source: The publisher.

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did, very easily!
One-sentence summary: An easy, welcoming intro to the life and times of Charles Dickens.

Do I like the cover?: Adore it. How quintessentially Victorian is it?!

First line: The literary sensibility of Charles Dickens is possibly the most amply documented literary sensibility in history.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- very readable, lovely size (easy to hold), and fascinating.

Why did I get this book?: I like Jane Smiley, I like the Victorians, and I've always been curious about Dickens.

Review: Terrible confession: I hate Dickens. At least, I think I do; I'm not sure I've ever read him, other than A Christmas Carol, and to be honest, I'm not even sure I've read it.  (I've certainly seen enough adaptations to think I have!)  Of all the Victorian authors in the world, he appeals to me the least. I know, I'm a godless heathen for saying so. I hope to rectify this someday and read something of his, but other books jostle to the top of the list.

All this is to say I know little about Dickens. But as with the Edna O'Brien bio on Joyce, I love writers on writers. Where O'Brien's take was boisterous, rowdy, emulating Joyce's style, Smiley's is a more traditional biography, although not entirely chronologically. She hits on the themes of Dickens life -- family, social critique, celebrity -- and offers background for readers about his works.

I enjoyed this read -- it was quick, very easy to get in to, and enlightening without being overwhelming. As with most biographies, learning more about authors is a mixed bag for me: I love reading about other lives, and I especially enjoy learning about the creative process, but I do hate learning less savory details about historical figures I might like. In this, Smiley is remarkably (maddeningly, I found) even-handed, acknowledging Dickens' wife's depression while still honoring Dickens' unhappiness with his wife. As with the Joyce biography, I was more interested in the women of Dickens' life, but this slender volume is not the place for it.

As a starting place for anyone interested in Charles Dickens and his works, I highly recommend this book. Smiley suggests her own reading order for anyone starting with Dickens, and provides brief context and commentary on his major works to springboard the curious reader into their own Dickens studies.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mailbox Monday, December 12

Seen both at Mailbox Monday -- hosted in December at Let Them Read Books -- and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox on a Sunday. A ton of historical fiction this week -- super fun! Have you read any of these?  What did you get?


For Review




The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau
The Turning of Anne Merrick by Christine Blevins
From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry
The Maid and the Queen by Nancy Goldstone
The Book of Lost Fragrances: A Novel by M.J. Rose

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Winners!

I've been sick for the last week or so -- dragging myself out of bed feels epically hard -- so my apologies for the late posting of these two popular giveaways!

The winner of In the Forests of the Night is ... Tracy A.!

The winner of The Doll is ... Danielle!

Congrats to the winners (who have been emailed)! Check out my current giveaways. And now, I'm back to bed!