Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Title: Gillespie and I
Author: Jane Harris

Genre: Fiction (British / Scottish / 19th century / Artists / Unreliable Narrator / Missing Children / Secret Identities)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (1/31/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loved like I wanted to marry it!
Did I finish?: Yes, inhaled over a matter of days.
One-sentence summary: Elderly Harriet Baxter puts down in writing the events from her tumultuous time in Glasgow in the late 1880s while facing another mystery of her own.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, Victorian

Do I like the cover?: I love it: it's striking, and kind of creepy, and reflects elements from the novel.

I'm reminded of...: A.S. Byatt, Shirley Jackson, Sarah Waters

First line: It would appear that I am to be the first to write a book on Gillespie.

Did... I get up early three mornings to have more time to read?: YES, and this was after staying up wicked late to keep reading. (Perhaps why my cold was prolonged. Ooops!)

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: BUY, get this book, read it, love it!

Why did I get this book?: I couldn't tell you why I got this book -- the cover -- and the mention of Bloomsbury. I am so grateful I did because this book was astounding!

Review: Three things: one, Jane Harris, where have you been all my life?; two, imagine Shirley Jackson meets A.S. Byatt, with a little Sarah Waters and Zoe Heller thrown in, all set in Scotland, and you've got the feel of the story; and three, I loved this book.

I'm sort of just going to flail and squee, and I'm not sure how helpful this review will be.  Sorry!

In brief: this novel had everything I love in a great book -- wonderful writing, real characters, and a compelling plot that surprised me -- and I hated having to put it down.  It's a meaty chunkster that races along, but honestly, could have been twice the length and I would have cheerfully kept reading.

Set in the 1930s, the story is told by Harriet Baxter, an Englishwoman reflecting on her time in Glasgow in the late 1880s, during the International Expo.  While there, she befriends Ned Gillespie and his family: his wife Annie, his mother Elspeth, his sister Mabel and brother Kenneth, and his daughters, Sibyl and Rose.  Ned's star is rising and Harriet is eager to help him achieve the fame he deserves.  She becomes a family confidante of sorts and as a result, is with the family during a horrific tragedy that deeply impacts all of them.

The thing with the story is that Harriet doesn't feel totally solid as a narrator.  She's very self-complimentary, filled with importance, and from the first page, I doubted her.  As time went on, however, she grew on me, and I assumed she was just fussy, until--

But I'm going to stop there.  I don't want to give away anything. 

This is a historical novel for those who hate historical fiction. There's no royal scandal (but there's a great mystery) or sweeping romance. Harris' story is set squarely in Victorian Glasgow with the mores, behavior, and values, and nothing feels anachronistic or out-of-step.  The crimes of the late 1880s -- Jack the Ripper, the Arran murder -- are in the background along with the wonder and beauty of the International Expo and the Scottish art scene.  

I don't mean to be coy about the plot but I don't want to spoil the fun for anyone.  This was such a delicious, gripping novel -- get it.  If you like suspicious old ladies and Victorian crimes, insidiously lovely writing that is blackly amusing and plot twists that sneak up on you, then this is your book. 

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Gillespie and I to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 2/24.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mailbox Monday, Jan 30

Seen both at Mailbox Monday -- hosted in January at At Home With Books -- and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox.

An amazing week of arrivals, just the medicine I needed to feel better! I had a yucky weekend of snotting and coughing (Ti, I did, however, use my neti pot with great success so thank you!) but checking out these books made me very happy!

What did you get this week? Read any of these?


To Review




Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai
An Uncertain Age by Ulrica Hume
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
A Hole in the Ground Owned by a Liar by Daniel Pyne
Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
The Garden Intrigue (Pink Carnation #8) by Lauren Willig

Won



The Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell, thanks to Poof Books




Immigrant Stories Reading Challenge


Books in the City
I'm drawn to immigrant stories so I'm surprised I didn't jump on this challenge last year. Regardless, I'm psyched to join the Immigrant Stories Reading Challenge this year. As usual, I'm playing it safe by committing to:

Just off the boat: 1-3 books

But I bet I can reach this easily. (Bold words, I know!)

Read

DeAnna Cameron, Dancing at the Chance
Angela Davis-Gardner, Butterfly’s Child
Lawrence Durrell, Judith 
Alex Gilvarry, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant
Carolle Jean-Murat, Voodoo in My Blood: A Healer's Journey From Surgeon to Shaman
Sheila Kohler, The Bay of Foxes
Kathryn Harrison, Enchantments
Giles Kristian, Blood Eye (Raven, Book 1)
Stephanie LaCava, An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris
Anouk Markovits, I Am Forbidden
Sarah McCoy, The Baker’s Daughter
Timothy L. O'Brien, The Lincoln Conspiracy
Emily Perkins, The Forrests
Michel Stone, The Iguana Tree
Saima Wahab, In My Father’s Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate

Victorian Reading Challenge

Last year, one of my all-time favorite reads came via the Victorian Reading Challenge, so I'm totally doing it again this year! Excitingly enough, the possibilities are pretty open:

You can read a book, watch a movie, or listen to an audiobook, anything Victorian related that you would like.

Watch?! Oh yes: Victorian costume dramas are my crack. I'm planning to read some Anne Bronte this year and hopefully more Thomas Hardy since I loved Far From the Madding Crowd.


Read

Michael Boccacino, Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling
Clare Clark, Beautiful Lies
Jennie Fields, The Age of Desire
Jane Harris, Gillespie and I
Robin Maxwell, Jane

Edgar Awards Reading Challenge

original image courtesy of Jeff BabbittBeing the crime fic fan that I am, the Edgar Awards Reading Challenge was a no brainer for me. Some of my best reads in previous years have been gleaned from the Edgar shortlist. I'm hedging my bets though, and committing to:

Patrolman = 1-3 books

so I can hopefully be successful this year!

Dewey Decimal Challenge

The Dewey Decimal Challenge is an unusual one for me: I don't read a ton of non-fiction so even the lowest level of participation is going to be rough for me.

Dilettante--Read 1-5 non-fiction books

Still, I read about a handful of non-fiction books last year, and this challenge allows poetry to be counted -- a helpful way for me to accomplish more than one reading goal this year!

Read


Joan Frank, Because You Have To
Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal
Janet Groth, The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker
Carolle Jean-Murat, Voodoo in My Blood: A Healer's Journey From Surgeon to Shaman
Stephanie LaCava, An Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of an Outsider in Paris
Sandra Newman, The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner
Mark Spivak, Iconic Spirits
Dubravka Ugrešić, Thank You for Not Reading: Essays on Literary Trivia
Vatsyayana, Kama Sutra
Saima Wahab, In My Father’s Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate
Marilyn Yalom, How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance 
Jean Zimmerman, Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Winner!

Thank you everyone for the wonderful well-wishes -- I so appreciate it! You made my weekend for sure -- I got sniffly for an entirely non-cold related reason! ;) I'm feeling better (hot tea is doing wonders, plus sleep), and I'm going to try to prop myself up with a book.

One giveaway winner this week:

The winner of The Western Lit Survival Kit is ... Kathleen B.!

If you didn't win, check out my current giveaways! More coming soon...!

A to Z Reading Challenge

Strawberry Splash ReviewsI failed the A to Z Reading Challenge spectacularly last year but I've decided to try again -- and I'm going to be really strategic about my reading to make this thing happen. After back-and-forthing about whether to do author or title, I've finally decided to do it by author. I hope I'm not making a terrible mistake!

A: Ellis Avery, The Last Nude
B: Anne Clinard Barnhill, At the Mercy of the Queen
C: Jetta Carleton, Clair de Lune
D: Jennifer duBois, A Partial History of Lost Causes
E: Tan Twang Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists
F: Sara Foster, Beneath the Shadows
G: Nicole Galland, I, Iago
H: Bruce Holbert, Lonesome Animals
I: Lora Innes, The Dreamer, Vol. 1
J: Suzanne Joinson, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar
K: Sheila Kohler, The Bay of Foxes
L: Peter Leonard, All He Saw Was the Girl
M: Doug Magee, Darkness All Around
N: Rachel Neumeier, House of Shadows
O: Maryanne O'Hara, Cascade
P:

Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

Melissa's Eclectic BookshelfGiven my love for paranormal/supernatural fic, I'm surprised I didn't join a challenge like this before! So, without further ado, the Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge. I'm signing up for

Initiate: Read 1 - 5 Witchy Books

which should be pretty easy. It's a shame I'm out of my pagan-y phase I was in during high school, or I'd have this down in no time! (Non-fic and fic count!)

Read

Susie Moloney, The Thirteen
Rachel Neumeier, House of Shadows
Rachael Pruitt, The Dragon's Harp



Books in Translation Reading Challenge

A new-to-me challenge, very self explanatory: Books in Translation! I'm aiming for:

Beginner: Read 1-3 books in translation

since I've no idea how many translations I'll get to this year. But I just got the new translation of Madame Bovary that I'm dying to dig in to -- and surely I can read two more books, right?? I think this will be a great cross challenge for Europa Editions, so maybe I'll seriously challenge myself and aim for six books! (Ha!)

Read

Vatsyayana, Kama Sutra

NetGalley Reading Challenge

A new-to-me no-brainer challenge, the NetGalley Reading Challenge is perfect since I get so many of my ARCs from NetGalley and I love my ereader. I'm going to temper my ambitions, however, and go with the lowest level of commitment:

Blue Star - read 1-10 NetGalley Books in 2012

but I'm still aiming for 10! Here's hoping!

Read

Nancy Bilyeau, The Crown
 Alex Bledsoe, Wake of the Bloody Angel
Michael Boccacino, Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling
Tina Connolly, Ironskin
Lawrence Durrell, Judith 
Sara Foster, Beneath the Shadows
D. B. Jackson, Thieftaker
Ryan David Jahn, The Dispatcher
Sarah Jio, Blackberry Winter
Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son
Suzanne Joinson, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar
Giles Kristian, Blood Eye (Raven, Book 1)
Bianca Lakoseljac, Summer of the Dancing Bear
Janice Law, Fires of London
Emily Jeanne Miller, Brand New Human Being
Rachel Neumeier, House of Shadows
Maryanne O'Hara, Cascade
Emily Perkins, The Forrests
M.J. Rose, The Book of Lost Fragrances
Mary Sharratt, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sick day

Actually, it's been more like a sick week. After my wife's fantabulously awesome 30th birthday party, we both got a wicked disgusting cold. We missed about three days of work due to it and sadly, reading has taken a backseat. Mostly because I can't lift my head, nor do I want to. Sleep is about all I want. That, and breathing through my nose, but one thing at a time.

I'm all messed up for reviews, so sorry about that. I'll be juggling things next week to try to keep from being totally derailed from my schedule, and I've got so many awesome books in my queue to share. I hope to get caught up visiting everyone -- apologies for not commenting this week! I'll try to catch up this weekend.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry

Title: From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant
Author: Alex Gilvarry

Genre: Fiction (Satire / Post-9/11 / New York City / Fashion / Immigrant Experience / War on Terror)
Publisher/Publication Date: Viking Adult (1/5/2012)
Source: The publisher

Rating: Liked a great deal!
Did I finish?: Raced through it, howling!
One-sentence summary: Filipino fashion designer, Boyet Hernandez, finds himself embroiled in the War on Terror and imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay after he accepts funding for his fashion line from the wrong man.

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it fits the feel of the novel -- playful and pointed in equal parts.

I'm reminded of...: Gary Shteyngart

First line: I would not, could not, nor did I ever raise a hand in anger against America.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is edgy, ludicrous, pointed, and funny!

Why did I get this book?: I haven't read a great deal of post-9/11 fiction and the absurd premise really attracted me.

Review: You're never going to believe what I'm about to tell you: this is a hysterical novel that combines fashion and politics. And it works!

Filipino fashion designer Boyet Hernandez moves to New York City in hopes of achieving his dream -- a haute couture fashion line -- and gets funding (reluctantly) from his blowhard neighbor Ahmed Qureshi. Boy is preoccupied with creating his line and getting his name out in the fashion world by doing styling, and he's happy to tune out Ahmed's bizarre behavior and exaggerations. But it's his association with Ahmed that leads to his imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, accused of being part of a terrorist cell.

The novel is Boy's confession, written while he's imprisoned at Gitmo. An argument to his captors of his innocence, Boy explains how he became embroiled with Ahmed but his story is filled with sidelong explanations of fashion, his romances, and his relationship with his guards at Gitmo. The narrative is annotated by a fashion writer, Gil Johannessen, who covered Boy's rise and fall in the New York scene.

Gilvarry's writing is playful, flamboyant, pointed, wry, and sharp. Funny, but also discomforting. I've read a few reviews that criticize the flimsy female characters -- which normally would be a complaint of mine -- but in this case, the story is told from Boy's viewpoint, and it doesn't bother me that he can't quite put his finger on the women in his life. He's more preoccupied with his own trials and tribulations (and this is before he ends up at Gitmo).

The novel is funny, absurdly at times, but the ending is...bitter(sweet?) in a way, that made the story poignant and painful. I finished this book unwilling to pick up another, wanting to linger with Boy's story and Gilvarry's fabulous writing. I can't wait for his future works -- this debut is a silly, uncomfortable read. Recommended!

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to be able to offer a copy of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant to one lucky reader thanks to the publisher! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 2/17.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mailbox Monday, Jan 23

Seen both at Mailbox Monday -- hosted in January at At Home With Books -- and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox.

This isn't Mailbox Monday related, but I had to share a photo from my wife's birthday yesterday.  The shark-themed party was a smashing success -- check out the birthday cake that our bestie Natalie made for her! She's not a trained baker but she still made an incredible cake that was delicious and amazing!



For Review



Dust to Dust by Benjamin Busch
Blue Monday by Nicci French


Friday, January 20, 2012

FridayReads and I'm planning a party...

I don't expect to get much reading done this weekend; I'm throwing a huge party for my wife, who is turning 30. She's a Jaws fan, so the theme is low-brow and cheesy: sharks, sharks, and sharks. With a fringe of shark-hybrids for good measure (Sharktopus, I'm looking at you.).  A friend is carving a shark cake for her, so I'll share the silly awesomeness later on (along with, I hope, gloating about how great the party ended up being!).

I'm still finishing up From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry and it is seriously so good. Ridiculous fun, with a metric ton of satire -- not bitter, and not sharp -- and a circle of fabulous characters. I'm also starting A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I'm apprehensive about that one: it sounds a bit Twilight-for-adults but friends loved it, so...we'll see!

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery

Title: The Last Nude
Author: Ellis Avery

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Paris / 1930s / Artist & Muse / Same-Sex Relationships / Historical Figure Fictionalized)
Publisher/Publication Date: Riverhead Hardcover (1/5/2012)
Source: The publisher

Rating: Loved!
Did I finish?: Yes!
One-sentence summary: American expat Rafaela Fano becomes a model for avant-garde artist Tamara de Lempicka, and eventually her lover, in 1920s Paris.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore the cover -- it's one of de Lempicka's portraits of Rafaela and the feel of it so captures the mood of the story. So perfect. I love the font used with my whole body.

I'm reminded of...: Emma Donoghue, Anaïs Nin, Sarah Waters

First line: I only met Tamara de Lempicka because I needed a hundred francs.

Do... I agree with New York Press that Ellis Avery is The Best Writer You've Never Heard of But Should Go Read Right Now?: YES. Where has she been all my life?! I'm a fan for life now!

Did... I miss my subway stop twice while reading this?: YES. All hail the return of the so-awesome-I-lose-track-of-reality read!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy, buy!

Why did I get this book?: I adore de Lempicka and I'm fascinated by that era/circle in Paris. This was a no-brianer for me!

Review: I loved this book. And in that way when I'm totally smitten, I'm not even sure I can compose complete sentences explaining why I loved this book so. In short: the writing is gorgeous, the romance sensual and sexy, and the characters sketched quickly but warmly despite their flaws.

First, the setting. I'm mad for Paris in the late '20s and I love the circle of artists the novel focuses on; Avery creates the ambiance without bogging down the story in details. There's a mix of hard scrabble poverty and excessive wealth, titles and nobodies, post-war and pre-war. The novel references de Lempicka's art from 1927 on, which can be seen online -- and should, because they're gorgeous. And sexy.

Second, the characters. I really fell in love with everyone, even the unappealing ones, the shameful ones, the shameless ones, the selfish jerks and the too-saintly-to-be true mouses. They felt real to me, even though Avery doesn't spend tons of time describing them, either. (I'm afraid I'm making this sound like the narrative is thin, but it isn't!) Through snappy dialogue and Rafaela's viewpoint (and for a brief time, Tamara's) we see meet these rapacious souls (food, money, sex, artistic inspiration, safety -- the need various, but there's unceasing hunger!). Shamefully (?), I liked Tamara despite her cruel, predatory, and selfish behavior, because Avery made her so real for me. The manipulative, passionate woman we see through Rafaela's eyes tells her side of the story, briefly, late in life.

And finally, the writing. This novel races even though it isn't a fast-paced or intricately plotted novel. The hot burn of desire propels the story; like Rafaela impatient for the day to end so she can go to Tamara, I was impatient for the next liaison, the next drink, the next painting. I ate up every word because each sentence fulfilled and left me yearning. The end of the book killed me dead in the best way, oh-so-bittersweet and sad and yummy.

For those uncomfortable with sex, this novel might be too spicy. Avery writes some of the sexiest lesbian sex I've read in a novel in a long time, and while it isn't graphic, it also isn't discreet. The sex is part of the story, like the paintings, like Paris, and feels right, not gratuitous.

I'm making myself want to read this all over again. Right now.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm excited to offer a copy of The Last Nude to one lucky reader, thanks to the publisher. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, closes 2/3.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss

Title: The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story
Author: Theodora Goss

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Academics / Romance / Medieval Literature)
Publisher/Publication Date: Quirk Books (1/17/2012)
Source: The publisher

Rating: Loved -- I was immediately taken with the book and the story within!
Did I finish?: Yes, in a snap!
One-sentence summary: The story of two lovers, told from the view point of each lover.

Do I like the cover?: Love it -- both the box cover and the covers for each story.

I'm reminded of...: Nick Bantock, Holly Phillips, Catherynne M. Valente

First line: Brendan saw her before she saw him, a girl about his own age, wearing a gray cardigan, faded jeans, and sneakers. from 'Brendan's Story'

Do... I love everything about the physical design of this book?: YES. This is the kind of book you'd see in a totally awesome dreamy historical or fantasy movie, where everyone wears the clothes I wish I could wear, and finds awesome artifacts I wish existed in my life. It's nice to have my dreams come true now and then!

Did... I find myself singing 'The Holly and the Ivy' in my head every time I thought of the title?: YES. I can't help it: it's one of my favorite winter holiday carols. In my defense (?), I kept changing the words, awkwardly, to 'the thorn and the blossom', etc.

Do... I think everyone should enter the giveaway at Theodora Goss' website?: YES. The prize is awesome: a signed copy of The Thorn and the Blossom and In the Forest of Forgetting.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow (I'm not sure how a copy would fare at the library -- it has to be held carefully), so maybe splurge for the tactile, medieval romantic-lovin', book artifact yearner in your life (or, you know, yourself).

Why did I get this book?: In 2006 I read Goss' In the Forest of Forgetting and loved it; I even wrote her a fangirl letter (my first to an author, I think!). Since then, she's been on my radar as an author I'll read no matter what.

Review: I can't review this book without first commenting on the physical design. Accordion-style, printed on both sides, the book doesn't have a spine.  That forces you to hold the book carefully, almost cradling it, which (for me) enhanced the sort of magical-artifact-found-in-my-grandmother's-attic artifact nature that I ate up.  I suppose others will find it gimmick-y, but I was immediately charmed.

The book tells the same story from two different viewpoints, that of Evelyn, an American medievalist who spends a week in Cornwall before returning to the States to pursue, she hopes, her academic career; and Brendan, a British medievalist who meets Evelyn during her week in Cornwall. 

This is a romance with academics, sort of A.S. Byatt-lite (in a good way!): Oxford scholars turned medieval professors, a kiss, a misunderstanding, some magic...Their brief romance echoes that of a local myth -- a variation on Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight -- and has a mix of realism and mythic grandness that I found compelling. Goss' writing style is simple, but pretty, and she slightly alters her narrative style to fit the voice of Evelyn and Brendan. I read Evelyn's story first, and let out a serious sigh upon finishing, then quickly flipped the book to gobble up Brendan's story. (Who, by the way, needs to be my boyfriend. Hello, Mr. Dreamy.)

In conclusion: read Theodora Goss no matter what; and if you can get your hands on this book, do it, because it's very neat.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Graveminder by Melissa Marr

Title: Graveminder
Author: Melissa Marr

Genre: Fiction (Supernatural / Romance / Undead)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (1/17/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did, but just barely.
One-sentence summary: Twenty-something Rebekkah learns she's destined to mind the dead and keep them in their graves, and she fights with the obligation and implications of the job.

Do I like the cover?: No -- I loathe it. This is supposed to be Marr's debut in to adult fiction, and I feel like this cover places it squarely in YA fic. I vastly prefer the hardcover version.

I'm reminded of...: Kelley Armstrong, Lauren Groff

First line: Maylene put one hand atop the stone for support; pulling herself up from the soil got harder every year.

Did... I stay up until after midnight in order to finish this?: YES. The world-building was great, and I wanted to know more.

Did... I love the 'scrapbook' included at the end of the novel?: YES. I'm a big fan of extras, and the visuals of the Graveminder journals made the nerdgirl in me squee.

Am... I unsurprised that Graveminder has been picked up for tv?: YES. I described it to my wife as having a bit of a CW-feel -- benignly PG, approachable supernatural element, wangsty love conflict that could be dragged out for eight seasons...

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow, I think, if you're in need of a fluffy, unique supernatural novel.

Why did I get this book?: I adored Marr's novel Wicked Lovely, for the unique supernatural angle (evil fairies, which works, seriously), and a tattooed and pierced hunkhero that didn't turn emo the moment the heroine did what she want, and heroine that didn't turn emo over the boys (mostly). So I've been deeply interested in her adult fiction debut.

Review: Unfortunately, this book suffers from being one I've been desperate to read -- and as a result, I'm probably a little more disappointed that it didn't excite me as much as Marr's YA novels have.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure what makes this novel not a YA novel, as the elements of it -- from the character,s plot, to the cover -- feel like a straight up supernatural YA. The heroine, Rebekkah, is annoyingly borderline and wicked moody, all whiny and self-destructive, yet everyone loves her anyway.  The other characters spend all their time coddling, defending, and complimenting her for reasons that are baffling to me.  Add in a totally maddening will-they-won't-they romance that exists solely because the heroine refuses to let herself be in love with the hero for a rather flimsy reason, and you've got what felt to me like many YA novels I've already read.

There's a kernel of awesomeness to this book: bucolic Claysville is blessed -- or cursed -- to have happy, safe residents as long as the dead are cared for by a Graveminder and Undertaker.  For a few hundred years, two families have held these positions, a sort of open secret in town that everyone seems to know about -- save for Rebekkah and her love interest, for totally mystifying reasons.  When Rebekkah and her love interest take on their roles as Graveminder and Undertaker, they have to learn in a rush, as the dead are walking in Claysville, and the dead are hungry.

Anytime I got excited about the book, Rebekkah would ruin it.  Annoyingly, a good deal of the plot depends on her putting off conversations that would have otherwise staved off the resulting drama; pretty much, when Rebekkah goes to bed thinking she's too tired to call X or talk to Y, we know something awful is about to happen.

Marr does some interesting stuff in her books with love and the challenges of loving someone when a supernatural element requires you to be 'paired' with someone else. Sadly, I found Marr's exploration more deft in her YA novel, Wicked Lovely, than here.  The secondary characters in this book, as with Marr's other novels, were fantastic -- really fun -- and in this case, I wished spiky, sexy bartender Amity were our heroine, rather than whinge-y Rebekkah.

If I ignored Rebekkah (which wasn't too hard, given the plethora of other characters), the novel worked for me, and I really enjoyed the supernatural world building.  This is a zombie novel for people who hate zombies, more urban fantasy than gothic.  A diverting read, easily sucked down in a few hours.  I'm still a Marr fan, and I'm looking forward to her other books -- and I think this is a great novel for those new to urban fantasy. 

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to be able to offer a copy of Graveminder to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 2/3.

Monday, January 16, 2012

In My Mailbox Monday, Jan 16

Seen both at Mailbox Monday -- hosted in January at At Home With Books -- and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox. I'm a bit zombie-ish today for some reason -- maybe a cold, or still shaking off West Coast jet lag -- so I plan to spend my day lost in a book (or two). Thankfully, I got many delicious new arrivals this week -- choices, choices! What did you get?

For Review




Sonoma Rose by Jennifer Chiaverini
Harem by Colin Falconer
Faith: A Novel by Jennifer Haigh
Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
Women and Their Gardens: A History from the Elizabethan Era to Today by Catherine Horwood
The Dispatcher by Ryan David Jahn
The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy
The Technologists: A Novel by Matthew Pearl

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winners!

I had two giveaways end last week but jet lag wiped me out so much I didn't get around to announcing them. (Sorry!) Finally, ta-da, some winners!!

The winner of All the Flowers in Shanghai is ... Na!

The winners of Island of Wings are ... Zibilee, Patti, and Karen G.! (As of 1/18, third winner is Ruth!)

The winners have been emailed. If you didn't win, check out my current giveaways. At the moment, only one, but starting next week I've got a million or so coming!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Reads and it's my anniversary...

Last week was my second blogiversary! I began my blog in January of 2010 (but back dated items to make it seem meatier) but I can't believe it's been two years already! I swear, I feel like I just started blogging. Thanks to all of you for visiting and commenting and making this such a lovely experience!

I'm back from my long holiday in California and I'm so missing my brother and his family. And that glorious, glorious sunshine. Le sigh.  Boston isn't making it any easier, being all icy and rainy and generally gross.

This weekend, I'm reading From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry.  It's amazing so far -- fun, funny, biting, breezy and meaty.  I'm super excited to snuggle in and read -- that's the only perk of this yucky weather!  What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Interview with Rashad Harrison

My first read for 2012 was Rashad Harrison's deliciously fantastic Our Man in the Dark, a noir-ish mystery-ish thriller set during the Civil Rights era. I loved everything about this book -- the setting, the characters, the ambiance, the fantastic writing -- and so it was a huge treat to get to interview Mr. Harrison. Read on to learn more about his writing, his book, and what he does when he's not writing! (And seriously, get Our Man in the Dark!)

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

A young boy discovers an old book in a forgotten section of a library. The book is magical: it can turn the reader’s fears into reality.

I was seven, and it was published in the Prairie View Elementary school newspaper. Other masterpieces soon followed, like “The Dinosaur Gets a Toothache,” and “Santa Quits His Job.”

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

My typical writing session begins with a bit of structured procrastination (Internet, piano, reading). Then I speak all of my ideas into a digital recorder, and later write them out longhand.

Was Our Man in the Dark the original title of your book?

No, the original title was “The Informant.” You’d be surprised how many books and films out there are titled The Informant. I forced myself to change it after the Matt Damon movie of the same name was released. Fortunately, I was able to pull the title from within the book. Mathis refers to Estem as "Our man in the dark," and I liked the sound of it, its symbolic implications, and the nod to one of my favorite authors, Graham Greene.

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

I was very surprised that Count became such a pivotal character in the book. Early in the writing, I saw him as a marginal player, but that all changed when Estem decided to ask for his help. After writing the first scene in Count’s office, I knew he was here to stay.

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

If I’m not writing, I’m either reading, playing mediocre piano, or watching some really good television with what I think is strong writing—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, to name a few—or a British comedy, like the original The Office or Peep Show, that capitalizes on awkward situations.

Read any good books lately?

I really enjoyed Pym by Mat Johnson. It’s an allegorical riff on Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

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My thanks to Mr. Harrison for his time! To learn more about Rashad Harrison and his book, check out his website. See other reviews of Our Man in the Dark by checking out the blogs on tour.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Western Lit Survival Kit by Sandra Newman

Title: The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner
Author: Sandra Newman

Genre: Non-Fiction (Literary History / Literary Analysis / Western European Literature / Humor)
Publisher/Publication Date: Gotham (1/3/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked a whole heck of a lot -- loved at moments!
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: A thousand or so years of Western literature, summarized and ranked -- amusingly! -- in about 280 pages.

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's playful and fun, like the book.

First line: In the 1920s, educators like Mortimer Adler started the Great Books programs, while imprints like Everyman's Library made the classics available to everyone at reasonable prices.

Did... I laugh so much on my subway ride that I tried to stifle my laughter, but kept sniggering so much a woman offered me a cough drop?: YES. Newman's humor is like mine -- geeky, sarcastic, feminist -- and so she and I were on the same page about many things.

Did... I stay up one night until nearly 3am because I couldn't put this down?: YES. Like potato chips, one more page wasn't enough. My wife would occasionally roll over and mumble, 'Quit shaking the bed' because I was snortling so hard.

Did... I like this book so much I want to do a reading challenge based on it?: YES. More to come this week!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow, for yourself or the lit geek in your life. Perfect for anyone who was scarred by high school English classes and think they hate the classics.

Why did I get this book?: The Scarlet Letter pretty much broke me in the 10th grade, and I've avoided many classic authors as a result. I wanted to get over my fear!

Review: Don't let that rather pedestrian first line put you off; this is an irreverent yet avowedly geeky look at the canon of Western European literature. Beginning with the ancient Greeks and ending with the Modernists, Newman provides pithy summaries of famous works with humorous ratings (by importance, accessibility, and fun).

Ranking books is pretty subjective, no matter how objective the criteria, and I'm honestly not usually a fan of this kind of non-fiction (I like forming my own opinion, thank you!). But Newman's sense of humor is much like mine -- geeky, sarcastic, feminist, wry -- and so reading her was a bit like riffing with my nerdy Lit major girlfriends. However, you don't need to be an armchair academic to appreciate Newman's thoughts on the greats of Western literature. Her pithy biographies and summaries give a snapshot of a particular work or writer, and a suggestion of why one should read or not read said work/writer.

I started marking hilarious/amusing/outrageous passages to quote and then found that I literally had a tab on every page. Here's a taste of Newman's writing style; she's discussing Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther:
The success of this novel was staggering. Across Europe, Werther became a role model for youth. Everyone wanted to be like this whining reject. Scores of young men killed themselves in imitation, until Geothe was ready to go around killing them himself. For the rest of his life, Goethe was revered as the man who created Werther, even after he had written far greater books, invented colors, and created the world in six days. (p151)
According to her own criteria, she rates The Sorrows of Young Werther as having a 10 in Importance, a 9 in Accessibility, and an 8 in Fun. I'm inclined to side with her opinions since she rates The Scarlet Letter with a 9 ("alas!") for Importance, an 8 for Difficulty, and a 4 for Fun. (My thoughts exactly!)

I was so amused and inspired by Newman's thoughts, I'm going to do a reading challenge based on the authors and books she mentions. (More on that to come.) Writers on writers is a favorite genre of mine, and book nerds on books is a sure way to get me to read more books (so brava, Newman!).

A super fun, snappy, and easy-to-digest guide to Western literature, that will provoke nods of agreement and a few gasps of horrified disagreement. And lots of laughing. Way more fun than my 10th grade English class!

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer one copy of The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner to a lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 1/27.



Monday, January 9, 2012

Mailbox Monday, Jan 9

Seen both at Mailbox Monday -- hosted in January at At Home With Books -- and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox, post-vacation edition. Thankfully I came home to some books which helped soften the sting of being away from California, the pool, my brother, and my adorable niece and nephew.


For Review




At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Anne Clinard Barnhill
Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh
All Her Father's Guns by James Warner
See What I See by Gloria Whelan

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Our Man in the Dark by Rashad Harrison

Title: Our Man in the Dark
Author: Rashad Harrison

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1960s / Southern US / Civil Rights Movement / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Government Conspiracy)
Publisher/Publication Date: Atria Books (11/15/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loooved. Fabu way to kick off 2012!
Did I finish?: Yes -- I couldn't stop myself!
One-sentence summary: Set in 1963, an accountant with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. becomes an FBI informant in an effort to prove his patriotism and improve his own life, and ends up in gr
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Love it -- it fits the mood of the story perfectly!

I'm reminded of...: Lawrence Block, Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosley

First line: Night has come, and so have the shadows that once pulled me in against my will.

Did... I keep thinking about this book every time I had to stop reading and be all sociable with my family?: YES. Thankfully I love them, so I only resented them a little bit that I had to stop.

Did... I immediately shove this book in my wife's hands, despite her pre-planned vacation reading queue?: YES. I'm dying to chat about this book with someone, and I know she's going to love the ambiance and the deliciously complicated main character.

Do... I adore Rashad Harrison's website?: YES. Check it out -- has the same delicious feel of the novel. I can't wait for his future works!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow -- this is a fabu debut novel!

Why did I get this book?: I love noir so the noir-ish elements of the story immediately intrigued me, and I loved the setting.

Review: What a perfect way to start 2012!

I began this book while my wife was running her New Year's Day half marathon, and in her three hour run I almost finished it. Then my wife wanted me to, like, congratulate her on her run and talk about how pretty the locale was, and really, all I wanted to do was get back to this book. It was so good, I really wanted the world to go away so I could just flippin' read.

Set in 1963, the story is told by John Estem, an accountant working for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Crippled after surviving a childhood bout with polio, Estem wants to show his father, his mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his unrequited love, Candice, that he's a mover, a complicated, successful man worth knowing. His aspirations draw the attention of the FBI, who contact him about identifying Communist elements in the Civil Rights Movement. From then, Estem's world changes as he learns more about King, the FBI, and himself than he wanted to know.

Seriously, I loved this book. Estem himself is the hook, a fascinating, complicated character I liked despite, really because of, his flaws. But every other character in this book was marvelous -- complicated, surprising, real, shocking -- and Harrison's uncomfortable exploration of Dr. King's personal life was well done.

I especially adored Harrison's writing style. This book has those great memorable lines that I so enjoy in noir, that unexpected splash of lyricism and poetry among the unadorned, bald ugliness:
The woman singing with the band is Miss Candy, also known as Candice. She looks just like what her name implies -- bad for you, but oh so good. Her singing is awful, but she's not up there for her voice. She's like a sepia-tinted dream with fiery red lips flickering in the darkness. (p4)

Also, for those who are curious about why I consider this a historical: it's a contemporary novel that begins and ends in the past (1960s-1980s), set in a very distinctive historical era (the Civil Rights Movement), and features historical figures in fictionalized elements. I know that's not the current definition of histfic, but there you go.

Even if you're not typically a noir or mystery fan, consider this novel if you enjoy complicated characters and some wiggle-in-your-seat discomfort about our lionized heroes. Plus, the writing is really lovely and I think Harrison is an author to watch. I can't wait for his next novel!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Summary of 2011 Reading Challenges

This was my first year really committing to reading challenges, and I discovered, as with so much else in my life, my eyes are bigger than my belly.  Or in this case, my aspirations are greater than my time.  Despite the breakneck reading I did this year, I didn't focus much on hitting my reading challenge goals, which means I only completed six of my sixteen 2011 reading challenges.  Oops!  I'm scaling back for 2012.  Here's the quick-and-dirty of how I did for 2011:

British Books (12 books)
Success! Read 20 books.

Criminal Plots (6 books)
Failed! Missed by two.

Eastern European (4 books)
Failed! Only read two of four. Additionally, I've sorted of started hating on this challenge because 'map of Eastern Europe' has become, like, my second biggest source of traffic to this blog. Boo.

E-books (12 books)
Success! Read 12, which surprised me, as I thought for sure I'd double that. I guess I don't use my e-reader as much as I thought! (Shh, don't tell my wife that.)

Europa Editions (4 books)
Total fail! Only read one this year, which I didn't review. Oops!

Fearless Poetry (1 book)
Success! One book read, whew.

Femme Fatale (12 books)
Spectacular fail! Only managed two. Sadness.

Georgette Heyer (3 books)
Another enormous fail! Managed zero.

Heroine's Bookshelf (3 books)
And yet another fail.

Historical Fiction (20 books)
SUCCESS! This was a biggie: 42 books read!

Nautical Fiction (5 books)
Hu-u-u-u-ge fail, which is made worse since this is a challenge I hosted! Oops.

Outdo Yourself (40 books)
Gigantic enormous success of epic proportions -- 110 books read.  Hooray!

Paris: The Luminous Years (6 books)
Le fail.

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VI (4 books)
Semi-success: I read three books, but reviewed one about two months after the end of the challenge.  Totally want to do this one again, though!

South Asian (5 books)
Success!  Read six books.  Loved this focus on a region I don't normally center on, and I really enjoyed the perspectives I read.  Tempted to do this one again!

Victorian Literature (4 books)
Technically, a fail as I only read one book -- but howdy, did I love that one book.  

2012 Europa Challenge

Even though my foray into the 2011 Europa Challenge was a bit of a fail -- I only read one book, and I didn't even review it! -- I'm doing it again because I really love Europa Editions and want to gobble them up. This time, for the 2012 Europa Challenge, I'm going to limit myself to Ristretto Level (2 Europas). Hopefully I can manage that!

Possibilities include these; any you think I absolutely must read?

Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Laurence Cossé, An Accident in August: A Novel
Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt, The Most Beautiful Book in the World: Eight Novellas

2012 E-books Reading Challenge

Since my e-reader is one of my of my most beloved possessions, it's a no-brainer for me to do the E-Book Reading Challenge again. I'm going to aim for DVD - 25 ebooks which is a bit ambitious considering I only read 12 e-books in 2011. (I have about three hundred books in my e-reader, I just am not reading them...like the rest of my TBR!). However, I hope to get a jump on my e-book reading since I'm on vacation for two weeks this winter and I don't want to lug around a badrillion hard copies -- now my e-reader is especially handy!

Read

Eleanor Hallowell Abbott, Molly Make-Believe
Nancy Bilyeau, The Crown
Alex Bledsoe, Wake of the Bloody Angel
Tina Connolly, Ironskin
Lawrence Durrell, Judith 
Tan Twang Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists
Sara Foster, Beneath the Shadows
D. B. Jackson, Thieftaker
Ryan David Jahn, The Dispatcher
Sarah Jio, Blackberry Winter
Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son
Suzanne Joinson, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar
Giles Kristian, Blood Eye (Raven, Book 1)
Bianca Lakoseljac, Summer of the Dancing Bear
Janice Law, Fires of London
Peter Leonard, All He Saw Was the Girl
C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet
Emily Jeanne Miller, Brand New Human Being
Maryanne O'Hara, Cascade
Kristine Ong Muslim, We Bury the Landscape
Rachel Neumeier, House of Shadows
Emily Perkins, The Forrests
Rachael Pruitt, The Dragon's Harp
Lev Raphael, Rosedale the Vampyre
Mary Roberts Rinehart, When A Man Marries
M.J. Rose, The Book of Lost Fragrances
Mary Sharratt, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen
Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons
K. Hollan Van Zandt, Written In the Ashes