Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Reads and ignoring my queue

Sooooooooooooooooooooo excited for the long weekend (sorry non-USians who don't get Monday off!).  I'm still working my way through Tarzan, but have started Fires of London by Janice Law, historical murder mystery set it World War II London, and The Other Half of Me by Morgan McCarthy which seems a bit English-y and moody and dysfunctional family-y. Yum!

I'm all messed up in my review queue because I started two non-queue books because, I don't know, I'm crazy and they were good and .... yeah.  Just finished Maryanne O'Hara's Cascade -- unghfughhhhhh, amazing/good/bittersweet. Am still working on words for that one. 

The other surprise was Kimberly Brock's The River Witch -- a contemporary Southern fic that hooked me with the moodiness and lovely characters.  Two great reads but as a result, I've got to scramble this weekend to write reviews for the books I'm scheduled to review.  Oops!

So, what are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean

Title: The Mirrored World
Author: Debra Dean

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Russia / St. Petersburg / 18th Century / Nobles / Marriage / Madness / Sainthood / Cousins)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (8/28/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove.
Did I finish?: Oh yes, inhaled this one!
One-sentence summary: The life of the 18th century Russian saint, Xenia, as told by her cousin.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's quite pretty -- but I don't think it captures the novel's story.

I'm reminded of...: Sandra Gulland, Kathryn Harrison, Elizabeth Loupas

First line: Yes, this was her house many years ago, when she was still Xenia.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like Russian hist fic or royal hist fic -- this tale of semi-nobles and icy Russian landscapes is marvelous.

Why did I get this book?: I've heard nothing but great things about Dean's previous novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad, so I couldn't pass this one up.

Review: I have a soft spot for saints. Novelists who tackle the life of a saint -- what they might have been really like -- automatically endear themselves to me, and I was drooling with anticipation over this book. Happily, Dean didn't disappoint, and this brisk little novel has the lush extravagance I wanted from a historical novel featuring royalty as well as the more mundane details of everyday life.

Beginning in the 1730s, the story is told by young Dasha, who is mesmerised by her older cousins, Nadya and Xenia. While Nadya is cold and cruel, making a flawless debut into St. Petersburg society, Xenia is dreamy, impulsive, and impractical -- and yet, she makes a successful love match. When tragedy strikes, Xenia's wild exuberance manifests as a discomforting disregard for herself, her property, and her place in society.

I loved this book from the first page -- Dean immediately sucked me in with her sweet narrator, Dasha, and her complicated cousins. Dean juxtaposes the real cruelties of life -- heartbreak, disappointment, loss -- against the historical ones of the era -- like the Empress' cruel mock marriage of her young jester to an old maid that required them to spend their wedding night naked on a bed of ice in a massive ice palace.

What else should I squee about? I raced through this book because I didn't want to leave Dasha, Xenia, and even Nadya, and I was fascinated -- and horrified -- at this look at royalty. (That Empress Anna -- she was a cruel one!) Dean's writing style is effortless, a little pretty, a little detailed, so that mood and place are evoked easily.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Mirrored World to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 9/14.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blood Eye by Giles Kristian

Title: Blood Eye (Raven, Book 1)
Author: Giles Kristian

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 9th Century / Northern Europe / Vikings / Norseman / Religious Relics / Amnesia)
Publisher/Publication Date: Bantam (8/28/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours / NetGalley

Rating: Okay to liked.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: Violent, cinematic saga of a 9th century man who finds his Norse
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction, Immigrant Stories, NetGalley

Do I like the cover?: Eh -- it's fine. It looks like what it is -- masculine mass paperback cover of an adventure historical.

First line: The hearth is spewing more smoke than flame, seething angrily and causing some of the men to cough as they hunker down among the reindeer furs.

Do... I love that the author will answer reader questions on his website?: YES.

Do... I love that the author is a former pop star and actor slash model in addition to being a historical novelist?: YES. He is a cutie, too!

Do... I like the book trailer?: YES. I rarely watch book trailers, I'll be honest, but this one feels like a very good movie trailer -- it really captures the mood of the book!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you're into Vikings, early medieval fiction, and banter-y band of brothers type war fic.

Why did I get this book?: I do love me some Vikings.

Review: I will admit upfront that books with a heavy bent toward violence, war, and brotherhood of men aren't really my thing. But now and then, I get a hankering for some 'guy' fiction -- like Clive Cussler or Mickey Spillane -- because I want an action movie type of read, and in this case, Blood Eye was a perfect summer flick of a book.

In 9th century England, Osric is apprenticed to a mute carpenter, the only man in a small seaside village willing to take him in when he was found two years earlier. Unable to remember his past, Osric is marked with one permanently bloodshot eye, and is feared by the village. When Norsemen land nearby, Osric is shocked to discover he speaks the strangers' tongue and he becomes a translator -- and betrayer -- of his village. When the worst happens, he's pressed into service on the longship and from there comes his transformation from Osric to Raven, a Norse warrior.

Kristian's writing style is easy and readable -- peppered with historical details (and crazy Norse and medieval-y English names) -- and the story is pretty dramatic. At times, I was acutely aware this was a 400+ page book -- I think it could have used a little trimming -- but the story always picked up.

Personally, I had a hard time reconciling liking the characters with their bloody behavior, even if historically accurate, which might have been the biggest hang up for me with this book. But Kristian creates a kind of black humor banter-y connection between his characters that invites like, even affection.

On a format note, I have to give Bantam props for a lovely e-book. The formatting was wonderful -- the 'small' font was nice and readable -- and the table of contents was detailed and hyperlinked.

This book is the first in a trilogy, so those who like chunksters you can dig into, you'll be in for a treat.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Blood Eye to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 9/14.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer of the Dancing Bear by Bianca Lakoseljac

Title: Summer of the Dancing Bear
Author: Bianca Lakoseljac

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Eastern Europe / 1960s / Coming-of-Age / Gypsies / Rural Life / Grandparents / First Love)
Publisher/Publication Date: Guernica Editions (6/12/2012)
Source: NetGalley

Rating: Liked a great deal -- loved at times!
Did I finish?: I did -- I luxuriated with this one!
One-sentence summary: The summer of 1960 -- with the mysterious disappearance of a neighbor's baby and the arrival of gypsies -- shapes Kata's life for years to come.
Reading Challenges: E-books, NetGalley

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's a smidgen cheesy but it represents a specific character/scene and I do like that.

I'm reminded of...: David Rocklin

First line: Perched high up in the crown of an old cherry tree, eight-year-old Kata sat in her hideaway, humming a tune.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like poignant coming-of-age stories, Eastern European fiction, or stories from the '60s.

Why did I get this book?: I loved the title -- there's something so magical and romantic about it.

Review: I lingered over this short novel -- 250ish pages -- because Lakoseljac's writing was so lovely -- poetic and lyrical -- and the story she was telling was so sad and bittersweet, I didn't want to rush through it. Set in Serbia (or as it was then, Yugoslavia), the novel begins in the summer of 1960, and follows Kata, a young woman living on her grandparent's farm with her aloof, cold mother and fascinating, emotive grandmother.

For Kata, this summer literally changes her life when the gypsies arrive in the small village, bringing with them a dancing bear and a young man she decides she's in love with. When a young villager's infant disappears, the gypsies are accused of kidnapping the child, and suddenly the once welcome visitors are now criminals and murderers. While Kata's grandmother likes and openly interacts with the gypsies, others in the village are less welcoming, and when the gypsies leave, a cloud of suspicion hangs over them, lingering for years. In the coming summers, Kata's life is shaped by that summer -- how she thinks about family, her own identity, her place in her village and the specter of the baby's disappearance which never leaves.

It takes a skilled writer to create believable, evocative children and teenagers, especially in a book in which they -- and their evolving feelings, beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts -- are the primary focus. Lakoseljac's Kata was a lovely foil for this dreamy, complicated, emotional story: she was curious and imaginative in ways I could relate to, a book lover and romantic, a young woman determined to solve the mysteries that divided her village and find her place in the world.

My only critique is that, near the end, during the big reveal, I felt a bit lost, unsure of what was happening -- I reread the final chapters a few times (no challenge since the writing was so lovely) but even now I'm not sure I can say confidently I understand what happened. Dream and reality merged -- I got caught up in the language, that's for sure! -- and the resolution offered is satisfying, sad, and mysterious.

Get this book if you like coming of age stories, or rural/small town locales, or post-WWII fiction. (Death is a preoccupation in the village, as those killed during WWII are still missed, as war crimes from the '40s remain unsolved, and it was a fascinating backdrop that was relevant and ignored by the villagers as needed.) If you enjoy poetic novels, this is one for you -- Federico García Lorca figures literally at times -- and Lakoseljac's prose won't disappoint. I'm eagerly awaiting her next novel.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Summer of the Dancing Bear to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian residents, ends 9/14.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Interview with Alex Bledsoe

Earlier in August I fell madly in love with Alex Bledsoe's medieval-y, noir-y hero, Eddie LaCrosse, first in The Sword-Edged Blonde and then in his newest novel, Wake of the Bloody Angel. I'm thrilled to share my Q&A with Alex Bledsoe -- I'm having a bit of a fangirl moment, I admit -- so read on to learn more about him, his writing, and what he does when he's not conjuring more adventures for Eddie.

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

There’s actually three answers to that.

The earliest thing I remember writing is turning a Batman comic book story into prose, using my dad's manual typewriter. I typed to the very edges of the page, both top to bottom and side to side. I don’t remember the plot, but I do know I got in trouble for using up all the ribbon, since my dad needed it to type up the minutes from the church session meetings. So even my very first story was an offense against God. :-)

I had delusions of becoming the next George Lucas when I went to college, so I wrote a screenplay version of the story that became my first novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde. An excerpt was published in the college literary journal, Bean Switch, in the early 80s. It was full-bore epic fantasy, with no sense of humor at all, but the plot, especially the first third of the story, was essentially the same as the finished novel.

My first published short story was also the first one I wrote after making the "time to get serious" decision about my writing in the middle 1990s. It was called, "The Chill in the Air Wakes the Ghosts Off the Ground," and it was published in a magazine called Gaslight: Tales of the Unsane. You can currently find it as the first story in my e-chapbook collection, The Firefly Witch.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I start work early, around 5 AM, and that's pretty much the extent of my rituals. Occasionally I'll listen to music, but it has to be pretty low-key instrumental stuff. I have two small children and, since I work at home, I have to be able to grab a few minutes during the day whenever I can (I'm answering this question while waiting for one kid's playdate to show up, for example).

My real training as a writer came through journalism, and one crucial aspect was the ability to write about anything, anywhere you happen to be. It's a useful skill for a parent.

Was Wake of the Bloody Angel the original title of your book?

Hah!

First, let me clear: my books all have titles that I thought up, but only half of them appear under the titles they started with. I turned in Wake of the Bloody Angel under the title, "The Two Eddies." It's a play on noir titles like The Two Jakes and The Two Mrs. Carrolls, as well as the meaning of "eddy" as a water current, and the fact that my hero, Eddie, is searching for a pirate known as Black Edward. But my editor felt it was too low-key, and asked if I had any other ideas. Fortunately one of the few "nautical noirs," is called Wake of the Red Witch, and I was able to co-op that for a title that, honestly, I really like.

As you were writing Wake of the Bloody Angel, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

There is a plot point that jumped out at me as I was writing, that's not in the outline or even in my thoughts prior to going, "Oh, wow, wouldn't it be cool if...?" It's kind of a spoiler, so I don't want to give it away here.

The other interesting story was that, as I tend to do, I buried myself in research on real pirates so that my fictional ones would have the right atmosphere and vibe. This resulted in the first draft just bogging down in detail, so that the plot lost all forward momentum. I couldn't get the perspective to see it, though, and I ended up telling the story, as it was so far, to my seven-year-old son. He listened patiently and then said, "You know, it needs monsters." And that was a revelation, because at some point I'd simply lost track of the fact that I was writing a fantasy novel. That's also why the book is dedicated to him.

This is your fourth Eddie LaCrosse novel. What do you most enjoy about returning to his story and this series?

I love writing in Eddie's voice. That's a real joy, and at this point it's very easy for me to slip into it, so easy that when I try to write anything else in first person, I have to really work at it to make sure it doesn't sound exactly like him. Also, the challenge with each book is to find the balance between giving readers what they expect from an Eddie LaCrosse novel, while at the same time presenting it in an original way so that you learn something new about Eddie and his world. Each book tends to have one unifying high-concept idea ("pirates" for Wake, for example, and King Arthur for the previous book, Dark Jenny), something I spend a lot of time researching and disassembling so that I can make it work in Eddie's world. The next novel uses Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale as a jumping-off point, so at the moment I'm immersed in Shakespearean criticism.

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

I'm a stay-at-home parent to two small boys, so when I'm not writing, I'm usually doing something with one or both of them. I love watching movies, although my tastes now run more to off-market, foreign and independent films than mainstream stuff. And I'm always reading something, sometimes two or three books at a time.

Read any good books recently?

One collection of short stories, Turbo's Very Life by Carroll Dale Short, just blew me away. I've also read a collection of Manly Wade Wellman's "Silver John" tales, Who Fears the Devil, and Signe Pike's exploration of fairy belief, Faery Tale. Currently I'm reading Runaway Dream, about the making of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run album, and From Girl to Goddess by Valerie Estelle Frankel. Fiction-wise, I'm reading Roy and Lillie by Loren Estleman and My American Unhappiness by Dean Bakopoulos

*** *** ***

My thanks to Mr. Bledsoe for his time and responses.

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Wake of the Bloody Angel to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers (no PO boxes), ends 8/31.



Saturday, August 25, 2012

Winners!

Oofta -- getting ready to go back to work is a rough transition after so much time off. I'm quite spoiled now! Anyway, back to my regular schedule, starting with our winners for the week!


The winner of Diving Belles is ... Mabel S.

The winner of The Forrests is ... Anita Y.

The winner of The Orphan Master's Son is ... Shannon D.

Congrats to the winners! Winners have been emailed; if you didn't win, be sure to check out my other open giveaways.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mistress of Mourning by Karen Harper

Title: Mistress of Mourning: A Novel
Author: Karen Harper

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 16th Century / London / UK / Candle-making / Royal Conspiracy / Henry VII / Tudors)
Publisher/Publication Date: NAL Trade (7/3/2012)
Source: The publisher.

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: Two grieving mothers -- Varina, a candle maker; and Elizabeth of York, Queen of England -- come together when an unexpected royal death exposes sedition, conspiracies, and more deaths.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I don't hate it -- it's lovely seeing the two full figures of the women but I don't think either figure captures the two female leads.

I'm reminded of...: D.L. Bogdan, Sophie Perinot, Sandra Worth

First line: "Just think on it -- us making candles for the royal wedding," my brother-in-law, Gil, called to me from the door of the wax workshop.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you like easy-to-inhale historical fiction with a unique angle and a lovely heroine.

Why did I get this book?: The heroine having a candle-making business was so interesting I broke my Tudor ban -- and I'm so glad I did!

Review: Set squarely in the world of 16th century merchants, our heroine, Varina Westcott, is a young widow with a thriving candle-making business. Mourning the loss of her infant son, Varina devotes her time to making beautiful, lifelike angel candles which are sold illicitly as she isn’t a member of the city’s powerful candle-making guild. As if fending off her predatory suitor isn't challenge enough, she accepts a mysterious commission from the royal palace, which, unsurprisingly, has an enormous impact on her life.

Her client is none other than Queen Elizabeth of York, the wife of Henry VII. Still grieving the untimely deaths of her brothers -- the infamous princes in the Tower -- as well as her two infant children, Elizabeth finds in Varina a kindred spirit. But Varina’s seemingly simple commission -- to design wax effigies of Elizabeth's dead kin -- transforms into a more challenging job when Varina is asked to investigate the sudden and mysterious death of Prince Arthur (as in big brother of Henry VIII). There's a predictable romance that I rather liked with a male love interest who was, I'll admit, kind of dreamy.

The novel is split between her first person account and that of Queen Elizabeth, and while I'm not always wild about dual narratives, in this case, it worked. The common loss these two women shared added some depth to this otherwise enjoyably fluffy historical. What sold me on the story, and why I so enjoyed this book, is that Varina worked for me as a heroine -- even when she came dangerously close to that aggravating willful-feisty caricature. She waited out tense situations rather than doing something stupid, for example, and I found her admirable and likeable. (And, yes, I totally want her to be my bestie.)

I can't speak to the novel's historical accuracy. Harper's conjecture about who murdered the princes in the Tower and the cause of Arthur's death might not resonate with those who are armchair historians of that era, but since I don't know, I didn't care, and I liked the mix of history, romance, and intrigue.

Ultimately, this is the best kind of summer historical fiction: light but not insultingly so, with an obvious romance to counter the dark conspiracy. Tudor fans might enjoy this with it's early Tudor roots; those who like artisans and women-who-do-unusual-jobs will find Harper's candle-making research fascinating.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Before the Rain by Luisita López Torregrosa

Title: Before the Rain: A Memoir of Love and Revolution
Author: Luisita López Torregrosa

Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir / 1980s / Philippines / Journalist / Homosexuality / Romantic Affair )
Publisher/Publication Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (8/7/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay to liked, depending on my mood.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A newspaper editor's intense affair with a journalist during the violent elections between Marcos/Aquino in 1980s Philippines.

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's so very striking and pretty, and doesn't sensationalize the romance between Torregrosa and her lover Elizabeth (although with those big ole O'Keefe-ian blossoms, there's certainly a sapphic suggestion).

I'm reminded of...: Jeanette Winterson

First line: In the years since that first letter came, postmarked New Delhi and written on pale lavender Claridges Hotel stationery, I have begun this story a hundred times, and each time I was afraid.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you're a memoir addict.

Why did I get this book?: In high school, I wanted desperately to be an international journalist and so Torregrosa's memoir sounded perfect for vicarious arm-chair wish fulfillment.

Review: This is a memoir that reads like a novel, and that's both a good and bad thing. Torregrosa has a sinuous, vague, slippery style of writing that I love in a good novel (I was reminded a bit of early '90s Jeannette Winterson) but feels a bit incomplete in a memoir. This story of 'love and revolution' had plenty of revolution -- on an international and interpersonal scale -- but I felt a real lack of love in Torregrosa's narrative.

Which leads me back to my original complaint. Were this a novel -- with some exploration into the motivations of our two heroines -- I would be all over this. But as a memoir, I wanted more from Torregrosa: I wanted her to go deeper in her recounting and analysis of her relationship and that juxtaposition with the tumultuous world of 1980s Philippines and international journalists.

There's an enormous distance between Torregrosa and the reader due to her writing style.  A little dreamy, very much removed, Torregrosa sums up weeks at a time with a small paragraph.  She recounts other people's words but never offers her own direct statements.  The moment when (I think) she and her married lover consummated their relationship felt obfuscated, as if Torregrosa didn't want to write about it but felt like she had to.

In many ways, this felt like an homage to a relationship rather than a memoir of a life, as Torregrosa's obvious affection and gratitude toward her lover, Elizabeth, spills out from every page. She writes very poetically about Elizabeth but I never got to 'know' the woman -- which would be fine if I got to know Torregrosa. Instead, I felt at arm's length from both women, watching their squabbles uncomfortably, and drinking in the gorgeous landscapes around them. (Torregrosa can evoke place like a song; its wonderful.)

This book reminded me of those 'gay classics' one gobbles up when first coming out, desperate for someone to relate to and, let's be honest, some sex. And like those classics -- like Rubyfruit Jungle and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit -- they're lovely, moody books that aren't nearly as gay as one wants them to be.

All this and I still liked the book in many ways; I just wanted more. Shelf Awareness loved this one and found it passionate, so it may be that I focused on the wrong themes with this reading. In another moment, I might see it as deeply passionate. Still, I enjoyed very real look at international journalism Torregrosa offered; this is armchair escape of the first order.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer one lucky a reader a copy of Before the Rain! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 9/7.



Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Interview with Adam Johnson

Earlier this month I was blown away by Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son, a surreal, fantastical, dark, imaginative, chilling take on North Korea, love, delusions, commitment, and fantacisim. I'm excited to share my interview with him, so read on to learn more about his book, his writing, and what he doesn't when he's not reading.

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

In high school, I wrote a story from the perspective of several blades of grass as the lawn was being mowed. It was a very serious story that concerned the topics of indifference, conformity and surprise endings.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I live near the University of California San Francisco, the state's only dedicated medical graduate school. I write in their medical library, which is open to the public, so many of my writing rituals have to do with sharing my writing space with the studious, the homeless and the mentally ill.

Was The Orphan Master's Son the original title of your book?

I'm not very good at titles, and I'm never satisfied with them. I put off naming the book until the end, hoping a perfect title would suddenly occur to me. This title is apt, but I still call the book, "my North Korea book."

As you were writing The Orphan Master's Son, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

The entire book was challenging and surprising. I never knew which way it would turn or what discovery was ahead. That was true to the last page.

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

I spend all my free time with my wife and our three children.

Read any good books recently?

I'm re-reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell in anticipation of the movie. The book is more stunning than I remember. I've recently read galleys for "A Working Theory of Love" by Scott Hutchins and "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" by Anthony Marra, two really thrilling books due out this fall.

*** *** ***

My thanks to Mr. Johnson for his time and his answers.

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Orphan Master’s Son to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 8/24.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Siren of Paris by David LeRoy

Title: The Siren of Paris
Author: David LeRoy

Genre: Fiction (Historical / WWII / 1940s / Paris / Occupation / Concentration Camp)
Publisher/Publication Date: Self-published (2012)
Source: Promo 101 Book Promotions

Rating: Unfinished.
Did I finish?: I didn't.
One-sentence summary: An American art student finds himself changed when the Nazi-occupation of Paris forces him to make tough choices, ones that will impact him forever.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I'm not wild about it -- while it certainly captures the romantic/femme fatale-y aspect of the story, I don't think it quite conveys the novel's focus on WWII Paris.

I'm reminded of...: M.L. Malcolm

First line: "May the Lord be with you," the priest's voice rang out to all gathered at Marc's graveside in September 1967.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: If you're a WWII fic addict, this might be a good addition to your summertime reading.

Why did I get this book?: I can't resist WWII fic!

Review: I accepted this book without realizing it was self-published. I have mixed feelings about self-pubbed books: unless it's got great bones and wonderful story, I find I miss the polish that comes from a traditional publisher. (I will say, however, my top ten reads of 2011 and 2010 both included a self-published novel, so I'm not a total snob, I swear!)

In this case, LeRoy's historical novel set during the Nazi occupation of Paris certainly brought it in terms of plot and research. There was non-stop action. While reading, I was strongly reminded of M.L. Malcolm's novels -- which I hated but others love -- in terms of the relentless plot and the very tell-not-show style of writing LeRoy employs. (Unlike Malcolm, however, LeRoy uses dialogue to move things along, with mixed results, I think.) In terms of editing and formatting, the book was fine, and I didn't notice the kind of egregious mistakes that make self-pubbed books frustrating.

I ended up not finishing the book, stopping about 160 pages in when I found I wasn't really connected with out hero, Marc. First, the narrative style of the book didn't quite work for me -- within a single chapter, the story would jump back-and-forth between years, flashing between one story arc and another. I think it was meant to build some tension but I found it distracting -- with so much plot, I needed a linear development to help me absorb the action as well as find Marc's transformation from young American art student to war-wearied vet.

Secondly, I wasn't wild about LeRoy's dependence on networking to move Marc's story (even though I suppose that's actually how this kind of thing happens): by page twelve, Marc, an American ex-med student heading to art school in Paris, meets a woman on his transatlantic cruise who introduces him to Sylvia Beach. Through his father, he meets (and gets a job with) the US ambassador to France. The introductions project Marc into both the avant-garde art world and the international diplomatic table. (He meets both Mussolini and Hitler.)

Still, there are some unique historical events highlighted in this novel, like the destruction of the RMS Lancastria (Britain's worst ever maritime disaster), which I found fascinating. The novel reads fast, partially because of the breakneck development of the plot -- the occupation of Paris, the smuggling of Allied soldiers to safety -- and I don't think one needs to have a strong background with this era to appreciate the story.

Reader who like M.L. Malcolm's sort of splashy focus on history might like this book -- there's love, pathos, betrayal, angst, and romance -- and many other readers have nothing but raves for this book, so take my comments with a grain of salt.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to be able to offer a copy of The Siren of Paris to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 8/31.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mailbox Monday, August 20

This week's Mailbox Monday (hosted in August at 5 Minutes for Books) is a lovely want-to-spread-them-around-me pile of arrivals -- some serious eye-candy. To learn more about any book, click on a cover and the link will automatically open in a new tab/window.

What did you get?  Have any of these?

For Review















Saturday, August 18, 2012

Winners!

It's a steamy, rainy, pea-soup-y day in Boston, so I need a little cheering up.  Sharing these giveaway winners makes me happy!

The winner of House of Shadows is ... Jessie of Ageless Pages!

The winner of Miss Me When I'm Gone is ... techeditor!

The winner of The Age of Desire is ... Meg of Write Meg!

Congrats to the winners!  Winners have been emailed.  If you didn't win, be sure to check out my many open giveaways and keep reading this blog -- I have a very huge giveaway opening on Friday!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Reads and I'm starting my staycation...

I have the good fortune of a metric ton of vacation days so I'm taking some time off for a little stay-at-home vacation! I plan, understandably, to fill my days with straight-up reading, a fringe of reviewing, and a ton of laying around and reading. (Did I say that already?)

I'm wading through four books at the moment because I can't commit: The Siren of Paris (historical novel, WWII, set in Paris); The Twelve Rooms of the Nile (historical novel, 1850, Nile River, fictitious meeting of Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert!); A Case for Solomon: Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping That Haunted a Nation (non-fiction, 1912, a kidnapped boy is later claimed by two different set of parents); and Tarzan of the Apes (vintage fic, 1880s, monied son is raised by apes).

What are you planning to read this weekend?  Any opinions on these reads?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

Title: Telegraph Avenue
Author: Michael Chabon

Genre: Fiction (California / Berkeley / Record Store / 1970s / 2000s / Place as Character / Music / Racial Identity / Cultural Identity / Parenthood)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (9/11/2012)
Source: The publisher.

Rating: Dislike / Unfinished
Did I finish?: I did not.
One-sentence summary: An indie record store in Berkeley, CA witnesses the trials, tribulations, battles, and victories of two families, one black and one white.

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- it perfectly captures the vibe of the book.

I'm reminded of...: Quentin Tarantino, Nick Hornby, Ann Patchett

First line: A white boy rode flatfoot on a skateboard, towed along, hand to shoulder, by a black boy pedaling a brakeless fixed-gear bike.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: If you love Chabon, or Berkeley, then you'll probably want to read this.

Why did I get this book?: I was lucky enough to score a spot on the Telegraph Avenue Readalong, sponsored by Emily at As The Crowe Flies (and Reads!).

Review: So, this was a DNF for me. It's been a few weeks since I gave up on this book, and sadly, my memory of it is already a bit fuzzy. I blogged my response to the first two parts for the readalong and my thoughts haven't shifted much from those initial musings.

In short: Chabon's a very lyrical writer. As the story focuses on the indie record store versus the big box entertainment retailer, a musicality to the narrative fits and in that regard, Chabon brought it. (To the point, I'll admit, that it got tiresome. But that's because I wasn't loving the book; perhaps if I had been digging it, I would have kept on loving the writing.)

I think my problem with this book is that it felt too aware, too smug, too hip... It was a cooler book than me. I was reminded of Tarantino film: there's passionate geekery here, and slavish devotion to a particular era, and while it's very evocative, since it's not a passion of mine, I grew bored when it started to feel like a schtick. The characters were hard to discern, at first -- who was who, who was white, who was black (rather significant since Chabon has said in interviews he wanted to take a look at race in this book), who was married/sleeping with/father to whom. Eventually, they started to separate, but by then I could tell this was just not my kind of novel. (I like music and all, but I don't love it, not like Chabon's heroes do.)

I'm sure I'm in the minority here and this probably wasn't a good first foray into Chabon's oeuvre. I suspect Chabon fans will be happy; Oakland-ers and other Bay Area aficionados will surely love this affectionate portrait of a city in transition.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Interview with Julie K. Rose

Earlier this month I fell in love with Julie K. Rose's Oleanna, a wonderfully moving historical novel set in early 20th century Norway. I'm thrilled to share this interview with the author; read on to learn more about her and her writing, Oleanna, and what she does when she's not working on her novels. Be sure to check out the international giveaway as well!

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

Oh my lord. I think it was a school assignment in elementary school, and it was called Panzer the Super Dog, all about our German shepherd. Honestly, all I can remember about it is the drawing I did on the front, of the dog with a Superman cape. I expect he flew around and saved the world.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I almost always write in the morning, because that's when my brain is most awake. I get up at 4:30 and try to get an hour or so in before I do my workout, and start my day job. I get my coffee, light one of my Zena Moon candles, say a little prayer of thanks, and then ask for help making what I write beautiful and true. Then I say, "Let's kick ass" and, inevitably and anti-climatcially, stare at the screen for five minutes until I can get my brain to shift into gear.

Was Oleanna the original title of your book?

Yep. I don't think it could have been anything else.

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

The whole book surprised me, actually. I had plotted a different kind of book at the beginning, but as they do, books and characters have a mind and a life of their own. Initially, the painter Nikolai Astrup was going to be Oleanna's love interest, and with him came themes of identity creation, and the interplay between artist and muse. But that wasn't what the book wanted to be, so he was relegated to a few mentions toward the end of the story. Anders replaced Nikolai fairly quickly, but his backstory was veiled to me for a long time. Torjus wasn't planned (in so many ways...) and Uncle Gunnar and Katrine were a complete surprise to me (though utterly delightful). The scene that surprised me the most was near the end of the book, when Oleanna made her decision. To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what she was going to decide; she was being pretty cagey with me right up until the end.

Have you ever had a chance to visit Norway?

Yes, I was lucky enough to visit there with my husband in 2004. Three of my four grandparents were Norwegian, so it was a bit of a pilgrimage to see the country. We timed it so we could participate in the Syttende Mai festivities in Oslo, which was fantastic. We also went up to Bergen, and spent some time along the Sognefjord. It is a spectacular place; in fact, it reminded me a bit of Alaska, but on a more human and less overwhelming scale.

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

I love to read, and I finally gave in and got a Kindle earlier this year. I was a bit resistant, but I love it. I find I'm reading even more now, but it's dangerous--my impulse control is being severely tested. Let's see, what else...I'm a huge San Francisco Giants fan, and I love the San Jose Sharks and the San Francisco 49ers, so pretty much year-round I've got a game to watch or listen to. I love driving over to the beach; my favorite is about 40 minutes from my home, just north of Santa Cruz. I'm a huge Doctor Who fan, so that keeps me occupied (and I'm beside myself waiting for series 7 to start). I also co-chair the Northern California chapter of the Historical Novel Society, so that keeps me out of trouble as well.

Read any good books recently?

Oh yeah! I just read How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, which was quite good. I've recently finished Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and I bow down to their keen insight in terms of human behavior and their incredible descriptive powers. Right now I'm reading Jerusalem by Cecelia Holland, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, and I'm trying to get into The Luminist by David Rocklin.

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My thanks to Ms. Rose for her time and answers. You can learn more about her and her books at her website.

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to be able to offer TWO copies of Oleanna to two lucky readers. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 8/31.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wake of the Bloody Angel by Alex Bledsoe

Title: Wake of the Bloody Angel
Author: Alex Bledsoe

Genre: Fiction (Fantasy / Pirates / Mystery /
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books (7/3/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours / NetGalley

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: Yes -- I inhaled this one.
One-sentence summary: Sword-for-hire-with-a-heart-of-gold Eddie LaCrosse is hired by a friend to find her long lost amour, and learns her story is more complicated than he anticipated.
Reading Challenges: E-book, NetGalley

Do I like the cover?: You know, I don't care one way or the other -- it's pretty cheesy, but kind of glossy, too, and I'm really not feeling much.

I'm reminded of...: D.B. Jackson

First line: "There's a new client waiting to see you," Angelina said when I entered her tavern.

Do... I have a bit of a hot crush on our sword-for-hire Eddie LaCrosse?: YES. He can brag he's got at least one lesbian fangirl.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this was another delightful entry in Bledsoe's wonderfully diverting series.

Why did I get this book?: I love pirates and light fantasy and anything with shades of noir.

Review: I had a great time with this first book of this series, The Sword-Edged Blonde, and I just knew I'd love the rest of Bledsoe's books. Sadly, I couldn't quite manage to get to books two and three before needing to review this one, but rest assured I'm going to go back and do so (after loving book one so much I went out and bought all three!).

Like the first book, the mood and vibe of this book is what I just loved: it's wry, sardonic, a bit tongue-in-cheeks, kind sexy, very 'masculine', and wonderfully escapist.  The comparisons to private investigator pulp feels accurate: there's a wry hero, dirty urban landscapes, some sex, some murder.

In this book, our hero, Eddie LaCrosse -- battered, loyal, rough around the edges but obviously bearing a heart-of-gold -- takes on a case from a close friend. He's asked to find her lover, an infamous pirate, who was last in touch twenty years ago. Quickly, of course, things get a bit complicated -- there's a kid, debate of the pirate's origins, rumors of treasure, lies, misinformation, misdirection, and messy adventure.  What seems, on the surface, to be bouncy, banter-y fun disguises a much darker story -- and it's this seedier, discomforting ugliness that really captured me and has me addicted to this series.

I think this would stand alone fine, but would be a bit of a crashing introduction to Eddie LaCrosse and his world.  Check out the author's website, where you can download the first chapter of this book and get a sense of his writing and world-building -- and if you like, I highly recommended starting with the first book and reading on from there.  (I'm grateful I can go back to read books two and three because waiting for another Eddie LaCrosse book now would kill me!)

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Wake of the Bloody Angel to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers (no PO boxes), ends 8/31.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mailbox Monday, August 13

A small but deeply satisfying and super eclectic Mailbox Monday this week (hosted in August at 5 Minutes for Books). To learn more about any book, click on a cover and the link will automatically open in a new tab/window. 

What did you get?  Have any of these?

For Review