Friday, September 30, 2011

Review: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Domestic VioletsTom Violet has problems. He has erectile disfunction, a mind-numbing job he hates, an arch-nemesis who'd love nothing better than to have Tom fired, a wife who he thinks is having an affair, a novel in his desk drawer that nobody apparently wants to read, a crush on his beautiful and too-young coworker, a father who's just won the Pulitzer and is getting yet another divorce, and a dog with acute anxiety. Anybody would go off the deep end, which Tom does, with true Violet flare.

When I started reading this book I immediately thought that the beginning did not bode well - the protagonist, Tom Violet, kept going on and on about his erectile disfunction in the most descriptive fashion and I just could not imagine reading a whole book of that. Tom did prove to be a funny guy with an off-beat sense of humor and a hilarious comeback for whatever life throws at him and ED soon stepped off the center stage so I kept reading. In no time at all Norman charmed me with all the characters in Tom's life - his beautiful and intelligent wife, his budding artist daughter, his excitable dog, his brilliant philandering father, his too-good-looking subordinate, his agent and even his mental mother-in-law. They are all so alive and so far from being cliché that it's impossible to remain indifferent especially since they all do something unexpected or funny on a regular basis and the story never gets boring.
While there is a lot of humor in this book it's not a literary romp. Things are never that simple in the Violet family and while their relationship with the truth has always been touch-and-go, as Tom himself admits, they make it work because they love each other. The value of family is up-front and center here and all the funny parts aside it's a thoughtful and thought-provoking book that is mainly about Tom's relationship with his father and it had me reeling on a number of occasions from Tom's actions and their consequences.
There's a lot of talk about books and writing in Domestic Violets, which makes sense considering that two of the characters are writers. The bookish atmosphere made this world a very comfortable place to be for me because books have always been an important part of my life and here's a full book worth of characters for whom reading is as natural and important as it is for me. And for those of us who write or want to write there's quite a bit of talk about writing itself with some interesting observations and some tips thrown in as a matter of course.
I am not at all a fan of profanity in books but in this one it works. It very naturally blends into the characters' speech and is in no way gratuitous so while I'm not changing my mind about it in general I'm not going to object to it too strongly in this particular case.
One of the things that were a bit off for me was the ending. It seemed long with a number of instances when the story could have ended right then and there and wouldn't have been any less satisfying. There was even that "the end" type finality to the paragraphs and yet Norman kept going, wrapping everything up neatly and giving us a promise of a happy future for the Violets despite all the difficulties. Then again, there's nothing wrong with that, is there?
This is a very good debut novel, well-written, funny but not slapstick, profane but not vulgar, sad but not depressing, and best of all when I turned the last page I was smiling. A word of caution: it is most definitely not appropriate for younger audiences.

ARC of this book received from the publisher, Harper Perennial via NetGalley. The book is now available in stores.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

World's Smallest Library

A little while ago I blogged about the largest library in the world, or should I say "libraries" because The British Library and the Library of Congress tied for the title. Today I decided to find out what the smallest library in the world is and guess what? The US and Great Britain tie again! In all fairness, had this idea occurred to me a month ago there wouldn't have even been a tie because the American contender didn't exist before the beginning of September and the concept is clearly borrowed from our friends across the Atlantic. But I should stop talking and introduce the winners:

Westbury Book Exchange is a traditional English telephone booth in the village of Westbury-sub-Mendip in Somerset, England that has been converted into a library and now houses over 100 books and music CDs. The villagers entered the idea into the British Telephone National competition and although they did not win the first prize they sure have received a lot of publicity since 2009 - their kiosk has been featured in many magazines, newspapers and blogs and BT even used a picture of it in their latest "Adopt a Kiosk" campaign brochure. The Book Exchange is free to use and anyone can take a book from the booth if they bring one to leave in its place. You can read more about the Westbury Book Exchange on the Westbury-sup-Mendip website.

About two years after the residents of Westbury came up with their idea for repurposing a telephone booth Claudia Cooley of Clinton Corners, NY opened The Book Booth in her town with the help of Clinton Community Library in an effort to better reach the community. The kiosk is now officially the smallest library in America, it is open 24/7, 365 days a year, is never locked, has its own Facebook page and has also gotten plenty of publicity in the short time that it's been open. Read more about it in this Huffington Post interview.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: The Secret In Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri

The Secret in Their EyesBenjamín Chaparro is a retired detective who is writing a book about a murder case he worked on years ago, and as he revisits the details of the investigation he also recalls the beginning of his long, unrequited love for Irene Hornos, then just an intern, now a respected judge. Set in the Buenos Aires of the late 1960s, Sacheri’s tale reveals the underpinnings of Argentina’s Dirty War and takes on the question of justice — what it really means and in whose hands it belongs.

Last week I got so excited about a fantasy series that I stayed up way too late to finish 3 books in a little over a week. By the time I finally remembered about the tendency of time to keep going no matter how engrossed we are in a story it was Sunday and I was nowhere near ready to write the review for The Secret In Their Eyes, especially since I had mixed feelings about the book. The mixed feelings persisted until the very end and in a way I feel like I've read two different books about the same characters. One is set in the present day and tells about a retired court employee struggling with writing a book and with his love for a woman he believes is out of his reach. The other is the actual book Chaparro is writing and it is set in the 60s and tells about Chaparro's investigation into the rape and murder of a young woman and how it ties people together for decades and affects the course of their lives. The past and present alternated and I really enjoyed the "past" parts. The voice was direct and strong, although not invulnerable, the events unfolded at a good pace and I really liked the characters, sympathized with them and hoped they would succeed. The present was more difficult. Half the time it read like a stream-of-consciousness rant about how much Chaparro is in love with Irene and how he can't live without thinking about her all the time. These parts were much less enjoyable, to me they were in the way of the real story and it was tiring reading about Benjamin's lovesickness over and over, how he couldn't sleep for days after every meeting with Irene, remembering the way she smiled and looked at him and smelled. It was more like reading about a teenager living through his first crush than about a 60-year-old man and whenever these chapters started I wished the author would go back to telling us about the investigation.
If someone asked me to quickly name one thing that sets the writing of this book apart from the others I've read this year I'd say it's the vocabulary. There were more SAT words in this one novel than I recall seeing in all the rest of them combined and the best part is that it felt natural, like that's just the way the author talks and it was thrilling to read a book where words you don't see every day, let alone use, don't feel forced. The sentence structure and the way the sentences fit together was unusual, I'm just not sure whether that's because the novel is translated or that's the way it was meant to be. It took some getting used to but eventually it became charming in a way and I almost stopped noticing it.
Reading The Secrets In Their Eyes made me think about justice. There are so many crime TV shows these days and at the end of almost every episode the guilty get what they deserve but here things aren't so simple and I keep thinking about how more often than not the scum of the earth keep going, adding one wrongdoing after another to the scorecard they feel no remorse about while the honest and the righteous suffer at their hands, make sacrifices to ensure that the guilty get punished and even then there are no guarantees that it'll actually happen. I guess that's the reason we have the superheroes and the TV shows - we want justice to prevail and for the good guys to come out on top. And here they do. Eventually.

P. S. In 2010 a movie by the same name won an Oscar as the best foreign film and in case you've seen it and are wondering whether it would spoil the story for you I can say that both yes and no. The general direction of the plot is the same but the film-makers took quite a few liberties with the story so regardless of whether you watch the movie after reading the book or the other way around there are still plenty of surprises.

The ARC of this book was received from the publisher, Other Press, through NetGalley.
The novel is scheduled for release on 10/18/2011.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Versatile Blogger Award

Today I was supposed to review The Secret In Their Eyes but unfortunately time somehow shrank itself and I wasn't able to finish it in time. Fortunately there is something great I'd like to share with you:

This week I received the Versatile Blogger Award from the lovely Barbara Fisher at March House Books Blog. Thank you Barbara, it is absolutely amazing to be in such wonderful company. Please check out Barbara's blog at March House Books Blog.

By accepting the award I agree to:
1. Thank and link to the person who nominated me.
2. Share seven random facts about myself.
3. Pass the award on to five blogger friends.
4. Contact and Congratulate the nominated blogs.

So, seven random facts.... Ok, here goes:
1. For about 5 of my early teen years my favorite book series was about the adventures of Angelique by Anne Golon (here known as Sergeanne Golon). Whenever I would share a factoid obviously not learned at school dad would smile and say that Angelique was a very educational series. I think that was one of the few reasons they let me to keep reading it.
2. In addition to English I speak Russian and Ukrainian fluently.
3. I keep telling myself that "this year I will most certainly run a 5K" and then never do. Laziness and books emerge victorious time and time again.
4. I love pasta and baked goods of any kind.
5. I am an african violet enthusiast.
6. For about a year after we got married my husband continued to work on communication towers and I traveled with him.
7. I'm already working on a list of books I'd like to read next year and have to constantly remind myself to leave some room for the wonderful unexpected finds and recommendations that are sure to come.

And here are the 5 blogger friends I'd like to pass this award to, in no particular order (drumroll please!):

Watts in a Word - Ali reads books in a variety of genres and her blog is great for ideas when you're looking for something other than what's been reviewed by a lot of people already.
Have You Read... - Linda's reviews are brief but informative and always fun. She also includes her favorite quote and tidbits such as other books in the series or a link to the author's page.
A Book A Day - Mary reads and blogs mainly about YA books and includes an age group recommendation in her reviews.
Reader's Dialogue - Esther reads both general and genre fiction and her reviews are always interesting and thoughtful.
Kindle in Hong Kong - Shannon blogs about her life in Hong Kong and the books she reads while there. Reading her posts is like taking a road trip to the other side of the world.

Give these wonderful and fun blogs some love! Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review: Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran

The Heretic QueenNefertari has a shadow hanging over her wherever she goes - she is the niece of the hated heretic Nefertiti, the spare princess allowed to live in the palace but mistrusted by almost everybody. If she wants to marry the love of her life, Ramesses, become queen and ensure her family is eternally remembered she must make the people of Egypt embrace her for who she is and forgive her family's past. But will Nefertari's enemies let that happen?

Beginning Moran's second novel I wondered if she would be able to repeat the magic of Nefertiti and give us a different book at the same time. I hoped she would and fortunately she did. Reading the first chapter of this book is like stepping through a gateway between time and place and ending up in ancient Egypt, not a foreigner to whom everything is explained but an observer who doesn't require any special treatment. This is one of the reasons I like Moran's books - there's no explaining. She knows that the readers will make intuitive leaps, they'll understand things from context and there's no need to document every breath.
Nefertati is a very interesting character in that her struggle for a place in the royal dynasty happens when she's not even 17 years old but she is no longer a child. She is intelligent, honest, hard-working, loyal and admirably courageous. She makes difficult decisions and she doesn't complain when things are hard. It would be so easy for her to become bitter and angry when everybody seems to be against her, when her enemies are too strong and dangerous and when the people won't accept her but she retains her kindness and compassion and keeps going, becoming only more determined as she moves towards her goals.
The secondary characters are very interesting as well and I grew fond of Nefertari's friends and teachers. They are kind but don't let things go to her head and they complement her very nicely. One might argue that the characters are too one-dimensional in their being either good or evil but somehow they never feel that way. There's always humanity in Iset, Rahotep and even Henuttawi while Merit, Paser and Woserit have their own demons to fight. You just know that things aren't all that simple.
I really enjoyed watching the relationship between Nefertari and Ramesses unfold. They started out as friends, then fell in love and married and theirs was a true partnership of two like minds working to achieve the same goals. Things weren't easy for them but they were in it together and reading about them was so pleasant, especially when outside of their chambers the court was so full of intrigue and deceit. The court intrigues are really the only thing that soured the experience for me (I don't like the politics that come with life at the very top) but without it all the story wouldn't have been realistic so I suppose we couldn't have done without them.
One of my favorite messages in this book is that intelligence is more valuable than the most dazzling good looks. As Nefertari said "Her beauty might fascinate men, but it was difficult to charm them when she stood mute..." I think that in today's culture that's all about beauty and youth we often forget that a pretty face isn't everything.
If you like a well-written historical novel that's told in a clear, simple and warm voice and is never dull I think you'll enjoy this book.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The bookish “Tower of Babel”

This year UNESCO chose Buenos Aires as the World Book Capital and to celebrate Argentinian artist Marta Minujín created an 82-foot-tall spiraling tower draped with 30,000 books in dozens of languages. It took volunteers 10 full days to build the structure out of materials donated by readers, libraries and more than 50 embassies. The tower stood in Buenos Aires from May 7 to May 28, 2011 and when the installation was over some of the lucky visitors were allowed to take one book each home with them, the rest will form the basis for a new book archive called Library of Babel.
"A hundred years from now, people will say 'there was a Tower of Babel in Argentina ... and it didn't need translation because art needs no translation.'" said Minujin.

For the full article and more pictures of this incredible project visit the 1800Recycling website here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

In My Mailbox

return to senderIn My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren and is all about sharing the news about books we bought, gotten from the library or received for review.

This is the first time I'm participating in a meme so it's all very exciting and new, and a lot of fun. So here's what I got last week and look forward to reading and (hopefully) enjoying:

Book-A-Million finds:

After a dozen years digging in Megiddo, American archeologist Page Brookstone longs for something new. When an Arab couple propose that Page investigate the haunted ruins under their home, she ignores colleagues' misgivings and heads to Anatot, just outside Jerusalem. There, the couple, along with Page and her team, uncover murals, artifacts and remains suggesting they have come upon the grave of the prophet Jeremiah, buried with the woman he loved, Anatiya, who also has left a manuscript that parallels the Book of Jeremiah. The discovery ignites an international uproar and violent attacks while Page, affected by the ancient spirits, is attracted to Orthodox Israeli Mortichai Master, despite his connections to an organization opposing her efforts.
This book appears to have consistently good reviews and the author is a Rabbi with insight into the Biblical excavation in Israel so I have reason to believe that this novel will be a delight.

Recovering from breast cancer and reeling from her husband’s infidelity, Mia Landan flees her Charleston home to heal in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. She seeks refuge in a neglected fishing cabin belonging to her fly-fishing instructor, Belle Carson.
Belle recently inherited the cabin, which once belonged to a grandmother she never knew the legendary fly fisher and journalist of the 1920s, Kate Watkins, whose life fell into ruins after she was accused of murdering her lover. From her first step inside the dusty cabin, Mia is fascinated by the traces of Kate’s mysterious story . . . especially when she discovers Kate’s journal.
I've never read anything by Mary Alice Monroe so I texted a friend with similar tastes to ask about her work. Susan's enthusiastic reply tipped the scales and now this pretty volume is waiting its turn in my Read Pile.

When she becomes a junior lady of Queen Elizabeth’s bedchamber, Rosamund is instructed by her cousin, the brilliant and devious secretary of state Sir Francis Walsingham, to record everything she observes. Her promised reward: a chance at a good marriage. But through her brother Thomas, Rosamund finds herself drawn to the forbidden, rough-and-tumble world of theatre, and to Thomas’s friend, the dramatic, impetuous playwright Christopher Marlowe. And then Rosamund meets Will Creighton—a persuasive courtier, poet, and would-be playwright who is the embodiment of an unsuitable match. The unsanctioned relationship between Rosamund and Will draws the wrath of Elizabeth, who prides herself on being the Virgin Queen. Rosamund is sent in disgrace to a remote castle that holds Elizabeth’s cousin Mary Stuart, the imprisoned Queen of Scots. Here, Walsingham expects Rosamund to uncover proof of a plot against Elizabeth. But surely, nothing good can come of putting an artless girl in such close proximity to so many seductive players and deceptive games. Unless, of course, Rosamund can discover an affinity for passion and intrigue herself. . . .
This historical novel isn't as highly rated as the other two new additions so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Library loot:

I think everyone has read about the adventures of the half-human half-fey daughter of the faery king in the magical realm of Nevernever and her fight against the Iron Fey for her family, her love and the survival of both human and faery worlds. Everyone except for me that is (as always late to the party). I'm catching up though! After scoring the last installment through NetGalley I realized that it was now or never and requested books 1-3 from the library. Fortunately the wait for Iron King and Iron Daughter wasn't too long but my hands are itching to get Iron Queen soon because I stayed up till 3 AM on Saturday reading Iron King.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Review: Knight's Curse by Karen Duvall

Knight's CurseChalice is a descendant of an ancient order of knights and her powers are great but she is a prisoner of a vicious wizard who belongs to an ancient order of his own and will stop at nothing to make her do his bidding. She has a great destiny but she must embrace who she is and free herself from her curse before she can truly make a difference.

This was a fun and easy read filled with magic, incredible creatures, plenty of action and a heady mixture of present day, myth and biblical legend. The book got off to a relatively slow start with a lot of explaining of what and how and who, setting the scene for the relationship between Chalice and her captor, but once that was established and the author got on with the story it was actually able to keep my interest throughout. The book ended with a satisfactory resolution to the major conflict and without a cliff-hanger but the premise for the next book is thoroughly set up in the final chapters so the reader knows in what direction the story will progress in the sequel.
I enjoyed the varied world of ancient magical beings living side by side with the unsuspecting public and keeping their existence secret. Duvall gives us barely a glimpse of majority of them but the ones that get the attention are developed with much thought and the secondary characters like Elmo and Zee often become scene-stealers. It would be interesting to see what she would do with the rest.
Character development seemed natural and realistic - Chalice has trouble accepting that the things that have been ingrained in her for years aren't actually true, she's wary of everybody she meets and her transformation from someone who believes that all magic is evil to a person who accepts that there's a good side to it too refreshingly takes more than a chapter. I also enjoyed that Chalice's sudden, overwhelming attraction to her warrior protector Aydin isn't set up as a natural thing that happens between two people who barely lay eyes on each other and Bam! they're in love. It is rooted in their magical natures and Chalice's struggle between believing that it's real and wondering whether it's something that wouldn't even exist had it not been for their curse and gives an extra angsty dimension to her character.
There were a number of things that made this book not nearly as enjoyable as it could have been and are the cause of me not particularly hurrying to find out when the sequel will be released. My main gripe is with the fact that Chalice has been Gavin's slave for over a decade and yet in all this time she hasn't wondered how to break herself free, what kind of person her mother really was or how Gavin controls the gargoyle that binds her curse (she must've been paying zero attention to that little detail despite the fact that she has to come into contact with it every three days and Shui is far from tame), she apparently somehow has had no interaction whatsoever with anyone outside of a few members in Gavin's organization and has done no research at all to find out more about her situation. Give me a break, not like the girl was drugged or kept in a cell, she actually has her own apartment. She may be watched, but she's not chained to a guard 24-7! All this could've seemed realistic if she had been a prisoner for months, may be a couple of years (extensive training, they didn't trust her and didn't leave her much alone time, etc.) but not for over a decade. Besides, she's smart and feisty, sitting around being scared of the consequences of her snooping around is very much out of character for Chalice.
All in all this was a fast-paced and entertaining book with a good story and a few plot twists to keep it going and if you're looking for an escapist read that won't keep you up till 3 in the morning because you just can't put it down you might want to check it out.

ARC of this book was received from Luna Books via NetGalley. It is now available in stores and on Amazon.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

Everything Beautiful Began AfterRebecca, a gifted artist from a village in France, George, a passionate linguist and Ivy League graduate, and Henry, a dedicated archaeologist with a dark secret back in England, meet by chance in the middle of summer in Athens and their brief acquaintance becomes more than any of them could imagine - their love triangle is only the beginning.

The cover of this book was one of the reasons I requested it. It seemed to go perfectly with the description and promised romance in an ancient city. Although the image is somewhat deceiving (if you look closely the two lovers' clothes would be more suitable for much cooler weather than Athen's sweltering heat) it is fitting for this book that seems permeated with that breathtaking feeling that pushes men and women into darkened niches and doorways to steal a kiss and an embrace in the middle of a leisurely stroll. It is so beautifully written that I literally could not put it down wanting more and more of the poetic language and the powerful imagery. The writing even remedied the fact that the first half of the book reminded me of the novels set in the 20s where everything seemed to be about aimless ambling of some youth in a foreign land. And then things got better.
With the introduction of the love triangle the story immediately grew more interesting, more purposeful and I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Rebecca, George and Henry as well as the development of their characters. Van Booy describes them without really describing them in the way I'm used to seeing in other books. For example he says that George "looked like a man who had read all of Marcel Proust in bed." How great is that? You immediately get an idea of the man and you don't need a description of his height, build or haircut. They are to each other what they've always needed and while all three are interesting to me George is more so because he is so unusual. After all, a boy who translates ancient texts for fun is definitely not like anyone else I've ever read about. "The passions we cannot control are the ones that define us," he says. But George is dominant only in the first half of the book, the second half is all about Henry because more than anything this books is about adults finally growing up, making peace with their childhoods and themselves and it's his turn.
The second half of the book is unusual in that it's told almost entirely in second person and it's mainly an epistolary novel told in the letters Henry sends to George via fax. The best part is that the faxes are actually images of the messages on letterhead, postcards, old telegram forms and Henry tells his story with such humor and detail that despite the brevity you get a very good idea of his state of mind and condition. He has to learn to love again and his journey is the longest of them all and the most tumultuous but those are the most interesting ones, aren't they?
This was one of the more unusual books that I've read this year and one of the better books as well. If you like a good story, beautiful writing, interesting characters and rules broken the right way I think you will enjoy it as well.

ARC of this book received from HarperCollins via NetGalley.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg
(Der Bücherwurm)
19½ in × 10½ in (49.5 cm × 26.8 cm)
Oil on canvas
Presently located at the Museum Georg Schäfer in Schweinfurt, Germany

When I first googled "bookworm art" this was one of the results that came up and I just fell in love with this painting for its warm colors, what looks like an amazing library, the ladder and the fact that the old gentleman obviously doesn't have enough hands for all the books he wants to read. Some day that might be me, but of course wearing something more fashionable :)
There is an extensive article about this painting on Wikipedia, you can find it here.

P.S. And doesn't "bookworm" sound totally cute in German? 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: Next To Love by Ellen Feldman

Next to LoveThis is a story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave, Next to Love follows the lives of three young women and their men during the years of World War II and its aftermath, beginning with the men going off to war and ending a generation later, when their children are on the cusp of their own adulthood.

I could simply say that this was one of the best books I've read this year and be done with it but that wouldn't be very fair, would it? So here goes.
Babe, Grace and Millie are great main characters with an equally strong supporting cast. They are the girl from the wrong side of the tracks working to support herself, the debutante with her husband's family taking care of her and the orphan convinced that she's earned the right to have her husband come home alive. The maid just wants her son to go to college and scrubs and cooks to make it happen. The father who's lost his son is angry at all those who survived and came back. They are all well-written, they all ring true and as I was reading the book I felt like I knew if not someone exactly like them but people who are like them some of the time. The relationships between friends are very spot-on in that while they'll do anything for each other they don't always like each other very much. Marital relationships are equally balanced and very realistically require work, which we especially see in Millie's case.
It was a little difficult at first to follow the course of events because the book isn't done in strict chronological order. It's done in sections by point of view, with Babe's being the dominant one, and chronologically within those sections so the accounts of events overlap each other and by the end of the book we have a fuller picture of everything that happened and how the events shaped the different characters.
Next To Love is a rather ambitious project in terms all the subjects covered in it and I love that Feldman didn't shy away from the difficult and the traumatic. It's all there: racial tensions, separation between social classes, position of women in society, raising children without their fathers there, rebuilding families once the fathers have returned, soldiers returning to their lives and suffering from not being able to go back to normal. While the first three may not be a dominant concern any more the rest on this list are still relevant for us today. We are a nation at war after all, we have children growing up with one or both parents only a memory and a portrait on the mantle, we have soldiers coming back with PTSD and reliving what they've seen time and time again. As Feldman said closer to the end of the book "there is no after to war".
There's so much more I can talk about but time is short. I loved this book for the characters, the language, the narrative voices, the powerfully unhurried development of the story, for not revealing plot twists before their time but merely hinting at them, for keeping me on the edge of my seat on occasion and making me wish the story didn't end. Now go read it and discover for yourself why it's so good, there are plenty more reasons between those covers.

The ARC of this book was obtained from the publisher, Spiegel & Grau, through NetGalley

Sunday, September 11, 2011

There won't be a book review today. Instead I'd like to take several minutes and think about this day 10 years ago when people died, horror gripped the country and our lives changed forever. Let's remember those who died because someone decided that innocent people had to be sacrificed for their cause. Let's honor those who went to look for and save the survivors and gave their lives for it. Let's give our respect to the families who are grieving their loved ones every day and will continue to do so for years to come. Let's give our admiration and gratitude to those who fight for us on foreign land and on American soil because of what happened 10 years ago. God bless mothers, father, sons, daughters, wives and husbands. God bless the brave fighting for our freedom. God bless America.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Review: Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth

Grey Mask: A Miss Silver Mystery (Book One)After four years away Charles returns to his childhood home only to find a secret meeting of a criminal society taking place there. The worst part is that the woman he was engaged to, and the reason for his leaving, is mixed up in it. But who are these people and who is it they're planning on "removing"? And how did Margaret get mixed up with them? Charles will need the help of Miss Maud Silver to find out.

Grey Mask isn't a new novel, it was originally published in 1928 and is the first in Wentworth's series of whodunit mysteries featuring Miss Silver as the amateur sleuth. It's easy to start comparing Miss Silver to Christie's Miss Marple, after all they're both elderly spinsters solving crimes in England in the best traditions of cozy mystery, but that's where the similarities end.
There's more energy to Wentworth's writing, you get to know her characters' quirks and she does a great job of getting to the bottom of people in dialogue. The point of view changes every once in a while and this not only makes the narrative more multi-dimensional but also gives the story a greater degree of intimacy - we actually know first-hand what different characters are doing and how they think and feel about the latest events instead of someone sitting us down at the end and telling us about it in the "great reveal" sort of way. I really enjoyed learning things gradually and having the satisfaction of discovering the identities of minor players as the story progressed. It was also great fun to read Grey Mask because while I figured out part of the mystery from the very beginning there were a number of secrets the answers to which caught me completely off guard. Oh, and there was mortal danger. And people fell in love. And I laughed out loud more than once.
A couple of things threw me off balance in the beginning of the book. One is the language. It is often very specific to the time period, some expressions I wasn't familiar with at all and it took me a bit to figure out what was actually being said. This tends to date the writing but if you're ready for it it's not that big of a deal. Another was that Chapter 2 introduces all kinds of villains but with so little description of them that several chapters later I felt like I missed something and had to go back and make sure that I didn't. Once the "character dump" was over I was able to enjoy the book without any discomfort. And the third thing, now that I'm thinking about it, is how much Miss Silver managed to accomplish in a short amount of time - she actually has an office where she sees potential clients but she also was personally present for all kinds of significant events. The little lady must've been in possession of a time machine! Or she's cloned herself. Wait, that's a different genre.
All in all this is a very enjoyable book that I'm sure will entertain lovers of cozy mysteries who are looking for a bit of light reading.

This book was obtained from the publisher, Open Road, via NetGalley

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Special Feature - Blog: .bibliophile. .anonymous.

There's plenty of great blogs out there and many of them talk about books in a way that makes you feel like you met a good friend and over tea or coffee they told you about the latest book they've read .bibliophile. .anonymous. is one such blog and it is one of my favorites.
Jessie posts almost every day and it's always something interesting. She reviews mainly YA and while sci-fi and fantasy and its various sub-genres feature most prominently there's also historical and general fiction. On Wednesdays there's a blog watch post with links to all kinds of interesting and fun things all over the internet and I've been enjoying those as much as her reviews, which are always honest, articulate and just detailed enough to give you a good idea of the book without giving much away. Another reason I like this blog is that the books Jessie features are often the kind I know I would enjoy but different enough for me to be always able to find something new to add to my ever-growing Read Pile. On second thought, that might not be such a great thing... But I can't resist. I'm sure you understand. Now go ahead and pay Jessie a visit, .bibliophile. .anonymous. is worth your time. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Review: Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Blood Magic (Blood Journals, #1)Summary from the author's website: For Nick Pardee and Silla Kennicot, the cemetery is the center of everything. Nick is a city boy angry at being forced to move back to the nowhere town of Yaleylah, Missouri where he grew up. He can’t help remembering his mom and the blood magic she practiced – memories he’s tried for five years to escape. Silla, though, doesn’t want to forget; her parents’ apparent murder-suicide left her numb and needing answers. When a book of magic spells in her dad’s handwriting appears on her doorstep, she sees her chance to unravel the mystery of their deaths. Together they plunge into the world of dark magic, but when a hundred-year-old blood witch comes hunting for the bones of Silla’s parents and the spell book, Nick and Silla will have to let go of everything they believe about who they are, the nature of life and death, and the deadly secrets that hide in blood.

I'm a huge fan of Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls series and was always curious to read the work of her crit partners so I’ve been looking forward to Blood Magic ever since I learned about its existence. A friend who read it before me said that it was different and sent me on my way (she's a master non-spoiler). It was definitely different. Bloody. Dark. Often disturbing. And good. I just kept turning the pages until there weren't any left and then I let it all soak in for a few days. The verdict: I really liked this book. The characters were all different and evolving with even the minor players not fading into the background. The plot developed quickly and with plenty of twists, and didn't feel forced or contrived. Even the magic made sense and grew in intensity and complexity as the story progressed. The narrative voices were very fitting and I got an extra kick out of one of the characters listening to a CD of a band Maggie Stiefvater created for her books.
I liked how secrets were gradually revealed until the very end of the book. There was always more coming and every puzzle piece was surprising in its own way although the greatest reveal towards the end of the novel was the most impressive. I actually had to set the book aside to wrap my mind around it all.
What I did not particularly enjoy was how, well, bloody the book was. I know, I know, the title should've clued me into that, but I just didn't expect such goryness from a YA novel. By the time it was all over the kids were literally soaked. I think the last time I read a book where blood was as revered and flowed as freely was when I read Anne Rice's vampire books. I'm not a fan of horror and this book was straddling the line just like those were and because of this I would not recommend this book and this series (if the first volume is any indication) to younger and/or impressionable readers.
I look forward to reading Blood Keeper, the next novel in the Blood Journals series. It's scheduled to come out next year but if I get to find out the answers to the remaining questions and learn more about the mysterious but definitely significant characters who barely made an appearance the wait will be worth it. As far as you are concerned, my fellow reader, Halloween is coming up, you might want to check this book out. It's got just the right vibe.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: Another Bad-Dog Book by Joni B. Cole

Another Bad-Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human BehaviorWhen I first read about this book on another blogger's site I expected something along the lines of lighter Erma Bombeck with a canine in the lead, giving a family's day-to-day a new dimension and teaching them a thing or two about themselves in the process. I got something different - an incredibly sincere and intimate collection of essays about a life that is often unglamorous and riddled with insecurities but is held together by love, family and friends.
Considering the title I thought that Eli, the saucer-eyed pooch, would be more present in the book but besides the first chapter, which is dedicated to the story of how he came to live with the Coles, he only appears one more time and doesn't display any uproarious bad-dog behavior. I think he's more of a quiet presence, a comfort for Joni when she needs it. And with everything she has on her plate I'd say she needs and deserves quite a bit of it.
While reading this book I was repeatedly impressed with Joni's willingness to talk about things that a lot of us save for conversations with people we trust the most, such as the times we realize that our parents have grown old, our desire for our careers to be a bit more glamorous, the challenges or raising children and the days when we wish our friends weren't quite so perfect. This willingness to be vulnerable in public makes Joni more real to me than a lot of other writers, especially because she doesn't try to be "writerly", she just tells her story with wit, attention to her surroundings and skill that makes reading it very much like talking to a friend who has a particular talent with words.
I absolutely loved the last essay and thought it was a wonderful finale. It talks about the reasons the author is uncomfortable with being born in the Year of the Dog according to the Chinese calendar. Incidentally I was also born in the Year of the Dog and have always had mixed feeling regarding what it says about my personality. Joni got to the bottom of hers and helped me understand mine better and gave me some food for thought in the process (the alpha-dog idea is great). She actually gave me plenty of food for thought throughout the book as since as you know I like books that make me think Another Bad-Dog Book gets a 4.