Posts Tagged ‘books’

Potter-mania lives!

June 12, 2008

Potter-mania is alive an well. The prequel that J.K. Rowling wrote for a charity auction just sold for $61/word. Read more about it here.

When the Emperor Was Divine – Book Review

June 11, 2008

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Oksuta

This was my second time reading “When the Emperor Was Divine,” and I found it just as moving as my first time.

“When the Emperor Was Divine” is the haunting story of a Japanese-American family from Berkeley during World War II. The father is taken from their house shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor for a loyalty hearing. He is then kept in an internment camp in the desert. Not long after, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 and the rest of the family must pack up their house and let themselves be taken to another camp in the desert.

This story is told from five different points of view, although there are only four characters. The first three points of view are all third person limited omniscient, focusing first on the mother, then the daughter, and finally the son. This spans from the time the “Instructions to all persons of Japanese ancestry” are posted through the end of their time in the camps. Once the war is over, we see first person narration from the son, followed by almost first person stream of consciousness from the father.

The switch in narration is beautifully done to reflect the shock and dehumanization felt by the family. The book holds you at just the right distance to witness of the confusion and disbelief experienced by the people taken from their homes, called disloyal, and relocated to camps in the American desert. The father’s narration shocks and shames and contains more feeling than the rest of book put together.

I think this is an extremely well-done book on an important topic, and I highly recommend it.

Buy this book on Amazon

Springtime on Mars – Book Review and Blog Tour Stop

June 9, 2008

Springtime on Mars: Short Stories” by Susan Woodring

I received “Springtime on Mars” as part of a blog tour for Susan Woodring.  This book of short stories was released at the end of February by Press 53, a small, independent press whose goal is to showcase exemplary literary fiction, poetry, and nonfiction and whose website admonishes you to “Literate Yourself” (a motto I love, by the way).  “Springtime on Mars” is proof that small publishers like Press 53 can put out works which can compete in quality with offerings from the major publishing houses.

I was amazed with the variety of stories told in “Springtime.”  All of the stories are set approximately between the 1950s and the 1970s and deal with life in middle-income middle America.  Some stories are told in first person, others in third, some from the perspective of children, other from adult perspectives.  Yet somehow all of the stories seem to have their own, authentic personality, no two sounding alike.

The slight exception to that rule is the couple that is the focus of two stories.  We see them first a married couple with two children, then later are taken back to the early days of their marriage, which provides a greater depth and background for the original story.  The decision to tell Marianne and Joe’s story out of chronological order lends complexity to the characters that the reader is left to discover for his or herself, upon realizing that this couple’s future has already been revealed to her or him.

I am not generally a fan of short stories, I often cannot stay interested in a set of characters I know will only be around for 20 pages or so.  However, “Springtime on Mars” kept me wanting to see what characters Woodring was going to introduce next.  I was more invested in “Springtime on Mars” than I have been with any collection of short stories since “Interpreter of Maladies.”  The subjects, and even the writing styles, of the two books are very different, but the heart is the same.  I would recommend “Springtime on Mars” to fans of short stories as well as to those who would like to give short stories a try.

You can see a guest post by Susan about using short story collections for book clubs here, and an interview with her here.

Buy “Springtime on Mars” from Amazon

Sunday Salon – Printer’s Row

June 8, 2008

Today may not end up being comprised of a lot of reading, but there are sure going to be a ton of books!

This afternoon I will be traveling to downtown Chicago to attend the Printer’s Row Book Fair.  There are author events, booksellers, and exhibitors.  I plan to focus primarily on the exhibitors and pretend I got to go to the BEA.  If I can make it down there in time, I will also be going with my friend Megan to see Augusten Burroughs speak for a bit.  Megan actually created some business cards for me to hand out to exhibitors , if appropriate, but Brian and I had a very difficult time getting them to print out.  I’m actually off to Kinkos right now to see if I can copy one from regular paper onto the nice business card paper.  If not, I’m tempted to buy some card stock and try to print it and cut it.  Or we’ll just have to wait on the nifty business card thing.  I’ll try to add a picture of them later…

The Leper Compound – Book Review

June 5, 2008

The Leper Compound by Paula Nangle

“The Leper Compound” is the story of Colleen, the daughter of a white Rhodesian settler. Colleen is growing up in Rhodesia around the time of the Rhodesian civil war and the creation of the state of Zimbabwe. This is Paula Nangle’s first novel and it is fantastic for a first novel. Nangle is clearly very familiar with her subject matter – she lived as a child in southern Africa with her missionary parents. Touching on racial tensions in both Zimbabwe and South Africa, Nangle’s book should challenge so many Americans who consider Africa to be a mono-culture.

All this being said, this book really just wasn’t for me. It was the moving story a girl growing up and searching for connection, about racial tensions and the aftermath of colonialism. Sounds like a great book for me, right? However, Nangle’s storytelling style just isn’t my favorite. Although the writing was beautiful, the story felt as if it was being told from a distance, as if Colleen never managed to attain a connection even with herself. Perhaps this is what Nangle was attempting and she is just that genius, or perhaps that is simply her style. It is not by any means a bad style, I just prefer a more personal method of story telling, one that is more in the head of the main character.

So although this book wasn’t for me, it might be for you. I am amazed that this is a first novel, and will definitely be looking to give Nangle’s next book a try.

Buy this book on Amazon

Alive in Necropolis – Book Review

June 4, 2008

Alive in Necropolis” by Doug Dorst

Available July 17th, 2008

Let me just begin with an exceprt of the publisher’s description of the book, as I don’t think I can describe the premise of “Alive in Necropolis” nearly as well as they do:

Colma, California, is the only incorporated city in America where the dead outnumber the living. The longtime cemetery for San Francisco, it is the resting place of the likes of joe DiMaggio, Wyatt Earp, and aviation pioneer Lincoln Beachey. It is also the home of Michael Mercer, a rookie cop trying to go by the book as he struggles to navigate a new realm of grown-up relationships…

But instead of settling comfortably into adult life, Mercer becomes obsessed with the mysterious fate of his predecessor in the police unit, Sergeant featherstone, who seems to have become confused about whether he was policing the living or the dead…

This is not a typical description of the books I read. It sounds like an odd cross of mystery and fantasy. I read almost nothing in the mystery genre and not much in the fantasy genre, and there mainly in young adult fantasy. However, I figured that this was a review copy and I might as well give it a chance, branch out a bit.

I am extremely glad that I decided to be openminded about this book! Surprisingly, the whole ‘policing the dead’ aspect turned out to be less prevalent than expected. “Alive in Necropolis” was more about relationships, about being ‘alive’ in this city most notable for graveyards. I was quite impressed with Dorst’s skill, particularly as this is his first novel. I figured that the book would feature some ridiculously inventive plot that would excuse a lack of substantial writing. This wasn’t remotely true. Yes, there was a fantastic aspect to the plot, but this book was primarily made by the writing. Dorst gave his main character(s) in particular a good deal of depth and was able to show the reader this depth through the actions and reactions of the characters.

I would recommend this book for those who love good, solid, well-written fiction, fantasy fans or not.

Buy this book on Amazon

Sunday Salon – Rolling Along

June 1, 2008

It is an absolutely gorgeous day here outside of Chicago.  This is quite lucky, as our church met outside this morning.  We don’t have our own building yet and generally meet in a local high school.  However, this weekend said high school is having their graduation, so instead we met at the gazebo in the little town center.  Brian and I decided that today would be a good day to try to ride our bikes down to the service.  It was between 30 and 45 minutes down there, we had church, everyone hung out for a bit on the lawn, Brian and I rode up to lunch and sat outdoors, rode over to the bike shop to pick up more accessories, and finally rode home (found short cut that only took just over 20 minutes).  Suffice as to say, I’m a bit sunburned and have not gotten a lot of reading done.

This week was a book club week for me, which are always fun.  Our book this month was “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides.  Those of us who read it really quite enjoyed it (you can see my review here).  Our wine for the night was Albarino which is a white from Spain.  I must say, I thought better of the book than of the wine.  Of course, I’m more of a red wine girl.  If it is too hot for red wine, I’d generally prefer a mojito or a daquiri to a glass of white wine.  It was a good time overall, however.  We aren’t able to meet in June, so we’re going to read “The Double Bind” together with “The Great Gatsby” and discuss them both in July. 

The other good thing about book club is the extra time it gives me.  I work in Chicago, and all of the girls in my book/wine club actually live in the city, as I used to do.  Brian and I live a way out in the Chicago suburbs.  If I were to drive home after work and before book club, I’d have just enough time to get comfortable enough that I would never want to leave again.  So instead, I generally either babysit for a friend so she can go out, or I sit at my office when everyone’s gone and just read.  This month was a ‘just read’ sort of month.  I sat at my desk for about three hours and just read.  I finished up “Have I got a Guy for You” (review here) and started a “The Leper Compound,” which was sent to me by Literary Ventures Fund.  I’m also working on an ARC of “Alive in Necropolis,” which is not at all the sort of book I would normally read, but I am enjoying it so far.  the plot has something to do with vengeful ghosts, although that hasn’t become a huge part of the action yet. 

Well, Saloners, I’m off to do some work around the house so I can do some more reading tonight!  Make sure to check out my big contest, there are only a couple more days to enter.  I will likely announce winners either Tuesday or Wednesday.  You can win ANY book I have reviewed so far. 

“Have I Got a Guy for You” – Book Review

May 31, 2008

 Have I Got a Guy for You” edited by Alix Strauss

Have you ever wished that “Sex and the City” was a book (okay, other than the actual book called “Sex and the City“)?  If so, perhaps you would enjoy “Have I Got a Guy for You.”

“Have I Got a Guy for You,” is a collection of 26 stories about girls whose moms set them up on blind dates.  Each individual story is clever, well written, and humorous.  Read all at once, however, they get a bit repetitive.  I would estimate that about 75% of the stories are set in New York and at least half of them involve Jewish mothers. 

This book would be great to pick up from time to time, reading one or, at most, two stories in a sitting.  These stories would be great to read after a bad date, when you wish you were having even a bad date, when you want to remind yourself why you’re glad you are no longer dating, or even in a long line at the grocery store. 

Buy this book on Amazon

Middlesex – Book Review

May 31, 2008

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Middlesex” is another beautifully written book.  ‘Cal’ Stephanides, the narrator, is the intersex grandchild of Greek immigrants.  This was our book for book club this month, and all of us expected that the entire book would basically be about Calliope/Cal dealing with the switch from female to male.  Instead, the book was essentially an epic family novel. 

Although not what we expected, this book was a fantastic read.  Eugenides chose a very interesting style of storytelling.  The primary story thread was chronological.  However, Cal was nearly an omnicient narrator looking back on his family’s story from a view in the ‘present’ and occasionally describing his present life as well. 

More than anything, this novel was a story of the immigrant experience and the experience of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants.  2nd and 3rd generation immigrants who just happen to be dealing with a recessive gene causing hermaphroditism and the discovery of a young person raised as a girl who discovers at puberty that he is actually male. 

This book is absolutely fantasic and I truly recommend it.

Buy Middlesex on Amazon

The Gargoyle – Book Review

May 30, 2008

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

Release date: August 5, 2008

Everyone has had the experience. You’re sitting in traffic forever, seemingly for no reason. Suddenly, up ahead, you can see cars start to move again. As you get up to that point, you realize that there has been an horrific car accident on the side of the road and traffic is backed up because everyone slowed or stopped to watch, their curiosity mixed with distaste.

Normally those people drive me crazy but, with Andrew Davidson’s “The Gargoyle,” I was one of those people. Through the first few chapters especially I read in horror and awe, wanting but unable to look away. Within that period of time the narrator actually described both his (literal) ghastly car accident that leaves him horribly burned and disfigured and his (metaphorical) train wreck of a life to that point. In all honesty, during part of those chapters, I felt physically ill.

It is a testament to the author’s skill that I continued to read. Normally books that elicit such a visceral reaction really aren’t my cup of tea. However, Davidson’s writing was as beautiful as the details were disgusting. I was literally unable to tear myself away from the pages, other than to look at the back of the book in disbelief to confirm that, yes, this really IS his first novel.

I truly had no idea where this story was going to go and was surprised to find a very moving love story. Actually a number of very moving love stories. While hospitalized for his burns, the narrator meets a woman named Marianne, a sculptor of gargoyles who is convinced that she and the narrator were married 700 years ago when he was in a different life.

The story is funny, sweet, touching, and unpredictable. I absolutely recommend it, although I do want to warn readers of graphic imagery and language.

Buy this book on Amazon