Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Check out a debut (1)

As I've mentioned before, my friends Susan and Erica are hosting a really fabulous contest designed to promote debut novel(ist)s: Debut a Debut.

Because I love reading debut novels, I've been scouring the list of 2006 and early 2007 debuts and discovering some really wonderful-looking books.

One of those is...
The Thrall's Tale by Judith Lindbergh

Book Description:
The mesmerizing chronicle of three tenth-century Viking women whose lives are inextricably bound by fate...
The Thrall's Tale is a masterpiece of historical fiction that follows Katla, a slave, her daughter Bibrau, and their mistress Thorbjorg, a prophetess of the Norse god Odin, as they navigate the stormy waters of love, revenge, faith, and deception in the Viking Age settlements of tenth–century Greenland. Lindbergh’s lyrical prose captures the tenuousness of lives led on the edge of the known world, the pain of loyalties shattered by Christian conversion, and the deepest desires hidden in the human heart. A book that has appeal for readers of fantasy and romance as well as historical and literary fiction, The Thrall's Tale is an absorbing cultural saga researched and written over ten years as Lindbergh immersed herself in the literature, artifacts, and landscape of her characters’ lives and world.

If this sounds good to you, you can:
~ read the first chapter on the author's webpage and
~ enter the contest for a chance to win a copy of the novel (for a list of prizes, scroll to the bottom of this page).

I'm not sure if I'll have time to read the book before the end of the contest, but it's definitely going on my wishlist.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

book clubbing in January

It's that time of the month again...
My book club met today over lunch and we discussed Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club.

Set in 1865 Boston, the plot of The Dante Club revolves around the translation of The Divine Comedy into English by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a set of literary heavyweights including Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell. The powers that be at Harvard University disapprove of the publication, afraid of the corruption it will bring to the nation, and are doing everything in their power to pull the plug. If that isn't enough to discourage the poets (who happen to be Harvard professors), a series of gruesome murders begins to plague the city seemingly based on the Inferno. Though they are in a race to complete the translation before the Sexacentennial celebration of Dante's birth, the poets know that they are the only ones who can find and stop the serial killer.

There was a mixed reaction to the book: one member couldn't finish it, another absolutely loved it, and the rest of us were somewhere in between.

Personally, I didn't like the book nearly as much as I thought I would. While the story itself was interesting, it took me a while to get into it. Pearl also occasionally get bogged down in details, falling prey (as many writers of historical fiction are wont to do) to the need to showcase the amount of research that went into the book.

I thought the characters of Longfellow and Holmes were much more developed than those of Lowell and Fields (just three days after finishing the book, I couldn't even recall Lowell's name thought he was one of the main characters). One of my favorite characters in the novel is Nicholas Rey, the mulatto policeman, and I was very pleased to read on a discussion forum that Pearl plans to write a novel with Rey as the protagonist.

All in all, a good book, but not a fabulous one. I'll read Pearl in the future, though by now I'm pretty sure that I'll never be getting my review copy of The Poe Shadow. (see this post)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

great new contest

My friends Susan and Erica have just posted a fabulous new reading contest, Debut a Debut.

A great concept with pretty simple rules.
Basically to enter you have to
~ pick a debut novel published between January 2006 and February 2007,
~ read it,
~ write a review and post it online between February 12 and 17, and
~ send a link to the organizers.

There are prizes, so you'd better go read more about the contest here.

Personally, I love reading debut novels.
Now, I just have to find the perfect one for this contest!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hearts of Stone

Hearts of Stone by Kathleen Ernst

Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, Hearts of Stone is a multifaceted coming of age tale.

Hannah Cameron is fourteen when her father joins the Union army, making enemies of the family's closest neighbors. Less than a year later, Hannah, younger brother Jasper, and five-year-old twins Maude and Mary are left parentless when their mother dies during a bushwhacker raid on their Eastern Tennessee home.

As Hannah grapples with her new role as caretaker, she must also deal with the very real horrors of war. After leading her siblings in an arduous two-hundred-mile journey to Nashville, Hannah must regroup when she learns that Aunt Ellen, her only living relative, died of a fever six weeks earlier. Alone in the world and demoralized, the Cameron children live on the streets, doing everything they can to stay together. Eventually they end up in a refugee camp, which is both a blessing and a curse, leading to even more trials for Hannah and her siblings.

Inspired by a Civil War reenactment of a civilian refugee camp, award-winning author Kathleen Ernst has crafted an historically-accurate novel that gives insight into the deprivations of war, the fallacy of prejudice, and what it means to be a family. Hearts of Stone is as memorable as it is hard to put down. Its plot has enough dramatic twists to keep even adult readers engaged. And, while protagonist Hannah is Ernst’s most fully-drawn character, the other characters in the novel are far from one-dimensional.

Read the full review at FrontStreetReviews.com

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Illumination Night

Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman

This is another small book that packs a punch. Set on Martha Vineyard, Illumination Night tells the story of the residents of two neighboring houses. Elizabeth, a widow who is slowly going blind, lived alone with her two cats until her rebellious teenage granddaughter Jody was forced to come take care of her. Next door live Vonny and Andre, a young couple who are struggling to make ends meet while trying to weather their differing expectations of marriage and the unknown illness plaguing their only child, four-year-old Simon. Each character in this beautifully-written novel is at a crossroads in his or her life. Hoffman expertly conveys the inner turmoil her characters are experiencing, creating a myriad of very real characters.
Illumination Night is about aging and marriage, mental illness and infidelity. It's a coming of age story and a celebration of life. Most of all, it's a meditation on "the magic and pain of ordinary life" (words from a The Times, London reviewer that I just could not get out of my head).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

Hannah dreads going to her family's Passover Seder — she's tired of hearing her relatives talk about the past. But when she opens the front door to symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she's transported to a Polish village in the year 1942, where she becomes caught up in the tragedy of the time.

Such a small book, but so powerful; it defies explanation. I can't believe that I didn't read this book sooner.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

other recent reading

All American Girl by Meg Cabot
Written for the teen/tween set, the book is light-hearted and will appeal to anyone in the mood for a sweet book with a happy ending. Protagonist Sam is a sympathetic character, a spunky social outsider with a good sense of humor and a crush on a guy who she can never hope to get. The story, outside of the romantic bumbling, does have a message. The only thing that I didn't particularly like were the lists, but they are Cabot's MO in this novel and serve both as summaries and as a way to add Sam's voice to the narrative.

Drowned Wednesday & Sir Thursday by Garth Nix
The third and four books in Nix's wonderful Keys of the Kingdom series.

Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
I've been listening to this book in the car for quite some time and I finally finished it yesterday. While I appreciated how moody and episodic it was, I did get irritated with it occasionally.
I also found it quite uneven. For a book that was supposed to be jumping between two different time periods, it seemed like 3/4 (or more) of the book took place in the 18th C and I was amazed (especially since 'Hawksmoor' is the title of the book) that Hawksmoor isn't even mentioned until practically its midpoint.
That being said, Ackroyd does bring 18th Century London alive and protagonist Dyer's belief system is fascinating (especially in as much as it clashes with the Enlightenment thinking all around him).

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
A collection of seven stories set in Thailand from a young (my age) American author.
I really felt that the first five stories in the book were too similar - it was almost as if the stories were all about the same person. "Don't let me die in this place" was the first deviation from the young Thai boy protagonist and I thought it was a wonderful change of pace. The other story that I really liked was "Cockfighter," again because it was so different from the other stories in the book (not that the other stories were bad, but just that they became - for me at least - a bit homogeneous).

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
I thought it was a good read, long but thoroughly engrossing. Though the ending is a bit unrealistic; everything is tied up too well. I think it is probably more of a historical romance than a work of realistic fiction.
That being said, Donnelly's descriptions of 19th Century London (and to a lesser extent, New York) seem fairly realistic. The author's take on Jack the Ripper is also interesting (and more plausible than some of the other things in the book). Additionally Fiona is a very sympathetic character as well as being a viable heroine (despite her modern sensibilities).

Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath
J.A. Konrath's debut novel and the first in a promising series (the Jack Daniels mysteries).
This book is full of gruesome murders, which in all honesty really aren't my thing (I'm one of those people who watch horror movies through the cracks between their fingers). Of course, that's not going to stop me from reading the next book in the series especially since it is already on Mt. TBR (to be read).

A new book for a new year

The first book I read in 2007 was actually a book I received from a friend as part of the "A new book for a new year" exchange. The purpose of the exchange is to expose the participants to something new, something outside of their usual genres, something that they wouldn’t pick up on their own, but something that they might actually like, possibly turning them on to something completely new in the new year.

My partner sent me a psychological thriller (one that would probably be classified as "sick shit" by connoisseurs of the genre):
Violation by Darian North

In the lush redwood country of Humboldt, California, a man and a woman seek shelter from their pasts. He is an ex-L.A. cop whose life was torn apart by guilt and betrayal. She is a woman haunted by a savage attack she never should have survived. Althea Auben is a struggling single mother, holding together the ragged pieces of her life for the sake of her thirteen-year-old son. She lives in the shadow of her past, carrying the scars from the terrible night that left her brutalized, comatose, and pregnant. But David has started to rebel. He no longer believes his mother's lies about his own history. Desperate for a man in his life, he befriends Jack Verrity, who seeks privacy almost as much as Althea. Then, without warning, David disappears. Battling her paralyzing fears, Althea takes off in pursuit of her vanished son. Jack, feeling long-dormant emotions stir, begins a search of his own. It is a journey that will thrust them into a world of privilege and exclusion on Long Island's Gold Coast - and plunge Althea into the fresh terror of a long-ago summer night...

Definitely not my usual fare, but I did enjoy it. It was a perfect selection for this exhange because it got me out of my usual reading genres, challenging me with a "scary" book that I probably wouldn't pick out on my own, and it wasn't too far outside of my comfort zone.

Monday, January 01, 2007

2006 books, 151-203

By popular demand... my books read in 2006...

Part IV

203. Drowned Wednesday by Garth Nix
202. Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
201. The Rhythm of the Road by Albyn Leah Hall
200. Can you keep a secret? by Sophie Kinsella
199. Saving Miss Oliver's by Stephen Davenport
198. I Heard the Owl Call my Name by Margaret Craven
197. God's Mountain by Erri De Luca
196. The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez
195. Slow Hand, Michele Slung, ed.
194. I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis
193. The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
192. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
191. Tamarind Mem by Anita Rau Badami
190. The Penis Book by Joseph Cohen
189. Holy Fools by Joanne Harris
188. Adam Haberberg by Yasmina Reza
187. Bad Boys in Kilts by Donna Kaufmann
186. The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
185. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
184. Geisha by Liza Dalby
183. The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
182. Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
181. Local Girls by Alice Hoffman
180. Goddess for Hire by Sonia Singh
179. Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix
178. All for Love by Dan Jacobson
177. Emerald Enigma by C.J. Westwick
176. Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud
175. Miss Understanding by Stephanie Lessing
174. Artistic Licence by Katie Fforde
173. The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
172. Skylark Farm by Antonia Arslan
171. Artistic Licence by by Vivienne LaFay
170. At Risk by Stella Rimington
169. Song Quest by Katherine Roberts
168. Journey across Tibet by Sorrel Wilby
167. Killing Time by Caleb Carr
166. Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto
165. The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith
164. The Samurai by Shuaku Endo
163. Margarettown by Gabrielle Zevin
162. Touching Darkness by Scott Westerfled
161. The Dark Bride by Laura Restrepo
160. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
159. By the Time You Read This by Giles Blunt
158. A Lover in Palestine by Selim Nassib
157. Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
156. Varjak Paw by SF Said
155. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
154. The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld
153. Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman
152. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
151. The Egyptian by Mika Waltari